Saturday, October 17, 2015

Letters to Little: Safe Friends

My dearest Little –

You are not so little anymore. I know that I keep saying that, but it’s true. You are three months old, wearing 3-6 month clothes, and have the greatest baby rolls. You love to laugh and smile, and you are trying so hard to talk and roll over. You love school and are doing well , except for getting cranky around noon each day. They tell me you are a really great baby and I completely agree! Since you started school, you have been learning how to be around other babies. You pick up on the emotional cues of others. When one of your friends cries, so do you. When your Dad or I laugh, so do you. I love your sensitive spirit.

As you get older, I pray that you always engage in empathy rather than sink in sympathy. I have been thinking about your budding personality and your future friendships. I pray that you grow up to be a safe friend and choose to invest in safe friendships.

What does it mean to be a safe friend?

A safe friend is a friend that loves others well, treats them with honesty and respect, speaks truth and life, and does not manipulate others to get their own way. A safe friend chooses not to wound when they are wounded. They strive to honestly communicate their needs, wants, hurts and thoughts in a loving way. Equally, they are receptive when confronted and hold your heart in high esteem. A safe friend invites you to freely be you in relationship. They strive to honor you, rather than belittle you or put you down. A safe friend desires your best and strives to encourage you towards your God-given potential. They will be the first to tell you that you did not hang the moon, all the while pointing you to the God who did.

Unsafe friends, however, are easier to come by and leave havoc in their wake. These friends will not be safe with your heart. They may belittle you, make fun of you, and communicate in various ways that you are not enough. They will discourage and distract you from the potential and purpose God has placed inside of you. They will encourage that which is of their own gain every time. Sometimes these behaviors are obvious, like the stereotypical bully stealing lunch money, or the kids throwing the insane parties that you will one day see in the movies. They promise fun, excitement, and an adventurous life, but deep down you will know that they are not life-giving. I pray that you always choose that which brings genuine life and joy.

Not every unsafe friend behaves so obviously; some are much more subtle. Manipulation, coercion, gossiping and lying can be more difficult to see. These may look like friendships in which you have no voice, or no value to your voice.

For example: Johnny is your friend. He always decides what you guys play, and he always decides which toy you play with and which toy he plays with. He loves playing with your favorite train car, and you are sweet enough to share with him. However, one day you ask Johnny if you can play outside with your new ball. Johnny says no and declares that you are going to play with the trains. You pull out your favorite train car, but Johnny demands he play with it or he will no longer be your friend. To avoid hurting Johnny’s feelings and losing a friendship, you hand Johnny your favorite train car. He is magically happy again but refuses to share with you as you both play.

Did Johnny value you in this scenario? Did he care about compromising with you so you could both enjoy playtime together? When you kindly used your voice, did he honor you?

Not only was Johnny unwilling to compromise, he manipulated you by leveraging your relationship. Johnny played both the role of the victim and the bully, all the while scapegoating his own selfishness onto you. I hope that you never pull a Johnny.

Unsafe friendships are, at best, 50/50. They are dangerous because the individuals’ responses are conditioned upon one another. Did you live up to your half? If not, they will not be required to live up to theirs. They will justify their poor behaviors based on the other person’s mistakes, perpetuating a cycle of disrespect, selfishness, and entitlement. Instead of outdoing one another in giving honor, they strive to gain the most while expending the least. Unsafe friends are leeches, and they will suck the life out of you every time.

Safe friendships, like your future marriage, will never be 50/50. They will require both parties giving their best to love and honor the other, independent of the other person’s action or inadequacies. Safe friends are like IV tubing; a conduit by which God can pour life into you.

This is why the house of friendship that we talked about before is so important. Healthy boundaries are crucial in helping us to lovingly engage with both unsafe and safe friends. While you are called to love everyone, you are not called to invite unsafe folks into intimate relationships that will undermine your entire house. This is why it’s so important to engage in empathy but guard against sinking in sympathy.

Empathy is defined as the ability to put yourself in another person’s place, understanding and feeling what they are experiencing within their frame of reference.

Sympathy goes beyond empathy and adopts those feelings and misfortune as though they are your own. Sympathy will make you sick by weighing you down, stealing your joy and sapping the life from your bones.

Empathy will empower you to walk in compassion towards others, without adopting their circumstances, attitudes, or emotions as your own. Empathy enables you to love, serve and engage with unsafe friends without sacrificing healthy boundaries that are necessary for the growth of both parties.

You will never be a perfect friend, nor have perfect friendships, but you can always be a safe friend.

My prayer for you is that your empathetic spirit continues to fuel compassion and grace in your friendships, as you learn to invest wisely into safe, healthy, Jesus-centered friendships.



Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Letters to Little: Two Enemies of Friendship

My sweet Sammy –

I dropped you off at “school” today for the second morning in a row. This morning we were on time! Yesterday the church receptionist may have scolded us for being late and I may have unknowingly picked you up during nap time, earning us another scolding look. The good news is that you’re so cute no one holds your crazy mama against you J Your teacher put you on a play mat while I signed you in and you immediately started babbling to all the toys – I’m so glad that you are liking school. It makes it so much easier for me to drop you off. I hope you know that I miss you and I’m so happy to see your smiley little snuggly self when I pick you up! I am excited for the day when I pick you up and you tell me about the friends that you made.

Friendships may be one of the most rewarding things in your life – as CS Lewis (a very brilliant man) wrote in one of his books:

“I have no duty to be anyone's Friend and no man in the world has a duty to be mine. No claims, no shadow of necessity. Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”The Four Loves

 There are many bible verses about friendship as well – while a good many of them are found in Proverbs (an Old Testament book written by very wise men), Jesus talks about friendship in the Gospels and his disciples and followers talk about friendship in the New Testament as well. They teach us about the benefits of friendship, they warn us to steer clear from investing in certain types of friends, and they instruct us on how to be good, safe friends to others. Some of the most beautiful verses on friendship are actually statements made by Jesus that tell us about our identity in Him. He doesn’t call us slave, or servant, but friends. He invites us into relationship with Him and His Father; into relationship with the Trinity. It’s a friendship in which we can have complete unity with the Trinity; where we can be fully known and know God Himself as Jesus does.

There are a few things I hope you learn early on in your life.  I hope you learn them much more quickly than I have in mine, but I also hope that you are a continual learner and a humble teacher to others. One of the things I hope you learn early is that friendship is a gift and a blessing.  It is not a duty that you feel forced into, it is something that you choose to participate in. I say this because there are two great enemies of healthy friendships – there are more, but I think these two are pretty foundational to all the other problems we experience in relationships. If we are going to experience healthy friendships that are life giving, then we must guard against these two enemies that can both prevent us from being a good friend and hinder our friendships from healthy, life-giving growth.

At the core of all of our sins or shortcomings is pride. It’s that ugly thing that rears its head and says that we are better, stronger, wiser, more capable than God. Pride says, “I am going to do things this way, because I think it’s better than doing what God has told me to do.” Or “I am going to live this way, because I don’t think that God really knows what He’s talking about in this situation.” Etc.  Pride often looks like us taking our own lives under control, believing that we can do a better job at being god than God Himself. This trickles down into fueling selfishness, greed, and a myriad of other struggles that hinder us from being the friends that Jesus has called us to be. It trickles down into two specific enemies that will sabotage healthy relationships in our lives if we are not careful to guard against them: Insecurity and Victim Mentality.

Insecurity is something that everyone struggles with on some level. It’s that feeling of being slightly uncomfortable in your own skin, of questioning yourself and wondering if you’ve got what it takes, if you’re enough, etc. Insecurity often looks at the world around you and goes – “Man, they seem to have it all together and I don’t – not even close! I’m not as ______ as they are. I’m not enough as I am to be _________.”  Insecurity leaves you looking to others for your identity and constantly adapting who you are, what you are interested in, and how you act in relationships just to be accepted. Insecurity enslaves you into this trap of perfectionism, fueling this false belief that if you can just be better, funnier, smarter, or _______ than you’ll finally be worthy of acceptance, love, and secure friendships. What insecurity does not tell you is that it’s like the wheel in a hamster’s cage. Hamster’s love jumping on the wheel and running for exercise, but they never go anywhere and they can’t easily stop once they start running without getting tripped up. When we allow the lies that insecurity whispers in our ears to take root in our heart and drive our actions and beliefs, we will constantly be striving to reach a destination which the wheel will not take us. It is a vicious, never-ending, energy-expending pursuit to find security because it is based on the whims of fickle humans. The truth is, secure friendships are never built on the foundation of insecurity.

The other enemy is a victim mentality. It often stems from debilitating insecurity, but it is most definitely rooted in pride. Victim mentality is an insidious belief that you are the product, the victim, of your circumstances and that you don’t hold any personal responsibility for your actions or beliefs. It closes the door to any chance of constructive criticism and any hope of genuine restoration in your relationships because everything is always the other person’s fault. When you are a constant victim, no one can win with you unless they are telling you everything you want to hear, doing everything they want to do, and often it is still not enough for you to be pleased with your friends. When you are friends with a constant victim, your feelings are never valued or validated, you cannot be honest without dramatic conflict, and you will never win or please them. A victim mentality enslaves you in the loneliest of prisons, leaving you by yourself with festering wounds of bitterness and unforgiveness. Where insecurity leaves you striving and changing to earn acceptance, a victim mentality will leave you hardened and unyielding to change. Rather, it will demand that the world around you change, cater to your every sensitivity and proclivity, and practically demonize it when it doesn’t meet your expectations. It whispers lies such as, “They just don’t understand me. They don’t love me. If I can just find someone who understands me…” that take root in our hearts that will eventually burden and suffocate every friendship, further fueling the identity of “victim.” The truth is, understanding and healthy friendships can never be present where victim mentality is allowed to exist.

Insecurity and victim-mentality fuel self-absorption and distrust. You become so focused on yourself – whether or not you are accepted, how you need to adapt, or your own need to be understood and remain unhurt that you have no room to focus on others. It creates this self-fulfilling prophecy in which your fear of rejection or of hurt actually comes to pass because you never allow yourself to be your true self or open to personal growth.  Often we mask who we are for fear of rejection, but that only means that the friendships we do have are ones rooted in rejection – the worst kind of rejection – the kind in which you reject yourself. Not only does it fuel self-absorption, but it also fuels distrust. You’ll never fully trust that you are accepted, you’ll never fully trust that the other party is safe with your heart, you’ll never fully trust that you loved as you are. When we don’t trust, we close ourselves off as a form of protection. This creates a wall that will inevitably create distance in the relationship, and distance that continues to grow will eventually be the death of a healthy friendship which will feel like rejection.  So the very thing we feared – rejection – will be the very thing we experience when we allow insecurity and a victim mentality to take root in our friendships and relationships.

At some point in your life you will struggle with both of these issues. It won’t always look the same, but in some form or fashion we will all struggle with insecurity and a victim mentality for the course of our lives. Why? Because we were wired for relationship and community, but in our sinfulness we’ve skewed that design. We look to each other for our identity rather than our Creator, and it’s easier to scapegoat our shortcomings than stare at our broken mess of humanity and own it, admitting that we aren’t perfect and that we are in need. We dislike being in positions of being in need, because it forces dependence on and surrender to something or someone greater than us – and that feels like slavery. The reality is that we are all slaves to something or someone – we will be for our entire lives. Want to know who has mastery over you? It is whatever or whomever you give authority. When we choose “independence” – we’re really choosing to be enslaved to our broken attempts to control our lives, and that is ultimately choosing to be enslaved to others because they decide if we’re ________ enough. When we choose to surrender and depend on Jesus, we’re really choosing the opportunity to walk in freedom. It’s an incredibly freeing thing to own our mess, leave it at the cross, and walk in the truth of who we are in Christ. Choosing anything else will leave us running from or wallowing in our brokenness – and that will prevent the growth of anything whole and life-giving in our lives.

You will never be able to rescue someone from insecurity or a victim-mentality; that will always come from them allowing God to work on their hearts. However, you can guard against insecurity and a victim-mentality in your own heart.  If you want to have safe and healthy friendships it will require you to not only confront your own brokenness, but also lovingly confront the brokenness of others. It will require that you daily, sometimes moment by moment, take your insecurities and your hurts before God’s throne, own them, and then surrender them and allow His truth to reign over you and your relationships. It will require that you walk in humility, remain open to the constructive and loving criticisms of others, listen and take what they have to say before God’s throne, hold it up in the light of His Word, and walk in obedience to Him. It will require that you walk in courage, love another more than yourself, walk in integrity, and sometimes that you know when to lovingly walk away from an unhealthy friend for a season. It will require that you walk in Divine wisdom, leaning heavily on the Spirit to guide you and work in you and through you, so that you know how to build and invest in these friendships in such a way that reveal the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth…because the world needs to see the beauty and the hope of the Gospel in our friendships and relationships.

My prayer for you is that you would see your Dad and I model friendship well, not perfectly, for you as you grow up, and that you would experience relationship with the greatest Friend, Jesus.

All of my love,


Giving Aunt Kaelin a sympathetic face when she had to go to the doctor (I think you were remembering your 2 month shots!). 

Insisting that you sit up "on your own" while watching football with Daddy and I. 

Bright eyed and wide awake at bedtime - too bad you do not look this alert in the mornings :)


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Letters to Little: the House of Friendship

My sweet Samuel,

You are racked out (finally) for your afternoon nap at the moment. You must be dreaming about something lovely as you smile in your sleep – could you be any cuter?

One of my hopes for you is that you have some pretty epic friends throughout the course of your life. While I’m sure that friends will come in and out of your life as seasons change, some will remain fast and steady presences in your life. I pray these lifelong buddies love Jesus, speak life to you and over you, and are a safe place in which you can be yourself.

Not every friend you make will be one of these close buddies, and that’s okay! Your heart is precious and it should be guarded wisely – which means, that not everyone will honor your heart and cherish it. It’s never healthy to be completely closed off to relationships, nor is it healthy to swing wide the doors of your heart’s most vulnerable places to everyone. There has to be a balance, and I’m confident that you will find that balance and walk well in it with divine wisdom – this is my prayer for you.  As you grow, remember that your relationships are like inviting someone into your life, much like you would invite someone into your house.

We spend a lot of time on our front porch – you LOVE the porch swing your Daddy made for me and you LOVE being outside – it’s the only place that calms you when you become inconsolable. Neighbors will drive by and wave, occasionally some will be walking and stop by to say hello. They’ll chat for a while with us, ask how old you are, and say hello to Moe puppy (whether they wanted to or not, she’s still learning personal space), but they never come inside.  We know very little about the depth of their personal lives, but we look out for one another. These are “front porch” people – and you will have a lot of “front porch” people in your life. Neighbors, acquaintances, mutual friends, coworkers, or folks you just met will generally be “front porch” people – nearly everyone starts out as a “front porch” friend before they move into the living room.

“Living room” friends have been invited into your “home” so to speak, but not too far into it. They’re often “front porch” people that you have a bit more in common with. Friends on your soccer team or in your class at school – they’ll know you a bit more but not super close. You may have a lot of “living room” friends, especially if you play sports or participate in extracurricular activities. These are great friends to have, too! You may not know them super well, but there’s a lot of encouragement to be found in these friendships. There’s also a lot of heartache that can be experienced in these friendships. These are often your peers – you care more about their acceptance of you than the “front porch” friends. You spend more time with them, they’ve seen a bit more of who you are, and when they hurt you it stings a bit more. When a “front porch” person hurts you, it’s generally unintentional because they don’t know you well enough to offend you intentionally. When a “living room” friend says something hurtful, it is still likely unintentional, but it can also be more specifically tailored to something you value or are insecure about. You’ll learn how to navigate conflict and build deeper friendships from these “living room” friends – they’ll go from “porch friend” status to sitting back in the deep couch and playing video games and taking their shoes off OR they’ll never get comfortable enough and stay more in the front porch zone…which is okay. “Living room” friends who do get comfortable enough to take off their shoes, sit back and relax will sometimes stay there, but some will move into the kitchen.

“Kitchen friends” are fewer in number and closer to you than your “living room” friends. They’re the friends who you’ll invite over to play, eat dinner, or spend the night. They’ll be the friends in your class or on your soccer team or in your small group (when you’re older) that you’ve bonded with more closely. You’ll learn quickly that we spend a lot of time in our kitchen (which is also extended into our den). It’s much more of a mess than the front living room and it’s the room in our house in which we frequently connect with one another as we cook dinner, greet your dad when he comes home from work, and catch up with good friends over a glass of coffee or wine (or boobie milk for you).  In our kitchen is our back door – and it is used frequently by our close friends, like Aunt Lizan and Andrea. These friends rarely knock (unless the door is locked), but they’re welcome anytime.  These friends know us well – they’ve seen both our dirty dishes and laundry piled up on the couch. They’ve seen us burn dinner and argue with one another. They recognize when we’re having a hard day and are quick to offer to pray for us. They have sent us encouraging texts, brought us dinner on hard days, and love babysitting you! These friends are generally your community – not only do you continue to learn how to resolve conflict, but you also learn how to better communicate that much more.  None of us are perfect, and in every relationship or friendship we will have disagreements, hurts, and wounds.  These friendships will be worth fighting for, they’ll challenge you to grow and become the man God has called you to be. These friendships will offer perspective, challenge your thoughts and opinions, and help you learn how to identify and utilize your strengths and gifts within your community. Most of your “kitchen” friends will remain around the table (or on the couch in our current layout), but some will make themselves at home further by entering into the pantry.

“Pantry” friends are friends that absolutely make themselves at home – these will be your closest and most likely lifelong friends. You may only have 1-2 of these friends. These are friends that open up the cabinets in your home and help themselves to snacks – or in your mother’s case, they know where my stash of chocolate is hidden and how to locate the ice cream. These friends don’t just know that you’re having a rough time, they know the specifics of why and what you’re struggling with. They know how disorganized your cabinets are, and that you keep junk food in those cabinets that are tucked away on the top row even though you keep all the healthy food in the front of the fridge. They hold you accountable, they cry with you (you can still be a manly man and shed some tears), they get angry with you, they love you. These are friends that know you so well they’re practically family. They’re the ones you want to take on vacation with you, the ones who know all of your embarrassing moments and have no problem laughing about them. These are the people who laugh WITH you, but not AT you in a denigrating way. These are the people who can call you out on your BS but do so in such a way where you know, even when it stings, that they love you tremendously. These are the friends that you are vulnerable with – they know the real Sam and they love you all the same. These are not perfect friends, but they are pretty epic. You’ll learn tremendous grace in these friendships – when you have absolutely blown it, because you will at some point, these friends won’t abandon you. You’ll learn all about sanctification in these friendships as you learn to both speak and receive the truth in love. You’ll learn that confrontation doesn’t always have to lead to conflict in these friendships, and that there is tremendous freedom when you can be accepted for who you are and not what you bring to the table.

One friend will go beyond a “pantry” friend one day and see the most intimate parts of who you are when they move into your bedroom as your wife. I know, cue the “ewww gross Mom!”  I’m praying for all of your friendships, but I’m really praying for this one. Your friendship with your wife will be the most important friendship you ever invest in. You will continue to have to invest in this friendship if you want to have a healthy marriage. She will know you more than anyone else, and I hope above all else that she is safe with your heart. You will know her more than anyone else, and you’ll learn more about the Gospel and God’s love for you in this friendship and in your friendship with Jesus than in any other friend group. More than anyone else, she will push you closer to Jesus and into a deeper dependence upon Him as you learn how to lead, love, and serve her as Jesus leads, loves and serves the Church.  You will both know each other so well, that when you fight you’ll be tempted to hit below the belt sometimes – you’ll know how to deliver a swift punch to the gut, one that will deliver the most damage with the least amount of effort – but my prayer for you both is that you never take that shot. Rather, you guard one another, inspire growth in one another, and always keep the only perfect Friend (Jesus) in the center of your marriage.

Finally, the greatest friend you will ever have – and the only perfect friendship – is the friendship you’ll have with Jesus. Jesus built your house – He knows you better than you know you – so there is no point in hiding your dirty laundry or junk food, or pretending you don’t have cobwebs or skeletons in your closet. He knows you fully and loves you unconditionally. When you feel like you have no one else, when no one understands, Jesus stands with you – always present with you, regardless of your feelings, and He is able to sympathize with your every weakness because He too has been tempted, rejected, hurt, disappointed, excited, angry, loved, sad – you name it, He has experienced it without sinning (Hebrews 4:15). So when your friends hurt you, or when you feel alone, I hope you find in Jesus a steadfast friend.

I hope you never buy into the lie that you are not enough, or that your worth is dependent upon the opinions or acceptance of others. I hope you never bend to peer pressure and feel the need to compromise your convictions in order to gain “friends” – who will not be true friends at all. I hope that you are a good friend – from the people you see in passing, to your spouse, to everyone in between – I pray that you are a man who stands firm in his convictions and yet remains a warm and safe place for people in which they can find rest, grace, and love. In a world that preaches tolerance, I hope that you never “tolerate” others but love them as Christ has called us to love one another.

I also hope that you keep your Dad and I in at least kitchen friend status throughout your life – don’t kick us to the curb as a teenager ok? We’re for you, even when you think we’re old and out of touch J

All my love,


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Letters to Little: A Series on Friendship

My Saturday mornings – truthfully all of my mornings – look much differently now that I’m a mom. Gone are the days where sleeping in was an option, going for a run in the stillness of the morning was possible, or sitting at our farmhouse table with my Bible and journal for an unlimited amount of time.  Sleeping in is now making it to 6 or 7am. Going for a run now involves breastfeeding a baby, getting a stroller, dog, baby and myself out the door before it gets unbearably hot, and “running” quickly turns into walking because I inevitably wet my pants when I try to run. **Do your Kegels ladies, do your kegels!** I still get the gift of sitting down to write over coffee every now and then, like this morning. It isn’t as quiet, but it is just as beautiful.

This morning Sammy is playing on his mat. He’s starting to learn that his hand is connected to his body – and that he can hit things with it. He is no longer punching himself in the face and looking surprised. He still looks surprised when he connects his fist to the toys hanging over him, but he loves the sounds they make and keeps swinging. Mittens cover his little hands (because he keeps scratching his face) making him look like a little boxer. He’s worn himself out and is fighting falling asleep, which is adorable until he starts to cry. He’s rocking a new onesie from his Aunt Kaelin. On the front in bold font reads “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made.” Yes you are. I think to myself as I pick him up, settle him down into his sleeper and rock him with my foot as I sit back down to my computer.

I think about his sweet self and how he’s becoming more expressive of his personality. I am so excited to learn who he is and how he processes and connects with the world around him. I pray about the kind of man he will one day be, and I hope that he will make choices in divine wisdom and not out of his own logic all the days of his life. In my heart of hearts, I want him to keep the innocence and faith of a child for as long as possible – I want him to look at the world much like he does now, with a sense of wonder and curiosity. I don’t want him to remain in a place of immaturity – I want him to grow – but in a world where so many kids have to become adults much sooner than they ever should, I want so badly for my son to have a joyful childhood.  A deep part of my mother’s heart wants for him to have ridiculously awesome, Christ-centered, honest and loving friendships in which he can be himself without fear.

This week has reminded me of how important friendship is – how much we value friendship and meaningful connection as human beings. It isn’t vital to survival, but I do believe that we were wired for relationship. While there is a void in the core of who we are that can only be completely satisfied by God Himself, I think there’s a deep longing in the human soul to be seen, genuinely seen, and to be loved in that exposure by others. How we interact within friendship reveals so much about who we are, what we fear, and where our hope lies. How we handle hurts and conflict within those friendships says that much more.

I think about a dear friend of mine who had a challenging week in the world of friendship. She is one of the most passionate, warm, loving, and animated women I know, and yet this week she believed the lie that there was something wrong with the friendship she had to offer others. I witnessed a woman who has so much to offer believe that she had nothing valuable to give – and while I wanted to be quick to encourage her with truth, I had to check in with myself for a moment. I, too, have felt and believed the exact same lies.  

I think about the wedding shower that is being hosted at my house this afternoon – how I have a thousand things left to do before guests begin to arrive – and how I had to remind my very stressed out self this morning that this shower is about a dear friend and her upcoming marriage. It’s not about how clean my house is, how cute the decorations are, how tasty the food is or how Pinteresty it looks. It’s not about keeping Moe’s hair off the newly cleaned furniture, or if the nursery looks pristine, or even if my cluttered desk in the kitchen is organized…it’s not about what my friends think of me when they are guests in my home. It’s about celebrating an upcoming marriage – the picture God gives the world to say, “This is what the Gospel is like…This is what My love for you is like..” I know that. I’ve known it all along, and yet this fear of man creeps in so very slyly.

This belief that I have to live up to a certain set of expectations in order to be of any value, in order to be worth the pursuit or maintenance of a friendship, is one of the most detrimental weapons against a healthy relationship. When it is self-imposed, like mine has been this weekend, then it is a lie that must be quickly thwarted before the gracious throne of the Father in truth. It’s a heart issue, something that must be uprooted while truth is replanted in the soil of our souls – it cannot come from another’s constant validation but from believing God’s Word concerning our identity. However, when this mindset is imposed upon you by another – when who you are is never good enough – it’s another beast entirely.

It has taken me a very long time to begin to learn what really matters in a friendship – those things that separate a genuine friend from an unsafe one. I will forever be learning how to be humble and teachable within the context of friendships –how to handle conflict Biblically, how to fight courageously for unity and reconciliation, for peace and a safe place in which vulnerability can exist. I will forever be learning to let some friendships go as well – to step back, to grieve, and to choose healthy boundaries.

I may constantly battle the lies that come with the struggle of perfectionism and anxiety, especially in the context of friendship. However, I am so thankful for the core women God has placed in my life as intimate friends – those women that can call me out gently and call me up candidly. I’m thankful for the new friendships we are making as a family in this season of parenthood – for the mothers and older women whose wisdom has brought a sense of normalcy, hope and humor in these sleep-deprived, sometimes discouraging days. Most of all, I’m thankful for the friendship of Jesus – for the constant, open invitation to come before him with all that I’m carrying and take a break at His feet. Of all the friends that Samuel makes in his life, I hope he cherishes that perfect Friend above all.

I’ve never done a “series” of posts on a topic before, but I’ve been enjoying writing “Letters to Little” in my personal life and sharing a few here on the blog. The next few posts will be “letters” centered around friendship, so I hope you enjoy them!

all the love and crisp fall air from music city,

Sammy loves his friend Fox 
Game Day with his Aunt Lauren 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Samuel's Birth Story

It’s taken me nearly six weeks to sit down and write Samuel’s birth story, but I figured I would try to carve out a few precious moments this morning to remember his entrance into the world over a cup of much needed coffee.

Samuel was due on July 13th – key word “was.” I had been having very irregular, sporadic contractions and Braxton Hicks throughout the last few weeks of my pregnancy, but to my chagrin nothing was happening on July 13th. I went to work like normal, waddling around as I tried to get everything ready for my pending maternity leave. I went to my prenatal appointment, hoping it would be my last one and I could sweet talk the midwife into stripping my membranes (a method that can induce labor by separating the bag of amniotic fluid from the cervix…about as comfortable as it sounds). Linda, my midwife for the appointment, agreed to check me and strip my membranes if I was dilated enough. I was expecting to be completely closed and nowhere close to going into labor, so I had been hesitant to get checked, but with the chance of inducing labor ahead of me, I agreed. Surprisingly, I was already 3cm, 70% effaced and baby was at a -3 station (low).  In one of the most awkward and hilarious moments of my life, Linda stripped my membranes and told me we would know within 24 hours if it worked. I went back to work, praying to go into labor, and started contracting. I contracted for about 20 hours and called my mom Tuesday morning after my contractions had remained about 7 minutes apart for a few hours. Unsure of whether they should make the drive or not, I didn’t want my parents to miss his birth, so they hopped in the car and headed to Nashville.  I called my supervisor at work and started my maternity leave in case I was in genuine labor. Two hours later, my contractions stopped completely.

Are you kidding? I wanted to cry. I think I did cry a few times.  My parents were on their way, I was off of work and all for a false alarm?! It could be another week – a week of maternity leave that I didn’t get to spend with him as an infant. To say I was discouraged would be a massive understatement. 

Mom and Dad arrived and Mom declared we were going to “walk that baby out.” I laughed, but was happy to have someone join me on my morning walks. Wednesday morning she nearly killed me as she sprinted and I waddled 2 miles – okay, maybe she was walking, but gosh it felt like a sprint! I had a few contractions but nothing promising, and again was feeling so discouraged that my parents had wasted a trip even though they didn’t care, they were happy to be in Nashville with Ray and I. We then got into the car and decided to go walk the mall and run a few errands. Dad decided to join us, and the three of us made a few laps around the Cool Springs mall. At some point in the mall, my contractions became strong and more frequent. As I was driving out of the parking lot, Mom made me pull over and monitor contractions from the passenger seat. We headed to Whole Foods and stocked up on some yummy snacks, and my contractions became more frequent and just as strong. I spent the evening bouncing on my birth ball and twisting into whatever position took pressure off of my back. My sweet husband applied counter pressure periodically, Mom made dinner and I put on what Dad would inevitably call an “inappropriate” sitcom to help distract me.

Around 7pm we called the midwife when my contractions were strong and 5-7 minutes apart, she said we could labor at home and call back when they were about 4 minutes apart. I took a warm shower and headed to bed to try to sleep – keyword “try.” Around 1am my contractions had spaced out a bit and I was hungry, so I decided to eat a snack – which I would regret in a few hours. By 2am, my contractions were strong and waking me up uttering curse words. By 3am, Ray was also up with me as I tried to get into whatever position alleviated my back labor. We (really Ray making me) decided to walk – so we paced in the driveway, stopping often for me to lean on him and sway. What was more bizarre than us walking in our driveway at 3:30am, was a random guy walking down the street talking on the phone at 3:30 am – I’m sure he thought we were crazy.
My contractions went from 6 minutes apart to 3 minutes or less – so much for 4 minutes! We called the midwife and headed to the hospital – my sweet husband driving as “gently” as possible and me yelling at him to screw being gentle and get me to the hospital! We pulled up to the ER entrance to see one valet working his butt off, while his coworker sat in the office bobbing his head to whatever was playing through his head phones. We got his attention and Ray rolled me into the ER, where this poor male nurse had to ask a very cranky, very pregnant me a bunch of questions like “What are the last 4 numbers of your social?” (which by the way, is incredibly hard to remember when your uterus is evicting a child). We were admitted around 4am and only 5cm dilated. Though baby had dropped a good amount since my appointment on Monday, I remember thinking “I’m only halfway?!”

Our sweet doula Lindsey arrived around 5am, right after my parents got to the hospital as well. We sent poor Dad to wait in the hallway and got into the labor tub. Surrounded with Ray, my mom, Lindsey and a sweet midwife student named Brittany, I labored in the tub for a good while until the heat of the water caused me to feel dizzy. After laboring in the tub, I was 8 cm and entering transition – the part of labor that scared me the most. I had made a joke about an epidural in the tub, but that epidural started to sound really, really good hitting transition. “This is the shortest part though,” I told myself, “only 30 minutes to 2 hours of this.”  I then apologized to everyone in the room preemptively – “I’m sorry if I lose my shit.” They laughed at me, but I was serious.

2 hours my butt I thought about 3 hours later. I had stalled with a small “lip” of my cervix between me being complete and ready to push. All I wanted to do was lay down and nap – someone asked me what I wanted and I said, “An epidural and a nap!” They laughed saying, “At least she has her sense of humor still.” I was kind of serious though. Lying down was so uncomfortable, but moving seemed impossible. We tried everything though – it was like a circus in that room. They had me pulling on labor bars, but I was too short. They had me sitting on a birth stool, which was the most ungodly, uncomfortable, torturous thing ever invented for back labor. They had me standing over the bed, hugging my birth ball, while Brittany tried to spread my legs apart more. I wanted to kick her, but my leg muscles started cramping so badly. I crawled back into bed and inhaled my nitrous like there was no tomorrow. The nitrous made my reflux ten times worse (if that was possible – remember that 1am snack I mentioned regretting? It threatened to come back up the entire labor), along with making me very nauseated and dizzy, so I couldn’t use it with every contraction. Looking back, I think the nitrous gave me something to focus on – it was a distraction, but it didn’t help much with the pain. I kept asking “How much longer?!” even though I knew the answer was going to be, “Let’s just focus on one contraction at a time.”   I later told my midwife Bethany that answer ticked me off but it was the answer I would’ve given my patients if they were in labor.  I remember hearing whispers and I knew that I had stalled. My water had yet to break, but Samuel had a few variable decelerations in labor and I knew breaking my water wasn’t ideal – he was so low and depending on the position of his umbilical cord, removing that cushion of water could stress him further. I remember the midwife giving me an hour to see if I would progress before breaking my water. I remember opening my eyes to Lindsey sweetly suggesting trying to get out of bed – she phrased it in a way that sounded as though I had a choice, but her look of concern told me to get the hell out of bed.

Of all places, they put me on the toilet with my feet on a stool. After a few contractions I was completely dilated and starting to push involuntarily.  They helped me back to bed and we pushed for about an hour I think, that’s what they told me at least. My elbows rested on the head of the bed as I sat on my knees – each contraction sending me into a deeper squat with a loud moan. I could’ve sworn everyone on L&D could hear me groaning like a cow – I thought I was scaring every woman in labor with my noise but I couldn’t help it – it felt natural and helped me breathe. Ray stayed by my head, swapping out ice cold rags to put on my neck, puke bag in hand in case I needed it, and fingernails embedded in his hands. When my breathing would start to get out of control with the pain, he would breathe with me and I could match his tone. I remember looking over at my nurse asking, “Susan, why did I not get the epidural?!” Again, there was more laughter but I was kind of serious!

If you take a birth class, they’ll most likely talk to you about the “ring of fire.” It’s in reference to the incredible burning sensation you get when baby starts to crown…it’s also an understatement. My bag of water presented first, and they said, “Alex, reach down here – feel this? It’s your water.” I yanked my hand back, quite grossed out, and said, “Get him out!” I remember thinking, “I need to change my breathing” – recalling from our birth class the short, shallow breaths that would keep a feather in the air – but it never translated physically for me. I remember hearing Bethany tell me they were about to deliver the head and she may ask me to stop pushing for a bit. Thankfully, she never told me to stop, because there was no stopping. Samuel’s head crowned, bursting my water, and shooting him out. There was an instant relief of pain that flooded my body, and then there was a lot of confusion as they handed this slippery little human to me from in between my legs. They helped me reposition with Samuel on my stomach, where he promptly pooped (thanks buddy).  Mom cut the cord as Ray held my hand and teared up – taking in his little boy. They cleaned him up and started to fix me up. That nitrous was not fun in labor, but it was my best friend in recovery. Ray laughs at me because I was high as a kite. Dad was finally allowed back in the room from his banishment, and I remember looking over and seeing Dad and Ray both tearing up over Samuel. My repair took nearly 45 minutes before I got to hold Sam again and breastfeed. Lindsey had taken lots of pictures and helped with breastfeeding before she headed back home. God bless her, she massaged my back and applied pressure to my hips for the entire 7 ½ hours I was laboring in the hospital. There was no way I could’ve done it without her, Ray, my mom and the rest of our healthcare team. Everyone was so supportive and unified behind our goal to have a healthy and natural labor.

The rest of our stay in the hospital and our first two weeks home felt incredibly surreal. Recovery in the hospital was relatively easy and fast – I walked to the postpartum unit and frequently during my stay to help ward off worsening soreness. Outside of that, I had no time to process the fact that my body had just gone through something incredible, that I had just had a baby. Everyone kept telling me I was a champ – natural childbirth? You go girl! But that’s the last thing I felt like physically. I felt like a grenade had exploded between my legs and every time Sam needed to eat I wanted to cry. I felt weak and broken. I was exhausted, frustrated, and in constant pain. If I’m being honest, there were times when I snapped at Samuel and wanted to shake him – not shaken baby – but like someone would grab you by the shoulders and say, “Get it together man!” Then I would cry in guilt – I don’t want to be a mother or wife who yells, and yet I was snapping at my husband and baby.  I would burst into tears in the middle of the night – Sam would be crying and I would be crying. I just wanted to feed my baby normally and painlessly, and he just wanted to eat but couldn’t do that well. Still, I remember thinking there was incredible grace – my bottom hurt, his bottom hurt too from a circumcision and then diaper rash. I was frustrated and so was he – I didn’t know what I was doing and neither did he. We were in the same boat, the two of us, and that realization helped me care for him with compassion in difficult moments. The only difference was that I was in constant demand and he was (still is) in constant need. I loved him – but in the very deliberate and determined way that comes from meeting his needs the best way I could, even though it meant putting my needs to the side temporarily. It took us learning to exist together when everyone left – when Ray went back to work, when all the family left – for me to really begin to feel strongly bonded and connected to him. And it has not been easy – a persistent, awful diaper rash, two lip tie revisions and a tongue tie revision, oversupply issues, multiple medical appointments and calls to lactation consultants, we are still learning how to do basic things, like how to suck, how to open his mouth wide, how to latch, etc.  In the midst of everything, God has been so faithful and I am so thankful. Where he would be expected to be “failure to thrive,” because of my oversupply of milk, he has continued to gain weight and grow on curve! Ray and I are well aware that many families and couples would gladly trade the late nights, the episodes of inconsolable crying/screaming, the pain and stress for the sweet presence of a little one – the sweet presence that I never want to take for granted. 

There are times I grieve my pre-baby life – my pre-baby body, productivity, and social/married life – which I think is normal and healthy, but I wouldn’t exchange this season for a thing. Motherhood has been the most challenging experience of my life. My body has been broken, and yet I feel stronger and more beautiful than ever. My spirit has been tested and I have felt so discouraged, but because of God’s faithfulness my family is not defeated. I have learned the depths of my stubbornness, selfishness, lack of control and pride – along with the depth of my need of the Lord, the love and sacrifice in the Gospel, and grace so ever sufficient for my every weakness. My heart, in all of its fullness, is now outside of my body and it rests on a chunky little man named Samuel Grey Shaw. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Letters to Little: Quiet Moments

My goodness! You are one month old! This time a month ago I was in transition with you – it was the longest and hardest part of labor – praise Jesus you came out when you did!

Right now you are sleeping in your monkey sleeper – which you spend a lot of time in because I can take it from room to room while I’m doing chores. You also make the greatest facial expressions, love eating, swinging on the porch swing and being outside in general. You’ve been more alert lately, letting Daddy and I see your big blue eyes. We love playing with you, but you would rather eat and sleep. Daddy is on a long run, Moe went back to sleep, and I am sitting at our table, coveted coffee mug in hand, really thankful for our little family and this quiet moment.

One thing I struggle with is being still and quiet before the Lord. In truth, I talk way too much and am a poor listener. I’m always fearful of being alone and quiet with Jesus. What if He doesn’t show up? What if He tells me things I don’t want to, or am not ready to hear? What if I’m exposed? These are irrational fears rooted in unbelief. These are irrational fears rooted in unbelief. The truth is that God is always present. He already knows and sees all of me, and His words bring life. I know this, but I still struggle with pride and doubting God’s character…and I avoid Him. I avoid quiet moments and connecting with Him.

In John 15 & 16, Jesus tells His disciples quite a bit of hard stuff…and He tells them why:

(16:1) “I have said these things to you to keep you from falling away.”

(16:4) “But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.”

(16:33) “I have said these things to you so that in me you may have peace…”

Jesus also tells his disciples in John 16:12, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”

He only tells them what they can bear to hear in that moment. While He said some difficult things that they didn’t fully understand, His heart was never to overwhelm them but to prepare, equip and encourage them.

Jesus really put His finger on my fearful and prideful heart as I read these last few chapters in John. Jesus calls me to “abide” – to remain with and in Him, to spend time with Him, to know Him, to ask of Him, to be one with Him and the Father. When I avoid Him, when I refuse to still myself before Him and listen, I do the opposite. I am more anxious, more stressed, and more foolish. I return to things that I know; things that are natural, easy and familiar. I make decisions out of fear and my own human wisdom, which isn’t wisdom at all. Like Peter did in John 21, I go back to “fishing” when Jesus has called me to follow Him (John 21:3; 19).

The reality is that I cannot follow Jesus unless I know Him – and I cannot get to know Him unless I engage and spend time with Him. God’s heart is not to overwhelm me with things I cannot bear to hear. He knows my limits better than I do, so when He does bring a challenging or convicting word to me, I have to trust His character, timing and purpose. When He comes with correction or conviction, I need to ask for the humility to receive it, the grace to repent and the faith to follow. His heart is for me – like it is for you – and my prayer is that you would know God’s voice and follow Him all the days of your life…and that you would see that modeled by your Daddy and me.

We love you so much buddy.


PS: you are officially a chunky monkey :)

Friday, August 7, 2015

Letters to Little - The Way It Ends

John 11:4 – But when Jesus heard it he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’”

Happy three weeks my little munchkin! You are getting sooo big! You gained almost a pound in your first two weeks and continue to fill out your skin. I am loving your baby rolls but missing how tiny you were already. Last night you slept for 4-4 ½ hours at a time – which means I got to sleep, too! You have the best facial expressions and you love to make noises. You also love your pacifier and the porch swing – still not a fan of the car seat though!

I would be lying if I told you that these past three weeks have been easy and perfectly wonderful. They have been wonderful, but also painful, challenging, and disheartening for all of us at times. You won’t remember, but you’ve been frustrated, too.

At one point, when I was feeling so very discouraged, Jesus reminded me of his friend Lazarus. In John 11, Lazarus’ sisters (Mary and Martha) send word to Jesus that his good buddy (whom Jesus loved) is very sick and needs Jesus. What does Jesus do? You would think that He would rush to His friend’s side and heal him right away – that would be the most loving thing to do, right? But Jesus doesn’t do that. Jesus says, “This doesn’t end in death; God’s going to get the glory” and He stays put. He doesn’t go. And Lazarus dies…and then Jesus decides to go to him….
….What the heck Jesus?
But that’s not the end of the story. Jesus ends up raising Lazarus from the dead!
Time out.
Wouldn’t it have been easier for everyone if Jesus had just gone first thing and healed Lazarus? Or better yet, if He had never allowed Lazarus to get sick to begin with?

You see, God’s ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. He is so much smarter and greater than we are. The reality is that Jesus could have healed Lazarus or prevented his illness entirely, but because He didn’t a few things happened:

1.       Lazarus encountered Jesus in a way that he never would have otherwise. He was given a powerful testimony.
2.       Jesus demonstrated His authority over death – not just to Lazarus and His disciples, but to the Jews who were present and to us as well. They encountered Jesus in a way they never would have otherwise and left with a powerful testimony. Much like them, we get to encounter Jesus in that same way when we read this story.
3.       God got the glory – and where God is glorified, therein lies our good. God’s glory=our good…even (especially) when it doesn’t look like what we would have thought.

So could Jesus miraculously fix all of our breastfeeding struggles – heal your tongue and lip ties, take away my pain, regulate my milk supply to meet your needs? Could He balance out your clotting factors so you don’t bleed so easily? Heal that pesky, persistent diaper rash? Yes, yes He could. He could in an instant. Has He? No. But has He been gracious, and faithful, and present, and healing? Yes, yes He has. In fact, you would be expected to be “failure to thrive” and yet you are gaining weight because of an oversupply of milk! God is so faithful to us and what seems hopeless – what appears will end in death – Jesus says, “I got this. God will get the glory.”

Because of the Gospel we can confidently claim, “This will not end in death. God will be glorified.” Even physical death is not our end. We have the hope of life forever with Jesus – whole, complete, perfectly restored life.

Satan would love for us to wallow in despair – to allow confusion, grief, frustration and anger to prevent us from seeking God and pressing into Him during difficult seasons. He loves to whisper lies to us, like “God doesn’t care.” “This is hopeless.” “Change or healing isn’t possible.” “Just give up.” Etc.
Jesus had declared, “This does not end in death.” He has won the victory by rising from the dead. He has the authority, the power, the final say over death and everything else. Where Satan can only steal, kill, destroy, and lie, Jesus always gives and brings full and abundant life (John 10:10).

There will be times in your life when Jesus will “wait” or “stay” like He did in Lazarus’ case. Other times when He will ask you to surrender to Him in trust, even when it seems like that is the death of a dream or promise – He did this with Abraham when He asked Abraham to sacrifice his promised son Isaac – but I promise He knows best and He is faithful to His promises. If He asks you to lay something down on the altar (which He will at some point), know that there is life abundant on the other side of surrender.

My prayer for you – as you squirm on my chest right now – is that you always trust Jesus and walk in obedience to Him, especially in tough seasons. That you would declare, as Jesus did, “This – whatever it might be- does not end in death. Jesus, get the glory.”
I love you my bug – always.

-          Mom