The Great Pumpkin Thief

Yesterday my daughter’s 1st Grade class took a field trip to a Pumpkin Patch.  She had been looking forward to this for weeks, literally counting down the days.  Being 7 is great!  There are such simple pleasures, like getting a day away from the classroom to take a school bus across town with all her friends.

Just look at this girl!

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The experience was everything she had hoped for, she was SO PROUD of and SO PLEASED with the pumpkin she picked out (there was NO green on this one, mama!) and even prouder that she could carry it by herself and got to go on a hayride with it.

Of course her younger brother’s class didn’t get this same field trip so after school we ran to a local pop up style ‘pumpkin patch’ set up down the road where he could pick one, too.

This boy has me wrapped around his finger.  Big time.

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As I set the pumpkins next to each other on our fireplace hearth when we got home, it was clear that Zachary’s was perfectly smooth and blemish-free all around, however Evangeline’s pumpkin had some scratches, dents, and a noticeable gauge on one side.

Unfortunately, I was not the only one who noticed this.

Aaaannnddd so began the tears.

In between sobs I managed to discern some words about how Zachary’s pumpkin was so much better and perfect and hers was…not.  I could practically see in her eyes the contempt she had for that poor scratched-up pumpkin.

This is nothing new in my world.  The kids always seem to be wanting what the other one has (the purple plate, the bigger Lego set, the better stick found outside, and on and on it goes) . Many fights and tears and conversations have taken place around this issue.  It honestly makes me want to tear my hair out.

But this time I was struck in a new way.  My girl had SO MUCH  joy in her pumpkin – and now it was all gone.  And I was not okay with that, I grieved for her and her heart.  Something had been stolen and I wanted to get it back.

So I sat down, pulled her in my lap and told her a story.  A story about how mommy LOVES leading bible studies and teaching God’s word.  It brings me joy, it brings me pleasure, it brings me purpose.  I love the men and women I have gotten to serve through this act and the ways God has ministered to them through it.  But one time (okay more than one time, but I didn’t tell Evie that…) I started noticing another woman – who also was a writer and teacher and leader -who seemed to do everything better than me.  More creatively, more powerfully, more impactfully and in cuter clothes than me.  When glancing down at my own work, all of a sudden what was in my hands appeared dull and hollow and small.  Like dents on a pumpkin.

I painted a picture for my daughter of how comparison, dressed all in black to be an extra sneaky burglar, broke into my heart and stole something from me.  He stole my joy and the love that I had for the work in front of me.   My work hadn’t changed.  I hadn’t changed.  The only thing that had changed was the presence of comparison.  And that changed everything.

Remember how much fun your field trip was, Evangeline?  Remember the hard work of traipsing through a field?  Remember how there were lots to choose from, but you picked just the right one?  Remember how you carried it around with your classmates? Remember how excited you were to show it to me when I picked you up from school?   Girl, that is YOUR pumpkin!

She remembered, I could see it in her eyes (I love when my parenting talks actually work!)

Zachary’s pumpkin doesn’t change ANY of that, don’t let comparison steal your joy.  

She sprang up from my lap and after heading over to the fireplace she knelt down and draped her arms dramatically around her pumpkin, looking as if she never wanted to be separated from that thing ever again.

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She remembered her first love.  Well, her first pumpkin, anyways.

Whether it is my work, my abilities, my kids, my appearances, my car, my home, my bank account – I am often times perfectly satisfied….that is until my eyes wander over and see an image presented of someone else’s work, ability, kids, appearance, car, home or bank account. I swear I have been tempted to trade in my own personality.   And I begin to feel contempt for what I have and what I have to offer.  So measly and meager my life becomes in just a moment!   I have to remind myself of the same things I reminded my girl.

And I know that for a long time whenever comparison is threatening to rob me blind, I will remember the innocent joy and pride on Evangeline’s face when I picked her up from school yesterday, holding her flawed but beautiful pumpkin.

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I also want to remember the way she repentantly embraced that precious pumpkin on the fireplace, remembering that while what I have may be different from what someone else has, it is mine.  It is what I chose, or what God has chosen on my behalf.  It is mine to use and to treasure and to enjoy.  I too want to hold these things close, draping my arms around them just as dramatically as my daughter, filled with thanksgiving.

The Family Raincoat

My daughter and I share some really special things.  We share a penchant for singing Disney songs as loud as we can around the house.  We share giddiness over baby animal videos on Youtube and excitement over holidays and cuddles and humor and a never-dying love for Taylor Swift.

One of the true joys of having a child is seeing certain traits being passed on to the next generation and taking part in life’s special and ordinary moments together.

But there are other things we don’t want passed on, that I would rather not share.  For most of my life I have been shy and insecure and had a difficult time making friends, so I have watched with bated breath as my little girl has begun navigating the social scene of preschool.  Will she make friends?  Do other little girls like her?  Is she lonely?  The girl is going to be tall, will she be awkward like I was or embrace her height?

Most recently I have seen the most inevitable of human emotions emerging in her, one that I struggle with that I wouldn’t wish on anyone let alone my own child.

Shame.

I once heard shame described as a raincoat, in that as much as God’s love and forgiveness is poured on us, so long as we are wearing a raincoat it will not penetrate, it will roll right off our shoulders and form puddles on the ground around our feet.

My girl’s shame is that she is not perfect; she seeks perfection yet, since she is a mere human, will always fall short.

My shame is unworthiness; I seek love and approval, but believe the worst about myself and what others feel towards me.

What form does your shame take?

At the very moment when God wants to completely saturate us, I mean totally drench us through and through with his love and mercy and newness, we put our raincoats on and we deny him, and deny ourselves.

The other day Evangeline was feeling particularly down and so I reminded her of a conversation that we had had several times in the last 6 months.  In those conversations, when she is feeling like “the worst person in the world” we ask who is telling her that.

Are mommy and daddy telling you that?  No. 

Is this what God thinks of you, is he saying you are a bad person?  No.

Is this something The Enemy is telling you?  Yes.

This five year old knows the answers.  She actually soaks up theology like a sponge.

In the past these have been fruitful, encouraging conversations for her and for me.  But this latest time was different.  She knew the answers.  She distinguished the lie.  I had done my job and taught her well.  But I could not for the life of me force her to believe it.  I could not make her take that raincoat off.  It is not mine to remove for her.

We can know the truth.  We can have the answers.  But God help us, sometimes it is just easier to believe the lie.

That is what our shame does to us.  That is what the intense shame of being imperfect does to my daughter.  That is what the crippling shame of being without value does to me.

I acknowledge the grace of God but keep it at arms’ length.

In the moment of that conversation with my daughter I could see her thought process on her face.  I could see her weigh the truth with what she was willing to actually accept in that moment.

And I grieved for her, knowing that even as she grows and matures and hopefully the times she  wears this raincoat will grow few and far between, it will always be there.  Always easier to pull it out of the closet then receive the transformational love of God.

I wrestled within, knowing that I could walk her to the ledge – right up to the very tip even – but can’t make her take the leap.  I can teach her the right ways, but can’t make her believe.

So I grieved for her, and for me.  But, I also hoped.

I hoped because of the times others have come around me to help me take the raincoat off, one button at a time.  Because each time I am tempted to keep the good things of God away, the lie gets harder and harder to believe.

Because each time I allow myself to stand in the rain, unclothed, unprotected and unashamed, it is more beautiful and miraculous and healing than the last. 

I can hope those things for the ones I love, too.  For my husband and friends and students and for my son and for my daughter.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.  And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.  So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  1 John 4

I have hope because we don’t have to be perfect, because He is.

I don’t have to seek for others to find me worthy, because God has determined that I already am.  I know this.  And I believe this.

So we have come to know and to BELIEVE the love that God has for us.

Observer

I say the same thing every year.

I can’t believe she is ONE already!

How in the world is my baby girl turning TWO?!

THREE years old today, how did this happen??!!

And for each year that my daughter celebrates a birthday the sappiness MULTIPLIES and pools up in a resevoir just waiting to be poured out of my eyes in weepy tears while clutching my chest and looking through baby pictures.  My baby girl!   Waaaaahhhhh!!!!

And so here I am saying and doing the same thing this year.

My precious Evangeline Meghan is going to be FOUR this week!

Pride and love and fierce devotion for the prettiest little girl I have ever seen in my whole life fill my heart.

My daughter.

She keeps getting older on me.  She keeps getting smarter.  She keeps getting taller.  She keeps getting funnier.  She keeps getting more inquisitive and more competent and more insightful.

And I just seem to be getting sappier.

In some ways I also seem to be becoming more of an observer in her life.

I don’t brush her teeth for her anymore, I watch her do it herself, carefully (and dare I say, Type A-ish?) brushing away each Sugar Bug.  I don’t pull a onesie over her tiny head anymore, I watch her dress herself before heading off to preschool.  I don’t put on her diaper anymore, I watch her run around the house in Disney Princess underpants.

Thankfully for my sentimental mama heart, I get to become active in new and exciting ways.   

While I don’t make exaggerated mommy expressions anymore trying to extract a tiny newborn smile, I do giggle with her uncontrollably on her bed as if we were two teenage girls.

I don’t just read her bible stories anymore as she sits there passively, I get to answer her questions like “Does God live in my belly?”.

I don’t just sing her songs at bedtime as she lays peacefully in my arms, she teaches me new songs from school and we sing them together.

One day, I won’t need to pour her milk for her anymore.  I won’t need to pick her up from school.  I won’t need to keep brother from sitting on her or stealing her blankie.  I won’t need to spray her with a bit of mommy’s perfume while she watches me get ready.

I will simply continue to grow as an observer as she learns to cook for herself and get her own breakfast, as she solves her own problems and blankie is nothing more than a small, worn piece of fabric up on the shelf, as she learns to drive and pick out her own perfume and…heaven help me…DATE BOYS.

And oh, I am so happy in this. I love to watch her.  I love to watch her laugh.  I love to watch her create new games and invite others to participate in them.  I love to watch her give her teacher a hug after school.  I love to watch her eating cereal in Winnie the Pooh jammies. I love to watch her getting better at ‘insiding out’ clothes. I love to watch her grow.  I love to watch her do.  I love to watch her learn. I love to watch her.  I love her.

And in all mommy honesty, I don’t miss the diapers and I am happy there is one less thing at bedtime routine that I have to do.

This role of observer really isn’t too bad.

But as this role in Evangeline’s life increases with every step towards independence and every inch grown taller and every year a little more mature, I hope that my active role, the place where I am still needed as a mommy, also increases in all the ways that come with a girl growing from 4 to 5 to 10 to 16 to 21.

I hope that we can continue to read together.  Dr. Suess and then Charlotte’s Web and then Anne of Green Gables and then Pride and Prejudice.

I hope that she continues to ask me questions about God, and then Spanish verb tenses and boys and friends and perfumes.

I hope that we continue to laugh like middle school girls, even when she is well in to her high school years.

I hope as blankie becomes smaller and more worn and less needed I can provide other items to bring her joy and comfort.  Like her favorite meal, a listening ear,  a simple prayer, and, someday, a plane ticket to come home for a visit (thanks mom.  see you next week!).

Happy Birthday Sweet Girl!

Heaven’s Hope

Mommy, if I get sick and have to go to the hopstable… do I still come back?

Yes honey.

If I die, do I still come back?

Well, not exactly.  But kind of.  

Will me and you and daddy and Zachary be together when we die?

Hopefully?

Can I have my blankie in heaven?

Um…

For whatever reason, my three year old daughter is intrigued with the concepts of death and dying right now and her questioning has brought me to a crisis point in my faith.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Does he mean it?

When Mary and later the apostles testify to the resurrected Jesus, can I truly believe this?  It was over 2,000 years ago for crying out loud and NO ONE has it on video.

When Paul wrote these words to Titus,

He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life

did he really know what the heck he was talking about?  Was the Holy Spirit actually speaking through this random letter written from one pastor to another?

Two truths are clear to me about life and death, not sure if they are universally true or just for me, but here they are…

The first is this:  With the exception of those fleeting moments of frailty in our lives (due to freak accidents, lost loved ones and an unexpected diagnosis) human nature is to live as though we are both immortal and invincible.  In general, we simply don’t think about the possibility definitiveness that death is coming for us today or tomorrow or in 20 short years, let alone what will happen after the fact.  It doesn’t influence much of our day to day lives.

A result of this unwillingness, or perhaps human inability, to fathom my own death has made it so my belief in the eternal life offered by Jesus is mostly a cognitive belief.

There are many fruits and joys and hopes that I enjoy today because of Jesus Christ, because they are relevant for today.  Death and eternity, for the reason I just mentioned, is just not one of them.

The second truth is this:  Mothers worry endlessly about their children and imagine all sorts of horrendous incidents and illnesses befalling their littlest loves.

Every fever,

Every tragedy on the nightly news,

Every nightmare diagnosis read about on the Internet threatens to become reality for the two little people sleeping across the hall from me. These two little people I love more than my own life, my own breath, my own safety and possibly even more than my own eternity

So, when Evangeline asks me her little girl important questions about what will happen to her after she dies, the belief I claim is urgently struggling to leave the cerebral – because I do fear her dying in ways that I don’t imagine or fear for myself – and enter my heart and soul and will.

It is relevant to me, today, whether she will be rotting in the ground for an eternity, or balancing on Jesus’ knee in Paradise when that day comes.

This belief I have needs to be more than cognitive.

I need hope.  True hope.  I need it for Evangeline and I need it for Zachary.

Therapeutic religious answers won’t cut it.

After Evangeline’s latest inquiries about the afterlife I took a few moments to myself.  Do I believe this?   I have entrusted myself to God’s Word, to God himself, to faith in The Faithful One.

Can I entrust my children in the same way?

I believe, help my unbelief.

Yes, baby.

Jesus says that God has a big house waiting in Heaven, with your own room and Jesus is getting it ready for you.  Remember, For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son Jesus so that whoever believes in him won’t parish, but have eternal life.

Isn’t that good news?

Just call me… Laundry?

One of my kids’ favorite movies right now is the Lorax, which I think is great because it has awesome music and a nice message.  In typical little girl fashion, my daughter is drawn to the puppy love storyline between two of the main characters Ted and Audrey and she will frequently invite them into her imaginary role-play time.  She pretends she is Ted cruising around on a scooter and I get to be Audrey.

Except she doesn’t call me Audrey, she calls me Laundry.

I’ll admit it is cute to hear her come up to me and say “Hey Laundry, I have a tree for you!” but there is a part of me that cringes because this name is just a little too appropriate.

After all, let’s be honest, I am not the red-haired. willowy, passionate dreamer played by Taylor Swift in the Lorax.  I am, at least in Evangeline’s eyes, mommy, (complete with mommy hair, mommy clothes and mommy sayings), who seems to have a laundry basket attached to her hip.

Although this is just a cute mispronunciation on the part of my daughter, it is true that sometimes the things I do, especially the less glamorous ones like dishes and laundry and diapers become who I am.  Like instead of saying “I do laundry” I could say, or should say, “I am laundry”

This can get real depressing, real quickly, for moms everywhere.

On the flip side, when the the things I am doing are a little more glamorous, at least compared to folding underwear, it doesn’t seem like such a bad method for identity.

I am a writer.

I am a chef.

I am a minister.

Yo soy profesora.

It is so easy to confuse our identity with our actions and our jobs and our hobbies and our chores, regardless of whether or not those things make us devalue ourselves, or puff us up with pride.

I think we all long to be called to something deeper and lasting, and so we look at what takes up the hours in our day and BAM! we have a new name.  A new identity.

Just call me Laundry.

Actually, like my Evie, Jesus wasn’t a stranger to re-naming people either.

During his first conversation with Simon, Jesus says:

“You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter[g]).

 

To James and John he gives them the nickname “Sons of Thunder”.

I’d like to think that if I were one of Jesus’ disciples, I would get some prophetic bad ass Kingdom of God name, too.

But, maybe I would just be Kirsten.  Or Laundry.

Perhaps Jesus does have a special name for me, as some scriptures allude to like this one in Revelation and perhaps I will get to hear it some day,

I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it. Revelation 2:17

but for today I can wear the titles of wife and mommy and teacher and writer and diapers and laundry with full knowledge that these names are kind of like decorations on a Christmas tree or icing on the cake.  Beautiful decorations.  Important decorations.  (Okay, some more beautiful and important than others). But not identities.  Not who I am.

Therefor if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation

I am identified by the fact that God, in His very mysterious and Godly way, took away what was my old self and created something completely new in and only through Jesus Christ.  I don’t know if it matters so much what my name is, only that it is written in heaven, that it is something I couldn’t create for myself, and that it is more lovely in the sight of God my Father than I could ever see for myself (especially on my frumpiest of mommy days).

What does this mean for me today?

1) I am free from having to identify myself by the things I do, they are simply that: things I do.

2) I am free to find joy in the daily mundane and the spiritually weighty and the occupationally important, because I don’t have the burden of needing to find identity in them.

3) My daughter is hilarious and I am going to miss these little quirks of hers as she learns how to successfully pronounce things.

How I Worship The King

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I am not one of those women who simply always wanted to a mother.  For a lot of my life I didn’t know what I wanted to be, but mommy never really crossed my mind.

Yet here I am being defined primarily in this role of mother.  Last spring I quit my teaching job and significantly scaled back my campus ministry work in order to focus on the two little disciples I have living with me now and it has really required a shift in my thinking about my identity, my calling and my relationship with God.

The work is hard.

The work is dirty.

I mean, wiping icky bottoms, getting spit up on and blending purees fit for toothless babies to consume are hardly an ideal way to spend a day.

Even the fun things, like playing with glitter and glue, walking to the park, and giggles and tickles and cuddling and cooing can seem so very…unspiritual.
As a campus staff worker with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship I truly connect with God when I am teaching His Word, leading bible studies, mentoring girls and prayer walking.

I connect with God when I am trainings our students to grow as leaders and missionaries and followers of The Way.

When I do these things, although they are outward actions, inside my heart is singing and praising and worshipping God.

So when these activities suddenly became very infrequent in my life because I was spending most of my hours at home being mommy, instead of on campus being minister; connecting with God became more challenging as well.
One evening not too long ago, I was putting my daughter to bed after a particularly naughty day and I found myself praying something different with her at night besides the usual “Thank you God for mommy and daddy and Evangeline and Zachary. Thank you for Jesus. Amen” prayer.

Instead, I prayed this alongside my daughter:  “Jesus, Evangeline is very sorry that she didn’t listen to mommy and daddy today. She is sorry that she threw a fit and threw her toys. Thanks God for loving her so much, even though she sometimes misbehaves Amen”.

With that Evangeline, in her ‘upset’ voice told me firsthand how she disobeyed daddy that day. And then she said strait from her heart “Sorry God”.

Such sorrow and repentance was in her voice that I was compelled to continue on, uttering my own mommy prayer for both her and God to hear.

And Jesus, I am sorry too. I am sorry that I was not very patient with Evangeline today. Please help me to be more patient and to not yell so much. And thank you God for loving me so much, even though I sometimes misbehave.” 

The Father has been so very generous to me as a mother, letting me know that although my mission work doesn’t seem quite as exciting and radical most days, that there is plenty of Kingdom work left to be done in my kids, in my neighbors’ lives, in our community and in my own spirit.

When we go outside after morning naps we look at the blue sky, the palm trees, the mountains and the sun we give thanks to God for his creation; Evangeline, in her sweet little two-year old girl voice, and me in my prideful 30 year-old woman heart.

When I am forced to endure 30 minutes of Veggie tales random lyrics and silly stories and I hear her say that God made her beautiful on the outside, but cares about the inside, I feel a sense of freedom in having messy hair and crows feet.

When I try feebly and clumsily to explain to my daughter who God is, and eventually land on “God is The King”, and then I hear her say to me a couple of days later “God is the ONLY king” I am humbled in my heart by the majesty and glory of The Only King.

When all of these moments, plus a million more giggles and cuddles and loads of laundry and stinky bottoms fill up my day, I hear God asking me to worship him in a new way.

A way that is different.

A way that is difficult.

A way that is good.

I am thankful that He has taken a role, the role of motherhood, that for me seemed so earthly and humble and….poopy…and shown me how important it is to be there to teach my little ones, and myself, things like repentance, and patience, and how to be true worshippers of The Only King.

 

A Mommy Sandwich

Mothers day the last two years has been extra special, because not only do I get to celebrate my own mom, but I get to be a mom, too.

It’s a pretty sweet spot you know, sandwiched between an exceptional mother and a beautiful daughter.

I love you mom! Thank you for all the ways you support, love and sacrifice for me.

I love you Evangeline! You have changed me forever.

Dear Evangeline

On February 21, 2010 your dad and I had you dedicated to the Lord at the Vineyard Christian Community. There has been a steady slue of babies getting dedicated recently and so when it came time for you to be up front, being prayed for, I was so pleased.

Your Grandma McCarty, Aunt Meghan and Cousin Meredith were in attendance, along with some InterVarsity students and our church family. We were sorry that more family members couldn’t be there. I am sorry we live far away from your aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents.

You wore a pretty pink dress with little flowers that was a hand-me-down from the Mills girls, white tights and a pink bow in your hair. You were beautiful.

As I was holding you up in front of the church I thought to myself, “What does this even mean?”

Well, this is what it means to me, darling girl, to have you dedicated to the Lord, and to have a little to-do about it in church:

I am going to try to be the best mom I can be to you. I am going to love you, discipline you, teach you and play with you. I am going to give you every opportunity I can to help you grow, learn, be independent and strong and compassionate. Your dad and I are trying to save a little bit of money here and there for your future. I am going to try to model that a woman’s worth is not in her exterior looks or beauty but in her heart and her love for others. I am going to try to protect you from scary strangers, wild boys and mean girls.

But I am going to fail.

I’m sorry Evangeline, but I am not perfect. And although I only want the very best for you I cannot gaurantee you will always have the best. You will have times of heartbreak, poverty, sickness, worry, and pain. You will experience danger.

But every day, I will dedicate you to the Lord. I will submit control over to God, declaring that I cannot be a perfect parent to you.

But you have a perect Father in God. A perfect friend in Jesus. A perfect Counselor in the Holy Spirit.

I will give up control over your future, over your well-being. Over your happiness. I will intercede for you. Love you. Teach you the wonders and works of our Lord. And ultimately leave you in His hands, because they are far better than mine.

I love you little angel!
your mama

Joshua 24
14 “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

Beauty

Here is what was on my mind when I woke up this morning:
I REALLY need to finish planning the Women’s Retreat, seeing as how it is this weekend.
Should I go to Target or Fry’s to buy snacks?
Our house is filthy and I am not going to be around this weekend to clean it. again.
Thank you GOD that it is Rodeo holiday and I don’t have to teach today.
I need to plan out my next units for Spanish 1A and 2.
Ugh, that pile of laundry isn’t getting any smaller.
I’m hungry
Should I pump a bottle?
I love sleep.
That was a great servant team meeting last night.
What time am I going to hang out in Marie’s dorm today?
Am I going to Large Group or is Jon?
I should really print those pictures to put in our new frame.

And then I open an e-mail from my mom, with a picture she took while she was visiting last weekend…

How refreshing to be able to stop my busy mind and appreciate a wonderful gift from God: beauty.

Mismatched

Blue Baby Legs with pink and green polka dots…

White onesie with red and black hearts…

Orange and white striped shoes with animals on the toes…

Our baby reflects our life! With wild and crazy college students all around us, family far away, unpredictable schedules, a spastic cat, a serious lack of style in our home decor, and an unchanging God who keeps us guessing at every turn; things get be a little “mismatched” in our lives.

Sometimes things can even get a bit messy…

But we have each other and serve a perfect, loving God, so there is always reason to smile!