Monday, August 22, 2016


This essay was originally published in Do South Magazine, a beautiful publication out of Fort Smith, Arkansas. Visit their website here for more of my monthly contributions.

Summer days start early. Roosters begin to crow at five in the morning, and the toddlers begin their cry of “Breakfast!” soon after. Then the kettle whistles and the tea brews and some days, venison sausage pops in a cast iron pan. Some days, though, it’s cereal for breakfast. Most days we pray and meet with Jesus before chores, but occasionally, the tasks are demanding and the mornings rushed.
The farm life is wildly romantic if you like that sort of thing. It’s a beautiful, beautiful life if you’re enamored by fresh eggs with pumpkin-colored yolks and dirty hands and rows of tomato plants and squash plants and proud corn stalks reaching up toward the sun. If you don’t mind the smell of earth and animals, and you don’t mind hard work, this is an unthinkably lovely way to live.
Most of the time I’m thankful, but sometimes my gratitude slips through the cracks. Sometimes, it feels like I’ve had chickens in my yard for a million years and I simply forget the way I used to pray until I cried for God to give me a farm. But there’s one thing that stirs up remembrance in me, like a shock to my heart reminding it to beat again, and it’s always, always on time. The reminder? It’s when Maliah comes.
We have a blended family.  When my husband and I began dating, he brought a daughter to the table, and I brought two sons. She was four; they were four, and three, and they were great friends. I remember sitting in church while we were dating and the preacher saying, “Statistics say it takes seven years to blend a family.” The funny thing is, I still remember that single line of the sermon, but I can’t really remember my response. I can’t really recall what I thought it would be like, endeavoring to make a family out of the torn remainders of first attempts, but I am certain that I had no idea how hard it would be. I had no idea how much grace we would need.
We are just starting our seventh year together. Jackson and Asher, my oldest boys, spend the majority of their days at our home. I am able to homeschool them, and they are accustomed to the rooster’s crow. We have sewn our family together by welcoming our three younger sons, Tobias, Ezra and Benjamin. They are farm boys by definition, with dirt in their veins and any city life so far removed, I doubt they remember it.


But Maliah lives 600 miles away, in a San Antonio neighborhood with her mom and stepdad. Every summer and rotating holidays, we drive for hours under the big Texas sky and pick her and her pink suitcase up. Then we drive hours back under that huge expanse, back through sprawling fields, through the hills and into the Arkansas woods, back into the driveway of our farm. 
As soon as she gets here, the atmosphere of our family shifts. Usually, the farm is just an ordinary part of life, but when Maliah comes, there is an enjoyment about it. When she comes and unpacks her pink suitcase and all her wonder, excitement is rekindled in us all.
She names all the chickens. We have a lot of chickens. A lot. And she names all of them. Names like Charlie, and Rosie, and Annie, and John Luke. She loves running with the baby goats and holding all the bunnies. When the chicks are hatching in the incubator, she checks it a dozen times a day and carefully carries the tired and wet babies to the brooder. She begs to be included in every market trip, every feeding, every task. When the boys would rather watch TV shows or play video games, she responds with indignation. How could you want to do anything else? There’s a farm outside!
 When we picked her up last November for Thanksgiving, she had started to change. Her legs had grown into long willows and the next season of her life had begun to show in her shape and the leanness of her face. I saw how it grieved my husband to see the evidence of time on her, and to see how much he missed. But after being here for only a few days, she woke up before the sun with him and layered on the camouflage clothes that belonged to Jackson. They bagged two deer while she was here, and she rolled up her sleeves and helped her dad clean them. He was so, so proud.
 At spring break, her legs were impossibly longer. Just a few months had changed her even more. She was thrilled to stop in Dallas on our way home and pick up a few dozen hatching eggs from a friend’s farm. We went to Bass Pro Shop and bought her some new Muck boots, as her feet had grown along with the rest of her. She picked out camouflage. When we arrived at the house, as usual, the excitement stirred. We hiked our thirty-five acres every day, even the days it rained. We told her all of our plans for the future, for new barns and pastures, a herd of cattle and expanded chicken houses and gardens. And in her excitement, ours was rekindled.

Even though I can’t take any credit for her genetic makeup, I take a certain pride when I see her running across the yard in cut-off jean shorts and rubber boots, a chicken under one arm, a dog and a brother hot on her heels."

IMG_0007When the pastor talked about blended families on that Sunday so long ago, he said, “Jesus has a stepdad.” I think it was that single line that evoked such optimism in me. If God entrusted His son to a couple of broken people who were willing to say yes, surely He would give us the grace to raise these kids together. It’s been hard. Truly, harder than I ever imagined it would be, but He has poured abounding grace upon our family.

Being a mom to five sons is such a cool and fulfilling role, but I’ll be frank, there is something very special about a daughter. Even though I can’t take any credit for her genetic makeup, I take a certain pride when I see her running across the yard in cut-off jean shorts and rubber boots, a chicken under one arm, a dog and a brother hot on her heels. I see myself when I was eleven and all I wanted in the world was a farm. When she looks through my closet and equally compliments my long white bohemian dresses, my leopard print heels, and my Carhartt overalls, I am tickled to be an example of what beauty is.  Most important, when she’s feverishly scratching notes in her prayer journal and eagerly watching me while I preach, I am amazed at the weight of having a hand in the shaping of a woman.
Of course, we wish it was different. It would be ideal not to have to be assaulted by the way she’s grown when months go by between visits. We wish she was closer, and that being blended wasn’t such a challenge. Ultimately, we have placed her in the hands of our Father, thankful for the way He moves us to appreciativeness when she comes. We may have taken on blending a family without the realization of the struggle it would be, but now, as we dig into year seven and have watched these children grow together like a grafted tree, I can say surely, it’s been worth it. Being blended gave me a daughter, gave me a hand in raising a woman of God, and gave me a chicken named John Luke. What a beautiful life I live.


This essay was originally published in Do South Magazine, a beautiful publication out of Fort Smith, Arkansas. Visit their website here for more of my monthly contributions. 
It’s funny how we humans are able to get used to extraordinary things.  When I lived in Knoxville, Tennessee, I attended a regular playgroup with my boys in neighboring Pigeon Forge. There was a point in the forty-minute drive where my car made a turn and there before me was the most breathtaking mountain view. Every time, every single time I made that turn, it hit me. I could physically feel the awe it inspired.
I would call my grandmother. Because she understood my heart and she encouraged my childlike wonder. And she never grew tired of her granddaughter, a grown woman with children of her own, calling her and ecstatically describing the mountains. “It’s unbelievable,” I’d say. “I don’t understand how people live their lives in the shadow of snow-capped peaks without a constant sense of awe. I don’t understand how they go to their doctors’ appointments and soccer practices without stopping to gawk.” 
And she would always say the same thing, “They are just used to it. It’s just normal to them. If you don’t want to lose the wonder, don’t treat it like it’s just normal.”
It’s just normal. Oh, that was such a tragedy to me. I’d petition God when I hung up the phone, “Please, don’t let me ever see the extraordinary as normal.” 
I have been blessed with a life full of wonders. When we pray for patience, God gives us the opportunities to practice patience. In the same fashion, I truly believe He heard my prayer for never dulling wonderment and so He set me on a road of great and extraordinary experiences. Through ministry and photography, I have endeavored down an unbeaten path and on it, I have strived to maintain an ever-growing reverence for the power and beauty of God. 
I’ll never forget the moment I saw the Rocky Mountains for the first time and realized that East Tennessee’s Smokies were mere hills in comparison to these monstrous miracles. I’ll never forget the first time I photographed a baby being born, feeling the hefty impact of a life starting, weigh on my heart. It’s not just the big things either. Just a few nights ago, as my husband, Jeremiah, and I drove down country roads surrounding our property, I shouted, “Slow down!” So we did slow, and I gaped at the thousands of lightning bugs that dotted the cow pastures. Or this spring, when fluffy white clumps of seeds fell from trees by the heaps and floated through the air, I stopped in the grocery store parking lot and raised my hands to feel them hit my fingers. The cart girl stopped and said “Are you OK?” to which I responded, “They make me think of angels.”
Sure, it’s peculiar. Wonder is rarely refined. It isn’t described as childlike due to the measure of dignity it carries. But I don’t care. Let me be the crazy lady in the parking lot being moved by tree seeds if it means I don’t grow blind to all the beauty this life has to offer. It seems like a decent tradeoff to me.

0420_0213I am wildly passionate about Creation. I am ever awed and deeply wooed by nature and babies and beautiful views. I am enraptured by the way the garden grows and the way my children learn. I could write for days and weeks about beauty and power and wonder. That’s not why I’m writing this, though. I know I have cultivated a deep appreciation for beauty, but I have allowed myself to take the most important thing for granted. This is a confession.

When a blade requires sharpening, it must be unsheathed and then run over the rod. It must first expose its dullness before the sharpening can happen. So here I am confessing. I have gotten busy and allowed myself to grow altogether dull to love.

Every day, I wake up in bed with a man that loves me wildly. He’s the kind of man that pulls over so I can see the fireflies. He is spending his life with a woman who has a romance with beauty he can’t always see, but he always tries. And I’ve found that more often than not when I am being swept away by some everyday, extraordinary thing, my sweet husband is not looking at the view or the baby or the firefly, he is looking at me. And I have taken it for granted.
This morning I woke up in a big, old house. Just two years ago, I was praying for hours a day that God would give me that house, and He did. We moved in with our six children, and we had so much space, and the need arose, so we moved two of Jeremiah’s brothers and his sister in as well. Now we live here all together, a big cramped mess of people who love each other more deeply that I can explain. And every morning I wake up in my big, old house and meet my big, loving family in the kitchen. We eat breakfast and make plans for the day. We pray and go about our routines.
 And many mornings, I leave my big, old house and go about the business of ministry. I attend meetings and plan events. I make phone calls, and I pray and study. I am so familiar with the love of God, and I see it echoed so much in my church family that I’m afraid I’ve gotten used to it. This tribe of mine has gone through struggles and trials hand in hand. We have felt our souls knit together and endured pain together. We run the race together. It is truly extraordinary. But here I am confessing, I have gotten busy, and my to-do list has captured my focus. And I have grown dull.
I didn’t realize it. I didn’t realize that I was living in the shadow of uncommonly beautiful love, completely used to its unusual nature until a few weeks ago when my eyes were opened in a moment.
It was during a worship service, and I was kneeling at the altar in prayer. I felt tired. I don’t know why, I just felt really tired, run down by my beautiful but busy life. And my big tribe of family and friends were all around. We were singing and praying, and my pastor took the microphone and said, “I want us to call out the names of the people we have been praying for. Just lift them up to God right now.” At that moment, the overwhelming exhaustion from being so busy felt like five thousand pounds on my shoulders.
 Then I heard someone call out a name. Jewel, my little sister. Then I heard someone else call out another. Drew, my brother. Then I heard my husband call out the name of my mom. I heard a friend of mine call out the name of my dad. And it started to resound all around me, my prayers and my concerns and my desires being called out by people who barely know my loved-ones. All they knew was that these names belonged to people I love unexplainably, and that was enough for these names to matter to them.
I’ll never forget the way it hit me. It was the same feeling that would cause me to pull over when I first saw the mountains around the bend in Tennessee. It was the same feeling that stirs in me every time I hear a baby cry for the first time. As I sat at the altar, my tear-streaked face hidden by my hair, a deeper awe and wonder than I think I’ve ever felt washed over me and I thought, “Oh, God, I am so loved.” I realized how much they all really loved me, and that it was just a reflection of Him. And some fathoms-deep place in my soul woke up, and I had a new revelation of how fiercely my God loves me.
I’ve been missing it. While I waged war against becoming dull to beauty, I allowed myself to become dull to love, and it made me indifferent to people. Sure, I’ve loved the people that I’m close to. I’ve loved the people I have ministered to. But I have been living the kind of life where I slowed down for fireflies and pretty views but walked past the broken lady in the grocery store because my list was long and my mind was full.
I realized how tragically I had taken for granted this extraordinary thing, and so, I repositioned my heart. I have prayed for so many strangers in the last few weeks, just random people in public. I’ve stopped and asked people questions about how they are doing, and surprisingly, many have answered honestly. I’ve looked at people in the eyes. I haven’t been in such a rush to move on. I’ve been thankful for my family. I’ve enjoyed my kids more. My heart has been set with a fresh fire.
So can I challenge you? Can I urge you to find the love in your life and step back and marvel at it for a while? Let it stir you up and spur you on to spread it. Don’t live in the shadow of some beautiful thing like this and treat it like it isn’t breathtaking.
It isn’t just normal. You are extraordinarily loved. So stop, and awe. Be washed over with wonder. Then don’t let it ever feel just normal again. It isn’t. It’s extraordinary.

I Am From

This essay was originally published in Do South Magazine, a beautiful publication out of Fort Smith, Arkansas. Visit their website here for more of my monthly contributions. 

A million years ago, or maybe only thirteen, I sat in a senior high school class with a teacher who taught creative writing. She was challenging, young, and a bit dry in the humor department. She taught about storytelling, and I learned from her. I soaked up what she said about painting word pictures.
I had moved to a new town for my last year of high school, out of my parents’ house and in with family 120 miles away from home. I had no interest in building a grand social calendar. I was largely running away and largely hiding, but, without meaning to, I was also finding myself. I was learning to see the fingerprints of God on my life. As I look back, I remember sitting at a desk in the back of that teacher’s class and waking up to who He had made me to be, however rudimentary the knowledge was at eighteen years old.
Every morning, I would drive to my uncle’s house and ride to school with my cousins. As I passed over the train tracks that stood just before their street, the commentary in my mind would say, “Her silver car, shining in the morning light, lumbered over the retired tracks, knocking loose the sleep in her eyes and jostling her to attention.” Those tracks would speak, like a mother waking up a child with their soft Clang-Clunk, “It’s time to wake up, girl. It’s time to turn on the smile.”
I remember that little excerpt and the way it would roll through my whirring mind every single morning until one day, prompted by the storytelling teacher, I wrote it down. Around the same time, she gave an assignment entitled “Where I’m From,” and she told us to develop the main character of our own story. “You,” she said, “I want you to tell me who you are by telling me what you came from.”
As I worked on the I-Am-From assignment and simultaneously began to collect clips about train tracks, I figured out that most people do not have an inner dialogue describing life around them in flowery, poetic phrases.
I don’t have a copy of anything I wrote in that class. I don’t even remember the teacher’s name, as I only went to the school for a semester before I asked my parents if I could come home and face the life I’d run from. I didn’t really realize at the time, how influential she had actually been, but now, I am a writer. I am a storyteller. And though I can look at a long line of teachers and family and friends who encouraged the gift in me, that nameless teacher was the one pouring into me when I realized, “This is not to be wasted.”
I honestly had forgotten about her, the teacher. I’d forgotten about the assignment and about the way the train tracks moved me to realization. Then a few weeks ago, I woke up very early on a Saturday. The world outside my window was still dark, and everyone in the house was still dreaming. My arm hurt. It was covered in ointment and the start of a new tattoo that spans from wrist to shoulder. I do not like sudden change and the tattoo, as much as I love it, was a very sudden change. I felt a little unsettled and a lot tired, so I started to pray. And in that deep-down somewhere, the hidden place called my spirit where God speaks in a whisper, a question rose. Who are you?
I’m thirty. Young, really. Young enough to remember clearly when thirty seemed old but old enough to forget things that once changed me. But on that early Saturday morning, praying in the dark with my arm throbbing, I felt an assignment from The Teacher. As I lay there pondering the question, I suddenly remembered that lesson from so long ago. I began, again, to collect the I-Am-Froms, thinking I would just write them for myself and for God, for He and I alone to have.
A lot of the things I share were originally written for God and myself. That’s just how it works sometimes. This is a little different, though. I’m not just sharing this for the sake of sharing. I’m here to give you an assignment.
I don’t know where you’ll come across this article, perhaps on a computer screen in your busy living room, in Do South Magazine in a waiting room, or on your phone while you stand in line at the grocery store. But wherever you are, it is a classroom. Because really, life is always a classroom if we will look at it as such. And whoever you are, I’d like to challenge you to this assignment. Tell me who you are by telling what you are from.
I’ll go first. Then you go. Find a paper and a pencil and write it down. Because even if your brain isn’t whirring with a constant, poetic commentary, you can still write your own story. You don’t have to be a writer to tell who you are, because only you really know. Only you can really say what you are from.

Me? I am from small-town Arkansas and from big-world dreams. I am from a broken family covered by grace. I am from a childhood diagnosis and a miraculous healing.
I am from a farm that I prayed for and chickens in the yard. I am from a kitchen full of cast iron and fried chicken and greens. I am from a big, wild garden with tall corn stalks and overtaking weeds. I am from fear taught to hope and anxiety taught to be still.
I am from remarriage and loving again. I am from an extended family so loud they make the earth shake at Thanksgiving. I am from a little brother who grew up to make tattoos and a sister who has the world’s coolest dog.
I am from a mother who throws her head back when she laughs. I am from a father who was the first to tell me I could be a writer if I wanted to.
I am from the altar of God. I am from intimacy with King Jesus. I am from Scripture that sings over me.
I am from a camera on my bedside table. I am from the birth room, where I learned to photograph the first moments of life.
I am from running away and then going home again. I am from being poor and learning to be content. I am from learning about The Provider and from always having enough. I am from obedience. I am from following Him. I am from leading the way.
I am from adventures, from plane trips and ministering in places I never dreamed of being. I am from always being ready to go home.
I am from motherhood that started early. I am from my five sons and my one daughter. I am from tiny hands and sweet smiles that wake me up every morning. I am from tremendous love.
I am from the classroom of life, from finding lessons in the morning moments spent awake in the dark. I am from an open laptop and the collecting of lovely words. I am from a giant box of journals that collect dust under the bed. I am from a viral blog post and a magazine called Do South that said, “We like your voice.”
I am from dancing in the kitchen and singing to Jesus at the top of my lungs. I am from not believing in coincidence. I am from the fingerprints of God. I am from pain made lovely by the big picture. I am from redemption. I am from a wildly beautiful life.
And you? What about you? Would you take this assignment and let it change you? Maybe it’s just for you. Maybe it’s for God. But maybe it’s to share, to ask someone else the question, “Who are you?” Because if you’ll ponder the question, you will wonder the answer.
And if you figure out what and where you come from, you will be able to confidantly say, "This is who I am."

Been a while.

Hey, it's me.
The one who has neglected this blog for months and months.

I'll be posting a lot of things over the next few days for archiving purposes, and then I will begin with new content.

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