wearetheparsons —> family bio picture
  • Welcome to our family blog!

    we are the parsons.
    a family of five.
    which just means our dining room table has old cereal remnants crusted onto it and an over abundance of salt spilt.
    also we love Jesus.
    we are glad you are here.
    get to know us more and leave us a note.
    you make a difference in our story, and your love and encouragement mean so much.

half mast and triumphal procession.

The flags are flying at half mast today in the Parsons family home. or at least, the temporary Home Depot paper window blinds are. It’s been raining outside on and off all morning and it’s Palm Sunday. It is also the day before the anniversary of my father’s death. On top of that, I have been in two hospitals in the last twenty four hours. I can’t help but think that the timing of all of this is planned. I can’t help but think it because I have found over and over that God is in the details, and He rules and creates not just the overall arc of history’s story, but in the minutiae of our story as well.

Rewind about 24 hours ago, and I had just finished witnessing a birth. I had the mind-blowing privilege of watching a new person become a name, a birthdate, an heir, and a member of the human family with those of us walking this mud ball. It was all of those cliche words we use too frequently but rarely have occasion to mean: awesome, beautiful, moving, powerfully profound. There was a moment – one of those total clarity and aha! moments – when the mother was cradling her squirmy, wet, and crying bundle and she said the most beautiful phrase: “Welcome! I love you. And this is the best part! This is the part where you get to live on this earth now. And I’m going to show you so much and I’m going to be with you.” I started crying. How glorious it is to be alive! How blessed to be loved and how marvelous to be a mother, a “show-er” of what life can be. It was holy.

In that moment the Voice in my heart remind me, this is why you’re here. I get to experience the power and glory of being created, of being alive and watching the Holy Spirit flow through me in love as I show my children what life is. it’s the best “job” and I couldn’t wait to get home and hold my babies. and I did. and then I took a 3 hour nap, because birth drains you, no matter what your role, but I also wanted to be able to go to sleep at an early bedtime that night.

Tyler has been sick for almost a week. it started minor, developed into strep throat, then a cough three days later (despite being on antibiotics for the strep infection), and as of last night around dinner time he was at an all-time low. He hadn’t willingly eaten in days and he had a high fever that would not go away. A helpful talk with a doctor from our church revealed that his respiratory rate was over double the normal amount and with a high fever not responding to meds she was concerned. She suggested I take him into the childrens hospital ER and so I did.

as we’re leaving for the hospital:

him: where are we going?
me: I have to take you to Emergency Room at the hospital.
him: zion’s hospital?
me: yes.
him: Oooh COOL! I have never been there for myself before!!. . .
me: tyer, I love you. Is it ok that i take you and not dad?
him: Oh yeah! There’s nobody else I would rather take me! just you!

(insert heart explosion, and thoughts of “oh my goodness, I love be a mother.” here)

His x-rays revealed something in the lower lobe of his left lung. That sounds familiar, I think. Then, a pit in my stomach. At this point, I am going on 3 hours sleep in a forty hour period – remember, labor and delivery the night into morning prior. And I realize that in just over a day, we will be remembering the anniversary of the day my dad’s life on this earth ended. because of lung cancer. because of a bad cough that turned into a doctor’s visit that turned into “we think you might have pneumonia” that turned into an x-ray revealing a mass in the lower lobe of his left lung. I didn’t text my mom from the ER. It was late. If it felt like Déjà vu to me, it would have felt too much like it to her, also. The tests revealed that tyler had pneumonia. Relief. The antibiotic he was on for strep may have helped it from getting more out of hand, but they weren’t strong enough to fight the infection in his lung, so they prescribed the antibiotic with “prison rules” guaranteed to kill this infection once and for all. We got home after midnight and went to bed.

It makes me wonder, the question that I have dared to ask in the late hours when no one else but God is awake: what if my dad would have just had pneumonia? what if he would have been treated and then started to feel better in a matter of days? If I were writing the script here, I would have written that in. But try as I may to be a writer, God keeps reminding me He holds the pen. So I pray thinks like ‘um, if you could NOT do that right now, that would be a huge help to me.’ I would write it differently, almost every time. And yet, I don’t know anymore. My dad’s death led to perspective in our lives. It led to dazzling hardship and brave struggle and magnificent changes in our family, our marriage, our business. It led to a workshop that we host in the mountains of Colorado where lives are revived, repaired, and restored. It led to us finally facing our fears and deciding we weren’t going to run anymore from the pull in our chest to adopt. It led to Zion being our son instead of someone we would have spent our lives strangers to. And Zion has led us to. . . oh my gosh, if you know us, you know how impossible it is to chronicle it all. In some ways, this catastrophic loss that I would write out of the story has simultaneously been a kiss on the cheek from God.

I don’t mean that in a stupid, Christianese, “when God closes a door he opens a window” kind of way. I hate that shit, and yes I swore there on purpose. I have never seen empty placates bind up any broken hearts, and Jesus is about binding up, not covering up. I don’t like admitting it because I hate the loss. I hate the pain and the oceans of tears that have been shed in the past four years. I hate the fact that I still catch myself reaching for my phone to call or text my dad and feeling the cold sting of death realization that I can’t. I hate watching my mother, Elizabeth, as a young widow who lost her soul mate. I hate that I had this astonishing father, who would give me a “best day” each year where he would show me the world and my beautiful place in it, this father who loved me so completely and so well, this father who never knew a stranger and had genuine Holy Spirit love flowing through him, is gone. I still doubt the Writer. I still question what He was doing and why He had to let it happen this way. And yet, I can’t bring myself to not trust Him because I see the beautiful implications of this playing out in my life.

me: where are we going?
Him: into the valley of the shadow of death.
me: but I have never been there for myself before. . .
Him: Ashley, I love you. Is it ok that I take it from here, and not your dad?
me: yes. There’s nobody else who would be able to carry me through, just you.

I doubt The Writer, but as he was dying, my father never did. And in his last private entry of his journal four years ago before he died, he wrote these words I am sharing with you below. So on this palm sunday, I offer these words as my waving palm branch, these words as my “hosanna” as my crying out to a loving and mysterious God, “Save us!” and thank Him that He already has. It will be so good when the “best day” really comes. Lest we forget, friends, this is not actually the best part. The best part doesn’t involve half mast flags or window coverings or cancer or children’s hospitals. The best part is coming, and each breath we take, we are getting closer to that triumphal procession. . .

my father’s last journal entry:
Day 348
A “Best Day” coming on!!
Psalm 99; Leviticus 5:15 – 6:7, Isaiah 3-4; 2 Corinthians 1:1-11
These readings today are precious.
Psalm 100; Leviticus 6:8 – 7:38, Isaiah 5, 2 Corinthians 1:12 – 2
It feels like with having E’s care, the meds and everything else, that my body is living up with God’s perfect plan for my life.
Lord, I love following you and discerning you anew and afresh each day. I feel your presence with calm & rest. I love you.
“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere.” 2 Cor. 2:14

P1000696 from WE ARE THE PARSONS on Vimeo.

the wonderful wake-up call of my disappointing children.

I have a vision of me coming to an early death. somewhere, somehow, something kills me unexpectedly and micah comes to our family blog. (needless to say, I might not be an optimist) In this vision, micah comes to ye old family blog looking to experience the inner voice and the love of his mother and he will read these words.

insert lol here.

oh, micah. maybe we will both laugh about this story someday. and if I’m not around to laugh with you, just know i love you big. really, really broken, but big. and I’m laughing.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

it was micah’s birthday in november. he was turning ten and we wanted to give him a gift that would mark the passage from little boy to pre-adolescent of double digits. it’s been our plan all along – when our kids turn ten, we will give them an experience or gift they can look back on as a mile marker, a real shift from baby boy to big kid. we love this boy so very, very much and have always been quite enamored with him. for one, he’s smarter than us, more organized than us, and probably already knows what we should have for dinner tonight. He has always had such a kind heart, a tender spirit and an incredibly sharp, type A, wit. . And today, before I’ve even wiped the sleep out of my eyes, he will probably be wondering what I have planned for the rest of our day. He won student of the month last week at his school. For self-control, nonetheless. I’m thirty two years old and still feel like this character trait is my white rabbit. He is being recognized by his teachers and peers for mastering it at age ten. He is the one teachers cry about at parent-teacher conferences because “it’s just such an honor to know your son.” He’s the one, we jokingly say, will take care of our retirement. He notices when I “look pretty in that new shirt!” and he comes up to give a hug and say “love you” just because.

in other words, micah is really, really easy to love.

and this past couple of years, he’s been completely obsessed with Harry Potter.
like, read book after book (before seeing the movies) and was harry potter two years in a row for Halloween.
this year, tyler finally joined in as ron and zion, as hedgwig the owl. (yes my heart is STILL exploding, duh)

it’s a big deal.
so, when we found ourselves days before his birthday with a crap ton of airline miles about to expire, and realized we could cash those in for four free plane tickets, we decided that for his birthday we would surprise him with a trip to Orlando Florida to stay at his favorite hotel chain and go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
or as the boys have referred to it, “Harry Potter Land.”
we would take the brothers, but leave the baby at home, because zion takes a good majority of our time and attention and we knew micah deserved a little uninterrupted time to celebrate him.

to give you some context, we had just come off of the busiest travel season we have ever had in our professional lives, and one of the busiest in our personal lives as well.
In the five months leading up to his birthday, we had boarded 22 different airplanes, had 43 hospital and therapy appointments with Zion, hosted 5 different houseguests, sent 1068 emails, and the number of days spent on the road were exceeding the number of days at home.

we had sucked at being parents.
we had sucked at begin present.
and damn it, we were going to spoil our boy to make up for it.

we did our research, booked the tickets with every single airline mile we earned that year, reserved the hotel room at the lovely Embassy Suites and then, finally made his “letter.”
In the books, each child invited to Hogwarts gets a letter from the owl post. it has the hogwarts seal on it and invites them to come to the school.
So I made one.
in photoshop with photoshopped photos of owls and a quill and old-timey writing saying something very official sounding from Dumbledore. and then, in desperation, I dripped wax from a candle onto the envelope and used a nickel to make an official “seal.”

yeah. I’m amazing. (insert slow clap here)

all the while thinking, “oh my gosh, he is going to love this soooooooooooooooooo much!”

I wrote my BFF, telling her the grand plan . .
he would be promised a small party, and we would have dinner with his grandmothers and auntie&uncle and then we would give him the envelope before his friends came over for cake.
she wrote back
“NO. WAY. He is going to freak! Please please please get it on video! And tell him I said happy birthday!”

oh, don’t worry, devon.
I will.
and it’s going to be e p i c.

I think the general law of good storytelling says that at this point, I should insert the life-filled, wonderful, Disney-commercial-ish video so your eyes can well up with tears as you see the thankfulness and joy that two little boys can have. There’s happy music in the background and everyone gives a big hug at the end. But I can’t show you that video because it doesn’t exist. In fact, I haven’t had the heart to watch the video I did make those three and a half months ago because it still just tastes that bitter going down. So I will give you the cliff notes version.

he opened his presents from the grandmothers . . lots of toys he asked for.
he opened his present from tyler . . a lego set he wanted.
then we told him the letter was in the mail.
he went to the mailbox, brought it back, and our angelic little boy instantly transformed into a detached, emotionless, spoiled little brat.
he opened up the letter, read it aloud (because, remember, I had to get an awesome video to impress you all . . .ahem, I mean to remember this magical moment) and then set it down and asked,
“ok. so is that it?”
“is what it?”
“is that all, or do I get more presents?”
um. . .buddy, you get to go to Florida on a plane with mom and dad and tyler TOMORROW and we get to spend three days at the Wizarding world of harry potter!”
“well, do I get to buy something there?”
“wow. oh my gosh. . . ”
at this point, my world is crashing down, my heart rate is rising and the various family members around the table began to chime in, letting him know how lucky he is, that he’s always wanted to go, that kids his age would kill for this chance, etc.
he shrugged his shoulders.
I started crying.
the ugly cry.
I couldn’t help it. I had built this thing, this gift, this experience, this kid up in my mind to be perfect and I was being disappointed.
I asked him to come talk to me privately. He started crying because he was afraid he was in trouble.

um. you think?
we did just give you the most extravagant gift we’ve ever given anyone in our family and you’re being a little shit.
(didn’t say it. just thought it.)

I told him how sad I was, but that we didn’t have to go if he didn’t truly want to.
“no, I want to, I just didn’t know what to think because I’m not ready for a trip tomorrow and I wanted to get more presents.”
type A.
and wired differently than me.
and spoiled.
so not wired completely differently than me.

I tried to explain the concept of this trip itself being a present, that it was going to be awesome, that the pictures of this place look so so cool.
he eventually gave me a hug and, with a frog in his throat and a genuine tone in his voice, said, “I’m sorry, I am excited. It’s a really nice present.”
We had given him the greatest gift he could imagine at this age, and he wasn’t even thankful.

I went upstairs to pull my emotional mess of a self together. and I realized something.

“It’s so difficult to love him right now.”

and in the back of my mind, out of freaking nowhere, I heard the still, small voice of God speak to me.
“you are exactly the same as him but I love you without restraint, without expectation, without wavering. you are going to have to forgive him, and you are going to have to go to Florida tomorrow and show him how much you love him.”

I hardened to the idea. but he didn’t deserve it! he wasn’t even thankful! he was the opposite of thankful! and he wasn’t being the micah that I know and love.

But he was proving that all of us, from the thirty-three year old to the ten year old, are not lovable. Maybe we can cover up our ugliness a bit better than a ten year old, but let’s be honest..the inside of my heart doesn’t look like an instagram post. Yes, we are all beautiful and remarkable and made in the image of our Creator. But without God himself stepping into our world to rescue us from ourselves, we are all intensely selfish, spoiled, detached ten year olds being handed our dream trip and shrugging our shoulders, wanting another lego set instead.

Here’s the moral of this story for me:
There was and is one perfect son. His name was Jesus. Micah can’t be Jesus. He can just be Micah. And the is great, because Jesus was a perfect ten year old in Micah’s place, never unthankful, selfish or hurtful.
There was and is one perfect parent. His name is I Am, God, Father, Creator of the universe. And he was perfect in my place, never angry, disappointed, resentful, or calling me a little shit in his mind. In fact, he knew just how far I would push him away that he killed the son for my rebellion. He who knew no sin became sin so that we – you, me, and micah might become the righteousness of God.
mind. blowing.

So I forgave my ten year old. God showed me the treason of my own heart, and as it always does, the gospel opened my heart to love my son. my imperfect, selfish, and also beautiful, God-made ten year old. and we celebrated and had cake and then we went to florida and because God is kind and has a wonderful sense of humor, it was one of the most dear times he and I have ever had around each other before. because I wasn’t holding the babies hand, micah would reach out and grab my hand and hold it all day long, as we went around the park from ride to ride. we swam in the pool at the hotel. we ate junk food. we watched movies at night. and I was able to see him in a whole new light, in the most real light – that my baby boy/oldest son is a sinner just like me, in need of the same Jesus to impart a perfect record for him, just like me. and we all got to talk about that together on that trip.

Oh God, thank you thank you thank you for the wonderful wake-up call of my disappointing children, and for never being the type of parent that I was on November 15, 2013.

“in this story, winter can never hold back the spring.”

It’s snowing outside again. So I cry “uncle” to the icy cold knife cuts of the winter wind and sit inside, processing what it is I am longing for each time I wake up and don’t see the sunshine again. In short, I’m longing for the hope that spring brings, that some sign of life brings.

Four years ago, in the spring, we planted our first garden in the generous dirt plot in our back yard. The husband and I put on our brand new gardening gloves, pulled out the shovels we had been hoarding in the garage and made deep cuts inches into the hardened ground. We filled our hands with seeds and we said the same prayer we say each year – “God, we are planting the seed, but only you can make it grow.” Inside, we asked ourselves how it could be. How could God take something that looked so small, dark and dead and transform it into a vibrant, colorful thing that would give us life?

Someone once told husband and I that truly great artists always know what they are going to create. This person implied that these artists operate much like Michelangelo, seeing the form of David inside of a giant slab of marble, and carving away everything else until he “set David free”. I have never been able to create in that way. Maybe someday I will, and the important people who write books and give lectures will call me a great artist, too. But for now, I can’t help but see how my creative process, not just in work but in the dailiness of daily life, is entirely dependent on the One who created me. Each time I go out to create, I feel a bit like the seeds which find their new home in our back yard garden each year.

The trees are bare. The sky has decided to turn a color of white/grey and not deviate from that color palate, and the ground outside is cold and hard. But a fifty degree day last week and a small unopened bud on a tree we passed whispered in my ear and told me that spring has not forgotten us, she is slowly sneaking up on us and every passing day, our little plot of land gets gradually turned more and more towards the sun. The deep parts of the ground, which seemed forever frozen around the start of this year, will begin to thaw. I have to believe in it. I have to believe that we don’t live in a pre-Aslan Narnia, where the white witch has won the battle and it shall be forever winter but never Christmas. I have to believe it even though there are times when I wondered, no, I doubt if the spring will ever come. I watched the leaves, one by one, start to burst into flames of color and then it seemed like they dropped to the ground overnight. I wasn’t prepared for how quickly we would lose them. All over the countryside the green shag carpet had been covered by a new woven pattern of yellow, orange and carnelian red. We raked up the leaves, made a gargantuan pile out of them and stood and watched as our sons jumped and rolled through the most beautiful, colorful pile of death. The widowed trees looked on from above, motionless and barren. Their loss had been our gain and I can’t help but notice how beautifully they mirror their Maker in this act of sacrifice.

The winter came quickly with forceful icy cold gusts and she swept the sad remains of fall away, setting the stage for the next scene. And this scene has a very minimal backdrop. The painters of this particular scene are trying to tell me something . . . and they are using grey-white skies to say it. On the bad days, rain comes turning immediately to ice and transforming the entire world around us into a treacherous skating rink. On the good days the clouds open up and dump millions of perfectly unique snowflakes on top of us and because our children are still free, they immediately run outside quickly to jump and roll in the temporary wonderland. The sky, which looked so flat and empty has given us snowmen and our children a day off of school to go sledding with their friends. I pause in my theater seat and take notes at the directors choice “ . . interesting . . so joy and light can come through the darkness?” How like the Father of lights to delight His children with unexpected gifts, millions and billions of little white crystalized gifts, no two which are the same.

Now, though, I am just longing . . . I am yearning from the deepest places in my gut for the change to come . . .it’s time for spring. And yet it’s not. Not until the director gives the cue. Until then, I look out my window and see the one lone winter bird who must have got left behind in the migration. But soon, he will be joined by his family members and friends and it will be SPRING. Warm, green, lush, budding, new, glorious, refreshing spring. It will be time to put our work clothes on, roll up our sleeves, get out the shovels and begin to break up the earth. It has been sitting for an entire season, rendered completely useless, so we will vindicate it. We will purchase the seeds and we will map out a plot of how we will plant the garden this year. Like diligent architects, we will draw up the plans and go out to our plot to begin. I can feel the shovel in my hand, creating callouses and I almost like the pain it causes . . at least I know I’m still alive. The ground gets cut into. Over and over again, we stab the earth, shocking it back to life. It’s hibernation has come to an end. It will be useful again. We will work the earth until it is opened up enough to hold the seed, we make rows, and then we will plant.

I realized the other day just how hopeful it is that the produce we grow and eat starts only as a dried up, dead seed. It’s impossible to look at a carrot seed and say, “That really looks like it’s going to be a delicious carrot!” Same with the seed for planting almost anything. And yet, year after year I have watched as we put these little specks in the ground, cover them with dirt and watch them grow into a plant bearing food for our family. Each spring as we begin to sow the garden, husband and I will look at each other, put our hands up in the air and make a “who knows?” expression. Because truly, we can’t quite believe that it will work. I, the least optimistic of our twosome, am especially doubtful. I can hardly believe that a tiny dead speck is going to turn into something beautiful, alive, vibrant, flavorful and filling. It just seems too good to be true. I’ve seen the earth be killed by the winter. I’m not sure I can trust that spring won’t change her mind. The seeds sit there, day after day, night after night. The sun comes up and warms the earth. We go out every morning and late afternoon, watering the seemingly empty plots of land. And then something miraculous happens. Right before our very eyes, as quickly as the fall leaves vacated their branch homes, little green shoots of life are springing up. They don’t look like carrots or lettuce or beets or tomatoes. They just look like little signs of life, and life brings hope.

Here’s why I take great comfort in those little dried up, dead seeds. When I go out with my camera in hand to work, when I sit down to talk to our kids about the ways God loves them, when I spend eight hours working dough to turn it into bread, I don’t see the David inside the giant cube of marble. I see my own smallness. I see my inadequacy and my brokenness. I see the tools in my hand and the task ahead of capturing life and breath and soul and truth and I think to myself, “How on earth will a person like me create anything beautiful and filled with meaning?” I know that I am the seed. On my own, I’m dead. I’m dried up with no hope of life in and of myself. I have been placed in a ground that has lived through a hard, cold winter and might not be hospitable. I see that I am small and hard and not as open as I could be. And yet, my Gardener, The Playwright, Artist, Director holds me in His hands and He plants me in the soil, just deep enough that the birds won’t snatch me away as their lunch and close enough to the surface so I can feel the Son as He shines His light and beauty all around me. The Gardener waters me with His words and His Spirit hovers around me as I open slowly and untrustingly because He loves me.
He watches me, and unlike my doubtful outlook on our crop, He waits for me because He knows exactly what I am going to be.
He knows what He is making out of me and He has already called it good.
God knows exactly what He is making you to be and He has already called it good.

Four years ago, in the spring, we buried my father in a dirt plot in the middle of a cemetery. Some men I don’t know put on their work gloves, grabbed shovels and made deep cuts in the earth, digging a hole about seven feet deep in the hardened early spring ground. My mother, the widowed, looked on as my father fell to the earth so much sooner than she had prepared for. We filled our hands with dirt and tears and let them fall on top of the casket and we said a prayer – “God, we are planting the seed, but only you can make it grow.” Inside, we asked ourselves how it could be. How could God take something that looked so small, dark and dead and transform it into a glimmering, colorful, resurrected life? I, the least optimistic, can be especially doubtful. And yet, the spring is whispering in my ear. The Artist is whispering in my ear. And he tells me it’s almost time. He’s coming. And He’s already here. He isn’t afraid of the white-grey sky, he is painting in neurtrals on purpose. He wants to teach me about the beauty of contrast, of the death that precedes life.

This horribly long, cold, dead winter will give way to spring. And spring is yet further proof to me that my dad, already a planted seed, will live through the winter. One day, the Son will come, the trumpet will sound, the trees of the fields will clap their hands, and we will watch all of the seeds we’ve buried turn into vibrant, jubilant, perfect shoots of life springing up right before our very eyes. And they will be so glorious. So we must keep planting! We must grab our shovels, make deep and purposeful cuts in this earth, and then drop our seeds in the ground and trust that the Gardener will tend to them and the Sun will shine on them. I don’t exactly know how the Gardener, the Master Creator, does it. But He does. And I am being compelled to look at the figurative and literal death outside my window and take it as a sign that I can trust in the mystery of it all, because year after year the death of fall brings winter, winter turns to spring, and spring seeds shoot up from the ground bearing life all summer long. And life brings hope.

or in the oh-so brilliant words of N.D. Wilson:

“The world is no photograph. Evil is not a fixed shadow hiding
a branch, it is not the wind pulling forever at life.
In this story, the sun moves. In this story, every night meets
a dawn and burns away in the bright joy of morning.
In this story, Winter can never hold back the Spring.”

(images made of us harvesting our last crop of 2013, much thanks to the lovely molly flanagan for making them!)

advent meditations : week one

dear friends, aka the five of you who still check this blog looking to care for and keep up with our family..:)

it’s been a long time since i took any time to glance the way of our quiet family blog.
I’ll just be honest – this is a strange and yet sacred space for me.
strange because, like many things and people in my life, it frequently is neglected. and sacred because I think it matters for the history of our family to be recorded in one place.
I have friends who are super duper mom blogger-iffic types with huge followings.
I have friends with no kids who pour every spare second into their professional photo blogs and have hundreds of followers.
I have friends who spend their spare time curating their pinterest accounts or instagramming for literally tens of thousands of people.
I’m not any of those people, and I’m okay with that.

God is giving my dear friends platforms to declare his excellencies, and then he has given me mine. and my platform looks like learning to communicate in my marriage amidst the chaos of changing life. my platform looks like our three boys, and taking the time to look them in the eyes, to discipline them, to love them, to hold them, to fail them and ask for forgiveness as we share the good news with them. my platform looks like caring for my mom, who has lost her job, her husband, and currently lives with us. my platform looks like our business and doing what we can to love the photographers, couples, and families who come our way looking for hope. and in a very small sense, my platform includes a social media outlet called instagram where a few thousand people follow me, and for whatever reason, keep up with my life through my sometimes crappy iPhone pictures.

I didn’t always think of instagram as one of those platforms. And when I did, I would tell myself “nobody wants to hear your honest thoughts, it will turn people away and they won’t like you anymore.” I think I was honestly just afraid to lose approval. It isn’t sexy to share the painful moments in life. It isn’t sexy to admit that I’m weak and in need of help. It isn’t sexy to say that there is one way to true freedom and joy and his name is Jesus. And because I didn’t want to turn people off, I wasted so much time on there, so much energy, so much longing and frustration poured into one little app. and then, through the kindness of God, he came to me and began to change my heart. not just about this one little thing, but about everything. he began to remind me that my whole live exists to be a diorama, megaphone, image on display and pointing finger to Him. who he is. what he has done. and how incredibly glorious and good he is. I don’t just want to hang out with him and then pretend that my life is beautiful because of my own efforts. I want to know him so deeply and then to cry out to everyone in my life “come and see the one who knew everything bad about me and loved me anyways! come and see the one who has set me free, really free!”

and so, i came back to instagram to do just that. to declare His excellencies. and advent time has been the perfect time to do that, because each day of advent I am being more and more reminded of just how great and deep my need for a savior, comforter, counselor, healer, and friend truly is. so, here are the posts from week one of my journey into that longing, and the ways God has been meeting me as I have been honest about that.

day one:

one month ago, I vacated Instagram for a social media respite. this can be a wonderful space and it holds so many dear souls, and simultaneously my heart has a way of twisting it to make it all about myself: numbing and entertaining myself, ignoring the story unfolding in my own life to engage in someone else’s, boosting my own popularity, wasting time, or even just being lazy in relationships. so I deleted the app to take a little break and it has been so good. it’s been good to look my kids in the eyes when they are talking to me. its been good to turn on my phone to discover there’s nothing to look at, and then turn it off and go do something productive. it’s been good to not waste precious minutes of quiet time with my husband talking about the lives of people I followed but didn’t actually live life with, or on editing iPhone pics just in hopes that they might get a few more likes. its been good to wonder what my friends are doing today and actually engage in real relationship over a letter or phone call rather than stalking them via the photographs they choose to share on IG. it’s been good to stare into the face of my desire to be known, adored, followed, liked, worshipped and emulated. because the truth is, no social media outlet, no amount of likes, followers, image making, image sharing or image consumption will ever satisfy. at the top of that ladder, there are infinite rungs still left to climb. so, one month after my fast, I am back in this space, on the first week of Advent, with one hope: that I can be honest with you about my longings and desires that can only be fully met by the God who made me and came as a naked, helpless baby to grow up and live the perfect life you and I could never live and die the death our sin deserved so that we can experience true fulfillment. so cheers to a new season, and welcome, advent!

day two:

on thanksgiving day, we sat around this table with 16 lovely souls. these are people who have been near and dear to us over the years, who have laughed and cried with us, who know our junk and love us anyways. as I looked down the table my husband built filled with faces I know so well I was struck by the fact that, although it was wonderful, it left me longing. longing for my dad to be alive again. for that one broken relationship with an old friend to be mended. for the pain in the lives of some of these dear ones to subside. for Home. advent is all about longing and anticipation. it’s the reminder that, yes, Jesus was born into this world to set everything right and yet we are still waiting for him to come again and obliterate all that is wrong here. so for now, I thank him for the table. I thank him for the people and their broken and beautiful lives. and I thank him that someday I will sit around a much bigger table, filled with completed hope and joy…no longer longing.

day three

today, the walls and rooms that our little family has called “home” for the past 5 1/2 years will go up for sale. there will be a sign in the yard and photos on a website and open houses and house showings. it feels like we are about to say goodbye to a dear old friend. one who has observed us as we yelled at each other, as we laughed and put up Christmas trees, as we slow danced to Billie Holiday in the kitchen while cooking dinner, as we prayed for God to provide enough money for bills or a furnace in the long winter months. it’s tempting to see the history we have with these walls and want to stay forever. to cling to the safety and familiarity of “home”. but then I remember that no walls, no rooms, no memories can ever be our true home. we are pilgrims in this world, we are just passing through. and as our friend Kevin said this week, this building will someday end up in a dumpster. so for now, we prepare to say goodbye to this place and look for new walls that will tell the next chapter of our story, hopefully one that includes giving ourselves away more, loving more, hosting more, and ministering more to fellow pilgrims. we are thankful for these walls, and we will miss these walls, but no earthly house will ever be our Home. we are only passing through.

day four

you know those nights that are just perfect? The Bing Crosby Christmas radio is on, the fire is raging, the kids are happy, the Christmas tree just got put up and the yearly ornaments are going on? … and then suddenly it’s like hell on earth as the Christmas tree falls on one of your boys because he was messing with it, old antique ornaments you’ve stored and used year after year shatter, the baby starts to lose his shit with an epic tantrum, and after discovering that your two oldest have trashed their room and destroyed some of their things for fun, you give them a consequence: no book purchase at the book fair tomorrow. and they cry. like snotty, wailing, guttural cries that make your stomach feel sick. that was the story a couple of nights ago. and I went to bed thinking: “how did tonight go so terribly wrong? I’m so disappointed!” I think I get so caught up sometimes in the sentiment of Christmas, the magical idea of Christmas trees and music and apple cider spiked with bourbon, that I forget what it’s all supposed to be pointing to: the truth that He came down. the Maker of all came all the way down to meet us where we were at, even when we were his enemies. so I thank God for my disappointment with our “perfect” night, and I cling to the reality that no amount of sentiment will ever satisfy the longing that is fulfilled in the baby in the manger.

day five

this morning I sat with someone who, in the past couple of years, has become a very very dear friend, and prepared to say goodbye. next week she and her husband will drive away from this place they have called home and move many miles away from us. as we talked and laughed and cried over all God has done in our lives these past years, I had to just thank Him for the hope that Christmas brings. even though, as Scotty Smith says, “we invest so much of our lives looking for favor – wanting to be wanted, longing to be celebrated, and seeking to be acceptable.” -and I have so often tried to find that in my relationships, God is reminding me of something even deeper than that this advent season. He is reminding me that, although relationships are at times filled with pain, unmet expectations, failure, and goodbyes, at Christmas, God was no longer removed from us but became “with us” in the person of Jesus. so although this week I am mourning the loss of friends who have been with us, I am so grateful for the “God with us” hope found in Jesus.

I would love to know what advent is stirring up in you. some of you have been so open and vulnerable to leave comments on these instagram posts this week, and it has been so wonderfully encouraging to know that you are also connecting to these daily lessons that God is teaching me. We are all so connected by our need for him. For those who haven’t, I would love to hear how you are connecting to the the longing for peace, good news, and tidings of great joy in a world that is often filled with darkness and chaos. here’s hoping that you are connecting to that deep longing and even more to the deeper reality that Jesus came to fill all voids.

this is the start of a whole new chapter . . .

we took zion in to see his special care doctor at the hospital a little over a month ago. it was time for his regular check up, the week of his second birthday. We have been so incredibly proud of him, so impressed by his growth, so amazed at all he is. whatever he is doing, that is our normal. and his normal is perfect to us, because we just couldn’t love him more. but all it takes is one play date with his friend, hazel, or one interaction in the back yard with the neighbor baby, dewey b., to make us realize that our normal is not everyone else’s normal. There are one year olds far more advanced than zion, and despite over a year of physical and occupational therapy in our home, zion still doesn’t walk. and when he does take a few steps, he walks on his toes, like a ballet dancer.

and yet, I’m the proud, blind mommy who just thinks her baby is the best thing in the world (because he is, duh.) and my blindness keeps me from seeing the ways I may be able to know him more, to love him better. and so I went into the 2 year check up expecting the doctor to echo the things inside my head: “oh wow! look how good he’s doing! he’s amazing! he is exceeding our expectations! you would never know he was almost 3 months premature and had a brain injury!! . . . ”

and we did hear one of those – you would never know zion was premature when it comes to his size. little man is BIG. and growing leaps and bounds by the week. but then she said something I wasn’t ready for. something I remember reading as a major possibility in his medical report when we adopted him. “ok, so I think it’s obvious to everyone that zion is not developing like he should be. his leg muscles are so tight that he can’t stand flat on his feet, so even if he could walk, he would not be walking the right way. I’m going to wait for 6 months to officially diagnose him, but . . .” and then she said it.

“I think it’s time for us to start talking about Cerebral Palsy.”

an hour later, we found ourselves in the clinic in the hospital that makes leg and body braces and prosthetics, getting zion’s legs casted so they could custom make him a pair of leg braces that will hold his feet at a 90 degree angle to his legs. the braces have taken about a month to be made, and just a couple of days ago (after a long travel wedding weekend) we found ourselves driving him to the hospital to have him fit for his braces, or “AFO’s” (ankle foot orthotics) as they call them. on the way, Jeremy held my hand as he drove and said, “this feels big. this is the start of a whole new chapter.” I cried, and texted a few loved ones and asked them to pray for us and for him. the braces essentially will force zion to hold a painful stretch that he has never had to hold before. I was afraid he would suffer and that he wouldn’t understand. and if I’m honest, I was afraid I would feel the same way. this little amazing son that we have been blessed with has brought us more joy than we ever could have imagined. he has been a tangible experience of the love of God to our family. and with a shunt and the constant risk that he will need another life-saving brain surgery at any moment, I just ache over the possibility that he would have another life-long battle on top of his current one.

so these are the days when I choose to talk to myself instead of listening to myself. when I listen to myself, I hear that this all feels hopeless and sad. that it’s not fair that other children are running around healthy without a shunt in their brain and with able bodies and zion is not. I hear that God doesn’t love us as much as other families because of what we have had to suffer through. but when I talk to myself, I remind myself of my loving Father, who knows me and still comes toward me and loves me anyway. I remind myself that He made Zion and held him together for months before I even knew he existed. I remind myself that He has healed before, and when he doesn’t heal, he is enough. I remind myself that Zion ultimately belongs to God, that I ultimately belong to God, and that this life is not all there is. if the only hope I have is that this life can be made perfect in the here and now, and that we won’t have to suffer, it’s all hopeless. especially for zion. but the thought that this isn’t all there is, that zion could be a young, healthy man someday running free and wild with no fear of danger, pain or surgery? that gives me so much hope. and as our pastor kevin said a couple of weeks ago, I will willingly make sacrifices and not expect perfection in this life when I know what’s coming in the next one. this is just the first course, just the arugala salad. but I’m reading the menu, and the next three courses are going to be absolutely amazing.

zion is looking at an intense 6 months coming up, with 3 therapy appointments nearly every week, AFO’s being worn every waking minute of the day, and the potential need for other interventions in the future. all while keeping up with his neurosurgery appointments and routine MRI’s. It’s a lot for the little man, and for us. and we welcome your prayers, patience, and unconditional support as we navigate this whole new chapter that God has written into our story.

with love,