Vapor Mist Life

These are some crazy times we’re living in, amiright?! If nothing else, can the world just agree that we’re all crazy and it’s not a contest? No matter where we each land on today’s [feisty] hot topics like masks v. naked faces, vax v. no vax, freedom to choose v. mandate everything – there’s many a topic we could choose from to get divisive about. Christians and non-believers alike are fired UP about any and all of the topics and which is right, who is dumb, how it should be… and it seems like no one in any of the camps is having stage fright speaking their mind and reminding you that if you don’t agree with their stance, you are literally THE worst. 

I wonder, though, what would happen if we Christians were this passionate about reminding people that there’s actually an eternal life we should all be worrying about more than this current one we find ourselves in. The Bible tells us like it is – this life is but a vapor. It is a mist, that appears and then is gone. And once it vanishes, it’s on to the actual life that this quick, dress rehearsal one was preparing us for. “…What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” James 4:14

Insert spoiler alert here – we are all terminal. We will all die. Every single person you meet on this earth will spend eternity somewhere. Either in heaven or in hell. Why aren’t we screaming it from the rooftops?! Why isn’t that on the newsfeed blowing up your phone? Because the enemy is real and his tactic is to steal, kill and destroy… #oldnews. He’s stealing your peace and killing your hope and destroying your relationships. And we’re just standing around letting him. Well, I, for one, am done. 


If you are a Christian and you believe the Bible, we are instructed (repeatedly) not to fear. Should we walk around and lick doorknobs and be reckless? No. But we should be so focused on making disciples and sharing the Good News (aka the GOSPEL) that clickbait headlines about all the horrible ways we’re going to either die or inadvertently murder everyone we know and love would be irrelevant to us. We are supposed to be living on mission! If we truly love our neighbors, wouldn’t we be sharing Jesus and letting our lost friends know there’s a way to ETERNAL LIFE through Jesus Christ rather than making an idol out of this vapor mist life?!

The situation is this – God is holy. We are not holy. We are all sinners condemned to die. Even if you’re a “good person” and your “family is Christian” and you “go to church” and you “are kind to people #beakindhuman”. The Bible says there is no one good, no not one –  “And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.’” Luke 18:19 

But God, in His infinite love and provision, sent His son Jesus to pay for our sins by dying on a cross. Your sins will all be paid for – either by you in hell, or by what Jesus did on the cross. He offers up a free gift to anyone willing to admit they are a sinner and repent and come to Him. Jesus overcame death – after He died on the cross, He came back to life three days later and conquered death, making a way for those of us who accept His gift to live eternally. And not only that, but to have the peace that only He provides as we live out our days on this earth with His Spirit indwelling us.. “Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were appointed for me, when as yet there was not one of them….” Psalm 139:16. God has numbered our days before we were even born and we can rest and trust Him. We can trust that the God who created the entire universe and numbered every person’s days before He created them, is trustworthy and true. Let’s all decide to focus on our mission here on this planet – to love God and love others, to go and make disciples and to share the Good News! .

Ins and Outs of Raising a Herd

Our family has six kids. S*I*X kids. That’s a lot of bodies and a lot of logistics of coordinating a lot of life. I thought a blog post would be a great way to share some of our practical, daily tips and tricks – it may help you, or it may just satisfy a nosy itch you have wondering how on earth families the size of mine are able to keep life rolling smoothly [or at all]. So, let’s begin…..

FOOD

Feeding eight humans every single day, three times a day is a full time job it feels like! Now, to be fair, Hayden doesn’t eat food by mouth, so we’ll exclude him from this particular topic. [He uses a G tube and is on a continuous 24/7 drip of formula from a feeding pump. But, don’t feel sorry for him – he hates food and thinks it’s gross to eat, so he’s fine, yall!]

I start each week with a full meal plan. I sit down usually on Saturday or super early on Sunday morning before church and plan out the week’s meals. This includes dinners, lunches, breakfasts and snacks. It’s summer right now, so we’re all home all day long and we eat every single meal together. (During the school year, my kids bring their lunch to school except for one day per week when they’re allowed to purchase a school lunch.) Our family has some set traditions when it comes to food which include Taco Tuesday (religiously!) and Pizza Friday. Knowing these two meals are set each week, really helps get the ball rolling when it comes time to meal plan dinners for the week. Already having two days filled in is encouraging. We also like to save Thursday nights for “Leftover Night” usually, although, we’re finding less and less leftovers available from each night’s meal (#growingBOYS!) so we are in the process of learning to make more servings at the other weeknight dinners, or just adding in another quick, easy meal on Thursday nights. Historically, my Bible study group (D Group) meets on Thursday nights so it’s nice to know it’s just leftovers for everyone and I don’t have to stress while I’m getting out the door to Bible study.

For breakfasts, I try and plan at least one breakfast casserole for the week and then have other meal prepped high protein options ready for a quick grab during the busy weekday mornings. I like chicken sausage links and turkey bacon as good meat options and have a few hard boiled eggs meal prepped and ready for breakfast or snacks. During the summer, I try to stay as healthy as possible for lunch time meals. Luckily, my kids like salmon and other types of fish, so I try to cook some early in the week that we eat on for a few days throughout the week. In an effort to be overall a bit healthier, I try to get ingredients to make snack options from a “30 Healthy Snack Idea” list we got from a nutritionist at one of the clinics we go to. I keep the snack list posted on the refrigerator so that the ideas are always visible to the kids so when snack time hits (at 10am and 2pm) they have options and don’t have to rely on me to get creative for them.

Once I’ve established that week’s menu, I start an Instacart order on the app on my phone or via computer (depending on how crazy the environment is that I’m in at the time). I add all the ingredients I need for our nightly meals, lunches, breakfasts, snacks and random stuff we may need and put it into multiple Instacart orders if need be. I shop mainly from Aldi because you can’t beat the savings!!! Seriously! (I used to shop there in real life, but then I had four kids and I was no longer in a place to PHYSICALLY ENTER a store ha!) I also do an order from Costco usually bi-weekly for things like peanut butter, Skinny Pop, Topo Chicos, paper plates, etc. I’ll also have a monthly or so order from Sprouts for various supplements and probiotics that we take. Then, I set my order/s to be delivered that weekend – either that Saturday or on Sunday after church. [If you don’t know what Instacart is or haven’t ever tried it, you are for sure missing out!! A shopper will shop for you at a wide variety of stores in your area and with a minimum $35 order at a store, they will shop and bring your stuff to you typically within two hours or less. There is a fee for this [incredibly worth it] service and I opt to pay $100 for the year – much like Amazon Prime. To give it a try, use this link and get $10 off: https://inst.cr/t/MDJSN0wwQkli]

We cook all of our meals 95% of the time and if we do purchase food from a restaurant, it’s just take out and we eat at home. We don’t tend to take the herd to a restaurant as that’s not conducive to eating in this current stage of life we’re in with two one year olds and a teenager in a wheel chair who doesn’t even eat food. Which, honestly, I don’t mind eating at home because it’s healthier and cheaper than anything a restaurant could offer us.

Our weekly menu board, shopping list, and our Summer Bucket List 2021 – in our Family “Hub”/Laundry Room/Pantry.

I mentioned earlier that once I’ve created my weekly meal plan, I write it on a white board in our pantry/laundry room/”home base” station. I write it for my own knowledge, but I also do it so the kids can see what we’re eating on what days and they are aware of what to expect. It also cuts out unnecessary questions and nagging about “What’s for dinner?” and “I don’t like ________.” You don’t have to like everything; but you do know what the options will be for the evening meal. I would say overall, the kids really don’t complain and I try to make meals everyone enjoys, although every night might not be their Most Favorite Meal of All Time – and that’s ok. One thing we have done as well, was to create meals together and I let the kids name the creation. For example, one time I had some chicken breasts I cut in to strips and just baked with some salt and pepper and some Rancher seasoning from Wildtree. It tasted pretty good but wasn’t necessarily in the “Most Favorite Meal of All Time Hall of Fame” or anything. But that night, I asked the kids what we should call our creation and collectively they came up with, “Naked Chicken Deluxe, Yo!” And it stuck! It was a fun name and moved the lame baked chicken up a few notches on the recipe rotation totem pole. By including them in the process, they had a little skin in the game and now they love to help meal plan and request “Naked Chicken Deluxe, Yo!”

ORGANIZATION

Keeping everyone’s schedules organized can sometimes feel like my second full time job! Each week’s success, for us, hinges on something we’ve done for years – a family meeting! We typically do these on Sunday afternoons and all the kids gather around with us and we look at every family member’s commitments for the week. Big commitments for us each week are things like Hayden’s doctor appointments, visits from CPS/CASA/Buckner for the foster kiddos, in office work meetings for Ryan, and sports practices (when in season) for the other kids. Getting everyone on the same page for the week helps EVERYONE, not just Ryan and me. Some of our kids are a little more high anxiety, so it helps them to know where everyone will be and what to expect in the upcoming week.

Any meetings or appointments for kids are written on our family’s calendar in our Family Hub Station. This way, it’s posted for everyone to see. (This even includes Hayden’s nurses who use that same laundry/pantry area to prepare Hayden’s meds and wash his medical equipment. I also keep posted in the “nurse’s station” of the laundry/pantry a hard copy of the nursing schedule which helps alleviate everyone relying on me to know and report the weekly schedule for nursing staff. If it’s posted, it’s a resource for everyone and it takes pressure off of me.) I try to keep the big, dry erase family calendar color coded as much as possible, but the most important thing is just getting the information down. This helps us all tremendously to not feel surprised by our day and to feel a little more sense of calm as we begin each morning.

A practical organization tip I learned years ago from another mom of multiple kids, was implementing something called a “Water Basket.” Rather than having a million cups all over the house, we each have one refillable water cup (I mean, we own more, but we each only use one at a time.) So whether that is a Tervis cup, a Gatorade squeeze bottle, a personalized sports cup, a sippy cup, etc., we each just use one at a time and keep them in our “Water Basket.” We have a Berkey water filter that is located on our dryer and we LOVE it! It filters out all kinds of nasty stuff from our water, and we each just refill our cup as needed, take our drink and ideally, place it back in the Water Basket to grab for the next drink. This helps out tons when the kids are asking, “Where’s my water??” I simply say, “Did you check the Water Basket?” This cute, brown wicker basket is our family’s landing zone for hydration.

Another way we keep order in what could be chaos is by having color coded bath towels for the kids. Each child has a set of three towels, but all three towels are the same color. Each child has THEIR colored towel and it’s their responsibility to use it and hang it up after their shower each night. (We don’t wash towels after each use – sorry if you think that’s gross, but we don’t. You can get a good couple of uses out of one towel if you hang it up to dry, which is what we ask of the kids.) Do they do this right every time? No… not always. BUT, when I go into the bathroom and see a yellow towel on the ground, I know exactly which kid is responsible for it.

Speaking of showering and getting eight people ready daily, we also have mason jars for each kid that has their toothbrush and preferred toothpaste in it as well as floss or floss sticks. This keeps their things organized and no one gets confused over whose is whose. (Hayden does have his own wheel chair accessible bathroom so his operation runs a bit differently….and since our remodel is now complete, we have a bathroom dedicated to the other five kids and guests, as well as mine and Ryan’s bathroom that no child is allowed in – we shared long enough! ha!!)

Mud Room Wall

As part of our renovation, we wanted to find a way to incorporate a “mud room” of sorts. We have a one story, 2,200 square foot home that we were able to creatively turn in to a five bedroom, three bath home with loads of storage and a sink in the laundry room. We got really good at using every square inch of space we could find and that’s how we created our “mud room” wall in our entry way. This wall, has six cabinets, one for each child’s backpack and sports bag/equipment if they’re playing a sport that season. (More on sports in a minute.) The wall also has a bench and cubbies for shoes as well as hooks for jackets in winter and purses for myself and guests. I love this so much and its functionality has been a HUGE lifesaver for me. With the backpacks inside the cabinets, I don’t have to see clutter everywhere, but rather it is contained behind a cabinet door. Again, when the kids go looking for their shoes or jackets, I simply direct them to the shoe cubby or their cabinet and they are able to solve their own problem and locate their belongings.

Time Management

A few years ago, Ryan and I made a decision on where we wanted to put our focus when it came to family. For us, building a strong family unit who knows, loves and serves the Lord together is THE most important thing. Defining what we wanted for our family helped us to determine what we did not want for our family. Family dinners together and quality time for talking and teaching are our priority. Knowing our end game goal, helped us to inform what our day to day life would look like. One of the parameters for our family, is that each child is welcome to play one sport per year. We spent many years playing all the sports and dragging babies and the disabled across all kinds of fields and to practices and games and we were 100% miserable. We don’t want our kids to miss out completely on sports just because we have a large, unique family dynamic, so we put healthy boundaries around recreational sports. And here I would offer a wise quote I love that says, “It’s ok to live a life others do not understand.” And it is ok. You do not have to look like every other family in your neighborhood or in your extended family or like your coworker’s family. In fact, I hope you don’t. I just want my family to look like Jesus and so for us, that means limiting the time we spend on practice fields and fighting on Saturday mornings to get to the ball field to sweat together in misery. But my family is not your family – so I honor and respect whatever it is you choose to spend your time on. (**Note on this: we do let our kids do music lessons and we are more open to activities that don’t require weekend commitments – think Taekwondo and dance lessons. We’re not total sticklers for no fun; it’s just we can’t afford to commit every weekend to a ball field, especially when weekend nurses for Hayden are hard to come by.)

In practical terms, to get all these humans showered and in bed on time, we have stick to a pretty scheduled and regimented bed time routine. **Disclaimer: I know Ryan and I are more type A than the average bear… and we’re fine with that. It works for us. Feel free to judge us. We do not care. We know who we are. ;)** We generally starts baths for the babies around 7:00pm and then it just progresses from there to the older kids. One thing we do to prevent arguments between two of the kids who consistently were arguing about who would shower first, is that we created a schedule for who showers first and posted it in the bathroom for all the world to see. (I did this also for these two as they’re roommates and would fight nightly about who should shut the door and turn off the light. are. you. kidding. me. right. now. So to put a stop to one more senseless fight, I posted a light/door schedule and taped it on the wall. THE END.) Now that the shower schedule is posted, everyone knows who should be where and when. While one person showers, the other person goes and takes their nightly vitamins and then they switch tasks.

If I haven’t lost you yet, I’m about to. This is the part where you’ll want to have me committed. Brace yourself. In an effort to be a good steward of each minute of the 24 hour day I’ve been given, and in order start my day off focused and ready to tackle whatever the day may bring, I work out at 5:30am! I wake up at 5am, throw on the workout clothes I laid out the night before and head to either Yoga or Pure Barre. (I’m in a weird overlapping time when I go to both and am trying to determine which activity I love the most.) This has been SO helpful to my mental health and overall attitude about the day. It gives me a chance to get up before the world, to pray out loud on the drive to the studio and give my day to the Lord, and then to accomplish something fully without being interrupted and to get to move my body before [all of] my family is even awake! I never used to be a morning person, but now that I am, I really enjoy it! My body and mental health are worth the investment. And, having to get up so early means I get to bed early as well. Which is better for me anyway! Confession: I used to watch Netflix and eat Skinny Pop and drink a glass of wine and go to bed way too late. But now, I only have wine on Friday nights or the weekend, and I get to bed at a decent hour every night (in fact, I put my phone to bed at 8:30pm and it goes into Do Not Disturb mode so that I set the tone for winding down.)

Family Traditions

As part of our mission of creating a close, tight knit family, Ryan and I decided to start “family traditions.” These seem like minor things, but their OUR FAMILY’S things so they’re big things to us. Some of the simple things we do are traditions like Taco Tuesday and Pizza and Game Night Fridays. These are stable, routine things that we hope make our kids feel secure and connected to our family unit. We eat dinner every night anyway, why not pick one night and just make it a “tradition.” We try to have “movie night” on Saturday nights although we’re not very consistent in that one. Whatever tradition you create doesn’t have to be perfect – it’s ok if it’s not perfect or done with 100% consistency. Just being together and creating memories as a family is the goal here.

Another tradition we do that the kids LOVE is “Fancy Dinner.” We had all this wedding china sitting in drawers and in cabinets and for what? We rarely used it and it just sat collecting dust. So one day we decided to dust it off and let the kids use it as we had Fancy Dinner. They flipping LOVE IT! They feel fancy and honored that they get to use our china. We do this once a month and even if the meal is lame, it still feels fancy because of the plate – I mean talk about upsell!

Since so many social interactions in life are centered around food, we include Hayden in our family dinners each night even though he doesn’t eat food by mouth. We use the time each night, to check in with each other and each family member shares a “Sunshine” and “Cloud” from the day which is their high and low of the day. We also keep a devotional book on the Lazy Susan on the table and we are slowly reading through it together. We added, recently, a book called “What If” and it offers hypothetical situations and each person gets to answer with how they would respond. Obviously we don’t have to use these guided materials, but it’s nice to have some structure as we range from one year olds (clearly non verbal right now HA!) to a teenager and everywhere in between so having something to put us all on the same page is a nice tool to utilize. The main point of all of this is to just sit down with your family and BE TOGETHER. I grew up in a home where this was not a priority and not a routine and I remember each meal I had at a friend’s house where we did sit down together and talk and leisurely enjoy dinner and discussion and I treasured those times and conversations greatly. That is part of our hope in doing our nightly dinners – that our kids will be inspired to converse together, to think and discuss ideas and various topics and to just enjoy being together and that when they’re outside of our home or when they have their own families they will continue in these family traditions.

Now that I’ve given all of our family secrets away 😉 our final one is this. We ultimately just want our kids to know we love them and although we are structured in the way we run things for the sake of the family unit, we are so thankful to have this family we have been given to lead and grow. To us, there is freedom in structure. Which feels like how our heavenly Father leads and grows us as well. We are free in Him and the structure of His word. But this family, and God’s family, isn’t just about rules and religion; it’s about relationship. Our prayer is that in listening to our kids now and in opening the conversations up for topics that might difficult, they will always feel welcome to come to us for advice in the future when the topics are much heavier than who should shower first or whose turn it is to turn off the lights. 😉

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8

Easter Memories Old and New

Fourteen Easter seasons ago Ryan and I were processing the information that had just been handed down to us from a perinatologist in Austin, Texas informing us that our son had spina bifida. Finding out that something is wrong with your child is completely overwhelming. I’ve said before in that moment, there was really no going back to life before hearing that diagnosis. From the way I saw it, there were three different endings; all of them difficult.. If we chose to terminate, which was offered to us as a “treatment”, I’m not sure how you heal from that. If our baby ended up dying in utero or at birth, I’m not sure how you heal from that. Or, if we chose to educate ourselves on his diagnosis and then try and give him the best chance at life, I’m not sure how you heal from that. There is no handbook for this.

This [Holy] week, we are approaching Easter weekend, 14 years after receiving our original diagnosis and Hayden is currently inpatient in a pediatric ICU dealing with multiple acute diagnoses. (And this, coming off of a full week of all eight of our family members taking a turn with a brutal stomach bug.) We were already living on little to no sleep and then Hayden‘s stomach bug transitioned into respiratory issues, and pneumonia and a virus and also a UTI. He had been feeling pretty miserable for quite a few days and since we know when to fold ’em, we took him to the ER for admission into PICU late last week..

We’re writing our own handbook as each day and month and year passes by. I’m constantly being asked questions about Hayden‘s care or Hayden‘s needs. Every.single.month someone from Medicaid calls me and asks me what appointments Hayden has been to, if there have been changes in his care, if he has any new diagnoses. None of these are things that I chose nor would I pick to be doing. But, it is the reality of trying our best to give Hayden the best life possible. And I have to say, I’m pretty dang proud of the life he is living.

Not only has he taught me countless lessons about life and made me a braver, more confident caregiver and advocate, but he has put a spotlight on our family. And now that we’re in plain view to the world, we will to point the world to Jesus. I will never stop saying that I hope and pray when people look at our family and everything that we’re doing and the chaos of it all, that they only see our JOY and I want more than anything for them to know that the source of that joy is JESUS. What better time to remind the world than with Easter weekend approaching in a few days?

Fourteen years ago on Easter weekend, my world was falling apart. But around 2000 and so years ago on Passover weekend, Jesus‘ world was falling apart and yet also falling into place. It is because of Easter weekend that our family has the hope that we have. Because, you see on Easter weekend after He was murdered on mine and your behalf, Jesus was buried in a borrowed tomb, but only for three days. He was resurrected on the third day and overcame death! And in so doing, he has given my family, and your family, the chance to also overcome death. Because of the gift and good news of the gospel (i.e. Jesus died for our sins and rose again and now we have a free gift for the taking), we have hope in eternity. So, when I watch my son lay in his hospital bed feeling miserable or I see him struggle in his wheelchair because of his inability to walk, or when I see his Autism diagnosis get in the way of he and his peers interacting, I do feel grief for what is lost on this earth – but beyond that I have joy. Because I know that no matter what happens on this planet, because Hayden has accepted the free gift of salvation that Jesus offered to him, Hayden will have eternal life in heaven and will be restored one day. I know that with 1000% certainty. I just wish that everyone else would come to know that, too. Look at this child, look at our family and see that there is something bigger than yourself and this world, and that there is a source of life and hope and joy.

So coming into this Easter weekend, I am thankful. I am thankful for all the years I’ve had with Hayden, I am thankful for the platform to share Jesus. I am thankful that God can turn ashes into beauty. I am thankful that 14 Easters ago my world and I knew it was ending. Because when my world ended, my life was actually able to begin. I pray that our family will bless you and encourage you and have you seeking truth. For me, it took an earth shattering event to wake me up to how wonderful God‘s plan is. And if sharing our truth and our life with the world brings one more person into communion with God, then every single tear that I’ve cried over the span of 14 years was absolutely worth it.

The only thing that matters, is you knowing Jesus. Knowing His love for you and the sacrifice He made for you. There is no time like the present. I can tell you firsthand, life is short. Don’t put off another day coming to know the Lord. And not just so that you get to go to heaven. Yes, that’s great.I hope we get to be neighbors and hang out together for eternity. But please don’t just be after Jesus for His stuff. Be after Jesus for Jesus. He makes each day worth living and coming to know Him more and more each day has been the greatest gift of my life.

“If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9

Blunt Force Truth

My D Group (Discipleship Group aka Bible Study) is studying Revelation right now. It’s intense. This is by far the hardest study I’ve participated in and I’ve done many studies on Revelation and end time events before. This one is stretching me (and our whole group) in ways I wasn’t really prepared for. And thankfully, end time events is an “open handed” issue – meaning salvation doesn’t depend on nailing the order of these events or knowing if they’re literal or imagery. But it’s still hard. And sometimes I want to just quit because it’s hard. And honestly, I’m a lazy American who sometimes just wants to quit when things are difficult. But I’m not going to.

I’m about 8 weeks in to this study and I’ve delved deep in all kinds of wrath and judgment (all justified and totally due), but do you know what the saddest part has been to me? There’s one line in the passage we covered last week that states, “They did not repent of their deeds.” Rev. 16:11 God is pouring out His wrath which most people will say is so mean and terrible; but it’s actually God’s MERCY. He’s pouring out wrath in Revelation in order to BRING PEOPLE TO HIM. [Depending on interpretation,] this is the part of the world’s story where people left on earth (after the church is raptured out) who have not accepted Christ as their savior are being giving their last chances to recognize who the God of the universe is and to repent and turn to Him. But. They. Won’t. It’s unbelievable to me. They still choose to deny Him. They still choose their own pride and self.

It seems here in America, for sure, we’re so prideful and bratty and spoiled, that we no longer honor God who sits on a throne. HE sits on the throne. We worship HIM. We are not on a throne. We are not equal to God. This place (this planet, this universe, the heavenly realms, all of it) is HIS. We are HIS. Not the other way around. If Jesus is Lord of your life, He’s in the driver’s seat of your life. He’s not in the trunk. He’s not in the backseat. He’s not in the passenger seat. He’s either in the driver’s seat, or He’s not in the car at all. But it feels like oftentimes, we want to drive our car around with a mannequin up front behind the wheel while we are actually operating the car from the passenger seat “mailman style.” We want everyone around us (when it’s convenient, of course) to assume that’s Jesus leading us and driving our lives, meanwhile we won’t let go of the dang steering wheel!

Scripture commands us to DENY ourselves. We’re to take up our cross and follow HIM. He doesn’t follow us and our lead; we’re to follow HIM. When we assume we have the authority to assign gender pronouns; when we assume we have the authority to decide which lives are worth keeping alive and which aren’t; when we assume we have the authority to define marriage as anything we want, we are acting as gods and that is idolatry. The entire point of the Christian walk is that WE would decrease so HE would increase. That is dying to self. It’s denying what YOU want and only living for what HE wants. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25 This idea absolutely goes against every thing that America and the current culture is feeding us. But it’s the only thing true. It’s the only thing that will last.

Pride is an incredible thing. I wonder if we understand that we are sinners. We are not good. There is no one good but the FATHER (God). Jesus even said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Mark 10:18. It seems in this current day and age, everyone wants to assume they’re good, though. That they’re not *that* bad – I mean look at So And So, now they’re bad! But that’s not true – even Jesus declares that He’s not good, only God is good. Being “good” gets you nowhere fast.

Good won’t get you to heaven. And neither will religion. Only CHRIST alone, through FAITH alone gets you to heaven. And you don’t just get heaven – YOU GET CHRIST! Coming to faith in Jesus will not give you health and wealth; that is a LIE. Jesus tells a person interested in following Him in Matthew 8:20, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Any earthly possessions we have are His anyway and to be used for His glory, not our own.

Some people will hate what I’m saying. Maybe they’ll hate me too for saying it. But that’s ok; Jesus gave me a heads up for when that happens. “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me [Jesus} first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” John 15:18-19 The only reason I say any of this is out of love for my fellow man and to follow Jesus’ last command to His followers before He left this earth. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations… teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19 I usually try to beat around the bush and be as P. C. as possible when presenting the gospel, but if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that life is short and you truly never know what’s around the corner.

I know that sometimes “Christianese” (this using Christian language that someone outside the church may not recognize) can be a bit of an issue sometimes. What even is the “gospel” and what do you mean when you say that, Johnna? Gospel means GOOD NEWS. Here’s the good news, guys! Jesus! He’s the good news! Here’s the low down:

—-Humans are sinners. We all sin. We live in a fallen world full of sin and heartache and brokenness, and because of that we are separated from God. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23 This is where the pride thing can become a hang up. We don’t want to admit that we’re a sinner… we’re “good people” remember? We’ve never murdered anyone or cheated on our spouse. We’re “good, duh!” But that’s not true – Scripture tells us we’ve all sinned. Can you admit that and accept that as truth about yourself?

—-Jesus is the Son of God sent to this earth to die on a cross to make recompense for mankind’s sin. Jesus Christ was the ultimate sacrificial lamb (fulfilling Old Testament Law, by the way) whose blood was shed to cover the sin of all mankind who would accept Him. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9 Not by WORKS. Just Jesus. This is why I say religion won’t save you. Church won’t save you. Your pastor won’t save you. Jesus saves you. Christ alone.

—-So then what? If you can admit you’re a sinner and that you need a savior, and you believe that savior is Jesus alone and you are willing to accept His free gift, then you commit your life to Christ and ask Him to become Lord of your life. This would be the first step of a lifetime of growing and learning and being sanctified and walking with Jesus. But the first step is always the most important one. Romans 10:9 says, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” So this might look like a prayer that asks God for help and welcomes Jesus to become Lord of your life.

Depending on how familiar you are with scripture this may [theologically] be clear as mud – but it’s a lifelong process of studying Scripture and falling more and more in love with Jesus who loves you SO much. So, so much. When everything else fades away – your savings account, your friends, your health – Jesus will still be there and He will still be for you and with you.

If there is a question you have that I could answer or if I could pray for you or encourage you in any way, please reach out! That’s not just something I’m saying so I have a cute conclusion here, it’s a genuine offer. I am available to you whether you know me or not, and there’s nothing more important to me than helping you work toward eternity with Jesus and having a life here on earth worth living because of the hope that awaits us in heaven.

A Paralyzing Gift

I’m not one of those people who always looks on the bright side of ev.er.y.thing. I try and make light as best I can, but I’m realizing that it’s ok to admit things suck sometimes. It’s ok to feel sad. It’s ok to just sit in yuck for a bit. My biggest pet peeve is when someone tries to “fix” everything for me when I’m having a rough moment. My favorite thing is when someone will just sit in the yuck with me for a minute; that’s really all I need.

However. There really are bright sides to situations that suck. There really are ways it could always be worse. And there is always something to be thankful for. For example…..

SUCKS: My son can’t feel the majority of his body – can’t walk, never will.

JACKPOT: My son can’t feel the pain that comes along with a 95 degree curve in his spine.

I get so wrapped up in the day to day of doctor appointments and medical conversations that often times I forget to stop and actually think what these diagnoses might feel like to a “typical” person. I remember one time, my middle son was maybe two or three years old at the time and was having a major allergy and respiratory issue. I took him to this pediatrician and he offered up a treatment plan and then he said, “If that doesn’t work, we may need to do some nebulized breathing treatments.” I was SHOCKED. How could my sweet, perfect little angel child need a nebulizer?! At this time, I was also doing nebulized treatments for Hayden 4-5 times a day. But that was just Hayden; it didn’t phase me. When the realization hit me of what it would be like for a typical child to have to sit still and wear a mask on his face multiple times a day, I was appalled at the idea.

The same is true here. Hayden has scoliosis and always has…. I’ll bet there was about 15 minutes of Hayden’s life that his body wasn’t out of whack somehow. And those would be the first 15 minutes – and even then, his legs never have stretched out straight, so when they measured his length as a newborn they had to bend the measuring tape to count a measly 16″ inches long. Hayden’s worn a thoracic lumbar sacral orthotic (TLSO) for about 10 years of his life. It usually corrects the curve decently. But about four months ago, his curve started to progress beyond what his TLSO and his seating could accommodate. In the span of four months, his spinal curve had progress from 62 degrees to 95 degrees.

When I first processed that information I ran it through the filter of myself….. here’s another risky surgery we have to debate about doing and then sign consent for. Here’s another long recovery process, more hospital stays, more nights away from home. But then I had this weird moment of clarity when I thought, “What would it look like for a ‘typical’ kid to have a 95 degree curve in their spine? Surely it can’t feel good.” And I realized the fact that he can’t feel the pain was a gift. How happy would Hayden be and how encouraging could he be to others if he was in a constant state of excruciating pain and on medication to treat his pain? At this moment, he can’t feel or move his body, but he’s literally the happiest person I know. I’m able to see the numbness, the absence of sensation as a blessing to him and to us.

It reminds me of Joseph from wayyyy back in an Old Testament story. Joseph had been through the ringer with some circumstances that he didn’t choose (same…) and just when he thought he had finally hit smooth sailing, he was framed and charged for a crime he didn’t commit and it landed him in jail. He sat in jail for two years, but the repercussions of that jail time and some dreams he interrupted for just the right people actually ended up helping an entire nation of people. (Plus, most of Genesis ends up being about Joseph and from about chapter 39 on through the end, you can see how God used Joseph and had actually gifted him multiple trials that were for a greater purpose than just Jospeh.)

So for today, I’m appreciative of the gift of Hayden’s numbness and a body that offers him respite from an amount of pain no child should have to bear. I’m choosing to trust that God’s plan for Hayden’s life, my life, and your life, friend, is for a greater purpose than just for ourselves.

Throw the Dang Seed!

I have to be honest. I’ve thought about this blog post for nearly two years. I started this draft on July 17, 2017. I wrote the title and then clicked “save” and couldn’t come back to finish the job. I’m not completely sure why I was hesitant. But the idea that I have thought about this post for 20 months, should speak to the fact that this topic is still relevant and deep in my heart.

You know the movie, “The Blind Side?” You know, when Sandra Bullock plays a feisty southern mama who is fired up when her high school son’s football coach isn’t running the ball the way he should during a game? Sandra Bullock calls the coach on his cell phone down on the field and directs him to, “RUN THE DANG BALL!” She was fed up with his trick plays and his conservative ways of coaching and she was ready to scream at him to take action and change the method of which he’d been trying to win the game.

There’s a story I’ve heard before about a farmer scattering some seeds. Usually when I hear this story spoken about, the person presenting the material goes through the different types of soil these seeds land on and the implications of the types of soil. There’s the hard soil – they hear the message but then lose it quickly, the rocky soil – they hear the message but have no roots and once a problem arises they just wilt away, the thorny soil – they hear the message and then worldly junk and desires interfere and no crop is actually produced, and finally the good soil – they hear the message and accept it and actually produce a huge harvest.

In July 2017, when once again I had heard this story from Mark 4 talked about, it was like a siren was going off in my head; but not about which kind of soil I should be. Obviously, we should all be aiming to be the good soil. We need to hear the message, accept it and then PRODUCE a huge harvest. And that got me thinking….

At some point, we have to stop being the consumer (the soil) and start being the producer (the FARMER). We live in a day and time and in a country where we want to be told which kind of soil we should be. To be reminded that we need to have perseverance and we need to not wither away when problems come and we need to not be focused on worldly “stuff” and aspirations. But, y’all, at some point, it’s time for us to THROW THE DANG SEED! We need to step up and be the farmer. We cannot make disciples if we keep playing the character of the soil in the story. We have to move out of the role of “consuming Christianity” and be the one who is throwing some seed onto the soil.

“The farmer I talked about is the one who brings God’s message to others.” – Jesus, Mark 4:14

Is that not what we’re all called to do as believers? Bring God’s message to others? To go and make disciples? Yet it seems that often we show up to church or we play a podcast or we read a self help book to learn more about OURSELVES and not OTHERS. We are trying to make sure we’re “good soil,” yet the thing that makes the soil good is that it’s producing a harvest.

I’m no professional, nor an expert on evangelizing the Gospel, but man alive, I believe you and me, we can be some extraordinary farmers! I think it takes us being sick and tired of just being the soil in the story. Let’s step into our role as the farmer. Stop “consuming” Christianity. Stop being served and start serving. Let’s believe that we can meet people where they are, get to know them and their struggles and then share all that Jesus has done for them and how much He loves them. Let’s bring the message of God to others.

And if you needed to hear it, the message is that God loves you (in fact, literally could not love you any more than He already does) and that when you were separated from Him because of your sin, He made a way through His son, Jesus (He literally could not give you any greater of a gift than He already has). And the solution to your separation from Him could not be any simpler than it is – it’s simply believing in Him and trusting in Jesus alone as your only way to heaven. I realize that’s a quick, two sentence explanation of Jesus, but I’m so excited to THROW THE DANG SEED that all I need is two sentences and a couple of parenthesis to get it out of my hand and onto some soil.

I love you so much, I want to throw seeds at you and smack you in the face with them. 😉 What a compliment! As always, I am available and willing to answer other questions or go deeper than this platform allows, so please reach out if you want to know more about Christ and how He sustains me daily in circumstances that could destroy me.

johnna@johnnahensley.com

Like a Sore Thumb

It’s sports season again in our household – and you know what that means. Me and thousands of my closest friends will come out in droves to frequent the local public school gyms to watch our kids show of their skills they have honed in the hourly practice of the week. Honestly, it’s adorable to see little kids in matching uniforms trying their hardest to make a slam dunk – or just make a basket into the right team’s hoop.

Even though he hates it, we make Hayden come with us to at least a few sporting events per season to show support for his brothers. Heaven knows I have spent many years dragging his brothers to appointments they did not want to go to, so Hayden can do his brothers a solid and attend an event or two and show support. We are a family. That is what families do – they go to events they don’t care about and put on a smile and suck it up and deal… then their therapist thanks me later for the unending material. 😉

The part I hate the most, though, actually takes place well before I enter the building. It’s the PARKING LOT nightmare! Recently, there was a tournament going on for both of our younger boys and we had to split up the parenting duties. My husband had our two boys with him and I had Hayden with me. I had stayed back home to complete Hayden’s morning treatments and bowel management routine, missed the first games and then Hayden and I were planning to meet up with the rest of our family at the gym.

The two of us pulled into the parking lot in our handicap plated, beaten up, wheel chair deploying van looking for that “golden ticket” of a handicap spot with the lines painted on the right hand side of the parking spot for our ramp to deploy. I call this spot the “golden ticket” because without those lines in the correct spot, Momma has to back “the beast” in to a non-ideal spot to get the ramp to deploy with enough space, and no one wants to endure that fiasco of backing into a parking spot, let’s just all be honest.

This particular [insanely windy] day, there were NO handicap spots available at all! No “golden tickets,” no spots near the end of a row I could make do with, nothing, nada, zilch! So I had to park wayyyyyy back in the lot and deploy the ramp there and then push Hayden from back there. Obviously, the basketball game was over when we made it to the front door of the school. (Did you really expect this story to go any other way?? ha!)

But that experience got me thinking – wouldn’t it have been so much easier if the parking spot I needed was just like what everyone else was using? Just a plain Jane, run of the mill parking spot. No particulars necessary. No need to stand out like a sore thumb and have only a specific handful of spots that would work? But that’s not our lot… Hayden and I, we were destined to drive around and forced to be picky about where we landed. We have to have special license plates, even, granting us permission to park in the “special areas.” And I’ll tell you, for an introvert trying to fly [quietly] under the radar, parking lots just make me sweat. Profusely. (And I’ll save my anger issues for those citizens who take advantage of handicap parking spots for another post or, perhaps, for my tell all book….)

Here’s the deal, though. I was called to stand out. I was called to NOT match all the other cars in the parking lot. To not blend in so nicely. The parking lot was full of people just blending in and not sticking out. All the cars look the same, park the same, and fit between two beautiful and straight white lines. But not my car. You can spot my car from afar. Special license plates in a special area of every parking lot with crazy diagonal lines all over the place and signs posted that essentially read, “Look out world! Something different is headed your way!”

But you know what? If you’re following Jesus, He told you to stand out too. Me and you. We have got to be the salt and the light of this world. We cannot go through life just blending in with everyone else, flying under the radar. He did not call us to that. He did not tell us to do our best to blend in and find a place in this world that’s just perfectly easy and laid out, and then land there and never look back. What in our daily lives is making us look contrary from the entire world? Something about us needs to be screaming, “Look out world! Something different is headed your way!”

I am so thankful to be in a life and in a set of circumstances that FORCE me to stand out because it makes it so much easier. It almost feels like I was gifted the easier version of “Salt and Light 101.” If these difficult circumstances that I wake up to everyday make it easier for me to stand out in the world and to point others to Christ, then I welcome this scenario. And once I am out of my comfort zone, it is so much easier to look around and find even more ways to keep standing out in this world. I do not want to conform to the world. I want to look like the opposite of the world so that others might see me, struggling in the wind to unbuckle my son’s wheel chair from the van floor and rush into a basketball gym only to miss a game, and go, “What is the deal with this girl? Something is different here – Who is giving her this joy and resilience that not even a rough Saturday morning in the suburbs has the ability to dim her light?”

And I want that for you, friend. Because the joy isn’t in the perfect circumstances; the joy is in Jesus.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 1In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14-16

He Love Me, He Loves Me Not

Not everyone has wild adventures worthy of a cable television reality show. But that does not mean life is not an adventure. There are days my homeschool classroom is worthy of a Discovery Channel camera crew filming a documentary about mothers who eat their young. Life is the adventure you choose to make it into. That is what makes it exciting. Every single day, we get to decide what music will be played when the credits on this show called “life” roll by. Will it be a slow, sad song? Or an upbeat, happy one? 

I used to believe that because I was not able to pick all of the circumstances life handed to me, then they were second rate circumstances. (Because, certainly, I could do a better job than God assigning circumstances to myself and those around me.) But now I realize, I do get a choice; I get to decide how to respond to the life I have. I get to decide if I would like to embrace a chaotic life – filled to the brim with doctor appointments, healthcare workers in my home, and enough boxes of medical supplies that we could build a fort large enough to house an entire elementary school – or if I want to stall out and wallow in the life I ended up with. 

I am no green thumb, but I love to get fresh flowers. The best is when my husband and sons bring me flowers out of the clear blue sky. Now, I know the flowers will wither and die. That is the end game for a beautiful bouquet of flowers every time. However, I still love to receive them. I cut the stems, just so, under running water, add the plant food that is rubber banded to them stem, and fill a beautiful vase with beauty, knowing full well, these won’t last forever so I better treasure them while I have them. When I am given flowers, I just love them and care for them and enjoy them. I don’t analyze each flower and mourn prematurely for the day in the future when they will wilt and I’ll have to toss them out. Rather, I smell their fragrance, stare at their colors, and even use them as a visual during that day’s homeschool science lesson. 

The point is this, whether or not I had been able to select every circumstance of my life, or if I had been able to find the best of all the flowers available and put together the “Queen of Botany” bouquet, unless I choose to embrace it, it will vanish before I have had time to enjoy it. Every day is actually a gift that we have been given. God has chosen each of us and placed us in this moment, in this space for a reason. But He’s also gifted us the choice to decide what we do with our circumstances. Are you going to embrace life? Put the plant food in the vase and fill it up and enjoy? Or are you going to leave the flowers laying on the counter and refuse them water out of protest that they weren’t the exact shade of aubergine that you typically prefer? 

‘Tis the Season

It May. Mayhem, if you ask me. So many school events, class parties, teacher appreciation events, baseball games, graduations. You name it; it’s happening. And all within a five day span it feels like. Next week, my youngest son graduates from Pre-K. Tonight, my middle son completed his second year of Royal Ambassadors (a Wednesday night missions program at our church). In a couple of weeks, Hayden’s former 5th grade public school classmates will be celebrating their final walk through their elementary school halls. Obviously, as a homeschooler now, Hayden won’t be participating in those activities with his 5th grade class. He didn’t participate tonight in the RA banquet at church. He doesn’t fit any certain mold. When Hayden entered the world, in fact, the mold was crushed and obliterated. He is his own person. And we are grateful. But also, we are sad.

It’s hard to sit and watch Hayden’s peers move on in life. We always knew, theoretically, that this would become our reality. And ever so slowly, it has unfolded. This season of the year is just a time when it is on the forefront, rapidly playing out before us. Even if Hayden had remained in public school, he would not find joy in the celebration taking place for his peers. If Hayden had continued in RAs at church this year, he couldn’t have endured the banquet and all of the clapping – in fact, he stayed in the lobby with his attendant and cried because he could hear the applause through the wall and it was upsetting to him.

Oftentimes, I feel like I’m a mom with two families. I have a family of a husband and two healthy [albeit, wild] boys. We go to baseball games and cheer on our boys, we drop off our boys to their Sunday school class and leave them, free as a bird, we even sometimes go on vacations just the four of us and have a carefree, restful time. I also have a family of a husband and a special needs son. We go to doctor appointments and Operating Rooms and we cheer on our boy, we drop our boy off to his attendant at Sunday school and then keep our phones close by just in case the oxygen tank needs to be exchanged or his trach comes out, we sometimes go on trips to hotels with our boy so that he can work behind the front desk and make hotel key cards to add to his obsessive collection. Yet everyday, simultaneously, I am both moms.

The sting of watching my life as a mom not look the way I had always pictured it, doesn’t ever go away. Some days are easier than others and the grief is so faint and so small in my heart that I nearly forget it’s there. And other days, it’s so big and painful I’m not sure how I will get through it. And that is ok. Grief is a part of this journey. I’m in good company with my grief. In fact, Jesus Himself was a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”  (Isaiah 53:3)

I’ve been working with my counselor over the last couple of years and I know myself better, I know how to handle stress and grief better. But mostly, I know my God better. This past decade of living life as “Hayden’s mom” has opened my eyes to so many incredible, priceless lessons. I’ve seen God’s hand work in unbelievable ways. I’ve been gifted this opportunity to walk alongside and just watch His amazing plan play out. However, most recently, over the last two years, my heart has been attuned to not just God’s plans, but God Himself. To really understand the love He has for me, to believe just how loved I am, and to accept how He sees me has been the highlight of my life’s journey. I heard a quote from Bob Goff once that said, “Jesus is nuts about you! Your picture is in His wallet.” What a great illustration! The creator of the entire universe is really, really crazy about you.

See, when Jesus came to this earth to walk as a man, He experienced the same things we do. Grief, betrayal, sadness, exhaustion, hunger, thirst. And He overcame it all through His death and resurrection. And now, I have complete hope in Jesus. I know exactly what my future will look like. I know what restoration will come. And I know what true love feels like. And when you’re loved like crazy by your Creator, you are free indeed; free from the bondage of grief.

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36