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when tears fall

The crashing of the waves against the shore soothes my soul like nothing else.
It’s why I play these sounds every night when I crawl under the covers and why my first choice for a vacation is always the beach.

Their gentle cadence lulls my mind and ushers in peace.
Their consistency rolling in and out from the ocean’s expanse helps still my wandering thoughts and relaxes my overactive “what-if’s.

But the past week, I’ve experienced a different set of waves crashing in.
Waves of emotions that will not stop.

Waves of loss and sadness, an aching for others that I can not shake, news of deaths and heartbreak, of marriages in crisis and unexpected health concerns that have come at the worst time.

It’s gotten so personal.

Jobs of friends and family suddenly gone.
A mission trip for my daughter and I – canceled.
The potential that I won’t be able to hold my first niece when she’s born.
A family member diagnosed with cancer.
A friend who is recovering from a stroke.
Some couples fighting for their marriages, others at the brink of giving up.

It is so much.
It feels like too much.

And it is, for me.
But not for my Savior.

This is what He specializes in.
Brokenness. Heartache.
Giving hope and peace when everything in the world seems to be falling apart.

As I closed my bedroom closet door behind me last week and nestled into the hanging clothes for some privacy, I finally allowed the tears to come.
In that moment, I realized the overwhelming heaviness, the waves of emotions, they were all ushering in grief.

And I needed to just sit there for a minute with it all.

I needed to stop trying to cover it up.
I needed to stop trying to mask it with a smile or by keeping my hands busy.
I needed to just stop and sit with Jesus.

I needed what He specializes in giving.

Maybe you need the same thing too.

Maybe you need to quiet your heart and sit with your Creator for a while, even if it means burying your face in your husband’s plaid shirts and crying.

Be still, and know that I am God!
Psalm 46:10

Or perhaps you need to be reminded of God’s presence in your pain.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10

Or that He is near when you are grieving.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Psalm 34:18

He knows friends.
He cares.
He loves. YOU.So don’t stuff it, don’t mask it.
Stop and sit with Jesus.He’s waiting for you.

April 10, 2020 - 2:17 am

Heather - Beautiful. Poignant. Needed.

to the mom of littles, who are now at home all day

Over the past few days, I’ve talked with countless moms.

Moms who love and adore their children.
Moms who want to make the most of these moments we have now been given.

But moms who are also business leaders, educators, entrepreneurs and in ministry.

Moms whose to-do lists have gone from long to unending.
Moms who are trying to juggle their jobs, teaching and monitoring schoolwork, parenthood, household tasks, and some self-care by the end of the day.

It’s exhausting.
It’s hard.

And we’re all in it together.

As I’ve chatted  with these incredible women, many who are moms to preschoolers or younger elementary-aged children, it has taken me back to the days when we had:

4 children, 4 years and younger!

I was doing my best to juggle a small photography business, lead a mom’s ministry, mentor college girls, take care of my babies, find time for my hubby and at some point cook and sleep.

It was exhausting.
It was hard.

And there were days when I didn’t feel like anyone else understood my struggles.

But now, standing here in these moments, I am hopeful that some of my trials and errors might be of use to a mom who feels like she’s sinking.
Quickly.

I don’t claim to be an expert, but I have walked this road before.

So here are a few things I learned along the way:

1) Use music to set natural rhythms to your day. 

A wise mentor suggested this and after implementing it, I was amazed at the impact it had on both my children and me!
In the mornings we played upbeat fun music. It set the tone for a joyful day. It allowed my kids to dance and sing in the kitchen and down the halls. Sometimes I’d join in.

After lunch, the music shifted to calmer tunes. For my youngest ones, this signaled that it was nap time. For the ones who had given up sleep during the day, it served as a cue that quiet time in their rooms was beginning.

While cooking dinner, I played worship music. This may have been as much for me, as it was for them. It kept my heart in the right place during that critical point in the day when emotions can be overwhelming to manage.

In the evenings, we went back to calm music- the same music from their naptimes.

Even now as teens and preteens, when Jim Brickman comes on, they immediately respond “I’m not tired!”

It works.
There’s the proof!

To help you use music to frame sections of your day, I’ve compiled a few playlists on Spotify:

Upbeat Playlist
Calm Playlist
Worship Playlist

2) Create Zones (and rotate through them during the day) 

For little kids, predictability coupled with movement is so helpful when you have lots of hours to fill.
Have several spaces that you use for particular activities, like a learning space (kitchen table or desk), an active space (family room or backyard), quiet space (bedroom), messy space (kitchen island, dining room table or plastic table cloth on the floor).

I also found it was helpful to have together spaces (couch, playroom, loft, basement) and alone spaces (bedrooms, forts/tents, beanbags).

Utilizing a kitchen timer to signal when to move from one zone to the next can be helpful as well. (And as the mom, you can adjust the length based on your needs too! There were many times when the messy space or quiet time needed to be 30 minutes longer, so I could accomplish a task like laundry or editing a family session).

As I planned out our days, I looked for ways to naturally move my kids through these zones.

We might start with the kitchen table for some time practicing writing or reading, then move to the family room or backyard for some active play.
After cleaning up, playing in a bedroom or family room was next, followed by something messy like playdoh or finger paint in the dining room.
 

We might watch a favorite cartoon or read out of The Jesus Storybook Bible in a together space and then move to an alone space for a scheduled quiet time.

Depending on the day, we may cycle through these zones more than once.

On weeks where my workload was pretty intense, I would spend anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour the night before, pulling out supplies or printing things off the computer and putting them in the zones ahead of time.

It took a little extra planning on my end, but it made the days a lot less chaotic.

3) Have a quiet time- for everyone! 

As a mom, it’s important to have some downtime and it’s just as important for our children.

In an age where technology is accessible at every turn, it’s nice to set aside some moments for resting and unplugging.

For littles who still take naps. Praise. The. Lord.

But for the ones who have outgrown them, this time is still critical.

We used indoor tents or blanket forts with baskets of books during this time.
On other days, a tub of blocks or legos would get pulled out.

And I often had to remind myself that boredom is ok.
It breeds creativity in the minds of our littles and allows their imaginations to ignite.

You’ll be amazed at what they can come up with when everything else is turned off.

As for you, you might feel the need to catch up on work, while the kids are having these quiet moments.
But when possible, I always tried to use at least some of the time for my own self-care.
I could be a better mom and wife if I had time to deflate- to read a book, to pray, to take a shower or exercise.

4) Leave a Bible out on the kitchen table or counter.

This one may seem a little strange, but in the long days of mothering, it can be hard to steal away 30 mins of silence to read God’s Word.
There are seasons in life and this one is unique.

Getting up an hour ahead of your children to spend time with the Lord, may not be possible if you’re up all night with a baby already.

So you have to seize the pockets of time you find.

While your kids are eating lunch or while you’re watching them color, you may find 10 minutes to pick up your Bible and read!
Some days I even read it aloud. 

These were some of the sweetest moments for me. I felt like the Lord was joining me right in the middle of the chaos and that was so comforting and encouraging- and many days it gave me the strength to get all the way to bedtime!

Bonus: The more your children see you doing this, the more you may discover moments like this.

5) Extend Grace and then do it again. 

As a perfectionist, this probably should have been the first one I listed.

Because there is no perfect day. 

You can have schedules and charts, zones and quiet times and things can still go sideways.

Kids wake up cranky.
We wake up cranky.

Anxiety rises, tears flow and everyone just needs a re-do.
And that’s ok!

Give yourself grace on the journey, but don’t forget to give it to your kids too. 

Particularly during these unprecedented days, when our children- no matter how small- recognize that things are different, we need to live life through this lens of grace.
If something isn’t working- stop and dance, give a hug, read a book together, go on a walk, bake some cookies, dish out some ice cream.

Watch. A. Movie.
Then try again.

None of us have this figured out.
We’re learning together. Walking together. Crying and celebrating together.

The best we can do is give it our best, by pulling our strength from Jesus and then living out of the overflow of His love.

So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10
So let’s do this, Moms!
I’m cheering you on!
March 27, 2020 - 12:47 am

Denice - This was awesome, enjoyed every word. You are so good at your writing. Thank you for sharing❤️❤️

Dear Class of 2020

Last night as I wrestled with going to sleep after such an unexpected first day of our new normal, I couldn’t help but stop to pray for a particular group of individuals being impacted by these events: high school seniors.

You see, I can identify with so much of what they’re experiencing because it wasn’t too long ago I was in their shoes.

It wasn’t a pandemic, but a hurricane.

It wasn’t 12th grade, but the last semester of my Master’s Degree program.

But it was scary, unpredictable and complicated.

It was full of more emotions than I would have liked, ranging from fear of the unknown to grief at what would never be.

I would never say goodbye to sweet professors or sit in their classes one last time.

I would never be able to hug the necks of all the people I had met along the journey.

I would never turn in my last exam or study in the library again.

I wouldn’t sit in the cafeteria or the student center sipping coffee.

I would never walk from our tiny little on-campus apartment to the chapel for graduation, reflecting on all that had happened during those years.

 

Instead, I would be 3 states away, as an evacuee, living in my brother’s old bedroom, with bright orange walls and a computer in the closet.

I would sit there and finish classes online, as teachers scrambled with grace to figure out virtual learning for the first time.

I would attempt to find friends who had fled west in online chat rooms and would pray that one day our paths would cross again.

I would mourn the fact that I wouldn’t step back into the place we had made into a home there and instead start over from

scratch.

I would put on my cap and gown in a hotel room and graduate in yet another state because it just wasn’t safe to return to New Orleans.

In fact, I would not return for years.

Years that I carried these stories, these feelings deep inside.

 

Oh, friends, I get it.

I have felt the sting of what should have been.

I have felt the weight of an unexpected reality hanging heavy over my heart.

I have cried tears.

I have been angry.

I have grieved the way I dreamt it would end.

But.

I also survived.

I learned a lot about growing up, about moving forward, about dreaming new dreams while others washed away.

I learned how to have hope when it felt grim.

How to sit in silence and pray for God to ease the hurt.

And He did.

He helped me walk through the tough months that were filled with deep loss and heartache until I reached the other side.

Now that I’m years removed, I can see the lessons gleaned but I can also still feel it all – it comes in waves as I see others hurt or when a hurricane makes landfall or a class of seniors face the last months of their high school years in isolation.

I still get the lump in my throat. The tears still well up in my eyes.

And that’s ok.

They are reminders of both what was and the beauty that came from it all.

So today, while you are still sitting in the middle of it, I want to share a few things I learned along the way:

  1. Feel all the things but don’t cave in to fear.  It’s natural to move through the stages of emotions and healthy to process and work through them. But there was one emotion that I decided needed to be pushed away: fear. You see, I could have been terrified about the unknown future, I could have thrown my hands up in defeat, fear could have crippled me from putting one foot in front of the other. But I knew God did not give me a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7) and I knew that living in it wasn’t really living at all. So instead, I chose faith. I encourage you to choose it too!
  2. Lean on the people who love you the most. When we fled from New Orleans we drove to a tiny town in the middle of Florida where I grew up and where my family lived. For 6 months we called this our home too. But it wasn’t just the roof over our head that made that period of time manageable. It was the people. We spent most of our days secluded in my parent’s home, working to finish our classes and when tears came, there were hugs to meet them. These types of uncertainties remind us of what matters and while my heart was wishing I was finishing my degree on campus, I began to see that having my support system surrounding me was a gift. One to never be taken for granted. So sit with your people, on your couch, eye to eye, heart to heart and breathe. These moments will pass, but these people- they love you. They are your biggest fans and sometimes in the midst of chaos, it’s just comforting to know that no matter what- they’re in it with you!
  3. Enjoy the moments. It’s hard to imagine enjoying anything when it feels like you’ve lost so much. But treasuring what is will help shift your perspective. Sleeping in, slower days, more time with family, moments to pray without a clock telling you to stop. These are tiny gifts you’ve been given, that otherwise might never have been. Unwrap them. Find the beauty in them. Build a memory. A better memory than the ones filled with disappointment.
  4. Yes, you’re strong, but He is stronger still. When faced with incredibly difficult circumstances, you’ll discover there is a deep inner strength that will bubble to the surface. But you’ll also find that it needs a source. I found mine in Jesus. When the weight of all the loss got too heavy for my own strength, I discovered what it meant to lean into His. The more I did this, I realized that compared to the power that is found in Him, I am just a weak girl trying to make it. Yet connected to Jesus, I was able to tap into a fountain of strength that never ran dry. If you’re worn out from all of this, call out to Him. He wants to meet you in the middle of this mess. He wants to give you peace and hope and His strength! (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, Ephesians 6:10)
  5. Look for the miracles. This one may seem a little crazy, but I promise you- there are miracles surrounding you, even now. During Hurricane Katrina, I witnessed more than I could count, day in and day out. They came in the form of friends and strangers dropping off food and clothes at my parent’s house when they heard we had lost everything. They came in cards of encouragement with words that felt as if they had been penned straight from Heaven. They came in “coincidental” moments, like running into a friend who you didn’t get to say goodbye to – in a restaurant hundreds of miles away from school. They came and came and came. But if fear or anger or all the what if’s had gripped my heart- I would have missed these generous gifts from God. Please don’t miss your miracle moments. The ones that you’ll look back on in 15 years later, like me, and realize that with tender mercies the Lord wove it all together so you would have a rich tapestry of remembrance to cling to when the next trial comes. Because it will.
  6. Life isn’t always predictable or easy. It will go sideways sometimes and throw you a curve ball. But He will always be steady. Immovable. Your Rock and Defender. None of it will be a surprise to Him. So lean in friends. The moments may not be what you imagined, but you’ll grow. You’ll mature. Your faith will stretch and you’ll have the choice to dive deeper into the journey with Jesus, full of hope.
  7. And as you dive deep, take someone with you. Don’t leave them stuck in fear. Don’t leave them alone in their worry. Call them. Text them. FaceTime them. Write them a letter and mail it.  Drop off some flowers or ice cream on their door step. Let them know you’re on their team and that you care. Let this become your new way of living. Less of your own worries, more of what matters to Him. More giving. More caring. More seeing and meeting needs. More generosity in spirit and in deed. Let this become your rhythm now so that years down the road, your heart will know to keep doing the same.

You see, one day, you’ll look back and realize this was indeed YOUR MOMENT. The one where you saw God show up and care for your personal hurts and heartache. The moment where your faith grew wider and deeper. The one where your life changed from the easy and carefree, to understanding that there’s more to live for.

Embrace it.

Become someone through this.

Someone who will be an agent of hope and peace.

You can do it! I’m cheering for you!

 

March 18, 2020 - 3:19 pm

Tammy Pearson - What an inspiring testimony from your heart Annie. Thank you for sharing and reminding us to embrace Him through it all.

March 18, 2020 - 1:50 pm

Melanie Langston - Thanks for sharing! So true!!!

big prayers for my not so little kids

Yesterday morning I watched my sweet girl walking up the sidewalk towards the double doors that sit just by the school’s cafeteria. Ready to tackle another day… her backpack rested on her shoulders, her bright yellow lemon lunchbox nestled in her left hand with her violin in her right.
For some reason, this familiar sight took my breath away.
Maybe it’s because she has grown so much this past year, now taller than me, looking way more like a young lady than my little girl.
Maybe it’s knowing that life as a middle schooler is complicated and awkward, that there are struggles beyond those doors that I’ll never fully understand.
Maybe it’s being aware that each day she is faced with decisions that are hard, but ones that allow her true character to shine brightly.
Maybe it was my heart swelling up inside thinking about how God can take a brave and strong 7th grade girl and use her to reflect His love to others every day.
My heart felt a little pang.
On my way home, much like every other day, I did the only thing I can do – the BEST thing I can do.
I had a conversation with the Lord, praying for my brown haired, brown-eyed girl who walked through those double doors again.
Here are the things I uttered, for both her (and my boys), things that I will continue to pray, as we navigate through another school year.
CONFIDENCE  || Romans 12:2
CHARACTER ||  Colossians 3:12-14
BOLDNESS || Ephesians 6:19, 1 Timothy 4:12
FEAR || Deuteronomy 31:6, Psalm 118:6-7
PEACE || Philippians 4:6-7
FRIENDS || 1 Corinthians 15:33, Proverbs 27:17
I put together a PRINTABLE if you would like to have a hard copy to remind you to pray these passages over your kiddos too.  (There are two designs to chose from.)
One half of the paper has the prayer points and Scripture references and the other half can be cut off as an encouraging note for your child.
Stick it under their pillow, in a lunchbox, in their backpack or tape it to their bathroom mirror, as a reminder that you are thinking of and praying for them!
October 2, 2019 - 1:29 am

Angie Arthur - Can I get a copy of the prayer printable? Thank you so much!!
Angie

September 11, 2019 - 1:14 am

Yvonne Hackle - I love this for my 8th grade grand whom I adore and pray for always. Thank you!

remembering the storm

When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
 For I am the Lord your God

-Isaiah 43:2-3a


14 years ago, I sat on a couch in my parent’s living room- eyes glued to the television, watching and waiting. Rahul and I had 2 little boys snuggled up with us, boys who couldn’t possibly understand the magnitude of the storm and the events that were about to unfold. They didn’t know we wouldn’t be going home. They didn’t know people would be stranded on roof tops or that families would lose loved ones. They couldn’t grasp that it would be unsafe to travel back for 6 months or that first responders would work tirelessly around the clock for weeks, for months on end. They also didn’t know that friends and family and strangers would step in. Take care of us. Drop off clothes and toys, food and supplies. That teenagers from my former high school would rally to raise support to bless our family. They didn’t know then how the family of God would circle around and lift us up.
That’s why each year
We stop.
We remember.
We pray.
Because I want them to know now what their tiny eyes couldn’t see then.
BUT.
We also praise.
We thank the Lord for what He did, for His provision and protection, for those whom He surrounded us with in the aftermath of Katrina.
We praise Him that though the storm changed us, our future, our plans- it didn’t change Him.
And now, 14 years later, I sit on my own couch. Glued to the television, watching and waiting. This time there are 4 kids snuggled up beside us and we pray together that the storm heading towards our family and friends dissipates, shifts, vanishes. But we also know that if it doesn’t, we can step in- with prayers and hope. We can be the Body of Christ for others in the same way they were for us.
You know, the lessons we learn in the hard places stick with us. They keep on teaching us. They grow and challenge us. They become a part of us.
And the blessings, the provision of God, the treasure of friends and family and strangers reaching out to our weary hearts- those become a part of us too.
You never lose the wonder of the tiny miracles, the powerful prayers, the hugs and meals and boxes full of diapers that pulled you through.
14 years have passed and I can still say with certainty I’m so grateful. Grateful for the lessons. Grateful for the people. Grateful for my God.
Honestly, I’m still just so blown away by it all.

So, today Lord may we not just remember, but may we embody the goodness and the generosity that we saw so freely extended to us. May it ripple out to others, washing over their own weary hearts and bringing hope to their hard places.