31 Lessons: 15. The Builder


This lesson is the longest in coming.

Once upon a time, I was 26 weeks pregnant with a tiny ninja baby. All day, and especially at night, he kicked, kicked, and kicked a little more. I felt pretty well, I was still fairly cute, my basketball belly was growing by the hour it seemed, and I was figuring out this whole “pregnancy/I’m a going to be a new mom” thing SWIMMINGLY. Soon-to-be Daddy, Ninja Baby, and me? We had it all together.

And then 27 weeks.
And 1 centimeter, 70% effaced.
A diagnosis of preterm labor.
And bedrest.

I was terrified. All of my expectations of pregnancy, of a healthy baby; all my worries about things that could go wrong, complications; all of the weight of inadequacy–of failure as mother carrying a child–shattered my pregnancy experience. I was so scared and helpless, gasping for control like a clean breath while drowning in confusion and questions and absolute FEAR.

And yet I had no control. For the first time in my life, something–someone–that meant so much to me was completely outside my reach.

I guess you could say it was my first lesson in what it means to be a mama, this holding our children with open hands.

So, I did what I could. If being on bedrest was going to keep this little peanut growing inside, I was going to be the best at it. Type A all the way! I set up my command station beside my spot on the sofa, loaded with remote controls, books, magazines, hand sanitizer (hello, fellow germaphobes!), books, notepads, water, my phone. I watched SO MUCH Dr. Quinn (and the weather channel, oddly enough). I read books. I took naps. I only got up to go to the bathroom or to take a quick shower. I didn’t do my hair or put on makeup. I shifted from sore hip to sore hip and snuggled with the best chocolate lab on this earth. I hooked myself up to uterine monitors twice a day for an hour each to measure contractions and waited anxiously by the phone for a report. I sweated the results like I did in algebra class when my teacher passed back the tests. When I had zero, I was so comforted and satisfied with how I was doing as a mama. When I had four, I was alarmed but also ashamed.

I never went up the stairs.
I never cleaned a toilet or vacuumed a rug.
I never went inside a grocery store.
I never drove a car.

All day, I lay recumbent on reclining sofa (which, sadly, is so indented from my body weight that it will never be the same) and then went to my bed at night.

My outings consisted of trips less than a mile from my house to the doctor’s office, and I can remember marveling at the tallness of trees and the blue of the sky. LIFE happening outside my doors. Anything other than my ceiling.

I watched as other people cooked in my kitchen. Folded my laundry. Put together my baby’s crib. Painted my baby’s nursery. Brought me meals. Unloaded my dishwasher. Cleaned my home.

It sounds like I had it really easy, all perched there on my sofa spot, calm and cozy.

And I did. And the help we had from family and church members and friends? It was overwhelming. We were overwhelmingly blessed.

But it was a prison for me.

Not a bedrest prison. A prison of pride.

A prison of self.

My anger, my fear, my resentment toward everyone who could enjoy life in the way I couldn’t in those days–they kept me wound so tight that I was a ticking time bomb of hormones and emotions just waiting to explode.

WHY was this happening to me? What did I do wrong?


I was at the end of myself.

But the Builder wasn’t finished with me.

The hardest and most “brutiful” lesson of my time on bedrest? Trusting that this baby–even this hardship–was all in God’s hands.

Not the doctors’.
Not my husband’s.
Not mine.


“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” -Ephesians 2:10

God may have shattered my hopes of a perfect pregnancy and all my visions of nesting in my Pottery Barn-esque nursery and doing ALL THE THINGS, but He didn’t shatter me.

He held me.

And grace upon grace, He held that precious baby inside me. For 11 more weeks.

At 38 weeks, at just his right time, God brought that little ninja baby into the world, healthy and thriving and with the deepest, most knowing eyes I have ever looked into.

On the day we took him home, riding across the bridge over the intercoastal in the backseat and wondering at this blessing of beautiful baby, I wept. Sure, you can call it hormones and exhaustion and new mommy love, but it was GRACE. I wept for grace and in gratitude for God’s faithfulness. My sin, my pride, my “I-can-do-it-by-self”ishness were overcome by God’s great love for me. God is FAITHFUL. Even when no other promises hold, His promises will.  I will hold on to that moment–to that promise–for the rest of my life.

It changed me.

God changed me.

He tore down walls in my heart, and it was painful. But He put me back together with nails and wood and a little baby boy.

He gave and gave and gave and continues to give LIFE to me.

And the son He gave me? That perfect peanut ninja baby?

His name is Nehemiah, after the one who rebuilt the wall of Jerusalem, and the one who rebuilt my heart.



But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them. Even when they had made for themselves a golden calf and said, ‘This is your God who brought you up out of Egypt,’ and had committed great blasphemies, you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud to lead them in the way did not depart from them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night to light for them the way by which they should go. You gave your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst. Forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell. And you gave them kingdoms and peoples and allotted them to every corner. So they took possession of the land of Sihon king of Heshbon and the land of Og king of Bashan. You multiplied their children as the stars of heaven, and you brought them into the land that you had told their fathers to enter and possess.–Nehemiah 9:17-23

Posted in a, c | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

31 Lessons: 14. What Can I Say?

So here I was in the middle of this writing challenge for 31 days ago. It was amazing! I was feeling so challenged, yet so accomplished! We were nearly halfway there!

That was three months ago. And we’re still on Lesson 14.


What can I say?

I can say that I never stopped learning lessons new and re-learning lessons old. Life is a perpetual teacher.

I can say that writing every day is not realistic in order to live this season well. Sweet, precious toddler life, I’m looking at you. I’m also seeing you toddle away so quickly before my very eyes.

I can say that learning to navigate and communicate your desires while protecting your relationships, your schedule, and your soul is hard work, especially if you’re a “Yes” person. And yet so important, particularly if you’re a “Yes” person. And I am.

I can say I often forget that I can be brave. When the going gets tough, my brave shows up. Sometimes I wish I could live this truth all my days. But then I remember this bigger, more important, unchangeable truth: whether I am brave or not, God. God is always brave, and He is always with me: “You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me” (Psalm 139:5).

I can say that, in life, you don’t always get to pick your order (thanks, Mom).

I can say that ordinary life is a beautiful blessing.


I can say that I am excited for new chapters unfolding all around me, unfolding with me.

I can say, “Wherever you are, be all there” (that truth belongs to Jim Elliot. And the rest of that quote, which is not all over Pinterest? “Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God”).

I can say that though I am prone to wander, God continues to prove His faithfulness to me, and all I can do is sing.

I can say that I’m learning to give myself grace (the struggle is real!).

I can say that there are at least 17 more lessons to share. One at a time.



And grace.



Posted in l | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

31 Lessons: 13. Err on the Side of Love

A Sunday school teacher of mine passed away a few years ago. When he died, my pastor commented that so many remembered a common refrain spoken from Mr. Jones’ mouth and echoed by his life: Err on the side of love.

Even several years later I still remember sitting in the church pew, struck by the simplicity and power of that statement.

What would that look like, in my life?



I have come back to this, again and again and again.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about choices and decisions and the everyday battles I wage. About how some decisions and situations can plague you, and there is no perfect knowledge. No perfect way of knowing. No perfect way to emerge from this life unscathed.

May my actions, may my words, may my choice always be on the side of love. Though I may ever be at fault, may I always be at fault on the side of love. 

In plenty and in want.

When I am fearful, but especially when I am brave.

When I am hungry, and when I am abundantly satisfied.

In the words I speak to tender hearts.

When facing challenge and when celebrating victory.

In my friendships, in my workplace, in the long Walmart check-out line.

Whenever my wallet is open, but especially when it is closed.

When I am rejected, when I am forgotten, when I am left behind.

In times of stress or sorrow.

In times of blind delight.

While big eyes and little hands await affirmation, reproach, discipline, and delight.

When I have a choice of what to say.

When words rush out of my mouth.

When I feel the Spirit of The Lord calling me to places and people beyond my trust.

In moments great and moments small.

In my choice and in my voice, all the days of my life.




Posted in e, l, s | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

31 Lessons: 12. O Captain! My Captain!

I’m not really sure how it happened, but until yesterday’s plane ride home I had never seen Dead Poets Society. 

I know, I know, as an English teacher, I should be ashamed. And now that I have seen it, I am a little ashamed I didn’t see it sooner.

But you know what I’m not ashamed of? The straight up WEEPING I did during the final scene. To the little boy sitting beside me: thank you for being so engrossed in Cartoon Network that you did not stare and point at the lady, chin quivering and”ppff ppff pffffffff-ing” and absolutely losing it, beside you. (I also saw you steal your day’s Biscoff cookies while he was sleeping, just so you know. This all will be our little secret.)

But back to the point: this movie? I won’t reveal the final scene in case you have yet to be initiated into the D.P.S., but if you’ve seen it, you know the act of bravery that caused mascara waterfalls in seat 31A. “O Captain! My Captain!”    GAH!

Now, if you’ve worked with young people as a teacher or mentor or friend, you know the weight of that responsibility. You know the special kind of sorrow you feel when they make bad choices that you can’t fix for them. You know the unspeakable joy that rises in you when they discover their individual gifts and present them for good in the world. You know the bittersweet pride that c when you know your season with them is through, when it’s time for them to shape and be shaped by other voices, other lessons, other hands, other smiles and listening ears that are not your own. When it’s time for you to shape other voices, lessons, hands, smiles, and listening ears.

Though I love my new teaching position of Mom, there are days when I miss working in my school. I still think of it as “my school,” still think of them as my kids, my people. I still wonder whether I was able to make any difference in just a few short years. On my best days, I choose to trust in the promise that I’m where I should be–that the end of my season has made room for someone else’s season, someone else’s gifts. On hard days, though, that doesn’t stop me from longing for a magical season that once was.


But when I saw Mr. Keating’s smile, his heart about to explode as he looked upon his courageous students? I felt that to my core. It was a sweet reminder to me of the hard labor–the heart labor–of giving of ourselves, of living with courage, of teaching the timely and relevant lessons (not just the easy and expected ones).

The affirmation that what we do matters may not come at the moment we expect it, and honestly, it may not ever come in the way we expect. Artists never realize the full glory of their work because influence is infinite. And honestly? I don’t think artists really create so that people who see and feel and experience their work will thank them. I believe they create so that others will be inspired to create art of their own.

So Mr. Keating may not ever know all the ways those young men were impacted by what and how he taught, and neither will I. Maybe Mr. Keating and all teachers and parents and artists feel on dark days a pang of regret or emptiness at leaving a work unfinished, but I hope we are all brought into bright days and the beautiful truth that the works we’re making aren’t meant for the hands of one artist or the eyes of one generation alone. They’re so much bigger than that.

Or, as Whitman would say,

The powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

To all the artists who have spoken and written, sung and soothed,  coached and prepared, danced and declared, and taught and lived their art into mine, I’m standing on my desk top today.

And the world sure looks beautiful from up here.

Posted in c | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

31 Lessons: 11. What Yes Means

Consider these two messages about responding to duty in life. Piper is referencing a soldier sacrificing his life to spare his friends, while Terkeurst is reflecting on a decision about whether to accept a long-term houseguest. The two situations are obviously not the same–accepting houseguests and experiencing brutal violence are not on the same plane–but in each, someone makes a decision based on a sense of duty, obligation, or loyalty.


The external action does not tell the decisive story. What was going on in the heart–toward God and man? The Bible cautions us that people can sacrifice their lives but not love people or God. “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body up to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3). When the apostle Paul says this, he means there is a kind of “devotion to duty” that God does not honor. It gains nothing.

That may seem strange, since Jesus himself said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends (John 15:13). Yes, that is what great love does. It lays down its life. But whether that act is truly loving depends on what is going on in the heart, not just on the external action. (John Piper, Battling Unbelief, p. 11)


I’m bankrupt without love. Focus on that word bankrupt. Yes, the activity…could be loving. It could be in keeping with God’s ways. But doing this activity without an attitude of love would not reflect God’s love….

The ways of God insist on an attitude of love. Therefore, my ways should reflect an attitude of love. Not a ragged, rushed, and rash attitude due to overactivity. Is it loving to say no? Absolutely, if doing so protects and preserves a loving attitude for the part of the assignment that is mine.
(Lysa Terkeurst, The Best Yes, p. 56-57)

We are asked to make decisions every day.

When you say yes, what does your yes mean? What or who compels your yes?

When you say yes, to what are you saying no?

Which response calls up truth and courage in your heart?

Posted in y | Tagged , , | Leave a comment