Friday, December 14, 2018

finding God in the whirlwind


It usually starts with a twinge in my stomach.
Whatever I have been thinking about or doing
races immediately to the background, off into hiding.
“No time for you, Menial Tasks!
Go away, Logic!
Off with you, Rational Thinking!
We’ve no place for you now!”
Panic Mode yells as through a megaphone—
the kind that shows that you are really the one in charge,
despite any arguments to the contrary.

From there, it’s a slow escalation 
accompanied by various signs of physical distress—
sometimes a racing heart, 
tension in the jaw and shoulders,
light head,
shaky hands.

Where is God in this whirlwind of anxiety?

When Rational Thinking eventually comes back from hiding,
it tells me that of course, 
God was there all along,

But I couldn’t feel Him,
I say. It felt like He was just…. absent.
Like maybe every experience I ever had with Him
was made up—
a coping mechanism for my brain to deal with the stress,
an attempt to provide myself with a sense of purpose.

Of course, now that Rational Thinking has returned,
I know these doubts are not uncommon.
I don’t feel threatened by them any more.
I know my God is as real as the back of my hand.

Still, though…

I’ve had trouble seeing You lately, I pray.
Please, let me see You, 
see something You are doing.

Menial Tasks are back.
I look in the mirror,
applying my makeup mechanically,
not thinking at all about my own reflection.

Sometimes, you have to make the decision to trust Me,
You whisper into my thoughts.
Sometimes it’s not about feelings.
Sometimes, it’s a decision.

I pause, considering Your words.
Will you choose to trust Me?

I do not take your questions lightly.

Yes…

but please help me.


I don’t know. 
Maybe part of me still wonders if I’m just making it all up.

Later.
I’m sitting in my favorite spot to just Be with You,
Timer set for five minutes so I don’t try to 
wiggle my way out of the quiet too soon.

John 3:18
pops into my mind.

When the timer goes off, I reach for my phone to pull up the Bible app.
I have three favorite Bible translations that I alternate between,
but You knew 
which version I would reach for today.
Today is Amplified.
Still wondering if I made up the thought myself 
Or if it came from You, I begin reading Your words.

My mind moves over them like a character in a cartoon—
you know, when the mouse runs fast past some amazing anomaly 
and then races back to see if he really saw what he thinks he did.
My eyes move quickly at first
and then dart back.
Did that say…?

I read:


”Whoever has decided to trust.”
“Decided to trust.”
“Decided.”

Maybe I’m not a victim of my trust issues.
Maybe distrust doesn’t have to define my spiritual life.
Maybe the feelings don’t have to dictate my actions.

When the whirlwind begins

and You seem so far away,

maybe


can

choose.

Friday, December 7, 2018

#momand : Denise, mom & professional artist & equestrian

               Photography by Osniel Rives

What a delight to introduce you to Denise Hogarth Nicely of @hogarthart ! I had the pleasure of interviewing Denise in her amazing art studio, pictured below. Denise is married to her husband Richard and is the mother of two daughters, aged 20 and 17. She is a professional artist as well as a seasoned equestrian. She commissions art from her studio in Richardson, Texas.



The seeds of passion for art, horseback riding, motherhood, and faith were all planted early on in Denise’s childhood. She was abused as a young child and found horses to be a safe place away from toxic people. She studied the herd dynamics of the horses and says that the horses taught her what healthy dynamics looked and felt like. After a particular incident of abuse when Denise was 13, she went out to one of the horses and put her arms around it as she cried, her heart against his. She describes sensing the horse taking her pain through his body and then grounding it as her pain left her. She claims that the horses taught her to be in touch with her intuition, and she still feels a strong connection to them as an adult.


That same year, another healing experience pointed her to artistic expression. One day after school, Denise began painting in her bedroom and became intensely focused on the art she was creating. She didn’t eat, get up, or leave her desk for some 15 hours. When the young artist finished the painting, she was surprised to realize that she had stayed up all night painting. She went on to take advanced art classes in school and won a scholarship from the Plano Art Association.

Also at the age of 13, Denise visited a Baptist church with a good friend during a time when she felt the need for spiritual connection. At the church, she saw a huge sculpture--about 20 feet high--of Jesus. She describes feeling a sense of kindred spirit with Christ because He was broken and so was Denise. She felt moved, and the experience stuck with her. 

Later, in her early 20s, Denise searched various world religions and ended up at a Bible church with a dynamic pastor that helped her understand how Christ leads to life. She says, "Christ's humility, love, and willingness to take on the institutions and their hypocrisy really spoke to me. His love was fearless and strong." She felt a connection with the message and therefore with Christ once again. She followed the call to accept Jesus as her savior and began studying the Bible. Though she raised her children in the church, she eventually felt disillusioned with what she describes as the hypocrisy and suppression of the feminine in the church. She began to look for ways to raise strong-minded girls who would question authority while using Christianity as a foundation. Now, Denise's view of Christ is evolving. She looks for the feminine in Christ's character as a way to connect with how she was created, which she has found to be very liberating.   

Denise taught horseback riding lessons until she decided to become a full-time stay-at-home mom. She recognizes that this decision isn’t feasible or desirable for everyone, and it required a financial sacrifice for her family. However, she believes that the decision to stay at home with her children was the best thing for her even though it was the hardest thing. Parenting has taught her the practice of putting her ego aside. She explains that she delayed the gratification of a career for the sake of her children. At the same time, she worked on practicing healthy self-care so that she wouldn't lose herself in the process. She developed a relationship with her daughters based on listening, building trust, and providing guidance based on their individual needs. She feels that she wouldn't have understood their personalities as completely if she had not stayed at home with them. She wanted to not only be there for her kids but also model what a healthy identity looks like. She believes that staying at home helped her to develop a strong bond with her children, and getting to know them so well has been an important part of her own awareness and self-growth.

More recently, Denise has become a full-time professional artist. Four years ago, a friend needed 20 pieces of art to display in a large dental practice. Denise had never shared her art publicly on that large of a scale before. She had brought her friend to the studio and realized that she had tons of artwork stuffed away in cubbies. She said to herself, “Art is not meant to be stuffed away. Art is intended to be viewed.” She decided she needed to get over her fear of the vulnerability involved in sharing her art. She painted 25 pieces for the dental practice, and that gave her the confidence to become a full-time artist as her kids began transitioning to college. She began to see that while the horses taught her about intuition, art taught her to pay attention to intuition. She believes she has a gift that was developed through her work with horses, art, and motherhood. She says that God has her in positions where she integrates everything she has learned into a unique ability to help others who are in need of healing, just as she was once, herself. 



Now that one daughter is in college and the other will soon follow, Denise has been ushered into a new season of motherhood. Like every season, this is one of letting go while simultaneously gaining something through the process of self-discovery. She says that the aging process is interesting because our culture sends the message that aging means decline. Denise rejects this notion and has found that maturing with age has enabled her to accept her dynamic, ever-changing nature. Another difference in parenting older children is that Denise has more time to herself and with friends. She now gets to be more involved in the community. As a young stay-at-home mother, she found the lack of external validation to be difficult. Now, she receives more external validation and enjoys helping other women to find their own path. 

Looking back, Denise realizes that she didn’t always appreciate the small moments when her children were young. She advises young mothers, during moments of frustration with their kids, to take a deep breath, hold their children closer, and validate children's feelings in a loving, non-judgmental manner. Though it feels strange to realize that she is now closer to the grandparent stage than the stage of having young children, Denise says that when she does have grandchildren, she plans to spend a lot more time outside playing with worms and acorns than she did with her own kidsShe believes that nature is a direct line to creativity and self-expression.

Denise closed our interview with two final thoughts that have been impactful for her. Someone once told her, “If you put your personal growth as the most important piece to your life, you will step into your wisdom and your destiny. If you just skate along unconsciously and don’t make conscious choices to grow, that’s when you experience fate. Fate normally looks like the unresolved issues of your family tree.” She also says that, “What you suppress will express, and your unresolved issues will express in your children if you don’t mindfully address them. So you gotta know what unconsciously drives you.”

You can find Denise’s artwork on her Facebook page at Hogarthart and on Instagram @hogarthart

                                   Photography by Osniel Rives  
                                   Above & below: Denise with her husband & daughters
                                   Photography by Osniel Rives

Denise shares the following books that have been helpful in her own personal growth:


When I Say No, I Feel Guilty by Manuel Smith 

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Any books by Brené Brown

The Universe Has Your Back by Gabrielle Bernstein


Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

#momand : Amber, athlete & entrepreneur & mom of a child with a rare medical condition


I am delighted to introduce you to Amber Robidou, athlete and entrepreneur and mom of a child with a rare medical condition. Amber is married to Austin and has two children: three-year-old Ethan and two-year-old Jordan.

Amber describes herself as a very goal-oriented achiever. Before she had children, she was training to become an Olympic rower and had qualified for the Boston nationals in 2014. Two weeks later, she wasn’t feeling well and found out that she was pregnant. This hadn’t been her plan, but after she had Ethan, she went back to rowing as soon as possible. She was working on getting back into shape while raising baby Ethan when, six months after giving birth, she discovered she was pregnant again. 

The transition to motherhood was difficult at first because in addition to giving up her dream to become an Olympic athlete, Amber could no longer work in full-time ministry. Jordan’s medical condition made it too difficult to work full time, so Amber says that she went from “making lessons to making lunches.” She struggled with the lack of the affirmation she craved in her new role as a stay-at-home mom of two very young children. Some days, she longs for community and feels lonely, but she says that God has filled the emptiness she felt. While she was in ministry, she says she knew she was walking a fine line — she was doing just enough to lead but wasn’t actually receiving and allowing God to equip, change, and fill her. Now, she has the gift of a deeper relationship with the Lord because she has more time to read and study His word.

Jordan’s medical condition is called Parks Weber Syndrome (PWS) . It is a genetic condition that has caused Jordan’s leg to have an overabundance of vascular malformations. For every one place that most people have an artery and vein, Jordan has about 200 of them entangled together. These entanglements are called arteriovenous malformations (AVMs). This leads to lymphedema, which causes the affected leg to be much bigger than her other leg. Jordan’s heart has to work especially hard due to the extra blood flow and is she at risk for a heart condition. She has a few spots on her brain, one inside of her spinal cord, and could have AVMs in other parts of her body. Despite these complications, Amber describes Jordan as a normal two year old little girl who is active and won’t let anything hold her back. Amber has talked to others with PWS who say that the condition becomes much more apparent during adolescence. 

One of the practical, everyday challenges in caring for a growing toddler with PWS is finding shoes to fit her. Jordan’s affected foot requires shoes that are about five sizes larger than her other foot. Because one foot requires shoes from the baby section and the other foot fits into shoes from the toddler section, Amber has had a difficult time finding matching pairs of shoes to buy in different sizes. The frustration of the expense and inconvenience of this problem has led to Amber’s new business idea. She decided to start making shoes for Jordan and other children who have similar needs. After her children to go bed in the evening, Amber works on making prototypes of shoes. She plans to launch Josnap Shoes at the beginning of January. She wants to provide shoes that are adjustable and stylish without being outrageously expensive. Amber envisions a nonprofit business that will serve as a ministry to families of children with special needs. She looks forward to building relationships with her customers.

Another way Amber offers support to other parents is through the Facebook page she created to share about Jordan’s condition. Part of what was so difficult when Jordan was diagnosed is that PWS is so exceptionally rare that no support groups existed. None of Jordan’s doctors had ever seen anyone else with the disease, and Amber couldn’t find other parents to talk to about it. When Jordan was five months old, Amber found two people who have PWS through a rare diseases website for Klippel-Trenaunay syndrome, which is similar to Parks Weber. Now, they have created their own support group, and Jordan’s Facebook page is a place where Amber can connect with and encourage other parents of children with PWS.

Amber is passionate about educating others openly instead of shaming those who want to know about Jordan’s differences. She believes that Christian women have often been taught to be silent for the sake of kindness but says it is not kind at all to silence children’s natural curiosity. When we shush children who ask innocent questions about others’ differences, Amber believes this unintentionally leads to prejudice. She believes in talking openly about differences and teaching children to see everyone as equally valuable.

Amber has many stories about how she has seen God’s grace through her parenting journey. One such story occurred while Amber was pregnant with Jordan and had to see a specialist several days a week. She was working at the time and always felt rushed in going to doctor appointments. She had to walk across a sky bridge to get to the waiting room. The sky bridge became her sanctuary as she made a point to slow down and pray during that part of the walk to the doctor’s office. The doctor, who is not a believer, delivered Amber some surprisingly good news at an appointment one day and said, “Whoa, you must be praying for her. Keep doing whatever you’re doing!” She went back to work for a few minutes and then stopped to ask, “Can you pray for me too? Because your prayers are working.” She shared some of her story and her struggles, and Amber prayed for the doctor and her family. As Amber left and walked back across the sky bridge, she cried and praised God, saying, “Lord, you’re already using Jordan before she’s born.” Amber had faith conversations with the doctor at each of the many appointments over the next three months. Her hope in Jesus gave the doctor hope in her own life.

Though some days are tough when Amber considers the challenges that lie ahead for Jordan, she knows that her family is on this journey for a reason. She now waits expectantly because she knows that God has big plans for Jordan, and Amber is excited to get to be a part of the journey. Nothing could have prepared Amber for parenting a child with PWS, but God was faithful in preparing Amber by teaching her to seek Him and study His word in the good times. When adversity comes, God often has not prepared us for the trial itself. Instead, we will find that He prepared us simply by teaching us to go to Him in the midst of the trial. 

God has transformed Amber profoundly through motherhood. Before, Amber worked hard every day to achieve and succeed in her personal accomplishments. Now, she tries to succeed in a totally different way. For Amber, success now looks like praying that somehow, in all of her shortcomings and sin, she might be a reflection of God’s love, kindness and gentleness in her children’s eyes.

You can follow Jordan’s journey on her Facebook page here.
Amber’s shoe business can be found on Instagram @josnapshoes

Monday, November 19, 2018

#momand : Amanda Hill, mom & business owner


What a joy to introduce you to Amanda Hill, #momand business owner of Three Box Strategic Communications! Amanda and her husband Erik have two sons: 5-year-old Reed and almost-2-year-old Beau. They love living in the town where Amanda grew up and are surrounded by neighbors and church friends who love them well.

Amanda says she always wanted to be a mom. She describes her family of origin as “filled to the brim with life - work, play, made-up songs, and over-the-top celebrations.” Motherhood came naturally to her, and she loves different parts of each stage of parenting alongside her husband. She acknowledges that while parenthood is an overwhelmingly joyful experience, it can also be simply overwhelming. She describes the self-imposed pressure of people-pleasing and attempting to present the appearance of an idyllic family life. 


As a mother, Amanda is most proud when her children love and include others through kind gestures, hugs at just the right moment, and acts of compassion. She measures her success as a parent by her children’s knowledge of Jesus and the demonstration of His love for others. She tells the story of a time when she and her son Reed were driving to Reed’s preschool in Dallas. Their route takes them by way of an overpass where several homeless people stay. One day, Reed’s question about why people were standing outside led to a conversation about homelessness. Though, like many adults, Amanda had accepted homelessness as a reality, Reed couldn’t conceive of the fact that some people don’t have a safe, warm place to sleep every night. He said, “Momma, we have room at our house. They can come live with us!” Amanda was touched by his generous heart. She seized the opportunity to talk with him about practical ways they can help because Jesus tells us to care for others. She believes that these small moments can have a big impact on children.

Amanda’s career is in marketing and public relations. A few days before Beau was born, Amanda bought a Dallas-based public relations business that was founded by her father. She loves the challenge and excitement of working in a place where every day is different. This dream job is a perfect fit for her extroverted personality as she gets to talk with people, solve problems, and seize opportunities. Her passion is running and growing a business, complete with the challenges of a frenetic pace, high expectations, and the ever-present risk of failure. She’s working on learning how to pursue excellence without letting it run her life. As a professional, Amanda is proud to own and run her business and to carry on her dad’s legacy. She loves being able to shape the direction of the business and the impact they can have on the world through the work they do. 

Amanda is passionate about encouraging other working moms and is grateful for her mom, who was an incredible role model. Amanda’s mom demonstrated that a woman can invest in her career and in her family simultaneously, which is what Amanda aspires to model for her sons. Though it is difficult, she wouldn’t have it any other way. Amanda says that despite the challenges of missing some of her sons’ school events and having to travel for work, in the end, her family gets a well-rounded, happier mom who serves them and others well. 


Before Amanda became a mom, work was her top priority, and she worried a lot about other people’s opinions. She says she believed that she had more control than she did. Becoming a mom has helped her to approach life with a broader perspective in which the details are less important and she can use mental energy more wisely. She adds, “I still struggle here, so let’s not pretend that I have it mastered. I’m definitely better than I was and more quickly shift to what matters, but the temptation to please people over what’s best for me and my family is a persistent beast.”

When asked what encouragement she would offer to other working moms, Amanda says, “You can do it! It’s a lie, though, that you can ‘have it all’ in the traditional sense. Each day presents choices, and oftentimes they directly conflict.” She gives the example of when her kindergartner recently went on a class field trip and she was not able to attend because she had an important meeting with a professional mentor who was visiting from out of town. The meeting was life-giving and encouraging for her team, and though she was sad to miss the field trip, she was grateful for a mom friend who chaperoned the trip and sent pictures. She loved hearing all about how much fun Reed had on the trip. She acknowledges that these are hard choices, but all parents have hard choices regardless of their circumstances. She advises moms to step back and look at the big picture and make balanced decisions. “You’ll give more to work on some days and more to your family on others. You’re in it for the long game. In the end, your children will remember you bringing them lunch at school and also working hard to build a career and provide for their future.”


You can find out more about Amanda’s business at https://www.threeboxstrategic.com

Friday, November 9, 2018

#momand : Sara Jo Waldron, mom & pastor & adoptive parent


I’m excited to introduce my the second interviewee from the #momand series, Sara Jo Waldron! Sara Jo is a #momand pastor and adoptive parent of a child with a rare medical condition. She has three children: 8-year-old Penelope, 5-year-old Lydia, and 2-year-old Hezekiah. Her family lives in an apartment below the boys’ dorms at Tabor College in Kansas, where her husband Lee is a Resident Educator and sports chaplain. 

At the age of 17, Sara Jo knew she was going to do some form of public speaking about The Good News of Jesus Christ. She is now a full-time youth pastor as well as a part-time worship director. She says that full time ministry has brought some of the deepest pain she has ever experienced but has also brought her so much life. Soon, she plans to start full time seminary. Though being a female church leader is difficult, she dreams of answering the call to have a preaching/speaking tour.

Sara Jo has seen clearly the grace of God through her career in ministry. In the summer of 2017, she was preparing to preach a sermon on social justice, and it was only the fourth time she had ever preached at their church where not everyone was supportive of having a woman preach. Monday morning of that week, she rushed to the hospital to see the mother of one of her students. The mother had trusted in Jesus and experienced a life transformation just four months prior. By the time Sara Jo reached the hospital, her friend had passed away. Later that day, she found out that her own mother was in the hospital and would need surgery the next day. Tuesday morning, she met at the funeral home with the family of her deceased friend, and they asked her to officiate the funeral—which she had never done before— on Thursday. She left the funeral home, drove an hour to the hospital where her mom was, and waited with her family during surgery before finally getting home that night. She sat on the floor of their living room and prayed desperately, “Jesus, I have to write this sermon. There is so little of me left. Please, just give me an outline.” She wrote the sermon, spent Wednesday with funeral preparations, and officiated the funeral on Thursday. Friday morning, she arrived at her office, afraid to even read what she had written for the sermon she had to preach on Sunday. Though she knew that what God had given her to say would be difficult for some to receive and she was filled with anxiety, she now says that it was one of the best sermons she has ever preached. She says, “That is Jesus. That is grace. 100%. It was fitting, too, because I had preached a few weeks prior about God’s power being made perfect in our weakness and I guess that got put to the test that week.”

Sara Jo also sees God’s amazing grace through parenting. Her third child, Hezekiah, came to their family through adoption. Interracial adoption adds another dynamic in their family as Sara Jo and Lee are white and Hezekiah is biracial. Lee and Sara Jo are conscious of the fact that while Hezekiah may be more accepted when he is with his white family, people might treat him differently based on his skin color when he is apart from his family. Sara Jo wants to really see her son and celebrate the things that make him who he is, including his black heritage. The difficulty of trying to find books with pictures of kids who look like Hezekiah is a small-scale example of the intentionality required for raising a child whose whose skin is a different color than your own. 

Sara Jo’s family talks a lot about differences with respect to race as well as other physical differences. Adults often become uncomfortable and apologize when their children ask questions about physical differences. Sara Jo tells them, “It’s ok! We aren’t ashamed to talk about Hezekiah’s differences. I’m happy to answer their questions.” One of the gifts Hezekiah brings to the family is that his sisters have the privilege of growing up seeing differences as just differences and not as “less-than.” Sara Jo tells the story of when her sister was working on a degree in social work and asked Penelope, who was three and a half at the time, about how she felt when she saw children with differences. Seeing Penelope’s puzzled expression, Sara Jo’s sister asked, “Well, what about Hezekiah, like, does he have all of his toes?” Penelope jumped up and ran to grab Hezekiah’s feet and pulled his socks off, carefully inspecting each foot. She exclaimed with relief, “Yes! Yes he still has all of his toes.” Though Hezekiah has one big toe and two tiny toes on each foot, Penelope understood that he did, indeed, have all of HIS toes, and for him, everything was exactly as it should be. Penelope and Lydia have learned the art of loving in a way that protects and builds up their brother without shaming those who still need to learn the acceptance that comes naturally to the girls as a result of being Hezekiah’s sisters. The three children are privileged to have each other, and their mama says that the fact that they belong to each other is one of the most wonderful things in her world.

Hezekiah was born with multiple physical differences and medical conditions that are not life-threatening but are life-altering. Most of these differences are due to a very rare genetic syndrome called Hartsfield Syndrome, which was diagnosed when Hezekiah was almost a year old. He has had multiple surgeries for a severe case of bilateral cleft lip and palate, as well as ectrodactyly in both feet and syndactyly on his left hand. He is missing all or most of the corpus callosum, which is like the main highway of communication between the sides of the brain. Later, he was diagnosed with Panhypopituitarism, which means that his body doesn’t produce several necessary hormones, so he receives daily, life-long medication for treatment. Additionally, he has diabetes insipidus, an uncommon disorder unrelated to the more common Types 1 and 2 diabetes

On a practical level, Sara Jo advises that parents of children with special needs let in as many people as possible by teaching trusted others early on how to administer medication, give shots, and watch for signs of crisis. Making videos and writing up documents can help parents let other people shoulder the weight of all the pieces that have to be managed.

Despite these medical conditions, Hezekiah continually exceeds everyone’s expectations. This joyful, delightful little boy has blessed their family beyond measure. Sara Jo strongly desires for others to understand that adopting a child with special needs is not a burden, but rather, an incredible privilege. Sara Jo has already learned so much about Jesus through her son. She would encourage moms who are considering adopting a child with special needs to trust in the grace of God. She says that His grace is so miraculous, so good, and so all-sufficient that even in the toughest moments, you will not view your child as anything other than a precious gift. She says, “You’ll be rocking hopelessly and exhausted in some hospital room in the middle of the night someday and be overcome with the weight of truth that this is exactly how your Heavenly Father looks at you.” Amazing grace comes to us in many different forms. In the Waldron family, it often takes the form of a beautiful 2 year old little boy.


If you would like to read about the sufficiency of God’s grace for parenting a child with special needs, see Sara Jo’s blog post called, “Grace is the how.” To read more about the origin of her desire to parent a child with special needs, you can read this post.