A friend as sweet as pumpkin spice

It is the most beautiful day today. Pumpkin spice cookies (thanks to my new friend Sarah’s recipe) are baking, filling our home with sweetness and fall. I had an amazing photoshoot this morning with a young family. Colors of yellow, green and red filled the background against their blue sweaters. My coffee maker broke this week, and although I have been very dramatic about it, I can still make coffee for Matt and I and savor it with the cookies. The girls are both resting/sleeping…I hesitate to peek for fear Maggie might see me.

Pumpkin spice and October 15th remind me of one of my most treasured friends who is celebrating her birthday today. One of our favorite pastimes is sitting together, enjoying tea or chai, listening to our girls chatter away and munching on something homemade. Her house often smells sweet from a spice candle. Just like her home, she cultivates warmth, openness and real life.

When I moved to Colorado we were slow to become friends. Both adults, we did not want to push one another to be friends. But on one afternoon when we met for coffee I found a soul sister. She is just a quirky and driven as I am. She is athletic and always up for an adventure. We love different things. We love similar things. It was refreshing and sweet.

Since we became friends, we have lived a lot of life. (Maggie is now peaking around the corner, giggling.) She danced with her future husband at our wedding. I did her hair for hers. She moved away and came back again. She and her husband were present with us when we lost our first pregnancy. And then again when we lost our second. We have cried hard over losses and we have celebrated fiercely over the good things. We have prayed for each other during seasons of depression and sleepless nights. We love when our girls play together and look forward to the day my second to be big enough to play with her second (most handsome, blue-eyed boy!). And as sickness overtakes her with another baby on the way we share all-day-sickness, too-tired stories and giggle over baby plans.

She is the kind of friend you dream about having when you are young and thank God for as an adult. I know she is just as sweet a friend to so many. She is just that kind of beautiful glimpse of Jesus to others. And to my soul, she is like sweet pumpkin spice on a fall day.

Happy Birthday, Ally!


Praying for Bundles of Joy

For a brief moment the house is clean and smelling of sterile products and freshness. It will stay this way until the rice I have on the stove boils over and I realize real life can only have a momentary break. The baby is down for a nap, her big sister doing who knows what downstairs and I can breath. After a long day of sitting through classes at work and thinking about all the other things I would rather be doing, I glance at my phone which has alarmed “check in with B”.

I do not know what it is like to not be able to get pregnant. As my rice boils over I think about the hardship that hits a woman’s heart after months of “trying” without reward. My sweet friend had sat down with me and cried as she expressed her desire to be a mother and wondering when it would be her turn. As my own little bundle of joy coughs and coos in the other room I think back on my own journey toward motherhood.

The evening after Matt and I did some lab work immediately after our second miscarriage we ventured over to some friends’ home for dinner. I wrestled with telling the ‘want-to-be’ mama that we had lost another baby. I knew the hurt would be great but lead to be vulnerable if she asked, I shared our afternoon activities. Her words in sharp reply, later apologized for, cut my soul deeply. Yes, I could get pregnant but with me, I couldn’t hang on to my babies. I didn’t know and still do not know what it is like to wait and try and try again. But I do know the longing for the children I did have and then was denied.

And so, since then, I sit and listen. I cry and I hug. I express remorse for my friends’ grief. I pray. I check-in. I have also had to hold loosely to some friendships which couldn’t take another one of my pregnancies. Friends, here or there, have expressed excitement for me and slowly stopped calling, stopped checking in and the silence becomes a bit awkward. It doesn’t mean they are any less excited for me or any more disappointment for themselves. It just is, and that’s okay.

A couple of fiends have asked me why they are the ones who can’t have a baby. Why, Steph, why? I don’t know. I just don’t know. Apart from my faith and belief in a sovereign God, there is little I feel I can offer on the ‘whys” of life. Pregnancy and being barren and loss of a child go back since time began. The longing to be a mother and seeing other women give birth to a baby who do not seem or show that they are not fit to be can be excruciating. The babies who need a good home after an abusive situation wreak us. Babies who are abandoned or malnourished just because of their geographic residence leave us feeling helpless.

Hannah, Sarah, Elisabeth, Rachel and so many other women in the Bible also struggled with the shame of not being able to have children. They longed, they cried, they were bitter and their husbands tried as they might to console them. “Am I not better than 7 sons?” Asked Hannah’s husband. And so too, as I sat with my most recent friend going through this struggle, we talked about our husbands inability to really understand, our desire to shade them from our disappointment and their presumed weariness for our tears.

I do not know the plans God has for these ladies but I do know if God allows, they will be amazing mothers. My friend who spoke those words to me is a mama of two with dreams, I would imagine, of more joyful music of baby feet and laughter on the horizon. I have have my two, sweet, blond girls who make me jump with anguish when they cough and induce smothering them with kisses even when I’m tired. And I pray a little harder and with greater intention that my friends will be able to experience this joy and lavished love some day. I pray that their faith in the God, who I believe gives life, would be restored or even started. But for now, I will sit and I will cry. I will hurt and I will hug if only to be a source of hope and comfort. And someday, soon, I hope to celebrate their children as eagerly as I have desired to mourn with them.

For the Love…of a College Campus

A friend and I approached a girl sitting on a bench one spring day on our college campus. We had the goal of cold turkey evangelism for a few afternoons every quarter. We would have a script prepared to start a conversation about eternal things, most specifically God. As we approached this student without batting an eye or even looking up she said a loud, clear “no”. Not a word had left our lips but she knew. Maybe we had a reputation around campus or maybe she just didn’t want to be bothered, but turned down, we left in search of our next potential conversation.

That is how it seemed to be on my college campus. I walked into my physiology classroom one afternoon after receiving a B- on a term paper. This professor did not like me. That was obvious. But on this particular day, after I sat down, middle of the room, my heart boiled up with dislike right back at her. I asked myself “can I love her today?” The answer was a resounding “no” and so up I went, just before she started the class. The paper was an interview of someone who had lived a long enough life to look back and answer the question “if I had it to do over, what would I do differently”. I called my grandmother, who lived 180 miles away, and we enjoyed a lengthy conversation. When I asked her the thesis question, without hesitation she said “I wish I had known Jesus earlier in my life. I would have done things differently.” It was her answer, so I wrote the paper. I was proud of my grandmother and I was not a terrible writer so the B- was a surprise and there were no other marks on the paper.

This summer I was able to visit briefly with a college pastor while my family and I were visiting the Oregon Coast. I was nervous to see him, mostly because looking back over the past ten years since I had seen him I have changed dramatically. I look a bit older, yes, but my heart and my mind seem almost as if they are new creations. I shared with him that I am different now, to God’s glory, and he stated the same. We both were able to talk about Jesus’ love and how we wish we could go back on campus and just love people differently.

With no critique on cold turkey evangelism (I believe it has it’s perfect time and need) I would love to know something about the girl who told us “no”. Was she hurting in a way that I could have reached out to her? Although I was young, anxious and hard headed, I really did care about my campus. I desired Jesus to have a front and center stage on my campus. Our campus ministry team was made up of young believers. We were young believers because we ourselves were young. What I know now compared to what I thought I knew then are two very different things.

And what if I could have reached more students with the love of Jesus so that they wouldn’t have to look back on their lives and wish they had known Jesus earlier or even at all. I do not look at my college years with regret for what I did and didn’t do, but I wish I had known how to love differently. I wouldn’t have been so scared to be friends with people different than me. I was friends with them, I just wouldn’t have been scared. I would have challenged a few more teachers and been willing to receive a few poorer grades than I did. I would have slowed down and cherished the conversations about Jesus I did have instead of rushing all the time to keep my head out of water.

I heard recently someone state that God is love therefore He cannot help but to love. He loves so desperately the students on my college campus before, during and after my five years there. He knows each one by name: the girl who said “no” and the professor who gave me a B-. He was present there even when I did or did not show up at my best. He saw my heart was good even when my tactics and ways were not always hitting the mark. He was at work in my faith and my mind to bring me to a place of redemption. He empowered me to start down the road to being who He has truly called me to be. He was proud to call me His even when I had little confidence to the title while thinking I needed to carry the weigh of an entire campus on my shoulders. God is gracious to me.

You may look back on your college years or are in them currently where you wonder if you should (have) loved differently. Maybe you are in a relationship or a ministry that God has called you to, but you know you are missing the mark. Maybe you are over your head in anxiety and perfection and have forgotten what you loved in the first place. Maybe you need to readjust your priorities or relive your memories in order to understand what God really does have for you.I believe that God does not require us for His love to be dispersed into the world but He delights in our partnership with Him to share His love with our classmates, our coworkers, our families, our friends and a few or more strangers along the way. Would you change? Be the person you want to be now and live a life that shouts God’s love no matter how your world receives it.