Category: writing


photo by Jennifer Upton

Today I had the opportunity to answer the question why I blog. It was fun to look back at those first early posts. I started a blog because we were expecting our first child and it seemed like a great way to keep our family up-to-date. Over the years I began to write less about my family and what we were doing and more about the things that stirred my soul. The words would reverberate inside of me and I couldn’t not put them down. It continued to grow and evolve and the why behind blogging for me is this: When the dirty dishes and the laundry and the schedule and the kids emoting all over me becomes too much I reach for a book. It started when I was a kid, and I think protected me–I didn’t realize how bad things were because I spent half my time in another world and only popped my head out when things seemed safe. Writing (and blogging) becomes a way for me to engage the present reality of my life. It’s when I stop and examine the pieces, when I look for the beauty and the adventure hidden in my own backyard. It helps me process things that happened, to see the glimmers of joy and truth, and it allows me to get in touch with my inner-self who is often forgotten in the everyday crazy.

Like any well-functioning adult I have systems in place to help keep the escapism at bay. I work out regularly around other people so there’s accountability. I am seeing a therapist–so my past doesn’t overwhelm my present–and a nutritionist–so that food doesn’t contribute to any imbalance. I printed out a summer schedule complete with chore chart so the kids aren’t bouncing off the walls by the end of the day. All these things have contributed to relative stability with my emotions and general well-being.

But when I’m not writing, I’m not functioning at my best. I write because I need too. I write because it’s the only way I see the adventures that are waiting for me. Doug and I are planning our ten year wedding anniversary extravaganza and the man has offered me the world. Literally. Anywhere I want to go, he wants to take me there. But I haven’t written the past month. And so all I can see is the couch and a stack of books calling my name.

I write for clarity. I write to see.

And I write because I know I’m not the only stretched thin by the demands and pressures of life. That there are many of us who have to fight to see the beauty in our lives. And we need each other to make sure we’re fighting for the best things. You may have systems in place to help with the day to day. What are they? If not, what would help you put them in place? And what are the things that feed your soul that the other systems support? But this one thing is when you thrive? What things whisper promises of fulfillment but then leave you empty when you’re done? How do you fight for adventure and joy in the every day? Tell me–I want to know.


when the journey is not the end

photo by Jennifer Upton at

I listened to a friend on Sunday. She shared about a season in her life when the world tipped itself over and dumped her out. Everything fell apart. Everything she thought she knew flipped upside down. The friends they thought they had walked away. And she was left alone to gather the pieces. She said many compared her and her family’s story to Job. It wasn’t funny and it was hurtful. And the air wooshed out of my lungs because I had been one of the ones who thought that, and even spoke it aloud.

I said it in light of the whole story in mind–the redemption and restoration and I was excited to see the fruit of all of God’s promises. But to her in that moment, in sackcloth and ashes, what she needed was a friend to sit and mourn with her. Not someone to preach at her or spiritualize her suffering. Not someone to package all the threads neatly together when she felt abandoned and forgotten by God. She needed freedom to wrestle through the doubt and the anger and the questions. Not for me to stand on platitudes when the world was crashing around her. I was too excited for the end of the story when she was stuck right in the midst of the deepest pain and grief she had ever experienced.

It reminds me of a scene from Lord of the Rings when Frodo and Sam are by themselves and at the darkest moment of their journey. They talk about how people don’t know they’re in the midst of an adventure when it’s happening to them. Sam says he used to think people went out and looked for these adventures, but now he sees that people just ended up in them–and that people don’t know whether it’s a happy or a sad ending. Frodo and Sam have no idea how their story will end, nor would it be a comfort to them in this dark moment to know because right now they have to keep putting one foot in front of the other to get to the top of Mordor to destroy the ring.

And that’s where my friend was. This was her life–not some epic adventure or story. After the earth crashed around her she had to bend down and pick up the pieces and rebuild a life out of the ashes. And instead of being with her in it, I was focused on the ending. Instead of seeing the breadth and depth of her pain, I saw the bright happy future that I envisioned for her. I couldn’t be there with her because all I could see was what I thought God had promised her. But I have no idea how he works, or how her story will end, or where her life will take her.

So four years later, and with a dose of humility I am gently convicted.

Mourn with those who mourn. I’ll take it even further–comfort those who are mourning.

It was not my job to declare more truth to her, or to help her find hope and peace. What I should have done was to wrap my arms around her and be with her in her agony. Sure, I can point out the window and say the sun is shining, but it’s my arms around her, sitting in her grief and not asking her to pretty it up, and my eyes filling with tears for her pain that speaks more of the love and comfort of God than any words about his faithfulness I could speak.

People are on their own path and their own journey. God is an individual God and he meets us individually. Forcing our thoughts about him on to others just gets in the way and can actually become a block to them finding him. We have to trust the God who made us more. He’s got this. We also have to trust people more, that as they press into him he will lead them to where he has called them. Sort of a “not all who wander are lost” mentality.

So, my dear sweet friend, I am sorry that I couldn’t be with you because I was too focused  on the ending. And instead of comforting you, I held you up as this epic adventure rather than seeing you as a person who was grieving. Thank you for always teaching me, and for being gracious with me in my ignorance. I love you.


a shocking perplexity

photo by Jennifer Upton
photo by Jennifer Upton

This morning I read a story. It was the one about a rich man wanting to know how to get to heaven so he asked Jesus. Jesus told him to go and sell all his possessions. The man was shocked. When the disciples overheard this interaction they were perplexed. And I started thinking about people’s interactions with Jesus. It seems like everyone, upon meeting him and hearing his words, was shocked and/or perplexed. He didn’t really fit into the social norms at the time. He welcomed people who most shunned and would cross the street to avoid. He praised a widow for giving pennies to God. He let a prostitute touch him. He threw pastors and theologians under the bus. He turned the way people thought about God completely upside down, as well as their understanding of the social hierarchy.

And then I started thinking about my interactions with Jesus. I have never been upset, perplexed or shocked by anything he did or said. I have put him in this neat, tidy box that has clearly defined parameters. I think over the course of thirty years his words and actions have been so watered down that it doesn’t have the same effect on my heart as it did to Mary, Martha, or the woman at the well.

And I mourn that. I wish that I could be so undone by what he did that I’m completely open to him working that same way today. But instead it’s like I “know” what he’s going to do. Based on this small sampling I have figured out the Son of God and how he thinks, feels, and responds to people.

What arrogance.

Because I think that he’s just as unpredictable today as he was then. I think that he turns the world up on it’s head–especially when we think we have all the answers. As I interact with more and more people who claim the name of Christ but look completely different than me, I’m beginning to understand that it’s my worldview that needs to change. I don’t really know who is welcome at Christ’s table–but I guarantee it’s not all filled with people who look like me or believe the things I believe. And I’m finding a lot of messy beauty in that.

And I think that’s why we need his Spirit inside of us and why we need to lean into that and trust that Spirit in us and in others. Because otherwise we’re making rules of behavior and applying them to everyone. And I think our God is so much bigger and works so much more grandly than the small subset of my individual experience. Scripture teaches that love covers a multitude of sins. And I think we need to extend that to each other, loving each other so well that the sins are just covered.

I think so often we have held up our ideas of truth and what that should look like and we’ve bashed people over the head with it. Now it’s time for us to lay down our bludgeons and instead start tending to the wounds that we either inflicted, or were silent when they occurred.

A new day is dawning and I think we need to walk forward extending the grace to others that was so freely given to us, and I think we should trust more in the God who created and saved us and let him work out the details in our brothers’ and sisters’ lives. We need to trust his good work in each other.

I want to be perplexed and shocked by my Jesus and his hands and feet that move and breathe in this world.

shifting the pieces

photo by Brad Self
photo by Brad Self

I wrote these words because I needed to remember them. There have been a lot of days lately when I’ve wanted to go back in time and erase this part of our journey. Nothing about this feels natural or easy. I love that girl in the pictures. I love my family–but it’s so hard in the midst of home-school and pre-teenage angst and trauma upon trauma to pick up the pieces and be with her in her hurt. In my gut I know she is just a little girl who needs to experience love. But more often than not I feel like I am staring at her across an ocean.

We “rescued” her body from the orphanage. But her heart and her head are still there. She believes that she’s alone, fighting for her survival–for affection, acceptance, and security. And I am so tired of doing battle against her demons and mine. I’m exhausted. This is a bone-weary journey. For this, I wasn’t prepared. Thank you Jesus for people in my life who can make up my lack, so while I struggle, they wrap her up in hugs and invest in her. They listen to her and pour into her so I can breathe for a second. They love her in the spaces where I am failing. This is the body of Christ at work, because I wasn’t made to meet all of her needs. I can’t. And when those friends come in they care for both of us: she experiences that she is for loving; and I get a chance to inhale/exhale–experiencing that I am enough.

It wasn’t that I expected this to be an easy process. It’s just that I expected to want her more. I expected that at night after the bustle of the day, my heart would once again naturally shift towards her. That I would remember for whom I was fighting, and I would feel renewed.

But that hasn’t been the case. And each day adds up more and more. Each slight, and misstep becomes a battle of wills and I find myself breaking and longing for the simpler days. And then guilt and shame breathe down my neck because this is my daughter I’m wishing away. I weep over the mother who died. And I weep over the mother who struggles to love her the way she deserves to be loved. All she wants is a mom. Why is it so hard for me to give her all of myself? I’m scared I’m lost in this.

This, my friends, is my heart and it’s shattered. I’m confused and in some ways I feel betrayed. I don’t feel like a horrible person because I’ve managed to distance myself so much from the emotion. I’m writing this as a clinician. The one writing and the mother are two separate people right now because I would break apart if I felt all of these things at once. So they come in waves, in snippets, washing over my feet and tugging the sand out from under me a little at a time. And I don’t know if this process is a good one or not. But I do know that as I wrestle and as I shift my feet, something holy is happening.

I am braver. I am able to look more honestly at this process. I can say this is really hard. I can confess to my people and say,  I resent her for making my life so much harder and more complicated. I resent her for interrupting and for being traumatized and for needing me. I resent all of her questions and the way she watches me. And I know in those moments, I will be held. I will be loved. I will not be shamed for needing comfort. I will not be advised on the evils of my heart or despised for having a human moment. Instead, I will be watered so that I can once again turn to that little girl, take a deep breath, pick up my daughter and breathe life into her. I will teach her to pick up her sword to slay the demons that plague her–and that the lies she once believed are no longer her’s.


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