Samantha – the little of our bigs (my guinea pig baby)

Poor Samantha. She was my parenting guinea pig.


For thirteen years she was an only child. When I married Brian, she became the youngest of four. Then we adopted four little ones and now she’s smack in the middle of eight.

Talk about an identity crisis. She likes to joke that she has issues from every season. Poor thing. It’s not easy controlling the world while being the center of attention and yet still working to make sure everyone gets along.

I’m sorry, babe.

Samantha saw me at my worst. I remember when I quit smoking – and then gave in to a craving. I stood outside our little duplex after she went to bed and I lit up. Moments later as I put the cigarette to my lips, I looked in the sliding glass window to see her pale face pressed up against it, tears in her eyes. I had told her I wouldn’t smoke again and her deep disappointment flushed my cheeks red.

Parenting fail.

Sam saw me at my best. I remember falling so in love with Jesus and worshipping as I worked out in my garage one night. I was singing, loud and off key, eyes closed. When I opened my eyes she was standing there, big smile on her face. She came over and leaned in to kiss my cheek. “You really love him, don’t you mom?”

“Oh baby, I do. I really do.”

Later that night she had a youth event. When she climbed back into the car, she told me how they had to write something on a piece of paper and throw it into the fire. A wish, a hope, a dream and then give it to God. I asked her what she wrote. She smiled at me. “I wrote that I want to love Jesus like my mom loves Jesus.”

Parenting win.

I was messy with Sam. Broken and foolish some days, smart and adventurous on others – and she took every bit of the ride with me. She had a front row seat to the drama of my recovery from selfishness/stupidity/sin (a drama still unfolding). The good decisions followed by lousy ones with some random perplexing ones in between.

I let good people into her life. I let stupid people into her life. I was her hero and her heartbreak. We chair danced on eternal road trips and ate ramen noodles with gusto and delight. We slept out on the trampoline, walked to the 7-11 for ice cream cones, laughed until our bellies hurt and curled up to watch one hour of Full House nearly every night.

She spent way too much time in daycare and grew up way too soon.


But we did it together.

Sam is now 25 years old. She works full time as an escrow processor, has her own place and is proud owner of a beautiful german shepherd, Captain. She is smart, kind, strong and belly laugh funny. She is fiercely loyal and an unwavering advocate for the underdog. She loves deeply. She’ll come over these days and wrap her arms around me in the middle of our chaos. I’ll let go. “Not done, Mom.” And I’ll wrap my arms around her again and settle in to her warm embrace.

Samantha is my original God kiss. My love for her made me want to be a better human. And because of my trial and error with her, my other seven God kiss babies get a better me.

Thank you, Samantha. I love you.


Wilna – the big of our littles


She is brave, strong, fiercely passionate about almost everything. At 12 years old, she is part woman with grown up thoughts, ideas and feelings and part little girl who can get lost in dress up and loves a colorful band-aid on her boo-boos.


I tell her often that God overdosed when he poured out her talents. He simply forgot to move on to the next person and gave her far more than her fair share. She smiles her dimpled grin and shakes her head when I tell her that, but it’s true. She’s athletic, beautiful, musical, artistic and her smile takes our breath away. She’s got a knack for fashion and does a better job of dressing me than I do.

She is our daughter and we are crazy about her.

She also has pain. Anger. Deep hurt from circumstances beyond her control. She misses her family and friends and the ache is deep. The stories she has shared deep into the night have left me sleepless with their intensity and heartbreak. How could one so little have suffered so much? She tells me with calm control, but the tears or anger come at other moments – when it’s safer to feel. Something that seems small will trigger the pain and I have to remind myself that behind the moment is so much more. I will hold her, wishing I could make it better, ease the pain, erase the memories.

And at the same time I know that it’s those things that have made her so strong and fierce and brave and beautiful.

So I pray over her and I hold her fast.

She is ours and we love her.

Twelve years old is a volatile age. Hormones raging, friendship challenges, emotions all over the map – and that’s without a history of heartbreak and loss.

And yet she manages it so beautifully, far better than I would have at her age. I’m proud of her, protective of her, prayerful for her future.

I want her to keep expressing emotion, keep crying, laughing, cuddling, processing. I want the emotion to come out as it is and I pray to keep it from going to dark, hard or bitter places. We pray that with her – that God would give her avenues to express herself and for the enemy to keep far away from those open wounds.

I can’t wait to see how God heals, restores, rebuilds. I can’t wait to see Wilna use her talents to shine Jesus into the hearts of others. I can’t wait to see her beautiful story unfold.

And I just pray God gives us just what we need to mama and papa her through it all.


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I watched you today.



I watched you.

Sometimes with my heart in my throat, sometimes with tears in my eyes.

I wanted you to connect, to feel welcome, to make a friend. I wanted people to be nice to you and you to be nice to them. I watched. I watched you as you giggled nervously and then as your smile broadened the safer you felt. I watched as you high fived one of the girls, laughed out loud, inhaled a piece of pizza.

And I nearly started balling.

Right there at a bowling alley with hundreds of 5th and 6th graders.

I didn’t. And you can thank me later for the way I covered the tears in my eyes with a hearty sneeze and shrug.

Darn allergies.


I delighted in you. In the moment. In the fact that you are our daughter and I get to be here, right now, with you.

I had the same feeling today when you performed in your first baton march. They called your name and pronounced our last name wrong, like they usually do. Our last name. OUR last name.

And you smiled brave and strong, lifted your knees high, gracefully navigating your 8 step routine.


Tears came to my eyes again.

I wanted you to succeed, feel joy, be proud of yourself. I wanted it for you and with you.

And in these things, in all these things, you didn’t know. You were completely unaware of the intensity of my emotion.

Then my breath caught – if this is how I feel in all my incredibly frail brokenness – how much more does our God feel that way about me, about us? When we risk, when we connect, when we make a friend, be a friend. When we stretch ourselves, test ourselves, live big and brilliant.

I think we are completely unaware of how much he is in every moment – how deeply he feels, how much it matters to him, how he is for us and with us, all the time.

Oh my word. Sniff. Sniff.

Darn allergies.



She called her “Cousin.”

Not by her name, “Hannah,” but by her relationship. Like she calls us Mama and Papa and Oma, Hannah was Cousin.

And she said it a lot.




Savannah adored the time with Hannah, her 14 year-old cousin visiting from South Carolina. They swam, they jumped on the trampoline, they played chase around the kitchen.

Savannah called to her cousin with such love, such longing – and she does the same thing with other people in her life.

Our new neighbor is “Neighbor.”

“Hi Neighbor! Do you want to come over and play?”

Her gymnastics teacher is “Coach.”

“I can do it by myself, Coach!”

The terms coming out of a three-year-old are endearing. Adorable. Cute.

Although even all grown up I love it when Brian introduces me as “My bride” or calls me “My love.”

It made me wonder – what if I did the same thing? Addressed people solely based on their relationship to me?

Friend, professional hair fixer, acquaintance, pain in my tushie…

God does it. Not the pain in the tushie part, but calls us by our role in his eyes.






Apple of my eye


So that’s my random thought for the day, friends. You are his beloved, his treasure. Defined by love. He’s calling you.


My son!

My daughter!

Rest in your name on his lips, your meaning to his heart.

You are his.

Man Overboard on Oasis of the Seas – we were there

It was right around 1 a.m. when I woke up to an announcement on the outside speakers. Muffled through our balcony door, all I could hear was “….. port side ….. port side.”

I was curious, but half asleep. I almost ignored it, but since we were on the port side I decided to have a look. I first checked our peephole to the cruise hallway. Nothing. Then to our balcony door. First thing I noticed was the cruise ship had stopped moving. Next I could see a spotlight pointed toward a bobbing light in the ocean. My neighbors were out on their balcony.

“Man overboard,” she said. “That’s the rescue boat out looking for him.”


I called to Brian, “Man overboard…”

We stood on our balcony watching the rescue boat. We could hear the rescuers calling for the man in the rough seas. Desperate cries in the dead of night.

I texted my family, curious if any of the others were awake. My mom replied first. She could feel the boat shifting and turning, and could smell the smoke from the engines as it strove to turn our massive ship. She was scared. I told her the situation and promised to keep her updated as I heard anything. Sam texted next. “What’s up?”

I filled her in and immediately she asked to meet me in the hallway. Her cabin was just across the hall from ours. She came to me in tears. “What happened to him?”

Since I didn’t know, I had little share. Her heart was heavy and she wanted to find out. She decided to go up to the upper decks and ask around. I asked her to keep us updated.

Within 30 minutes, she had found out and was heartbroken. A YouTube video had already been uploaded and showed the man clinging to the metal bracing for the lifeboat. People were screaming. He was trying to pull himself up when he slipped and fell into the ocean.

Sam asked me to come and be with her. I met her again in the hallway and her tears were flowing. I wrapped my arms around her.

“They didn’t even care, Mom!” As Sam had gone investigating, she’d come up on a group at a bar. Swirling a glass of whiskey, one man said, “Yeah, I heard it. People say he jumped from the top, but he didn’t. Happened down below. Fight, from what I heard. Guy’s a goner.”

Sam sobbed, “How can he be drinking his whiskey and laughing while this man is fighting for his life in the ocean? What if that was his family member out there?”

She was undone. See, we’ve had a family member out there. We loved a soul who was lost to the waves.

We had to help.

Two women on board of a ship of 6,000 people, what were we going to do?

We walked down to where he’d fallen. It was roped off, but we could still walk around the rest of the deck. Crew members were stationed there at regular intervals, looking. We searched with them as Sam continued to cry. “Mom, how lonely he must feel out there. He can see the lights of the cruise ship but he can’t get to us. He must be so scared, mom. He must be sooo scared.”

We kept looking. And praying. We ran into another couple. The woman was emotional, but the man was callous. “Guy must have been drunk.” He waved his hand, dismissive. “No way he made it.” I pulled Sam to walk away. Worried she might deck him.

We kept looking.

3 am, 4 am, 5 am.

We watched them drop another rescue boat.


Dawn began to break as we kept searching, grateful for the lightening skies.


The altercation that led to this man’s passing happened four cabins down from my mother’s room. We went to see her, hugged her and gathered together on her balcony. We could see the blood on the metal frame from her balcony. This was not a distant tragedy. This was right on our doorstep.

The ship circled for seven hours as the rescue boats continued to search the seas. Finally, a coast guard plane in the distance.

With help now there, our ship turned towards it’s original course and began to move. Our man overboard was not rescued on our watch… and late Saturday afternoon the entire search was suspended.

He was lost to the sea.

I heard all kinds of reactions on the boat that day – not many of them kind. An elevator full of people joking about sharks. Others worried we might be late getting to our destination. And when there was speculation that he jumped, words were harsh, callous. Even my own initial reaction – like a curious spectator coming up on the scene of a car accident, was less than truly engaged.

And then my girl.

People wondered if she knew him, so heartfelt were her tears. No, she didn’t know him. But he was a fellow human being out in the sea. Scared. Hurt. Lonely. Lost. And that moved her to pray with everything that she had, cry with abandon and ache for his pain.

The depth of her heart touched and convicted mine. Such love! Such passion! Such beauty!

Early in the morning, while we were still searching, Sam said to me: “Mom, I’ve never prayed for anyone as hard as I have for him.”

In the distance, a rainbow began to appear. The rescue boat was framed in front of it. Later, when we knew that there was little likelihood he would be found, I turned Sam’s face toward mine as the tears came. “Sam, you have no idea what your prayers have done for that man. Because your heart is tender, because you called out, you have no idea what God might have done on his behalf. That rainbow could have been an answer to your prayer in his final moments, showing him he was not alone, comforting him in his fear.”


It’s Monday. I can’t get this story out of my mind. I can’t get Sam’s emotion over his suffering out of my heart. We’ve all become so callous to the pain of others. I know, I get it – we can’t feel everything. Not every situation should break us. But some situations should.

I should let the suffering of those in my world capture my heart and break my heart – and then pray with abandon. And then maybe, like what happened that morning, God will provide a rainbow in someone’s life to say, “I’m here. I am with you. You are not alone.”

This week, my daughter taught me. And so I pray. God, don’t let me be callous to the pain of others. Show me which situations I should pour my heart into, which heartbreak I should let break mine. Don’t let me be the one swirling whiskey in my glass as someone is dying. May I stand in the gap for those that are suffering, drowning in pain, addiction, loss. May my prayers do what Sam’s did – bring a glimpse of your goodness to a hurting life. A rainbow to remind someone of your love, comfort and presence. Let me be moved as you are moved. In Jesus name, amen.


Love is a risk

I don’t want to love them too much.

I don’t want to hold on too tight.

I mean, it was amazing when I was in Haiti – when two little boys with big smiles fell into my lap, when one fell asleep on my shoulder and I didn’t dare move so I could enjoy the sleepy weight of him, when I coaxed out deep belly laughter that rang like music in my ears. In those moments, my heart expanded with love so deep and rich and big, that I could hardly contain it.

But then I got home and they’re far away.

And we got word that the mom of one of our boys didn’t sign the paperwork that needs to be signed, and we can’t take a single step forward until she does.

So a voice in my head says, Guard your heart! Hold on Loosely! Don’t love so much because this will hurt way too much if it doesn’t go through.

Love is a risk.

But here’s the truth: Love is always a risk.

It’s a risk to love my husband. We never know what tomorrow will bring. A dear friend recently lost her husband in a matter of months. Her heart is utterly broken, her family devastated.

It’s a risk to love our friends. Life is transient and unfair and harsh sometimes. Friends move or fall away.

It’s a risk to love, period.

So the more I try to figure out how to guard my heart and still fight for our boys… I realize it can’t be done. It just wont work to hold on loosely when our boys need us to pray, hold tight, love deep.

When Brian and I were in Haiti, I snapped this picture of Brian with Laurentz.

Brian and Laurentz
A father’s love

The hand of a protective father holding his baby boy, Brian’s strong hand is planted right over his heart.

I look at that picture and my heart melts.

I realize that’s how we will love our boys, in spite of the risk. I realize that’s how we can allow the expanding of our hearts as we hold them, pray for them, fight for them.

Ultimately, even if our hearts break, the one who fixes broken hearts is right there with us, his strong hand upon us. He is big and kind and good. And He risks more than any of us. He loves each and every one of us deeply and passionately. He longs for us to be his children. And yet so many of us never realize it, or we say no, turn aside or walk away. I can’t imagine how his heart breaks!

If we can trust our hearts into anyone’s hands, it’s his.

And so we pray:

Please, Lord, if you would be so kind—bring our boys home. Hold that mother close and help her to know how much we will love her son. Pave the way through government red tape and financial need. Expand our hearts and our world. Fill us with battle-fighting, prayer-warrior, mom and dad kind of love. And then open every door to bring these boys home, that this risk will have it’s precious reward: a family united.

And if by some painful twist of events, things don’t turn out as we expect, hold us close, wipe our tears and teach us to cling to you.

Teach us to risk as you risked for us,

Elsa and Brian