Saturday, January 13, 2018

2018: My Flourishing Year

My word for 2018 is “FLOURISH”.  Several years ago I followed my sister’s lead into the #OneWord365 movement.  It’s this idea that you select one word to focus on for the whole year vs. making some sort of New Year resolution.   Well, actually, my words always seem to find me and connect together for purposeful living, which makes it kind of a God thing too.  Finding Joy[1] brought me to Illuminate, which led me to Truth, which has carried me to Flourish. 

These words have guided our family through our relocation from the Midwest to Southwest Florida that started in 2015.  When we moved here everyone told us it takes 3 years to get re-established and we are now in the middle of that 3rd year.  Well before 2018 arrived, I knew in my heart that my one word for this year would be flourish. 


(of a person, animal, or other living organism) grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way, especially as the result of a particularly favorable environment.

Along with my word, I also select a scripture.  I didn’t have to study long before it became clear what my verse for this year would be:

Psalm 92:12 (NIV) The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like the cedar of Lebanon.  

There is beautiful, strong imagery at work in this verse, promising that the righteous will be like a palm-tree, which is long-lived and the winter does not change. What are the chances that my one word is biblically connected to a palm tree?  It didn’t take much research to be confident that flourish was indeed to be my next #OneWord365.

It also hasn’t taken much time for God to confirm this was our proper next word either! Condensing a very long story into a blog-sized bit, I’m excited to share that unexpectedly and yet delightedly our family is moving for a 3rd time in less than 3 years!   

There’s a house we’ve had our eye on that we tried to rent before moving into the home we are currently occupying.  However, the timing wasn’t right a year and a half ago.  The owner of that home was trying to sell, we were trying to rent; then, he was trying to rent and we were in a lease.  But all of this time the home has been empty.  I’ve felt for a while now it would be our next step, but our home in IL is rented and now this other home is back on the market.  We’ve prayed and asked the Lord to make a way where there didn’t seem to be a way.  Although the house is not my style per se, it has the size, features and locations we’ve desired since moving to Sarasota. 

Last Sunday, on January 6th, there was an open house at this property.  Tim and I decided, really on a whim, to walk through and take another look.   Much to our surprise, the owner was holding the open house.  Tim stuck his hand out and said to the man, “we’ve been looking for you”.  The open house we went to on a whim (or likely a holy nudging) was in fact, a divine appointment.   In the matter of an hour, we witnessed the Lord move in our favor 3 times.   

Five prayer-filled days later, we got the call that we were approved to rent the home with a move in day of February 15th!   While we are in shock – and a little denial – about moving again in 34 days, we are all equally thrilled about more space, 2 more bedrooms, another bathroom, and finally having a pool again!  

I knew that 2018 was going to be my flourishing year, but I had no idea the process would start just 6 days into the new year.  I am overcome with awe at how the pieces for this next step have come together so quickly and so sovereignly for our family.   Establishing a new life at the midpoint of life has been hard.  Our kids have all faced situations that have been hard.   As years go, 2017 was excruciatingly hard.  But, I believe hard has brought us to flourish.  One of the commentaries I read on Ps. 92 powerfully explained:

 “the palm grows slowly, but steadily, from century to century uninfluenced by those alternations of the seasons which affect other trees. It does not rejoice over much in winter's copious rain, nor does it droop under the drought and the burning sun of summer. Neither heavy weights which men place upon its head, nor the importunate urgency of the wind, can sway it aside from perfect uprightness. There it stands, looking calmly down upon the world below, and patiently yielding its large clusters of golden fruit from generation to generation. They bring forth fruit in old age.”[2]

Yes, flourish is our word for 2018 and Psalms 92 is definitely a promise to hold onto as the rains, drought, burning sun, and urgent winds sometimes come into our lives.  But, the promises are rich for those who hold on – yielding fruit that will last from generation to generation.   Lord, let it be for me and my family according to your word.

Now, it’s time to pack! 

[1] I was kind of a rebel that first year when I picked a two words instead of one.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Annual Christmas Letter 2017

December 2017

Dear Family & Friends,

Finding our joy and hope in the journey of life can often be a great challenge. Enduring the raging storms that do eventually pass, but forever alter the landscape of our existence. Anticipating the establishment of a new normal, yet processing through the debris and repairing what is fixable.  Discovering the secret of letting go, while also finding the balance of holding on. Realizing life – literally and figuratively - will never be quite the same as before.  Marveling over the freshness and peace and community that emerge from what used to be.  Worshipping for the eternal and the constants of faith that secure our joy.  Knowing we are not alone, not without hope, not without a Savior.   This is the essence of Christmas. 

One of the biggest events that impacted our year was living through our first hurricane, a super-storm named Irma. This war god (literal meaning) arrived in September and easily demanded our attention for a month; maybe longer if you consider the problems she caused before and after marching across the state in her fury. It was a scary and overwhelming experience, and yet in the middle of the storm, we found places of refuge, love and kindness. Post-storm was actually the hardest part as we were forced to live in this space between our normal and waiting for normal to return.  But even in the waiting there were answers, provision, support, and a strong spirit of gratefulness – especially when our power was restored after 8 long days!

Other significant memories of our year include vacations and milestone trips we were able to experience, some together and some separately.  During spring break, we enjoyed a family + friends trip to Disney World. There were 13 of us running the parks for 4 days.  It’s slightly embarrassing to admit that on one of the days, Tim and I found a bench and both quickly fell sound asleep. I was given the incredible opportunity to escort Dennis & Rebekah back to Guatemala for their first homeland visit in July, where Lydia was spending part of the summer on an internship.  Our littles soaked up every moment learning about their beautiful country and gaining a new perspective on their heritage.  Finally, Tim was able to take Michael on a special 16th birthday trip to California and Las Vegas in November.  They ran hard for 4 days out west, making memories together and seeing all the things important to a 16-year-old boy.

Tim has started his 4th year with ABC Supply and continues to enjoy his work securing building projects throughout Southwest Florida. He experienced staying in a shelter for the first time in his life when he and Michael decided to stay in Sarasota to prep the house and face Irma’s wrath together.  Other than sleeping on the floor, he found the whole experience of sharing close quarters with others in the community very interesting. Tim’s personal challenge is to submerge himself in the Gulf year round, even when the water temps are in the low 60s.  I can assure you, this is an activity he does all by himself!

Lydia is 20 years old and just finished her junior year in college at USF.  She is now in her social work program and on track to graduate next December.  This year she moved into her first apartment in Tampa and bought a new car. She works 2 days a week as a nanny and also works at a paint-your-own-pottery shop, both jobs are near her school and apartment. Lydia spent 5 weeks in Guatemala this summer on an internship through Orphan’s Heart, where she lost her heart. It was a good thing I brought her “babies” to visit during her last week, because we had to drag her back to the US when the program officially ended.

Michael is 16 years old and is currently a sophomore at Riverview High School.  He got his driver’s permit last February, but is not very interested in driving – very few of the 16 year olds in this community seem to drive.  He is working for Rack Room Shoes in the mall just a few miles from our house and is really enjoying earning his own money.  It’s a good thing too, cause this kid loves to spend money.  He’s very busy with his friends most of the time, always making plans to run somewhere and hang with someone. The highlight of his 16th birthday trip to Los Angeles with his Dad was exploring Hollywood.  Oh, and constantly eating out!

Isabelle is also 16 years old and is currently a sophomore at Booker High School where she is thriving in the art program.  She was recently selected to collaborate with a few other students to create a unique mural about Sarasota that will hang in the County School Board conference room.  She also joined the color guard this fall where she really found her tribe.  Izzy drives even less than her brother; in fact, she hasn’t asked for the keys once since completing her last driver’s ed lesson in the spring. Her special 16th birthday trip occurs next summer when I will take her to San Diego to attend the biggest geek fest in the country: Comic Con.

Dennis is now 11 years old and is currently in 5th grade.  He serves in the school’s safety patrol each day and is also part of the news crew for 2 semesters this year.  He was very excited to get his braces off last month. He is looking forward to middle school where he plans to play any sport that involves a ball. Dennis has never met a stranger, and that includes everyone he met in Guatemala.  It was hysterical to watch him “making friends” with all the vendors who approached us (and subsequently followed us) around Antigua as my Latino replied to every comment with: no hablo español.

Rebekah is now 10 years old and is also in 5th grade.  She is fiercely dedicated to earning perfect attendance this year, which speaks to her dedication to school.  She has become one of the top students in her class.  She works very hard and long hours to get high grades, but her years of diligence are really paying off.  She loves science and still wants to be an orthodontist one day.  On that note, her braces came off last month too! She very much enjoyed her trip to Guatemala.  She wants you to know the highlight of her trip was visiting the chocolate factory where she learned all about the harvesting and preparing of cacao.  

Dawn  - my big news is the big number I turned in August.  I still can’t believe I am 50 years old! My heart was overwhelmed with all the special moments I shared with family and friends celebrating this milestone.  My goal for this year was to finally finish my book, and though I made tremendous progress, Irma really threw off my pace. It will get finished one day, but being a mom and an advocate are my greatest priorities in this season.  Returning to Guatemala after 8 years was a huge answer to years of prayer. I’m confident it was just the beginning step of reconnecting with this country to which are hearts are intrinsically woven.

This Advent season our family gives thanks for the mysteries revealed in our lives during 2017, while we marvel with prayerful wonder at what is yet to come in this next year and beyond.   

Tim, Dawn, Lydia, Michael, Isabelle, Dennis & Rebekah

Friday, December 1, 2017

Celebrating Advent

We are beginning the 3rd Christmas season since we moved away from our Midwest life. The past two years we’ve made the long trek home to St. Louis for the holidays, but this year we’ve made the decision to stay in Sarasota.  We feel a deep sense to build new Christmas traditions with our children in our new home; it’s a part of the transplant process we’ve yet to complete. 

Other than the one time during our 10-year infertility journey when we left for Italy on Christmas afternoon, neither Tim nor I have ever celebrated the holidays entirely apart from family. We don’t know exactly what Christmas looks like outside of the context of parents, siblings and cousins – the loud and boisterous family events that fill your hearts and tummies to overflowing.    

If you know me at all, I’m sure you know what a painfully difficult decision this was for us to make.  Even though I know it’s the right one, as the calendar turns to December my heart has turned sad.

I’ve thought about incorporating Advent into our tradition for several years now, even before our move to Florida.  It was Ann Voskamp who inspired my curiosity about this liturgical practice, that for whatever reason had never become part of our Christian tradition.  Last year I personally walked through Dietrich Bonheoffer’s God is in the Manger each day of the Advent season.  Probably not coincidentally either, last year our pastor taught on Advent each Sunday of December.  As we are seeking new traditions for our repurposed lives, it just seems appropriate to restore the observation of Advent now.

I am just a beginner in the habit of Advent.  Today we start week one and begin to learn about the importance and the helplessness of waiting, a central theme of Advent.  That’s right where we are as a family in so many, many ways. Ann’s beautiful book, The Wonder of the Greatest Gift, will also guide us through this new journey every day until Christmas.

I’m sure we will continue our traditions of matching PJs, Christmas family newsletter & photos, Grandma's drip candle, creating elaborate holiday cookies, and Christmas morning surprises and brunch, but we have a large hole to fill without the extended family around us helping to shape the holiday.  I’m not entirely sure what this part of all we’ve ever known will look once we get to the other side of December.   However, Advent is about waiting, mystery, redemption and the revelation of the incarnation.  I suspect my heavenly Father will help us find all the answers we need as we journey through this season with eyes focused on Him in a new way.

Ann wrote in one of her Advent blog posts last year, “there’s no preforming Christmas, producing Christmas, or perfecting Christmas.  There is resting in Christmas.”[1]  So, that is what we are going to do.  Rest in Christmas.  Rest in worship.  Rest in the wonder of this season in a whole new way. 

[1] Ann Voskamp. 12/22/16. “when you’re weary & just want to prepare your hear for Christmas - & a bit of Hope”.

[1] Ann Voskamp. 12/22/16. “when you’re weary & just want to prepare your hear for Christmas - & a bit of Hope”.