An Open Letter to my Kids 2022

It’s been a year – A YEAR – since I’ve written in my blog. I can’t believe it, but then again, as my kids grow and time marches forward, a year just isn’t what it used to be. Time goes so unbelievably fast. The last time I wrote, it was for my annual letter to my children in 2021. Things in the world were crazy with covid and politics – and well, much of that is the same. We are still dealing with covid, although masks are a rarity and quarantine periods are down to five days. There are other viruses and illnesses in the news, inflation is high, we’re on the cusp of a recession, and politics are still quite a mess. However, my little world is…good. Life is sweet, peaceful, and joyous. Don’t get me wrong – I want to pull my hair out at least once a day among sibling fights, toddler tantrums, a zillion pets and their messes…but really, I know I am so unbelievably blessed. So as I sit and reflect on the past year, I am thankful; thankful for my healthy and rambunctious family, thankful for the challenges and joys, and thankful for the opportunity to capture it all. Here goes, an open letter to my children in 2022:

For Jace, my son:
Jace, you are 13 years old now and in the 8th grade. I tell you often that you are a joy to me, but let me put it on record – you make life fun. This has been a transformational year for you. The boy I remember with a cherub face and thin frame is gone. In his place is a young man, strong, determined, and driven.
Over the past year you attended your first concert with our family to see Christian bands Mercy Me and Micah Tyler. You may or may not have been a bit embarrassed by your mother’s singing out and dancing, but afterwards shared with me that the music was “awesome”. I was excited for you to get to see faith demonstrated in such a big and beautiful way. You have continued to attend The Well at Redemption and made the choice to be baptized this year. In all honesty, you led our family to Redemption, and I continue to be amazed at your willingness to stand in faith. One of your 7th grade teachers shared with me that she admires your humbleness and that you are never afraid to talk about your faith. That makes me incredibly proud of you. You also attended Twin Lakes Christian Camp again this summer, and I’m so thankful you continue to choose to grow your faith in a world full of distractions.
You wrestled your 7th grade year and had one heck of a season, pulling out win after win. It was beyond fun to watch your skill and ability grow. Your passion for running stands out over the past year. You finished your 7th grade year of Cross Country at the end of 2021, ran the Turkey Trot over Thanksgiving break that same year, and then headed into track season in spring of 2022. You entered track for the first time telling me you were going to compete in hurdles, and my response was “No, you’re not”, as I envisioned your beautiful facing hitting asphalt. As I see often happening lately, I was wrong and you were right (I can’t even believe I’m putting that in writing!). You are simply a natural with hurdles, making it look too easy. You won every race of the season, with the exception of coming in second one time. You were really quite exceptional, and you made us so proud. Over the summer you attended your last year of Cross Country Camp, where you received the Mental Attitude Award. That is a moment I will never forget. You amaze me and your dad with your mental toughness, your determination, and your drive – to see you receive recognition from your coaches for that very special gift was an honor. Then over the summer, you attended Pacesetters Running Camp, and I saw you realize your potential for distance running for the first time. You left that camp on fire for running, and have since run the Wetlauf 5k, placing 3rd in your age range, the Turtle Soup 5k, placing 1st in your age range and 3rd overall, and competed in the Heartland Half Marathon Team Relay, where your team finished 2nd with a time of 1:33.
As much fun as it’s been, enough about running…I’d like to capture a few other memories that are too good to pass up. You continue to have a special friendship with Tyson and even vacationed with his family over fall break 2021 to Key Largo. We missed you like crazy, but are so thankful that you get to have those special experiences together. You still think a lot of your pets, especially Tony and Little Bear. You love love LOVE your dirt bike, and even upgraded this year. I’d list the make and model, but you know I’d get it all wrong. What I do want to share is that you worked very hard for your dirt bike, paying for 2/3 of the cost with your mowing money. You never cease to amaze me. I can’t leave this year’s letter without capturing the creation of a penis-shaped Christmas cookie….balloon….playdoh figure…that you shared with our family with this year. We absolutely have a teenage boy on our hands. Finally, your hair is all the rage these days. It’s long, curly, and some days you don’t seem to have eyes – but it turns out that the ladies love it, and it fits you well. We no longer force haircuts on you, glad you are able to make the decisions that are right for you and that make you happy. We learned the hard way after your last forced hair cut for family pictures – and the photo evidence of the rage that ensues when a boy doesn’t like his hair cut. All in good fun.
Jace, you are a wonderful son. Smart, hardworking, determined, motivated, hard-headed at times, love to pick on your sisters, love to poke at and drive others nuts, have a good time making fun of your mom’s For You TikTok page, still a great conversationalist – you make me proud. Your dad and I are blessed by you.

To Jera, still my Jera-da-bera, my girl:
My sweet girl, you are 10 years old today and in the fifth grade. As I read over my previous year’s letters, your previous letters surprised me most. There are so many ways you’ve changed, but also so many beautiful ways you’ve stayed the same. You are still my tornado. This is part of who you are, and I want you to know that your dad and I are so proud of the person you are.
You are my lover of games. You’re always up for a game of charades, heads up, or whatever will bring us together acting silly and having a good laugh. One of my favorite memories is of us doing the scavenger hunt in the fall of 2021 at West Boggs Lake. You ran to each clue, read them aloud for us, and we’d be on to the next stop along the hunt. We had a blast. You have a passion for baking and cooking, with a natural curiosity about dishes that allows you to be creative and come up with meals and treats that are brand new.
The Christian concert we attended as a family last year was also your first, and I have loved seeing both your love for music and your faith grow. You attended the fall camp at Camp Illiana trough Redemption. You are naturally a homebody, and you were afraid to go to camp. Even with me there attending with you, you became homesick on the first night, missing your dad and your home. But I saw you pull through, make friends, sing, dance, run and act silly. I saw you listen and relate and grow in your faith. I also saw you zipline and ride the big swing (mom in tow)! That weekend is a blessing in my life that I will take with me forever. You were the first in our family to make the choice to be baptized. Without prior arrangements, without all of your friends or extended family present, without any special acknowledgement, you decided it was the day to begin your walk with Christ, and so you stepped out and asked to be baptized. You lead our family in ways that you don’t even realize, and this is one of the ways you lead. Thank you for your courage and faith. It is a blessing to our family.
You accomplished so many things over the past year, from Girls on the Run to Spell Bowl to Bowling League to participating in the Kinderchoir. You even had a speaking part in the Christmas Program and did a wonderful job. You don’t love being the center of attention (I’m starting to learn that you might even hate it a little), but when asked, you step up and you do it well. It makes me proud that you’re willing to try new things, and I love watching you find some that are a really good fit, like bowling. For your birthday this year, you asked for a microphone and then knocked my and your dad’s socks off as you recorded your own version of a song from Encanto. It was truly amazing. My hope for you is that your continue to do the things that you enjoy and use the special gifts God has given you.
You continue to be incredibly thoughtful, and you impressed me so much at the end of your 4th grade year when your spent you hard-earned school points to attend Jema’s class and read a book to her. Some other things you have loved over the past year are all things Halloween, Harry Potter, roller blading, riding your bike, attending the daddy-daughter dance with your dad, Stranger Things, the Black Phone (and all things spooky), Roblox and making edits, getting your first cell phone, music – all music from the 80s especially – and your pets, particularly Chip and Tony. You graduated from your expander and braces to a beautiful, grownup smile. We also had fun making snow ice cream over the winter and walking the square to find your art work, a beautiful, colorful ostrich.
Jera, I see you growing into yourself every day. You still have the best style, really cool hair, and an awesome sense of humor. You’re learning what little-girl things you are comfortable with leaving behind, and which ones you’d like to hold on to for a while longer. You’re introspective, often too hard on yourself, loving and kind – you make my life so much sweeter, and your dad and I are thankful for you every single day of our lives.

To Jema, OH-Jema, Jemmy, my baby:
Jema, you are three and just started your first year of preschool. Oh child, you are a pistol. You are a running, jumping, dancing, singing, screaming, giggling, whirl of a girl. This year has been completely full of firsts for you! You moved from a crib to a big-girl bed, mastered potty training, and somehow started pre-school. How did that happen???
Some things that you love right now are slime videos on YouTube, along with videos of veterinarians saving puppies (which make the rest of your family a little squeamish). You have loved dinosaurs over that past year, starting each morning watching Jurassic World Camp Cretaceous. However, I have seen that interest starting to wane, and in it’s place has been a love for Cocomelon, Pup Academy, Gabby’s Dollhouse, and Booba. You like spooky things, including Monster House and Hocus Pocus. You love holidays, birthdays, and celebrations, and you started asking me when Easter was going happen in August this year.
You want to be just like your bubby and sissy. You often steal Jera’s stuffed animals and blankets, much to her despair, and have named your bubble-blowing Powerwheels “dirt bike”. You are your mommy’s helper and are by my side whether we’re doing the dishes together, watering flowers, folding laundry, or working in the garden. I feel so blessed to share so many moments with you. I currently hear “I love you” approximately 300 times every single day, as our conversations tend to go something like this:
Jema: “Mommy.”
Me: “What?”
Jema: “I love you!”
Me: “I love you too!”
…5 seconds later…
Jema: “Mommy.”
Me: “Yeah?”
Jema: “I love you!”
…and so we go on…
You love jumping in “muddy puddles”, and each time it rains, you talk your dad or me into taking you for a walk so you can jump in each rain puddle along the way. I write “jump in each rain puddle”, but “jump, sit, roll, and lay in every rain puddle along the way” would be more accurate. You’ve become very social this year and love making friends with any child we come along. You then remind me each time we pass that particular park or house about the “best friend” you made there. You are so precious.
You love painting your fingernails and making daily trips to the playground. Each day when I come home from work, you insist we lay in the hammock together where we play doctor and dentist. Mostly, you continue to remind me to slow down and play. I’m so thankful for that. This past summer you spent a ton of time in your purple elephant pool and turtle sandbox in the backyard. You also enjoyed many trips Holiday World and the zoo. You absolutely adore animals. You insist we stop and pet every dog we see, and you follow each and every animal sighting with an “Awwwwweeee, I want one” comment. You obsess over watching bush babies on TikTok. You have a sharp little since of humor that makes it hard at times to believe you’re three. You’ve also dropped the “F-bomb” a few times, which is a first for me as a parent, and helps me to testify that raising a toddler around teenagers presents new challenges. Thankfully you follow up every foul-mouth faux paw with a “we don’t say bad words” statement…so I know that you know and are just testing your boundaries.
You make me laugh every day and keep life always exciting. Thank you for being a ray of sunshine in our lives. You are everything light and free in this world, and your dad and I are so thankful to spend this life with with you.

I would be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to say thank you to my husband who is my partner in this life, and is by my side every step of the way raising these amazing children. Everything good that I have in this life began when God placed us together, and so I am always so thankful for that.

Life is hectic. This year is the first time that I needed to take a full day off of work in order to make time to write this letter. Weeknights are filled with sports, homework, meetings, suppers, showers, and bedtimes, and weekends are filled with much of the same. We spend our time living life, and so don’t have much time to reflect. However, I encourage you, that reflection is important. So many of the little characteristics and traits that I caught in prior years’ letters are gone now. Like so many beautiful pieces in life, the memories fade and are replaced with the present moment. I have no doubt that when I sit to write in 2023, each of my kids will be a bit, if not totally different. And so, make time where there is none. Make time to remember, to record, to share life’s precious moments…or have them lost to time. For me, I’m so grateful for this little tradition that started on a whim six years ago, and for all of the happy memories that my writing has preserved.


An Open Letter to my Kids 2021

It’s late on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in September. The sun is shining, we’ve been to a cross country invitational, made tacos, I got in a run, and we squeezed in a movie as a family. What else is left to do but write? In past years, I’ve written this open letter in July, but here we are in September, and I’m finding the months just flying by. So here I am, a little late, but determined to leave behind these memories for me, for my children, for our family, and for whoever else enjoys sharing in our story.

I wrote my first open letter to my children in 2016. Jace was seven, Jera was was four, and Jema wasn’t even a twinkle in my eye. Our world has changed since then, and then changed again. We experienced life changing losses, met educational and professional goals, we fell apart a few times and rebuilt something stronger and more genuine each step of the way. We have survived a pandemic and are still battling through the environment created in that chaos. Through it all, I have realized that I have the most blessed life, one in which God has given me what my heart needs and desires most: a relationship with Him, a marriage with my soul mate, and the three best kids in the world. So five years after I first began, I can’t wait to capture the special moments over the past year and what makes every day imperfectly perfect in our lives.

For Jace, my son:

You are twelve years old today, but not for long. It’s difficult to believe we are on the cusp of having a teenage son. In the same breath, you are so mature, responsible, and wise beyond your years, that it also makes perfect sense. Funny how life can be set at such a juxtaposition, too fast and too slow, all at the same time. The past year has been a blast with you as you started middle school sports. You participate in cross country and wrestling, and your dad and I love to watch you compete. You work hard and push yourself, but you also value sportsmanship. You’re the first to be proud of your friends for their good finishes and matches. That makes me proud of you. Just last week, you ran in your first half marathon with a relay team and brought home second place. While the recognition was nice, seeing you accomplish something so monumental was simply unbelievable. You encouraged your teammates, cheered for them, and shared in the spirit of the sport.

You also excel in your school work. You put in the work and bring home good grades. I don’t have to check in on you to make sure you do your homework or study for exams, because you set high standards for yourself. You make this parenting thing too easy for your dad and me. We are so thankful for your work ethic. And speaking of work ethic, you’re still bringing in the cash mowing yard after yard in the neighborhood. You talk with our neighbors as you work with them, making sure their lawns are the right height, that you’re mowing on the days they prefer, and that they’re happy with your service. They often tell me what a good boy you are, and I couldn’t agree with them more. You are outstanding in so many ways, and I’m not sure why I was so blessed to be your mother, but I’m grateful.

Some of your favorite things are running, wrestling, steak, takis, Shameless, fishing, and riding your bike. You are still a type A kid and keep your room pretty neat and tidy. You’re independent and helpful, but best of all, you have a big caring heart. This year you began attending The Well at Redemption Church. This was a big change for you, and I’m so proud of the ways that you’ve made choices for your faith to bring you closer to God. I see you share your faith with your friends and family, and that makes me so incredibly proud of you. You don’t shy away from difficult conversations and express yourself in such a respectful way. I see in you a tolerance and understanding for others. You are an old soul.

Jace, you are a wonderful son, a strong and faithful young man, determined and strong-willed. Thank you for being you, and for all of the joy you bring into my life.

For Jera, my daughter:

Jera, you are nine years old today. I sometimes forget that you are so much younger than your brother and cousins, because you can run with the big kids without missing a step. Your humor and reserved nature sometimes make you seem tougher than you are, but then I see your sweet feelings hurt, and I am reminded just how tender and sensitive you are. That hidden softness, the quiet shyness that you keep tucked away, makes me love you even more (if that is possible). Over the past year you have continued to excel in academics. You make excellent grades and just tried out for the spell bowl team. You have continued to play piano and take singing lessons, and you bring me to tears as you share your songs with others in church. You have such a sweet and beautiful voice and getting to watch you use your talent is a special joy in my life. You ran in Girls on the Run for the first time this year. I was so grateful to get to be your coach and run in the celebration 5k with you. I will carry those memories with me for the rest of my life.

You are also the most amazing big sister. Jema absolutely adores you and mimics your every move (and word). Patience can be difficult for you, but not when it comes to Jema. I see you share with her, encourage her, laugh with her, show her grace and kindness…I see you blooming into a wonderful, sweet young woman, and you’re so beautiful. Your thoughtfulness is one of my favorite of your attributes. You will write notes to your dad, bring me a snack, plan surprises for those you love. You look forward to birthdays and holidays, planning what presents you will get for others to make their day special. You shine in giving to others, and it’s an honor to see this wonderful part of your soul.

You have continued your love for cooking, and you’ve recently been blowing my mind with your culinary treats. You’re creative when you cook, whipping up everything from specialty coffees to fancy pasta dishes. You like to cook on your own, but don’t mind me being your sous-chef and helping with some chopping and, of course, the dishes. I also get to be a taste tester…every job has it’s perks.

In this moment you love Harry Potter, fidget toys, everything Halloween, slime, your stuffed animals, pillows and blankets, Toca Boca, and scary movies. I’ve seen you grow in responsibility, remembering to do your chores most of the time and sticking to your budget when we school shopped this year. It made me so proud of you to see you pick and choose what you wanted most as you learned the value of money and just how quickly it goes. You picked some of the cutest things for the school year, and it was a joy to watch your fashion show when we got home. I love that you find joy in small treasures, like the tiny crocheted pumpkins you found at the “junk store” which are now proudly displayed on your vanity. You are also always the first to volunteer to lead our family in prayer. Your willingness to pray and trust in God is inspiring, and I appreciate that so much about you.

Jera, I love your sweet heart, your style, and all of the ways you surprise me and bring me joy every single day. I am so proud of you and thankful to call you my daughter.

To Jema, my baby:

Jema Mae, you are two years old today. You may be the baby, but my child, you are also the queen. You are a mix of sassy and sweet that often keeps us guessing, but also completely melts our hearts. There is nothing greater in this life than when you hold my hand, when you crawl into my lap, or ask me to rock you. Our nighttime routine these days includes rocking in your room, singing Amazing Grace, and then you promptly asking to be tucked in. You still have your entire family at your beck and call, with your dad and me, your brother and your sister waiting for your next new word, funny face, silly dance move, or whatever your energetic little self musters up. You love to jump off the furniture, down the steps, and run down the hallway at your absolute fastest. You are happy, joyous and free, and you bring such a bright light to our lives.

While you can be quite commanding when it comes to the remote control and which of your shows we are going to watch, you are also ridiculously laid back. You get carted around to piano lessons and cross country meets, to wrestling matches and camping trips, and you go with the flow each step of the way. You enjoy our many adventures and like seeing new people and places. You are such a good child in fact, that your dad and I revel in the fact that we got so lucky three times.

Your favorite things today are Monster House, dinosaurs, sidewalk chalk, bubbles, going for walks and to the park, Booba, and hanging with your big sister. You also love your brother, although you seem to enjoy giving him a hard time. You love coloring and make me laugh each and every time that you point out and tell me that you’ve colored the animal’s ‘butt’. You attend speech therapy weekly and of all the words you’ve learned, I get a kick out of fact that ‘butt’ is one you use often. You love your sessions with your speech therapist and always look forward to playing with her. We are amazed at the growth and many new words and phrases you’ve learned in the past few months. You are my sidekick and especially enjoy helping me to water the plants. You are a great little helper. You have such a cool little personality and getting to know you is an unexpected blessing for which I will be forever grateful.

Jema, the Jem, Jem-Bim, your dad and I love you so very much. Thank you for the many precious moments, the laughs, and for reminding us that God’s plan is so perfect. You are the last piece of our family puzzle, and you make us complete.

I can’t imagine what the next year will bring our family, and I choose not to spend too much energy thinking about that. Instead, I will keep my focus on today. On the sweet little dumpling sitting next to me, snacking on her graham cracker and asserting very clearly to me that the snack is “mine” and she will not be sharing. On the funny and gentle girl in her room redesigning her Toca Boca house for the ump-teenth time. On the young man kicking back relaxing downstairs after running his heart out this morning. And perhaps most importantly, on the man who made this life possible, my loving and kind husband. For today, everything is just right, and for that I thank God. If you took the time to read about my family today, I hope you will also take the time to tell yours just how special they are. When we have each other, we truly have everything.

Who Will You Be?

The drive to work is a crazy one. You see, I didn’t plan the spacing of my children well…actually, I didn’t plan the spacing of my children at all. So here I am, blessed with one middle-schooler, one elementary-schooler, and one toddler. My morning commute consists of a stop at the sitters, then waiting in line at the middle school to drop my son, and then carting over to the elementary school and waiting in line to drop off my daughter. Then I have about 15 minutes to cut across town in morning traffic and get to work. It’s a bit of a rat race without a doubt.

Full Back Seat, Full Heart

This morning as my 15-minute commute from school to home commenced, I approached a four-way stop that is inevitably always backed up with traffic. From my spot about 10 cars back, I could see a car stalled in the intersection with it’s caution lights blinking. I could see a young girl, standing nervously by her car. Slowly, each car drove around the pair, the young girl and her stalled vehicle, and went on their way. In that moment, I stopped and prayed for her…that she had help on the way, that her car would begin to work, that if I could be of service, I would have eyes to see how.

As I inched my way forward, a van stopped by the girl and traffic came to a halt. The vehicle blocked my view, and I couldn’t see what was happening. Minutes ticked by, and I figured the help I had prayed for had arrived. Then I heard a horn honk from another waiting vehicle, the van pulled away, and traffic began to flow.

As I pulled up to the stalled vehicle still sitting in the center of the intersection, a lady near my age stood awkwardly next to the car. I could read on her face the discomfort of standing in the middle of the street, so I rolled down my window and asked if I could help. She shared that the car belonged to a young girl. The girl had been standing next to her car crying, and some kind passer-by had stopped to pick her up and take her to get help. The woman had agreed to stand next to the car until someone could arrive to help move it.

As I pulled away I thought about the community we live in. I thought about how blessed we are to know that when our children have trouble, not one, but many good samaritans will step in to help. The truly incredible thing is that I don’t believe this is unique to my small town. The willingness to help, the love for a stranger, the ability to ignore one’s own discomfort to bring comfort to someone else, anyone else, these are traits of our human race. We don’t give credit often enough for the kindness and goodness in each of us.

Photo by Carl Attard on

I couldn’t help but think about the person who honked their horn. I assume they could see the same scene that I saw and make the same assumptions that I had made. We saw someone having a very bad morning. I imagined that perhaps the “honker’s” job doesn’t have understanding or flexibility if they happen to run late, or they have an appointment that is vital and they must be on-time, or they have a child in the car about to be tardy because they can’t move in traffic. The truth is there could be about a million reasons that the person felt so rushed that they had to honk their horn.

I also thought that maybe, just maybe, the person was habitually late, that maybe they had been late so many times, that this time would be the time they would get in trouble, that their prior choices had placed them in a position where they couldn’t have eyes to see the needs of others. I’ve been that person too. Perhaps this day is God’s way of reminding them to take control of the days that go smoothly, get out of bed on time, approach the day with sanity, because there will be other days when circumstances are beyond our control…and on those days, we want to have eyes that see beyond ourselves.

I thought about all of the players in the story…

The young girl in need, relying on the kindness of strangers.

The passer-by, whose plans changed because they had eyes that could see another’s need.

The woman who stood next to a stranger’s car in the middle of traffic just to be kind.

The person in the car honking their horn because they couldn’t see beyond themselves

And me, the witness to these events.

I could have driven by this scene, not seen these people, certainly I didn’t have to share this story with you. But what I saw this morning was God’s work in our lives, and how can I keep that to myself?

And now, I ask you, who will you be when this story plays out in front of you?

Will you be the person who stops and prays?

Will you stop and help?

Will you stand uncomfortably in the crowd?

Will you witness and share?

Or will you rush by unseeing? Are you living your life in a way to prepare you to have the time and spirit to stop and see?

No one is perfect. Heaven knows I become impatient, that I’m notoriously late at all times, that being kind under pressure is a minute-by-minute struggle for me. We’re not designed to be perfect. I do believe we’re capable of seeing blessings in every moment, the good, the bad, and the stressful. My hope is that I can learn in every moment the lesson that is being laid out for me, that I can always recognize my part, and that I’m always blessed with eyes that see.

The Poet’s Soul

It exposes layers, the unknown deep
Behind stain-glassed windows and the secrets that we keep

It’s asks no audience but yet is somehow seen
It shows itself in colors and all the beautiful things

It shows the world parts that had remained unseen
A glimpse of God’s glory, a hint of a dream

You know when you’ve met, because you know when it’s gone
Your life a bit brighter, your heart a bit torn

It provides a window, a smooth reflective glass
Pulls back the curtain, takes down the mask

Kinder, softer, more honest and true
A poet’s soul cuts through the surface so that heaven shines through

It’s in the Breaking

The day is beautiful but does not capture my breath

The night is bold, but is my solemn place of rest

It is that space in between when night breaks to day

It is the change from dark to light that takes my breath away

Such is the way with this life that runs from day to night

I don’t appreciate my battle during the dark enduring fight

and I don’t feel my joys at the top of the highest crest

It’s in breaking from dark to light when God gives my soul rest

The time in between when I trust in him and let him carry me

He awakens my spirit, washes my soul, and in his hands I’m finally free

Sunday morning inspiration

An Open Letter to my Kids 2020

Another year has passed since I last wrote my annual letter to my kiddos to capture all of the beauty that they are in this moment in time. The end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 have, without a doubt, been the most difficult and strangest times in our lives, but there has also been laughter, hope, love and as with all difficult things, immeasurable growth. Over the past year, we have faced the loss of my mother-in-law after her battle with cancer. That loss was devastating to our family and as we coped, we found ourselves at ground floor, trying to figure out what this next phase of life would look like for us. We fell hard, facing trials I had never dreamed of, but we found our way and are stronger, more sincere, authentic, and humbled in this life because of the trials.

In the midst of these changes, the world changed too. Covid-19 entered our lives and changed just about everything. The kids were e-learning, I was working from home, our baby never left the house and the busyness of life came to a sudden halt. There in the silence, in the calm, in the void, I found my little family…Phil, Jace, Jera and Jema…and as different as the world was and is, we’re still the same. We share the same love, the giggles are the same, and the screaming and yelling matches between Jace and Jera…those are the same too.

When everything else in life seemed to fail us, we still had every single thing we needed in each other, and for that, I am forever grateful. So today, I sit on my front porch on a very hot and humid July day. Birds are chirping, someone is weedeating, there’s a pesky fly making his presence known. Life moves forward at a steady pace. Tomorrow is uncertain…what will school look like, what will work look like, will we get sick, will we have the groceries, the medicine, the household goods that we’re used to? These are the things that I don’t know. So I’ll write on what I do know…my three wonderful, beautiful, amazing children. Here goes my open letter 2020…

Jace –

My son, you are 11 years old today. You, my dear, are quite simply one of my favorite people in the entire world. You are my sidekick in so many things since we share many interests and often think the same way about things. Whether it’s going on a run together, challenging ourselves with a long bike ride, walking the dogs, or watching a favorite show together, time with you is easy. You are an unbelievable comfort in this life. I’m so thankful for you.

Last year you joined travel wrestling. You are a late entrant into the sport, starting for the first time in the school’s league in the fourth grade. You did well and were excited to compete at the club level. It was a tough year for you, wrestling boys who had built technique and skills over several years, but you persevered tourney after tourney, pulling out a few wins. Even in the losses, you always gave your best effort. That made me so proud of you. What your dad and I saw was growth, physical growth as the sport packed muscle on your body where there was once none, and mental strength as you learned to compete and dig deep for motivation. You faced some difficult things in your life over the past year, and what I learned about you is that you’re such a strong person, clear in your convictions, kind and forgiving, but always willing to stand up for what you believe is right. I can see already that this will be an area of great strength for you as you grow into an adult.

Some of the things that you love right now are Fort Nite, remote control cars, and working to make money. You can be stubborn and hard-headed, but you can also be thoughtful and reasonable. You love your animals (Rusty, Tony and Chip). You still love to fight and argue with your sister, Jera. I find it hard not to intervene in your play fights since I know they often end in tears, but I’ve also found that what looks like torture to mom just happens to be fun to the two of you. You love to play with your baby sister, Jema, and you’re so responsible with with her. That makes me very proud of you.

It is a great joy to be your parent. You are in fact so responsible, that I have to sometimes remind you just to be a kid, not to worry about adult things, and to enjoy this special time in your life. Thank you for always being such a cool kid, for your humor, for your deep and loving soul, for all of the wonderful things that make you Jace, my number one son.

Jera –

You are eight years old today. My child – you are still the beautiful tornado that I’ve written of in years passed. This past year has again brought so many changes from you. The little girl I saw a year ago has grown into a young lady. Sometimes you are hyper-aware of this growth, fiddling with hair and makeup perhaps a little too advanced for your age…and other times, it takes a moment for you to remember how much you’ve grown. I smile to myself when I see you holding on to little girl ways. It’s a blessing to snag those moments when I can.

You, my girl, are so silly. You still love tickle time and insist that I drop everything regardless of what I have going and tickle you until you can’t take it anymore. Your laugh and smile are contagious and even when I go into these tickle sessions tired or weighted down from life, I find myself getting lost in your joy. You bring out the kid in me and I appreciate that so much. That is a gift in my life. I’ve see a few phases pass you by this year, from Disney’s Descendants to Zombies to your latest obsession, Miraculous Lady Bug. You also love Boy Meets World and have watched all seasons from beginning to end. This year you’ve tackled gymnastics, voice lessons and piano. It’s fun to watch you challenge yourself and grow.

You are smart and quick-witted. I think you get your sense of humor from your dad, and I absolutely love that. His humor is what I’ve always loved most about him, and to see that grow in you, is a blessing in my life. You’re fast with the unexpected…I never quite fully have you figured out. I’ve found a pattern where if I say black, you say white. This part of our relationship teaches me patience and to always keep an open mind. I love the way you think about life, the things that are important to you, the parts that you share with others, and the parts that you tuck away. You are a special, joyous and free soul, and I’m thankful to walk beside you in this life…even if I often feel like I have to run to keep up with you.

You love picking on your brother, starting arguments and biting off more than you can chew. You love, absolutely love your baby sister. You are so good with her and often selfless in your relationship with her that it warms my heart. You share your most prized positions with her and you don’t think twice about it. Your generosity with others makes me so proud of you.

Thank you for keeping things interesting, for being so loving and fun, for never letting the world weigh you down. You are like a spark…bright, beautiful, fast and forever lighting up my life.

Jema –

You are a year and a half old today, and life is never boring with you around. You are still in a time of so many firsts, and each one is so amazing and exciting. You have the art of waving goodbye down, and you do it in the most special and adorable way, waving both hands around in the air, all five fingers stretched out. Oh gosh, and your hellos…your hellos are everything in the world that my heart desires. When I arrive at the end of the work day to pick you up, you’re standing in the doorway both hands raised, waving away and then you run into my arms. That moment, each and every time it happens is a God-given gift.

You love your baby dolls, which tickles me. Each one seems special to you, and you will take time to deliver every single one from place to place throughout the house. You also like cars and music. Your favorite show is Blippi, and your dad and I are amazed that you sit and watch it at full attention. You also love Mickey Mouse, Blues Clues and Bluey. Your brother, sister and I get the biggest kick out of watching you dance to the music in the car. We giggle each and every time you bounce in your seat, kicking your feet and banging your head. You’ve got moves. You can say many words…mama, dada, bubba, Jera, kitty cat…but you prefer to point and usually have an army awaiting your next request. Between your brother, sister, cousins and grandparents, I wonder if you’ll ever want for anything. I don’t think that you will.

Your dad and I often marvel over your serious nature. You have a wonderful laugh, which is usually brought on by chasing the cat or dogs around the house, but many times we find you thinking about the world around you. You can’t tell us yet, but it seems to us that you’re figuring it all out. You babble endlessly in your own language, and I know, if I could understand, you’d be telling me you have the world’s worries all figured out, or maybe you’d be telling me you just tried some dog food and it wasn’t half bad…because we’ve caught you doing just that.

I’m sure you’ll continue to find that being the baby comes with it’s perks, namely being that we don’t sweat the small stuff with you. In the summer, you seldom have shoes on, and some days we’re lucky if you’re clothed. We didn’t push learning to crawl or walk or sit around with flash cards trying to get you to speak. No, for us, we find joy in seeing you content, feeling the grass between your toes, moving through life at your own pace, and experiencing every single moment as it comes to you and no sooner. You, my Jem-the-Bem-the-Boom-Boom-Bang, have the longest nickname for one, but also have joined me in life and made my priorities very clear. Thank you for bringing into focus what a gift each moment of this life really is, helping me to see how quickly it all passes, and teaching me that joy is found in the ordinary moments.

As I reflect on my children over the past year, I can’t help but think about the year to come. What I’ve found is that there is no way we could possible know what’s in store for us. So I will be thankful for this day, for this moment, for the love and joy I can bring to the lives around me. The rest…the rest I will put in God’s hands.

Words Redeem Us

Tonight at midnight, my family was supposed to wake up and hit the road. We were going to have the car already packed, put our three sleeping babies in the backseat and start a journey from the chilly southern Indiana spring to sunny Panama City Beach, Florida. Sand, sun and the Hafeles…it sounds so nice. I would have never dreamed two weeks ago deep into our vacation planning that instead of a beach dream, we’d be cooped up at home, afraid to go to the grocery store or to talk to our friends and neighbors.

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on

Life in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic is anything but normal. Schools are closed and our children are learning online for the foreseeable future. Restaurants have closed to diners and are only providing carry out. The grocery store shelves are empty as people panic and have started to stock up on dry and canned goods. There are no sports, no activities, no parties. I don’t recognize this life, and it is scary. But I don’t have to tell you all of this…because you are living this new life too.

In these times, how do we ground ourselves? How do we face the unknown? My devotional this week stated, “Who we really are, what we truly believe, is always evidenced in turmoil. Good and bad, the future must come. God’s children must grow.”

Just a month ago, before China and Italy were in the news, before the word Coronavirus was the center of every headline, before anyone had ever heard of “social distancing”, I had a conversation with a friend. We talked about the importance of knowing our core values, those values that define our innermost motivations. We talked about how knowing and identifying these values can lead us to consistently be true to ourselves regardless of circumstance.

I had heard all of this before. I’m a self-help junkie, so I’ve read the books, listened to the podcasts, understood the concepts, and tried to put this very idea into action in my own life. But to my own confusion, I had not had much success. I could never quite connect my values to the tough conversations and circumstances in my personal or professional life. I couldn’t make my values work in my every day life.

My friend asked me what my values were. Immediately words started to fall out of my mouth. I believe in hard work…in being kind always…in always doing my very best…and on and on. He asked me how I could apply these things to a difficult conversation I had just been through, and again, I was stumped. I just couldn’t translate these values to my life. I left the conversation a little frustrated with myself, but excited. I knew I was missing something. I needed to dig deeper.

It hit me! These values I had identified…hard work, kindness, doing my best…these weren’t values at all. These were the symptoms or results of my values. So I had to ask myself, what are my actual values? What are my words? What drives me to work hard, to be kind, to do my best? What is going on in my soul to make these things so important in my life?

Eek! I had a project! So I did what any nerd does…I began to look up words in a thesaurus. The words that I felt like described me and that I believed in…I looked up synonyms and antonyms….I made lists….I wrote pages of words. And then I slept on it.

I woke up the next day and looked at my page of words. They didn’t work. There was no spark in these words for my inner feelings and drive. I knew I had to start again and this time, rely on my own mind and leave the internet on it’s own. Yes, I know, shocking….there are some things the internet can’t do. It can’t tell us who we are. We have to uncover that on our own. I was able to find a great article on a process to follow to uncover your values, and I recommend it to anyone looking to find the same meaning I have found in this exercise:

I followed the process I had read about online, and I wrote words upon words. Then I slept and took these words and put them into groups. Many of the words were similar or related in some way. Once the words were broken into groups, I looked for the word in each group that stood out to me, that I connected with most. And there, on the page were five words. Five words that perfectly spoke to who I am, what I believe in and what drives me: grace, gratitude, purpose, joy, and potential.

I write about this exercise in values because I had no idea a month ago how vital these words would become in this crazy life we’re living. I cannot count the number of times I’ve found myself panicked, scared, upset, worried, unsure…and I’ve been able to fall back on one of these words to ground me in the moment, to guide me back to who I am, to bring peace to those around me, to see the good.

My Core Values

Grace – Grace first, for myself and for others.

Gratitude – A deep gratitude for each and every beautiful, dark or mundane moment God has put in my path.

Purpose – The boldness to live with the purpose my creator has designed just for me, and the courage to lead others to do the same.

Joy – To approach every moment in joyful celebration of life’s abundant blessings.

Potential – The determination to continually seek out undiscovered potential within myself and within others.

If you find yourself swimming in the chaos of the current world, you are not alone. It’s hard to know how to move forward in such uncertain times. Knowing our core values, knowing what defines us, understanding those unique qualities given to you by your creator, centering yourself in those words, I assure you these things will carry you through.

Your words will look different than mine, because what makes you wonderful and beautiful is unique to you. I encourage you to take some time to focus on your words, because our values will be what carry us through this time. I’ve seen this play out in our community as my co-workers order lunch every day to support our small businesses, as our local companies create programs to protect and support their employees, as our school systems work to educate and feed our children even outside of the traditional school setting, as our internet companies provide free wifi to children so they can continue to learn…all of these actions…these are humans connecting with their values.

What will your list look like? What words will you rely on?

You have purpose, and it is in the darkest times that that purpose shines. Shine on. Let our words redeem us, define us, lead us. “We know all things work together for good for those who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

With my values tucked safely in my heart, I am moving forward day by day, enjoying my family, taking this time to love every moment and just be thankful. I hope you can do the same.

Soul Mates?

My husband and I will celebrate 13 years of marriage in a few days. It’s strange that there are ways in which it feels a lot longer than that…like can I even remember what life was like without this man by my side? Then there are different ways where these 13 years feel like the blink of an eye…and I’m still 17 and just excited to be cruising gravel roads with this good-looking guy riding shotgun in my Camaro. Gosh, even that thought, that picture of us fresh-faced in my mind’s eye, makes me blush and smile. Those really were the days…

I was talking with a friend, and we were chatting about if relationships, life partners if you will, are predetermined. Do you have a soul mate or could you have ended up with someone else and still be happy in marriage? Are you happy with your partner because it was predetermined that you belong with them…or could you have made a happy life with anyone?

For my readers, I’m sure it’s not hard to guess which side I fell on. I believe we are made with a soul mate in mind for us, someone you belong with. My friend, who is also in a happy marriage, thinks that we can make a happy life with other people, as long as you and your partner would be devoted to doing just that.

Who knows which one of us may be right, but what I have found over the course of my relationship is that a happy marriage comes from the choice. Even with the right person, the wrong choices can lead you to some very difficult places. So happiness in relationship comes from the recognition that you have the choice to stay or to go…to love or leave…to encourage or to break down your partner. A happy marriage comes from choosing to show up and bring your best to your relationship every single day.

There are points in every marriage where circumstances and problems cause spouses to review their marriage. Challenges come without fail. There are tough times. We can find ourselves wondering what life would be like on our own. We may try to figure out if we could do it on our own. Could we survive…financially, emotionally? If we make that determination in the midst of a tough season in our marriage it may bring us comfort that we could do it on our own, but I think that that very thought is the crux of every downfallen relationship. Thoughts become things, so we have to guard our thoughts bravely and fiercely when it comes to our relationships.

For me as an individual and in my marriage, I know that I’m a strong person. I know I am capable of hard work and that I’m even tougher than I realize. But I also see that my life would look so drastically different on my own and without my marriage, that I never want to “make it” on my own. I never want to wake up and face this life without my husband.

Everyday is not perfect. Every moment is not easy. But every day I choose my husband all over again, and he chooses me. Part of what makes that choice easier, better and more fulfilling, even on the hard days, is that I have come to learn, believe, and know that he, just like I, wants what is best for both of us and for our family. This knowledge…the knowledge that we want what is best for one another and for our family…it allows me to always see the best in him. Paired with my ability to choose to show up in my marriage, I am left with hope, happiness and fulfillment.

These thoughts allow me to stop and recognize the beautiful quiet moments. The moments when he helps our daughter to shower and brush her hair. The moments when he picks up our son and takes him to a car show on a whim or when he dresses our little baby daughter in her pjs and gets her ready for bed. It’s in the moments when he washes the dishes, takes out the trash, picks me flowers, makes our bed, stops me in the kitchen and just gives me a hug that I see the best in my husband. I see my life’s happiness and it fills my heart to the brim…so much so, that the thought of living without all of those little, but big, things…even the thought of living without that…is too much to bear.

I don’t know if I’m right or wrong about this soul mate thing. What I do know is that my heart feels so woven into who this man is, who we are together, and what we have that I never want to face this world without him. I know that if he was not by my side, I would feel as though I lost a part of myself, my heart no longer whole. As we celebrate 13 years, as we work to raise these three beautiful children together, as we continue to grow as individuals and as a couple, I will choose my husband in every single moment, to see the very best in him, and to be thankful that, predetermined or not, he is mine.

The End

Grief is action

It’s doing whatever it takes.

Being there.

It’s the crossing of every boundary.

Grief is wanting more time, but wishing for the end.

It’s letting another’s peace come before your own.

It’s the forgetting of self, the end of everything small and petty, the epitome of love and understanding.

Grief is waiting.

It’s saying goodbye.

It’s feeling like it will never end, but yet like it’s all moving too fast.

Grief is the quiet moments.

It’s the promises made.

It’s facing the end and learning to live without a part of your heart.

Grief is a wash of gray, a numbness.

It’s feeling fine and devastated.

It’s feeling thankful and angry.

It’s the silent prayers, the one-way conversations.

Grief is the tears, the robber of sleep, the stealer of joy.

It is the slow, burning longing inside to go back, even if for just a moment.

It’s knowing things will never be the same.

It’s not knowing what to do, what to say, how to act.

Grief is feeling lost, alone in a sea of people.

It’s the painful feeling that comes with the memories, the images of a face you can no longer touch, the feeling of the hand you can no longer hold.

It’s the heartache, a heavy weight.

Grief is a time. It’s a place. It’s an ocean with no horizon.

Grief is unnerving, unapologetic, a quiet lamb and a ferocious beast.

It is the end of life.

It is an unfinished story.

Grief is watching the world pass you by for a while.

It’s having no idea of how to move forward, but knowing you will.

Grief is a moment at a time.

When There Are No Words

How does one write about the end of a life well lived?

How do I write about a person who burned more brightly than words can describe, who loved deeply and honestly, who had a zest for life that translated to anyone that was lucky enough to share a moment with her?

How do I put into words a woman who was strong and brave? For those of us who watched her journey with cancer over the past three years, we came to understand the true depth of Roberta’s strength and determination as she fought for more time with the family she loved so much.

I can tell you she was always the life of the party, with all of the dance moves. She was a woman who could make you laugh when you wanted to cry and who would be there for you all the way, a woman who loved her friends and family fiercely, deeply and honestly. Roberta was soft, gentle and kind. She wouldn’t take less than she deserved, and wouldn’t allow those around her to do so either.

How do I write about Roberta…how do I capture my friend in a way that honors such an incredible life? How do I tell you about the way Roberta loved? I can share about the way she gave the best hugs. That kind of hug is the one that my heart yearns for today. I can tell you that she had a way of pulling you in so snuggly, wrapping you in her love, leaving you with a kiss every single time, and the simple, comforting knowledge that someone in the world loves you for just the person that you are.

How do I tell you about the laughter, so much laughter and light? Roberta lit up the room with her beautiful smile and a presence that made life so much more fun. What are the words that will tell of the moments of love, kindness, humor, and understanding that are countless? Where are the words that tell of the kind of life Roberta lived, and the kind of person she was?

I can start by recounting the many blessed and loving relationships. For my mother-in-law, Roberta, there were many.

Perhaps the relationship I admire most in Roberta’s life is the 40-year marriage full of love, respect, kindness and care with her husband, Tim. I saw in my in-law’s marriage a patience for one another, the knowledge that neither individual was perfect, but together they created a perfect balance. Him reserved where she was open, her soft in the places he was tougher and vice versa. They shared a certain playfulness with one another, facing this life with a humor that made the good times even greater, and that made the difficult times a little easier to bear. Their lifetime together that began with a little tennis match would grow to include a shared passion for supporting their children and then grandchildren, and giving them a foundation of love, hard work, joy and acceptance. Over the last few years and then even more so in the past few weeks, I had the privilege of witnessing the strength of Tim and Roberta’s bond. I heard Tim say he knew Roberta was the one from that first date. I saw how blessed they were to share this life, and that they were the best thing to ever happen to each other. Their love, their deep commitment to one another, is something that continues on beyond this world, beyond this life.

Then there was the relationship with her children, the patient, tender way she loved her daughter and son, always understanding and appreciating them for the people that they are. She just “got” them in the way only a mother does. What I learned from Roberta, what I saw that made her so incredibly special as a mother, was the way she truly wanted her children to be happy in this life. Not in the easy way of happiness, not in the material things, but in the difficult way. She wanted happiness for them in the way that only comes from following your heart, sometimes away from the things others may expect from them, but towards the people God designed them to be. Roberta only asked of her children to be authentically themselves, knowing that is the only path that would lead them to a happy and fulfilled life. She accepted them, she loved them, and she celebrated them as God made them, and I only hope I can be the same kind of mom for my own children, Roberta’s grandchildren.

Roberta’s relationship with her grandkids was also a special one to watch. She came so far from the day over eleven years ago when she thought maybe she was “too young to be a grandma.” Well, she was right. Roberta was never a “grandma”. She was our one and only Mamaw Birdie and she cherished every moment with her grandchildren. She was there for all the moments, for births, birthday parties, preschool graduations, ball games and school programs, for holiday traditions, and for big celebrations. Most importantly, Mamaw Birdie was there for the small everyday moments. She was there to give love, attention and just to hold her grand babies. This is one of my last memories of Roberta. In her last days, when her legs were too weak to carry her, when her speech had failed her, when her energy was so limited, she held out her hands to hold her tiny grand baby, and she held her granddaughter tightly to her chest. I will take that moment with me forever.

There was the bond with her siblings, the laughs, the stories, a special connection that develops only after sharing a lifetime together. Every family gathering is filled with stories of childhood memories, of teenage shenanigans, of the joint learning of raising young families together. A few new stories have been laid on me this week, like the way Roberta would make her younger siblings lick the bottom of her foot as a punishment when they were little (and I can only imagine what her baby brother did to deserve that!). When life got tough for Roberta or when she had a joy to share, her brothers and sister were the first she’d want to share with. I loved watching them together, giving one another a hard time about…well about everything, and loving one another hard. My mind takes me to a place where I can only imagine what Curt and Betty witnessed as parents with this crew of rambunctious, fun and loving children. Roberta, being the oldest, was often a source of strength for her siblings. She understood what each of them needed and was there for them without hesitation. Roberta knew how to stand next to someone, to kindly hold their hand or to nudge them in the right direction when needed (gently or more directly in the “Bert” sort of way). She gave guidance throughout life’s many ups and downs. Roberta understood exactly how to be a friend.

There is nothing I could write that would capture the character of Roberta Lee Hafele. The are no words that can explain what she meant to her family and friends, to those of us that were lucky enough to love her in this life. I began this by asking how one writes about the end of a life well- lived. The answer is that I don’t. I don’t write about the end, because for a life like Roberta’s, there is no end. Roberta lives on in our hearts. She shares a part of our souls. She continues on in the stories and memories that we share. We have no doubt that Roberta is saving a seat for each of us in heaven, her favorite music playing, the dance floor cleared, ready to meet us again when it’s time. Until that day, we hold on to the abundance of love she gave during her life here on earth, and we all carry a piece of Roberta…of “Bert”…of “Otis”…or to me, of Mamaw Birdie…we carry her with us, changed for the better because she is there tucked away within our hearts.