When a simple introduction has immeasurable results…

“Hi, my name is Holly.”

Such a simple phrase.

I learned the proper way to introduce myself from an early age. There was never a time in my life that my parents taught me how to project confidence, kindness, and respect while introducing myself to people.

I grew up in a pastor’s home, and I likely watched my parents introduce themselves to thousands of people throughout my childhood. I didn’t know what I was learning at the time, but many of those simple introductions were the start of lifelong friendships and amazing things God wanted to do all over the world.

It was not until the past few years year that I have seen how indeed life transforming learning to say that powerful phrase of introduction could be in the lives of people and in the work that the Lord wants to accomplish in His Kingdom.

Five years ago, I transitioned to the role of Benevolence Coordinator for my large church that at the time had two campuses in our city, both with a majority middle and upper class white membership.

In this new position I found myself doing things I had never done before and quite frankly did not feel qualified to do.

The duties of this new job were unfamiliar photo(25)territory…

      • supervising a food pantry where most of our guests were Spanish speakers
      • answering benevolence phone calls from desperate people from all over our city
      • sitting in my office listening to the cries of newly divorced women in our church who didn’t know how they could start over after being a stay at home mom for ten years
      • helping at our Christmas toy give away events where most of our guests did not have the same skin color as those who were volunteering at the event itselfSELRES_236cf629-f23d-49ee-b5f4-177b15eee335SELRES_834fac38-c420-4b2a-ae02-9b7c94684a2dSELRES_54a41889-7596-44d6-b74a-c2b58fbee54aSELRES_0b2882d1-aaeb-4f64-a608-4b5d353de9b7SELRES_ac1e28b0-44a2-4b47-a422-a36d37da4b6bSELRES_6a94e785-f8b2-4dbf-87da-d2beb4bcf016

Though I was meeting literally thousands of people from all over our city through my job, I knew that there was more that could be…in fact should be done. I had the answer for their spiritual poverty, but I knew that through my countless hours of working to help them, they were not finding lasting hope for the physical poverty they were experiencing here on earth.

Ephesians 3:20 had become my battle cry before I took this job.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us”

I was working as a Kids Director for my church where I had helped launch our second location in the city. Through this job, I had seen God do amazing things as we began to have a vision to take the hope of the Gospel message to other locations in our city through starting new churches.

DSC_0135I was neck deep in the work that was required for a church Kids Director and being a momma of 2 young children.  What I thought was a just quick lunch break from work to grab a sandwich became a life changing moment.  A “chance” encounter with a black woman who appeared out of place, confused, and hungry staring at the Subway menu started my heart on a journey.

I stuck out my hand to this woman and said,”Hi, my name is Holly, can I help you?”

A quick handshake and introduction turned into lunch together, a 30 minute conversation, and me driving her home.  I drove back to work at the church, and I clearly heard the Lord tell me that there was more He wanted to do in and through me for the Kingdom.

“More. Holly more. I want you to do immeasurably more than you can imagine.”

What I didn’t understand at the time was that more indeed meant less by earthly terms of number of people I “helping” by meeting physical needs. The results would be immeasurably more not by means of earthly data, because God has a Kingdom accounting system that has a running tab from generation to generation.

Over the next couple of months my church transitioned me to the role of Benevolence coordinator where I was soaking in all the new things I was learning about ministering to the down and out of our city.

I began reading everything I could get my hands on about best practices of how to truly lift people out of physical poverty. I sent emails to other churches asking questions. I picked up my “Poverty and Justice” Bible again and began reading every passage in the Bible about poverty and injustice. My days were filled with reading and rereading books like “When Helping People Hurts,” “Toxic Charity,” and any words of John Perkins.

After two years of leading in my role as Benevolence coordinator and learning from books and people about best practices in Benevolence, our church made the difficult decision to shut down our food and clothing pantry.

Not long after we shut down the food pantry, I was speaking at a women’s event telling a crowd of women about the mission opportunities available through our church. Part of the call to action was the fact that I was praying for an army of business professionals to help me put into action the vision that God had laid on my heart. A vision for the beacon of hope I knew the church could be for hurting families across our city.

(and I’m not referring to a building or a certain church…when I say church I am talking about the thousands of people in my city that meet at different churches on every corner in my city…that church)

At the end of the evening, a confident lady dressed in her professional attire which included heels a few inches high, v-lined up to the front where I was mingling. She stuck out her hand and said, “Hello, my name is Angela. I’m new here but I think I can help you figure out that Jobs ministry you were speaking about.”

It took over a year for all the people and connections to fall into place, but a year ago we started our first Jobs for Life session, and last night was the graduation ceremony of our fourth session.

Jobs for Life is designed to intentionally bring together people who would otherwise never be in the same room. Though from the outside it may look like it is about successful business people helping people who have roadblocks to employment find work, the ultimate purpose of the class can only be fully understand when you sit in a class from Session 1 to Session 16 when the students graduate.

The heart of the Gospel is the foundation of Jobs for Life. We are all indeed broken people trying to make our way through a broken world. However, the power of the Gospel message can break the chains shackling us to the brokenness and offer hope both for life here on Earth and for eternity. The Gospel compels us to see people through a different lens, breaking through the stereotypes and biases that we all have formed in our minds because of our own pasts and life experiences.

The starting point of Jobs for Life is the admission that we are ALL broken, yet still God created us and chooses to use us ALL in our brokenness for Kingdom purposes.  The end goal…well I have discovered that it is teaching people to be vulnerable and introduce themselves.

A few weeks ago we had a business leaders panel in our midpoint session of Jobs for Life.

It had been a normal Monday for me. Mondays are my long day at work as a I prep for the week ahead, plan with my team, and make sure all is ready for the volunteers that lead the Monday evening classes.

We had invited business people from all over our city to come share with our mentors and students about their work and how God uses them for the Kingdom in their work. It is always one of my favorite sessions.

The evening ended, and as I was beginning to clean up the room the Lord stopped me in my tracks. He allowed me to witness a moment that will forever be one of my favorite memories of Jobs for Life.

A determined young 22-year-old black man from what some in our city deem as “the bad part,” walked up to a successful young white business owner from another part of the city. With great confidence, the black man stuck out his hand and said to the white man, “Hello. My name is De’Shawn.”

Two men from different parts of the city making introductions to each other with no regard to skin color or where they happen to live in our city.

This moment will forever be treasured in my mind as a portion of the “immeasurably more” that God wanted me to be a part of for His kingdom.

A confident introduction

A strong handshake

A conversation that would otherwise never have happened had the stage not have been set for God to work in that room in that old church building in a part of our city that would be called “unsafe” by many who live in our city.

Last night at our Jobs for Life graduation, I told the room full of students, volunteers, and guests that my prayer is not just for the students in the room but for their children and grandchildren.

My prayer is that for generations to come, the students of Jobs for Life will be remembered as the person in their families that put the stake in the ground and decided to center their family on the truth of the Word of God and the blessing that comes from using their gifts and talents and work for the Kingdom here.

Immeasurably more.

Indeed, this is so much more than I could have ever imagined when I shook the hand of that sweet lady in Subway five years ago.

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“Here I am Lord”….

My mom tells me I was in Sunday School on day 3 of my life.

I do not doubt that one bit.

It doesn’t surprise me that just a few days after pushing out a 10 pound 4 ounce baby Holly that my mom dropped me off in the church nursery and was back to playing the organ for worship or teaching a Sunday School class, or singing in the choir, or whipping up a Sunday lunch for a couple of dozen people, or whatever her “Here I am Lord” was for that day.

I come from a long line of women who wake up in the morning, read the Scriptures, and say to their Maker “Here I am Lord.”

This morning I read a story I likely heard taught a hundred times as a child.  The story of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus was a popular one in my childhood when teachers used flannel boards instead of YouTube movies to teach (The trained teacher in me loves both of these by the way…both are great pedagogy…long live the flannel board)

Here I am Lord

As often happens when I read Scriptures, one part of the story illuminated in my mind this morning.

Usually when I read this chapter of the book of Acts, I am awestruck by the story of Paul.  I am in awe of how God can take the worst of the worst and transform them and use them for His glory.

I know a lot of apostle Paul fans out there because his story gives us hope for the miraculous in a world filled with evil and hate.

This morning the phrase in this story that caused me to stop in my tracks was “Here I am Lord.”

This was Ananias’ response to the Lord calling his name that morning.

“Here I am Lord.”

Here I am.  Man if only Ananias knew the request that would follow.

Would he have been so quick to respond to the Lord calling His name if he knew the unthinkable that the Lord was going to ask him to do that day?

I was pondering this as I ate breakfast with my kids this morning discussing a book we are going through together on Friday mornings.

As the four year old reminded us over and over how boring the book is, I kept talking to my teens about Habit 3 “Putting First Things First.”

As we looked at a chart in the book “7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens,” I was reminded of Ananias’ “Here I am Lord” and I began talking about my morning Bible reading with the kids.

comfort and courage

What if Ananias had stayed in his comfort zone that day?

What if he instead acted on the “but Lord” that he responded with after God gave him his instructions for that day?

How many times had Ananias said “Here I am Lord” and God’s instructions were in his comfort zone?  Within his skill set?  Something he felt qualified to do?  Something that made sense in the world’s eyes?

If Ananias is anything like me, often the Lord’s daily instructions for me are in my comfort zone.  They make sense.  I feel qualified.  I am not scared to death of having said “Yes, Lord.”

I wonder what Ananias was expecting the Lord to request of him that day.

The Bible doesn’t give us many details about Ananias.  We know so much of Paul’s life after this story.

But what about Ananias?

Does he know that his “Here I am Lord” that morning would result in millions of Gentiles being ushered into the Kingdom?

Likely no.  He was just doing what he did everyday.  “Here I am Lord.”

Did he just fade back into the background as so many amazing followers of Jesus do without seeking fame for being “the one” who brought the Holy Spirit to Paul?

Paul will forever be the star in this story and tagged as the world changer.

Today, I am moved at the fact of how world changing a simple “Here I am Lord” can be when spoken by someone who the Lord trust will step out of their comfort zone and into the zone of courage.

I usually leave this Bible story being inspired by the fact that the power of the Gospel can transform the worst of sinners and use them to spread love in this world.

Today I am inspired by the faithful Ananias who knew the voice of His Father and was ready to respond to both the comfortable and courageous.

May we  all be like my momma and Ananias and wake up each morning with “Here I am Lord” and be willing to do both the comfortable and the courageous with reckless abandon for the Gospel. . .even if someone else gets to be the star of the “story” here on earth.

An Open Letter to the Oklahoma State Legislature and the churches of Oklahoma, from the wife of a mental health therapist

This is the story of our family.  My hope is that it will open the eyes of state government officials and church leaders all across our great state that may not understand the devastating impact cuts to the State’s mental health care will have on the children and families of Oklahoma.

“Hey, Holly.  I’ve been meaning to contact you and get your husband’s phone number.  I need some help with my kids.” 

As the wife of a mental health therapist to children and their families, people come up to me regularly with this comment.   Normally, I confidently hand out my husband’s card and encourage the person to give my husband a call.

I am confident, not because I believe my husband can fix all the problems every family faces with their children.  My confidence lies in my husband’s humbleness, wisdom, and honesty in dealing with families who are struggling.

It happened again this past week in a restaurant while I was having Fall Break lunch with my own kids.

This time it was a sweet momma I met when she was a guest at the food pantry I supervised at my church.   Though she was doing everything she knew to do at that time, she was struggling to make ends meet and having some trouble with her children.  Her family had been through some traumatic experiences, so she came to our food pantry seeking assistance.

That was a few years ago, and I loved watching my church family wrap around her and her children.

But still.  She struggles.  Struggles to make ends meet.  Struggles to know what to do as she is now a parent of teenagers.

I’m proud of this momma for reaching out for help.  She cares about her children.  She wants to make the right decisions.  She is a good momma raising children who have been through some trauma in their lives.

I could see the desperation in her eyes.

I took a deep breath and held back tears and said what I always do.

“Please give Joe a call.  He’d be happy to help you with your kids.  That’s what he loves to do.”

I had to hold back the tears, because I didn’t have the confidence that I usually do, since I knew the reality of what is going on in our state government.  Our family follows mental health issues closely because they directly impact my husband’s work.  I could tell this momma had no idea the news we had been given just the day before.

Because of a budget crisis, mental health therapists like my husband are facing the reality that they may no longer be funded by the state.

The truth is.  .  . this isn’t where we thought we would be when we married 18 years ago when we met as students in seminary, studying to do church ministry work.

Believe me.  Over the past five years of continued budget cuts to mental health in the state of Oklahoma, we have questioned our decision for my husband to leave “church work” and jump into the world of mental health care.

It’s been almost 13 years since we decided that indeed my husband should return to school to work on a second master’s degree to prepare him to spend his days doing what he is gifted to do, counsel children and their families.

At the time he was a children’s pastor at a church in Missouri.  I was a stay-at-home momma of two in diapers.  Having just purchased our first home, we had settled into a comfortable life in a new state with incredible friends who we knew would be friends for life.

The call to uproot and start over was clear.

Though we loved our church family we had made, it was through his six years as a children’s pastor in Oklahoma and Missouri, that he learned that children’s pastors really don’t get to do much pastoring.  The job required him to spend so much of his time planning programs and events and going to staff meetings that there was little time left to help families work through the issues they were having with their children.

When he did have time to meet one-on-one with families, he realized he was not as prepared as he wanted to be to handle some of the deep issues families face in our society.

He found himself frustrated in his job, not having the time or the education he desired to do his favorite thing as a children’s pastor–counseling families.

We decided to pack up all of our possessions and move our family 14 hours away to Texas for my husband to return to school full-time to work on a second masters degree, this time in counseling.

The next two and a half years were full of craziness of me working full-time as a public school teacher, while Joe stayed at home with our two in diapers working on his counseling degree.

During those years, we thought his career path would include working at a church as a counselor, using his theology degree and his counseling degree to bring hope to families who came to the church for help.

Though we were ready to move anywhere in the country for my husband to live out this calling, our eyes began to turn toward our home state of Oklahoma.

In doing research, we found that most churches in Oklahoma don’t hire counselors.  Due to the liability associated with mental health issues, most churches refer families to professional counselors.  This made sense to us at the time.  We knew from my husband’s pastoring days that he had little time to spend one-on-one with families.  We had also read all the horror stories of churches getting sued for things pastors had said or done in counseling sessions.  Outsourcing counseling seemed logical at the time.  (What we now know is that the hole in this is that unless you have insurance to cover mental health, the cost can be astronomical.  Unless families have great medical coverage, or their kids are on state insurance, most cannot afford therapy services.)

Since the option of working for a church in Oklahoma as a counselor was off the table, we had two options.  Pick another state to seek a church counseling job, or take any counseling job he could find in Oklahoma to begin his supervised work to get his license.

The day I dropped my husband off to walk through the gates of the LE Rader Center in Sand Springs, Oklahoma, for an interview is etched in my memory as if it was yesterday.  The Rader Center was a correctional facility for teenage boys from all over Oklahoma.

Seeing my gentle, soft-spoken husband walking through the high fence security check point made me smile from ear to ear.  I took a picture and remember thinking, “This is a wasted couple of hours.  Those boys walking around in prison uniforms will chew up my sweet husband and spit him out.”

I had spent several summers teaching summer school to “boys like them.”  They can spot weakness from a mile away.

Despite my initial thoughts, a week later we found ourselves packing up our preschool aged kids and moving to Tulsa, Oklahoma for my husband to work with juvenile offenders.

The mistake I made in my thinking that day in 2008 was that my husband’s gentle spirit would be seen as a weakness to those boys.  Instead, those boys had never met a man like my husband–someone who controlled his anger when they messed up; a man who was strong, yet treated them with the gentleness they craved.

It was beyond those high fences and security checks that my husband found his calling.

The past decade of working in the world of mental health for the state of Oklahoma has not been for the faint of heart.   My husband learned this ten years ago when he went to his first professional development conference.  With genuine concern for his own self care, he asked someone how they keep from carrying all the horrific stories they hear in sessions, home with them to their own families.

A group of seasoned professional counselors chuckled and told him they drink those stories away at home with alcohol.  Indeed, he learned that drinking is the way many of his colleagues choose to cope with the stories they hear from children.

This past week’s announcement by the government officials of Oklahoma has again caused us to question why we even try.  When we find ourselves doubting our chosen path in life, we take our minds back through the stories.  We go through the stories of the vulnerable kids and families who are our “why.”   These stories that make up the moments on our journey confirm the desperate need for someone like my husband to be involved in the mental health care of kids and families.

  • The stories of working at the Rader Center when he wanted to bring every one of those boys home to our house for a few days of respite from the chaos of the correctional facility. Just a few weeks ago my husband circled the parking lot of a grocery store because he thought he spotted one of “his Rader boys” and wanted to go say hi.
  • The stories he witnessed and heard from within that correctional facility that made him choose to leave the juvenile justice system because it seemed the place was anything but correctional for most of those teenage Oklahoma boys. It was those stories that made him decide he wanted to get to these children and families before they made decisions that forced them into the justice system.
  • The story from his first week of his work as a school-based counselor when he became the safe place for a high school boy who held his father in his arms after his father had committed suicide.
  • The story of a phone call from a mom wanting Joe to come with her to tell her young children that their dad had been shot and killed by a neighbor.
  • The stories of the families who choose to foster children and adopt children who find weekly encouragement from my husband as they come to see him for guidance through his private practice contract with the state. We are thankful we are a part of a church that encourages families to foster and adopt and helps them to do this by referring families to counselors like my husband to walk with them on the journey of foster care and adoption.

The truth is I only know a small fraction of the stories.  Because of the confidentiality nature of my husband’s line of work, he must carry most of the stories on his shoulders alone.  Instead of drinking the stories away like his colleagues told him to do, my husband turns those stories over to the powerful God we believe is the only lasting hope for the darkness many Oklahoma children live in each day.

For the last decade, I have been honored to be the one to hold my husband when the pain of his work is overwhelming.  When he can’t share the stories, I count it an honor to cry with him as he carries the burdens of so many Oklahoma children.

I am never more proud of what my husband has chosen to do with his life than when someone stops me like the brave momma did last week at lunch.

“Hey Holly.  I’ve been meaning to contact you and get your husband’s phone number.  I need some help with my kids.” 

Every time I get this question, my heart beams with pride for my husband.

To the elected officials of my beloved home state of Oklahoma….The Buxton family is just one of thousands of families working diligently to help the children and families of Oklahoma.  As a highly educated professional working daily for the state as a mental health care provider, my husband has absorbed the financial cuts you have dealt him over the past five years.  With each one, he has taken a deep breath and pressed on for the sake of the amazing children of Oklahoma.

We have cycled through all the emotions.  Anger. Frustration.  Disbelief.

After we got the news last week, I even went so far as to call all of our state officials “fools” to some of my friends.

The truth is I don’t believe you are fools.  However, the political game that has made political pawns out of our family and thousands of vulnerable children in our state is indeed FOOLISH.

Still, we are not without hope.  The hope of my family lies in something much bigger than the state legislature of Oklahoma.  We do not consider the future of our family to be in your hands.  Our future is in the hands of a mighty God who has been faithful to provide for the financial needs of our family as we have committed to help families in need in Oklahoma.

Just last night, a room full of my friends prayed for our family, for you our state government, and for all the families you impact with your decisions on mental health in Oklahoma.

It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life!

This room of friends are in a class that I started at my church called Jobs for Life.  In this room were a tapestry of people from all walks of life:  A black man from north Tulsa who was referred by friends of mine who have been involved in the criminal justice system;  Four Spanish-speaking friends who are immigrants from other countries; A few women of different colors who have escaped abusive situations; A sweet teenager who lives in a transition house for girls aging out of the foster system; Along with successful business people who have come together to help bring hope of a better future to the students in our class.

Last night, I was reminded that this crisis is not just a state government issue.  This crisis is a body of Christ, the church, issue.

Now is the time for both the government and the churches of Oklahoma to rise up and fight for the vulnerable children in our great state.

As we wait for this to happen, this wife of a Oklahoma mental health therapist will be here continuing to answer with,

“Please give Joe a call.  He’d be happy to help you with your kids.  That’s what he loves to do.”

tylers wedding

The Night Before High School

I searched the internet for a comparable book to the book we read to him the night before his first day of Kindergarten.

No surprise.

No one has authored the book “The Night Before High School.”

As I flipped through our ten year old copy of “The Night Before Kindergarten,” I smile cried because of how much things have changed yet stayed the same over the past nine years.

My thoughts about tomorrow are not “will he be able to find someone to help tie his shoe or find his way back to his classroom if he gets lost in that elementary school.”  Instead, my mind is racing about things such as keeping up his GPA and hormonal girls chasing him.

Nine years later, I’m fully confident that if he indeed gets lost in that giant high school that he is fully capable of figuring out how to get where he needs to be without my help.

My hopes for “first days” have changed a bit over the years.

My hopes for tomorrow are not as much that I have created a memorable moment or established some important traditions for him, but more importantly that I will be fully present in those moments and traditions with him, and that he will be launched with words of Life that he can boldly take into the world as he goes.

Sure, I hope we remember to measure his height in the morning.  He’s growing an inch a week it seems right now.  This was a tradition I had full intention of continuing over the years.  I think we’ve done it three of his ten first days of school.  In the morning hustle and bustle of first days to eat breakfast, brush teeth (well he says he does this every morning), tie shoes (thank you Jesus kids do actually learn to do this themselves), and somehow snap a picture before we leave, the measuring of bodies just didn’t make the cut of essentials to get out of the door on time on the first day of school.

measuring Caleb

I’ve learned to say the phrase “good enough” in life.

Three out of ten is “good enough.”  “Good enough” has freed me of all of those ridiculous expectations I set over the years for myself as a mother.   When I feel the stress rising and the pressure to measure up to standards that only matter here on Earth, I ask the Holy Spirit to shower my mother’s soul with the phrase “good enough.”

From having all the homework done to packing healthy lunches, “good enough.”

I honestly don’t remember the last lunch I packed for him.  A part of me wishes I had known it would be the last one and I might have savored making that “last lunch” a little bit more.  “Oh well.  Good enough.”

He’s been making his own lunch for years now.  Praise the King.  For a while, I double checked it but even released that unnecessary pressure from myself.  “Good enough.”

momma and Caleb

I remember his anticipation for carrying that first Spiderman lunch box.  That  box was picked out months in advance in preparation for his “big day.”  Tonight I made a mad dash before dinner to grab bread for lunches and remembered as I passed by the lunch boxes that he had told me weeks ago that his lunch box had ripped and he would need a new one for this year.

I snatched the most boring looking one I could find and knew with confidence that it perfect….or at least that it was “good enough.”

One thing hasn’t changed.  I still sneak notes in those lunches from time to time.  He gives me an eye roll, but that’s not stopping me.  The older I get the more I understand the gift of family and how valuable that gift is in a world where so many do not have a family to call their own.

I won’t walk you to the door of your classroom tomorrow son, but by golly be careful when you open up that new lunch box tomorrow if you don’t want your buddies to see that note from momma.

The Night Before High School.

Deep breath.  Here we go.

You got this champ.  You got this momma.

walking caleb in

We made it through preschool, elementary school, middle school. Last big “first day” while under this roof of ours we call “home.”

There is a world out there that needs you, son, to be the bright light that you are to everyone you meet.  Maybe you won’t be holding their hands like you did in Kindergarten, but keep making people feel loved and important when the world around them and the Spirit of this world tells them something different.

Kindergarten holding hands

May the words spoken over you on those lunch notes be breathed into the lives of those that surround you on your first day of High School.




Yes, I’m the Holly from Oklahoma.

Fourteen years ago as first time parents of a 3  month old baby, Joe and I  loaded up and headed to work at a church in a city that was 12 hours away from where both of us called home.

Zero. . .the number of people that we knew in this city.  All we knew was that it was a beautiful city with beautiful people that we felt God tell us to go serve.

We immediately realized we had a lot to learn about our new home, Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

Lesson 1.  “It’s ‘Cape’ not ‘Cape Girardeau.’   If you use the full name of the city in conversation people immediately know you are not from Eastern Missouri.

Lesson 2. (which was almost a deal breaker that first month) Mexican food and Texas style BBQ were not considered local foods like they were in Texas or Southern Oklahoma.  There wasn’t a Mexican restaurant on every corner or a place to buy homemade tortillas.  Buying avocados would break the bank.

We found ourselves saying, “What is this cole slaw doing on my sandwich and where in the world is the beef?”

The fact that I made my own salsa and my husband could smoke a brisket made us somewhat of celebrities among our young adult friends we were making.  What they lacked in guacamole and beef, Southeastern Missouri made up for in hospitality and dinner rolls…if you could catch one.

Lesson 3.  Don’t go to South Cape alone.  Well, this is what we were told.  Those who know me know that was like a challenge to me.   I often found myself driving on the “edge” of South Cape desperately wanting to pull over and get to know the stories of the people that I saw on those streets.  I was an outsider to this part of the country, but it was evident to any passer-by that there was a great cultural and socioeconomic divide in the city that had become our new home.  My heart that has a bend towards justice, love and mercy ached with each drive across town.

From the people at gas stations who would have me repeat something I would say because of my Texas style accent, to the amazing doctors and hospital staff that helped us bring our daughter into the world, Cape had quickly found a place in the hearts of our family.

We only lived in Cape for two short years.  These were the years that I was learning to be a momma of two new babies.  Joe was in his first full-time staff position at a church. We purchased our first home.  It was during those two years that I was determined to finish my seminary degree before our second child came along.  At the time online courses were few and far between so this was no easy feat.

To say there was a little stress in our family and in our home during those days would be a laughable understatement.  However, there honestly was not a day that went by in those almost 800 days of calling Cape our home that there was not someone in our new church or community that made us feel that we were welcome and wanted as part of the community.

We left Cape with deep love for the city and friends that had become our home away from home.  However, we also carried with us words spoken to us and over us by a couple of people that made us wonder if those two years had been a waste.  Though 99% of the people we had gotten to know were nothing but supportive and encouraging to us, all it took was the 1% to leave wounds that took years and years to heal.

Was there really a place in “the church” for a man who is kind, gentle, and compassionate and actually feels called to help kids and families one on one instead of ministering to the masses?  And what about a woman like me who is gifted with leadership skills whose heart has reached out to the marginalized since she was a child and who has often and erroneously been labeled too “liberal”?

The next several years were spent healing the wounds and believing in the calling God had placed on our family.  God was precious to surround us with cheerleaders during the years following our years in Cape.  He placed us in a church that challenged us to dive deeper into the Word of God.  My sweet husband found his passion as he began working one on one with children and families, and I found mine teaching marginalized teenagers in summer school.

It is hard to believe it has been well over a decade since we left Cape.  Our home away from home friends have never stopped checking on us and believing in us.  Two of these friends came to see me in Tulsa  last year for a girls’ weekend.

The weekend was filled with everything we love that connected our hearts the first time we all met.  Great food.  Nonstop conversations filled with laughter and stories of our soon to be teenagers.

These are the friends that the conversation always turns to what some would label “social” issues.  From what types of homeless ministries are in Downtown Tulsa (and of course we went to serve at one that weekend) to my friend’s orphan care work in both Ethiopia and her own community to the other friend’s ministry she started to adults with special needs in the Cape area.

We made it back to our hotel from dinner one night, and I said to my friend, Becca.  “Hey come over here to my computer and read some of these emails from an organization called CarePortal that  we now have here in Tulsa.”

CarePortal is a one of kind network that links local churches to the state foster care system to meet the needs of children in the  state’s custody.

Then, I may have half jokingly said, “Cape needs this.  You should start it there.  I can give you the number of my friend Chris and he can connect you to Missouri people I’m sure.”

Honestly, I wasn’t really joking.  In my short two years of living in Cape, I had seen the immense socioeconomic and racial divide of the city.  We spent our days serving a church family on the side of the city that was far removed from “South Cape.”   I fell in love with the people in our church there.  People with beautiful hearts.  However, I always wanted to get to know someone from the other side of the city and I never did.

During our two years in Cape my days were filled with being a stay-at home momma of 2 babies under 2 and trying to nurture friendships in my church.  However, I have never forgotten the images of the homes and the people that I saw on those drives where I broke the rules and drove the streets of South Cape.

Today, I stood in a room with a judge, social workers, criminal justice workers, pastors and church members trying to hold back tears as I watched CarePortal launch for several counties surrounding the city I called home for two years.

Watching the state workers sit in disbelief that someone has come to help them do their job of taking care of the needs of the families they work with every day.

Listening to the heart of the judge who makes decisions about parental rights.

Hearing a social worker with tears streaming down her face read a need request of one of her families.

Praying over a judge in a courtroom where he makes decisions that impact a child and a family  forever.

Watching churches in the community step up to the plate and say, “We can help.”

Absorbing the fact that in one rural county we visited, there were 16 children this past week who were taken into state custody.

Seeing all the strings that God had been weaving together for years and years to bring us to this day.

I didn’t know that I had become somewhat of a celebrity in SE Missouri.  “Oh…you are the Holly from Oklahoma”

I heard this over and over that day. Social workers.  A Judge.  Pastors.

They all thanked me and I just shook my head and made sure they knew that my amazing friend Becca had been doing ALL the work for nine months to get CarePortal launched for them.

And all I did was go on a girls’ weekend with friends.

The more I thought about it, I decided it really was much more than a girls’ weekend that started all of this.  CarePortal launched in Southeast Missouri because over a period of years and years God was crossing the obedient steps of those following him into the unknown.

From state workers to stay-at-home moms, from judges to church staff, the people I met this weekend are really just regular people willing to wake up every day and put into action those things they deeply believe in their hearts…that every child and every parent deserves someone to come along side them and give them hope.

I told my girls’ weekend friends that I would go through all the dark days linked to our two years in Cape again to get to this past weekend.

If just one family is rehabilitated and reunited…

If just one foster family gets a need met that they are struggling to meet themselves….

If just one child finds his or her forever family….

Of if just one state worker feels supported by those who say they follow Christ…

Worth it.  It was all worth it.

I worshiped this morning with the church family that loved us during those difficult years.  As we sang together phrases like

“It is well with my soul”

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders” and

“I hear a voice and He calls me redeemed even when others say I’m not enough.”


We often don’t get to see our pain redeemed in this life.  I am forever grateful that I got to see a glimpse of just how God was guiding the steps of our family even when it felt like none of it made sense.

Yes.  I am the Holly from Oklahoma.  And I am the luckiest person in the world to get to live life with some of the world’s most amazing people who are doing extraordinary things.


This the courtroom where this judge makes decisions on behalf of the state.  To hear his heart ache for the families in his community was something I will never forget.


A group of church leaders and state workers praying and crying together over the children in the system in their rural communities.


The CarePortal lead for Southeast Missouri, Shelly, whose passion for people oozes out of her every word and action.


My girls’ weekend friends


If there is not a selfie it didn’t really happen


A local pastor praying over the roomful of church leaders and state employees as they link arms to meet needs of families in the system.


My amazing friend Andrea working with one of the members of her ministry to adults and teenagers with special needs.

To Ashlynn and Brooklynn: Lessons I learned in Middle School part 2

So, I’m continuing to write stories to share with my daughter and niece who are middle schoolers…I actually had never shared this story from my middle school years with anyone. Posting it here for all the “world” to see took me days to do. However, it truly is one of the defining stories of my life and taught me the power of forgiving others who hurt me and offering grace to myself when I mess up….so here it is. Big step for this introvert to share this one.


I would imagine that if you polled women and asked, “What years of your life would you never want to go back to and live again?”  a high percentage of them would answer, “Middle School.”  Many would have a story or two from their early teenage years that they would never want to relive.

I am no exception.

Middle school were the years in my life where I found myself realizing being a rule follower, that loved learning and who wanted to be nice to everyone was not as popular as it was in elementary school.   My introverted personality coupled with my high moral standards meant that I found myself excluded from conversations and party invitations.

I was a “normal,” middle school girl trying to figure out who I was and where I fit in in the world.

Up until middle school, I never remember a time where I got in trouble at school.  Being a rule follower who loved learning and had high personal standards for achievement, just the thought of getting in trouble kept me from doing anything that might warrant a correction from a teacher or principal.

However, there was one fateful day that this all changed.  A day that is forever etched in my memory.

There was a substitute teacher in one of my classes.  Because there wasn’t really an assignment to work on, we were told that we could talk quietly in class.  I don’t remember how it all started, but someone sitting near me came up with the idea that we should pull a prank on someone.

In my middle school mind, the prank seemed harmless.  Write a fake love note from an secret admirer to someone and slip it in their locker.

We all chimed in with things to write on the love note and decided on who would be fun to prank with the note.  I remember only agreeing to the person we would prank because she was popular and wouldn’t think we were making fun of her.  Other names mentioned, I knew were only being suggested so that they would be made fun of as they read the note and I would not agree to that.

I remember being uncomfortable with a few of the phrases that were written on the note, one being, “Sealed with a French kiss.”   In fact, I was quite naive in middle school and likely didn’t even know what a French kiss or other phrases in the note really meant.  However, I convinced myself that it seemed harmless and I shouldn’t worry.  In my mind the person would simply find the note, be in shock for a moment and then we would clue her in that it was just a joke.

I never imagined the extent of chaos a little note could cause in my young life.  I had no idea that it would teach me a lesson that I would never forget.

The prank did not go quite as I had imagined.  The note was opened and read during a passing period and the emotion of the one reading the note caused quite a stir as she read it out loud to a few friends in the hallway.  A teacher came to see what was going on and saw the note and snatched it.

My rule following heart sunk to my feet as I watched.  We were all told to go to class.  I remember thinking that surely it wasn’t that big a deal.  I mean I knew the extent of “bad behavior” of some of my classmates, and this seemed super mild in my mind.

I was wrong.

The teacher who confiscated the note took it to her next class period read the note aloud and told the class that if someone didn’t tell her who had written the note, that the class field trip would be cancelled.   Someone in that class knew who all had been in on helping with the prank and all the offenders were named in front of the entire class.

During the next passing period we were called to that teacher’s room and she talked to us about how disappointed she was in all of us.  She explained that it should not ever happen again and that we had almost cost the class field trip.  She told us that another teacher was going to read the note aloud to all her classes, and we would each be named as the authors and that teacher was going to give us a written assignment as a punishment.

I was so confused.  I struggled to understand how this “crime” had been so bad that an entire field trip was at stake.    We were not given an opportunity to explain our intentions of the prank or our involvement in it.  We were branded as a group of offenders and immediately paying the penalty of our crime.

I was totally embarrassed and wanted to run home and cry my eyes out as I thought about going to my next class and hearing the note read aloud to all my classmates and being identified as one of the authors.

Since running home was not an option, I made my way to my next class and sat in terror anticipating the teacher reading the note aloud.  Sure enough, in the last five minutes of class, she pulled the note out.  She explained that she needed to make an example out of the situation

With every word that was read, I sunk deep in my chair wanting to crawl under my desk.  The guilt and shame of what I had been a part of was already a heavy load and having my offense used as an example to an entire school was more than I could take.  Tears filled my eyes but I was able to disguise them so that no one would know how deeply I was hurting in that moment.

As the bell rang, the teacher called out the couple of names of people in that class who had been a part of writing the note and asked us to meet her at her desk to get the writing assignment that was our punishment.

I remember the moment of her calling my name like it was yesterday.  I can vividly recall seeing all the eyes in the class turning to me in disbelief and hearing their laughter.  I’m sure they were all in shock because I never got in trouble at school and now my first offense was being a made an example of for all the school to see.

As if that were not enough punishment, I still had to go to the class of the other teacher who had snatched the note in the hallway.  I was praying that the class would go by without any mention of my offense.  But sure enough, the teacher began the class by talking about what had happened and I still remember a phrase she said as she looked me straight in the eyes..

“When someone makes such a big mistake, it takes a long, long time to regain the respect you have for them.”

I walked out of the school building that day and never wanted to go back.  However, I was too scared to tell my mom and dad because these two teachers had made it seem like I had committed the unpardonable sin, and I feared further punishment at home.

So I tucked the guilt and shame of the event away in my heart as I walked home that day and quietly went to my room to write my apology letter to the teachers without ever telling my parents.  I prayed that my parents would never find out.

With a couple of months left in school, I couldn’t wait for school to be over so I didn’t have to face the embarrassment I felt walking those halls and sitting in those teacher’s classrooms feeling like I had committed the ultimate sin.  There was never another mention of the event, but the words spoken to me on that day replayed over and over in my mind and I struggled daily to forgive myself and put it all behind me.  I fought a mental battle trying to understand why those teachers had put my first mistake at school on display for all to see.

Summer finally came.  New school years came and went.

The pain of that moment in middle school faded, but over 25 years later the memory of the pain has remained vivid in my mind.

I didn’t know it at the time.  But that day in middle school, taught me one of my “rules to live by” for my life.

“Always offer forgiveness and grace to yourself and to others.”

For months following that day in middle school,  the memory of my mistake and the words of those teachers would replay in my head and I walked around in a cloud of shame and guilt.

However, as I continued to lean into Jesus and study the Bible, I realized that I did not have to live in shame.   I could release my sin at the foot of the cross and walk in freedom from my mistake.  I could offer this same grace to the teachers who had wounded me with their words and in turn I was being set free to live the life that God intended for me here on Earth.

Ashlynn and Brooklynn.  Learning to forgive and offer grace is one of life’s most difficult lessons to master. However, as with most things that we must learn to do in life, you practice offering forgiveness and grace daily in the “little things”.

  • when you forget your homework at home…forgive yourself
  • when someone bumps into you in line….forgive them
  • when you talk back disrespectfully to you mom or dad…forgive yourself
  • when someone makes a promise to you that they do not fully keep…forgive them

For sure there will be bigger offenses in life where it will be more difficult to offer forgiveness and grace.  However, it is by daily practicing in the little things that we strengthen our forgiveness and grace giving muscles and so when the big offenses come our way we are less likely to be drowned in the waters of unforgiveness or shame and guilt.

May you hide these words in your hearts as you walk the halls of your middle school this year.

Soak in these words when someone else sin impacts you.

Colossians 3:13 (NLT) Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.

And when you find yourself shackled to shame and guilt because your own sin has impacted others, stand on this truth.

1 John 1:9(NLT) But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.

Leave that shame and guilt at the foot of the cross and walk in the forgiveness.

Some people may tell you to “forgive and forget.”  Those nights in middle school where I lay in my bed in tears trying to forget the hurt and guilt, I no doubt prayed for God to erase this event from my memory.  However, I had no idea that God was teaching me a lesson that I would carry with me for the rest of my life.

I had no idea that it became a defining moment in life to teach me how to forgive others, forgive myself, and how to look at sins through the lens of grace.

May the “not so good days” of your middle school years imprint lessons to live by on your heart that will help you walk in the love, grace, and freedom that is available in Christ.


In honor of the first days of school…my first day of 9th grade.  Obviously I learned another lesson in middle school…how to curl and rat baby fine straight hair into a hairstyle that defined a generation.


So thankful that God will teach you two lessons in middle school that you will pass along to her.



To Ashlynn and Brooklynn: Lessons I learned in middle school. Lesson #1

I was raised in a small southern Oklahoma town.  Because there weren’t really other things to do in town on a fall  Friday night, most of the community would gather at the high school football game to cheer on our Marietta Indians.  During my middle school years, our town had a great football team.  Even families who did not have children to watch at the game would load up in cars and travel to the away football games, packing out the visitor stands of other small southern Oklahoma towns.

One Friday night, our family loaded up to head to the football game about 25 minutes away to cheer on our Marietta Indians.   My parents had just begun allowing me to sit in the bleachers ‘alone’ with some of my friends from school.  I honestly don’t remember who I was sitting with or much about the football game that night.  However, the one thing I do remember is the conversation that took place as soon as our family loaded up in our car to head back home.

There was excitement from the thrill of victory because our Marietta Indians had been victorious over the Kingston Redskins, and I couldn’t wait to tell my family something I had heard while sitting in the stands with my friends.

As soon as we were all five in the car, the first words out of my mouth went something like this, “Do y’all  know what I heard?  _________________ (I don’t even remember the name of the person) is pregnant, and she is just 16.”

The mood in the car went from complete excitement to a bone chilling silence.

The next moment I remember as clearly as if it happened yesterday.  My dad very calmly but very sternly turned to face me in the car and said these words, “Holly Ann, those are malicious words.  You will not repeat that information again OR.  ELSE.  The Higle family does not participate in malicious gossip, and this conversation is over.”

I did not really need to know what “OR.  ELSE” meant, and I wasn’t really sure of the meaning of malicious.  However, knowing my Dad used my middle name and the fact that I had a healthy fear of him, I knew better than to say another word or ask questions.

I remember going home and looking up the word malicious in the dictionary.  The Webster’s dictionary described it something like this  the desire to cause pain, injury, or distress to another.”

Honestly, I know that my young heart had no intention of causing pain or distress to anyone by sharing the information I had learned. However, this was my very first experience that I can remember dealing with the temptation of gossip.  I remember the feeling of excitement to share the information with someone who had not yet heard.  For some strange reason, girls of all ages find it thrilling to be “in the know” and even more thrilling to be “the first to know.”  This doesn’t change much when girls become women.

That was the first of many, many more times in my life when I somehow or another learned information about someone else and had to decide what to do with that information.

In those times of deciding about what to do when I find myself “in the know,” my mind races back to that Friday night from my middle school years when I first began to learn the freedom that comes from not being shackled to the desires of my flesh.

That Friday night, I learned that though my flesh wanted to follow the natural desire to share gossip about other people, true freedom comes when you understand that you don’t have to be shackled to those natural desires and the life consequences that they can bring.

In this case, giving into the desire of my flesh to gossip had the mild consequence of a verbal reprimand from my dad.  However, gossip can cost so much more.   The price of gossip is often your reputation as a trustworthy friend or an honorable leader.

Ashlynn and Brooklyn, as you walk the halls of your middle school this year, and you find yourself being lured into the temptation of gossip, remember the words of Proverbs 18:8

“Rumors are dainty morsels that sink deep into one’s heart”

Instead of allowing your heart to be fed by gossip and falling into its trap, learn to crave the things of Philippians 4:8.

“Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

Rules for life #1:  Learn to search for and focus on the good in other people and as you do this you will indeed uncover some of life’s greatest treasures.

When you follow this rule for life, you will find yourself surrounded by people who count you as a trusted friend, and you will have a heart free from the guilt and shame that comes when you speak words that hurt another person.

Friends and a heart free of guilt and shame are indeed two of life’s greatest treasures.


Peer pressure in middle school is fierce. Crimped hair. Acid washed jeans. Rugby shirt. All topped off with a scrunchie. Long live the 80s.


Ashlynn and Brooklynn cheering on the Marietta Indians in 2014 at my 20 year high school reunion.

To my two favorite middle school girls…

IMG_1219In my forty years of life, I have learned that some moments in life slip by and for some reason or another you do not even remember them as a part of your life story.   Good or bad.  Happy or sad.  Victory or defeat.  If not captured in writing or in picture, some life moments are not turned into lifelong memories.

However, there are moments in life that mark you as if they are etched in your brain with a Sharpie that never fades away.  Years later the recollection of these moments in life can cause you to return to the age of the memory as if they happened yesterday.

There are many Sharpied memories for me from my early teenage years.

Some of these memories are very random.

I vividly remember suntanning in the backyard with my older sister, Monta, scorching our skin that was lathered in baby oil and iodine.  When I close my eyes, I can still smell the oil, feel my skin scorching, and hear our jam box blasting our favorite 80s songs.

Tossing a watermelon in the living room with my big brother, Jeremy, is a moment I have never forgotten.   My memory of that moment is like a slow motion video in my mind.  A poorly thrown toss caused the watermelon to crash in an explosion of red mess to the carpeted floor.  I can still see the terror on our faces as we thought about what would happen when Mom walked in the door.

These vivid memories bring a smile to my face as I reflect over my young teenage years.

There are other moments from those years that became memories that helped to shape me into the person I am today.  The lessons I learned in those early teenage years have been like highway guardrails on my life that protected me and guided me on my journey as I navigated middle school and the rest of my teenage years.  These guardrails became a sort of “rules to live by” as I grew into a young woman trying to figure out just what life on earth is all about and what in world I was supposed to do with the life I had been given to live.

Over the past few days, I have been writing out a few stories from my middle school days to share with my two favorite middle school girls.  These stories are dedicated to my sweet niece who is turning 13 today and to my daughter who will walk the halls of middle school for the first time tomorrow when we go pick up her middle school schedule.

However, I decided to share the stories with these girls here on my blog so that I could also share them with friends and family.  Many people who read this blog knew middle school Holly and had a tremendous impact on my life during my teenage years.   I am who I am today because of the friends and family who encouraged me along my journey to keep my eyes of Jesus during those tough days of being a middle school girl.

These Sharpied memories I will share are ones that permanently marked my life with “rules to live by.”

Three decades ago when these events were happening, I didn’t know how significant the lessons I learned from them would be in my life.  Now I know that each of those moments were teaching me what became important “rules to live by.”   Rules that have helped me navigate life understanding that the moments of my life here on earth have eternal purpose for God’s kingdom.

The four stories I will share taught me these “Rules to live by” … 10399904_1192413851699_4966361_n

  1. Be quick to acknowledge the good you see in others, especially when others are pointing out the bad.
  2. Always offer forgiveness and grace to yourself and to others.
  3. Guard your heart. Don’t worry about gaining the attention of boys.
  4. Offer compassion before judging a person’s actions. Remember that it is likely they have a part of their life story you don’t know…and many times people act out of life’s heartaches and pains.


Ashlynn and Brooklynn, may God turn your life moments into Sharpied memories that will mark your life in such a way that your life in turn will mark others for good from the lessons you have learned on your life’s journey.  May you enjoy reading these stories over the coming days and always be quick to learn the lessons God wants to teach you through the moments of your life.



I’m thankful Baby B has two of the best role models.


You are a beautiful daughter of the King.  You are going to rock your teenage years!


What an honor for God me to help Him raise one of His beautiful daughters as my own.  Middle School here we come!

See you soon, Kevin. See you soon.

FullSizeRenderThe pastor of my church mentioned Sunday morning about the reality of “survivor’s guilt.”  He told us how he and his wife went through an unexpected emotion after their two year old drowned and was miraculously healed after they had been told there wasn’t hope.  After the overwhelming joy of seeing God breathe life back into their son,  the counter emotion of guilt came that left them asking themselves, “why my child and not theirs?”

This week my family has been on the other side of survivor’s guilt.  Yesterday we lost one of our finest.  After an eight year heroic battle,  millions (no exaggeration) of prayers being sent up by children of God impacted by my cousin Kevin’s life, after being classified as a “survivor” by kicking cancer in the tail more than once. . .the text your heart is never prepared for came, “Kevin is at peace.”

Kevin would have turned 57 this Saturday.  He leaves behind a beautiful wife, who is a cancer survivor herself, four children, three grandchildren, many others like me who had the honor of calling him family, and I would imagine 1000s of other students, players, friends and colleagues that call him Coach or Mr. Weaver from his decades of coaching and teaching.

Kevin was my oldest boy cousin.  He was 17 when I entered the family and for 40 years I have been his “baby cousin.”

My earliest memories of Kevin are sitting in his lap at our “Ma-Ma’s ” house as our family gathered together every holiday to pack out our grandmother’s tiny house in Caddo, Oklahoma.  I can still close my eyes and hear Kevin’s infectious laugh that would echo through Ma-Ma’s house. I was known as the baby cousin that would always tell him “put your shirt on” when he walked around Ma-Ma’s house strutting the handsome temple God had given his spirit to reside in here on earth.

I would say that similar to “survivor’s guilt,” there is an emotion I refer to as “family heritage guilt.”

I count it a privilege to have dear friends whose life stories are very different than mine.    Friends whose parents gave them up for adoption. Friends who experienced childhood physical and emotional abuse.  Friends whose childhoods are marked by unthinkable injustices.  Friends who grew up with a family shackled to sin or shackled to religion.  Friends who weren’t taught the freedom that comes from dying to self and living for Christ.

Often when I hear their childhood stories, I almost don’t want to share mine because I battle feelings of guilt.  “Why did I get to grow up sheltered in not just a immediate family but an extended family, that loved me no matter what, and a family filled with people living out the Gospel of Jesus’s love for the hurting world?”

I’ve watched my family fight life’s battles on their knees.  As the “baby cousin” I have learned through observation the power of  loving people by watching those who have gone before me in life.   Living out the Gospel by loving those the world shuns was normal to me because that’s what I saw happening all around me as a child.   Choosing to forgive those who hurt or disappointed me was just what I did, because it what I had watched my family do.

As with most kids who grow up a bit sheltered as I did, my college years were the time in my life where I grappled with choosing for myself to live out my faith in Jesus.

Faced with the reality of being diagnosed with a physical disability that changed my life’s plans, dealing with injuries that impacted my college basketball career, and having my world rocked by a broken marriage engagement, I remember spending my college holidays at Ma-Ma’s house trying to figure out if I really believed in the same good, loving God that I had watched all my family follow.

The crisis of belief was real one Thanksgiving during these years.  I found myself leading a bible study for my teammates and going through the motions of daily quiet times in the Bible, yet still in the recesses of my heart I wondered if all of this was indeed truth.

Since I was a college basketball player, I was only given about 48 hours to celebrate Thanksgiving with family.

I remember my precious Ma-Ma sitting with me at her huge kitchen table encouraging me with her words of faith.  She had just unexpectedly lost her eye after a minor eye surgery, yet still she was encouraging me to press on.

Amidst the noise of all the second generation of cousins running around that tiny house, I remember sitting with Kevin and his encouraging words to me despite the fact that he was going through an extremely difficult situation in his own life.

I was so touched that when I got back to the dorm the day after Thanksgiving I sent Kevin a card thanking him and encouraging him in his own trial.

A few weeks later, there was a letter in my college mailbox.


That letter was a life source to me on that day.  Kevin, who was a high school basketball coach at the time, took the time out of his crazy busy day as a teacher and coach to write a letter to encourage me in my struggle.

Last night, I dug through my college box and found that letter.  For the first time in almost two decades, I read through Kevin’s words to me.

I was immediately taken back to the moment I read his words for the first time.

Simple words on paper that truly memorialize the life and legacy of Kevin.  Two pages of hand written words concluded with this…

“But in the valleys, we grow even more if we stay in the Word and allow Christ to carry us.  I think 1996 may be a year I will want to forget, while at the same time a year I have learned more than any other.  I’ll see you at Christmas and will write again soon.  Love, Kevin”

And then my favorite line honestly…because if you know Kevin you know he tends to always leave everyone with a smile on their face.  (remember this is a 38 year old man writing this to his 20 year old girl cousin)

“P.S.  Sorry I don’t have any cute cards like you.”

I will never understand why God allowed me to be a part of a family that includes people like my cousin Kevin.  Where when faced with death and tears, we truly can celebrate a life well lived and rejoice in the hope of an eternity together.

Family heritage guilt can silence me at times.

However, if ever there is a time to shout about the impact of family on my life it is when faced with the reality of death.

I did not think there was a better way to memorialize my cousin Kevin than with words.  Sharing his words to me.  Words were a gift he used to impact the world around him for good.

May we all choose to learn from the life moments we wish we could forget and allow God’s Word to penetrate our hearts as Christ carries us through the valley of the shadow of death.

See you soon, Kevin.  See you soon.


And I also wish to pass along Kevin’s desire…for all who can to be a part of the registry at www.bethematch.org.

It is because of stem cell donors, that Kevin’s family was granted more years on earth with him.  A few minutes of your time in signing up to be a donor, could mean granting more years on earth with a loved one for some family somewhere.  My family is forever grateful to the donor’s that granted this to our family.

For those interested in reading more about Kevin’s journey, you can find some of his writings here.


To the church that raised me on the last Sunday of me being your Preacher’s Kid–

I was only six when my parents moved to Marietta where my dad became the pastor of the First Baptist Church. I don’t really have any memories of anyplace else being my home.

One of my earliest childhood memories is pulling up to the church parsonage on Circle Drive and my parents telling us three kids that this was going to be our new home and that we could go in and run through the empty house.

I remember very clearly running through that house and thinking that it seemed like a mansion. I had no idea that that parsonage would be the place that I would call home for the next 15 years and that over the coming years the people who provided that home would become the church family that would raise me and shape me into the woman I am today.

My childhood church family taught me so many things.

The most important thing the church family of my childhood taught me was that the church is not a building.

Church was not a place that my daddy went to work every day. The church that raised me was not a location on Main Street. Church was not confined to a couple of hours on Sunday morning, a service for me to sleep through on Sunday night on my momma’s lap, or Wednesday night full of “fun and fellowship” with my teenage friends in a youth building.

I learned at a young age that the biblical definition of belonging to the church of Jesus Christ is something much more than being in a building three times a week.
The church family that raised me modeled for me that the church is a collection of people who put into action what Jesus taught us were the two greatest commandments of all:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart

And to love your neighbor as yourself.

At the age of 18, I spread my wings and moved off to a small private Christian college in a different state. For the first time, I was faced with the challenge of ‘finding a church home’ on my own. I had no idea that the church I had grown up in was a such a rare treasure until it was too far for me to drive to on a Sunday morning.

During those years I heard many stories from my college friends who like me were pastor’s kids from all over the world. Most of these new college friends had a very different childhood experience growing up in a church than I had known. While I grieved the absence of my church family from home, many of these new college friends were basking in the freedom of not being forced to go to a church building every time the doors were opened.

When I came home on holidays from college, even though I am not a hugger and cringe at being the center of attention, I looked forward to the hugs and smiles and “how’s college” that I would get bombarded with from my hometown church family.

I’ve lived in four different states since I left my hometown at age 18. I’ve lived two decades of life since my childhood years. My life has allowed me to be a part of several different churches in different places.

It is even more clear to me today than it was 22 years ago when I first left the church that raised me, that my childhood church family was a rare gift I had been given. I know that the lessons I learned not just by their words, but by watching them live life as Christ followers have shaped and molded me into the person I am today.

I could fill pages of memories I have of people in my church family who set an example for me as a child and taught me what it means to “be” the church by loving God and loving others.

Here are just of few of the ways my church family shaped me….

My strong desire to love on church staff families is because my church family loved on my family growing up. I regularly take meals, write notes, and give gift cards to church staff during busy seasons of church life because I watched my childhood church family do this for my family.

My childhood church family modeled for me that Christians can disagree lovingly and should be willing to sacrifice personal preferences in order to maintain peace. I honestly didn’t really understand the jokes about deacons and business meetings that I would hear once I was an adult. I had set through many church business meetings in my childhood and I had never heard grown adults cussing in church or throwing punches at each other. The deacons of my childhood were like father figures to me. These men were some of my daddy’s best of friends and advisors.

Now that I myself am becoming one of the older generations, I realize that the reason I think it is normal to sacrifice some of my own traditional preferences for the sake reaching the next generation with the Gospel is because this is what I saw my church family doing for me when I was a child. Long before there was ProPresenter and PowerPoint, my childhood church was cranking out the words to praise songs on the wall from a slide projector each Sunday morning.

My love for going to church camp with my kids and their friends is in part because it brings back a flood of memories of going to camp when I was a child. I now better understand the sacrifices all the adults who went with us made in order to create the weeks of fun I enjoyed as a child and teenager at camp.

I have been married for 17 years. During the first 3 years of my marriage, My husband Joe served on church staff at the church of my childhood. In my first years of learning to be a wife, I remember having days where I could not imagine how in the world people stay married for 10 years, much less 50. And then I would walk into the church building on Sunday morning and see some of the couples in my church family who had persevered in marriage when the days were tough and I would gain hope that maybe Joe and I could make it past year two.

The reason I am passionate about being a voice for the poor and vulnerable and find great fulfillment in my job as the Local Missions director at my current church is because some adults in my childhood church took time off of work to take a group of us teenagers to the inner city to work for a week and that week changed the trajectory of my life path.

I seriously could type out an endless blog post filled with examples like these of how I have been impacted by my childhood church family.

Throughout my adult life I have been asked the question,

“What do you think the secret sauce was in your parent’s parenting? How did they raise three kids in a preacher’s house who grew up to be adults who love and serve the Lord?”

I often snicker if the question comes from someone who does not know my parents. Though my mom and dad were and are incredible parents, they will admit that they made mistakes in their parenting us. Well at least mom will admit it. Of course, dad made many more mistakes than mom did, but those who know daddy know it’s just best if we all let him continue to think he is perfectly awesome at everything he does.

My answer to the question to what my parents did right in their parenting is this:

My parents loved us unconditionally, taught us to love God’s Word, created rules that served as boundaries for our protection, and offered us grace when we made mistakes.

But likely one of the most important things my parents did right was to surround us with a community of believers through our church family.  This church family would echo the things that my parents were teaching us about what it meant to be a Christ follower..The friends I developed within the body of believers in the church of my childhood have been my greatest support during the joys and sorrows of my life.

So dear church family of my childhood. . .

I am only who I am by the grace of God that allowed me to be raised by you.

I will always treasure the memories I have sitting in the pews of that sanctuary with you listening to my daddy preach. However, my greatest memories of you will always be who you were to me outside those walls.

You were the church loving God and loving people. And I am so indebted to you for the love you have given to me over the past 34 years.

I am more than thrilled about what the future holds for Marietta’s First Baptist Church. I truly believe that the best days are ahead. You have a cloud of witnesses surrounding you who have called this place their church home who are cheering you on!