The juror's seat.

Friday, October 5, 2018

For six days, I found myself in the most unexpected place: a juror's seat.

I'd known about my summons to jury duty for a few weeks. But when I reported to the Wake County Justice Center that day, I thought my chances of actually sitting in a trial were slim. Hundreds of us had reported for duty, waiting to be called and either sent to a court room or dismissed. A couple hours in, my name was called and I was led to a courtroom on the 7th floor. There, I and other potential jurors were asked hours-worth of questions. What did we do for a living? What did our spouses do? Did we have children? Would we believe or not believe a child's testimony simply because it was a child testifying? Tragically, the case involved a child victim and a litany of sexual offenses committed against her. I was convinced I'd be dismissed for having young children, for being a pastor's wife, or for working with sexual abuse victims as a nurse. To my bewilderment, I watched juror after juror be dismissed while I stayed seated. I was staying on this jury.

For the next six days, I listened to the testimony of a little girl who was violated again and again and felt powerless to tell. She'd been threatened by her abuser (who lived in her home) and believed that he would destroy her family if she spoke up. This young girl was robbed of her childhood and traumatized to the point of needing years of therapy. We also heard the testimonies of her therapist, her social worker, the pediatrician who examined her, and the detective working on the case. It felt exhaustive, emotionally draining, and agonizingly slow... nothing like the courtroom dramas you see on TV that cross-examine a witness for 30 minutes, get to the bottom line, and deliver a verdict.

After all witnesses were presented, the jury was sent to deliberate. It was immediately apparent that we agreed: if we believed the victim, then the defendant was guilty on all counts. There was no physical evidence - and often, there is not - so we based our decision fully on what we believed. This is obviously such a hot topic right now, especially in the case of Brett Kavanaugh and the FBI investigation. Do I believe that all victims who come forward must be believed? No. That isn't just. Both sides must be weighed and examined equitably. In this case, though, we had every reason to believe the victim. Not because she was a child, but because if this had all been manipulated or concocted, she should have been nominated for an Academy Award for being able to dupe an entire team of therapists and professionals into believing the trauma she had endured. And without going into details of the case, it was clear to all of us she had no motive for that.

After a few hours, the jury returned to the courtroom to deliver our verdicts. I watched the unmoving expression on the defendant's face as each of the five "guilty" verdicts were read. My heart pounded visibly through my shirt. It wasn't that I second-guessed our decision. It was that our decision had sealed a man's fate: in this case, up to 40 years in prison. The weight of that made my knees buckle.

I will undoubtedly process this experience for the rest of my life. Shawn asked me if witnessing these testimonies was more traumatic than the stories I hear in the hospital, and I'd have to say yes. Because instead of just providing a listening ear, I was expected to discern and act.

As soon as I knew I'd be kept on the jury for the duration of the trial, I can't begin to tell you just how many people - specifically Christians - told me, "Why didn't you write a letter to get out of jury duty in the first place? You care for small kids and work as a nurse. They would've let you go." While I understand that they were just trying to help, I was bothered by this response. To give a bit of background, the case was truly awful timing for us: a record-breaking hurricane was on its way, Shawn was flying to Germany for the week, and I was piecing together childcare through friends and other pastors' wives all week long. Ultimately, though, I firmly believe Christians should be on the forefront of the cause of justice. I believe - now more than ever - it should be Christians who lean in to hear a victim's testimony, praying that Christ would redeem her life from this point forward. It should be Christians asking themselves what can be done to prevent this kind of abuse from happening to others. It should be Christians who fight passionately on behalf of those who cannot fight for themselves. It should be Christians in the deliberation room, praying for wisdom as weighty, life-altering decisions are made. And for those of us who aren't lawyers or law enforcement or judges, what better opportunity than to serve on a jury?

Finally, sitting in a courtroom for a week helped me to understand the concept of substitutionary atonement more clearly than I ever had. As believers, we acknowledge that Jesus stepped in and took our place and took on the full punishment for our sins. He died on the cross as a substitute for sinners. I pictured myself in the seat of the defendant, hearing "guilty" read over me over and over again, not only for my known sins but those that had never been exposed. Then, in a radical turn of events that no one could have seen coming, Jesus stepped into my place and bore the full consequence for my sin. And my punishment should have been far worse than 40 years in prison: it was a lifetime separated from God. Instead, I was given full rights as God's child and heir while Jesus hung on a cross in my place. If you're a believer, that's your story, too. If you're not, I invite you to consider that stunning picture and contemplate the true and eternal life Jesus died for you to have.

The hope of eternity.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

I glanced at the clock: 10:35 pm. Time of death, 10:35. I'd heard doctors declare the time of a patient's death a dozen times before in my work as a nurse. It's always a somber moment, whether death was expected or not, and there's always a hush of silence as medical personnel step away from the patient's lifeless body.

But this was different. This time, I wasn't standing beside a hospital bed. I was crouched on my bathroom floor. The bleeding began and I knew it was over. In the haze of hormones that pulsed through my veins, I thought that if this child didn't have a name and would never celebrate a birthday, at least I should know the time that marked his end.

It was in June that we suffered a third miscarriage. This pregnancy had been a complete surprise and it had taken Shawn and me a couple weeks to wrap our minds around a coming fourth child. But we had. And it seemed as soon as we did, I had the strange sense that we wouldn't get to meet this baby on this side of eternity. I called my doctor and reported no other symptoms besides a nagging feeling that something was "off." He brought me to the office for labs and, a few hours later, delivered grim news. My hormone levels were far from where they should be at this point in pregnancy and I would probably miscarry within 3 to 5 days. Mercifully, it came much sooner: at 10:35pm that night.

Miscarriages don't get easier the more you have. But this third time, I did feel more emotionally prepared to handle the process. Much of that I owe to this book: Inheritance of Tears: Trusting the Lord of Life When Death Visits the Womb by Jessalyn Hutto. A friend recommended it to me and, even as I miscarried, it was as though the author was spoon-feeding me gospel truth that I needed in those weak moments. She doesn't shy away from the toughest questions ("Where is my baby now?" "Is my miscarriage a punishment from God?") and builds a strong theological framework for suffering in the setting of miscarriage.

I wanted to share a few things I've gleaned as I've walked through these three miscarriages. I know I will always process these losses and probably feel differently as time goes on and the Lord continues to heal broken places in my heart. But I hope these truths are an encouragement to you or to someone you know who is struggling through a painful loss.

I won't fully understand God's sovereign ways this side of heaven. Do I believe I will see my three lost babies when I get there? I do. They aren't lost to God. Psalm 22:9-10 says, "Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother's breast. From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother's womb you have been my God." I know from 25 years of walking with him that God is my wise, loving Father and that I can deeply trust him, even in the midst of pain. What I trust is God's character, and that His actions toward me (and my babies) are for our good and his glory.

Jesus grieves alongside me. Has he himself experienced the loss of a baby? No. He has experienced far worse. He experienced the loss of his Father as he was separated from him in our place. And he has experienced every emotion that accompanies miscarriage: loneliness, isolation, grief, pain. Hebrews 2:17-18 reminds us, "For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people." This Jesus who understands our pain offers fellowship to us in our miscarriages. Run to him.

"For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ." - 2 Corinthians 1:5

For believers, death is not the final word. Our glorious, eternal future with God is the hope we cling to, and I yearn like never before for Christ to return and obliterate death forever. Heaven has become more tangible when I think of three perfectly joyful, perfectly whole children waiting for us there. They are, even now, experiencing more contentment, peace, and love than this world could ever give.

I love this quote from Inheritance of Tears: "Imagine the multitude of souls - babies who have died in the womb - who have been chosen by God for the glorious light of heaven before they had the chance to see the light of our sin-darkened world. Does this knowledge of their resurrection not lessen the grief we experience at our loss?" For me, the answer is a resounding yes.

"Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him." - 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

Hutto also writes, "The incarnation offers beautiful hope for the woman who has miscarried. The death of a baby within the womb is a painful reminder - if not one of the most fundamental expressions - of death's curse over humanity. The good news is that Jesus came to reverse exactly that curse." What incredible hope we have!

If you're interested, you can read about Miscarriage 1 here: Immanuel. 
and Miscarriage 2 here: With Hope.

Oils for dummies.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Dear Mamas,

If we were having a cup of coffee today, I'd mention these. I've loved oils for a while, but haven't had the time or energy to learn allllll their uses or make my own blends. So I was excited to find Earthoilsco.com through a friend. These blends, made with DoTERRA oils, are for oil newbies like me who need instructions right on the bottle and a convenient rollerball to actually put them to use. "Milk Mama" helped me maintain my milk supply while I was nursing, "Tiny Teeth" has been invaluable for our teething Brooksie (and makes him smell woodsy and divine), and "Sleepy Baby" has become a nightly ritual. I love that Mandy is making oils accessible for busy moms like me.

*This is not a paid ad and I don't sell oils... I just love these and thought you should know!

An encouraging addendum.

Friday, September 7, 2018

If you read my last post on reading, this video could not be more pertinent. I'm a big Gloria Furman fan and have read nearly all of her books and been so encouraged by them. I couldn't love this more.

"God made us to live on the Bread of Life. . . so in your limited, very precious time, focus on the good stuff. . . Take big chunks of Scripture and just work hard. Don't settle for little sound bites that aren't going to give you very much hope."
How Can a Busy Mom Become a Better Theologian? from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Moms who read.

Thursday, September 6, 2018


I've recently stopped asking this question at play dates with other moms:

"What are you reading?"

Because too often, I'm met with blank stares and vague descriptions of "that one book on my night stand... I can't remember who it's by." What was meant to be a friendly conversation starter ends awkwardly and I feel badly for asking (though I'd really love to know).

It leads me to believe that many young moms aren't reading, and let me say, I completely understand. Our days are packed to the brim and often by the end, I'm falling into bed and asleep within minutes. Our lives with little ones are demanding and often overstimulating, and we don't have one more brain cell open for input. So our conversations as moms revolve around little else than who's potty training, who got the least amount of sleep last night, and which playgrounds are most stroller-friendly. And, to be honest, I think we can do better. We can have deeper, more meaningful, more edifying conversations as mothers. And I believe it starts with something as simple as reading.

I'll admit up front, I'm a bit of a bibliophile. I spend much of my free time and extra money on great books, simply because I love them. I love the more well-rounded person I am after reading them. When feeding myself with great words, I am apt to use them in conversation. I'm more likely to think deeply. I feel fulfilled outside of my all-consuming role as a mother, and that's healthy - especially for my kids. I'm finding as a homeschool mom who is around her children 24/7 (unless I'm working at the hospital, which is obviously not a break), it's imperative that I invest in myself. More than just for me, it takes pressure off of my kids that my entire world revolves around them. No one should bear that kind of weight. (For more on this topic, see this really helpful article on Charlotte Mason's concept of "Mother Culture".) Reading for myself also models to my children that learning and growing as a person is important to me even though I'm not in school anymore. I pray they develop a lifelong love of learning. There's little more powerful in this world than a passionate curiosity.

The homeschool curriculum we've chosen for this year includes dozens of books that we read aloud as a family, and I'm beginning to believe that our time spent reading together will be one of my very favorite memories of young motherhood. Just in the past 5 weeks, we've hidden in a boxcar with orphaned children. We've dived into the deep waters off of coastal Florida and swam with dolphins. And right now, we're on a ship with Doctor Doolittle and his host of talking animals, sailing back to England. These adventures - all while cozied up on the couch together - are priceless to us. But beyond reading just for our kids, we should be reading for ourselves.

So in honor of National Read a Book Day today, where do we begin? When can we possibly have time or space for reading?

I'd like to make a few suggestions:

Get up early. I know, I know. You've already heard this but it's just so hard, especially with kids who still don't sleep through the night. But setting my alarm for just 45 minutes before I expect my earliest risers makes all the difference in my day. I'm able to shower, get ready, and spend time in the Word. Even if it's only 10 minutes (but hopefully longer) of praying and journaling and meditating on a verse or two, by the time my kids come bouncing down the stairs, I've filled my mind with truth that I can hold onto for the rest of the day. Or at least until nap time when I can pick it back up.

Read during rest time. There are always things we can be doing during kids' naps (laundry, dinner prep, scrolling through social media). But many of those things can wait or be done better if we take time for ourselves first. When I feel overwhelmed, it's easy to think, "I just need a day off." But not only is that not very realistic, it may not be as refreshing as I'd hoped. I might get a mani/pedi and head back home, only to re-enter chaos just as unprepared and overwhelmed as I left it. Instead, choosing to fill your mind by reading for just 20 minutes (without other auditory input from little ones) may be just as refreshing. For me, it's more effective self-care than just about anything else. Don't take my word for it. Give it a try.

Try audio books. I love listening to audio books or podcasts while I'm in the shower or getting ready in the morning or folding laundry, or even on my way home from work. Even 15 minutes can be such a delight.

Reserve books from the library. I know when I take all 3 kids to the library, it's nearly impossible to scan the shelves for a book for myself without someone having a meltdown. So reserve them in advance and have them ready to pick up. It's probably easier than you think.

Here are a few favorite books that I've read this year and would recommend:

The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence - Short and packed with practical wisdom. A perfect companion to devotional time.

Small Great Things by Jodi Piccoult - A fascinating fictional story that deals with race relations in modern America. It is painful to read at times, but has a redemptive ending.

Seated with Christ by Heather Holleman - I read this one with a group of pastors' wives at our church and I have referenced it so many times in my personal Bible study. So encouraging and insightful.

Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie - Encouragement for the homeschooling mom - especially helpful for those just starting out (like me).

Mere Motherhood by Cindy Rollins - More encouragement from the homeschooling mom from a believer's perspective (and mom of 9 who has been there, done all of it!). Loved this.

The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom - It had been 20 years or more since I'd read this, and my sister suggested it. How powerful! The story tells of God's faithfulness in the deepest imaginable suffering and also how beautifully He used a Dutch watchmaker and his family for His glory.

Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance - A fascinating story of a "hillbilly" who goes on to pursue higher education. Very well written.

Educated by Tara Westover - I'm currently in the middle of this - the story of a girl who grew up in a fundamentalist Mormon family that not only keeps her out of public school, but doesn't homeschool her either. Amazingly, she ends up with a PhD from Cambridge. Beautifully written and an incredible story.
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