Of Crooked Smiles and Happiness

I was born with a very smushed face. Part cross bite, part “wombs are tight places”,  I carried a crooked smile all the way into adolescence. Orthodontia helped a great deal; so did perfecting the ideal smile. I remember after I got my braces off, I’d flash a smile at myself every time I walked by a mirror. It was very Dorian Grey and vain, but I learned quickly how to look perfect. I was always told that I had a great smile and knew how to light up a room. I would sometimes model for my photographer friends and that perfect smile would always be on display.

I’ve struggled with happiness most my life. I was a depressed and angsty teenager and carried a lot of that discontentment into marriage and early adulthood. I eventually learned how to fight for joy, but in the later years of our marriage also lived in quite a bit of pain. All the while the perfect family pictures and model-like portraits were displayed for all the world to see. I’ve often been told that we were the most photogenic family. It was so hard for people to believe the pain we were in when we all looked so darn perfect.

A funny thing has happened in this year of endings followed by new beginnings. My crooked smile has returned. I first noticed it in the Fall. Since then it keeps cropping up in selfies and pictures where I least expect it. It is not planned or posed — and it certainly is not perfect. And yet, the way my right lower lips droops to one side is evidence of a happiness I haven’t known in decades.

 Movie day with my sister with a full droopy-lip smile on display!

My life isn’t perfect, but of course, it never was. Now the imperfection in my photos merely reflects that perfectly imperfect life I’m living. There is still residual hurt which I’m sure will take years to heal, but predominantly God has replaced my Eeyore attitude and replaced it with something more resembling Tigger. I have even found that my personality on Myers-Brigg changed. Going through a catastrophic life event has shaken me to my core. But more than that, it revealed to me that a lot of my exterior was not meant for me. It was a facade that I had created to look perfect, but it was not fundamentally “me”.

So now I’m finding out who “me” is. It seems so cliche and very chick-flicky, but divorce has stripped me of everything I thought I was and shown me a stronger, happier, and (hopefully) kinder version of myself. A self that has a crooked and undeniably happy smile and a more robust laugh; a self that isn’t ashamed of crying easily and being hopelessly sentimental; a self that desperately loves Jesus and tries to love others well; and a self that has learned how to stand on her own while trusting God on her knees. 


Love Letters

There are few things I like more than receiving hand-written letters. And love letters? Oh, those have had my heart since I received my first one at 14. I’ll never forget the way I felt as my tall, dark, and handsome crush slipped a note to me in my Biology class. Reading those words that he adored me. That I was beautiful. That he couldn’t wait to spend time with me again. I was smitten. Not much has changed in the last 18 years. I’m still a sucker for romance. Of course that’s a little more complicated when you find yourself divorced on Valentine’s Day.

In God’s providence, I became a Christian on February 13th. Not long after that first love, and subsequent heartbreak, I committed my life to Christ at my church’s winter camp. I always try to take time and reflect on that life-changing decision when the anniversary approaches. And this year I’ve found myself particularly thankful for the timing of this reminder of God’s intervention in my life.

For the past month I’ve been trying to plunge myself into the depths of Jesus’ love for me. It’s made me realize how much of the Bible is just one gorgeous love letter from the Creator of the Universe to me. I read a devotional lately that summed up His love in this way: “God in giving Christ to die for us, declared that our salvation was more dear to him than the life of his only Son.” I know that God loves his Son, an extension of Himself, perfectly and completely. And yet he sacrificed that life so he could be with me. John 3:16 — God loved Monica in this way, by giving the life of his only Son. That’s just staggering.

Last Valentine’s Day I was barely existing and was in immense pain. I spent most of it bawling with my sister and losing all hope that my marriage would ever thrive again. It was during that time that a phrase kept coming to the forefront of my Bible reading. Unfailing Love. Then I started hearing it in sermons. Unfailing Love. Finding it in song lyrics. Unfailing Love. Coming across it in books and devotionals that I was reading. Unfailing Love. Again and again the phrase “God’s unfailing love” washed over me. It came into my hurting world– the one in which the one love that was supposed to last failed. But not God’s love. His is unfailing.

This Valentine’s Day feels different. I have amazing friends who’ve checked in with me and made sure I was going to be okay. There is even a spark of a new love that brings a lot of hope and excitement. There are my kids who get so excited to give me their heart-shaped Valentines. But more than that? More than any human love? There is Jesus’ love. Just as unfailing today as it was in my pain. Just as faithful as it was 18 years ago on the day he saved me. Ever and only Jesus, writing me love letters and making me whole.


A Few of My Favorite Things

Y’all. Things have been pretty darn serious on this here old blog. I love writing and processing my pain, and this has been such a safe and wonderful place to do that. But there is so much to be grateful for. So many things to rejoice over. And so many little blessing on any given day. Thus, I’m going to spend today rejoicing and celebrating some of my favorite things that are bringing joy to my heart these days.

:: Two Door Cinema Club :: I just discovered this band and it’s on stun most days when I’m at home. It’s perfect when I’m cleaning, editing, or having a dance party with my little ones. Sun is my favorite at the moment. That bass line though!

:: Blessings for the Morning :: My mom gave this to me (I think!) last summer and it’s sat on my shelf beneath a pile of books on grief and divorce. A week or so ago I cracked it open and I have a hard time putting it down. It’s not Scripture, but it is heavily based on the promises of Scripture. And it just helps focus my day on Jesus’ immense love for me and reminds me that my day is organized by his command.

:: Asian Cashew Chopped Salad :: Yes. This salad. It is from Costco and it is so perfect. Add a little grilled chicken and it fills me up for a healthy and easy lunch. Bonus? My kids beg me to have some, so they are getting a handful of veggies in too!

:: Karate :: Well, this one isn’t for me, but it’s still on my favorite list. My boys started karate this past month and it has been uh-mazing! They are learning all about discipline, focus, and respect. Plus I turn in an at-home-behavior report card to the sensei each week. It’s been a really helpful to have some back-up in the parenting department!

:: Energy Chews :: I mean, you all know that I love all the Shaklee products. Seriously, there’s only one that I’m not completely obsessed with and I’ve tried a ton of them. But these chews, holy smokes! They are a game changer. I don’t always get the best sleep and I’ve been trying to workout three days a week. Adding this to my pre-workout routine has made a REALLY significant difference. Plus it makes mama less cranky and just a happier person to be around. Win!

:: Canon Eos Elan II :: I’ve been kicking it old school and busted out my film camera from highschool. It was extremely high-tech at the time, top of the line. I’ve been keeping it in my car and stashing it in my purse, looking for the perfect opportunities. I love film shooting. It forces you to think through your shots instead of just snapping a picture of literally everything in your life.

:: Lularoe leggings :: I realize I’m pretty much every single lady my age on this one, but seriously, I CANNOT GET ENOUGH. I live in them all day and they make me so happy. They are cute. They are soft. They are comfortable. They are flattering. All the smiley faces for Lularoe!


A Psalm

I don’t often write poetry, at least not since my high school days when I fancied myself something of a poet laureate. But a friend of mine recently encouraged me to write a psalm. I always do my homework assignments, so I couldn’t exactly say no. Bear with my attempt.

The center of his will, the apple of his eye
That is where my Lord has placed me
No circumstance can thwart his perfect plan
No consequence betray his unfailing love

The mighty winds may crash and howl
They are no match for the sound of His Name
The waves may loom and threaten nigh
They can only desist at his command

Each thorn has been placed with perfect care
To permit the blossom to flourish
Each pain and trial designed for me
For my good and for your glory

My soul has longed for lesser things
For ease, for comfort, for plenty
Yet you satisfy with your very presence
With joy, with grace, with freedom

I thank you, Lord, for the works you’ve done
How you’ve toiled over me with patience
I thank you, Jesus, for what you’ve overcome
For the endurance that you’ve promised



One of the oddest aspects of extreme grief is the loss of all security in your circumstances — and yet the nearly tangible reality of the security one has in Christ’s love. As much as the pain was excruciating, I sometimes look back on the confidence and security I had during my worst months with longing. Having lost everything that once brought you joy, you find real, true joy in Christ alone. I remember one day in April as I barely could take the next step for the day, a dear friend told me, “You are more beautiful right now than anyone I’ve ever known. When I see you I only see Jesus.”

And yet slowly as life begins repairing itself and old wounds begin to heal, my fickle heart quickly begins to search for security and hope in my surroundings. I stop looking to Jesus in that same raw and utterly dependent way. I get out of the habit of prayer as a constant dialogue and His Word as my only lifeline to sanity.  And as I begin to look to other things I find that they are unable to satisfy or give me the assurance that I’ll never be hurt again, I find myself spiraling again into discontentment, disappointment, and fear.

Oh my fickle heart, why do you settle for drinking water from mud puddles when the source of all Living Water is available?

I want a person to make me feel desired. I want a person to assure me that I’ll never be left again. I want a person to make me feel secure, safe, and that every promise they make will be kept to the fullest. I want a person to make me feel beautiful, valuable, and desired. And you know what? One already has. Completely, perfectly, and utterly.

As I found myself fearing future rejection, my mom reminded me of that all important truth. “Jesus is as obsessed with you as you want a man to be.” I nodded my head through tears and thought, “I know.” But, soul? You are so forgetful. You do know, but you need to be reminded. Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Last spring I sang that song every night to my daughter, usually through tears, hit with the weight of Jesus immense love for me. And yet the phrase barely makes a dent on my heart these days.

So I pray for myself Paul’s prayer to the Ephesians. “I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit.  Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.  And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”

This is where my security lies. In the incredible and unfathomable love of Jesus. People will fail. My own desires with deceive me. Circumstances will change and are unstable. But Jesus. He is for me and he is constant. My hope is in him.


From Pain to Passion

I sometimes look back at the last year and wonder how I survived it. The emotional pain was so acute at points that it physically hurt to exist. Jesus held me. My friends walked beside me. I managed to find beauty and joy in little things around me. Somehow I made it off of death row, past the execution, and towards a new life. 

But starting over is not for the weak. Not only had my entire life been annihilated without my consent in one quick blow, I realized I’d lost a lot of myself in bits and pieces for years and years. I barely recognized the person in the mirror– and I certainly had no idea how she’d pick herself up and create a viable life for her kids. 

It might sound extreme to say that Shaklee saved my life, but in many ways it did. I had used the products for nearly seven years. I’d referred a handful of people to my friend Harper during that time. I’d even thought about starting a business about four years ago, but thought: “I could never do that. I’m not a sales person.” But nevertheless I believed in the products, trusted the company, and saw my friend’s businesses thriving. Somewhere in my post-marriage lostness I managed to muster up the courage to ask Harper, “Do you think I’d be any good at this?” Little did I know she’d been trying to figure out how to tell me she absolutely did and thought it would be a huge help to my growing financial needs. 

So I started. It was the first decision I’d made by myself in a decade. I didn’t ask anyone (other than the Lord) and decided to go all in. Within a week I felt different. I felt brave. I felt purpose. I felt worthwhile. Things I hadn’t felt in a very long time. I looked at myself and found a piece of a girl I used to know. Someone who wasn’t afraid to do hard things, someone who was smart and ambitious and had something to offer. 

In two months I reached my first big goal. It was a lot of work but I did it. And with each fear I overcame and each person I connected with I felt more and more like I’d found my passion. Like I’d found myself. Buried under years of self-doubt, hurt, and a mountain of lies I found me. Jesus is absolutely the core of my being and author of all meaning. And yet he absolutely uses events and people (and even businesses) to grow us into who we were meant to be. And in that way, Shaklee saved my life. 

I still struggle with self-doubt (a lot, if I’m honest) but I also see proof everyday that I can do this. It’s a scary, beautiful, and radical thing to find your passion. For me it’s helping others feel better and coming alongside them to start their own businesses. Shaklee allows me to do that and empowers me every step of the way. And in turn, I’m discovering who I am and becoming who I want to be. 


Baby Steps

I’ve heard divorce compared to open heart surgery. While I don’t have much personal experience with the procedure, it seems like an apt analogy. I think this applies particularly well in the recovery stage. You wouldn’t expect someone who’d just had surgery to get up and run a marathon; in fact, the smallest little movements can be seen as huge victories. The scene is pretty familiar: someone with a severe injury finds themselves in physical therapy, post-surgery. The tiniest baby steps are applauded by their therapists and close family members. But more often than not, the patient gets frustrated by the celebration. All they can think is — I should be able to do so much more than this!

That’s where I find myself these days. Recovering from surgery, determined to take those few baby steps towards healing and normalcy. Things that used to come easily to me now take a bit of effort and planning. Tonight I felt so proud of myself for cooking at home for the fourth night in a row. For making real meals with real vegetables and seeing my kids gobble them up like they used to. I’ve exercised twice in the last three days. I even styled my hair today (and dyed it a fun color red to boot!). I have spent the last few days purging and organizing toys and closets. I’ve gotten the kids back into the routine of helping with laundry, wiping down the table, and putting away dishes.

I sat down tonight after cleaning up dinner and kind of laughed at myself. These are such simple things. I used to make every inch of my life from scratch — from clothes to toys to everything we ate at dinner. And now I’m proud of managing the basics. I used to run marathons in the domestic department, now I take baby steps. It’s easy to feel discouraged when I think of how far I have to go. But that’s where grace comes back in and overwhelms me. There is grace for baby steps.

I have a beautiful hand-lettered frame above my bed. It was sent to me by my talented friend at The Pretty Pen. It reminds me every morning: “His mercy is new every morning.” It comes from a passage in Lamentations that was my bread and butter during the worst of this last year. It’s pretty graphic in how it describes suffering, and very accurate to how my soul felt at the time: “He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.” And yet that verse about his mercy comes shining through like the morning sun and there is hope again.

This brings to mind Isaiah 40:
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.
 He gives power to the faint,
    and to him who has no might he increases strength.
 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
    and young men shall fall exhausted;
 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint.”

This is a passage for the weary. For those who are trying so hard and yet feel like they have so far to go. Notice that the reason for their trial isn’t removed — instead, their strength is increased, they will not be weary, and they will not faint. He doesn’t say, “You won’t have any problems and your life will be abundantly easy!” No, the promise is for strength, renewed strength, in the midst of exhaustion. So as I take my baby steps and feel overwhelmed at how far I have to go, I am thankful for his mercy. For his abundant strength and power, that he freely offers me each and every day.


New Year, New Normal

Going through a crisis and living in survival mode go hand-in-hand. When trouble comes crashing into our lives we batten down the hatches and prepare to weather the storm. One of my dearest friends told me this past summer, “It would be impossible for you to be too gentle with yourself right now.” Others told me: “Show yourself grace. Cut out anything extra that will require energy and attention. Let go of your normal standard of living and just survive.” In fact, I wrote all about doing those very things in my Sad Mommy post a few weeks ago.

But there comes a day when the storm passes. When the waves aren’t quite so high and the wind is back to a gentle breeze. The boat has sustained some damage during the storm, so it’s not going to operate in exactly the same way it did before. It will still require extra effort and care to be fully repaired, but mostly it will go back to sailing the sea. In short, it will find itself in a new normal after the crisis has passed.

As I’ve reflected on this New Year and what some of my hopes are for 2017, I’ve found myself processing my new normal. As the grieving has turned into accepting and the accepting into healing, a new “me” has emerged. Some of the new that has developed in me from the storm are things I’m thankful for: trust, patience, contentment, hope, empathy, a deeper relationship with Jesus, and deeper relationships with my “tribe”. But I confess that not all of the changes that have come are good. Some of the things that were perfectly permissible and even necessary during the storm have created new patterns that really shouldn’t be around in my post-crisis world.

Re-learning to put others first probably tops that list. I’m so used to prioritizing my needs and accepting help, it can be difficult to turn outwards and serve others again. My friends have been so generous and gracious to me with their time, emotions, prayers, and energy — so much so I realize that I have no idea what is going on in many of their lives. I couldn’t have borne a lot of their troubles when my own crisis was raging, but now it’s time to change that. It’s time to create new habits of serving in church, praying for others, asking questions about others, finding ways to help others, being observant and aware of the troubles in my friend’s lives.

Oddly enough one of the other areas that has sustained the most damage during the storm is my domesticity. Sort of ironic considering the name of this blog and my original intentions for starting it. I’ve gone from stay-at-home mom to work-every-spare-second-at-home mom and my home life has definitely suffered for it. I’m working to find a balance between my 5 jobs and my full-time job as a single mom. And trying to refocus a bit and getting back into better cooking/eating habits. Finding routine again after living moment-to-moment is necessary and I think will lessen stress overall in my home.

While the storm has passed, this ship surely has sustained damage. So it’s ok to still be gentle and not expect as much as myself as before. It’s ok that I still get easily overwhelmed and that some days still feel sad or hard. But it’s also good to start challenging myself and moving forward with developing a new normal. It might not look exactly like before (in fact I sure hope it doesn’t!), but it shouldn’t look like survival mode. A new sort of thriving should come — and that probably won’t happen without a bit of effort on my part. I’m thankful for a new year, new mercies, and hopefully, a new normal.



I “came of age” as a Christian in a fairly legalistic church environment. But even without that my own internal compass already points towards rules and regulation; I would’ve landed there without any external influences. Years and years of learning about grace have helped bring me to a place of really and truly believing that my actions cannot change the way God views me — for good or for ill. While my mind understands this for my salvation, my heart has still remained in the realm of un-freedom.
The verse Gal. 5:1 has stuck in my brain since my second year in college. My boyfriend at the time would quote it often and I liked it, but didn’t quite know what to do with it. “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free.” Really? Are we sure it isn’t “for rules, guilt, and shame Christ has chosen you?” I felt like being “freed” from the power of sin meant being shackled to an endless cycle of rule-following, rule-breaking, guilt, repentance, wash, rinse, and repeat.

But this past year this verse finally came alive for me. It finally hit how much weight I had put on the circumstances of my life and the people in my life to make me feel safe, loved, or valuable. I have lived my life by committee for a long time. Whatever the majority opinion was about any particular decision was what I chose. And I was often wracked with insecurity and immobilized by disapproval. At 31 I found myself unable to rely on my own judgment and plagued by self-doubt, guilt, and shame for just about everything — including everything from poor choices I’d made as a teenager to my decision to consume too many cookies last night. Summed up — I lived enslaved to fear.

This is not freedom. Living like this is crippling. This is not how Jesus wants us to live. It is for FREEDOM that Christ has set ME free. There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. He will never put his beloved to shame. Slowly, I started to switch my value from people and things and to see my worth in Christ. These verses and so many others washed over me time and again when I felt insecure or beleaguered by guilt.

So in the midst of the worst circumstances I could have ever imagined, I also found myself growing in joy, contentment, and freedom. I wrote these words in my journal this past spring: “I think the key to freedom is manna. You know, the food of the Old Testament delivered directly by the hand of God. We get manna (grace, freedom, hope, joy) for today only. We don’t have to live all our tomorrows and all our yesterdays — we just get right now, just this moment. Despite what I lack on any given day, in spite of fear, today is good. Because my God, my Jesus, He is kind. I am a child for freedom, no longer a slave to fear. He gives manna, strength for today. And promises to hear me tomorrow. To provide. Heal. Restore. Manna for each day.”

I wrote this post several months ago. I haven’t been able to hit publish because it felt unfinished. I think it’s because I’m unfinished. This isn’t a one time thing– finding freedom from shame. I woke up this morning again feeling the weight of guilt. Guilt for not being better than I am, for not being as strong as everyone thinks I am, for not missing my kids more when I’m apart from them, for not being as present as I should with family and friends, for once again being discontent with my current status and wanting to be one hundred steps further down this road than I am. 

Guilt is a tricky devil. It sneaks in and robs you of joy at the most unexpected moments. It gets you so wrapped up in your own thoughts that you find yourself questioning and overanalyzing everything. Here I find myself on a gorgeous beach, with my wonderful family, basking in 78 degrees of warmth and yet my mind is a sad mess of mush. So I stop myself again and preach that same old sermon, “Don’t live tomorrow and don’t live yesterday. What are you grateful for today, Soul? Make a list and don’t stop until you find rest in our good and kind Father.” So I did. And I again find peace. Freedom. And hope. Manna for today. 


When Santa Doesn’t Come

I’ve heard the story dozens of times. The story of my dad’s lonely Christmas. It is the story of his first one alone (for a variety of reasons) and, although sad, it has always been told with a bit of levity. How he picked out the last, lonely, sparse Christmas tree just two days before Christmas. How it looked more like the Charlie Brown Christmas tree than anything you’d see in White Christmas. How he went to decorate it with bulbs only to realize he didn’t have any ornament hangers and wound up removing the tops of the bulbs and sticking them right on the end of each branch. I always liked hearing this story as a kid. He told it in a winsome way that made you laugh even though I’m sure the actual memory was quite painful.

And now I find myself in my own sad Christmas story. Having a lonely Christmas quite unlike the movies on my TV and the songs on my radio. A Christmas where the little people that I love most in this world are not in my arms. My babies, my precious babies are 90 miles away at someone else’s house; celebrating Christmas with a family that used to be mine. And even though I’m not alone (thank the Lord a thousand times over!), my heart is as sad and delapidated as that poor Christmas tree.

I find myself in the bedroom where I grew up, where I dreamed about what my life would be. Where I slept the nights leading up to my wedding and tingled with excitement about my new life. Where I brought home my new husband, and then new babies, and the years rolled by with life being lived in this room. Life lived together. And now I find myself alone in this room. Divorced. A word I never imagined in my worst nightmares. A reality I never wanted or sought after. It’s easy to think on a day like this, “how can it even be Christmas when the tree is so barren?”

And that’s when I’m drawn to that other rugged tree, the one that held Jesus at his death. When he found himself abandoned and alone, even separated from his own Father. There is no hope in Christmas trees or presents or holidays — or even in a whole and happy family — there is only hope in Jesus. As I lay my own life, my own dreams, and my own desires before that tree, that cross, that’s where hope comes in. Because he’s not a capricious Santa, checking his list and doling out gifts to the deserving. There is hope here because despite myself he came, he died, and he saved.

I’ve heard O Holy Night my entire life. Somehow the meaning of one line has always escaped me. “Til he appeared, and the soul felt its worth.” I always thought that meant that seeing him in his perfection should make us realize how unworthy we are: “he appeared and we were humbled by our inadequacy”. But it hit me last night that there is another meaning. His coming shows how much he values us. By this incredible sacrifice, giving up his throne in heaven and humbling himself by becoming a man, Jesus has shown us how much worth our souls have. They have infinite worth to him because he gave up an infinite amount to save us.

So that is the present I am choosing to unwrap today. While my arms are empty and the tree is barren, I am overwhelmed at the immense love of my Savior. One who will never leave me or forsake me. One who left heaven because he found my soul worth saving. It is the only gift that matters and it’s our only hope for joy. Whether your arms are full and your dreams are coming true or the idea of “home” is fuzzy and painful — Jesus has come for you. Emmanuel, God with us.