Blog Archive

Saturday, January 16, 2016

One of my Heroes and a Full Circle Moment

A few weeks ago I met one of my heroes...a woman whose passion to speak the truth has changed my life.

I've written here about my depression and anxiety and how in the aftermath of loosing Ava, I finally realized I needed to do more than survive.  

He allowed me to see how the need for approval and acceptance was in equal parts fueling and choking my life. I was driven to seek out and make all the "right" choices in parenting, in relationships, as a homemaker, as a friend and at the root of it all, as a follower of Jesus. But the need to do it "right" was a reaction to my paralyzing fear that if there was a right choice that could be known, and I didn't make it, then somehow the outcome would be my fault. The failure would be on me. And I would lose my life-source...the approval of everyone around me and worst of all, my Father in heaven.

 I lived in constant fear of disappointing the one who I wanted to please more than anyone else. It was eating away at me. But I was clueless as to how to break free.

God, doesn't force his wisdom on us. Instead, in his tender mercy, our patient Father will let us use our broken tools until our hands are tired and bleeding and we finally let them drop to the floor. 

Enter medication. Enter a wise counselor. Then...

Enter, Christa Black

Because she too is a speaker and sharer of truth, my precious mama sent me the link to three sermons which would be the key to unlocking my heart to GRACE. 

Real grace. Can't earn it,  don't deserve it, lavishly extravagant, wonderful grace.  

Friends, I heard these talks, and they were like water in the desert. For the first time in 36 years I actually believed that God, approved of me. ...That there was no SHOULD....That I was not responsible for being or doing anything more than being His beloved!...That I couldn't disappoint him....That He saw my selfish, broken, manipulative heart and was delighted to let his son's sacrifice be ENOUGH to cover and completely absorb my mess. And that never again, as long as I live and beyond -- all the way into eternity -- is there any SHAME. No should. No striving. Over Anything. Ever.

It's really true. And that truth finally penetrated my broken heart and every day since then has been a miraculous adventure in exploring this new playground of grace.

If he is either working all things together for good, or redeeming all things, then I have permission. To succeed, to fail, to TRY! 

If I can't disappoint him, because Christ in me is His absolute favorite, then I have no fear of failure! 

What would I do if I wasn't afraid? First up? Educate my own children, in my own home. 

My lifelong desire to home-school had previously choked me with fear. On my best days I struggle with organization and administration. I'm an implementer, not a visionary. Home educating three girls with unique needs felt overwhelming and even impossible! Was it fair to place my children's educational future in my hands? I wanted to but I was terrified. 

And then suddenly, I wasn't! If I couldn't disappoint God, maybe I could learn how to juggle the many hats of mom, homemaker, teacher. What if knew He could redeem my best efforts? What if I humbly offered my loaves and fish and trusted that he would multiply it to feed my own little multitude? 

So in May of 2014, we stepped out into the unknown and began our homeschooling journey. Day by day God has been faithful. He has provided us with community, supplied me with direction and wisdom I needed and grace for the messy and long and hard days. He has strengthened my character as I grow into the teacher I want my daughters to have. It is hard. It is precious. And one day, week, month, year at a time, he's gently leading us forward.

There is so much I want to share here. The stories are piling up, but I had to go back because so much of our New York Adventure has only been possible because of the new freedom we've found to hope and risk to pursue our dreams. Meeting Christa here in New York was in many ways, coming full circle. It was such a privilege to hear her teach and then to have the opportunity to tell her how influential she has been in my own life--and because I'm a truth-sharer like my mama--in the lives of my family and friends. 

I can't share our journey without our new reality front and center. We've been invited to try and fail and risk and fall and dance and enjoy the ride without fear....

And the best part? Our precious girls are on the ride with us! Our daughters are learning right alongside us that they too are free and brave and beloved.

So much more to come...

Friday, November 6, 2015

We're Here!!

Have you ever tried drinking from a fire hose? Neither have I, but I've heard it's almost as intense and overwhelming as moving a family of five to Manhattan! After a month of hanging on for dear life I'm so excited to send out a quick update: We ARRIVED! 

In light of the hurricane threatening to send rain into Manhattan, we shortened our cross country trek to two days and arrived around 8 PM on October 2nd.  

We managed to hire movers over the web while driving down the interstate in Pennsylvania, happily unloaded our Uhaul trailer, circled for an hour at midnight to find a *cross-your-fingers-it's-
legal* parking space, and promptly got our car towed! 
But if there's one thing Matt loves more than a happy ending, it's a dramatic story, so even that had an upside. 
Matt traipsed downtown and uptown and then downtown again in the pouring rain, and at the end of the day the tow-yard was closed for the weekend, so --good news-- we had free parking until Monday morning! No sooner had we claimed our van, then we parked it on Riverside drive and it was lovingly assaulted by a too-close driver and our drivers' side mirror was no more!
Suddenly, we were official New Yorkers! We've found we're part of a large brotherhood and have learned that being towed is part of owning a car here and our van will likely get its share of bumps and bruises thru the years. Now isn't that reassuring?!

We had three sets of visitors in our first week and it gave us a great chance to explore our new city and make sure we remembered, in the middle of all the moving craziness, to celebrate Matt's birthday!

We live in Washington Heights (Northern Harlem) and are surrounded by folks from the Dominican Republic. I'm delighted that we get so much time interacting with new cultures and the girls love speaking to our neighbors in Spanish anytime they get the chance. Because we home-school, we're often moving about the neighborhood during school hours, and this mama and her three exuberant clones draw quite a lot of attention at the grocery store and on the subway. They just skip up Broadway and spread joy wherever we go. Our apartment (a furnished sublet for the next 9 months) is delightful. It's on the Hudson River, and we wake each morning to watch the sunrise reflecting off the palisades and the river itself.

After being led on a bit of a rabbit-trail in the search for faculty housing, we, who had no idea where we should live in this great big beast of a city, have been plopped down in such a beautiful space!

We are a quick walk from a running/walking trail along the waterfront, very near two awesome parks and along the way get to breathe in nature and beauty and marvel at God's extravagant grace.

While things have technically slowed down, I still find that it takes every one of my brain cells to do ANYTHING with three kids in tow, so we're spending all of our energy learning new ways of doing everything.

Grocery shopping: we walk six blocks to the grocery store, learn Spanish words for breakfast sausage, sweet potato and  'yes, all these children are mine", say hello to our favorite checker, Darlene, and then carry our food home with us.

Laundry: the girls and I parade down to the spacious laundry room on the ground floor of our building and using our "laundry credit card", for the price of a grande vanilla latte with an extra pump of coconut syrup, we get clean sheets! Bonus, we get to meet our neighbors, "si, tres ninas"..."si, solo ninas"...(everyone likes to comment on our three girls!) and meet people who have lived here in this very building for 50 years!

Errands: What? Errands? Skip them. Not worth losing our parking spot. OR better yet, ride the most amazing subway system in the world! But remember, you'll have to carry whatever you purchase home with chose wisely! Suddenly, those daily trips to Target (lets face it, they really were just about getting out of the house) are a thing of the past! We're either homeschooling around our table, walking to the park, or hauling groceries. Go figure, we moved to the big city and our life got surprisingly simplified!

The girls have transitioned amazingly, and God is answering my prayers to grow my trust in his specific care for each of our girls. He's taking such good care of them and I'm blown away by their confidence and peace and enjoyment of this crazy city life! Hannah loves to test herself on the subway train to see how much jostling she can take before she has to hold the bar, Elizabeth loves to run downstairs (4 floors) to check the mail, and last week I pointed out a suburb in New Jersey to Ruby and said, "this is the kind of place where Grandma could live if she moves here" and Ruby quickly said, "No, Grandma should live in our building. That way we won't have to move our car [read: lose our parking spot] to go visit her!" They are quickly becoming city kids!

Our neighbors ran in the NYC Marathon last weekend, so we got to make signs and cheer them on with a group of new friends from our Church.

We have a church people! God is so good! We've been drawn to a warm community of believers in the Upper West Side and are in awe of how gracious our entry has felt. Three families from our home-school community attend there, as does our dear friend, Elisabeth, with whom we've been joyfully reunited after a 10 year hiatus. As far as we're concerned, NY is the friendliest city in which we've had the privilege to live. Everyone here is eager to help us get our bearings, find the subway, learn to speak/order food/purchase groceries in Spanish, cross the street without dying, and successfully get our kids on the subway.  We LOVE the constant interactions with neighbors and the frequent opportunities to explain the gospel in real life to the girls. They are learning so much, and so are we!

Matt's loving his work here, and is quickly making connections and is able to see opportunities to use his gifts. There are the institutional speed bumps and politics to navigate, but Matt has been well equipped with discernment and wisdom, so he's rolling with the punches and is seeing God's provision of favor and great working relationships. This week he's in Florida, later this month he'll travel to Mumbai to speak at a conference, and next spring he's heading to Japan! We're so proud of him and are overjoyed to see the fruit of his hard work and God's mercy.  I'm slowly adjusting to doing life in someone else's home with someone else's stuff! There are all the usual hiccups...but at the risk of glossing over some of the difficult parts of this transition, we really are so happy here, and even the hard and complicated parts are pointing us to areas where God wants to supply our needs.

Now that I've gotten caught up, I hope to post shorter updates and photos of our life on Instagram @saraeharms and here on our blog. 

We're also planning to send out a Christmas card for the first time in a number of years, so if you'd like one, and you don't think I have your correct address, please update us! you can PM me on facebook or use the email in the sidebar and send us your mailing address.

Much much love from our crazy adventuring family to yours!

Matt, Sara & the Girlies

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A New Adventure

In an effort to include ALL the amazing twists and turns, I keep delaying send in out an email...but it doesn't appear there will be a break in the action, so here comes the Harms Family Update! We're moving to New York City (yep, Manhattan!) where Matt has been offered the job of his dreams at Columbia University, and the girls and I will open the Big City campus of the Harms Homeschool! 

Friends, God is so, so good.

These past 10 years have been such an intense journey through grief, and sorrow, and learning to mine the dark and messy places for signs of God's goodness and faithfulness. Many precious treasures have been found, and He has carried us through much loss, but if I'm honest, the pain, which sometimes felt unending, has taken its toll on our hope and trust.

Shortly before moving to St. Louis, Matt and I had a conversation in which someone asked us about our dreams for the next 10 years. We stared blankly at the man, and had nothing to say. Dreams? We had none. How could we dream when at any moment our daughter could be hospitalized with a life threatening medial crisis, when her health, development and future were so uncertain? At any moment, all plans were laid aside. Our life was awash with uncertainty, and to hope and plan for anything was simply too painful. It wasn't even possible. Our hearts responded to our pain by letting go of our dreams, tempering our hope, and ultimately, protecting our hearts from being disappointed in God. We had no dreams.

But God! He has faithfully used all the heartbreak of the past few years to strip us of our self-protection, and is graciously reintroducing us to hope again.

And so, for the first time since Elizabeth was born, we are dreaming!

In the middle of May, Matt was invited to speak at Columbia, and while there he was offered his dream job doing patient centered research on ALS. We've been really happy here at Wash U and in St. Louis in general, so we hadn't even realized there was a dream job out there!  Thanks to the amazing success of the Ice Bucket Challenge, Matt will be able to use his gifts and talents at a world class institution to make huge strides in understanding ALS!

There is so much more to share, and I will as soon as I can take a breath! In the mean time, our dear friends are helping us sell our house, (Click to View Listings) God has delightfully provided us with a fully furnished sublet in Upper Manhattan near the hospital where Matt will work and we have seamlessly transitioned to an Upper West Side community for our Homeschool Co-op, ( 

Friends, we are really dreaming. 

Early on in the process, as Ruby processed the loss of everything familiar and her fear about the unknown, God gave us a Disneyland metaphor for this grand adventure.  He has invited us to a good and exciting place. And because HE has invited us, HE is planning the trip, outlining the route, scheduling the pit stops, arranging the hotels and buying the tickets! We don't have to handle all the details ourselves, and we certainly don't have to be afraid of the destination. We are learning that he is as committed to providing for our dreams and desires as he is for His commands. We are learning that sometimes a ride roller coaster can feel a lot like free-falling, but we are securely strapped into the arms of our loving Father and we really don't have to be afraid. 

So as long as we know He has us, we might as well throw our hands up in the air and enjoy the thrill of the ride! 

Friday, May 2, 2014

Sympathy and Empathy

A blogger I follow posted the link to this video and it's a priceless tutorial on the difference between sympathy and empathy by the brilliant Brene Brown. We've been on the receiving end of both over the years and she explains the difference better than I could. If you're wondering how to care for someone who's in a difficult place, this may be a place to start.


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Hello Friends and Family,
After such a long season of quiet, the end of 2013 provides a lovely opportunity for a family update!
Since our family celebrated Ava Day in May, we've been slowly moving forward. There are far too many hills and valleys to walk through them all today, but looking back, we have continued to see God's faithful hand at our backs, gently guiding us onward, and in front of us, clearing a path. Ava remains part of our daily conversation and the girls love to incorporate her into our activities. The hole she left in our hearts remains and these family celebrations give us many opportunities to reflect on our journey.
Matt is busy with work in at Wash U and his research lab is on good footing. After injuring his back and cervical spine with unfortunate snow shoveling technique he has been slowly recovering and is looking forward to resuming his running in the New Year!
Elizabeth is loving 2nd grade and continues to thrive at her charter school. She has a wonderful teacher and is blessed to have Mrs. R as her aide in the classroom. She's increasingly independent, super creative and loves to write and make up stories with her sisters. She recently declared she was a songwriter, so we look forward to seeing her develop her skills! 
Ruby is thriving in Kindergarten and loves to sing, read, draw, snuggle and is very proud of the calluses on her hands from all the climbing she does on the school playground! She is a loyal friend, and very caring and empathetic. She never lets anyone cry alone, so if you need a shoulder to cry on, she's your gal.
Hannah Mae is our little adventurer! She's learning to write her name, loves to sing and build and scare her mama by hanging from high places like a monkey! She comes with me to a Thursday morning bible study and loves to pray for her friends, and every single ambulance or fire truck we see!
I, Sara, am doing well. After a full summer of swim lessons, visits from out-of-town friends, a Harms family reunion at the Oregon Coast, and a wonderful road trip to Canada to visit my sister's family, the start of school in August almost felt like a break in the action! We tried to slow down a bit this fall while Matt traveled quite a bit for work and that has allowed us to have a really peaceful Advent.
We are so grateful to be able to fly to California for Christmas to be with my parents and siblings and all the nieces and nephews. While I write this, Elizabeth is hunkered down with a stomach virus, but even illness feels easier when surrounded by family.
We hope you and your family are doing well, and pray you would experience the deep love of God in this coming year. We are so grateful to have you in our lives!
Sara (for all of us!) 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Ava's Glorious Day

What a day.

I woke up at 5:50am with the lyrics to Tim Hughes' "Oh Happy Day" in my head. Strange. But I couldn't shake them! I kept finding myself humming, "oh, what a glorious day"....until I finally had to look up
the rest of the song.

The greatest day in history,
Death is beaten
You have rescued me
Sing it out, Jesus is alive!
The empty cross, The empty grave
Life eternal You have won the day
Shout it out, Jesus is alive!
He's alive!

Oh happy day, happy day
You washed my sin away
Oh happy day, happy day
I'll never be the same
Forever I am changed

When I stand, in that place
Free at last, meeting face to face
I am Yours Jesus You are mine
Endless joy, perfect peace
Earthly pain finally will cease
Celebrate Jesus is alive!
He's alive!

Oh what a glorious day!
What a glorious way
That You have saved me!
Oh what a glorious day!
What a glorious name!

What a perfect thing to remember today.

Because He is alive, Ava is alive, and is spending her second birthday gloriously, wonderfully WHOLE! What a celebration she must be having!

Here in our yard, in celebration of Ava Day, our very first peony (we've decided it's Ava's flower) was ready to burst into bloom...

Grandma came to care for the girls, and spent the morning at a school event with Elizabeth's class.

As a result, Matt and I had precious together time over breakfast and then walked through the Missouri Botanical Gardens to see their peonies in glorious color. Oh how their bright and happy blooms just delight my heart! We sat by the lake and read a few cards from friends and family. We read your texts and emails and felt the love from all over. 

We arrived home to prepare for our Ava Day family celebration and a backyard bar-b-que. The girls and I made lemon cupcakes with sparkly pink icing which were lovingly decorated and later joyfully consumed! It's a birthday tradition in our family that everyone shares something they love about the birthday girl (or boy), so Ava got her turn and we all shared our memories and special stories. What a year of experiences we had with our Little Bean.

Finally, we had a backyard camp-out tonight, complete with campfire, hotdogs, marshmallows and the girls' first experience sleeping in a tent! Good thing their Daddy is a great sleeper. I left them to their adventure, and I'm going to enjoy a comfy bed and quiet house as long as I can!

As I climb into bed, I look out at the perfectly round moon, and am again awestruck by God's faithfulness to bring so much beauty out of so much sorrow. We ache to hold our sweet one. We shed tears over our loss. And yet we are full to running over with precious memories and gratefulness for the time we had together.

Thank you all for your cards, flowers, texts, and emails, voice-mails and pictures of the moon from all over the world tonight! You love us so well.

Goodnight dear ones and goodnight Ava Bean.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Year With Ava

Someone knew us.

Someone knew that capturing moments and people we love on film might be called my "love language".

Someone knew our time with our sweet girl was precious and short.

And that someone, also knew the talented Josh and Amy Heater at SweetTea Media and asked them to give us the gift of a lifetime.

In March, three months before Ava died, Amy offered to begin coming to our home and following our family to capture the moments we lived and played with and cherished our Ava Bean. We couldn't say YES fast enough! You've already seen some of the footage in the video we played at Ava's memorial service, but that was only a slice of the treasured moments they captured.

The movie below is another treasure. For me, it's 20 minutes of grace. I feel like I can almost touch her again. Reliving those moments and remembering the dear people who made them possible has been part of my therapy this week.

We still don't know who that Someone is. But we are forever grateful.

A Year With Ava from sweetTea media on Vimeo.

Special thanks to Stephen Miller for use of his songs I Surrender All and How Deep the Father's Love for Us

Friday, May 17, 2013

Ava's Nest

Last April, Matt traveled to New Orleans for a medical conference and happened to walk by a studio hosting an exhibit by Mitchell Lonas, and was enthralled. He stood in front of the enormous pieces of art and was blown away by the intricate nests carved into metal canvases.We dreamed about having his work in our home.

When it became clear that Ava was moving closer to heaven, Matt and I decided we wanted to have her body cremated. Though we knew her spirit was free and whole and in the presence of her Creator, the idea of her body being laid to rest anywhere away from us, simply broke our hearts, and we couldn't do it.

 Shortly after her memorial service, Matt was put in touch with Mitchell, and asked if he'd be willing to create a memorial piece for our Little Bird. She has left our nest. She is at peace and we couldn't imagine a better way to treasure her memory. Mitchell graciously agreed, and in October, we received this breathtaking tribute to our precious girl.
Thank you to Ashleigh Blevins for capturing Ava's Nest on film.

Posted by Picasa

Thursday, May 16, 2013

For months, I've had nothing to say. I couldn't name what was happening inside for anyone else. The sheer intensity of life and trying to stay present in the moments that filled each day left no room for silence and writing and sharing. So I have treasured things in my heart and waited for the time I knew would come.

I didn't know what exactly I needed. But God did. Slowly, He's created for me a space. 

A special place to remember. 

In the fall, a dear friend helped me redesign my living room. She placed the framed picture of Ava under the we would see it many times a day. Shortly after that, we received the memorial piece we'd had made for Ava. A beautiful piece of art, custom created by Mitchell Lonas

Finally, Grandma Harms' moving truck arrived this week with her precious things from her home with Grandpa in California. She had set aside this chair for us and as soon as I sat in it, I burst into tears. I wasn't sure why, until I realized, this recliner felt exactly like the one I sat in with my Ava Bean for hours and hours during her 84 days in the NICU. My body knew where it was.


As we look ahead to Ava's Day next Friday, I plan to spend many moments in this little slice of heaven. Cuddling my sweet girls, remembering our Ava Bean and reflecting on the journey of the past months. I look forward to sharing it little by time.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Pursuing the Sunrise

Thanksgiving weekend marked six months since Ava's death. Far from feeling grateful, I felt overcome. For weeks I'd sensed I was slowly slipping toward despair.

"I dreamed...I was frantically running west, trying desperately to catch [the setting sun] but I was loosing the race...I glanced over my shoulder to the east. I saw a vast darkness closing in on me".*

Round moons, and all the tulips in Holland couldn't change the fact that this life of pain and sorrow was threatening to swallow me.  From where I sat, in the throws of depression, the truths I'd believed, rehearsed, written and proclaimed couldn't gain traction.

In desperation, I sent a text.

"...I think it's about time..."

A friend responded with the number for her grief counselor, and I sat in a puddle of tears. I made an appointment, and called my doctor.

This life we have lived over the past seven and a half years has been so filled with emergencies and coping and necessary compartmentalizing that I have simply been unable to thoroughly grieve all the losses and disappointments and sorrows. And now I don't have a choice. My body is telling me that my heart needs some attention.  Some space to grieve, to be angry, disappointed and undone...and to let God meet me there.

"...the quickest way for anyone to reach the sun and the light of day is not to run west, chasing after the setting sun, but to head east, plunging into the darkness until one comes to the sunrise."*

I am choosing to walk into the darkness of grief and to open myself to the sorrow.  The medication I'm taking is helping my brain to feel safe to process and has lifted the veil of despair enough for me to remember what I want, and what I know is true.  I am spending time with a grief counselor regularly and am grateful for this sacred place.

It's time to take care of myself. For Ava, for my family, and for me.

*Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised

Monday, December 24, 2012

Monday, December 17, 2012


This weekend, while I sat with Elizabeth in the hospital, three friends came one after the other with hugs, encouragement, prayers, Q'doba and Starbucks. And while my heart was being cared for, a group of folks from our church descended on our home to clean, organize, sort, fix, entertain our girls and bless our family. Now, every time I notice an area that was touched, I thank God for his Body, and that He gave us such a beautiful community. We feel so loved.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

We're home!

With two days of negative blood cultures under her belt, Elizabeth was discharged this afternoon on oral antibiotics! Thank you all for your prayers!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Our Little Pandemic

We'd appreciate your prayers for Eliza-bug. After a high fever with no clear source, we got bloodwork done yesterday and this morning she's being admitted for bacteremia again. This time it's a bug that won't respond to her oral medications, so we'll be in the hospital for IV treatment. On top of her blood bacteria, she has TWO viruses...including croup! She feels pretty miserable, but is still her cheerful self. What a trooper!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Moon is Round

When it is dark and only a sliver of the moon is showing, what do you know?

You know that, though you cannot see it, the moon is round.

In those moments, and seasons when we can only see a sliver of God’s purposes and intentions, what are we left with?

We are left to believe what we know to be true, though we cannot see and cannot understand.

Our pastor reminded us of this during Ava's memorials service and while it was comforting at the time, in the 5 months since her death, it has become a multiplied blessing. It is now a precious monthly reminder of our dear girl.

Friends call, email and text to tell us...

The moon is round!

My heart is flooded with memories when I look up and see, and to know that others see it too...and remember Ava.

 ...and remember God.

So much of what I write here, is a gift to myself. Just me.

It's a place to process. A place to mark down where I was and where God was and what He was doing. It has become a sacred place to remember what I know is true, though the skies are dark and my memory fades.

The inspirational and life transforming truths that God has given me are just that, a gift for me as much as for anyone else. So much so, that in the days and weeks since my last post, I have visited this space often to read my own writing, and remember and rehearse what I believe.

We are doing well and one day at a time, God turns shifting sand into bedrock.

The moon is round.

God is who He says He is. 

I believe Him.

Thank you Pastor Jeremy for this story and the comforting words you shared at Ava's Memorial. We're forever grateful. And thank you to everyone who continues to reach out to us to share in our grief, to remember Ava with joy, to express your condolences and remind us that she--and we--are not forgotten. We're so blessed by your continued companionship.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

I don't know what to write. Every day I'm on empty. I pour out what I have, and He fills, and yet every day I'm here again.

Moments of joy, moments of quiet. Many moments of fog and silent prayers through weary lips. Lord please...carry me. 

Leaves turn on the trees and I wait for a turning in me. To feel different, to break through into a new stage.

But the missing and the ache and the sadness sits over me like the Central Valley fog I grew up with. And the margins fill up and for days and weeks I feel the lump there, growing in my throat. My need to be with her, love her and miss her.

In a rare moment of quiet today, I re-read the journal entry below from December 6, 2010.  God brought me into a place of rest, four days before finding out I was pregnant with Ava. Today, I revisit the places where God has spoken and I have heard. Places where He has loved me with life-giving Truth.


What if I believed this is how it is supposed to be?

What life this side of heaven is supposed to look like...chaotic, disheveled, small successes, frequent interruptions...this messy version of beautiful?

To believe that You created me for this, You're shaping me in this, that You're drawing me through this toward You, would be a kiss of rest and peace and contentment.  I long for that. On one hand, to stop navel gazing to see what I am doing wrong that I can fix so life will get smoother. On the other hand, to cease constantly seeking, searching for what someone else has--a trick, a fix, a tool, a method--that I'm missing, that will make my life "work". And why do I believe it's not working?? Because it's not easy. It doesn't look like the blogs I read and photos I pin. It's not perfect. But isn't that what grace is for?

I'm not perfect. My kids aren't perfect. My house isn't perfect. My life is messy. And the shame, the condemnation, the stress that the goal of perfect produces, is unbelievably heavy.

God, can I give you that burden? The burden of rightness, perfection, and ideal?

The one you died for, because of what I couldn't be and what I couldn't do? And could I receive the truth that you're not waiting for me to get it right?

Oh Lord, I just need heaps and heaps of grace. For days that go as planned, and ones that get lost in the grind. To release my ideals and plans to you and know you are lovingly working and weaving in everything to make me more like you.  Every bit of this is Grace.

For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with us in our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet without sin.  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.  ~Hebrews 4:15-16

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Our Story: God's Faithfulness

Last spring, we were approached by our church, The Journey, with the idea of creating a video about God's faithfulness to our family throughout Ava's birth and diagnosis. Though she passed away before the filming could take place, we felt like God's story was so important that we went ahead with the interview.

Five days after Ava died we had a film crew in our home and though they were extraordinarily gracious, after a 10-hour day of filming, Matt and I wondered if we could have possibly said anything coherent. We were totally spent. Honestly, it made it easier to leave the whole project in God's hands, knowing if He wanted to make something of it, that would be HIS job, not ours. 

This weekend, they showed the video as part of the sermon, and we were extremely humbled and grateful to see our small part in God's great story. He is so faithful.

If you'd like to, you can view the 12 minute video here:  

In so many ways, this story is bigger than us. God sustained us by his grace, He brought countless friends and strangers into our lives to providentially care for us, and in the end, we are so thankful for the prayers and support from so many of you, which made this part of our story possible. 

Humbly and with so much love, 
Matt and Sara

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Our own time

School officially started two weeks ago.  Sweet Elizabeth spiked a fever during breakfast. No school for her, no first day pictures for me.  Two days and another prescription for antibiotics later, we finally have a first grader!

Being out of sync with the rest of the world once again stirred my heart, and I was reminded that seven years ago, God gave Matt and me a most precious gift: He began the process of freeing us.

We were on a fast and beautiful track. Happily married, medical school success, church and community we loved, and a baby on the way. Everything about our future seemed full of hope. At the time, Elizabeth's prenatal diagnosis with Turner Syndrome seemed like a devastating blow to our hopes and dreams. We wrestled with all the questions that flooded our broken hearts. We stumbled blindly through twists and turns on our faith journey, trying to make sense of our new life 

...and the change in our destination, from Italy to Holland.

And then, the gift: during that season, God took us out of the race. Not His race, but THE race. To be the best. Do the most. Raise the cutest, most accomplished. I remember naively saying to a friend, "How can I be the perfect mom, when all my parenting books...don't apply??"

What felt at first like a trap, was truly freedom.

I am a people pleaser. I prize approval. I want to fit in.

God knows my frame. And He gently lead me to still waters, toward LIFE.

Through Elizabeth's difficult and beautiful life, we have been set on a road less traveled.  And one day at a time, I'm slowly getting my bearings.

Elizabeth will develop in her own time. She is on a unique journey and is not at all concerned if she goes along with the crowd. All the childhood moments I could get worked up about, are instead held loosely. She has missed weeks and weeks of school, class pictures, birthday celebrations, family reunions and holidays. Her own birthday has been celebrated in the hospital twice. We've cancelled swim lessons and therapies, changed schools, walked out of the symphony and the outdoor theatre, skipped more activities, parties and normal childhood events then I can count. I've had to become comfortable saying, "That doesn't work for her. For us." and "I'm sorry to cancel at the last minute, Elizabeth is sick."

Every time I start to try to make our family fit in the matrix, to do what everyone else is doing--gets to do--God gently pries open my hands and reminds me that He is our inheritance.   And while it's especially true for our special daughter, God continues to whisper the truth of it for each of us.

We're not being called to look like other families.

The Author is writing our story, full of beauty and joy, laughter and tears, full precious friends and the hard work of learning and changing and growing up, all of us.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Blessings abound

Tonight, the girls finished one of our favorite activities of the summer. I shamelessly stole the idea from my dear friend Adrienne when we visited Memphis and it was a hit with our crew. Every time I observed them being a blessing: being kind, serving each other, making an especially good choice, loving each other and others well...I wrote it down on a link and they traced it or copied it (Horray for an extra OT activity for Elizabeth!) and attached it to the chain. Now that they've reached their goal of spanning the dining room, we'll have an ice cream party!

This turned out to be super motivation for me to look for all the good choices they make throughout the day, it gave them some motivation to love each other well and continues to give us language for what being a good friend, kind sister and civil member of society looks like!

Our sweet girls are such a blessing.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Before and After

Last week was a challenge. Nothing extreme, but intense nonetheless.

A cranky toddler with a fixation on tormenting her sisters. A sick kiddo who couldn't move quickly to do anything. General boredom and discontentment run amok in the ranks. More 100 degree days looming ahead, trapping us indoors yet again. 

I couldn't find my stride. 

One morning, after my intended prayer time got sabatoged by an early riser, I found myself --at 9:30 am--wishing I was a smoker, because I could really use a cigarette break!

And suddenly, like a rising tide, I missed Ava. I missed her calming presence. I missed the clarity she gave me about what was important in life. I missed the direction and focus she gave to each day. 

I missed the space when so many things didn't really matter. 

Matching clothes, clean floors, balanced meals, order and direction for our days...for many, many months they were impossibilities, so I let them go. Some of you saw it up close and marveled at how peaceful life was. And so often, by the grace of God, it was.

But that was it: There was a grace.  

God's grace enabled me to do what I'd never been able to do before. The intensity of Ava's journey required that I let go of a lot of things, and pursue only that which was essential.  Like jumping into a river to rescue a drowning child, it was a response so visceral and all consuming.  With life hanging in the balance, priorities were suddenly in order and the lawn getting mowed or the beds getting made moved appropriately down the list. 

Yes, what we went through with Ava was without question the hardest thing we've ever done.  But surrounded by prayer and practical support, eating meals prepared by friends, knowing our big girls were lovingly cared for,  it was also, in some ways, easy. 

And even when the sleep was fleeting, and the home/hospital schedule was taxing, and we weren't sure we could do another day, we had the gift of knowing our time was short to keep us from projecting out the hardships of today into the months and years to come. For the most part, we were able to savor each moment, even when it required sacrifice, knowing those moments were numbered.

Ava never had a tantrum, she never did something to make me feel angry at her, and so I never felt the guilt of overreacting. I never had the chance to feel resentment or frustration over her behavior or how my life had changed against my will.  The unique circumstances of Ava's life enabled us to be the parents we wanted to be, and now, months later, to have very few regrets about how we lived those 365 days. I will be thankful for that for the rest of my life. 

But then the adrenaline rush ended. The prayer chain emails stopped flying and life returned to a different version of normal. 

And the new reality is: even on a good day--and there are many--parenting well is a different kind of hard.

Without the crisis to inform our days, all the priorities that have been held at bay come flooding back. Now at least, I perceive that I can control some of those things and making my kids eat vegetables, developing a working schedule for our days, potty training, meal planning, grocery shopping, Elizabeth's therapies, paying bills, and keeping our home in order fill up my days again.  

Now, with all the extra space in our lives, letting go of the non-essentials for the well-being of everyone  is a choice I have to make a dozen times every day. 

And I realize, just maintaining my joy, patience and grace is a feat. Speaking with loving words when someone is being irrational and out of control is a challenge! Prioritizing people over tasks--which felt so easy three months ago--is again difficult. 

But that is the mom I want to be.  

So the honest truth is, my "before" and "after" lives both require heaps of grace for myself and my little people.  Every day it still requires speaking the truth to myself moment by moment. Believing what is true about God. Trusting the path He's chosen for me and fixing my eyes on the One who defines my success, knows my frame, and even still gently leads me forward.