The Lengths that Love Goes

One hazy afternoon in March, four of us Americans, along with two translators, visited the home of a beautiful women from Syria who has been living as a refugee in East Amman for the past four years.


The view from a sidewalk in East Amman.

As she opened the door, her face beamed with love. Her smile communicated welcome. Her eyes revealed pain, but equally so, determination and resolve. She wore a black floor-length dress with sleeves down to her wrists. Black beads and sequins were embroidered into an intricate pattern down the front of her dress. Her entire outfit was accented by her light pink, grey and black chenille hijab. She welcomed us into her very humble living room with a hug and a kiss on each cheek for the women, and a gentle nod with her hand over her heart for the guy on our team.

We hadn’t exchanged any words, but already I admired her.

We sat in the two small couches and two small chairs placed one right next to the other around the perimeter of the room. One small table sat in the middle of the room. The walls were light cream and two small square paintings in Arabic hung on one wall. The floors were covered with tan heavy-duty carpet. I wondered how this house compared to her home in Syria, what her floors were like there, and if she felt at home here.

She never spoke about a husband as she shared with us how she’s living in Jordan now with her daughter and son, how she was also raising her two nephews, whom she referred to as her sons, back at home in Syria. One day, one of the boys went out to the store and didn’t return, so his brother went look for him. Neither of them came home.

Syria is currently the primary battleground of very confusing war that started in 2012. The aftermath is resulting in buildings, homes and entire cities destroyed into piles of rubble, forcing the separation of families and communities as people are fleeing for their lives. In the midst of this, when boys are captured, they have two options: fight or go to jail. Her sons were both imprisoned.

Soon after, militants took her two year-old daughter, one afternoon.

Listening to her describe that day brought a pit to my stomach and a lump in the back of my throat. I didn’t understand any of the words she was saying as she recalled it all in Arabic, but I could see the terror replaying in her mind as I looked in her eyes before any of her words were translated into English.

We may not share the same language, but we didn’t have to. There are some aspects of motherhood that don’t require words.

Something happens to your mama heart when someone takes from you the very life you brought into this world, and for this beautiful, incredibly compassionate woman, that was the final straw.

Three hours later, her daughter was returned. She has no idea what happened to her during that time. Gripping her then toddler in her arms, she gathered what she could, took both of her children and fled the only home she had ever known for safety in Jordan.

On the afternoon we were with her, some four years after that fateful day, she told us about her current life in Amman, where her children go to a not-so-great school because the only house she can afford is in a not-so-great part of town. Her daughter wanted us to know that the men in the neighborhood are scary when they get drunk. Her young teenage son came out briefly to say hello and shake our hands. He had stayed home sick that day, but he answered a couple of our questions with a smile on his face, all while resting his hand on his mom’s shoulder. His face lit up like a sunny day when the guy in our group tossed him a small bouncy ball to keep.

She had recently learned that one of her sons had been released and fled to the closest safety he could find in Turkey – a place nearly impossible for a person living as a refugee in Jordan to get. Her other son is still in an unknown prison. She doesn’t know if…or when…she’ll ever see them again.

“I don’t have friends or family here,” she said. “Just my children. When I go out, I walk along the wall and hope no one notices me,” she explained, using a saying in Arabic we understood as someone trying to be a wallflower.

“You’re welcome here,” she said to us, extending her arms out wide. “My living room is always your living room. I’m happy today having you in my home.”

I bit my bottom lip.

As we listened, I felt like I had to keep pushing down parts of her story in my heart to make room for more. I couldn’t imagine the moments when she first realized her nephews weren’t coming home, how the three hours without her daughter must have felt like lifetimes, what she felt as she gathered only the most important items to leave her home, not knowing if, or when, she would ever return and how she currently manages to make it through one tough day after another in a country that doesn’t feel like home.

I want to remember how welcomed I was into her home. I want to remember how gracious she was in insisting we have a cup of coffee. I want to remember how vulnerable she was in sharing some of the most painful parts of her story with us, strangers to her. I want to remember how kind she was to her children. I want to remember how brave she is, how patient she is, how vibrant she is.

She holds on to hope that she and all of her children will return home one day. And yet in the midst of so many circumstances outside of her control, through slow conversation made possible by translation, she offered us everything she had.

As we left her house that afternoon, a group of young boys wanted to practice their English. “Hello,” they called down the narrow sidewalk, giggling and proud of themselves.

I turned around and pulled out the three remaining bouncy balls I had in my pocket.

“Hello,” I replied, bouncing the balls to them as fast as they could scramble to catch them.






Help People

It was a Monday afternoon. My phone buzzed with a text from an unknown number. I glanced at it long enough to realize that it was sent to me in error, so I closed the message and went about my day, racing home from yoga for a quick shower, before getting A from school and beginning the Monday afternoon marathon: homework, snack, ice skating, dinner, bath, book, bed.

Later that night, marathon complete and another week underway, I was lying in bed preparing both my mind and my phone for the next day. One last scroll through Instagram and Facebook, one last look at email, one last glance through my texts.

I stumbled back across the message from an unknown number:

“This kiki Ms Michelle this my other number my other fone don’t get service in here but this one does we are at salvation army but Wednesday morning is the last day for white flag cause over Nite side is pack Wat do we do now. I’m try to see if we can go back to the mission for the 14 days plan they have I’m patiently waiting and praying”

A few months ago, Adellyn and I were at a stoplight where a homeless man was holding a cardboard sign asking for food and money. “Mom, why is that man holding that sign? Can we give him some money?” A asked from the back seat. I found myself stumbling over my words, trying to explain why he was there and why, that day, we couldn’t give him money.

She’s brought up that conversation multiple times since then, to the point that when she was writing her 2017 list, she added help people so we would remember to do something to help the people we sometimes see at the stoplights.


I stared at the text, an actual text from a woman, likely a mom, who goes by the name Kiki, desperate for a place to sleep.

I put my phone on my nightstand, turned out the light and stared into the darkness for a long time that night. Part of me wanted to delete the text. It wasn’t meant for me anyway, I wanted to convince myself. I could hit delete, pretend it never happened. I must admit, I was all ready to make up little gift bags with hand warmers, bottled water and granola bars to keep in the car for A to hand out to people at stoplights who needed them. At the time, it sounded like a good idea.

But if someone has a need and I can help, isn’t that the core what loving people is actually about?

The next day, I replied.

Hi Kiki. My name is Kelli and I think you accidentally texted me in error yesterday. I was so saddened to get your text and wondered if you’d be willing to share any more of your situation? Do you have children? Do they have winter coats? What are your most pressing needs?

And with that text, a friendship was born. Kiki’s real name is Takeisha. She has a beautiful 8 year-old daughter and a gorgeous 2 year-old son. She’s endured a life that has been one continuous uphill climb. She is a warrior. The latest challenges have left her on the street since November and out of nights to stay at shelters.

I asked a few more questions. And what happened next was exactly what Frederick Buechner was referring to when he said, “Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It’s the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too. ”

Takeisha had recently applied for a program with Passage Home, an organization working to end homelessness. Her acceptance into the program would mean financial counseling and assistance, help with child-care and job leads as well as housing assistance. That same week, the organization had received a phone call from her pastor, Ms Michelle, who Takeisha was trying to text when she accidentally typed in my number. By the time they heard from me, asking what could be done to help, they had already put a rush on her application.

In the meantime, the intake specialists and her case manager were able to find her a safe, warm hotel that provided breakfast. I made a few phone calls and told a few friends. These women were like ninjas and we pulled together enough money to pay for her hotel, ensuring she would have a place to sleep for two and a half weeks while the paperwork, appointments, inspections and funding was processed. Instead of spending her days scrambling to find a place to stay and worrying about where her children would sleep each night, Takeisha was able to focus on completing what she needed to do to meet the program requirements, all the while telling me that her dream was to be able to help other families in similar situations one day.

This past weekend, Takeisha received the keys to her very own apartment.

Early on, there were moments when I wondered if I was crazy for responding to her text and days when I wondered if we were doing “the right thing.” There were moments in the middle when we didn’t know how long it would take for the organization to secure housing for her and how long was too long to help.

So much of my story includes times that I’ve needed help, too. Help that I couldn’t repay. Help that I couldn’t earn. Help that came with no strings attached. And because my story would be strinkingly different without the support of the people in my world, Takeisha’s text was for me, an invitation to pay that forward in my own small way.

With continued help from my ninja friends, we were able to buy Takeisha a shopping package at another amazing organization, the Green Chair, where she was able to go shopping with her case manager for gently used furniture and everything she needs to set up her new home.

Sometimes helping people means donating resources to organizations, sometimes it means being peaceful advocates for causes we believe in. Sometimes it means rolling down the window and providing a snack bag at a stoplight. And then sometimes it means getting in the trenches, without any idea for how long and at what cost, because a neighbor, a mom, a fellow human being with a name and a story sends you a text and asks for help. And somehow in the midst of it all, you come out on the other side feeling like you’re the one who is honored to call her, friend, inspired by her resilience, and grateful for the way your lives have crossed paths.

I heard from Takeisha the day after she moved in.

GM Ms Kelli we sleepy wonderful lastnite.

A Little Car Trouble Goes A Long Way

The other day, we were about 3 hours into our 4.5 hour journey to St. Louis so Adellyn could spend some time with her dad and grandparents for Christmas.


Over Thanksgiving weekend, I was side-swiped as a car changed lanes without looking, and this was the first time I had driven on the highway since getting my car back after the accident. It was a cold and blustery winter day, but to that point, the drive had been fairly uneventful.

Adellyn was soaking up How the Grinch Stole Christmas, holding her elf, Twink, who had miraculously bottled herself into a mason jar so she could make the trek (a Pinterest idea that actually worked!) in the backseat, while I was catching up on podcasts.

As we were driving down the highway, a wind gust pushed the car a little, when I noticed the hood of my car begin to flap. Not exactly what you want to see when you find yourself in the middle of Nowhere, Illinois.

“Mom, I have to go potty,” A said.

I pulled off at the next exit. Standing outside the gas station, I could fit my whole hand underneath the hood of the car while it was supposed to be down and latched. I lifted the hood a few inches and let it go, hoping it would latch. It bounced.

“That hood of yours doesn’t look good,” a gas station employee said from behind me. He must have been watching my naive tinkering. “Why don’t you take it over there to Wilkerson’s and have them look at. Take a left out of here, and it’s two doors down on the left.”

I thanked God for the friendly advice of a stranger, and that “by chance,” an auto body shop happened to be two doors down from the random exit I chose. I loaded up the kiddo and Twink, who was still traveling via mason jar, and head to Wilkerson’s.

My blood pressure and pulse were slightly elevated. I was in both panic and problem solving mode as I walked in the door. I could hear my voice start to crack as I explained to the guy behind the counter that I thought something was wrong with the latch for the hood of my car.

As a single mom, I can handle most of the things most of the time. There are a few things, however, that are guaranteed to tip me over the edge – car issues being one of them.

“Don’t you worry, ma’am,” he said. “Take a seat and we’ll take a look at it.” I think he knew I was about to lose it.

He walked outside, tinkered with the latch, went to get another guy and they tinkered with it. He came back in the door. “Your hood latch is broken,” he said. “You’re definitely going to need it to be replaced.”

“Is it safe to drive? Is there anything you can do to fix it temporarily so I can get my daughter to St. Louis and get home again tonight?” I asked, still fighting to keep control of my voice and alllllll of the feels of the moment.

Fifteen minutes later, my hood was wire-tied to a piece of metal in the front of my car, and I was back on the road. While they assured me it would be secure enough to make the trip, I didn’t take a full breath until I pulled into my driveway 8 hours later.

While I was on the road, I called the collision shop that had worked on my car to let them know about the problem. While the hood wasn’t involved in the accident, they agreed that the broken latch was suspicious, and told me to bring it in first thing the next day so they could take a look.

At 7:42, I arrived at the shop with my coffee in hand, prepared to be there for a few minutes as they determined what was broken, if it was a result of the accident and who was going to pay for it.

Nearly an hour later, the customer service manager walked out.

“I wanted to give you an update, Ms. Clark,” he said, sitting down in an open seat near me. “I know you’ve been waiting for a little while, and as suspected, the hood latch is broken. We’ve taken a look at it, and can’t find any reason that it would have been damaged in the accident, so I can’t charge it to the insurance company. Although it is an odd coincidence that it broke within a week of you getting your car back, an insurance company wouldn’t accept a charge for something like that.”

I was preparing to begin the loop de loop conversation about how, although I’ve never had any previous problems with it, and how they were the last ones to have touched it, I’m going to be responsible for paying for it to get fixed.

He continued. “After our phone call yesterday, I went ahead and ordered a latch to have on hand today, so it’s being installed right now and should be done within the next 5-10 minutes. While it’s not something the insurance company will cover, from a customer service perspective, it’s not something I feel right charging you for, so just so you know, there will be no charge today.”

“Thank you,” I said. “I’m a single mom, and while most days, I can handle most things, car stuff just really makes me feel out of my comfort zone, so I appreciate your consideration.”

All of sudden his eyes welled up with tears. “Since you said that, would you mind if I shared a little bit of my story,” he asked?

“Yeah, sure,” I replied.

“I am the son of a single mom, and growing up, I watched my mom get tangled up with a mechanic. She would have car trouble, take her car to the mechanic and not be able to afford the repairs. He would tell her she could make payments, and then just before she would finish making her payments, something else would break and the cycle would start all over again. I just never trusted him and always felt like she was getting scammed.”

“So,” he continued, “I started teaching myself and learning how to fix cars. I just couldn’t bear to stand by and do nothing for my mom. And it all just kind of went from there. That’s how I ended up getting into this whole industry in the first place. I always felt like my mom deserved more.”

“That’s incredible,” I said, fighting back my own tears.

“I had no idea that you were a single mom, but in general, I always try to make sure that we treat our customers in a way that makes them say wow, not wonder if they’re being scammed. Anyway, thanks for letting me share a bit of my story, this has been another reminder for me to continue doing the right thing.”

“Thank you,” I said again. “I really appreciate it.”

There are so, so many terrifying and heartbreaking stories that are our reality both here in the U.S. and around the world. There are days where I find myself at a loss for words and uncertain about how to feel.

But today, an early morning conversation with a collision repair manager reminded me that our greatest sources of pain can be used to be our greatest areas of influence. The pain we feel from our hardest days can produce an empathy that fuels us to meet others who are treading the same path. And when that happens, it literally takes your breath away. It’s the beauty and love and kindness that our world has the potential to behold.

Could it be that possible that perhaps a person or a platform or an office or a title won’t be what changes our world.

Could be as simple as one decision made at a time, over time, every time by you and me?

Us, the people who work at the collision centers and the coffee shops, the grocery stores and gas stations, the bookstores and the bakeries, committed to making people say wow instead of feeling scammed. Committed to ensuring that people know they are seen and not slighted, loved and not left on the margin. Committing to taking the high road, choosing to give the benefit of the doubt, choosing to show up with love and for love of our fellow person time and again.

Five minutes later, he pulled my car around to the front and left it running to stay warm. “Your car is ready, Ms. Clark. My apologies that you had to come back. Take good care.”

“Merry Christmas,” I said, as I walked out the door.

As soon as I climbed into my car, the tears fell like rain.













One Step Past Cozy

IMG_1096.JPGIt was a good thing I didn’t look outside before I put my running clothes on. While the idea of a run in the rain sounds hardcore in my head, the reality is, rain more often drives me back into my cozy bed than out onto the pavement. It’s just more…comfortable…to stay warm and dry.

So, there I stood. One foot on the sidewalk, one foot still in the house, ready to head out for a quick run before my Saturday really woke up, when the drizzle stopped me in my tracks.

Go. Don’t go. Go. Don’t go. You’re already dressed and standing here, Kelli. Go. The inner dialogue in my head is so bossy sometimes.

I run a quarter-mile loop along the street in front of my house and around my cul-de-sac. It’s not fancy. It’s the same route everyday. The potholes have become like familiar faces. I can tell time by the school bus routes. But it works with the realities of my single-mom-with-school-and-work-to-tend-to-while-raising-a-six-year-old-and-doing-all-the-lifey-things life. On good days, I can squeeze in 8-10 laps before 7:30 and the world gets a much nicer version of me afterward. It’s where I think. Where I pray. Where I wonder and allow myself to be amazed, and where I learn some things. But no matter how much I love it, I still have to talk myself past cozy and into the discomfort of hitting the trail most days.

We humans are funny little creatures of cozy, aren’t we? When given the choice, I lean towards being comfortable without even realizing it. We like 72 degrees with a light breeze. Running in the rain or running in general some days…because let’s be honest…is hard to choose over thirty minutes of sleep. Saying the hard thing in love or just avoiding the conversation all together. Chocolate or chia seeds. Staying in a loveless relationship or staying true to my soul. Doing the practical or daring to dream.

The path, it seems, is holy ground. Sacred territory. And not for the faint of heart. The path past what we can do and into what we are made for is continually paved with discomfort.

For me, through the hard, scary, there-is-no-way-in-hail that I can do this moments, I’m getting know the most authentic me. She’s not perfect. Oh, she is so far from perfect, and I actually don’t want her to be perfect anymore. I want her to be her, and I want to spend my life getting to know all about her and her Maker. She’s flawed and broken and still beautiful in her own way. I don’t love her super frizzy, has-a-life-it’s-own hair, but it sometimes makes her eyes stand out, and I like that. She prefers food that makes her feel alive and healthy, but she still enjoys the occasional Diet Coke and a good piece of dark chocolate. She is becoming more introverted as she grows but she loves people more deeply, from a braver place now. She’s proud to be from North Dakota and loves to see and travel the world. She loves her daughter, but some days feels overwhelmed by all that’s involved in being a parent. I appreciate her, I admire some things about her and I allow her grace in the areas where she has room to grow.

During the really hard poses, my yoga instructor says, “Five more breaths BECAUSE YOU CAN, because there is always more inside of you.” That’s how I travel one step past cozy, down the road of discomfort. One breath. One mile. One day. One moment at a time. Because I can. Because in the discomfort we become stronger. We become more defined. We become whole.

There really is more inside of me. And there is more inside of you, too. Whaddya say, lace up your sneaks with me and venture on past cozy today to see what awaits?

(Photo credit: The incredibly talented Carly Smaha, who captures most of our best moments.)

The Buddy Bench


It was 3:31 when I got the phone call. “Hello, Miss Clark, it’s Mrs. Rummel, the school nurse. Adellyn has been in twice today complaining of a stomach ache. She doesn’t have a fever, but it would be a good idea if you pick her up.”

On the way home, I asked about all the usual stomach ache suspects. Did you eat something that didn’t taste right? No. Did you drink enough water today? Yes, except I didn’t realize I had my water bottle, so I drank chocolate milk. Have you pooped today? No. Did anything happen on the playground that hurt your feelings today? Well, something good and bad happened at the same time.

“Sophia H. didn’t want to play with me, so I went to the Buddy Bench,” she explained. “I thought that someone would come and play with me like I did on Tuesday but the only people who came either came to sit down, too, or they came to play with someone else. No one came to play with me.”

My heart sank.

There are some mama things that my heart just cannot handle. The thought of my little girl sitting on a bench looking at a playground of kids, wondering if anyone wants to play with her is one of those things.

While I want to scream from the rooftops about how funny and fantastic and kind she is, and while I want her to be ambushed by people who want to play with her when they see her on the Buddy Bench, sometimes we learn things through the hard things, and my mama heart has to be okay with that, too.

Sometimes we need to go through a little bit of pain to make us able to better understand someone else’s pain. Sometimes we need to be the one wondering if anyone sees to make us better able to see each other more clearly. Sometimes we need to be the one waiting for a friend to play with on the Buddy Bench so we are quicker to invite friends to play with us. Sometimes we have to walk out our own journey so we are able to walk alongside others in theirs.

“So, honey, what do you think you’ll do the next time you see someone else on the Buddy Bench,” I asked, preparing her a spot on the couch to wait out the stomach ache.

“I’ll ask them to play.”

When Love Matters Most

In March 2003, BBC news reported that America was officially at war with Iraq and the international political arena was ablaze. I was working on my Masters degree in Scotland, when a friend and classmate didn’t turn up one day. She was the only Iraqi in the program and I was the only American.

I will never forget the day she sat down at her desk, two weeks later, her jet-black hair now striped with grey down the middle from anxiety and worry and stress. She hadn’t heard from her family since the day the war broke out, she couldn’t get a phone call to go through to every number she knew, and she had no idea where her entire family was, or if they were even alive.

We were the American and the Iraqi in the class, but we were more than that. We were friends.

We grieved the reality of our countries at war. We grieved the loss of her childhood home because of an airstrike and we celebrated that her entire family made it out alive. While the war unfolded on television screens around the world, our classmates watched two girls choosing friendship and love in the midst of war and devastation and division.

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Almost 10 years later, I walked out of a marriage and into a Food Lion in January 2012, wearing what felt like a neon sign on my head flashing “I Am Divorced.” While I was picking up groceries for the week, the pieces of what I’d known as life were falling apart.

I didn’t know so many things about the road ahead or where it would lead. I knew I didn’t want to be divorced or be a single-mom, but I also knew that in the truest part of me that exists, I couldn’t live one more day pretending I was happy when I wasn’t, pretending that everything was okay when it wasn’t.

And in that moment and the days and weeks and months and years that I have followed, what I’ve needed and what I’ve found were people willing to see me, to hear my story, to accept my journey – and me – just as I am: beautifully broken and desperately in need of God’s abundant, amazing grace.

There are moments, I think, where we show up with the most authentic, raw, honest, vulnerable self we can find.Processed with VSCO with g3 preset

And whether life forces us, or we finally muster up enough courage, we lay down our masks and we put aside our pretenses, and like we did when we were making new friends in kindergarten, we say, “Hello, World, this is the truest me that I know and here’s what’s true about the truest me that I know. And here’s where I’m hurting. And here’s what is scary. And here’s what I don’t know. And here’s what makes me feel alive. And now that you know all of those things about me, do you still think I’m okay, do you want to be my friend?”

And in those moments, those holy, sacred, defining moments, there is only one response that will suffice. Only one response that represents what God intended for this world all along: Love.

Dear God,

Let me be a see-er of your people..all of them. Let me be a lover of their souls. Let me see Your goodness in this world through the stories that you are writing with each of our beautiful, original, unmistakable, beautifully broken, here on Earth for such a time as this, lives.


The A-Venture Continues

Like many things, in some ways, it feels like a lifetime ago and in others, it feels as if it was just yesterday. This very weekend two years ago, I was putting the final touches on décor and furniture placement preparing to put my house on the market as the holiday weekend would come to a close.

In addition to preparing my house, I spent the previous weeks preparing the mind of my four year-old while I prepared my own heart, in the only and best ways I knew how.

“So, it’s like we’re going on a “A-venture,” the little said. “Like Dora does.”

She was strikingly accurate, and it only seemed appropriate to let her make her contribution, so the name stuck.

“Yep, honey, it’s our A-venture,” I replied, forcing a confident smile, without a clue where we were going, and yet, all the confidence that we would be okay.

If you’d like, you can read the story of how it all began when the For Sale sign was pounded into the yard here.

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Two years later, the A-venture continues for us, unfolding in unexpected, sacred, beautiful ways, just as it did when it first started. We are self-proclaimed Chicago locals now. And Dorothy wasn’t kidding when she said there is no place like home. Being back in the Midwest with all of the seasons, the snow, the summer thunderstorms and people who drink “pop” has done my heart so much good.

I’ve learned a TON in the last 24 months about myself, about my kiddo, and this game called Life.

It took me a few years and an equal amount of mistakes to learn that I can try to have all the control I want, but things can still fall apart. But even in the falling apart, God is there, has been there all along and sometimes what feels like life falling apart was actually life falling into place.

I’ve learned that my kid will survive if she isn’t bathed every day, eats the occasional popsicle for breakfast or doesn’t always go to bed on time (although I will fight for 8 o’clock lights out as often as I can, mainly because Mommy needs to not be Mommy for a few minutes everyday). But she thrives because of the love, care and investment of people who love her in all her five year-oldness and in so many ways that I can’t even begin to do.

I’ve learned that my five year old can pick out better outfits for her (and me) than I can, and that by the time we can share clothes, I’m going to finally have a sense of fashion.

We’ve been blessed beyond measure on our A-venture, the five year-old and I, by people, our Village, as I call them, who have chosen to love us not because they had to, not because of anything we did, but rather simply because they wanted to. There just aren’t words to explain the depth of gratitude and love we have for you, our friends, our “Framily,” near and far, who have been one part or another of the life we call our A-venture.

But if there is one thing that has stuck out to me the most over the past two years, it’s this overwhelming sense that my whole life hinges on and is being held in the mighty, holy, powerful grip of God’s amazing grace. The more I come to know myself and my humanness the more awe-struck I am at His unending, never giving up, there all along in all the moments I never even knew it, love.

I have a feeling I will spend my whole life trying to sort this one out and will still fall short of a full understanding. And so, with a grateful heart, I look back on all of it – the highs, lows, mistakes and mountaintops. And with a hopeful, expectant heart, I look forward offering praise and thanks to the One who continues to prove that He writes a more incredible, perfect, and awe-inspiring story than I ever could.

I still don’t need to know the plan, Lord. I’ll wait right here until You tell me the next step, and I trust that You’ll give me the courage to take it.

Photo credit: The incredibly talented, Carly Smaha.

Mother’s Day Merry Way

It was a grab a Pop Tart for the little, and oh by the way, did you brush your teeth, race out the door kinda morning.

“Mom, my tummy hurts,” Adellyn said, as soon as I picked her up from her class at church.

No, no, no. Today is MOTHER’S DAY. This is not the day of tummy and unknown ailment aches. It’s not the day of “I don’t like this” or “that’s too spicy.” Today is the day of sunshine and flowers and perfect children with perfect smiles. Today is M-O-T-H-E-R-S. D-A-Y. And we are going to be happy, happy, happy.

“Where does your tummy hurt?” I asked in my most un-sympathetic mom voice ever.

“All over.”

“Well, what does your tummy need to feel better?”

“I don’t know,” she replied.

“Well, I don’t know how your tummy feels, so you need to either decide what it needs or go over there and find your happy tummy. Today is MOTHER’S DAY,” I said in an exaggerated voice (when are the Mom of the Year applications due?), and I need you to smile for a picture. Do you think you can do that?”

“Yeah,” she said, looking up at me with unsure eyes.

She managed to bring her best smile to a couple pictures and was mostly distracted picking flowers before we headed to the grocery store for a quick errand before our afternoon stop: planting flowers with Miss Dawn.

“Mom, it reeeeeeaally hurts,” she said again as we were walking into the market. “I think I have to go….poop.”

“There’s the answer! A quick trip to the bathroom, and we’ll be on our merry way,” I thought.

A few minutes later, we took a left out of the bathroom in front of the checkout lanes, headed for the produce section. Merry Way, take 2.

All of a sudden, Adellyn pulled her hand out of mine.

“Mommmmmmm, I feel like I’m going to….”

And right there, in the middle of the grocery store, her pink Pop Tart breakfast came back up not once, not twice, but three times, all over the aisle and all over her for all of the shoppers to see.

There are a lot of things you get used to as a mom. Boogers, spit up, getting peed on, scooping the occasional turd out of the tub. It’s par for the course really, but Adellyn has thrown up- thrown up twice in her life. Today was the second time, and my queezy stomach didn’t love it one bit.

In a flurry, multiple people handed me hand wipes, a wad of paper towels, a garbage bag, and a plastic container for the over-priced roses available for those who stop in for a quick Mother’s Day gift on their way to brunch with mom.

With my hands full, I walked out the door, calling friends to say that plans have changed while wiping Adellyn’s hands and face, and putting the eh-hem…soiled…clothes in a bag.

Normally, I would have called “stomach bug,” and waited for it to pass, but 12 days post-op from tonsil and adenoid surgery isn’t quite in the clear for something to be possibly wrong. After a phone call with the surgeon who said an ER visit wasn’t necessary unless she gets worse, we regrouped and headed back towards Miss Dawn’s. Merry Way, take 3.

I don’t miss many things about being a homeowner, and while I wouldn’t want a yard of my own to keep up with right now, the old woman in me loves getting dirt under my fingernails and spending a springtime afternoon in the garden. So, after some yard work for me, a little rest plus a few wheel barrow rides for A, and a cruise in the Wrangler with the top down for both of us, we had Mother’s Day-ed, praise the Lord!


However, by the time we got home, the little girl could hardly keep her eyes open and was sound asleep on the couch before I finished unloading the car. An hour later, she woke up with a temp of 101.6, quickened breathing and goosebumps all over her body. My momma heart wasn’t going to be able to sleep until I knew there was no infection and she was okay.

Mother’s Day is for things like brunches and walks and feeding the ducks. For bouquets and cards and chocolate. It’s for planting flowers and putting your feet up. It’s not for Emergency Room visits.

“Her throat is healing nicely. You’re dealing with a virus,” the doctor said, and an hour later, we were headed home. Merry Way, take 4.

Yes, the past five months of surgery and strep and sleepless nights and antibiotics and doctor visits have been exhausting. Yep, I feel like I’m losing what marbles I have left from time to time. Yes, I cried on the way to hospital because I’m really ready to be off this ride on the sick-train.

But in the grand scheme, these inconveniences are reminders that I am not, nor have I ever been, nor will I ever be so I can stop trying right now, in control. These are the lows that make the highs so much sweeter, and some days, like today, the days are filled with both. These are the moments that make me realize just how much I love this little five year-old and what a holy, sacred, sometimes overwhelming feat Motherhood can be and how eternally grateful I am for a village of rock-stars who I get to call my people. It’s all a part of the Merry Way.

At bedtime tonight, I scooped the feeling much better after a dose of Tylenol and a bath little girl up off the couch and carried her down the hall, like I’ve done thousands of times over the past five years.

“This is how I carried you when you were just a little, teeny tiny baby,” I said, stopping at the entrance to her room. “And I would hold you and rock you and say, shhh shhh shhh, shh shh shhh until you would fall asleep.”

“Mom?” she replied, looking up at me. “Can you put me in my bed now?”

On Strep, Surgery and Finding My Mommy Brave

“Hey, Mom, you have four eyes,” Adellyn said, as the nurse, now giggling, released the brakes on her hospital bed and rolled her toward the large double doors where we would part ways.


It was barely 9am, and just a few short minutes remained before I was going to kiss her on the head as she was wheeled into the operating room. She was going in for routine surgery to remove her tonsils and adenoids, a common procedure done thousands of times every year for kids her age. Nonetheless, a scary mommy moment for me.

Clearly her “kiddie cocktail” had kicked in, and she was as ready as she could be, thoroughly looking forward to the popsicles and ice cream that were promised for later. I didn’t have a “kiddie cocktail” to help with my preparation. Heck, I hadn’t yet had a cup of coffee.

In between the “we’ll see you in Recovery unless there are extenuating circumstances,” and the hustle and bustle of machines and monitors and debriefs and doctors, I found myself overwhelmed for the bazillionth time with love for my kiddo and a hesitant acceptance of my complete lack of control over the outcome.

“Is she allergic to any kind of medicine, including anesthesia?” they asked.

I don’t know. She’s never had anesthesia. What if she is? What happens then?

“Is she healthy?”

Yes. I mean, I think so. But what do you mean by healthy? Should we check or double-check something to make sure she’s okay? Leave it to a medical situation involving my kiddo to make Anxiety Girl show her true colors.

After four rounds of strep throat, 40 days of antibiotics and a seemingly unending cycle of illness, I was ready for whatever it took to end the strep throat saga. As the nurse wheeled the bed with a little tiny five year-old through the double doors, there went my heart, handed over and surrendered to completely capable, yet complete strangers. And as much as I knew the surgery was best, the little girl on the hospital bed is my most treasured possession, and I just needed a moment to find my brave.

I get it, kids are meant to grow up. But it means some really, really hard moments of letting go and stepping back and releasing and trusting and having faith in them and their Maker. They should teach these things in Mommy School. They should have Mommy Schools.

I kinda think it doesn’t matter if it’s tonsils or tendons, sending them to preschool or college or down the street for a sleepover for the very first time. It doesn’t matter if it’s a scheduled procedure or emergency surgery, if your child is 5 or 45, if you’ve been through it before a million times or never before. It doesn’t matter if you’re American or Israeli, single-parent, working mom, middle-upper-or lower-class. It doesn’t matter the color your skin or hair, what kind of house you live in – or don’t. What car you drive – or don’t. Raising babies is hard work. And we just can’t do it alone.

There was the nurse who took a minute to chat with me while A was waking up. There was the doctor that stopped by just to reassure me that all was well. There were videos and visits, balloons and books. There were movies and messages. There were frozen treats for the little and coffee and chocolate and conversation for the mama. My mommy-heart was made brave not by anything I could do on my own, but by selfless people who showed up in love.

“Mom, you still have four eyes,” said my groggy little girl two hours later. “And can I have my popsicle now?”

The Holiest Thing

It’s 11pm on a Monday and I’m hanging with my five year old, watching Lego: Friends on Netflix.

Strep has struck again. A dose of antibiotics and a two-hour afternoon nap produced a seemingly endless supply of energy in a little girl who is unable to fall asleep. After she was tucked in and re-tucked in five times, read an extra story, went potty…twice, and had a tummy that “was wondering if it could have some yogurt because it was still hungry,” I gave up the bedtime battle and we are having ourselves a little Monday night party.

In the past two months, we’ve had six cases of strep between the two of us. Doctors appointments, prescriptions, phone calls to nurses, texts to doctor friends, replacing toothbrushes, bleaching sheets, disinfecting doorknobs and countertops and light switches, and last-minute schedule shuffling have recently become a regular part of life at Casa del Clark.

It always starts in the morning when A wakes me up with, “Mom, it hurts really bad when I swallow again,” and I go into strep shuffle mode.

Step 1. Call doctor at 8:02 am. Ask for the earliest available appointment.
Step 2. Check child’s temp to report to doc later, and give child dose of ibuprofen.
Step 3. Begin the schedule shuffle, canceling all non-urgent meetings and appointments.
Step 4. Send SOS texts to all available friends to help with child-care.
Step 5. Take child to doctor, confirm suspicion and keep child quarantined for 24 hours.

Rinse and repeat every 2-3 weeks as necessary.

I like to plan my work and work my plan. When things like a sick kiddo interrupt my expectation of how my day or week is going to go, my tendency is to scramble, trying to muscle my way through it all, shuffling the little girl to and fro, if necessary.

There is that meeting. Or appointment. There is the project. The deadline. The to-do list. And it all needs me, needs attention, or needs to get done.

It’s true, there are meetings and deadlines and projects and responsibilities. There are things that must get done and they are important. They bring great things to life. They create change and momentum and progress. Work and meetings and deadlines make the world go round. But the frequency and force of the two-month sickness strike has made me rethink my approach to these curve balls.

In a world of striving and achieving and constant climbing of one ladder or another, I’ve realized that for me, sometimes the holiest thing I can do is to stop trying and striving and willing my way, and instead, surrender to the unexpected or the unplanned or the interruption.

Cuddling up on the couch with a book and a cup of tea for a whole day. Sleeping in. Taking a different route. Leaving room in the day for the “by the way, do you have a minute” conversations. Hanging with a five year old at 11pm on a Monday watching Lego: Friends on Netflix.

Rhythms and routines are good. I thrive on them. But I’m finding there is adventure to be had and life to be lived in the interruption. The slowing down for a minute can be crucial. And sometimes, the very best memories are made in the most unexpected moments.