September 29, 2016

Wilson, Six Years Old

James Wilson, you are beyond my wildest dreams.

This morning when I dropped you off for school, you did this thing that I love. You kept looking back at me, quick side-glances, trying to stifle this grin that was threatening to take over your entire face. I knew what the grin was saying: "Look how big I am, Mom! I have my own backpack and I am walking into school all by myself!" But you were trying to swallow all of that because you also wanted to appear so casual about it... like you've been doing this for a month now, and it's not a big deal. But I really wanted to roll down my window and yell, "It IS a big deal! You are such a big boy and doing big, big things. And your tiny little frame walking into those big double doors just doesn't seem right to me... but you are ready for it!" But I didn't. You're welcome. And as you were swallowing your smile, I was swallowing my tears.

Every day I am looking at you wide-eyed, thinking how wonderfully you're made.

You starting Kindergarten this year was a huge thing in our family and you counted down the days for three months. I've never seen you so excited about something... It felt like exactly what you were made for: a structured environment with people all around you. A full day of social interaction and learning, your two favorite things. You are at this amazing school with an incredible teacher and grace and gospel frame your days. I get pretty teary thinking about how much goodness you are getting there... You can't even know, because it's all you know. You're in a class with Owen, who's been attached to your side (because your mamas have been attached to one another) for five of your six years of life... You really don't and can't remember life without him. Sometimes you fight like brothers, but I love that you have someone so familiar and dear with you while you're away from me.

You are still totally infatuated with all things biological. You've made a new friend on the playground at school who likes to find bugs and I was tickled to the point of tears thinking about these two little entomologists finding a kindred spirit in one another. Wilson, I think it makes me laugh because I am totally amazed by your mind... It is nothing like mine, and so at times I am completely baffled by you. I watched you and Charlie have a light saber fight today in the back yard and you stopped mid-swing because something was flying in front of your face and you were just too curious to let it keep going without you observing it first. Charlie jabbed you in the gut while you were distracted and we all laughed about how different you two are. I love it. Please, just be you.

Charlie moved into your room this month to make room for Baby Sister and you moved from a double bed to a twin. You didn't complain one time. I know there are times when Charlie is taking over your space and he actually bullies you three times as much as you pester him... but mostly you are so kind to him. When you're at school, Charlie will say, "I want Bubba. Go get Bubba?" And that's because you two are one another's best playmate. I know there must be harder times ahead for your relationship, but I hope it will circle back to this sweet friendship. I am really proud of you for laying such a solid foundation for you and your brother.

Panda Express was your Birthday Eve dinner of choice
We still have some struggles with anger that come out of your need to be in control. Don't we all just want to be in control? And all of these moments of fits and tears remind me that I really still have no idea what I'm doing in parenting you (I'm sorry)... and that I am so desperately in need of God to be our Shepherd. We have all failed each other in a lot of areas but sometimes your Daddy will kneel down with you in your time-out chair and will gently and firmly tell you, "I want what you want Wilson. I'm on your side. We just have to figure out how to get there calmly." and it makes me plead with Jesus that this will be the only thing you remember: That we, as a family, are all on the same team. That your sin is our sin and we are fighting it with you. What a beautiful gift we have in family! I'm so glad you are in ours.

You're playing soccer again this fall and I just don't know that sports will ever be your thing. And guess what, Little Man? That is FINE.  I love that you are learning the discipline of practice and what it means to be on a team. Even if your team has only scored one goal this entire season! This summer you took tennis lessons for a week and you wore a sweatband that said "Wilson," which might have been your favorite thing about the experience. The first day you loved every minute but by the end of the week you were begging not to go back. But it was summer in south Mississippi so that may not have a lot to say about your love or lack thereof for sports.

Star Wars is kind of a recurring topic of conversation in our house these days. We went through the entire seven episodes this summer and every time we were about to start one you would say something like, "I can't believe this is really happening. My heart is beating so fast!" Now you have your favorite fight scenes and you know the name of all of the ships and it's all lost on me... but I love that you love it. As I type, you are squinting in the darkness of your room to study all the characters in your Star Wars activity book while Charlie is in dreamland. That is some steady dedication, little Jedi.

You are doing so well in beginning to read. You brought home your first reader from school and sped through it with the biggest smile on your face. I keep thinking what an incredible world you are about to be unleashed to find. You just really can't know how many good things are ahead for you.

Those tears that I was swallowing back this morning were swelling with two different emotions. Yes, it's hard for me to be on this side of the door... watching you walk away from me. I do mourn for the days when we didn't know what it was like to be apart, when our relationship was less complicated and we didn't say things to each other that we regretted. When it was as easy (and as hard) as cheerios, Micky Mouse Club and a trip to the zoo to see your lemurs. But I was also joyfully teary. I was thinking how in God's kingdom, the best is always forward. Further up, and further in. That God's grace always propels us to run and to look ahead because there is nothing to fear when He is at the finish line. Wilson, your best days are coming. There was that moment when you decidedly stopped looking back at me with that stifled grin and just kept walking... but I was still watching. I inched along so that I could watch you until you disappeared into the chaos of other little people who were all tangled up in a criss-cross of their mothers' heart-strings. And when I couldn't see you anymore, God could. He sees. He knows. He is giving landing to your every little but significant step. We love you dearly, Little Man...

July 28, 2016

Charlie is Two!

Charles Henderson, you are God's kindness to us.

We didn't know how much our family needed every inch of your incredibly assertive personality. You are robust in every sense of the word: sturdy and solid in statue... resilient and hardwearing in character.

And yet, in the most beautiful way, you can yield your will to be tender towards others... especially your mama who still gets the best cheek-to-cheek hugs from you. You say "Hey, Mama!" when you come into a room and "Thank you, Mama" when I pour a glass of milk. And in all of these ways, I am reveling in the grace of a little boy who is showing love.

If I thought Brother's will was strong (and I did), boy could I not even fathom what was coming for us in you. You want to do everything on your own these days: walking in parking lots, buckling your carseat, climbing stairs, putting on your pants, calling someone on the phone. "No mama. Stop. I do it." is a favorite phrase of yours. You like to climb on tables and counters and bookcases and it's really the mercy of God that we have only just experienced our first ER visit (When you were trying to climb the back of a kitchen chair and said chair fell back right on top of you. Your bottom lip busted in half and you got one stitch without any numbing, brave boy. The stitch came out an hour later because you are a busy guy, and you will probably have a scar that will bear testament of your bravery.)

One of the few ways that you are like your brother is that you want to be a part of every experience happening in the house. So if something is going on on the kitchen counter, you are pulling up a stool saying, "I see, Mama." If I'm cooking this is usually followed by, "I want some, Mama" which actually sounds like "Awesome, Mama" and makes us all laugh and reply back, "Awesome, Charlie!"

You love playing with Brother, and right now you two are great friends. You follow him around as he catches bugs outside and you help him classify them in the clubhouse. You two have come up with the silliest game that you call "Pop Up," and I still haven't quite figured out the rules. (It goes something like- Brother throws a book to you in your room and has to make it back to the kitchen before you can throw it through the kitchen door... and then reverse?) However it goes, it's always incredible to me that you both devised it on your own. And your giggles running up and down the hall are making this mother's heart swollen with joy.

You could probably use your first haircut, but those little wings in the back are starting to have the hints of a curl and I feel like it's too much of a risk to not see where they're going with that. So... I'm apologizing to your future teenage-self about all the mullets you'll see in pictures of yourself at two!

You have a great sleeping pattern right now- usually a two hour nap in the afternoon and sleeping from  7:00 - 7:00 at night... sometimes you want to get up before the sun and sometimes (blessed sometimes!) you sleep until 8:00. After I found out I was pregnant with Baby Sister, I got really sentimental about bedtime. I started to rock you again before naps and at night and now you won't let me skip it: "Rock, Mama." We have a medley of "Itsy Bitsy Spider," "Jesus Loves Me," "The Lord's Prayer," and "There's Just Something about that Name"... then I lay you in the bed and you want to make sure that Rabbit and Woof-Woof both have blankets before you do. I say "" with a tickle-fest starting on the YOU and it's the highlight of your whole day- you always laugh so hard that you get the hiccups, which I'm sure makes falling to sleep hard for you... but you don't seem to mind. You ask for a high five for you and a high five for "Babbit and Woof-Woof" and out the door I go. Can it go on forever?

I know that it can't...

You're a terrible eater. Just terribly picky and stubborn. Mealtimes are equal parts frustrating and hysterical and maybe they are just hysterically frustrating. I'm not sure how you weigh more than 96% of your peers, because you refuse to eat anything. You dump your plate and laugh, rub applesauce in your hair, throw pork chop in Brother's face... And just when we are all cheering because the green beans made it to your mouth, they turn into spitballs aimed at Mommy. Maybe laughter is our coping mechanism, but we are all usually in stitches by the end.

I don't think I've recorded this on here, but at 18 months you were diagnosed with a tree-nut allergy. The allergist asked us to keep you away from all nuts for a year (WHAT?! NO MORE PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICHES??) and I about fell over in my chair because trying to figure out something else for lunch sounded like the biggest obstacle of my life at that point. I've definitely made some slip-ups and have not been as careful as I should be at avoiding them. (Last week I caught you digging a peanut butter cracker out of the trash can and eating it. Do you miss them that much?) You haven't had any crazy reactions in a year, so I'm hoping you have grown out of your allergy (because I have learned that I am a total fail at being a food-allergy mom!) But praise the Lord for the allergist, because she gave me tips on how to deal with your eczema which led to you sleeping THROUGH the night for the VERY first time at 18 months and I could have kissed. her. feet.

At this age, your Brother's love for animals was starting to bloom and so I've been watching for where your love is settling. You definitely mimic your brother, so you get excited over fish and bugs and animals too... but can one use the word athlete at this age? You seem very comfortable with kicking soccer balls and running and bouncing a basketball. "He is never still" seems like a cliche thing to say about a little boy, but we really mean it. Never. While you run, you shout "We-oh, we-oh, we-oh" and none of us know where you got that from. You can catch a ball from across a room without batting an eye, and frankly you can throw one with greater force than either of your parents! It's just another sweet reminder that you are your own person... and that there are all of these little pieces of yourself (that we, as your parents, really have nothing to do with) that are starting to surface. It's my favorite part of being a parent... watching beautifully designed personalities blossom and give glory to their Creator. You are glorious, Chachi.

Chachi is another thing. Is it your name now? I feel like we use "Charlie" and "Chachi" about 50/50 but when you talk about yourself you say "Chachi do it" and "Chachi's balloon" so I'm afraid we've tipped the scale. In any case, I don't think there's a more appropriate name for such a firey ball of energy.

Charlie, you honestly take me to the very end of myself these days. You are high-demand, and high-energy, and highly disobedient... but thankfully, because of Jesus, at the end of myself I still have the capacity for love. You scream at me because you do NOT want to change out of your monster pajamas that you've been in for 24 hours and I lay on the floor with my hands over my face.... and then I breathe, and pull you close to me. And in response to every "No, Mama," you get ten kisses on your cheek and suddenly we are both laughing so hard that we forget, for just a minute, that we are in an argument at all. I don't do a lot of things right, in fact I'm fairly certain I do most things wrong, but I am praying that these are the moments that are finding ways to grip onto your heart. That you will remember that lavish love and grace are the foundations of our relationship... and that God would take my poor, weak, failing attempts  at this to give you a picture of His relationship with you.

You are so very loved in our family. Your Daddy's face lights up in ways I've never seen when he walks in the door and sees you. Your brother misses you so much more than he misses us when he's staying the night away. And your scrunched-nose smile does things to my heart that nothing else in this world can; You are adored. You are a delight to your King Jesus and He is smiling back over you... Hide that truth deep away in your heart: You. are. loved.

Happy Two, Chachi!!!

July 13, 2016

When A Chapter Ends

We have had one of those rare jobs where work and life are weaved together. Where does one end and the other begin?

Fourth summer leading a project in Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Yellowstone trip with students

Maybe that's what is making the leave from college ministry feel so surreal, because a whole new way of life is ahead of us. It's a rebirth.

Southern Miss staff team 2012

Andrew and I don't know marriage without it. We don't know parenthood without it. I barely know what work life is outside of it.

Fall Retreat at Dauphin Island

Precious students at Auburn in 2008, all of them graduating and being a part of some ministry

People keep asking us how we feel about leaving and I'll tell you what I'm feeling right now... grateful.

Met with these girls all of their four years at Auburn, now some of my dearest friends

I'm grateful that for our whole nine years of marriage, Andrew and I have quite literally worked side by side. We've gone to staff meetings together, shared office space, grieved over students, rejoiced in gospel transformation, held one another's hands as we walked into a greek house to bring good news. For our first four years of marriage, we had the privilege of sitting under Bill Boldt, our campus director at Auburn, who cared about our marriage and our relationship with Jesus more than our ministry... and who can really say that about their boss? We are indebted to him.

At Cru's biannual staff conference in Fort Collins, CO

I'm grateful for the 21 people we have been on staff with over the course of Auburn and Southern Miss. It's almost not enough to say, "We worked together," because we lived together. We wept together and rejoiced together and prayed together and dreamed together. We laughed over failures and celebrated in our homes. We were at each other's weddings and birthdays and in the hospital when babies were born.  And when, inevitably, we have had to part ways... real tears and heart break. We all joke about starting a church together, but in the end it is not a joke. We long for our lives to be put back together again.

Auburn staff team 2009

The Cunninghams are one of the biggest gifts Crusade has given to us. Love them so.

Precious staff friends, Nathan was with Andrew in East Asia and Kim was on our team in Auburn

Met with Claire as a student in Auburn and then she joined our staff team in Hattiesburg!

Anna, one of the friends I would move our whole life around for if we could just live in the same city again

I'm grateful for the opportunities we've had to take the gospel near and far. For the time I was walking around a lily pad pond on an East Asian campus, sharing about the hope of Jesus with a girl who called herself Luna. She told me that she had been checking the Bible out of her library and had been waiting for someone to explain it... wide-eyed at the wonder of Jesus' providences, I got to be a Philip to her.

Summer Project in East Asia, 2008

Grateful for sitting on a campus in South Africa with one of our American students, across the table from two South African girls who heard the real gospel for the first time. They both grasped with white knuckles onto the hope of a Jesus who fulfilled the law for them... one with tears rolling down her face saying, "I had a dream last night that someone would come tell me of spiritual freedom like this." God always working and preparing the roads before us.

Summer Project in South Africa, 2009
Working at an AIDS hospice in South Africa was one of the most humbling experiences of my entire life

Grateful for the thousands of times Andrew has brought fraternity guys into our home, rough and weary from their world on campus. Andrew looking them square in the eye and telling them that eternity matters, and that right now matters for eternity. For the times he has left our house early to walk into the doors of those dark houses, to pray with and for the men who live there... to beseech our God on their behalf to remove the veil and give them hope. I'm grateful for the fruit of those prayers and that God allowed us to watch behind the curtain of his saving mercies-- for all the phone calls Andrew has gotten, some in the middle of the night, of fraternity guys... y'all, FRATERNITY GUYS... sharing the gospel with their brothers. So many new mercies every day.

After Andrew and I led a Relationship Panel in a sorority chapter room

Ministry planning with students is always a highlight

Annual Cru Christmas party at our house

For being able to take students to Chicago, Boston, New York, and across the oceans to show them a God who lives outside of their known worlds. Who is working and moving in so many ways and for the grace He offers us that we get to be a part of His great works of redemption.

Spring Break to NYC, 2014

Spring Break trip to Boston, 2010

Students in South Africa

I'm grateful for all the times we've had the greatest privilege of teaching the Word to others. For Ephesians over coffee in a bagel shop in Auburn. For Psalms on our couches. For James being taught by Andrew in our big group weekly meeting. For Genesis with a girl who is struggling to believe in a God who is trustworthy.

Will, one of the first students Andrew met with at Auburn

Auburn students in Jackson Hole, 2010

Grateful for this season of our life when our boys can come alongside of us in ministry. For students who love on our children like family, who have become stand-in aunts and uncles when theirs are far-away. Wilson calls them all his "big friends." Although I don't think we've ever taken a true "just-us" family vacation since we've had children-- the boys have been on many a cross-country trip to our summer assignment in Wyoming, to conferences in Atlanta and Orlando. What an incredible gift for them! I remember being very pregnant with Wilson, standing at the back of a weekly meeting at Auburn, singing "How He loves us" with a chorus of a hundred students... and I was thinking, "Wilson, you cannot even fathom how He loves you. What love to grow up with His gospel being proclaimed in front of you and behind, on every side."

Fall Retreat in Gulf Shoes, 2014

Sam packing Charlie for me in Jackson Hole!

Students in Jackson Hole, 2013
I'm grateful that our home can be a refuge, imperfect though it may be. For seeing students sigh a relief when they walk in the door to sit on couches and eat dessert and be in the midst of a family who is looking to Jesus. They've seen us fail and I'm hopeful that they've seen us run to Jesus when we do- but  I'm grateful that our job has caused us to open up the doors of our lives and let young adults be a part of  the real workings of the gospel in a family's life.

Grateful to watch our students get married and start families and to know that their lives of following Jesus in college will have ripple effects throughout eternity. That our time investing in them in two, three, four short years will bear fruit in their children's and grandchildren's lives. It's simply incredible. 

Watching Emily get married was one of the best moments of my life

And are we ever grateful for our ministry partners! For those who have seen eternal significance in bringing the hope of Jesus to college students. For the ones who have provided the means for us to wake up every day to work zealously to get light into dark places. For the ones who have not only been financial support, but emotional support--calling us to encourage us. Who have provided books to give to our students. Who have sent us notes of affirmation and love. Who have hosted dinners and desserts for students in their homes. Who have sincerely asked how to pray for us and have done great battle for us at the throne of God. We are humbly grateful for such loyal friends, holding the rope on our behalf.

Andrew's parents came to almost every Fall Retreat to help us with meals, so grateful for them!

A precious friend from church hosted a senior dinner in her home for the past three years

And we are grateful for the hard. For the times when our bank account hovered at zero, and we had to trust in a God who knows all of our needs. For being weary of the constant packing of bags and being on the road... and being reminded that we are indeed travelers in this world, and there is coming an eternal rest. For all the heart-breaking goodbyes every six months as students and staff transition, for hearts that were knit together to be pulled in so many directions. For conflict and really hard conversations, for our sin to before us and the grace to grieve and repent. For the times we wept with students over broken relationships, broken hearts, broken families. All of it is good. All of it has been used for our good.

Andrew has spent eight of his nine birthdays in Atlanta for Christmas Conference

When I said yes to Andrew's marriage proposal, I knew I was saying "yes" to college ministry and it was all really foreign to me. I remember telling him that I felt like Abraham, when God called him to leave his home and he obeyed, not knowing where he was going. I couldn't fathom the land of milk and honey waiting for us.

And here we are again... only this time we are staring into a year of full-time seminary, a season of education and growth. And in May, after graduation, there is another great unknown. We are in the process of being assessed for church-planting with the PCA, but even that carries so much fog. Where will we be in a year? In what capacity will the Lord be using us to bring His gospel to dark places? We don't know, but we know that we are following a Good Shepherd who has led us to green pastures and will not forsake the sheep of His pasture.