Hearts at Home National Conference 2015

There were stage curtains and beaming lights and microphone systems, almost overwhelming me as I stepped backstage at the 2015 Hearts at Home National Conference two weeks ago.

But most of all, there was prayer.

As the countdown began for the morning’s beginning and the attendees settled excitedly into their seats in the auditorium, the small group of the conference planners and the main session speakers quietly gathered together in the back, held hands in a circle, and gave everything to God. It was so, so powerful.

And it gave me the peace I needed to step onto a stage in front of thousands of fellow moms.    

I spoke for close to 3 minutes (the perfect length for public speaking in my personal opinion!) and it was a version of this story.

“We all have our own expectations and dreams, and many times, that may not turn out like we have planned. But maybe we just need to step back a little to see things for the beauty that they DO offer. When we can see the beautiful in the unexpected and the different, that is when we learn to find joy and celebration in what IS, instead of grieving what isn’t.” 

(Side note: I’m such a bad judge of crowd numbers. I told someone after the main session “I think I just talked to about 500 people.” Later, they were going over the number of attendees – which was much, much higher than 500. I looked up the auditorium capacity… 3,400. Maybe it’s good I didn’t know that :) )

I felt absolutely, completely out of my league – following up my speech after the KEYNOTE speaker Dr. Gary Chapman. He’s the author of the 5 Love Languages books, which I coincidentally just read a couple of months ago (and LOVED) and he was just phenomenal.

But all fear and intimidation aside – it was amazing. So very humbled by such an incredible opportunity. This is the other mom I spoke with – Amy Logan. She’s fantastic, and her book A Girl with a Cape is wonderful! It tells about a little girl who makes a huge difference in the world simply with her kind words and caring actions…and how we all have that capability within us as well. 

A Girl with a Cape comes with this adorable scarf (because the girl in the book wears her mother’s scarf as a cape!)… and Brenna immediately claimed it for herself. 

  On Friday, I got to attend many of the breakout sessions and spend a lot of time with my cousins, who also came. 

I think a lot of moms come home from the conference with a renewed sense of purpose, less mom guilt, etc. For me, this year, I realized what a pushover I have become. Too often, I let the kids dictate our days instead of being the authority, even down to picking the music in the car. Dr. Kathy Koch’s breakout session about motivating kids was such an eye-opener for me, and when she emphasized “whining is disrespectful and manipulative and should not be tolerated,” I felt like she was talking directly to me. No more whining. We’re working on it over here :)

Dr. Kathy also said “stop with all of the rewards systems! Kids need to learn how to motivate themselves, how to want to work toward something because of intrinsic motivation.” Motivation is starting to be a battle in our house, and it was nice to hear that affirmation too, to strive to teach plain obedience and the value of hard work.

Another exciting event for the weekend was that my agent Blythe flew all the way from Colorado to attend on Saturday with me! We had some meetings, did some shopping in the vendors’ area and attended some of the speaker sessions – and it was such an encouragement to have her support!In the mornings before my speech, I prayer for composure. There was one song in particular that the worship band played that made me cry every time, and sometimes I tear up when I talk about our family – I did not want to lose it on the main stage! :)

It’s hard to believe that in three years, God has lifted us up from a tiny NICU pod with our critically sick daughter clinging to life and led us to step out onto platform after platform to share… to share how He showed up for us and what He has changed in our hearts and in our world. How to find His amazing beauty in so many unexpected parts of our lives.

A very special thank you to Jill Savage for inviting me up on her stage, and for her daughter Anne and her team for making this an unforgettable experience. 

On this beautiful Friday, let us all step back a little to see some of the hard and different things in our life for the beauty that they do offer…

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Sharing my story within His story

Brenna was two or three days old when a relative came to us and said, bluntly, “I haven’t talked to God in years… but I’ve been praying for Brenna.”

It was in that moment that I knew: I knew that God’s purpose for our daughter and for our family was to bring people to Him… and I knew that we were meant to share, and to keep sharing.

You probably can’t tell by my blog, but I had always been pretty private about my faith and my relationship with God. There were even years that I really struggled with those things, and I experienced some cynicism with the church.

But after Brenna was born, there was a clarity: that my story and my life are part of God’s story. Standing in Brenna’s little NICU pod day after day, watching her struggle to live, it truly felt like Jesus was standing next to me. And as I grow in my faith, I believe that sharing my story now helps to tell His greater story.002

It was 2013 when I was started seriously exploring the possibility of writing a book. I wasn’t naive enough to think it would just be as simple as that, so I started where I knew how: by asking for help. I emailed Jill Savage, founder of Hearts at Home (which is based only an hour from where we live) and mulitple-book author, to introduce myself and to ask for 15 minutes to talk about the publishing world. I have always figured it doesn’t hurt to reach out and ask people for help; the worst they can say is no.

We have a great conversation, and Jill offered a lot of valuable insight to me. She suggested I attend a writing conference and mentioned She Speaks.

I googled She Speaks and found a blog post from a blogger named Courtney DeFeo. Another email introduction, and soon we were on the phone too. I’m feeling very blown away at this point, because sometimes you don’t even get responses from people like this, and they were giving up time in their day to talk to me on the phone! Courtney was so encouraging and also helpful, and I became determined to get to North Carolina that following summer for the She Speaks conference.

By spring of 2014, I felt burnt out. I felt like I was spinning my wheels, and I just wasn’t sure where this blog was going and what the future of my “message” looked like. To be clear, I love writing this blog, but it is a lot of hard work and a lot of time and energy, and sometimes I have seasons where I question how much time and energy I really should be putting in it when that time could be spent elsewhere.

So I turned to God in the months leading up to She Speaks in July. “Let me know,” I asked Him, “if I am meant to continue writing like this, to continue sharing our story.”

And he answered in a Big Way.

During the conference, attendees can elect to have meetings with publishers or agents, and they match you up with appointments. I had two great meetings with publishers who were not only encouraging but also interested in my book proposal. INTERESTED! I got to meet some of my favorite writers/speakers in person, and I also met some wonderful fellow attendees like Karmen and Megan, who I still keep in touch with and who lift me up almost daily.

And the craziest part was that God led Courtney and I to room together. She was one of the conference breakout speakers, and the first night, she attended a speakers party, where she met a literary agent named Blythe Daniel. Something in Courtney felt that Blythe might want to hear my story, so she arranged for us to meet.

I asked God if I should keep sharing… and he answered very loudly that weekend. Blythe and I completely hit it off, met several times over those couple of days, and in the week following the conference, she signed me as an author! 

You would think that whole experience at the conference would have been my definite answer to keep sharing, right?

But it wasn’t. No, I knew before I even got on the plane what God’s answer was.

Because as I sat in the airport waiting to board my flight to North Carolina, I received an email. And with tears streaming down my face, I read that this family had chosen to adopt a new baby boy with Harlequin ichthyosis and that my blog helped them to “prayerfully make that decision.”

Lately, I’ve been listening to the song Here I Am, by Downhere, with its line “Somehow my story is part of Your plan. Lord, here I am.”

We are still waiting to see what God decides to do with my book idea. Waiting and trusting doesn’t come without working (so much hard work), but I know that this is part of God’s great story, and it’s been so amazing to see how God has orchestrated so many meetings and connections and opportunities.

A few months ago, I sat down and wrote Jill Savage another email to update her about all of these events that had happened since I first talked to her (and met her at the Hearts at Home 2014 conference.) Most of all, I just wanted to thank her.

Jill was thrilled to hear my news, and then she asked me a question: “Are you attending Hearts at Home 2015? We are looking for one more mom to share her story during the main conference session…”

Speaking at a huge national conference??? Public speaking has always made my heart jump out of my chest, my throat catch, my hands get clammy.

So, of course, I didn’t hesitate. I said YES.

Lord, here I am.

To be continued…

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Gaining Allies

One Wednesday morning, I pulled up to Brenna’s school to pick her up, and she emerged, holding her aide’s hand as usual.

A little boy from her class also followed her out, and was greeted by his own family member picking him up.

“Bye Brenna!” he called to her, and I whispered a reminder to her: “what do you say?”

She turned to him, and softly said “bye!” as well.

“I LOVE YOU, BRENNA!” he proclaimed back with a big smile on his face.    
Any worries I had about school are subsiding, at least for now. I’m sure problems will pop up over the years – I won’t pretend I’m not dreading the middle school years – but we’ve been pleasantly surprised at how little Brenna’s skin has been an issue in her new school.

Brenna’s classroom includes both “typically developing” kids as well as kids who are considered “at-risk” in any way – from single parent families to a disability. And as far as I can tell, the children are all extremely bright and enthusiastic about school, not to mention very accepting and loving.

I received an email from Brenna’s teacher just last week with photos from that day’s outside play time. “Brenna was so excited to go outside, and all of the kids were excited she was outside with them. They all wanted to play with her!” she wrote.

I feel like not only is Brenna gaining friends, but also allies.

When Brenna started school, a woman wrote to me to tell me that she had worked with special education kids and that she noticed such an encouraging trend: “As the kids get older, the children in their class who have known my special kids and grown up with them tend to be very loyal and stick up for them in the face of any insults or bullying.”

Though we hadn’t thought of it exactly like that, that is a huge reason that we chose a small school: we wanted everyone to be educated about Brenna’s skin. It is our hope that she will always be “just Brenna” and hardly anyone will question her skin because that’s just who she is and the girl they have always known.

Brenna is already starting to form an entourage – and not just in her own class.

One day a week, Connor and I accompany Brenna to one of her therapy sessions at school. The therapy room is located on the back of the library, where there is always an class of older kids reading.

All it took was one question “Why is her face red?” which was answered kindly, nonchalantly by Brenna’s therapist: “She was born with special skin.”

Now, that watchful curiosity has turned into some of the little girls lining up at the door when they know it is time for our therapy appointment to be done so they can say hello.

“Hi Brenna!” they now greet her enthusiastically. “Hi!” she calls back, as she approaches them, waving her mittens with squeaky puppies attached. “I have my doggie mittens on!” she shows them.

I see it every day in my own house, with my own kids, who are growing up seeing difference not as different but as normal. And now I am noticing transformations in other children as Brenna steps out into the world.

In fact, just last week, as Brenna was surrounded by her posse of older girls, a little boy in their class wandered up and asked “what happened to her?” Several of his peers shot him an annoyed look and retorted “NOTH-ING.” I had to look away to hide my teary eyes as those little girls became defensive of my own girl.

I am grateful to be witnessing the understanding and acceptance in these kids’ hearts each week… these children are truly brightening the world with their hugs and hellos and “I love you”s.

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