Remembering Kalkidan

I wish I was one of those people who dreamed of loved ones in heaven. It’s only happened a couple of times since we lost Kalkidan. This was one of those times.

Our family was gathered around a table. I was sitting at one end and the table was long with so many of us together. We were talking and laughing when Kalkidan ran into the room. 

Shouts went up, “She’s here! She’s here! Kalkidan is here!”

She ran to me, crawled into my lap, and rested her head against my chest. I kissed her forehead, my cheek brushing against her curls.

For a moment I felt warmth and joy, then I felt myself begin to surface from sleep, and I realized it was a dream. I tried to hold on to it, to sink more deeply into the dream and let it flow on, but it was gone.

I wanted to reach for Russ, rest my head on his chest, borrow some of his courage, but I also didn’t want to wake him when his alarm would do it soon enough.

I drifted back to sleep.

I woke again in the morning with a deep sense of sadness.

Today (10/29) is Kalkidan’s birthday.

This should be her senior year of high school and she should be walking next to Claire at their graduation next spring.

But even as I type the words “should” I sense that’s not quite what I mean. This all should be true, but only if I can have my own way. The fact is, I don’t get my own way, I can only walk in God’s way.

His plans are better, even when I don’t understand. I bend my knee to him– I trust him.

But that surrender is not easy; sometimes I have to fight for it. I’m reminded of a story in the gospel of John. Many of Jesus’s disciples had turned away and he asked the twelve if they were going to leave too.  Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, you are the holy one of God.”

I see no other way than to trust Jesus, the holy one of God. I can’t imagine living through a tragedy like this without him. But that doesn’t change the reality that grief is hard.

C.S. Lewis wrote,

No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear.

Grief is an animal I can’t control.

Sometimes it’s powerful and overwhelming; I feel crushed under its weight. Other times it’s a small wave of sadness that almost feels right and good because it means I haven’t forgotten.

The first two years after we lost Kalkidan, I was overcome by a feeling of fear. Or maybe it was a sense of confusion, like it just couldn’t be possible. To be honest, I still feel that way some days. But there was fear and a sense that the world was no longer safe.

C.S. Lewis goes on to say,

I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.

At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in.

That invisible blanket was very real in the early years – I was different after the accident. Nearly five years later, I know I will never be the person I was before losing Kalkidan. There is no getting back to the way it was before, or who I was before. I’m forever changed.

And that feels right to me.

Some of my children have gotten tattoos as symbols of how they have been changed and what God has done. One tattoo says, “it is well” the other “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” I don’t have a tattoo, but I’m marked by changes in who I am and how I relate to the world.

Of all the things that weigh on me, I don’t want Kalkidan to be forgotten. Her life shaped mine in so many life-changing ways. Her life may have touched you too.

Today we are remembering Kalkidan. Thank you for letting me share her with you.  #rememberingkalkidan

If you have lost someone you love, I’m very sorry you are walking through this too. I send you my love.

With courage and hope,


What Building a Patio Taught Us About God

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
…a time to weep, and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance… Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4

We needed a place to grieve, a place to gather and hold one another close as our hearts were breaking.

Our house had been bursting at the seams for years. In 2008 there were 13 of us in our four-bedroom home. I dreamed of building an addition, but it was too costly. Could an outdoor space expand our home – at least in good weather? Maybe a porch or a patio? 

Then one snowy morning on a rural Idaho highway our lives changed forever.

We lost our 13-year-old daughter, Kalkidan, in a tragic car accident. We were in shock, injured, and devastated.

As we walked through grief, I knew I was different now. My priorities had changed. I could no longer race through my days dealing with urgent matters and living as if there would always be time for important things later. 

There might not be a tomorrow. 

More than anything, I wanted to gather with my family and hold them close. I wanted them to know how dear they were to me. These precious people are my most valuable treasures and I wanted my life and priorities to reflect that.

A few years earlier, my father had given me some money as a generous gift telling me to use it for anything I wanted. My sisters quickly decided how to use theirs; I waited and thought about it. Now it became clear. I wanted to build the long-considered patio where we could gather as a family, grieve, and someday, maybe even laugh again. 

I could picture it in my mind; a simple concrete patio with chairs around a fire pit. Russ, however, pictured something entirely different – a patio of stone pavers complete with a curved wall, lighting, steps leading up from the driveway, and a cobblestone pathway winding to the front of the house.

He researched, drew designs, and dug up the backyard with the tractor. Russ loves hard, detailed work. Making something beautiful with his hands was one way he could grieve.

But as life would have it, time was short and progress was slow. Parenting our large family while recovering from the accident took everything we had.

Then our daughter got engaged and asked us to host the wedding in our yard.

I looked at our home and yard and knew the amount of work would be tremendous. But twenty years earlier we’d stood in the backyard with our realtor and I said, “You know, we could even have a wedding here someday.” This was our dream coming true.

We said “yes” to hosting the wedding and took a good look at what needed to be done.

Over the years of parenting our kids with lots of needs, we’d fallen behind on home and yard maintenance and it showed. Completing the patio catapulted to the top of our frighteningly long To-Do list.

As soon as the snow melted in April, work began. We spent long hours carrying heavy pavers one-by-one, placing them in alternating patterns on layers of perfectly leveled gravel and sand. 

As the wedding day grew closer, Russ worked later each night. Most nights as I got ready for bed, I looked out our upstairs window to see Russ working under bright utility lights. 

There were many times over the past four years when I was frustrated and even angry that this project had become so consuming. The process was tedious and took too much time and effort.

I had dreamed of a place for us to gather and grieve, but here we were four and a half years later still building the patio. 

The wedding day came and just hours before family photos, the patio was finished. It took most of our family and a few incredibly sacrificial friends to complete it.

As I looked at this carefully crafted space, God opened my eyes to a beautiful truth. 

My dream of a patio was birthed in sorrow. Now the first event to take place on it would be a wedding.

This is our God’s way. What we sow in tears, we reap in joy. 

We’ve sown many tears of loss and grief in recent years. Now, after decades of prayer, our daughter was marrying a wonderful man.

We’re reaping so much joy.

God does not leave us in our sorrow forever. He gently leads us back to joy, even in the hard, dark, confusing times. He shines light into our darkness and illuminates the beauty.

On a beautiful July night, our daughter and her husband exchanged vows. Fields of wheat turning from green to gold served as a backdrop. Later that evening, after a delicious dinner, humorous toasts, and cake-cutting, the music started and we danced.

We danced for hours on the patio. And when the DJ packed his gear at the end of the night, our kids set up another sound system and the music kept going. 

You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever. Ps. 30: 11-12

God turned our mourning into dancing. His love stuns me and fills me with gratitude.

Sorrow will rip your heart wide open leaving you gasping for air and desperately crying for help and relief. You may weep.

But the tears you sow today will grow into a rich harvest. One day death will be defeated forever and our joy will be complete.

Friend, if you’re grieving and your heart is broken, you can trust Him. This is not the end.

Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Ps. 126:5

The patio will always be a symbol of what God has done. The place where I thought I would grieve became the place where we rejoiced in the goodness of God and recalled answered prayers. It’s the place where we danced for hours celebrating two people joining their lives and becoming a family.

I believe we’ll see Kalkidan again and I imagine it may feel we’ve only been parted for a moment. Her vibrant spirit we loved on this earth will be even more colorful and brilliant in heaven. 

And we’ll dance in the presence of our holy and loving God.


3 Ways For Moms to Pray Through the Hardest Days

Last week I wrote,  5 Reasons Prayer is Essential for Adoptive and Foster Moms, and I promised to share three ways of praying that carried me through our hardest parenting season and continue to be essential to my prayer life.

What if you feel you can’t pray?

There are so many reasons we may feel this way. Lack of time and energy are at the top of many moms’ lists. Mental fog and stress are other factors. Doubt may grab you – why pray when it doesn’t seem to make a difference?

Over the years I’ve found three simple ways to pray when life is too hard and I’m discouraged, or too busy and I’m overwhelmed. In the darkest days of my life, these simple ways of praying held me close to God when I could hardly get through the days.

3 Ways to Pray

1| Pray without Ceasing

It may seem counterintuitive, but when we’re completely overwhelmed we need to pray without ceasing. You may be thinking, “What? How is that even possible?” Stick with me.

The apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Thessalonians:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

How do we do this when we’re barely making it through our days? Oh friend, this is when we need to press in all the more.

Breath prayer

Pray a simple phrase, short enough to be said in one breath, repeating it over and over as needed. It’s that simple.

Let me share some examples:

1. Lord, have mercy.

2. My help comes from the maker of heaven and earth. Psalm 121:2

3. When I am afraid, I will trust in you. Psalm 56:3

4. Not my will, but yours. Luke 22:42

5. Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Let me share a story about how powerful this practice of the ancient church became in my life. I prayed the last prayer in this list off and on over the years before our adoptions. After the children came home and life spun out of control, I couldn’t think clearly. I couldn’t put sentences together under this level of stress. Fear flowed through my veins.

I began praying this all the time – when I shut myself in the laundry room and fell to my knees or when I lay awake in bed in the darkness of night. It became woven into my heart.

When we had our tragic car accident, the impact knocked me unconscious and I was trapped in the car as it lay on its side in a farmer’s field. At some point, a man got down on the snowy ground, reached through a broken window, and took my hand.

When he spoke to me, I came into awareness. I don’t know if I answered him, but I realized my lips were moving. I was quietly praying, “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” When I was terrified and in pain, this is what came to my barely conscious mind.

Choose a scripture, a phrase from a hymn or worship song, or something meaningful that speaks to you and pray it when you need help and hope from God.

2| Hold Them Before the Lord

Another way I often pray, especially in difficult times, is to simply hold the person before the Lord in my mind. I imagine them at the foot of the cross or in the arms of Jesus.

When we don’t know what to pray or don’t have the right words, the Holy Spirit does. I take my thoughts, words, and hopes to the throne of our good Father.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. Roman 8:26-27

3|Pray a Psalm 

A third way to pray when we’re at a loss is to pray a psalm by simply reading it, silently or aloud, and claiming the words for ourselves.

Consider Psalm 23; words like this may comfort you:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Ps. 23:4

Psalm 13 is also beautiful, ending with these two verses:

But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me. Ps. 13: 5-6

With 150 psalms to choose from, you’re sure to find one that expresses your heart and thoughts.

In the hardest and most overwhelming times, don’t give up on prayer. Try these three simple ways of praying. Draw close to the Father and He will always meet you.

I would love to send you weekly encouragement. We weren’t meant to foster and adopt in isolation; we need friends who understand. You can sign up HERE. 

With courage, hope, and so much love,


5 Reasons Prayer is Essential for Adoptive and Foster Moms


Adoption and foster care may lead us to places we never imagined. It’s no ordinary life, my friends. Would you agree?

Our children existed before we knew them. They grew in the warmth of another woman’s womb and were delivered into her arms. We may know the details of that day or we may only imagine it. Our children may have been with their first moms for a few hours or a few years. Some of our kids may have had many mothers as they moved from one foster home to another.

Days or years may have passed before we arrived on the scene and stepped into a river already flowing with experiences, good and bad, for our little ones. Their eyes have seen things we’ll never know about. Their brains have been influenced by their environments and their hearts shaped by all that has happened.

Perhaps they lived in a country across the world where their lives were drastically different from ours in nearly every way. Or maybe in another part of our city where the culture is nothing like the one in our homes.

So much rushes through our minds as we try to sort out the details and parent these children. How do we know what to do when we don’t know their stories?

I have good news. There is One who knows every detail of our children’s lives. He knit them together in their mothers’ wombs. He has a plan for their lives that is good and He chose you to be this child’s mother, either for a short time or forever.

Having parented children I birthed, adopted, and fostered, I can confidently say parenting is a complex, challenging calling. I often find myself telling the Lord, “I just don’t know what to do.”

Prayer is for needy hearts. Prayer is for helpless people. Prayer is for the weary.

Needy. Helpless. Weary.

Some days that sums up foster and adoptive parenting.

Our lives are filled with tasks, appointments, and needs – so many needs. How do we make time for prayer?

In his book, A Praying Life , Paul Miller writes,

Learning to pray does not offer us a less busy life, it offers us a less busy heart.

I couldn’t love this more. I seem to have plenty of time to worry and talk to friends about my parenting challenges. I also spend hours researching problems I’m facing with my kids. Apparently, I’m not too busy to pray, but prayer requires me to get quiet, and that is a challenge.

Why Pray?

1. We need wisdom.

The Word says,

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. James 1:5

I need wisdom and I’m guessing you do too. I’m desperate to hear from God, sometimes because there are so many options I don’t know what to choose, and others because there are no options left and I am at the end of myself. But God says He generously gives wisdom when we ask. I need more, so much more, of that.

2. We need hope.

I need to be reminded that God is in this with me and He has a good plan. My life is not random and my child didn’t just happen to end up in my family. Even when I doubt myself, God has confidence in me. He chose me to be my child’s mother. And He chose you to be your child’s mother – you were made for this job.

3. We need an awareness of God – we are not alone.

In the middle of the night when the world is sleeping and we’re lying awake with the weight of worry on our chests, we need to remember we aren’t alone. When we’re about to walk into a hard meeting, or maybe just a hard conversation, we need Jesus. Prayer leads us to the arms of our Father and reminds me of His constant presence.

4. We can be honest.

Good news – we don’t need to act holy or clean ourselves up before we pray. Prayer is a “come as you are” affair. God knows us, really knows us, so we might as well pour it all out, every thought, fear, and doubt. Nothing surprises God, not one tiny thing. And He loves us no matter what.

5. We’ll find rest.

Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Mt. 11:28

When we take all of our worries and heaviness and lay them down before the Lord, our hearts and minds can rest. Of course, this laying down process is continual – each day and sometimes each minute. I find myself praying, “I give this to you,” each time the worry comes back to my mind, which is often when something is weighing on me.

How to Pray When Life is Overwhelming

You may agree that prayer is important, that you need wisdom, hope, God’s presence, and rest, but how do you pray when life is chaotic or so busy you hardly have time to sleep?

I completely understand.

In this season of my life, I often have time to pray in the quiet morning before my family wakes. I keep a simple prayer journal and pray for Russ, my kids, family, friends, struggling marriages, people who are grieving or facing illness, and much more. I pray for YOU too.

But there were years when I was consumed by my life – I was overwhelmed, broken, and sometimes scared.

In my next post, I’ll share three ways of praying that carried me through those years.

Know that as I write this morning, I am praying for you, friend. You are a good mom doing good work, sometimes in very hard and uncertain circumstances. It’s hard and beautiful – and God has you.

Have a friend who needs encouragement? Please share this with her! Click on the links at the bottom of the post to share on social media (which is a big help to me), or email her a link.

Don’t miss the follow-up post: 3 Ways for Moms to Pray Through the Hardest Days.

Speaking of prayer, I’m praying and thinking a lot about where to put my energy and time to best serve you. In the midst of podcasting, writing books, speaking, blogging, and more, one of my favorite things to do is write my weekly email to my inside circle of readers.

I would love to include you!

It’s short and sweet, I promise you can read it in just a couple minutes. I share all of the important news with my email subscribers first.

Sign Up for Encouragement

Sign up below to receive, Hope for your Parenting Journey: a guide for adoptive and foster moms, as my thanks.

I hope to see your name on my list and to keep in touch with you.

Courage and hope, my friends.


Learning to be Content With a Well-loved Home

A friend once told me, “You know, Lisa, I don’t think God is going to let you get rid of that blue carpet until you’re thankful for it.”

Nineteen years ago we came to town for a weekend to buy a house. We looked at thirteen, narrowed it to three, and then chose our house. Russ and I are slow decisions makers, so buying a house in a weekend still stands as one of our most decisive moments.

As we walked through the house admiring it, I said, “I love the house, but this blue carpet has to go.”

Never, let me repeat, never say words like that. God was giving me a great house on eight acres in a nice town – a big change from our current home. That’s what I should have focused on.

We had six children when we moved in, and with no wiggle room in our budget, the carpet stayed. I figured in a few years I would get my dream of pulling out the carpet and replacing it with hardwood to match the rest of the main floor.

Then in 2006, we began the journey of adopting four children over a span of 17 months. We were spread thin in every possible way: time, money, energy. As we were plunged into the realities of parenting children with early trauma, all that wasn’t absolutely essential was stripped away.

Our days were focused on safety and security for everyone in our family. It took all I had to care for the physical and emotional needs of the kids. Putting dinner on the table was a test in perseverance most days. Going to the grocery store was nearly impossible.

The financial strain of meeting the special needs of so many kids felt like it might pull us under. And darn it, did I mention we value being debt-free? We couldn’t put new floors on a credit card.

Life comes into sharp focus in the face of trials. Things I once thought were important, like the appearance of my home, became far less significant as we faced the needs of our family.

Concerns about the color of our carpet, the age of our cars, the style of our clothes slipped all the way down to the bottom of our list of priorities.

That blue carpet saw it all: babies, potty training, house training a puppy, sickness, and even the gallon of milk that exploded when I dropped it while carrying groceries into the house.

It was even worse than it looked, which is saying something, and I knew it.

As 2019 begins, we only have three children still living at home; it’s strangely quiet. We’re not buried in as many needs as we once were.

Our well-loved home has grown a little shabby over the decades.  The finish has worn off the high traffic areas of the wood floors in the kitchen. The original 1920’s red fir in the entryway has so many splinters I’ve kept a rug over it to protect our feet.

It’s finally time to take care of the floors.

Last Sunday we moved everything (including the refrigerator) from our main floor into one room. Monday the crew arrived and the project began. We’ve already run into a significant complication with the discovery of wet subfloor due to water leaking through an exterior wall. Nothing is simple!

What have I learned from this?

1. Contentment and gratitude are essential.

2. Debt weighs us down; very few things are worth it.

3. Sometimes we just have to wait – even if it’s 19 years with a not-so-loved carpet.

4. In the waiting, Pinterest is not your friend.

Discontentment takes up precious energy which no parent has in excess.

Thinking over and over again about something we can’t have, steals joy and gives nothing in return.

Did I ever become truly thankful for the old, blue carpet? I’d like to think so; although as with many other things, it’s been a back and forth tug-of-war in my heart.

I can say with certainty, I’m hugely thankful to own a home, however imperfect, where I can love my family and welcome our friends.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.  1 Timothy 6:6-8

Contentment is essential, my friends. Work on it. Catch yourself when you want to grumble and complain. Choose gratitude every time – write it down to remind yourself.

Godliness with contentment is great gain.


There is a Cost to Being Used by God

“There is a cost to being used by God.”  Aaron Couch

At a recent speaking event, I talked with the adoptive mom of two young children from foster care. With grown kids and now in her early fifties, she and her husband didn’t go into foster care hoping to adopt, but they loved these kids, and when it became clear the children would not be returning to their family, they said, “Yes,” to being their parents forever.

And you know what? It’s beautiful.

And it’s really hard.

Research tells us trauma shapes the brain and interrupts normal development. We know healing the brain takes far more than love, although that’s essential. It takes time and often intense therapeutic parenting. This healing commonly requires help from a team of professionals. And it’s long – loving kids from “hard places” is a long journey.

Adoption looks messy, especially to people outside our families who don’t understand our kids’ unique needs. In fact, it looks and feels messy to those of us on the inside too, but we’re no longer surprised. It’s become our lives.

This mom told me people have questioned whether they made the right decision. Did they really hear God? After all, this appears to be a bit of trainwreck.

My response? The folks asking questions need to read the Bible.

Time and again in scripture, we see people follow God with all their hearts and yet suffer. Hardship is their companion.

There are so many examples, but today, the apostle Paul comes to mind. He was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, imprisoned, sleepless, hungry, and thirsty. Following Jesus did not make his life easy. It cost him everything.

As my pastor says, “There is a cost to being used by God.”

You cannot enter into a child’s suffering without suffering in some way too. Trauma is messy and spills over onto the ones willing to come near. Yet you have immersed yourself in it in the name of love.

Foster and adoptive parents, you are being used by God. You are a shelter for children needing to know they are precious, valued, and loved. When they look in your eyes and see warmth and acceptance, they begin to trust you, which is foundational for healing.

I know many of you face hardships as a result of saying, “Yes,” to caring for vulnerable children. Don’t lose heart; hold on.

The apostle Paul said it himself, “Your labor is not in vain.”

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. 1 Cor. 15:58

You are good parents, doing good work in hard circumstances. God sees you and is near.

Each week I send, 3 Thankful Thoughts, a short email you can read in a minute or two with encouraging words and links to posts and resources. I’d love to include you! I’ll send you a free parenting guide filled with hope as my welcome.

With courage and hope,