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Mama had significant concerns. Her daughter was barely speaking when we first met. We worked together for a year and a half. Two times a week, we sat on the living room floor, then at the dining room table, for intense speech-language therapy. A year and a half later, after all that therapy, after all that working together, mama’s baby girl was speaking like everyone else. I had the rare opportunity to discharge that sweet girl from speech-language therapy, no qualms, no second guessing about it.

It was beautiful. Incredibly beautiful. To bring a child from barely speaking at all, to testing “within normal limits” and speaking like all the other children her age is a true honor and pleasure.

But there was something else extraordinary about the year and a half I spent working with that mama and daughter.

My relationship with mama was special. Unique.

We clicked.

We got each other.

We totally understood each other.

Can I say it any other way?

I adored mama. Adored her.

She was smart, witty and quirky, full of little faults like everyone else. She was passionate and opinionated, strong-willed, fierce, motivated and determined. She knew what she liked in life, and she knew what she didn’t like. She knew what she needed as a mom and a wife, and wasn’t afraid to gift it to herself if necessary. She wasn’t like most of women I knew, and I loved that. I loved ALL those things about mama. But here’s what I absolutely adored about her. She had a soft side she barely, rarely let out. I saw it peek out here and there and it was so incredibly tender. I wondered if she’d been misunderstood more than once. I wondered if people didn’t always “get” her. I TOTALLY “got” her. And I’m pretty sure she TOTALLY “got” me, too.

It was beautiful.

I loved every bit of that mama.

Still do.

When we stood at the door that last day of therapy, when I’d reviewed the standardized test results that proved her daughter’s speech and language was now “within normal limits,” mama thanked me for all I’d done. She thanked me for how far I’d brought her daughter. She thanked me for all the therapy, for bringing her and her daughter through some really rough and uncertain times.

It was humbling, of course.

But then she said something else I’ll never, ever forget.

It was much, much more personal than speech-language therapy. And it meant the world to me.

“I don’t usually like people, but I like you.”

No doubt about it. That was the greatest compliment I’d ever received. Two years later, it’s STILL the greatest compliment I’ve ever received.

“I don’t usually like people, but I like you.” 

I’ve always perceived myself as a little mysterious, a little hard to read, a little hard to fully understand. I get that about myself. Just 1% of the general population has my personality type, so sometimes I’m not sure if I’m really jiving with everyone else’s more popular personalities.

So when that mama told me she “[doesn’t] usually like people,” but she likes me?!

Oh my goodness.

I totally knew her. I totally know myself. And I totally knew what she meant. So I totally took it as a HUGE compliment.

To be completely honest, I don’t really WANT to be like all the other people. I don’t really FEEL like all the other people. So the fact that she recognized that, the fact that she subconsciously felt that from me, and the fact that she was able to articulate it in a way that really meant something to me, was absolutely an honor.

So I’ve been pondering mama’s compliment – the best compliment I’ve EVER received – and have been wondering if there’s a take-away.

How can we compliment people in ways that mean something to them?

How can we compliment people in ways that build them up?

How can we move FROM “I love your haircut,” and “I love those boots,” TO “It seems like you always know when people need encouragement,” and “Did you that you’re the most generous person I know?”

How can we compliment people in ways that feel sincere and authentic?

How can we compliment people in ways that make them realize we’ve actually paid attention to WHO they are, HOW they operate, and WHAT makes them tick?

How can we compliment people in ways that really stick and stay with them?

How can we compliment people in ways that change they way they do life?

How can we compliment people in ways that bring out the best in them, not just for today, but for long-term always?

So many questions to ponder, but I think you get the point.

“I don’t usually like people, but I like you.”

It’s the best compliment I ever received.

Who can you compliment today? For real?

And if not today, who are you noticing so you can compliment them tomorrow or down the road when your words will mean even more?

Just asking.

Because honestly, I need to do the same.

Those words, those compliments, they’re a true gift if given wisely.





I hadn’t known grace. I hadn’t known surrender. I hadn’t known what it looks like and feels like to be okay with God’s approval and God’s approval only. That is, until the Dominican Republic.

The most important day of the trip found me highly emotionally unstable. I was about to spend several hours with our Compassion sponsored sweetie, Meranyelis, and it just so happened that every perfectly planned thing went wrong for me that morning. To make things worse, I brought my camera, but forgot the charged battery back in the room. That left me without a functioning camera, the ONE physical possession I really thought I needed that day besides a swimsuit. Knowing how much I love and treasure pictures, God, in His infinite wisdom, provided Lairs, a photographer, to capture beautiful moments during my visit with Meranyelis.

It was awesome to have Lairs as my one-and-only photographer, but 40 other child-sponsor memories were waiting to be memorialized too, so there were plenty of times when it was just me, our sponsored sweetie, her tutor and the translator. No photographer. No camera of my own. Nobody else capturing moments from the sidelines.

Those moments were quiet, intimate, precious.

I vividly remember the moment when God’s still small voice stirred in my soul, the moment He asked me to work quietly behind the scenes, for Him and Him alone. It happened somewhere between our first swim in the big pool and our Dorito-stained fingertips in the treehouse. Meranyelis and I were off the beaten track, walking down a dusty, dirty, rocky hill towards a swimming pool with a waterslide.

As we walked down that hill, just the two of us with the translator and tutor following behind, I knew there was a good chance Meranyelis would be going on a waterslide for the first time. I was desperate for Lairs, my cameraman, to be there to capture the moment! I didn’t want to miss this! I wanted to be able to send Meranyelis a photograph of the first time she went down a waterslide! I wanted her to be able to show her friends and remember how fun it was for months and years to come!

But I had no camera. I had no cameraman. Lairs was nowhere to be found, and I wasn’t about to waste precious time chasing him down.

There was, in fact, nobody in sight with a camera.

This moment of grandiosity was NOT going to be captured.

And that’s when I heard God’s still small voice. As I held Meranyelis’ hand, as my bare feet walked the uncomfortably rocky, dirty, dusty soil, I heard it in my soul. Just be with my child. Will you love her? Will you serve her? Will you forget about everything else, just be with Meranyelis and enjoy the moment, even if the only evidence is in the recesses of your mind? 

There was no other choice. God put me in this position for a reason. I needed to surrender. I needed to know what it looked like and felt like to REALLY serve with my whole heart, for no other reason than to faithfully love the person in front of me. I needed to love this girl, to serve this girl, to be with this girl because she’s God’s beautiful creation, on loan to me for such a time as this.

I whole-heartedly accepted God’s invitation to work behind the scenes.

Extravagant cameras were nowhere to be found. Cell phone cameras were nowhere to be found. NOBODY was to be found. It was just me, Meranyelis, the tutor, and the translator. On a hill. Together in the Dominican Republic.

As we continued further down the hill, Meranyelis decided she didn’t want to go down that waterslide. We stopped to ponder the reality of climbing those stairs. I showed her the slides and explained we’d ride down on a tube, that I’d be with her every step of the way. But she was hesitant. She didn’t want to do it. She couldn’t bring herself to go that high. She was, in fact, afraid of heights.

It’s interesting, really, how God chose to speak to me in that particular moment, how He asked me to work quietly behind the scenes without cameras, without spectators, without physical evidence of it ever happening.

It wasn’t a picture-perfect moment. It was just me and my sponsored child. In what turned out to be a very vulnerable moment. Meranyelis came face to face with her fear of heights. I was there to let her know it was okay. She didn’t have to conquer that fear today. She didn’t have to do it. I wasn’t forcing her to do anything. We were just there, together, as we were – faults, fears and all.

Nothing needed to be documented. God seared the moment in my memory. It will never fade, it will never wear, it will never tear. That moment He first asked me to work behind the scenes? That moment He asked me go, do and love just because? It was holy.


So it came as no surprise when God called me to work behind the scenes again.

On February 23rd, 2015, just 5 1/2 weeks after I returned from the Dominican Republic, God cracked open another chapter in the book He’d begun writing in me long ago. The chapter was unfolding like mad. It was literally writing itself. It was beyond me. I was simply along for the ride of my life. And I was determined to let God lead. He was clearly in control and had a plan. I knew it from day one.

By April 2nd, just three days before Easter, I was convinced and had proof on multiple fronts that this was actually happening. I was convinced of my role in this thing. I was convinced I was 100% in for the long haul. There was no turning back.

Everything had unfolded in private. It was incredible, miraculous, and delightful. Nobody knew what was going on except me, my husband and the few key parties involved. But things had progressed to the point where I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep this inside anymore. I needed people to know. We were going to need help. And I knew that if this story kept going down the road it was on, that I’d have to make it public sooner rather than later. So I started sharing the story with a select handful of people – my parents, my mother-in-law, my God-size prayer and support team, a friend, three individuals from my writing group, and one other person who just really needed to know what was going on. Heck, I even shared a vague prayer request on my blog’s Facebook page the week leading up to Easter.

But the story took a turn.

I’d been belly deep in this thing since February 23rd. I’d experienced the fullness of God’s provision and love for His children. I’d witnessed a multitude of miracles. I’d been brought into a story that was ridiculously rich, fulfilling, challenging, rewarding and completely in line with who God created me to be. But by April 10th, I very clearly sensed God asking me to step aside, to begin working behind the scenes instead of on the front lines.

It wasn’t an easy decision by any means.

It means I won’t be sharing the story on my blog the way I planned.

It means I’ll have to break my promise to you, a promise I made the Tuesday before Easter that I’d share this whole story with you someday, that I’d invite you into all the details from the very start.

It means my role will change.

It means, at least for now, that I’ll be working and loving behind the scenes without anyone else knowing details except my husband and one family from afar.

It means, at least for now, that this story will continue to unfold largely between me and God.

It means I’ll have to trust that God folded me into this story and is now sending me behind the scenes for a reason. It means I’ll have to trust that He’ll work it all out, that He’ll carry it out to completion, that He’ll draw me back into the front lines if and when He sees fit.

I’ve been working behind the scenes for 9 days now. I’ve experienced moments of sadness, uncertainty, wonder and even a little doubt that there’s a bigger purpose in all of this. But I’ve also experienced peace. And joy. God’s shown me other ways to love, other ways to serve, other ways to give that are perfectly tailored to the deepest desires of my heart.

This is where I’m supposed to be. For now. For such a time as this.

So I’m wondering about you.

Are you on the front lines, or are you behind the scenes?

What are you doing in the quiet, to love, serve, and give, that nobody knows about besides you and God?

Maybe you’re caring for a disabled child.

Maybe you’re letting an elderly parent live in your home.

Maybe you’re loving a friend when they’ve fallen off the wagon yet again.

Maybe you’re donating to the crisis nursery, the homeless shelter, or the United Way.

Maybe you’re forgiving the person you abused you, betrayed you.

Maybe you’re setting aside time to mentor someone in need.

Maybe you’re giving your spouse a weekend away.

Maybe you’re serving at the soup kitchen.

Maybe you’re watching children in the nursery.

Maybe you’re bringing a meal to someone going through cancer treatment.

Maybe you’re sending a note of encouragement to someone who’s doing awesome things with their life.

Maybe you’re sending a note of encouragement to someone who’s down in the dumps.

Maybe you’re housesitting, dog watching, or cat watching.

Maybe you’re making big decisions on a nonprofit board of directors.

Maybe you’re wiping butts and cleaning toilets day after day after day.

Maybe you’re caring for kiddos all on your own.

Maybe you’re loving, honoring and conversing with elderly in a nursing home.

Maybe you’re making warm chocolate chip cookies for kids in the neighborhood.

Maybe you’re singing, writing, painting, photographing, creating…because you must.

Maybe you’re running marathons for a cause.

Maybe you’re running marathons because you can.

What is it? 

What do you do behind the scenes? What do you do when nobody’s watching?

How does it fill you? How does it encourage and speak life to others? How does it make the world a more beautiful place?

“…do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:3-4





Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

It’s the song I’ve heard most this season. It’s the song that’s resonating most with me this year.

Last Christmas, Apple launched an ad that featured the Harris family and a “misunderstood” teenaged boy on his iPhone. As far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the most brilliant, heart-warming and moving ads I’ve ever seen. It brings tears to my eyes every time I watch it. Remember the song that accompanied the ad?

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

(After you watch the video – it’s only 1 minute 30 seconds – make sure to keep reading. I’ll be sharing more about my Merry Little Christmas Giveaway!)

I wonder what it is that you need to have a Merry Little Christmas this year. Love? A big bear hug from someone who really cares? Space to breathe? Peace and quiet? Forgiveness? Words of affirmation that everything’s going to be alright? Quality time with friends and family? Understanding we’re loved by a great big God who sent tiny baby Jesus to save us from the brokenness and pain we experience every day?

I don’t know your most intimate needs this Christmas. But I do pray that the longings of your heart and soul will be fulfilled. I do want you to have a Merry Little Christmas. And I do hope that one of these three giveaway packages could bring you a bit of joy this season.

Between now and Friday, December 12th at 9:00 CST, I’m giving away three Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas packages! The three packages are pictured and detailed below. At the end of this post, you’ll find a Rafflecopter sign up for each package. Sign up for one, two, or all three. It doesn’t matter to me!

Maybe you could use a package yourself, or maybe there’s someone you could gift a package to this Christmas? Either way, it’s all good. Take a peek. See what sparks your fancy. Which package would bring the most joy? Which package meets your needs this Christmas?

For Parents of Littles.

A beautiful hardcover children’s book titled God Made Light by Matthew Paul Turner, an accompanying set of encouragement notes for your kiddos, and a night light to remind your little one that there’s always light, even in the darkest of nights. And for you? The Love Dare and The Love Dare for Parents books. Because if there are two things worth investing in this Christmas and moving into the new year, it’s your marriage and your kids. Maybe this package is for you?!

DSC_2307For Parents of Teens and Pre-Teens.

Maybe, like the Harris family, you’re seeking a little wisdom as you parent a teen or pre-teen this Christmas. This package includes Dennis & Barbara Rainey’s book Parenting Today’s Adolescentas well as The Love Dare for Parents, because truth be told, we could all stand to learn some fresh ways to love our kids. This package also includes The Love Dare, because I’m a firm believer that children and teenagers need healthy, loving relationships modeled for them. Do you want to learn practical ways love your spouse even more this Christmas? Do you need a little insight as to how to navigate those teenage years? Then this package might be for you!


For One Who’s Seeking Less. Or More.

I don’t know who you are, but I know you’re out there. Maybe you’re Longing for More, and could use Timothy Willard’s book. Maybe you just need some Breathing Room, and could use Leeana Tankersley’s book. Or maybe you just need a really good cry? The Notebook DVD will help you release those tears if nothing else will. Guaranteed. When I saw this movie in the theater the first time, I thought I’d nearly break out in ugly cry right there in my recliner eating buttered popcorn and Sour Patch Kids. So if you need more. Or less. Or an ugly cry this Christmas, maybe this package is for you?!


The giveaway ends on Saturday, December 13th at 12:00 am CST. I need time to get these packages mailed and to your door before Christmas!

Enjoy, friends.

And Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.





a Rafflecopter giveaway
a Rafflecopter giveaway


Aitkin Band

The fact that my dad’s lifelong career as band director was never celebrated properly bothered me for eight years straight. So one week ago, I took a leap of faith and wrote a post I hoped would rectify that wrong. When I hit publish, I had no idea what the outcome would be, but I did it anyway.

Today, I’m happy to announce that my hopes and dreams for that post came true. The response was greater than I imagined. The outpouring of support? Tremendous, amazing, absolutely incredible.

As of this afternoon…

7,200 people saw the post in their Facebook feed

615 people read the post on the blog

41 people “liked” the post on Facebook

38 people left a personal message for my dad on the blog

27 people shared the post on their personal Facebook page


1 person (my dad, aka Mr. Femling) left a note of thanks for all who made the week so special for him:

“Your comments have raised my spirits immeasurably! It’s easy to get down when you have pulmonary fibrosis and can’t play the trumpet like you used to. I wear oxygen tanks all of the time now so I can still get around and play golf. I always wanted to die directing the band when everything was clicking, as it did many times with you guys, or playing golf. I almost got my wish when I had a heart attack on hole #3 at the [golf course] about 6 weeks ago. As depression started to set in your comments lifted me up and made me want to fight on! The “wall of sound” you created gave me the “chills” many times as do the memories of those times do now. Thanks to my daughter Amy for this great retirement party and to all of my fantastic band students. [Mr. Femling]  JUNE 18, 2014 – 8:07 PM”

I have to admit, I’ve learned some lessons this week. Publishing that post and seeing the positive outcomes was eye opening for sure.

So what have I learned?

1) Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith. Sometimes there’s just no getting around it. When I published that post, I had NO idea what the response would be. I had no idea how it would “perform.” I had no proof, no evidence to suggest the post would be a success. For all I knew, the post could’ve died flat on its face. But something told me that wasn’t going to happen. I just had a feeling, a suspicion that it had the potential to produce the outcomes I desired for my dad. So I took a leap of faith. And it worked. Sometimes, in order to get the outcomes we desire, in order for God to produce the outcomes in our lives that He desires for us, we need to take leaps of faith.

2) People really can be amazing. And once in a while? They’ll not only meet, but greatly exceed all of your expectations. If you’ve been around this blog for a while, you’ve heard me talk about expectations. About four years ago, I became very aware of a fault I’ve carried for a lifetime. The expectations I have for myself and the expectations I have of others are simply way too high. Well, let me just say that all of my expectations were met and exceeded with this blog post for my dad! People showed up. They spent time leaving messages that were detailed, heartfelt, and kind. They acted when they could’ve sat idle. They cared when they could’ve chosen to care less. It was a true honor for me, my dad, and my entire family to read the messages people left on the blog. The outpouring of love and support was amazing, each and every perspective unique, and all together an honoring, perfect picture of my dad’s character and career as band director.

3) Words are powerful. I love words. And I take them seriously, probably more seriously than most. In fact, I’d say that when it boils down to it, words might just be the point of my life. Words can lift up, and words can tear down. We choose our words. Yes, we choose our words. We choose how and when to use them, and with whom to share them. If you go in to that blog post for my dad, dig deep in the comments, read each word, and ponder the true meaning of it all, you’ll be astounded, overwhelmed by the content that was communicated in that space. Words have immense power. Why are we careless with words, throwing them around as if they don’t mean anything, joking as if it won’t hurt anyone, blaming when maybe it’s nobody’s fault at all. Why do we withhold words when they have the power to heal, bring peace, joy, encouragement? Why don’t we love, lift each other up, tend to one another with words more often? Why don’t we consider the holy weight of words, every one important, every one filled with possibility?

Yes, these are just a few of the things I learned from the post I published in honor of my dad’s career as a band director. So today, I rest in peace, acknowledging publicly that the post was a success.

Together, we provided a little joy, a little hope, a little reassurance and blessing for my dad, Mr. Femling, in the midst of times that have been tough.

Words of gratitude are extended generously to those of you who read, responded, and replied to the post. You recognized and restored dignity to a man who deserved it.


**If you haven’t read the post I wrote in honor of my dad’s career as band director, I strongly encourage you to do so! You’ll find it here, at In Which I’m Throwing a Retirement Party for My Dad, Mr. Femling!


The Place


*This is the final post from a month-long series about my journey to Haiti. Click here to read all the posts in the series.

*Music courtesy of Ft. Alex Boye, Africanized Symphonic Cover of Adele’s Set Fire to the Rain

  1. Terri Siebert says:

    I really enjoyed this.

  2. Tiffany Femling says:

    Eyes are an expression to the soul!

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