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She came into our bathroom a little freaked out. Yes, our 11-year-old daughter, Elsa, was literally freaking out about her hair.

“It’s bumpy!”

“It’s not staying in!”

“It’s not tight enough!”

“It’s not working!”

“I hate my hair!”

She’d already worked on it by herself for who knows how long. She was coming to me to fix it, to make it better somehow.

I’m not so sure I helped.

Elsa knelt down in front of our bathroom sink. I grabbed my brush, wet it a bit, and began combing her hair back into a ponytail. She continued to cry. “It’s bumpy!” “It’s not high enough!” “It’s never going to work!” “I hate my hair!” I gave my husband the eye as I brushed and brushed some more. We are moving into those tween years, you know.

Just as I was about to put the ponytail holder in, she took ahold of her hair and let it all down. “It’s TOO bumpy!” “I hate my hair!”

(Let me be clear. It wasn’t bumpy much at all.)

She stormed her way back to the kids’ bathroom.

Crying and frustration continued.

Honestly, she was out of control.

She’d worked herself into this frenzy. Nobody else.

To us, her hair was going to be just fine. It was going to work out. She was going to leave the house with some sort of fixed hairdo. But to her? It simply wasn’t going to happen.

She tried, tried and tried again. Crying and frustrated. All by herself. Staring at the mirror, on her knees, tears streaming down.

My husband suggested she should wear it down.

“I have to run the mile for gym today! I have to wear it up!”

My husband suggested she should wear it up, then.

“It’s bumpy! It’s never going to work! I hate my hair!”

I couldn’t stand it anymore. I knew she needed help. She just wasn’t willing to accept it. So I walked to her bathroom and suggested, once again, that I could help. I tried to give her a hug, thinking she was perhaps, just so emotionally distraught that it might calm her down or bring release. Not so much. But I did talk her into giving me another chance.

I brushed. I pulled her hair back. I brushed some more. And I kept reminding her that this is totally going to work out, that it doesn’t have to be perfect, that it works better if she adds a little water to make it slicker, all the talk I thought would help.

“It’s not working!”

“It’s never gonna work!”

Finally, I had a great ponytail all ready to go.

“It’s too bumpy!”



Freaking out.

She’d crossed the line.

I left.

Her 4-year-old sister came to see what was the matter. She tried some words. She tried a couple hugs. Didn’t work.

Elsa was left to fend for herself again. Didn’t work either. More crying. More frustration.

She’d spent so much time crying in frustration and disregarding others’ help that it was dangerously close to the school bus arrival. Did I mention she hadn’t even eaten breakfast yet?

So I went back in to help this girl, this daughter of mine.

“Let’s do a half braid on top, like we’ve done before, with the ponytail in the back?”

She surrendered.

I braided.

Honestly, I think it was the best braid I’ve ever done on her head.

I bound the braid, then pulled the rest of the hair up into a ponytail.

It was cute. Just like other days we’ve done this hairstyle and she’s approved it. She persisted in crying and frustration, despite the fact that we all knew she needed to accept the style and move on.

“It’s not tight enough!”

“My hair is ugly.”

“It’s ugly.”

She put a couple bobby pins in even though I told her it was great the way it was.

At this point, she had seven minutes to eat breakfast, get her bags ready and shoes on before the bus came. So she didn’t have a choice.

I heard my husband compliment her hair downstairs.

“No, it’s not. It’s ugly.”

She was still unsettled as the bus rounded the corner, but stopped long enough for me to give her a hug on the way out.


Good thing I was in a good mood this morning. Good thing I prayed before I got out of bed. Lord, give me direction for my writing and photography and everything else I need to do today.

Truth is, I saw myself in my daughter this morning.

The enemy has been on the prowl. Oh yes, most definitely.

But I’ve also been working myself into a quiet frenzy about my writing, my photography, my work and my worth.

I’ve considered a night, shelf-straightening job at Target just to bring in a few bucks, not to mention, I am good at shelf straightening. I’ve wondered if I should get a one-day-a-week job at my favorite clothing store, White House Black Market – for fun, to bring in some dollars while I’m in this transition period, to help other women feel beautiful. I’ve considered a job at Jimmy Johns, because they’re fun and freaky fast and I love everything about their business model. I’ve considered any sort of paid, regular job at least one day a week next school year while my daughter is in preschool so I can feel like a legitimate, contributing member of our family and society. Maybe I could be a substitute paraprofessional for special education students at our local school? Maybe I should just surrender and work as an on-call speech-language therapist at some metro clinic or hospital? That would be a good use of my talents, wouldn’t it? Everyone would think THAT was a good idea.

I’ve worked myself into this quiet little frenzy about writing, photography and staying home.

“It’s not going to work!”

“It’s never going to work!”

“I’m not good at this!”

“I’m not good enough!”

“I’m dreaming.”

“I can’t find my place.”

“I don’t have a place.”

I realize none of this is true. But just like my daughter, I’ve worked myself into a frenzy. Only I’m tying it all up on the inside, and she let it all out.

It’s going to work out. God has a greater plan and He sees it clearly. I just can’t see it enough to trust it right now.

Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Funny thing is, after I prayed that prayer and before my daughter came to our bathroom the first time, I’d decided that I need to get and keep my head on straight about this writing and photography business. I told my husband that as much as it sounds enticing to find any sort of regular paying job 1-2 days/week next school year, I shouldn’t. I can’t. I felt a strong call to leave my career to pursue writing and photography, and I haven’t even given myself a full run at it yet. I’m nowhere close to calling it quits on either front. I need to focus on photography between now and early October. Then, when the weather’s cold again, I need to focus on writing – hard core, 18 hours a week – between October and mid-May.

I have PLENTY of work to do.

I don’t need to find more work for the sake of finding more work.

I don’t need to find more work to validate myself.

I don’t need to find more work to prove my worth.

I need to focus on the work I’ve already been given.

I need to focus on God’s call – to write, to photograph, to stay home – and that’s it.

Yes, I’ve been freaking myself out before I’ve barely begun.

I need to look in the mirror and see the truth.

I’ve barely begun.

Yesterday, I had a very clear vision for another adult non-fiction book. In the past two months, I’ve had vision for two additional titles. All three viable as far as I can see. That’s in addition to my children’s book series and the original adult non-fiction I’ve already decided will move forward one way or another.

God has plans.

I’ve barely begun.

You’ve barely begun.

Look in the mirror and see the truth.

What are you fighting today?

What are you crying about?

What are you frustrated about?

What are you freaking out about?

What’s causing a quiet frenzy inside?

As the saying goes, if you’re still living, your best days are still ahead.

Today, I’m coming alongside myself, I’m coming alongside you. I might not see it. You might not see it. But God has a plan.

Let’s work through it. Let’s work it. Let’s do life together.

I’m here. I can help.



2015 was new, crazy, challenging, a bit here, there and everywhere.

In January and February, I was empty, then filled. My husband was sick, then sick some more.

In March and April, I was incredibly inspired, then incredibly humbled.

In May, I started fresh again.

In June, I was hopeful, then spirit crushed.

In July, I said no to one thing, then yes to two others.

In August, I was completely confused, then crystal clear.

In September, I started dashing like a mad woman.

October, too.

By November, I was sure of myself, then totally unsure of myself.

I started working hard, really hard trying to prove myself, my worth, my existence on this planet. I circled, round and round, then round some more. I started seeing everyone else and their place, but couldn’t see where I fit. I wasn’t the dentist nor the hygienist, the assistant nor the billing specialist. I wasn’t the teacher nor the aide, the secretary nor the principal. I wasn’t the server nor the manager, the clerk nor the cashier. I wasn’t the business woman or corporate ladder climber, the 9-5’er nor the stay-at-homer. I wasn’t the plumber or electrician, the postal worker or swim instructor. I wasn’t a pastor or preacher, a small group leader or a youth worker. I wasn’t an awesome mom or a horrible mom, a pool mom, a room mom, a snow sledding mom, or an awesome-at-remembering-to-give-Christmas-gifts-to-teachers kind of mom. I wasn’t an income-earning wife or deadbeat wife, nor was I earning much of any income kind of wife. I wasn’t a practicing speech-language therapist anymore, but I had the credentials and experience to say I was. I wasn’t a real photographer, but I wasn’t a phony either. I wasn’t a journalist, an author, or a highly-known blogger, and I wasn’t sure I was really cut out for this writing business but I wasn’t really sure I was cut out for anything else either. I wasn’t a missionary in real life, but I totally was in my heart.

I was lost, but so sure.

Confident, but totally not.

I knew, but I didn’t know at all.

Yes lost, but finding?


In December, I found myself. In Africa. In Kenya. At Shangilia Orphanage. In huts. In the slums. I found myself holding tiny orphan hands, strolling down red roads and garbage-littered roads, slipping unexpectedly in piles of cow dung, and traversing narrow walkways. I found myself wide awake to drums and chanting, crying to God in the middle of the night. I found myself feeling beautiful. I found myself in two little boys I loved like a mama. I found myself kneeling naked to receive a morning trickle of a shower. I found myself in flowing dresses and pant-skirts and rugged lace headbands. I found myself in the middle of the mess. I found myself thousands of miles from home. I found myself thousands of miles from all the loved ones I’d ever known. I found myself near to loved ones He’s always known. I found myself exactly where I expected to find myself. I found myself where God expected me to find myself. I found peace.

I didn’t plan to go to Africa in 2015. Nor did I plan to go anytime soon. But I always dreamed it. I always knew it would happen.


Two years ago, I stopped dead in my tracks. I stopped the blogging madness and took time in solitude to reflect on all that had been, all that could be from there on out. I wasn’t writing resolutions. I was articulating visions, dreams and callings that had been mulling in my brain for years. It took 15 pages of writing to get it all out, to get to the point.

I didn’t know IF or WHEN any of it would happen. But I wrote it all down. I needed to. My heart said yes. It’s time to acknowledge the dreams of my heart, God’s dreams for my life.

Among those words were these…

Dirty during the day. Dressy at night.

15 pages of spewing led to that revelation, that vision of my future. Vague to others, clear enough to me.

In Africa and when I returned home to several long dresses and skirts that needed to be hand scrubbed because they were so dirty on the bottom, I knew God had begun fulfilling the vision I’d scribbled in a journal two years ago.

Dirty during the day. Dressy at night.

I sensed it in my heart.

This is the beginning.

I let those dresses and skirts sit on the laundry room floor for 2 1/2 weeks before I scrubbed them. I wanted to remember, to grasp, to literally SMELL God’s provision in my own two hands. I’m weird, I know. I needed to know with all my heart that through all the floundering, God’s been working something out in me this year.


I was flip-floppy. He said, I’m working my plan.

I was insecure. He said Be secure in me.

I needed to prove my worth. He said Accept my grace.

I didn’t fit anywhere anymore. He said I’m making a way.

I wanted to know what was going to happen. He said Trust me.

I couldn’t find my place in this world. He said Be not conformed to this world.

I thought the invitation to Africa was pretty much a joke. He said It’s time to get dirty. It’s time to love and be loved, beloved. Let me show you a homeland for your heart.


As I edit this, there’s only 10 hours left of 2015. For six days now, I’ve sensed the dead space, the quiet before what’s next. In this limbo between one year and the next, it’s tempting to become hopeless, bored and withdrawn. It’s tempting to believe God’s done with us, that nothing more could be accomplished through our lives. It’s tempting to be fearful, afraid, peeking ’round every corner wondering which shoe will drop next. It’s tempting to control, manipulate and plan every resolution, leaving little room for God’s provision. It’s tempting to believe we’re less than, less than capable, less than everyone else, less than worthy of anything and everything on this moving mass called earth. It’s tempting to shut down. It’s tempting to ramp up the volume and manipulate facts, figures and details to our liking. It’s tempting to stop believing. It’s tempting to believe we have power, control and authority over every minute of our lives, over all of heaven and earth. It’s tempting to adopt crazes and follow masses this way and that. It’s tempting to give up, give in. It’s tempting to take control, take over.

But we mustn’t.

We mustn’t succumb.

God is at work.

His plans are unfolding. For me. For you.

He has a purpose, a place and peace for us that passes all understanding.

We must be patient.

In the meantime, let’s “Work like it depends on us [and] pray like it depends on God.” – Mark Batterson, The Circle Maker

This year, I intend to dream big and pray boldly about dirty during the day. God’s given me a good hunch about the work I need to do for dressy at night. And believe me, there’s a whole lot of life that fits in between and all around those two sentences that’ll need plenty of praying and trusting, working and believing for.

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So how about you?

If you took time, real time, to honor the life God’s given you and write it all down….

What would you resolve to believe next year?

What are your dreams, your visions? How bold are they?

What will you work for like it depends on you?

What will you pray for like it depends on God?

What’s next, friend?

What are you trusting for?

God’s got this. He has it all. He’s bringing us through. He’s bringing us to.

We’re here for a reason. Let’s live like it.


Kenya mission trip

Our timelines rarely coincide with God’s.

We want life to go faster. Or slower.

We wish this would happen. Or that.

We want to press forward. Quicker.

We wish we could go back in time. And do it again.

We dream of better days, longer days, days fuller, days lighter.

We dream, scheme and believe BIG, bold things.

We think maybe, someday.


We have a hunch. Yeah, a hunch. If only, God. If God.

We want to believe those nudges are true. We want to believe it’s the Spirit speaking to our hearts, not earthly, fleshly, egotistical desires.

We just want confirmation that all this living and breathing and dreaming is real. That this life of ours is worth something more, more than mere existence.

We don’t want to simply survive.

We want to thrive.

We want to believe in a God who can do anything. A bigger-than-life God. A God who does things totally unexpected. A God who shows up in places and times least expected. A God who wants to surprise us with His glory, His goodness, His richness, His fullness, His plan for our lives here on planet Earth.

We want to know there’s more. That we’re part of a grander plan. A greater story.



So when DropBox was simply too slow, when I had to go into church to upload a load of high resolution photographs from an all-church service day, when I “randomly” commented on the Africa photos in the corner of the pastor’s office that June 1st, 2015, then consequently got invited to join a mission trip to Africa, I was shocked.

I thought the dude was crazy. Me? Go on a mission trip to Africa in the fall? Ummm….No?! Not going to happen that quick. Not now. You might work like that, but not me! You don’t know me. I’m a planner. I’m a preparer. I like to do and know things in advance. There’s no way I’d make such a big decision in such a short timeframe. There’s no way I could ever find the money that fast, get child care that fast, get the a-okay from my husband that fast, get a blessing from our parents that fast. You know. There’s no way it’s going to happen that fast for me. Okay?

To be honest, I didn’t think the pastor’s initial invitation to go to Africa was all that serious. I really, desperately wanted to go to Africa in my heart of hearts. Of course, I was interested. As in, yes please? But now wasn’t the time. More like a couple years from now, or give me at least a year to get this thing worked out somehow? But five or six months from now?! Really? Serious? Is this for real?


I got myself quiet.

And I got thinking about God’s timelines. How maybe we have it all wrong. How maybe I’ve had it all wrong. How maybe my timeline is SO off and SO wrong and SO not God’s. How he’s surprised me before; maybe He’s surprising me again. How I dreamed of traveling to Africa – not to sightsee, but to serve – for longer than I can remember. My Africa dream is so old, I don’t even remember when I started dreaming it. The dream’s just been there. Always. Forever. Then I remembered being invited to Africa by a different party, with a different nonprofit, in May 2014. And how I said NO, I’m already traveling to the Dominican with Compassion. Then I remembered the 2023 trip we visioned to Africa for our 25th anniversary. And I remembered the SINGLE reference to “Africa” on my blog’s Meet Amy page. I thought it was dreamy, but left it there on purpose, without any detail, without any knowing of what that “Africa” might look like. I left it in for hope’s sake. I left it in for the believing in someday, somehow, maybe when I’m much older and wiser and there’s something grand for me to accomplish there.

Is this all mystical-hogwash coincidence, or is this God working His plan?

I began to believe.

I also began to doubt.

I dismissed and diminished the pastor’s invitation to go on the Africa mission trip. I wanted to believe it could be possible. But I didn’t believe it could actually happen.

Reality set in.

I started blogging in July 2012.

Haiti in February 2014.

Expensive new camera in September 2014.

I stopped working as a speech-language therapist in December 2014.

Dominican Republic in January 2015.

Eye cancer diagnosis in January 2015.

Photography business launch in spring and summer 2015.

And now a mission trip to AFRICA in the fall of 2015?

How much more could I ask of my husband?

In my head, I knew it would be much better to discuss this in a year or two. That would be much better timing.

But in my heart, in my spirit, in my soul, I had a hunch this wasn’t about my timing, but more about God’s.

So I left myself open to the slight possibility of going to Africa in the fall of 2015.




I received the initial invitation on June 1, 2015.

By June 17th, I had a solid and highly justified hunch the trip was NOT going to happen this time.

By July 7th, I’d given my answer in writing. NO.

On July 20th, God performed a BIG miracle.

I ignored that miracle until August 2nd, to be exact. I hadn’t been sure what to do with that miracle, but God knew EXACTLY what to do with it. He took it into His own hands. Clearly, I wasn’t moving this Africa deal forward with enough vigor. He was going to make this happen whether I liked it or not.

And that August 2nd, it was beautiful really. I’ll always remember the way she looked at me with tears in her eyes. (You know who you are, sweet friend.) The moment she knew in her heart of hearts that I was going to Africa.

And in the oddest series of events that occurred over the next 2-3 weeks, I’ll always remember the moment that same friend told me she wouldn’t be going to Africa. With the same tears in her eyes.

But I’d said, I’d written…

This wasn’t about getting anyone’s approval anymore. This Africa deal was between me and God, and God had made that abundantly clear.

By Saturday, August 29th, I said YES to Africa.

Things were definitely still in the air. Things were definitely NOT 100% clear. The near three-month journey from June 1st to August 29th had been rough, rocky and incredibly spiritually challenging.



I said YES to Africa.

Because God was in on this from day one.

There was no denying it.

I couldn’t shake this feeling I was supposed to go NOW. To Africa. In the fall of 2015. On this particular trip. For such a time as this.


I’d given an absolute NO on July 7th.

God performed a series of straight up miracles.

And by August 29th, I said YES.

How could I deny what He’d done?

How could I deny His plans, His timelines?

This wasn’t about me. This wasn’t about my timelines or my pretty little plans or my best case scenario anymore. This was all about God. His Spirit nudging me again and again and again. His clearing the way. His making a way, whether any of us liked it or not. His desiring for me TO GO. To Africa. Now. As in. NOW.

Friends and family, I want to acknowledge that my retelling of this incredibly life-changing story has been incredibly vague. Much more vague than anything I’d normally share in this space. But this journey has been incredibly personal. This journey will become part of my life story, my lifelong testimony. I’ve documented it in a couple unpublished blog posts, and I’ve tucked away the details in my heart. I won’t forget. Someday, I’ll tell and it’ll make perfect sense and feel good and right in the context of a long-lived life. For now, the story will stay between me, two people who know all the details, and a few others who know some pieces. Some things are meant to stay sacred secret, between us and God.


But this, THIS, is all you need to know.

I planned, wanted, and desired to go to Africa for my whole life, as long as I can remember.

I said NO to Africa twice.

God performed miracles.

And then I said YES.

Which means I’m going to Africa. On a mission trip. Soon!

I’m going to dive straight into details, because no surprise, I’m already running long on words.

  • I’m traveling with a team of 10 to Kenya, Africa.
  • We’ll be gone for 10 days, end of November into early December 2015.
  • All my travel mates are from Minnesota. 5 females. 5 males.
  • We’ve already met twice as a group.
  • Random awesome fact: My first cousin once removed is going on the trip and we had NO IDEA until we arrived at the first meeting and saw each other there! Who knew?! (Okay, so I’m not 100% on the blood relationship. Our parents are first cousins. So what does that make us?)
  • We’re traveling with a nonprofit called Love For Kenya.
  • Love For Kenya is one of our church’s 10 global mission partners, so our church’s mission funds will be covering a portion of our trip.
  • We’ll be staying in huts.

While we’re in Kenya, we’ll be working largely with orphans and widows. We’ll also be doing other ministry, outreach and service projects in the community as we feel called and led through listening prayer. Community ministry might look “as small as” providing encouragement, washing feet, feeding people and giving people clothing, or “as big as” building a home, providing mosquito nets and life-saving medications for a couple hundred people, showing the “Jesus film” to a thousand, and exploring uncharted valleys in an effort to reach people who have never been reached before. We’ll also be heading into the slums one day. It’s hard to say what God has in store. But these details, these possibilities, we know for sure.

The trip is structured, but leaves plenty of room for God to work His plan.


For those of you who are safety minded, our trip will be led by Pastor Randy who’s led 90 mission trips. This will be his 17th mission trip to Kenya. Crazy cool, right? We’ll be 13-16 hours from areas that would be considered unsafe, and will have access to mobile phones. We’ll be together as a group at all times. And local Kenyan friends and partners will be journeying with us once we arrive in Africa.

I’m breathing deep. Sighing. Wondering how this could be true that I’m telling you I’m going to Africa. Now. For such a time as this.

One more important thing…

I will be blogging this trip, just as I did in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. We haven’t discussed details yet as far as what that will look like and when, but I’ll definitely let you know. One way or another, you will be hearing all about this journey to Africa.

And I’m hoping, praying and planning on piloting a photography project I’ve been visioning and dreaming of since January. I’ve already talked to Pastor Randy, our trip leader, about this and he thinks it’s feasible within the structure of our trip.

Keep in mind, I said YES to Africa on August 29th. So we’ve only had 18 days to discuss details.

Speaking of this whole timeline – being invited June 1st, saying NO July 7th, saying YES August 29th, sharing with you all today, and leaving at the end of November – I could use a little help.

You see, I wasn’t planning on Africa.

We weren’t planning on Africa.

I didn’t know God had this in store for me…NOW.

I didn’t know He had this in mind for me…NOW.

I thought my Africa dreams were possibly far fetched, likely for later in life when things will be far more settled. For our 25th wedding anniversary? Yes. For an awesome 65th birthday when I join 10 wise writers and photographers on some awesome writing-photography adventure? Sounds amazing. But right now? Not so much. Didn’t plan that.

Our timelines rarely coincide with God’s.


So back to needing a little help.

Here’s what I could use…

A prayer team

If you’re willing to serve on a prayer team for my trip to Kenya, please leave me a message somewhere, anywhere, along with your email address. I would love some warriors to pray for travels, safety, health and God’s mission to be accomplished while we’re there.

Financial support

When I originally published this post on September 16, 2015, I made a humble request. I needed an additional $550 to fully fund my mission trip to Africa. Thanks to the generous gifts of family, friends and blog readers, the trip is now fully funded! I couldn’t be more grateful. Thank you. (Updated 11/23/15)

Likers & Lovers, Readers & General Supporters 

I need some lovin’ on this, friends. I need some support. Will you encourage me, love me, support me, read the posts I write, lift me up in your thoughts and prayers? Will you encourage me in my photography journey so I’m ready to pilot the project I’ve been dreaming of? Will you be hopeful and expectant? Will you believe there’s a reason God’s sending me to Africa now instead of waiting until my 25th anniversary or 65th birthday? Will you set aside doubt, worry and disbelief for the sake of encouragement? Will you believe in this journey, this mission? Will you will believe with me and for me? I would so greatly appreciate it.

Thank you, friends. Thank you.


I stayed up until 1:10 a.m. writing this and I’m in for a long day ahead. After the kids left for school this morning, the doorbell rang. It was our 4-year-old neighbor boy. When I opened the door, he looked me in the eye and whispered “Your butterfly is going to fly away now.” It was truly the most miraculous thing ever to me. I ran to grab my camera. The caterpillar my daughter put in a bucket weeks ago and had been keeping on our porch had just broken from its chrysalis. It was on a fern next to the bucket. Our sweet neighbor boy notified me just in time. We watched its first moments free, its first flight. It was amazing. Miraculous. God’s confirmation for me this morning. Fly, dear one. Fly.

All photo credits (except the butterfly) to Love for Kenya.





Kenya_smallbuttonThis post serves as the landing page for my trip to Kenya, Africa, with the nonprofit organization, Love for Kenya, in 2015. All the posts I write about the trip will be listed and linked here, at the bottom of this blog post. You’ll also find this Kenya graphic displayed on the right sidebar of my blog homepage. Click on the graphic anytime, and you’ll be brought right back here where you’ll find all the blog posts in one place!


To read other posts in the series about my trip to Africa, click on the title below:

Africa. When STAY RIGHT BY ME is All God Asks.

One More Day and We’ll Be On Our Way

The Sweet Song of Shangilia Orphanage

God’s Good, Good Work

Home. A Blessing and Dream Come True.

Less Productivity. More Connectivity. The Lesson I Had to Learn in Africa.

On Earth, As It Is In Heaven

Good Love and Good Bye

Messy. Slummy. Safari Beautiful.

Africa. The Untold Stories.


It was already 4:00 p.m. when they asked if we could go to the beach. I was hesitant, as it had been a long day already. But we had nothing to fill those witching hours before dinner and dad’s arrival back home, and it was a warm, beautiful day. The kids reminded me “the beach” was on our summer bucket list, so I agreed. Yes, let’s go. To the beach it is.

When we arrived, we made our way straight to the water. A ginormous family gathered to the right. Picnic tables littered the forested area leading to the beach. We chose the table closest to the water’s edge, 20-30 steps from here to there. The two oldest plopped their stuff down and entered the water promptly. Like any “good mom,” I organized all the stuff at the table, then got our youngest geared up in her life jacket before she headed to the sand.



I made myself comfortable at the picnic table, watching the kids swim within the buoys from a distance, watching our baby play in the sand. But something was making me feel uncomfortable, guilty, really. I felt like I was TOO FAR away from my children, like I wasn’t being a “good mom” sitting at that picnic table 20-30 steps from me to my baby, many feet from my children frolicking in the water. It was my perception of a “good mom,” my perception of one “good beach mom” that did me in. There she was, the embodiment of “good mom,” fully pregnant with dad and one older child frolicking in the water, all three of them together loving and enjoying this beautiful day.

Yes, the contrast between my perception of that mom and my perception of myself was stark in my mind. That pregnant mama frolicking in the water with her husband and son? A “good mom.” Me at the picnic table in full-on clothing and several steps and feet from my children? Not a “great mom.” Yes, I’ve read all those viral blog posts telling mom to “just put on that suit and get in the water, your kids are only young once.”

I was feeling guilt and condemnation from the start of this summer bucket list gig. And it was likely largely in my mind.

So I got up from the picnic table, took off my shoes, picked up my camera and moved much closer to my baby.

Fortunately, there was a gigantic rock right next to her. So I sat there, close. It felt better, more responsible, more engaged, more motherly. Although I still had guilt that I was clothed, not “right in there” with the kids.

I chilled out for a while. Relaxed. Dug my feet in the sand. Wiggled my toes. Watched the big kids frolic in the water. Took a few photos of my baby playing in the sand, making her own version of sandcastles – the kind you never flip over into castle form. I watched as she found tiny rocks and one by one, carefully placed them on top of her castle. It was all grace. Pure grace for my “not a good enough mom” heart that day at the beach.





But after a while, I looked up, looked long, looked all around. Why oh why do I do that? Why oh why must I constantly worry I’m not doing life right? Why look right and left when I already had peace? Why question and compare my identity with hers and hers and theirs?

This questioning and worrying and wondering if I’m doing life all wrong must stop. But it didn’t. The subtle lies ruminated in my head as I looked left, right and all around at everyone else.

Look at all the people swimming. 

Look at the moms building sandcastles with their children.

Look at that pregnant mom frolicking in the water with her husband and child, enjoying life, taking advantage of every opportunity to get right in the thick of things.

You’re not swimming.

You’re not even in a swimsuit.

You’re just sitting here on the beach, fully clothed, with a camera, watching your children from “a distance.”

You’re not a “good mom” like them.

You’re not getting life right.


The subtle, but undeniable lies continued ruminating in my mind as I sat on that rock at the water’s edge. But God persisted with grace, unmerited favor upon me.

After a while, the baby was clearly done with the sand.

We got up and made our way back to the picnic table to brush and dry off. I checked my clock for the first time since we arrived. To my surprise, we’d already been there for 1 hour 40 minutes. It was 6:10 p.m. Dinner time. We were 20 minutes from home and I hadn’t even started dinner. “Good mom” came to mind. “Good mom” would have had dinner in the crock pot all day or a cold tuna salad and fruit salad waiting in the fridge or a full-on picnic dinner of chicken and coleslaw for that picnic table. But I had nothing. No dinner. Dad likely on his way home from a long day at work. And then there was us, here at the beach. And me, late and empty handed.

This was truly an amazing, fun-filled summer bucket list adventure for my three kids and a torturous “bad mom” adventure borne out of my wandering mind.

So I called the big kids in. “Come in, guys!” It’s time to go! Time to get some dinner!”

The only thing is….they didn’t respond. They didn’t listen. They didn’t come in from the water. They just kept playing and acted like they didn’t hear me when I know they did.

I was miffed.

So I called my husband and let him know we were at the beach, that I’d called the kids in once, but they hadn’t listened, that I was trying to get them out sooner rather than later so we could get home for dinner together, that I didn’t have anything planned, but maybe he could make some hamburgers and beans and we could have some of that watermelon cut up? (Yes, I intentionally wrote that as a run-on sentence because it best describes my wandering thoughts and worries that afternoon.)

I called the kids in again. “Come on guys, time to go!” They looked and me and kept swimming. Utter disregard for my direction. I was starting to get irritated, but there was nothing I could do. My 10 year old and 12 year old were swimming free, independently, far out by the buoys and having a heck of a good time! Why in the world would they want to come in now except for complete OBEDIENCE? I couldn’t blame them and was waffling between just letting them swim some more and complete anger at their disregard for my direction.

So I let them swim some more, because there was nothing I could do other than get in the water with my clothes on and drag them out. And that didn’t seem sensible nor necessary.

Did I mentioned God persisted with grace through this whole adventure?

It was as if He was saying…breathe…rest my child. It’s okay. I am here and you are a good mom despite their disobedience right now.

I watched as my baby filled a bubble bottle cap with with water and stirred with an old glow stick she found on the ground. I watched as she did this dirty, hard, small work with care. I watched as she walked up the steps, down the steps, then jumped off to the bottom without a care in the world. She walked and jumped again and again and again some more.



Time passed in grace. Enough so that I felt it was justified to give another try at calling the kids in so we could leave, so we could get home, so we could get dinner with dad.

I called. “Come on in guys, it’s time to go. We need to get home for dinner. Dad’s home now.”

They didn’t respond. Kept playing. Kept swimming. Kept laughing and swimming farther out, farther away from me.

I was getting ticked now. Angry.

The baby was ready to go. I’d packed up our stuff and was clearly ready to go. I started waving the kids in, gesturing “come” as quietly and nonchalantly as I could without making a scene. Every time the kids paid attention to me, I gestured angrily and abruptly, attempting to let them know I was mad and needed obedience ASAP.

No response.

No obedience.

I was so mad.

To make things worse, this was all happening in the immediate presence of the “good mom” who was still pregnant, still frolicking in the water with her husband and one older son. I was truly embarrassed that my children were not obeying my direction to get out of the water. I was truly embarrassed that I had to keep calling with no response. I was truly embarrassed that I came in clothes and was stranded on the beach with no way of getting them out of the deep other than to make my way in, fully clothed. I am truly embarrassed to say it was 7:05 p.m. before they finally got out of the water.

I let them know that I was SO mad, that I had been calling them in for 55 minutes, that they had been so disobedient and I was not happy at all.

I gathered our stuff.

And we took one last walk along the beach.

Grace for us all.



As we drove out, we passed a beautiful pond surrounded by grasses and wildflowers. It reminded me of the beautiful pond my sponsored child’s tutor stopped to photograph in Haiti, the one I made into a 8×10 and sent her in the mail because I knew it meant something special to her.

More grace.

I stopped the car. Got out. Told the kids I was taking a moment for myself. Walked around and snapped a few photos at my leisure.





My husband had dinner ready when we got home. Hamburgers, beans and watermelon cut up. I told him about the kids’ direct disobedience, how the outing was great fun for the kids and not so great for me.

After dinner, my husband took the kids. And I took some time away, by myself, in our bedroom. After a good long while, they came in and sincerely apologized. I’m sure at the direction of their father, but still. The apology was felt.

I wasn’t the world’s greatest mom, but I was a better mom.

Swimming & Sandcastles

Total Cost: $0

Mom Lesson: Moms need heaping doses of grace. Everywhere. All the time.

Kid Lesson: Kids have fun and make fun anywhere, even when they’re in trouble.



This post is part of a summer-long series titled Summer Bucket List. This is my first summer home full-time with our three children. My hope for this series is that it will challenge me to adventure out of my mothering comfort zone, will provide opportunities to live and write simply, practically, beautifully and meaningfully, and will stimulate some some fun ideas for your summer as well! To check out the entire series, click here and you’ll be directed to the introductory post where all the posts are listed and linked for easy reading. Enjoy, friends! And have a blessed summer.

  1. Jessica Revak Milkes says:

    This is perfect Amy!!! I do the same thing all the time. None of us are perfect – far from. I’m okay with that :). It makes us that much more relatable. I miss you my friend 🙂

  2. Monica Anderson Palmer says:

    I’m so sorry that the enemy robbed you that day at the beach, I’ve been you. Battling in my mind to find grace, truth….to “take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ” but I don’t always win and I’m so proud of you for holding on and leaning in close to the offered grace of God’s ! YOU are a “GOOD” mom forever and always because YOU are HIS and HE is filled with new mercies every morning!

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