If You Can’t Say Something Nice…

 Today I am posting at Knoxville Moms Blog on how choosing better adjectives for my children completely changed my parenting. Here’s a little preview; click the link for the full article! 

Years ago, when my daughter was an infant, someone gave her a onesie that read, “Spoiled Rotten.” Now, the truth is that she did get all the attention and affection any tiny human could ever want. She was our only child at the time, the only grandchild on my side of the family and only granddaughter on my husband’s side. She attended daycare at the church where my husband was pastoring and my best friend was Assistant Director, so she had more than a little bit of privilege there. Pretty much any way you looked at it, you could have called my daughter “spoiled.”

But I didn’t.

Over the years I have passed on many cute outfits for my kids because of the language printed on them: words like “spoiled” and “diva” for my daughter, and phrases like “little monster” and “lady killer” for my boys. It’s not that these monikers are inherently bad, and I pass no judgment on you if you deck your kids out in adorable graphic tees bearing such verbiage. But for me, I have found the way I talk about my kids directly correlates to how I talk to my kids. ….

Check out the rest at http://knoxville.citymomsblog.com/if-you-cant-say-something-nice/


I Love My Dog: for a Passionately Pet-Loving Principal

Behold, the late, great Cherry Bhutan Caldwell (only her vet knew her full name), along with my Sweet Prince. She passed away 4 years ago last week. I loved her *almost* enough to write a song about it. Almost.

Behold, the late, great Cherry Bhutan Caldwell (only her vet knew her full name), along with my Sweet Prince. She passed away 4 years ago last week. I loved her *almost* enough to write a song about it. Almost.

One of the best and worst parts about being in youth ministry is watching the teens you love and have poured your life into graduate high school and move on. It’s such a bittersweet feeling, being so proud as they step into the next phase of their lives yet mourning them leaving your care and journeying their own path into adulthood.

In order to keep my pregnant emotions in check, lately I’ve been just shutting down that whole “feeling” mess and trying to laugh as much as possible. Yeah, it will all hit me like a train eventually, but I’m going to be a wreck for a while anyway, so I may as well put it off while I can, right? So yesterday while I sat among some of my favorite people and watched some of my other favorite people play in the band and walk across that stage, I was goofing off and making sarcastic comments to anyone who could hear me. Hey, we sat towards the back and away from other people, okay?

Sunday afternoon I witnessed a high school principal present one of the strangest graduation speeches I’ve ever heard. What he lacked in inspiration he made up for in overuse of the word “experience” (I actually counted 4 times in a single sentence at one point)… although I don’t think that’s really a fair trade. From the vagueness and tone of the life lessons he was attempting to impart to this graduating class, it seems this guy had a tough year personally, so I don’t want to be too hard on him. I simply appreciate his assistance in my quest to laugh through the coming weeks of overwhelming emotion.

The point where my equally giggly husband lost it was when Mr. Principal started talking about his pets. Apparently this man has rescued several animals from dumpsters and other tragic circumstances, all of which is quite noble and certainly rewarding for canine and human alike. However, the quantity of time he spent discussing his pet-owner relationships, coupled with the sudden passion and conviction with which he delivered this portion of his otherwise monotonous speech, had to make you laugh. It was, much to our enjoyment, a hot topic of conversation at the graduation party we attended, as well as many more today, I’m sure.

So here’s to you, Mr. Animal-Loving High School Administrator! You have filled my day with laughter and given the class of 2015 something to talk about for years to come. I don’t remember a single thing about my high school graduation ceremony, so I think we could all use a little more of people like you to keep things interesting. And just so you always know you are not alone in your devotion to the pets that would “die for [you] if it came to that” and “with one look can melt away all my problems and struggles of the day” (both quotes from Mr. Principal’s speech), I dedicate this video to you. In a strangely ironic twist of fate, the iconic Cat Stevens has written a timeless song about his love for dogs, and today, Mr. Principal, this one is for you!

Come on, y’all; share the love. Tell me about your favorite pet that you love more than humans!

He Provides

he provides

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life — whether you will have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

“And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”

Matthew 6:25-33

I don’t know why I ever worry.

The last year+ of my life has seen more than its share of sorrow. Losses of pregnancies, losses of opportunities, losses of dreams, and losses of hope. I have been tempted to give up on God, but I know I can never do that. I’m too far into this, and I know the truth too well to walk away. But that doesn’t mean I’m always happy about it.

Down here in my pit of despair, I have always known God could rescue me, that he could right the wrongs and heal my hurt, but I honestly stopped thinking he would. At least I stopped expecting it. I had been let down so many times. I was resigned to continuing this trudge through every.single.day, working my way out of the mire on my own. Not that God couldn’t save the day, I just figured I’ve been here long enough, I must not be suited for the miraculous.

These are all things I know in my head to be false, but gosh, it’s hard to overcome those feelings deep inside your heart. In fact, these feelings are so consuming that seeing the way out might just take… a miracle.

This week we needed a miracle. My husband and I have been emotionally drained, and Wednesday was the pinnacle of our stress. Wednesday also included a meeting that added an enormous financial strain to our plates, and a tearful phone call caused us both to feel like the situation was hopeless.

Finally coming home at 11:00 Wednesday night, ready to crash in bed and try to forget this day just happened, my husband noticed something stuck under the door.


This envelope had been stuck under the locked front door from the outside. The only words were “He Provides,” in a handwriting we don’t recognize. Inside was a blank card… and a thick stack of hundreds.

For the last year, I have felt like I was walking this road alone. Sure, God is in control, but I didn’t feel like he really cared about my needs. I felt alone and abandoned, and I was just along for the ride. On my way home in a separate car, before my husband told me about the card, a song came on the radio that I have heard before, but this time it felt like the Holy Spirit jumped out of those speakers and into my heart. He was speaking directly to me:

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say
Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did you leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, you are faithful

-Matt Redman, “Never Once”

When my husband told me about the card, I knew those words were from the Lord. He HAS been with me all this time. He has “carried [me] in his constant grace,” as the song says, even when I couldn’t see it. This week we received a financial miracle that may not solve all our problems, but it assures me not only that he can provide, but he will.

I don’t tell you this story to brag about our situation; no, I have done nothing to deserve or earn this grace. I share this to give glory to God for a miracle that only he is capable of doing. (No one else knew how much we needed!) And I want you to know he sees you too. Even when you feel completely alone, he is there. You are loved and valued in his eyes. And he will make a way for you, just like he has for me.

Just trust him.

“And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4:19

To the Wannabe Mom on the Elevator…

Wannabe Mom

Last week I went to my obstetrician for a routine pre-natal visit. (Summary of findings: baby is healthy, mommy is gaining entirely too much weight. You’re welcome for the update.) As usual, I was running late and did not have time for insignificant, time-sapping trivialities like “make-up” and “non-yoga pants.” As I rushed my already-waddling self through the late-Spring Tennessee heat and into the building, I had already begun to sweat. Thankfully a kind soul held the elevator for me even as the doors were closing, because I was already late and definitely was not feeling a 5-flight hike up the stairs.

As I caught my panting breath on the elevator, I couldn’t help noticing the woman standing next to me. She was tall, thin, and very attractive. I looked down at my swollen belly and suddenly could feel the extra padding on my hips and thighs. Her hair was about the same length as mine, but hers was perfectly styled in those loose curls I can never seem to master. I thought about my barely-brushed ponytail that I pretend is there because of my hurry, but really I wear it like that every day. Her polished, professional attire suggested she would be heading back to an office after this, and, based on her shoes, I imagine it is a pretty well-paying office. I tugged at my yoga pants that will never fit quite right while I’m pregnant and pulled my husband’s t-shirt down over my stomach. My feet were already swelling in my now-tight sandals. I wonder when I’ll be able to wear real clothes again? I thought. I started mentally counting the weeks until delivery, plus 6 weeks post-surgery until I’m cleared for physical activity, plus however long I will be nursing before I can start cutting calories, plus… how long did it take me to lose those first 20 lbs? Plus 40 more lbs… It was starting to feel like forever before I would be myself again…

My pity-party-train-of-thought was abruptly interrupted as the third passenger exited the elevator. Now it was just me and Beauty Queen for one more floor, and this enviously beautiful woman turned to me and smiled. “You look gorgeous,” she said sweetly.

I couldn’t help but chuckle. “Thanks,” I replied, “I was just thinking how I feel like a whale.”

She smiled again. “No, you look beautiful. I’m not just saying that. Really, you just have that glow.”

I thanked her again as the doors opened to the 5th floor. Quietly we both walked down the hallway and, sure enough, through the same door to the OB-GYN. I took a seat by my husband, who, of course, was on time, while she went to the corner alone. She could have been there for routine care or any kind of visit, but after our conversation in the elevator and the heartfelt way she looked into my eyes when she spoke, suddenly I recognized her. Eleven months ago, that was me.

Last May I learned I was pregnant again, just 6 weeks after miscarrying my 4th child. A few days later I learned that my bloodwork indicated another miscarriage was impending, so I went to the doctor every other day for blood and urine samples until the loss was confirmed.

Every other day, I walked into that office and took my seat in a waiting room full of pregnant women. Every other day, I overheard whispered conversations with husbands about where they should put the crib and what color to paint the nursery. Every other day, I watched women drink that awful orange juice for the glucose tolerance test and complain about how long this would take. Every other day, I observed exasperated moms wrestle with bored toddlers while simultaneously soothing their fussy newborns. Every other day, I sat with expectant teen girls as they flipped through parenting magazines, not really reading the words, anxiety written across their young faces.

Every other day, I sat surrounded by babies while I waited for my own child to die.

There’s really not a way to explain the pain of that juxtaposition, feeling the weight of my broken womb sitting among the healthy ones. After a while the phlebotomist who drew my blood every other day stopped trying to make lighthearted conversation and would simply insert the needle into my familiar left vein while I looked the other way, eyes filled with tears. When she was done, we nodded to each other, and I walked wordlessly from the office to my car, where I could let out my emotions.

Being around pregnant women remained difficult for months following my 2nd miscarriage, which finally happened naturally at not-quite-9 weeks gestation. Like this mom said, “A single miscarriage felt like a fluke; a second consecutive miscarriage felt like the deepest blow and left me weary and wounded, both physically and emotionally.” When I did see expectant mothers, it was all I could do not to approach them with love and encouragement and just a tinge of jealousy, reassuring them that they are beautiful and so, so very blessed with that little life inside. (My husband informed me this was weird, so I held my tongue… usually.)

So to the beautiful woman on the elevator, I see you. You may be here at the doctor for another fertility consultation, because after months or years of trying, you just aren’t getting pregnant. You could be here for bloodwork – again – unsure if this time will be good news or bad. You could be consulting the doctor about whether a DNC is necessary. You might be here for that dreaded follow-up appointment – the one where you have to sit in the same place where your dreams were just crushed and see the words “non-maternity” on your chart, knowing hope is officially lost.

My friend, I have been there. I see you, and I feel your pain. My wounds are yet fresh, and your kind remarks and longing glances are not lost on this still-grieving mother’s heart.

Friend, I promise to joy in this pregnancy as much as possible. I promise to delight in each kick and surprise trip to the bathroom, knowing my active baby is a healthy one. I promise to breathe deeply and allow my body to do its thing (with a little help from the anti-clotting medications I take every day), accepting my current status as life-giving vessel, whatever toll that takes on the bathroom scale. I promise to remember that the gift in my womb is greater than the price my body will pay for it. And I will remember that this precious child has 3 others at home, anxious to hold him in their arms as well as mine, and that’s 4 times the heartburn, aching joints, sleepless nights, and endless love you may have experienced.

I will do this for you, because I have been there. I will not take this pregnancy for granted, because I know firsthand it is not. I will not compare myself to others any more than you wish to compare your toned, flat abdomen to my swollen and flabby and full one. Because I know you would give anything to trade places. My friend, I am sorry. I’m sorry for my pity-party in the elevator, and I am sorry for your wounded spirit. I won’t offer you blithe condolences that don’t really help, but I will assure you that you’re not alone.

You are not alone.

Wilderness, Depression, & Stars in the Night*


The purpose exceeds the pain.”

Beth Moore

We are a culture that abhors pain. We are always looking for a quick and easy way out, whether it’s avoiding the gym or popping pills or distracting ourselves with who-knows-what to escape that gnawing feeling of something being wrong.

Even church people are guilty. Christians often get blindsided by difficulties we face in life, and rather than seeking the purpose of our trials, we pray and petition God for a way out. Pain is uncomfortable, and that just doesn’t fit with our Americanized vision for serving the Creator of the Universe.

In fact, our aversion to pain has often caused American church culture to glorify certain workings of the Lord over others, or – worse – superficially write off painful circumstances without searching for the beauty of God’s plan in that moment. It’s great for when you’re on the mountain top, but it will leave you empty when you’re walking through the valley of the shadow of death.

The truth is, God is there in that terrible doctor’s report, that tragedy, that lonely road. He’s there, and he is moving and working and doing his miracle-thang that he does… He’s just not standing front and center like in those great moments of healing and deliverance.

Think of it this way: if miracles are stars, healing might be the sun. It’s like HERE I AM! LOOK AT ME!!! and you have to put on your sunglasses because woah, that feels bright! Maybe, just maybe, the pain and hurt we experience is still a star, but it’s more distant. You might not even notice it unless you’re really looking for it. Heck, you might just need a telescope to know it exists, but there it is, 30 million miles away, and what’s it doing out there? Shining brighter than the sun.

The thing about those distant stars is that even when you’re looking for them, you can only see them under certain conditions. If you’re sitting at a park on a warm spring day, watching everyone around you run and play and bask in the sunlight, you might feel alone and isolated, wondering why everyone else can enjoy the day while you are still drowning in your circumstances, your depression, your pain. That doesn’t diminish the others’ joy on this beautiful afternoon, but it can make you feel pretty crummy. I have heard depression described as drowning, only everyone around you is breathing. You don’t want anyone else to drown either; you just want to come up for air.

Believe me, I’ve been there. (I am there?) We have to remember, though, that our painful miracles can’t be seen in the daylight. It doesn’t mean they’re not present, they’re just not visible because of our perspective. To see, recognize, and appreciate the beauty of a distant star, you have to get into the darkness. There, in the cold, lonely night, you can look up and see not only your star, but billions of others that you never would have noticed without that bitter dark.

Here’s to all of us who are sitting outside at night, telescopes in hand, waiting for the clouds to part…

*Thanks, Jefferson Bethke, for this incredible video that my husband showed me yesterday while we talked about this. Thanks for saying this so much better than I can. And sorry I used your title. I hope it’s not copyrighted…

“It Didn’t Even Taste Good” | Wisdom from a 1st Grader

photo belongs to Cale Caldwell, used with permission

photo belongs to Cale Caldwell, used with permission

Yesterday my daughter had a tough day at school. She is in the first grade, and she might be a little known for her excellent behavior. While I’m sure my husband and I have raised a good kid, the truth is it’s just in her nature to be responsible and want to please her teachers. The slightest hint of disapproval from an authority figure causes her to well up in tears. She is a bit sensitive, but it really is that important to her to be “good.”

We are now dangerously close to the end of the school year, and I think every kid is on edge. Warmer weather and longer light hours mean my Princess is being a lot more physically active, so she’s generally tired. She is growing up, and with that often comes stages of testing the limits. I don’t know what the reason was exactly, but yesterday she made a poor choice and got in trouble for it.

When she stepped off the bus, she was already in tears. Sobbing, she trudged up the driveway staring at her feet. Occasionally she looked up at me as she walked, and I could see the fear and regret in her eyes. Bless her tender heart. Concerned, I knelt down to ask what happened. “Oh, Mommy!” she said. “I want to tell you the truth, but I don’t want you to be mad at me!”

Reassuring her that I would not be mad, she immediately confessed her transgression. She told me every detail of her day and what had led her to make certain choices. She had sampled a treat for which she was instructed to wait. “I knew in my heart it was wrong,” she said, “but I don’t know why I did it anyway.”

I hugged her and thanked her for telling me the truth. She melted into my arms, so relieved by grace, and I stroked her hair while she wiped her tears on my shirt. As we embraced, she whispered, “You know what? It didn’t even taste good.”

Oh my Princess! Isn’t that the truth?!

So often we find ourselves ignoring our better judgment or that still, small voice inside. We choose instead to indulge our flesh with that which appears enticing at the moment. We have all been there – standing right in front of that which you desire, face-to-face with the object of your affection, knowing either external or internal forces have placed it off limits for a reason. But there it is, now within your reach, and it becomes increasingly difficult to remember what that reason was again… We daydream. We lust. We rationalize. We justify. We plan. We sin.

How often do we get there, finally attain that forbidden fruit only to find that the taste is bitter and not at all what we hoped or expected?

Dear reader, I will tell you what I told my daughter today, and you may feel free to remind me when I need to hear it (and I will): Sin is never worth the consequences you will pay as a result. It never tastes as good as you thought, or that sweet taste will eventually poison you.

I love me some cookie dough, and more times than I care to admit I have eaten it until I literally felt sick. It doesn’t matter how good something appears or how well you rationalize it, disobedience or disregard for the boundaries God has given you will always result in sickness. If you don’t spit it out after the first taste, eventually you will. And you know what I think every time I eat cookie dough? What was I thinking?! This makes me sick every time; why do I keep doing this to myself when I know better?? 

That little voice in my daughter’s heart that whispered, Don’t do it! was the Holy Spirit leading her and empowering her to make the wise choice. The literal bitterness of her choice served as a tangible reminder that God’s boundaries are always to protect, preserve, or propel us toward His good for our lives. When we quiet our minds and the loud, pushy, urgent cries of the flesh, and when we practice hearing the still, small voice of the Lord in our hearts, then we will be pursuing life-giving wisdom and discernment.

And when we don’t… My friend, let me remind you of this:

So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.”

Ephesians 1:6-8

Your sin is never too far that his forgiveness will run out. Your failure is never too great that his mercy can’t redeem it. You pain is never too deep that his love won’t restore you. You are never out of his reach, and dear one, HE LOVES YOU.

Right here, right now, where you are, what you have done, what you are doing, what you are facing, whatever you think is just too much… He loves you, and you have a place in his family.

I love you, my friend.

It Takes a Village | Healing in Community

It Takes a Village

photo courtesy of Renee Van Druff, used with permission

You have probably heard the old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” There is profound truth in that statement, and I am extremely thankful both for the village that raised me and the one helping to raise my children. In addition, I’m a firm believer in the statement I often hear from my friends at The Restoration House: “It takes a village to raise a mom.”

To Raise a Mom

When I became a mother, I had very few friends in the same boat. I was 22, had been married just 2 years, and had just started grad school. The few mom-friends that I had meant everything to me. The mall-walking, park dates (even though our kids were too small to play), or just talking about diapers and formula made me feel like a real mom when most days I felt like a kid just babysitting for a reeeeaaalllyyy long time.

I volunteered in the church nursery with experienced moms who shared their wisdom and were candid about their struggles, giving me confidence to parent as best I could. Other moms in my life sought me out and befriended me when I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. They chose to be my friend based on who I am and not just the offspring I happened to produce.

My sister-in-law became a mother just 7 months before I did, only she knew a heck of a lot more than I did. She shared (and shares) the journey with me, and her partnership in this adventure means more to me being a fellow Unthank.

My parents and in-laws watch my kids to give my husband and me the chance to be husband and wife and not just mommy and daddy. The teens and young adults at my church often babysat for us in exchange for lunch or cookies instead of cash.

As my children have grown, their preschool teachers, nursery volunteers, children’s pastors, and various other adults have genuinely loved them and spoiled them beyond reason. And as every parent knows, the way to love me is to love my child well.

I have a diverse, wise, experienced, beautiful, wonderful village raising me as a mom. And I know I wouldn’t be here without them.

Healing in Community

Being a mom isn’t always pretty. There are days when I lose it, and I fail my kids. There are days when I feel like I can’t go on. I’ve learned those are normal, and they will soon pass.

Then there are some hurts that don’t soon pass.

Sometimes you will have seasons of hurt, and you might, like me, feel lost and drowning. You might wonder if this will ever end. You might feel like you will never escape this pit.

You will need your village to come to your rescue.

When I had my first miscarriage last March, I went to my moms group the next day and put a little note in the prayer request box. All it said was, “I had a miscarriage yesterday.” An hour after I left that meeting, I got a text from my small group leader: “What do you like from Chipotle? I’m bringing you dinner.” She didn’t press me to talk or tell me everything would be okay. While she shared my experience of a miscarriage, she didn’t make it about her. She allowed me to grieve and loved me in that moment.

I was at ALDI with all 3 of my kids last June when I got the call that my bloodwork indicated a 2nd miscarriage. I walked out of the store, drove to my husband’s workplace, and the office administrator took my kids to another room and played with them. She didn’t know the situation, but she saw the hurt in my eyes and knew what needed to be done. She dropped everything and gave me almost an hour of time to cry with my husband.

My parents allowed us to bury and create a small memorial for our children in their yard. On occasion I will randomly show up at my mom’s house to visit that site, and she will take the kids so I can be alone.

My mom friends have listened to me cry about everything and nothing; they have forgiven me when I am moody and depressed and not a good friend to them; they have prayed for me when I didn’t ask for it.

My childhood youth pastor – who has always been “my pastor” – takes my calls and lets me visit at the drop of a hat when I am emotional and need a pastor. (Side note: even pastors need pastoral care. Pray for your pastors, and encourage them to have relationships and mentors outside the church. They just need it.) He and his wife have loved me at my absolute most annoying middle school phase, and they lead and encourage me now as a mom, a minister, and human being who just needs love.

My husband… there are no words.

When you face those seasons that don’t seem to end, the hurt that swallows you whole, you will need your village to help you find your way out. There IS a way out, my friend. But we all have to find it for ourselves.

The Messy Job of Clean Up

A few weeks ago I shared how my current pregnancy after a year of losses feels more like wading through storm debris to rebuild that beautiful picture. I may have a “rainbow baby,” but it doesn’t instantly heal the hurt I still feel.

My friend Renee shared the photos of her own home that was destroyed by a tornado 5 years ago and allowed me to use them for my featured image. Her family has a beautiful story of being protected during that storm and of rebuilding a beautiful life afterwards. But as I looked through her pictures, it is clear that an important part of that recovery story is her village.

It took weeks to go through all the debris from Renee’s house, collecting what could be salvaged and clearing out the rest. There were trees blown down that needed to be cut up and removed; the storm scattered their belongings around the neighborhood; there was waist-high construction debris covering all their earthly possessions. Renee’s photots capture all of that – and in most of them, you will see her friends, neighbors, and community members working to get it all done. In order to sort through their mess, Renee’s family needed their village.

In order to sort through your mess, you need your village.

I’m still going through the debris of my 2014 tornado. I have not yet cleared the ground to start reconstruction. There are places where I am still waist-deep in the mess. But I am making progress thanks to my village. Thank you for allowing me to be transparent here, and thank you for loving me through the mess.

I love you. I need you.