A Gift

I have to apologize for not writing in a while. My life recently has been a whirlwind of emotions, mostly really good. I could easily compare it to a roller coaster. The last couple months have been extremely fun and exhilarating, but I feel like I am also trying to cling to God’s hand with anxiousness and fear and hope all at the same time.  My life is not incredibly busy, although running after my daughter has become a full time job, but my emotions and thoughts run me exhausted most days.

I will try and explain as best as I can 🙂

Meeting Tyler and getting to know him and falling in love with him has been a joyous and unexpected surprise. And I know not everything in my life is orchestrated by God, but I am completely convinced that God had this one planned out. I completely give God all the credit. Honestly, there were too many answered prayers to make me believe otherwise. Lets just say that Tyler brings me an incredible amount of joy, and every time he shows me love I am reminded of the love that God also has for me.

With all this new joy and love in my life also comes unexpected pain and sadness. Its like I have opened myself up to feel all the good, but I also feel everything else as well. Less then a year ago, Chris was my first and really my only. I married my high school sweetheart. And our relationship grew to be more mature based on the love and respect God intended for a husband and wife.  Now, in my new relationship, I know and feel love for another and it’s good and wonderful, but it also reminds me of the love I had for Chris and his love for me as well. This is a very good thing. Chris and Tyler share several similar qualities, and Tyler’s character often reminds me of Chris’s. I of course wouldn’t want it any other way, its why I haven’t looked back; but sometimes those qualities remind me of Chris, and I can’t help but miss him.

The only thing that is getting me through is sharing my thoughts and feelings to those who I trust, telling my story to friends or sometimes people who I just met for the first time, and realizing my struggle to a God who understands. About a week ago my good friend Bethany and I hosted a Christmas party at Dégagé Ministries in downtown Grand Rapids. Close to 200 men and women who, for whatever reason, have found themselves without a home, came to our Christmas party. I was able to catch up with some old friends who we knew from a couple years ago when we served at Heartside Park. I was also able to talk to several people I had never met before. One gentleman called me over to talk as I was passing by. He was an older African American who was missing most of his teeth but still had quite a smile. He started asking me several questions wanting to get to know me, and at this point I am very comfortable answering “I am widowed” when the “Are you married?” question comes.

I love this question actually because it makes the conversation go from surface to deep and intentional and real. I believe it’s the only kind of conversations we should really have as followers of Christ. I can immediately be open and real with a stranger, and when these conversations happen a stranger can become a friend in very short time. We talked for several minutes but the words that I remember the most from him is when he said, “Now listen, I can see that you have a lot of joy in your life, and I feel sorry for your husband who passed away because he doesn’t get to have that joy any more. But you find someone else that you can share your joy with, thats what your husband would have wanted.”

Its incredible what you can learn from those who you least expect.

I know that Chris misses me and all of us who he left, but I know that the joy he is experiencing is far greater then I can ever imagine. However, I never considered before that my life and the joy and love I have in life but also the pain, would be a gift to someone else. I never considered that I am a gift to Tyler. I realize how much he is a gift to me. He is the first person and sometimes the only who I share my deepest and darkest emotions too. He knows that I still miss Chris because he is there when I am sad, and he understands. I know my gift.

But I realized that day, from a man who did not have much to give, gave me a tremendous gift of realization that I am a gift to someone else.


Like the fall leaves, brilliant and changing

Right now I smell crisp air and burnt autumn leaves. I see the bright orange branches dancing against a brilliant blue sky. I hear the crunching of a thousand maple leaves as I speed past on my bike. I feel the wind rushing through my hair and I feel alive in a season that is revealing its beauty through change and loss.


I wonder if a tree looks forward to its time where its color and brilliance leave us staring up in awe at the wonder of God. Or is it saddened knowing that all its leaves will soon be dead and gone? In a Bible study (Bible Study Fellowship) I attended this morning, I am reminded as God’s beloved daughter, my suffering and loss is for a purpose and it only lasts for as long as it’s necessary to bring glory to Him. I also realized that God is completely faithful. Of course He cannot prove his faithfulness to me if I am afraid to risk and step out in faith. And His light and brilliance will not shine inside of me if I am not willing to let go, to let go of my leaves and be naked and bare before Him.

I am studying Exodus right now. Its unbelievable the faithfulness of God. In Genesis 15:13, God tells Abram, “You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years.” God knew the hard future that lay ahead for His people. He also had a plan to deliver them and carried it out on the exact day that He had promised. Exodus 12:40-41 says, “The people of Israel had lived in Egypt for 430 years. In fact, it was on the exact day of the 430th year that all the Lord’s forces left the land.” The 30 years when the Israelites lived in the land of Egypt but were not slaves was the generation of Joseph and his brothers. (Genesis 1:6-8) God fulfilled His promise to His people on the exact day He declared. His timing is perfect and reveals to me that He is in complete control of those who love and put their trust in Him. 

I have experienced suffering and I have experienced loss. All of us have experienced suffering and loss and hardship. And I have realized that it can shine God’s brilliant glory and faithfulness if I am willing. I am continually changing and being refined by a designer, a healer, a teacher, a Father. He is creating within me a heart that is drawn to others who are experiencing suffering and pain, a heart that is willing to risk and love unconditionally and a heart that says yes to Him no matter the cost.

There was one more thing this morning that hit me and I want to share it with all of you just like if I was sitting down with you at Starbucks sipping on a Pumpkin Spice Latte. I would look at you with sincerity and share how I have realized that I am apart of God’s family and I will choose to always be apart of God’s family but the relationship that I have with the Lord Almighty can change. I can choose to become more intimate and more dependent despite my circumstances or I can choose to slowly drift away from His heart. After a pause of processing these words I would then tell you that I am going to choose to fight for that closeness, that complete dependence and that vulnerable and intimate love with God, my Savior, and I need you to help me and pray for me in doing this.

Pray for me friends that my life will be like fall leaves, brilliant and changing, that I reflect Him in all His wonder and beauty.



Daddy’s Eyes

Dear Gabby,

Do you remember your Daddy’s eyes?  His eyes showed you who he was, and who you were to him. If you can’t remember I will tell you about them as best I can. When your Daddy looked at you, love and adoration was spoken into your heart. When you first started to smile it was because of an uninhibited reaction by your Daddy’s look of unrelenting love that radiated from his eyes. Image

When his eyes looked at you it was his very spirit gleaming out from underneath his eyelids. To a stranger, they might have seemed ordinary and of no significance, but your Daddy’s eyes were powerful. His eyes had the power to comfort and to heal. His eyes inspired perseverance and they demanded respect. No one knew that better then me, and probably most of his students.   IMG_1517

His eyes burned his competitive spirit when he raced around your Uncle Matt to throw ball for a lay up in the hoop above. They revealed his vast knowledge and understanding in our conversations at night, time alone with a book or his classroom, in front of 30 pliable minds. And they shown forth great integrity and truth throughout his entire life road. Never once can I recall I time when a lie protruded from his lips or deceit hid behind his eyes.275-IMG_2214

Your Daddy had eyes that a person can not forget. They had a way of looking into who you really are, it was impossible to not be affected. Those eyes are what I miss most. In the end moments when your Daddy would soon be with Jesus, his eyes radiated acceptance, peace and joy. While his body was weak, his eyes were alive and strong and focused.

I still see those eyes in my dreams, they exhibited his spirit which can never be tamed or forgotten. Like a brightly burning flame, his eyes showed forth the true light, the very light of God. And that cannot be snuffed out.




A birthday and a hope.

Dear Gabby,

DSC_0025-2Happy Birthday my big one year old! Wow, what a day! Did you realize that 38 people came to celebrate your life today? Did you also realize that all of your friends, “brothers” and “sisters” (the kids) outnumbered the mommy’s and daddy’s? Just so that you are aware, we are not doing this every year. You will not  have your own memory of this day, so I am going to do my best in giving you some of my favorite highlights.


I was holding you as the majority of people came through the door and as a mommy’s girl you were not quite ready to be passed to another person’s arms, but I know a trick. You love to walk, and although you can’t quite do it on your own yet, its a great way to warm up to someone (someone being everyone who isn’t mom) by holding their hard and showing off your developing agility and gusto. Your tiny feet pitter patter along the hardwood floor and your face lights up along with whoever is holding your hand at your joyous ability. It works every time.

All the kids were your favorite, and it was a favorite of everyones to see you enjoy them. A kiss from Charlotte and giving back one in return would produce three room full’s of “Aww!”


You love sugar! You would have eaten that entire cake if I would have let you. Your baby hands were covered in vibrant pink icing and your face became all of a sudden a very rosy glow. Cameras were going off left and right, and we never got bored of watching your inquisitive and comical expressions as you discovered a new love for sweets. I jumped into your messiness and allowed you to give me a big kiss.We together enjoyed the same taste of the sugary deliciousness of cotton candy. (The icing was cotton candy flavored)


You were much more involved with opening presents then you were at Christmas. You grabbed that paper at the top and ripped it all the way down to the bottom, the only problem was that you had several helpers who also liked to open presents. Knowing you were not quite as fast, they volunteered to “help” you. Your helpers were Selah, Nevaeh, Lorenzo and Regan. And you, being the kid lover that you are, had no problem with it whatsoever. In fact, having your friends help you open your gifts was the same as playing together and for you it couldn’t get any better. Just remember that when your older.


IMG_0386Wrapping paper, bags, clothes, ribbon, toys and people gathered all around. You had just started pulling the tissue paper out of the small gift bag resting in between your legs when Lorenzo, who was sitting next to you, reached out for a toy that was being touched by a toddler. He declared, “Don’t touch that toy, thats DSC_0054my sister’s!” (Lorenzo is my crazy 5 year old who I had the privilege to be a mom to for a year and a half. He is now back home with his real mom along with the rest of his brothers and sisters. This amazing moment shows the closeness of our forever foster family.)

The last memory I will leave you with is the result of eating too much cake. I’m sure your tastebuds were singing for joy at 3:00 but your tummy was pounding its fists on the floor at 5:00. Your grunts and groanings lasted until you fell asleep on your Mommy. I love cuddling with you, so you just slept as I continued to talk with friends. Poor Sadie who was sitting next to me, for by that time, you were only asleep because the mess was in the diaper. But today was a special day and that indulgence was worth it.  Which is why I gave away all your cupcakes for people to take home, it’s only worth it because it was special and out of the ordinary. We can’t do that every day.

The rain came as everyone was leaving. The rain came as wet drops on the grass and pavement outside, and the rain came as a dead and quiet fog inside a big house. It came as it seeped into the loneliness of a widow’s heart. This day was very special, which is why your Mommy cried listening to the patter of rain on the windows.  Your Daddy was not here to smile at me while you were zonked out on my chest. He wasn’t here to push you around on your pink flashy princess car from your Uncle Matt. He wasn’t here to pick you up and help you dunk your ball in the Easy Score Basketball Hoop he specifically picked out for you. He wasn’t here. A heartsick and despondent tune played strong in the wind.  It tangled my hair into knots. DSC_0147The celebration of your one year of life was over and he missed it. Then a blow of consciousness slashes at my heart as I realize He is going to miss everything. There will be many of your special days and there will be no Daddy. And all I can say after the celebration is, I’m so sorry sweetheart.

And as much as I would love to promise you that I will always be there to watch you blow out your candles, I can’t. Life is precious and uncertain and a gift. So, my dearest daughter, you will have to let God be your Daddy. My hope and prayer for you is that through the pain and loss of your Daddy, your relationship with God will become one of complete dependence and love like you have never known before. I also pray that you will trust and feel deep within you the immense love that God has for you. And don’t believe it because I said it, God said it to you. “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! . . . 1 John 3:1″ So when you are sad, let God be your comfort and let him love on you. He might take away your pain and He might not. Don’t be angry if He doesn’t take away the pain, for it’s through your pain God is able to be so close to you. He is getting me through, and he will get you through as well. 





Dance in the Downpour

Dear Gabby,

Today as you were busy giving sloppy open mouth kisses to your adoring grandparents, your Uncle Dan and I spent our day listening with our ears and digesting with our hearts a host of information, wisdom, and advice from writers who have already gone ahead of us. I am listening to these writers because I want to learn how to write my story and your Daddy’s story so it will not be lost, and that it can be a part of your story.

I’m sorry to say that what I discovered about writing today is very much like that first tooth in your mouth that is still stubbornly hiding behind your gummy smile. It’s there, but it can be quite a process of pain and it is very uncomfortable. And of course to help relieve your pain, you chew on coffee tables, people’s fingers and Mommy’s I Phone cord. It’s taken me a while to realize this, but you are teaching me to work through the pain of my writing instead of screaming about it. And I can only work through it by involving others into my story. Granted sometimes chewing on fingers is easier then chewing on people’s heartstrings. A physical reaction of pain is easier to see from a friend then an emotional reaction to pain, especially the pain in my own life.

I realized today that I have a lot of work and a lot of writing ahead of me. I love writing. I love writing about you and your Daddy and the small drop of knowledge I have of God in the vast ocean of who He is. I will always love to write, but I have to decide if I should still write on the nights when I am sad and lonely, or the nights when I am tired, or the nights when I am lazy. On those nights when you’re dreaming of that first taste of Mommy’s Reese Pieces with your new and long awaited teeth, I will be laying in bed wondering if writing with that much passion, vulnerability and work is really worth it? (I have to admit, it’s very hard to resist those cute beanie boo eyes of yours. Inching closer to me in such anticipation almost transforms me into this programmed robotic mom who would give you anything you wanted.)

So Peanut, if you see me this week sitting down at my computer, but produce a look of confusion, discouragement and anxiety, you will know that your Mommy answered her question. She answered herself; yes, it is worth the “hard” to share the story. It is worth the nakedness to have the open, unfiltered community. It is worth the risk of failure for the chance to love and to live as I have always been called by Christ.

One day, my daughter, you will have many adventures. You will have places that you want to go and things that you want to do. And the best things are when you get to play in the mud and rain and get dirty. Its easy to live in a partly cloudy, predictable and pleasant climate, but where’s the fun in that? Not just the fun but where is the joy, where is the wonder in predictable? I might regret saying this, but I give you permission to live and get messy. I want you to feel the wet and residual clumps of mud between your sinking toes into the earth below, I want you to see the masterpiece of beauty when you create your first finger painting, I want you to hear the cry of other kids who are hurting, I want you to smell the rain in the middle of a downpour, and I want you to speak the truth to your friends through fear and rejection and self-consciousness.

Things are very unpredictable right now and your Mommy feels like she is caught in a downpour. Many adults that I know do not like to get caught in a downpour of rain. Once you start caring about what you look like, you probably wont like it either. But your Mommy is learning to appreciate the downpour, like a child.  In the downpour you can play and dance and feel a freedom that is unlike any other feeling in the world. You just have to get past the heavy clothes which cling to your body, the standing water in your shoes announcing to everyone you’re presence by a “squish” and it reveals your appearance to others; disheveled, imperfect and messy. Is it worth it? Gabby, do you think it’s worth it for Mommy to dance in the downpour?

The Life of a Fighter

My husband is a fighter! I’m not just talking about now, but his entire life. His entire being is so strong that its hard to describe. When we were dating he told me stories how he had several concussions as a kid. One was when he was playing baseball and during an inning that he was not bating he was standing on top of a picnic table, fell off and hit the metal pole connecting the bench to the table, hard! It hurt, but he got up and went right up to bat when it was his turn. After his hit, he ran around the bases over and over again, not stopping because of the confusion and dizziness. Later that year when we were dating in college, he had another concussion playing soccer. His symptoms got worse and worse as we waited in the ER, He couldn’t remember my name as he tried to go through the alphabet. Laying on that hospital bed I thought he was going to leave me then as he said, “I love you”. But God had much bigger plans and opportunities for someone who is willing to fight so hard.

Picture 126Chris was 19 when he had surgery on his face and neck and went through a hard dose of chemotherapy at U of M Hospital. I was there supporting him as a girlfriend, but then I had no idea how truly lucky I was to be with such an incredible guy. He liked that I stuck around and proposed shortly after he recovered from his last dose of chemotherapy. The proposal was also very thought out and planned well in advanced, very impressive!  I said “yes” through a cascade of happy tears and beautiful Niagara Falls lit up at night in the background. It was an absolute fairytale to be marrying my best friend and the renewed hope that he had beaten cancer and was now in remission.

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We got married and had many great times and many challenging times. Like every marriage, there is a lot you have to learn when there is a lot less room to be selfish. You learn how to compromise and communicate. You learn how to be honest and patient. You learn how to be responsible and how to cook and clean for two. We learned all of these things with each other, and although I didn’t realize how much at the time, Chris was a fighter. He fought for his integrity and his faithfulness as a husband. He fought for our marriage despite my many, many mistakes and downfalls. He fought to love me unconditionally, like Christ loves the Church.

Then, four years after he was first diagnosed, his cancer returned. I remember substitute teaching that day at Chris’s school and I came to visit him on his break, he told me that his cancer was back. Now, I cannot remember what treatment, trial or cancer study we did first but over the years he has done several. Some of the treatments he was on allowed him to teach and travel and stay up to all hours of the night with friends. Other treatments caused him to be in the hospital because of pain and nausea and other complications. He has had his hair fall out or turn white, rashes, antibiotics or other medicines attached to him through a pick line, painful swelling internally and externally, no appetite or everything tastes like pennies, hallucinations because of meds, constant belly pain, weakness, and constipation that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Many days he would go to work and teach despite the discomfort and pain. I don’t know how he did it, but he did it because he was focused and had purpose in what he was doing. He loves his students and he loves his job. Chris got to a point where he would not even tell me if he was in pain, but it would show after he came home from school, when he had time to rest. I know that there are many times when I had no idea how much he was really fighting.

At a time when things were decently well with Chris health, God took hold of both of us and open our eyes, first individually and then together, to what it really means to follow Him. Before this time, Chris and I both trusted and wanted to follow the Lord and in a lot of areas of our life we did follow. We followed God by going to church and having other Christian friends. We followed God by giving 10% of our income and reading our Bibles regurally. We followed him by helping in our church’s youth group and making a Christmas shoe box. Now, God tried us and pressed us and told us, “I want you to follow me completely.” Over a span of a year, we (mostly me) got rid of bad habits, confessed wrongs, and turned away from both hidden, exposed and “everyone else does it” sins. Through this time, I remember Chris as an example to follow. He fought against being a comfortable Christian. He fought and strived to follow exactly what he was hearing from God and how he was convicted. We started taking some radical steps in order to be in the will of God and force ourselves to trust in Him. We decided to give away a much larger percentage of our income in order to trust for the Lord to provide. We got out of our bubble and into the lives of the homeless of our city. And we loved being in God’s peace and presence by our obedience and trust in Him.

We soon were both led by God to do the most adventurous, amazing, life changing experience. We became parents to four kids overnight and it changed our lives. Our relationship with each other quickly became a roaring fire. The flames were ignited as we were trusting God together and he provided for all our needs and the needs of our now family of 6 completely through His people.
I don’t want to make it sound like it was a piece of cake because being foster parents is a very very difficult job. It was not easy (especially if you have met those crazy rambunctious four), but it was exhilarating knowing that you are doing what God wants you to do and behaving how God wants you to behave. With Chris’s example and experience, He taught me how to be a fighter. In this time of our lives we fought together, and we kicked butt as we relied on God’s strength 🙂


IMG_2069Life was crazy and chaotic, but we were so happy and felt so blessed even not knowing what the future would hold. Chris was teaching and I was working part time and tutoring along with taking care of four kids when God decided to bless us with one more. We were beyond thrilled but didn’t want to get our hopes up, Chris was on cancer fighting drugs still and those are never a good combination in producing a healthy baby. But of course if God wants to give you a healthy baby, He will give you a healthy baby!

I was 7-1/2 months pregnant when Chris starting having some adverse side effects to the increased dosage of his cancer meds. We took him into the hospital and he was there for almost an entire month because of internal and external rashes and swelling. His mouth was so swelled up that he had a hard time just eating and drinking. Friends and family helped with the kids so I could see him and many times I just brought the kiddos with me. 20 days into his stay I feared that he would not be able to be there when I had our baby. I couldn’t imagine him not being there so I prayed and God answered. The day he was planned to be discharged I also had a Doctor appt. My baby doctor told me that she wanted to induce tomorrow, I was 37 weeks. It seemed that the placenta was not doing its job and my little girl was not growing like she should have been at that point. Its very, very easy to worry but I knew God had it covered. Chris came home from the hospital the day before I was induced and he was there right beside me when our perfect, healthy, beautiful daughter came into the world. On April 14th at 8:00 in the morning Gabriella Grace was born. We named her Gabriella because it means “the Lord is my strength”. After all, she is a “Hinshaw” and being a fighter is in her blood! Fighting is exactly what she did when 4 days after she was born went right back into to hospital and into ICU. It was the scariest moment of my life but after it was all over Chris and I never again complained about her screaming and crying.

IMG_1137 copyThe summer held some joys and crazy challenges. The kids were going back to live with their mom and we were very supportive but I’m telling you, it was trying. We were going to miss them terribly, but definitely not their behavior during the transition. We bought a new home, a fixer-upper and sold our old house that summer. We also went on a long awaited trip with our closest friends. I started a new position at the middle school and it was great working in the same building with my hubby. The days at home were busy improving our new home and taking care of a new baby, but we loved it. All three of us did a lot of relaxing together as well.

The joy that Gabby brings to my life, Chris’s life and his family’s life sustains us now through this very difficult time. About the time when she was 6 months old, a little under 3 months ago, Chris really started feeling the pain and the toll the cancer was taking on his body. His cancer treatment was no longer working, the black dark malignant cancer cells were spreading. He began having horrible pain in his stomach and a mass in his pancreas was discovered as the cause, the pain being very similar to pancreatitis. The cancer had also left his body weaker and unable to bounce back after loosing a lot of weight. Chris told me recently that there was a night in the hospital, during this time, where he could have stopped fighting right there and it would have all been over. All the pain, all the discomfort and weariness would be gone but he didn’t give in, he kept fighting.

Its important for me to tell you as well that Chris had certain things that he wanted to accomplish before going into the hospital and finding some relief from the pain. He wanted to have his conferences with parents and finish the unit that he was teaching to his students providing for them some level of closure. He also wanted to be there at home the two weekends before he went in because we were watching the 4 kids while there mom was away. We had lots of laughs those weekends and we loved having them back in our home. Lastly, Gabby’s baby dedication was the day before he went into the hospital, and he did not want to miss it. I think he was mostly holding out for this. It was very special and Chris fought very hard to be there for that moment.

It was the very end of October when things really headed down hill. I realized at the beginning of December that I needed to be home full time to help Chris. I took a temporary leave of absence and took care of Chris after so many years of him taking care of me. We have been in and out of the hospital, but Chris has been able to enjoy Christmas at home with his family. He has watched Gabby go from a “baby” to  a baby who talks and laughs and sits and crawls and jumps and reacts and kisses and hugs. He has had the time to witness all of the ways that others have been blessed and impacted by his life and reflection of Christ. And he has given me a powerful example in this last month of how to live.

A prayer that someone prayed for us and is our constant prayer as well: We pray first and foremost that God’s perfect will be done. Secondly we pray for miraculous healing in the name of Christ, and third that more people be brought into salvation through Jesus Christ through your shared witness and testimony.

When your eyes are opened to what is real truth and what really matters it is an absolute pleasure to live for Christ. And the journey is not over. Our real home is not here, here is just where we decide who we will follow and what we are going to do with the time that is given to us. Chris’s life verse is Philippians 1:21 “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” He knows who he is and who he follows.

IMG_1297Through all of the constant pain and struggle he has hardly complained, and is alway thankful and grateful to those that are continuing to help him and our family. His pain has not ever been his focus, instead it has always been on others. You may be wondering, how can someone be so strong and be such a fighter for so long? There is only one answer, and I know Chris would agree completely, its God. Its all about God. Jesus sacrificed and fought and struggled more then we can possibly imagine for us and He showed us how to live. He has given his very own strength to Chris. Even now, the strength I am using to write this is not my own, it is God’s inside of me. And my hope is that through the life of a fighter you will realize how powerful God can work in the life of someone who chooses to follow Him.