Real Life in Real Time

Sometimes our Daring Adventure rattles me more than I’d like to admit. Like at bedtime when I hug my teenager. I ask if he’s ok. He tells me he just wants to go home, but we don’t have one. Or when my YWAMer tells me he’s not going to be sticking around when he comes back to the US as long as I hoped.

Sometimes our hearts are bruised and everything hurts because we can’t tie this thing up with a pretty bow and roll the credits. This isn’t an episode of Fixer Upper where all the demo and renovations take place in an hour. There are no edits, no retakes. This is real life being lived out in real time.

Then there are reminders of the past reading like an encyclopedia of all the times things didn’t turn out the way we hoped they would. We don’t like to repeat mistakes. This is where we have to make the decision to step over the facts and invite God into our hurts and frustrations. It’s not our normal. Our normal looks more like me hiding in a bedroom with my journal and a box of Kleenex while he flips between Food Network and HGTV. Normal hasn’t been getting us anywhere so it’s time to try something new.

On this particular day we drove out to the church where we were married twenty-one and a half years ago. Parking in the hundred degree shade next to the cemetery where my grandparents are buried I opened my bible to read a few scriptures from Isaiah about God leading his people and making all things new. Let’s be real, I have no idea how to do what we’re doing but I find comfort knowing we’re not the first people to feel this way.

Once upon a Christmas Eve eve we made promises to each other here. We were courageous adventurous dreamers. Everything was possible. Our poor parents must have thought we were out of our minds for packing up and moving all the way to east Texas a few weeks after our wedding. Knowing what I know now, they were right! Let’s just say our Texas adventure didn’t go anything like we hoped it would and in many ways we’ve been playing it safe ever since.

Sitting in the car together we invited Jesus to sit with us. I recounted our wedding day to him (as if he needed a replay) and asked for that kind of courage again. Confessing fear and doubt, I expressed how my heart was hurting for my sons. It was quiet for a few minutes, then it was Matthew’s turn. Raw, honest, vulnerable, desperate cries from desperate people.

So now we wait. We rest in HIS goodness and HIS faithfulness because HIS track record is way better than ours. Our hearts and our lives are in good hands.

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. Philippians 4:6-7 The Message



When Mr. Steady Met Nurse Ratched

A few weeks ago I drove my husband to the emergency room. We didn’t leave the hospital for two and a half days. A few days later we went back for surgery. One moment he was fine, the next he was anything but fine.

My man has always been my rock. He is Mr. Steady. The truest friend. Old reliable. I’m the needy one in our relationship. He has stuck by me through major depression, chronic health issues, pms that would scare a badger, surgeries, and morning sickness that lasted 9 months–twice. On the rare occasion he manages to get sick I have to dig really deep to find enough compassion to nurture him. If he’s lucky he might get 24 hours to moan and groan about whatever ails him. After that I turn into Nurse Ratched. SUCK IT UP, BUDDY! GET OVER IT! He is one lucky man.

It turns out that Mr. Steady isn’t quite as invincible as I thought he was. A severe injury has left him pretty beat up and needy. The bruises are fading and the incision is healing, but we are a long way from being back to normal.

I wish I could tell you that I’ve been the perfect wife and nurse and that he’s been the perfect husband and patient, but this isn’t a Hallmark Channel movie. The truth is that this has left us both vulnerable and exposed to pain and I’m sure we have both responded in ways that would be better suited for an R rated war movie.

In all of those times I needed him to be my rock I don’t think it ever ocurred to me that my pain wasn’t just happening to me, it was happening to him too. Dang. Realizing that doesn’t automatically make me a better wife and nurse, but it sure does humble me in areas that are in need of some fresh humility. Dang.

I wish there was a magic pill we could take to make all of this go away overnight, but there isn’t. We are in this for the long haul. For better or for worse, we are in this together.

Your prayers have meant the world to us. Thank you.

Thanks for stopping by.

No Time for Dog Drama

This winter when the polar vortex would not let it go my boys got a chance to attend a sledding day event with some homeschool families. I teetered between gratitude that they would be socializing somewhere other than at work with me and guilt that I wouldn’t be able to be there like the other moms. On any other Tuesday this wouldn’t have been a big deal, but I had scheduled a hair appointment for our two Labs at our favorite boarding kennel. Carpets full of fur had gotten the best of me and even in the dead of winter I knew it was the only way we were going to make it until spring. Something had to go. Hair seemed to be the easiest way. Normally the boys would corral the dogs and save me some stress, but not that day. I decided to take one for the team and take the dogs in myself. I should have rescheduled the appointment and saved myself a lot of drama.

I drove ten miles per hour under the speed limit the entire way because of icy road conditions. The SUV’s outside thermostat read -4 Fahrenheit. My sons had given me the longest leashes known to mankind for the dogs and they were completely tangled by the time I got to the boarding kennel. As soon as I opened the back hatch of my car, the dogs jumped out while I tried to hold on to their leashes as they wound themselves around me. I began to shout like a mad woman.

Sit! Minnie! Mocha! Sit! Don’t you dare knock me down out here! I!!! Said!!! Sit!!!

It took a few minutes to get them signed in at the front desk. Before I could catch my breath I was back in the car on my way to work trying not to have a total meltdown because they had nearly killed me in the parking lot. I had become Cruella Deville and my husband was going to get what was coming to him! Heads were gonna roll! I’d had it with those puppies! Thank God I work near a Starbucks because I had more than earned it this morning! Venti! Breve! Pumpkin spice latte! Please. I was paying for my drink when my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number on my screen, but answered it anyway. It was the boarding kennel.

A man on the other end of the conversation began to explain that our 9 year old black lab, Minnie, had been assaulted by another dog when she was introduced to the doggy daycare group. I cannot believe I just typed those words, but there they are. A more aggressive dog had bit her left ear and caused it to bleed. The staff was trying to get the bleeding to stop, but they weren’t having much success and wanted to make me aware in case they couldn’t get it stopped.

Here’s the thing: I am not a dog person. You probably already figured that out, but I struggle with being seen in public with our dogs because I feel like a fake. They are not my dogs. They are my husband and sons dogs. Get it? I just make sure they get fed and watered and let them outside no less than 476 times a day. I’m not a dog person.

I thanked the guy for telling me what happened to Minnie and then a wave of guilt crashed over me. I had been so angry because of these animals just moments before, and now Minnie was hurt. She was in a strange place with people she didn’t know.

I called my husband at work. I was planning on giving him a piece of my mind anyway. The call rolled to his voice mail and I explained what was going on with his dog and began to sob. I didn’t know what to do or how I should even be responding at this time. All at once I felt bad for the people taking care of Minnie, but I didn’t have time to deal with dog drama. I had to get to work and stop blubbering about the stupid dog.

Why couldn’t my dog to take a self-defense course and stop the cycle of being the victim? I knew it wasn’t her fault that she had been the runt of the litter when we brought her home almost 9 years ago. I had watched her be dominated by her sister and was constantly trying to get her to stick up for herself. Minnie just needed to get aggressive and fight the lies she’d believed from her past and refuse to accept that she was stuck forever. Because dogs can do that, right? Ok, maybe not.

Once at work I dove into the distractions (and joys) of my job. Somehow I managed to miss every single call from the boarding kennel throughout the day updating Minnie’s progress. Their final message said they had tried everything they knew to do to stop the bleeding but were unsuccessful and were taking her to a nearby vet. My mind was reeling. How did a simple grooming appointment turn into an emergency vet visit? They assured me that Minnie would be fine and updated me every step of the way. Minnie ended up getting four stitches in her ear by the time I left work.

When I picked the dogs up to take them home Minnie was wearing one of those plastic cones of shame. She was woozy from being sedated and anxious to get home. I had a stress migraine and felt as if I was going to vomit any moment and could have gone for some serious sedation myself.

Once we were in the front door, Minnie bumped into her kennel because the cone distorted her vision. She couldn’t even get past the trash can to go outside to do her business without our help. She thought she could, but she couldn’t. We felt so bad for her, even though it was funny at times to watch her so disoriented. My gut churned because I knew how she felt all too well. I know what it’s like not to be able to do the things that seem easy to other people…to try to do it on my own, only to get stuck and feel like a fool.

imageMy husband kept telling me she’d be fine. My brain knew that Minnie would be fine, but I wasn’t so sure about me.

The haunting memories of being bullied by my classmates in the 6th grade would not leave me alone. I could see their faces and I felt the shame all over again. It didn’t make any sense. I kept trying to push down the pain that happened 30 years ago! 30! I thought that I had dealt with a lot of that pain, but it had surfaced again because of my stupid dog. Why did she have to be such a wuss in the first place? What was it about her that made her a target for a bully? These kinds of questions kept pestering me and I couldn’t answer them.

I knew Minnie’s history and there was nothing I could do to change her. She was destined to play the victim from the very start. In the animal kingdom she was the runt of the litter which meant she got whatever was left of her mother’s milk. There were always bigger, stronger, more dominating dogs that got there first. She learned to not expect anything more than what she got. I watched it play out a thousand times in how she interacted with her sister. She unravelled when we brought Mocha home from the same set of dog parents just 2 years later. Mocha was anything BUT the runt of the litter and made her presence known from day one. Minnie acted out…she started peeing on the floor again. Even in my frustration I could see the pain in her eyes…please help me. I don’t know how to stop.

We could have given up in frustration that Minnie was a bad dog and taken her to the pound to become someone else’s problem. Honestly, the thought crossed my mind more than I care to admit. That would have devastated my children and broken a deep trust with them. That trust is sacred and I wasn’t willing to give it up without a fight.

And so my husband asked some friends at work about crazy dog behavior. We searched the internet. There was an explanation for Minnie’s relapse and there were answers to help fix it. She needed to be treated like an alpha dog even though Mocha clearly had the alpha instinct. She needed to be shown respect. It seemed silly to us, but we began to make extra effort to give Minnie what she needed. This meant that Minnie would be petted first when my husband came home from work. She would be allowed to go out the door before Mocha. She would be first. It didn’t seem like a lot, but it meant everything to Minnie. It didn’t take long before Minnie was back to her old self. No more peeing on the floor. No more acting like she was having a total meltdown. Whenever we left for vacation and had someone watch our dogs, I would leave specific instructions for Minnie because her mental and emotional health depended on it.

Funny the lengths we’ll go to for a pet, or our kids, or even a friend, but not for ourselves. Surely the care vital and necessary to our mental, spiritual, and emotional health is just as valuable, if not more?

As I thought about how Minnie was targeted and wounded, I couldn’t help but see how differently our wounds had been treated. Minnie had a team of caring adults with her all day long making sure she was comfortable and getting the care she needed. Sadly, that was not true for me. Nobody helped me when my classmates shamed and humiliated me over and over and over again. My mom tried to get my teacher to intervene, but it only made it worse. His idea of helping me meant singling me out to let me know how attractive he thought I was. No, that was not helpful at all. It was inappropriate and only confirmed the negative messages I had received about my body. Unlike Minnie I was not safe with the people who were supposed to be taking care of me.

It was a busy week and I didn’t have time for revisiting 6th grade hell. I had a birthday party to plan, but I could not be present because my dog’s wounds had uncovered my own. Finally I sat at my kitchen table with a pen and my journal and asked Jesus to help me. The tears came because I could no longer hold them back. Jesus gently took me back to the young places in the 6th grade so that this older me can move forward. He saw my pain. He knew I was struggling and invited me to take His hand. This time I wouldn’t go alone. He would go with me.

I wrote down the names of the classmates who had made my life a living hell. Their vicious schemes replayed in my mind as if they had happened yesterday. The pain washed over me and I sobbed.  I wanted to ask them why they chose me as their target. What was it about me that invited that kind of cruelty? Why me? Why did they perceive me as a threat to their social structure?   

It was time for someone to tend to my wounds. I kept hearing Jesus say, “I bind up your wounds.”  It’s core to who Jesus is and what He does for us. He heals the brokenhearted, binds up our wounds, and restores us. But in order for Him to bind anything, I had to be willing to allow Him access. I could no longer ignore the meanness and the affect it had on my heart…the affect it was still having. I had to stop blaming myself.

The truth is that I deserved to have teachers and people in authority come to my rescue. I deserved to have justice. I was worthy of all the care and attention required to stop the cycle of abuse. That’s what it was and it’s ok to tell the truth about it. The truth is that I had no idea how to navigate the abuse and pain I experienced when I was 11 and 12 years old. It shattered my heart and I pieced it back together as best as I could. Looking back, I can see how I mishandled my wounds in every way, but it’s not too late.

Receiving healing meant I needed to let go of the pain. It meant forgiving the kids (and adults) who inflicted the pain and letting them go. It didn’t mean that what they did was ok. It meant taking that power from them. I had been afraid for so long of being made fun of. I would often assess everyone when I walk into a room full of people I don’t know, assume the worst and work my way backwards. If you happen to be a man, consider yourself condemned until proven you otherwise. I’m only beginning to realize how fear has dominated my interaction with the opposite sex for far too long. Jesus has been showing me how He has put good men in my life and that I don’t have to be afraid. I have never been alone. Nor am I alone now. Jesus has always been there. He’s here now.

It’s never too late for Jesus to heal and mend a broken heart. Healing comes in such unexpected ways. It often comes when we don’t have time for it, but it does come and when it does it is beautiful.

I’m not a dog person, but I am forever grateful for the dog that Jesus used to help heal and mend this broken heart. She loved me well. I hope her story encourages you today. It’s never too late for Jesus to heal and mend your broken heart.

Thanks for stopping by.

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Mac with Minnie Sue Christmas Eve 2006

In memory of Minnie {April 4, 2005-April 24th, 2014}

The World’s Worst Compassion Blogger

A few years ago our family began sponsoring a child through Compassion International. I was at a concert sitting in the front row feeling particularly blessed that night and even though I had heard the Compassion pitch no less than 15 times at other events, this was my night to respond. My husband agreed, and since we had NEVER been on the same page about sponsorship I took it as a sign. We chose a girl since we had sons. In my mind it would go something like this: I would supernaturally mother this daughter from another continent with my generous monthly support. We would pray for her and write her letters every month. The boys would come to love her like the sister they never had and the Glory of the Lord would shine around us day and night, night and day. Um, yeah. Not so much.

Our sponsor child was removed from our family after the first month. Compassion International sent a letter explaining why along with information about another child in case we wanted to continue with sponsorship. It was bizarre. I felt obligated to continue sponsorship because we were blessed and I had received two CDs at the concert just for signing up. I’m responsible that way.

So we began corresponding with the new girl. (When I say “we”, I mean “I”. That’s how we talk around our house.) At first it was sweet. I read about how she loved going to school, and loved washing the cups, and loved Jesus. She thanked us and told us how much she loved us. Instead of feeling blessed by her letters, I felt guilty because my children hate school and we most certainly do not love washing the cups. No we do not. I read her letters to my boys hoping to spread a little guilt and make them realize how blessed they are to be educated (by their mother!) and have a dishwasher to unload. I might as well have read the letter to the wall.

When it was time to respond to these letters I would sit at the computer and stare at a blank form on the monitor ready to share our lives with her. However, my fingers would not type. I couldn’t think of anything to say to her because I could only think about how our lives were so different. We were spoiled rotten Americans living in a house with more stuff than we know what to do with. We were a Dave Ramsey nightmare with debt up to our ears dreaming of trips to Disney World. She lives in a hut in Uganda. What would I even say?

My letters were about our weather, the crops in our region. “Hey, we grow corn in Iowa just like you do in Uganda! Isn’t that great?” I’d think of some scripture to write and tell her we were praying for her blah blah blah. Then I’d upload a photo of my family and hit send.  It was pathetic.

Her letters would come in the mail and I was busy. So I’d set them aside in a pile with mail that needed to be dealt with and filed. There her letters would sit unopened. If I didn’t read her letters, I wouldn’t have to write her back and then I wouldn’t have to feel so guilty about being an American.

As if all of this wasn’t pathetic enough, I began to pray about discontinuing our sponsorship. I mean, we are really bad sponsors. Sure, we have the monthly donation automatically deducted from our checking account, but that wasn’t enough for this girl. She wanted letters.

I made the mistake of reading one of her letters last summer. In it she wrote about how she prays for my family. She loves us. She thinks about us every day. I am her best friend. She hopes I will one day visit Uganda. And just for fun she hopes that she’ll be as fat as me when she grows up. I threw the letter on the counter and tried to wrap my mind around the part where she wants to be as fat as me. Hello! I know I’m fat, but it’s not polite to point it out. I didn’t want to think about the fact that maybe she was just so hungry all the time that she couldn’t imagine having a little extra meat on her bones. It was time for God to let me off the hook. I couldn’t respond to her letter. I could not. I could not get past how it made me feel about myself. Me, myself, me, myself, me, myself…you get the picture.

Finally, I confessed to someone who loves me that I’m a really bad sponsor parent. I told her what had happened and she listened and we laughed together about some of the funny stuff. I wanted her to give me confirmation that I could end the sponsorship. She did not. Instead, she encouraged me to just sit down and write this little girl a letter and move on. I made my case for how I didn’t connect with this girl at all. Our lives are just too different for me to have anything worthwhile to tell her. Why can’t Compassion International have an option for people who can afford to give, but not afford to write letters? Surely there are letter writers we could partner with?

Later that day I prayed and asked God to help me because these letters were haunting me and I needed to be free of them. What do I say? What do I do? Instead of picking me up and shaking me until my narcissistic head rattled, He gently whispered, “What did you need to hear when you were 12?” I tried to remember who I was at that age and how I felt about myself. Then I began to pray for her. I prayed that God would bless her. I prayed that she would know she has value, that she is beautiful. I prayed that she would know that God has called her to do something great for His purposes and she can do all things through Him. I prayed that she would be protected from harm and that the enemy would not succeed in his evil schemes. I prayed that her hopes and dreams would draw her closer to Jesus every single day of her life.

This girl says she prays for me. She prays for my family. She has not given up on me. It’s not her fault that I’m a spoiled rotten American and can’t quite get my act together enough to get over myself to sit down and write a dang letter. It’s not really about her. It’s about me. It’s about me needing to grow up and get outside of myself and what makes me feel good or not so good. Jesus is not letting me off the hook with a mindless donation. Honestly, $38 a month is a drop in the bucket for my family. Truth be told, I spend more than that at Starbucks every single month and we are still a Dave Ramsey nightmare, but we’re working on it.

Yesterday I wrote a letter, attached a family photo of our chubby selves and hit send. As pathetic as all of that sounds, it was a breakthrough. I wanted to run through the house cheering like I do for my boys when they do something I know they were afraid of doing.

Writing a letter doesn’t make me a missionary. I’m still the world’s worst Compassion blogger. I still don’t want to visit Uganda. I still feel guilty about being an American. I’m still pathetic, but there’s hope. There’s always hope. 

“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers, you did for me.”—Matthew 25:40 NIV

Do you sponsor a child? I’d love to hear how your family does this. Thanks for stopping by.

The Queen Must Die

It was Sunday morning. I thought it would be nice to serve country style ribs with fried rice for dinner that evening so I took the meat out of the fridge and prepped the crock pot.

My beautiful niece had driven 16 hours across the country with her grandmother the day before. Now she was standing in my kitchen.

“Do you like ribs?” I asked.

“I don’t eat beef.” She answered from the other side of the kitchen island.

“No problem, these are pork.”

“I’m a pescetarian.”

You’re a Presbyterian? Since when?! At least that’s what my brain asked. It took a few seconds to access the part of my brain that knew what a pescetarian was, or at least thought it knew.  Pesce…fish! Got it!

 “Well, we don’t have any fish.” I said with as much coolness as I could shovel.

 “Oh, well I’ll eat chicken if I have to.”

The meat returned to the refrigerator and I turned the crock pot off.

I was shaking now. I don’t know if she could see my body trembling, but I knew I had to get out of the kitchen before I made a scene. The shaking wouldn’t stop. Waves of anxiety and panic came crashing over me. I couldn’t make it stop, even as I got ready for church. I told myself to get a grip.

The controlling pleaser in me raged.  Internally she screamed “Welcome to the Huffaker family food freak show!!!! We’re gluten free and dairy free!!! Some don’t like pork, some don’t like anything spicy, and now this!!! We don’t eat fish. I don’t even know how to cook it! How could she do this to me?”

So ugly. This part of me that’s driven to be everything to everyone even when they don’t ask…or care. This part of me who has mentally whipped my backside for not getting it right. Every. Single. Time. It’s all about me. All of the time. So ugly.

I sat mostly silent in the car on our way to church. Even after I had vented my frustration to my husband, I couldn’t stop shaking. I knew I was in trouble. I knew I needed to be in the sanctuary. Surely the music would help calm me down. I bawled through the first three songs. Then came the worship leader’s invitation to go to the sides of the sanctuary for prayer. I felt the tug of war…I needed to go forward for prayer, but felt embarrassed that I needed to go forward for prayer.

Maybe you’ve been there.

It was now or never. Head down, I left my seat and walked to the side of the sanctuary where I confided that I was having an anxiety attack. I withheld as much detail as possible.  A man and his wife put their arms around me like I was their own daughter and began to pray up a storm. For me. Though I didn’t deserve it, peace washed over me. When the prayer time was over, I went back to my seat with hands raised high worshiping and thanking God for His undeserved grace and mercy where a good spanking might have been in order.

That morning my pastor just happened to be preaching on stress. I took good notes on how Jesus dealt with stress. Jesus couldn’t please everyone. I mean, I sort of knew that…after all, there’s that whole cross thing…but I don’t think I ever thought about the fact that He was OK with it. It seems so unchristian, but then again, Jesus wouldn’t have had a meltdown over whether or not someone was a pescetarian. No he would not.

Why do I think I can do what Jesus couldn’t?

These words are written in my notebook: Nic, kill the approval addiction.

It has to go, this fear of disappointing people…of not being able to be exactly what everyone needs all of the time.

Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord will be kept safe. Proverbs 20:25 NIV

{A snare metaphorically is something that allures one from his real purpose and then destroys him.}[1]

My real purpose is to be free to worship God and love people. Seeking approval or fearing I’ll disappoint them is more than a distraction, it’s a trap. Someone has to die. The people-pleasing-approval-addicted-center of the universe Queen of stress has to die before she kills me. The drama she creates is a threat to the ones I love.  It’s time to stop creating hoops to jump through so I can be free to love better. People, real people that I love (like my beautiful niece) need me to be free.

That afternoon brought home a few groceries from the store which included a package of frozen fish for my niece. She explained to me how she liked it cooked and I told her she was welcome to anything in the kitchen that she would need to prepare her fish. I felt like I was going to throw up the entire time I talked, but I did it.

You see, we can pray and beg God to change us. We can ask for forgiveness. We can accept His grace, but then we have to walk in it. We have to move forward and take a risk. We have to feel the weight of not being everything to everyone. We feel it. We take some deep breaths. And then we realize beautiful grace is standing on the other side of the kitchen island smiling back at us, grateful for something to eat. It’s going to be OK.



[1] Hartley, J. E. (1999). 906 יָקֹשׁ. In R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer, Jr. & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer, Jr. & B. K. Waltke, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (399). Chicago: Moody Press.

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