What It’s About

I greeted Saturday morning with a bad attitude.

My alarm went off at 5:15a, just 25 minutes after I had gone back to bed after nursing Jude. I threw my bags together and hustled out the door to join the Jars guys in a van with a trailer, headed for Atlanta.

We had a benefit concert that night, and I was slated to make the pitch from stage. Though I speak in front of people frequently, I still feel anxious and ill-prepared for such a task. It had been a long week, and I just wanted to spend my Saturday morning curled up on the couch with my baby and my husband.

The goal for the night was to raise $10,000 – enough money to provide a well for a community in Zambia. With an expected audience of 1000, I planned to ask each person to consider donating $10. It seemed a simple way to get there, not asking too much of anyone.

But when the opening act began, the auditorium was pretty empty.

Like awkward empty.


Like this was supposed to be the most happening place on a Saturday night, but you were duped because everyone apparently went somewhere else kind of empty.

I felt duped, too.

“We can’t ask for a well tonight,” I told my colleague Jake. We’d be asking for too much. Reluctantly, I walked on the stage and told the scattered crowd about a community called Koloko, in Zambia.

I pulled these photos up, for the audience to see. They were taken that day by our team in Zambia.

There’s Josh rolling the drum of water.

10530651_10152283707576319_7765098311618738722_oCommunity members use this to transport their water, over 2.5 miles away from their homes.

There’s Courtney, accompanying a mama and her child on the walk for water.

10572091_10152283708736319_6926089174012544903_oChildren under the age of 5 are dying unnecessarily from water-borne illnesses.

And here’s the dream, I told them: that walking miles for water would no longer be necessary, that preventable diseases and deaths would disappear. A well could help them do that.

10463721_10152283707621319_2462994752408671881_oDespite the fact that I knew we wouldn’t get the full $10,000 that we needed that night, I boldly asked the audience that we try.

So we passed the popcorn buckets through the aisles, and people placed dollar bills into the buckets. It was a beautiful sign of generosity.

But it wasn’t going to be enough.

Until a man pulled me aside and handed me a blank check to get us to the $10,000.

A blank check.

In ten years of asking for money on behalf of my friends in Africa, I have never been given a blank check. It was a shower of mercy for my doubtful heart. A lifetime of water for a community we love.

It’s moments like these where my narrow worldview continues to change because it’s not about the thousands or the crowds or being in the hippest place on a Saturday night. It’s not about demanding a guarantee of success before giving up a precious day for myself.

It’s about remembering that God is bigger than our wildest dreams. That sometimes you don’t need a thousand new supporters; but rather, just the faithful ones. It’s about the stories we tell. And the faithful actions we live out despite our unbelief.

I guess, too, it’s about being bold enough to ask, even when it feels foolish. And it’s about letting love surprise you – because when I went back on stage to announce the good news, my colleague Michael ran up to tell me that another person had just donated $10,000.

And just like that, this small but mighty crowd had done something extraordinary. Koloko was now bound up in us, and us in them. But we had to have the audacity to ask. My own doubtful heart turned upside down.

Have Baby, Will Travel

When Jude was six weeks old, I dressed him in his finest collared outfit and took him to the Walgreens photo department to have his passport photo taken.

Here’s how it turned out:

2014-06-25 12.01.36

And yes, that’s a smiling crab on his shirt. Cutest photo ever.

Until the lady at the counter told us it was unacceptable for the application.

Maybe the crab was too much?

It turns out that my hand behind Jude’s head was not discreet enough. Strict rules, folks. Has to be just the baby’s head against a white background. So what’s one to do if your baby can’t hold his head up on his own?

The post office lady showed us the trick. Check it out:2014-06-25 13.17.21

Place a white sheet over the carseat, put the baby back in the carseat, pull the sheet up so it’s taut. Dance around the camera to make your baby smile (he’s going to have this passport until he’s 5 years old, so it better be a good one!).

And voila. An acceptable passport photo for a infant who can’t hold his head up.2014-06-25 13.18.17

The actual passport arrived in the mail today, and it’s adorable.


What’s most exciting, beyond the cute photo, are the blank pages that wait in anticipation to be stamped by countries and places that will teach and shape my son just as they have for me and James. Watch out world, here he comes (eventually – maybe after he can hold his own head up!).


A few lessons in securing a baby passport:

1. Collect the right documents:

  • A completed DS-11 Form (you can also pick it up at your local post office)
  • Birth Certificate (shows evidence of child’s US citizenship & evidence of parents’ relation to child)
  • Social Security number
  • 2″x 2″ photo
  • Photo IDs of both parents/guardians
  • Payment for fees (expect to pay $130)

2. Apply in Person

  • Locate the nearest passport acceptance facility
  • Some places require an appointment
  • Make sure both parents/guardians are present (if not possible, you need a notarized consent form)
  • Child must also be present

3. Get the extras

  • It’s cheaper to apply for both the passport book and the passport card – and then you have a secondary form of ID for your child

Confessions of a New Working Mom

2014-06-27 08.09.28

Over the last two weeks of my return to work, I have found a way to somehow nurse, burp, change and play with baby Jude while also showering, dressing, making breakfast, drinking coffee and getting out of the door in time to drop him off at the nanny’s with bottles and breast milk and get myself to work with a few minutes to spare. It’s amazing how one can feel accomplished so early in the day!

Today, I had a morning meeting that was going to conflict with the time that I needed to pump. I’d been thinking through it all last night and figured I would go ahead and cluster feed the baby – meaning, even though I fed him at 6a, I would feed him one more time at 7:40a right before dropping him off with the nanny. That way, I wouldn’t need to pump during my 9a meeting.

With everything ready to go out the door, I nursed Jude for this last-minute feed. I sat on the couch thinking, Man, I’ve got this!

But don’t all perfect plans somehow seem to backfire?

They do.

And for me, it was in the form of baby puke. All over my work outfit, all in my hair, all over the baby, all over the couch. There was no way I could recover from the hazmat disaster and make it to work on time.

So in a matter of crude desperation, I did what I imagine many working moms rushing out the door before me have done: I rubbed it in.

All of it.  I took the burp cloth and wiped the white spit up covering my front, my shoulders and my back, into my black blouse. I rubbed it into my hair, into Jude’s clothes, into the couch. It was all I could do.

My baby showed up soaked in mama’s milk. My blouse is crusty and I am sticky. My hair looks over-moussed. But we made it out the door and here we are, ready to face the day.

Sometimes, friends, you just have to rub it in.

(And after all of that, my 9a meeting was canceled).

Dinner with a Hero

Scott Hamilton, Melinda Gates & Senator Bill Frist. (Andrea Hallgren, Belmont University)

Scott Hamilton, Melinda Gates & Senator Bill Frist. (Andrea Hallgren, Belmont University)

When James and I were invited to a dinner event with Melinda Gates last Monday night, we didn’t realize we’d actually be having dinner WITH Melinda Gates. Joining 75 other guests to hear her speak about healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies for girls in the developing world, we were honored to simply be in the room. In a happy accident of some no-shows at her table, James and I were chosen to fill the seats, quickly finding ourselves sitting next to one of the most powerful women in the world.

Had I known that I’d be having dinner with a hero, I probably would have prepared questions and dressed a bit more professionally, and James probably would have abstained from that pre-dinner whiskey that mixed poorly with his jet lag. But despite our shuffled demeanor, our dinner together was, well, lovely.

Melinda Gates has been a hero for me over the years – a wife, a mom, a humanitarian who cares deeply about overlooked people around the world. I have often wondered what sustains her and why she does what she does. And now I had the opportunity to find out.

I learned that her Catholic faith is the source of her motivation to care for the poor. I learned that her favorite part of her vocation is sitting with women in communities around the world and listening to their struggles, their ideas, their hopes. She never really wanted to be the public voice in connection to her philanthropy, but she has learned how crucial it is to share the stories of those whose voices are not being heard. She spoke about how the stories of the poor have moved her and compelled her to have to do something about it. Knowing these women around the world makes it personal for her. She can’t ignore those she has met.

She asked us about baby Jude and our thoughts on taking him to Africa with us, offering us stories of what it has been like for her and Bill to bring their three children along with them around the world. She talked about the joy in service and philanthropy – that she and Bill could essentially be doing anything else, but they chose this because they believe in it and it gives them joy.

Though my station in life is quite different from that of Melinda Gates, I found myself wanting to be her when I grow up. She is driven by faith and passion, grounded in her commitments, articulate in her vision for change, intentional with people and generous with her time, her resources, and her leadership.

We all need heroes. Men and women whose lives inspire us to our better selves. I feel so lucky to have spent a special evening with one of mine.

To honor Melinda Gates and give voice to her and her husband’s mission, here are some links tied to the issues they are championing:

Faith-Based Coalition for Healthy Mothers & Children Worldwide

A piece that James & I wrote, posted on Gates Foundation’s blog

Bill & Melinda Gates’ Annual Letter – Dispelling myths about foreign aid

A Must-Needed Prayer for Today

(Reuters/Maxim Zmeyev)

(Reuters/Maxim Zmeyev)

With increased violence in the Middle East and a commercial plane shot down in Ukraine, I seek prayers and words to make sense of it all. To add insult to injury, the world lost nearly a hundred men and women on that plane whose life work has been to fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic. As they departed Amsterdam to attend a conference in Melbourne focused on the relentless war against HIV/AIDS, their vessel collided with another kind of war, and we lost so many heroes.

It all feels so senseless. It brings us to our knees in prayer and desperation for a God who is bigger than the tragedies of mankind.

These words from Ann Voskamp spoke deeply to me last night; may they comfort you today.

Lord, there are bombs tonight, wars tonight, 
planes that have fallen from the sky,
tears that have fallen from the shattered hearts of mothers,
and we fall to our knees before the Wounded Healer 
who cups His hands to catch every falling tear & sparrow & heart 
in His palms that have our names engraved right into Him 
far deeper than any of earth’s sorrow. 
We pray tonight in the name of Him of who catches everything falling 
so we don’t fall apart…so we are held. 


For the Mothers and the Babies


“Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days…” – Isaiah 65:20

Eight days after I delivered Jude, I suffered from a postpartum hemorrhage. While it was a terrifying experience to bleed out in a public restroom and be taken by ambulance to the emergency room, there was an easy operation that fixed the problem. I stayed in the hospital for two nights and have fully recovered since. Meanwhile, postpartum hemorrhages account for more than 30 percent of all maternal deaths in Africa. I could have been one of them.

This morning I will be sharing a stage with Melinda Gates and Senator Frist, standing in solidarity of the 287,000 women around the world who die every year due to complications during pregnancy or childbirth. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been leading the way in bringing awareness and support to vulnerable mothers and children in developing countries.

Following their lead, James and I have joined a growing coalition of faith-based organizations and advocates to make a stand for access to contraceptives and healthy family planning because of our commitment to save the lives of mothers and babies. We have also written an op-ed that unpacks the complexity of these issues in places like Kenya. Blood:Water is already actively supporting clinics and making safe delivery possible for thousands of mothers and babies. The babies in the photo was a celebration of a mama with preeclampsia and her twins’ survival thanks to the clinical care they received.

But we still have a long way to go.

It seems fitting that on my first day back to work from maternity leave, I will be spending it at a gathering on behalf of mothers and babies worldwide who deserve a better story. I dream of Isaiah’s vision of the new heavens and the new earth where never again will a baby live but a few days or a woman not live out her years. It was personal for me before, but now as a new mother with dreams for my own child, I wish it even more for our women and children around the world.


Everything Changes

Face Time with James

James has been in East Africa for the last two weeks while Baby Jude and I have held the fort down in Nashville. While James’ time in Africa is the shortest he’s ever taken, it has felt quite long for all of us.

Our seven years together have been nothing short of amazing – the adventure of travel and mission, the missing each other and the reunions, the intentionality of a stash of hand-written letters for each day that we are apart or the shared book we read while away or the end-of-day emails we send to each other. I’m proud of how we’ve found a rhythm – a way to stick together even when we are miles apart.

But now, everything changes. Because how can you maintain the same kind of presence or intimacy with your three-month-old son when you’re halfway around the world?

You really can’t.

I think we knew that truth (which is one reason why it took so long for us to try to have a baby), but we didn’t really know it until we have lived it out over the last couple of weeks.

We are so grateful for Face Time so that James can watch the dramatic growth and changes that seem to occur on a daily basis. But it is no substitute for cuddling with your baby in the mornings or holding him when he cries at night.

We don’t know what the answer is. For us, it’s a bit of trial and error. Of trying and learning. Of fumbling along the way. And of trusting that there truly is a way to live out commitment to both family and mission.

What I Expected

24-IMG_7404On April 10, James and I welcomed our son, Jude Francis, into the world. It has been 11 weeks of wonderful mixed with a thorough helping of disorienting and, well, life-altering. I didn’t spend very much time reading up on What to Expect while I was expecting but even if I had, I don’t think you can ever really be prepared for what being a new parent requires. As I emerge out of the initial fog of keeping a newborn alive while trying to remain sane, I find myself laughing at the discrepancy of what I was expecting during maternity leave compared to what is truly was.


What I expected: In the weeks leading up to our due date, EVERY friend with kids told us to get as much sleep as we could because we wouldn’t be getting it again for the next 18 years. I heard them loud and clear – I expected to be tired.

What I didn’t expect: That the lack of sleep would cloud all parts of my life and make me feel crazy. Crazy tired, crazy emotional, crazy indecisive, crazy crazy. I mean, I haven’t had more than 4 uninterrupted hours of sleep in 91 days (but who’s counting?). I also didn’t expect that eventually you really do adjust to being able to pretend to be a fully functioning person with so little reserves.


What I expected: I would have to feed the baby every 2-3 hours, even through the night.

What I didn’t expect: “2-3 hours” is a euphemism for “All The Freaking Time”. Let me explain: you count a feeding cycle just like a menstrual cycle (the first minute of the first feed to the first minute of the next feed). When each feeding takes 40 minutes, that’s only 1 hour 20 minutes between feedings. Within that 1 hour 20 minute “break” I also had to pump to store milk for returning to work. So basically, I’m a sleep-deprived milk factory where every day feels like Groundhog Day.


What I expected: Just like every other baby, my baby would cry a lot.

What I didn’t expect: That I would be the one crying more. The compounded nature of pregnancy, delivery, nursing, sleep-deprivation, raging hormones, and the utter loss of autonomy brought more daily tears from me than it did from my baby. I remember a few horrible nights when Jude was crying inconsolably and all I could do was to cry back at him. I may have even pleaded with him, hoping we could reason our way out of the long night. We were a hot mess.


What I expected: Twelve weeks of maternity leave would give me ample time to work on projects in the house, grab meals and coffee with friends, let me catch up on lots of books and Netflix, pick up new domestic skills like baking banana bread and taking trips to Target.

What I didn’t expect: See points number 1, 2 and 3.


What I expected: Our friends with kids all said that parenthood would be the hardest job we would ever love; that we would find ourselves staring at our little one with wonder and delight; that we won’t be able to believe how much we could love one little baby.

What I didn’t expect: That they would be right. Cliches are cliche because they tend to be universally true. I don’t even care that I get pooped on, puked on, spit up on – he’s still the most adorable being in the entire world. I am head-over-heels in love with the way he falls asleep on my chest, and the way he squeaks when he eats, or how his chin quivers when he cries in a pathetic high-pitched wail. I melt in love when he smiles (especially when it’s not gas), when he stares with fascination at ceiling lights and fans. I love his little “startle arms” that shoot up when he least expects it, and his big eyes with a look of surprise. I love wondering who he is and who he will become as he grows. I am crazy in love with this little boy and I can’t believe it when I say that I would do it all over again just to experience the delight of my son.

If you’ve gone through something similar, what other surprises did you encounter in your first several weeks of parenthood?


Bathed in Golden Light



“As hard as I have tried to remember the exact moment when I fell in love with God, I cannot do it. My earliest memories are bathed in a kind of golden light that seemed to embrace me as surely as my mother’s arms. The divine presence was strongest outdoors, and most palpable when I was alone.”

Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church