Dear Roscoe: 2 Years


My favorite thing you did this year happened on a city bus. Daddy splurged & let you out of the stroller because Mama is mean & never does. He stood you up & you reached right out across the aisle for a sweet old-lady-stranger to hold you. You snuggled down into her lap & rode sweetly on her knee for the rest of our journey. We had just spent a few months with your real life, blood related Grannies & I like to think you stretched your arms to her for homestyle warmth. She readily obliged. She wasn’t your family but for just those few minutes, you made her such.

You made your way into our family with the squishiest forehead that I’ve since kissed a million times over. I loved you so wildly that it opened a to-the-quick bravery in me. I was so unsure as a first time mother just a couple years before, but I felt so resolute in mothering you. You were content, all quiet, undisturbed. You nursed, you played, you slept. You couldn’t even be bothered to cry. Not even whimper. Never.

But then you entered toddlerhood. You made up for all lost ground & were quick to let the world know you had opinions. You basically cut all your teeth at once & it made you angry for about 6 months straight. If we could have talked about it like adults, I imagine the conversations would have gone something like this…

Me: I need to get groceries.
You: That’s cute. But what about MY needs?

Me: It’s nap time.
You: Ask nicely.
Me: Please?

Me: Smile for the picture, buddy!
You: Screw you!

Me: Time for dinner! I made your favorite!
You: My FAVORITE? You don’t know me.

Me: Come this way, pal.
You: Nobody puts baby in a corner.

You: Only God can judge me.

I quickly went from courageous mother to exasperated self-doubter. It was not my finest time, but we made it through. You started asking “peas?” for things instead of freaking out to get your way. You started giving loads of kisses, solicited & otherwise. You kept on sucking your thumb & snuggling down in the crook of my left arm. You started asking me to sing The Wheels on the Bus before bed (“busss”). You desperately want to sleep in the bed with your big brother & yell “Shepah! Are you?” when you can’t find him. You know all of the animals & the sounds they make. You watch the panda episode of Go Diego Go on repeat. You love your monster PJs & yell “ouch” as you pretend that the monster bites. You think it’s funny to eat gross things. And you pee in the bathtub every. single. time.

It was touch & go there for a while, but I’ve loved you desperately the whole time though. Forgive me for being 3 days late on your letter this year, but what kind of second child would you be if I did everything on time?


Dear Shepherd: 4 Years


Your passport says you’re American, but you didn’t step foot in the U.S. until the fifth month of your third year. When we arrived at our apartment in Georgia, you gasped & let out an ardent OH MY GOODNESS! over the awaiting half dozen toys in your room. Your appreciative outlook on life had Papa in tears, but we were all swimming in your feels. With bellies full of McDonalds & gas station coffee, we settled our travel-weary bones into our beds for what was your first night ever in my hometown. You slept peacefully, not vexed by even the series of shotgun fires at 3am. But me? I sat up straight, clammy in that cloud of a bed, ears acute. Mamas & sojourners in at-war countries make the lightest of sleepers, of which I’m both. But in my sleep-deprived haze I remembered we were now in the foothills of Appalachia & reduced things down to a robber scare-off or an opossum execution. We woke only a few hours later to Daddy-made coffee, eggs, biscuits, bacon, & all the love that little kitchen could hold—finally sharing you again with KK, the only other one who’s known you your whole life, & Papa, the one you wrinkle your forehead like.

Watching you play with Snowbird friends & calling everyone “cousins” was & frankly is, still too much. We’ve worked so hard over your few years to help you sort out family relationships. But the best we could do from 3000 miles away was the occasional FaceTime call & showing you photos of family, asking, “who’s that? And where is Mommy’s brother?” You went through a phase in South Sudan where you would line up all the grandparents’ photos around your breakfast or take them all outside to climb our Land Cruiser. It seemed very Japanese, like honoring the dead, but we just went with it & wished everyone their due fun.

Life on the farm in Tennessee with Nammy & Grandaddy was a dream. Every day you would walk downstairs before 7am & ask Grandaddy, “what’s for lunch?” A highlight was post-supper rides on the pony & your reaction to coming back into the A/C every single time: “ooooh, that’s NICE!” You loved all your cousins instantly & called everyone Aunt Kathy there for a while. You were scared of Grandma right off but after I gave a few whisper-shouts-through-clenched-teeth YOU WILL HUG YOUR GRANDMOTHERs, you guys were super-pals. You would point to every white elderly woman in Wal-Mart or the post office or restaurants & overtly ask, “is that my Grandma?” Sure, son, because you’re new here. Also: automatic car washes are totally your jam & fine, I’ll share my $4 latte with you & ok, we’ll go through just one. more. time.

We’ve emigrated again, this time to Scotland. You packed your backpack with all your essential toys but you refused to carry it. You’re irresistible when you say “Edinburgh.” You go to nursery school 2 days a week & always report that you “didn’t” hit your friends. You talk about a boy called Joshua, & I’m pretty sure he’s the one you “didn’t” hit. You love Kinder surprise eggs (but only the ones with super heroes inside OH MY GOSH), getting pizza & meeting Daddy at the park, picking out a snack at soft play, sitting upstairs on the bus, helping me cook your 2 eggs every morning, & watching play-doh shows on YouTube SO HELP ME GOD. You don’t love swim lessons or your yoga class at school just yet but it’s too early to declare that you’ve inherited the exercise-aversion gene (from your father’s side, if anyone asks).

Sad to see you graduate to giving an actual thumbs up instead of pointing your index fingers, but turning four does means that you’re “really really BIG tiny” now.

We live our lives on the pendulum swing but you always keep in rhythm. Please keep saying “toast” with a Scottish accent, asking everyone if they’re ok after they cough, & offering Roscoe “some cup of tea.” Looooove, eye, looooove, YOU!

Two days early this year,

Dear Roscoe: One Year


You are totally in the throes of second baby treatment. You nurse on demand. Your juice isn’t cut by 90% water. You’ve already eaten your fair share of desserts & often get Pringles for a snack. Your journal has a total of 3 entries. I’ve not taken nearly enough photos of you. And I couldn’t recall the exact date of when you first smiled or sat unassisted if a gun was held to my head.

But oh, I enjoy you.

Nursing you has been carefree & fun. You love juice too much to yuck it down with water. You just love table food & let’s not pretend I have the fortitude to withhold it from you. I’m too busy watching you & oooh-ing & awww-ing to hand-write what you’re doing or what you’re in to. I dropped my phone in water while I was juggling fresh produce in one hand & you in the other & now I can’t actually see my screen to take pictures. And no, I don’t remember the dates of all your firsts, but I was there & I was present & I wasn’t worried if you were hitting all the milestones on time because you’re just perfect. Fat & maybe red-headed & gap-toothed & thumb-sucking & funny & cuddly & still so baby.

From my quick & relatively easy labor to our first night together with KK & Daddy to going home to meet Shepherd to sleeping through the night to your first flight to cutting teeth to crawling to pulling up to turning one year old, you have been such a simple addition to our family. It’s like it doesn’t occur to me to be panicked about all the things that panicked me in my early-mama days because you’re just so easy. Easily content & smiley & always laughing & ever napping & never crying & so laid back. It seems impossible that I cried so hard the day after you were born because I wanted you all to myself again. Because it is my everlasting joy that I get to share you with people who love you but have never even seen you in just 4 short weeks. I get to let everyone in on the best-kept secret that I’ve had for one whole year now. You’re just too good & soft & squishy to keep to myself.

Being away from you for 2 weeks recently had me sniffing baby wipes in a pharmacy, hanging out alone in public play areas, & brought me to ugly-tears one night when I saw a Down’s baby that was your age. Distance made this heart grow fonder & had me thinking crazy thoughts like a) kidnapping other babies, b) offering to breastfeed a stranger’s baby, c) having 8 more babies, or d) all of the above.

You sweet, sweet baby boy. You rub your hair when you nurse, you love bath time, & you laugh every single time you fart. I get you.

I love you so, Rockos. Be mine forever.

Dear Shepherd: 3 Years


Maridith is a very good student & has excellent grades but seems to have a problem controlling her talking.”

This was every single report card I brought home as a child. My teachers would move me to a different seat but it didn’t stop me from striking up conversation with my new neighbor. I even got placed by the teacher’s assistant’s desk one time & poor Mrs. Davis fell prey to my incessant questions & commentary.

You get this from me. Better said: you got this from the adolescent me. You wake up at exactly 7:18 every single morning with a chipper “I wanna come out!” Your lips do not cease to move until your naptime, after which they begin spewing words again until bedtime. Rinse & repeat. I am reliving my talkative childhood with every excuse me please, with each Mommy, what’s that?, with all the what? and why?  inquiries, & every very detailed retelling of the Mama Robot that lives in your window & how you fought the dinosaurs with your sword. Add to this that all of these come out in a decibel that is just shy of shouting & BOOM, Mama just went four kinds of crazy.

On my worst day I respond with a sharp LESS TALKING SHEP or JUST GO TO SLEEP NOW or THERE IS NO MAMA ROBOT or the age-old BECAUSE I SAID SO.

But on my best day I see past the noise & the chatter & I see the smiles behind those words & the light in your inquisitive eyes. I notice the way your lips curve around your careful, mispronounced words. I notice how your eyes cut to the right when you’re really thinking & processing. I notice that you’ve fused what and why into one word: whyt? I notice your bent towards perfectionism when you tell me a story—a grassbopper, mommy, wait, no no no, a BABY grassbopper! And I notice the swell of physical joy inside of you when you sense my full attention—so secure in my love that your whole body shakes.

You teach me the most when we read books together. Trying to make it through a book with you has proven to be the greatest test of my patience. I want this time to be calm, quiet, & tidy. Because for me to read a book is to read it cover-to-cover, questions after but never in between. But for you, reading is observing the pictures, pointing out overlooked details, & derailing to your own stories, leaving bent pages in your wake.

You see? Calm, quiet, & tidy you cannot abide. I know this about you but I want to EMBRACE this about you. I want to make our time together less about me. I want you to be you—not the version of me that I superimpose on you.

So please, keep teaching me. Start at the end & move your way backwards. Talk it out. Tend to your compassionate heart & keep saying “sowwy” to your friends when they fall down. Sing along to songs you don’t know. Belly laugh more. Let me hold you after a spanking even though you want to push me away. Keep asking for noodles for breakfast, even though I’ll say no. Observe people & be careful with their feelings. Don’t ever stop responding to questions with a surprised “oh yeah!” And make sure to keep including chocolate, ice cream, & coke at the top of your thankful list during prayers.

But if you could stop throwing sand on the playground, find something to yell other than “oh shoot!” when things don’t work out, & expedite potty training, it would be my JAM.

You make 3 look stunningly handsome & overwhelmingly brave. See you tomorrow at 7:18.

I love you forever,

Be Church

It’s been almost 4 years since we obeyed the voice of God to uproot our family & transplant ourselves into African soil. It took well over $20,000 to get us here, over 4 years of praying & preparing, 4 languages learned, families kissed goodbye, & tears—oh the tears—I thought would never end.

I had my mind made up about what exactly I’d do for the Lord in this strange & foreign land. We would tell every woman, man, child we saw about the Gospel & give them all of 16 seconds to decide if they wanted to follow Jesus or not. We’d baptize them. We’d plug them into a church or help them to start a new one. We’d disciple them. We’d train them in how they could do the same thing as us, but better, and make Jesus really proud of them.

But really I had no idea. What kind of person could be so sure of their calling yet have no clue? {Pick me!}

None of the tasks I listed above could be considered disobedience, so they don’t sound that bad. That’s because they don’t and they aren’t. But these components unto themselves aren’t the things that reflecting the relationship Christ has with church are made of.

Echelon is a team made up of different families. We committed to the Lord & to each other that we would live & move & breathe together—as the church. That no man or family would be left to operate alone. But just because we came to Africa as the church doesn’t mean that we remain a healthy one. And just because we use Christ as our model and are sent out in twos, doesn’t mean that we’re all done with obedience. It takes time & energy, blood, sweat, & tears to maintain our church. We have to be intentional as the church. We have to fight to remain a church that is pursuing Christ & showing honor to one another. As you can imagine, this requires a good portion of our day.

But are we too busy taking care of ourselves to be gospel sowers to those who’ve never heard? What about all those 1000s of dollars spent to send us to only tell lost people about Jesus’ life, death, burial, & resurrection—and our eternal hope of heaven? Do we stop ministering to the needs of the nationals around us while we shut down in order to keep our own junk together? An emphatic NO. But how? How do we keep up with both—maintaining a healthy church while trying to start new ones?

It’s because we don’t separate the two. We live AS the church & this attracts people TO the church. We ARE the church in order to GROW the church. We live life as Christ called us to—taking care not only of our own needs, but meeting the ones of those around us—and this gives us the open door to make disciples of all nations… to baptize them & teach them to obey the one true God.

We came as the church. We live as the church. And so we welcome those who were far from God into the church.

Dear Shepherd: 2 Years


Today you chewed half way through a 60 count pack of sugar-free gum before we could focus enough to take it away from you. “High amounts of sugar alcohol give people bad diarrhea. Wait for it!” I told your Daddy. At lunch I noticed you were taking baby wipes out of the diaper bag. I assumed you were going to wipe your hands & mouth, which seems to be your new thing. A minute later I noticed you were cleaning Daddy’s sweet & sour chicken off the food court floor. Except you hadn’t eaten any of his sweet & sour chicken & there shouldn’t have been any under your chair. I thought about it for a second, checked your pants, and BOOM. Diarrhea. You were cleaning your very diarrhea that I told your Daddy you’d have off the floor. We were SUPER proud of you!

You gave us a couple of good scares this year. Transitioning from walking to running, being an avid climber, learning to jump off of high things… those falls, scrapes, goose eggs, bumps & bruises & all the other normal boy things are hard on us Mamas. But all that seemed so small a thing when you got really sick after we moved to South Sudan & there was no pediatrician within a 3 days’ drive to treat you. And again when you fell off that cinder block & had a seizure & I packed an emergency bag, assuming we’d be medically evacuated within the next 4 hours. Everyone was letting us have it for taking a baby to South Sudan where no medical care is available for you. But we want you to know that we took you there out of obedience to the One who set the world into motion & calls the stars by name. And He gave us a doctor who would at least draw some blood & point us in the right direction of which type of antibiotic to give you. And He gave us a dear friend to buy that antibiotic for you in Uganda who gave it to a French Canadian pilot who flew it to us in a helicopter to South Sudan. And He held you in His perfect care for a week while we put a lot of our life on hold until we could get you to South Africa to see a doctor to make sure the seizure wasn’t epileptic. Now THAT is hard on a Mama.

You taught me a lot this year. Especially the day that you got disciplined for something that you didn’t deserve. It’s true, you weren’t listening very well to Mama that morning, but I shouted at you out of frustration & Daddy spanked you for it. I thought long & hard about that instance for a few days afterwards. I realized my serious shortcomings as your mother, cried & cried, & asked for your forgiveness & for more grace from the One who freely gives it. You did & of course He did & always does. Grace for then, grace for now, grace for when. Always grace.

Next year you will become a big brother to a little baby boy. I see you, so playful & thoughtful with other kids & my heart soars to think of you with your baby brother. I ache for the day you will have another boy around to play rough with but I also ache to give you the best of me for the next 4 months. I realize that time passes so quickly & we don’t have much more time together, just you & me. So that’s why tonight when you cried at bedtime, I decided that I’ll give you the best (tired) version of me & we’ll sing, we’ll name body parts, we’ll give kisses, & I’ll ask you questions that you always say “no” to. Because that’s what you do & that’s the Sheppy I love…

You say “no” for “yes.”
You call your paci “Pepsi.”
You call both me & Daddy “Mama.”
You yell “bobby!” when you see a bug.
You tell your toys “bye bye!” when you leave a room.
You pat your belly & say “I da bebe” when we ask where the baby is.

And yes you are. Always Mama’s baby. Happy Second Birthday, little one.

I still love you forever,

Be Real

They walk into our living room on Wednesday nights & trip over my emotions. I could be happy or sad or angry or irritable or at worst, indifferent. The candles are lit for aesthetics’ sake, I’ve straightened up the camping chairs that double as our living room furniture, the coffee is waiting to be pressed, & I’ve made sure everyone has a mug ready to be filled. But my cup is empty & they see it on my face. I wear everything on my face. Each Wednesday I look forward to meeting together, but I never know where I’ll be emotionally & spiritually at the end of the day. And the version of me at 8pm on Wednesday nights is the me that my team will know the best.

We set Wednesday nights aside to worship together as team & as family. A team made up of families & a family that’s our team. But Wednesday doesn’t really care that we’re meeting to share our hearts & that we should have everything together. A Wednesday could offer anything from free produce at the market –to– a sick baby –to– gunfire that’s too close for comfort –to– a cracked MacBook screen thanks to said sick baby {gasp}.

But you see, it doesn’t matter if baby boy projectile vomits on our living room rug plastic mat at 7:58 & I only have 2 minutes to get his clothes changed, teeth brushed, put in bed, our entire house sanitized, & then pull myself together enough to act like I’m not super annoyed before we come together as the church. Because that’s what we are: the church. We are the good, the bad, the ugly, & the unbearable; and this is what the church is made of.

It takes a little perspective in those moments leading up to 8:00 for me to realize, however, that I don’t HAVE to pretend I’m not annoyed with the puke or with the gunshots. Like I said – my face says it all & they’re going to know anyway. And then it’s like this newfound freedom knowing I can simply rest in being real with my brothers & sisters in Christ. Letting my team/church/family know my struggles. Letting them help me bear my burdens. Letting the fact that they had a crappy Wednesday too bring comfort that we’re not on this path of difficult obedience alone.

Because when we put on compassion & humility, bear together, forgive & be forgiven, & put on love… we bind ourselves in perfect unity. [Colossians 3:12-14]
Perfect unity can’t exist in a counterfeit church. Perfect unity comes in sincerity of heart.

So, I’ll just take next Wednesday as it comes. I might smile when they come through my door or I might not. But the coffee will be hot & in our candor, we’ll let the Spirit of God fill what’s empty.