The Caregiver Life

This January I committed to reading my Bible every day. Some days it’s easier than others, and some days I’ll head to bed, remember and quickly open it up! Honestly, I don’t pour over the Word for hours (or even an hour), but instead, I try to read at least a chapter a day and then read a passage out of my devotional book.

When I was pregnant with Luke, I was disappointed that I wouldn’t have quite the time to dedicate to my devotions after my special boy was born because he would require a lot of care with his disabilities. In response, the Lord whispered to my heart that “yes, devotional time is beneficial and should be pursued, but there would also be times when my worship primarily consists of the hard and holy work that he called me to do. Since that comforting revelation, I don’t approach devotions with as much black-and-white fervor as I might have in my younger years.

Last Monday morning, before the kids were awake, I sat down in my favorite oversized chair and opened my Bible. I was in Zephaniah, a book that I couldn’t tell you much about because it’s not highly quoted or studied. Zephaniah chapter 2. I stopped as I read verse 3.

Seek the Lord, all who are humble, and follow his commands. Seek to do what is right and to live humbly, perhaps, even yet, the Lord will protect you.

This was an admonishment straight from God to his chosen people. This was and is apparently the definition of what God desires from us, his people. The Lord clearly spells out what makes him smile, what lends to supernatural protection, and what is desired of us and it includes: to be humble, to seek to do what is right, and to obey.

That’s pretty simple.

That’s the message to those of us who claim to be Christ followers.

And you know what? That’s pretty much the definition of the caregiving life.

As caregivers, especially those of us who have been doing it for a long time, we often feel like our lives have very little meaning. We change diapers. We assist in mobility, we clean up lots of messes, and we sit in quiet spaces, or maybe not-so-quiet spaces if we’re dealing with aggression or behaviors. We humbly watch and assist our loved ones. We might feel like our lives are not amounting to much or don’t have a lot of purpose. Or maybe we feel like our loved one has held us back from pursuing our own passions or dreams. Or maybe, we’re too tired to think about it at all.

Let this verse bless you today as you serve those who need you. As you obey what the Lord has called of you in caring for someone. As you seek to do what is right by your family and by society at large. Know this, the Lord is pleased because you are doing exactly his will for your life. You are bringing glory to his name. You are making him smile.

Just Keep Livin.



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Go Play!

I’m back! Monday Musings took a short sabbatical due to the holiday last week, but now I’m back, sort of 😉  The kids begin summer break today so that means everything work related takes a little bit longer for me to accomplish, but I woke up with this excerpt from my book Blended with Grit & Grace in my heart and thought it would be a good reminder for the moms who have a wee bit of anxiety with the lack of structure that arrives with summer break.  Just keep livin.  

I shooed one of my children out of the kitchen, annoyance growing by the minute with yet another complaint of boredom or a long-winded tale about how one sibling had grossly mistreated another. It sure felt like we were on day 100 million of this year’s particularly long winter break, which marched on and on and on with the recent bout of inclement weather and now influenza circulating throughout the schools.

Ahhh, good times.

I sighed, frustrated at how much energy the kids required during these days without school and irritated with the constant boredom. We had purchased a beautiful property in the middle of rural Tennessee on thirty acres of land, a mighty river flowing in our backyard, with the expectation that our children would spend their days romping through the fields, building forts, playing tag and hide-and-seek, plucking fresh fruit from the apple and pear trees, and whatever else they were able to convince one another to play or do, but that wasn’t generally the case. Usually, they were inside the house, bellyaching about how bored they were.

I returned my attention to the pot on the back burner of the stove, which held dinner for the evening. I began to stir, slowly encouraging the flavors of a simmering beef stroganoff to meld together, an easy family favorite consisting of hamburger, chopped onions, garlic, and mushrooms drenched in a cream-cheese sauce. I inhaled the savory aroma as music played in the background. “I’ll praise you in this storm,” belted out an old-time favorite by the popular group Casting Crowns.

I’d been experiencing a bit of a faith crisis in the recent months as I desperately grasped for control while life spiraled further away from me. So many balls were in the air. The hormonal issues that inevitably arrive with aging. Teaching, which I loved but didn’t love as much as writing. Writing, which was my passion but doesn’t really pay the bills—at least not yet. Raising eight children, now with several teenagers and a toddler. Struggling to do right by Lucas, in pursuit of the best options for him but also needing to sacrifice more of our limited resources and time. The list went on.

It felt overwhelming 90 percent of the time, and I knew I wasn’t handling the demands well. Most of my prayers were more like complaints and resembled grumbling as I begged for superhuman strength to get through the days—annoyed that God would bequeath so many responsibilities upon my weary, aging shoulders.

“Praise you in this storm, huh?” I muttered. I had fiercely believed those words during the most difficult days of life—as a baby grew in my belly in 2004 (a child proclaimed terminal even before taking his first breath) and again as my husband Jason took his last breath here on earth. Now, in my current reality, with a healthy family, a good marriage, my daily needs met, I couldn’t seem to muster up any praise in this pathetic little pity party of a storm I was having for myself.

Jesus, help . . . , I sighed in resignation and frustration.

Go play, I heard gently whispered in reply.

What? I wondered.

Go play! Stop complaining and stop focusing on the negative, and stop stressing about everything that I ultimately control, and stop the bellyaching, and go play! Enjoy the life I made for you! Bask in my creation, jump on the trampoline with your kids, breathe in the beauty of nature all around, enjoy your life, enjoy what I have created for you—for your pleasure! Take joy in the food you are preparing, savor the chocolate pie, sip the chardonnay, make love to your husband, read a good book, teach your daughters how to sew. GO PLAY!

Could it be that my questions about life, faith, and frustrations could be answered in one simple command? Go play? That’s exactly what I wanted my children to do when they were bored and moaning and groaning about everything in life. I desired more than anything for them to stop complaining and bickering and go play! To enjoy what we had purchased for them! To enjoy the beauty of their lives! Could it possibly be that the God of the universe wanted the same for his child? For me to honor him through my enjoyment of what he’s blessed me with?

My perspective shifted, as it usually does when the Almighty has words with me, and a slow smile crept across my face as I poured myself a glass of chardonnay and headed to the back porch to sit with my husband. As I opened the door, still slightly hesitant about leaving numerous tasks undone, I heard a whisper laced with joy, which urged me forward:

Yes, my child, go play.


To read more of our story, check out my three books below!


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Throw an Arrow at the Board

I struggle with the “you’re so incredible!” sentiment I often hear. I’m not all that different from anyone else. I asked my mother once if she saw anything in me that would have given her an indication about the woman I’ve become, and she smiled and said, not really but you asked a lot of questions and always had a bright idea you were dragging your younger brothers into! My family likes to joke that my tombstone will one day read, “Jess had an idea.” It would be accurate, to say the least.

In all honesty, I’m simply a mom who was determined to make the world a little bit more accommodating and aware for herself, her child, and her family, and in that determination, I moved toward change. Nothing I’ve created or accomplished happened overnight. NOTHING. I’ve slowly trudged through the muck for everything I’ve seen turn to gold. Getting my Bachelor’s Degree took 5 years. My Masters, 10! My first book, 12 years, and the second, 4. The Unseen Documentary also took 4 years to complete and for The Lucas Project, it was during the fifth year (2023!) that things finally took off, and we received the funding needed to be a “legit” nonprofit.

Anything worthwhile takes time, but in the meantime, if you’re not moving and grooving, your “thing” isn’t either. In my humble opinion, it doesn’t even take much intelligence. I’m not all that smart (B student through undergrad), but I am extremely curious and consistent. I consistently work toward progress, and when I get stuck, I curiously seek out answers or solutions. I’m also a huge believer in throwing darts at the board. Gosh, for every dart that has stuck, I’ve probably witnessed 50 fall to the ground! But – you don’t ever receive the joy from the one that sticks if you don’t throw a few. You gotta try, right?

And you absolutely must become okay with the word “NO”.

No is not personal. No is simply, “this is not for you right now or maybe ever.” No can be a massive layer of protection against something that would not be good for you when viewed through the rearview mirror. I had lots of no’s in my early years that turned to yes’s later on. Yes’s, that if they had been granted early on, might have been extremely detrimental to my new fragile family that was struggling with blending, adoption, special needs, and grief; however, many of those no’s later turned to yes. Yes’s when those in authority witnessed my consistent determination which led to progress which led to whatever the thing might be: book, film, nonprofit, or podcast. People change their minds all the time and are drawn to those who don’t give up easily. The darts that do stick sometimes open big doors like the dart I threw at the board in 2018 when I broadcasted my big idea for a documentary on Facebook. That dart not only stuck but provided an opportunity to throw a bunch of darts at close range which has led to many recent yes’s which will lead to awareness and change for caregivers.

I want to encourage you today to throw a dart. Release an arrow into the world and be completely ok with the response. And in the meantime, do the next right thing towards progress, and do it every day. You’ll be amazed at how quickly your dart board begins to fill up.

Just keep livin.


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It Is What It Is.

I realize that Mothers Day is a difficult day, and it is for me too.  I have 3 children who lost a mother. Thats hard. I wrote about the complexity of the day in my book Blended with Grit and Grace.  I hope you enjoy this excerpt. 

Mother’s Day arrives every year without fail and this memorable day is laced with loads of emotion for many. Some grieve the loss of a mother, whether literally or figuratively; others rejoice in the wonderful relationship they have with their mother or a motherlike figure; and still others, like myself, agonize over the numerous complexities this day presents.

Ryan will inquire, every year, “How do you want your day to look?” I usually reply, “My deepest desire is to enjoy a bubble bath without one single person asking or telling me anything through the door—a good thirty minutes is all I ask.” (But then that would make me not a mother, right?)

Usually, this day is okay—peaceful, solid, void of any huge amounts of drama, as everyone is a bit on edge trying to make me feel special or scrambling to create a unique gift so that it doesn’t look like they completely forgot. But this day is also a constant reminder of a gigantic ache for three of my children, and that makes it difficult and bittersweet. We try not to dwell on the agony of our past tragedies. We share memories with our children about Mom and Dad in heaven, we recognize their grief, and we respect their conflicted feelings on this day. Ryan and I do our best to model joy and not use the past as a crutch. Horrific events did occur, but we move forward in praise for what we have been given. We recognize that this life is fleeting and acknowledge God’s faithfulness.

When my biological children were younger, they would embrace Mother’s Day with joy and giddiness, and shower me with 500 billion homemade cards and pictures. As they’ve aged, this has changed, and now Mother’s Day involves last-minute runs to Dollar General to purchase a card and Milk Duds—Caleb’s go-to gift for me. Yes, I love Milk Duds. Generally, my adopted children are also excited about what the day represents and fully participate; however, I know that the day is also a painful reminder of what they’ve lost.

One Mother’s Day, this loss was extremely evident in the behavior of one of my children, who was not at all excited to celebrate the holiday. This child was angry and had been for a week, and I noticed the angst every time a commercial aired about the upcoming day. The other kids would run to make me some thrown-together picture declaring their love, or they would hurry outside to pick another beautiful bunch of weeds, but this child would sit quietly, not meeting my eyes, not saying a word, just silently aching because of the loss. And I didn’t know how to make it better.

I couldn’t make it better, and that is incredibly difficult as a mother. My momma heart wanted to fix the hurt somehow, to be enough—so much so that the loss wouldn’t sting, and in numerous ways, I knew I was a good mom, but it didn’t erase the ache and how this day was a blatant reminder of that pain. As a mom, I wanted to take away the agony, take away the void, maybe even erase the memories because then it wouldn’t be so painful, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t because at times I questioned God’s decision in the matter. As a biological mother, I have a difficult time understanding why he would choose another woman over the mother who gave birth to Tate, Mya, and Jada and loved them. Who wanted them.

It doesn’t seem like the best decision, but then God’s ways are not my ways, and he doesn’t owe me an explanation. It only makes sense that his ways are higher than I can comprehend, and I don’t believe that our comfort is always a top priority here on earth. No, I believe that our comfort often takes a back seat to his ultimate plan or purpose. And I believe that his plan probably resembles an adoption proceeding more than a biological conception—a choice to love others as ourselves rather than an instinctual connection, a choice to love God and choose his ways over our sinful nature that yearns to have everything our own way, a choice to lay down our lives and become more Christlike to those we live with.

This child and I got into a spat the night before Mother’s Day, as we do occasionally, since we both view the world in a similar way, with a black-and-white tendency that needs to be right and each of us storing up arguments to match that desire. There was outright disobedience—something that had never occurred before. We aired our frustrations and mourned our losses and reaffirmed our love for one another, and I held my child and offered reassurance of my love, saying that I would continue to strive to be the best mom I could possibly be.

And isn’t that all we can do for our children—those of our wombs and those of our hearts? Simply be the best we can be for each individually and collectively, relying on God’s grace and mercy as we stumble and then pick ourselves back up. We pray that somehow the pain and loss and ache will be gone one day, and it will make perfect sense when we end our race here on earth and come face-to-face with the One who orchestrated it all, our Abba Father who has graciously adopted each of us into his eternal family.

Just keep livin.

To read more, check out my books below.


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Lovin' With Grit and Grace Book Cover

Lovin' with Grit and Grace