Next week marks the third birthday for my twin boys, three years since our family of three became a family of five.

Two years ago, I stood in line at the neighborhood grocery with a checkout counter of cake mix and cupcake liners, snacks and streamers, and two number 1 candles. I was exhausted in every way – soul weary from clinging hard to faith, heart weary from clinging hard to hope, body weary from wearing thin the road from home to the hospital and back again.

My babies and their sister were at home, and there I was Mama as best I could be. My mother and father were at the hospital, and there I was Daughter as best I could be. There my mother and brother and I locked arms through our first six-week crash course in ICU – the protocol, the etiquette, the vocabulary and the ever-awakeness of the place. It was our first grueling lesson in how to stare Death in the face, the death of one we love. How to be pressed so closely up against it that the pain of loss began to set in. How to look upon it unflinching while keeping a fist gripped fast on Life. These were the weeks we discovered first the blurred line between the two, between Death and Life. Where we found first the ache and agony, the beauty and glory distinct to that indescribable threshold, that holding place where we were forced to stay too long. And yet, we did not want to leave. Leaving might mean crossing over.

I stood in that checkout line with makings for a last-minute party for these unexpected baby boy blessings, and I was part present but mostly away. My heart had staked its ground in those other places and that is where I stayed.

The items were grouped on the grocery counter according to the orange vouchers in the yellow folder – dairy in one group, produce in another, birthday trappings and the rest in a third group at the back. I handed the yellow folder with the vouchers to Edward the cashier, and he marked down totals with his pencil. I’d gone over on the produce again and so I apologized. Why could I never seem to get that part right? It’s okay, he explained. He could add the overage to my other items and I could pay for it altogether. I gave a weak, appreciative smile and let my eyes travel back out the window.

Why did I feel so self-conscious of those orange vouchers even now, a full year in? I only brought out the folder when feeling especially brave; most days I scanned the lists with it tucked out of sight in my bag. Our friends and family knew – to them I sang WIC’s praises, unashamed – but strangers and acquaintances were a different matter. It felt too personal, too tender. Oh, the formula costs must be outrageous, friends would say and nod with understanding. But the truth is we were relieved when it paid for the milk and cheese, too.

The last year had been wrought with blessing and struggle. We’d lost two houses, gained two babies and quit one job in a few turns of the calendar, and we were fighting to make payments on this life we’d built together. This beautiful, chaotic, full life in this beautiful, creaky, old house – we loved it, every ounce. We trusted all would be well, and for now trusting meant taking what we wished we didn’t need.

The items were all scanned and Edward repeated the total, and I swiped the blue card through the machine. Swipe it again, he asked, and so I did. He looked up and gave an sympathetic half-smile and I knew the charge hadn’t gone through.

It wasn’t the first time. But today, of all days? I looked in my wallet knowing full well nothing was there and then back up to his eyes. And that is when the tears came. Tears came often in that year, what with the hormones and the hospital and the joy mixed in thick, but I could hide them when I needed to (like in line at the grocery store). But this time they came full to my throat and eyes and I had no heart-muscle left to keep them in. I mumbled something to Edward and the bagger between sobs about my boys and the birthday and the family at home waiting, and I could see my dad lying in that hospital bed, not dead but not yet fully alive, and I saw every fear and failure of my motherhood and daughterhood and wifehood there in that shopping cart of food I could not afford, and I wept. In front of God and Edward and everybody, I wept like a child.

Edward said he could suspend the transaction and so I said, Yes, please. Except that produce on the voucher? That would have to be paid for and the rest voided out, and so he did. Item by item, he scanned them again until only the bananas and vegetables were left. I owed 1.97 now, he said, but I didn’t have it. And before the tears could begin a second run, Edward whispered “I’ve got it” and pulled the cash out from his pocket and put it into the register. I offered thank you’s and I’m sorry’s to his refrain of “It’s no big deal, it’s just two dollars”. It was not just two dollars to me.

I went home and hugged my husband and cried, knowing how this would make him feel, knowing how hard he was working to make his one income into two, knowing how his worth and our bank account are inextricably linked in his gut even though his head and his heart know and believe the Truth. I stayed behind with my girl and one-year-old boys as he drove back to the store and looked Edward in the eye and handed over two dollars and said Thank You. And I was no less proud to be his wife then than I am now when he deposits a paycheck into our account or pays the mortgage of our century-old house.

And that is how our first couple years as a family of five looked. Exhaustion, gratitude, hospital visits, sleeplessness, fear, joy, uncertainty and provision. We were carried by our neighbors and our friends and our family and strangers and Edward the cashier. We were carried by government-supplied baby formula and homecooked meals made by loving hands and delivered to our door. We were carried by nurses and doctors who who cared for us inside hospital walls and prayed for us outside them. We were carried by the One whose cattle cover a thousand hills, who created and sustains us, who knows our going out and our lying down.

This One, he carried us then and carries us still but somedays, many days, I forget. I believe the lie that it all rests square on my shoulders and I nurture quiet pride that I hold it up so high and so well. I forget the unseen Hand that delivers life from death and food to lips. But that day at the grocery I could not forget. That day at the grocery, and so many since, I am made to remember.

And so I thank God for those days in the checkout line when the account had all but run dry and we drew from the Well with water full. I thank God for the yellow folder that, even now that it’s gone, reminds from whence my true help comes. I thank God for you, Stranger, and for you Brother and Sister, and for you my friend at the playground that catches my boys before they run out the gate and into the street. I thank God for you, for through you he has carried us and he carries us still.

84 comments

  1. I’m so thankful for the body of Christ…you know how I am. And it’s so funny how in those desperately hard and exhausting times, that’s when we seem to have the easiest time getting out of His way and lettingHim be the Big God that He is.

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    • It’s so true. I felt close to Him then, but as I look back I can see He was closer than I dared imagine. Love you, friend.

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  2. Ack! We must be twins:) We added twin boys last summer (2011) making ours a family of six – my daughter is 6 and son 4, then 1 year old twin boys. I’m still very deep in the exhaustion part, no hospitalization for us, but so overwhelming. I’ve been trying to get up the courage to write about how I feel being back on the WIC program too, thank you for sharing! I’m leaving everyone to head to a funeral alone because two of the four are sick (God bless my dear husband) and I’m so excited to lay down in the backseat of my parent’s car and sleep!
    Yes, ‘carried along’ on a sea of grace, that has been my continuing, deepening experience of the craziness of the past years (because, oh man, that pregnancy was a thing to behold too!). Thanks for sharing!

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    • Raising a twin-mama fist to you in solidarity. Thanks so much for sharing, Kelly. Enjoy that car ride.

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  3. Alise

    So I’m sitting here sobbing because I remember just how shitty I was made to feel, not by people who knew, but by people who didn’t but still spouted off about government hand-outs and the nanny state and personal responsibility. We talk about “those people” and “they” and then forget that “those people” and “they” are right here beside us.

    I’m saying a special prayer today for Edward. Thank you for your courage in sharing this story.

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    • sonja lange

      I am so sorry you have every been made to feel that way. Most people I know have no problem with the system when it helps people who need helping. What I see where I live is people selling their vouchers, or getting everything they can and giving it to others who don’t need it, but take it because it is “free” – the same people who have a nicer car and nicer house than I do and we have never taken a dime we didn’t NEED. Those are the people giving the system a bad name. I am so grateful for the system that helps you, and I, and Amanda when we need it.

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    • Oh, that image hurts my heart, Alise. I didn’t experience condemnation other than that from my own pride, probably because I was so effective at hiding – hiding the vouchers in my purse, hiding the smartphone that was a gift from my boss years before I quit the job, feeling relieved that these people beside me at the grocery store and the health department (our insurance was crap and we couldn’t afford immunizations either) didn’t know I lived in a beautiful old home that we’d packed up but never sold because the babies were coming and we were holding on to hope that we could make the payments again. I know our experience was just a fraction of what other families go through, but I pray to God that I never forget how it felt.

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  4. This is so beautiful and hard and honest. Thanks so much for sharing this piece of your life.

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    • And thank you for receiving it. xo

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  5. Oh Amanda, Thank you for painting us there, for being raw and real with those days, the kind that many can relate to but few can bring to life as well as you just have.

    I can’t begin to tell you how much I get it, I’ve been there. A few months back I stood with my Dave Ramsey wallet at the checkout thrilled that I had just enough cash to cover it all, until I saw the watermelon in the bottom of my cart. I told the Cashier I would go put it back, I didn’t have the $ to cover it.

    That’s when she bought us a watermelon, told us that she had been a ministry family with little ones, trying to feed everyone healthy on a shoestring. She told us she knew we’d somehow use the watermelon to show the love of Jesus.

    And I cried.

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    • Yes. I want to hear more of that story. Thank you for this glimpse of your heart (a heart I know to be so lovely). xo

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  6. Oh.

    My.

    What a hard story to live but what an amazing picture of the Body and grace and mercy. Your story reminds me to walk through life wide awake, to see the places *right there* I can serve and love and give.

    My heart has the most beautiful ache right now.

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    • Yes! The places right here. I want to do the same. Thanks, Robin.

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  7. RVR

    Lovely Amanda, this is exactly what these programs exist to do. Thank you for speaking publicly and helping to reduce the stigma. Every semester, I have students who share their own versions of this story, and every semester, it helps the differently privileged in the room to battle ignorance, stereotypes, and judgment. You are doing important work, friend!!!

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    • I’ve dished out plenty of the judgment myself and I’m sure I will again, so I speak this out loud as much for me as for anyone else. Thank you for chiming in. Love seeing you here and appreciate your encouragement so much, as always. xo

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  8. So. I don’t have much to say. Just want to kind of sit with you a while. Wow.

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    • Yes, please. Let’s do that.

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  9. I was right there, in line with you, exhausted and with nothing between the tears and my face, as I read this. Amazing writing.

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  10. sonja lange

    I should remember to read your words during nap time because I always startle the toddler with my tears. I will raise my hand with these other lovely ladies and admit that I have been there – buying the cheapest bread and peanut butter to get through the week until payday and using allowance money from the kids wallets to pay for it…I felt so broken. You are such and amazing, honest woman with such a gift with words and I am so glad to know you.

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    • Thank you for your voice here today, Sonja. Your words bless me, too.

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  11. I started reading this post thinking it was a story about raising twins which, I know from a dear friend’s experience, is very, very hard.

    But my. All I’m thinking right now is, “God bless Edward.” Truly.

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  12. wow. Thanks for telling this from your perspective! You are quickly becoming one of my favorite writers Amanda. Fantastic job!

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    • What what! I might have to tape this on my fridge. :) Thanks, Jim.

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  13. Thank you for sharing your truth. It’s so lovely and piercing and convicting. We all needed this, I think.

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    • Thank you, Kim. I know I did.

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  14. Sweet Amanda, your words make me teary this morning. Thank you for sharing such a vulnerable moment – and thank you for allowing others to be the tangible hands & feet of Christ in your life. It makes me braver to allow the same.

    I love you and your kids and your old creaky house, and I hope for so many more moments with you.

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    • We love you back. Thank you for this.

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  15. love this amanda – so good and true.

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  16. i wrote this to you on twitter — but i’ll say it here too…

    after reading this i love YOU more and love my Savior more. Thanks for writing this. Has changed my whole perspective of the day. Woke up on the grumpy side. Now dwelling in grace, love, and wonder.
    love you friend!

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    • And I’ll say this here too — Best compliment you could give. Love you, too. Here’s to a grace, love & wonder-filled weekend on the Eastside.

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  17. Megan

    This is my third (fourth?) reading of this story and still, I just sit here and cry.

    This: “This One, he carried us then and carries us still but somedays, many days, I forget. I believe the lie that it all rests square on my shoulders and I nurture quiet pride that I hold it up so high and so well. I forget the unseen Hand that delivers life from death and food to lips. But that day at the grocery I could not forget. That day at the grocery, and so many since, I am made to remember.”

    Who among us cannot relate to this? How we think it is all our burden to take up and drag along and then in the most tender and gentle of ways, He reminds us “I’ve got it.” *sob sob sob*

    Oh, how He loves us.

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    • I love your sobbing, twin-prego self so much, Megan. Thank you for reading and reading again. Thank you for relating and saying so. Thank you for sharing and encouraging. Thankful for you.

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  18. Beautiful. Captivating writing. Amazing time. Thank you.

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  19. Oh Amanda. Do you look back on that now and see it all colored with grace? When we are living it, sometimes we can’t see it, probably because our eyes are crazed. (Picture me making crazy eyes at you.) But oh. I know this. The Lord has done great things for us! He sustained and poured in and I saw Him there. It’s so tender and sweet, I can barely stand it.

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    • Oh yes, I see it all over, much more so now than then. And thank you for the crazy eyes. I know them well!

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  20. Megan’s tweet sent me over here. When I saw that both Megan and Cecily K are followers of yours, I knew you must have things to say that I’d do well to hear. Yes, indeed. Thank you for sharing this important story.

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    • Thank you, Rita. So glad you stopped by.

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  21. Oh, crap…now I’m tearing up at my desk. Thank you for sharing. And thank you for reminding me to be little more like Edward!

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    • Sorry about that. And yes, me too. xo

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  22. Just sitting here in tears. Like a torrential ugly cry, and that’s actually really rare for me. I know this place, the despair and loathing, even hiding the vouchers in my purse until the very last moment and hating every second of it as my pride took a beating. And yet, so much grace and mercy found in Him. Love this write, it’s a story that finds purchase deep in me.

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    • Oh, Alia Joy, thank you. And I ugly cried when I wrote it, so you are not alone.

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  23. Totally crying the ugly cry. This is bravely honest. I’m so glad you wrote it. We all have our stories to tell, don’t we? And they’re not always pretty at the time. But here and now, that story was amazing. All things work to the greater good in Him.

    I don’t know you, but you’re getting a great big e-hug from me.

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    • I love e-hugs and I needed it, so thank you. And yes, it’s stunning how much clearer some stories are in retrospect. I’ve thought of that day a hundred times but I didn’t have the words to tell it until now.

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  24. dara lynn

    Sweet Friend! I wish we could have talked about this when you were going through it!! Obviously, about that time, I had just birthed Sam(there’s a visual for you) and Matt didn’t have a job, so I was kind of distracted. My mom kept suggesting we do WIC then, but I was too proud. You, dear friend, were much braver than me. Luckily, we lived with family for that season, so they were essentially our WIC. Thanks for sharing stories like this one. It helps to remember that we are all walking the same road and need the same compassion. Reminds me of that great quote (on Pinterest!) about being kind because we all are fighting a hard battle. Just so you know, I’m so proud to be your friend. DL

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  25. Great post, Amanda. Thanks for your honesty and vulnerability – in many ways, it’s not much easier to share online than it is to stand in that line at the grocery store. My ‘been there’ story is very different – went through a business failure and bankruptcy with a wife and two little ones (at that time) relying on me; I completely HATE the helpless feeling, the “I can’t do anything and people I love are hurting because of it” pressure that mounts.

    One good thing… the next time you find yourself in that pressure cooker of having no way to do it on your own, you’ll find it a little easier to trust, because the One has gotten you through it before, and you know he’ll do it again.

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  26. Grace a

    Cried. Thank you. We went on Medicaid before our daughter was born. It was so humiliating. And yet, the only person who was humiliated was me. We are still on government assistance. Idk how we will make our rent this month or Christmas. But I am trusting in The Lord. Thankful for what we have.

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    • Grace, thank you so much for sharing your experience even as you are in the thick of it now. I know God will meet you there in your want and worry, and I am saying a prayer now that you know his hand when you see it. Big hugs to you.

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  27. Amanda, this was absolutely beautiful. You made me cry my eyes out.=) God used Edward, and that is just awesome!

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  28. Spectacular story-telling, Amanda. Thank you so much for spreading this beautiful vulnerability out here for us to savor, to fill us with thanksgiving for God’s goodness as we find it in one another. Just remarkable.

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    • Thank you, Diana, for the kind words and the gorgeous metaphor. xo

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  29. We have recently become a single income family of 5 do to my medical issues. Over these past 3 years we have almost depleted our savings. We stress every single month, sobbing because we don’t know where the money will come from. Good wholesome foods are too costly, so we eat overprocessed junk. When we sought out help, we were told that because we are trying to improve things for ourselves, we are not eligable. Life is hard. Many times we have found ourselves shaking our fist at God, screaming why, only to fall to our knees ashamed of our actions…..
    Thank you for this beautiful post. You have renewed my spirit and given me hope. I know things will improve and that this is part of His master plan for us, it is just so hard to understand in the midst of suffering…….

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    • What kind words, Mary. Thank you. And thank you for sharing a part of your story. My prayer for you as I type this is that God will indeed meet you in those places, not only by providing for your family’s needs but also by giving you grace enough to extend grace to yourself at a time when you feel overextended by circumstance and stress. Hugging you through the internet. So glad you stopped by.

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  30. Oh, Amanda. I remember the days I had to walk to the store for my mom with only food stamps. I walked so slowly, praying it would be empty so no one would have to see me. Then we hit hard times and ended up on WIC as well. Out of the last eight years, I think we HAVEN’T been on WIC or Medicaid for maybe two of those. And now we rely heavily on Phoenix’s SSI payments. I had those times, standing in line, praying I got all the right things so the cashier wouldn’t make me go back for something else and hold up everyone else behind me. Applying for the free school lunches. Praying desperately for money for diapers. And getting a check in the mail the same day. I doubt his provision so much still, even after all he’s given us. I’m learning how to trust more everyday. If our friends hadn’t blessed us in so many ways, we wouldn’t have made it. And the truth is, they still do! So thankful for community.

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    • Amen, amen and amen. Thank you for reading and understanding and sharing. Encouraged by you.

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  31. Mae

    My heart is so full of love for you and your sweet family, now and always. Granmae

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  32. I am not often moved to tears by words, but wow. This time I was. Thank you for sharing the way God carried you through difficult times so that it could minister to those of us who find ourselves trying to lean on Him more than ourselves (that’s so hard).

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    • Funny how difficult that is to do, isn’t it? And when all He’s done is prove his faithfulness to us time and time again. You aren’t alone in that. Thanks so much, Nicole.

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  33. Tears. I know this place, and it is harder than people ever realize unless they’ve been there. I am thankful for my experiences because I will never judge anyone based upon what they seem to have or not have. You just never know the stories people carry around with them. Thank you for sharing yours.

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    • Yes, I agree. May we remember in times of plenty what it is like to be in want, and may we freely bless others the way he has blessed us. Thank you, Lori.

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  34. One of my prayers-that will continue for the rest of my life- is that my children, husband and those around me would see me desperate for Him.

    Amanda, the beautiful thing about you, is that I still see your desperation for Him – it’s beautiful. So so so beautiful.

    I learned more about my God and Savior reading this post than I have in a while.
    I learned that I want to be a lot more like Amanda.
    And I learned that I want to be a lot more like Edward.

    Love you, sweet friend.

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    • Oh, friend. You’re making me cry again over here – which I’ve already done plenty of over this post! Thank you for seeing beauty in the wreck that I am, for it is all grace that is anything beautiful in me. If only you knew the dark parts of my heart, you might edit that second point a little. But yes! To be desperate for him… it’s not such a bad place to be, huh?

      My friend Eric, father to sweet Baby Pearl, said recently that he overheard his 3 year old daughter saying to someone, “God carries my Daddy.” His response was, “She might not grow up thinking I’m very strong. But she will know that God is. I’m okay with that.” I want my heart to be like that.

      Love you, Kacia.

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  35. I cried when you sent this to me the other day and I cried reading it again now. I’m so damn proud of you, friend. Your honesty, your authenticity, your sheer you-ness. Thank you for taking a risk and sharing this with us all. We are better for it.

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    • Don’t ever underestimate how much your encouragement means to me, friend. Thank you for this.

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  36. julie

    I too have “dished it out”. And I too have stood in line at the welfare office (all too recently) and cried as I waited for them to take my picture. It is a hard, hard place. We too are in danger of losing our beloved century old house and bankruptcy looms. When I opened this link and read your words it helped my heart to know that we are not alone on this God journey. Thank you for sharing.

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    • You are indeed not alone. So many mothers and sisters and wives stand with you. Take heart, friend.

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  37. Beautifully told.

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  38. Right here with you. Thank you.

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  39. Michelle Wilson

    What a beautiful, beautiful, hard story to tell. My, what a gift you have. You use it masterfully, and for His glory.

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  40. Oh…I cry. I cry because I KNOW.

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  41. Amanda, HOW did I miss this?! This is so brave, so beautiful. I want to hug you so big right now. Beautifully written, but hte heart and story behind it? WHEW.

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    • I would accept that hug. Thanks so much, Sarah.

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  42. Oh, Amanda. What a heartbreaking, heart-changing moment that you’ve shared with us. Thank you for that. And thank you for the reflection that came later, the gratitude and the joy and the amazing focus on Him.

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    • Thank you, Mary. Appreciate these kind words so much.

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  43. Just celebrates my twins’ 3rd birthday and I so remember those early days. This post was a needed reminder. We’re in a tight place right now and it’s so easy to feel the need to take it on myself and try and fix it instead of relying on the One who is truly in control. Thank you for sharing. Blessings to you and your family.

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    • Cheers to you, mama! Is it just me, or are you more afraid of this year than the last? I can hardly keep up with my two. Thanks for reading. Blessings to your home as well. xo

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  44. Thank you so much for being so open and so real about your situation. It is always comforting to hear that someone else has struggled before, too, and that they’ve overcome their struggle. I’m currently pregnant and had to use Medicaid for the baby doctor (my degree-requiring job is privately owned and doesn’t offer insurance). I often fall into the trap of listening to those who complain that people on Medicaid are lazy and need an education so they can get their own insurance, so there are times when I’m sincerely embarrassed about being on Medicaid. This story is a wonderful example that some of us break the mold when it comes to people who need a little extra help. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Reply

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