I am Mary

Screen Shot 2015-03-08 at 11.05.05 PMThe kids were little, but old enough to know that Christmas would be special. I was up at 5, waiting, expecting them to come running any minute when I could join them in their excitement. I worked hard, getting dinner and breakfast made and prepped, nursing the baby and then finally they were up. Presents, stockings, food, tea, chocolate. I would have stayed there all day just taking it all in.

Christmas fell on Sunday and so managed to go to church in the middle of it all. Mum and Dad were visiting and we rallied together to get everyone ready and out of the door. We had enough done at home that we could have dinner with all its trimmings ready to eat when we returned, the taste of Christmas cake still on our lips from breakfast.

Church was usually a little frantic between toddlers and babies, trips to the toilet, toys, and voices too loud. Somehow, that morning, I found a moment. I stood, stilled, hands outstretched and eyes closed. ‘Oh Holy Night’, my favorite, rang through the room and touched a deeper place. All faded as that night came into view and I wept at the wonder, the squalor, the pain and the joy. It was not how I had imagined.

A hand on my shoulder brought me back to the present, to Christmas 2013. Tears dried but heart shaken, I asked God what had happened. “I’m going to take you there,” He whispered, and I bowed, taking Him at His word but humbled at the privilege.

Four months later, I finally finished my first book, Bedstemor, birthed and written between babies born, napping, growing. I asked for a year, just a year of no writing as the stories never left me and I wanted some time to be Mum, not writer. Yet, many years ago, I had given my life to Him with no conditions. When I asked for time, it was with the understanding that if He had another plan, that’s the one we would go with. Two months, barely time to file the notes and take a deep breath, a new story was conceived. I met a woman, Mary, who was not the glowing, regal, holy woman I had always believed. I discovered a woman who dealt with fear, uncertainty and pain just like me, just like many women I had met.

The story began to unfold, while I washed dishes, or children, vacuumed the living room, drove to the store. It grew and burned in my heart, it woke me up at night and would not let me fall asleep again. The anguish of Mary’s story shocked me. I knew that the writing of it would propel me to search out the redemptive thread and healing that I knew my God would have ordained from the beginning. This healing would reach out and affect women who had believed for years that God could not or would not love them because of their weakness and failure. Perhaps they had reconciled this part of His character, but did He have a purpose for their lives? In discovering Mary’s weakness, we find a woman unqualified but chosen; inadequate but anointed. If God could choose Mary for such a momentous task, what could He do through you and I?

I stole minutes, here and there, and prayed that the little time I had would be multiplied. As I sat at the computer hands outstretched, again and again, I simply asked Him to show me what happened and then I wrote. Characters emerged, relationships developed, stories unfolded, layer upon layer. There were moments that took my breath away. I had no plan other than following the vague outline that scripture allowed. As I waited, the words poured in and through and I was changed. Mary’s story told. Just one more interpretation, but one that brought Mary out of the clouds and into humanity; raw, beautiful, ugly. The true beauty of it revealed through the grace of the One that she carried. A grace that took the nothing that she had to offer, and immersed it in the all-sufficiency of Him who would give it all.

April Gebken – A dream of motherhood

In honor of Mother’s Day in England – March 10, 2013


I love babies. I’ve loved babies for as long as I can remember. There’s not much that will bring me to tears but tell me a story about a baby and I’ll more than likely become a blubbering mess, whether the story is happy or sad.

Now that my own children are past the tiny baby stage, I am able to look back on it for all the joy and delight that they brought me. Everything they say about birth – that you forget the pain – is true in all senses; the teething, the tantrums, the broken sleep. I’m still in that phase with our youngest, but knowing now that it will all be over in the blink of an eye helps me to take it a little more in stride. A few less hours sleep last night just meant that I got to cuddle his sweetness this afternoon while we napped together.

I met April Gebken at the park while our kids played. We have connected several times since then while the children burn off energy. It wasn’t long before we were sharing our baby stories. April’s moved me and her faith and strength inspired me. I asked her to share her story as she exudes such joy and hope which are not easy to attain, amidst pain and struggle, without a total leaning into the arms of God.

~ Esther

Here is April’s story:

I truly believe that we are able to determine our life’s purpose from an early age. We find out very quickly what our strengths, weakness and desires are. For me, all I wanted to be in life was a mother but my road to motherhood was not as easy as the movies make it appear.

I married my best friend, Richard and it wasn’t long before we were ready to start a family.  Having genealogical problems since the age of 17 and six surgeries by the age of 25, we knew it might be a little more difficult for me to become pregnant. We were wonderfully surprised, after one easy infertility treatment. when we became pregnant. A healthy Conner John was born in February, 2007.

By the time Conner was about to turn two, we were ready to start the process again, expecting it to be as easy as the first. After 18 months and 7 infertility treatments later, we were still a family of three.

After many late night cries and sleepless nights, we decided that the only shot we had at becoming pregnant again was to try Invitro Fertilization; way more completed, expensive and emotional than the other fertility treatments I had done. After months of shots and 6 hour round trips to the infertility clinic, it was time to retrieve my eggs for fertilization.  Based on the timing of my body, cycle, and medicine, the day to extract my eggs was my birthday, April 1.

Before I went into the procedure room, my doctor warned me that he was only expecting to retrieve three eggs.  Tears rolled down my face.They were able to retrieved nine eggs but our joy was short lived as seven of the embryos died before transfer. The remaining two embryos were transferred but we found out on April 14, 2010 that my IVF had failed. My world came crashing down. I went into a state of depression that no one knew about but my husband. All I wanted was to be a mother and I couldn’t wrap my head around why it was so difficult for me.

At one of my lowest moments I decided to stop asking God for an answer or a sign.  I just simply asked him to give me hope; something to keep me going. I did research daily on the internet on how to reverse my condition, Dimished Ovarian Reserve.  I decided to try acupuncture and a DHEA supplement, knowing that this was no worse than what I had put in my body during the IVF process.

A couple of months went by and my grief was a little better.  I was keeping busy with Conner and that was helping me realize how truly blessed I was. At the end of July, Conner was doing his end of the week Vacation Bible School performance.  Of course as any mother, I took pictures. That night, I got home and started editing.  When I saw one particular one, I got butterflies in my stomach.  I hadn’t even noticed during the actual performance.  But my son was holding a sign with the word hope on it.  At that moment, peace washed over me.

Two weeks later, I found out I was pregnant! april_gebken_hope_pic

The excitement wore off quickly as I experienced some bleeding. Since my husband had just left for China the week before, I sat in the sonogram room at the E.R. alone and scared.  As the technician scanned the baby, I saw a heartbeat and I asked, “What is the due date?”  Her response, “April 14.” I started to cry and laugh at the same time.  I knew that date all too well.  It was the day that I had found out my IVF failed.  The technician grabbed my hand as I sobbed. My day marked for grief had become bittersweet as I was now preparing for the joy of new life.

Though Hudson Bauer was born on April 8, 2011, April 14 will forever represent hope to me. A couldn’t be happier with our family of four. God has blessed us beyond belief.

The nine embryos that we lost are very dear to me and I will always grieve for them. I remember their due date every year, and a piece of me, the mother part of me, longs to hold them; to know them. One day I will see them but for now I am a mother to my two wonderful, precious boys. God has granted me the desire of my heart, and in the process has drawn me ever closer to His heart. In becoming a mother, I have learned the great joy of experiencing hope and knowing that I am His daughter.

Submitted and written by April Gebken

Photos used with permission.



Bedstemor – a novel based on the true life story of Anni McCrum

Bedstemorbook_coverimageWhat a tremendous journey this has been! I wonder if I would have ventured on this path had I known that it would lead me here?  You see, where most people have a fear of failure, I have more of a fear of success. I am terribly perturbed by the thought that something I do or achieve might force me out of my comfort zone. I feel very content being a stay-at-home Mum to my three little ones and no amount of fame or fortune could entice me away from my safe and somewhat cloistered existence.

So, how did I get to this point, the point of publishing a novel? Well, God knows me; no surprise there. Apparently, the best way to motivate me is to just not reveal too much. I dedicated my life to Him many years ago and pledged my obedience to His voice. I have no regrets. Obedience to Him has been the most wonderful, refreshing, joyful, healing, exciting, redemptive choice I could have made; not to mention the freedom that I experience!

So, that’s how I got here. I just listened and obeyed. When I started feeling that this story needed to be told, I asked my Mum to write it. When she said, ‘no’, I asked her to help me write it. When I started to write and get bogged down, He told me to lay it down; so I did. When He revealed to me many months later that I was to write it as a novel, I started writing. Any time I got stuck I just closed my eyes and asked Him to show me what happened next.

The result is that I don’t feel very justified in taking the credit for this book. Sure, I typed it, I put in the hours, the late nights and made it all happen but truthfully, this is His story. A story birthed in Heaven and revealed on earth to someone willing to slow down, and listen and then to obey.

My personal ambition with this book was to record the story of my grandmother’s life for my family. I’ve done that. I’m proud of it and every minute, every late night, every tear shed was worth it just to get it into the hands of my Aunts Liz and Sari, my Mum, my brother and sister, and my cousins.

I have given this book back to the One who gave it to me. If He wants it to be shared then I trust Him to make it happen. If He asks me to do something, He already knows that I’m listening and ready to obey in a heartbeat. Fame and fortune or not on my agenda. Healing and redemption are. I want to spread the news about this book because this is a story that has brought new life to me and is touching the lives of my family. If there is even the remotest chance that it could impact lives beyond that, then I will lay down all my fears and jump into the safety of His arms to go wherever He takes me.

So, in an act of obedience, I joyfully share with you the news that my novel, Bedstemor, is now complete and available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. Here is  the promo video I made. Is it raw? Yes! Do I feel vulnerable? Oh, yes! But, I know that He asked me to do this and so I did it. I don’t need to know why, just that I trust Him.

Ambition is a double-edged sword

meandkidsDid any of you catch ‘Call the Midwife’ on PBS (or BBC) last year? Oh my goodness I cried through the vast majority of it. If I wasn’t feeling the pain of every laboring woman, I was bawling at the conditions of London in the 1950s. My grandmother, my Bedstemor, Anni McCrum, raised 3 young children in a London flat in the same era.  And then there’s just plain old homesickness. It doesn’t hit very often anymore but when it does it strikes me by surprise and delivers a quick one-two punch to my heart.

Mum got me the book for Christmas and somehow, despite the craziness of life with three little children, I managed to devour all 966 pages.  The author, Jennifer Worth speaks at the very end about ambition. “Ambition is a double-edged sword. One side will cut through stagnation and lead to a new life; without ambition, mankind would still be living in caves. But the other side can be destructive, leading to feelings of loss and regret.”

We are an ambitious bunch aren’t we? It has never been so clear to me than when I listen to my children’s conversations. For my six-year-old, it is apparently vitally important how old everyone is. Should it be discovered that he is older, he wears the fact like a trophy. Should someone else have conquered in the age department, he will not rest until he has established that he is taller, faster or louder.

Likewise, my four-year-old looks longingly at any other little girl whose hair is past their shoulders and then rushes home to look in the mirror, her eyes gleaming as she tilts her head to the side and pulls on her hair, “Look Mummy, mine is past my shoulders too.”

“Yes, Niela,” I respond. “You have beautiful hair.”

I don’t like to burst her bubble as she jumps to her feet and twirls in happiness, her hair bobbing sweetly around her chin.

Our sense of ambition is important and has driven many to success but the older I get; the more I have reevaluated the place of ambition and success in my life. Both drove me for many years as I found my sense of self and purpose in their grasp. It is only very recently that I have begun to redefine my ambitions.

The children have started to initiate conversations about what they will be when they grow up, or what they should be. Most of the time I just turn the question right back at them, “what do you want to be?” It’s a topic that I want to negotiate carefully because just a few years ago I would have drilled into them the importance of working hard, doing their best and getting into a good university. I would have pushed to help them figure out what they were going to ‘do with their lives.’

And yet there has been a shift. It was subtle for a while as I slowly let go of many of the things that had previously defined me. My ambitions have changed and I want to communicate well to my children as the subject of their future comes up.

Rolland Baker (Heidi Baker’s husband) recently said, “You only have one job – getting closer to Jesus.”

And I realized that this reality is my ambition. Everything else that I do, that I accomplish, that I succeed in is secondary to knowing Him. In fact, everything else I do or achieve is simply because of Him.

I am just days away from completing my first novel, ‘Bedstemor’, a project that, for all intents and purposes has been brewing for almost 12 years and has been labored over for four. There has been a constant reassessing of my ambition with this book. The conclusion I have come to is that its success can be measured by my walk with Jesus, and whether or not it draws others to pursue Him.

So, when I talk to my children and help them walk the path to adulthood, I want to help them fall on the right side of that double-edged sword. I want my children to be ambitious, happy, and successful and to do what they love to do. I will encourage, sacrifice and support them in all of their endeavors, but my one hope is that wherever their ambition leads them in life, that it will always lead them closer to Jesus.

That is where I am too. I’ve never been more ambitious and yet I’ve never been more surrendered. I listen to His voice and then I follow, never wanting to stray more than a heartbeat away.

~ Esther

Photo by Melissa Vanderlinden Delve Photography. Used with permission.

Tomara Bedell – my life was spared

torrieI have known Tomara for several years but our conversations had been brief and friendly, most of our interactions being in passing at church. She is one of the most radiantly joyful people I have ever met and I was excited to get the opportunity to sit and talk with her one chilly afternoon quite by accident. In 30 minutes, with a peace that defied reality she shared her story with me. My heart stood still.

I love hearing people’s stories. I think the reason is that often the ones who have experienced the most loss; the most suffering; the most pain; are the ones who rise to a place of joy and peace that I can only hope for. I wish you could have the opportunity to see Tomara just living her life. You would see a miracle, a testimony of God’s sovereign protection and the truth of His supernatural power of redemption.

My own childhood was safe and simple but compared to the grueling hardships that my grandmother went through and my mum’s experiences growing up, my life could have been considered luxurious.

As I have grown and traveled, I’ve seen and heard people’s stories that have moved me from the place of ignorance to a place of compassion.  There are people we meet who hold memories deep inside that might destroy the weakest of us. Why one person suffers and another knows only the ease of life is a mystery.

I know that there’s so much more that Tomara could have written but there is so much in these few words. Sometimes less is more.

~ Esther

This is Tomara’s story:

Most of my memories are just flashes of pictures, instances that stand out from the hum drum of life for someone of a poor background. I have to rely on my sisters to help me with the rest because there is so much I don’t remember.

My life began with my father’s murder. He was shot on the date I was due to be born. I have heard multiple stories of what supposedly happened to him on that day but the result is that my mother and I were put in great danger. When I was barely able to stand in the seat of the car next to my mom, we were shot at on the way to visit his side of the family. We survived but she bears the scar of ‘my’ bullet that scratched her cheek as she threw me down.

Later in life I survived a step-dad that beat my mom to the point of near death multiple times. I remember running away from home during the day and him coming to find us by evening. One day he shot through the window in the living room and through my fish tank that sat in front of the window. I watched as the water drained out through the bullet hole and onto the carpet. I turned and said calmly to mom, “He killed my fish.” I was almost 4 years old. War trauma from Vietnam and a drug addiction caused him to hallucinate and even dare to melt down peanut butter to see what it would do when injected into his veins.

Many years later I survived another step-dad. This one didn’t beat my mom; instead he sexually abused my sisters and me by the time I was in fourth grade.

Next in my timeline-of-sorry-events; our house caught on fire in the middle of the night. My mom woke up and we made it out, but our house and almost every belonging burned to the ground.

When I was 13 years old, my mom had a terrible car wreck, hitting a tree. She was so smashed inside the truck the EMTs didn’t know if she was male or female. She was gurgling and they resuscitated her 3 or 4 times in the evacuation helicopter. She lived but suffered an extreme head injury and was in a coma for quite some time. When she first began rehabilitation, she did not remember having children. We lived with our aunt for that year. We had never moved before and now had to leave our friends and the only school we had ever known, all while not seeing our mom for weeks on end.

There were good times too. We had wonderful family members and people who loved us; friends teachers and spiritual parents. They influenced us, prayed and provided along the way. During the good times we had a ‘normal’ life. We were regular kids going to school and church.

I remember feeling God’s presence at a very young age. I remember physically seeing angels. It wasn’t a dream; I was fully awake and had an adult with me. I remember begging my mom to let me stay in ‘grown-up-church’ so that I could feel His presence, and not wanting to leave the building.

It is clear that my life and my mom and sister’s lives were spared. God’s goodness is the only true answer as to why. Some would call it luck or fate but I wouldn’t be so sure.

Guest post written by Tomara Bedell

Kari Nichols – A Step of Faith


One Thirst by Bethel from the Be Lifted High album is one of my favorite songs at the moment. It speaks of a wholehearted devotion to seeking His face and the song just seems to take me to that place where everything else fades away.

I was struck today that really, everything that we do is for the purpose of drawing us closer to God and to making His name known on the earth.

With that in mind, I started to wonder how God views what we do. Is He as concerned about all that we accomplish as we are? There are so many people who are trying to figure it all out and who are afraid of ‘missing it’ or making a mistake. The way I see it, God loves to partner with us in the things that we enjoy and our passions, with the end result being…. that we draw closer to Him and make His name known on the earth.

What I love about this concept is that it takes all the striving out of what we do. It releases us to just do what we love because as long as what I’m doing draws me closer to Him….. well, you get the picture.

Kari Nichols is a photographer, an exceptional photographer. I first met her eight years ago and have followed her since then through her blog and FB page. I have enjoyed observing her life unfold as she married, relocated and started her business.

Her professionalism and talent is what first caught my attention but I’ve noticed something else.

She exudes joy in everything she does.

I asked her to share today because I knew that there had to be a deeper story behind the decisions she has made, and the success she is enjoying. She is doing what she loves to do and I have seen in Kari’s life and photography a partnership with God. I see her pursuing Him and using her photography as a means to knowing Him and making Him known.

~ Esther

Here is Kari’s story:

It was 2007. We had only been married 5 months when my husband and I began to feel discontented with our situation. Not the kind of discontentment that you can live with, it was the kind of discontentment that had us praying for the Lord to guide us in a completely new direction.

We were both stuck in dead-end jobs and felt like we needed a career change and a change of location. After much prayer, we decided to step out in faith and start our own respective businesses.

So we quit our jobs, packed up our belongings, and moved to Hot Springs.

We moved with no clients, no place to live, and very little money. We knew it was where God was telling us to go, so we knew He would provide. Caleb opened a residential window cleaning business, and I opened a photography studio. Caleb trained me in window cleaning, and I trained him to be my second photographer at weddings. We gradually built our businesses to where we could live comfortably.

As months passed, we realized we liked window cleaning less and less and loved photography more and more. We prayed that God would give us an opportunity to sell our window cleaning business, which was a big step because we weren’t able to live off just our photography business income at the time.  After that prayer, our photography business just took off, as in, EXPLODED! We went from 18 weddings our first year to 28 weddings our third year. Then God sent another window cleaning company into our area, and they offered to buy our clients from us. We had again stepped out in faith, and God paved the way for us to just be photographers.

After that, we were able to dive in head first into photography. We both love the industry, the relationships we get to have with our clients, and our ability to be together 24/7. It’s such a rare thing in this day and age to be able to spend so much time with your spouse and actually enjoy their company. In 5 years of marriage, we’ve spent more time together than the average couple spends together in 15 years. God has used our business and our location to strengthen our marriage. He paved the way for the whole thing. All we had to do was step out in faith that He would take care of us.

Earlier this year, we again felt God telling us to step out in faith. Our business, originally named ‘Kari Nichols Photography’ implied that it was more my business than Caleb’s, which is just not the case anymore. (It’s really difficult for me to admit this because I trained him, but he’s actually a better photographer than me now….AHH!) We felt that the new name should be something that represented our personal and photographic styles. We decided on ‘Cottonwood Studios Worldwide. There are a lot of problems you can run into when re-branding a business. You can lose clients, fans and followers that have been following your work for years. You can lose potential clients because they’ve never heard of the business. And you can lose vendor connections because they don’t realize you’ve changed your name. I cannot describe to you how smoothly the transition happened. God obviously approved of our name change, because in the first 6 weeks under the new name, we booked 8 new clients. Caleb and I were BLOWN AWAY! It was better than we could ever have imagined.

We’ve been encouraging other married couples to listen to the Lord and not be fearful of change. When He starts calling you to a new job, new city, a new direction then you absolutely NEED to follow the path He’s laying before you. Do not fear. If He’s calling you into the next step of your life, He’ll pave the way! We are constantly amazed by His goodness and provision.

We’re always waiting, looking and listening for the next plan He has for us… because undoubtedly it’s just around the corner, and it’s always an amazing adventure.

Guest post written and submitted by Kari Nichols

Kari and her husband Caleb are the owners of Cottonwood Studios Worldwide, a photography studio that has been featured in numerous magazines and was recently featured as one of the 12 best Arkansas bridals of 2012 in ArkansasBride.  Like them on Facebook.

His word does not return void


For the last couple of years, I’ve really been pursuing more understanding of the redemptive power of God. I just start scratching the surface and pretty soon my mind was blown! To see this reality at work creates a story, a testimony that carries with it a power to touch lives. I’m finding that I now filter every situation, circumstance and relationship through the potential for redemption. It doesn’t mean that I’m no longer touched by pain, hurt or betrayal. It does mean that when I give it all to Him, I am suddenly no longer confined by what I have gone through and the emotions that are evoked but, am able to move into freedom.

Today, my story of the pain of miscarriage, and the redemptive power of God in my life is featured on Angie Tolpin’s blog www.redeemingchildbirth.com

Please read and leave a comment!

Angie has a heart to see marriages, mothers and families thrive. I wish I had had this resource when I was pregnant!

Thanks Angie!

~ Esther

photograph of Esther by Melissa Vanderlinden Delve photography