Raising a Real-Life Princess

"It is love that marks a true daughter of the King."

- Angela Elwell Hunt -


When I was a girl, princesses and royalty were neither here nor there. I was much more interested in street hockey and lightsaber battles with my brothers than in Cinderella, Jasmine, or Pocahontas. I grew up in a conservative home where most Disney movies were off-limits (I watched them for the first time as a teenager when I was babysitting!), and I had no aspirations to raise my children steeped in fairytale lore. But from the moment I held my own little princess in my arms, everything pink and sparkly and whimsical pulled me in. I suddenly wanted to dress my girl and decorate her room to reflect the royalty I instinctively felt in her. Little did I know that within the first few weeks of Elissa's life, she would encounter a shattering loss much like those that shape many of Walt Disney's famous princesses. When she was less than a month old, Elissa lost her daddy. Like my baby girl, the Disney princesses are no strangers to heartache. Cinderella, Belle, Jasmine, and Mulan grow up without a mother. Aurora and Rapunzel spend their childhoods separated from their parents. Tiana's father dies, leaving her to carry out their dreams alone. Elsa and Anna's parents are lost at sea. And the list goes on. Nearly every princess has suffered a traumatic loss early in childhood that shapes them and makes them a heroine. 


I took Elissa on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Disney World for her fourth birthday, and she was in princess heaven. She spent hours waiting in lines to meet the princesses and get pictures and autographs. In her four-year-old grasp of reality, she was meeting the actual princesses! She chose to forego rides, treats, and toys in favor of filling her autograph book. We were both enchanted! Watching her, spellbound and starry-eyed in the presence of royalty, my heart swelled with gratefulness that she has such wholesome role models to look up to. As she gets older and learns more of these princess's stories, she will identify with them in the pain of their losses. She will be inspired by Aurora's grace, Belle's beauty, Rapunzel's courage, Ariel's bravery, and Cinderella's kindness. She will see that, rather than pitying themselves and their circumstances, these young women chose to rise above the pain of loss and touch the world around them with extraordinary kindness and grace. And so I unashamedly dress my daughter in beautiful dresses, reenact princess stories with her for hours, and read the same beloved tales until we can both recite every word. I want her to know without a doubt that she IS a princess, a daughter of the one true King, and be inspired to live out her own compelling drama on earth with the life she's been given. 



If the most precious gift we have is time—

Why would we want to kill it?

-Ben Sasse-


 I vividly remember getting ready for bed late one night years ago in Houston as Nathan pounded steadily away on his laptop, working on a dashboard he was creating in his “off hours” for Literacy Advance, the nonprofit whose board he had joined as a volunteer earlier that year. Finally, at my urging, he reluctantly powered down the laptop and called it a night.

“Why do people have to sleep?” he groaned as he flopped on the bed beside me. “It’s such a waste of time. We could accomplish so much more in life if we just stayed awake!”

I remember being amazed at his tenacity. After a long day of work I was more than ready to snuggle down in my cozy bed and surrender consciousness to blissful hours of sleep. But to Nathan, coming home from work was just the beginning of a long evening of tasks he was passionate about and couldn’t wait to start.

My conviction that Nathan was truly one of a kind in this regard has only grown in the years since he’s been gone. Our generation is increasingly obsessed with all manner of time-killers, particularly in the electronic form. Netflix binging, games, social media, and communication forms of all kinds steal our time in staggering amounts. A personal example is the book list I made at the beginning of 2018. I excitedly chose 12 books of different genres and posted a photo, vowing to read a book a month and write a book review so I didn’t promptly forget what I’d read. To my utter chagrin I finished a total of three books and only wrote reviews on two. To be fair, I listened to other books on Audible and read many chapter books with Elissa – but I am haunted by the nine books on my list that never even got cracked open last year. What stole the time that I should have devoted to reading and digesting those books?

If I am honest, it was the mindless rut that I fell into every evening after Elissa was in bed. Exhausted from a day of parenting struggles, homeschooling, traveling, home projects, and all manner of other things, I’d reason that I owed it to myself to relax, to chill – i.e. to veg on my phone while the evening slipped away from me. The inevitable result was that I never felt rested and invigorated by that time spent on my phone. Instead I was always shocked to realize what time it was. I felt robbed of those minutes that I’d had such high hopes for; they were stolen from me. They were wasted.

Our phones are addicting, and have been ingeniously engineered to meet our specific habits and preferences in such a tailor-made way that they become indispensable to living. The average American checks their phone every 4 minutes, and if you’re like me, “checking my phone” can quickly turn into chasing a rabbit trail that spirals out of control – clicking this link, reading that article, scrolling those photos – and before I know it 20 minutes have been lost forever.

If I’m going to break the hold that media has on me, I need to be smarter than my smartphone. I need to take a careful look at my electronic habits, anticipate the moments when I’m tired or stressed and most susceptible to distraction, and set myself up for success. This might mean keeping my phone in my bedroom, silencing my notifications so that I’m only alerted to phone calls (this was the original purpose of a phone anyhow, and if the need is urgent people can call!), designating 5-10 minutes each day to catch up on social media (because guaranteed, nothing has happened in a day that deserves more than 5-10 minutes of my time), and keeping books strategically around the house where I can pick them up and read a few pages instead of scrolling through Facebook and Instagram.

As Ben Sasse so insightfully points out in The Vanishing American Adult, time has historically been our most valuable resource, and this generation is obsessed to an unprecedented degree with wasting it. Tellingly, we call the hugely popular pastime of binge drinking "getting wasted” because, not only are you good for nothing when you are blackout drunk, but the hangover the next day is time wasted and never recovered. Drinking isn’t just a waste of time – but of faculties, resources, and good judgment. It can and does result in the waste of lives. My husband – who lived each moment with incredible purpose and insatiable drive – was killed by a young woman almost lethally drunk. Not only did she waste her own life and leave her daughter an orphan, she stole the resources and potential of a new father with a family and unbelievably bright future ahead of him. It is tragic that these losses are commonplace. Our generation is in bondage to wasted lives and the terrible consequences that often result. Losing my husband at 26 has forced me to ask the question: what is more tragic? A short, full life lived to the hilt, or a long, empty life wiled away in meaningless past times?

Given my track record from last year, I’m a bit wary of setting concrete goals for myself this year. Instead, I am dedicated to creating habits that will breed lasting change. I’m sending them out into the cybersphere so that I have no excuse not to live up to them. Firstly, I vow to go to bed on time so that I can get up early in the mornings and write – something that I am deeply passionate about. Second, I vow to beat my smartphone at its own game by relegating it to another room and only engaging when it can be of some use to me. Third, I vow to fill my days with meaningful thought, work, play, and learning so that the downtime doesn’t encroach on my personal goals and development. I vow to be present for my daughter in her formative moments, leaving her a legacy of meaningful relationship – never that she had to compete with a beeping screen for my attention.

What are your goals for this year? Leave a comment below, and let’s be a community that spurs each other on in not wasting our lives.

The Many Faces of Healing

What is given to only one man or woman in a thousand was given to [her],

a single-minded devotion to one human being of such power

that it was beyond the possibility of change until the end of time.

-Elizabeth Goudge-

Many Faces of Healing pic.jpg

Today should have been my eighth wedding anniversary. Instead, I’ve been a widow for over three and a half years. Often I feel the time passing. I think back to my years in Houston with Nathan and it truly feels like another lifetime; it could not be more different from the life I now live in Maryland with Elissa. Other times, I hear a song we loved together or catch a whiff of his cologne or realize that I’m fixing one of his favorite foods, and the pain cuts deep and fresh like a knife. I could swear it was just yesterday that he crawled into bed for the last time, holding me close as we stifled our laughter over newborn Elissa’s flatulence in the crib beside us.

As the years have passed, I’ve wondered what form my healing would take. Would I become guarded and cynical, or more open and loving? Would I recoil from close relationships in an effort to protect myself from inevitable future losses, or would I embrace friendships and community as priceless gifts? Would I succumb to the gaping hole in my heart, or would I allow God to put me back together as the whole and competent parent that my daughter desperately needed?

There were so many unknowns as I embarked on this journey, but one absolute rooted itself in my mind and never wavered. I never, ever again wanted to love anyone the way I had loved Nathan. Every love story is unique and one of a kind, but ours felt like something more – like two half souls meeting at their deepest core and forming a unity so intangible and profound that words could never express it. Mere months after meeting Nathan I swore to my journal that if I didn’t marry him, I wouldn’t get married at all. Losing him after just four years of marriage never once shook the conviction that he is my one, my only, my forever love.

Consequently, I placed fear of another relationship right up there with the fear of dying and leaving Elissa an orphan. I had a hard time entrusting that fear to God as other close widowed friends met wonderful people and remarried. I was genuinely thrilled for them, but at the same time I felt like I was stuck on a runaway train headed to the last destination I wanted. I was so afraid that God would call me to remarry in spite of myself, and that this would be the ultimate gauge of true healing. I cringed when well-meaning people assured me that I was young, and still had a future ahead of me, and would surely find another husband…as if this was somehow meant to be comforting. They held out my worst fear as balm, and I came to equate God’s healing with remarriage.

In hindsight, I probably delayed my own healing because my fear kept me from running to God for comfort. Terrified that He would heal me in a way I didn’t want, I clung to my pain and did all that I could to keep Nathan as a present fixture in my life. I surrounded myself with pictures and letters from him. I couldn’t bear to part with any of his possessions. I resented each new day that propelled me further into a future without him. I resolutely purchased the grave plot next to his and put both of our names, pictures of us and our wedding rings, and verses from Song of Solomon on the gravestone. Together in life and in death, living for the day we would be reunited – this was all I wanted for the rest of my life.

Fast-forward three and a half years later. Absolute unity with Nathan is still the desire of my heart (no surprise relationship announcement here!), but I want to share my unique version of the healing work God has done in my life. In spite of my clenched fists and dug-in heels, He has exposed layer after layer of doubt, fear, and unbelief in my heart. I have learned what it means to trust Him as a good, good Father and not assume that He will force something unwanted down my throat. I’ve also learned invaluable lessons on grace: it does not encompass our fears for the future or our nightmarish imaginings, but literal moment-by-moment help to face whatever situation arises. As the beloved hymn puts it: strength for today, bright hope for tomorrow. Leaning into God as my hope and healing enables me to trust that He knows my innermost thoughts, fears, and desires, and will equip me to walk whatever path He has laid out for me.

I don’t pretend to know the future, but fear is no longer my predominant emotion as I look ahead. I am learning the secret of joy and contentment and true fulfillment that is not attached to a relationship or a person. I have come to embrace singleness as a blessing just as rich as marriage can be: I am free to go wherever God leads and serve in whatever way He calls me to, with the added sweetness of knowing that I was deeply loved by the man of my dreams, who now awaits our reunion on the other side. I am learning to hold everything I have, even my fears, with an open hand. I am finding strength I never knew I had: to be a single mom, to learn finances and investments, to travel, to make big decisions on houses and cars and health insurance, to embark on a homeschool journey, and to hear God for myself. I have been slowly developing a vision for my future that doesn’t ignore the past, but is shaped by the love Nathan showered on me and the dream that he had to change the world. I am finding my own dreams, buried deep beneath layers of sorrow, that have been fueled and shaped by the fires of love and loss. I face each day with expectation: what does God have for me today? What will Elissa and I see and do? Who will we meet? What mark will I make on the world with this story that has been entrusted to me?