Tribute to Mark Pennels

I was sitting in my dorm room freshman year of university miserable. I knew there was more to life than the way I was living. I knew of God and his unending love and professed it in so many ways. I was His child apart of the family of Christ but I wasn't living in full surrender. I wasn't free. There were still parts of my life that wanted to please the world and follow what it said. I questioned if complete surrender to Jesus, if counting that cost would really bring true abundance and freedom?

I wanted more, but was running. I sat down with one of my professors in my peace and conflict studies program and confessed that I hated university and needed an out. As any professor would say, he encouraged me to continue my education but to take a break.

My mennonite college had a program called SALT (serving and learning together) which allowed a "young twenty something" to live in another country for a year and do social justice work. I would get university credit, international experience in my field of study, and "find myself." I laugh typing this. How naive I was, and how amazing the Lord is. That I thought I was going for social justice when looking back it is so clear the Lord had mighty plans to get ahold of my life. My eighteen year old self could never have predicted what was coming as I booked my flights for South Africa.

July 2011 I boarded a flight knowing very little what I would be doing or who I would be living with. I was told by my wonderful directors that I would have a "host family" that I would live with on weekends. I would 'retreat' there from the week of work, living at the boarding house with eighteen children and working at the not for profit in the schools and teaching computer classes. Living with strangers who I'd never heard of or met was unnerving but those nerves only lasted a moment. Meeting Anne and Mark Pennels was one of the very best things that has ever happened to me and I am not saying that lightly. 

Mark passed away this week from cancer and I've taken some time reflecting on him, our time together and the legacy he left. I listened to his celebration of life today via livestream and saw a packed room hearing testimony after testimony of his love for others and for the Lord.

I said to my Mark when I heard of his passing that there are very few people on this earth that I love and respect more than Mark Pennels. The Lord used the Pennels family in my life to ground me in Him. So with tears streaming down my face, I am writing this to you.

Dear Mark, 

The first weekend I moved into your home was my birthday. I was so homesick and doubting what I had committed to do. I figured no one knew it was my birthday and longed for familiarity. As I put my bags down, you greeted me and had thrown a party for me with the few people I have met. I distinctively remember laying in bed that night, tears streaming down my face from being so homesick and thinking "wow this family is amazing. I am so lucky to be living with them." My first impression only grew as I spent more and more time with you and Anne. I can't thank you enough for opening your home for this random teenage girl to live with you. How Christ-like is that? Not many people would do that - but you and Anne did and loved me so deeply and so like Christ and I'm forever changed.

It was you and Anne who showed me through the way you loved others, your family, each other and the church that Jesus was worth it. That true freedom was found in Jesus, if I would only surrender every piece of myself to Him. I can't thank you enough for your example. Your love. You said yes to God by letting me live with you guys and He used you to impact my life eternally. From letting me come with you Saturday mornings when you sold honey at the market, to making me the most delicious suppers, to always looking out for me on Sundays at church - you were the most incredible 'host father'. Thank you for being my South African Dad. 

It was you and Anne who showed me what a pastors life could look like in the most genuine and real way. In no way did I think I would be a pastors wife but your example and testimony of loving the church and letting the people you've been given to pastor seep into your very being made me ok with saying yes to this ministry call God placed on Mark and I. You both modelled this so beautifully as I got to witness the start of your church plant in Ixopo. Thank you for letting me be apart and enter in. Thank you for showing me that this life is best lived serving others, rather than trying to make any gains for myself. 

It was you and Anne who showed me what marriage could be like. It was the first time outside of my parents marriage that I got to intimately witness someone else's. When I came to you at the beginning of September I was still looking for love from other people rather than Christ and when I left your house a year later I was certain in who Jesus says I am, and certain I was going home to date and marry my Mark. Watching your marriage through such a transition in my life was pivotal. Anne, Mark loved you like Christ and was crazy in love with you till the very end. Watching you guys love each other was a gift I will never forget. Thank you both for showing me what laying down your life for one another looked liked up close. Thank you for showing me marriage was worth it, and worth fighting for. Thank you for letting me process my thoughts and feelings about loving my Mark and what that would look like. 

It was a no brainer then, when I got engaged the following year that I would want you to marry me. You and Anne are my favourite and I couldn't imagine you both not being such an important part of my wedding day as you have reflected such an important part of my life. As I sit here now with tears streaming down my face, I am so grateful that you married me. So grateful that I got to show you some of Canada and my family and so grateful you got to meet my husband. What a beautiful gift it was for you to meet my Mark. I cherish that so much that Mark got to spend time with you both because you are such a massive part of my life. You spending Christmas 2013 with us is the most special memory- thank you, thank you, thank you for making the trip over to enter in and be present. I will never forget that. 

I so wish I could have flown over to visit again, but as life and finances would have it for both of us that just wasn't possible. But I am so grateful for technology. For our skype calls and text messages. Thank you for still loving me from afar and checking in. I knew that you loved me, prayed for me and cared deeply about me. I will miss you so much.

When I talk about my life and my story, I have a 'before Africa' life and 'after Africa.' I refer to this so often when I talk to others and process life. Before Africa, I wasn't living free and continued to live for things of this world that didn't satisfy even though I kept trying.  After Africa, I knew who God was and what He said about me and what I was suppose to do with the rest of my life. After Africa, I was free and although I am still learning how to flesh it out in everyday life, I haven't doubted God's love and purpose for me since then and that is thanks to you and Anne. The magnitude that God used you in my life is insane. You showed me Jesus was worth it in your everyday actions. I've said this before in this letter but I'll say it again - I can't thank you enough. 

I love you Mark Pennels and I miss you a lot but I know for certain that I will see you in heaven and we will be together in eternity with the Lord. Thank you for loving your family and living for the Lord till the very end. Your legacy is amazing. I want your legacy. I want a packed room when I leave this earth of hundreds of people saying how because of Jesus you changed them. 

Thank you for your legacy. See you soon,

Love you Canadian daughter

What Mark commented on this picture. Precious words I will hold dear forever.

"We love you so much too. And you are such a huge blessing in our lives. I admire your maturity and wisdom in the Lord too. Keep your eyes fixed on Him and your love for Him steadfast - always - and He will make your paths straight. Love you and am praying that you will wake up healed in the morning. Just had a thought. It is God who puts us in families - and He sure doesn't make mistakes. ."


Dear Marlowe // One Month

Dear Marlowe,

I’m currently holding you as you are snuggled into me after a feed. I’ve tried setting you down seven different times in the past hour so I could write this letter to you but every time you wake up and cry so snuggling into me it is... I decided since I am so short on time (your brother could wake up from his nap at any minute) that I’ll just type this letter to you on my phone and upload it later.

Wow, what a month. You are one beautiful stunning baby and I am beyond grateful to be given the privilege to mother you and watch you grow up. Your Dad and I would have been so happy with either gender but we both admitted (almost daily) that we wanted a girl. I am not meant to be pregnant and this has nothing to do with you - but I was in pain and sick pretty much the entire nine months and that is beyond miserable. I have more energy now with no sleep than I did well pregnant. So your Dad and I have already talked at length that being pregnant with two children would be next to impossible when most days I had to spend in bed. And we wanted a little girl so bad so when the nurses held you up after a few scary moments of you not breathing and exclaimed “it’s a girl” my heart instantly exploded.

I was too weak to hold you so they put you on your Daddy right away and I couldn’t even believe you were ours. A girl. A baby girl. Miss Marlowe Barbara. I had a harder time bonding with you while being pregnant because of the sickness and also we didn’t know your gender (different than Jackson) but the moment I saw you nestled into your Dada, none of that even mattered because the love I had for you in that moment could never be described.

You are a miracle and a true blessing. When it comes to babies being made and actually living inside of another human for nine months- it is all just so insane and mind boggling to me. I still can’t fathom that you hung out for nine months inside of me- I don’t know how people don’t believe in God when they see and experience this miracle. Also if evolution is a thing why hasn’t this making/growing a baby thing ever evolved over all this time? Anyways, those are thoughts I could get into for another time.

Miss Marlowe, you have been out in this world for a month and brought everyone around you such joy and love. I love being your Mom and am really looking forward to all these upcoming months we get to spend together. It’s different for sure having a brother already. I have had to fight daily “mom guilt” sharing my time between the two of you and sleeping when your sleeping inside of holding you and praying over you. But I know different isn’t bad or doesn’t mean I love you any less. Besides, you have the greatest big brother who loves and adores you so much. I had such low expectations on how he would react to you coming home but he has included you in everything and embraced you from the moment we brought you home in the “brrrmm brrrmmm.” His love for you is so evident even at his age and one of the things I’m
looking forward to the most is seeing your sibling relationship grow. Jackson is always giving you a blanket, bringing you your soother, rocking you in the “ba ba” and giving me diapers and wipes when needed. When I put him down for a nap and bedtime he demands that you are in his crib and after we set you down he gives you kisses and lays down beside you. When you are fussy and crying he will run up to your Dad or me and alert us (like we couldn’t hear your screaming) that you are upset and run to your side. It is something I never want to forget because I know sibling relationships go through seasons but this one when you are both so little is so sweet and so good.

You are a champ and are growing and gaining weight. We were able to leave the hospital only hours after you were born and you were greeted by your grandparents! Your Grammie was at your birth and your Grandma and Grandpa at home watching Jackson. After myself or Jackson gave everyone gastro flu unknowingly (even to my midwife) I felt so awful and defeated. Everyone that wanted to help us, 
we gave them the worst 24 hour flu. Also, your Momma had a rough birth. I was in so much pain and when reflecting on your first month - most of it is described as painful. I was in so much pain. I couldn't hold you because I was so weak and I missed giving you your first bath which broke my heart. My stitches still haven't healed but rocking and soothing you that first week was near impossible with the pain that brought. I am so thankful that most of the discomfort is going away and happy to report that I was able to walk to the park and around this week. 

OK, Miss Marlowe here are some fun facts I need to remember (may be boring for others to read):
Weight at birth: 7'11
Weight after a week: 8'02
One Month: 9'14

Nursing every 2.5-3 hours - latched great, but you spit up a lot and have gas pains - we are now giving you probiotics to help with the fussiness/gas/pain you are feeling  - I so hope it gives you relief and more sleep for the family

Fussy times in the evening of sudden crying for a couple hours but otherwise you are really happy. You did have you days and nights confused for the first two weeks but now you fall asleep soundly around 1230-1am and then nurse around 4am and then again by 7am and normally go back to sleep within the hour of waking up at night - there isn't a long awake time. 

I have prayed for you and am so beyond grateful to be your Momma. I don't love the newborn days but I know this is just a season and we will both find our rhythm shortly. 

I love you Miss Marlowe, happy one month!


Your Momma 


Pregnancy Round Two

I'm typing this at 38 weeks 2 days and on my first day of maternity leave! Also, I'm hoping that contractions will start any minute and that this baby will be in my arms sometime soon. Jackson was 10 days late so I'm not very optimistic but hey a girl can pray and dream right?

I realized today after putting Jackson to sleep that I have very little written about this pregnancy or this baby and I wanted to quick note some things so I can remember.

1. Pelvic Pain
My pelvic pain started early in second trimester and never left. Walking hurts, sitting hurts, lying down hurts - there is nothing I am able to do to get rid of the every constant pain. I just keep thanking the Lord for the ability and opportunity to carry this child but if being honest I have been miserable. I see woman who go on maternity leave and "nest" and to me the thought of bending over hurts and nesting isn't possible because I can't move. Don't get me wrong - I would love to nest and clean my house but I'm learning to just have so much grace over myself in this season of letting the Lord define me and not my clean house or great accomplishments.

2. Survive Nine Months
Along with the pelvic pain I am still taking dicletin. I've tried stopping the pill so many times to see if I could go without and each time has left me so dizzy and nauseous that it is not worth it. I honestly believed I would feel better after first trimester (like I did with Jackson) but this time it wasn't the case. A lot of days I was bedrest and unable to thrive. Mark and I were talking one night about how my body doesn't do pregnancy well and what we can realistically strive for in this season - we came up with the word "survive." Just get through it. That is what has kept me sane when I am feeling all the mom-guilt, wife-guilt, all the guilt of not being able to provide for my family the way my heart desires it.

3. Family Support
When we moved up to Muskoka at the end of August I was already pregnant. I don't know life up here without feeling all the pregnancy feels. We have such great family support and had amazing help with Jackson and throughout my pregnancy and I know things are going to be different with family three hours away. I know that I am called to be here in Muskoka for this season and we are really loving it but I have been thinking lots about the lack of support I will have this time around with baby #2 and feeling so grateful for the way families rally around each other no matter the distance.

4. Logistical Facts
So far I have gained about 35 pounds and that is a bit less than with Jackson. I am unable to exercise due to the way baby is sitting on my pelvis so the weight struggle has been real again watching the pounds come on and not being able to do too much. Along with that, I am always hungry. I also don't remember being this hungry when pregnant with Jackson. We still don't know the gender after being unable to find out and it has been driving me crazy - but hopefully any day now I will be able to know! Even packing my hospital bag has been rough because I have all the boy clothes... but don't want spend $ on girl outfits if baby #2 is male. I had a midwife this time around again with Midwives of Muskoka. I have enjoyed my care there but do miss St. Jacobs midwives at times. I like the familiarity and everything is so new to me up here. The "plan" is to give birth at the Orillia hospital which is 35 minutes away. I laboured so so long that I figure I will have plenty of time to get to Orillia before baby is due - but who knows.... will have to read the birth story :)

Jackson knows there is a baby in my tummy but also thinks there is a baby in Mark's tummy too - so does he understand? Not too sure. He knows the baby's crib and when we talk about the baby coming soon he points outside and talks about the van and we acknowledge that yes - we are driving to pick baby up in the van... hopefully we can keep this story for a very long time. Babies come home in vans  - it's not lying!

Last, I want to remember how great my husband is. Wow, a hundred times over. It brings tears to my eyes typing how amazing and great he really is. Through all these hormones, naps, lack of ability to do much - he selflessly stepped up and served me and our family. Starting a new job in a new town with a whole new congregation to meet is overwhelming and yet he has dove right in and loved on and served these wonderful people -while taking care of his family I am so proud and honoured and just so in love with my man for the way he is Jesus to me and our family. He has really stepped up from packing all the boxes (literally all the boxes while I slept or threw up) when we moved and has made our rental house a home. I am so thankful for him and know that I couldn't have done this pregnancy without him.

OK. Let's continue to wait and be patient. Baby we love you! Can't wait to hold you in my arms so soon.


My struggle with Instagram

"I could ask myself a few questions before sharing, like: what is the purpose of this picture/video/boomerang? Am I seeking validation from strangers? Am I simply adding to the noise? Is this content going to encourage anyone? Help anyone? Brighten someone's day?"

I read this essay by Ashlee Gadd and just sighed out relief. Yes. This is exactly what I am feeling and trying to put into words but couldn't and Ashlee did it so brilliantly. I love instagram and social media and believe there is so much good that comes with it. I am often encouraged, inspired, learnt something and overall am able to keep up with people's lives whom I love. Yet, all at the same time I feel defeated and consumed by all the noise. I feel like I have to produce to be validated and the comparing game and feeling inadequate is strong. I often don't need to fill my few spare moments looking at others lives and what they are eating or drinking or wearing or who they are hanging out with it that day and ten minutes scrolling instagram normally doesn't feel life giving when I'm done.

I want to use social media for good - or again - how Ashlee beautifully writes (seriously read her writing!) "I want to walk beside you, on this very weird internet thing, and be an uplifting voice in your day. I want to take huge pauses in between each click. I want to be intentional. I want to be slow. I want to be a good steward of this space. I want to make it count."

I want this too. I don't want you dreading seeing my insta story or post knowing that it will be another picture elevating my life and making you compare it to yours. I don't want that but I have struggled with knowing how to create an uplifting space on my social media. I ask myself these questions Ashlee posed all the time when I am thinking about posting and then never end up submitting it because somewhere along the lines it doesn't seem all that important. And as these days of not posting have turned into weeks and now as I have been intentionally living this out for two months - the urge and desire I once felt to post has faded. There is huge freedom that has come with living my life unseen and I am loving it. 

If you don't know my word for 2018 is unseen. You can check out that post here. God has been working on me to produce for Him and no one else - and understanding that the things I want to produce and do for Him is not cute coffee shops pictures or perfectly styled photos or selfies or showing off my great life to anyone else. I don't want to spend time on those things - I want to spend time having strangers in my home and singing praises to God on the top of my lungs even though I sound horrible.  I want to live my days serving my husband and family and that doesn't look glamorous. I want to be up early, bible open needing God's word as my daily bread and not caring if anyone else knows I am reading my bible or not because I know it's not for them.

I am finding the addiction and coolness of instagram and social media in general really fades away when my focus is on real people having face to face interactions. Everyone knows the statistics. We are the most connected generation and the most lonely.  We crave real community - we were created for it - for face to face conversations and living life alongside each other - not watching our instagram feeds.

I am so thankful for my word this year and the insane amount of hard work Jesus has been doing on me, these past two months. I know we still have ten months to go and a lifetime of work on me in this area but I want to say that living unseen is so freeing. Friends, it is so good to live your life for an audience of one. Life is more enjoyable when you aren't trying to produce an image and you leave your phone off every once in a while. I am not hating on the internet or social media - Instagram is my favourite app and I still go on it a lot. I think sometimes the church always paints social media in a negative light and I want to be quick to say how much good can come from it but be honest that too much consumption can be suffocating.

So here I am. Feeling freedom to not share everything anymore and live more unseen and yet knowing instagram is a great platform to encourage, build up and share what the Lord is teaching me..and also keep friends and family up to date with my babies:) I am experiencing such a tension and really wanting to be more intentional if and when I post. I will continue to ask these questions Ashlee posed and really encourage you if you are feeling this tension to consider them too. I hope to figure out in these next couple months a good balance, a rhythm of sorts of being online and being hidden. I know I am definitely in a season of hiding - where it's just me and Jesus hanging out as I get to know His word better. I can sense Him preparing me in the secret because I know there will be a season coming where I will live more publicly so I am cherishing this season and trying to glean everything He has for me in it.  But I love Instagram and am learning so much from such incredible Jesus-following-women that I want to still connect and glean the good stuff from it too.

So here's to the tension. To wanting to make my presence online count for something more than a selfie or coffee shop picture. To wanting to be more intentional about what I post and when I post. To wanting my small space on the internet to breathe life into you and encourage you right where you are at. To cheer one another one in this journey and uplift each other as we run our own race in our own lanes.

Here's to learning to live more unseen.

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