• Dana L. Butler

A broken piece of my story, and one thing that scares me

The dream is poignant. Terrifying.

We’re in Kansas City, and an unnamed social worker has located some distant member of Maia’s biological family — a great grandmother, maybe? — who wants to raise our daughter. And somehow, despite our very finalized, very permanent adoption, has legal rights to her.

We have no choice but to pack up our 19-month-old’s toys, clothes, belongings, and drive her 60 miles to her new home in a small Missouri town where this grandmother lives.

The shock and trauma are palpable. I’m fighting back a torrent of tears, trying to be strong for Isaac and Maia as we prepare to hand our sweet girl over to an elderly relative she’s never met, not knowing if we’ll ever see her again.

And once again, we will cease being a daughter’s Mama and Daddy. My heart is pulverized.

Somewhere along the way to this small town, we stop at a restaurant for lunch–

–and Isaac cracks open the door to our bedroom.

I’m awake. And maybe only one previous time in my entire life have I been so relieved to discover it was only a dream.

Gratitude washes over me, along with an intense desire to kiss my daughter’s perfect cheeks, which I quickly make my way out to the dining room to do.

It’s been this growing awareness in my heart lately — the fact that Maia is nearing the age that our foster daughter Tali was back in 2010 when we had to hand her over to her biological mother. We parented her from 2 days old, and then suddenly we were no longer Mom and Dad. Tali was 21 months when we lost her. Maia turns 19 months today.

I’ve been anxious to cross that 21-month threshold with Maia because I think, maybe, some deep place in my subconscious might settle a bit. She’s really ours. We really don’t have to hand her over to a dysfunctional system.


While I’ve anticipated the sense of heart-relief that will come after Maia hits 21 months on March 19th, I didn’t fully anticipate this resurfacing of the trauma of losing Tali as that date draws nearer. I find myself thinking of her more often lately, needing to intentionally, repeatedly entrust her precious, now 6-year-old heart to the perfect care of the God who made her and is committed to her life.

And I’m reminded how that particular piece of my story, of my mama-heart, still hangs open. Raw. Broken, if not always acutely felt. And I yet again consider the invitations to intimacy with Jesus that come hand-in-hand with that brokenness, if I’ll be brave enough to respond to Him in those hurting places. (Psalm 34:18)


This morning I have a dear friend at home with my littles — my first morning out, alone, since our move. So I throw on my favorite hoodie and boots, teach Natalia how to work our child-locks and let her know to keep Isaac on task in the bathroom so gigantoid messes don’t happen — and drive the few blocks down the street to “our” Starbucks.

Venti coffee in hand, I find a little nook in a corner, and read a while in Buechner’s Telling the Truth. And can I just say — if you haven’t read it, you may wanna consider adding this gem to your reading list for this year.

I’ve been making my way through it ever-so-slowly since we moved, and I find it rearranging places inside me that are still much too deep and unformed try and wrap words around. Jesus is using these words to pull back layers of pretense. To more fully excavate my truest self, my deepest identity in light of the wild extravagance of the gospel.


I find myself stepping into new places here in Colorado. Invitations to lead worship are coming in in higher numbers than I’ve ever experienced, and there are all these risks to which I’m saying [gulp] yes. 

Never have I been more thankful for the support and wisdom of my husband, and never have I been more sobered by the ways Jesus is inviting me to partner with His Spirit in facilitating heart-encounters with Him, and simultaneously by the need to carefully, prayerfully consider my yeses and my no’s.

I almost went back just now and added exhilarated to the sentence above, after the word sobered, but while I know the exhilarated piece will come — it always does when I have the privilege to witness the Holy Spirit’s movement upon hearts — right now I mostly feel afraid, if I’m honest. Afraid, yet also profoundly grateful for the peace of knowing that I know it’s Jesus who’s calling me into these places that feel so far over my head.

And He’s trustworthy.

In all this stepping out and moving into uncharted waters, this desire rises over and over again to my heart’s surface: I want a deeper authenticity. Both in the way I love Him, and in the way I coach others into that love. I want performance to fall off my shoulders, and while I do desire to tenderly consider and gently lead people’s hearts, I don’t want a show — even if it’s what I think needs to happen in order to keep people comfortable.

I want (though there’s fear attached to this, too) to let my gaps be exposed before Him and before those with whom He’s calling me to live life. Because as much as I’d love not to, I will certainly fail to meet expectations. And it’s when I allow my gaps to be seen that God has room to show up and encounter those I care about.

So the groaning of my heart these days is that when I’m in leadership in whatever form, and when my raw, still-in-process places are glaring, what will also be exposed is Jesus. His strength perfected in my abundant weakness. His glory. His heartbeat. His relentlessly tender pursuit of these precious hearts.

I want to love and sing and live and bleed that stuff, you guys. Weakness and all. I want to be genuinely myself as I do it, even when the temptation is to move toward presenting some partially masked version of myself that I think might soothe or impress or garner man’s praise.

So I find these heart-cries surfacing even as I write —

Distill me, God. Purify my motives, intentions, interactions. Purge me of the pretense that comes from the fear of man’s disapproval.

And as I press my scarred and scared places into your perfect, healing, all-consuming Love, let me move forward in this confidence that can only come from abiding in that place — right up next to Your burning heart.

P.S. Sharing these words over at Kelly’s newly birthed linkup — formerly Kelli Woodford’s Unforced Rhythms community — with a heartful of gratitude for Kelli’s months of gracious hosting of our hearts.


I want to be clear that my logical mind has absolutely zero doubt that Maia is ours, and permanently. I simply think that somewhere in my subconscious, I just haven’t quite recovered from the fear that came with the loss of Tali. And I do, however irrational, look forward to moving beyond the 21-month mark with Maia. But Jesus steadies my heart… and I am so thankful for my beautiful girl. Thanks for your love and care, my friends. I deeply appreciate you.

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