Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Light of a Perfect God

Well, this is that last Hearts at Home "No More Perfect Moms" blog hop of 2013. Together the Hearts at Home community has opened our hearts and our blogs to share the many ways in which we are flawed, challenged, and imperfect. We examined every area of life from marriage to housekeeping to friendships, and I have been humbled and inspired by the experience. This month, we end with our thoughts on the one area of life that truly is undeniably perfect: "Our One Perfect God."


Reese made this Christmas tree at school on Tuesday. Each colored ornament is printed with a special representation to help kids identify with the true meaning of Christmas. The start at the top of tree reads, “Yellow represents God’s perfect light.”

As I clipped the tree to our refrigerator, I read those three words over and over.

God’s perfect light.

Suddenly, I was overwhelmed by thoughts of the many ways in which His perfect light shines on my imperfect life...

It is a light of full acceptance. There are parts of me I dislike - personality traits, physical attributes, and habits I could do without. But my perfect God accepts me anyway. And I can rest easy knowing He doesn't care how much I weigh or how over-organized I am.

It is a light of complete forgiveness. There are choices I regret – moments of weakness and words of anger I wish I could take back. But my perfect God forgives me anyway. And because I know how that feels, I can free myself from resentment by forgiving others.

It is a light of unconditional love. There are times when I wander – challenges in my relationships and doubts in my faith that tempt me toward selfishness. But my perfect God loves me anyway. And He gave me a Savior and a life full of wonderful people to remind me what it means to love and be loved.

It is a light of profound blessings. There are days when I forget – daily hassles and feelings of entitlement that blind me to the blessing in each breath of air. But my perfect God gives me those blessings anyway. And He continues to bring me comfort, strength, and guidance even on my most undeserving days.

It is a light of unending gratitude. There are moments when I stop – breathtaking sunsets, hugs from my children, and the sight of my overflowing pantry that keep my life turned in toward His all-providing light. And the more I open the door to gratitude, the more easily I find it in the smallest moments.

It is a light of eternal life. There are reasons I believe - the written Word of the Lord and the birth of our Savior that give me hope, happiness, and peace for the future and beyond. And the more I focus my life on His light, the brighter it shines and the greater my peace.

This Christmas, celebrate the coming of God's perfect light in the form of Jesus. Let Him brighten your soul with a light that outshines all of your doubts, fears, sins, and regrets. And know that it's okay to be an imperfect person living an imperfect life in an imperfect world because you are fully accepted, completely forgiven, unconditionally loved, and profoundly blessed by the light of a perfect God.  

Monday, December 16, 2013

Santa Claus is Real

“Mom, just so ya know, I know there’s no Santa. I know it’s you.”

The combination of my tone and my age must have indicated that there was no use denying it, but as the confession left her lips I began to cry.

“So Santa’s not real?”

“Honey, Santa Claus IS real. It’s just not who you thought it was.”

Santa Claus is real.

My mom’s response allowed me to continue believing in Santa all the way through college. He visited our house until the year I got married, and every year at Christmas time, I still reflect on the words that have kept Santa alive for me for so many years after I stopped seeing him as the jolly man in the red suit. 

In my adulthood, those words now help me understand Santa on a different level. Santa is often labeled as a representation of selfishness, a distraction from the true meaning of Christmas. If you ask me, the problem isn’t Santa. It’s the way commercialism has misconstrued his meaning by overlooking his giving nature and focusing only on the receiving end of his goodness.

When given the right focus, Santa can add to the meaning of Christmas. After all, Santa IS the spirit of giving; he IS the embodiment of generosity; and he continues to exist in the hearts of all who open their hearts and homes and wallets during this magical season. That’s why it doesn’t bother me that Reese is so excited about Santa while so many Christian parents work to take the focus off of him. Sure, she's excited to get presents. She's three. But she also knows that Santa gives presents because he wants to make kids happy and that we can create that same happiness by sharing our blessings with others.

How cool for a kid to discover that not only is there really a Santa, but that they, too, can become Santa with their own generosity! With every thoughtful gift we present to our family and friends, every donation to a Toys for Tots collection bin, every dollar dropped in a Salvation Army bucket, and every canned food item given to a charity drive, we become Santa Claus as we create smiles on the hearts and faces of those around us.

Someday when my kids ask me if there really is a Santa Claus, I won’t be lying when I say yes. And when they tell me that they know the truth, I can tell them who Santa really is and give them the power to keep him alive by embracing the joy of giving with an open heart.

This Christmas, don't turn away from Santa. Become him. Give joyfully, love generously, create happiness, and never stop believing that Santa Claus is real.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Perfect Holidays: Hostess with the... Mostest?

The week before Thanksgiving, Hearts at Home hosted its monthly "No More Perfect Moms" blog hop. The topic was a fitting "No More Perfect Holidays" theme. In the pre-Thanksgiving bustle, I skipped out on this one. (I blame my therapist, whose has been successfully encouraging me to lower my expectations, especially of myself). So this is my belated No More Perfect holidays post.


Shortly following a family gathering, my sister-in-law sent me an email in which she complimented my sense of hospitality.

My first thought… She must be thinking of someone else.

Me? Hospitality? Really?

I had always equated a good sense of hospitality with the “Hostess with the Mostest” type. The scent of the candles matches the season and the decorations are perfectly coordinated - beautiful place settings, matching serving dishes, plate chargers (and if you don’t know what a charger is, keep reading. This is for you).

These women make great hostesses because their commitment to their guests’ experience is apparent in their effort. They have handmade centerpieces and homemade pies. They bustle around non-stop, making sure the drinks stay full and the food keeps coming. Their creative extras add a lot to the party atmosphere, and the fancy touches are endearing. Their parties are so festive. And so fun.

And that's so not me.

Hosting events can be intimidating when you don’t have a Pinterest-worthy flare. It’s tough to host a fall gathering when you’ve been to a party where the soup was served in hollow pumpkins. It’s hard to be proud of cupcakes topped with plain sprinkles after you’ve been to a party where the cupcakes had Minnie Mouse ears. (Think oreo halves and pink sugar bows. Adorable). When you have Martha-Stewart-types friends and family members, it’s easy to feel like everything you do pales in comparison.

Hospitality was a quality I admired in other women, but it’s definitely never been on my list of my own personal strengths. My china is boxed up in the basement; my gravy boat has never been used; and I don’t own a set of napkin rings or plate chargers. (For those still wondering, they’re decorative plates that you put underneath your real plates. Yeah, I don’t get it either). I don’t have much of an eye for decorating, and I don’t use seasonal centerpieces. I prefer to keep things simple.

So what’s to compliment about that?

If you’re one of those women with over-the-top festive flare, that’s awesome. We admire your effort, we envy your creativity, and we have a great time at your parties. But I’m starting to learn that just as much as people appreciate all-out festive fun, they also appreciate the simple, calm, and casual. There’s no need to worry about breaking one of my dishes or spilling red wine on my white tablecloth. (The dishes were cheap and there is no tablecloth). No need to offer to help me in the kitchen. Let’s have fun. I’ll get the mess later.

I come from a “come on in and grab a beer” kind of family, and I’m proud of that. Matt and I host gatherings all the time, despite my mismatched dinnerware and lack of napkin rings. We don’t buzz around for hours beforehand making sure everything is spotless and perfect. We create a “make yourself at home” setting that is nice enough to be welcoming and relaxed enough to comforting. And we’ve discovered that people have just as much fun without plate chargers.

So if you’re next in line to host the big family Christmas, don’t feel like you have to spend hours on Pinterest finding the perfect recipes and creating the perfect table setting. People will appreciate you for whichever kind of hostess you are. A good sense of hospitality goes deeper than what people see when they walk in the door. It’s really about how they feel when they walk out.

Have a merry (and stress-free) Christmas! 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Kid Logic: More Cute Stories from the Mind of a Child

After numerous unsuccessful attempts to get any writing done last month, I am celebrating a long-awaited double nap today. I'm excited to announce that Allie is officially sleeping through the night (knock on wood) and I hope the end of this thirteen-month battle will finally allow me to get at least a few hours at the computer each week.

I'm starting back with something easy and sharing my most recent "Kid Logic" stories. Reese never ceases to amaze and entertain us with her miniature worldview. Here are some of my recent favorites...


Back story: We had a recent ER visit because Reese shoved a black bean up her nose.

Reese: My bunny is hurt.
Me: He is? What happened?
Reese: He fell down the stairs.
Me: Does he need to go to the hospital?
Reese: No because he doesn't have a bean up his nose.


Reese has a book of brain games for preschoolers. One page had a cartoon bunny making a series of different facial expressions with a blank under each one to write the corresponding emotion. I pointed to the first face and said, "How does the bunny feel?" Reese answered, "Soft."


Reese has an older cousin named Savannah, but when Reese first started talking, she couldn't say "Savannah," so she just said "Cousin." Well, it stuck and we just kept calling her Cousin. Last month (nearly 2 years later) the kids spent the night there while Matt and I attended a wedding. When we picked them up the next the day Reese said, "Mommy! Did you know that Cousin's name isn't really Cousin? It's Savannah!"


One day at lunch, Reese asked me, "Mommy, does God feel sad when I feel sad?"
"He sure does," I replied.
"And does he feel happy when I'm happy?"
Later that day, Reese and I were kneading pizza dough for dinner when she asked, "Mommy, does God make pizza when I make pizza?"


Back story: Allie's nickname is "Bean." It started as "Allie Beanie" and has since evolved into numerous variations including Bean, Beaner, Beanie-Weenie, and (my favorite, coined by Matt) Bean-Diggity.

Me: Reese, what's your full name?
Reese: Reese Margaret Hurley
Me: That's right. Do you know Allie's full name?
Reese: Allie Bean Hurley.


Reese: Mommy, how old are you? More than ten?
Me: More than 30.
Reese: Is that why you color in the lines so good?
Me: Yes, good coloring takes many years of practice.
Reese: How old is Mema? More that 30?
Me: More than 50.
Reese: So she colors really, really, REALLY good.

Leave a comment or send me an email with your favorite Kid Logic story and I will include it next time. Thanks for continuing to hang in here with me through my sporadic absences!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Let Yourself Go

When I chose to be a full-time mom, the last thing I wanted was to lose myself in my kids. I imagine that’s the last thing any mom wants – for the four walls of her home to be the end all, be all of her existence; to become less marketable in the workforce every year; to be known only as “So-And-So’s Mom.” After all, our self-focused society says don’t do that. Be who you are. Put yourself first. Do what makes you happy. And whatever you do, don’t let yourself go – physically, socially, or professionally.

Well, that certainly wasn’t in my plan. I was going to stay involved in my profession, keep myself in shape, and jumpstart my writing career. I held onto my “self” – my wants, my goals, my desires – long after Reese was born, and I felt fortunate to have a baby who made it easy. She slept through the night early on, took long daytime naps, and was always mild-tempered. She was a great sleeper, healthy eater, and required minimal baby-proofing. Finding “me-time” was easy… and daily, and I quickly developed a very unrealistic set of expectations for this stage of my life.

Enter: Allie.

There have been times when I thought she would be the end of me. Shortly after she was born, I realized how spoiled we had been with Reese. Allie and Reese are opposites in every way. Allie takes short, unpredictable naps and still doesn’t sleep through the night. She’s the pickiest and messiest of eaters, and most of her meals require a mop and a bath. I have to wrestle her into and out of every outfit, and sometimes I swear it would be easier to diaper an alligator. She tears through the house like a wrecking ball, and I can’t turn my back for even one second or I find her climbing on the fireplace, pulling sharp objects from the dishwasher, or throwing things in the toilet.

For nearly a year, I fought to maintain my original expectations of life with children. I lived in almost-constant frustration over not being able to get to the things I wanted to do: cooking, cleaning, organizing, scrapbooking, reading, writing – all the things that keep me feeling like I have some semblance of a life outside of my children. My inability to meet my own expectations had me questioning my success and my happiness in this role nearly every day.

Over the past year, the demands of living with two small children have slowly chipped away at my selfish tendencies, and I started to realize that the little girl I once thought might be the end of me would actually help me find a new beginning.

Allie woke me one morning at 5:30 am – her usual. I trudged down the hall to her room and lifted her from her crib. We settled in the rocking chair with her morning bottle, and she stared up at me with her innocent blue eyes as she started to drink. I stroked her little face and ran my fingers through her hair. She dropped her bottle and smiled up at me. I noticed how much more space her body consumed in my lap now that she was nearly a year old. I thought about Reese sleeping across the hall and how much I miss the little babies they both used to be.

In that moment I realized more deeply than ever before how short and precious this stage of life really is, and I started to wonder what it would be like to really let my “self” go for these few years; to fully embrace this phase of my life without any selfish desires; to stop pushing back against the forces of motherhood and fully give my life over to the needs of my family; to abandon my own plans for myself and follow to God’s plan for me.

Just then Allie reached up and tried to poke me in the eye. I deflected her little finger and she squirmed off my lap and toddled away. I followed her into the hallway with more enthusiasm than I usually have before 6:00 am and without any of my own plans for what I would accomplish (or attempt to accomplish) that day.

Since then, I’ve tried to live every day like that – fully surrendered to the needs of my family and the plan of my God. I don’t rush through the bedtime routines or cut bath time short because I want to write a blog post or finish the dishes or catch up on scrapbooking. I do still find time to myself, but it’s no longer on my terms, and I’m thankful for the time I get rather than frustrated over the time I want. I spend less time wondering what will become of my career goals and more time praying for God to lead me down any path that lets me glorify Him while serving my family.

I thought losing myself in my kids would be stifling, especially when our self-focused culture says don’t do that. But it’s not stifling at all. My experience has been the opposite. It has freed me from unnecessary stress, pressure, and expectations. It helps me find greater joy in simpler moments. And day by day, it draws me into a closer walk with the Lord.

God knows that control freaks like me don’t go down without a fight, and every day I thank Him for the little girl who helped me surrender; the little girl whose curiosity and unpredictability keep me living in the moment every day; the little girl whose up-all-night, food-throwing, toilet-splashing antics remind me that there's no room for selfishness in motherhood; the little girl who taught me that sometimes you can’t begin to find yourself without first letting your “self” go.

Happy 1st birthday, Allie! 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

How to be a Perfect Friend

It’s time for another Hearts at Home Third Thursday Blog Hop! I’ve missed the past few months – not because I haven’t had any imperfections to share, but because not taking enough time to write (and do other things for myself) is one of them. The No More Perfect Moms theme continues today with No More Perfect Friends. Happy reading!

Allie clung to my leg, crying to be held. In the other room, Reese and L argued over a toy. It wasn’t even 8:00 am and I was already taking deep breaths as I prepared for a long day. Can I just have 5 minutes to scramble an egg?!

Scanning the room, I immediately wished I had taken the time to pick up the night before. Choosing sleep instead, I left the mess for morning. Bad idea. My daily accomplishments are so limited these days. Between my super high maintenance ten-month-old and the stark personality contrast between Reese and L (who I now babysit 30-40 hours a week), I’m struggling to find peace with my hindered ability to feel even the slightest bit productive throughout the day.

My thoughts immediately turned to other women I know. The mom with 8 kids. The mom who’s two kids are just 13 months apart. The mom with twins. The mom who runs marathons. The mom who cooks everything from scratch. The mom who runs a business. The mom who blogs every day. The mom whose house is always clean. How do they do it?!

Later that morning, my phone vibrated across the counter. I could tell by the rhythm it was a text message. I picked it up and swiped the screen. My friend sent me a picture of the main living space in her home. The room was covered with toys and clutter. The message read “I’m finding peace within today.”

I surveyed my own messy living room again, this time with a smile. I love having a friend who isn't afraid to share her own struggles in the name of connection, compassion, and friendship. I love having a friend who lets me in on her tough moments because she knows I'm on the other side of town having my own moments. I love having a friend who gets it, a friend who knows that I get it.

Three years ago, this friend was on my “how does she do it” list. That was before we grew into the kind of friendship that lets us show up for play dates in our pajamas and text each other pictures of our messes. That was before we could laugh about how many days had passed since our last shower or how challenging life with little ones can be. That was before the many “me too!” conversations that squashed any reason to wonder “how does she do it?”

I hope every mom finds a friend like that, a friend who helps you remember that no one has it all together. We all have different strengths, values, motivators, and priorities. We all have different kids with different schedules and temperaments. We all have different husbands and different sources of stress.

Yet, we’re all in the same boat. We all have the same amount of time in a day. We’re all struggling to fit everything in. We’re all trying to balance the needs of our husbands, our homes, our kids, and ourselves. And we’re all looking at each other and wondering, “How do you do it?”

The answer is really pretty simple - we don't have an answer. None of us does. We’re all just doing the best we can with what we have. No one has magical secret powers. There are no Supermoms (despite what those looking in on a snapshot of our lives might think). No one has anything special figured out.

But I do know one thing. You may not be the perfect woman and you may not be the perfect mom, but it's those imperfections that give you the ability to reach out and be the perfect friend.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Are You Smarter Than A Ten-Month-Old?

Allie is ten months old now (yes, I know, time flies) and entering the most fascinating - and aggravating - stage of development. She’s fully mobile (not quite walking on her own, but almost) and getting into everything. Life is one big discovery and common sense is non-existent. It’s cute, funny, annoying, frustrating, and amazing all at the same time.

Yesterday she pulled a spoon out of the dishwasher. She looked it over from every angle and smiled at the shiny metal. She stuck the handle in her mouth, unimpressed by the taste. Then she tapped it on the open door of the dishwasher and looked up at me with wide eyes and a huge smile as she continued banging it on the other items in the rack.


I stopped chopping tomatoes and sat down on the floor to watch my little drummer. I love those moments. Actually, I love watching her do anything – pull all the sandwich baggies out of the box, push tiny pieces of banana around her high chair tray, play with her toes. I love it because whatever she does, she’s completely absorbed in the moment. Every smile conveys genuine, unfeathered joy. Her shoulders carry no weight of any burden. Her heart is not heavy with worry or fear. She’s just being her. Just being here. Just being.

We have so much to learn by watching our little ones in action. How wonderful would it be to be able to close our minds to any thoughts that are irrelevant to - or distracting from - the beauty and peace available in any given moment?

When I first started leaning into spiritual growth several years ago, the concept of presence kept coming up. Just be where you are. At first, I didn’t get it. How can you be anywhere else? As it turns out, you can be in many places at once if you give your mind and your thoughts the freedom to wander. Once I really became aware of the constant disconnect between the actions of my body and the thoughts in my head, I discovered that I am really not very present at all. Rather, a large part of me is chronically absent.

Presence is all about being fully engaged in the current moment with no part of your mind dwelling on events of the future or past (or judgmental thoughts about others or personal insecurities or what’s going on with healthcare reform). For most of us, that is not easy to do because we are not even aware that our minds are fragmented. Having irrelevant or counter-productive thoughts when we’re supposed to be enjoying a movie with our spouses or building block towers with our kids or praying in church is so common that we don’t really recognize it as a problem. We entertain our thoughts and worries so automatically that we don’t even know we’re missing out on the full experience of being wherever we are.

The key to breaking these habits is awareness. It’s kind of hard to stop yourself from being distracted if you’re not even aware that you are distracted in the first place. It starts with turning your attention inward and recognizing that being absorbed in irrelevant thought serves no purpose other than pulling you away from feeling pure joy for this moment.

Growing in presence has helped me tremendously with my tendency to feel overwhelmed by the many demands of life and motherhood. Often, when I engage with my kids, a part of me remains focused on what’s not getting done. Then I start getting things done and another part of me feels guilty for not engaging with my kids. That’s so silly, and yet, so common. By focusing on presence, I can find guilt-free joy in playtime and productive time and my days flow with less effort.

Try it today. The next time you’re engaged in an activity (anything from washing dishes to playing with your kids to getting a manicure), notice where your thoughts are wandering and notice how present – or absent – you are in the experience of what you’re doing. Then try doing that activity as if you are a ten-month-old child. No competing emotions. No worries. No outside thoughts. Just being.

Then take in the joy.

Joy? Even for dishes?

Yes, joy for dishes. Sing while you rinse. Dance while you dry. Who knows? You might even start drumming with a spoon.

Monday, August 26, 2013

When Life Goes in Circles...

It was a bit of a roller coaster around here beginning with my first postpartum meltdown last December and ending with the final day of my teaching contract in May. I needed a quiet summer to decompress and catch up on over nine months of inadequate sleep.

Once again, I am in a good place within myself. My occasional backslide (usually through the winter months) is discouraging, and last year was particularly difficult with the added effects of PPD. It often makes me feel as though I’m caught in an endless cycle of ups and downs, triumphs and trials, successes and struggles.

But aren’t we all?

For some, it’s financial or marital turmoil. For others, it’s a personal battle with health, weight, or addiction. For many, it’s a true chemical imbalance, enhanced by situational factors, internal stressors, weather patterns, and seasonal changes.

Two steps forward, one step back… or many steps back, as it sometimes feels.

In my discouraging times, I exacerbate my own issues with self-criticism. I tell myself that I must not be this deeply spiritual person or that my trust in God is clearly fake. I wonder if reading about spiritual growth, listening to motivational speakers, watching TED talks, deep breathing and prayer are all for naught - because peaceful people aren’t supposed to experience these radical shifts, these doubts, these occasional backslides.


Karen Armstrong - a former Catholic nun turned spiritual teacher and religious tolerance leader - wrote a book called The Spiral Staircase, which is currently sitting on my endless list of someday reads. I added it to the list when I heard an interview where she described the concept of the title, and my shame and discouragement over the darker moments in my life were instantly comforted.

She said: When we’re on a spiral staircase, we may feel like we’re walking in circles, but all the time we’re going up.

I love it.

It’s easy to feel like life takes us in circles. Some days we’ve got it all together, other days we’re falling apart. Some days we are overwhelmed with gratitude and good, other days the good gets lost in the shuffle and we’re just plain overwhelmed. Sometimes we’re head-over-heels in love, other times we raving mad. Then we use those not-so-great moments to question whether we’ve really come very far at all in achieving the goal, kicking the habit, finding peace, forgiving, or letting go.

But what if the circles we experience in life are not simply laps we run on a flat surface, but an upward spiral through which we are constantly ascending toward something greater?

Brookfield Zoo
While my summer wasn't exactly quiet (because nothing is quiet with little kids around), it was full of fun family outings and few serious responsibilities. We took trips to Brookfield Zoo, Wisconsin Dells, and Lake of the Ozarks. We danced at weddings and sipped coffee on our patio. I started a weekly Bible study – just me and one of my closest friends on the tailgate of her car facing the sunrise and talking about life, love, and faith. I read four new books, started running again, took up meditation, and broke my caffeine addiction. 

I am well.

And content.

And growing in ways that would not be possible without the struggles that sometimes make me feel like I'm going in circles... until I look back and see that I've actually been going up all along.

"It's not about how fast I get there. 
It's not about what's waiting on the other side.
It's the climb." 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Hurry, Hurry

Reese set her book down next to me and crawled into my lap. I immediately recognized the cover and title, though I haven't read it in many years. My mom saved my collection of children's books and she gave them to me when Reese was born. Between those and Reese's own growing collection of books, we still haven't read them all. 

I read the title out loud, "Hurry, Hurry." I recalled the words with ease as I read to Reese about "Funny Old Miss Mugs" and her inability to do anything at a relaxed pace. 

"Hurry, Suzie, brush your teeth... Hurry, eat your breakfast.... Hurry, put your shoes on... or you will be late for school." 

As she rushes Suzie along to school, Miss Mugs runs into one problem after another. She runs into the milkman, trips a lady walking her dog, falls through a manhole, and gets scooped up by a bulldozer. She's in such a hurry that she forgets to say "sorry" to those she inconveniences and she forgets to say "thank you" to the people who help her out of her messes. As she rushes off, each person warns her, "Don't be in such a hurry or something worse may happen!"

Finally, Miss Mugs walks into a ladder with a large bucket of glue on top. The glue covers her from head to toe. Suzie helps her get cleaned up, but she is unable to remove the glue from Miss Mugs' shoes. Miss Mugs has no choice but to walk very slowly, and she quickly discovers that it is much more enjoyable (and much less hazardous) to slow down and lighten up. 

Yikes, that sounds a lot like me, I thought. I've always been one of those ninety miles an hour people. Always thinking ahead to the next task. Never getting enough done. Never fully relaxed. Missing out on opportunities to experience the fullness of my life and the depths of my gratitude for it. Too busy to pray. Too busy to breathe. Too busy to notice. It makes a giant glue spill sound rather inviting.

The next morning, I got my kids out of bed and started the breakfast routine. As I lowered Allie onto the living room floor, a sharp pain in my lower back brought me to my knees. I don't know much about back injuries, but I knew I must have pinched, pulled, or strained something important. I made my way over to the couch and got back to my feet, but it was a struggle. I quickly learned that I could still function as long as I avoided sudden or unnecessary movements. 

I stood up slowly. I shuffled to the kitchen slowly. I made breakfast slowly. After breakfast I sat down to play with my girls. My phone range in the living room. I ignored it. The dryer buzzed in the laundry room. I didn't get up. Every few minutes, I felt an urge to go do something... this room needs to be vacuumed... that desk is awfully dusty... did I ever pay the insurance bill?  

Normally, I respond to those urges. Hurry, hurry. Get everything done. 

Only I couldn't hurry. I couldn't do much of anything. For nearly a week, I shuffled around the house. Like the glue on Miss Mugs' shoes, the twinge in my lower back kept me in check. I played with my kids without feeling guilty that messes were piling up. At the end of the day, I listened to my body's need for rest rather than my head's desire to restore order to my living room. I prayed more. I breathed more. I noticed more.  

It's been over a week, and I feel totally normal again. As ability to "hurry, hurry" returns, I am grateful for the quick recovery but I am also thankful for my real life Miss Mugs' reminder that "it is quite a joy to move slowly, and a terrible bother to hurry."

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

I Got This.

I tucked two Xanax inside a tiny zipper pouch and stuck it in my purse. I couldn't take the whole bottle because, well, they weren't mine. I just happen to know someone who graciously (and illegally) agreed to help me ease my flight anxiety. Just before boarding the plane to San Diego, I ducked inside a bathroom at Midway Airport to stifle the panic. I pulled the coin pouch from my purse but as I dumped the pills into my hand, somehow both of them hit the floor. The wet, dirty, public bathroom floor.

I turned around but the space behind me was empty. I wasn't surprised. I've been known to be rather clumsy and it's quite possible that I'm just that much of a klutz. Even though there was no one around, I wasn't desperate enough to retrieve the pills from the floor. I turned to leave the restroom, but instead of melting down into an all-out panic attack, I laughed a little as I pictured God's message in that moment:

Seriously, Lisa? Just get on the plane. Trust me. I got this.

It really is a silly fear. I felt silly packing Xanax to begin with. I felt silly Googling "the odds of dying in a plane crash" the day before my flight. And I felt silly adding "would have to fly" to my list of reasons not to go to the wedding.

It's ok. He's got this.

I returned to my seat at the gate and offered up my fear. The flight to San Diego was smooth and easy, and I was proud of myself for "letting it go and letting God," as they say. I knew He would come through for me, and He did.

I had a blast at the wedding and enjoyed a much-needed break from the demands of full-time motherhood. The bride has been one of my closest friends since middle school, and I couldn't imagine having been anywhere else on her wedding day. Her husband is from Malaysia, and I found so much beauty in God's ability to unite two people who were born and raised over 14,000 miles apart.

When I witness such amazing examples of His work, I feel silly for not trusting Him with my silly fears. Totally absorbed in the happiness of the day, I looked out at the ocean and breathed in deep gratitude, awe, and joy.

He's got this. He's got all of this.

The following evening, I sat at Gate 1 at the San Diego airport. My thoughts didn't even wander toward the now-empty zipper pouch in my purse. I boarded the plane without any fear.

He's got this.

An hour into the nearly four hour flight, the air got bumpy. In my heightened sensitivity, every little jolt felt like a 10,000 foot dive. I tightened my seat belt and gripped the arm rest. Just minutes after lighting the "fasten seat belt" sign, the crew announced that they would also be taking their seats and that call buttons should only be pressed in the case of a medical emergency.

Almost instantly, my trust and awe dissolved into worry and anger.

Really, God? I thought You had this.

Isn't that the way it works for most of us? It's easy to be thankful for joyful moments. It's easy to have faith when things are smooth. It's easy to feel blessed when life is good. The real tests of faith come in difficult moments, when things are hard, and when life is challenging.

On the flight home, I was acutely aware of the difference in my attitude on a smooth flight compared to a bumpy one. It looked a lot like the difference in my attitude on an easy day compared to a difficult one.

Sometimes I feel guilty in my weak moments because too often I hear that worry and anxiety imply a lack of faith or a lack of trust in God's plan. But I don't think it's the worry and fear themselves that are a cause for guilt. It's our response to that worry. It's whether we choose to wallow in fearful anger or to humbly accept God's curve balls and to find strength in our suffering to turn toward Him rather than away.

Choosing the latter, I clicked the button on my Kindle and selected The Bible from my reading list. Among the first passages I read was:

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:5-6 

It's definitely harder to keep our eyes toward God in the midst of life's turbulence. Uncertainty, adversity, worry, and fear give rise to doubts about His plan and the intentions behind it. But if we can find a way to listen, He will find a way to say...

Trust me. I got this.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Make a Card Collage

We flip through our wedding albums every year on our anniversary. We have two because one is our formal photography pictures and the other is a scrapbook that documents our journey from engagement to honeymoon. I'm an avid scrapbooker, and I love finding fun and creative ways to recreate our best memories on paper.

I still remember the week I spent scrapbooking our wedding memories. I sat in our living room surrounded by pictures and construction paper. To my left was an box of wedding cards. I dumped the box on the floor, still trying to decide if what I was about to do was a good idea. 

It's a great idea. What else are you going to do with them? No one ever pulls out their old wedding cards. They are destined for either the garbage can or a dusty storage shelf. Just do it.

Wincing just a bit, I took a pair of scissors and started shredding. I spent hours cutting the messages and handwritten signatures from each of our wedding cards. I spent even more hours perfectly arranging them on page after page of our scrapbook.

It turned out to be one of my favorite sections in our album. I read through them at least once a year, and now I make collages with cards from every scrapbooked occasion.

Baby Showers
Reese's Birth
So if you have a box of wedding cards (or baby cards or 1st birthday cards) tucked away somewhere that you'll probably never read, grab a pair of scissors and start shredding! What else are you going to do with them?  

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Lessons from a Past Regret

Two months ago I stood in my kitchen holding an invitation to my best friend’s wedding. I read the print as if I didn’t already know the details. Sunday, June 16, 2013. San Diego, California. Why does it have to be in San Diego? I clipped the invitation to the refrigerator wondering how long I would wait to tell her that I had decided not to go.

Feeling guilty for my decision, I silently listed my reasons. It made me feel better. It’s not really a choice. I just can’t go.

For starters, I’ve never been a great flyer and ever since my semi-emergency landing situation in 2008, I’ve become an awful flyer. (Actually, I’ve only flown once since then but it was enough for me to know that my level of fear has skyrocketed past uneasiness and is now orbiting straight-up panic attack).

I can’t go.

And now we’ve got this house and these two kids and I don’t work and money doesn’t grow on trees and ticket prices are high – not to mention hotel rooms, meals, and the high cost of everything in California (or so I’ve heard).

I can’t go.

PLUS, I’ve never left my kids. Ever. I’ve left town without my children one time since Reese was born. One time! Matt and I went to Chicago for a weekend getaway - we didn’t even leave the state. How can I go across the country without them? What if they get sick or hurt or they just need mommy?


I can’t go.

After convincing myself that this was not a choice made by me but by factors outside of my control, I made my peace with it. Her parents are having a reception here in July. I’ll go to that. There. Now I really felt better. Well, that’s the end of that.

A few weeks later, I was clearing out my office/guest room/catch-all-disaster (because I'm finally giving in to my desire for an official play room). I filled a small box with my framed diplomas, pictures, and other decorations. I paused as I grabbed the picture of my brother in his Marine uniform. That picture is all I have of the experience of his graduation. I don’t remember the ceremony. Because I wasn’t there.

I chose not to go for a lot of the same reasons. Mike had advised me against bringing Reese because of the lack of accommodations for a baby. He warned me that we would be outside all day in the heat with few (if any) convenient places to change or nurse her. As a new mom (and a generally high-strung person), I didn’t think I could handle that. But I also couldn’t handle the thought of leaving her…. AND I probably would’ve had a panic attack on the plane and I had just quit my job and money doesn’t grow on trees and...

I should’ve gone.

Until then I didn’t realize that I had never really made peace with my decision. Even though I did what I thought was best at the time, I wish I hadn’t let fear, discomfort, and uncertainty cause me to miss such an important milestone in my brother’s life.

If I could do it over again, I wouldn’t miss it.

I didn’t add his picture to the box. Instead I took it out of the frame and walked it to the kitchen. As I clipped it to the refrigerator next to Katie's wedding invitation, I saw my handwriting on the back.

People talk about living without regrets and I don't know if such a person exists, but I feel sorry for anyone who truly has none. Some of my deepest regrets and biggest mistakes have taught me the most valuable lessons of my life. Often the choices I would change if I could go back and do it over are the ones that shine a light on an opportunity to go forward and do it better.  

My flight leaves Saturday morning.

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Serious Accident

I should start this one by saying that neither of my kids is hurt, but we were all a little shaken. I’m sharing this story because I never thought anything like this would ever happen to us, and I can’t imagine how horrifying of a situation we could have had if one small detail of this accident had been different.

Last night Matt and I planned a date night to celebrate our five year anniversary. I was in our bathroom curling my hair while Matt and the girls played on our bedroom floor. Neither of us are sure of the exact chain of events because everything happened so fast, but I remember hearing a loud noise and a panicked yell. I dropped my curling iron in the sink and turned toward the bedroom just in time to see our dresser and everything on it tumbling forward.

I was too far away to catch anything (or anyone) as everything came down – including a DVD player and flat screen TV. Matt dove in front of the dresser and I lunged toward the kids. The plugs ripped from the outlets and the DVD player and TV crashed to the floor. Both kids were immediately in hysterics, and I started assessing for injuries as Matt pushed the dresser back in place. By the grace of God, Allie wasn't hit by anything. Just a few minutes earlier, she was laying where the DVD player fell, but she's been working on her army crawl and had managed to inch herself out of the way. I didn’t see what hit Reese, but she was crying and saying her head hurt and that the TV hit her. We didn’t find any bumps, and a few minutes later she was acting normal again. We think she may have been hit by a picture frame, but we never did find any marks on her.

For several minutes after we all settled down, we sat on the floor holding our kids and forcing our minds away from the horrific images of what could have been.

Maybe we’re na├»ve, but we had no idea that could happen. Oh, we’ve heard of furniture tipping over and hurting or even killing small children. We know that TV’s are dangerous and that furniture should be bolted to the wall, but we thought our setup was safe. Our dresser is tall enough that the kids can’t reach up and pull the TV down, but it's wider than it is tall so it doesn't seem top heavy. It sits on a level floor and it’s a high quality dresser – one I always thought was too heavy for a three-year-old to topple.

I always thought the tipping hazard was a result of kids climbing in open drawers, but Reese was just opening and closing drawers and relocating her doll from one drawer to the next. The drawers are small but they're on rollers and they don't pull all the way out. We think she just had too many drawers open at once and the weight of the clothes made it just heavy enough to shift the center of gravity, making it possible for one small tug to take it off balance.

After we discovered that everyone was okay, we finished getting ready and went on our date. On the way we stopped at Lowes and picked up brackets to attach all three of the dressers in our house to the walls.

Looking back, I remember very specific moments where I thought certain pieces of furniture should be more secure but I never acted on that hunch. I just didn’t think it would happen. And even though we had to find out the importance of it the hard way, I’m so very thankful that we didn’t find out in a devastating way.

I know we’re not the only parents with unsecure furniture in the house. I don’t know why it’s so common to wait until something happens to address a potential hazard, but don’t do what we did. If you have dressers, desks, and bookshelves that are not secured to the wall, please consider doing it. Watch your kids in other people’s homes, and make sure they stay clear of furniture that isn’t stationary.

Things happen quickly, and parents certainly can’t prevent everything, but in this situation we didn’t even know there was something to prevent in the first place. I hope this story resonates with other parents who assumed that a toddler can’t tip a dresser or that certain things are not a fall risk. Know that it can and does happen to anyone in any house. And when you have these occasional close calls - as we all do - be thankful for the eye opener and try not to dwell on the what-ifs. Don't let your mind trick you into thinking that it wouldn't have happened to a better dad or a more attentive mom. And don't let those thoughts stop you from sharing your story with other parents. Your close call could prevent someone else's tragedy. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Birthday Party Mania!

This might seem a bit out of the ordinary compared to my usual content, but I can explain. We just celebrated Reese's 3rd birthday and during her party I had several people make "this should be on Pinterest" comments. I'm not necessarily all that creative in any particular area, but every now and then I come up with random things that turn out to be pretty cool (or so I'm told). I thought it would be fun to add a new element to this site, so consider this my first venture into a new type of blog post. Now, I'm sure I'm not the first person to come up with a lot of these things, but everything I post here will always  be my own ideas (unless otherwise credited).

I figured I would start with the two things that generated the aforementioned Pinterest comments... 

I'm not big into huge expensive birthday parties - especially for little kids who don't know the difference. I didn't choose a theme for any of Reese's birthday parties. I made the cakes myself and bought whatever decorations and paper products happened to be on sale. My goal is always to make the day as nice as possible while spending as little money as possible - a process I find to be way more fun anyway.

My biggest challenge every year is the cake. I have no formal cake decorating skills whatsoever (actually, the cake for Reese's first birthday was my first attempt ever). I thought it would be fun to try to do something completely different every year so this year I decided to follow the cupcake trend. The cupcakes were very simple so I wanted a nice display. I didn't have a display tower so instead I used Reese's Little People Disney Princess castle... 

I also wanted to do some kind of game or activity with the kids - something that would be fun, cheap, easy to put together, and manageable for a bunch of three-year-olds. We live on two acres so we ended up doing a goodie bag scavenger hunt and the kids loved it!  

I gathered 10 buckets from around the house. (Random buckets are on my list of things I never pass up at garage sales so I always have a bunch). I filled each one with a goodie bag item (so one bucket had pencils, another had sand box toys, another had bottles of bubbles, and so on). Then I set up a table with crayons, stickers, and white paper bags with each child's name. Inside each bag was a checklist of the things they needed to find. We corralled all the kids into the garage to decorate their bags, and while they were doing that Matt placed the buckets around our property. We turned the kids loose (with parents in tow to help read the checklists), and they put together their own goodie bags with the 10 items from the buckets. It went over so well that we will likely make it a birthday party tradition!

Thanks for joining me today. Keep watching for more fun tips, creative gifts, really random ideas, and (as always) inspiration stories and moments worth sharing. For easy access to new posts, you can now follow my blog on Pinterest.  Have a blessed day! 

Friday, May 31, 2013

On Being Loved

Meet the fifth member of our family:

This is Reese's security toy. I got him from my graduate assistant at ISU while I was still pregnant (which means I have a floppy-eared representation of my former career dragging lifelessly at my daughter's side everywhere we go. It's great). His name is Mono (like the illness) because there was a time when she thought every small furry animal was a cat. She would point to him and say “meow” but it sounded more like a high pitched “mono” and the word stuck. We always get a good laugh when she turns to random strangers and says, "I have Mono."

Reese - 9 months

When we take Mono out in public people often smile and say, “That is one loved bunny.” And loved he is. She doesn’t go to sleep without him. There have been many just-before-bedtime searches for Mono when Reese forgets where he's been “taking his nap.” She doesn’t leave the house without him either. There have also been a few three-point turnarounds on the road to town when she discovers that we’ve left him at home. Mono often joins us at the dinner table; he appears in family pictures; and Reese always adds a “thank you for Mono” to her nightly prayers. Yes, he is one loved bunny.

Sometimes people ask me if I've ever considered attempting to replace him with a new one. Of course not. I know Reese would never accept a different bunny - even a seemingly nicer, newer version of the one she has. She doesn't care that he's had everything imaginable scrubbed out of his fur. She doesn't care that he's now more gray than white or that the material on his nose is rubbed off. She doesn't care that his fur isn't soft anymore or that he smells kinda funny even after a trip through the washer. To Reese, Mono has always been the perfect companion. The flaws just don't matter. She loves him and she can't see what other people see.

When I look at Reese's attachment to Mono, I realize how silly our struggles with self-image really are. We judge ourselves by our appearance, but the men who married us and watched us carry their children don’t focus on our stretch marks or cellulite. They don’t see the flaws that we see. Instead, they see a perfect companion.

We judge ourselves by our mistakes, but the people who know and love us to our deepest core don’t focus on our misspoken words or neurotic tendencies. They don’t see the flaws that we see. Instead, they see a dear friend.

We judge ourselves by our shortcomings, but the God who loves and forgives unconditionally doesn’t focus on our lapses in judgment or deepest regrets. He doesn’t see the flaws that we see. Instead, He sees a loved and worthy creation.

If you are fortunate enough to have people in your life who know, love, and accept you at your best and worst, then you, too, are "one loved bunny" and nothing else matters. None of those people would prefer another you – even one that appears more perfect on the surface.

That pure unconditional love reminds me of this passage from the 1922 children's classic The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. She writes:

"When a child loves you for a long, long time - not just to play with but really loves you, then you become Real... It doesn't happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time... Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But those things don't matter at all because once you are Real, you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

Reese - 3 years

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Are You an Over-Protective Mom?

I'm starting to think I might be an over-protective mom. I became aware of it for the first time last month when we went to a birthday party at a kids’ gym where the kids and parents were separated by a waist-high wall. During the party, I was very aware of my discomfort with this setup, and I was bothered by how much I was bothered. Since then I've been highly aware of my desire to continue the coddling and hand-holding hallmarks of the infant and toddler years. 

I don’t like admitting this. It’s a little painful and slightly embarrassing. I’m a rescuer – and not in a heroic way but in a “Back off, Mom!” kind of way. I swoop in to head off moments of frustration or disappointment. I do things for my kids that they should be able to do themselves, and my worry of “what might happen” clouds my ability to enjoy watching them do anything that carries even the smallest risk.

This is exactly the situation I always wanted to avoid - I always feared that my controlling ways and worry-wart tendencies would stifle my children. In the absence of self-awareness and conscious effort, I know I could easily become an over-bearing, over-controlling, and under-empowering force in their lives.

As much as I’m bothered by this, I take comfort in two things. One, I’m now aware of it, which is an essential component of change. And two, I know I’m not the only mom whose good intentions to protect and rescue sometimes get out of control. But as much as it comes from a place of genuine love, that doesn’t make it less problematic. Most of us are guilty of over-involvement from time to time, but when the mama bear remains in check and breaches in boundaries are acknowledged, permanent ramifications are unlikely.

If you’re anything like me, it might take a little more effort to keep those tendencies in line, but fortunately, having those tendencies isn’t the problem. It’s failing to recognize and rein them in that causes issues. Recognition and self-awareness are the first steps toward change, so take a moment to test yourself on these common habits:

Rescuer: These moms find it unbearable to watch their children experience negative emotions (frustration, disappointment, sadness, etc.) They are quick to solve their children’s problems and assist them with simple tasks. They can become lax in their discipline style because they can't bear the tears that go along with enforcing rules and setting limits. Rescuers’ tendencies usually stem from their inability to withstand the negative emotions (i.e. helplessness, sympathy, etc.) brewing in their own psyches as they watch their children navigate the bumpy road through life’s necessary challenges. The adult children of chronic rescuers tend to underestimate their abilities and have poor problem-solving skills.

Hoverer: These moms do everything in their power to eliminate risk of physical harm or illness. Yes, it is our job to protect our children from life’s hazards, but hoverers take it to an extreme. They often resemble rescuers, but the motivation is different. Hoverers can withstand their children’s frustration while learning to tie their shoes but not the physical pain of a scraped knee. Hoverers’ tendencies usually stem from a desire to prevent the feelings of guilt that come with seeing their children with an injury or illness that might have been prevented had they been more diligent and protective. The adult children of chronic hoverers tend to view the world as a dangerous place and to shy away from trying new things.

If either of these behaviors resonated with you, fear not. Instead, be proud of your ability to recognize and label them. Greater awareness leads to faster change. If you're a rescuer, lean into the discomfort that comes with watching your child struggle while mastering a new skill and dismiss the urges to provide unnecessary help. If you're a hoverer, lean into the uneasiness that comes from not wiping every public surface they touch and dismiss the guilt demons that tell you every injury is your fault.

Most importantly, always practice self-compassion and patience when you find that you've stumbled into an over-protective pattern. Remember that these behaviors stem from a place of deep, genuine love. The intent of over-involved parents is never to harm their children. Instead, they aim to help, support, and protect. Unfortunately, in their extreme forms, these habits can have lasting effects. Over-protective parents not only run the risk of instilling fears in the hearts of their children, but they risk missing out on watching their children become their truest selves and fulfill their highest potential.

Over the weekend, I experienced a profound moment that perfectly illustrates the plight of the over-protective parent and the importance of developing the awareness and willingness necessary to enact change...    

Reese got a kite for her birthday and all week she begged me to fly it, but our property is thick with trees so instead I promised her we would take with us to my mom’s house for Memorial Day weekend. We pulled into the driveway and she couldn’t wait to get it out. I showed her how to get it started, and waited for her squeals of joy as it began to take flight. The kite was less than 10 feet above my head when she started yelling.

“Stop, Mommy, stop! Take it down!”

“Why? What’s the matter?”

“I’m afraid it’s gonna fall.”

“Well, if it falls to the ground we’ll just start again.”

“But it might blow away or get broken.”

I wanted to promise that it wouldn’t get lost or broken or stuck in a tree, but I couldn’t because all those things were possible outcomes of kite flying. I did my best to reason through it.

“Sweet Pea, kites are made to fly. If we never fly it, then we'll never know how much fun it is and we'll never see how high it goes.”

She couldn’t get past it. I tried to force it for a few more seconds, thinking she would catch on and forget about the danger, but she started to cry. I let the kite float toward the ground, and it came to rest on the grass. She ran over to it and scooped it up.

“I want to put it back in the car.”

I walked her to the car and opened the trunk. She laid it in gently and ran back toward the swing set. I closed the trunk and joined her on the swings. The kite stayed in the car all weekend.

It didn't fall. 

But it also didn't fly. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Coincidence or God Incident?

I sat in the Aldi parking lot drumming my fingers on the steering wheel as the gray cloud overhead spit intermittent raindrops on my windshield. Just two minutes earlier, I reached for the “Aldi quarter” in my cup holder and came up with a gum wrapper. I tossed it into the passenger seat and pulled my wallet from the diaper bag. No cash. None. I checked every crevice of my vehicle. Nothing. So I drummed angrily on the steering wheel as if my frustration had the power to manifest spare change.

I already had one of those mornings. Expired milk, spilled coffee, crabby infant, potential downpour. I knew I should have stayed home. But I went out anyway and now there I was in the Aldi parking lot having a very ridiculous “why me” moment. I eventually gathered my thoughts and surveyed my options. None of them was appealing – probably because I was already aggravated.

Meanwhile, Allie’s fussiness had turned into an all out scream fest. Still undecided about how to solve my original problem, I stepped out of the car and went around to Allie’s side. Her pacifier hit the ground as I opened the door. Really?! I bent down to pick it up and there at my feet was a shiny silver quarter.

My in-laws would call that a “God incident.” When I first met Matt’s family almost eight years ago, I didn’t know what that meant. Before then, I had never thought of God as an active participant in my life. The whole concept seemed really far-fetched. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in God. I had always believed in God. I just didn’t think God believed in me.

There are just so many of us in the world. There is so much suffering and so many unanswered prayers. It seemed like God should have bigger things to worry about than arranging convenient coincidences and reminders for kindness in my little insignificant world.

Over the years, I slowly grew into my faith. I started reading the Bible and trying to live its message. I began to see real acts of God in my daily life, and instead of nodding along with ignorance when someone said “now that’s a God incident,” I began to smile with understanding.

See, I had always pictured God incidents as isolated events involving intentional interventions on the part of our Creator; as if a Divine hand reached down and placed a pen in my dryer to teach me about grace or perfectly timed the stop lights to prevent my tardiness for an important appointment. Looking at them from a small-scale perspective, it is easy to dismiss the possibility of God’s involvement.

But I have come to believe this about God: He doesn’t operate on a small scale level, nor is His involvement in our lives limited to certain events on certain days at certain times. He is ever-present at all times and in all things. His carefully crafted and perfectly orchestrated universe lends itself to these “coincidences” simply because everything in it is entangled in a web of simultaneous existence. The complexity of that existence and the depth of our connection to it are revealed to us in the events that those of us who don’t yet know better would call “coincidences.”

Today, I know better. That’s why I sat crouched in the Aldi parking lot whispering a prayer of gratitude to the Great Orchestrator. It’s not that I think God knowingly placed a quarter under my car to offset my crappy morning. It’s that I believe He created a world that allows the lives of the dropper of a quarter and the finder of that quarter to overlap for a single moment in time. And I believe that if you can see God’s presence in the smallest of things, you can begin to find Him anywhere and everywhere.

Now that I know how to spot His work, God shows up in my life every day. Sometimes He leads me to small things like quarters in parking lots. Sometimes He leads me to big things like houses and jobs. Sometimes it’s a surge of grace and compassion, comfort and healing, or courage and strength on the right day at the right time. Sometimes it’s the urge to give, the will to forgive, or the power to carry on amid the struggles He needs me to face. His form often changes but His presence never does. 

Over time, faith and patience have slowly begun to take the place of the worry and urgency in my life. My last paycheck will hit our account this week, which means the small gap in our income will soon return. Last week I opened an email from some friends who are moving to our subdivision this summer. They wanted to know if I would be interested in watching their three-year-old daughter three to four days a week through the school year. I always said I had absolutely no interest in taking on someone else’s kid unless it was part-time excluding summer for someone I knew who was the same age as Reese. Coincidence? Of course not. 

In the moments where you find your life perfectly overlapped with another, whether it affects you for a single moment or the rest of your days, you can assume the events happened at random and walk away feeling puzzled. That's a coincidence. OR you can recognize your significant role in the complicated web of existence, whisper a prayer of gratitude, and walk away feeling blessed. That’s a God incident.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Lessons from a Part-Time Job

I feel like I should back track a bit before I [attempt to] dive back into my regular posting routine. I submitted the final grades for my class last night, which means my spring semester is officially over. It's hard to believe it's already May. I still don’t know what I was thinking by taking on a job and a baby at the same time, especially without hiring part-time childcare. It’s been a long semester, and I’m thankful to be back to the jobs I do for free. 

Allie is 6 months old now, and she's so adorably smiley. She's lucky she’s so cute because she's a total bearcat. She gets up at 5am every day, takes short unpredictable naps, and has a total fit if I take more than two steps away from her. My mom calls her "Velcro Baby" because she clings to me like a spider monkey and still spends a lot of her day strapped to my chest. It's a wonderful feeling, especially since I didn't get much clingy baby behavior out of Reese, but Allie’s grabby hands and steadily climbing weight have made daily baby wearing somewhat of a challenge. 

Reese will be three on May 28th, which means I spend a lot of time generating answers to questions like, “Why is it 3-o’clock?” and explaining social rules – like why we can’t just choose a random car from the mall parking lot and drive it home. She’s learning about the world at an amazing rate, and her observations are both beautifully innocent and downright hilarious. She’s an awesome kid, but she’s still a typically defiant, antagonistic, and conveniently [for her] forgetful little stinker who gives me a run for my patience every single day. 

Between keeping up with these kids and making time for my job, it’s not a big surprise that I haven’t had time for much else. It wouldn’t have been so bad if I could plan on a daily afternoon nap, but Reese hardly naps at all anymore, and Allie is a stage five cat napper. I ended up doing most of my work after they went to bed, which meant that I was often staying up way too late. Until this semester, the coffee I so often reference in my blog posts has always been decaf. That is definitely no longer the case, and I now have the withdrawal headaches to prove it.

The sleep deprivation and caffeine addiction haven’t been the only consequences of this schedule. I have skipped more meals and showers over the past few months than I would ever care to admit. It is not at all uncommon for me to make lunch for my kids and then deprive myself of a healthy meal. I’ll eat when they nap, I tell myself as I reach for a string cheese, even though I know that if they do actually sleep, I’ll choose productivity over nourishment hands down.

And forget about relaxation. It just doesn’t happen. For starters, I’m not great about finding much down time to begin with. And even when I do try to make plans to do something for me, it’s always the first thing to go when something more pressing comes up.

I came out of this experience feeling really proud of myself for the work I put into my class – even when it got hard, I never cut corners. And yet, I find it interesting that I never allowed myself to slide on anything except when it came to my own well-being.

That’s how I operate. I imagine that’s how a lot of moms operate. Skipping meals and showers, getting behind on sleep, sacrificing much-needed down time, giving up on hobbies. It seems that when life gets stressful, the first thing we do is stop taking care of ourselves.

How counterintuitive is that?! It’s during stressful times that our commitment to self-care should be at its best. I don’t know about you, but for some reason I feel guilty and selfish when I put my own needs first (or second; or third). It’s easy for me to forget that part of being a good mom means being good to myself.

I admit sometimes it's necessary to put ourselves on hold, but consistent patterns of self-neglect have a definite negative affect on everything from our marriages to our parenting skills. Lately, I've started taking notice of the times when I put my needs aside - physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, or socially. I'm trying to recognize and break some of my bad self-care habits - like not sitting down to a real lunch or failing to take time to catch up with friends. And I'm learning to give myself a little less pressure and a little more grace.   

Each season of my life seems busier than the one before, and I'm only 30! I have a lot of running around ahead of me. Sometimes I trick myself into thinking the next phase of life won't be as crazy, but something always comes up. It's taken many years for me to understand (and admit) that real peace doesn't come from calm on the outside. It comes from calm on the inside - a calm that can only settle in when our needs are fully met. 

A wise person once gave me this analogy: If you're ever in an airplane and the oxygen masks drop, there's a reason you're supposed to put your mask on first. After all, if you can't breathe, it's kind of hard to help anyone around you breathe. 

If you're one of those moms who's always going 100 miles an hour and taking care of everyone but yourself, remember to take an occasional step back and look around. If you happen to see your oxygen mask dangling in front of you, grab it and put it on - and remember that you, too, deserve to be able to breathe.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Happy Mother's Day!

I got up at 6:00am with just one goal for the morning – start a roast in the crock pot. I make pot roast all the time. It’s not a big deal. Peel and chop onions, carrots, and potatoes; season the meat; add a little water; press start. When I do it all the night before, it’s a twenty minute process, tops. Yesterday I learned that when I do it in the morning, it’s a four and a half hour ordeal.

I thought I could get it done before Reese woke up. Wishful thinking! I went to the kitchen and Reese was already digging in the pantry for Cheerios (despite being told numerous times not to take food without asking).

“I wanna eeeeeat,” she whined, as if she’d been waiting all morning for her breakfast.

I guess I’m making the roast after breakfast. No big deal. Plenty of time.

I noticed that Reese’s pajama pants were damp.

“Reese, did you pee through your pull-up?”

“I did.”

“And is your bed wet?”

“It is.”

I stripped her bed and changed her clothes. While I was at it, I got myself and Allie dressed too. Then I started her sheets in the washer and made us each a separate breakfast - Cheerios for Reese, oatmeal for me, mashed banana for Allie.

After I cleaned up breakfast, I sent Reese off to play and put Allie in her bouncy chair (at my feet, of course, because I’m not allowed to leave her sight). I was peeling the second onion when Reese appeared behind me, holding up a Wal-Mart bag.

“Mommy, I wanna do this.” It was the supplies we had bought the day before to make Mother’s Day cards.

I was thrilled. She can make cards. I can peel and chop. What could go wrong?

Well, nothing if the bag of supplies didn’t contain a bottle of Elmer’s glue and three tubes of glitter. I totally should have known better.

I spread out the tablecloth and all of the supplies. I went back to the counter and picked up the peeler. Then Allie started crying. She wanted me to hold her. She does this a lot. People tell me to let her cry, but I rarely do. Plus, I knew her crying would lead to me rushing, which would no doubt end in some kind of accidental potato peeler or Cutco knife injury.

I strapped Allie into the Baby Bjorn. (Yeah, I know. Much safer, right? Now both of our fingers were in danger). I started peeling the carrots – now at arms length because of Little Miss Grabby Hands, and I had to stop every 30 seconds or so to monitor the glitter situation over my shoulder.

It was not going well. Apparently, my little glue-sprinkle-shake demo went in one ear and out the other. I had to keep running over to stop her from sprinkling the whole tube of glitter onto one dab of glue, and she needed several reminders to decorate only the cards and not the table or her chair – or herself.

By this point, there was glitter in everybody’s hair and in my pot roast. Allie’s fussiness had escalated into a total meltdown, which reminded me that I was cutting into her naptime, and I still had a pile of potatoes to peel and chop. With an exasperated breath, I put everything on hold.

I fed Allie a bottle and got her down for a nap. Then I helped Reese finish her cards and clean up her mess. I got her a snack and turned on the Tinkerbell movie. The house was quiet. I chopped the rest of the potatoes and seasoned the meat.

At 10:30, I finally pressed the start button on my crock pot.

With Reese occupied and Allie asleep, I went to my bathroom and shut the door. I needed to decompress.

When I was pregnant with Reese, I did my best to mentally prepare for pregnancy, labor, and the financial burden of diapers and college savings. I tried to get ready for the big hurdles I knew I would eventually face – teething, potty training, discipline, sleep schedules.

I did not, however, prepare for the constancy; the intensity; the all day, every day.

I used to think Mother’s Day was about recognizing the big picture of motherhood and giving thanks to the women who birthed us and raised us, the women who love us unconditionally and would do anything for us. But those are the easy parts.

It’s the small stuff that is the real challenge of motherhood. It’s the interrupted showers and cold dinners. It’s the need to say things like “please don’t put your foot on my sandwich.” It’s the fishing-poop-out-of-the-bathtub nights and glitter-in-the-pot-roast mornings. It’s the deep breaths of patience and silent moments of prayer.

Mother’s Day is just as much about the day-to-day little picture as it is about the higher purpose, greater love big picture. My pot roast story isn’t just a funny story about a crazy morning. This is my life. This is every mom’s life. All day, every day. But few people see the intensity of our little picture routine and we don’t often talk about it, which means it often goes unnoticed.

This year, thank the mothers in your life not just for the big things, but for all the little things too. Thank them for the willingness to wear a curious infant despite the inconvenience. Thank them for supporting a toddler’s love for messy arts and crafts. Thank them for the things no one else sees - the messes made and cleaned, tantrums thrown and calmed, and tears cried and wiped. All day, every day.

And if you ever see sit down for a nice hot meal and see a shiny fleck of glitter in your food, just smile with understanding, eat it with gratitude, and know just how much love and patience is sitting on your plate.

Happy Mother's Day to the all day, every day moms!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Another Answered Prayer

Just a few weeks before Allie was born, my alma mater contacted me about teaching a class in the psychology department. I had been inquiring about a part-time position every semester since Reese was born, and had always been told that there wasn't an opening. Well, of course, the offer came at a challenging time and I knew this would be tough, but I was afraid I wouldn't be asked again if I said no. 

It turned out that the additional income would fill the second-child-sized gap in our budget almost to the dollar, and I had been wishing for some scheduled time out of the house. I saw it as a huge answered prayer for our bank account and my sanity. 

I failed to consider my unfamiliarity with the content and my complete lack of teaching experience as I made this decision. I would imagine all of that contributed to the intensity of my post-partum issues as I attempted to juggle a colicky newborn and learn the ins and outs of adolescent psychology while riding a hormonal roller coaster.

Allie was ten weeks old when I taught my first class in a small lecture hall of 65 students. Did I mention that I have a gut-wrenching fear of public speaking? Well, I do and I almost quit several times before I even started for that reason alone. After the first couple lectures, terrifying became doable and doable became enjoyable. I quickly discovered that I like every part of the job and I started believing again that - despite the challenges - this really was an answered prayer. 

As January became February and February became March, the cushion of pre-planned material slowly dwindled and soon I was planning a three-hour class full of unfamiliar content from week to week. I literally have to learn everything myself before I can present it to them. It makes me quite sad because it's an area I studied in school, but it's totally true what they say - if you don't use it, you lose it. And I lost a lot of it.

Literally every second that I'm not with my children (which isn't many), I am planning, grading, or reading. I hardly cook. Things aren't getting done around the house. Reese is watching A LOT of Mickey Mouse. And I'm exhausted because I'm up late almost every night. The gap between this Tuesday's class and next Tuesday's class closes faster than I can take a breath and I never realized that days and weeks could be so short. 

Reese will be three next month. It just doesn't seem right. It feels like she was just born; like I was just writing about her first steps. Now here I am with a five-month-old (yeah, five months already) and a child who just got registered for preschool. 

I've always heard that this phase of life goes by fast. I didn't take it to heart.

I've always heard that time seems to pass faster the older we get. I didn't think it was true.

These days time seems to be flying by at an alarming rate. Maybe because I'm busier. Maybe because I'm older. Maybe both. Whatever the reason, it bothers me that life is moving so fast. I've never had a stronger desire to lasso time than I have in recent weeks. 

That's what this has been all about. I thought God was answering my request for additional income. Then I ran into all these struggles and I didn't understand why He would clear this path and then make it so difficult to follow. But this was never about money.

This semester has been a reminder to me of how dearly I value my full-time life at home. This job prompted us to look at our finances and realize that all of our true needs are met and the "extras" just aren't worth the way time speeds up around us in exchange. I think about how I miss my friends and my evening time with Matt, and I see that they gave me all the adult time I really needed. I see myself telling Reese that I can't play with her because I need to get my work done and I remember that playing with her is the only kind of work I want to do. I see my growing list of writing ideas without an outlet, and I know that I would rather do what I truly love even in absence of a paycheck and the financial security that comes with it. and And, I see how fast these months have gone by and I know now how precious my time at home really is. 

Through this experience I learned that I would love to come back to a teaching role in higher education someday in the future. I realized how much I enjoyed my field of study and I set some goals to prevent myself from "losing it" any further. I squashed my fears of public speaking and revisited some of my long-abandoned plans to share the message of my writing with my real voice. Most importantly, I discovered that my slow, simple life is all I ever needed and no longer will I wonder if I am missing out by choosing to stay home for these few short years.

Last week I got an email from the head of my department saying that there will not be a position for me in the fall and that they will continue to keep me in mind for future openings. I can take that as a cue to start worrying about the returning gap in our budget. I can apply at other schools and search for other jobs. Or I can take a deep breath in and a big step back and thank my all-knowing God for another answered prayer.