A Diary of Three Mama’s

Dear Diary,

I cannot handle the emotional roller coaster. My boy is home from college on a break, looking so grown. Sounding so grown. I feel so proud until I think about how I will never ever have him climb in my lap again. Or hear his little boy voice. Then I want to die. To curl up and stop all activity and let the horrible grief wash me away. Then he says something so clever and funny and I am laughing and enjoying this stage ao much, and I think the woman who just wanted to die is possibly crazy. This is wonderful! He is so happy at college and he’s working so hard and he’s made all these new friends and he has even decided on a major. The world is full steam ahead for him! Then the other mom who lives here, Mom of Only Daughter, reminds me how much her girl misses him and it gets me distraught all over again! We won’t get to watch them spend lazy evenings joking around, or hear him gently give her encouragement. Now we’re both a puddle. SHE is getting on my nerves too! I was really feeling better until she brought up her girl. Maybe I need a vacation. At least the other mom, Mom of Angsty Teenage Boy cheers me up, because I know my new stage is easier than her current one.

Signed,

Done Raising Her Child Mom

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Dear Diary,

Must get more coffee. This kid is wearing me OUT. Constant arguing, non stop pushing the limits. I miss where we were two years ago. I used to have so much fun with him, and these days it’s all: managing requests and confronting disrespect. I’m exhausted. I’m jealous of the other two moms who live here. Done Raising Her Child Mom has arrived! She texts back and forth with her boy in college and has no more responsibility for day to day. I see her standing at the kitchen counter giggling over some joke he tweeted, while I’m over here explaining to mine why he can’t get a tatoo that covers half his rib cage! I’m becoming crankier by the day. Where is that blasted cup of coffee I poured?! Mom of Only Daughter better enjoy her time now! 12 years old is a wonderful stage and she gets to have so much fun being the Back Stage Mom, and the Shopping Mom, and the Snuggling Mom. Waaaah! I miss snuggling! I feel so guilty for not enjoying these days more, as Done Raising keeps reminding me it will be over soon, but my worry and exhaustion keeps overpowering the good moments. Also I feel ignored when we are all three out because everyone wants to talk to the other two moms and forgets about my boy since he often tries to be invisible, especially at church. I worry I have messed up terribly but then I keep reminding myself that Done Raising had some years where she was completely frustrated with her boy and he turned out pretty well. Forget the coffee. Maybe I need wine.

Signed,

Mom of Angsty Teenage Boy

Dear Diary,

Being a mom is just the best!! My sweet girl is a delight and joy. The other two moms around here are so dramatic. They act like having your kids growing up is horrible. Mom of Angsty keeps telling me things will change, like some kind of ominous warning. I think she needs some sleep and maybe I’ll get her a bottle of wine. This whole thing is not so tragic. Nothing to it. Kind of like flying a kite. Just let them move away from you a bit at a time until they are flying high! Now, when am I going to squeeze in doing our toes? And when will we watch Gilmore Girls on Netflix? I do feel a little bad for the other moms that they miss out on doing girly things, and that they have smellier laundry, but they keep assuring me they don’t mind at all. The only hard part lately is seeing my girl miss the college boy. I keep trying to get Done Raising to put a little more pressure on him to spend some time with my girl, but she refuses. I think maybe she’s jealous.

Signed,

Mom of Only Daughter

Dear All the Mothers,

The children are fine. You are all a little bit on edge these days and I think if you could coordinate and back each other up a bit this living arrangement would be easier on you.  You each do a wonderful job with your child and I can see how hard you are working, so thank you for that. But I do have just a few requests of my own as all this juggling is getting difficult. For one I never know which of you is in charge and it seems to change rapidly. Also, if you could stop interrupting each other while I’m trying to listen that would be helpful. I will try to assist in your requests, but I think we can all agree: some of them are a bit much. I mean, Mom of Only Daughter, I think your girl will be okay if you never take a Special Mother Daughter trip before she gets out of high school. There is only one of me, so I have to spread out among all three of you. And Mom of Angsty, have a little grace for yourself and your boy. He’s a great kid in a tough stage. You’ll both make it. Done Raising, just ride the roller coaster baby! We’ve been together the longest and I know it will level out. Give it time. Remember when he got his first car and then suddenly he was never home for dinner anymore? You thought you’d never adjust, but now it’s no big deal. Bottom line girls, the children are all growing up and you have got to support each other. And on that note, has anyone seen Dad lately?

Signed,

Your Heart

Flinging Starfish- How to face overwhelming problems without shutting down

A story begins……There was once an old man taking a walk on the beach where he lived. As he walked in the mid day sunshine he noticed a little boy running frantically up and down picking up starfish that had been beached by a high tide earlier, flinging them back into the cool water. The beach was covered with them and there was no way this one boy could get them all back into the water before the sun’s rays dried them up and killed most of them. Wanting to save the boy from wasting all his efforts, the old man stopped him saying, “Son, you can’t possibly get all these starfish back into the ocean in time. You are using all your energy and it won’t even matter.”

The young boy turned to the man, holding another starfish and never breaking his gaze flung it into the sea. Before he turned to continue his one man rescue operation, he replied, “It mattered to that one!”

I heard this story as a teenager and it has stuck with me ever since. I remember feeling overwhelmed by the many problems in this world and not knowing how I could make any difference at all. But the truth of that simple  story resonated deep within me. I cannot do everything. But I can do something.

I am the mother of teenagers now. The world has not really gotten better. Oh sure, some things have improved over time. But the reality is, brokenness just finds a new outlet. When we solve one problem another will take its place. If I’m not careful I can find myself sticking my head in the sand and living as though my little corner of the world and my tribe are all that matters. Protect mine. Conserve my energy for problems I face, because after all, what difference can one mom from the suburbs really make in a dark and broken world?

And yet, Jesus calls me light. In fact, “a city on a hill” that is meant to bring hope into the darkness is what he says I am. Because my heart is the residence of his Holy Spirit, and he was the Light of the World, his light now shines out of me. If I’m willing.

I was walking out of the doctor’s office last week and a young woman was sitting with her two babies, presumably waiting for a ride. She looked young, and she looked tired. The kind of tired that does not just come from sleepless nights, but from stress and hard times. Her babies were dressed so sweetly and she clearly was attending to their needs. I watched with admiration, noticing she was not wearing a wedding ring, and thinking how hard being a young single mama is. I felt deeply moved by the scene and wondered if she had anyone encouraging her. Did anyone ooh and aah over her babies? Did anyone tell her she was doing a good job? Before I could really stop myself I just had to speak to her. I asked if I could take a peek at her little one in the carrier and made ridiculous baby talk with the girl in her arms.  I asked a little bit about them and then stood up and said, “your babies are beautiful. You are doing a great job.” I don’t know what kind of mama she is all the time, but in that moment I wanted her to know that I saw her taking care of her children and it was beautiful. I would tell you I don’t know if it mattered to her, but I could see in her eyes it did.

And another starfish finds its way back to the water….

There are way many times I walk right by dying starfish on my way to my next meeting. I miss opportunities to be the light in someone’s darkness often. But that little exchange reminded me of something: I cannot do everything. But I can do something. And it matters. If I just focus on the people, and not on the magnitude of the problems, I can do something that matters. Loving others, being kind, offering help, sharing truth, giving food. They all matter. You don’t have to carry the weight of changing the world- Jesus did that for us. So now we are free to carry hope into the lives of the people who God puts in front of us. Every city, every town, every person is crying out to see real love displayed. You might look like a lunatic to the jaded and cynical among us, but for those to whom you show love, you will look like Jesus.

The Day You Take Your Son To College

It feels so normal. Hustling everyone around to get out the door on time. “Emma! Do you have your shoes on yet?!” Exchanging glances with my husband as he sees me check the time, knowing I am about to hurry him too, he offers “I’m just looking for my glasses then I’m ready.”

But today is not normal at all. Today we will start the day with three children at home and end with two. Today our van is packed to the top with most of our son’s things to relocate his life to Nashville. Today he leaves for college and life changes for us all.

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We arrive just a few minutes behind our scheduled time. Vanderbilt has a huge campus and finding our destination, “lot 77” takes a phone call and some rerouting, but now we are in a long line of cars and vans with mini fridges and suitcases and pillows all crammed around families with precious cargo. Kyler does not love all the overly caffeinated welcoming crew screaming and making us honk our horns while waiting in line. He is ready to get moved in and not feel so new and watched. I kind of like all the festivities. At least the college is acknowledging what a big day this is.

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We are greeted by a pack of kids in fluorescent green Move In Crew t-shirts, eager to help unload our van and find Kyler’s room. The husband is sent off to a parking garage with our van and Emma grabs my hand as we follow behind the green t-shirts. “I’m sad Kyler is leaving today” she whispers. I squeeze her hand, kiss the top of her head and blink back tears that are welling up. Time for that later. He is the first of his roommates to arrive as we walk into the empty space that will hold his life next year. Time to find comfort in my familiar role of nesting and I am delighted to direct everyone in unpacking and sorting. Emma and the husband set off to locate some breakfast for us and Kyler and I settle into our familiar patterns of working on a project together.

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It is surprisingly easy to get everything settled and I begin to feel unsure. I anticipated a longer process, not wanting the day to rush by quicker than it must. We have been introduced to a myriad of smiling, helpful welcoming people, all with clip boards and instructions and stickers for us to wear. We are now officially Vanderbilt Parents and a Vanderbilt Sibling. We decide to loft Kyler’s bed to give more space below, so the men redo the bedding while I read instructions and Emma swivels in his desk chair. Our next job is to walk across campus to the Commons, where he can get his ID, then on to pick up text books. His roommates have not yet arrived, and he is getting anxious waiting, so we decide to head out to explore a bit and check off our tasks for move in day.

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The day continues on, minutes ticking by as I try to take in all the details of his new home. Thinking about home, I text our middle son to update him on the progress of the day. He is not the kind who enjoys big crowds of strangers, so he opted to stay back. I wonder how he will adjust to being the oldest child in the house. The only big brother at home with Emma. My mind wanders back to when the boys were little and no matter what we asked Klynt to do, his first response was “What about Kah-ler?” in his two year old squeaky voice. They have always been together and now they branch off.

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We meet his roommate Dre, and I am so thankful. He is very different from Kyler but I sense they share some common values as we interact. I resist the urge to take a picture of them, knowing the look my oldest would give me if I tried. We grab lunch off campus at our favorite Indian restaurant. Kyler attends a presentation by one of his deans and then it is dinner. We are all tired. We follow him back to his room one last time before we go and I feel myself wanting to stall a bit, but knowing it’s time. My husband leads us in a prayer and then we hug him tight. The tears are about to burst when I realize I have not taken one picture with Kyler all day.

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And then, we are done. We walk out and he closes his dorm door behind us and we head to the car. Emma wipes her tears with the back of her hand, but I just let mine fall. I cry because I love him so much. I cry because he is no longer nesting with me. I cry because it feels so strange to let go of one whom I have held so close for so long. I cry because while I am happy for him,  I am sad for me.

I know I will see him again, probably soon. I know this is right and good and everything we raised him to be: a strong, independent, smart, loving and Christ following young man. But for tonight, I am not consoled by what I know. I am raw and inexperienced with this phase of parenthood and my mind keeps wandering backward to the comfort of all that I have known, all that is familiar when you have been a mama almost 19 years. Tonight I simply sit in the strange empty newness of releasing a child into adulthood and trust that God will bring comfort and joy tomorrow.

The Power of I’m Sorry

Welcome to my Wednesday! I was startled, then pleased, then shocked by all the new readers who dropped by yesterday to read about depression. If you are new to Millinery, welcome! You can read my “About” page to decide if you want to get all tangled up in this adventure. But, I hope certainly hope you do, and I welcome the comments and conversations.

We leave to take my son college in 3 days. (2 1/2 to be precise, but who’s counting?) Last week we were talking about his high school years, some of the struggles he has worked through, when I asked him a loaded question:

What do you think was a main cause of that struggle in your life?

I sensed his hesitation, and when he finally answered, I understood why.

It was some of the ways you and dad dealt with it.

It’s like someone handing your spirit a load of the heaviest bricks when you realize you have failed a person you love. You feel yourself sinking under the weight of sadness and guilt. Regret is painful. As your mind rewinds time to find a way to undo and make amends the reality stings.

I cannot go back and change what has been done.

Sometimes, the only way out is through. We talked some more, but I knew what we both needed would take me a day or two to offer. Not because I wasn’t willing to offer it, but because he needed time to be ready to receive it and I needed time to process all the feelings that might tempt me to alter what needed to be said.

“I was wrong. I am sorry. Please forgive me.” -Derek Webb

I was thinking yesterday about all of you who read the post on what NOT to say to loved ones with depression, and something hit me: a whole lot of you reading that message were being handed a giant load of heavy bricks. You’ve already said the wrong thing. Messed it up royally. Not because you wanted to hurt your loved one, but because in your fear and concern for them you reacted.
I know you love them and it stings to know your very sincere attempts to make it better, have made it worse. But, there is power for healing for you and for them. When there is no way to undo what’s been done, no way to take back words spoken, no way to unhurt anothers heart- there is I’m sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me.

It is a starting place for change. It is acknowledging your brokenness and how it came crashing into theirs. It is taking the weight of your wrong squarely on yourself- which really might undo us all if not for knowing Jesus already took all of it on His shoulders so we could be forgiven. Romans 8:28 teaches us that “God works all things together for the good of those who love Him…” which means even my failure God can, and will, miraculously work for good in my life and in my son’s.

I pulled him into the laundry room as I was sorting and folding a few nights ago. I offered my apology. He accepted graciously. We hugged and I cried. It’s painful, this process of failing and fixing. It’s the messy underbelly of relationship. And it is freeing. I have said many times, and will continue to proclaim, Jesus came for messy, broken sinners like me. And you.

Closing Chapters

I keep getting the question “How’re you doing?” with a tone of concern and look of compassion from all my mama friends. Perhaps it’s because I’m a fairly open book on social media and everyone knows I have been cautiously anticipating the pomp and circumstance of my Kyler’s graduation. I keep giving the same, “I think I’m doing okay” answer, which is vague but not intentionally so.

The truth is I think I’m doing okay. I keep waiting for a moment that feels equal emotionally to the significance of completing a task such as raising a human being, but so far they all just feel like moments I’ve had before. Watching him walk into the living room in his cap and gown felt very much like seeing him a tuxedo for the first time. Startling to see him looking so grown; proud of his handsome composure; happy and wistful mixed together. Image

Seeing him open gifts from proud grandparents felt similar to his milestone birthday’s over the past couple years. Watching him receive his diploma reminded me of many award ceremonies attended throughout his school years. Even the hoopla in the courtyard of the Grand Ol’ Opry after graduation ended had flavors of the last day of Governor’s school or summer camp, when he would rush around to say his goodbyes to new and old friends.

If my life with my children is a book we’re writing, it seems all the chapters before have prepared me to walk into this one. I expected all this letting go to feel so unfamiliar and strange, but I’ve been doing it for 18 years it turns out. Small steps like walking him into school for his first day of kindergarten and saying goodbye to him for a month of Governor’s school were laying a path out for me to find. There is no question that the path keeps stretching me out farther than I always want it to. Sometimes I long to pick a spot several years back and revisit our relationship from that chapter in our story. I loved so many moments along the way and It is difficult to accept that each chapter has to close. But even this feeling of longing to go backward is familiar. I have survived it many times. When he began to outgrow his sugary sweet baby days I could not imagine anything ever delighting me quite that way again- but I soon learned a newly talking two year old can do just that.

So as my thoughts lead me down a path of grief- fearing nothing will ever feel as complete as having all my chicks in the nest under my roof, I look back at the path of letting go and embracing the new chapter, and I find comfort. I trust that this is all as it should be; son pulling away, parent watching and resisting the urge to pull them back.

Motherhood- It’s Totally Getting in the Way

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We dug out every type of long poke-y device we could find.Teenage Boysimage

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There’s been a lot of life lately. A lot of grocery shopping and dirty dishes and cats getting hair on things. Oh and laundry. And floors to be ripped up because refrigerators leak sometimes. And then there’s the teaching of Sunday School and throwing birthday fiesta’s and paperwork- always mounds and mounds of paperwork. There are empty pitchers in the fridge and attitudes and sleeplessness (hello-40!) and let me just tell you- some days you wake up and think:

What exactly is happening here?

Didn’t I have plans for my life that involved beautifully dressed children and sipping wine on my patio and impacting the world through my amazing insights into scripture? Wasn’t I going to be at the homeless shelter monthly and learn to speak Spanish fluently and also finally figure out how to grow things? Why am I not at the gym or traveling the world or up to date on the latest trending meme?

Motherhood.

It definitely gets in the way of our picture. You know the one you had at 20, where you always answered patiently and the house was “lived in” but still magazine worthy and you were……. well, lovely.

Motherhood does not actually offer that picture. Maybe we’ve confused it with Hollywood. No dear friends, motherhood offers us something entirely different, if we allow the Lord to use it.

Something Better.

Motherhood tackles us and wrestles every ounce of pride, self glory and ego out. It confronts every fear, inadequacy and wound and offers healing. It changes us; if we let it. I suppose I fought it more, those changes, when I was younger. I didn’t want to let go of my pride- I was going to be the one mother who never really screwed up anything important. It was okay with me if I forgot a PTA meeting or didn’t have the matching outfit ready for the picture day- those were acceptable flaws. But real mistakes, actually sinning against my children- I was going to be the one managed to rise above, who had no regrets.

I hid all my fears. Fear that I couldn’t figure it all out, fear that bad things would happen to my kids, fear of failing- but one by one, they’ve all been exposed. Motherhood is not a very safe place to hide out from fear. In fact, it exposes it faster than any other role I’ve ever lived.

And in return, the Lord, through this messy and beautiful and annoying and fun and treasured gift of Motherhood has changed my heart. I no longer believe most of what I used to about myself. I know how terribly sinful I am, but as I love those children He has given me, I get a glimpse of His love for me- unconditional and radically big. I am no longer quite so afraid- because I’ve watched Him use bad for good, turn pain into joy- both in me and my children.

And not every day or week, but sometimes, I get those moments where I think my heart will absolutely burst open with the love or joy He pours into me that I get to turn and pour into my babies. And for those times, I am thankful that Motherhood gets in the way.

For All the Brokenhearted Mama’s

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Heartache comes in all kinds of packages. I have felt my fair share, and seen even more in the lives of friends and clients. Lately I am realizing heartache has a strange way of separating us and making us feel so very alone. So this is my letter to all the mama’s with broken hearts- You. Are. Not. Alone. You really aren’t. I know we feel like there are the “acceptable” heartaches and then there are others. So, please know I’m saying this to all of us. It’s okay to hurt for your kids. Even,

those with children who have drug and alcohol addictions, are in rehab or in jail…..

those with babies who have disease, disability, struggles to eat and sleep and play like healthy kids…..

those with children who have been molested, abused, abandoned…..

those with teenagers dark and brooding, depressed, angry and rebellious….

those whose children are struggling with their sexuality…..

those with teens who are having sex, have gotten pregnant, have had an abortion…..

those whose children are missing, runaways and taken….

those whose children are unwilling to speak, see or have any relationship with them….

those with kids on the spectrum who struggle so hard to fit in, act normal, make friends….

those whose children have rejected God, the church or their families….

Yes, you. All of you. Can I please tell you something? I know it hurts. It hurts when you see the facebook status’s of other mom’s beautiful, healthy, achieving, strong, popular, spiritual kids. It hurts when people ask “How’s Jimmy?” and you have to decide how to answer without lying but without telling the truth either. It’s so hard to sit in church and listen to sermons and realize, you’ve made mistakes you can’t undo. It’s hard to get phone calls from guidance counselors, youth pastors, coaches, teachers- all “just a little concerned” about your baby. It hurts till it feels like you can’t breathe.

And you want so much to fix it! Make it all better. To take away the pain or sickness or lie they believe or wound they endured. But, there is no quick fix for broken. And watching them hurt is breaking you too.

Let me tell you one other thing: God loves your baby, more than you do. As far as you would run to reach them, as high as you would reach for answers- He will go farther. There is no limit to His love, no length He will not go to for restoration. Those mountains you cannot move for your child- He can. He has already come for them, as He has come for you. It may seem impossible for things to change, to stop being so awful- but nothing is stronger than the love that defeated death.

So don’t you dare quit. Cry, scream, sleep, journal, vent, share- but don’t quit! Don’t quit hoping, praying, loving, guiding, talking with and pursuing your kids. And don’t believe the lie that you are alone in this! Every mama faces some kind of heartbreak at some point. Find your cheering section and ask them to hold a mama pep rally. Ask them to remind you that God is good, even when life is bad.

You are not alone.

Motherhood Hacks, You’re Welcome

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My oldest on my hip at his two year birthday. I have learned more about what works, from trying what didn’t with him, and all first borns should get some reward for surviving!

There are some things that absolutely should come in a manual, handed to you upon leaving the hospital with your newborn. As I was reading a few of my younger mom friend’s questions on facebook tonight, I felt inspired to pass on a few of the ideas, suggestions and divine interventions of wisdom I have been given in my 19 years of mothering. Jesus + this list = You, making it!

1. Never make a happy baby happier. Don’t move their head, offer a toy, pull out the passy. Until they hit verbal skills, crying will be a constant. If you are not hearing wails and whines, for the love of your sanity, leave them be!

2. There is more than one way to cook a chicken. Find your approach as a mom and in your family, and don’t worry about whatever the new parenting fad happens to be. This applies to sleeping patterns, nursing, bottle feeding, immunizations, discipline, TV, diet, education, Santa Clause and all the rest. The main thing is to find a method that works for you and your child!

3. Make peace with daily laundry. Remember when you used to have a laundry day? That ship sailed the day you gave birth. View laundry like doing the dishes and you won’t be so stressed about it.

4. Learn the name of your pediatrician’s nurse. Call her and ask what to try before bringing your child in for an appointment, to avoid contracting every virus in the waiting room. Also, the first morning appointment and first appointment after lunch have the shortest wait times.

5. Bubbles are the best bang for your buck in terms of distractions and diversions. Keep a bottle in the car, for when stuck in traffic or waiting someplace like the car pool line. Keep a bottle in your purse for when the food is taking too long at a restaurant. Keep some at home just for fun.

6. Speaking of diversions, keep a small bag a toys/books/snacks that you only use in a certain, frequently difficult location for your child. That might be restaurants, or church or the grocery store. But the idea is, you have a special little bag that they only get at that time. They look forward to receiving the goodies and it distracts them from being fussy. The Dollar Store is a great place to find those kind of goodies.

7. Once they are big enough to be in the bathtub on their own, let them bathe while you are cooking dinner. Most kids love bathtime, especially if they have toys in the tub, and for many it is calming. This can really cut down on the mania while trying to get dinner cooked, plus it makes it easier at bedtime as they are already clean and in jammmies.

8. Rule of thumb for birthday parties: one guest for every year being celebrated.

9. The best family traditions are the ones you grew up with, have significant meaning or created a really special moment. Try lots of new ideas, recipes and projects- but don’t feel pressured to make it a permanent thing unless it really means something to you. Also, remember whatever you establish will double or triple in cost and energy with each new child added to your family.

10. When going through the “power struggle” toddler years, give your child choices, but limit them. Red shirt or green shirt? PBS or Disney Channel? Often the choice of “nothing” is helpful to offer, as in, “You can have the goldfish for snack, or nothing? Which would you like?” This gives your child some control, and I cannot tell you how many times my kids would choose nothing rather than what was offered.

11. Limit your child to one sport per year. This keeps costs lower, schedules more reasonable and allows for everyone in the family to have their time in the spot light.

12. General rule of thumb: if it’s swollen, put ice. If it’s tight, use a heating pad.

13. Do not be room mom for your first child in kindergarten. Take at least a year to see what the norm is for a room mom so you don’t kill yourself doing more than you need, or feel like a slacker later.

14. Boundaries with Kids is a wonderful book on parenting. Jesus Storybook Bible is a wonderful children’s bible.

15. Kids should quit bathing with their parent or other sibling by 8, or before if they develop a more modest personality.

16. Professional family photo’s don’t have to be done yearly. Every couple years is plenty.

17. Rule of thumb for clothes shopping: if the child doesn’t like it, we don’t buy it. If the parent doesn’t like it, we don’t buy it. Then everything in the closet has been agreed on by both people. Eliminates a lot of battles later!

18. To avoid the battle on “it’s not fair”, have one child cut the cake in half, the other child chooses their piece first. Also, assign seats at the dinner table and in the car.

19. Make a “no discipline” commitment to driving the kids to school and dinner time. Unless the child is directly disobeying in those moments, deal with discipline issues at other times.

20. Say yes to everything you can, say no to things that are physically, emotionally or spiritually dangerous, or cause chaos in the family.

Getting Over Myself and others gifts of Motherhood

I have been a mother a really long time now. Not yet half my life but almost. I often say being a mother is my favorite thing I have ever done.  And it is, but not because it makes me happy. It does sometimes, but that’s not why it’s my favorite. And it’s not because it is so fulfilling, although it is in many ways. No, the reason it is my favorite is because it is the best gift God has ever given me. Before I became a mother I was smart, prideful, fearful, loving, people pleasing, independent and organized. I realize some of those are contradictory, but that is how women trend to be- a mixed bag of strengths and weaknesses, talents and failures, beauty and scars. I generally liked myself a lot and thought I was very likable as well. After all, I was 15 lbs smaller and less wrinkled too. I knew I had some weaknesses but felt that my strengths balanced them out pretty well, and basically I could earn approval in spite of them.

19 years later, I am quite different than that younger woman who began the journey. My children, loving and caring for them, has radically changed me. It has truly been a gift to be a mom, not just because it feels good to love another person so much and with such intensity, but because it is like a fire God has used to refine me. Certainly there have been moments of great joy and hilarious fun, but the real blessing, when I look back, has come through the daily regular grind of caring for three little selves and learning to quit being one big selfish self.

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Kyler, 18 and Klynt, 16…..you have no idea how it delights me to watch them be friends

So in no particular order, here are a few of the refinements my children have been catalysts for in my life:

Learning to quit caring so much about my looks. This one did not happen over night, but slowly I came to see that my external self is not really as significant as my younger self believed. Maybe it was changes from three c-sections, maybe it happened after being spit up on 7 million times, maybe the way my children have always thought I was beautiful, wrinkles and all; I think primarily it comes from realizing I cannot tell my children beauty is only skin deep, while they watch me panic over my reflection. If I wanted them to know their inner self was most valuable, I had to wrestle that truth for myself.  It’s not that I don’t still desire to be beautiful, but motherhood has taught me to define beauty in a new way.

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Emma Joy, 10, full of sparkle and sweetness and a lil’ sass

Humility. This one was painful. Unfortunately in my case, the path to humility came through moments of humiliation. I was shockingly sure of so many things before I gave birth. It took about 5 years into motherhood to begin to see my pride and judgement, and it was not comfortable. In fact, I still cringe occasionally when I remember some of my opinionated and arrogant statements. God used my children’s will and free choices to show me how little control I had, how often my great solutions would fail and how desperately I needed Him to do my job.  Bumping into my own limits like lack of knowledge, tiredness, sinfulness and fear was surprisingly freeing. I began to realize it was okay to admit I do not have it all together and I could surrender to the One who holds me together. 

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Could you just die from the cuteness? I always wanted a big brother, and I love watching my oldest and youngest have such a close relationship.

Become a global thinker. Before children, these were my true thoughts about being an American and the rest of the world: So glad I was born here. Whew! Glad I get to enjoy life, liberty and happiness. That was it. It never occurred to me that I had any responsibility at all to really care about the rest of the world. But becoming a mother caused me to see poverty, slavery, war and even the environment anew. What if my babies lived in the poorest country instead of the wealthiest? What if  we lived in a place ravaged by genocide or disease or mass air pollution?  These are still hard questions for me, but I have learned to not get paralyzed  by the overwhelming nature of these issues and do something, anything rather than turn a blind eye.

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He rarely smiles for pictures, this one, but he makes me laugh all the time. 

Quit fearing making a mistake. Children do not come with instruction manuals, as the cliche goes, and so I have made thousands of mistakes along the way. Some have been little, but some have been big enough to feel regret and pain over. My oldest and I were talking a year ago about how my people pleasing in his younger years impacted him negatively. I can look back and see how my over scheduled days made me cranky and irritable when he was moving slow or being childish. It taught him to feel guilty or fearful about having needs. If I could go back and reparent at that time, I surely would. But I have also learned a very freeing truth: children don’t need perfect parents. They need parents to point them to a perfect God who will never fail them. I certainly do my best to love my children well and in a way that shows them who God is, but I know I can’t do it perfectly and that’s really okay.

 

The fear of being normal, and other obstacles to living an extraordinary life

I have teenagers so I am abundantly familiar with the constant posting to the various social media outlets. It’s fairly normal for a huge chunk of adults, me included, so this is no slam on the teens. I, personally, cannot stop myself from filtering every single photo through Instagram. Lately as we’re busy “posting” our lives I notice something we all seem to have in common: somehow everyone’s life is so unusual and glamorous and constantly hilarious. It’s like our lives are a series of SNL sketches mixed with poignant stories and inspirational “real” moments. All carefully scripted. All filtered beautifully. Cue the witty hashtag. The ever-present comparisons we make on a sometimes hourly basis, are skewing our realities. We, myself included, stand back and evaluate how impressive our thoughts, photos and anicdotes will seem. No one wants to be cliche, outdated or worst of all- regular.

What’s regular, you ask?

Here is my regular Tuesday: I got up on time and made breakfast for myself and kids and rushed everybody out the door with little to no humor, but we all got to our various places on time and I told everybody the same thing I tell them everyday- Have a good day- love you! – as they exited the car. And I drove to work and I prayed it would be a good day, and I did my job and the highlight of my day was somebody left some Christmas candy in the break room. And I came home to a messy kitchen and I made a pot of non-organic chili and we ate on chipped dishes and no one volunteered to clean the kitchen so I assigned it to one of the kids who griped all the way through doing it. My husband wandered off to watch football because his day was stressful and I really didn’t have anything helpful to say to encourage him, other than “love you” which he smiled about but still wandered off to veg out. And the kids went to bed and I started the laundry and then went to bed and I was thankful enough, but not particularly thrilled by any part of the past 18 hours.

Nobody wants to post that as a status or tweet about it- but it’s life. And we have come to fear it; that our normal, regular life is getting in the way of being extraordinary. That at the end of our days we will be thought of as a person who wasted their talent or never lived up to their potential, or had no cool factor at all.  But here’s the secret: being normal: being a steady worker, a faithful spouse, a mediocre cook or a nominally funny person has no power to keep you from living an extraordinary life. The extraordinary life comes from valuing the things God values and loving the way Christ loved. Often the regular things in our day are the very opportunities to live beyond regular. When I get up and wake my children and help them find socks and pack lunches and I extend kindness when I would rather be grumpy and mope into my morning coffee- that creates a culture in my family of sacrifice and kindness. Two things this world runs desperately short on. And when I do laundry and run the car pool and keep groceries in the fridge week after week, it creates a sense of security and faithfulness– two more missing elements in many people’s stories. And when I am respectful of people I don’t agree with, who are ignorant or annoying or socially awkward, and I ignore the discomfort I feel but focus on the dignity of the person- I am becoming more like Christ, “who being in very nature God- did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking on the nature of a servant.”

We all talk and even bemoan the fact that social media creates comparisons and pressure to “live up” but equally scary to me is the fear of just being a normal person. The whole point of our testimony about Christ is I am not all that amazing– in fact, I’m actually quite sinful and weak- but Christ….. He is strong and good and holy and righteous. And because He is and was all those things, he offers them to me. So I can quit trying to impress you. I can quit being afraid of being a nobody, because I’m already loved and accepted by the most important somebody who ever was. And then, when I know that, I can live in the extraordinary way He did- loving everyone, humbly serving, fighting for justice….. and unloading the dishwasher and returning a call and balancing my checkbook.