Friday, November 1, 2013

The Blessing of Busyness

I killed it yesterday.
As in, I totally rocked it out – this stay-at-home mom thing.
It was an errands-completed, groceries-purchased, house-cleaned, laundry-done, kids-fed, 30-Day-Shredded (Jillian Michaels, you ain’t got nothin’ on me!), bible-studied, words-written, dinner-prepped kind of day. Whew!
Today? Well, let’s just say…if only every day could be like yesterday…
But I’m still giving myself credit because, as I’ve said before, it’s about balance. We need the busy and the still…the hurried and the relaxed…the chaos and the quiet. I think it all has its purpose. 
I have been learning a lot lately about the difference between doing the ‘busy’ things and doing the ‘important’ things, so I’m trying to make a conscious effort to rid myself of distractions and focus on the essential. I think I’m doing better at weeding out those activities that only serve to divert me from those with actual significance. I’ve been adding more to my plate, that’s for sure, but I’ve been adding the more meaningful stuff.
Busy can be good, I’ve realized. We often talk about how we all need to slow down a little more and savor our moments, but there is good to be found in the productive days as well. Busy means ‘life as normal’ – we haven’t been derailed by something awful or interrupted by illness or suffering. I have before, and I don't enjoy that kind of 'busy'. Give me the contentment of a boring ol' routine any day.
When I have that perspective, it makes it so much easier for me to accept how ordinary my days are.  And boy, are they so incredibly ordinary. Bill-paying, cooking-and-cleaning, errand-running ordinary. Busy, but not so busy that I lose sight of why I'm doing the work.

I’ve kept a journal for years. In looking back at all my past entries, I’ve noticed an underlying theme that has plagued my thoughts – insecurity. Am I good enough? Do I measure up? For years I have tried to overcome my struggle of feeling like I am not doing enough. But it's not about how much I'm doing. It's not even really about what I'm doing. It's about why I'm doing it.
What Matters In Life SAHM
I am most effective when I enjoy what I do and feel that it has purpose and significance. When I’m busy but the tasks don’t feel meaningful, all I feel is a depletion of energy. Yet when I fill my time with worthy tasks, there is a sense of accomplishment, and with that, contentment.
And do you know what I've discovered? Sometimes even the most menial, ordinary tasks have an incredible amount of significance.
Even the tiniest conversation can have an impact. Even the shortest moment can last a lifetime. A little boy gets scared, and a big sister hugs him tight and says, “Don't worry, baby boy. I will always be with you.” And then it all makes sense.
It's not that every day is perfect. It's not that there aren't worries and frustrations that get in the way. It's not that those insecurities never creep back in, begging me to notice them and give them the value they don't deserve.
It's that I'm in a sacred place of knowing I'm right where I'm supposed to be, doing just what I should be doing. My days are busy, in quite the ordinary sort of way. But there's one thing that makes them uncommonly extraordinary – I wake up each morning knowing that today matters.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sharing My First Pregnancy: Hope, Loss, And Life

October 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. I've never shared my story on here before, so I wanted to today. It was healing for me to go back to this time in my life and write it out for others to read. I hope it is encouraging to those of you who know the pain of loss or are struggling toward motherhood.

I have always known I wanted children. It's the one desire I can trace back to my roots – ever present, never changing, never a doubt in my mind that someday I wanted babies of my own. I'd always felt that mothering was something I was born to do.

When Clint and I decided we were ready for kids, we wanted to just let it happen. No 'trying', no stressing – just letting it be. I had always loved the idea of holding a pregnancy test in my hand and letting the wave of shock and excitement rush over me as the second line appeared. I wasn't in a hurry. I truly believed it would happen in its own time, and there was no reason to rush.

Even though I'd read that it can often take several months, I still expected it to happen pretty quickly. After all, don't most people get knocked up accidentally? How hard could it be? Have sex, have a baby. BAM! One of the easiest things in the world, right?

A few months went by. No worries. I figured the wait was just giving me a little more time to be completely prepared. Then a few more months went by. And a few more.

I started to feel a little sick – not from pregnancy, unfortunately, but from the fear that had always resided deep within me. As a child, when I'd hear about women who'd never been able to have kids, I'd pray that God would protect me from that kind of pain. The worst thing I can possibly imagine, I'd think. The thought terrified me. It made me miserable to think that the one thing I'd always wanted – the only thing I'd ever felt as though I couldn't live without – might never happen.

More months. More waiting, more hoping. More pregnancy announcements, but never my own. I finally got to the point where I was no longer hopeful, but frantic. This needed to happen. Now.

I finally told Clint, “We need to figure out if something is wrong.” I couldn't fathom going another year with the possibility that there was something we could fix. Our relaxed approach was not working – it was time to take action.

Turns out there was no need. Even though I didn't want to see another negative pregnancy test, I took one anyway. As I waited for the result, I tried to suppress my hopes. I feared it wasn't meant to happen for me and prayed that I would accept the inevitable.

I sighed and picked the test up. Am I imagining that line? I thought. I squinted hard at the little window – one dark pink line and one very faint pink line. My jaw dropped. I stared hard, certain that it was a figment of my imagination, that all these months of waiting had truly driven me crazy.

I showed Clint. “Do you see that line?!” I asked excitedly.

“Yeah,” he said as he squinted at the tiny window.

“Do you know what that means?!” I said.

His eyes widened. “Scary,” he said.

I'm sure he meant awesome. In a big, scary, exciting, phenomenal sort of way. (Men react to these sorts of things a little differently.) Finally, I thought. I was elated.

We kept it mostly to ourselves, deciding to wait until after I'd seen a doctor before making a big announcement. We just told immediate family and a few close friends.

I felt great as we geared up to make a weekend trip out of town. We were thrilled to get away together and celebrate some time alone, knowing that those opportunities would not come as often once we had a little one. A sweet, perfect, cherished little one. I smiled inside, everywhere we went. Each moment of every day. Life was about to get so, so good.

I started bleeding that weekend. I tried not to worry – I knew that bleeding didn't necessarily indicate a problem. I had wanted this baby for so long – surely, God intended for me to have it. Surely, my patience was being rewarded. Surely, I was going to be a wonderful mother, and there was no reason to fear.

But the bleeding increased throughout our trip. Cramping set in. My assurance turned into concern.

I returned to work on Monday feeling uneasy. Everyone who knew about the pregnancy told me not to worry. I was told to kick my feet up and relax – all would be fine. I wanted to take their words to heart, but I knew I couldn't. I just knew. And by Tuesday morning the concern turned into panic.

I left work before lunch. I was a complete wreck. And yet everyone kept saying, “Don't worry. Everything will be fine. Just relax.” But I knew from what I'd seen and felt my body doing that everything was not fine. I just needed someone to tell me. I needed to know. I couldn't wait for the OB appointment that was still two days away.

So that evening I headed to the E.R. I was escorted to a room where I was calm as I answered a lady's questions while she filled out paperwork. She finally asked me my reason for the visit. “Possible miscarriage” were the words I managed to force out before I burst into tears. I wept while she forced her eyes back onto the forms. “I'm sorry...sorry...” I kept saying as I sobbed. She wordlessly handed me a tissue, her eyes glued to the paper as she wrote.

I don't know why she wouldn't look at me. I felt guilty for even being there because I knew it wasn't really an emergency. It was my own mental emergency, my need for closure in something I could no longer continue wrestling. I like to think that maybe she understood. Maybe she gave me space because she'd been down this road before with others, and perhaps she knew this pain all too well. These things happen so often, you know.

I was admitted to a room, poked and prodded and tested until I could take no more. I was there for hours before I was finally told the news I'd come to receive: there was no baby.

I went home, where the emptiness began to overtake the grief. Life continued as normal. Our plans were halted, and yet nothing had changed. To my husband, it was a disappointment. To me, it was devastating.

Just two days later I went to my scheduled appointment. I was there to have blood drawn to make sure my hormone levels were dropping, not to talk about my medical history and birth plan, like it was supposed to be. Instead of sitting in the waiting room, looking at all the swollen bellies with excitement, I looked with envy and longing. I dropped my eyes to the floor to keep from crying.

I scoured every article on the Internet about miscarriage. Every forum. Every blog post. I could not read enough to squelch the grief. I wanted to try again immediately. I wanted it back...the joy that had been ripped from me. And I wanted it desperately.

I became obsessed with learning all I could about fertility. I began taking my temperature every morning, charting my cycle, predicting ovulation. I turned it into a task to be conquered. I needed it to be something that I could make happen.

People started asking questions. So when are you guys going to have kids? How many do you want? Well, what are you waiting for?! They didn't know about our struggle – I couldn't share it. It was too deeply personal. On some level I felt responsible, as though there was something wrong with me. I felt embarrassed, ashamed.

I clung to my faith to get me through the pain. I tried to understand why I was not yet a mother, but I never received any satisfying answers. All I could do was go back to the truths that had always sustained me before: God's wisdom is infinitely superior to man's. I am ultimately not in control. He will give me the deepest desires of my heart.

But none of that made it fair. None of that helped me to understand why.

Then along came Christmas. I had hoped for a baby. Instead I got a stomach virus. Not just any stomach virus – it was the virus from hell. I saw several doctors, went to the ER twice, had numerous tests done, was unable to eat, and lost twelve pounds in two weeks.

I was scared. It was terrifying to be that ill and to receive no answers from the doctors. They told us it was most likely 'just a really bad virus', but we feared it was something much worse.

When your life is disrupted so much, you realize just how blessed you truly are. I realized I just wanted to be healthy. I wanted to spend many, many beautiful years with my husband. I was tired of trying to make my life perfect, tired of spinning my wheels to feel like I was in control. I just wanted to be well again. I was not a mother, but I could still live.

Gradually, my condition improved. It took a while to feel normal again, but I'm thankful for that illness. It taught me that I wanted life. I chose life. I no longer wanted to be consumed by fear and worry, plagued by that which was out of my control.

I let go. I was reminded to savor the present because we never know what tomorrow will bring – what illness...what blessing...what tragedy...what miracle.

My own blessing came about just three months later. Another positive test. And this one resulted in the most hilarious, precocious, beautiful almost-four-year-old that I enjoy today. She has a handsome little brother, too.

I know that for many women, their struggle to become mothers goes on for much longer on a road that is paved with much more pain. My heart aches for them in a way I could never express. My hope for them is that they know there is still life to be lived – that when they feel consumed by despair, they still know that joy is just a moment away.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Passage Of Time

A mama watching video clips on the computer is like a magnet to her offspring. At the first sound of familiar little voices coming from the speakers, they drop whatever shenanigans they’re up to and come running to check out their former shenanigans. I suppose I can see the appeal – there’s not a whole lot out there that is more fun than reliving the moments of your life that were a blast.

How To Capture Moments With Kids
One of our best moments
When I reviewed the video from my sister’s wedding, Hannah ran up to the computer, face practically pressed up against the screen, and flipped out with excitement. As she watched herself twirling around the dance floor at the reception, her eyes lit up. “Mama, I want to go back there! Can we go back there? Please.”

I laughed and explained to her that the wedding was over, that nobody was there anymore. Everyone had gone home.

“But I want to go back there,” she said longingly.

I know how she feels. I know that in a few short years that is exactly the place I’m going to be in – wanting to come back to right here, right now. I guess I’m glad that I’m at least aware of that, but I’m not looking forward to the moment I find myself missing what’s gone.

I’ve never been one to mourn the past, but I’ve never had it this good before.

Raising little ones is not easy, and I don’t have the greatest track record when it comes to patience, so in the midst of the ‘daily grind’ moments, I don’t always have that perspective. But it’s the hard truth – the phrase ‘they grow up too fast’ has never felt more real and raw, and that load gets heavier by the day.

I’ve had Abram in my life for nearly two years, and I know from raising Hannah that it’s about to get really different. There is so much that he does right now that will not be a part of him for long. He laughs hysterically at the faces Hannah makes at him. When you tell him he can’t have a popsicle or some other such disappointment, he says, “AW, MEH!” (Aw, man!) He begs for the Ipad so he can watch Jack and the Beanstalk. (“PYE-PYE, peeeease. BEAN-TAH!”)

He cuddles with his "bappy" in his crib. 

Sleeps In Crib

He is growing and changing at lightning speed. All I have to do to see that is look back at all of our captured moments. I have documented so much of our lives...hours upon hours of video, hundreds upon hundreds of photos. But it never feels like enough. It will never, ever be enough.

The things I used to find myself immersed in? The stuff that used to be so second nature to me that I could never imagine not thinking about constantly? They exist no more. It’s no surprise...I know that’s how life is, that it’s continually changing and we are creatures that are always transforming. But nothing quite smacks you in the face with it like watching your children grow up.

Though I feel blessed to have the technology to be able to take a peek back in time, taking that peek always makes me ache. You can hit pause on the video, you could rewind it over and over and watch it until you had it memorized, but you'll never have those buttons on your life. You can never go back.

Raising Siblings Who Love Each Other

I just hope that when I find myself in that place, wishing he was two years old again, I’ll be able to look around and say, “I’ve still got it so good.”

Monday, August 12, 2013

It's Not Always What We Expected

But sometimes it's something much better.

I think one of the most surprising things I've learned about raising a child is that I'm not raising a mini-me. I used to think that having a baby was like having a tiny version of yourself, and you would know how to raise that baby based on your own character and experiences. In other words, since I understand myself pretty well, of course I would always understand what my child – my own flesh and blood, a creation from my very own womb – needed.

Oh, wait – there was another person involved in the creation of that flesh and blood, and some traits come from him. AND, even more surprisingly, it turns out that the little being actually develops personality traits of its very own that are an enigma even to both parents.

I mean, how can anyone not like mashed potatoes? It's just bizarre.

So I have discovered that raising a child is not an opportunity to re-raise myself. Instead I have the pleasure of raising this unique individual unlike any other who has ever walked this earth.
Most Important Thing About ParentingThat means realizing that although we're alike in many ways, she's not always going to make sense to me.

I was an introvert who barely spoke; all she wants to do is talk.

I was a bit of a tomboy; she is obsessed with princesses.

I think mashed potatoes are like manna from heaven.

Parenting Not What You ExpectedWe are two different souls – woven together by an eternal love that knows no bounds, but different, nonetheless. And the truth is it's probably best that I'm not raising another little version of myself because I'm still raising me (and I've got a long way to go).

That's part of the beauty of parenthood – it's full of surprises. It's totally one of those gigs where you really don't know what you're getting into until you actually dive in.

Introverted Mom Extroverted ChildI had no idea that ‘mommy blogging’ was such a big ‘thing’ until I started my own blog, and when I delved into the world of online sharing, I discovered that mommies everywhere – stay at home, working, homeschooling, and even dads – were baring their souls to the Internet.

Why is that? Why are there so many parents out there willing to share their private thoughts, their struggles, their failures, and their triumphs with the world?

It’s because it really is one of the most important things we’ll ever do – raising these little people up to be honorable adults – and we’re all battling the same foes. We’re all trying to escape those thoughts that rise up within us that we're not good enough, that we're failing, that so-and-so is doing a better job than us because he/she does x, y, and z...

Let me tell you something: I guarantee you that you’ve never had a single emotion that has never been felt by another human being on this earth. We all doubt. We all fail. We all question ourselves. That's why so many of us choose to share these things – to know that we're not alone and to tell another struggling human being that he/she is not alone either.

By all means, try to be a perfect parent. But know that you will not be.

Sometimes she will talk and talk and talk, and it will drive me nuts, and I will get impatient. Sometimes she and her brother will run circles around me, and I will lose my temper. Sometimes I won't know the right thing to say because I won't know exactly what she's feeling.

And yet we were chosen for each other. I'm meant to be her mama, and she's meant to be my baby. We were uniquely designed to go through this life together.

Nothing else on earth brings me more joy.

It's not always easy. It's not always predictable. It's not always what we imagined. But do you know what makes you a good parent? Taking it seriously. Knowing its worth.

It's recognizing that you're in a relationship unlike any you've ever had before and that you can make it something great. This is your gift, your joy, and your privilege – to get to know your child every day and to guide her in becoming the best she can possibly be.

I don't want her to be exactly like me – I want her to be better than me. And that's worth more than all the parenting books can ever say.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

I'm An INFJ...What Are You?

I think horoscopes are a crock of manure. Most of the time they are so vaguely written that they could apply to 98 percent of the population, and, just like the fortunes in fortune cookies, they’re more accurate when you add “on the toilet” or "in bed" at the end of them.

Or they’re totally inaccurate, meaning that everything ever written about your sign is the complete opposite of you. As an Aries I supposedly have spontaneity, extreme boldness, and a magnetic personality. Sure, if cuddling up on the couch with a rousing game of Candy Crush is your idea of a hot Saturday night, then yeah, I’m your woman!

Anyway, I just wanted to bring that up so you wouldn't think I was crazy when I told you about my love for personality profiles. I don’t usually buy into any of that stuff that claims to know all of your innermost secrets, but then I discovered the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. And then my mind was officially blown.
According to the Myers-Briggs assessment, I am an INFJ, which led me to the discovery that I was right all along - I’m a total fruit loop. Okay, not exactly, but based on the info I found online, it’s the rarest of the types, making up only 1-3 percent of the population. And here are some of the traits listed that struck me the most:

1)"INFJs are gentle, caring, complex and highly intuitive individuals." Well, ahem…thank you.

2) "INFJs are far less serious inwardly than they may appear outwardly. Their inner world is well described as playful, imaginative, colorful, mischievous, and daring." GUILTY!

3) "At intervals INFJs will suddenly withdraw into themselves, sometimes shutting out even their intimates. This apparent paradox is a necessary escape valve for them, providing both time to rebuild their depleted resources and a filter to prevent the emotional overload to which they are so susceptible as inherent ‘givers.’" <insert sound of mind being blown>

4) "...many INFJs report feeling like aliens in the world." Now this is just getting creepy.

Clint, the hubs, is an INTJ, which is another one of the rarest types, accounting for 1-4 percent of the population. Yep, he and I are just a couple of weirdos. The most interesting standouts about him:

1) "They generally withhold strong emotion and do not like to waste time with what they consider irrational social rituals."  It would take me ten pages to go into all the reasons why this is accurate and hilarious, including an explanation of what happens when we have to pull over for a funeral procession, but I'll just leave it at this - it's accurate. And hilarious.

2) "They may even be considered the most independent of all of the sixteen personality types." Again, accurate and hilarious.

3) "By nature INTJs can be demanding in their expectations, and approach relationships in a rational manner." Seriously, it’s like Wikipedia wrote this article specifically about Clint.

So, I don't know - maybe Carl Jung really was on to something when he came up with his theories. All I know is it's fun to get some insight into your quirks...and your husband's quirks. And then laugh at them. A lot.

And it's also nice to know that I'm not alone in my weirdnesses...even if there aren't that many of us.

What about you? What's your type?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Living The Courageous Life

I have to ask myself daily what I want out of this time on earth. I would be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes long for the easy life – huge fancy house with a waterfall in the backyard, an exotic vacation every year, smooth sailing into my golden years…
But then what? What difference would those things truly make in the quality of life that I live?

Life these days is vastly different from the one I lived just a few short months ago. There’s the good and the bad: the family close by and the friends far away; the fat drops of rain that fall on the lush green grass and the beads of sweat dripping down my back due to our lack of funds for the luxury of air conditioning; and mostly the opportunities we could’ve missed out on and the uncertainty that comes with not knowing what’s next.

Brave Little GirlI’m sure some people look at me and my family and think we’re crazy. Brimming with hopes and plans, we gave up a secure income in an unstable economy to leap forward into a hazy future. But how does the saying go? Nothing risked, nothing gained? Nothing worth having comes easy?

The future I see ahead is amazing, but it will take time and patience to arrive there. For now the present is giving me many opportunities to get a sense of what I'm seeking and what I should be pursuing. What should that future look like, and how can I get there?

Most importantly, I think about my kids and what I would like for them to take away from their childhood experience. What memories will I give them that will matter the most?

We recently got to experience a shared memory that I hope to make a yearly event for us - youth camp. Clint and I attended it as teens, and one of our greatest desires in coming back here has been to be a part of it again, along with our little ones.
It's a place where kids are shown love, encouraged to live bravely, and given a message of hope in a world that sometimes seems to have far too little of that left. In my own young life it was a refuge. For one week out of the year I could be uplifted and be given the gift of remembering that my life was more than just circumstances I couldn't control, people I couldn't change, and a future I couldn't yet see.
Facing Life Bravely

Not every child gets to grow up in a home that's as loving as ours, and now that I have my own family, that fact weighs on me even more heavily. It’s too easy to become overwhelmed and concerned with such trivial things in this world. Instead, what can we do to lift each other's burdens?

That's why I hope I can raise my kids to want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They will face pain and doubt, but they will know of everlasting love and unfailing kindness. I hope that, as a family, we can remember that there is value in living outside of our own little world. There's more out there than just living and dying.

Finally, although some people may find it trite, I see God’s provision in something as small as needing a dresser and 'happening upon' one for free. I see it in needing a renter for our old home and finding one just in the nick of time. I see it in friendships, in much needed conversations. It truly is that simple to find blessings, if only we want to see them.

I say all this just as an encouragement to anyone who wonders what lies ahead in the journey. I wonder too, as I've always wondered. I've always wished I could have the superpower of seeing into the future, but the longer I live, the more I become excited about the not knowing. That's the part that makes us seek the possibilities.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Most Realistic And Pinterest Worthy Cleaning Tip Ever

I do not enjoy cleaning. But do you know what I hate even more? Having a messy house. Or more accurately, having a messy house that always seems to be cluttered no matter how much time I spend cleaning it.

I'm convinced that many of you feel the same way. When warmer weather arrives, we are all so ecstatic to be free of the sick days and winter claustrophobia that we begin to see our Pinterest boards fill up with cleaning schedules and de-cluttering tactics promising to enhance our spring cleaning experience and make our home look like a spread in Southern Living.

However, I have yet to find such a schedule that actually seems realistic to me. Yes, ideally I'd like to do a load of laundry a day or choose one room to deep clean each day of the week, but I'm not going to kid myself – life gets in the way of schedules. Although many of these lists have some good tips, some of the suggestions are just downright ridiculous. One of them actually lists steam cleaning grout as a weekly task. Um, no. “Ain't nobody got time for that!”

This is probably a more accurate representation of what a mother – especially one with small children – does to keep the house clean:

1) Wake up determined. Clean like a mad woman all morning, only to arrive at bedtime wondering why the house looks exactly like it did when she first woke up.

2) Rewash yesterday's mildewed load of laundry that she forgot about while she was busy making sure the toddler did not eat caterpillars or hurl himself from the trampoline.

3) Decide that the piles of toys strewn across the living room actually add to the d├ęcor.

4) Spend entirely too much time in the kitchen fixing snack after blessed snack, scraping dried food off all the heavily trafficked kid zones, and wishing it was more environmentally friendly/socially acceptable to use disposable dinnerware at all meals.

And, you know, various other things that don't end up on these beautiful Pinterest lists...but don't get me wrong – I still enjoy reading them and dreaming about becoming a superhuman organizing machine. It could totally happen, I suppose. I'm just not holding my breath.

Most of the time, I have a pretty good attitude about the clutter. It frustrates me that I can't always keep up with everything, but then I just remind myself that it's all about priorities. I do what I can during the day, but just like everything else in life, I have to decide what's most important. I can't do it all – no matter how many times I read “20 Steps To Becoming The World's Most Awesome Human Being” or whatever the latest pin might be.

So that's my cleaning tip – do what you CAN. Don't be lazy, but don't be overwhelmed either.

Perhaps I'm just too much of a skeptic, but I just don't think there are any magical tips that are going to keep me from having to do the SAME BLASTED THINGS every single day. That's just a part of life. And occasionally I'm going to find better things to do with my life.
SAHM Find Time For Pleasures

Like dust the fan blades. Uh huh, about once a year...

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Even The Greatest Puzzle Has A Solution

Ten years ago today I rode in the backseat of a college professor's car with some other students as we headed from the hospital back to campus. They were talking about what we'd just experienced while I sat silently, unable to speak at all. It was from the shock, mostly, but the grief wasn't too far behind.
A boy I didn't know sat in the front seat. He said he didn't believe in heaven or any sort of afterlife, but he did believe that our friend was still a part of the universe...something about his memory living on in us...I can't quite remember the words. I just remember that it made my heart ache with empty sadness and the pit in my chest grow larger.
Just minutes earlier I had stood in a circle in a hospital parking lot with dozens of other students as we held hands and prayed together. I had looked around at all these people that one person had gathered together, and though I was broken, there was still hope. It meant something. It had to.
Just a week earlier I'd spent a 26-hour bus ride to New York next to one of the greatest human beings I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. He'd let me stretch my feet across his lap as I repeatedly scrambled the Rubik's cube for him and timed his solutions. They were always under a minute.
He was like a brother, except the only time I'd ever been mad at him was once in the cafeteria when he'd thrown an egg roll at me and gotten soy sauce all over my favorite shirt. I couldn't stay mad at him for long – no one could.
And once, a long time before that, we had sat in his dorm room talking about life, and he confessed that he didn't believe he would live until old age. He'd just 'had a feeling'. I told him that was ridiculous and that one day we would call each other up and talk about our grandkids.
But that was not to be.
Charles was smart, witty, multi-talented – but most of all, loving. He understood what love was far better than most people twice his age. His life may have seemed short to so many who knew him, but he had gained far more knowledge and understanding than most people even bother to seek in this brief life we're all given. Charles looked at the universe as though it were something as simple as a mathematical equation and had a spiritual outlook full of meaning and purpose. He was unique in a way I have never known anyone else to be.
That's why it wasn't fair. I couldn't understand why, out of all the human beings on earth, it had to be him. Twenty-one years old, so much life left to live, so much more loving left to much more to give.
It was a long and painful process for me to finally arrive at the realization that the answer was, why not? Life is not fair in the way that we assume it should be, as we all know by the way it slams us into a wall every now and then. In fact it would probably be for the best if the word “fair” didn't even exist in any human language. I don't know why we keep trying to mold it into what we think it should be.
Our natural tendency is to ask why, but perhaps we are simply not asking the right question.
Life Is A Puzzle

The answers to the universe are most likely quite simple. After all, a Rubik's cube has only one solution out of 43 quintillion possible combinations – a solution that is as simple as a series of sequences. Maybe if we just knew all the rules and took it one step at a time, all these complexities would seem so easy...the solutions would be clear.
I don't have all those answers, and it often frustrates me. But I do believe that Someone does. And I do believe that Charles lives on in a much bigger way than the boy in the front seat thought he did. I believe we'll someday have the answers, and I believe that Charles is thrilled to have them now.
I believe all that because it makes no sense to be handed a Rubik's cube that's impossible to solve. The enigmas this life presents have more to offer us than confusion and surrender. When we know there is a solution, the puzzle starts to take shape.
Charles' existence meant something and means something still. We are so much more than random. We fit together in the most complex-and-yet-simple puzzle that's ever been designed.
I've seen too many people give up on the answer because they're holding onto a piece they can't quite fit into the puzzle. They've got one side of the cube solved, but the rest of it is still so jumbled up that they decide it's not even worth it, that it must be impossible.
But it is possible. It is worthy of our time and attention.
Charles taught me many things, but mostly that the answers are worth seeking. Just because I can't see the completion doesn't mean there isn't one. It just means I need to figure out the steps, fitting in the pieces as I find them and letting Love guide me along the way.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Beauty Of Turning Thirty

I turned thirty last week. People act like it's some sort of scary milestone that everyone is supposed to dread, but I figure I've got a few more years before I need to bust out the Depends. Besides, I think I reached my peak at around 25, so it has all been going downhill anyway. No biggie.

A few years ago my youngest sister – in her teens – commented on the ugliness of my slip-on backless shoes.

I shrugged. “They're comfortable,” I said.

She eyed me for a moment.

“Thirty's comin',” she said.

I just laughed in hearty agreement. Thirty was nothing to fear. It was just another tickmark on the wall, another calendar day gone by, and now that it's arrived, I feel exactly the same way. Plus I'm totally okay with sometimes wearing ugly, comfortable shoes and not giving a flip what anyone else thinks.

But I suppose I sometimes feel like those shoes. The hardest part about getting older, I think, is that we start to believe our external beauty is fading – at least, we women do. (Why do men get better looking as they get older? Seriously, what is up with that? So not fair...)

We don't like to admit it, but beauty is so important to us girls. Especially us mamas, because we tend to push ourselves to the side while we care for others' needs. We may shift our focus and priorities as we get older, but that doesn't mean we don't still long for others to see beauty in us.

I have never felt 'beautiful' by the world's standards, so I can't really say I feel like I'm losing something in this new decade. Instead I'm finally beginning to grasp what beauty truly is. It has nothing to do with the lies that we tell ourselves for thirty years, and many times our whole lives. (You know, that list you keep of what you need to change about yourself in order to be attractive.)

If beauty was meant to be found in perfection, then there would be none.

No, beauty has never had a standard. It has never been about achieving some vague idea of 'perfect'. It's in what we create out of the imperfection.

It's in our silliness, in laughing at ourselves, in our loving each other despite our faults. It's in the worn hands that have labored sacrificially, and in the little eyes that reflect a love I don't deserve. It's in the hope that springs from our brokenness; it's in every precious moment we take a breath.

With age comes wisdom (I have the strands of gray to prove it), and perhaps that is why I see more beauty around me than ever before. I know the truth about it. 

I know that I am completely and utterly imperfect, and I know that I'm okay with that.

These thirty years have molded me each and every step of the way. They have not always been kind, but they have been full, they have been blessed, and I am a richer woman than I ever could have imagined I would be.

I know how much life can be lived in thirty years, how much beauty can be found. And to that I say, bring on the next thirty.

Friday, March 22, 2013

On Losing Heart And Finding It Again

I know all of you are oblivious to deeply concerned about my minimal online presence lately, and I wish I could tell you that it's because I've been doing all this amazing intentional living where I'm having loads of fun playing with the kids, creating Pinterest-worthy baking masterpieces, reading books, writing a novel and such, but the truth is I've been in a state of MOM...Mental Overload Mode.

Living IntentionallyAlthough I can absolutely say that we have been enjoying the heck out of being back home and that there has been a lot of that stuff going on – like kite flying, first-time fishing (for Hannah), campfires, and family – there is also an awful lot of fatigue and stress that comes along with a big move, so there has been some of that as well.
For starters, our former house needs to get rented out ASAP and terrible pestilences need to quit plaguing our household...but I try to remind myself daily that these are mere inconveniences in the scheme of things, especially when I take into consideration all the things in our life right now that are so good.
Sure, there's no Chipotle, and milk costs an arm and a leg. And yes, we're back in the south and I've already had to try to break Hannah of adding extra syllables to her words ("Mama, can I have a SNA-YICK?"). But nothing can ever take away from what I've gained.
On our first night here I slept better than I have in months, maybe even years. I wondered why... Is this neighborhood quieter? Is it because the dog wasn't in our room? Is it because the kids' room is further away, and I can't hear every tiny moan and sigh anymore?
Perhaps it's some of that, or maybe even all of it, but I also believe that being here has ignited a spark of contentment that had burned out at some point a while back. I think I was too busy and distracted to notice, but being 1300 miles away from where your heart is does take its toll.
For Valentine's Day Hannah's preschool class at church made paper heart cut-outs, and she carried hers around proudly...until she laid it down somewhere and couldn't find it. She was quite sad about it, for a while, but eventually she accepted its absence, as we so often do when we lose our hearts. There's always enough to keep us distracted.
Don't Lose HeartThen after church one evening, she ran up to me with the long-lost treasure in her hand.

Mama! I found my heart!”
What joy it brings us to find it again. I know so completely how it feels. Our heart gets lost in the shuffle along the way, many times, and we use our distractions to make us forget. But when we stumble across it again, we're reminded of why we missed it so much in the first place. We're reminded of why taking care of it matters so much.
Of course, afterwards we went to Kroger where she promptly lost her little paper heart again, and I fear this time it shall never be found. Good thing this is just a metaphor and pretzels are a handy distraction.
But I'm just thankful to feel it again – that sense of wholeness, of being complete. The knowing that my heart is right where it belongs and that I have the tools to find it again if ever it becomes lost.
There are plenty of other precious things that can get lost when I lose sight of my patience, my temper, my joy...and that's why I've got to hold on tight. I've got to give my heart the nourishment it, faith, hope. It's the well from which all that purposeful, intentional living that I desire can spring forth.
I see a lot of 'losing heart' going on these days, and all I can say is, maybe we're meant to find it in each other. I wish we always had the courage to share ourselves in those real, raw, uninhibited moments that are so rare, when we connect with another human being so deeply that we say, “There! There is my heart. I've found it because it's the same as yours.”
We need more of that. We need more of the hope that we find in each other. Perhaps the greatest lesson we will ever learn is how to share our little paper hearts.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Just A Little Joy

“The battle in your life is against your joy.” – John Eldredge, Walking with God

Face Of Joy


Look for it. Seek it out. Remind yourself, every single day, in those rare moments when your world is filled with golden light and all of your senses drink in its warmth, that the joy is out there, and it is yours for the taking. 

Remember that you will win that battle.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

What Lies Beyond The Rain

Hands aching from my tight grip on the steering wheel, I eased up on the gas and strained to see the U-Haul I was following through the darkness and pouring rain. Several times, over the sound of Abram’s wailing, I heard my tires skid, and my hands gripped even harder. Water sloshed, lightning flashed, and I rummaged around, trying to find anything I could that might entertain the little guy for a few minutes and make the crying stop.

We’d brought along walkie talkies to communicate, but mine had died and my cell phone was beeping, as I’d not been able to find my charger at the hotel the night before. Abram’s cries were growing louder, so I dug my checkbook out of my purse and tossed it in the back seat, desperate for anything that could possibly buy me a few minutes of peace. The poor thing had had it with this journey, and so had I.

We were less than a hundred miles away from our destination, on this drive that we’d made so many times before, but the slower pace of the U-Haul coupled with the terrible weather had made this trip feel so much longer and more frustrating than ever before. And for some reason, I was scared.

I guess it was the limited communication and the thought of something happening to my precious cargo in the car seats behind me, but the last leg of this trip felt so ominous. It felt as though maybe we weren’t meant to be here. Why did it have to be so difficult? Why the bad weather? Isn’t this where we’re supposed to be going?

I prayed, out loud, voice shaking: “God, please just get us there. Help us to make it.”

Looking back, I realize how silly it seems now. It was just a storm, but my first reaction when things got tough was, “Why is this happening?” I guess I always reach for that falsity in the back of my mind – the idea that if we are doing what’s ‘right’, then life should be easy.

Silly me. Since when is life ever easy?

I know with all of my soul that we are right where we’re meant to be, especially when I see my kids loving this new place, leaping into piles of leaves and finding new treasures in the backyard. They have taken to these changes as though they’re not even changes at all, as though it’s the same life we’ve always lived.

And once again, they are teaching me.

They go with it. They go with life and all of its twists and turns, and they do it fearlessly. They trust their caretaker to meet their needs. They don’t question the changes. They don’t ask ‘why’ when there are obstacles.

Both kids have been battling some sort of awful infection for several days now, and when Abram awoke in the middle of the night with a 104 degree fever, I was scared. When Hannah’s eyes turned red and gunky and continued to get worse, I was scared.

But we got through it. And now that they’re on the mend, I realize that it was just a storm. We hit patches of bad weather all the time, and sure, they’re a little bit scary – and some are longer and scarier than others – but we always emerge on the other side, birds chirping and sunlight peeking through the clouds.

In the midst of these little rainstorms, our sunlight has been our love of being home. I can already see how this move, this tiny little adjustment we’ve made, is fine-tuning the course of our lives. How it has brought us so much more to cherish and love.

No doubt there are storms ahead, but all I can see is the joy that lies just beyond the clouds. If only I always had the eyes to see it…

Spiritual Storms And The Joy Beyond The Clouds

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Many Philosophical Faces Of Three

When a child turns three, she begins to take life a bit more seriously. Three is a time of great cognizance and skepticism, an era of bold exploration into the great mysteries about the meaning of it all. A bit of existentialism creeps in as the Three begins to question language and connotations and the authenticity of the human experience. So when you tell the little Three to smile for the camera, suspicion arises. Why should I smile in such a bleak, cruel world? Doubts give way to stark expressions.

But it isn’t long before the darkness passes as the heightened senses of the Three begin to recognize the aesthetic  pleasures the world has to offer. Sunshine. Flowers. Incredibly beautiful, camera-wielding moms.

Happiness blossoms and reigns anew.

As the Three’s enjoyment grows, so does her consciousness. Her acute observation skills allow her to pick up on key elements in her surroundings, and this heightened awareness can lead to feelings of intellectual superiority. Three becomes quite assured of her cerebral prowess – so much so, in fact, that she finds the actions and words of others to be absurd.

It is precisely that absurdity that brings about deeper ponderings in the Three’s mind, often to the point of confusion. Sometimes, despite her usual assuredness, the Three becomes bewildered by those things with which she typically is so familiar.

Finally, the Three does what any Age would do when faced with baffling circumstances. Like a chameleon, she swiftly adapts to her environment. She tosses out society norms, flies in the face of all propriety, and flaunts her own brand of weirdness.

Meanwhile, the One’s expressions remain fairly consistent - a perpetual state of perplexity, most likely due to the antics of the Three.