Balloons, Birthdays,and Other Thoughts

It’s been an intense couple of months. Not intense in the roller coaster riding, marathon training, dark chocolate sort of way. Intense, in the my- life doesn’t- seem -to -be -working- anymore, -and I don’t -know -how -to make- it -work -again, and – I’m -making- jokes -about -that – but deep down I’m sad -and -tired- and- dreading- the -nights, -the days- and -definitely -all- the -meals-sort-of-way. My prayer world had become three prayers really, “Please don’t let them remember this year.” and “Please don’t let me remember this year.” and “Please don’t let any other year be like this.”

Travis intervened. “You don’t seem to be doing very well.” Now, here’s a mystery: Why, when asked, am I quick to dump my hardships on another, but when intervened on, am very very offended? It’s as if I want to proclaim  “My soul is withering away” and have someone respond, “Get out of town!!! You appear to be totally thriving!” If I’m going down, I’m going down with the public fooled.

Except no one was fooled. And in case you think you are the Expert Public Fooler, hang out with an 8 year old for ten minutes. They cannot be fooled. Ever.

The day after The Intervention, I was scheduled to speak for a Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) group. I was fragile and as always, out of time, so I went to a familiar text and stood before these beautiful women and retold the meeting of Jesus with the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, in Luke 24.

Even as I spoke I was overcome by the story of two people, choosing to run away from Jerusalem, a place of grief and disappointment over the crucifixion, just when Jerusalem was becoming the scene of resurrection.

They let their disappointment push them away from the places God was making new and their unmet expectations keep them from seeing Jesus, risen, standing right before them.

“We had hoped…” is the line that haunts me. They say it to Jesus, describing what all of us carry around birthday to birthday: it wasn’t supposed to look like this. I was supposed to be better than this. Life was supposed to be different, easier, cleaner, more glamorous.

These unnamed friends of Jesus are so lost in their grief over how they think things should have been and what He should have done, that they don’t see Him standing in front of them. They don’t recognize Him until He’s gone.

But when they realize it was Him, they stop running and they go back. Back to their community, back to where they belong, to the work God was doing in Jerusalem and the work that is before them.

The last few weeks have been about me going back – and figuring out what that looks like. I’m leaning into people more, asking for help and wisdom and actually listening. I’m working through what solutions and structures we need, what habits I need to pursue, and what I need to eliminate. Less screens, less stores, more writing,  more select voices, more select reading.

I have a Henry Cloud quote posted above my desk. It reads “You are ridiculously in charge of your life.” I can’t miss the fact that said desk is currently covered with other people’s stuff. Regardless, I love this quote. Somedays it’s just the reminder I need that I have other options besides complaining. But in its fullness, it points to the truth that this life, exhausting, non-hypoallergenic, haphazard, ridiculous, painful, exasperating and overflowing is the one in front of me.

In this life, God is doing new things and calling me to participate, and in this life, He stands in the midst.

Happy Birthday to Me. Thanks Mom. Onward.

Still Thankful

“You know we’ve been here almost a year, ” I said to my neighbor yesterday as he was heroically helping me vacuum up the glass table top that the kids had shattered on the front porch. I had shown up on his porch asking for a shop vac with two children on top of me. I’m a pitiful scene these days and the community is often forced to intervene.  It’s a blessing.

“Wow,” he said. “It’s like an anniversary.”

“Yes, it’s our houseversary.” I said straight-faced. Because I believe it.

We’re coming up on a  year of moving and like all great love stories, I’m reliving the beginnings, the moments when I knew. The time I spent waiting for Travis to know. The incessant talking about the house, except to anyone I suspected of getting to it first (all is fair in love and real estate.)

And the pleading.

I wondered how many times I could be seen sitting in front of the house in my car, on my bike, holding a child,  mumbling before someone called the police.

I was praying. Actually I was pleading and bargaining and begging. It always takes a theological turn downward, these scenarios of intense want. I’m making promises to God, as if I have something to offer. As if I’ve ever been good for it anyways.

Fast forward a year. The azaleas are blooming again. We’ve added a swingset, a sandbox,  a fire pit to the backyard. We’re down two of posts in the stair bannisters, casualties of snow day gymnastics. Rooms have been painted, and dented, holes patched, baby gates installed, baby gates mastered, baby gates ripped down. We brought a new baby home, moved another baby out of a crib into a bed. Done countless nighttime routines, endless meals, endured magnificent noise.

Life took over and living here became ordinary but, extraordinarily,  I’m still thankful.

Still thankful.

For me, it’s a new spiritual practice, different than being “always thankful”.  I define Still Thankful as  having the same awe of a gift as the first day I received it. Still Thankful involves things that once I didn’t have, then I did have, and choosing not to forget the miracle  – or the longing in between.

I think of when Olivia got her Anna doll two Christmases ago and for three days was over.the.moon. She danced with that doll all day long. And then  moved on, as five year olds do, to another toy, occasionally playing with Anna when she digs for her in the closet.

Well I’m still dancing with the doll over here.

I still pull into my driveway and think “I can’t believe we live here.”

This is new for me.

How often am I tripping over my answered prayers only to focus on the  day’s most clear and present anxiety? I forget so quickly the longing, the theological bargaining, the “if only…then” statements, the very drama of desire and subsequent gratitude. Worse, I forget that all I have needed, He has provided. And then He’s done it again. And again.

This May should be a bit less eventful than last year. Super exciting weddings and graduations, but no packing up a house of seven years in one Saturday morning. That miracle has happened. I hope to remember it always.

What are you still thankful for this season?

Kingsland, Georgia and everything after

I have nine hours of road trip in me. Nine. Nine hours north can takes me onto W. 45th st in Manhattan in time for an 8pm show and if heading south it carries me through Kingsland, GA.

It is here on the open littered expanse of 95 South, with its innocence robbing billboards and taunting reminders that we missed South of the Border but  can still turn back, that I start sobbing. Every time.

I can’t take this anymore. I can’t do this. I told you I COULDN”T DO THIS.

Travis then turns into what he considers a Clark Griswold prototype but I find to be something darker – perhaps some sort of maniacal coach for those attempting to swim hundreds of miles in the ocean, or no, a scout sent by the government deep into the snowy forest to get people out. (I am  unfamiliar with both these scenarios but this is what I imagine).

Pull yourself together. We ARE DOING THIS. STOP PANICKING NOW. Breathe. This is where you always fall apart.


You know, maybe you should have flown…”

At this point I am clawing at the windows.

We’d talked about me flying with the baby. Perhaps a day or two, or nine, early. I could go and “set things up,” be there relaxed when they came in in the car .

But the talk faded because this is about family, or something that sounds equally esoteric, when at mile 600 your skin has developed an additional layer comprised of chip grease, apple sauce pouch, and whatever goo has gotten all over the cords to the dvd players.

Our roles have been defined for years: Travis drives. and I am in charge of Everything Else.  There are few questions in life to which me driving is the answer. I am agreed to this. But let’s review  what Everything Else, a fluid department, generally entails: all Negotiations with the Back, technical support, food services, emotional triage, and first aid.

Much of my work doing Everything Else requires me to “head to the back” Probably illegal, this maneuver requires a level of  acrobatics best attempted by eleven year old boys.  By hour nine, I’ve hit my shins so many times on the middle seat armrest that I need to tap into the band aid supply I brought solely for Leila to play with. Turning around in the moving car is a guarantee for nausea as I near my mid-thirties. So, yes, by the time we pass through Kingsland, in addition to sobbing, I’m bleeding and queasy.

But we press on.

Partly because it would be worse to turn around and scarier to put this crew into a hotel.

And partly because we are teased by the small beach town with its complete acceptance of bare feet, inhabited by people  choosing relaxation over production, and the prospect of holding reptiles with rubber bands over their snouts, all made possible only by our high value of that most important of all “f” words, the one that drives us on through the suffering and horrendous public bathrooms,



(Maybe family too.)

I’m flying next year.

The View from Here: 6 months

Ruthie is six months this week. (Ruthie, my daughter, not Ruthie my sister or Ruthie my aunt. )

She’s still stunned at her life.

I’m stunned at mine too.

As we’ve neared this somewhat (very) artificial milestone, I’ve been gearing up into panic mode. She can’t be six months. Not because I don’t want her to grow, but because something in me says that I should feel more normal, capable and victorious by now.

But, instead, I just want to sit, eyes shut, in the sunshine and eat donuts. And that’s what I wanted six months ago too…(Donuts are one of the easier foods to eat with your eyes shut)

Is this the Womanhood of which our Mothers spoke? THIS?

The above picture was taken by these two tricksters:

When I was trying to wrestle (literally) Leila down for her nap, I put them in charge of Ruthie. They had strict instructions to entertain her, but  DO NOT remove her from the swing. So they surrounded her with props and filmed a Disney Short Animated Film on my phone. It’s a poignant work. She will never be normal.

She doesn’t care though. She just wants to be like her sisters.

This week is Easter. The girls have beautiful dresses from their grandmother and one of these mornings I will visit the Local TJ Maxx to find something to wear or at  least a patent leather purse and some new Jellies. Childhood formation is hard to shake isn’t it? The pressure to look beautiful and new and ironed on Easter –  Where does it come from?  The Industrial Revolution? That New Cinderella Movie about courage, kindness, and Really Small Waists? Let’s recount the emotions of those First Easter Celebrants: terror, sadness, confusion, terror, relief, joy, confusion, joy. Not much room in there for floral print, but tradition is tradition and who am I to protest a new dress?

Next week we load up and head out on vacation. So basically we are going to take this whole dicey operation and move it into another state for a week. Wake me when we get there. My hope? Sunshine, warmth, open-toes, and the chance to slow down and really see these people.

“See me Mommy! See Me!” Leila was just shouting this from me as she swung in the Johnny Jump Up (an infant apparatus) like a bungee swing from the dining room to the kitchen. My brain is foggy and my emotions are shaky, even at this Grand Six Month Benchmark. This results in blurred vision and Jerk Mom yelling all around. “STOP EATING THE KITCHEN IS CLOSED. NO EATING UNTIL TOMORROW. NO TALKING TO OR LOOKING AT EACH OTHER. EVER AGAIN.” Don’t you want to live here?

I plan on seeing next week. Seeing… and reading. If I have to strap all of these people to my body and take long walks on the beach to do it. (Book recommendations welcome!)

Hope you find some space to see and listen this week. Even if means forgoing some tempting florals…

Snow, Snot and Lent

I missed our church’s Ash Wednesday service. Leila had green snot coming out of her nose which she would take with her hand and smear all over her face, causing her cheeks to chafe.

Yes, Baby Ruthie, My feelings exactly.

I’m willing to be THAT Mom in a million instances, but I draw my line at the green snot. So the older girls went off with Travis and the Littles stayed home with me and we watched more snow fall and I wondered at the irony of beginning to prepare for Easter on  a day so frozen over. Nothing felt further away than Easter.

I’m sure you saw my posts of children sledding? Or the ones of my cozy snow day brunches? Oh that’s right. There were none of those.

No, we were inside enjoying a week of relationships  here. Relationships and screens to be exact. And relationships in front of screens. A few relationships on screens but pretty innocuous ones.

Having all four home all week, in the cold, I needed to make a quick decision about expectations. Meaning my own. Meaning I needed to decide right away that besides being present with these girls and feeding them, nothing else was going to get done. So this brief post took six days, research for a seminary project came to a halt, the laundry is strangling us and the closet under the stairs I keep meaning to organize has become Hiding Spot Number 1/Sophia’s Office/I don’t think my Swiffer survived.

And so we’ve been in each other’s space and sharing each other’s clothes, adrift without the safety of routine, just like so many of you. Thursday we had a meeting in Sophia and Olivia’s room. There we sat in the mess of our humanity, wearing unmatched socks, in a room littered with Build a Bear accessories, and used tissues. I said that we all needed to say sorry and start over. We each would say we were sorry for one thing. I’m so bad at this stuff. So so bad. Don’t hire me for your intervention/mediation/reconciliation. I’m awkward and use too many big words, not surprisingly.

When it got to me, I was planning a soliloquy on all of my shortcomings: how I’m trying, but learning and I will get better at this even if I’m never quite good -but that’s okay because as much as I want to be the best mom I can-if I model perfection would that really help them -and what would that teach them about their own expectations for themselves and  grace -and on and on and such…

But then Leila said she was sorry for crying so much and it was my turn. I looked at each of them and remembered something I read this week: how children feel like we do, but don’t think like we do, and adults often assume the reverse.

So I thought about how I’d feel and I got specific.

I’m sorry for getting angry about you cooking your own Easy Mac. That was a silly thing for me to get angry for. I’m proud of your independence.

And then we began again.

I think Lent, actually might just be about getting specific.

For some of us, the season interrupts our rhythms with thoughts of God, and for some of us, it interrupts our thoughts on God and nudges us to get specific.

We recognize that though we may try to move towards God,  God has already moved toward us  – toward us in our messy rooms and our piles of used tissues and mismatched socks, and in our love of Diet Coke and tableside guacamole. As much as I long to be someone who exists in transcendent speeches and metaphors, as I type here I am fervently wishing we weren’t out of Frosted Mini Wheats. I also know that  spiritualizing is the Christian Stealth way to avoid getting to the heart of matters.

So we get specific. About our humanity.  Instead of thinking that I shouldn’t feed my kids Easy Mac, ( I really shouldn’t)  I admit that I do, and apologize for being a jerk about it.  He joins us in the most ordinary parts of living, you know, the stuff that “isn’t important” (except that it matters all day long.) We give up, we add on, we confess, and we prepare.

Because although the words spoken over Ash Wednesday worshipers are not joyful: “from dust you have come, to dust you will return,” and Lent itself, is hardly an  illustrative word (sounds like lint, a bit bleaker, perhaps like something that comes out of your nose, just to keep with the theme), the word actually originated in  the Old English word for spring. Spring.  Miracle of miracles: soon the snow and snot will be memories,  we will celebrate that even dust can be redeemed, spring will arrive and Lent will have made us, not just the spiritual us, ready.


Four Realizations from Four Months with Four Kids.

1. If I could strap everyone I know onto this stroller and push them in the direction I need them to go everything would  just BE BETTER. I mean…somedays, when I am not at my healthy, wholehearted, gentleness I might think that, sometimes.

This group cooperated for as long as it took take the picture.

And guess which one of them is two years old? Leading us to Number 2…

2.The secret to rocking a good-sized 2 year old to sleep? Take off your socks. It gives you the traction necessary to really get moving. It’s all about the velocity per minute with these toddlers, in the battle of wills. You WILL nap. You WILL wear clothes. You WILL go to bed tonight. You WILL sleep by yourself in this room that is now covered by my socks….


3. If you are building a lego set and discover a.) that you have lost a very important piece, like, let’s say, Ariel’s body, or b.) you believe that perhaps said piece never came in the original package, you can go to Lego.Com enter in the set number, find the picture of the piece and THEY WILL MAIL IT TO YOU. I don’t know why this blew my mind. But it did. Ariel’s petite pink bodice arrived in the mail in 5-7 days. Cue that Everything is Awesome song right now.


Buy and build on friends.

4. No one tells you what to do with the teeth.

Did I miss the workshop somewhere?  Have we all just bought in to the Tooth Fairy Narrative? Fine then. The Tooth Fairy called me and wants to know what to do with the excess teeth piling up around her. Some on the windowsill, some on her dresser, some stored in drawers. Do we need to keep the teeth? Maybe just this very special first one? Please help. The Tooth Fairy wants to know.

5. There is always MORE than anticipated (thus us continuing on to number 5, get it, get it?) More diapers, more hunger, more homework, more people still awake. What is there never enough of? Eggo Waffles. Please advise if you know where they sell a bigger box or if you live next door to me with an extra freezer.

6. When you have this many children you always appear to be in crisis. Even if you’re not. Though often you are. The other day I was sitting with all four in a cafe and the table next to me began discussing me. “I would cry all day if I were her,” was the one quote I was able to grab above the din of my eating companions. Her friend began to explain that I was clearly someone who could naturally handle the chaos and remain relaxed. I was not relaxed. I was sweating, but perhaps appeared relaxed because having recognized that I was in my dark place, I was concentrating on practicing my techniques to get  out: praying, deep breathing, chanting, and being angry at Travis…leading us to

7. Anger at spouse is a common response to each and every overwhelming scenario. I think I just have  to send my emotion to the nearest person, who will not one day blame me for their counseling as an adult (or charge me for it). Travis said to me a few weeks ago, “Were you angry at me all day today?” “No. Just between 1-2 and 5-6.” I totally understand in new way why Jesus said “In your anger, do not sin.” Because so much of anger is CRAZYTOWN. There is a whole category of anger that is righteous and compelling and action inducing and justice inspiring. That is not my anger these days. My anger is crazy.  And that’s okay. Breathe, eat, pray, chant, wait 45 minutes.

8. I’m losing my life (and my mind, etc) Jesus also said “You have to lose your life to find it.” I had a remarkable realization the other night as I was deep in thought over a situation with one of the kids. I had only ever thought about one other subject this intensely…myself! I love to think about myself, what I like, don’t like, what I think, how to respond, what my plans, dreams and desires are etc..I can think about myself without stopping for forever. I basically have.

It took four kids to start kicking the habit. What does that say? Some people don’t need kids to learn selflessness. Some learn it with one. I needed four. That’s some commitment to self obsession right there. Please. Hold your applause.

 9. We’ve given them each other. 

A dear friend with four grown kids always reminds me of that. And it’s so true. On the good days it’s like a Brownie troop over here, on the rough days it’s still like a Brownie troop, just one in which the leader yells and threatens to quit and is eventually spoken to quietly by the Girl Scouts Governing Board. She promises to sell more Samoas and they keep her on.

Travis is convinced they are going to care for us while we age. It’s how he comforts himself in the hard moments. We shall see. So far one wants to be a Baby Doctor and one a Rock Star. Those are very time consuming professions. In the meantime,

10. Life Skills training does start here. 

aka, everyone has to pull their own weight. Or push it.

Or really just have me carry everyone because I’m a natural at handling chaos and remaining super-relaxed.

Onward. (still sweating over here)

Amy Julia Becker is my Spirit Animal

I don’t even know what that means. But this book, my friends…Amy Julia captures the cadence of real parenting and real life and real faith. Her style and her tone belies the fact that she is actually in it and fighting the upward spiritual battle that many of us are fighting AGAINST LOSING OUR MINDS, and our selves, and our marriages, and our belief in God, all in the 12 minutes it should take to get little people dressed.She connects it spiritually and we read her struggling to connect things spiritually for her kids…I’m not even done with this yet, but it made being up every 2 hours last night totally worth it (and even more productive.)


I’m convinced parenting is the one vocation you can be experienced at but never an expert. But you can be a learner and a listener, and always a witness. This book does all of that with grace and its by product.. hope.