What is your hope for your family?

This is not my family, though I am struck by how in some quick years I have gone from a startling resemblance to  Tina Yothers (Jennifer) to that of Meredith Baxter-Birney (Elyse). Are Lifetime movies next?!

We had crossed our backyard into our neighbors warm kitchen sunday night. My neighbor is a Doctoral Student in Counseling and had asked if she could interview us for a paper on families. Though we tend to be intensely private about the dynamics in this home (?) we agreed without hesitation. As we headed over, I did worry about all of our dysfunction being exposed and Travis worried that we would be so normal, it would be uninteresting. This is a common disconnect.

The questions began with our definition of family, progressed into questions about struggles, resolving conflict, resources and extended family.

But this last question caught me. Great Question. I love great questions – questions with answers that become evolving discussions and conversations rather than lists.

What is your hope for your family?

And it wasn’t spiritually charged…it was a concluding thought in a research process.

What is your hope for your family?

I can rattle off hopes for my children and hopes for my marriage and values and priorities for my family (must eat crusts, one day go camping)…and cliches I want to ever avoid ( scenes in buffet resturants.)

But what do I really hope for this ragamuffin social unit that somedays just appears to be happening around us?

And wrapped up in the answer are thoughts about whether the family is a launching pad or a finish line. Are our relationships an end in themselves or do they carry with them the resolve for a greater purpose? Does this family have vision for both its members and its non-members? Has the nuclear family become a source of weird idolatry at the cost of greater communities and people in need?

(My answer to all of these is…yes.)

But what do I really hope for?

I hope for what Paul prays for in chapter three of his letter to the Church in Ephesus…for this group to be rooted and grounded in love, for the power to grasp how deep and wide the love of God truly is and to know that Love that is beyond knowledge…and to be filled to the brim with the fullness of God, so that fullness can flow over to the world around them.

That’s all.

Oh and I hope everyone is good at telling funny stories and we always laugh a lot. I like families that laugh.

What are some hopes for your family?


photo credit


“Mommy, You’re too heavy to go up in the sky.”

We were lying in the Climbing Tree on Monday. I found this one branch that if I reclined on it just right, it actually felt really good on my back. (Hello? Am I 112 years old?)  Olivia was conversing per usual about her life as a fairy in her tree house, and how she would not be going back to “our house in Williamsburg to live.” I was zoning out and thinking about getting Cheese Shop.

Side note: Fall is hands down the most perfect time in Colonial Williamsburg. The temperatures are warm enough to still eat outside but not so hot that you wonder why shade was not historical. And Fall is when people come back to Williamsburg, people who know it and love it and want to enjoy wine and cheese outside and not scream at each other in tri-cornered hats. I’m just saying. Christmas is beautiful and packed. Spring is lovely and flowering and baby lamb time. Summer is festive and concert-filled. But fall is pinch-me, I’m alive time, (especially if I have a new scarf and some bright colored JCrew skinny jeans, just dreaming…)

Then Olivia, describing her eminent ascent into the sky with her fairy wings attached to her Halloween costume of a Dress that Is Not Itchy (suddenly the Dorcas outfit is sounding refreshingly normal), intones that I will not be joining her because I am too heavy.


And I smiled because it has been a few long months of me using the “I’m too heavy” as an excuse for things – The Bounce House, the Climbing Nets at Busch Gardens, the Diving Board, the (thank you Lord) Zip Line.

So it’s natural that O concludes I will be to0 heavy to join her in the sky.

And then my heart kind of broke because I don’t want too be too heavy to go up in the sky. Can’t I be at least metaphorically light  in the fantasy world? 

It’s like the time Sophia asked “what does that noise mean , Mommy?” and imitated my deep sigh…

I don’t want to be too  heavy.

But so often, I am. I bring heaviness into routines and into relationships and even into worship. Weighted stuff I’m carrying around from the past or from a constantly critical mind or from a fear of being disappointed. It pierces my Belief and my joy and my ability to trust, be present, and strap on some wings.

And tonight I was too heavy to allow Sophia to hang her homemade pumpkin decorations from our front porch ceiling. I couldn’t tolerate the tacky (because I normally have standards?!). And so there were tears and bath and bed and then regret and guilt and the realization that I might have missed another chance to go up into the sky. And the fear that soon, they might  stop inviting me altogether.


Thank you for all the name suggestions! And for the ones that keep coming in the comments and via texts. I am overwhelmed with options. I thank you as does Shakira Cinderella Sloaney Bologna Simoney. Keep them coming!

Letter to My Teenage Self

 Dear Teenage Self:

First, the essentials: Please stop trying to tan. It’s not working. At all. But one day you are going to turn thirty and the area around your eyes is going to resent every ill-fated attempt.  Oh and take heart, straighteners  are about to get BIG. This will change your life.

And some encouragement: that feeling of constant awkwardness…wrong shaped body, overuse of big words, a lot of that goes away. Some of it never does. But you’ll learn to embrace it. Oh, and this Swing Dancing Craze that’s all over the place right now? It will pass. And no, you will never be good at it. But that’s okay, sometimes wisdom is knowing which trends to wait out…

You have a lot of answers right now. This will change. One day, it will feel more natural to sit with a grieving friend in silence  than to offer the right words.

You will learn this. It will take a while, but you will learn.

Soon your faith will become a struggle and you will fight waves of  violent disappointment…Your faith is still a struggle, but it’s not disappointing any more, it’s alive.

Teenage Self, You are kind of a jerk to the people who love you most. This will be a lifelong affliction. Be aware of it. Get over yourself.

You know that sense you have every once in a while that you have the GREATEST FRIENDS? You were right. And they are still your friends. You even married one of them. Be a great friend. Get over yourself.

You always wanted to grow up fast. Don’t rush it. You will get there. Along the way, you will make messes, and have regrets. You will leave issues unresolved and be constantly distracted by a terminal case of selfishness.

Oh and you aren’t really going to get much better at driving.

But you know the truth of it, Teenage Self? Sometimes I miss you.

Sure, your theology was narrow, and your opinions slightly askew.

But I miss your passion and your earnestness. I miss your desire to change the world and your belief that everyday you were.

I miss the way you saw constant opportunity – to do good, to love hard, to spend yourself.

You were innocent, and idealistic, at times dogmatic and definitely too sure. I bet you annoyed some people.

But when I remember you, I worry where I deviated from BIG and BEYOND to there’s never enough…enough time, enough relational energy, enough courage, enough faith.

Probably somewhere around the time I began having to purchase new ovens, pay for four kinds of insurance, and live through disappointment.

But you, Oh Teenage Self, sought abundance, believed abundance, received abundance.

You thought anything was possible.

And for that…I might even trade my straightened hair.


Emily over at Chatting at the Sky started this series to celebrate the release of her new book, Graceful. I will be linking my letter up with the others tomorrow, Sept.14, so it’s not too late to join in!

Coming Monday…Jessica Smith Jewelry Giveway!  Check back for details…

Minivan Milestone (and a not-so- brief history of our cars)

Our friends moved to Brussels, Belgium yesterday. We bought their van. They bought us the above cocktail napkins.

I climbed into the van for the first time, about the moment they were boarding their first flight. Kristyn had wanted to drive it to the very end, a final emotional link.

I understood.

…because on Satuday, we sold our car.

Now. Cars are the most maddening purchases. They depreciate immediately and constantly and provide no guarantees except consistent additional costs. And their CD players break.


When we purchased the above car six years ago, we felt so adult. We had finally made a good, solid, financially sound decision. This was our “family car” for our about to arrive first child. That first child, we were sure, would drive the car one day. Life was shifting a lot six years ago, surely it wouldn’t shift again?

And prior to that car, we had been driving this;

That’s a 1991 Chevrolet Caprice. It is ironic that I cannot seem to enlarge the picture, because I think it would be impossible to make this car any bigger. It was longer than a van. And that extended bench seat in the back? Six  child car seats wide, easily. We purchased it from Hatch (I won’t associate you with it Shannon) before moving it to Atlanta. It protected me on the highways in a land with no car inspections and lots of flying debris. It also garnered me a huge amount of respect and many offers to sell in the gas stations of the ATL.

I put countless miles on it for work until one day, it died in the arrivals lane at the airport while we were picking up our friend Suz. We poured money into it, trying to keep it alive. But when it couldn’t get over Afton Mountain, one weekend in VA , and I was pregnant and intolerant, we knew it was done.

The Caprice was laid to rest in the Shenandoah Valley, in a field behind Abe’s Dad’s office. (Until someone else bought it and fixed it up. I’m telling you there is a market for those cars.)

So when we bought the new car, we felt it ushered in a new era. Sure, we missed the red velour and wide turning radius…but this car worked. Every day.

We were big time.

Until we weren’t anymore. And life shifted and needs changed and we found ourselves at a Car Max in Newport News trading in all the stories, memories, and my strange emotional attachment, for cash.

Oh the Ecclesiastes of it all!

I’ll be honest, I have no embarassment, shame or rage regarding the mini-van. Friends, how many of us learned to drive, in one of these or something larger (Aerostar Extended)? It’s back to the roots. It’s sitting high up, captains chairs with nice arm rests, and, most importantly, a higher currency in the American Core Value System of Transporting Lots o’ Stuff.

And really, as our friends are going urban-hip-pedestrian in Brussels, I am totally fine with becoming more deeply steeped in Colonial Suburbia. Really. I am.

But the true sign that all was going to be okay in this next chapter?

No, not this helpful Mantra on the CAR MAX mousepads (though inspirational)…

When we got into the car yesterday, and the CD player came on, this summer’s VBS CD was playing. The Ritners had left it in their player and we had just been listening to our copy inside our house.

So Olivia began crooning along, “We will fly, we will soar…nothing is impossible,” and we rolled out in style.

What if the feeling of BIG CHANGE, silly or serious, is mostly perceived? Perhaps, each time, we are picking up right where we left off…right where we’re supposed to be.


We have made it through the first week and a half of school with the expected amount of tears, style, and finesse,

And it’s good.

But this week, I’ve moved through the forcefeeding of breakfast, packing of lunches, and new driving route with the undeniable sense that our lives are shifting…not a huge upheaval, just enough slight changes under the surface that leave nothing feeling the same.

Dear friends of ours are moving to Belgium next week…they’ve packed up and are going, stepping out in faith, following a call.

And it’s good.

But, wow, I’m going to miss Kristyn.

I’m starting an MA program through Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond next month.  The process has been exciting and scary, forcing me to speak some important hopes out loud… which is exciting and scary.

But good.

I just haven’t written an academic paper in nine years, and have previously had trouble spelling my name post-partum.:)

November brings Sweet Baby Unnamed Sister Number Three. And as we hurl towards this finish line, I am beginning to realize that the time lapse between Olivia and S.B.U.S.N.T. was just enough for me to forget the burdens of traveling with a Pack n’ Play, and miss the memo that Crib Bumpers have been outlawed. We.are.starting.over.

And it’s good.

But, if I’m honest, even though most days I choose to believe this will be the smoothest transition yet,and the other days, I calmly choose denial – on the last few, I am just straight terrified.

We’re shifting. It’s a new season of parenting, of marriage, of life’s work. I’m feeling more focused than I have in a while, at the same time more trusting. But I’m also grieving the leaving of friends, the letting go of my baby, and yes, the selling of my car.

But, this I know from previous shifts:  even when everyone (and my car) are where they’re supposed to be, grieving can be part of it.

Shifting is movement. Movement is good.


Therefore keep the commandments of the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by fearing Him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land…” Deut. 8:6,7

Twas the Night Before Kindergarten…

and here in our home, the camera is charging next to the phone,

the backpack is packed, the clothes picked out and ready,

her sister wants  tights, and will start preschool sweaty.

We’ve visited the school, talked through all scenarios, mapped out our route, and set out the Cheerios.

And now he with his sports and I on this blog, admit that life  moves at a pace that is odd.

For when we quietly admit it, the truth must be told,

having a kindergartener makes us feel… old.

And it’s when I think over the past years that I cry…

as if somehow tomorrow proves it’s me she’s survived.

But when about to wax poetic on how far we’ve come,

I take in all that she is

   and know we’ve only just begun…


I’m not into sharing birth stories. This should not be surprising. But I want to hear yours if it was really wild, like in a car delivered by your brother in law. (I could hear that story a thousand times.)

I realize my aversion could be the C-Section girl in me reacting. We C-Section Survivors can’t help but slink away from the Birth Story Discussion Parties feeling a teensy inadequate, a bit less empowered.

Why is this? Simply because our glory stories occur somewhere between us begging for the anesthesiologist  to increase all dosages and  just let us pass out, and the moment when it’s over and they actually do increase all  dosages and let us pass out? Maybe.

And even though I do not leave the post op room in awe of what my body can do,( I ‘m in a half coma begging for chapstick) I still contest that making it through multiple major abdominal surgeries [mostly] AWAKE, has to be worth something.

I digress.

The first time I was in labor, somewhere in the haze and and pain and exhaustion, I remember my OB standing over me smiling diaboloically, asking, “Nina, do you know where you are? You are in transition. That’s why it hurts so bad. Welcome.”

Transition. Painful, unavoidable. Not the end, not the goal, but necessary to pass through to win the prize.

I have a number of dear friends in Transition right now. Not in birthing labor. But in the labor of life so to speak. Friends who have said a  Courageous Yes to big callings, new adventures, scary commitments. They believe in where they are going and they are willing to leave behind where they have been, but, ugh,  it’s all those hard details in between that can put you under…

According to my limited life experience, you are in Transition if any of the following apply:

1. You can’t answer to where you will be this time next month.

2. The most troubling line on any form is your address.

3. Your earthly possessions are scattered in laundry boxes, your car trunk, or your friends garages.

4. At any point in the next three months you will be living with your in-laws, or your spouse’s in-laws, or your friend’s in-laws, (and you are convinced the increased awkwardness of that last scenario is worth the maintaining of your firm boundaries.)

Transitioning is letting go before grasping on again, which sounds kind of pretty, except for all of that horrid, detailed work in between.  There’s a spiritual principal  here – I don’t know which one. But I’m going to look for a Desert Fathers quote that could apply. (My new goal is to quote the Desert Fathers in natural conversation.)

In the meantime, I’m grateful for what these friends are reminding me about faithfulness and sacrifice and the illusions of comfort. They are learning to take it day by day, pray desperate prayers, and they are seeing answers and Movement and the truth of real security.

And a Grace surrounds it all that just isn’t invited in by my Personal Transition Strategy of (you guessed it) wanting to scream for increased dosages and just pass out.