Thursday, February 14, 2019

That Time I Thought I Wanted Fourteen Children

Once upon a time, in those halcyon days before the internet and skinny jeans and Instagram, I had a lot of ideas about what growing up would look like. I was pretty sure I'd be married by twenty-one and I had big plans for the boatload of children I'd have. It was also part of the plan to get a college degree, which would effectively prepare me to homeschool all those kids Prince Charming and I would bring into the world.
 
Forty-year old me is kind of glad most of those plans didn't materialize.

I graduated from college with a regular B.A. and not the elusive MRS., which contrary to all feminist movements on my campus, I had been very eager to achieve by the end of that four years. And, then, after seven years of the single life, living in a handful of cities, traveling to a few different countries, making friends that are still like family to me, I got engaged in a pink castle in Sweden one month before I turned 29. Literally the brink of spinsterhood.

My ovaries being a little older than I thought they'd be when starting a family, I was motivated to add to our tribe pretty soon after tying the knot. It took longer than I thought, but a little more than two years into being a wife, I become a mom. 

I was pregnant four times in five years and then Mae was born almost four years after Sam.

When Mae was two and I was thirty-seven, I started dreaming about another baby. I'm pretty sure that there could be a case made for that early baby stage being a kind of addiction. Once they start walking and talking, it's easy to begin reminiscing about those sweet days rocking a tiny baby to sleep, listening to their coos before they have words, and being enamored with that toothless smile that's gone before you're ready. But, then you realize that the only way to satiate that addiction is to keep having babies and eventually that just doesn't make sense anymore. 

But, and I'm getting to why I started typing this little post out at all, that same summer of being overwhelmed with the desire for another babe, the opportunity to help get a small non-profit off the ground came along. Without my realizing it, a gradual replacing of desires happened. Instead of pining for a baby, I found myself heart-deep in creating a respite for women whose pregnancies and births were much different experiences than mine had been. 

It turned out that instead of my being given another baby, I was given the chance to advocate for other women to have theirs. And, almost four years later, I see how that was the best thing, despite being so different from what I'd thought I wanted. 

Lately, I keep making new plans for myself and plotting out what I think should be my next steps. But, I'm less sure of my life-planning skills than I was at twenty-one. Some days that feels terrible. But, other days, there's comfort knowing that the verse we all loved to quote about God giving us the desires of our hearts if we would just trust in Him, actually has more to do with His desires becoming ours than the other way around. 

And that's good news, because if Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram have taught me anything, it's that I wouldn't have survived homeschooling fourteen children. 

Monday, February 4, 2019

On Being Forty

One day, unless you have already passed this milestone, you will turn the big 4-0. You will know it's coming and maybe have even braced yourself for it, but somehow, it will still surprise you with its suddenness. As you are minding your own business, doing the laundry, tweezing your eyebrows, packing the school lunches, at some point you will turn around and discover that you have just wrapped half your life and the questions, "What have I accomplished?" and "What should I do with the other half of my life?" will start to keep you up at night.

Additionally, wondering what eye cream and other anti-aging products one should use at this juncture will also take up an inordinate amount of inner dialogue and emotional space in your heart. I'm a little ashamed to admit that, but there it is.

My mother, in her familiar wisdom, keeps telling me that "it's just a number." I know this, but it still feels like a life monument of some sort. And, even though I try to tell myself that "forty is the new thirty," I can't decide if this is denial or not.

So, the question lingers, "What am I going to do now?" Because, with that turn of the calendar, there is an urgency that appears, a sense of time speeding up, of second chances being fewer and of every choice carrying just a little more weight than it did before.

I feel less angst than I did in my twenties and thirties. And yet, I can't help but still feel a nagging at the back of my mind that I need to figure some things out now that I have presumably made it to the middle of my life.

So far, I haven't figured anything out.
But, I did make a short To-Do list, because I'm good at lists. Here it is:

Grow in Wisdom 
Do the Things that Matter 
Create Something Beautiful 
Beat Back Suffering
Learn How to Rest

Honorable mention goals: make better snack choices, stop reading celebrity news, and call my grandma once a week.

Other suggestions for living a better life as a middle-aged person are welcome.

                                                                                                           Where I'm currently doing my pondering.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

That Time I Raised Two Kids and Also Lost Significant Cognitive Function

Once Upon A Time, I had two children. And they were the stuff of dreams.

Also, I typed up this list to help you understand why having children also means I can't call you, email you, drop by your house, or have coffee with you for at least 15 more years.

                                                                                                   


                                                                                                                           +               +               +       

I enjoy this humorous saying: "Cleaning your house while your children are at home is like brushing your teeth while eating Oreos." This saying also makes me cry because it sums up how I spend 80% of my time. 

My friend Bekah, whom I adore, sent me a practical text explaining her potential appearance at our children's school Thanksgiving feast today. There was a line space at the end and then "...here. it's chocolate milk." Siri apparently caught a comment to one of her three littles at the end of her voicetext to me. And this story basically sums up my conversational life lately: "Yes, I'll be at that important meeting with the important people... No, you may not use lipstick on the cat."

An impromptu trip to Old Navy today unexpectedly included a magical 40-percent off sale they were having. However, I left there with a picture of my child riding the plastic Old Navy dog like a horse, a pack of boy socks for my oldest, and a dress with a built-in tutu for my youngest. Shopping for myself is no longer a thing. I'd feel a little sad about that, but I don't currently have the emotional energy.

I can never bend down to tie my shoe or wipe something up without someone sensing my close proximity to the floor and immediately rushing in from another room to attempt to use me as a seat/a stepstool/a climbing toy.


My purse is full of old Chicfila toys, hairbows, single children's socks, applesauce squeezables, and baggies of goldfish. I also have a wallet.

Every clear glass surface in my house has a handprint on it. Or fifteen. And then they want me to give them money to clean the windows. #conspiracy

My computer download history is almost entirely made up of instructions on how to build Lego Mixel creatures. 

Someone asks me for juice or a snack or a treat or a show every 4.8 seconds. All.Day.Long.  

I haven't finished an intelligent sentence in a conversation in approximately 6.9 years.

I am in the middle of 18 books right now, which means I start books and then fall asleep every night after reading ONE page. Also, anything above a fifth grade reading level makes my brain shut down. #mombrain

Gratuitous picture of our cute kitty Bitty.
One morning last week, I put both kids in the car for our little trip to Sam's school and then realized my keys were missing. I spent 15 minutes searching the house like a crazy person and calling my husband and my mom to extensively freak out about how I couldn't find my keys and how we were going to be late for school and apparently also for life. 
And then I found the keys. 
Where they always are.
In the car by Mae's carseat. 
Where I lay them when I buckle her in.
Every day.
I call this toddler-mentia. Or dementia brought on by owning a toddler.

The struggle is real.











Thursday, January 7, 2016

Taking Christmas Back

I have a Christmas hangover.

It's 13 days later and I'm only now starting to unfold myself a bit after the marathon that is December. Is it terrible to confess that I'm so relieved that Christmas is over? I know that's probably some kind of sacrilege to say, because, obviously, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. However, I honestly think that if it had lasted even one minute more, I might have keeled over. 


Don't get me wrong. I heart Christmas. And I love this new season of sharing Christmas with kiddos. And yet, for the past few years now, I find myself feeling like I might not survive until January 1st. I've considered hiding out somewhere until it's over, but so far, that's not a teneble solution.

This year was especially chaotic because our refrigerator decided to stop refrigerating around 10 p.m. the night before Christmas Eve. I came insanely (key word there) close to round-kicking our errant fridge, but I refrained, because that would have been immature. However, I might have said a bad word (or a "cowboy word" as my mom refers to them) in place of the kick. And the fridge totally deserved it because it had BACON and EGGNOG that it was supposed to be safekeeping for me. #badfridge


Despite a cooler full of ice in the garage and nearly 80 degree temps outside, nobody ended up getting food poisoning on Christmas Day, despite my ominous predictions. A Christmas miracle indeed.

In our house, Christmas is bookended by Sam's birthday a week or so before and then Matt's birthday on New Year's Eve (which is a bummer birthday because everyone's having a party, but none of them are for you). So, our month looks like this: birthday party for Sam, birthday day party for Jesus, birthday party for Matt. In case you're wondering, that stuff will wear a mama out. 


I talked with a friend of mine this morning who is home on furlough from mission work overseas and she shared how she actually felt sorry for mamas in America during the Christmas season because of all the crazy that we have to navigate. Her description of their simple Christmas on the mission field sounded rather dreamy. Obviously, she missed her family and the imagined trappings of a Christmas at home, but the reality is that a lot of the good stuff of Christmas gets swallowed up by all of the STUFF. Her version reminded me of a Little House on the Prairie Christmas, when you were elated to find oranges and newly darned socks in your stocking.


Every year, I daydream about the quiet Christmases with my family growing up. We would sit around our piney-smelling tree after dark, lights twinkling, eggnog in our cups, and Vince Guaraldi playing in the background. It felt like there was loads of time to contemplate and wonder at the magic and the beauty of Christmas. 

And yet, I'm guessing my mom probably felt as run-ragged as I do now as a mom at Christmas, but she never let on and did such a lovely job of keeping things simple and beautiful and just enough, so that there was space for us to enjoy all the things about Christmas that matter.


A conversation with Matt a few evenings ago had me confessing to wanting to escape every December and he seemed a bit puzzled by my having felt so frayed over the holidays. If you know me at all, you know that I'm somewhat high-strung, slightly neurotic, and a raving perfectionist. So, he wasn't totally surprised at my having felt a little stress. But, the truth is that I felt more than just a little stress and I'm so over letting it steal my joy every Christmas. 

And so, here I am declaring that I want to take Christmas back.



I want there to be more time for thoughtful Advent readings, and time to ponder the beauty of the season. I need more quiet and less hustle, more intentional time with my kiddos and less errand running. I want to sit by our tree and read the Christmas story, unhurried, without the nagging feeling that there are five other things I should be doing. I don't want to worry about the budget exploding because we overdid it, trying hard to be sure we "got enough" for the kiddos. 

I want to be free of the commercials and the terrible, awful jingles that pass as Christmas music now. I need more Charlie Brown Christmas and less Justin Bieber holiday specials. 

I want more Jesus and less Santa and his creepy elves on shelves.

I'm not even sure I know how to describe the Christmas I long for every year, but I do now that it isn't what we're doing right now. 


So, I'm going to be mulling over this for a while, trying to navigate us away from the frenetic flurry of present-buying and party-planning and overdoing it. 

I don't plan on throwing out the tree or only giving my kids socks and underwear. But, I do want to include more depth in our family's celebration of Christmas. And I would love to incorporate ways to teach our kiddos to think about others during this season and not just themselves. 


I'm way open to suggestions. Who's living the Christmas dream out there? I'd love to hear how you're celebrating Christmas without the chaos. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Adoption

So, I should preface this post by confessing to being up way, way past my bedtime. I've spent the last hour cutting out batman masks and taping them to toothpicks. SO, if I say something that makes you feel awkward, can we just agree to blame batman toothpicks? Thanks.

We just got back from an overnight trip to Nashville, which means nine hours in the car, six hours sleeping, and ten actual waking hours spent in the city. (I may have done that math wrong because, batman toothpicks.) The trip was a little more whirlwind-esque than our usual day-to-day lives (like five-hundred times more so), but Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God tour was happening at the Ryman and it felt like a good idea to go.

The thing about Nashville is that I spent four rather significant years of my life there in my early twenties, and being back in the city felt a bit surreal. Every street had a memory attached, every building reminded me of someone I'd known or something I'd done over a decade ago. It felt a little like a city of ghosts to me last night. And in the midst of all that weirdness, I couldn't help but compare the self I was 11 years ago to the self I am now, which made for a crazy handful of feelings that I'd really love to talk with you about over coffee for about five hours.

But, I digress.

Here is what I really need to talk about with you right now: ADOPTION. During the intermission of Andrew Peterson's BTLOG, he showed a video from ShowHope.org and if I hadn't been totally and completely boxed in to my corner of a wooden pew, I would have ran to the lobby and purchased one of those classy plastic glasses of wine I kept envying the people in front of me for having. But, I couldn't escape and so I sat there and felt my back stiffen as I braced myself for a heartbreaking/heartwarming story of a mind-numbingly precious, special-needs, orphan girl in China. My throat literally ached at the end of it with the valiant effort I had made trying not to ugly cry there in the bright intermission lights.

Y'all. I have yet to write anything about this situation with adoption in my life before, but I feel like either I have to start writing about it or I will drive Matt literally insane from my pulling an adoption filibuster every time we have atleast 5-7 minutes to talk without interruption. I don't mean for this to happen. I just have a running monologue in my head going on about adoption most of my waking hours. It's weird and Matt is probably starting to wonder if I think about anything else. I do: chocolate and Fixer Upper.

I've known for a long time that adoption was probably supposed to be part of my story, and when Matt and I started talking about marriage, I mentioned it. Now I mention it a lot.

The issue with adoption and me seems to be that every single video I see about adoption, every picture of every orphan that flashes on my computer screen, every mention of a child without a family in a newspaper article, they all have Mae and Sam's face. I can't look at or hear about one of those children and not picture one of mine. It makes me want to adopt a hundred children. All. The. Time. 

I did have a moment of realization last night when my throat nearly closed up over the potential ugly cry I was holding back during that video. Something about becoming a mother to my two children, who I love in a way that I don't even have words for, has tripped some wire in my heart that makes me almost catatonic when I see images of children who are abused or neglected or unwanted. I've crossed some line somewhere that makes me unable to unsee those kids, and also makes me grieve their lot in life in a way that is right, but that can sometimes have an element of hopelessness to it. Last night, I wondered at the intensity of the emotions I feel when it comes to adoption and the great need associated with it, and if those emotions are a little too similar to the grief of "those who have no hope" (I Thess. 4:13). I think I need to wander around in that possibility for a while to determine if I've been seeing orphans through a gospel-empty lens.

Regardless, I can't get away from this feeling that the word adoption is somehow being needlepointed onto my heart. It sits on me a lot more than is comfortable lately and the things I prayed for years ago that would make it possible for us to adopt are starting to be realities. And, so, it's hard not to fill out the forms online right this second.

Matt isn't as sure as I am about this whole thing. And, I get that. He's so open, though, and the amount of patience that man has with my constant wall of words about adoption is pretty commendable. He probably needs a medal or something.

So, here I am, still thinking about that video, still wondering how adoption is going to fit into our story, still hoping that there is a child out there somewhere who is on a divine trajectory into our home and our hearts.

And, so, I wait. And wonder. And wait some more.







Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Good, Hard Work of Motherhood

So, I had the chance to speak at a moms' group in Tennessee last week and while it was kind of intimidating to be talking to other mamas about being a mama, it was also kind of freeing. I told them about the time our kids flooded the bathroom just as company was coming over for dinner and about the time Sam brought one-week old Mae to me, dangling by one arm, after having just pulled her out of her crib (insert large-eyed emoji face here). I also shared about how we drug Sam all over Dollywood last week while he had an escalating fever, which we didn't know about yet, and instead kept telling him to stop being "so grumpy." (I apologized 500 times to him afterwards). Basically, I laid it all out there so they'd know that I am in no way some ideal version of a perfect mom who never burns dinner and only instructs her children with straight scripture verses.

Nope.

Now that you know that I am totally in the trenches with you, I'll share a few of the things I shared with those sweet mamas in Big Orange country last week...

Firstly, have you read the article "Your Child Is Your Neighbor" at the Gospel Coalition's website yet? If not, go print that out for yourself and read it out loud every morning before commencing parenting. I'm considering having it tattooed on my forehead so that I see it every time I spend 23 minutes applying all my anti-aging products every morning and evening. It's that good.


OK, so along the lines of our children being our closest neighbors and all that that means biblically for us as parents, here's a verse that reiterates that same idea:

John 15:13 "Greater love has no man than this: to lay down his life for his friends."

If you have small friends (a.k.a. children) in your home, eating, sleeping, playing, doing somersaults on your dining room table, then you get this verse in a particularly personal way. Laying down your life for your small people is just what you do. It's like breathing and sleeping and riding a bike at this point.

Maybe you've just had a baby for the first time and you're figuring out that this motherhood gig asks for literally all that you have and then asks for a little bit more.

Some days it feels like too much, like too big of a sacrifice. And those are the days where I daydream about running away to the mountains or the beach or to Tar-jay.

But, what you and I are doing when we hang in there and keep offering our whole selves, when we keep showing up, when we keep laying down our lives for the crazy little people who live in our houses, this is a valuable thing.

Every sticky, peanut butter-scented, dirty-diapered, Lego-covered, crayon-graffiti-ed moment matters. And I don't mean that in an, "Enjoy every minute because it's over so quickly"/grandma-in-the-grocery-store" kind of way. I mean it in a Kingdom of God kind of way. In a Larger Story kind of way. In a God is using you in his Redemptive Plan for the World kind of way.


You and I are participating in the redemption story that God is writing when we faithfully do the hard work of motherhood.

Everywhere you look in our culture today, the idea of mothering children is being devalued. It's an inconvenience, it's a drudgery, it's less important that a million other things.

I was listening to NPR the other day and on a humorous show called "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me," they discussed how, in a new scientific study, German scientists had concluded that "having children is the worst thing that can happen to you." Worse than a divorce, than a spouse dying, than losing your job. They laughed about it, but I couldn't help feeling sad.


It reminded me that that mentality is backed up by the almost 58 million terminated pregnancies that have taken place over the last forty-two years.

Every day a child's value is placed lower than: a job, an education, a busy exam schedule, personal freedom, relationships, etc.

But, as one author has so wisely put it, "Children are not a distraction from the important work. They are the important work."

Right now, for me, as a mama of two little people entirely dependent on Matt and I, that important work includes:
   
 - cleaning the rug on my hands and knees after someone has had the stomach flu
 - taking care of the accidents of potty-training small people
 - cooking dinner during the time of day when I am the most tired and am also wielding sharp knives while my children wrestle around my ankles    (I like to call this my "recipe for disaster").
 - buying my child a new coat instead of the pair of boots I've been dreaming about for five years.
 - getting up fourteen times during the night to comfort a sick or frightened child

And the list could go on. This is all included in the good work of motherhood and all of it has value.

There are so many children who don't make it out of the womb because they were deemed less valuable than something else. And there are so many children who make it out and then spend their childhood being neglected and abused and unloved. YOUR children have been given the gift of being yours, which means they are loved and wanted and treasured.



Don't underestimate your value in being their mama.

In our little mama communities, it's so important that we remind each other that this season of little people is valuable, that mothering is valuable, even when it feels so mundane and isolating.

Let's choose not to use terms like "mom fail" or "bad mom" to describe our mothering. Because that's not the story that God is writing for you and for me. He's using mamas like us in his big, huge story of redemption as we sacrificially love our children. Let's not waste any of our precious energy tearing ourselves or other mamas down.

Let's speak life over each other. Let's SEE each other as valuable and say it out loud.

As you give and give and give to small human beings who cannot pay you back, to those who are too small to even speak a "thank you," to those who don't understand the life-sized sacrifice it is to be their mom, you can be confident that you are participating in the redemption that God is working out in the world.

As you daily lay your life down for your little ones, God's redemption is being worked out in your home and that will absolutely have repercussions in the world outside the walls of your little house, whether you ever see it or not.

Don't underestimate your value as you do this beautifully hard work of motherhood.

You have value. Your work matters.

Go forth boldly, mamas.


Thursday, October 15, 2015

All The Feelings I Am Having About Being Almost Forty


My grandma will be ninety years old this next spring and she still lives on her farm in South Georgia, where I have a thousand memories of naming cows, petting goats, jumping off hay bales in the barn, walking with my granddaddy down the worn path into the fields, and eating bowls and bowls of buttery grits in my grandma's kitchen.

My dad and I drove down to visit my grandma a few weekends ago and while I was there I had a chance to do some reminiscing, which is a luxury I almost never get to indulge in. (I think that may have something to do with every one of my waking moments being filled with unending cries for "Juice!" and "Shows!" and "Snacks!")



Being somewhere for twenty-four hours without Matt or the kiddos opened up the floodgates of complete thoughts, childhood memories, and emotions that I've been vaguely unaware of since 2009 (Sam's arrival on Earth). I felt a little teary, the good kind, during a large portion of those twenty-four, rather non-eventful hours. There's something about being in a place that lives and breathes in a rhythm that isn't hurried or overly busy or straining to be something that it's not. Places like that remind me that most of life's beauty is often tucked into the pockets of the simplest things.


The sunset that night we were there was fiery red and orange and it backlit the horizon behind the trees and the fields and the barn. My grandma saw it through the window and called us all to come look at it. Something about her appreciation of that sunset, despite the reality of her daily life in an aging body with all its aches and pains, was significant to me. There was something poignant about her valuing that display of beauty in the sky that night and it made me hopeful.

I think my grandma is most likely 24 years old in her mind and the reality of her 89 year-old outside seems so incongruent with her youthful spirit. It's hard to see someone who has always been so vibrant and energetic making her way into the last season of life. But, at the same time, she still drives her shiny red Buick to get her hair done every Friday morning and she still gets "gussied up" to go to church, and her eyes still light up when she sees my two little ones running around her yard hunting for pecans.


Lately, I've been having a hard time with the fact that at 37, I am no longer a proverbial spring chicken, which mainly means I've had to ban myself from shopping at American Eagle. I've also been spending some free time researching magical wrinkle potions and solutions to crows' feet. It's been a little bit of an issue for me, and as it turns out, Matt's kind of over hearing me whine about it. Apparently, he doesn't feel the same angst over the fact that my neck is starting to look older than my face. I, however, am considering a Kickstarter fund to "Save My Neck." Feel free to join that.

But, despite all the weird emotions I'm having these days about my fears of getting old, I'm struck by the simplicity of the life my grandma is living right now and how she's not whining about her lost youth or her less than perfect skin tone. She's too busy taking in a late summer sunset from her back porch. And this reminds me that the kind of beauty I should be wanting isn't something I'll find in a $78 bottle of "magical" skin-firming cream.


I remember hearing Beth Moore explain once that, in her opinion, women increase in beauty until age forty, and after that, they increase in wisdom. Part of me wants to tell Beth to keep her mouth shut because at 37, that means I've got approximately 2.5 years left to be remotely attractive. And yet, at the same time, I'm starting to see in an up close and personal way that youth very literally fades and, if I'm honest, I really do want to value wisdom over what I look like in the mirror. I'm slowly starting to believe that the state of my heart really does matter a bit more than the state of my skin.

I hope that if I make it to 89, that I won't be sitting around feeling bitter about my gray hair or my imperfect complexion. I hope that I'll be standing on my back porch watching the sun light up the twilight and that I will still feel grateful for simple joys.



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