The Hallway

It was a lengthy consultation, and the end result was a plan to say goodbye to four teeth and several (SEVERAL) thousand dollars.

Two of said teeth would be Abby’s, and the other two would be Ellie’s.

The money would be ours.

We had prepared for the latter, but the former was troubling for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that I was going to have to tell them they were having teeth yanked out.

Maybe I should rewind and clarify.

They are tender girls; prone to concern the same way their mother is. We cover our eyes when people get hurt in movies and we cry when we say goodbye for a few days. We don’t do “new” or “change” well, nor do we relish the idea of medical treatment.

When I was in junior high, my parents gave me a book about a giraffe who was afraid to have her tonsils taken out because they thought it would help me get over my fear. For the record, I still have my tonsils. And all of my wisdom teeth. But I got rid of the giraffe book. Never mind the fact that I received a cartoon book a few years before my driver’s license. Let’s not concern ourselves with labels here; tender will do just fine.

I told them about the teeth. Very nonchalantly, as if everyone did this sort of thing. They were watching carefully and I actually played it off pretty well.

It wasn’t a fantastic response, but we got through it.

Several weeks passed and the appointment was coming up, so I reminded them that this was the week that they were going to get braces and also maybehavetheirteethremoved.

There were mixed emotions. Some excitement about the braces, some nervousness about the orthodontist chairs and tools, and a whole lot of talking through different scenarios.

The night before the appointment, Todd and I kissed them to bed and sat on the couch to talk about how we were going to tag-team the next day. I asked Todd how we were going to do the payment, and he explained that we were going to split it up between 2 credit cards. Because I know that some of you like your envelopes and such, I will ease your minds. We don’t keep balances on our cards, but we (read: Todd) like to get our airline miles when we can, and let’s just say “braces for twins” is a RIPE mileage opportunity.

A few minutes after this discussion, Abby came down the stairs to where we were sitting and informed us that Ellie was sitting in her bed crying. I told her to tell Ellie to come down and talk with us, and a few seconds later our red-faced, tween-ish, how-did-she-get-that-tall daughter came into the room and plopped on the couch.

Because I have an advanced degree in these matters, I took the reigns by telling her it was natural to be fearful, because for CRYING OUT LOUD THEY ARE GOING TO YANK PERMANENT TEETH OUT OF YOUR HEAD.

She listened patiently and then explained that she wasn’t afraid. Or rather, she hadn’t been before my little tirade. I had successfully paved the way for terror, so I prayed the same prayer I do many times a day, in which I ask the Lord to omit this memory from her mental scrapbook and replace it with some sort of baking adventure.

“Oh. Okay. So you’re not crying because you’re scared?” I asked. “Then what’s going on, babe?”

She hesitated. She started to speak and then her lip quivered and she tightened her mouth.

“It’s okay, hon.” Todd offered.

After two more attempts, she finally got the words, “two cards” out and we pieced it together. She had come to the edge of the stairs and had heard us discussing payment options, and she was concerned that her straight teeth were going to leave us in financial ruin.

My heart broke. She kept telling us she didn’t care about her teeth and that we shouldn’t worry about it if it was going to be that expensive. We reassured her and sent her back to bed, both of us shaking our heads. Todd, because he thought she was so thoughtful and me because who thinks about money when there’s a drill with your name on it?

In any case, we made it to the next morning and joked around the whole way over to the orthodontist’s office. Abby kept reminding Ellie how much she liked the “funny juice” when her arm was broken, so Ellie was at least looking forward to having that experience.

Before we got out of the car, I prayed for them. I asked to take a “before” picture and we all smiled like we were happy. It’s what you do for scrapbooks, right? Even though years from now we will sit around a table and look at it and I’ll tell them I was trying not to panic. And then I’ll tell them that I watched their tall legs walk themselves into the office and I had to push my feet to follow because I wanted them to be too young to open doors alone.

We made our way back to the check-in area and as I started answering the questions the woman was asking, I noticed Abby swaying side to side. The sway is the pre-cursor to the tears for her, so I kept her on my radar.

Finally I looked right at her and saw that her cheeks were hot and her eyes were a blink away from spilling over. As soon as she saw me looking at her, she crumpled her face and buried herself in my side. Ellie was trying to be tough but she wasn’t far behind.

I whispered to Abby and rubbed her back, reminding her that this was a normal thing and we were going to be just fine.

The receptionist had watched it happen, and when she saw the tears she stopped tying and looked Abby straight in the eye.

“You’re scared, hon?” she asked. Abby nodded.

“Do you ever pray when you’re scared?” she asked. Abby nodded again.

Her eyes were kind and weathered with years of watching nerves and hormones collide, and without another word, she reached her hand over the counter.

Abby lifted hers up, placing it in the woman’s.

“Dear heavenly Father,” she began. “Please help my sister to be brave. Help her know she is in good hands, and that this is a place where we pray for our patients and take good care of them.” She continued for a few moments while I mentally thanked God for this provision. I watched her fingers smoothe Abby’s hand while she lulled her with the prayer, and they both squeezed at the end.

Now we were all teary-eyed, and the receptionist asked Ellie if that was her full name. Ellie explained that no, it was short for her middle name, Elisabeth.

The woman smiled and said she had almost named her daughter that but she was afraid people might call her “Beth,” and she didn’t want that to happen because she had been teased in her childhood by a “Beth.”

I giggled, asking Ellie what she though of when someone said the name Beth. I knew what she was going to say, and we all laughed when she said, “Umm, Mrs. Beth Moore.”

“Well she sure makes me like that name more!” the woman said. I nodded. Me too, I thought. Me too.

We sat in the waiting area for a few minutes before they took the girls back, and they drank their “happy juice” while we waited. Abby had told me (and the receptionist) that her biggest fear was walking to the area where they would work on her.

She wasn’t afraid of the braces, necessarily. And she was handling the tooth-pulling thing like a champ. But the hallway-that was the part she had dreaded for weeks.

I asked the nurses if it would be okay if I walked them back and they enthusiastically assured me I could. I put one arm around Abby and the other around Ellie and made small talk as we traveled that long hall. I talked about the paint colors and the funny drawings on the wall, and they just listened.

Finally, they got into the main room and the sweet ladies told them where to sit. They climbed up in the chairs and introduced themselves, and when Abby started to say she was fine, her face betrayed her and she had to wipe her eyes again.

I didn’t want to stay too long because I didn’t want to be in the way, and also I wanted them to see that they were fine without me. I told them I would be right outside the room and if they needed anything, the ladies could come get me. Then I squeezed their toes through their shoes and gave them a big wink.

“See you soon!” I said, and slipped out the door.

They were fine. They were really fine.

At one point the nurse came to get me because Abby wanted to show me that she was doing a lot better. She certainly was doing better. She was cracking jokes about wanting to drink coffee and she couldn’t keep her eyes from crossing, so there was that.

Right before the teeth yanking (which came after the brackets were put on), they got me and Todd again from the waiting room to show us their new braces. We told them how great they looked and then went back out while they went into another room for the “extractions.”

It didn’t last too long, and they both did phenomenally. All the ladies working there told me how amazing they were, and how their manners were so incredible. I nodded thankfully, saying how proud I was of them and how grateful I was to be their mom.

It seems like a silly thing to say, but it was a hard day.

I have spent so many nights tucking them into their covers and asking God to bless them, and I couldn’t help but realize that all of it-the years, the moments, the songs, the late-night talks, the pancakes, the gum in the carpet, the pages of books and life…

It’s all a hallway.

Arms around them, stepping forward, eventually to tell them I’ve done my part and then point to where I’ll be waiting.

You’ll be fine. You’ll be more than fine.

Just get me if you need me.

I’m not leaving, I’m just going to be out of eyesight. And if you call me, I will race right back here and stroke your hair while you cry.

And if you don’t need me? Well that’s okay too. I mean, I’ll make it okay.

Because you are brave and smart and strong, just like your mommy.

One day we’ll do it, girls. We’ll spill out the pictures on the table and you’ll say, “That’s the day I got my braces!”

And I’ll smile and tell you the truth.

That’s the day I walked back down the hallway by myself, and I cried when I did.

I didn’t want you to see it, and you didn’t, but I steadied myself on the bright walls and covered my eyes with my hands. You couldn’t have understood it, but I bet one day you will.

And until then, just know this in every breath God gives you:

Walking with my arms around you has been the greatest joy of my life.

 

Of Linen and Grace

Sewing is one of my escapes.

I lock myself in my little room, turn on the machine, and wait for the machine foot to lurch to the side, indicating that it’s ready to go.

I start a lot of projects, and anyone who knows me will tell you that I finish about 1/10th of them. I don’t know. I guess they’re just better when they stay in my mind and the needle hasn’t pierced them poorly yet.

So they pile up and stare at me, taunting me with my own inadequacy.

Scraps lie all around the floor-some from an old baby dress I got halfway through and others from a quilt I have determined to finish before Christmas. They blend together in a hazy stack of discarded odds and ends, and I realize it’s been far too long since I cleaned the floor.

Ellie walks in and sees my hands grabbing anxiously at the colors and she looks concerned.

You aren’t throwing those away, are you? She asks.

Yeah, babe. They’re just the leftovers. She winces at my response.

Well, can I just keep them then? She asks. I nod, feeling a familiar sense of guilt run through my body.

It’s just been one of those days where my failures are shouting louder than my successes, and I’m convinced I’ve let them down. I don’t pray over them every night the way I should. I get distracted when I should be focused on conversation. I anger easily and form my own opinions before letting them speak their minds. I am quick to hush them and slow to spill grace.

I am the mom who leaves scraps instead of what should have been, and it’s eating me alive.

I see her scrambling and tears come to my eyes. I don’t even know how to verbalize it to her, because it is so profound a realization that all I can do is watch, my arms clinging to my elbows as I blink away my sadness.

What have I done?

That’s from a dress I started for you, Ellie. I manage.

She looks up at me and sees that I’m red-faced and broken hearted, and she comes to me with the fabric in her hand.

Mommy, I don’t need to take them… She starts. But I shake my head side-to-side. No, I assure her. They are yours. But you should be wearing it and not scraping from the carpet, I mumble. I explain that I’m just thinking and it satisfies her enough to go back to the gathering.

We do this, you know. We have great plans, grand ideas of mothering and care-taking and preparing a child for life, and at the end of many days we just feel like we’ve left it in pieces. What’s here for them to take is not near enough, we say. And we cry because we wish we had done it better.

We wish our fingers always zipped and buttoned the completed gown instead of staring at the remainders of our dreams for them.

It stays with me, this image. And in the middle of the night, for many nights to come, I will awake with her in my thoughts. She is kneeling, desperate, hungry for more than my gift to her. And I cry more than I remember crying in years.

It will be better, I tell her.

But she doesn’t know what I mean by that. She nods so I will wipe my eyes and make her feel like I’m okay, but she doesn’t understand my brokenness or my choppy words as I try to make right what she doesn’t realize is wrong.

I’m gone this weekend, I tell her. But I will be home.

I will always come home to you, Ellie.

It’s just that I have to do my job and it’s what the Lord has for me, and I want to be obedient and good and…does she hear me?

She is nodding and smiling and happy and I don’t know why because it’s all a mess, but I have no choice but to leave it be for now. I pack, I pray, and I drive away from the house and family I love so much, and I leave them the pieces again.

I feel the Lord’s peace as I go, though. And it doesn’t make sense to me but in a way I know He is saying, “Leave it to Me, love.” And so I do.

Two days pass and I come home to a clean house and a candle burning and I realize all the gaps that have been filled in my absence. The kids are joyful, eager to see me but not destroyed by the distance.

I give hugs and little airport gifts and we laugh and tickle and hope together for a few minutes and then I go to take a hot shower and wash the fear away again.

I stop cold in front of my sewing room.

The door is cracked and the light is on, so I push it open and I see a child-sized chair piled high with scraps.

They’ve been organized by color and size, and I realize there is more than I knew there was.

It’s enough to make something, I think.

And the tears come again, because I realize that in all the things I thought were failures, my love gave them something to take with them even if I never got it exactly right.

She tells me her plans for them, and I know it will be a more spectacular piece than anything I could have hemmed and ironed.

I’m giving her the pieces she needs-exactly the pieces she needs-to make her life an offering to the Lord.

She didn’t need the dress.

She needed the mother who gave her enough to sew something beautiful of her own.

What I thought was trash-what I thought was the remnant of my own mistakes-has become the fiber of her creation, and I stand in awe already of the way she has begun to join them together.

And so my prayer has changed.

I don’t spend more time worrying about what I don’t give them than I do praising Him for what He allows me to give them.

I am not their God, I am their mother. 

And they don’t need homemade clothes as much as they need to know how to sew life.

We give them more than we realize we do, and every time we step in obedience, we hand them more and more to string together in His name. They know I’m afraid of flying, afraid of speaking in public, and afraid of failing those around me. But they see the doorknob turn and they know that I’m stitching as well.

It’s more than we realize, this obedience.

It’s more than we realize, these slivers of linen and grace.

And God-willing, they will grow to love the needle as I do, and they will smile one day as their own children gather what’s left at their feet.

It is exquisite, this pieced-together faith.

And thanks be to the God of grace, I am finding it is more than enough.

 

The Left

It’s that time again.

The weight of summer heat is lifting, and the wind is whispering the first signs of fall. It’s this way for me every year, and I’ve come to expect the breathless moments that come quickly, undeniably, and often with a hunger that can’t be satiated.

I was 17, maybe 18 when it began.

My father bought an old MGA from a newspaper ad, and began to restore it to it’s original splendor, which was quite a feat considering that it had been sitting in a barn for a few decades. It wasn’t much to look at, at least not initially.

But then again, most of our best lessons come from realizing we’ve used the wrong scale to measure value, don’t they?

It was a convertible, and the torn leather seats smelled of age and memories we would never know. He sat in it and I watched him breathe it in. At the time I didn’t know what he was breathing in, but I do now.

When you were leaving our neighborhood, you could turn right and head into the main part of town. Littered with restaurants, grocery stores, hair salons and the chaos of life, it was convenient in a necessary kind of way.

But if you turned left, you would quickly end up on a winding road that felt like something out of a movie. For miles and miles there was nothing to see except trees that were towered tall and broad with invitation.

It wasn’t an easy car to drive. In the fifties they weren’t making luxury sport cars the way they do now. It was physically difficult to turn the steering wheel, and the clutch was short and unforgiving. The reverse on the stick shift was displaced from what I was used to, and it took me awhile to adjust.

When the first leaves began to fall, I took it out.

Left. I always turned left.

And about a mile down the road, with the music as loud as I could stand it, I felt like I could breathe. I mastered the clutch, intoxicated by how responsive it was-my bare feet balancing the pedals while crimson and rust-colored leaves fell by the dozens.

Hair all around me and not a single way anyone could reach me.

I whipped the corners while the tears raced back toward my ears and my eyes stung from the speed.

I could feel my fingers, sweaty on the leather-wrapped wheel while the sun splotched the road ahead of me, understanding freedom from a depth I couldn’t convey to anyone.

Even now I can’t explain it.

But I’m hungry for it. Aching for it. 

Eventually the road returns home, and life carries on. Dinner plates clanging on tables and papers to be sorted while the bath water runs. My suitcase lies empty on the bed, waiting for me to pack my beautiful clothes again, and I am grateful for the noises and the faces.

I am.

But when the wind starts to stir the grass and I catch myself staring out the window, I wonder if I’m the only one who ever wants to inhale the hours until the blood rushes again.

I find it still; I have to.

I know the way to the grocery store, the hotel lobby, and the reassuring glow of civil and gentle life.

And I live my days turning to the right, smiling and embracing all the goodness that lies there.

In my honest moments, though, I’ll tell you that I’m a girl who can’t live without the left, the wind-stung face and the roar of third gear at it’s limit just before fourth while I laugh because no one can hear me.

So if ever you should notice me staring wistfully into the distance, you’ll know why.

If you catch a look in my eye that doesn’t fit the pretty boundaries sketched out for me, or even in the event that I slip out of the room for a moment to let dusk sit on my skin-you’ll understand.

And you might even see me one day, sitting perfectly still in a car, breathing in that which was made to be more powerful than beautiful and more driven than displayed.

I suppose you could say I understand the value in that now.

It’s hard to resist the opportunity every now and then to flee-just for an hour or so-and let the roads remind me truths that often lie dormant in dinner parties and on stages.

Face flushed, heart pounding, ears ringing from it all-and summer gives way to fall again.

This life is only meant to be displayed and controlled to the extent that it glorifies God, but sometimes we get so lost in the logic that we forget what it sounds like to race against the nightfall. I know, because I’ve done it.

My fingers reach far above my head, reaching for the sweaters I packed away for them last year. As the box tumbles and they all spill out, I can’t help but smile.

I will dress them, comb their hair, and hang their dresses, yes.

But I will use the same hands that gripped the wheel, pulled the gearshift, and turned the volume all the way to the tip-top.

One day I’ll teach them how to drive.

And then I’ll watch them pulling left, wild with anticipation, and I’ll smile, knowing the truth of it all.

It’s the road that will teach them how to live.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Portion

The Lord has such a beautiful way of reminding us of simple truth, and after a week of questioning some hard places in my life, He did that for me.

She doesn’t know she was a part of it, but I’ll tell her one day when I think she’s old enough to really understand how much it meant to me.

The kitchen was full of noise and kids, and as a few neighbors trickled in I realized we weren’t going to have enough food to go around. Todd and the girls had stopped for sub sandwiches on the way home and that was what looked the most appealing to our guests.

“I’ll share half of mine with you.” Kate said. She started tearing her sandwich in half and handed it to her friend, a huge grin across her face.

I mouthed the words, “I’m proud of you” to her, because Kate giving away food is right up there with resurrection as far as miracles.

She smiled.

Apparently the sweet little guy who works at the sandwich shop had informed the kids that if they would allow him to put a jalepeno in their sandwiches, they would get free cookies. That made me laugh because my girls love spicy food, and a teensy little pepper wasn’t going to get in the way of their sugar fix.

So now we had four cookies and five kids.

Again, Kate assured her friend that she would share hers, and I watched her fingers, dirty from a day’s adventures, carefully separate her cookie into two parts.

I could tell that one was smaller than the other, and I watched her glance from one half to the other, obviously having a mental debate about what she should do. I was subtly watching, curious about how she would handle it.

After about 20 seconds of looking back and forth, she began to pull the smaller one to herself and then thrust it out to Sienna instead. I was proud she shared at all, but secretly I was hoping she would act sacrificially and give the bigger one to her friend.

I acted like I wasn’t watching her, but as they scooted out of the kitchen I heard Kate say to Sienna, “That one has more chocolate chips.”

Immediately I realized what I had misunderstood, and a smile spread across my face as I watched her leave the room.

She wasn’t trying to decide which one was better because of it’s size, but rather which one was better because of it’s quality.

And I wonder how many times I shake my head in disappointment because I’m frustrated that the Lord has given me the smaller portion, not realizing He has chosen the best based on a characteristic that I don’t use to assess the options.

She was counting, not debating.

And she gave away what was best in her eyes.

I know He does the same, and today I am thanking Him for that. I may not understand the scale or the process behind the decision, but I am grateful that He is trustworthy and faithful in His care.

It’s a quick story, but I hope it will challenge you today as it has me. Don’t assume He has withheld the best from you because it doesn’t look the way you thought it would. He knows what we need and how we should receive it, and I for one am going to make a point of enjoying my portion more with that in mind.

He doesn’t give us second-best, but He sure might teach us to second-guess what we’re given, daily learning to accept and rejoice that which comes from His hand.

Praying that today is a day where you do the same, and that you are reminded of the way He lovingly enters into our lives and specifically feeds us what is best.

Thank you, sweet Kate, for reminding me that we don’t see our lives through His lens. If we did, we would surely thank Him, following Him like children into the sunshine with full mouths and content hearts.

He is always good, isn’t He?

You’re Not A Prop {subtext series}

I’ll just start this post out by saying I’m going to step on your toes. And if you’re someone who gets the whole way through and doesn’t feel like I did that, please don’t email me to let me know that’s the case because I prefer to believe we are all equally guilty.

There are a million different ways we do this to our kids; some obvious and others really subtle. I think social media is one of the most blatant areas, and let’s face it; it has changed the face of parenting. If we call it anything other than a game-changer, we’re lying to ourselves.

For example.

When I was eight, a birthday party meant a paper crown and some friends with knee-high socks skating at the local rink.

And nobody expected any different. The only people who knew what it looked like were actually there, and trust me, they were too stuffed with store bought cake to care what my mom had hot-glued as part of the decor.

Moms weren’t uploading or applying filters. They were watching us skate. And I know that because remember them pointing and laughing as we rounded the corner for the millionth time.

There are parts of the existing photos that I wish I could change. For example, the fact that my mother was sporting a perm that made Richard Simmons look like a hair underachiever.

But I wouldn’t change the memory.

And it doesn’t get better because other people “like” it.

To be fair, she wasn’t under the same pressure we tend to be under now.

Kids, do you know we couldn’t even see those pictures that day? No. Seriously. We had to push the button and just hope they turned out when we picked them up from the drugstore a few days later.

So we had to rely on (wait for it…) the experience itself to satisfy us.

There’s a lot about social media that’s fantastic, and I for one am super glad I can check my phone to see if I captured an image the way I wanted to, but there’s a real danger that’s underneath it.

I’m not the first to talk about this, I know, but I want to say it in a way that maybe you haven’t fully considered.

Are your children convinced that the following statement is true?

The value of this moment is in experiencing it with you, not in what others will make me feel about it.

We aren’t fooling them. They see us click, click, click, and stare at our cameras.

It used to be that we were staring at them.

Social media doesn’t have to be bad, and it’s an amazing way of sharing glimpses of life. I’m not saying we shut the machine down.

I’m just challenging you to ask yourself this: Am I documenting or directing?

Please don’t fool yourself into thinking your kid doesn’t know the difference in a party thrown for her and a party thrown for Pinterest. Because you can spend all those hours holed up in the garage constructing what you believe will be the pinnacle of party success without stopping to evaluate whether a 2 year old is actually capable of appreciating a full scale recreation of a Parisian cafe.

The cafe is not for her, it’s for you.

Please close the cafe and find a roller skating rink.

I know I’m sounding harsh here, but I’ve had it up the top of my mother’s perm with people acting like this is all for our kids. It’s so ridiculous.

You can actually give your kids a good childhood even if you never put cake-pops in a mason jar or hang homemade bunting from one tree to another. I promise.

I’m not saying you should stop being creative if this is what you love and your passion comes from creating it and then letting your child revel in it. What I’m saying is that if you’re spending more time with your macro lens than you are hugging the birthday kid, you’ve missed the point. And they know it too.

I’ve been to a bunch of kids parties in the last few years that were done up to the NINES, but I watched the mamas laugh and play and enjoy it all. The kids loved it, and everyone was happy. I know it can be done-I just don’t think it’s the norm.

It’s not just birthday parties, we all know that. It’s life in general when you feel like people you don’t know are evaluating your skills as a mother based on a snapshot. And guess what? You now get to twist, crop, edit, and filter that sucker until it looks the way you wish it really had.

It’s a lot of pressure, that’s all I’m saying.

They aren’t props to make our stage look better, and you know when you’re acting like they are.

For those of you who don’t have any “online presence” because you’re “way above that” and would “never subject your kids to that” or “give in to the pressure,” I have bad news. You’re not exempt.

You can make your kid a prop in every area of life. How about your faith? Do you feel like you make them act certain ways in situations because it reflects how good of a Christian you are?

I don’t, but I feel like it might be a possibility for some of you less-holy folk.

Right.

Like the time Kate came running home from playing with a neighbor and I listened to enough of the conversation to decide that the other mom probably thought I was a bad person and decided to march her across the street to apologize.

“Hi Valerie. Kate told me a little about what happened and she really wants to say she’s sorry to Abby.” We both look at Kate anticipating her response. It wasn’t exactly what we were expecting.

“I didn’t say that and I’m not sorry.”

Luckily, Valerie and I got a great laugh out of it, and I got a lesson I will never forget.

When you’re making your kids a prop, your play is going to get rotten reviews.

She wasn’t sorry, and she shouldn’t have been. In fact, she wasn’t wrong. But I wasn’t as concerned about that as I was about looking right. Now that’s an attractive quality, isn’t it?

I’m not proud of it, but I’m owning it because I want you to as well. I don’t do it perfectly, not by a long shot. But I’ve learned areas where I really needed to grow and for the sake of my kids, I’ve been diligent about working on them. For us, that means that as far as social media, I don’t post anything without their permission. Obviously Charlotte is too young for that, but the others have to tell me it’s okay for me to put it online.

I also keep kind of a “running tab” in my head of what I’m presenting. I try to make sure I’m being honest about the mess as well as the beauty of life, and it’s not for completely unselfish reasons. I love when people “like” a picture of my kids holding hands and singing a praise chorus, but it means the world to me when they see the underbelly a little and say “I get that. Because I’m in it too.”

And here’s something really important to understand as far as being props. What makes them work is the feeling that they’re essential and they’re valued outside of what they offer your little production.

I thought about this analogy with regard to the way the Lord loves and sees us, and it fell short of being a perfect reflection. The truth is, we are props in His play. Not useless, unmoving trees or teeth (you would think that a random choice here unless you know that my breakthrough theater performance was as a bicuspid molar in my third grade play. I don’t want to sound egotistical here, but I basically redefined the role of molars in school productions for years to come. It was that good, and you can ask my dad if you don’t believe me.), but it’s His stage.

We dance around and breathe life in and out because we want to make the Director known. And it’s spectacular.

He delights in us.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if I made up a new filter name like “washed by the blood” and tried to make a profound statement about the way He sees us? Yeah, I didn’t think so either, so I won’t.

But it’s true.

He loves us in a way that should inspire us to love our kids-not because of what they offer our image or our status, but just because we like watching them skate.

I’m tempted to go back through this and soften the edges, check the grammar, and make sure I said what I wanted to, but I’m not going to.

So if I missed a comma, please accept my apologies.

And know that they’re missing for a good reason.

Four good reasons, to be exact.

Go love well, and don’t wait for anyone else to tell you you did.

You never know for sure how many times you have left to see them skate around the bend, and I wouldn’t want you to miss it.

:)

Love,

A

 

 

Rushing & Pausing {Subtext Series}

Well I hope your evaluation period has been as eventful as mine was. Or maybe I don’t. I don’t know what the win is on that one:)

I’m not necessarily going to post these in any particular order, but I’m going to start with something that I saw a lot in the comments because it was one of my first realizations as well.

So, category one: Life is not a crisis.

And when I say that’s the category, what I mean is that it’s supposed to be what I’m teaching, but upon further investigation I realized there was a serious disconnect between that idea and what I was conveying.

Let me break down some of my popular phrases.

Hurry up!

Right now!

Come on!

Let’s go!

Now. NOW!!!!!

Like, all the time. All. The. Time.

And my tone is typically closer to, “We are being chased by an escaped convict” than “We are running 5 minutes late to a play date at Chic-fil-a.”

Researchers refer to this as “chronic overreaction mode,” and identify unhealthy patterns we are beginning to see in children who are growing up in a constant “fight or flight” mode. Everything is treated as an emergency.

Not too long ago I walked into my bathroom and saw Charlotte playing with my high heels, holding a purse. She was fumbling with getting the second shoe on and kept saying things like, “Okay, go. Alright. Let’s hurry. Almost done…” while acting like her entire person was on fire.

Apparently panic is the new tea party.

And here’s the part I found the most ironic. A good percentage of the time (at least half, I  would guess), there was actually no time constraint that would lead to comments like this. It’s like I have an internal clock that tells me I need to speed things up even when there’s no external reality demanding it.

The bottom line is that oftentimes I create an atmosphere of stress and perceived need when there is none. I’m really feeling like there’s not a positive outcome by insisting that every moment in life serves to make you feel like you’re late for the next one.

It has gotten to the point where I genuinely have trouble just enjoying the calm because I feel like there must be something pressing that I’m missing somewhere.

And they feel it, no question. They feel shuffled and controlled and, well, like they need to get on board mommy’s crazy train or else they might just get left behind.

All aboard, kids. Don’t mind me driving with the trunk open-we HAVE TO GET TO PUBLIX BEFORE THEY SELL OUT OF APPLES AND CEREAL AS THEY OFTEN DO.

I was curious how many times Jesus told people to hurry; want to take a guess?

Technically, there was one time. He was talking to Zacchaeus and told him to hurry and come down from the tree so He could go have dinner with him, but the original Greek word implies something more than just “speed it up.” Namely, that Jesus wanted him to listen right away and be convicted…not so much that He was worried the grits were burning. It was an urging to move, make haste in pursuing goodness. Not exactly what I mean when I say it.

I don’t want my children to grow up feeling like they were always hurried. Yes, there will be times when we need to, umm, make haste, but that doesn’t need to be the standard protocol.

On the other hand, I’m pretty good about doing the opposite when they are on the asking end. Here are my other frequent “time-related” comments. See if any of them sound familiar.

Not right now, honey.

Maybe in a minute.

Just a sec.

Hang on.

Give me a minute.

Later.

Again, why? Because I really can’t do it right that second? No. Not usually. More likely it’s because it’s my knee-jerk response. I’m not kidding when I say I caught myself using those words in completely illogical situations, simply because they so frequently fall out of my mouth. Telling my children to wait is like breath to me. And it’s a proud moment, let me tell you.

Now, of course there are times when these are appropriate, but “Could you pass the broccoli” is not one of them. Oh, you want to color with me? Maybe later. (2 minutes pass) “Hurry and come here girls! I need to run out real quick…

It’s a tug of war, and nobody wins. And the fact of the matter is, the heart response is the same for them: “I am the priority, and my schedule is boss. Work around me.”

Ouch.

I’m painting a rough picture here, and I don’t want it to feel like we’re signing up our kids for therapy just because we’ve done this, but I do think we need to assess it.

What’s the reason I do that? I guess because at the ugliest level, I want to be in charge of the hours. I get frustrated when it’s not done the way I want it to be. And have I conveyed to them that they are to squeeze themselves into the gaps according to my preferences?

I hope I haven’t, but I could feel the Lord showing me my own sin in this area right away. Don’t misunderstand me-I am in charge of them, and they are to respect me. The issue is that I have put too much emphasis on a non-issue, and have often missed the big picture of teaching them to love and serve one another.

Jesus doesn’t tell them they need to work their way into His demanding schedule. He doesn’t tell them they’re in the way of His more important stuff. He doesn’t keep typing when they wander in, telling them He’ll be out in a minute.

He doesn’t hold up a “shushing finger” while talking on the phone, explaining that He’ll be right there.

I know. We can’t be Jesus.

But the goal is to be as much like Him as we can be.

Parenting has the potential to teach us to die to self more than almost any other relationship, and assessing our failures has beautiful fruit-for us and our children.

So, the challenge for this week is to watch the rushing and the pausing. If they’re legitimate and necessary, sure. But you might be surprised at how often they aren’t.

Or at least it would be nice if you could tell me that was the case.

Assuming that you recognize any of these tendencies in yourself, I’ll tell you what I’ve done to try and combat it.

I sent them to boarding school.

Sorry. Kidding. It’s been a long day.

No, actually what I’ve found is that every time I use an uneccessary “NOW!” phrase, I apologize. I tell them I shouldn’t have acted like it was so dramatic. And we laugh about it.

So much of good parenting is about making life a safe place for grace.

I’ll tell you this too: when I do tell them it’s time to go, they are a whole lot more likely to come running than they were a few months ago. It’s not a perfect science, but I’ve seen a difference. And in retrospect, “running” wasn’t the right word. I meant “meandering in a semi-dressed and quasi-obedient manner.”

On the other end of the continuum, and because it was really something I felt the Lord impressed upon me, I have drastically reduced my usage of the “hang on” type comments. If I’m asked a question, I try my best to respond in a gracious, honest way. If it’s something I can’t physically do, I explain that. But I’ll just go ahead and tell you it’s pretty rare that I’m duct-taped to my chair, incapable of coming to look at the newest member of Kate’s earthworm collection.

I don’t really need a minute.

They, on the other hand? Do.

I’m praying for all of you mommies out there as you evaluate yourself in light of this stuff-and as always, I sure would love to hear any thoughts you want to share.

 

Remember, friends-life is not a crisis :)

 

 

 

 

 

The Subtext

I know, I know.

It shouldn’t really be called a blog when I come over so infrequently.

I gave up guilt for Lent so I’m just not going to make a big thing out of it. Actually I didn’t think ahead enough to give up anything for Lent. And now I kind of feel guilty about that too.

I got a sweet message on Twitter the other day from a gal who wanted me to know she still checked over here every day, and it was the sweetest thing to me. I have had a lot going on in my world these past few months and I think I just kind of checked out of my blog until I could get through it. So, for the few of you still hanging out, thank you! I’m going to write more and try to be interesting and spiritually deep and funny. But it’s entirely possible that I will fail on at least 2 of those at any given point. What can I say? I set the bar high.

I am writing, though. And it’s absolutely wrecking me.

Pretty sure it’s the hardest book I’ve ever worked through, and I can only pray that I still have a publisher when I get to the end of it. If I get to the end of it. Kidding! I totally probably will.

So, there’s that. I’ll go ahead and be selfish for prayer at the front end…because I need it.

{Thank you:)}

I spoke at the dotmom conference recently (the link will take you to details about the next dotmom conference, and it’s going to be AMAZING-I’m trying to go to it myself because I love it so much:)), and my topic was “Evaluating what the sub-text of your parenting is teaching your children about the way God loves them.” Because that sounded easy and non-invasive. Awesome.

I can tell you this with certainty-it was an area the Lord wanted me to work on in my life, and it’s been pretty rough. It’s also been great, which is why I want to spend a little time on here chatting about the process with you, hoping it will bless you as a momma like it did me.

As I prayed through it in the weeks prior, God challenged me to take an active stance in my own home in ways I had been failing to do so. I want to continue to flesh out the places He revealed as weak, and I want to invite you to do the same. I’m going to put a couple of these posts up and I’m going to be honest with you about my shortcomings. It was a lengthy talk and there were a lot of different things that I didn’t even get to because, well, it turns out that understanding you are a representative of the Gospel to your kids is kind of a daunting realization. It’s easy to feel ill-equipped and bury our heads because we’re overwhelmed with the responsibility.

What I noticed as I prepared for the conference was the way I subtly expressed a message (often totally unintentionally) that wasn’t in agreement with my “main message.” Here’s an example: What I tell my kids in words is that I value them as individuals, but I often parent them as if they are a group. I took note of how many times I used the word “Girls,” and it was pitiful.

I started taking notes on myself throughout the day and I was shocked by the frequency of sentences that conveyed a subtext that didn’t line up with my heart for them. Obviously this is a work in progress, but I will say I have made changes and have already seen results.

So, before I get into the details, I want to encourage you to spend the next few days making notes as you parent throughout the day. Write down the words you say the most frequently, the things that surprise you, and anything else you feel like the Holy Spirit leads you to consider. It’s the first step in what will be a long journey, but you have to start somewhere.

I know the comment system on the blog is pretty involved, and we’re looking into ways to make conversation easier. I would love for you to share anything you are noticing in the next couple days, so if you’re willing to, please leave your comments here or shoot me an email. I just know that others are blessed when we’re walking in humility, and it’s good to be reminded that none of us have it all figured out.

I have plenty of stories to share about what my little experiment taught me, don’t worry :)

So, if you’re game, start today. There’s no exact science to it, but I believe God will bless your efforts to live more like Him. Let’s be diligent students of ourselves as mothers, and allow the Lord to speak wisdom into the gaps. It’s important that you write it down in some way that will help you look back and categorize, but don’t worry about organization right this second. We’ll get there:)

I’m looking forward to hearing from you, and I would welcome thoughts from ladies who have already raised their children as well.

Ready? I hope so. I’m really looking forward to digging into it with you :)

Love,
Ang

Random Goodness.

Hello everyone! {AKA, the few who stick around even though I’m the most unpredictable blogger on planet Earth. Thank you.}

I hope your Christmas and New Year’s season was beautiful and that wherever you are you are enjoying the “recovery” period. January is typically a slow month for writers and artists so Todd and I are loving being at home. He’s in the studio this week recording for a new Selah project (YAY!) and I’ve been trying to catch up on the odds and ends of life that remain from the insane Fall we had. There has been a lot of writing and planning for talks I have coming up next month, but a majority of the time I’ve had off has just been spent focused on the kiddos. We had gotten behind in schooling, so we’re playing “catch-up,” which will be the pattern that likely continues until they graduate. It has been something that has really stressed me out in the past but the Lord has given me a peace about it, reminding me that as long as I’m keeping my focus where it should be, the rest will fall into place.

When I say “fall into place,” what I mean is, “their hearts are stronger than their long division skills.”

Any homeschool tips or encouragement from those of you who are farther down the road is always appreciated. Please feel free to share in the comments section so everyone can see them-I get a lot of questions about homeschooling and know any thoughts you have are helpful!

I’ve really needed this time to breathe a little and let the Lord speak to me. There have been some significant developments that have come as a result of it-mostly just revelations about what I need to be doing better and where I need to simply accept the grace that the Lord is offering and be grateful instead of being a control freak. I’m praying He will continue to speak as I write-the book I’m working on is taking more out of me than I anticipated. I chose a topic I was interested in and committed to it before I fully realized that it was an area that God needed to do some work on in me. Oh, pruning…you’re as scary as you are beautiful.

And because I am taking major liberties on the “randomness” of this post (are we calling it that?), let me add a few things I am loving right this moment.

1. The fact that I have a desk at home now. If you follow me on Instagram, you have seen it…I love her so much it’s unhealthy.

2. I have become obsessed with Annie Sloan’s chalk paint. I’ve painted everything in my house that stood still long enough.

3. Speaking of paint, we finally got around to painting our Master Bedroom (we have been wanting to since we moved  in. A few years ago. Whoops.) I chose a gray color that I will heretofore refer to as “perfection.” As Todd and I sat in the middle of the room last night at 3 a.m. watching it dry, I told him I would like to paint my entire life this color. Oh, you want to know what color it was? I can’t remember….darn. HA! Just kidding. I spent enough time doing research to know that you need a community of friends before you choose the right gray. It’s called “Revere Pewter” by Benjamin Moore. I’ll try to instagram a photo of it if I ever get to making my bed.

4. The book “Sparkly Green Earrings” by Melanie Shankle (aka Bigmama). You really should consider ordering it. Actually you shouldn’t consider anything. Just click right here and make your day happier. I will give you your money back if you don’t love it and laugh/ tear up the entire way through.*

5. The fact that God really is faithful, and He really cares about the details. More on this soon, but it’s just been a joy to watch Him work in ways we could never orchestrate to show us that He’s involved and that He is trustworthy.

6. The music of “All Sons and Daughters.” Lately, my favorite song is “Reason to Sing,” but that changes every half hour.

7. Joining Jess for our 10th book(!!!) for our Bloom book club over at (in)courage. Here’s the announcement of the book we chose! We sure would love for you to join us, and know that even if it’s a topic you’re intimidated by, you are in good company. The best part is doing it together and learning from each other. In answer to your question, no. I don’t have any idea how my hair is 10 feet long. I sure do need an appointment to fix that, since it’s been about 6 months since I did (yikes).

Winter Bloom Book Club Introduction from Bloom (in)courage on Vimeo.

 

I think that’s all for today, but I’ll be back over soon to say hey. I have been trying to write a post for a few weeks about #5, but it’s been harder than I thought it would be, and I’m working through it. Hopefully I can be an encouragement to you all through it, but it’s been a rough road. No need to worry-all is well. Just processing some parts of my faith walk that I’ve been ignoring and now I feel like the wound is (finally) being stitched up a little.

Love to all of you in the meantime~

A

*=This statement is a lie, but don’t let that stop you from ordering.

Music

The music is pounding in my headphones, which makes it feel a little like a dream.

I don’t know what the words are but I see their mouths moving and I imagine.

He’s happy to see her and his hands dance wildly, too wildly, in the air while he talks. His shoulders finally lower and his fingers wrap around the warm cup, eyes never leaving hers. It’s a surrender of sorts, and I bet he’s thinking about what it would be like to enjoy silence with her one day.

He’s in love.

You don’t need sound to know that.

Textbooks spill from tables while they stare at pages, trying to become whatever the studying will make them one day. Their mouths don’t move, but the pencils dance while they furrow their brows and wonder if they’re good enough.

If I had a guess, I would say they are.

And that woman. She comes here often and she always looks like she’s running from something. She settles into a chair, lifts her scarf to loosen it, and wipes the coffee spill from her novel. She’s lost in it, and I imagine it’s because it reads better than whatever waits for her on the other side of the glass. Something in her eyes tells me she’s been made a fool of, and she doesn’t save a chair. Not this time, not ever. I can’t tell if she’s lonely or grateful to be alone. Probably both, I guess.

There are a few brave souls outside, no doubt chilled to the bone. One couple stares, each in a different direction, and never says a word.

They don’t have to. There’s space between them, and the bitterness is palpable. I don’t know why they’re angry-I doubt they know. The motion of life has pushed them under, and they don’t remember how to dream anymore.

I can’t help but wonder if they’re just happy to feel something.

It’s not too late, I almost whisper…

He’s reading a book about Truman in a sport coat today. He’s always in the leather chair, always with non-fiction, never a stranger to anyone.  He strikes up conversation with whomever sits beside him, and as he smiles gingerly, anticipating the words,  I wonder if he’s waiting for someone. Maybe every day he sits, wondering if she’ll come and never leave. One more day drifts to “not today” while his fingers fumble with the pages and another car leaves.

I have never been accused of having a lack of imagination, that’s for sure.

I can’t hear it now, but I know there’s laughter. There are hands on shoulders, children tapping the pastry window, and memories recollected. I need the music louder, louder…until everything moves just so.

And when it does, I see exactly what I need to in order to take another step, and I feel the weight of it deeply. It catches my breath, soothes my soul, flushes my cheeks, and I let it move me the way it wants to.

We are, every one of us, just like them.

We wait, we dream, we chase the warmth of the right words, and we sip slowly, wanting to taste every moment, clinging to the way it burns while it slips down our throats.

And in the event that you should wonder, there is a girl here as well. She doesn’t sit in the same seat when she comes because she would rather let it be new. That’s what she prays, at least.

She pretends she has words when she knows there aren’t any, and she watches. She hides here amidst the chaos because it makes her feel less lonely. Her keyboard is her confidante and her tears taste the cup she has been drinking for hours.

Is it only hours?

It feels like more.

She spends her days watching, writing, waiting…

And more than you will ever know, she is broken.

The soles of stranger’s shoes and the way they tip their heads ignite stories in her, and she remembers the reason she watched in the first place.

Because years ago, more years than she can count, she heard a voice when there was only darkness.

It was, to her, a promise that she would never be fully alone again.

Eyes heavenward, she drank it deep, savored it fully, let it bring her the life-breath she was gasping for.

And even now, she remembers.

And above all else, she chooses to believe it.

“Tell your story, love. And when you do, they will certainly hear theirs…”

 

{May it be, Lord…}

 

 

 

Fumbling

With my oldest three girls, we took away the pacifier pretty early. That’s what everyone told us to do.

Unfortunately, then they all became thumb-suckers, and I’m here to tell you, that’s a hard habit to break.

When Charlotte turned 2, I decided it was time to start weaning her from the “paa-thi,” and by “weaning,” I mean “I lost the last one and was too lazy to go to the store.”

Creating and executing a plan has never been a strong suit for me.

So it was bedtime and the thing was nowhere to be found. I started to rock Charlotte and she said, “Wansome miwk, pease.” I got her milk. Warmed just the way she likes it. I hadn’t figured out what I would do when she finished it, because the next step in the routine involves paa-thi. Sure enough, her eyes rolled back in her head while she sipped, and as soon as it was gone she opened them wide, grabbed her “blank-let,” and asked for the pacifier. I came up with a flawless plan I will refer to here as “panic.”

“Paci went bye-bye, honey.”

She stared straight ahead, then looked at me incredulously.

“Want paa-thi. Pease.” She wasn’t freaking out yet, so I gave her the same excuse. I said it like I was sad too, so we could share the disappointment. She considered what I had said, and like the mature toddler she is, she decided to cope with the realization by re-enacting a scene from the Exorcist.

Actually, it wasn’t as horrible as I expected. She cried, and when I laid her in her bed she kept repeating “Paaaaaaaathiiii. No bye-bye,” which is almost enough to make a grown woman drive to Walgreens in her pajamas. But we made it through the first night, and when naptime came around again the next day we went over the specifics again. Listen, I know I could have added a fairy or pretended we were giving it to the new babies that were born at the hospital. It was a spontaneous moment, so “went bye-bye” was as detailed as I got.

For three nights she whined when it was time to sleep, and together we kept repeating, “Paci went bye-bye. All gone.” On the fourth night, she didn’t ask.

And I decided the fairies would have been a waste of creative energy.

I mean, this was flawless. I had broken her of the habit I believed she might bring to college with her, and she wasn’t even 25 months old. For weeks we went on this way, and all was well. There was one incident that involved the vacuum and a paci that had found it’s way under the couch, but overall we got through it just fine.

Until, you know, the road trip.

Ten hours in a car with a screaming kid will make you abandon any moral decision you have made in a sedentary setting. I made it for 6. Does that count for anything? Finally I looked at Todd and said, “I’m just going to give her the one that’s in the glove compartment. We’ll just let her have it for long road trips.” I nodded assuringly. Yeah, it didn’t even make sense to me.

He stared at the road, because options are limited for a man trying to be a good husband and dad when his wife looks like she is going to exit the car via window at 70 miles an hour.

“Okay?” I asked, in a tone that meant, “I’m not interested in you making sounds with your mouth unless the word yes is involved.” He nodded, because he was afraid of me.

Stupid fairy. I should have listened.

“OHHHHHH, Charlotte!!!” I said it with hopeful, dramatic animation and all of my kids looked up to see what was happening. “I found it!!! Mommy found your paci!!!! She stopped crying and stared at me. So did the other three.

“I thought we took that away from her, mommy!” Ellie shouted. Thank you, first-born, for being so very on top of things.

“Well, we have a new plan.” {mumbling} “So she can have it until…while we….when it’s…uhhhh.” {panic sets in} “Until the new babies at the hospital need one.”

Dang it.

Yeah, that would have been a solid Plan A right there.

They were not amused, and Ellie eyed me while putting her headphones back on, squinting suspiciously while reaching for her bag of chips to watch what happened next.

“Here you go, honey! YAAAYYYYYYY! PACI!!!!!” I think she was confused, and quite frankly, the maniacal overly-excited and breathy voice I had adopted was probably not helping.

She didn’t reach for it. She just stared.

So I unbuckled, leaned back to her and set it on her lap. I knew we were going to enter a bigger war, but the truth was, I was desperate for the end of the battle. The car was quiet for the first time in what seemed like eternity. She reached for it and then did something I have processed for weeks.

She picked it up and studied it like it was a foreign object. “Paa-thi.” She said, finally. And then she took it and rolled it around in her fingers, pushing it flat and then stretching it out again.

“What’s she doing?” Todd asked.

“I think she’s just remembering it.” I answered.

Truthfully, I was perplexed at how she could have forgotten the wonder-paci this quickly because it had been her lifeline since day one.

“Put it in your mouth, Char.” I said, nudging it toward her lips. I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is yes. I am a stellar parent.

Her eyes never left mine, but eventually she did put it in her mouth, where she moved it around awkwardly and took it out to stare at again.

After about 5 minutes of this routine, I heard her say, “Mommy, here go.”

And she handed it back to me.

Smiling.

She didn’t need it anymore, and she knew it.

She had been away from it so long that she didn’t remember why she ever did. It might as well have been a paper clip or a piece of clay. It was rendered useless to her by virtue of the fact that she had experienced life without it, and it didn’t comfort her anymore.

The instant it happened I knew I would write about it, because it’s how I see life. What I didn’t know is how profoundly it would speak to me in the days to come, as I considered my own crutches in life. The way I remove them, stagger away, only to return to them again in weakness. I don’t need you anymore. That’s what I should say. But even as a Christian woman, there are plenty of things to lean on when I know they shouldn’t soothe me.

What I have prayed many times over since that day is simply this: “I only want to need You. Take the rest away and make it foreign to my lips.”

Let me fumble with what once satisfied me and wonder why I needed it in the first place.

It’s the victory of defeat, and it’s ours for the taking. It doesn’t have to follow an elaborate plan. We simply repeat the phrase as many times as we need to. “Goodbye.”

No long-winded explanation or amazing story. Just the prayer of a desperate heart, hungry for peace when life won’t stand still long enough to catch your breath. I don’t need you anymore.

You cannot bring me rest…

I will never forget the way a 2 year old ministered to me.

Hours more of highway left to go, but so much ground behind us.

Lord, shake us free from that which can never satisfy. We will be steadfast in our faith and quick to give you praise…