the upheaval of august.

At this exact moment, I am sitting on the couch with a snoozy baby on my chest. I’m sipping hot coffee out of an old travel mug while watching Norah get her own baby packed up and ready for a walk in the stroller. I’m typing with a single thumb on my iPhone while we wait for Jake and Sawyer to get home from kindergarten drop off.

Our rhythms have changed in the past 31 days.

As a person who thrives on routine and expected outcomes, the complete upheaval a newborn brings is always the hardest thing for me to adjust to. “Just take it one day at a time” is not a mantra that comes naturally to me. Even on the good days, you can usually find me anticipating the harder ones.

We’ve done this dance four times now. And, each time even the upheaval has looked vastly different. Here’s one thing that hasn’t changed though: My ability to consume a completely random assortment of information and entertainment in the middle of the night. With Lily, it was Friends reruns and Jimmy Fallon clips, and with Norah, I alternated episodes of Chopped and Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (that was almost 4 years ago, so I feel pretty ahead of the game on that one). As for Sawyer, I watched a lot of Chicago Cubs game summaries as they inched closer to the World Series.

It has been no different with baby Jude, and I thoroughly enjoyed remembering all the places my brain has been ping-ponging around in the last month.

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So, without further ado:

Books I Read

The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis

I recently finished compiling my personal collection of The Chronicles of Narnia. I decided to reread the series because I can’t remember the last time I read them and, even more alarmingly, can’t remember if I ever actually finished all the books. I love the way Lewis narrates these stories, and I was especially captivated by his description of the World Between the Woods early on in this one:

“It was the quietest wood you could possibly imagine. There were no birds, no insects, no animals, and no wind. You could almost feel the trees growing. The pool he had just got out of was not the only pool. There were dozens of others–a pool every few yards as far as his eyes could reach. You could almost feel the trees drinking the water up with their roots. This wood was very much alive” (32).

Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilken

I’ve been thinking for some time that, in my reading of the Bible, I’ve been relying too heavily on studies or devotionals to give me insight or understanding. While I like the thematic approach and wisdom of people like Catherine Martin or Beth Moore, I’ve been wondering lately why I feel as though I can’t read my Bible without the guidance of someone else. I started looking into the inductive method of Bible study and then saw this book recommended repeatedly. Wilken’s suggestions and wisdom are practical and added to a thought process I had already begun churning in my brain.

“I cannot truly be a God-worshipper without loving the Bible deeply and reverently. Otherwise, I worship and unknown god” (147).  

Articles I Clicked

This was my favorite list to round up because it is so obviously the work of a person who has been reading articles at literally all hours of the day. I mean, in the past 31 days, I have gained knowledge about Jimmy Carter, millennial evangelicals, AND the lengths one must go to in order to photograph pandas.

Follow-up question: Can you guess which one of those articles I read in the middle of the night?

Things I Watched

Speaking of things you do in the middle of the night when you have a newborn, “Watch Happy Things on YouTube” is one of my survival pro-tips. In the past few weeks, I have found some new things I had never seen before and also returned to some old feel-goods. I couldn’t resist passing them along in case you need an end of the month pick-me-up.

  • Lin-Manuel Miranda Wedding Surprise: Since I discovered the existence of this video a few weeks ago, I have already watched it five times because it makes me so happy. As if I didn’t already love Lin-Manuel Miranda enough, he surprised his wife with a rendition of “To Life” from Fiddler on the Roof with their entire bridal party. If you haven’t seen this, stop everything you’re doing and watch it immediately.
  • Joe Biden on The View: I actually watched this as it aired live last December and was so moved by the humanity of Joe Biden speaking to Meghan McCain about her dad’s cancer that I returned to it this week in light of John McCain’s death.
  • Like Real People Do: Sometimes all you need to brighten your spirits at 3:30 in the morning is a classic So You Think You Can Dance routine. (Or, is that just me?) Full disclosure: I couldn’t remember the name of either of these dancers or the song when I wanted to watch it last week, so I just typed “yellow dress sytycd” into Google and came out a winner 0.49 seconds later.
  • Carpool Karaoke with Paul McCartney: Okay, so this one is old news, but given that we just named a baby Jude, Jake and I obviously had to rewatch and sing along with this one.
  • The Great British Baking Show: There have been a few nights in which I’ve been up for multiple hours straight, but Paul and Mary kept me company while teaching me about proving and blind baking.
  • Journeywomen Podcast: Humor with Holly Mackle and Caroline Saunders: Technically I didn’t watch this one, but I did listen to it the other morning. I didn’t go into it thinking I would take that much away, and, instead, the opposite happened. As someone who tends to get a little too tightly wound about things that don’t really matter, this contained a lot of things I needed to hear, and it also made me laugh.

What I Wrote

NOTHING.

Self-proclaimed maternity leave is FUN and it’s been refreshing to turn my inner taskmaster off.

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Continued Upheaval

The baby woke up, so I moved to the floor. Sawyer is back now; Jake dropped him off when he came back for Lily’s forgotten backpack. I finished my coffee and am now typing with two thumbs while Sawyer and Norah play together and ask periodically if it’s “nack time.” Quiet doesn’t keep around here for long.

That’s nothing new though.

The newborn upheaval is expected. It doesn’t catch me off guard like it did the first few times, but it does continue to serve as a reminder that my life is not defined by the circumstances that surround me. It’s nice to have YouTube and my News app to keep me busy in the middle of the night, but those aren’t the things that get me through these long days.

God has continually reminded me in the past few weeks that He is my source of strength and contentment. Everything else might change (see: will change), but He doesn’t.

The same God who created panda bears to be particularly elusive creatures and gave humans a sense of curiosity to try to photograph them is also the same God who is with me every hour of every day. On the hard days. On the good days. On the uneventful ones too.

I’m back on the couch. I can’t tell you how long it’s taken me to write this. The baby is asleep again, my coffee is refilled, and I took a break to play with the two middle kids.

Everything looks different than it did 31 days ago, but also, the things that matter look exactly the same. August has been good to us.

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so long sweet summer.

If it were possible to physically latch on to a single month, you would find me right now with a firm grip on July. I thought May was my favorite month and then July 2018 rolled around and set the gold standard. It was all the things.

Jake and I kicked off the month on the shores of Lake Erie with a kid-free weekend and rounded it out by celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary at our kitchen table with some takeout Indian food. In between, we mostly filled our days with trips to the pool, afternoons by the backyard waterslide, and walks around the neighborhood. It was all made possible by Jake’s miraculous July residency schedule which allowed him to be home more than he was at work.

Like I said, all the things.

But, time marches on as it always does. So, I’m loosening my hold on July and letting it slip into the memory banks. After all, who’s to say July will still have the gold standard by the end of next month?

In any case, here are a few things I read and wrote the past few months. (June included, because summer Molly is super flexible and let myself off the hook for that particular monthly review. I’m also working on letting unreasonable expectations slip through my fingertips.)

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Books I Read

At the end of May, I was 84 pages into Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, and, because my library loan ran out after my third renewal (oops), I’m still only 84 pages in and waiting for it to be available again. I did manage to read 3 books between June and July though, and they varied wildly in terms of content and topic. They all made me think and reflect in such different and powerful ways.

Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

I won this book in a drawing (as one does) and then let it sit untouched for a few months. I picked it up on a whim at the end of June and then finished it a week later. In short, DeMoss-Wolgemuth takes an in-depth look at the discipleship method found in Titus 2. My favorite chapter was her take on what it looks like to be workers of the home, and, more specifically, this excerpt:

Jesus, too, is a homemaker. “I go to prepare a place for you,” He said to His disciples on the eve of His betrayal. “I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3).

At the heart of the gospel, at the heart of the cross, is the Lord Jesus opening His arms wide and saying, “I want you to come Home with me.”

And when we cultivate homes where others can grow and be nurtured, where they feel welcomed, loved, and cared for, we put the heart and character of God on display.

A few paragraphs later, she quotes her friend Jani Ortlund who similarly spoke to this thought:

Our homes, imperfect as they are, should be a reflection of our eternal home, where troubled souls find peace, weary hearts find rest, hungry bodies find refreshment, lonely pilgrims find communion, and wounded spirits find compassion. (222-223)

For the Love of Discipline: When the Gospel Meets Tantrums and Time-Outs by Sara Wallace

I can’t say enough good things about this particular parenting book. It’s quick and to the point, and Wallace gave me a lot to think about in terms of the words I use when correcting my kids. She has a great chapter on helping kids deal with fear as well as some really wise thoughts about the difference between childishness and disobedience. My favorite part though was in a chapter about finding the balance between disciplining too much and too little:

Consider this scenario: A mom pours her daughter some cereal in a blue bowl. She sets it down in front of her. The little girl screams in anger and pushes it away. “I want the pink bowl!” she screams, scowling and wildly kicking her legs under the table. The mom glances inside the cupboard. Yes, there is a pink bowl there. Sighing, the mom thinks to herself, “I have to choose my battles,” and she gets the pink bowl out of the cupboard and re-pours the cereal.

We’ve all be in similar situations. We’re tired. We want to make our kids happy. We think, “I’ll discipline my child when he does something really bad.” If we continue with the analogy of a battle, we can see how dangerous this thinking is. Imagine walking onto a real battlefield. The enemy comes rushing toward you. You’re seconds away from being face-to-face with your foe. You don’t have the option of saying “I don’t feel like fighting today” or “The enemy doesn’t look that strong. I’ll fight when a bigger enemy comes along.” We don’t get to choose whether or not we will battle our kids’ sin. We enter into the battle the day we become parents.

It’s important to remember we are never fighting against our own children. We are fighting alongside them. When we lay down our swords, we expose our kids to attack. They are too young to fight for themselves. We have to do battle for them. Doing battle with sin means getting our hands dirty. It means fighting for our kids’ hearts even when we’re too tired. (53-54)

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

I’m really late to the party on this one. This was published in 2014 and has been sitting on my shelf since last September when my friend Jess sent it to me for my birthday. At times it reads a little like a John Grisham novel except it’s written by Bryan Stevenson, a real human being who founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending the poor, the wrongly condemned, and those trapped in the furthest reaches of our criminal justice system (per the back cover of the book).

Toward the end of the book, Stevenson reflects on what he has learned about brokenness and mercy and touches on something I’ve been thinking about since I read Brene Brown’s thoughts about “moving in” a few months ago.

Whenever things got really bad, and they were questioning the value of their lives, I would remind them that each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. I told them that if someone tells a lie, that person is not just a liar. If you take something that doesn’t belong to you, you are not just a thief. Even if you kill someone, you’re not just a killer. I told myself that evening what I had been telling my clients for years. I am more than broken. In fact, there is a strength, a power even, in understanding brokenness, because embracing our brokenness creates a need and desire for mercy, and perhaps a corresponding need to show mercy. When you experience mercy, you learn things that are hard to learn otherwise. You see things you can’t otherwise see; you hear things you can’t otherwise hear. You begin to recognize the humanity that resides in each of us. (290)

Things I Wrote

In May, I mentioned a 10,000 word writing goal that I had for myself. I came up a liiiiittle short with just shy of 8,500 words, but I did finish a fun project I’ve been working on since March.

But, since that’s all still a little in-progress, it’s also worth noting that I published some smaller pieces this month, too. I put my research cap on over at Mighty Moms to write about pacifier weaning (you know, the most fun thing ever) and toddler pool safety while also penning this love letter to first-time moms.

More personally, I also reflected upon our family’s two favorite July holidays: National Doctors’ Day and Our Wedding Anniversary. (Did I mention we celebrated a DECADE? It still feels like kind of a big deal.)

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So Long, Sweet Summer

It’s possible that the impending addition to our family and the fact that Lily is only 16 days away from starting kindergarten have something to do with the fact that I’ve been over here trying to squeeze everything I can out of June and July before summer and the general status quo escapes my grasp.

But, if there’s something I’m learning as I reflect on the end of each month, it’s this: The looking forward to what’s to come is far superior to the wishing to hold on to the past.

So, so long sweet summer. We’re ready for all the things that are next.

firecrackers and a decade of marriage.

Ten years ago today, Jake and I got married.

I put on a white dress and wore a veil with a huge hole in it while, down the hall, Jake put on a tan suit and probably complained that I didn’t let him wear linen pants. I walked down the aisle to the wrong song, almost messed up a line of our vows, and taught Jake how to light the unity candle as we were lighting it.

It’s funny which details you remember most vividly isn’t it?

And then suddenly I blinked, and we were pronounced husband and wife. And as we made our way off the stage, our groomsmen marked the occasion by lighting firecrackers and throwing them in our direction.

You read that right. We literally walked into our marriage with the sound of firecrackers popping behind us.

It’s hard to forget a moment like that.

I’ve been thinking about those firecrackers a lot this week because my tendency, in writing especially, is to try to wring deep thoughts from seemingly insignificant things. I mean, after all, last year’s anniversary reflection was inspired by a lighter and a broomstick while the year before that, all my marriage thoughts stemmed from the fact that I had just read the word “teleological” in a book.

So, as I’ve been thinking and reflecting on the past 10 years of marriage, I’ve been wanting those firecrackers to transform into something. I’ve been wanting a beautiful metaphor about love and marriage to emerge because an entire decade feels like it deserves something deep and profound.

But then a thought occurred to me: What if I just let them be firecrackers?

What if this year, I don’t over analyze how hard we’ve worked at this marriage thing? What if I don’t try to oversimplify ten years of marriage? What if *gasp!* I just let the firecrackers be firecrackers?

And so, this year I don’t have any deep thoughts to share. Instead, all I really want to say is this: I felt those firecrackers a decade ago, and I still feel them today.

I’m happy to reside in the simplicity of that today.

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the place where residency and gratitude meet.

Just over three years ago, our family rolled into Cleveland.

Jake came first in a pretty janky hand-built trailer that almost didn’t make the whole trip, and then the girls and I pulled into the driveway the next day. I remember exhaling deeply as I looked at our house in person for the first time with a seven-month-old and two-year-old in tow. I had no idea then what was in store for us or what a life of medical residency would look like.

Three summers have passed. Now, there’s a five-year-old, a three-year-old, and an almost two-year old in tow, and I’m still exhaling deeply. Only this time, it has more to do with the fact that I just chased Sawyer down for the 18th time to keep him from running into the street or inviting himself into our neighbors’ houses.

Now, each summer since that first of complete upheaval, our family has recognized July 1st as an important American holiday, but this time, it feels especially monumental because, as of today, Jake has officially entered his FINAL YEAR OF RESIDENCY (and I can’t stress enough how necessary the caps-lock is here).

Per usual, I’m feeling reflective. After Jake finished his first year, I wrote about how I learned to navigate his long hours which, hindsight, was fitting because that year I’m pretty sure he worked all the hours. Last summer, after year two, I wrote about how I was finding perspective in the fact that I wasn’t the only one wading through a difficult season and how I was looking forward to sharing my experiences with others in similar places. (In fact, not long after I wrote that post and mused about a hypothetical residency friend, I made a real-life one, and we lived a lot of life together during this past year.)

This year, though, I mostly just want to write about how grateful I am to have lived this residency life, which is funny because I would never sugar coat this stage of our lives as particularly easy or wish to live within its confines for any longer than I have to.

Yet, I feel overwhelmingly thankful for this challenging season because it has revealed things to me about God’s faithfulness and His rich promises that I otherwise don’t think I ever would have learned.

I’ve been thinking about a verse in the book of John a lot lately. It’s found right in the middle of a passage where Jesus is laying down a great metaphor about being a Shepherd who knows and leads each of His sheep by name.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy,” He says. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

I love the word choice here. Abundantly: More than is needed. Over sufficient. Plenty.

Christ came so that we could live a life that overflows at the brim, but that’s not even my favorite part. My favorite part is that His words don’t contain any asterisks. There isn’t a list of anyone excluded from experiencing the abundant life. He didn’t say, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly after they finish their medical residency requirements.”

This is how God has shown up for us in the past three years.

Despite the lack of physical support initially, the insanely long working hours, and the various parenting challenges we have waded through, God has shown me that an abundant life is waiting to be lived each day. That I am not, and never will be, excluded from this lavish promise regardless of whatever my circumstances might look like.

Of course life still felt and continues to feel hard sometimes, but that, I think, is just the nature of life and the seasons we go through, isn’t it? “Hard” is relative, after all, as everyone is facing some kind of daily battle (often much more challenging than my own). Unchanging is the fact that Jesus promises a life overflowing. That His redeeming love, eternal hope, and gift of joy are the source that leads to discovering a life of abundance.

Year four is ahead. And, as I stare down this last stretch of residency, I see a lot more change and uncertainty and general upheaval.

But more importantly, I also see the things that will not change.

When it comes down to it, that’s all that really matters. And for that, I am so incredibly grateful.

may is my favorite (and other loosely connected thoughts).

For the past few months, I’ve been bragging about how many books and articles I’ve read, so it seems only fair to tell you that all I managed during the month of May was 84 pages of a 325 page book.

That’s kind of the nature of May though, isn’t it?

On the 29th, I actually contemplated trying to finish the remaining 241 pages in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine for the sake of meeting my monthly goal, but then quickly decided that plan was (as Lily lately likes to say) “Ridic-ee-lous.”

I opted to let myself off the hook instead. Eleanor can wait until June.

Because I don’t have any books to summarize and only published one article about surviving long road trips with kids, all that’s left to write about in May’s summation are the things I thought about. But, lucky for you, there is never a shortage of thoughts racing through my head. This month, my thoughts congregated around three main things:

Preschool Graduations

I used to think preschool graduations were about the dumbest thing on the face of the planet, and this, I guarantee, won’t be the last time I put my foot in my mouth about some childhood-related milestone that I once viewed as silly (Coming soon: My own overly emotional response to the first day of kindergarten).

Lily graduated from preschool a few weeks ago, and throughout the entire evening program, I choked back what could easily have been a steady stream of tears.

Three years ago, Jake and I were trying to navigate our first experience with the terribles, and our spirited Lily didn’t take it easy on us. Hour-long screaming tantrums were par for the course around here, and we often worried about what the future would look like for her.

One year ago, Lily wouldn’t even sing a single song in front of a classroom of parents. Instead, she would sidle up next to her teacher and cry the entire time.

This year, we watched our girl stand on a stage, sing, and dance with no hesitation, and it was impossible to ignore the growth she’s shown over the last few years.

Thankful is an understatement.

I feel sad and a teensy bit melodramatic about the end of preschool and our full days spent together (you may have already heard me refer to it as “the end of an era), but I was thinking about the word “commencement” the other day and realized that, by definition, a graduation ceremony isn’t celebrating the end of something at all. Instead, it marks a new start or beginning, and that feels about right.

This, I think, is the start (and continuation) of something really good.

At least, that’s what I’m going to be holding on to in a few months when she leaves me every day for kindergarten. Please plan on returning to this conversation in August.

Perennial Plants

My hostas pushed through the soil under our front tree a few weeks ago and have been growing steadily since. Every fall, I cut back their leaves, and then they lay dormant beneath the soil until spring when they faithfully burst back to life, larger than the summer before.

Last year, I was mesmerized by heliotropic flowers, a term I learned after I typed “flowers that turn toward the sun” into Google (in case you thought I was some kind of innate gardening expert).

But this spring, I find myself particularly captivated by the plants that require no replanting. The ones that live through winter as a waiting promise sitting beneath the earth.

I read recently (oh! I guess I did read something!) that it takes perennial plants 3 years to reach their full potential and gardening again feels like the most perfect metaphor to describe the growth I’ve seen in my own life over the past few years.

The cutting of dead things. The time it sometimes takes to see growth. The turning toward the Sun.

I am absolutely nowhere near any sense of full potential, but gardening continues to give me so many beautiful things to reflect on in my own life (in addition to the beautiful things it gives me to look at). I think I’ll keep at it.

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Personality Types

I’m about to say something radical.

I don’t know what Enneagram number I am.

In fact, I don’t even know how many numbers there are or what the numbers even really mean.

This is an interesting fact because I am typically a person who is all in for personality assessments. Myers-Briggs. StrengthsFinder. DiSC. The one where I’m identified as a beaver.

I can tell you where I land in all of these personality tests because I totally geeked out and embraced them when they were in their heyday. I love the feeling of being known even if that only takes place in my own mind.

But, for some reason, I just can’t bring myself to embrace this whole Enneagram thing.

I don’t know; maybe I just don’t like the idea of being defined by a stranger anymore, and I certainly don’t want to be a person who just chalks everything in my life up to the fact that I’m an 18 (that’s an Enneagram number, right?).

All this to say, I’m open to conversion here, but I’m going to need someone to tell me how the Enneagram is going to A.) teach me something I don’t already know about myself and B.) make my life better in some way.

Please be in touch.

Come at Us, June!

I love everything about May. In my almost 32 years of life, I’ve never had to live outside the rhythms of a school calendar, so May always brings me both a sense of closure and anticipation.

It’s one of my favorite months.

But, just like that, now it’s in the rearview (along with Lily holding up four fingers when asked her age).

We’ve got plans for June, though. Among them, getting back to Eleanor Oliphant and starting on my writing goal of 10,000 words by August. You know, when I’m not living at our backyard water slide, letting the kids eat all the popsicles, or finding a new Cleveland gem to explore.

Enneagram 18s: We set slightly unrealistic goals, force metaphors on simple things like plant growth, and also indulge in all the summer treats.

It’s a good life.

the time i had a good attitude about april.

I considered starting this review by telling you what a buzzkill April was, but then as I looked back over everything we did this month, I realized that maybe my reaction to our less than ideal weather conditions was a little over dramatic.

Sure, we hardly even made it into the 50s most days, but when I really think about it, April brought us more good than maybe I acknowledged along the way.

We (even Jake!) celebrated Easter and threw the girls (not literally) into their very first swimming lesson. We (only Jake, obviously) cut a huge hole in our house for a sliding glass door and are now (all included) basking in all the new light pouring in. We had campfires in the driveway, blew bubbles in the front yard, and drank smoothies in front of a castle.

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April, I’m sorry I gave you such a hard time. You didn’t deserve that.

Plus, I also found some good things to read and occupy my time this month. You know, in case you’re interested…

What Articles I Clicked

“Might As Well Laugh, Mama” by Holly Mackle

Sisterfriends are like a good elbow nudge, aren’t they? They’re a gentle shake from the realities of the moment, reminding us to step outside them, to evaluate the unset concrete moments from a different perspective, and oh look that’s actually pretty funny what just happened right there.

I need them when my kid starts purring like a kitten in the grocery checkout line. I need them when my oldest refers to Cinderella as the Old Testament and Cinderella II, Dreams Come True as the New Testament. I definitely need them when The Child Who Must Not Be Named asks if I can write out all her dinner options on a piece of paper and give it to her to choose from.

“Where’s My Daughter? Call Her Forth” by Callie Feyen

The opening line in Act 1, Scene 3 is a question and a command. “Where’s my daughter?” Lady Capulet asks the Nurse. “Call her forth to me.” We can interpret that line literally. Mrs. Capulet doesn’t know where her kid is and is asking the Nurse to help find her.

I think this line can be interpreted figuratively as well. That is, we mothers don’t always understand what’s going on with our children—their experience is not our own. Recognizing this can be scary, when we see them on the brink of adolescence, marriage, motherhood. Where’s the daughter we once knew? Who is she now? How much of this experience do we help her navigate? How do we help her become who she’s going to be? Why not bring in our friends to call forth something in our children.

“Do Good to Your Fellow Mom” by Chelsea Stanley

If we ask God for opportunities to do each other good, he will give them to us at just the right time, in just the right amount, just as he has prepared them.

What Books I Read

Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brené Brown

More than anything else in this book, I appreciate Brené Brown’s reminders of humanity. In an age of so much hateful rhetoric (coming from a lot of different directions), Brown continually urges readers to move in close. She reminds us of the importance of human connection, listening without an agenda, and living vulnerably. One of her most powerful chapters for me, People Are Hard to Hate Close Up. Move In., contained one of my favorite paragraphs:

As the larger world engages in what feels like a complete collapse of moral judgment and productive communication, the women and men I interviewed who had the strongest sense of true belonging stayed zoomed in. They didn’t ignore what was happening in the world, nor did they stop advocating for their beliefs. They did, however, commit to assessing their lives and forming their opinions of people based on their actual, in-person experiences (64).

A few of her main summative points fell flat for me (a longer conversation), but the vast majority of her conclusions felt so timely and important.

Dance, Stand, Run: The God-Inspired Moves of a Woman on Holy Ground by Jess Connolly

Truthfully, I’m still processing the implications of this one. I basically used up an entire highlighter while I was reading, but here is one paragraph that I keep coming back to:

When we…seek His face and learn His word and trust His character, I believe we’ll become more hopeful and more anticipatory of His return and His rescue. We’ll see people in the correct light, as image bearers of our Holy God; we’ll see world events with more clarity; and we’ll perceive culture not as barren and broken beyond repair but as reachable and redeemable by the healer of all things (182).

The Teacher Diaries: Romeo and Juliet by Callie Feyen

I bought this one after I read the essay excerpt I referenced above and loved so much about it. Feyen teaches Romeo and Juliet to a new batch of 8th graders each year, and this book is basically a collection of essays in which she looks at the key scenes from the play and how they relate to the larger themes of her own (or her students’) life experiences.

I used to teach Romeo and Juliet each year which is maybe why this resonated with me. If any of my teaching friends are reading this, you’ll like this one. It’s quick, thoughtful, and filled with meaningful adolescent insights.

What I Wrote

I didn’t publish much this month, but it feels worth noting that I did attend a writing conference this past weekend at my local library.

I also bought a new pair of glasses because that felt like a writer-y thing to do.

You can find the one article I did push into the world wide web, “You need to Know Why Wordless Picture Books are Worth Shouting Over”, over at Mighty Moms.

What I Learned

It’s hard to learn to swim if you refuse to put your head under water. And, after just typing that sentence, I realize there’s probably a lot more to explore there.

Chicken eggs take 21 days to hatch. Ducks? 28. Helping Lily with her fun fact research homework each week is one of my favorite things.

Gratitude isn’t contingent on circumstances. A recurring theme. Case in point: the April weather.

On that note, I just remembered that in addition to all the other pretty great April stuff, I also won my March madness bracket (sorry, mom) and got to see the Cubs play in person last week (thanks, mom!).

April, you were good to us.

(But May, you’re coming with some warmer temperatures, right?)

march is a verb (a review).

One of my favorite classes in college was United States History.

I’ve always found history interesting, and this particular professor also professed a deep love for his content–a win on the engagement front. I couldn’t soak in enough information during that hour.

My favorite thing he ever told us though was a sort of passing comment during a larger conversation.

“Until the 1930s, the presidential inauguration was always held on March 4th,” he said. “You know, so the president could march forth into office.”

Now, I can source the fact from the first statement. Every president (save a few extraordinary circumstances) was sworn into office on March 4th until Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s second inauguration in 1937. The problem is, I can’t seem to find a source confirming the second piece–which happens to be my favorite part.

Maybe it’s true; maybe he was just making a good joke (as history teachers are obviously known to do), but this fact has remained with me: March is a verb.

I’ve always loved that about the month of March especially because it always feels like a month on the cusp–a month of movement. Without fail, I always feel ready to march forth into something new each spring (another verb, hello), and this season is no different.

We’re collectively ready to move into the growth ahead.

But, since we’re kind of still on the cusp, here’s what I was up to during March (in case you were wondering).

What I Read

I read three books this month which brings my 2018 total to 7 so far. I’m feeling pretty good about that statistic, but I’m feeling even better about my book choices this month. It’s easy to read 3 books in 30 days when they’re good.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

I got around to this one only about 2 years after it was first recommended to me, and I am so glad I did. Novels have a tendency to start out really strong for me and then leave me wanting a little in the end, but this book did exactly the opposite.

Ove, upon first introduction, is a cranky and stubborn old man, but as his past story emerges, so does a really heartwarming and endearing story. I loved everything about this one; it just took me a few chapters until I felt really invested.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

This novel was really fun because it takes place in Shaker Heights, another Cleveland suburb not far from where we live (I may have driven past one of the houses from the book today). I particularly enjoyed reading descriptions of the city from different, fictional perspectives (not to mention the fact that I finally learned what a “tree lawn” is).

There is a lot that happens in this book as two very different families converge. I really liked the plot but felt like the book ended right before all the characters were going to start changing and developing for the better. Maybe that was the point? I don’t know.

In any case, I did really enjoy this one, but, per my previous confession, it left me wanting a little in the end.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

This is the one I want everyone to read and then talk to me about. I found Trevor Noah’s memoir to be a fascinatingly honest reflection about his life growing up in South Africa during and post-Apartheid.

His stories run the gamut from funny to shocking to heartbreaking, but his insightful analyses of all the various seasons of his life remain consistent and are incredibly thought-provoking.

Of all the books I read this month, this would be the one I would tell you to read first.

What I Wrote

I was busy over at Mighty Moms this month, but also found some time to reflect upon the screwdriver currently functioning as a toilet handle in our house this month.

It’s good to let your brain process a variety of different things, if you ask me. 😉

What I Thought About

I’ve been thinking a lot about 1 Peter 3:15 this month (a very specific place to begin).

…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…

I’ve also been thinking about this paragraph from the very first chapter of Born a Crime:

My whole family is religious, but where my mother was Team Jesus all the way, my grandmother balanced her Christian faith with the traditional Xhosa beliefs she’d grown up with, communicating with the spirits of our ancestors. For a long time I didn’t understand why many black people had abandoned their indigenous faith for Christianity. But the more we went to church and the longer I sat in those pews the more I learned about how Christianity works: If you’re Native American and you pray to the wolves, you’re a savage. If you’re African and you pray to your ancestors, you’re primitive. But when white people pray to a guy who turns water into wine, well, that’s just common sense.

Now, Trevor Noah is coming from a place of cynicism, but I still can’t seem to get that last sentence out of my head. Jesus was ridiculous. I can’t very well make a defense for what I believe based on another religion being unbelievable or impossible. That whole water to wine thing was just the tip of the iceberg of things he would do, after all.

With this thought process still in the back of my mind, I read all the accounts of Good Friday this past weekend as told in all four Gospel books and was continually drawn to the voices of those who mocked Jesus on that last day:

If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.

He saved others; he cannot save himself.

Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.

It didn’t make sense. What kind of person willingly endures something so excruciating when he doesn’t have to? He could have saved himself. He could have come down from the cross.

But he didn’t.

It didn’t make sense.

It didn’t make sense because, for them, death was the end of the story.

I understand their confusion. But, the difference between those onlookers and me is that I can hold the actual end of the story in my hands.

And as I think about making a reason for the hope that is in me, well, I think the end is where it begins.

Does faith sometimes feel ridiculous and outrageous and completely inexplicable? Yes.

But when I think about the fact that everything God does is moving toward eternity, then all those things that are seemingly counterintuitive start to make sense.

And those are just a few of the light and easy things I’ve been trying to sort through. (This blog post is, of course, not for well-polished, final thoughts, you know.)

March Forth!

I will never not be obsessed with the fact that both “March” and “Spring” are, by definition, forms of forward motion.

Not only that, but this season also gives me life because it is literally breathing life into everything around me.

Now it’s just up to April to bring us some warmer temperatures so we can get less metaphorical about the whole thing and literally march outside and into the spring.

Seriously though, April. C’mon already.

screwdrivers, wrenches, and repurposed plans.

All the handles in our house decided to form some kind of mutiny against us this week.

It started with the dryer when I found a load of clothes still soaking wet an hour after I had started the cycle. After trying again and then assessing the situation, I quickly deemed its solution out of my hands and called in the expert.

Jake handed me a wrench.

A few days later, it was the toilet. Lily called me in because she couldn’t get it to flush. I tried a few times (you know, for good measure) but had already known it was time to get ahold of our plumber.

This time, Jake came armed with a screwdriver.

Both tools are currently enjoying their new, repurposed lives as handles. If you want to start the dryer, clamp the wrench down where the knob should be and turn it right a few clicks. If you want to flush the toilet, just twist the screwdriver to the left.

I suppose it’s probably just a matter of time before you’ll need a pair of pliers to open all the doors and some kind of intricate pulley system to operate the light switches.

I’m not complaining though. Everything still works as though it was never broken in the first place.

///

Jake and I were friends for a few years before we starting dating. If you ask him why we didn’t get together sooner, I’d be willing to bet somewhere in his response, you would hear him use the word “homebody.”

Apparently I gave him the impression that I wanted to live in Des Moines forever.

(That’s probably because I did.)

I never really imagined my life as anything but familiar. Des Moines made sense to me because it was the only city I had ever really known. And when I got old enough to start imagining a different landscape, I never really did. I loved my hometown. Why rock the boat?

The irony of the whole thing, of course, is that Jake and I lived in Des Moines for the first seven years of our marriage. And furthermore, that Jake actually really liked it.

We cultivated something good there. Sowed seeds into the earth that continue to bloom and grow even from a distance. We learned a lot and loved a lot and reflect often about how purposeful our lives felt there.

And then Cleveland came calling and that familiarity was shattered.

But, in the three years since we rolled into town, we’ve tried to sink our feet into the soil here, too, and, wouldn’t you know, the more you push yourself out into the unknown, the more familiar it becomes.

Cleveland has shaped and changed us in ways that Des Moines never could have. It has stretched me in particular and pushed me out of about a million comfort zones. It has led me to situations I never would have found in Iowa and given me people to challenge my perspectives and shape my thinking.

It has turned me into a version of myself that I never could have predicted.

///

So, back to the screwdriver that’s sticking out of my toilet.

I’ve been thinking about its purpose lately. Someone made that screwdriver, and I doubt very much that it was marketed as something that was versatile enough to keep your basic plumbing functional.

Screwdrivers insert and remove screws. That’s what they were made to do, and, should they only do that one job faithfully forever, then, well, job well done, little tool. You served your purpose.

And yet, we found a screwdriver that also works perfectly as a toilet handle. We turned its purpose on its head (Phillips head, if you wanted to get specific about it).

Jake and I are staring in the face of another season of transition. There are a lot of unknowns. A lot of conversations about where we should be and even more conversations about where we have come from.

Through those discussions, I’ve been thinking a lot about what my life would look like if we had never left Des Moines. If my plan to live in the same place for my entire life had never been laid bare.

And you know what I decided?

It would have been great. (Maybe that’s not what you were expecting me to say.)

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with digging your roots deep into one place.

Had we stayed in Des Moines, Jake and I would have continued to cultivate the things that were already growing around us. We would have served a worthwhile purpose (you know, turning screws and removing screws), and there would have been a whole lot of good, Kingdom work in that life.

And yet, God turned that purpose on its head a little and brought us to Cleveland.

Almost like He was saying, You’re doing good things where you’re at, but what if we try to utilize your abilities in a way you probably wouldn’t have expected for yourself?

Now, at this point, it’s probably best that I leave the metaphor behind, lest anyone thinks that I’m likening Cleveland to a toilet or something, but I do feel a little like that screwdriver lately. Like my life has been repurposed and reimagined in the last three years in ways I never would have thought of scripting on my own.

I suppose it doesn’t really matter where you are; it just matters what you choose to do with your life once you get there.

I find that, as Jake and I look forward to the future, the unknown doesn’t feel so intimidating anymore and the familiar doesn’t always feel so familiar.

But what I know is that God will keep doing things with our lives that are probably better than anything we could plan anyway.

We just have to be willing to let Him.

february in rear view.

I blinked and February was over.

Except, exactly in the middle, it delivered our family another bout of the stomach flu, so, for a time, February felt like it might last an eternity.

Months have a funny way of feeling both long and short all at the same time, don’t they?

Thankfully, February afforded me enough time to read a few books and think about a few things as well as make a super important decision to start watching The West Wing again from the beginning.

But that’s neither here nor there. What’s here is where my brain has been this past month:

What I Read

I read two books this month, and feel particularly good about this statistic given that I doubled my actual goal (sometimes it pays to set a low bar, you know?).

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

When I was teaching ninth grade, I used to read young adult fiction almost exclusively, so I had good recommendations for my students (except mostly because I love it too). It had been awhile since I read fiction that was just purely fun, and since love is a theme of February, I figured this was a good place to start.

It delivered on fun and silly, and while I did enjoy it, it didn’t quite pull through with the glowing recommendation as say a John Green or Rainbow Rowell book would.

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

I picked a book in honor of Valentine’s Day to start the month and quickly remembered that February is, far more importantly, Black History Month. I picked this book off a display shelf at the library and was not disappointed.

The premise alone is fascinating: Two kids, both named Wes Moore, were born blocks apart and within a year of each other in Baltimore. Both were fatherless and led difficult childhoods navigating their neighborhood streets. One Wes Moore became a Rhodes Scholar and decorated veteran. The other is currently serving life in prison as a convicted murderer.

The author (the first Wes Moore from above) tells both stories with equal attention to detail as he sets out to answer his own question: How did these two similar lives end up so wildly different?

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It’s told so thoughtfully and the perspective it offers is important. I’ve been thinking a lot about its implications since.

“Gun Reform: Speaking Truth to Bullshit, Practicing Civility, and Effecting Change” by Brené Brown

Last month I wrote about an article I had read that resonated with my feelings of being in the middle of so many political conversations happening right now. Many would probably view my feelings about a couple of hot-button issues as contradictory, and yet, here I am, asking incessant questions and wanting to look at issues from a lot of different angles.

Brené Brown’s words in this piece are specific to her thoughts on gun control, but you wouldn’t even have to agree with her exact stance to support her push for better critical thinking. I appreciate her reminder that it’s okay to sometimes live in the middle of an issue and refuse to take a “You’re either with us, or you’re against us” approach. I especially like what she says here:

The ability to think past either/or situations is the foundation of critical thinking, but still, it requires courage. Getting curious and asking questions happens outside our ideological bunkers. It feels easier and safer to pick a side. The argument is set up in a way that there’s only one real option. If we stay quiet we’re automatically demonized as “the other.”

The only true option is to refuse to accept the terms of the argument by challenging the framing of the debate. But make no mistake; this is opting for the wilderness. Why? Because the argument is set up to silence dissent and draw lines in the sand that squelch debate, discussion, and questions—the very processes that we know leads to effective problem solving.

What I Wrote

I’m still plugging away putting chapters of my life into a larger compilation than single blog posts, and I’m happy to say that I just wrote about a season in my life during which I was afraid of pirates.

This is a true story.

When I was about seven, I used to lay on the bottom of my bunk bed and press my fingers between the blinds juuuust to make sure that a ragtag group of eye-patch wearing men weren’t circling their ships around our cul-de-sac.

Mom and dad, you might be learning about this for the first time. Everything is fine. I seem to have turned out alright. I watched Pirates of the Caribbean without any emotional trauma and am currently helping Lily work through her pirate unit at preschool without any problems.

Anyway, other than that, I did write something for the Mighty Moms Club about why reading to our kids is so important; I still love to put my teaching hat on from time to time.

What I Thought About

Unwasted Time

As a stay-at-home mom, it’s easy to dwell upon wasted time. I often wonder if I’m planning enough activities for my kids and can name far too many instances in which one of the girls will ask me to put my phone away. The wasted time in a day is always easy to spot.

But lately, I’ve been trying to key in on the unwasted time. To sink a little more deeply into those moments in which there is no better alternative.

Of course I know that I don’t need to be actively engaging all of my kids every moment of every day (I’d need more arms and probably another body altogether), but I’ve been trying to acknowledge those moments of undivided attention and purposeful interaction (sometimes it’s as simple as reading a book with a kid on my lap and my phone in the other room) for what they’re worth: Time well spent.

Privilege and Responsibility

Since finishing The Other Wes Moore a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking a lot about what my response to the story should be. What impact should the stories of these two lives have on my own?

Tavis Smiley’s words in the Call to Action at the end of the book have given me a lot to ponder:

Fundamentally, this story is about two boys, each of whom was going through his own personal journey and searching for help. One of them received it; the other didn’t. And now the world stands witness to the results. Small interactions and effortless acts of kindness can mean the difference between failure and success, pain and pleasure–or becoming the people we loathe or love to become. We are more powerful than we realize, and I urge you to internalize the meanings of this remarkable story and unleash your own power.

And now the world stands witness to the results. My life of privilege doesn’t mean I am off the hook when it comes to potential impact for people around me. Love and compassion transcend specific experiences, after all, and I know I have a responsibility to make a difference somehow.

Obviously, this train of thought should be its own essay, but the short end of the story is that I’ve been thinking about who is sitting around my table (both figuratively and metaphorically). Am I surrounded only by people who look like me, live like me, and believe the same things I do, or am I welcoming people into my life who might offer me different perspectives, lenses, and opinions with which to view the world?

My goal and hope is the latter.

February in Rear View

And that’s it. February 2018 is gone and never to return again.

Spring is on the cusp and I feel it. February gave us a few days of upper sixty degree weather, and, let me tell you, we did not waste them. We breathed that warm air deeply into our lungs and turned our faces toward the sun.

But we’re ready for you March, and I’m crossing my fingers you deliver Spring with abandon (and a few more episodes of The West Wing for good measure).

january in rear view.

Just like that, it’s February 3rd, and I’m looking at January in the rearview mirror. I’m never overly torn up about the departure of the first month of the year (is anyone, really?). Our hands are raw from the incessant washing and the kids are getting stir crazy from being cooped up inside, but we did manage to contain the stomach flu to only one kid and found some new inside activities to keep us busy, so at least there’s that?

Anyway, I was inspired by my insightful writing friend, Emily Fisk, (who was, in turn, inspired by her own friend, Brittany Bergman) to think and reflect on each month as it passes rather than wait until the year’s end to process as a whole.

I particularly love this idea because, of course, who can remember everything you read and wrote and thought about after an entire year has passed? Not this girl, anyway.

So, in case anyone is interested, here are a few things I read and wrote and thought about in January alone.

What I Read

  • Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham: I love a good memoir, but I didn’t necessarily love this one. She wrote parts of it while shooting the Netflix reboot of Gilmore Girls, and it honestly read like someone wrote a book while they were also working on something else incredibly time consuming. Her writing voice is exactly as you would imagine it though, and I especially liked a chapter in which she reflected upon her age based entirely on a conversation about a roll of paper towels.
  • Moms Make Peace through Christ” by Emily Jensen: This is an article from the Risen Motherhood podcast blog and looks at the source of division and disunity specifically in relationships with other moms (one of our more vital life sources!). This quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer stopped me in my tracks:

“If my sinfulness appears to me to be in any way smaller or less detestable in comparison with the sins of others, I am still not recognizing my sinfulness at all. … How can I possibly serve another person in unfeigned humility if I seriously regard his sinfulness as worse than my own?”

  • I Live in the Tension, Too” by Emily Fisk: In this essay, Emily perfectly articulates my often uncomfortable feelings about today’s current social climate especially when she says this:

“…now I live here, in rhetoric, political, spiritual no man’s land. I share borders with ancient faith and progressive politics, but in the middle of the Venn diagram is me with thoughts and opinions some consider contradictory. I hold membership in groups that sometimes oppose each other, groups that sometimes seem to demand total allegiance in exchange for my participation.”

What I Wrote

I’ve gone a little quiet on my own blog recently because I realized at the end of last year that my brain was needing to take the short chapters I’ve been living and turn them into a more holistic story.

When I was four, my dad taught me to ride a two-wheel bicycle. A few days after I mastered the skill, I asked him to put my training wheels back on, and I can’t stop thinking about how this one small story from my childhood represents many of the larger themes in my life. I’ve been trying to wake up early at least one morning a week to put an order to all these thoughts. We’ll see where these early morning writing sessions take me.

I did, though, sum up all of 2017 based on a spot the differences page in one of Lily’s activity books, so don’t worry, I’m still thinking in very specific metaphors over here.

What I Thought About

Gratitude

I’ve been reading through the book Choosing Gratitude by Nancy Leigh DeMoss and then recently listened to a Journeywomen podcast episode (I can’t tell you enough how much I love podcasts right now) titled “What to Do with Unmet Expectations.” I am a person who wants to be grateful in any circumstance I am given, and I am also a person who often feels given less than desirable circumstances (lookin’ at you, residency, and your buzzkill 80-hour work weeks).

I am finding though, no thanks to my own strength of course, that gratitude is not hard to come by each day as long as I take the focus off myself and put in on things that really matter. This excerpt from the podcast has been playing on repeat in my brain:

“Only in nearness to God will we have all of our desire fulfilled. I like to call this holy discontent. This means that the purpose of this unmet desire is to constantly remind you that only God will satisfy the unending desire of your heart. Elisabeth Elliot says, ‘Heaven is not here, it’s there. If we were given all that we wanted here our hearts would settle for this world and not the next.’ So this holy discontentment is a kindness to keep us longing for more of God.”  

The Weirdness of Residency Schedules

Since I kind of threw residency under the bus earlier, it’s probably worth noting that I actually can’t remember the last time Jake worked an 80-hour week. January has been very good to us.

We’re constantly re-calibrating to new schedules over here which is a weird part of this whole residency life. Just when you get into a rhythm, four weeks pass and it’s time to embrace a new routine.

In a week, the kids and I will have to readjust to having Jake gone again most days and evenings, but I find that there is also an adjustment period for when he is home more often than he is gone.

Weird is honestly the best word I can think to describe it, and I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about what is fair to expect of each other when we’re both home as well as what I want that family time to look like.

Conclusion: The idea of fairness in parenting is ridiculous, and our family time probably shouldn’t look like me taking a nap on the couch while Jake entertains all our kids.

January in Rear View

Already I feel better about moving into a new month (even if Punxsutawney Phil declared six more weeks of winter).

January is now in the rearview mirror, and when I think about what’s still to come as the road keeps stretching into 2018, I’m kind of on the edge of my seat.

I think this is going to be a good one.