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?)

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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.

spot the differences: a year in review.

A friend recently asked me to think of one item that would represent the past year of my life.

One physical object to sum up all that was 2017.

Those who know me well should understand how much an assignment like this thrills me.

A given opportunity to think in metaphors? Yes please.

I went through a few options in my brain, all of which felt a little cliché, so eventually I gave myself permission to table the task.

Then, a few nights ago, Lily and I were working through an activity book she got for Christmas, and she turned to two pages of nearly identical pictures.

The task? Spot the differences.

•••••

I started off last year with a headache.

I woke up to a blank canvas that felt shrouded by post-travel chaos and kids who were considerably out of rhythm.

I set one measurable goal (yes, I did read at least one book each month!), but other than that, I didn’t resolve to make any major changes in 2017.

Instead, I made some slow and subtle alterations to my rhythms and priorities. I started paying attention to the words I was consuming, and (most significantly) I changed my approach to the one hour a day I can count on all my kids either sleeping or playing quietly. Simply, I gave myself permission to rest as well. I sat in the same chair every day, studied my bible, prayed intentionally, napped occasionally, and, wouldn’t you know, felt rested.

Now, of course I didn’t do this for 365 days straight, but 2017 brought a shift in my priorities and the way I allot my time each day. It brought small changes to my daily disciplines and a clearer focus when I looked at everything else around me.

It was not a year of great change. It was a year of small, intentional choices each day.

•••••

At a quick glance, pages 16 and 17 of Lily’s Christmas Creativity Book look identical. The woodland animals are caroling happily as the snow falls softly around them. (Is this an appropriate place to note that the mouse is weirdly larger than the moles?)

It’s only upon closer inspection that you notice the subtle differences.

Some of the differences don’t alter the picture much. The worm is facing a different direction. The rabbit doesn’t have flowers on her scarf. The badger’s hat is orange instead of green.

But other changes, while still subtle, will, no doubt, have larger implications.

The smaller mole isn’t wearing glasses. The badger isn’t holding a light. The mouse’s lamp is facing in a different direction altogether.

The animals all sing happily with unchanging faces between the pages, but I can’t help but think about how the mole with glasses must see so much more clearly than the mole without or how different things are illuminated based on where the light faces or whether it even exists at all.

•••••

The start of 2017 next to the start of 2018 doesn’t feel largely different to me. (Yes, we are *for the most part* sleeping through the night now. No, I didn’t manage to figure out a way to get residency cancelled indefinitely.)

But, when I start to examine the two more closely, the differences are so pronounced that I feel it almost tangibly.

As we step foot into 2018 and look forward to all it has to offer us, I feel remarkably more centered on the things that matter.

You know, like a mole wearing a new pair of glasses or a badger who finally has a light to illuminate the night.

This, of course, has nothing to do with me and everything to do with the fact that God taught me a million things this year and then used those things He taught me to help answer the prayers I was praying. And I guess I can’t help but wonder how much different the picture would look hindsight without that one small change to that one single hour of my day.

Maybe I’ll ask the mouse. He obviously seems like the one in charge, don’t you think?

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All this to say, I don’t have any grandiose plans for 2018.

But I do have a sneaking suspicion that, if I continue to prioritize the right things, God will continue to show up in grandiose ways.

And that’s something to look forward to.

that time i said i didn’t like tradition.

Last week, Lily had to make a “Holiday Traditions” poster for preschool. The instructions were simple: Tell the class how you celebrate the season. I helped Lily brainstorm before we got started.

Me: What is something we do every year at Christmastime?

Lily: We drive in the car.

Her answer made me laugh, but given that last year we logged almost 40 hours of driving in two weeks, she’s got a strong point. Traveling is one of our main holiday traditions.

•••••

I have, in the past few years, had a precarious relationship with tradition.

When I was pregnant with Lily, I bucked tradition altogether and told Jake I wanted to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas at a random bed and breakfast I had found in the middle of Illinois. It was risky move (one that, fortunately, worked out in our favor).

I wrote about that Christmas a few days later and noted that I wanted our family traditions to be fluid once we had kids. Honestly, I got a little scrooge-y about it all.

Three years later, just after our move to Cleveland and when the girls were 1 and 2 ½ respectively, I remember thinking about traditions again. Everything had been upended, and I was trying to reconcile what our new normal looked like.

Because I tend to make it a habit of quoting myself, this is what I said two years ago:

I suppose the holiday season reminds me of how much I value the creation and preservation of lasting memories for our kids. I’m not the only mom who feels a little paralyzed by this come Christmastime, am I? In a season teemed with tradition, how do you decide which ones to latch on to? There are so many aspects of this time of year that we could subscribe to, and for some reason, it sort of neutralizes me. So, in this strange response of over-analyzation and rebellion, I have realized that my tendency is to stray away from tradition all together and embrace something different each year.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’m thinking about holiday traditions again this year.

•••••

Lily and I landed on four holiday traditions that we look forward to every year:

  1. Baking cookies.
  2. Decorating the Christmas tree.
  3. Opening envelopes from our Advent calendar.
  4. Driving in the car (obviously).

I do feel conflicted every year around the holidays (I used the word “paralyzed” two years ago which now feels a little melodramatic), but it dawned on me recently that maybe those neutralized feelings have something to do with the fact that in order to make new holiday memories with our kids, I inevitably have to let go of some of the traditions of my own memories. Or at least relocate them to a new physical dwelling.

In other words, I’ve been wondering lately if my rebelliousness toward tradition stems more from feelings of self-preservation and a need to control things that are changing than it comes from actually wanting to do something different every year.

I am, after all, a particularly nostalgic person. A distaste for tradition is counter to most of the hallmarks of my personality.

All this to say that I really do like tradition. 

There, I said it.

I like the fact that our kids are starting to store away fond memories and lasting experiences even though 2012 Molly was all, “I hope our traditions look different every year.”

The more I think about it, the more I like that we’re relocating recurring memories from our past childhoods into our present home even though that means the warm pastry on Christmas morning will come out of my oven instead of my mom’s and that Jake will read the Christmas story instead of his dad.

More importantly, though, I’m realizing that I like tradition because it gives us a platform to focus on the only unchanging part about Christmas: Advent and the thrill of hope that’s found in believing that God has come to live with us. 

Sure, there are things that will change from year-to-year. With small kids and a doctor husband, I’ve learned well enough by now not to get used to any one thing. But I would like to take this opportunity to publicly rescind the official stance I made on traditions in 2012.

Give me the cookies. The Christmas tree. The advent calendar. Give me more hours to log in the minivan, for crying out loud.

I will accept these things with gladness and use them all as another opportunity to teach my kids that this weary world has reason to rejoice. That God has come and is coming again to make all things right.

Hindsight, we really should have put that on Lily’s poster.

At least there’s always next year.

broken crayons and unrealistic expectations.

I am, in this exact moment, sitting in my living room. And, from my place on the couch, I can see five crayons that didn’t make their way back into the bag when the girls scooped them up before preschool.

Three out of five of these said crayons are broken. Only two are fully intact.

I am a person who likes order. Organization. The expected. I like when everything goes according to the way that it has been meticulously planned out in my brain.

These are qualities well-suited for the demands of parenting, obviously.

I like crayons to stay sharp and intact and color-coded inside their box.

The girls have other ideas though. Ideas which include dumping all 96 crayons out of said box and breaking at least three every time they open up their coloring books.

I used to make them put all 96 crayons back in the box each time they were done coloring.

Now?

The first thing I do with a brand new box of “poky” crayons (an adjective Lily coined recently which I immediately embraced) is to dump them into a gallon-sized Ziploc bag and trust that at least half of them will be broken or worn down completely by the week’s end.

I let go of my unrealistic expectations.

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It feels like a metaphor for the bigger picture of parenting, really. A reminder to hold on to the realistic and important and let the other things slip through my fingers.

I realized recently that my most frustrated moments of parenting usually coincide with the times when I have unrealistic expectations.

You are supposed to nap longer than one hour.

You are not supposed to have meltdowns anymore.

You shouldn’t be yelling at me because you chose to eat your entire dinner in 7 seconds.

(That last one contains no hyperbole. Sawyer is a boy wonder when it comes to food inhalation.)

We are all so much better off around here when I adopt more reasonable expectations.

Really, what this looks like is less of me trying to control the actions of my tiny people and more like me trying to control myself.

I can be thankful for the one hour of rest time I can count on each day.

I can expect the meltdowns and react more calmly because I know they’re coming.

I can bribe with Cheerios because everyone has limits, and I just want to eat my dinner in peace.

I have full control over the ways I choose to react and respond.

And because of this, it is realistic to expect to end each day knowing that there were more good moments than bad. To know that, despite the shortcomings from parents and kids alike, my kids know how deeply I love them. 

But here’s the best part: What I’m finding is that when I let the unrealistic slip through my fingertips, I’m mostly just left with gratitude that this is the work that has been entrusted to me.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there is a pile of crayons (half poky, half broken) in the middle of the floor and a Trolls coloring book calling my name.

Here’s hoping Mauvelous hasn’t been broken in half yet.

cheerio dust.

Every morning I step on a cheerio.

This is not hyperbole. This is just a regular part of my morning routine.

Turn on the news. Crunch a cheerio into the floor.

It’s as predictable as the moment I can expect to see the girls emerge together from their room: 6:58 on the microwave clock.

No exaggeration here, either. The moment their clock gives them the green light (literally), they are out of their beds and in the kitchen to join me and the rest of the Good Morning America anchors.

Sawyer usually wakes up as soon as the cereal hits the first bowl. Two steps toward his door and I crunch another cheerio. With this pause, I am quickly passed by the girls, eager to greet their little brother.  

I could finish the rest of the breakfast dance with my eyes closed.

Egg in the skillet. Toast in the toaster. More milk in the cereal.

Water. Vitamin. Coffee.

Shhhhhh. (Can a girl just listen to what George Stephanopoulos has to say?)

Wash hands. Wash faces. Sweep floor.

Miss a cheerio.

Crunch.

Every morning it’s the same. There are no breaks for weekends or weekday holidays. There is no delayed start for sickness or overall exhaustion.

The rhythms of my mornings just do not change.

Ever.

And yet, I’ve come to find that I like these predictable beats.

I like the breakfast routine because we all count on it.

It’s expected. It’s together. It’s safe.

It’s one of my favorite times of the day.

Cheerio dust and all.

love and litmus tests

I’ve been letting two things steep together in the deep pools of my mind for the last week.

The first is a litmus test. (You know, because I like to spend my time thinking about particularly exciting things.)

A decisively indicative test.¹

A test in which one single thing is the deciding factor.

It’s not unlike when your kid comes in the kitchen for lunch and sees a plate in front of her with circles on it.

That one single thing is the deciding factor that lunch is, no doubt, ruined.

And then there’s the second thing. The second thing comes from the book of Revelation:

I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.

I know I’ve read this verse before, and I know I’ve passed it by blithely. There are, after all, plenty of people in my life whom I love.

But then this week it hit me: Maybe Jesus isn’t talking about abandoning my love for people. Maybe He’s talking about abandoning my love for Him.

Maybe He’s reminding me that if I don’t first fervently love God, nothing else matters.

Nothing.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.²

Nothing.

A.W. Tozer once said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

It’s the litmus test.

The test in which one single thing is the deciding factor.

(Although “test” is, admittedly, one of the worst words I could use to try to explain this train of thought.)

God calls me to love others. To clothe the poor, feed the hungry, and offer a voice for the helpless and vulnerable.

But somewhere along the way, I think I overlooked what He called me to do first: Love Him with every part of my being.

I’ve been thinking about what that looks like this week. I mean, what does it look like to love God first?

I do not, of course, have all the answers (and, of course, never will), but I read two more things this week that provided me some insight.

The first came from Nancy Leigh DeMoss:

It’s the ultimate miracle. Certain death has been replaced by certain life. We who would never have sought after God on our own have been redeemed by One who sought us in His love and mercy. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).

That’s the gospel–the good news! Our guilt has been swallowed up in the gift of God’s grace–the only thing big and powerful enough to forever and fully overcome and remove that guilt.

What follows next, then, should be the logical reaction to this kind of rescue. Snatched from the brink of death, the burden of our sins lifted from our shoulders, you’d think the entire remainder of our earthly life wouldn’t leave us adequate time for all the ways we’d want to say thanks. No longer dependent on our good works and performance, with the destination of our souls secured for all eternity, you’d expect that the energy of sheer gratitude, if nothing else, would propel us to never-ending acts of worship and service. “Whatever you want, Lord. It’s the least I can do after all You’ve done for me.” ³

The second comes from God (you know, because primary sources are always best):

“Be still, and know that I am God.”

Which translated for me this week as, “Stop, and think about what I’ve done for you.”

What comes into my mind when I think about God is the most important thing about me.

It’s the litmus test for everything that follows.

For every thought. For every word. For every action.

An awareness of all that God has done for me shouldn’t leave me adequate time to say thanks. It should propel me to never-ending acts of worship and service.

It should change everything.

And that’s not something I want to look at blithely ever again.

Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent…He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” 

 


¹ The official definition if you Google search “litmus test.”

² 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

³ Demoss, Nancy Leigh. “Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude.” Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy, Moody Press, 2011, pp. 33–34.