on being seen.

It’s past midnight when I finally collapse into bed. As I sink into the air mattress on the floor of our empty bedroom, my mind fills with scenes from the previous two days. The semi-truck parked in front of our home ready to hold all our belongings. One last walk around the neighborhood with the kids. Takeout Thai food in lawn chairs on the front porch. Heaving sobs as the lock turned on our empty house one final time. A 700-mile drive. A different empty house, waiting to be filled with our things.

Jake turns the light off and settles in next to me, his weight popping my side of the air mattress up. I flip over onto my back and center myself on my pillow. As my eyes adjust to the dark room, I notice the lights on the ceiling fan above me. The switch has been turned off, but the lights continue to glow slightly—four dim circles directly overhead.

I wonder why they aren’t completely black. It’s strange; the light is gone but also still here.

///

Four years before I sank into that lopsided air mattress, our family moved away from home for the first time. Jake had just graduated from medical school and a residency program awaited him in Ohio. In our first weeks there, I spent a lot of time on our front porch during nap time—my feet pressed firmly into the sturdy planks while also feeling as though I had completely lost my footing. One afternoon, as I watched a car drive down our street faster than it should, an unsettling combination of anger and jealousy rose within me. I thought of all the friends I had left behind and realized their lives were flying forward without me. Their daily routines and structures were relatively unchanged by my absence while everything I knew had been turned on its head.

Self-pity washed over me. I felt cut off and convinced myself I was forgotten.

A few days later, I checked my mail. As I sifted through the junk mail and coupon packs, a small postcard with a cityscape on the front caught my eye. I flipped it over. It came from a friend back home. The message was only 30 words long—a quick note to tell me she hoped the move had gone well—but those words overwhelmed me with gratitude. Seven hundred miles away, my friend had thought of me, and then she went one step further: She wrote down those thoughts  and sent them in the mail.

I walked inside and hung the postcard on the refrigerator, where it would stay until we moved four years later.

///

A few months after I got that postcard in the mail, Norah turned one. Instead of the family-filled party Lily had for her first birthday, we answered FaceTime calls and sat around our table, just the four of us. As we sang “Happy Birthday” that cold night in November and watched Norah eat an entire mini cupcake in one bite, I wondered how many of my friends back home remembered her birthday. Did they realize we were celebrating this milestone alone? The familiar pang of self-pity beat in my chest.

The next day, a package arrived on my doorstep. Inside, I found a board book of animals and a note: Dear Norah, We love you and miss you so much. Happy birthday! The gift came from another one of my friends from back home.

During the four years we lived in Ohio, our kids celebrated a combined 11 more birthdays (including the actual birth day of two additional kids), and this friend remembered to send a package for every single one.

She never forgot.

///

Toward the end of our residency in Ohio, Jake had to spend two weeks out of town at various conferences and job interviews while I stayed home with our five-year-old, three-year-old, two-year-old, and two-month-old. It was not an ideal situation, but we were all determined to make the best of it.

School schedules kept us busy during the day, but the afternoons and evenings were long and lonely. By the time I needed to cook dinner each night, my patience was thin and my energy for meal prep thinner. Then, just when I was feeling as though the two weeks would never end, a giant box arrived on my front porch.

The kids and I opened it together. We pulled out pasta, macaroni and cheese, Goldfish crackers, coffee, chocolate snacks, and various other pantry essentials.

“Who’s it from?” my oldest asked with a jar of peanut butter in her hands.

I checked the box for a note, but couldn’t find one. I remembered a conversation I had recently with another long-distance friend about how hard it was to have Jake gone for so long, so I picked up my phone and called her.

“Did you send me a giant box filled with food?” I asked her after she answered.

“Yes!” she said. “I thought it might help.”

It did.

///

Jake rolls over to his back and jostles me on the air mattress again. His movement pulls me into the middle, so I lay my head on his chest and close my eyes, exhausted from all the moving boxes, goodbyes, and general upheaval the previous days had held.

“Look at the lights,” he says; noticing the same dim glow I had moments earlier. “Why do they still look like they’re on?”

I glance up again. It’s not enough light to keep us awake at night, and if we weren’t looking directly at it, we probably wouldn’t even notice it at all. To see it, you have to make an effort.

The moving truck with the rest of our things arrives the next morning. The air mattress is replaced with a real one, and the rooms are filled with boxes of belongings. A few days later, I walk down our long driveway to the mailbox and, to my surprise, find a small package inside. I open it immediately and pull out a wooden ornament in the shape of Ohio and a note from a friend I just left behind: “Miss you already!”

Gravel crunches under my feet as I make my way back to our house, and I think about the various notes and packages I’ve received from long-distance friends throughout the years. As I hold the most recent one in my right hand, I realize the gift itself doesn’t even matter that much.

The real gift is the fact that someone took the time to notice. To see me. Even after my light had faded from view, my friends kept looking at me—seeing my dim glow from a distance and refusing to snuff me out.

Later that night, I lie in our bed and wait for Jake to turn off the lights. As soon as he flicks the switch, I stare intently at the four faint circles of light above me. Jake slides in next to me and grabs my hand.

“You doing okay?” he asks.

“Yeah,” I say, feeling seen once more. “I think I am.”


psssst! Each month, I send out a newsletter containing a few thoughts about all the things I read, write, love, and think about. If you want to get in on the fun, you can sign up HERE

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to all the books i’ve loved this year.

I can still remember the first chapter book I really loved. I was a sixth grader when Mr. Smith placed The Pushcart War by Jean Merrill in my hands. Something about it captivated me, and it was the first of many books that has long stayed with me even into my adult years. To Kill a Mockingbird. Harry Potter. The Help. The Fault in Our Stars. The Nightingale.  Even today, I’m moved by the experiences I had looking at life through a different character’s lens.

But, interestingly enough, 2018 wasn’t my year for fiction even though, historically, that’s typically the lane I stay in. I read 20 books last year, and only seven of them were novels.

The other 13 were a mixture of memoir, essay collections, christian living, and general nonfiction, so to sum it up, I spent much of 2018 thinking about the implications of all the things I have have read.

It does seem fitting though that I ended the year with a novel, and there was a line in C.S. Lewis’s Prince Caspian that brought everything I have read this year full circle. It came toward the end as the Penvensie children and Trumpkin the Dwarf are attempting to make it to Prince Caspian and his ragtag army. Aslan the Lion shows up in the middle of the night to help, but it is only Lucy who can see him at first. Upon spotting him, she runs to him, and they have this exchange:

“Welcome child,” he said.
“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”
“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

God became bigger to me this year, but He’s not the one who changed. There are a lot of factors at play, but many of the books I read last year challenged my thinking and revealed to me ways I needed to grow. And, the more I grew, the bigger I found God.

Needless to say, this has been one of my favorite years as far as books go.

I’ve already written about all of these books, so I’ll just include them in list form below. If you’re interested in any of my longer form thoughts, just click on the link attached to each month. For quick scanning purposes, I’ve included a five-star rating behind each book.

January

  • Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham ⭐️⭐️

February

  • To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han ⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

March

  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng ⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

April

  • Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brené Brown ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Dance, Stand, Run: The God-Inspired Moves of a Woman on Holy Ground by Jess Connolly ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • The Teacher Diaries: Romeo and Juliet by Callie Feyen ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

June + July

  • Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • For the Love of Discipline: When the Gospel Meets Tantrums and Time-Outs by Sara Wallace ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️(I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It completely reframed so much of my parenting for the better.)
  • Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

August

  • The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis ⭐️⭐️
  • Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilken ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️(This is another one that led to an incredible amount of personal growth for me. It challenged me in all the right ways.)

September

  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

October + November

  • Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis ⭐️
  • American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures by America Ferrera ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God’s Goodness Around You by Shannan Martin ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

December

  • Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis ⭐️⭐️

A Few Other Things

I wrote a few things this month too. Over at Mighty Moms, I rounded up 21 of our favorite children’s books and wrote a little something about swaddle blankets. I also wrote a few words on Instagram about my internal struggle with Christmas traditions each year.

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Also, as a bonus, I fell in love with a few other things besides just books and words this year, so if you’re in the market for recommendations, here are a few of my other favorite things, compliments of 2018.

  • We discovered some new children’s books this year, and we all (kids and adults) are better for it. I wish you could hear my kids howl with laughter when we read The Book with No Pictures and our newest favorite is The Storm that Stopped (one book in a larger, wonderful collection).
  • barkTHINS snacking chocolate. Special shoutout to my friend, Breanna, for sending me a bag of this for my birthday and Costco for selling it in bulk.
  • These joggers and this tinted lip balm were two of my favorite purchases this year.
  • This recipe for white chicken chili and my friend Cara’s recipe for crusty bread have become well-loved staples in our house this fall/winter.
  • The Great British Baking Show. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Parks and Recreation. (Okay, so that last one is an old love, but every year I go back to it, and I’m never disappointed.)

The Last Thing (an action step!)

These monthly reviews have become one of my most favorite things to write. Not only is it helpful for my own means of processing, but I also just really love to tell people about the things I read and think about.

I’m going to keep reflecting at the end of each month, but (here’s the action step) moving into 2019, I’m going to format these monthly musings as an email rather than a blog post. That means if you’re someone who enjoys reading these posts, you’re going to need to subscribe to my email list. It’s as easy as clicking right here, but if you’re worried I’m going to start spamming you with daily emails, fear not. You’re only signing up for a single email at the end of every month in which I will regale you with tales of books read, summaries of articles written, and lists of things I can’t live without (have I mentioned this chocolate cookie recipe I recently discovered?).

In my quest to keep moving forward as a writer, this is my next right thing (oh! I loved The Next Right Thing podcast this year, too!). I’d be so honored if you’d stay with me. Writers aren’t anything, after all, if there isn’t anyone out there to read what they have to say.

(Here’s the subscription link again. 😉)

No More Things

(I bet you didn’t know how good I am at coming up with heading titles.)

2019 promises almost as much as 2018 threw at us. First, I’m going to kick off the year with a couple of books about the enneagram because I need to understand what this whole thing is about. But, on a more major scale, the Flinkman team is also getting ready to move back to Iowa in just a few months. Will knowing my enneagram number help with all the moving things? Stay tuned.

I can’t predict everything the future has in store, but I do know this: God is bound to seem bigger by this time next year as long as I keep growing myself.

 

 

 

 

october + november = books + thoughts

There’s a wood wick candle crackling on the other side of the room. It should probably be a Christmasy scent like balsam fir or gingerbread, but, instead, we’ve still got pumpkin butter burning over here. There is not a single Christmas decoration up in our house, and every morning when the kids and I walk to the van for school drop-offs, Lily asks me why our pumpkins are in the pile of snow to the side of the porch.

(I’m actually not sure how they ended up there.)

We’ll get to the Christmas tree here soon enough, but for now, I’m thinking about everything November threw at me. (And October, for that matter, because I skipped last month’s review. Halloween and four kids was a busy way to end the month. )

What I Read

I read three nonfiction books over the past two months which, content-wise, had very little in common. Each one made me think in very different ways, but they all pointed to one similar theme: An encouragement to draw a wider circle around the people I interact with. It’s reminiscent, really, of something I’ve been thinking about since I read Braving the Wilderness back in April.

Shannan Martin summed up this idea well in her book, The Ministry of Ordinary Places:

Simply put, we cannot love what we do not know.
We cannot know what we do not see.
We cannot see anything, really until we devote ourselves to the lost art of paying attention. (pg. 19)

I might not have liked all the books I read this month, but I did appreciate that each author reminded me to lean in to the people around me every chance I can.

Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are so You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis

The short answer to how I felt about this book is this: I did not like it. The long answer is probably better explained in person over a cup of coffee or through a wordier email exchange because my feelings feel very nuanced. (Plus, I had different types of problems with it, and I don’t think you’re here for a complete literary analysis.)

American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures by America Ferrera

I recently quit Twitter (one of my better personal decisions, really—that place is stressful), but before I did, I saw Lin-Manuel Miranda make mention of a book of essays he had contributed to, and, after reading the summary, I ordered it on the spot.

Inside this book are thoughtful reflections from 31 different actors, comedians, politicians, artists, writers, and athletes (12-year-old Molly was especially thrilled that this included Michelle Kwan). They all come to the table with very different experiences and perspectives but are united in the fact that they all grew up closely connected to more than one culture.

In today’s political climate, I’m noticing how easy it can be to speak for other groups of people with only the knowledge a distance can provide. This book certainly doesn’t replace the necessity of face-to-face interaction with those of varying cultures or beliefs, but it did provide me with a lot of powerful perspectives which I’m thankful for.

The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God’s Goodness Around You by Shannan Martin

The premise of this book is simple: Pay attention to the hidden corners of your communities. The unnoticed places. The overlooked neighborhoods. The ignored people. Then, invest there. This book is filled with stories of the power that comes from sharing your life with other people.

There are two sections I keep circling back to in my brain:

…as we practice proximity with those we think of as lacking, we will begin to see ourselves aligned, the chasm between us narrowed to the width of the street where we live. Rather than clinging to this easy vernacular of “them” and “us,” let’s keep being broken together, slow to assume that certain people automatically need Jesus. Maybe they already have him. Maybe they just need a true friend. Maybe if we find ourselves compelled toward them it’s because we need to be discipled by them. (from “Let’s Stop Loving on the Least of These” pg. 118)

Mother Teresa famously said, “If you want to bring happiness to the whole world, go home and love your family.” We gobble up her words, plastering them on signs and hand-lettering them onto notecards. We love them because they are beautiful. And profoundly true. But let’s not forget, this is the same Mother Teresa who reminded us to ‘draw a wider circle’ around who we consider family. Seen under the light of that truth, new meaning emerges. If we want our world to be better, we have to go out and love the people around us. We need to invite them in, as family. (from “We All Are Mothers” pg. 142)

What I Wrote

I’m getting back in the swing of writing now that my self-defined maternity leave has ended. Jake has been working a lot of nights this past month, which gives me a lot of quiet evenings to sit in front of my laptop.

In my own space, I wrote about the time we thought our kids had head lice and how it actually served as a means to point me back to the Gospel. Over at Mighty Moms, I wrote an article about how to involve kids in Thanksgiving (a little after the fact now) and a round-up of toy ideas for little kids who love cars (specially dedicated to Sawyer).

I’ve also been writing some micro-essays on my public Instagram page. So often, very small moments throughout my days reveal deeper concepts to me, and Instagram has served as a nice outlet for those thoughts because it forces me to use fewer words (and also gives me a reason to play around with photography).

A few days ago, I wrote this quick reflection after Norah’s lunchtime prayer happened to reroute my entire day:

IMG_9977

Onward Christmas Candles!

Every year, when I flip the giant $3 calendar I get from the Target dollar section to December, I think, “Didn’t I just buy this?” Jake asked me the other day if I think time will ever feel slower to which I said simply, “No.”

I’ve got two more books on my “to read list” for this year, but, honestly, I’m mostly just looking forward to looking back at 2018 as a whole. But, in addition to a lot of big things happening in our family, I also can’t ignore the small threads that repeated themselves throughout each month.

But, there I go getting ahead of myself and it’s not even officially December yet.

Tune in next month?

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.

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.

crayons.jpg

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.

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.

 

nothing gold can stay.

I am a bit of an Autumnal Purist.

It’s an unpopular position, I know (even though I may have invented this title).

I love fall as much as the next person.

I just love fall once it’s fall.

You will not see any red and gold wreaths, smell any pumpkin candles, or hear me rejoicing over my closed-toe booties until the fall equinox (September 22nd, in case you’re keeping track).

I just can’t do it. As far as I’m concerned, it’s still summer until it’s not, and I will not wish these remaining days of warmth away (even if the temperatures keep trying to trick me into doing otherwise).

The kids and I passed a tree on our walk today that had started shedding its green for hues of yellow and orange and I got all Robert Frost about it.

Nothing gold can stay.

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///

I sent two kids to preschool last week and was all, “It’s cool; no big deal. See you later girls.”

Okay, yes, that’s a lie.

Of course I overanalyzed it with painstaking attention.

(And asked Jake no less than 87 times if we were doing the right thing.)

It isn’t preschool that’s got me reeling a little bit though.

It’s Kindergarten (which, interestingly enough, isn’t even a bridge I have to cross for another couple of years).

I told Jake the other day that I can feel time slipping through my fingertips. That I see the end of these home years — these years in which our kids are with me the vast majority of their days — on the horizon, and I don’t like it.

My people are growing and changing each time I blink, and I feel the end of our long days together looming.

Nothing gold can stay.

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///

I realized today that I take such issue with the leaves’ tendency to don their fall apparel early because of my inability to enjoy the vibrancy of colors until it’s officially fall. The earlier they start to change, the earlier they fall off. And the earlier they fall off, the less time I have to enjoy them with a warm mug of apple cider in my hand.

Jake loves my keen ability to let my anticipation of the future dictate my feelings about the present.

Right, yeah. Caught me again.

It’s one of my worst qualities, really.

If I wanted, I could live entirely in a state of anxious anticipation.

I could spend this entire year agonizing over the time I’m going to lose out on with my kids in the inevitable future school years.

I could. 

Or, I could live more intentionally inside each day I’m given when I’m given it. Choose to do today well and all that jazz (which is obviously the better option).

Living in the future takes me out of the present, and I don’t want to miss a single moment of these home days.

Nothing gold can stay. (My sister-in-law likes to say, “Babies don’t keep.”)

But everything is gold in its time, and today I am resolved to enjoy each day. Each moment. Each stage.

I want to see the good in each day instead of anticipating how quickly it’s going to be gone.

This 80 degree day. My increasingly independent kids. The yellow tint in the tree next door.

The lazy and sometimes boring mornings. The 800th children’s book. The pre-bedtime insanity ritual in which every child in my house pretends they can’t hear me.

I’ll take these moments and live in them because they’re what I’ve been given today.

And today is something to be deeply grateful for.

Now, if anyone is in the area, I think I’m ready for my first Pumpkin Spice Latte.

(Okay, yeah. You’re right. Baby steps. I got ahead of myself there. Opening the windows and being happy about the cool breeze is probably a better place to start.)

february book review + giveaway

My first book of 2017 stressed me out so much that I literally had to take a three day break in the middle of reading it in order to catch my bearings.

I decided that I should follow that experience up with a light and easy read, so I chose The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.

Ha.

In case you’re not familiar with the premise, this piece of fiction is written from the perspective of Screwtape, a senior demon. Each chapter is a different letter he writes to his nephew, Wormwood, a junior tempter who has been charged with making sure his “patient”, an ordinary British man, ends up eternally in hell.

Like I said, a light and easy read.

It’s impossible to sum up all my thoughts and applications about this book into one essay. There’s too much. I’ll still be processing its implications well into summer, I shouldn’t wonder.

Instead, I think I’ll let the book speak for itself.

lewis

So, here are seven quotes that were, for me, the most thought-provoking, convicting, or revelatory (more likely, all three).

(A helpful tip: first person pronouns (we, us, our) and second person pronouns (you) are in reference to the demons, while third person pronouns (he, him) discuss the man being tempted.)

•••••

Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily ‘true’ or ‘false’, but as ‘academic’ or ‘practical’, ‘outworn’ or ‘contemporary’, conventional’ or ‘ruthless’. Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, stark, or courageous–that is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about.

•••

It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.

•••

One of our best weapons [is] contented worldliness.

•••

Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.

•••

Let him do anything but act. No amount of piety in his imagination and affections will harm us if we can keep it out of his will…The more often he feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel.

•••

You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption ‘My time is my own’. Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours.

•••

Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is ‘finding his place in it’, while really it is finding its place in him…build up in him a sense of being really at home in earth, which is just what we want.

•••••

There’s a New York Times commercial airing right now which you’ve likely seen. Now, I certainly don’t want to get into the politics behind its timing or its overall message, but I was struck today as I watched it because the last sentence to flash across the screen pretty succinctly sums up the main thing I took away from this book:

The truth is more important now than ever.

The battle for Truth is real (Lewis gave me an important reminder of this), and each day I must make a conscious choice to look for it in the right place and the right Person.

•••••

Now, in keeping with the long-standing tradition that I have newly created, I’d like to send my copy of The Screwtape Letters to someone for free. Books are worthless if you keep them to yourself. (Shout out to Courtney who got to add The Nightingale to her bookshelf!)

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It’s heavy and not very fun, but (more importantly) it’s important and thought-provoking.

So, if you want my copy (complete with the occasional highlighted phrase!), you can either

  1. Comment straight on this post.
  2. Comment on or reply to whatever social media outlet led you to this post.

Just throw up a few hand-raising emojis or tell me a book I can add to my list that will not stress me out or place heavy pressure upon my chest.

Note: I already started March’s book, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, so I’m not kidding: Happy. Books. Only.

my first guest post!

A few weeks ago, I got connected with a fellow blogger, Debby Hudson, who put out a call for guest posts relating to food. As I had recently promoted Norah to sous chef #2 (and was trying to navigate how to bake with two toddlers in the way all the time), I was excited to offer a submission.

You can find my post “Baking with Toddlers: More Mess, More Fun” on her website “Living in Graceland” HERE.

Enjoy!

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