kids and the hard work of the middle.

If you’ve been reading my writing long, this phrase might be familiar to you by now: the hard work of the middle.

It comes from one of my favorite books, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, in which Donald Miller suggests (to over simplify it) that our lives are like a story.

And, more importantly, whether this story I live is a good one is entirely up to me and the choices I make.

As for the hard work of the middle, you can find the larger passage HERE, but, in short, Miller says this:

The reward you get from a story is always less than you thought it would be, and the work is harder than you imagined.  The point of a story is never about the ending, remember.  It’s about your character getting molded in the hard work of the middle.

I was reminded of this concept again this week during a moment in which Jake and I were paddling especially hard but feeling like our boat wasn’t moving any closer to the shore.

Kids, amiright?

We’re in the thick of the hard work, and we exchange at least one high-five a day because we’re so proud of ourselves for not giving up.

(Also, we just really like high-fives. Big whoop.)

Parenting, I’m realizing, comes with an overwhelming sense of pressure. Because, not only are we trying to write and live the best stories we can for ourselves through the murky waters of the middle, we’re also charged with penning the opening chapters of our kids’ lives.

Eventually they will take the pen into their own hands, but for now, it’s almost entirely up to us.

The words we speak to them. The attention we offer them. The expectations we set for them.

These are the days which set the course for all the ones to follow.

girls-fenceThey won’t remember these years with the detail I know Jake and I will, but the importance of the foundation we set for them now is not lost on me.

Parenting toddlers can be defeating. So many nights I’m left dwelling on the things I shouldn’t have said, the ways I mismanaged situations, or the issues I haven’t yet been able to solve.

And, while I believe Jake and I are doing a pretty good job at this whole parenting gig (high-ten for good measure), I also know that we do fail on a daily basis.

Oh the things I already wish I could erase from their books.

But there’s hope. There’s always hope when you look in the right places, and I’m reminded today of these words from Psalm 73:

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Thankfully, my kids don’t have to rely on my strength alone when it comes to these early chapters.

They will certainly see our flaws and failures as we walk through our respective narratives, but I can only hope that through those moments, they also see the promised strength of God and His renewed mercies each day.

And that’s worth an infinite number of high-fives, if you ask me.

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the one where I turned thirty.

I have arrived, and it feels good.

Now, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’ve been thinking about turning thirty since right around the time I turned twenty-nine. I like to really gear up for things, you know?

But as this particular birthday approached, I found myself more drawn to reflecting on the past than setting plans or goals for the future.

Can there be a more transformative decade than the twenties? (I have no way of knowing the answer to this question.)

I turned twenty about a month after Jake and I started dating. A year later, we got engaged, and a year after that, we had graduated college and were living the newlywed life. I started my “career” as a teacher at 24, had a couple of babies by 28, and had moved across the country to a city of champions by 29 (Jake and I like to take credit for all the various successes in Cleveland since our arrival).

I often ask people when I will start to feel like an adult, but in looking back, I see that it happened slowly over time. I was just a kid when I stepped foot into my twenties, and then each year shaped me or refined me or challenged me in some way. I walk into this new decade a completely different version of that doe-eyed college student who thought the end game was predictability and a white-picket fence.

My twenties changed me for the better, so I processed them the only way I really know how: I wrote about them.

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I thought about each year of my twenties and tried to pinpoint what exactly it taught me. And what I found as I combed through each year of the past decade, is that God has taught me things all across my twenties which have perfectly prepared me for where I am today. Equipped me to continue to take steps forward even if I’m not entirely sure where the road ahead leads.

So, if you’re interested in all those thoughts, you’re welcome click the link below where you will find a PDF file–a compilation of essays I wrote in reflection of what each year of my twenties taught me: 

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It is nothing out of the ordinary. The writing doesn’t contain any real tragedy or nail-biting cliffhangers (unless you’re particularly riveted by things like marriage or car trips across the country).

But I’ve come to decide that even the ordinary needs to be celebrated and acknowledged. It is real, and it gets us to where we are today. And, for me at least, that felt worth writing about.

So, here’s to thirty and all it has in store for me. For us. I like it already.

my kids are teaching me about forgiveness.

I stand by my theory that one of the hardest parts about being a parent is adjusting to the constant ebb and flow of kids. They master one thing, then regress in another. They conquer one milestone, then change their mind on another. In my case, it always feels like just when we’ve found a good rhythm, they up and grab a different instrument altogether.

For instance, all summer, the girls have been waking up at 7:30 a.m., a time everyone in our house felt really good about. Then, suddenly last week, they decided 6:15 a.m. would be more appropriate. Even better is that they have decided it’s best to just stay in bed and yell angrily until someone comes and gets them. They started beating a drum just when we had gotten used to the soothing sounds of a string quartet.

I did not handle this change well. And as I worked to adjust, I realized that I had this innate need for the girls to know that they were inconveniencing me. I wanted them to know how terrible it was to wake up to angry screaming, and I wanted them to feel bad about it.

As it turns out, guilt trips are not a highly effective means toward change when it comes to small children. Go figure.

Anyway, it has me thinking about forgiveness, an act that is much more difficult to come by when the offending party hasn’t actually asked for it.

I err on the side of over-sensitive and easily wounded. I’ve certainly come a long way in this regard (mostly thanks to Jake’s magical prowess with reasoning), but I can still pinpoint times in my life where I had to move forward from something without an apology. Parenting included (let’s talk about how irrational I can get when inadvertently head-butted in the face or made late to something because of an ill-timed tantrum).

And, lately, it’s in each one of these moments that I’m always reminded of what God says to Jonah after Jonah is whining about how unfair it is that God showed mercy on the people of Ninevah.

“Do you do well to be angry?”

Loving kids is to understand sacrifice. Sometimes it’s just easier to be mad. But in these moments, that simple question has started whispering in above the beating drum: Do you do well to be angry?

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The answer is always no (even if there is a strong justification for the anger¹).

The principle transcends parenting, really; it’s just another example of how this whole being-a-mom thing is refining me into a better person or whatever.

So here’s to burying the anger, the self-pity, and the other bummer qualities that distract us from better things. Good things. Important things. Refining things.

At least, that’s what I’ll be telling myself at 6:15 tomorrow morning.


¹ For the record, I don’t think a 6:15 a.m. wake-up call is reason to justify being angry. It’s not such a bad time to wake up; it just happens to be the most recent change that has me reeling a bit. And, It’s not my fault that I’m so tired in the morning. I blame NBC, Eastern Standard Time, and Simone Biles.

the problem with kids.

People used to laud Lily on her sleep habits. “Oh,” they said, “How wonderful that she’ll sleep anywhere!” “How fantastic,” they said, “that she sleeps through the night.” “She,” they said, “is a great sleeper.”

Then she turned two and a half. Suddenly, she started waking up in the middle of the night and refusing to go back to bed. For a time, she decided 4:45 a.m. was a reasonable time to wake up in the morning. She held hour long bedtime standoffs and decided naps could be grounds for a battle as well.

Everything I read and everybody I talked to said the phase would be short. “Be consistent and sleep habits will go back to normal,” they said. But months and months passed, and on more than one occasion, Jake came home and found me tear-stained and prostrate on the floor of a quiet house because it was the only way I knew to decompress the terribleness that was bedtime.

But sleep isn’t what this essay is about. It’s about the real problem with kids which, if you ask me, is this: They convince you that they are good at things and then they decide to stop being good at those things.

Or more plainly, they constantly change.weekendrules (2)

Lily was my champion sleeper. And then, she up and realized she could have her own opinions about things and changed the whole ball game on me. I wasn’t ready for it. She blindsided me and there was no fancy Daniel Tiger jingle to convince her otherwise (believe me, I tried all the things).

Right now we seem to have reached a treaty–a season of bedtime peace–and I’m learning to enjoy these times because I know they are bound to be short-lived. Surely there is another regression in our future which will shake up our rhythm and force us to find a new beat altogether (if Norah stops inhaling all food as she threatened a few months ago, so help me).

It can be defeating. For me, it always seems like my girls hit a regression or make a change just as I’m feeling pretty good about things. When I feel like I have it all together, I’m always reminded that I actually don’t.

As parents, I think it would be easy to live in constant frustration that nothing ever stays the same. It’s in these moments though that I am reminded of the power in my own insufficiency. I’ll never have it all together, and I’m thankful that constant change reminds me of this. Regressions in parenting are a thorn in my flesh, but there is joy knowing that my responses to these frustrations can give room for Christ’s strength if I let them.1.jpgIt doesn’t make it easy, but it does make it worth it.

And so, I’d like to dedicate these thoughts to my sleeping babes. To Lily who has learned that the sleep-time battle isn’t worth fighting and to Norah who hasn’t yet figured out that there’s a battle to be fought. May the beauty of her ignorance be long lasting and may we have patience, wisdom, and plenty of coffee the moment she figures out otherwise.

finding value in the hard things.

If you’re like me, you can pinpoint all the hardest moments of your life. These are the moments that strip us down and force the raw pieces of ourselves to rise to the surface. In my life, these times are marked by seasons of change. Seasons when the dependent variable vanishes, and I’m left with new, uncharted territory.

The beginning of college. My first years of teaching. The journey through medical school. The birth of babies. A move across the country. Residency. The unpredictability of toddlers. Mornings when you realize you’re out of coffee.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my responses to these moments when life strips me down to the nitty-gritty. I’m certainly not trying to make a case that my life is harder than anyone else’s (We’ve got a lot of good things going for us here. My espresso machine, for instance, came through with the win on this coffee-less morning.). But, it seems an unavoidable fact that each season of life comes with its own various challenges. And, the more of them I come up against, the more resolved I am to face them well.norah sandA few months ago, I was dialoguing with a friend about prayer, and she sent me this clip of a Francis Chan sermon from like 8 years ago. It starts with a song, but Chan’s commentary at the end is what has been on repeat in my brain for the last month. Here’s what he had to say:

When we pray, we’re always praying, “God change things” rather than, “God change me.” We want God to change the circumstances and take away all this pain, all these trials, all these hardships rather than God’s plan which is, “No, I want to put some of these things in your life and you need to be praying for yourself that you would grow through these things.”

You see, whenever we have decisions to make, we want God to make it easy, [so we] say, “God why don’t you close all the doors and just leave one open?” [Instead we should say], “God, why don’t you make me incredibly wise, so I know how to make a good decision?”

When trials come, we say, “God, why don’t you change them? Why don’t you fix the situation and take away all the pain? [Instead we should say], “God why don’t you use this time to grow perseverance in me?” […]

Yes, there are times when God changes the situation, but so often, more than anything, God wants us to change and we should be praying for these circumstances that God allows in our lives as opportunities for us to grow in our character and our person.

I can’t get this tiny shift in perspective out of my head.

I know my tendency is to pray for the hard things to end. For ease and consistency and predictability. That bedtime battles will be replaced by compliance or that sibling fights will turn into happy conversations. But what if instead I prayed for patience? Or compassion? Or wisdom to parent my kids the best that I can?

I can’t always change my situation, but I can always change the way I respond to it.lily sand2 This, I am finding, is making all the difference. The realization that I was never promised ease or comfort and the reminder that, if I will let Him, God will use the hard things I face to sharpen me into a better version of myself. It’s not easy to shift perspective in the moment, but it is always worth it when I do.

Now, excuse me while I go attend to the screaming toddlers in the other room. Please send coffee.

my kids’ birthdays are for me too.

I tend to live a little too deeply in the anticipation of change, so as such, I’ve never been one to let “last moments” slip through my fingertips. I like to stand in empty houses before I leave them for the last time and always acknowledge (internally, at least) my final moments before imminent change takes place.

On Saturday, I put Lily to bed a two-year-old, and she woke me up the next morning with a new age attached to her name.jake and girlsWhen Lily was seven months old, we hit New Year’s Eve, and when I put her to bed that night, I held her a little longer than usual because I knew I’d never get to hold her in the year she was born again. The night I thought I was in labor with Norah, I held her a little longer than usual because I wanted to live a few more minutes in what I thought might be the last moments just the two of us. The night before we moved to Ohio, I held her a little longer than usual because it was the last time I would stand in something familiar before everything I knew would be uprooted on me.

So, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I was happy to put Lily to bed her last night as a two-year-old. Or that I held her a little longer than usual.

I realized this week that I love to breathe in these quiet moments–exist as a student of what they have to teach me. The moments (which I know are numbered) when Lily will snuggle in close to me before bed. When I can stop in the twilight hours of a birthday eve and remember the actual birth day–those still frames in my mind before and after the instant when everything changed.jake and lilyI decided this year that my kids’ birthdays are as much for me as they are for them. While I certainly love celebrating them and loving them for their own day, this year I felt the importance of acknowledging how their years have impacted my own.

As I soaked up those last moments with my two-year-old, I was reminded that even though these toddler years can be draining, they have made me into a better version of the person I was three years ago. Although she doesn’t know it yet, Lily (and Norah, too) has and will continue to help refine my character.

As I let her life wash over me on the night before three–all that we have gone through, all that we have dealt with, all that she has experienced in her days so far– I remembered the whole of who she is. And it was in those moments that I found gratitude for how deeply she has changed me to my core as well as perspective as I step foot into all that I’m sure year three will throw at us. We will all be changed, no doubt. And we will all be better because of it.lily 3So, as agonizing as those last moments can be for me (I saw my parents’ empty house for the last time via FaceTime, and instantly lost it, for crying out loud), I’m grateful to have them when I do. My inner monologue is, too. I mean, I guess it’s good to give her something to obsess over even in those quiet moments, right?

parenting: a few things I know.

I’ve been at this parenting thing for almost three years now–long enough to learn that serving a graham cracker broken in two is a surefire way to ruin 45 minutes of my afternoon but not quite long enough to figure out how to convince two kids to sleep through the night on a consistent basis. As it is, though, I feel like I’ve figured out some pretty key things which I would like to chronicle here (mostly, so that in ten years I can look back and think, “It was so cute how much I thought I knew back then.”).girlsFirst and foremost, I know that finding a functional cart for two toddlers in a store is not as easy as it should be (and letting one kid walk is no longer an appropriate option. Just ask the lady who told me the whole store could hear Lily screaming.) Some stores think the best cart design is to place tiny people on seats which a.) face one another and b.) put one child so close to the edge that one swift kick from the sibling across the way could send you right off the side. Yes, of course my kids are buckled in, but the other problem with these carts is that a.) half of their buckles don’t work and b.) the other half of the straps are so twisted that you can barely tighten them. These are deeply layered problems, you see.

In a similar vein (and, often, situation), I know how to master the art of the well-timed snack. My friend, Breanna, described it perfectly to me recently: It’s a math problem. The ratio of snack to time children need to be occupied is an important balance to iron out. For instance, I know that two and a half handfuls of cheerios mixed with a spoonful of raisins will give me about 25 minutes of uninterrupted shopping time once the bag hits their hands. A single graham cracker? Forget it. I might as well just stay home.IMG_5071When I do decide to stay home, I know (and am surprised by how frequently I have to remind myself of this) that toddlers are affected by boredom and that sometimes this is a problem of my own making. I went to visit my parents a few weeks ago and about two days into the trip was wondering why Lily was having so many more meltdowns than usual. That’s when I realized that I had shaken up her entire routine and basically given her a free play option for two days straight. Special thanks to my sister for swooping in with her clothespins, cotton balls, and hand-made fine motor activities. She really saved the day and reminded me that a little stimulation and focus can go a long way. 

And with that, I am reminded that every day brings a new challenge. I like being good at things. I suppose we all do, really. In parenting, however, I was never given the novelty of choosing to do only the things I feel well-versed in. You have to do the hard things and you have to make the decisions whether or not it all comes naturally. There is no other option. On top of this, toddlers are tricky and will convince you that you’ve mastered them one single day before they flip the game board on you.

But God. This short phrase from the book of Ephesians has been changing the trajectory of my bad days–helping me put the pieces back on the game board each time it flips. Because despite my shortcomings and my flawed nature and my tendency to lose my cool when Lily won’t, for the love, wear clothes that match, God is rich in mercy and makes me alive by His grace. But God. It’s the turning point. The reminder that this thing can’t be done on my own accord if I want to do it right. It’s my new mantra for each day (which certainly beats the Daniel Tiger jingles that get stuck in my head).but godSo that’s what I know now. So much, I know. Tune in next time to hear about how I’ve figured out a way to keep two toddlers in the bathroom so I can shower (warning: bribery involved) and why minivans are the greatest invention since, well, cars. Oh, and, if anyone out there is an expert on getting two toddlers to play nicely with one another for longer than three minutes, please teach me your ways. I’m all ears.

on moving on.

My parents moved from my childhood home this week and I can’t help but think about how it now sits empty of our physical belongings yet remains full of the memories we stored in all its various nooks and crannies. The bannister I slid down as a seven-year-old. The wall I knocked on in middle school to hear back from my sister on the other side. The tree in the backyard that I climbed as a kid, ate popsicles under during high school, and sat beneath during the rehearsal dinner for our wedding.tree2 I went home last week to celebrate my sister’s graduation from college and to say my goodbyes to the house that holds my childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood in its foundation.

A task which, if anyone knows me, could have paralyzed me with nostalgia and turned me into a sobbing mess.

I tried, though, to find the middle ground between sadness and reality. I know it’s necessary to feel the sadness of change, but I also recognize the importance of not getting hung up on the material. It’s just a house, after all. A temporary fixture in the eternal scheme.

I was reminded this week that I’m just a traveler through this life, and as I move heavenward, I know I can get distracted trying to hold on to the things as they exist around me. My childhood house. Norah’s wide cheesy smile. The way Lily physically narrates a story. I cling tightly to these moments and these things as I live them in hopes that they will last.house 1And yet, my empty childhood house reminds me that I was meant for change. That as much as I want to hold on to the things I love, I must grasp them with loose fingertips. I must enjoy them while I have them, but also let them slip away eventually, so they can grow and bloom into something new and beautiful and more wonderful than I could imagine.

I can’t stay the same. And that’s a good thing.

I always seem to be drawn back to Ecclesiastes 3 during seasons of great change. In addition to reminding me that there is a time for everything, it re-centers me on the choice I have in those moments of change: wallow in the loss or embrace the chance to have joy and do good.

This time, I was drawn to verse 14: “I perceived that whatever God does endures forever.”

I certainly am a traveler through this life. My landscapes keep shifting. I keep having to let go of places and people and stages that I love, yet I am reminded that I don’t walk forward empty handed. As I let the physical things slip through, I’m filled with the lasting: family and friends and relationships and memories which will go with me wherever I am because whatever God does endures forever.tree with verseAnd there is hope in that.

Of course I should also probably tell you that I made my mom save me a square of blue carpet from the living room and that I kept a sliver from the tree that used to stand in the front yard when they cut it down last summer. I know they won’t last, but they’re relics of the lasting memories I will take with me.

(They are also keeping my nostalgia at bay for the time being. Really, you should be proud of me for resisting the urge to frame all the glow-in-the-dark stars I plastered on my ceiling in high school. I certainly thought about it.)