Thursday, April 2, 2015

reach


I haven't always been this cool. 

I mean, see how cool I am now?

To be fair, I was 36 weeks pregnant with twins and my daughter picked out my outfit. (The bent glasses are also her doing.)

 Yeah, I wasn't born this way. In fact, you might be surprised to know that I used to be rather uncool. Those of you who have been following my blog for a while know this because you've seen awkward pictures of me and you've read some of my old journal entries.

Now that you new readers have gotten caught up, you're probably not surprised that there have been several seasons in my life when I had very few friends...or none at all. In fact, there have been times in my life when I was desperately lonely and isolated.

Fifth grade...the vast majority of the female students in my class were certifiable mean girls, including me. That, of course, led to a clique system that operated like a revolving door, with me oftentimes stuck out in the rain. I remember spending entire recess periods chasing two or three girls around the playground, begging them to just talk to me, while they ran away laughing.

Tenth grade...I moved from my tiny private school to a large public school with only one friend whom I had zero classes with. I lived in fear that she would miss school because that would leave me at a table all alone for lunch.

Eleventh grade...I went to prom alone with a hairstyle that had good intentions but fell quite short of the mark. I think I had one dance with a friend's date...and I was so nervous I nearly puked.

Freshman year of college...I was desperate to get out of high school, so I skipped my senior year and went straight to college. They didn't have room for me in the dorms til second semester, so by the time I moved in, all of the girls on my floor were quite bonded, and I was the high schooler who was replacing a much-loved girl who transferred to a different school. I slept til noon every day and went home every weekend.

Twenty-four years old...We lost our first baby and were neck-deep in infertility. I built a moat around myself and my grief that resulted in the loss of some friendships and left many others on an extended hiatus. Andrew worked nights and we were both in grad school, so I never saw him. I spent my free time with my dog or my parents.  

I know loneliness. I know isolation. I know the feeling of having something crazy good or ugly bad happen and having no one to call except your mom. And some of you...some of us...don't even have that. And we are dying inside because the stuff of motherhood...and if not motherhood, the stuff of life...is even harder than we expected. And we weren't fools going into this, so that's saying a lot. 

Some of us are reading this post in a closet. 

Literally or figuratively, we are hunkered down in a small, cluttered space that muffles the noise, the mess, the chaos and the uncertainty until we're ready to check our mascara, practice a smile and head back out into a world where we're supposed to be in charge but we have no idea what we're doing.

Some of us aren't sure how much longer we can take it. 

The insane exhaustion. 
The constantly sick kids. 
The disengaged husband.
The extended family drama.
The fears that feel larger than life.
The defiant child.
The busyness that won't quit. 
The panic associated with money.
The dreams we've put on hold.
And all the other stuff.

So we go to the closet. We buck up or hunker down and just deal with it. Alone.

We have to stop doing that. 

I had a rough day a few weeks ago. Like, super rough. I felt like an awful mom and was starting to realize that all of my efforts to just be better were failing big time. So after I put the kids to bed, I sent a text to a core group of women, laying my heart out there and giving real, humbling examples of how I was doing. I just went back and reread the text because I was going to copy and paste it into this post, but I can't because it's too raw to put out there on the internet, even for me. 

I almost didn't send it. I didn't want to bother my friends who I knew were all dealing with stuff of their own. I didn't want them to think poorly of me. I didn't want them to pity me. But I sent it anyways.

And you know what happened? 

Not even a half hour later, my doorbell rang. And there stood another only-by-His-grace mom, armed with my favorite coffee, three kinds of candy and a heartfelt, handwritten note. She had read my text and immediately come to my aid. I half hugged her, half collapsed into her arms. And for the next couple hours, we sat in my living room and talked. Even laughed. 

I almost didn't send that text. I almost didn't reach out. But look what I would have missed if I had kept to myself. 

That emergency visit from my dear friend wasn't even the extent of it. The next morning, I woke up to several texts and emails, sharing genuine encouragement and telling of prayers they prayed for me through tears. Another friend followed up a couple weeks later with a pan of homemade caramel rolls. Clearly, these women know me well.

But it's still hard to reach out. It's hard to take the time, swallow our pride, get vulnerable and ask for something...whether that something is a prayer or advice or childcare for the afternoon. It's just hard.

We don't want to appear too needy. But on the other hand, we don't want to appear too stable because then the truly needy people might sniff us out and rely on us too much. We want to be real...but not so real that we open ourselves up to judgment. We want to share our hearts, but if we do that, they could hurt us. And I'm not sure if you can identify with this, but when I reach out and try to build deep relationships with other women, I get nervous. I don't like drama. So I send a text. And when I don't hear back, I send a million clarifying texts because I obviously offended her somehow. I wait and wait for a reply (apparently forgetting that it takes me about two years to respond to texts). Finally she responds (ten minutes later) and all is well.

I used to be lonely. And in some ways, that was easier. But in the most important ways, it was hard. So I prayed for friends. And I sought them out. I committed to sticking it out even when it got tough and life left only a smidge of room for those relationships.
So now I sometimes look around and marvel...seriously, MARVEL...at the priceless relationships that God has put in my life. There's my accountability group...ladies who lately have seemed to sneak into every single post I've written because their words are bursting with truth and grace. There are my college friends...we're ten years deep in these relationships and I've never loved them more. One family at a time, we seem to be congregating in a certain part of the cities, and those who aren't here yet? We're holding them a spot. I have my small group girls...past and present, each of them are beyond precious to me. And my work friends...women who share a passion and a vocation with me whom I can talk shop and life with and always walk away from feeling like my soul's been to yoga in the mountains. The online blogging community...women whose voices I've never heard out loud but I can still hear their hearts speaking to me throughout my day, encouraging me and reminding me what truly matters. And then there's the random smattering of women around the country, some of whom I've known forever and some who've just recently crossed my path. We know each other's hearts and care about one another's stories. 

Reaching out is hard and scary. Am I the only one that feels this way? But still does it? Because I don't know how else to survive this:


And these:




And God knows that. 

So He has lavished me with gift upon gift upon gift...angels dressed in yoga pants and infinity scarves, armed with gentleness, generosity, wisdom and Truth. Rolling up their sleeves and doing the work of love.

You know that woman in your spinning class...your MOPS group...your neighborhood...your newsfeed...your clinic waiting room...your study group? 

She needs you just as much as you need her.  

Sunday, March 29, 2015

margin

Long time, no see, huh?

It’s been a while. And no one has felt that more sharply than me.

After I started my blogging job, a dear blogger friend of mine said that a lot of the time, when people start blogging for other sites, they neglect their own blogs. I made a solemn vow to myself that I’d never, ever let that happen.

And then it totally happened.

When I started blogging for money, I was all concerned that I wouldn’t hit my 5,000 hits per month quota. In February, my posts generated over 400,000 views and set a mom.me record. A few days later, I quit.

Why? Because I can’t fit it in my life anymore. Because I have been over-packing my days for way too long and it’s a foolish way to live. I’ve always struggled with this, but one would think that having twins would get me to slow down. Nope. In fact, I’m not sure my life has ever been fuller…and I’m not just talking about the kids. I mean the stuff outside of parenting.

The other day, a loooongtime friend of mine told me that she was listening to a sermon series on “margin.” She said, “it’s in the margin that God can speak to us and we can heal from the busyness and stress.”

Heal?

Wow. Heal.

That word made me want to cry because it pointed out just how destructive and injurious busyness can be. My overcommitted life has been wounding me. And probably my husband, children, family and friends.

I haven’t listened to the sermon series yet, so maybe I’m just repeating the stuff that the preacher says here, but the very first thing that comes to my mind when I think of the word “margin” is reading. When I was in high school, I always read with a pen and marked up my books like crazy. Even novels. Something I read would spark an idea in my mind, and all of a sudden, I was journaling my silly observations next to the writer’s poems or prose. 



Even now, though I mostly stick to underlining and starring, writing without a pen in my hand feels like panning for gold without…well, the pan.

The margin is where the insight shows up. Where the noticing happens. Where God speaks. The margin is where we make meaning. Where we make sure we don’t miss the beauty, the lessons, the gifts.

So for me, living a life where the words pack the page from edge to edge…isn’t really living.

Was it hard to quit my job with mom.me? Not really. The thing that I loved most about being a contributor was that when people asked me what I did for work, I could tell them that I wrote for money. I was a real writer. Studying writing in college, our professors made it very clear that few of us would ever actually make money by writing. And because I didn’t exactly look like the other writing students – not as quirky or creative – I definitely didn’t expect to be one of the lucky ones who ever got a gig. So letting go of that hurt…but only a little.

The other thing that made it pretty easy to quit? Well, I’m just sort of sick of the mom conversation. It’s too much. And it seems to be getting weirder and weirder all the time because we mom bloggers get desperate for material. The over-thinking is exhausting. And those mommy wars that we all hope our posts will end once and for all? I fear it just fuels them.

My last post for mom.me, one that I actually wrote after I quit, got such scathing comments that it left me with a pit in my stomach for a day and a half. It’s strange what unkind words from people I will never meet can do to my heart. It only served as confirmation that although I do write about motherhood a lot, I don’t want it to define my writing.

Don't get me wrong. I love sharing ideas and sparking conversations. I’m passionate about mothering, about my children, about encouraging other women. I'm passionate about words. But sometimes even good and true words can just add to the noise.

I don't want to be noisy.

The other day, I watched a TED talkby Monica Lewinsky. It's absolutely excellent and so worth your time. My favorite part is toward the very end when she states that we need to "acknowledge the difference between speaking up with intention and speaking up for attention."

Preach, Monica.

A friend recently told me that I'm one of the most intentional people she knows. And coming from her, that means a lot because she's one of the most intentional people I know.

Sometimes that means that we spend ten minutes talking about whether we should talk about something. But for the most part, intentionality brings with it all kinds of good things, so I want to grow that in myself, especially in regards to how I use my time and how I use this space.

I don’t want to blog just to blog, just to stick something in a corner of the internet so I can watch it generate clicks until it becomes totally irrelevant…the next day. I want to write with intentionality and purpose. And for me, that’s really hard to do on someone else’s site, someone else’s deadline and someone else’s dollar.

And it’s especially hard when I can’t talk about Jesus. I run out of inspiration real quick when He can’t be part of the story.

And who deserves my intentionality more than He does? Well…nobody.

One of my pet peeves? Blogging about blogging. Another one of my pet peeves? Posts that lack anything really tangible for the reader to hold onto. So I guess that makes two more solemn vows, broken.

But I wanted you to know where I’m at.


So here I am.  

Sunday, February 22, 2015

the parenting myth i've finally stopped falling for

I wasn't going to include this article here on my own blog because I want to try to keep my own personal blog and my "blogging job" separate, but this piece seems to really be striking a chord with people and providing encouragement, so I decided I'd share it with you too. 

The other day on Facebook, a post popped up in my newsfeed from another mom who was seeking advice. She said that her six-month-old baby will only finish his bottle if she sings to him while he drinks it. That made me smile. It seemed like a lovely, harmless little way for that bright boy to get his needs met. He wants his mama to sing to him, and since he can't ask her with words, he's come up with a creative and effective way to communicate with her. I was proud of the little guy.

But the rest of Songbird Mama's post stated that her pediatrician advised her to stop singing to him when he's taking his bottle because it might create a bad habit. She said that her husband agreed with the doctor. I think my mouth fell open.

Read the rest of the article here.




Monday, February 16, 2015

in that ugly brown chair

This morning, like so many other mornings, I awkwardly gathered two boy babies out of their cribs and carried them to the chair. That ugly, tannish brown chair that's a few years older than my husband. The chair that's creaky, worn and weak-seamed. The one that smells like Murphy. 

Louie was sinking lower and lower in my left arm while I waited for that goofy dog to ease himself lazily out of that blessed chair, stretching one leg, then the other, keeping the tips of his toes on it until Louie seemed concerned I was going to let him fall. I gave Murphy a gentle shove with my heel, and the boys and I settled into the chair's dog-warmed softness.

By settling in, I mean that I tried to make food available to them as quickly as possible while they clamored and clawed at me, making noises that were part cries, part laughs and part hyperventilation. The instant the first side became available, they both lunged for it like they always do and the one who lost was instantly heartbroken, as though he'd forfeited any chance of food...forever. But then, only a second later, all was well in the world. I reclined the chair a bit, aligned an arm against both of their chubby bodies and felt like I could fall asleep in half an instant. 

But there's another. A beauty-filled sister with footie pajamas and a fantastic case of bed head. She climbed up with me and the brothers...four full hearts in a chair made for one. And in the midst of the frustration, fear, boredom and chaos that comes with parenting my little brood, that moment was perfection.

Gus clawed at Louie's eyes. Louie smacked Gus on the top of the head, then pulled his hair. Harriet reminded both of them to be more gentle with one another. They hadn't noticed her til they heard her speak, so they both pushed themselves up and turned to face her with big, goofy-toothed smiles and faces dripping in milk. 

They adore her. 

And she adores them.

It didn’t take long for Louie’s chubby little fingers to find his brother’s, and like they do nearly every time, they held hands for a bit. Like I said…perfection.

Just thinking back on that ordinary moment has me turning away from my computer screen and wiping my eyes with my sleeve because this is so important to me. In fact, I struggle to think of much else that's as important as this - the love in their eyes and the grins on their faces as my children look one to another and begin, even now as teeny tiny people, to sew seeds of relationship with their brother, their sister.

And these seeds - so sweet and simple in the early stages - are seeds that I will water and weed and guard like a faithful scarecrow against the sneaky cultural rabbits and blackbirds that threaten to tear them apart. Because I have a strong and inspiring conviction that their relationships with their siblings are some of the most precious treasures they'll have on this earth. 

Someday they will grow friendships with people who are much different from them and that will be wonderful. But who will teach them how to be a friend? Someday they will have teammates and coaches, but who will teach them how to play - how to lose, how to win? Who will protect them from bullies and watch over them on first days of junior high? Who will have their backs on the school bus? Someday they will have boyfriends and girlfriends, but who will teach them how to communicate, how to struggle through intensity? Who will be there when those relationships fail, when hearts are broken, when moms and dads are of little use and truly don't understand? Who will be there when even their friends can't possibly fathom what it's like to live in this home with these impossible parents? 

Who will help them - with willing hands and hearts stretched thin - as they navigate the treacherous, exhausting territory that comes with caring for both their children and their aging parents at the same time? Who will know what it feels like for them when Andrew and I leave this earth? Who will experience that loss as sharply? Who will hold their hands and walk them Home as they face their own last days, hours and minutes?

Who will know them - truly know them like no one else can - for their whole lives? 

I know my children deeply now, but someday they will be less familiar to me. Someday I may not even recognize their faces. Their spouses will know them in the most powerful sense, but they will be missing so many pieces of the story. And their children will know them at their very best and their very worst...but again, only in part. But Gus with Louie, Louie with Harriet, Harriet with Gus...those are relationships they will cling to for a lifetime. Those are the people who will know their forevers...from birth through eternity. 

Am I so naive to think that they won't fight? That they won't hate each other sometimes? No. I have a brother, remember? And we fought and we were mean and we grew apart...so, so far apart...and now we are giving it another go because, without even having to say it with words, I think we both realize how much we need each other. 

And I know that I can't control things. I can't force them to like each other, to build relationships that are strong and deep and fulfilling. But I can help them create a foundation. In fact, I must. This feels like one of my most important tasks as their parent.

I think that too often, we give kids a pass when it comes to how they treat their siblings. There is this subtle but devious message that “oh, it’s just sibling rivalry.” I have two problems with this. First, it teaches us to dehumanize our brothers and sisters, to see them as unworthy of kindness and respect. Secondly, our interactions with our siblings aren’t just practice for the “real relationships” that we’ll have when we’re older. They are real relationships. In fact, they may be the most real relationships we will ever have.

So we will create a home that's truly safe, where mean-spirited teasing, name-calling and physical violence won't be tolerated. But rough-housing will, of course, be encouraged.

Secondly, we won't be inviting our kids' friends to come along with us on family vacations. They will have each other, and for that short period of time, that will be enough.

We will talk about their relationships with one another. We will work hard at those relationships and struggle through the intensity that comes with growing up side by side. We will teach them to remember that each of their siblings is a person, dearly loved by God and with their own soul-deep purpose.

All of this will be hard. Even now, when two thirds of them can’t talk, it feels hard sometimes. But the hair pulling, cheerio snatching and block tower tumbling will soon give way to much more complex, emotion-heavy, hormone-laden battles. And then, how will we know when to step in and when to let them figure things out for themselves? How will we discern when we need to set a boundary to protect a particular child’s space or possessions and when we should let them learn to set that boundary for themselves? Even thinking about it makes me tired…and also energized. Because like I said, I see this as one of my most important responsibilities as their mom.

And I think that for our family, it all starts in the most ordinary of moments, nestled in that ugly brown chair…creaky, worn and weak-seemed…smelling like dog and somehow stretching to accommodate all of these precious hearts.

Hearts that, over years and decades, through joy and suffering, will creak and burst seams as they stretch big enough to hold one another.


Monday, February 9, 2015

blogger in training

I started journaling in 6th grade. I received a journal for Christmas, and in true perfectionist fashion, I started on January 1st and forced myself to write every single day no matter what for two years straight. After that, I came to my senses a bit and realized that this:




does not count as a journal entry (let alone two!), even when you have absolutely nothing to write about. I also realized that I needed to give myself grace and let my journal become a friend rather than a task master. So although I wrote less and less, I kept writing. Over the past eighteen years or so, I've filled all of these journals.


Well, in reality, I filled all of those journals but one in ten years and have taken eight years to fill the last one. Yes, eight years. Clearly life has sped up, leaving little room for written reflection.

The other day, Harriet brought out one of my journals and said, "Mom, did you write this book?"

I have to admit that I felt a bit proud, saying, "Yes...I actually did."

I started paging through it. I knew it would be cringe-worthy but I didn't realize it would be this cringe-worthy. I knew I had to share some of these entries with you. Let me warn you. They're bad. (If you can't read them, say so in the comments and I'll add translations.)

I definitely remember wearing my mom's clothes, but I'm pretty sure she steered clear of my Limited Too and Northern Getaway stuff.

Yep...very weird...and I still do that chips thing sometimes.

Clearly I was bitter about my bad haircut.

Yep, I've seen so many people write in that square-ish handwriting.
Update: Echo never learned to talk. Also, she's dead.

A hug that lasts a lifetime? Um...no thanks.

What the heck am I even talking about? Sounds like I have been spending way too much time looking in the mirror and way too little time working on my spelling.
Clearly pre-Google.

Good story.

Hate to break it to you, 12-year-old self, but...you don't become a brain surgeon. 

Another potential explanation for the bitter, anti-Valentine's Day rant above.

Boys, makeup, trends...who needs it!?!?

Yes, I still feel this way about Titanic. And yes, it was awkward to see it with my dad.

Wanted: Overconfident girl for lead role in famous Broadway musical. No singing talent necessary. Church drama team experience preferred. 

Clearly...excellent taste. 

I'm about to have a spaghetti pill and then take a nap on straight-up air.

Totally fell for it.

Easily the most embarrassing one so far.

Spoke too soon. This is more embarrassing. Well...it's a tie.

Update: a day of not crossing my legs did not prevent varicose veins. Shocking.


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

birth plan, shmirth plan

I am a planner. A researcher. A question asker. If I have a big decision to make or a new experience on the horizon, I consider all angles, call upon the experts, read the books, and when I feel like I’m equipped with all the information, I make a plan.


Giving birth was no different. In fact, the births of my three children were probably the two most meticulously planned events of my life…perhaps more planned and researched than my wedding! I worked hard to create detailed birth plans that promised to give me the sort of experiences I wanted. But both times, I walked into the hospital with a very specific plan in mind…and promptly threw it into the trash, if not literally, than definitely figuratively.

Read the rest of the post here!


Saturday, January 24, 2015

sometimes we eat fast food

Sometimes I feed my three-year-old daughter McDonald’s. And by sometimes, I don’t mean occasionally or rarely. I mean about once a week. And what’s worse? I eat fast food about three times as often as she does.

Writing those sentences just now gave me some serious anxiety. Because in a world of Paleo diets, organic freezer meals and green smoothies, I feel like I might as well have just told you that I feed my family drain cleaner. And some of you are probably thinking, “Well, she’s not too far off!”


See, therein lies the problem...


Read the rest of the post here!
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