Tuesday, April 21, 2015

too many toys, not enough play

I look around my house and this is what I see...


Lots of them. 

Our entire front room has become a toy room. A bounce house is holding our basement hostage. All winter long, two swings hung in our laundry room. They recently made their way out to the treehouse which takes up a great deal of our backyard. We got rid of half of the seating in our home to make more room for toys. We even made a trip to the IKEA madhouse specifically in search of ways to organize the miscellaneous playthings. 

We have a lot of toys. And yet, I suspect that our toy pile falls within normal (American) range. In fact, I often wonder if perhaps our collection of Duplos and doctor kits and dollhouses and STUFFED ANIMALS amounts to less than what the average American family has stashed in their home today. Who knows. I could be wrong.

All I know is this. In our house, there are too many toys. 

Too many toys and not enough play.

Play and toys. You'd think the words would go together, right? Well, they really don't. I mean, at least they don't in my mind. When I close my eyes and think of the word "toys," I picture stuff. Plastic stuff. Noisy stuff. Annoying stuff. I feel myself getting a bit anxious and just wanting to engage those endless small things in an organizational throw down, finally defeating them by binning, boxing and labeling them within an inch of their lives.

But when I close my eyes and picture the word play, my whole body relaxes. I picture running and jumping and laughing and pretending to be...well, anything. I like play better than I like toys.

And yet...

Playing with my children is hard for me. 

There, I said it. I struggle to play with my kids sometimes...okay, most of the time. 


Because I don't have time. Or, more accurately, I prioritize other things above play. And I'm not talking about soap operas or spa days or shoe shopping. I'm talking about changing diapers that smell like porta-potties, making food that's doesn't come out of a squeeze pouch and spending a cumulative forty-five minutes per day locking and unlocking cabinets, toilets and stairways. 

If we are going to have a reasonably clean house, eat semi-homecooked meals a couple times per week and stay alive, we are going to have very little time to play. 

The second reason I struggle to play with my kids is related to the first. Multitasking is killing our play. 

Killing. It. 

I try to trick my kids all the time. 

"Yeah, I'm totally playing with you...so interested in what we're playing right now...absolutely playing my heart out..." All the while, my eyes are scanning the room for the next thing I can transfer from the wrong bin to the right bin, licking my thumb and pressing it to the floor to pick up random crumbs, and attempting to fold some laundry. That stuff worked when Harriet was zero. But she's a bright girl and it takes her about a millisecond to figure out whether I'm actually playing pretend with her or just pretending to pretend.

Here's another reason I have a hard time playing with my kids. It's boring. (Insert even more guilt here.) I'm sorry. It just really is. Pretending to be "baby" or "puppy" or "patiently" (Harriet's word for patient when we play doctor) is fun for a while, but when you've been doing it multiple times per day for a couple of years, it gets a bit old. And the toys are super fun for a while but you can only make the cash register play that song so many times before it becomes the soundtrack to your dreams. 

The last reason? Play can be frustrating. The boys are now old enough that they want to play with everything that Harriet is using...and by "play with," I mean destroy. They are like a team of mini bulldozers, which makes her all the more sensitive and on guard...and shrill. No patch of floor is safe, so she usually ends up playing on the table or somewhere else high up, and even then, they're clamoring for her and screaming at her. My heart goes out to the poor girl. And it's not just her...they do it to each other too...always wanting to play with whatever their brother has and already hitting, pinching and biting to get what they want. So, playtime can be a bit crazy...and scream-y.  

I'm great at reading to my kids. I'm great at cooking with my kids. I'm great at making messes in the bathtub or in the sandbox. But most other forms of play? Not my strong suit. 

I've tried to come up with ways to fix this problem. I've packed away half of our toys (just like all the parenting blogs say you should do) so that, in theory, when I bring them out again, they'll seem brand new. Here's the problem. I pack them away and forget about them. Or I have no idea what I put in the box. Or I use a clear box. And then Harriet sees it and desperately wants to play with every single toy in that box. Or I don't think it through and pack away the most age appropriate items and then when I take them out again, she's grown out of them. So...this has not been effective.

I love the idea of toy sharing with another family. At the risk of sounding snobby, here's the problem with that. I'm worried that other kids won't treat our stuff nicely. I fear I'd be bummed out and even a little bitter if I lent Harriet's handmade dollhouse to another family and it came back with crayon marks on it. Or if the dress-up clothes came back ripped. Or if the dolls got accidental haircuts. (I'm realizing I'm more attached to this stuff than I originally thought.) And I'd be so nervous that my kids would damage the other family's toys, too! Even more nervous, in fact. Because just last week, Harriet drew all over her wall, her closet and a bunch of her toys. That stuff just happens.

I also really try to avoid plastic toys, electronic toys, noisy toys, etc. I like the wooden stuff, the cloth toys and other items that encourage open-ended play and lots of creativity. But they're more expensive. And the marker doesn't come off those toys like it comes off of the plastic stuff. And honestly, the kids seem to like the crappy, plastic, beeping stuff better...ugh. 

The last solution I've tried - going outside. The problem with that? We live in Minnesota. End of discussion. 

Just kidding, but only sort of. We absolutely adore the outdoors. We spend as much time as we can out there. Biking, going for walks, trips to the park, playing in the driveway and the backyard, excursions to the zoo. Love that stuff. But right now, on April 21st, it's snowing. And the second it stops snowing, millions of mosquitos instantly appear at our door, asking if we want to come out and "play" which is code for getting eaten alive. You simply can't win. 

And despite all of the reasons that play can feel hard and even impossible at times, I know in my heart that I must play with my children.

So much is riding on me playing with my children.

When I play with my kids, I show them that I love them. When I play with my kids, they can learn how strong, creative, interesting, unique, fun, kind, smart, and beautiful they are. When I play with my kids, I can teach them important things about peace and sharing and family and disappointment and hard work. When I play with my kids, I can be Jesus to them. 

Because if Jesus was visiting my humble home in the flesh right now, He'd be down on the ground playing with my kids. He'd be wrestling them and making messes and doing a different voice for each stuffed animal. Because He loves them and He knows that right now, at this stage in life, the best way to show them that love is through play. Whole-hearted, no holds bar play. And my kids would be awesome at being Mary, while I can only pray that I'd have the sense to stop being Martha. At least for a few minutes.  

The other night at my women's accountability group (yep, they snuck into this post too), I brought up the play problem with a bit of embarrassment and lots of honesty. And to my surprise, my confession was met with a great deal of nodding and comments like "me too" and "I feel the same way." So now, a friend of mine checks in with me a couple times per week about whether I'm playing with my kids. Not pretending to play, but really playing. That's how important this stuff is. So important that I needed to call in the troops. And that accountability? It's helping big time. And I'm finding such fresh joy in playing with my kids. Some days more than others. But every day, at least a little bit.

So kids?

Let's go play.

Thursday, April 2, 2015


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


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.”


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.

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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...

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

why i donate my breast milk

My body is horrible at making babies. Like…horrible. I haven’t had a period without medical intervention since 2006 and even that was a random slip-up on the part of my stubborn ovaries…like when a kid forgets that he’s angry and accidentally smiles.

But with a combination of divine miracles and a suitcase full of fertility drugs, three children have been born from this broken body. And once those babies are out, my body rallies. It’s like my breasts are the people-pleasing older siblings of my unruly ovaries, saying, “We’re so sorry about their behavior. Let us make it up to you.”

Read the rest of this post here.  

Sunday, January 18, 2015

how to talk about your miscarriage

First of all, I am just so sorry that your baby died and that you are now facing such sorrow. The grief that comes after a miscarriage can be hard to talk about, even with your closest friends. But if you're anything like me, after I lost my first baby at 19 weeks, I was desperate to talk about him. So I just starting telling his story. 

I muddled through many painful conversations, but it was an important part of my grieving process, and I learned a lot along the way. So if you are feeling the need to speak out about the loss of your baby, but you don't know how to start, here are some gentle ideas from someone who has been there...

Read the rest of this post here.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

one thousand and ninety-five miracles

My brother was born with trouble in him. Mischief. He was also born with a fabulous sense of humor, a heart for people who are hurting, serious physical strength, great communication skills, an obsession with all things sports, and an extreme motivation to succeed once he sets his mind to something. But looking back at those early years, the trouble and mischief I mentioned...I have to admit that that's what sticks out in my mind.

And being the older child, a people pleaser and overall goody two-shoes, that little brother of mine caused me a great deal of stress. Even as a young child, I remember feeling responsible for him, like another parent...or maybe like a parole officer. I was probably only five years old, pleading with him to obey the babysitter. A few years later, I was bribing him to behave on the school bus. 

I ran interference between him and the neighbor kids when he played pranks on them...like convincing the girl across the street that moldy bread was actually delicious. Behind his back, I defended him continually to older kids whom he wasn't afraid to pester.

He was the kid in the preschool Christmas program who, instead of singing, was shining a flashlight in the eyes of audience members. He was the kid who pretended to be asleep and fell out of his chair the first day of kindergarten...and the second...and the third. He was the kid who told my deepest, most embarrassing secrets to my friends when they slept over at our house.

But what started as funny little pranks and silly mischief eventually got more stressful. Looking back, it was no big deal. Just kid stuff, but it made me nearly sick with worry at the time. I remember him getting in trouble at school for passing a note to a friend that had swear words on it. As my dad talked to him about it in his room that evening, I laid on my bed and cried and prayed and prayed and cried. 

He developed a bad reputation among teachers and the parents of his peers. He was friendly, a great athlete, smart and so funny, but he was trouble. And at a very small, strict, private school, it's easy to dig yourself a hole. And once it's dug, there's no way you're getting out. It pained me to see him sitting alone at the lunch table every day for some silly thing he did months before. It broke my heart when his friends' parents wouldn't let him come to their houses. And it made me angry too. I just wanted him to be better...and sometimes hope would flash by and I'd think that things were turning a corner, but then they would just get worse. 

As Brad was entering high school, my dad got laid off and was out of work for eight months. Brad's best friend moved away. He switched schools. Tough things happened in his friend group. He did his very best to cope. He fought off the lies that get thrown at teenagers about what will make them feel better, but like so many young kids, he could only fight so hard for so long. He skipped more than a third of his classes in high school. It was only by the grace of God and one kind-hearted teacher that he even graduated. I can picture him right now in his cap and gown, standing with his friends for a picture. I can see that photograph in my mind's eye...and I know that he's high as a kite.

Because by high school, drugs had entered his life...our lives. And the power they wielded was terrifying. Devastating. Watching him spiral downward into harder and harder drugs was like watching someone slowly die. I will not attempt to tell his stories here because they aren't mine to tell. But I can tell you what it's like to be the sister of an addict.

It is the most physically painful, emotionally exhausting, mentally excruciating, spiritually trying thing that I have ever experienced... 

...because one night he went missing and I laid on the living room floor and yelled at my dad to "FIND HIM!" and to "DO SOMETHING!" But there was nothing to be done. So Andrew and I drove around the city, looking for his abandoned car, certain that he was dead.

...because my parents came home from visiting him in the hospital one night and my mom collapsed in the entryway, just laid there with her face on a shoe, sobbing seemingly endless tears of heartbreak and grief.

...because the entire process of writing a letter to read at my brother's intervention, sneaking into his dorm room, stationing my husband outside the window in case Brad tried to escape, reading the letter to him, and watching him cry made my entire body ache with sadness.

...because treatment gives you hope. And relapse steals it. And treatment gives you hope again. And relapse steals it. And then you stop hoping.

...because he was homeless a couple of times. Just for a few days each time but when that homeless person is your brother, even a few moments of homelessness feels like way too long.

...because when you are just the sister, you have absolutely no power. You have even less power than your powerless parents and you feel angry with them all the time for all of the things that you think they are doing wrong, all of the ways that they are not saving him.

...because seeing him so skinny made me so sad.

...because it's so hard to go to Alanon and Naranon meetings and family therapy.

...because I didn't trust him. Not with anything. Not for two seconds. I hid my money and my stuff because I knew that addiction turns people into thieves.

...because holidays and vacations were always sabotaged.

...because there were fist-sized holes in the walls of our home.

...because for years, he didn't have a personality.

...because people would ask me what my brother was doing, whether he was in school or working, and I'd have to make something up.

...because he got kicked out of treatment one time and was driving home, across the whole country. And my dad called me and told me that we needed to prepare ourselves because he didn't see how Brad would possibly ever make it home alive. I knew he was right. And I made peace with that. I remember thinking that if Brad died, he would be in heaven with Jesus and would no longer have to fight this impossible battle, and I felt relieved at the thought.

But he made it home. And he kept using. There were times when he did better. When he got a job. When he took some classes. When he made me mix CDs of encouraging music after my miscarriages. But nothing ever lasted. I lost hope for him and faith in him. 

And then Harriet was born. 

He came to the hospital with my parents and held my tiny, vulnerable daughter in his arms with the most astonished, adoring look in his eyes. He fell in love with her. He just kept commenting about how strong her little hands were, how tightly they wrapped around his finger. He couldn't believe it. 

And one month and one day after he became an uncle, he went into treatment for the last time. I have no idea what happened in treatment, what made it different from the times before that. But I know that God heaped miracle upon miracle on my brother's life. I know that his brain and his heart were transformed. I know that the iron grip that drugs had on his life was loosened...crushed...by grace. 

And my brother came home...healed. People email me after reading my blog sometimes and ask me how I can believe in God. And I want to put one hand on their cheek and with the other hand, point at my brother and whisper, "Because of this. Because lives do not change this way without Christ. Because what you see here isn't just a man who is clean and sober. What you see here is a life made whole."

Because of the trust and generosity of a saint named Steve, my brother got a job. A good one that he has kept ever since. And he fell in love. He fell in love with a girl named Alyssa who supports him and celebrates his sobriety with every part of her heart. She sunk into our family like she had always been part of it. She laughs at my dad’s lame jokes. She delights in my children. She loves our dogs more than we do.

And slowly, slowly I started to hope again. And to trust him again. And God continued to heap miracles on his life. God restored our joy. God rebuilt our family. 

And this past August, my brother and Alyssa got married. They asked me to be the only bridesmaid, the maid of honor. And they asked Harriet to be their flower girl. The wedding was a small, simple service at Andrew's parents' cabin, the place that we celebrated his sobriety anniversary every year...a sacred place for us.

After the sweet ceremony, we all sat down under a lovely canopy and ate Alyssa's mom's famous chicken lasagna off of her grandmother's treasured china. My dad gave a short speech and he cried. He just kept saying how all of this...every part of it...was a miracle. How Alyssa was a miracle for our family. How we never, ever would have thought that this day would come. A day that was a celebration of love, yes. But also a celebration of redemption. A celebration of healing. A celebration of a girl...and her family...who risked everything on this boy who loved her and opened their arms and their hearts as wide as they go to the brother of mine whom so many had rejected in the past.

And then it was my turn to say a few words. So I turned to Brad and Alyssa and I said this...

I can’t even tell you how joyful and honored I feel to be here today, standing up there with the two of you, witnessing the creation of a new family, the tangling together of two beautiful journeys to create one story – a story about redemption, acceptance, love and blessing.

I know that the two of you have worked hard to prepare for this day and for the shared lifetime that will follow. You have spent so much time together, adventured together, seen each other at your best and your worst. You know each other so well. You’re best friends. But, Alyssa, you have three brothers, and I’m sure you’d agree that sisters have a special window into who their brothers really are, deep down. So I want to share with you a few words about Brad and who he really is at his core.

But for starters, if I can just give you some advice...don’t play practical jokes on him. You will never, ever win. We have all tried, but every time we think we’re about to best him, he throws it back in our faces. Like the time he gave me a piece of candy with an ant in the middle of it. Or the time he hid a nice tall glass of milk and a pile of shredded cheese in the back of my closet. Or the time he suspended my dad’s electric toothbrush just centimeters above the toilet water. Or the MANY times we’d be on vacation, all sleeping in the same hotel room and the alarm would go off at 3:00 am.

Also, he’s an adventurer. You know this from your camping and kayaking and hunting, I’m sure. But did you know that at age seven, he took apart an entire bed and used the wood to build a boat that he then sailed in a nearby pond we called “Diarrhea Swamp?” Or that at age five, he bungee jumped…off the balcony in our home?

But the main thing I want you to know is that this man…your husband…is a warrior. I want you to know that he will fight for you. He will fight for your family. He will fight for your children. He will fight to keep good things in your life. And when our fallen world knocks on your door, he will not stand down.

I can tell you all of this because I have seen him nearly defeated. I have seen him journey-worn and battle-scarred, face down in the dirt with the enemy’s boot pressed into the back of his neck. I have seen him struggle to stand…and fall again. But that’s the thing about Brad – he never stops fighting. Like I said, he is a warrior. I have seen him come from that low, down-in-the-dirt place and somehow, against all odds, find a way to get back up. To look hopelessness directly in the eyes and refuse to back down. I have seen him battle against the lies this world throws at us about who we are and what we’re worth. And I have seen him win. I have seen him live this victory every single day. And so have you.

And I think that even back then, of course he did it for himself, but really, I think he did it for you. For the hope of you. For the dream that someday something as wonderful as you would come into his life.

And Brad, if there’s anything in your life, anything in this world, worth fighting for…it’s her.   

I know girls. I am a girl. I am raising a girl. I lived with six other girls in a tiny apartment with one bathroom and no kitchen. And I can tell you this…Alyssa is a rare find. She is a woman to be treasured and cherished. I mean, you’re a cool guy, but seriously…you got really lucky. And so did we. Alyssa’s unshakeable character, generous heart, kind spirit, and gracious, humble nature didn’t happen by accident. They are the result of twenty-some years of God’s good work in her – molding and shaping her, fashioning her heart after His own. I feel incredibly blessed to be gaining her as a sister. I can’t even imagine how fortunate you must feel to be able to call her your wife.

I cannot wait to see all that the Lord has in store for the two of you. Today marks the start of a remarkable adventure. Love you both.

I look at these pictures of my brother with his lovely wife...the same little brother who literally worried me sick for twenty-some years. The brother whom drugs tried to steal from us. And I cannot get that word – miracle – out of my head. Because every day since January 11, 2012 has been a miracle…straight from the loving hands of a God who never gives up on us. A God who gathers up our brokenness and turns it into something beautiful, something redeemed. Today, my brother celebrates three years clean and sober. One thousand and ninety-five days. 

One thousand and ninety-five miracles...and counting.

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