Kids Were Here

Kids Were Here

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I got into my car after transferring the girls to my mom’s car, giving lots of hugs and kisses and sending them on their way for a week of fun with their grandparents. I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw this sight, and I had to turn around and snap a picture. It made me think about this project I came across this week–the #kidswerehere project–a collection of photographs documenting evidence that kids were here that will make you laugh and smile and maybe even cry. Certainly, my backseat would qualify as evidence–spilled lemonade stickiness, stranded Teddy Grahams, books and a Dum Dum wrapper.

From the moment they take their first breath and even before, kids invade every nook and cranny, every crevice and recess. They leave their mark–literally–on everything, and it’s one of my most favorite parts of being a mom. Everywhere I look something reminds me of my girls–a stray bow, hidden seashells and acorns, the drawers in my bathroom constantly being rearranged. They have invaded every square inch of my life and my heart.

Today was a great reminder that every dollar I’ve given up, every mess I’ve cleaned, every tear I’ve cried, every stressful moment has been worth it. Motherhood doesn’t make sense. How could all that work and effort and sacrifice add up to love? Those girls have colored all over my walls and my heart, and I’ll never be the same.

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Second Best Parenting Advice I’ve Received

Second Best Parenting Advice I’ve Received

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 presetFirst things first, the best parenting advice I’ve received–date your spouse. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

Some people say it, “Keep your spouse above your kids” or “Make your marriage priority over your kids.” But I like it said, “Date your spouse” because it gives me an easy action step. Plan a date. Once you become parents it’s easy to start to feel like business partners running an enterprise (aka a house and munchkins) but dates remind me of us. Dates are where we get to have fun and eat food without someone asking, “How many bites do I have to eat?” Where we get to talk about stuff other than teething trials and potty training mishaps. Dates are the memories that glue us together and keep us from losing our sanity.

But on to the second best parenting advice I’ve received. This piece of wisdom came from a sweet friend who happened to be my former neighbor. Surely, God knew I would need her in my life so he planted me next door to her for several years. A few months ago she had watched our girls one night so we could take the aforementioned best parenting advice and go on a date. After that night, she wrote me an encouraging letter and shared a piece of wisdom an older mom had given her back when her kids were younger. She said, “Don’t worry too much about things you know will change with time and guidance–potty training, shutting down at bedtime, picky eaters who don’t want healthy food. They will not be 18 and still wearing a diaper and eventually they will crash from lack of sleep. But concentrate more on issues of the heart.”

I read those words and felt lighter, like someone who’s just arrived at a warm coffee shop and shrugged off three layers of winter wear. Concentrate more on issues of the heart. Some things I just need to let go of. That isn’t easy for a mom who struggles with perfectionism, but it’s necessary.

When I was seven months pregnant with Charlotte, Lydia, out of the blue, started waking up around 5 AM. I was exhausted from being in the final weeks of pregnancy and, at the time, I was the furthest thing from a morning person. I got so mad and frustrated at her waking up early until I finally realized, several weeks in, I just had to accept it. I had to change my expectations. A month or so later, she resumed her normal wake-up time, but I had learned a life-changing lesson.

When my girls walk across the stage at graduation or when my man walks them down the aisle or when I watch them hold their own children, I won’t care about when they potty trained or whether they ate broccoli without complaining or how many times they came out of bed every night with one more question and needing one more hug. I will care about their hearts. Are they loving and kind? Are they compassionate and fighting for injustice? Are they brave and trusting? Those little hearts are being shaped right now. And I must let go of some things so I can concentrate more on issues of the heart.

Raising Kids to Leave

Raising Kids to Leave

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 presetWhile running last week, I heard a podcast with Stasi Eldridge. During the interview, she talked about how as moms we are raising our kids to leave us. A tearful but piercingly true reality. I am not raising my girls to know their ABCs or to be able to color in the lines or even to know their Bible verses. I am raising my girls to speak life into the hurting around them, to leap over latitudes and longitudes in order to love the outcast and abandoned and to carry the penetrating gospel of redemption into a broken world. My mission is not changing diapers and quelling temper tantrums. My mission is molding hearts that love God and love people with reckless abandon.

Last night I was weary and discouraged. It was a tough day, lots of crying and whiny questions, one of those that comes with being the mom of little ones. The time came to tuck Lydia into bed. Matt layed on one side of her and me on the other. I stared up at the green stars sprayed across her ceiling, her little hand right next to my cheek. Matt prayed over her, the prayers we echo every night. That she would dance upon injustice, that she would love God with all her heart, soul and strength, that she would be brave and courageous.  And at the end of his prayer, Matt prayed she and her sister would grow up to be women just like their mom. My eyes filled with tears and I grabbed his hand in the dark, certain he didn’t even know the power of those specific words at that specific time. It was a humbling prayer, especially on a day when I felt so unworthy. As we left her room, my spirits buoyed by his timely encouragement, I thought of a quote I once heard.

You teach what you know, but you reproduce who you are. ~ John Maxwell

I’m learning it’s less about what I’m teaching my girls, and more about the person I am. It’s less about what I’m doing and more about who I’m becoming. Because who I’m becoming paves the way for who they are becoming. One day our girls will leave our home, at the age of 45 according to their daddy.  And when they do, it won’t be the lessons on grammar or table etiquette that sustain them. It will be the lessons on forgiveness and grace, loyalty and devotion, love and learning the hard way. These are the lessons I pray they will carry in tiny pockets stitched to their hearts. And these are the lessons I pray they will learn from their daddy and me.

Fitting In…

Fitting In…

photo (6)This morning was her first day of ballet. For months, she has been asking when she starts ballet, practicing her moves and dancing for anyone who will pay attention. But when the day finally arrived, the morning wound up in a  tired-from-a-long-weekend-of-traveling-running-late-and-momma-wouldn’t-let-her-get-her-pink-kitty-cat-cue-the-tears-and-dramatic-sobs-in-the-backseat kind of a scene. We literally ran into the building (this would be a good time to mention I absolutely hate being late) with her eyes still red. She walked over to the group with her head down, and while all the other girls lifted their arms and smiled and danced around like little pink puffs of cotton candy, my girl, in her chosen black leotard and black slippers, looked down at the ground.

I reluctantly left the room to join the other waiting moms in the parents’ room. While I sat there, I could feel insecurity wrap its cold, bony fingers around me. The other moms in their cute and trendy “just threw it on” athletic wear were discussing the woes of being room mom and which school was the best. None of them had been late. None of their girls had red-rimmed eyelids. Why couldn’t I just have my act together?

A few minutes later, Charlotte and I got up to take a peek through the one-way mirrored door, and I saw Lydi dancing her little heart out. I smiled, grateful she seemed to be in a much better mood. Then I realized, she was dancing all right but in the opposite direction and not at all in the timing of the rest of the group. I squeezed Lottie and laughed, whispering to her, “We dance to a different beat, don’t we, girl?”

Part of me desperately wants to fit in, to be be accepted, to be liked. But another part of me, the part I’ve buried for a long time, is bubbling up. This part of my heart is trying really hard to remember it’s okay if everyone doesn’t like everything I do. And real life isn’t a Norman Rockwell painting. It’s a lot messier but a lot more beautiful. This part of my heart needs a lot of pep talks and a lot of courage. This part of my heart dares to dance like my little ballerina, wild and free and a bit off-beat.

On Salt Licks, Lemon Ice Box Pies & Leaving a Legacy

On Salt Licks, Lemon Ice Box Pies & Leaving a Legacy

IMG_6037This past weekend, we embarked on a little road trip to Sweet Home Alabama to visit my Mamaw and meet our new niece. Fueled by iced coffee and the Love Does book on audio (me being the audio), we made the trek to Leeds, Alabama, a small town just north of Birmingham. My grandparents have lived in the house my Papaw built since the day they were married, and my mom spent her entire childhood in this home. My Papaw went to be with Jesus almost five years ago, but his fingerprints are all over this home and this land.

So many of my childhood memories are on that farm. The golden sun breaking through the blinds, the smell of sausage and biscuits wafting from the kitchen, the sound of the train rumbling across the tracks just over the highway. Mornings spent in the garden where I would play underneath the trees bursting with apples, pears and figs. And where I secretly wondered how that odd looking fruit came to resemble the Fig Newtons Papaw would keep in the pantry for an afternoon treat.

After Mamaw finished picking the ripe vegetables, we would head inside. Some days we shelled peas. Some days we snapped beans. But whenever we were done, I would assemble my grocery store on the wooden table in the dining room. I would drag out Papaw’s old scale and separate everything into baskets. The plump eggplants were my favorite, weighty with waxy skin the color of a moonless night. Once I had everything just right, I would invite Mamaw to come shop at my grocery store. As she made her selections, I tallied up her total on a yellow notepad. A few years ago, we came across a small stack of these now-wrinkled and faded receipts. She had kept them all those years.

In the late afternoon, I would go out to the pasture with Papaw to check on the cows. I loved sitting on the tractor with him and hearing all his stories about his beloved bovine friends. He would tell me how each one came to the farm, its age and its personality. He would tell me about the bull too and how he had to be careful with that one. We would ride past the salt lick (which I know from experience is quite salty) and make sure the cows had plenty of fresh water. Papaw used an old bath tub for their water trough. I would run around the pasture while the water ran, Papaw warning me to watch out for “fresh patties” and to never ever touch the electric fence. Even though I knew he’d already checked it a half dozen times to be sure it was off.

At night Mamaw and I would make lemon ice box pies, two at a time, and watch I Love Lucy marathons. And I would always sneak out to the back porch where Papaw would be reading his Bible. Every Christmas he had only one request, a new Bible. Because his one from the previous year would no longer be attached to the binding and the pages would be falling out from being read so often.

And every time I had to leave to go home, they would stand on that porch and wave goodbye. They tried to cover their tears, but I knew they were there. I didn’t even try to cover mine. I would look out the back window down the long driveway, waving one last time and at the top of the hill we would enter the highway, giving a little honk and a last goodbye.

My Papaw went to be with Jesus November 2008. A few months later on January 17th, his birthday, the first one he wouldn’t be here to celebrate, I found out I was pregnant. That baby would join him in heaven a month later and then another baby would join them both later that summer. But as I watched Lydia running and Charlotte crawling on the lawn in front of that porch, I smiled. The same patch of grass my Papaw once mowed. The same patch of grass my mom played in as a child and then me and my siblings a few decades later. And now my two girls enjoying the magic of that farm, lost in the sweet smell of country air and a lifetime of treasured memories.

When things don’t look like they used to…

When things don’t look like they used to…

egg sac spiderSince I was a little girl, Charlotte’s Web has been a favorite of mine. After our own little Charlotte was born last fall, I started reading the book to her. During the day, we would sit in the rocker with the pale sunlight casting a spell over the nursery and in the evenings I would turn off all the lights except the small lamp beside the rocker leaving the two of us caught in a golden globe. We would read about the farm, about the geese and the goslings, about Wilbur the little runt pig and about a beautiful spider named Charlotte. There are people who think Charlotte’s Web is a rather sad book. Matt asked me one time, “Doesn’t Charlotte die at the end?” Yes, Charlotte does die, but the book isn’t about her death. It’s about her life, about how she loved her friend Wilbur and how she loved her babies, how she used every cell of her little grey spider body to author silky messages and craft a peach-colored puff that held 514 tiny spider lives. It is the story of a woman who knows what her purpose is and knows her body is a tool to bring that purpose to fruition.

Ask a woman if there’s something about herself that she would like to change, and she will almost always say yes. A couple days ago, I dragged my kids to the drug store in their pajamas at 7 am. We were there within two minutes of them opening the doors. Why? Because I desperately needed to color my hair. My incredible mom who passed on to me many wonderful traits also gave me the genetics of early gray hair. Every time I look in the mirror, I’m convinced I’ve discovered another one, and on days when my three-year-old feels like pushing all my buttons I’m pretty sure an entire village pops up.

It seems there’s always a pound to lose, a wrinkle to erase, a dimple to smooth or something in need of a lift. We have these bodies and we have this one life. We don’t take this body with us, so why we wouldn’t we use it up while we’re here? Why wouldn’t we use every fiber of our being to give and love and create? Why wouldn’t we celebrate when our body shows the wrinkles from years of laughing? Why wouldn’t we appreciate the transformation that happens when we carry a precious life for nine months?  We make healthy choices, we exercise, we moisturize and I’m definitely going to cover these grays. But I’m tired of beating myself up because things don’t look like they used to.

Like my favorite t-shirt that just gets softer and more loved with every washing, I want to use this body. I want to wake it up early to see sunrises that color the sky in cotton candy clouds. I want to keep it up late lost between plot twists of a really great book. I want these feet to travel to Africa and bring our brown-eyed child home. I want these hands to paint walls that create a haven, to bake bread that feeds a heartbroken friend and make cookies that are really just toasted dough. I want these eyes to watch two girls grow strong and brave. I want these ears to hear a million dreams, “Guess whats” and “I love yous.” And I want this mouth to speak life to those around me, to whisper “keep going” and to kiss my husband every day until death do us part.

What if I didn’t view my body as a keepsake to be guarded and maintained but as a tool to do what I was put here for? What if I appreciated the role my body plays in helping me carry out my purpose? This morning I was working out in the flower bed, pulling weeds that had crept in around my wildflowers. In the spot where a flower had once bloomed, a small spider had created her egg sac. I thought back to Charlotte’s Web where Charlotte describes her egg sac as her “magnum opus,” her great work. As parents, we will invest many, many hours and much blood, sweat and tears into our children. There will be gray hairs from the times they miss curfew. There will be forehead wrinkles from the times they were weren’t invited to the birthday party or didn’t make the team. There might be a little post-pregnancy pooch that just won’t disappear no matter how many ab crunches are done. And there will always be a heart that breaks when we see our children go through pain and heartache. These 7000 days will wear us out and leave a lasting mark on our bodies. But we accept that. Hopefully, we even celebrate that. Because we know it is worth it. They are worth it.

Careful

Careful

matt with polar bear I’ve always been a careful person. In college when I lived off-campus my last two years, I always left twenty minutes before a class even though I lived less than five miles away. Just in case a train blocked traffic or a parking spot proved elusive or the vending machine needed a visit (I’m a sucker for Peanut M&M’s. Don’t judge.) I carry the scissors with the point downward and safely within my grasp. And I always use my blinkers.

Since writing my last post, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be brave, to be dangerous for God. Certainly, I’m not handing my three-year-old my Wüsthof knife and letting her start to chop anytime soon, but I also don’t want to pack her away in bubble wrap.  How do parents walk that tight-rope? How do we teach our kids to be wise and vigilant, knowing the enemy comes to steal, kill and destroy? But at the same time, how do we empower them with boldness and courage?

I’ve been studying Isaiah in my priority time, a favorite for me because the words soar off the page, powerful yet full of grace. This morning I came to focus on Isaiah 7:4. In this chapter, Ahaz is the king of Judah and he and the house of David have just been told that their enemies are now forming alliances. These enemies had already defeated Ahaz individually and now they were collaborating. When they heard the news, Ahaz and his people were afraid. Isaiah says they were “shaken as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.” (And maybe a little like my man with this polar bear.) But the Lord had a message for Ahaz, and in verse four, the Lord told Isaiah and his son to go to Ahaz and tell him, “Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid.”

Be careful. Keep calm. And don’t be afraid. In the same command God told them to be careful and don’t be afraid. This leads me to believe that the two qualities aren’t mutually exclusive. We can be brave and careful. We can be brave without being careless. We can be suited up in armor but not timid. We can be wise but not lazy. We can be prudent but not selfish.

In our kitchen hangs a shadow box with two medals given to Matt’s late grandfather for his service in WWII. When Papaw went to battle, he went with training and equipment. He was brave certainly, but he was also careful.

I have to teach my girls to be both brave and careful. To clothe themselves in God’s armor but to always remember that armor is useless on its own. It is the courage of the heart inside that gives the armor a purpose.

Be careful. Keep calm. And don’t be afraid. But maybe watch out for polar bears.