Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sometimes simplicity is best.

"I spent some time just waiting on God -- and, trust me, there's no big ending to this story -- except that one day I just stood up and said, I still believe."
- Toby McKeehan


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Friday, March 29, 2013

Short and Sweet: Liking Easter More

Why we obviously still need to be teaching our children about the signifiance of Easter in 100 or fewer words:

My four-year-old speaks from the back seat.  "Mom, I like Easter even more than I like Christmas."

In an instant my mind riffs off of her proclamation in self-congratulation.  Take a look at that!  She's getting it!  Here's a child who understands the significance of such a holy day.  Rebirth!  New life!  An empty tomb!  Overcoming sin and death!  Now we're cooking!

I check myself just long enough to ask a question.  "That's great, honey.  Why do you like Easter better?"

"You know, because of the leprechauns."

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Messes of Our Own Doing

I volunteer in my church nursery one Sunday each month.  This past week there were a few babies in the nursery (disclaimer: I love holding babies because it's an easy way to get my baby fix without actually having a baby), but most were toddlers who will turn three and graduate to the classroom across the hallway soon.

These toddlers walk and talk and ask me to read books to them.  They interact with each other and eat Goldfish crackers.  Some of them are potty trained, like one sweet little girl with soulful brown eyes and lush eyelashes that practically fan her face when she blinks.

"I have to go to the potty," she told me right as the service was about to finish.

We almost made it.  (Which really means that we didn't make it.)

I paged her parents and waited.  She stood beside me.  "It's okay, sweetie, " I told her.  She nodded, but those eyes -- those eyes of hers were so sad.

I put my arm around her, and she leaned into me.  "It's okay," I repeated.  She put her head on my shoulder.  "You don't need to be sad.  It's going to be just fine."

As she nodded again, I sat down on the floor beside her and reached out to give her a hug.  She plopped down in my lap, soggy and all, and together we sat.

Her wetness penetrated into my own pants, but I couldn't budge.  She simply wanted to be held.  "Are you feeling better?" I asked.  She smiled at me and nodded.

Don't we all need someone to stick with us when we've made a mistake?  Don't we all need a faithful supporter when we get into a mess?  Even messes of our own doing.  Even messes that might make others a bit uncomfortable.

I left church on Sunday --  not only with wet pants, but also with a fresh reminder about God's nature: how he meets us right in our messes -- not to judge us, not to chide us -- but rather to lift us out of them.

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

It's Spring, and I Know That Because...

Frankly, the only reason I know that it's spring is because it was written on the calendar the other day.  With its sub-thirty temperatures and breath-stealing winds, winter seems determined to keep us in its clutches, at least for a little while longer.

And yet, underneath the lingering snow drifts, persistent tulips and daffodils are poking through the chilled earth.  I will be so happy to see them.  It'll be a hard-earned -- and a much-appreciated -- breakthrough into spring this year.

The girls, figuratively and literally, have been bouncing off the walls.  This week's snow day resulted in an epic bounce house that was assembled out of couch cushions and pillows -- so, so many pillows -- that walking across the room was fodder for twisting your ankle, and sitting on the floor was preferable to sitting on cushion-less couches.

I've been moving about my day-to-day business -- mothering and teaching and living -- as if I'm waiting for something.  At home, my kids are tired, an odd mixture of having too much and not enough energy all at once.  On campus, my students are tired, as if they're hitting the lonely third corner of the track and know that, despite their weariness, there's still a decent stretch ahead before they reach the semester's finish line.  My colleagues and I feel the same.

With this all in mind, I remember the tulips and daffodils.  We're all going to push through.  We're all going to make it.

In unrelated news, yesterday I found myself saying the most random sentences to my children.  Among them:  "Let me tell you this clearly: you do not need to put ketchup on your applesauce," "Stop licking my arm," and "It's a wonder that I didn't just step on your head."

But the one statement that truly left me shaking my head (and shuddering a bit), was when I discovered my two-year-old in the bathroom after she had gone to the potty.

And that statement was this: "THAT IS NOT A HAT!"

And it was in reference to this:


Leave a comment and share what random statements you've found yourself saying lately!

(You do know that I think of your comments of little bits of sunshine, right?  Go on, spread some warmth.  Besides, I'd love to think that my kid isn't the only one who's discovered that a toilet seat serves double-duty as a crown.)

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Prayer Request

My church often sends emails with prayer requests -- small reminders to lift up someone who's lost a job, gotten sick, or needs support.

Last night the message was different.  Last night I read the words once, twice, then again, thinking this really isn't possible, hoping that I had just misread, wanting the words to change on the screen and say something different.

The request was to pray for Carol, a woman who is roughly my age, because her husband died.

I can't begin to make sense of the extent of her loss.  She's walked the hard road of single motherhood before, and now she'll be doing it again with not just one, but two sons.  My heart aches.

The message concluded, "She will need her church family now more than ever."  A flurry of messages, support, and a schedule to deliver meals already have been launched.  It seems like the smallest of comforts -- a delivered dinner, an influx of email condolences -- but family rallies around its hurting members, even if we don't quite know how.

If you're a praying person, would you please lift up Carol today?

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Living Within the Tension


You can stay on top of the mess -- keeping things sanitary, straightening shelves, sorting toys, and wiping up spills.  You can organize during naptime and clean after bedtime.  You can teach your children responsibility for their belongings and enlist their help.

Even so, one day the house will explode in chaos and disarray.  You'll enter the bathroom and discover a half-eaten piece of pizza on the floor.  You'll search your purse for your cell phone and discover a collection of rocks, a chewed lollipop stick, or a plastic figurine instead. 

The bathroom sink you cleaned earlier in the morning will be smeared with toothpaste and littered with who-knows-what by afternoon.


Your roll of toilet paper will become unwound. 


Your kitchen table and floor will be both sticky and gritty, as if your kids had daily access to glue sticks and sand.  Dirt will infiltrate your minivan during the summer, jackets will brush against its filthy exterior during the winter, and toys and wrappers will be dropped and forgotten on its floor regardless of the season.

One piece of chocolate will somehow result in this:


At least, these descriptions are true for me and my household, and I consider myself to be a relatively-organized, type-A, moderately obsessive-compulsive kind of a person.

Motherhood is messy.  Sometimes I hate this.  I want my life and space to be orderly and controlled, and so often it's not.  Three mess-making little people work against my efforts daily, undoing my work while they're busy with their own work: being kids.

I knew that kids were messy the first time my daughter spit up on my shirt collar.  It was reinforced when she sneezed mashed carrots on me while I spoon-fed her, and confirmed again when she first wiped her snotty nose on my pants leg.  Once she became mobile -- and especially once there was more than one of them -- Lord, I knew that I had met my match.

These messes that we war with daily in motherhood -- these burp cloths on the end tables, slush puddles at the doorway, jackets over the railing, shoes that you trip over, kernels of corn under the kitchen table, hand prints on the window -- these aren't indicators that we're failing as mothers.

They're indicators that we are mothers.

I'm reminding myself that the mess -- and even my frustration toward it -- is normal. 

Today, I'm attempting not to straighten every item before I sit down to play with my kids.  I'm like the band on the Titanic who forged ahead and made music in spite of the surrounding chaos.

Today, I'm reminding myself that it's not selfish to desire a quiet, calm space -- a space without toys on the floor or Curious George playing on the TV -- to claim a moment's peace.

Today, I'm living within the tension.  I'm accepting that contradictions crop up in motherhood -- how any given day can be both glorious and mind-numbing, how I want to get past certain stages while knowing that I'll miss those stages once they're done, how I can love my children desperately and still want a break from them, how I can be annoyed by the mess and still thankful for who's behind it.

Today, I'm aware how privileged I am to have healthy, active children under my roof.  And today, most likely, I'm still going to vacuum because, man, my floor is a mess.

Today, I am a mother.  This is what we do.

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"I got so caught up in it, I couldn't put it down."  (Stacie Nelson, Motherhood on a Dime)

Available in Kindle and paperback editions.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

So I Won't Squander

My husband just left the house with all three children so I can have uninterrupted time to work.  This time feels so necessary -- there are speeches to grade, essays to review, recommendation letters to write, and they seem to be vying for my attention all at once.

The door closes, silence settles, and I take the first twenty minutes to plan.  I organize stacks of grading, separating what can wait from what's urgent.  I scan my inbox to do the same.  I draft a list.  I pour myself a full glass of ice water.

It's a triage of paperwork and correspondence and priorities -- and it helps.

When time feels limited, I don't want to squander any of it.  It's a lesson I'd do well to remember: when I intentionally slow myself down and devote time to plan ahead, I'm more productive down the line.

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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Bored with Your Workout?

Are you bored with your workout routine?  (Or just plain bored?)  Either way, this video is bound to help.



"I'm speaking to you as we speak, from the now, in the middle of the now."

Mind = blown.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

And Spring Will Come

Despite today's rain and chill, my spirit is bolstered by the hope of spring.  This is a good thing, especially since I've been out of sorts for the past few days.  After a spring break that was neither "springy" nor "break-ish," I returned to teaching on campus, momentarily paralyzed by the thought of how much work looms ahead during these final eight weeks of the semester.

My to-do list is downright sneering at me.

I'm reminding myself to put one foot in front of the next.  (And I'm occasionally rocking back and forth and nervously humming to myself, but mostly I'm pushing onward.  God's walking this road with me.)

I'm grateful for the little glimpse of warmth that we were blessed with on Sunday.  We spent most of the afternoon outside, reacclimating ourselves to the yard.

Tulips are beginning to poke through.


Pale legs leaped their way across the year's first hopscotch game chalked on our driveway.


I'm itching to plan the layout of our garden and work on several outdoor projects.  One night earlier this winter we were walloped with a storm that sounded like it was battering and ripping apart a large shed-like structure.  Incidentally, it sounded this way because it actually was battering and ripping apart a large shed-like structure.  (Our shed.)  Tore the roof clear off.

The contents of the shed have been crammed into our garage since then, making this project an early spring priority.  Less urgent work will be dealt with more slowly in the upcoming weeks. 

New work.  Fresh work.  Dirt-under-the-fingernails work.  I'm grateful that spring will come.

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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Halfway to Forty

An acquaintance once admitted that she struggled with turning thirty-five.  "It's like halfway to forty, you know?"  She looked at me, waiting for my agreement

I opted not to correct her math and mention that she actually was halfway to seventy.  It was her birthday, after all.  Besides, anytime I hear someone use the word "halfway," my internal life soundtrack immediately starts playing Livin' On a Prayer and I get happily distracted.

Months have passed since that conversation, and here I stand -- halfway to seventy myself -- on this very day.  (Actually, I'm sitting, but it sounds better, metaphorically speaking, to be standing at this impressive tipping point in my mid-thirties.)

As someone who mostly has loved my thirties, I'm not bothered by this birthday one bit.  Of course, I should admit that I did a double-take last week when I tried to recall how old I actually was, a moment that caused me to nod along with understanding when I recently came across this excerpt from Water for Elephants:
When you are five, you know your age down to the month.  Even in your twenties, you know how old you are.  I'm twenty-three you say, or maybe twenty-seven.  But then in your thirties, something strange starts to happen.  It is a mere hiccup at first, an instant of hesitation.  How old are you?  Oh, I'm -- you start confidently, but then you stop.  You were going to say thirty-three, but you are not.
You're thirty-five.  
Yes, I am thirty-five.  As far as I can tell, halfway to "forty" is looking good.
 
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Friday, March 8, 2013

The Calm After the Storm

It's the calm after the storm.  The girls have been released from the violent clutches of the stomach bug and no longer are keeping me occupied with their staggered vomiting sessions, which always is a plus.  Yesterday twinges of guilt washed over me when I let them watch videos for the vast majority of their wakeful hours.  (It was a long time, my friends.) 

Desperate times call for desperate measures, right?

They've spent most of today resting, reading, doing puzzles, and roping me into rounds of Parcheesi and Sequence for Kids.  Just recently they've started to get frustrated and bicker with one another, which is a definite sign of recovery: there's enough strength to fight.

As for me, I've scoured and sanitized to the point that I'm no longer afraid to touch shared household surfaces.  We'll be in good shape when my husband returns from his travels tomorrow afternoon.

While cleaning, I found a little gem on top of my daughter's desk.  It was a valentine -- one that that was given to her from her.


Just the thought if it made me smile.

We'd all do well to send ourselves valentines on occasion -- elementary school style with encouragement, a cheesy rhyme, and the ample use of exclamation points. 

These would be mine for the last few days:



 
 

Go on.  Give yourself a valentine today.  You deserve it.

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Lower two images adapted from Picadilly Pink (Flickr.com), and *USB* (Flickr.com), respectively.
___________________________________________________________________________________

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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Spring Break Excitement Abounds

In a feat of great willpower and self-discipline, I finished all of my grading yesterday.  (Four days before Spring Break ends and classes resume, nonetheless!)  To celebrate, I stayed up too late to finish a book and watch a movie. 

I turned into bed half-past midnight, still wired.  An hour later I found myself intermittently glancing at the red glow of the alarm clock.  In another half hour, I was performing mathematical calculations that went along the lines of, "If I fall asleep in exactly twenty-three minutes and the girls don't wake until 6:30, then I still can get four hours and seven minutes of sleep.  I can handle that."

The variable I hadn't calculated in my late-night equation was the stomach flu -- or more specifically, how two-thirds of my offspring would vomit at half-hour increments until the break of dawn. 

At the first cry I had sprung out of bed, only fully realizing what was happening when I stepped in a puddle beside my daughter's bed.  (Two-year-olds unfortunately have no aim when it comes to throwing up.) 

Utter sensory overload followed.  Not to mention, approximately 17 loads of laundry, 42 aggressively-thorough antibacterial hand-washings, and a half-dozen Lord, please spare me prayers. 

And He has.  Despite the lack of sleep and the brief moments when I've wanted to crumple to the ground, I'm holding together with God's grace.  After all, this is what mothers must do -- to hold together when everything is running amuck.

Clean sheets are back on each bed.  The girls are bathed and napping.  The stuffed animals who had been in the line of fire last night have been run through the rinse cycle.


And my husband, who still is traveling this week for work, has texted me his condolences. 

I know that we'll make it through.  As for tonight?  My reward will be a bedtime that's reasonable.

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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

In the Presence of Beauty

Last night after the kids had been tucked in bed, a friend stopped by to visit.  When I opened the front door, she thrust out her arm and smiled.  "I brought you some flowers."
 
Not just any flowers, either.  She brough tulips, my favorite.
 
It's amazing how an environment changes in the presence of beauty.  Today, I can't stop looking at those tulips -- their simplicity, their elegance, their freshness.
 

Everything my kitchen suddenly is more lovely, more special just because life has been brought into it.


In one sense, cut flowers may seem extravagent or superflous; they wither and fade, after all.  But I'm finding the inherent value in beauty just for the sake of beauty.  A scented candle.  A pulled-together outfit.  A fresh color of nail polish.  A vase of tulips on the kitchen island.

In the presence of beauty our hearts breathe a little more.

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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Spring Break: the right time to form a girl band

It's spring break week here.  This sounds awesome, yet a realistic assessment of "spring break" reveals that it's still sub-thirty degrees, my husband is traveling, I'm flying solo with the kids, and I have a stack of essays to grade in the evenings before classes resume next week.  The key change of pace is that I'm not reporting to campus to teach at 8:00 in the morning.

So, you might ask, what am I doing at 8:00 in the morning?  Unfortunately, I'm not sleeping.  To tweak an epic line: A day may come when my children sleep past 7:00, but it is not this day.

Even so, I've been using my early hours to make breakfasts, fit in some workouts, and strategize how the rest of our days will unfold.  My goal is to do something special each day with the girls.  For example, I may have capitulated to their request to have a three-day Barbie movie marathon where we watch a different Barbie DVD each evening.  We might have baked cookies and made milkshakes on the same day just because we could.

The girls maybe decided to scrounge the house for make-shift drum sticks and create a band in which each member is a drummer.  (Because, obviously, you need three drummers in every band.)

And I might have created a music video to document it.



Going into this, I hadn't known that despite being novice drummers, they'd have remarkable stamina.  (This particular jam session lasted for nearly 20 minutes.)  What I should have known going into this is that the girls prefer performing for a live audience, which leads me to three rules of thumb:

One, when you're the only other person in the house, it guarantees that you'll become the DLAM (Designated Live Audience Member).

Two, you'll be seated next to stuffed animals. Get comfortable.

Three, at some point in the performance -- despite the fact that the entire concert has pounded at the same painfully-throbbing tempo -- your children will be certain that you missed an exceptional riff.  Not wanting to disappoint, they'll back up to repeat it.

I'm entirely serious about those two Tylenol.

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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Post Card from Spring Break


Title: This is a post card from a Spring Break in Pennsylvania

Subtitle:  Just pretend it's a palm tree, okay?

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Saturday, March 2, 2013

What They Really Love

We sit at the kitchen table together, side-by-side.  Brushes are scattered across the tabletop and our fingers are marked with errant splatters of paint.


"You know what I love?" my daughter asks.

Her answer could go in a million directions.  She could be poised to tell me that she loves painting these paper plates, or that she loves puppies or ponies, storybooks or sunshine, tacos or tambourines, the Wal-Mart toy aisle or watching her favorite cartoon.

"No, tell me," I reply.

"I love when you sit beside me."

And just like that, I'm reminded what my children love the most.  They love to be loved.

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