birthday party fail

Last November, Brian turned two. So we gathered our abundant collection of family and a few friends at our house for some cake. This is how I do birthdays: buy a cake and have extended family over. I have friends who throw Pinterest-worthy themed birthday parties with full meals and games and goodie bags. I have cake and family because I just can’t. 

Anyway, I decided to bump it up a notch and get an ice cream cake from the grocery store. It was just frosted with chocolate, so I snagged a tube of frosting, planning to pipe “Happy Birthday, Brian!” on it later. Easy-peasy. That’s how we roll.

I forgot to add the finishing touch to the cake, so when people were here, I just pulled it out of the freezer, clipped the tip of the tube, and started: “H-a-” Oh, crap. this tube requires and actual frosting tip, because it’s nowhere near fine enough to write on a cake.


Fitting enough, I guess.

We were laughing about the frosting job, but excited about the ice cream cake, so we sang, he blew out two candles, and I cut the cake.

It wasn’t ice cream cake.

It was a very cold, hard chocolate sheet cake.


It was delicious. Also, pretty ridiculous.

Yesterday, I realized that Brian’s birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks. It’s probably time to figure out when we’re going to have frozen sheet cake and text an invite to the family.

But here’s the truth about me and birthday parties:


I don’t especially like attending them—as a highly sensitive introvert, the noise and the number of people are usually overstimulating. It’s worthwhile. I love the people I’m celebrating and celebrating with, but not the thing I’d choose if given a day to do with as I please. When I am responsible to throw them, it exhausts me from the day I start thinking about it until it’s over and cleaned up and I’ve slept a full night. This hasn’t always been the case: I’ve thrown a good many showers and even pulled off a few weddings, but I just don’t have the margin for it in this season. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the people who are there. I like connecting with individuals. I love celebrating my amazing children.

But I’m gonna take a pass this time. Maybe this whole year and next, too.

Birthday parties are not the only way to connect with people or celebrate these wonderful growing small people that I managed to grow inside my body. When I was growing up, as the first of five kids, I believe we got parties every other year. On the years we didn’t have them, we celebrated as a nuclear family. And it was fine.

I have nothing against big, fancy, gorgeous birthday parties every year for kids. I have friends who do it and love it and it fills them up and functions as a creative outlet. It’s totally a thing, but it’s not my thing. My kids love going to those. They ask me when they can have a party like that. “When that mommy is your mommy, sweetheart. We do different things.”

This year, I’m going to recall that there’s no biblical mandate for a birthday party, fancy or otherwise. I’m actually excited to come up with ways to celebrate and make him feel special now that I’m ditching the “have all the people over” plan.

I’m going to be kind to myself and celebrate my little boy with a whole heart that isn’t distracted by the impending gathering of extended family or resentful of the energy it requires.

(Those of you who ordinarily come celebrate with us: THANK YOU. It’s not you. It’s me. Feel free to text me and drop by to celebrate the dude’s birthday… a few at a time. It’s way more manageable.) 

This post is part of a 31-day series called “Grace in Failure.” Other posts from the series can be found here.

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feeling judged

I have a handful of people in my life who semi-regularly judge me. I mean, there are more than a handful, I’m sure, but I have a handful who count. And when I say they judge me, I should also be clear that I feel judged. I don’t have any reliable idea whether they’re actually  judging or not. We’ve established that I can go years feeling judged, only to realize that it’s my own insecurity talking, not my husband telling me I suck.

(Now that the disclaimers are out of the way…)

Like I said, I feel judged by these few, and their opinions happen to matter to me because our relationship warrants my listening and because their lives demonstrate that I have things to learn from them. (Basically, they have their stuff together in areas where I do not. Or more together.)

Not long ago, I was talking to someone (in this category- relationally close and sort of together) about some struggles I’ve had with my kiddos. She mentioned that the behavioral things can be trained out with consistent discipline, and… there it was.

I forgot to mention that the worst part of feeling judged is when they’re right.

At this point, I was internally falling fast into a shame spiral and externally carrying on a good conversation with her like nothing ever happened, carefully easing the topic to something more neutral. After a few minutes, I was able to ignore the internal part for awhile and move on with my afternoon.

But the shame spiral was still there, waiting for me when the conversation was over.

It’s yucky, right? This judged feeling? But I’m trying so, so hard not to just get lost in the “woe is me, I’m such a bad mom/wife/Christian/human” cesspool, because it doesn’t produce anything good, so when I saw myself headed there, I paused a second.

What do I do now? 

Is there truth that I need to hear in what she said?

Are there lies I’m telling myself about it? 

I’m buried in shame. Shame can’t survive when it’s spoken. I need to talk to somebody safe.

I spoke with my husband. He knows I’m doing my best with what I have. The shame withered significantly just doing that, so I was able to talk to God about the rest, and the truth is I’m not consistent enough, and these particular struggles really do reflect my inconsistency. But we are working on it. The lies I was telling myself about what this means about my worth as a mom were a bigger problem than this one area of growth.

Then I rested. (It happened to be bedtime anyway, so this was simpler than it could’ve been.) I rested in the fact that Jesus has already paid the price for my inconsistency and failures as a parent—I don’t need to do penance, punishing myself. That the Holy Spirit lives in me and can continue to teach me to do better. That the Father knows that I’m just dust. He knows my limitations and struggles.

Judgement from others doesn’t always end this way, obviously. But I’m learning (painfully slowly) to find grace in places where shame used to overwhelm me.

This post is part of a 31-day series called “Grace in Failure.” Other posts from the series can be found here.

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when I do stupid crap

I went out to dinner with a couple of girlfriends. We do it a few times a year. I sat down and we all  set our purses in the one open spot in the booth, and they chuckled at me for my gigantic diaper bag.

We sat, ate, talked until the waitress stopped bringing us water. When the waitress brought the check, I asked for my bag back.

I went digging.

I found a bag with two water bottles and a rotten banana that the kids didn’t eat when we went to the museum last week. I found a mason jar with the remaining $1.13 that Jenna didn’t spend on her penguin finger puppet. There were diapers, of course. Granola bars. Last week’s church bulletin in several pieces. My bullet journal that’s been there since Sunday because I haven’t done anything productive since a bug knocked my family out that afternoon.

But no wallet.

What the actual heck?

Ugh. I mean, it’s funny. The mushed banana and the mason jar with money were cracking us up, but for reals. Now my friend has to cover me and that’s embarrassing.

You know what? It was fine. (I feel like that could be the alternate title for this whole darn series. “It’s fine.”)

We laughed. I felt sheepish. I tried to leave because I am the only one of us who has a baby who nurses before bed, but we got chatting some more and I didn’t leave for another 45 minutes. (The poor child didn’t go down until about 10. It happens. Again, it’s fine.)

I think that doing stupid, embarrassing crap like leaving a wallet home or starting to sing a verse too early at church (did that this week, too… on mic) or any other goofy thing is good now and then.

It reminded me not to take myself too seriously. It reminded my friends (and now you) that none of us has our stuff together all the time. (Not that my friends last night were under any illusions. You either, for that matter.)

This used to be the sort of thing that I’d cringe about periodically for ages. But the more I live, the more stupid crap I do, and the less margin I have for cringing about it later, because who has the energy???

 I have to find a new story to play in my head. “I’m such an idiot!” isn’t working for me anymore.

What I find myself switching to is “Haha. It’s fine. Everybody does dumb stuff now and then.”

(If this new narrative is false and you never do stupid stuff by mistake, do me a favor and tell me… later. Because this is totally working for me right now.)

If you have any silly stuff to share, by all means share! (Reinforces my story that it’s all of us.)

(In case you wondered, my wallet was in my little bag… the one I would have switched into if I had been less pressed for time. For the love.)

This post is part of a 31-day series called “Grace in Failure.” Other posts from the series can be found here.

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when the art doesn’t match the expectation

October’s past halfway done, and three cheers for THAT. I love writing, and this—a long stretch of daily public writing—is a good thing for me to do once in a while. But also, it’s time consuming, and I’m starting to feel like I’m just producing random crap and wondering why on earth I decided to do this, anyway. I actually mentioned to a friend yesterday that I felt like I’d run out of non-garbage things to say. But then I went on facebook and learned that the last piece—the one that I’d thought was pretty much fluff—had spread some grace to some people. (Thank you guys for cheering me on!)

Also, I remembered a quote that I’ve mentioned here before but will shamelessly share again, by Ira Glass:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

It’s fine. It’s fine to throw stuff out into the world that doesn’t feel perfect. Put it out anyway, whatever your art is. And it’s fine not to be in love with everything you make. Keep making, just the same.

We need your art, and you need to keep producing it until it becomes what you want it to be.

This post is part of a 31-day series called “Grace in Failure.” Other posts from the series can be found here.

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grace for stomach bugs

Warning: probably going to be rambly and incoherent. If you want a trip inside my weird head and day today, by all means, continue.

The last couple days have had plenty of challenges and failures. Yesterday, I broke my seven week streak of getting 10k steps per day, which doesn’t matter, unless you’re an obliger and live for perfect, unbroken streaks. I also didn’t blog, which was sad.

Instead, I got suddenly and violently ill.

And then about the time I felt better, everyone else but the baby started up. (She still hasn’t shown any signs of illness. Hoping that holds.)

Andrew was incredibly kind as I was down. He took up all the slack. At one point, I asked him, “Is it okay if I’m a giant wuss for just a little while longer and ask you to give me a back rub?” He responded, “You can be a giant wuss as long as you need to be.” That’s real love, friends. 

And then as the bug took him, I was just getting over the fever phase and able to take over the constant round of clean-up early this morning. Good times.

Stomach bugs are the worst.

We’re buried in laundry. (Mostly clean now, but certainly not folded.) The girls wound up supervised only by Miss Frizzle for the entire afternoon while the grownups tried to recover from a really rough night. We’re about to adventurously test pasta with butter in all the kids’ tummies.

But, for all the crazy, there have been a lot of gifts.

The baby didn’t get sick.

We’re together.

We live in the future and have a fridge that dispenses ice chips.

It was a really short bug. It’s over.

They’re all asleep now.

And, hey! I lost five pounds! (Winning!) (Just kidding. Not worth it.)

There’s grace enough, even for stomach bugs.

This post is part of a 31-day series called “Grace in Failure.” Other posts from the series can be found here.

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redemptive marriage

(Photo: Sarah Lewis Photography. Again.)

I love our story.

I love that God answered the prayer of a little girl.

But the “how we became us” story is such a small part of life. It’s just the prelude. So many movies focus on the meeting and the courtship, then end with a marriage and “they lived happily ever after,” as if there was no more story to tell.

I’d like to share some more of our story.

After the wedding, we had a pretty good transition into marriage. As long as we’d been doing life together, actually living together wasn’t the rocky change that so many couples experience.

After a while, though, my brokenness surfaced.

I don’t want to make it sound like it was so awful—we’ve always done pretty well. Between the friendship we started with and a lot of grace, we’ve enjoyed each other. Most of the time.

But sometimes, my insecurity and negative self-talk got in the way.

I’ve always seen myself as not _____ enough. Not thin, pretty, smart, funny, interesting, or good enough. Not enough, period. And, since Andrew’s a pretty smart guy, I figured he must see how insufficient I was, and I could read basically anything he said (or didn’t say) as evidence he agreed with me.

So he’d say something innocuous on a day that I was particularly touchy about everything, and I’d take it as an attack.

I’d get mad at him for saying something awful about me—I’d put words in his mouth and assign him motives he never had. He would (understandably) try to set me straight. He’d try to correct my assumptions and reassure me that he really did believe the best about me.

But then I was mad because he was arguing with me.

I remember now how discouraged he’d get. For more than ten years, this went on. Not constantly, but frequently enough. I’d mishear him and basically accuse him of being a bad and hateful husband. He’d try to help me understand. I’d get mad because he wasn’t listening to me. Obviously, if he were listening, surely he’d understand how that thing he said really did mean what I thought it meant.


He’s human, of course. He’d get mad as I kept indicting him for things he never said and he’d say things that made it all worse.

But he kept engaging.

For more than a decade, his heart remained soft to me.

This strikes me as a miracle.

I’ve seen it go the other way in other marriages, and it’s ugly and heartbreaking and 100% natural. I can imagine the marriage-killing hard-heartedness seeping in over that length of time.  He credits God’s grace to me- I was given a husband whose steadiness is one of his primary traits, and it was probably one of the things that saved us, or at least the joy of us. (We were never anywhere near calling it quits, but in retrospect, I see a lot of danger of becoming mostly roommates, which is so far short of God’s design for marriage.)

Then, somewhere in our twelfth or thirteenth year, it occurred to me that the guy I was fighting against wasn’t the one I married. I chose a better man than that. We named the other one “mean Andrew” and kicked him out. I wish there was more story than that- something we did that flipped that switch, because I feel like that would probably be helpful information to share. I’m sure there was plenty building beneath the surface, but my experience really was something like walking through a forest for years and years, then coming to the edge and finding light.

I’m grateful and astonished that my husband and my God kept pursuing me through it. It seems like an awfully long time to wait for light.

I’m still working through my insecurities. There’s plenty of growth for me and for him and for us as a pair to do. But, just like I love seeing and celebrating the faithfulness of God in the story of us two becoming one, I am starting to be able to look back and see the big story here, as well. It’s a story of God working in and through marriage to make us more like Him, and to make our marriage more reflective of His glory. Like it always is, the big story is about God being faithful to us, even when we’re sinners and broken.

How about you? When you look back, do you see any of the “big stories” becoming clear?

This post is part of a 31-day series called “Grace in Failure.” Other posts from the series can be found here.

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when words fail: Elchanan’s story

You guys, this one hurts. And, if you’ve lost a little one, it may trigger you. Skip it if you need to in order to take care of your own heart.

A year ago today, I held my nephew for the first time.

Rather, I held my nephew’s tiny body. His self was being held by Jesus already.

He was almost three pounds. Under different circumstances, babies born that size and gestational age make it just fine. In fact, five months later, a niece was born (to a different sibling of mine) with an identical birthweight and the same amount of cooking time and she’s delightful and chubby now. I held her a few weeks ago. But this one was already gone for reasons we’ll never know. We found this out the day before, and it took more than a full day for my sister to give birth to this sweet boy with the perfect nickel-sized hands and feet and the perfect curly auburn hair.

I didn’t have words then, so I borrowed some from a favorite songwriter. I hardly have any now. I don’t have a pretty grace-bow to tie this up. It’s messy and hard. There’s been grace, certainly. From compassionate nurses to a newborn baby sister born last month, God continues to be faithful. But it still isn’t easy.

My nephew’s name is Elchanan (EL-cha-non) which means “God is Good.”

And He is.

His parents wanted, with each mention of their son, to remember the goodness of the One who is good, even though life is hard.

It’s tempting, when I think of holding Elchanan, to just count down to heaven. This is the sort of loss that doesn’t feel like it can be made right short of seeing him again. But then the Spirit reminds me of his word:

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.

(Psalm 27:13)

Through all the tumult, betrayal, and attack, David was certain that God’s goodness would show up, and not just eventually.

Please pray today. This month is set aside to raise awareness for pregnancy and infant loss, and I want to remember a lot of mamas (myself included) missing babies. But today especially, I am praying for peace for my sister’s heart as she holds a newborn daughter while mourning the anniversary of the loss of her son.

This post is part of a 31-day series called “Grace in Failure.” Other posts from the series can be found here.

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