swimming in lane six

When I was a senior in high school, I joined swim team.

It was a weird thing to do. I’d never swum (swam? swimmed? Google says swum…) competitively before… I’d never even done laps. I was out of shape and years behind most of the kids on the team, many of whom had been swimming on teams since they could read. I didn’t have the lithe swimmer’s physique that they all had.

But I had the other seniors in Lane Six. There were three of us. As far as I know, we were all trying swim team for our first time. We all lacked the training and skill and talent of the rest of the team. The coaches stuck us in the last lane: lane six. While the rest of the fast swimmers were doing their workouts, we got the modified version. The coaches tried to teach us better form and complicated things like flip turns and the butterfly stroke. (I managed flip turns, if ungracefully. I tried fly. Really hard. But it was atrocious.) We had to compete, so we did freestyle sprints, because it posed the lowest risk of drowning. I’m pretty sure we each lost every heat.

As I write it, the story sounds cringeworthy and utterly painful. But senior year swim team is actually one of my most cherished memories of high school. My friends and I struggled and choked our way through the workouts, but we were doing it together. It taught me that failure isn’t so big a deal. As long as I’m getting air, it’s good enough. Doing my best really does matter, even if my best is worse than everyone else’s by a long way. We laughed at each other and ourselves. We got strong. We got tired. We got really, really sore.

I learned that there isn’t always a reason to compare myself to people in other lanes. They’re faster. They’re slimmer. They’re more graceful, every one of them. It’s fine.

Sometimes all that matters is that I’m with a couple lane buddies and we’re having fun together, doing our best, and trying hard not to drown.

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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failing to see strengths

(It’s apparently nearly impossible to find pictures of myself. Sarah to the rescue again!)

Yesterday, a friend expressed concerns over my focus on failures. And yes, it’s part of the series, but she’s not the first person to worry this month, and she suggested I take a day to focus on strengths instead.

I don’t wanna.

It is so much more comfortable for me to tell you unflattering stories and share my struggles than it is to list off things I’m good at. I can think of some, but I don’t really want to talk about it…

So there’s another thing I’m bad at, but I’m going to take a minute to push through.

  • I love my babies. Like a lot.
  • I can care for babies pretty well.
  • I’m really good at having babies. As a brother-in-law flatteringly pointed out, we Smith women are “good birthin’ stock.”
  • I lactate like a boss. Or like a cow. (Speaking of livestock…)
  • I talk to my kids all the freaking time. Word poverty is a real thing, and my children do not suffer.
  • My sister tells me that I’m really good at distilling theology for my kids. I don’t know if this is true, but my kids have gotten darn good at verbalizing theology to me in the most succinct and profound ways, so I’m guessing she’s right.
  • I love my siblings and I’m pretty good at being their sister most of the time.
  • I am an empath. This cuts both ways, for sure, but I’m really good at feeling with people. If you hurt and you need someone to hurt with you, I’m your girl.
  • I am super good at math and English. A friend pointed out that you’re only supposed to be good at one or the other—it’s unfair that I’m good at both. She isn’t wrong.
  • I’m good at cooking. Not baking, mind you, but I can put stuff in a pan and make it dinner.
  • I can totally read. I rock at literacy. I’m at 44 books for the year, which is 20 over my annual goal. Yay, me!
  • I’m funny. Well, I think I’m hilarious, anyway.
  • I am good at being a friend. I’m not necessarily very good at making them (introvert problems), but once we’re friends, I’m in it.
  • I’ve gotten strong. Andrew and I occasionally get into tickle fights (not a euphemism) and he noted a little while ago that I’m way harder to whoop than I used to be.
  • I have gotten reasonably good at photography.
  • I can harmonize by ear. (This is good, because I cannot read music on the fly. If I have a piano handy, I can pick something out, but otherwise, I’m toast.)
  • I picked a really, really good man. I have liked him since I was 15, which, if you think about it, isn’t bad for a 15-year-old.
  • I’m a kind wife. I pay attention to my husband and am frequently good at getting him what he needs before he thinks to verbalize it, which I do, not out of some heavy-handed view of submission, but because I genuinely like the guy and want to make his life better.

These are all really good things. Some of them are just facts; I’m genuinely proud of a few. But you know what I like the most?

I’m learning. I’m not in a rut, just doing the same thing. I’m a whole different human than I was 5 years ago or 15. God is faithful to continue work in my heart and mind.

I’m getting better at self-compassion. I’ve always been really good at compassion for other people, but I’ve historically been awful at giving it to myself. I’m learning. It’s a hard thing. It’s an important thing. It’s a brave thing. I’m more aware now than I have ever been of the grace and compassion Jesus has for me, and that makes a difference in how I treat myself.

I’m learning to be brave by being awkward and saying things that sound totally derpy. Sometimes it’s okay to preface conversations with “This is really awkward, but…” and then say the thing that is true and brave.

I have learned that I can do loving confrontation, even when the outcome is terrible and the other person is manipulative or mean-spirited. I can operate in compassion and authenticity regardless of the other’s behavior.

I am learning that it’s totally okay to set the kids in front of the screen to take some minutes (hours) to do some things that make me come alive.

I’ve learned what some of those things are—a few years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to name any.

I have learned to thank God for the smallest things, and it’s rewired my brain.

I am learning that failure is not something to run from, but a thing to embrace. It’s not a thing I strive for (obviously), but it happens frequently and God always supplies more than enough grace.

What’s your list?

Yeah, it totally feels weird. But go ahead and try it. You can share it or not, but it’s good to take a second to focus on what we’re good at for a change.

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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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 ours.

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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giving up coffee…maybe

So… I’ve been talking a lot about Lilly’s sleep the last couple days. I love her and stuff, but she’s been the most challenging sleeper of my four. I do all the things I know to do to help her sleep just like I did with the others, but it’s still been hard.

I was so excited yesterday  because I recognized early that my lack of sleep was supercharging my hypersensitivity, but that wasn’t the only brilliant discovery I made yesterday.

Somebody mentioned, sort of peripherally, caffeine sensitivity in nursing babies.

Oh, yeah.

I think my first was sensitive to it, so I quit coffee for a while (which is brutal.) Then the second came two months after the first was weaned, so I decided I’d just keep… not drinking coffee. I reintroduced it occasionally, once she was big and not nursing as much or often. Number 3 was such an easy sleeper that I hardly needed coffee and, when I had it, he slept just as well as always.

For number four? I don’t know. I just didn’t even consider it. Ever. Also? She slept pretty rough, so BRING ON THE COFFEE. And fourteen months later, here we are. Considering for the first time that this could explain a lot.

I have no real idea if caffeine is Miss Lilly’s problem. Maybe skipping morning (and after-breakfast, and elevensies, and lunch) coffee will help. Maybe it won’t, and I’ll spend a week not sleeping AND not having coffee. Either way, it’s a brilliant reminder that four kids’ worth of parenting experience doesn’t always make me the pro I think I am.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s my first kid or my fourth, I feel like a willingness to learn and to not have the answers is one of the really important parts of parenting. (Oddly, for the most part, I think I’m more willing to be wrong now than when I was mothering just the one—I was much more convinced then than I am now that there’s a Right Way and I have to find it or I’m a bad mom.)

Still figuring it out. And that’s fine.

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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for the days when it’s too much

We have a few little challenges happening in the Chapman home right now. I’ve mentioned the sleep issues. Related, this morning, I got up and every noise and every light and every movement was physically uncomfortable. I recognized it pretty quickly when I was cringing away from my husband’s voice as he was talking to a kid across the room. It felt a little like he was yelling at me and I wanted to cry.

Wait, what?

My first thought was meds. I feel pretty jumpy pretty fast if I miss an antidepressant (which is primarily for anxiety right now). But I was up on those, so it had to be something else.

Oh… right. Sleep.

Because I’m not in college anymore, a lack of sleep does some annoying things. I mentioned inability to function. I get really stupid. It also cranks up the volume on every sensory input. Given that I’m already highly sensitive, this makes for some hard days, especially when I am too tired to figure out what’s happening.

Today, because of grace and a lot of practice, I saw it immediately.

Here’s how we salvaged a morning of out-of-control high sensitivity:

I was honest.

First, I needed to be realistic with myself about today’s limitations. I needed to pare down to the essential items on my list and let the rest go. Also, the answer to a lot of the kids’ requests necessarily needs to be “no.” No, we can’t listen to the Lion King sound track right now. No, you can’t make me coffee with unknown ingredients.

As I was saying “no” to everything, I needed to be honest with the kids, too. It’s not their fault I don’t have bandwidth for music or messes, and they need to know that, while it looks like a low-privilege day, it’s not. I just need some help maintaining margin.

I looked around.

Visual clutter is mental clutter, so I looked around for the most obnoxious space. The table was totally overgrown with nonperishables from yesterday’s shopping trip, so I tackled it quickly.

We slowed way down.

I’m pretty crappy at multitasking anyway, but when I’m overstimulated, I really can’t. So I very carefully did one thing at a time as we made it through the morning. We made it to school, then lunch then nap time when I had time to reset. (We can call this “self-care time” but it’s really “kids watch Netflix” time. It’s fine.)

I don’t want to pretend like I have a handle on this. (By now, you can’t possibly believe it anyway, right?) But today, it worked. I was grateful to understand early and I appreciate (?) enough practice to know some tricks to mitigate the hypersensitivity.

How about you? Anything that takes you out on the regular? How do you work around it in your life?

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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