resting and Spirit

I’ve spent a lot of time the last few months trying to decide if I should be still or move forward, letting His strength be made perfect in my weakness. I don’t mean this in a metaphorical sense… I actually can’t tell when to sleep and when to stay awake. Sometimes it’s clear: it’s Saturday afternoon and Andrew is home. There’s work to be done, but I can no longer function. Nap is an easy choice. Or: it’s 9 am and the two littles both need a bath for diaper-related reasons. The big two are fighting. I can barely function, but the choice is made for me: I push.

But what about the more questionable times? I have an afternoon where the babies are down and the girls are watching shows. There are a million things to do. The house is making me crazy with how behind I feel, and it’s cutting into my peace. I feel tired, but not completely nonfunctional. A nap is an option, but it’s not going to be high-quality on the futon with How To Train Your Dragon playing. Or I could knock out some of the things that are driving me nuts, but also potentially sap my ability to manage bedtime in a few hours.

I’ve looked at scripture. There’s no clear template to tell me when I should rest and when I should push. So I look at Jesus. He did both, but again, there isn’t a really obvious way to determine under what circumstances he did which. I don’t know when to honor God’s design of my body with its cues and when to honor the life he’s given me by living it rather than sleeping through it.


And then I remember that Somebody can.

My theology of the Holy Spirit is relatively solid, but my application has been extraordinarily weak. I come from a cessationist tradition (so “sign gifts” like prophecy and tongues were definitely not a thing) and any actual interaction with the Spirit felt suspect. While I no longer hold  that piece of  theology, I still carry a lot of “who do you think you are?” when I want to ask Jesus about day-to-day stuff.

But here’s the thing. I have to ask about it, because He didn’t spell out in scripture whether I should nap or work this afternoon. And I actually need to know, more or less constantly. Sure, I can make the call on my own (I often do), but it feels arbitrary to do so when I really could go either way. We’re talking about my use of time, and I only get so much per day. There’s never really a great surplus. My sister mentioned how nice it would be if God had included an appendix in the Bible for stuff like this: “Hey, guys! This part doesn’t have much to do with salvation, but here’s some helpful information on how to navigate areas not specifically covered in the rest of my book.”

But he didn’t give me rules. He gave me a relationship.

And isn’t that the gospel all over again? I want the law, because the law feels safe and followable. Never mind that safe can’t save… I want boxes to check. But the Law has been fulfilled (by Someone else, because it feels like I could follow it, but I would never be able to) and what I have is GOD HIMSELF. In me. And me in him.

So I’m slowly learning to make peace with this very awkward practice of asking Jesus pretty basic questions and actually expecting a response. I’m not at all good at it yet. A couple months ago, I had an intense and important conversation with a dear friend and we had precisely 90 minutes and could. not. waste. any. Throughout the conversation, I had this ongoing side dialogue with the Holy Spirit going on. “I have a thought. Should I share that? Was that You or me? You or me? You or me? You gotta tell me… You. But not yet. Okay. I’ll hold it.” It was clumsy and ridiculous, but God honored my bumbling and was glorified in that 90 minutes.

I don’t know how to do this “walking in the Spirit” thing. I don’t know how long it will be before I do. I suspect it’s one of those things that doesn’t get perfected this side of Heaven. But I do know this is the way I should be headed.

Relationship over rules, you guys. Even when rules seem easier.


to the mama with two in diapers

Hey, mama. I see you. I know this isn’t easy.

Folks always look at you in pity when they realize you have two in diapers, but they never really mention that the diapers are seriously the least of the struggles.

I’ve been there. I’m not sure how your transition to motherhood was, but mine was uncommonly easy. “Everyone told me this would be so hard, but it’s really… not bad. Yay, me! I’m awesome at this motherhood thing!” (It’s fine. You can punch me in the throat if you want to.) 

But within 48 hours of the birth of the first, my husband wanted to know when we were going to have another awesome baby. It took me a couple months to come around to the idea, but we decided to go ahead and let the next one happen whenever it happened. (After all, I’m awesome at this!) That’s how I ended up with a newborn and a small toddler and my world and self crumbling down around me.

The needs are incessant. One baby took all my time, but I was able to stay pretty well on top of her needs. With a second newborn came the realization that 1.) the newborn stage is way less demanding than the toddler stage and 2.) it doesn’t matter because there’s only one me and I can’t possibly do all of this, no matter how easy the little one seems.

I don’t remember a lot about Katherine’s first year except this one crystal clear moment: Katherine was about eight weeks old. Jenna was roughly 19 months. We’d gone out shopping in the morning, but (as is typical) we didn’t leave as early as I’d wanted, and everything just took longer than I’d hoped. By the time we were driving home, two babies (and one mama) were losing it. We were all hangry and in need of a nap. I put my toddler on my left hip, the baby in her car seat in the crook of my right arm, diaper bag over my shoulder, and all the grocery bags clenched tightly in my hands and hauled the wailing children (and everything else) up the flight and a half of stairs to my living room. Katherine came out of the car seat and got propped in the recliner; I put Jenna in her high chair. I looked from crying Jenna to shrieking Katherine to all the grocery bags on the floor around my feet. I was hungry to the point of feeling ill, but they needed to eat, too. The noise was deafening and I couldn’t quite decide what my next step was.

One need at a time.

I don’t know why this was such a revelation, but their needs collided with my limitations in this one moment of absolute certainty: we all have needs and I can meet exactly one at a time and I will keep doing that until everyone is okay.

This concept basically sums up that whole year. I was tired and my house was noisy, but if I could just keep doing this, we were going to make it.

It gets easier.

I wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told me then, but I really like having the first two so close. I like it so much, in fact, that I waited a beat and then had a second pair a couple years later. I found myself again with a newborn and a toddler last year, along with (then) 4- and 5-year-old girls.

I wasn’t as bleary this last year as I was Katherine’s first year. I am more relaxed and happy  and successful now than I was then, even though I find myself in basically the same situation, but with a pair of strong-willed, homeschooling kindergarteners. I’m sure it’s partly having kids big enough to be helpful (sometimes), partly my own substantially lower standards, partly better systems borne out of necessity, and mostly a lot of grace, but I wanted to tell you it really does get better.

When I had two, I remember looking around at moms of three and four and more, wondering, “What the crap is my problem?!? She has herself together and she has WAY more kids than I do! Why can’t I get my stuff figured out?!?” I’m realizing now that it may just be part of the process. Yes, she had more children than I did. But also, she’d had a few more years to figure herself out. I used to think if I could just get it together, my life could be as (relatively) calm as hers, but I’d neglected to consider her messy middle part. I was looking at seasoned mamas and wondering why I couldn’t manage, but I was only a year and a half in. (Not that I’d say I have it all together NOW- I’m still kind of a mess. But it’s definitely less stressful now.)

It takes time, friend. It’s going to be okay. This season is dizzying and exhausting and beautiful and messy, but it really does get better. Give yourself grace and time to figure it out.

(Also, it’s fine to leave the kids in their car seats while you haul groceries into the house. Really.) 

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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spilling communion

This post was originally published in April of 2016, but it felt like a good fit for this month’s theme.

There have been some hard days around here lately.

Actually, there has been kind of a rash of them.

I can’t tell if it’s the standard third-trimester rage I’ve come to expect, but it’s kicking in several weeks early? (Oh good! Only sixteen or seventeen more weeks of this!) Or perhaps I’m just kind of worn down from a long run of a lot of hard work. I don’t know. In either case, I’m kind of mad at everything.

And guess who gets the bulk of it?

The little people who are with me and needing me all. the. time.

Those ones.

The ones I adore with my whole heart.

I’ve kind of turned into a stereotypical Walmart mom. (No judgment on the moms in Walmart yelling at their kids and everyone else. Just walking into the place makes me want to yell. Seriously.) I keep catching myself snapping or growling at them through my teeth. And I know it’s me. I know it is. The space I’m in right now is one where I don’t have a lot of ability to pay focused attention to discipline. Pregnancy makes me stupid, honestly. I forget the thing I just told my kid to do (or not to do) and then don’t think to follow up. But at the same time, I have greatly reduced patience to deal with badly-disciplined children. So…


Bad days.

Take, for example, this past Sunday.

It started out very much like the rest, in that I didn’t get up early enough to get through all the things I try to finish before I need to before the girls get up.

So I tried to plow through my list and my devotions while they were supposed to choose one of a few (quiet) options.

Instead, I spent a solid hour correcting them while trying to read the Bible. It was awesome. And then they finally decided to choose one of the things on the list of sanctioned activities (they chose putting away dishes over quiet reading time and some other option I don’t recall right now.) Within two minutes of finally choosing to obey, there was one Corelle dinner plate EXPLODED all over my entire kitchen. Seriously. I have no idea how that happens. But it was on every surface and covering the whole floor.

I had to get them out of the kitchen, clearly, and keep them out while I handled the mess. It killed me… the thing that effectively earned them a time out (despite all my qualifications- I wasn’t mad and they weren’t in trouble, I just needed them not to get hurt while I cleaned up the shards everywhere) was the choice to be obedient. It should never go down this way.

But whatever. You do what you gotta do.

So I cleaned it all up and Brian got up and everyone ate and got dressed and we made it to church (miraculously early?) and settled in.

Anyone reading this who attends the second service at my church knows this (because we are conspicuous), but the girls attend the “big service” with me (rather than Sunday School- some backstory there, but basically they don’t want to go and I’m philosophically in favor of having them learn to sit through the service with me) and we sit in the very front. (That’s where Grandma and Miss Amanda and Miss Kat sit- since Andrew’s in the back, it’s handy to sit near grownups who like them and are happy to lend hands if needed.) Sometimes it works out well. Sometimes, well, they’re preschoolers and kind of squirmy. And occasionally they’re naughty. There is usually a spectacle of some sort. (If nothing else, Katherine worships by twirling, which is adorable and also highly conspicuous and sometimes dangerous.)

This was a naughty Sunday.

The littler one was removed for disobedience of the disruptive variety. Twice. (The first time, on our way out, she grabbed the back of the empty first row of chairs across the aisle and dragged the whole row back a couple inches. Yay!)

We handled it (twice) and made it back into the service (again) just in time for communion.

Both girls have “asked Jesus to be their leader”and both really look forward to “juice and cracker days.” (I kind of cringe writing that. Yes, we talk at length about the meaning of it, why we do it, why they get to do it, what they’re supposed to be remembering, and still, it’s “juice and crackers!” they look forward to.) Our church’s practice is to hand out each element, then wait and take it all together. Katherine is still kind of figuring this out. She’s not quite yet four, so if you give her a cracker, she wants to eat it. We’re working on it.

And then the teeny tiny cups of grape juice come by. And, since we sit in the front, Katherine has a LONG time to hold that tablespoon of Welch’s in her squirmy little hands. And I’m whispering to her about Jesus making the sacrifice for the things we’ve done wrong and how that makes us right with God. Reminding, reminding, always teaching. They’re so small. And I’m grateful beyond words that the girls each truly love Jesus and are trying to learn to follow him, and I pray that Brian and the new little girl also love Jesus at an early age. But also there’s some abstract symbolism that’s kind of hard to convey to the under four set. Jenna gets it a little better. I’m hoping Katherine catches on soon. But at any rate, during my attempt at bringing the truth of it to her in a way that made any sense at all, she was fiddling with this bitty cup and…

Of course it spilled. Of course it did. And naturally, she was wearing the only fully white shirt either of them own right now.

I was aggravated a little (because, seriously, how many times do you think I’ve told her to hold it carefully?) but honestly, what struck me was the poetry of it.

Spilling communion. 

Making a total mess of the thing supposed to be pointing us back toward Jesus right this very second.


Monday morning, I finally, finally got up in time to read the Bible (and most of the other stuff on my morning checklist) before my kids needed any attention from me. And this is what greeted me.

Ephesians 5:1-2

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.

Dear children. Imitating. If there is one thing in all the world that I know, it’s how “dear children” imitate. Adoringly. Relentlessly. Often impeccably. And, more often, completely imperfectly.

Imperfectly is certainly how I’m imitating Christ’s example of love and sacrifice right now. I do love my kids. And I do try to serve them. In fact, I sacrifice most of my time and (limited) energy doing the things they need me to do these days.

Right now, they are the ones, in this passage, pointing me back toward Jesus.

And I’m making a total mess of it all.

Snapping. Growling through my teeth. Sometimes just out-and-out yelling.


Except when I don’t.

Make a mess of it all, that is.

Because, while none of this “imitating like dear children” had been fleshed out on Sunday, here’s how it went down.

“It’s okay. Let’s try to be more careful.”

“Spills happen. I know it was an accident.”

“I’ll take care of your shirt when we get home.”

And that’s what happened. OxiClean spray does a remarkable job with grape juice, among other things.

It’s fine.

And, while my own words and thoughts convict me frequently, as they did on this Sunday and on the one before, now and then the Spirit whispers grace back to me in the echoes of my own words as well.

“It’s okay. Let’s try to be more careful.” 

“Bad days happen. I know you love your kids, and My grace covers you now as well.”

“I took care of this on the cross.”

It’s gonna be fine.


Still no idea what to do about the rage issues besides take it one day at a time and ride the crazy hormones out. Any ideas? I’d take them.

How about you? In what way does God use your words to either convict or bring grace to you?

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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