THE ultrasound

(My sweet friend got me these little sleepers the week I tested positive with this baby. I’ve had them hanging where I can see them from my bed ever since, as a reminder that this is real.)

Here’s what I expect based on all the other kids:

  • Our chances of finding out gender are POOR. Both girls evaded on the first try at 20 weeks. (We got second chances and figured it out eventually both times.)
  • If we do find out whether we’re having a boy or a girl, I’ll spend much of the rest of the day mourning the baby that isn’t. One of those sweet sleepers will not be worn, likely ever by any baby of mine. (Is this normal? I have no idea. But so far, it’s happened every time and I’ll be darned if it’s going to surprise me again. I’ll just plan for it… it’ll pass.)
  • I’ll go in with an uncomfortably full bladder (like they ask me to) and the tech will immediately send me to the bathroom. I have no idea why reception always wants me to have a full bladder and the tech never does (a full bladder makes sense earlier, of course), but it’s happened every time.

Here’s what I’m expecting because this is the most neurotic pregnancy ever:

  • An anterior placenta. I haven’t felt this baby hardly at all, and I’m pretty sure (and the midwives agree) that it’s due to where my placenta is. Perfect, right? When I’m convinced like 80% of the time that baby is NOT okay, that’s definitely the pregnancy where I should have the hardest time feeling the reassuring squiggles, yes? Sigh.
  • A dead, dying, or severely disabled baby. There. I said it. I have a few friends that have gotten really bad news at this ultrasound and I’m just sure I’ll join them tomorrow. I’m really good at math. I understand that statistics are on my side. But it’s hard to math away the paranoia.

 

I’ve been struggling a lot this week (and by “week” I mean “pregnancy”) with the verses that command people not to fear. I’ve not been terribly successful (ever) feeling differently because I think I should. I see why “FEAR NOT!” worked well when God sent an angel or preincarnate Christ to someone… They were scary, but the assurance that no harm was coming goes a long way toward assuaging fear.

That doesn’t seem to translate very well this week.

So I’m looking (after some discussion with my husband) at some of the teaching passages in the New Testament that deal with fear and anxiety.

Philippians 4:6- Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Okay, so pray, ask, give thanks. Check.

Then there’s Matthew 6:27 that reminds me that worrying doesn’t gain anything.

True enough.


 

Now I’m working on choosing trust. While I’ve never had any luck thinking myself into a different emotion, I have at least a little success with acting my way into a different feeling.

When the worry creeps up and attacks (like my stinky baby brother would love to do), I at least have my to-do list. (I’m good at those!)

  • pray
  • ask
  • give thanks
  • remember the worry is helping nothing

We’ll see how it goes. If you have any thoughts or guesses on gender, I’d love to hear them! (In addition to changing emotions by changing actions, I can absorb the excitement of other people, so feel free to share some.) Navy stripes with monkey or lavender dots with polar bear? Or yet another stubborn modest baby?


(And here’s the post from the after the ultrasound!)

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on “enough” …and other things.

Andrew told me a couple weeks ago that he was “very satisfied” with me. It was kind of in a general context, not specifically related to anything I can remember. This speaks directly to the “enough” button in my heart. I struggle constantly with the fear that I am not, have never been, will never be enough. So hearing those words from his mouth was soothing to my heart.

Sort of.

Except…

Except… the last few weeks, I’ve been frickin’ on fire. ON. FIRE. All my daily, weekly, and monthly checklist items are done, as well as every single other thing I can think of to put on my to-do list. Its bizarre. I’ve run out of normal stuff to write on my list and started making crap up. I’m cleaning and decluttering spaces I haven’t touched (except to add junk to) since we moved in. I’m cleaning scuff marks off walls. Today I vacuumed the ceiling. True story.

It’s an illness or something. I don’t have time or energy to devote to this nonsense.

But still, I’m doing it. And, miraculously, my mothering is still on point, if I do say so myself. My kids are doing all the things they ordinarily do, and I’m handling all the crazy and any defiance with creativity and consistency. I’m finding stuff that’s working to discipline, which isn’t a small miracle, given my kids’ genetic propensity toward obstinance.

(I swear I’m not saying this to brag. I’m coming to a point here. Promise. Also, please note, NONE OF THIS IS NORMAL FOR ME.)

So randomly, inexplicably, I’m at my absolute, very best. Record best. And I feel kind of good, since I feel like, at least for now, I have my stuff together. But it also feels manic. Some of the busyness is about distracting myself from worrying about the baby. Some of it is simply trying not to fall asleep. I’m so tired lately, I’ve basically become narcoleptic. If I stop moving, I zonk out. And if I zonk out, the kids are almost certainly going to burn the house down.

So when I hear that I’m actually, truly, finally enough, I start to panic.

See, I know this isn’t sustainable. It can’t be. My energy will only go down and entropy will rule again for a good long while. This isn’t my first rodeo—I know how messy it all gets the last few months before baby and the first few months after. Third and fourth trimesters are killer.

So if I’m only enough at my all-time peak, what than? What if I drop all of the balls? Well, then I go back to regular. Regular, ordinary, never-gonna-be-enough me.

Is there grace enough for that?

Sunday school answer says “of course!” …but deep down in my gut? I don’t know. I just don’t. I mean, I’ll keep slogging through, of course. But somehow it seems demoralizing.

Was it easier when “enough” was strictly unattainable?


And why is Andrew’s assessment of my enoughness so key, anyway? [For the record: If I were to ask him right now, he’d tell me the concept of “enough” doesn’t even register as meaningful and when he said he was “very satisfied,” it wasn’t about me killing myself over the scuff marks on the walls.] Why is he the one I have to please? I mean, there are other people whose opinion should matter more. Like, I don’t know… God. And mine should possibly count, too, at least a little. But it’s my husband’s that I strive for.

If I’m being honest, God’s almost doesn’t count. I can’t possibly meet holiness as a standard. And the acceptance granted through Christ is freely available, so it says nothing at all about me. (Please don’t tell anyone I said that.)


..and then I actually talked to Andrew about it. After like a week of stewing.

He laughed at me.

“Of course. Because anything bad I say is about you and who you are inside. And anything good I say is about you’re circumstances and what you do. ‘Oh, the house! I’m so satisfied by the house. So… satisfying. The house.'”

Um.

Mind=blown.

And then he says, “Me? I’m the other way around. ‘Oh, Andrew, you’re so helpful and good looking.’ Yep. I know. ‘Oh, Andrew! I’m so pissed at you!’ I know. Because that thing happened. Are you over it yet? Because I was over it before you finished talking.”

The man kills me.

I mean, he’s not wrong. I expect him to be right in general… on rational topics. But when he whips out a dead-on insight about my emotional life? It freaks me out a little. He’s right. I internalize the bad and externalize the good. And since he goes the other way, I need to take his compliments and criticism the way he means it.

I have no idea how I’m going to shift this, but I think knowing about it is a good step one.


Immediately following that discussion, this hit me:

I’m hopelessly in love with each of my kids. Their each abundantly more than enough, as far as I’m concerned. Because their mine and their awesome. What if one of them wrote off my adoration? “She’s my mom. She has to think I’m awesome. It doesn’t count.”

It would break my heart if they discounted my opinion of them because I’m “obligated.” If they didn’t see that because I’m the mom, I see them at their worst and am still hopelessly in love. My opinion is more reflective of reality because of my position, not fewer.

…God is the ultimate Parent. I can’t write off His acceptance because it’s freely available and not based on what I do.

It’s based on Whose I am.

His opinion is more reflective of reality because of His position. Not fewer.


 

A’ight. So… reverse the things I internalize and externalize. Stop discounting God’s opinion of me.

Easy-peasy.

Sigh.

Paying attention is hard sometimes. If y’all have any thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

 

 

 

dear mama: you’re fighting the important battles

Dear mama of strong-willed littles,

This can be exhausting, right? You’re trying so hard to teach these small humans how to behave, how to be people, what is right and what is wrong, and how to choose right over wrong. And they seem determined that you’re not the boss of them. However they say it… fits, screams, sly disobedience, or (like one of mine) outright shouting “YOU DON’T HAVE AUTHORITY OVER ME!”… Well, it makes for long days and furtively consumed chocolate, no?

And sometimes the standoffs can last FOREVER. It’s stressful. It’s exhausting.

But you know what?

These are important battles you’re fighting.

These days feel like the WORST. But really? They’re also some of the best opportunities.

Seriously.

Any time you can handle defiance with calmness, consistency, and compassion, that’s the biggest possible win. You’re actively guiding your people towards right behavior. (And when “calmness, consistency, compassion” ends up being more than you can scrape up? It’s okay. Actually, it’s always more than I can scrape up- that’s where His grace is sufficient for me and His power is perfected in my weakness.)

Good days are nice, right? When everyone behaves reasonably well and keeps a happy heart?

But I’m convinced that the only way to get those with any regularity is by doing the hard work on the rough days.

So I just want to encourage you today. If this is what your life looks like right now, more often than you’d like… soldier on, sister. Don’t grow weary in doing good. Well, I don’t know. I’m weary of it… The rest of Galations 6:9 says, “for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we don’t give  up.” So it seems like the important thing is more about continuing, not allowing weariness to beat us. And doesn’t reaping a harvest sound great?

These hard days sometimes can make you feel like you’re doing it wrong. They may even cause people to tell you you’re doing it wrong. But actually? They may just be your golden opportunity to do it right.

There’s grace enough for this.


In case it’s not obvious, this is to me as much as to you. I don’t actually claim any authority to tell you how to do anything. But this is something I need to preach to myself an awful lot, so I thought maybe I’d share.

minigoals and unresolutions: february’s update

I wrote this post last month. It was random and navel-gazing, but also left me needing to write monthly sequels, so here is this month’s.


 

January: Get up early.

Check. (Update: as expected, getting up early looks a lot different off vacation. So my current wake-up time is a lot closer to the girls’ than I’d like. I’m fine-tuning it for real life still.)

February: Leave food on my plate at meals.

So… that actually didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. I did it whenever I thought of it. The theory was good. But the problem is mindfulness. I think about it as I sit down to most meals, but by the time I actually start eating (after getting back up for the milk I forgot or cutting up someone’s food or placating the hungry baby or whatever), so much chaos has happened that I’ve lost track. And then I eat, and then I’m finishing my meal, which is the time I’m supposed to be remembering that I’m leaving food. So… oops.

I’d still like very  much like to learn to be more mindful about eating, but this wasn’t my ticket to that. I’ll keep trying. That’s okay… that was kind of the point of the whole series of experiments.

So… March.

I’m getting back to flossing every night in the shower. (I honestly can’t believe I just wrote that sentence on the internet. New lows, my friends. I promise I will at no point start writing posts devoted to what I have for breakfast every day. That’s my line in the sand. Or blog. Whatever.) This has worked well for me in the past- I have a trigger (the shower) so I remember and it’s convenient. But at some point, I got lazy and stopped doing it as a matter of daily habit, so it’s time to fix that.

I need a win after trying and forgetting so consistently this month. Also? I have a cleaning coming up. So there’s that. (“Why yes, I DO floss daily, thankyouverymuch.”)

So how goes your 2016? Are you making progress toward the goals or attitudes you wanted?

I have no idea what I’m doing

This morning is a good morning.

It’s actually the kind I imagined as a kid. (I was the type of little girl that always dreamed of being a mother and glamorized it endlessly in my mind, which is funny, because I was the oldest of five, so I actually could have fairly easily figured out that raising children looked different from my picture, had I… I don’t know… paid any attention.) 

But in any case, it’s been really nice so far. (It’s early yet.) The girls woke up at a pretty normal time (Brian’s still sleeping) and stayed relatively quiet for the earliest part of the morning. (We have rules here about morning quiet hours. Some of you would scream “abuse!” and others would be jealous, but at any rate, it rarely works so well. But I keep trying, because that’s what this highly-sensitive mama needs to be a good mama.) Then they sat and read and talked with each other about interesting bugs, birds, and animals they saw in their book.

It’s the kind of morning I try to capture, because they’re so darn sweet and these just don’t come around that often.


 

Take yesterday, for instance.

Yesterday was hard.

I spent hours and hours doing the difficult kind of parenting that somehow never figured into my fantasies. Neither girl gave any bothers at all what mama said, as far as I could tell. For instance, I had this conversation with one of them, easily an hour before she was supposed to be up and talking:

Girl: Mama! I found the clippers.
Me: I found them for you, and it’s not time to talk.
G: I know how to keep my nails kind of long without clipping them!
M: Great. Still not time to talk.
G: But look what I found!
M: I’d love to see it and hear all about it… when it’s talking time.Which I keep saying, but you haven’t responded. I’d like a “yes mom.”
G: IT’S A FILE! ON THE CLIPPERS!

And this was how it began. It’s a small thing, but this is basically how the day went down. I talked, they ignored. And so I consequenced. (Yes, “consequence” is a verb in our house, according to the talking small people.) I got more assertive as the day went on.

There were long standoffs. Hours. “YOU! DO NOT! HAVE AUTHORITY! OVER ME!” was frequently shouted at me by one of them.

And I did what I needed to, as best and as calmly as I know how.

But the necessity of it made me doubt myself. Hours of preschooler standoffs scream to me, “YOU CANNOT POSSIBLY BE DOING THIS RIGHT!”


Last night was my Process Night. Andrew and I swap nights every week. One night a week I take care of dinner and bedtime while he goes off and reads or wanders or does whatever he wants, really, and another night it’s my turn. Last night it was my turn. And thank goodness, because I was DONE. My hope had been to write some before going to a friend’s house, but writing didn’t happen, because spending all day parenting in the most active and unpleasant ways sucks all the coherent thoughts right out of my head. So I read some young adult fiction while I ate dinner, then went to hang out with a friend I’d not gotten much time with the last couple of months.

This friend is dear to me, but also very, very different. She’s very rational and organized and consistent with her kids. When I have issues with my kids, I actually frequently think, “You know, if I parented like she does, I bet I wouldn’t have these issues. She doesn’t seem to.” So, given my day, I was a little apprehensive about telling her the truth about my day, because, though she’s too kind to say so, I was just sure she would’ve done better with my scenarios today than I did. She doesn’t have days like this.

But, as it turned out, she does. And it was an incredible gift to me to hear this mom had basically the same day I did. She is so dear to me, but also does it so much like I wish I could, and she has the same problems with her kid of a similar age.

A revelation.

Suddenly, maybe, just maybe, I’m not doing it all wrong.


So… What if I’m that mom for one of you?

Honestly, I try really hard to have my stuff together in general, at least in public, not because I want to look good to you all so much as because I hate feeling flustered and my kids getting out of hand when I’m out and about flusters me. But also, I feel like it’s total chaos so much of the time (and I see all my lows) and I have a hard time imagining someone thinks I have it all together. But I’m betting my friend feels the same way sometimes. So, just in case, what if I am that mom?

Let me give you one of the many gifts she gave me last night. I’m just going to be honest.

I have no idea what the heck I’m doing.

Like, ever.

I’m making this up as I go, probably the same as you.

I love my kids, same as you.

I want desperately for them to grow up into kind, functional human beings. I want them to fall in love with Jesus and follow him with their whole hearts. I want them to know how to respond to authority. I want them to know how to interact with peers. I want them to know how to treat those smaller or weaker than they are. I want them to be respectful and to clean up after themselves and to care for the people around them.

And I don’t know how.

I have read dozens of parenting books. I have decent instincts and a great and deeply internalized model for motherhood. (Thanks, Mom!) I know what the Bible has to say. I have the Holy Spirit guiding me. But I still struggle to apply it all and come up with the right thing to do at the exact moment that one of the kids does something crazy. (Which is basically every minute of every day.)

It’s not an easy gig, this mothering thing. I get it. I’m with you. We’re all doing what we can with what we’ve got. And that’s okay.

You aren’t doing it all wrong. You’re just not.


In case you thought, based on the beginning of the post, that my day or life is perfect, it’s spiraled completely out of control. While writing this, one of my kids, within my sight, took 15 seconds of inattention to stand on the table and spin the light fixture and the thing fell half out of the ceiling.

Sorry, Andrew.

So I may not be doing it all wrong, but I’m clearly not doing all of it right, either.

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enough for even today

So today was rough.

I yelled too much. I zoned out too much. I disciplined too little, too late, to inconsistently.

I whined about my kids on facebook. (To my facebook friends, which is to say… all of you, I’m sorry about that.) That’s kind of graceless, whining about a privilege that some women would give appendages to have.

I can hear a lot of you, my gracious, kind friends… We’ve all been there. It’s just a rough day. It’ll get better. Tomorrow’s a new day. I can hear you because I am you. I’ve said those things. Not to myself, typically, of course. But to my friends. You know. People I like. I say those things.

I texted a friend, my person, knowing she would ask me what I could do to mitigate the disaster. So I preempted her and, as I was texting her, came up with a recovery plan. I’d do something sort of fun but energy burning while Brian was down to get the girls’ wiggles out and get myself a little exercise at the same time. I mean, the problems were obvious. Most notably, I had to make it two hours until naptime and a LOT can happen in two hours that could derail the plan. But still.

Maybe it would work.

It did.

Sort of. Brian went down. I got a few things that would entertain and (more importantly) wear the girls out. I got some exercise, which made me feel better, anyway. But they were still crazy and required more supervision than I had capacity to give. And now I needed a shower.

Shoot.

(In the interest of finishing part of a story, which is a luxury I rarely get, I should tell you how the shower thing went down. I put Katherine, the one more prone to destruction at this point, in time-out next to the shower where I could see her, and left Jenna to do dishes, which she loves. And by “do the dishes,” I definitely mean “play with water, eat brown sugar and raw oatmeal and wash zero dishes,” but whatever. By this point in the day, it mattered very little.)

So… Now that I’m past it, and, by happy accident (or, realistically, God’s grace) out of the house, away from the chaos, what do I do about it?

I mean, obviously I see the pattern… the chaos overwhelms my senses, so I tune out. Just for a second. Just to focus on something besides the crazy for a tiny bit. But a tiny bit turns into a couple minutes. The kids get frustrated that I’m not paying attention to them or their requests (demands) and they get louder. And they realize that my inattention is really an opportunity. Preschoolers with opportunities are dangerous. And the chaos increases. I snap back to real life long enough to be like what the heck is wrong with these tiny humans?!? and react to whatever ridiculous thing just happened. Spoiled milk is cleaned from the carpet. Clean (but dog hairy) laundry is shaken off or tossed back in, based on general fuzziness. Bites are tended, water mopped up. Various consequences are administered with as much reasonableness as I can muster. But the damage is done and my senses are further overwhelmed, so I could use a bit more of a break. So I tune out for another minute. Facebook is good for that. As is texting. Or really whatever makes me feel like I’m interacting with normal adult people rather than the crazy ones who temporarily replaced my darling babies.

And on it goes.

So this is clearly at least mostly my fault. I mean, they’re preschoolers. What else am I supposed to expect?

I could brainstorm more productive fixes for the overwhelm, clearly.

I could go through the mental recording of the day looking for things I need to make right with the kids. (Sorry is a big thing around here.)

I could just sit in the frustration of having gotten sucked into zoning out and letting the day spiral out of control… again.

And a few of those things (at least the first two) really ought to be done.

But, for now, for just a minute, I’m going to pretend for that it was someone else’s day. What if this was Alycia? Audrey? Staci? Any of you?

Here’s what I’d message you. (And I guarantee it’d be a written message- the chances of spitting this all out in a voice conversation are nil.)


Oh, I’m SO SORRY you had that day. I have that day all the time, too. It’s ok. Really. the kids will be ok. They won’t hate you forever, and they probably won’t end up delinquents. Not based on today, anyway. And this isn’t your every day. It happens now and then, but it’s still the exception, not the rule. It sucks. But it’s gonna be ok. God loves your kids. You love your kids. One bad day doesn’t change that at all. And they know that. There’s enough grace for you. Even today. Instead of zoning out, would it work to actually put yourself in time-out? Or, you know, take a conveniently-timed bathroom break? Then they’d know you weren’t available? Or if they were being naughty anytime you left the room, is there a way to occupy them so you could step away? Something? I don’t know. Just some thoughts. Get some rest. Give yourself a break. God’s got this.

Ha. There it is. Rest and a break and there’s plenty of grace to go around. And actually step away, rather than looking like I’m present without actually being available. (Did I tell myself that, before I went and pretended it was your day? No. This shouldn’t be such revolutionary advice, as it’s pretty standard from me, but it hits me as a shock, just the same.)


This whole exercise is cracking me up. At this moment, I’m not sure I’ll publish it. (I don’t even have a picture!) But if I do, would you consider trying it? Next time you catch yourself in self-judgment, maybe pretend that it’s me in your shoes, and I’m just venting to you about it? What would you say to me or to another friend? What would you say if you didn’t automatically spew all the angry, blaming things people tend to say to themselves? Just a thought. Give yourself a little bit of the grace you’d give to a friend.

missing the mark

The moon was low over the ocean and nearly full, shining like a spotlight on the water.

No, really. Like a literal spotlight on the water, with a huge bright patch out toward the horizon. I’d never seen anything like it before, to be honest. Possibly because I live in the state with the most coastline (by far) but smack in the middle, so I’m 6 hours from any ocean. I’ve since noticed the sun does a similar thing toward sunset (and probably just past sunrise, if I were East-facing) but it seems cooler when everything else is dark.

Two mornings ago, I was driving to coffee around 6 and couldn’t miss this sight down the hill. It made me want to cry, honestly. And I’m not typically much of a crier. (Please don’t try to verify that with my husband- his definition of “crier” isn’t especially generous.) I’m not sure if I was feeling a little weepy from the beauty or from the panic that comes with the inability to keep it… I had no camera besides my phone with me, and I knew I’d never do it justice, even with the best gear.

But, again, wonder. Curiosity and awe. The awe was there, but I was curious what I’d catch if I gave it a go. So yesterday, I went down with my camera around 6. The moon was a little higher and smaller, so the effect was less dramatic, but it was actually full and still beautiful.

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Looking at it now, it’s not a terrible shot, I suppose. Not especially stunning, but certainly could be worse.

But if you’d seen it, you’d know how completely disappointing this is. The scene was glorious. This is… ok.

I went to coffee pretty irritated with myself, actually. I wish I’d brought a tripod. (I used the corner post of a gate to steady the camera for the long exposure.) I wish I had a remote shutter release so I didn’t bump the camera when I pushed the button. (A friend asked last night why I didn’t just use the timer. …Because I didn’t think of it, that’s why.) My training and experience is limited. I could probably have done slightly better with a full-sized sensor and a lens that costs more than my first car, too. But even if we solved all those problems, there’s really no way I could’ve done justice to the glory God was painting for just anyone who was up early and near the ocean to see.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Romans 3:23. That’s what came to mind. (I realize this sounds pretentiously pious. I’m sorry.) 

The word “sin” has archery origins… it’s missing the mark. Not a perfect bull’s eye. To be clear, to take this verse and apply it directly to photography is a terrible mishandling of Scripture. But I was so acutely aware of my complete inability to capture the glory I saw, and it was a vivid picture to me of just how much I cannot, under any circumstances, in any way, ever be good enough to “deserve” anything good from God.

It isn’t about the good outweighing the bad.

I just can’t get there from here.

But I can’t, in good conscience, quote Romans 3:23 that way. That isn’t what the verse says. Punctuation matters.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

That’s what the verse says. The first letter isn’t the beginning, and there is no period at the end. Romans 3:23 is a fragment in the middle of one of Paul’s characteristically long sentences. Let’s look at the whole paragraph. (Better yet, the whole chapter or book, but for the sake of space, we’ll “think paragraphs” as the book I just read suggests.)

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. 

(Romans 3:21-26, NIV. Emphasis mine.)

We’re all the same. We have all sinned. we do all fall short of God’s glory… And. 

“And” is kind of a big deal here. (And by “kind of a big deal,” I definitely mean “ACTUALLY the biggest deal there is, as far as humankind is concerned.” ) 

We can’t get there from here. But God sent a rescuer to make it possible. We’re “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

I’m still disappointed in the pictures I took yesterday. But I wonder if the inability of mere mortals to fully capture or reproduce God’s handiwork isn’t, at least in part, to point us to our need for grace. God makes sunrises, sunsets, gorgeous moons on oceans, little flowers that nobody ever sees… every day. And I can’t perfectly capture any of it. And, as good as some photographers and artists are, they can’t either. The very best efforts from the most talented people can’t quite match the kind of artistry God produces every day, all over the world. He’s totally other.

But also, He makes a way for us to be with Him.

It’s grace. (And somehow, even “grace” feels like too small a word. How can this be the same word that we use for saying “Thank you, Jesus, for this food, Amen.” before a meal?)


 

Is this new to you? Do you not know what I’m talking about?

This is a big freaking deal. I don’t know how else to say it. I know if “sin” and “redemption” and “Jesus” (in the proper sense, talking about a person) are not part of your regular vocabulary, a lot of this sounds like religious nuttery. But if I have your attention for just another second, I have to tell you about it. Not because I’m right and you’re wrong, but because eternity is a long time and I’d like to hang with you in Heaven for it. (Also, Heaven isn’t boring like the pictures of angels and harps.)

So… in a nutshell…

God is real.

So are sin and hell.

Being “good enough” isn’t a thing. We seriously can’t get there from here.

But God loves you. And He wants YOU. (I know. That sounds ludicrous. But it’s true.) So He made a way for you to be with Him.

(It gets crazier.)

God is good. Perfect, in fact. And He has to punish sin, and that punishment is death. In a spiritual, forever, super sad and scary sense.

But Jesus (who is-and, again, I realize this makes not a lot of sense- God’s Son, and fully God) came to Earth, was punished for our wrongs, our inability to be perfect, and rose again, proving he wins over sin and death.

You don’t have to pay for all the things you’ve ever done wrong! Yay!

So… Here’s all there is to it: talk to God. Tell him you know you’ve missed the mark and can’t be good enough. Ask him to take away your sins and save you. He gives you the Holy Spirit. (Some more crazy: also God. The third person of the Trinity. One God, three distinct persons. No, I don’t really get it, either.) The Holy Spirit makes it possible for you to follow Jesus and do what he says (though still imperfectly, for now.) Since God created us, living the way he recommends is actually the recipe for the fullest, most abundant life, so, while this might look like a loss, it isn’t.

More questions? I don’t blame you. I don’t explain it especially well. (More evidence of my ineptitude at capturing.) Talk to a friend who loves Jesus and believes the Bible is true. Or talk to me. I’d love to discuss it more with you, if this is something you’re interested in learning more about. 

my not-resolutions

Resolutions have never been my thing. I know some people get all excited about a fresh slate and decide to work out every day for the year or lose twenty pounds or whatever, but I know myself, and the idea of making a resolution to do something every day inspires rebellion, not excitement. My actual resolutions this year are likely to include things like “write ‘2016’ on checks, at least most of the time, at least by July.” (Since I write about one check a month, this should be OK, as long as I take my time.) Also, “Hear at least part of Adele’s ‘Hello’ every day that I leave my house.” Check.

At the same time, I’m learning the value of creating healthy habits. When something that’s good for me becomes automatic, my life becomes just a little easier and better. And seriously? I could use just a little easier most days.

So, since this year is about wonder for me, I was kind of brainstorming some ways to get positive habits going without too much trauma or rebellion or self-loathing, and what I’ve settled on is kind of mini-resolutions. Except not so resolutionish.

Every month, I’m going to try something new. And I’m going to see how many days I can do it for the month. No self-judgment if I miss days, just “let’s see how many I can get.” I’ve often heard that 21 days is how long it takes to establish a habit, so I figure trying something for a month (or most of it) should be enough to determine if something is working for me and, if so, at least sort of establish it as habit. This is self-improvement by way of “throw stuff against the wall and see what sticks.” Should be a good time.

I need to be mindful of a couple of natural constraints. For instance, January’s nearly over, so I need to pick something that I can retroactively do daily. “Get up early.” Boom. I haven’t gotten up later than 6:30 since the 3rd (and the one day I woke as late as 6:30 was an anomaly and made for a pretty rough morning.) I’m going to call this a win, though it’ll be interesting to see how it works out when I rejoin real life, where adults are not plentiful and naps are not likely. This one sticks.

But there are a couple other things to consider. My energy level is going to drop steadily through July, then in August, I’ll have a baby at the beginning, start homeschooling Jenna (and maybe Katherine? Jury’s still out) at the end, and travel 12,000 miles in the middle. So… that one needs something really, really doable. Like drinking water. Yes. I believe water drinking will be August’s goal. Experience tells me that, in that first month of breastfeeding, my thirst is completely insatiable, so this shouldn’t even take any extra brainpower.

Also, December. December needs to be a really easy month, because it’s always insane between holidays, birthdays, and travel prep. Extra grace for the last month of 2016.

Want to see the rest of the list? I thought so.

(Actually, this is mostly for my reference. I’m not quite narcissistic enough to think my potential habits are fascinating reading for anyone but me. They’re not even terribly interesting to me, but I need to keep track of them, and this seems as good a place as any.)

Here are some things that are not currently daily habits for me, but I think might be useful:

  • floss
  • drink a smoothie
  • move my body
  • leave food on my plate at meals
  • write “rambling pages.” (Stream-of-consciousness nonsense that tends to clear my head a bit.)
  • two minutes of meditation
  • write in a daily prayer journal
  • take a picture with my big camera
  • not yell
  • not complain
  • write a haiku
  • read a poem
  • work on scripture memorization
  • write a note to a friend
  • work on photo books (admission: this is not about self-care or positive habits so much as tackling a backlog that’s obscene. I’m on October of 2013 currently, I believe.)
  • declutter for 10 minutes a day

I count 16. Out of 10 available months (since January and August are set.) My temptation at this point is to start assigning habits to months, but honestly? Who am I to decide in January what I’m going to want to do every single October day? Or even most of them? Pfft. Again, that kind of certainty makes me feel automatically rebellious. No better than a single “every day of 2016…” kind of resolution, as far as I’m concerned.

Current plan (obviously subject to change): I’ll pick next month’s goal toward the end of the current month. I’ll let you know how it goes. At this moment, most of those look totally doable and I want to start them all RIGHT NOW. Which is crazy, because that’s kind of a recipe for disaster and defeat. But, because we’re talking about just trying stuff in a low-key way, it’s likely I’ll try a little of this and a little of that even on months where those habits are not my focus. (For instance, I swear I’m not going to put off flossing until April or whenever it lands. Eew.)

For February?

I think I’ll try not to clean my plate at every meal. As a step toward mindful eating and a step away from food as a functional savior. (It’s not really that good at it anyway.)

Are you still reading? WHY? This post is kinda killing me with the navel-gazing and minutia. But at the same time, I’m hoping it makes you think a little about simple ways to bring in useful habits. Because we all could handle life just a little bit easier.  I’d love to hear what helpful little habits are working for you, and which you might like to try.

 

wonder

So I’m gonna be really honest. (You know, because it’s my blog and stuff, and that’s what I do.) The idea of choosing a single word to focus on has been increasingly popular the last several years. I’ve done it for the last two. (Present in 2014 and First in 2015.) But… I still don’t know if I’m doing it right. I mean, it’s a word. I’m not sure how one does “it” right or wrong. But there’s a book about it! And I haven’t read it! So I don’t know if there’s something I should be doing differently or not. (I’m freaking the heck out about this, and have been for about two years now. That’s it. Ordering the book.) (20 minutes later, there are THREE books by different authors. And an internet movement. Why did I not know about this? I’ll figure it out later.)

Oh my goodness. Are you still here? I’m sorry. I’ll try to focus. (Maybe “focus” should be my word. But it isn’t.)

So here we are. Picking a word. It was going to be “curious.” Don’t you love it? I figured out over the course of the last year or two that when I get curious, I handle problems and conflicts differently. And then a couple weeks ago, I read Brené Brown’s book, Rising Strong, and she had this great quote in there:

A study published in the October 22, 2014 issue of the journal Neuron suggests that the brain’s chemistry changes when we become curious, helping us better learn and retain information.

(Yes, I realize I just quoted a quote. But Rising Strong is worth reading, so I’m gonna leave it.)

Curiosity is always the point at which I stop fighting and start finding a way out, both within my own heart and basically in any relationship that’s perplexing me.

My kids are being crazy? When I stop reacting to them and start asking, “What is going on with them? With me?” that’s where the solutions start to emerge and the day begins to turn around.

Or say I’m fighting with my husband. (You know, that one time.) (Just kidding.) If I can stop holding on to why I’m right and he’s mean and turn my thoughts to curiosity, my heart changes and gets softer toward him and that’s generally when we start climbing out of the fight and moving toward each other. “What is really going on here? What’s the story he’s making up about this? What’s the story I’m making up about it?”

When I’m reading the Bible and find myself glazing over, lost in the familiarity of it, curiosity brings my heart back to engagement. “What was God doing here? What’s this say about Him? …”

When I just feel off, a moment of quiet (let’s be serious, this is definitely in the bathroomand a genuine, nonjudgmental “what is my deal today?” frequently moves me several steps in the direction toward at least finding the problem, and perhaps also toward a solution.

I like “curious” because it helps me climb out of whatever story I’m making up about a situation and helps me see it (or the other person) more clearly. Climbing out of my own story is tricky. It isn’t really that hard, but I have to be paying enough attention to realize I’m inside it in the first place. It’s so easy to just think the thing I’m seeing is reality, but that isn’t ever really the case. What I see is reality plus. Reality plus my history, worldview, my story. And looking at it with curiosity doesn’t necessarily fix that, but it gives me a chance to at least see the things I might be adding to reality that might be making it a little less clear. But I really think spending a year being intentionally curious would build that habit into my heart.

And then the word “wonder” hit me.

Because it’s cheating. If I pick Wonder, I get two for one. I get curiosity, but I also get awe. To be fair, curiosity gets me two meanings, too, but the alternate meaning is “odd.” I like “awe” better. Awe points me straight to the One worthy of awe, and the Giver of all things that make me marvel.

Awe, for me, leads immediately to gratitude. And not the popular, objectless gratitude that’s super trendy right now. (You know, the same kind that has been practiced by secular culture at thanksgiving forever, where one can be thankful for all the good things without necessarily acknowledging a good God that gives all the good things.) Awe requires I look up from the gift to the One who gives it. Then, necessarily, to all the greater gifts He’s also given.

For instance, I’m currently at a coffee shop. I’m thankful for the yummy iced mexilatte I just drank and the relative quiet I get when I’m here. Nobody expects me to talk, and nobody needs me to help them with anything bathroom related. I haven’t been called “mom” since about three this morning. (Don’t get me wrong- I love being “mom” but also I love NOT being “mom” and just being some lady in a coffeeshop.) Looking through the lens of awe, though, I notice that GOD did that. God gave me this incredible gift of some time that’s quiet, where I get to collect my thoughts and fully enjoy the magic of iced coffee and Mexican chocolate served by cheerful and friendly people. God gave me coherent thoughts, which is NOT a small thing in my life. And a chance to borrow Andrew’s laptop, so I can write said thoughts without making my hand fall asleep (it’s a weird pregnancy thing) and without the painstaking pecking with my thumbs that is required to put any thoughts in on my phone. But all of these, while huge blessings to me this morning, are really, really small up against the really big gifts. Like life. Everything. Salvation.

Awe pushes me to zoom out. Way out.

So “wonder.”

Because the combination of curiosity and awe is precisely where I want my heart to land this year.


So how about you? Do you have a word this year? I’d love to hear it.

thoughts converge

There’s a lime-sized baby floating around in my basketball-sized belly. I popped over a week ago, well before the end of trimester 1. Looking like 5 months at 11 weeks. Thanks, fourth-slash-fifth baby!

My fears for the lime/baby have been unreasonably large for the last twenty-four hours. The story I’m making up is that I’ll go in roughly two and a half weeks from now and they won’t find a heartbeat. Then the ultrasound will find a baby that’s been lost for a couple of weeks. And then I’ll wait to miscarry. Then I will, and it’ll be horrific and far more physically traumatic than losing Hope, because the baby is bigger than Brian’s pinky toenail this time—closer to the size of his foot.

I lost a couple months to depression after Hope, then a couple more to early pregnancy, and the three kids I DO have basically haven’t seen a fully functional mother since summer. I have no idea how long this would take me down. I’ve counted four children since shortly after Brian was born (very disconcerting in public spaces to come up one short all. the. time.) But if I lose babies four and five? Perhaps I should take the hint and take up sudoku instead, because clearly raising four children is not what I’m made for.

This is the kind of crazy I’ve been talking myself down from the last little while. Note to the several adults living in the house with me on vacation: this is why my lack of words and margin. It’s not you. It’s me.

 


 

This morning was to be my fifteenth consecutive morning run. But on my fourteenth, I recognized a twinge that, in 2008, signaled a stress-fractured tibial plateau. I pushed through then, and it set off a chain of events that mark that one stupid 5K (!!!) as the single worst thing that’s ever happened to my health.

God designed our bodies well. Some kinds of pain are warning lights that we shouldn’t ignore. So as much as I wanted to run this morning, I chose to walk a little bit instead, in order to honor the body that works pretty well for me and the good God who designed it with wisdom and warning lights. (Please note how I just took a day off jogging as an honest act of worship.)


 

On the drive between where I run and where I drink coffee that’s become part of my morning liturgy over the last two weeks, I was pondering both my Big Fears and my disappointment over not being able to run today. (Or perhaps this week, which means it may be the end of summer before I run again, based on location and circumstances.) Then, in the healing way He sometimes does, the Holy Spirit connected the two. And I wish it was assurance that the good God who designed my body to warn me before I hurt myself badly also designed my body to hold, grow, and deliver this child alive and healthy in July, but that wasn’t what I heard. No, the thing I was impressed by was His goodness, wisdom, and mercy, regardless of outcomes. Am I still nervous about this baby I desperately want to meet this summer? Oh, man. But my hope doesn’t lie in a healthy fourth (-slash-fifth) baby. My hope is in the person of God, who knit each of my five babies together inside me and numbered the days of every one of them. His goodness is no less if the story I made up about the loss of this one comes true, and it is no greater if I deliver yet another crazy awesome Chapman baby in six months.


I still wish I knew how this was going to play out. But God knows. And eventually, so will I.