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.

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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.

IMG_1411[1]

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.

 

 

 

gifts from 2015

At the beginning of the year, my focus was on keeping first things first, with several areas within that I wanted to emphasize.

Seven subfocuses: too many. The things that floated to the top throughout the year were creative. This was the year of singing, shooting, and writing. The others (move, connect, quiet, organize) showed up in and out, but to a lesser extent.

I started singing again in the Spring (thanks to my fantastic mother-in-law who takes over my jobs at home so I can make it to practices and Sunday mornings.)

I made a goal of busting out the big camera daily. While I didn’t manage daily (I probably brought it out one day out of two… or three), I took a lot more pictures this year than I did the year before, which is a win. (I’m aiming for improvement, not perfection.) I even got a chance to share with some others by taking family pictures for a few friends!

Then in October, I held my breath and joined a writer’s group (thereby bringing writing from “casual hobby” to “actual thing” in my own head) and just that motivation (and mental shift) has meant about twice as many posts in the last three months as in all of 2014.


 

Self-care was a thing this year. I took an e-course called Replenish 365 where we spent the year making tiny shifts every week toward living well. I think the first week we focused on ways to get extra water, and we built from there… through limbic calm, nutrition, rest, movement, and then into connection and alignment, just a little at a time. And you know what? I probably currently have in play about 20% of the tools we learned, but that 20% is all stuff I wasn’t doing before, and it has me in a much calmer place now than I was in January. Also, once you take the course, you’re free to retake it as many times as you like, so I get to pick up some more of those tools this year. (If you’re interested in useful tools, Replenish is also a book.)


 

I learned I’m a pen-and-paper kind of girl. a friend got me hooked on this crazy expensive planner (though if you get the link from a friend who’s bought one, you at least get $10 off) and two things happened. First, I learned that there’s a crazy ridiculous planner girl community. There are tens of thousands of people who decorate every weekly (or monthly or daily) layout in fun and creative ways. Who knew? And then I figured out that when I merge my creative right brain with my mildly OCD left brain, the result is both fun and productive. I started getting a lot more things done with a lot less “what was I doing again?” So that’s happening again in 2016.


 

Related to that, a book I read in 2014 talked about the benefits of checklists in many different disciplines. (It sounds dry, but Gawande is one of my favorite authors. Very readable, fascinating stuff.) So I applied it and made myself checklists, then tweaked them repeatedly, and
eventually settled on these stickers that go in my planner. It’s not about filling in all the dots so much as keeping track of little things that are easy IMG_1173to forget, but don’t cost me much effort for the benefit. (Like starting a load of laundry early or taking my vitamins.) Instead of getting discouraged about unchecked bubbles for a day or week, I see how many I can do. I have yet to score a perfect week, but that doesn’t worry me.


 

This is a weird one, but I learned that Chux pads are indispensable when dealing with preschoolers with stomach bugs. Saved so much laundry. (I put them on beds or wherever the kids were.) Gross, but there’s a free little tip for the mamas. I felt like a genius.


 

Gratitude isn’t a new thing for 2015. I read Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts in maybe 2012, and thought, “hey! A gratitude journal seems simple enough.” The practice changed. my. life. The act of looking for things to thank God for every day has revolutionized the way I see the world around me. This TEDtalk mentions it as one of a few ways to rewire your brain for happiness, and I can certainly say it has made a substantial difference in mine. This year, I was a little flakier about actually writing them down every day than I have been, which has been negative in that once a habit starts to slip, it becomes easier to let it go more frequently. But it’s been positive to see that, even when I don’t write it down, I find myself whispering prayers of thankfulness throughout the day, and I see my kids doing the same. (And they never write anything down.)


 

And I’ll leave you with a couple “favorites” of the year.

Favorite book:

emperor of all maladies

It was a really interesting look at the disease from ancient history to now. I found it surprisingly hopeful, surprisingly readable, and not surprisingly VERY interesting.

Favorite picture:

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Everybody now: “Awwwww….” I love that I got this sweet moment. They aren’t frequently found holding hands, so major score that I captured it!

Favorite movie:

martian

Okay. Full discloure: this is the only movie I watched in theaters this year. Also? It belongs under favorite book. Andrew started reading it one night while I was washing dishes. He was laughing out loud. I’m like, “What’s so funny?” He says, “I just started this book and it’s AWESOME.” Me: “So… read it to me, if you just started.” So we read it out loud together. It destroyed about a week and a half of bedtimes. 11:15 every night: “Aw, man! It’s late! …One more chapter?” I’m pleased to report that the movie, while it couldn’t fit all the coolness of the book, was a relatively good adaptation. I highly recommend both.

Favorite post of mine:

This one. About the SCOTUS decision that fell on my eleventh wedding anniversary.

It was terrifying to post, because I try by best to avoid politics whenever I can. It’s not necessarily my favorite because I think it’s revolutionary or especially well-written. It’s my favorite because it shows me that I can find the courage and the words to speak my mind when I need to (even in public) with some grace and some truth. I’ve done it since then, and wound up with a bit more friendly fire when I posted about refugees, but this one was the first.


How about you? What worked for you this past year that you’d like to carry forward? What was a favorite of yours this year?

the one place grace cannot be found…

I stumbled upon this post many years ago. I hope you’ll take the time to read it. Here’s how this truth has saved my heart countless hours of struggle. I hope it lodges in your head and heart the way it’s lodged in mine. Here are the some of the ways it plays out in my life.


 

I have an ultrasound in a few days. Just an early one to date the pregnancy. No big deal. Except… It’s a big freaking deal. My mind whirls with a couple of possibilities, but repeats them over… and over… and over again. What if something’s wrong? What if nothing’s wrong and I get complacent and then lose the baby later anyway? What if something’s wrong…?

Then, rushing into my head and heart like a warm flood are these words of Elizabeth Elliott: “There is no grace for your imagination.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of looking for grace everywhere.

But I have found one place God’s grace isn’t: my worst-case scenarios.

Or, more precisely, my projection of my worst-case scenarios. Because when I’m fretting about the worst, one thing I never, ever do is count on God’s grace. I mean, I imagine a thousand different outcomes of whatever catastrophe might befall me, but I actually always forget that His grace will meet me there.

Just me?

God gives us grace enough for the day we have. Whatever situation I find myself in, I find His grace there as well. Even when it’s bad. Even when it’s my own fault. But when I start outpacing the now and start fretting about might, I am working outside of my actual situation- you know, the one He’s given me grace for.


 

Last Wednesday early morning, Brian woke up needing to nurse in the early hours. While I was feeding him, for some reason it crossed my mind that we haven’t had a stomach bug in a while and we’re probably due and I hate stomach bugs. Hate them. Hate having them, hate cleaning up after kids who have them. I’m the biggest nausea/vomiting wuss ever. But as I was sitting there pondering the horror that is stomach bugs (instead of enjoying a rare wee-hours moment with my not-so-baby boy) the Holy Spirit reminded me of the truth I know: there is no grace for my imagination. IF we wind up with a stomach bug, God’s grace will meet me there and give me what I need to handle it, just like He has done every single time before. The end.

Four hours later, Katherine threw up on the carpet.

You know what? It was a good day. Katherine was basically constantly sick in all kinds of inconvenient places around my house, then I got sick, then Jenna, then Andrew. But we had a pretty chill day watching movies and giving baths. People around me loved and served me in ways that were so outside their job descriptions and my expectations that I was blown away. (Not that it took so much- I could hardly stand up straight.)

It was fine.

Now I know this is a comparatively little disaster, but it illustrates the larger reality. When the Big Fears enter my mind, the truth remains.


 

When Andrew’s on a long drive and I haven’t heard from him in a while and I become absolutely convinced he’s dead… There is no grace for my imagination. If that actually happens, God’s grace will meet me there.

When I worry that my kids will get seriously ill or injured or make terrible, destructive choices…There is no grace for my imagination. If that actually happens, God’s grace will meet me there.

When I have a weird pain and I convince myself I probably have cancer and I’ll be sick forever on chemo (see also: biggest nausea/vomiting wuss ever), then probably die soon anyway, leaving my husband and tiny children to fend for themselves… (I know. I’m kind of neurotic. Just go with it.)…There is no grace for my imagination. If that actually happens, God’s grace will meet me (and them) there.

When I worry that I’ll be forced to choose between Trump and Hillary in an election… There is no grace for my imagination. If that actually happens, God’s grace will met me there. (Kidding.) (Ok, definitely not. Thank goodness for the reality of grace.)

Do you see where I’m going? (Of course you do.) This covers an awful lot of my catastrophizing. (Isn’t that a great word? Hard to say without concentrating really hard, but a great word.) It also covers a lot of fairly legitimate fears. (And by “a lot,” I mean “all.”)

Because the truth is, if or when the worst actually happens, His grace will always be there.

Jenna’s fifth birthday

Hello again, there, my girl.

(Did you know I love the excuse to write you a big long letter? To put together many of the words that I think about you all at once? This is fun.)

Happy birthday, baby. Did you know you’re beautiful? Seriously. Inside and out, regardless of whether or not you have a twirly dress on. Your sparkling eyes, your magical smile, your lovely hair. (“Does she have a natural ombre??” Did I, the mom who only makes my children wear socks when we’re going to play at McDonald’s, spend time and money getting that done at a salon? Um, no. Yeah. Totally natural.) Your kind attitude. Your amazing sense of humor. Your sweet words. I could go on forever.

It’s been a fun year, hasn’t it? I just read last year’s letter to you, and some of the things I was looking forward to didn’t happen. The swim lessons (sorry- I can’t adequately convey my frustration with the system of swim lesson signups here), the schooly stuff (you’re learning some letters and words and can write stuff if I spell it, but… yeah. Formal schoolwork at home didn’t happen much this year. You were busy learning to be a person and I was too busy teaching you and the others how to be little people. We’ll get there.)

You know what did happen, though? You now understand God’s grace in all its truth. Maybe a month after your last birthday, you told me, on a three-minute drive, “Mom? The other night, I asked Jesus to be my leader! I told him I was sorry for my sins and he rescued me! And then K prayed after me!” I was amused that the very first thing you did after accepting Jesus’ gift was try to evangelize your sister. Also? I was a little skeptical. I mean, I wasn’t there. But as the months wore on, it became pretty obvious… You love Jesus and His Spirit is living in you.

Beautiful.

You’re growing up so nicely. I love your heart. I love seeing you become who you’re made to be. I love seeing you grow in grace. And, can I be honest? I really enjoy the hard parts of that becoming, too. You have my your daddy’s stubbornness and sometimes you just get defiant and mad. But those are golden opportunities. Oh, they’re no fun at the time, but it is so cool to me to see you really get it. You’re learning, slowly, painfully slowly sometimes, to adjust your own attitude. And you’re learning, just a little at a time, that adjusting your own attitude isn’t always fully within your grasp, but you do know Someone who can help you with it, and now and again you remember to cry out to Him.

I love you, child. I love that you’re mine. I love discovering who you’re becoming. I pray for another year of that. 

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grace in miscarriage, part two

[Disclaimer: This post is fairly long (for me) and personal. Maybe to the point of overshare. Like the first post, my goal here is not to describe the general experience of miscarriage, but rather to bring it one more small step into the light. By sharing my story I hope to make it easier for a few other women to share theirs… Even better if it is helpful for women who haven’t yet had miscarriages, but statistically may eventually do so. If this doesn’t sound like your thing, I’m not even a little offended if you head back to whatever you were doing before.]

It’s been a couple months now since my miscarriage and, while it was important to talk about it as it happened, I’ve learned a lot since then. Here’s some of that…


Grief can be slow.

I was basically numb for a couple of weeks. There was kind of a background sense of sadness, but mostly there was a sense that I had this weird dream that I was pregnant, but then I woke up. (My dream life is pretty active and vivid, so this is basically life as usual.)


There are lots of people who want to share their stories.

This was overwhelming, but in a good way. There seem to be lot of people who really want to share about their babies, but just need permission or an excuse to do so. (Even if you’re ok talking about it and you ignore the cultural taboo surrounding miscarriage, it’s not something that comes up frequently in conversation. It feels like a downer.) It was a beautiful and heartbreaking privilege to hear so many of you speak of babies that you miss.


People can be totally awesome at wholehearted compassion, given the opportunity.

I had this really terrifying realization the day after I shared the first post… I shared it Friday night, then Saturday I remembered I was singing on Sunday morning. Now, I love every second I get to help lead worship. But also, when I do, my mother-in-law watches my kids for the morning and brings them to the second service. So I’m there at both services without kids to chase (in this case, hide behind.) Usually, this is awesome. But this particular week, I was pretty anxious about the vulnerable, exposed feeling I anticipated. And, as one person pointed out, going public with a miscarriage could very well mean processing my pain with a lot of well-meaning but casual acquaintances… daunting for an introvert.

But do you know what? My church family is awesome. Kind and compassionate, not awkward or overwhelming. I hadn’t shared it looking for support (which is funny, because that seems like an obvious outcome now), but support is very much what I found. As for processing with casual acquaintances, it turns out a lot of people I know (but not well) wanted to share their experiences in a really positive way. The general sense was, “here’s what I experienced, it’s hard, and it is going to be OK. You’re not alone.” 

Also? I found out (again) that worship is a really good antidote to self-consciousness. It turns out that when I’m focusing on the greatness of God, I kind of lose track of how vulnerable I’m supposed to be feeling.


Grief is worth looking for.

So here it gets messy. Brené Brown says in Gifts of Imperfection, “We cannot selectiely numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” For a couple of weeks, I wasn’t feeling sad, but I also wasn’t feeling… anything. I started to panic that I was doing it wrong, what ever “it” was. So I went to see my therapist. We figured out a couple reasons why I was fighting the sad so hard.

First, it was easier to believe it wasn’t really a baby. When I was  a teenager, I had a man in spiritual authority explain logically why babies- born and unborn- go to Hell if they die before receiving Christ. I have no recollection of why we were discussing this and I’ve long since come to believe otherwise, based on scripture and what I know of God’s character, but the words were still there, ricocheting around my brain. (Don’t get mad at him, that’s so not the point. He was a good man trying to handle the Word accurately.) 

Then also, I had this thought (apparently a common one) that the reason I lost this baby was because I couldn’t take one more right now. I had this story in my head that one more kid would push me over the edge into psychosis and I’d end up on national news after destroying my family in some horrible way. That being the case, this loss was God’s gracious way of sparing my whole family (baby included) from some crazy trauma. It follows then that I should be thankful, not sad.

Sometimes I need someone to help me figure out what lies are circulating around in my head and point them out for what they are. I have an excellent, Jesus-loving therapist that can help me with that. (Ok, since the point of this is authenticity, I actually have two. But that’s a whole ‘nother thing.) I left her office crying. She apologized for that, but as far as I was concerned, it was a win. Once we found the lies (“it’s not a baby, because if it were, it would be in Hell” and “I would go crazy and destroy my family”) and corrected them (it is a baby and she’s not in Hell and I’d have been a darn good mama to her), I was free to grieve. 


Sometimes grief looks like obscene laziness.

I cried some, but not much. But wasn’t very functional. Six weeks. SIX WEEKS sitting on my recliner, basically. Every now and then I’d have a day where there was energy enough to do something, get out of the house, maybe clean something. We ate a lot of corn dogs and chicken nuggets. My internal response to every single thing that came to my mind to do, from cooking dinner to shopping to effectively training my children was “I cannot. I just can’t even.” My husband started getting groceries. (He keeps doing it, even though I could manage it myself now… Bless him. Shopping with three preschoolers isn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done.) 



But… sometimes depression looks like obscene laziness, too.

Another blessing of everyone knowing was that I periodically had people message me just to see how I was. One friend that I like but don’t get to talk with a whole lot did this several weeks in… I gave her the line about grief looking like laziness. She responded, “It doesn’t sound like laziness to me, from what little you said, I thought depression of sorts.”

I laughed out loud.

Not because it was ludicrous, but because it was so obvious. If I heard anyone else talking like I was talking, all the bells would go off in my head, too! But it was me, so I didn’t see it. And neither did the people who were in my life daily. It took someone outside the situation to point it out.

The way God decided to handle this ahead of time was fairly simple- I was already on an antidepressant for postpartum anxiety that showed up after #3 came. (Side note: That’s a thing. And it’s only just now getting any press, but it’s apparently more common than postpartum depression, and, untreated, it sucks the joy out of everything.) The way it was written, I actually had some leeway to tweak the dosage a little while remaining compliant. So I did that. Shortly after that, I was back! Magic! It’s not a forever thing, but it sure is nice to be able to show up to my life again. I’ll take the support.

Hope really does make a difference.

Haha! Now it’s a little confusing that we named this baby Hope. The hope I’m talking about right now is the hope of Heaven. It had been a long time since I’d had much drive to look very deeply at the reality of Heaven. And, honestly, it took a while to come around to it. But (again) a friend who’d been through it sought me out and we talked while our kids played and she talked in great detail about what she’s learned about it, and the reality is, no matter how big and how great and how beautiful we imagine it, there’s no way we will be disappointed. I mean, it’s HEAVEN.

And it’s not just my grand imaginations. Scripture has some pretty great stuff to say about the place, too. There’s lots of light. Better than Fairbanks summers. Also, no more curse. It’s spectacularly, unimaginably beautiful. Jesus is there. Heaven isn’t the entire focus of my existence- that spot is ideally reserved for the God of Heaven, though saying so gives the false impression that I have anything that resembles an undivided focus. But I’d be lying if I said verses that involve it didn’t hit me a little deeper these days.

The loss gives me the ability to fully “weep with those who weep.” Sharing it gives me the opportunity.

A friend sent me this print not long ago. She’s also experienced loss and she’s one
 of many who has known how to grieve beside me.

Here it gets sad again… A few weeks after I lost Hope, my sister-in-law (who was so very supportive through my miscarriage) lost her first baby, a little guy they named Jeffrey. (She also decided to share her loss publicly and gave me permission to talk about it here.) Despite living thousands of miles from Amanda, the freshness of my experience gave me the opportunity to be fully, viscerally there. With some actual, useful information. (Side note: for some reason, very few of the mamas I’ve spoken with have gotten really good information from their doctors’ offices about what to expect when you’re no longer expecting. This is crap. The biggest source of information seems to be other moms who’ve been there.) I hate that we both lost babies. But, given that we did, I’m really grateful for God’s timing and the ability to walk with her. 


God gives grace and redeems tragedies. And since he is redeeming mine, I can trust him to redeem hers, too. 

The prospect of another pregnancy is utterly terrifying.

For reals, yo.

What if I lose another? What will that do to my heart? What does that say about my body and the ability to carry more children? What if I keep this one? It feels like total betrayal to “move on” from Hope! I mean, she’s mine! How can I possibly grieve her *and* be excited for #5 at the same time? I don’t have a clue in the world how to hold both of those things at the same time. And I’m hesitant to be emotionally engaged with this pregnancy because the prospect of loving and losing another baby is so daunting. But also I want to be as “all in” as possible, in case I DO lose this one, so I can love it as long and as well as possible, however long that might be. 

(Yes, I’m pregnant. I figured I already broke the rule about talking about a miscarriage, so…)

Somehow pregnancy went from totally routine for me to reallyreally complicated. And that’s kind of sad. I suppose it’s good to have a more realistic view of my theoretical chances of miscarrying again, but mostly I hate that, on top of the standard scramble of emotions that usually goes with finding out I’m pregnant (Yay! We make awesome little people! and Oh, crap! What have we done?!?) there’s all this other mess.

As before, I don’t have a good, clear way to end this post. I’m still working that part out. Praying for grace and God’s protection. Trusting that, however this winds up, grace will meet me there.