ten best reads of 2017

This year has been a huge reading year. Mostly, I had a baby who required HOURS of “putting to bed” for the first several months, and it created a habit (after I realized how many hours a day were spent on my phone). Because there were so many, I looked back over the list to jog my memory, and there were several worth sharing. Enjoy!

(Summaries were swiftly snagged from Amazon and are the property of the respective publishers. Links are also Amazon. I’m not an affiliate, I just want you to be able to easily find them.)

 


Fiction

pride and prejudicePride and Prejudice, Jane Austen.  “When Elizabeth Bennet first meets eligible bachelor Fitzwilliam Darcy, she thinks him arrogant and conceited; he is indifferent to her good looks and lively mind. When she later discovers that Darcy has involved himself in the troubled relationship between his friend Bingley and her beloved sister Jane, she is determined to dislike him more than ever. In the sparkling comedy of manners that follows, Jane Austen shows us the folly of judging by first impressions and superbly evokes the friendships, gossip and snobberies of provincial middle-class life. “

Okay, yes, I’m slightly embarrassed that this is the first Austen I’ve ever read and I’m 35. I don’t know how I got through four years of honors English without it, but… there it is. And it was SO GOOD, you guys. I made a goal to read more books by dead people this year. (Well, by people who were alive at the time of writing but have since died. In case you were worried.) Historically, I’ve had a bit of an aversion to it, because I judged classics as inaccessible and hard to read.

You know what? Maybe classics are classics because THEY’RE AWESOME.

small greatSmall Great Things, Jodi Picoult“Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

“Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.”

I’ve read most of Jodi Picoult’s body of work. The stories are always engaging, and the endings are… most frequently hard to take. But worth it for the story. This one was different. It took on issues of race and justice in a riveting and authentic way. It ended differently than I expected, based on her other books.

Warning: this one may eat your life. Pick it up when you can let other nonessentials (housework, sleep, food) go by the wayside.

YA fiction (I’m not ashamed.)

wingfeather-saga-square-500x500The Wingfeather Saga, Andrew Peterson.Janner Igiby, his brother Tink, their crippled sister Leeli are gifted children as all children are, loved well by a noble mother and ex-pirate grandfather. But they will need all their gifts and all that love to survive the evil pursuit of the venomous Fangs of Dang who have crossed the dark sea to rule the land with malice and pursue the Igibys who hold the secret to the lost legend and jewels of good King Wingfeather of the Shining Isle of Anniera.”

Technically, this is four books. (The blurb and link above are just for the first: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness.) This was the most fun reading I did all year, hands down. Andrew Peterson is my favorite songwriter, so when I learned he wrote some fiction, I tried it out of loyalty, though I didn’t necessarily expect much. I mean, songs and 300 page fantasyish fiction are hardly the same, right? Well, turns out his songs are my favorite because he tells DARN GOOD STORIES. The books sucked me in, and each book (and the series) ended by quite satisfyingly tying up loose ends I didn’t even realize existed. There’s some light allegory (less than Narnia, but enough to be comparable). I cried through the last chapter of the series (in the best ways)… I don’t really know when that last happened. I’m not a crying kind of reader.

It’s a little above my kids’ heads still—he builds a world with unfamiliar plants and animals and games, and I can’t bring myself to try to field constant “what does that mean???” questions just yet. We’d never get through the first chapter. (If you’re reading it and come across unfamiliar things and it puts you off, like it did one of my friends, just know that it’s fine to let it slide off. You’ll pick up the things that are important before long.) I’m thinking by the time my bigs are 8 and 9, I’ll introduce them, and I CANNOT WAIT.

wrinkleA Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L’Engle“Meg Murray, her little brother Charles Wallace, and their mother are having a midnight snack on a dark and stormy night when an unearthly stranger appears at their door. He claims to have been blown off course, and goes on to tell them that there is such a thing as a “tesseract,” which, if you didn’t know, is a wrinkle in time. Meg’s father had been experimenting with time-travel when he suddenly disappeared. Will Meg, Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin outwit the forces of evil as they search through space for their father?”

I read it when I was nine, and remember loving it, but couldn’t remember much else. This is another that I’m excited to introduce in a year or two. It was fantastically told story with beautiful little bits of truth hidden inside.

Nonfiction

betweentheworldandmeBetween the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates“In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a fathe

 

r for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race”, a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men – bodies exploited through slavery and segregation and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

“Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son – and listeners – the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.”

I do love me some memoirs, and I read a bunch of them this year. I picked this, not because it was necessarily my favorite to read, but because it struck me as incredibly important in our world. I’m with Toni Morrison. This is “required reading” for humans.

grace for the good girlGrace for the Good Girl, Emily P Freeman. You’re strong. You’re responsible. You’re good. But…as day fades to dusk, you begin to feel the familiar fog of anxiety, the weight and pressure of holding it together and of longing left unmet. Good girls sometimes feel the Christian life means doing hard work with a sweet disposition. We tend to focus only on the things we can handle, our disciplined lives, and our unshakable good moods. But what would happen if we let grace pour out boundless acceptance into our worn-out hearts and undo us? If we dared to talk about the ways we hide, our longing to be known, and the fear in the knowing? In Grace for the Good Girl, Emily Freeman invites you to release your tight hold on that familiar, try-hard life and lean your weight heavy into the love of Jesus. With an open hand, a whimsical style, and a heart bent brave toward adventure, Emily encourages you to move from your own impossible expectations toward the God who has graciously, miraculously, and lovingly found you.”

This one hit me right where I’ve always lived, at a time when I was ready to find my way out. The first half or so was descriptive of my entire life, so very few surprises. The second half was GOLD… she helped me figure out how to move forward. I already want to re-read it.

road back to youThe Road Back to You, Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile “Ignorance is bliss – except in self-awareness. What you don’t know about yourself can hurt you and your relationships – and maybe even how you make your way in the world. It can also keep you in the shallows with God. Do you want help figuring out who you are and why you’re stuck in the same ruts?

“The Enneagram is an ancient personality type system with an uncanny accuracy in describing how human beings are wired, both positively and negatively. In The Road Back to You, Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile forge a unique approach – a practical, comprehensive way of accessing Enneagram wisdom and exploring its connections with Christian spirituality for a deeper knowledge of God and of ourselves.

“Funny and filled with stories, this book allows you to understand more about each of the Enneagram types, keeping you from pausing long after you have heard the chapter about yourself. Beginning with changes you can start making today, the wisdom of the Enneagram can help you get on the road that will take you further along into who you really are – leading you into places of spiritual discovery you would never have found on your own, and paving the way to the wiser, more compassionate person you want to become.”

There’s been a lot of buzz about the Enneagram in various circles for the last couple of years, and, to be honest, it confused me. This book made it understandable and super interesting. I love that the Enneagram focuses on ways I can grow. (I don’t love my number—2—or didn’t at first. But apparently that’s common for most of the numbers.)

meaning of marriageThe Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller“Few subjects are as compelling—or as endlessly variable—as love and marriage. The Bible is filled with references to husbands and wives, from the story of Adam and Eve to advice in the New Testament, each open to interpretation.

“In The Meaning of Marriage, Timothy Keller, pastor of New York’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church and bestselling author of The Reason for God, uses the scriptures as his guide to show readers what God’s call to marriage is, and why this is such a powerful call. He talks in frank terms about the difficulties that couples have and how they can best work them out while keeping their faith in God intact.

“The Meaning of Marriage showcases Keller’s vast understanding of the Bible and how it can not only be relevant to relationships today but also form the foundation of a modern, healthy, loving, and long- lasting marriage.”

This is the best book I have ever read on marriage by a long shot, and I’ve read many dozen. We bought a second copy because Andrew and I marked ours up so badly we couldn’t loan it out. Whether you’re married, want to be, or have friends who are, this one is worthwhile.

What_If_xkcdWhat If? Randal Munroe. “Millions of people visit xkcd.com each week to read Randall Munroe’s iconic webcomic. His stick-figure drawings about science, technology, language, and love have a large and passionate following. Fans of xkcd ask Munroe a lot of strange questions. What if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent of the speed of light? How fast can you hit a speed bump while driving and live? If there were a robot apocalypse, how long would humanity last?

“In pursuit of answers, Munroe runs computer simulations, pores over stacks of declassified military research memos, solves differential equations, and consults with nuclear reactor operators. His responses are masterpieces of clarity and hilarity, complemented by signature xkcd comics. They often predict the complete annihilation of humankind, or at least a really big explosion.”

This book has a lot of truly interesting answers to questions you never asked, but that’s not why I’m recommending it. Randal Munroe has the best written comedic timing I have ever seen. I laughed out loud several times per page. If math and sciencey stuff is even remotely interesting to you, this book will make you howl. (Side note: it’s available as an audio book. I don’t know why. Read it with your eyes- the illustrations are half the fun.)

bravingBraving the Wilderness, Brené Brown“True belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are. It requires us to be who we are.” Social scientist Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW, has sparked a global conversation about the experiences that bring meaning to our lives—experiences of courage, vulnerability, love, belonging, shame, and empathy. In Braving the Wilderness, Brown redefines what it means to truly belong in an age of increased polarization. With her trademark mix of research, storytelling, and honesty, Brown will again change the cultural conversation while mapping a clear path to true belonging.

“Brown argues that we’re experiencing a spiritual crisis of disconnection, and introduces four practices of true belonging that challenge everything we believe about ourselves and each other. She writes, “True belonging requires us to believe in and belong to ourselves so fully that we can find sacredness both in being a part of something and in standing alone when necessary. But in a culture that’s rife with perfectionism and pleasing, and with the erosion of civility, it’s easy to stay quiet, hide in our ideological bunkers, or fit in rather than show up as our true selves and brave the wilderness of uncertainty and criticism. But true belonging is not something we negotiate or accomplish with others; it’s a daily practice that demands integrity and authenticity. It’s a personal commitment that we carry in our hearts.” Brown offers us the clarity and courage we need to find our way back to ourselves and to each other. And that path cuts right through the wilderness. Brown writes, “The wilderness is an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching. It is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place as sought after as it is feared. But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, and it’s the bravest and most sacred place you will ever stand.” 

I have very little to add to this. It’s Brené Brown, y’all. Go buy it.


Welp, there it is. Possibly my longest post ever.

What were your favorite reads this year?

 

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the prayer that’s changing my life right now

It was about four in the morning a few weeks ago. Somebody else was up. I don’t remember whom—some nights are an endless round of bad dreams and can’t sleep and lost buddies and maybe the odd wet bed. This was one of those.

Typically at this point in a bad night, I start to do the math, calculating when I went to bed, who woke when and how long it took me to get to sleep afterward, how long I have until I absolutely have to get up, and how abysmal tomorrow might be if I do get to sleep the rest of the night. I try to have a good attitude for the kid currently wanting the mama, but I start to get a little stressed and grouchy about it all.

But this night, something else happened. I can only imagine it was the Holy Spirit having mercy on this tired mother, because the words popped into my heart from seemingly nowhere. (They certainly didn’t flow from any virtuous thoughts I was having, up again for the fifth time.)

I trust You to give me what I need.

It’s that simple. It’s basically a rephrasing of the first verse of Psalm 23, but in the dark that morning, it changed my heart. Where there was stress and anger, there was simple acceptance. I’m trying to come up with an adequate picture do describe what happened in me, and the closest I can come is a baby, starting to freak out, who settles as soon as her mama picks her up. My rest was quick and complete, and I went back to sleep, not for the last time that night.

In the weeks since, the phrase keeps coming to me in weird moments. When the kids are all making awful noises and I am pretty sure I’m about to lose my mind, I trust You to give me what I need.

When a delayed flight meant we missed a connection and we had only a couple hours to sleep before catching the flight that would get us there only an hour or two to spare before my father-in-law’s memorial service, I trust you to give me what I need.

When we don’t know what our housing situation is going to look like over the next several months… I trust you to give me what I need.

There’s no denying we need things. When Psalm 23 talks about sheep and a Shepherd, it assumes we understand that sheep are about as helpless as creatures come. There are NEEDS. But the shepherd knows what those needs are (far better than the sheep do) and is equipped to meet them (again, far better than the sheep). The comparison isn’t especially flattering to us, but it’s not inaccurate.

I’m grateful for the Shepherd.

 

 

 

postpartum anxiety: my story

The transition from two children to three was, for me, the easiest of all.

This is what I tell people, and in a lot of senses it’s true. I was already 100% buried in chaos with my two older toddler girls, so the addition of one newborn boy just didn’t register a lot of overwhelm. I usually compare it to throwing a bucket of water into the ocean. You just don’t notice the level rise at all. And then there was Brian. He was as chill as babies come: a self-soother from the beginning, with a calming vibe that I can’t quite explain.

But then there’s the other side of the birth of Brian.

I’ve struggled with depression on and off throughout my adult life, so I had been on guard, especially after my firstborn, against postpartum depression. I was pleasantly surprised after my first when it wasn’t a problem as it had been for so many of my friends, nor was it an issue when I had my second less than a year and a half later. By my third, I figured I had dodged  the PPD bullet and I would be fine.

I was sort of right. There were no classic depression symptoms, but almost immediately following his birth, I just felt… activated. All the time. I’m Highly Sensitive (I feel stupid capitalizing that, but it really is a thing) so I’m familiar enough with the sensory overwhelm that leads to mental and emotional chaos, but this was all. the. time. My skin felt tingly. My heart raced. My scalp felt weird. my arms felt hot. My stomach wasn’t right. The physical anxiety symptoms put my brain on the hunt for rational explanations for my discomfort. There were none, except the three small people and one other big person who lived in my house. I felt CRAZY. I became irritable. I couldn’t sleep.

Mamas- you know the newborn phase, right? I hadn’t slept in six months because pregnancy is lame. I caused expensive damage to more than one car because I was so chronically exhausted that my brain refused to function, but still I had to go places and do things. Now I’ve had the baby and, while sleep is interrupted, my body is supposed to be able to take advantage of the opportunities I have, right? Except instead of sleeping, I was laying awake feeling nothing but irritation for being awake. My body refused to to settle down and rest.

The sleep deprivation fed into irritability and substandard mothering and generally crappy days. Here I have three children I adore, a husband who is absolutely God’s best gift to me, and anxiety sucking every last particle of joy from it all.

When I recognized the problem, I made the call without any further thought. I asked to talk to a midwife and the words tumbled out. “The anxiety is debilitating and sucking all the fun out of my otherwise awesome life. I don’t have time or margin for this. I need to be on something. I’ve taken Celexa for depression before, so if that’s a reasonable SSRI for breastfeeding, I know it works for my body. I even have some from four years ago that I can start taking now…”

Julie didn’t want me to take the expired meds, but got me in for a quick consult, checked that I was getting therapy (they’re most effective in combination, but I was in the middle of some therapy for something else already, so it was covered) and wrote me a prescription. I texted my husband to let him know what was going on—he certainly knew something was wrong, but I don’t think either of us knew precisely what until then, and I was so busy fixing it that I didn’t really loop him in until it was more or less managed. He texted me back something like, “I think that’s really courageous. I’m glad you’re getting help.” Bless him. I started to feel better before very long at all, because, in my body, this med works on anxiety way faster than it worked on depression.

In a lot of ways, I feel like my case, because of how suddenly and severely it hit me, wound up being a lot milder than so many women experience. I’m grateful that I saw it and got help for it within just a few weeks. I’m grateful I’d dealt with (and been medicated for) depression already, so I didn’t have to break through any weirdness about mental illness this time.

The point is this: you don’t have to tough it out. You get one shot at this newborn and I don’t want your memories of this time to be a blur of irritation and or simmering rage. If your body and brain feel wrong, talk to somebody. You’re not weird, and you’re certainly not the first mama your provider has seen who needs some support while all the hormones and everything get back into alignment. If you’re worried about the medication and effects on a breastfeeding baby, please stop. the effects are negligible and are certainly outweighed by the benefit of having a mama who is present and emotionally able to engage in the work of mothering.

If you have been toughing it out, please don’t beat yourself up. You’re not a bad mom. You’re doing your best, and you’ll both recover, and still… please talk to somebody. It’s worth it. Promise. You have enough going on without adding problems with brain chemistry to the mix—get that one sorted out.

And for the bunch of people who are going to tell me (and maybe you) to find more natural ways to handle this or pray more or meditate to fix it, please stop. If you want to try things before you try medication, that’s awesome. If it works for you and you want to recommend it to a struggling friend? Go for it. But do not shame mamas out of getting the help that they need. Sadness and worry can be spiritual or lifestyle problems. I get it. But clinical anxiety and depression are legitimate physical and chemical ones, so please, please let those of us dealing with them get the medical attention required for our actual problems. Deal? Cool.

my very first seven-year-old

Happy birthday, sweetie.

chapman family©2017SarahLewisPhotography-53
(image credit: Sarah Lewis Photography)

You’re growing up so well. I feel like you’re right on the line between a little girl and a big one. I’m sure part of this feeling is simply that you’re first. You’ve been the one that made me a mama, and then the one that made me the mama of a toddler and a preschooler and now a seven-year-old, so you always feel SO BIG. But that’s not all of it. Your heart and your mind are developing thoughts and words and feelings around big-people concepts in ways that you haven’t before. I’m not entirely sure how this happened; I only know that I’m not quite ready.

Last year, I watched you as you struggled with things I have wrestled with; this year, I am watching you fight with things I am wrestling. I was not prepared.


This birthday is the first I am truly nervous about. Not so much because you’re seven… it’s the day itself. This year, I’m blowing off parties, hoping to celebrate you in ways that allow me to be much more present and engaged in the day, and you’re really not sure how to deal. You keep telling me how boring it is that you’re not getting a party and how mad you are that you’re going to get fewer presents. It’s possible we won’t do it this way for you every year. Maybe this is a huge flop. But I so want you to learn the art of celebrating even in the quiet. I see your expectations and they just are not ones I can meet. (An Apple Watch and $200? Uh…) I want you to be happy and feel so very loved on your birthday, but with or without a big to-do (well, as big as my parties get, which is to say, not very big) I’m not entirely sure your happiness is up to me—it’s a matter of your attitude and expectations. I am trying to talk you through all of this, but I know in the deepest part of my gut and my memory: this lesson isn’t learned by listening to your mother. I remember these birthdays growing up where all my expectations (spoken or otherwise) were more than anyone could have fulfilled and I spent the day feeling sad and unloved. It’s hard for me to see this experience coming toward you, knowing that despite my best efforts and hopes, there’s not a lot I can do to teach you this lesson the easy way. It’s hard knowing I’m going to let you down today.

It’s hard to realize that I cannot be responsible for your happiness.

But then I remember our talk the other night. You told me, “I feel so small. I’m never good enough. I try to be kind to Katherine and Brian and they just ask and ask and it’s never enough for them. I try to be kind to Lilly, and she just shrieks at me.”

“I know this feeling,” I told you. “I know ‘never enough’ and I know ‘I can’t make them happy.'” The never enough is inside me. I have spent all of my years finding my worth in my usefulness, when the things I do were only ever meant to come out of who I am, not define it. I see this in you and I’m sorry. I still fight it, but I want you to know that you are lovely. You are fearfully and wonderfully made and so very loved. Your Daddy and I love you more than you can imagine (and you’re an incredibly good imaginer!) and God loves you so much more than we do. Your worth was clear to us before you ever did anything.

The can’t make them happy lives in the others. You can’t make Katherine or me or anybody else happy, at least not long-term, because her happiness is not your job. Watching you try to make me happy, especially on my hard days, is simultaneously the most heartwarming and heartbreaking thing. I love your compassion for others—that you want to make them happy—but then I see you assessing your value in your ability to pull it off, and you will come up short. Not because you’re not good enough, but because this job was never yours to do in the first place. We need to deal with our own expectations and insecurities and your job is simply to be kind and do right, not to make me or anybody else happy.


And here we are, with me struggling with my inability to make you happy for your birthday because I can’t do all the things exactly as you hope (and, truth be told, it wouldn’t be good for you if I did) and you struggling with your smallness and inability to make me and your siblings happy.

Baby, it’s going to be okay. Today might be tough as your expectations and reality collide. The story you’re probably going to tell yourself is that I don’t love you enough to do the things you want. Worse, that if you were somehow better—more worthy—I would love you enough to do those things. I know this because you’ve said as much and also because I’ve lived it countless times.

I will speak truth to your big, 7-year-old heart. It will take time for you to believe me—longer, likely years, before it sticks. (I’m still fighting this battle.) Eventually totes*, you will learn to recognize truth and speak it to your own heart and your own stories. It’s a really important part of growing up. I’ll show you how.

I love you, Jenna girl. You are such an incredible delight to my heart and a tool Jesus uses constantly to make me more like Him. I love watching you grow.


*for those of you listening in, “eventually totes” is a thing that Brian started saying a few months ago (“Brian, when do I get to go to bed?” “Eventually totes! Hahahahaha!”) It cracks us all up, and has become part of our family’s vernacular, so a lot of our “eventuallys” get followed by “totes.”

two kinds of excellent friends

I’ve spent a lot of time lately trying to figure out how to parent a particular one of my children. I beg for wisdom from the One who gives it many times a day, and I look for perspective and ideas from other mamas who might be able to give it. I had a couple of those conversations the other week.

Conversation One

I have a dear friend for many, many years. She has lots of training and experience in the stage that my kid is currently in and has a similarly challenging one the same age.

She’s also very different from me. Her personality and parenting style are very different, so I figured she might have some thoughts that I hadn’t come up with yet.

I was correct. But despite the fact that she was kind throughout the conversation and has been for me for most of my life and wasn’t judgy in the least, so many of the things she said hit my ears and my heart as you are doing it wrong. Like really, really wrong. There were a lot of really constructive ideas about the big, overarching issues and some interesting strategies to try and resources to look at, but, because of where my heart was and how we communicate differently, it was a couple hours of shame triggers. There were ugly crying and hiccups.

Conversation Two

I have  a newish friend. Her personality and parenting style are very similar to mine. She has lots of kids, most of them older than mine. One of those had issues very similar to the ones we’re facing and they’re coming out the other side.

She assured me that my baby is going to be okay. She gave me some ideas that worked for her with hers, and kind of a timeline for when things might start to look up. She reminded me that these challenging ones remind us that we can’t do this without Jesus, whether the kids are challenging or compliant.

I need them both.

Yes, the first conversation was harder. I imagine there will be some who encourage me to disregard her input because of how difficult the talk was. But that friendship is dear to me, and the difference in perspectives is valuable to us both. I don’t want to live in an echo chamber… so we sharpen each other. Also, there’s something valuable about somebody who doesn’t think or feel the same as me but loves me dearly despite the differences.

And the second conversation was a balm that helped me see that I will be okay—my kid will be okay—even though I am me, with my limitations and faults. I will try to do right by my little girl and I will try to help her using every resource I can find, whether it’s from somebody like me or not, but Jesus gave her to me and he equipped me accordingly.

I’m so grateful for these kind and very different women. I’m a better mama for their input, especially in combination. One challenges and one heals, and they’re both beautiful.

to the mama with two in diapers

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

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

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

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

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

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

One need at a time.

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

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

It gets easier.

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Brian! (Turning three.)

Hey, dude.

You’re three today! Happy Brian! I love you to teeny, tiny, smoochable pieces. From your big brown eyes to your kiss-me cheeks to your sweet grin and your crazy toddler run, you bring me so much joy. I looked over your first and second birthday notes today, just to remind myself where you were a year and two ago.

I can’t believe how much you’ve grown. Last year, your sentences were more like a series of one-word statements strung together. (Sometimes, they were a series of questions, like an itty-bitty valley girl.) You called your sisters “Day day, Win woh, and Lay Mae.”

You still have this funny robot inflection I struggle to replicate in writing. Your voice is low for a little guy and your sentences mostly end with a low tone that denotes… authority? Certainty? Resignation? I’m not sure. But you are in a phase where you narrate everything, always drawing out the last (low pitched) word. “Daddy go to woooork.” “It’s time for naaaap.” “I eated luuuuuunch.” You are polite, almost without exception (in your words, anyway)… so many “pleases” and “thank yous” make my heart smile. You know and use the word “blame,” but you have it wrong in the most adorable way. If, for instance, Lilly kisses you and it’s a little wet, you say, “Lilly ated meeeee.” And I say, “Well, yeah. Can you blame her? You’re delicious!” You reply, “I caaaaan!” And then you gently thrum your chubby toddler fingers on your sister and sing in an abnormally high-pitched voice, “Blame!” Because that’s how you blame your sister. I don’t even know. It makes me laugh every time.

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I love that you’re still lovey. You give kisses and hugs and snuggles. When you get hurt or in trouble, you say (with the saddest eyes), “I need some loves,” and climb up for mama cuddles. Neither of the big girls have been cuddlers, and it’s fun to have my sweet boy who just likes to be held. I like how you love your sisters, too. You give the big ones kisses as often as they’ll let you and you take such kind care of the baby. I love how you sing to her when she’s sad. Actually, I love how you sing in general. You have a handful of hymns on rotation and a handful of other kid songs for variety, and I love them all.

You love to accessorize. Shoes. Sunglasses. Bags. Mardi Gras beads. Whatever, really.

You’ve finally hit the “NO!” phase. I suspected you weren’t going to remain totally compliant—you don’t have the genetic material for that business. But up until the last few months, you’ve been awfully easy to parent. Now, we see the standard displays of toddler power and rage that everyone kind of expects.

You know what, Bud? It’s fine. As I told your big sister back when she turned three, I love you plenty to help you figure out how to behave. I don’t mind that you have your own (very strong) opinions… that’s fine. But also, we’re going to temper that with a little bit of your parents’ wisdom until you get some of your own. Yes, it’s harder to parent you now than it was a year ago, but I don’t love you any less. Also, you’re even more fun than you were then, so it all kind of balances out.

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photo credit: Sarah Lewis Photography

The last few months, when I pray for you as you go down for bed, I always pray (among all the other things) “Jesus, please help him learn to obey.” At this point, you frequently interrupt me: “NO! Don’t ask Jesus to OBEY! I not WANT to obey!” I usually shrug at this and say, “I know you don’t, Buddy. That’s because you’re a sinner. We all are.” And then, your parting shot: “I NOT a SINNER! I’m BRIAN.” I carry on with the prayers, chuckling a little inside.

But a few weeks ago, you switched it up. After I prayed, you asked to pray, too. “Because Jesus WANTS me!” Yes, son. Jesus DOES want you. Go ahead. And you began… “Dear Jesus… [several seconds of nervous giggling]… fank you for…  [giggles]… obey… [more giggles]…” and so on for several minutes until you’d worn your giggly, delightful heart out and said, “Can I just pray to Daddy?” No, sweets. That’s not how praying works. But you can talk to Jesus like you talk to Daddy. That would be fine. So you do. The last little while, you’ve gotten more comfortable with it. There’s still a little nervous laughter (fine by me!) but it’s mostly just the heart of a nearly-three-year-old talking to Jesus as best he knows how.

I love you, Brian Boy. You’re delightful and growing up exactly right.

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words failing… again.

Hey, y’all! Happy end of October! I’ve totally loved/been eaten alive by this month’s blogging challenge.

I had some plans today to write a piece on body image, because I have some things going on in my head about it, and pretty much any time I write anything on body image, it blows up because WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT IT.

But then my family got some tremendously sad news last night and I kind of lost my words again.

My father-in-law and his wife were on the way to pick up their 11-year-old daughter, and they got t-boned, and now he’s gone. She was injured as well, and initially, nobody knew how badly. (It sounds like she will be okay, physically.)

Last night when I told the kids, Katherine said (with classic Katherine attitude), “I’m jealous of Grandpa Jim. He gets to be all happy in heaven with JESUS.” I laughed and agreed, but explained, “We’re not sad for Grandpa Jim. We’re sad for the people he left behind. Like Nanny Edith and Amanda. And us.”

The grief hasn’t hit yet. They live a couple thousand miles away, so it feels remote and unreal right now. My current reactions are divided between a sudden realization of the brevity of life and a lot of logistical questions that feel really crass to ask right now, and can’t be answered yet anyway. I certainly can’t find any meaningful words. I’m tempted to eulogize him on my blog, but that seems kind of cheap.

Anyway, I’ll totally write the other piece… eventually. But not today. Today, I will just sit and count it a win that I finished school with the kids, and I will pray for Grandpa Jim’s wife and daughter and family as we wait for answers to all of my (truly inconsequential) questions. It feels like a flat and sad ending to a month filled with a lot of work, but I can’t just leave day 31 blank. (I mean, I could, and it wouldn’t be a big deal. But I won’t, because I double-dog-dared myself to finish it a month ago.)

So… that’s not a real blog post. Thanks for reading it anyway. Please pray for Edith’s continued recovery and her and Amanda’s grief, along with that of the rest of the people around him—us included.


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

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swimming in lane six

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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dinner of champions

I hate post-holiday candy in the house.

Usually, I’m all responsible and stuff. I let them have a few pieces when they get home, then another one now and again as treats (bribes) over the next few weeks until it’s gone. But it makes me crazy. (And you know what I think about things that make me crazy.)

It’s not just because I’m bad at self-control and will mindlessly eat gross candy throughout the day until my body feels weird (though I will).

It’s the whining.

“Mom, can we have a piece of candy?” Times three, every few minutes. After a while I do one of two things… I either chuck (eat) the candy on the sly or I start saying “yes” every time so it can just GO AWAY.

This year, I decided to change it up. We went to a trick-or-treaty event in town this afternoon with some friends and the three big kids came home with a bag each of candy. (NO REESE’S. NOT ONE. NO PEANUT BUTTER OF ANY KIND. What the actual crap?!? Oh, right. Allergens. Well, that’s good. But also, WHAT IS THE POINT WITHOUT REESE’S???)

Go ahead and eat it, darlings. Eat as much as you’d like. (We nixed it in the car for obvious reasons, but otherwise, it was fair game.) We got home and while I fixed dinner, the kids settled at the table with their loot bags and ate… and ate… and ate.

One kid ate most of her dinner, because Saturday is Dessert Night at our house and she wanted more candy. (???) One kid ate a few bites of his. And one ate zero bites and went to bed with a stomach full of only Skittles and Nerds.

Whatever. I’m over it.

Bottom line? The kids each ate like three quarters of their available candy. They can polish the rest off for breakfast. I don’t even care. Then it’s back to eating normal food and I don’t have to hear anybody asking for candy until the next sugar-centered holiday. We’ll call it a win.


(Okay, I get it. This isn’t so much a “Grace in Failure” post as it is a “questionable parenting decisions that the children survive” kind of post. It’s fine.)


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

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