The NEW Self-Improvement Plan

There is a message in the air. The world is saying it. America in particular is screaming it. We are shouting it to one another.

And, perhaps the craziest part of it all?

We are, without question, believing that it’s true. We are scurrying around like little hamsters on a wheel. We hear the message, become laser-focused on the task of the message and we join the rat race that is…

SELF-IMPROVEMENT.

The message says, “Improve! Improve! Improve! Get better! Get better! Get better!”

We are looking for strategies to get things done more quickly, strategies to make things more efficient, strategies that make things happen in ways that we can understand and in essence, control.

And for the most part everything in me wants to fight that.

(Except for the times when I want to embrace it. Ha!)

And everything in me wants to push against the culture, the system that says I have to improve and get better.

(Except for the times that I want to get better. And when that feels good. And natural.)

I have some underlying desires for my life. Some themes that I always long to be present. These include (just to name a few):

rest,

peace,

contentment,

embracing the now,

having good enriching relationships,

and allowing things to happen organically, without a load of strife.

I’m sure you have your list of desires as well!

Sure, there are definitely times when I choose the self-improvement path. There are times to make a plan, set some goals, stick with them and (pardon) Get. Shit. Done.

But often, I find myself pushing and trying and when I get really honest and step back, I ask myself, “Why the heck… am I doing THIS?”

I wonder sometimes, if self-improvement looks
more like embrace, embrace, embrace.
And that in embracing our right-now moments,
we actually DO improve and we actually DO become our best selves.

I wonder if that is the epicenter of where self-improvement happens.

And it’s not something we have to craft and create. And we don’t have to come up with a 7-step plan to do XY & Z.

(Except when our hearts’ desire is to come up with a plan and it feels natural and right to do so.)

We will still have the moments when our minds start to spin and we start to feel overwhelmed and we start to hear the mental track that says, “It has to be this way or all is lost.”

In those moments, really, the best thing we can do is just let go. And embrace what’s right in front of us.

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Today I was feeling a bit of that.

I have a plan with writing. I’ve put some things into place and I’m proud of those things. But, when I take a step back, those things, they can look like a whole lot of nothing.

It can look like really small things that don’t really amount to much, that don’t add up. And I begin to believe that those tiny first steps are small and that I’m so far from the big dream.

I found myself this morning with some big dreams. Some actions in my mind I wanted to take.  But the reality of today, a summer day, with 3 girls, is that they TOO have desires of their own hearts. I found my heart desiring to make some things happen in my writing world.

I begin to believe I need the calculated plan with the goals and the dates on the calendar and it needs to happen now.

And then, in the next room, I heard my girls.

And this is often what happens. This is what they always do, because our kids are our best teachers.

And this is what God always does. He reminds us of his simple love.

And there is power in play. And in stopping and seeing what’s right in front of us. And in being with them.

Perhaps the greatest work in me gets done in those moments without me controlling it. Without me doing a thing, except stopping and letting go and forgetting the plan and sitting.

I listened from outside the room to their giggles and laughter as all three of them (ages 3, almost 6 and 10) were playing dolls and having conversation and getting along and loving each other and embracing what’s right in front of them, which is their toys and a moment to play before we head out for our morning.

And so I went and I jumped in and I sat and we put the doll’s clothes on. I watched them. And I saw them. I hugged them. And I brushed their hair.

And my soul settled.

And pressure was off.

And it felt good.

And I found that in that moment of my soul centering,
self-improvement looked like embrace.

I was a better mom in that moment than I would have been had I been stressing over MAKING THE PLAN for my writing.

But.

There are still times when I desire the plan. When I know I need to take action.

Sure, I definitely say yes to my kids.

But, there are times I say no. There are times I explain that I am going to write and they can find something to do quietly for a bit. We all need a little quiet alone time now and then.

This is OK.

Then there are moments when I begin to hold onto that plan, that course of action, so tightly that if it doesn’t happen, my world starts to crumble or I start to believe that I’m not successful, that I am a failure or that my dreams won’t amount to anything.

That is the moment when the plan has become the god. And it’s never meant to be that. It’s never meant to become that important. It’s never ever meant to BE THAT to me.

And that’s when I have to let it go.

And it’s in the letting go of the thing I was holding to so tightly
and embracing the right now in front of me
that I grow, that I improve,
that I actually move further along the path in front of me.

The path of love,

of rest,

of peace,

of contentment,

of embracing the now.

This summer I have been trying to craft a rhythm of writing. I have been trying to improve in the area of discipline to my craft. And several times my plans and efforts have been foiled. Kiddos get sick. Babysitters cancel. Other needs, priorities and desires rise up in my heart.

And this is reality.

I am not complaining about these other things. I choose to be home full-time with my kids. We could work things out to have a nanny in our world, but I don’t want that. I know, believe and feel that these times with my kids are so, so precious. And I don’t want to miss it!

I know the time will come (so soon) when they are all 3 in school ALL DAY. And that rhythm of life will look different than now. But, for now, this is my reality.

I choose them.

I want to say yes to them. But, at the same time, I’m doing the tricky work of saying yes to the gifts God has given me. Saying yes to the desires He has placed in my heart.

It’s not an easy task! But, it is a blessed position to be in.

So, in these efforts to craft a consistent rhythm of writing, and the plans sometimes being foiled, I have found myself wondering, “Is this worth it? Is this ever gonna work?”

And then I find that my efforts to craft and create and (gulp) “force” a rhythm, have become more than they were ever meant to be.

The light is on. I’m aware. Now I see.

The purpose behind it all is clear now.

The crafting and creating of a rhythm or a structure
has truly become about ME feeling GOOD
about the progress that I’m making.

When the progress was never the thing MEANT to make me feel good.

That’s His job, and His job only. My worth is only available in Him.
Everything else (even good things) is a cheap, plastic substitute.

And then I remember. This is a GIFT God has placed in me.

Gifts are good.

They bring joy.

His yoke is easy and His burden is light. I am meant to enjoy this.

All of it. And THAT is the truth.

That is kingdom in my craft.

That is heaven come down to remind me. Jesus’ blood covered my strife.

Let it be a gift.

Let it be good!

And then, in an epiphany moment, I step back and realize THE RHYTHM ALREADY EXISTS. It’s already there. It’s moving through my veins.

The rhythm is the “yes” to the plan at times, and the “no.” The rhythm is the plowing through and the stepping back. The hands on and the hands off. The not now and then EMBRACE the NOW.

This is all OK.

We are all OK.

This is the new self-improvement plan.

May we be aware of our hearts.
May we be aware of the rhythms at work within us.
And then, may we honor those things by
listening to them and acting accordingly.

May we embrace them and know that it is all so, so good.

This Writing Journey 3: Embrace Your Pace

I’m learning over and over that this writing journey is a long “YES” in the right direction.

Euguene Peterson, translator of The Message Bible, wrote a little book in 1980 that has become a classic. It is called A Long Obedience in the Right Direction. The description found on amazon.com reads:

As a society, we are no less obsessed with the immediate than when Eugene Peterson first wrote this Christian classic. If anything, email and the Internet may have intensified our quest for the quick fix. But Peterson’s time-tested prescription for discipleship remains the same–a long obedience in the same direction. Tucked away in the Hebrew Psalter, Peterson discovered “an old dog-eared songbook,” the Songs of Ascents that were sung by pilgrims on their way up to worship in Jerusalem. In these songs (Psalms 120-134) Peterson finds encouragement for modern pilgrims as we learn to grow in worship, service, joy, work, happiness, humility, community and blessing.

And so it seems to go with writing.

I carve out time. Unless sickness overtakes me or a babysitter needs to cancel, I am there, at my desk, the library or a coffee shop, writing.

I find myself struck with inspiration at the most random times. This is when I grab my phone and create a voice memo or a new section in my notes app. I love when inspiration hits. I am fueled by this part of the creative process. The “dreaming big stage” is by far my favorite.

One of my favorite podcast episodes is featured on The Tim Ferriss Show. In this, Tim interviews BJ Novak (actor and writer who plays Ryan on The Office). BJ is brilliant by the way. It’s funny how I instantly associated his true personality akin to that of the character he plays on the popular sitcom. Not quite the case at all.

Anyway, in this interview, BJ talks about a “blue sky period.” This is a period of time where the writers of The Office are allowed to dream big in regard to the writing of the episodes. No idea is off the table. They allow the ideas to sit with them for a matter of days, weeks even. During this time, anything goes and no idea is a bad idea. The writers begin to fall in love with their ideas. They begin to develop the plot further and further. If Dwight is going to the moon in one episode, by the end of the “blue sky period” you, as a writer, have developed and fallen in love with the idea so much that nothing can convince you of changing it.

Hands down, this is my favorite stage of writing. Let the ideas flow. Don’t edit; just create. I have a long list of ideas for content. Sometimes I “feel the fire” (so to speak) behind these ideas and I follow the rabbit trail to see the ideas to their completion. Other times, the idea seems stale, or isn’t ready to become anything quite yet and then, I wait.

I leave it on the “idea list” and wait for the fire.

This is my process.

And then I hit times where I know the harder work of editing and piecing together ideas comes. I know I have to power through during this. The fire is no longer blazing. I begin to question my ideas. Things get hazier, a lot less clear and in those moments, I have to remind myself that the end goal is not perfection.

In the end, a lot of crap has to be written to find the gold. And every piece of written work does not have to be a bestseller, or even really great and meaningful. It’s a healthy reality check—a reminder to not take yourself or your craft all too seriously.

And yet, at the exact same time of not taking it all too seriously, it needs to become the very most important and serious thing.

I know the underground work has to be done before I can feel or see the outward results of my work. It’s like preparing the soil, weeding the bed, priming the area so that the plants will grow and the harvest will come. And that can be a difficult stage for me.

But I do it.

It’s a long yes in the right direction.

I have a vision for this “writing thing” that I haven’t felt before.

My sights are set and I am carving out time as consistently as possible. I’m sticking to my scheduled times. In addition, I’m fitting in a bit of writing in what Emily P. Freeman, author of A Million Little Ways and creator of The School for Creative Direction (a course I took in the spring that really jumpstarted my writing journey) lovingly refers to as, “the crack time.” Ha! Those are the little moments found here and there in the course of our days where we can squeeze in a few more moments of writing.

{writing in the “crack time” while enjoying my view visiting my parents}

And yet… everything I read says, “You must write everyday.” Every accomplished author that I’ve come across, read or discovered in a podcast, book or blog says daily consistency is a necessity to your success.

And while I agree that a daily writing routine would help to build a bit of momentum for writers, that’s not where I’m currently dwelling.

That’s not my life now.

And instead of spin over the fact that I’m “not doing what ALL writers across the board are suggesting one do to build a successful writing life,” (deep breaths, stay focused, repeat positive mantras, “DO NOT spin,” “you are OK,” “you are still a writer”), again, that is not my current reality.

And maybe, perhaps, their definition of success is not the same as mine.

And I have decided that is more than OK.

I am choosing to embrace my pace. It’s a long yes in the right direction.

I will not be lazy and let this dream fall by the wayside.

And for the first time, I don’t feel discouraged. I don’t feel frantic about NOT doing what the experts are suggesting. I feel peace. I feel confident that this is they way it should be for such a time as this for me.

As I say “yes or no” to writing each day, I will evaluate why I am saying “yes” or “no” and determine whether it’s a good answer for me in the moment. If so, I celebrate it! If not, I learn and keep going.

But, I don’t give up.

I will not be inconvenienced by the complexity of it all.

I believe the writing dream and the writing journey
are both JUST as important (if not more)
than the end writing result- whatever that may be!

And my definition of success isn’t found simply in pounding out the words on my laptop or in my journal. My success is found in experiencing life along the way, while making writing an important priority too. After all, the living of life is what provides the lessons, the content, the inspiration for what I am building—for what I am creating.

Just the other day, I was in the kitchen. The girls were passing in all different directions with a flurry of movement that only accompanies purposeful play.

I had a quick check-in with myself. “What are you feeling?” I silently asked. And I found I was feeling disappointed. We had 3 different activities planned for our day and for various reasons, none of them were panning out.

In the midst of my disappointment, I realized a lot of what was motivating me to get out and about, busy with activity, was an external pressure to “show” the social media world that we were indeed having a productive and incredible summer. Pictures of the kids’ strawberry picking, visiting the zoo, going on hikes and gobbling up melting ice cream cones said “incredible summer.” Staying in pj’s until noon while all made plans flew out the window did not. Ho-hum.

So, I repeated a common mantra quietly to myself,

“Be here.”

This centered me and brought me back to the present. And in it was a gift. There was giggling as I heard snippets of their conversation as each girl passed by. Their excitement mounted as they planned to build forts and create the fairy dream world that already existed in their imaginations. They were gathering props and making plans. This is typical of most our days for all 3 girls- ages 3, almost 6 and 10.

And in that centered moment, I landed on my holy ground.
I felt the feet of my spirit plant solidly into the soil and
peace surround my heart.

All disappointment left and I was able to embrace my true self and this is what I heard her whisper to me, “This is what you love. This moment. These days. These times.”

Yes.

{capturing an ordinary moment-
Harper practicing her reading skills with her willing audience, Bryn}

It may not be true for all moms, but it is for me. I enjoy the ordinary moments of being together the most. Some moms find their “wheelhouse” in planning a stellar trip, crafting a creative endeavor or putting into play an adventurous outing. Now, don’t get me wrong; I do love a good adventure. I’ve had a bit of success at planning some trips, but my sweet spot lies in the ordinary moments like these.

And then I wrapped my arms tightly around our “tousled hair and pj’s until noon” state of being and hugged it real good. I embraced it—in all its dragon-breath, un-brushed teeth glory. And it felt really good.

And I was reminded of this (an original thought from @wildandfree.co that has been paraphrased with her ever so soul-shaking eloquence by one of my favorite insta-gramming Mommas out there @thegraygang)

We must make our children believe that the control center to fun does not lie outside our front door. All the fun to be had right now exists freely here… at home… with their own family. And that they don’t have to leave these walls, in exchange for the rest of the world, to find out who they are, or what they are made of, or if they are worthy… they can achieve that right here. With us. Together. At least until they are more than ready.

And as I embrace this current pace, I find much life in the journey of experiencing these simple moments. Together.


{story time at the library}

Those moments that are…

…ordinary and extraordinary at the same time.
…both mundane and magical.
…boring and beautiful,
and, always more full of life than anything I know.


{sitting with my oldest, Maddie, while she soaks in new books}


{making “homes” for cicada shells}

 

 {snuggles with the one who loves them most in our family, Harper}

Moments that, held at face value, don’t seem to mean a whole lot and yet carry the magnificent weight of shaping our world.

So, friends. Cheers to embracing the pace!

In any endeavor, dream or moment. In the writing and the mothering. The pressure is off. Let’s just breathe and be present to today. And say a long, exuberant yes in the right direction.

 

This Writing Journey 2: Growth and Life in the Tension

I have always been a lover of learning.

I loved school as a child.

I couldn’t wait to start my college journey after high school.

The thought never entered my mind that I wouldn’t go to college. There was never really another option for me and I think that’s because I couldn’t imagine skipping an opportunity to be in another setting where learning was the highest priority.

It didn’t scare me that I didn’t know for sure what I wanted to study or even if what I chose to study would eventually pan out into my ideal job. I think deep down I knew it was a journey. And part of that journey was simply choosing to say “yes” to the next best thing and being open to where that “yes” would take me.

And so it went.

Post college, I secured two different jobs in the teaching/academic realm over the course of 4 years. Then the timing seemed right and I went to graduate school. After that program, I went on to volunteer and then work for a non-profit organization for 2 ½ years total.

And so it went.

Never once was I “bummed” that the next best thing to say “yes” to turned out to be schooling of some sort. I loved it.

And I still do.

So, although it’s been quite a while since I’ve been “in school,” I still love learning. I love attending conferences, reading nonfiction & hearing about the journey of others. Through this, I learn, grow & work to find the next best “yes,” as a mom, writer, friend & lover of Jesus.

And my next best “yes” in my writing journey seems to be one where I will become more well-versed in technology. Gulp.


{learning to make & edit videos}


{learning about teleprompter apps}

I am learning about “best practices” in regard to sharing your art with the world. As I do so, I’m finding that many creative experts whom I look up to seem to center around this idea:

Is it really art if you aren’t sharing it?

Seth Godin, author of 18 books that have been bestsellers around the world, writes about the post-industrial revolution, the way ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership and most of all, changing everything. He says,

“Art is the work of a human being – something a person does with generosity to touch someone else to make a change for the better.”

And I believe that is true. Completely. 100%.

The phrase “art for art’s sake” seems to have come to mean, just create art because you like to create art. But, as creatives, there seems to be a deeper desire to affect the universe with our art in one way or another.

Sure, I love to write, just to write, but not really just to write.

I want to affect change. I want others to be touched and inspired to become their best selves as a result of my writing.

Art truly becomes art when the goal isn’t just production, but the goal is human connection for the greater good of society and the world. Because in the end, isn’t that really what this entire life is about? Human connection? Changing the world?

And yet….

There is this other side, this other part, this other way of looking at our creative work. And it goes a little something like this

I think we need to fall in love with what God is doing in us, with the way He looks on us, and really appreciate the unfiltered version. Not the part of us that’s writing for the whole world to listen, I’m talking about the part of us that’s writing to write because we feel moved to, because we feel called to, whatever the reason. I think it’s super important to not edit yourself the first time, you know? Give yourself a good, honest-to-God, unfiltered run. Make sure that every single day you are reading and writing and that your process is completely unfiltered- that you are as honest as you can possibly be. Not all of that is going to make it into songs that the world will sing by lyric. But the history and faithfulness will. Your process will come out in everything you do. They’ll feel the world you put in, the honesty. People can smell fake from a mile away. They won’t buy it, and God surely doesn’t. That’s what I’m finding in my own life, He already knows what’s in me, so I might as well be honest with myself.”
Steffany Gretzinger, singer/songwriter
via Cultivate Volume IV
on cagelessbirds.com

So, I guess the question becomes, “Why are you doing what you’re doing?” Why are you creating? Why do you desire to do so? Why must you write? Paint? Sing? Cook? Sculpt? It’s a question I ask myself often.

For some, the answer may be so clear and consistent 100% of the time. If so, you might have an inner dialogue of, “I write to inspire others. I write to see change happen. If I’m not doing that, I don’t even want to write” (insert whatever creative medium you desire). Or, “I only write because I enjoy it. There’s something about sorting out my thoughts on paper that is therapeutic. I don’t know if anyone will ever read my thoughts, and I’d actually prefer they not.”

Yet, I’d venture to guess that for most of us, our creative process and reason for pursuing creativity is a little bit of both.

Just the other day I was having a conversation with a friend and explaining the pendulum swing that I often experience in writing. Sometimes I want to do it, simply because I have things to get out of my heart and mind. I want to write my experiences and thoughts down for the sake of enjoyment. It is therapeutic. It is a way I communicate with God. And yet, there are also times where I feel restless and I want others to have a chance to experience what I’m creating. I want to put my work out there for others.

I believe that a bit of both is healthy and good. I land, most often, in the thought of “let it be whatever it is on any given day.”

Permission. Grace. It sounds so lovely.

But, for me, it’s often a safety mechanism.

In allowing it to “be whatever it needs to be” each day, I give myself permission to not create or stick with a plan or goal.

I give myself permission to give up
on parts of my dream because they feel too difficult,
because I don’t see the next step.

So yes, both are true. Art is personal and we have to allow ourselves to fall in love with what God is doing in us—unedited, unfiltered, raw and true. Let the tears of deep sorrow and big joy spill onto the paper as we pour our hearts out there.

And at the same time, we are not islands, meant to exist void of community and connection. We are created and gifted to be a gift to others, right where we are. In our brokenness and our “not yet figured it out-ness.” I will always believe that is true. The words of authors that I enjoy reading the most are those originating from authentic (in the mix of figuring it out) sort of places. Their imperfect process brings me life and assures me I am not alone and we are all actually “in this” and connected more than we believe.

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And so, I pursue both. And sometimes it feels clunky and unnatural. I am working out a rhythm for both. And no one can tell you exactly what your rhythm should be. It’s something you have to discern for yourself.

{my thankfulness journal- modeled after Ann Voskamp’s 1000 Gifts- 
where I write strictly for me and for Him}

{Part of my summer book stack, a mix of technical and inspirational}

The shift between “writing for the sake of writing” and “learning the technical” that is required in order to share my words with the world via different mediums (currently learning video) feels so strange.

But I do it.

And at the end of the day, I sometimes ride on the high of knowing that I just took the exact next best step and it feels oh so good to be doing so!

And other days, I sit in a place of deep trust that God is in this process and although outwardly the day may not have felt like a success, He is there and He cares and He’s working. And He looks on me with joy and I bring Him great pleasure and that none of this has to do with what I’ve accomplished or not. Or even how I feel about what I’ve accomplished or not.

And I’m coming to discover that is all part of the creative process and it’s not by accident, but by design.

Growth and life exists in the tension.

Anymore, when I feel pulled a little in two directions, I begin to anticipate the growth and life that will eventually spring up.

If we are able to sit in that place of tension,
become aware of what is happening in us in the midst of it,
and respond as necessary,
we will grow.

Our best life, our best creative gifts and our most beautiful offerings don’t spring up from a place of ease and comfort, but from the hard work of sitting in the tension.

This Writing Journey 1: Blogging, Books and Words, Oh My!

About a month ago, my husband and I were purging and organizing our filing system. You know the drill. We were going through old bill stubs from the house, choosing which ones to discard and which to keep. I came across a file labeled “Amanda’s writings.” I opened it and found a manuscript that I had started years ago. It was titled “My Lovely” and it was a book I had planned to write about my life as a new mom. I briefly read a few portions and my eyes were drawn in particular to the sentence that indicated I had been dreaming about writing a book since I was 19.

I was referencing a desire that had been in my heart for close to 20 years. Twenty. Years. It was a major shift for me. I had been dreaming about this thing for a long time. Granted, I’d tried my hand at making some headway with the dream a few times. I wrote that unfinished manuscript. I started a blog. I tried journaling. I started another blog.

Then in just the past year, things became a little more intentional. I attended my first writing conference. I made a goal of writing 500 words a day. I have 39,120 written now. I’m doing the writing. I’m carving out time in my day to devote to this dream of mine. I’m taking it more seriously. I can introduce myself to others and when they ask what I do, I can answer, “I’m a writer” without backpedaling or feeling quite as foolish as I may have in the past. I’m sharing my writing dreams with others—listening for feedback and processing some of the steps within my vision.

And yet, I can feel the next step before I even take it. I’m reading about this step. I’m listening to podcasts and it’s the advice the experts are giving.

I’ve got to make this journey public.

I have to share my process openly.

I must be ready for failure—it’s inevitable—any good, brave and noble pursuit comes with a hefty dose of it. And I must be ready for feedback and critique. That’s how a writer becomes better. That’s how my craft will grow. That’s how my gift of words (in the form of a book or blog, or whatever medium) to the world, will begin to eek out, take shape and evolve.

Oh, and ps. Yes, that means that I must start by BELIEVING I truly HAVE a gift to share in my words, with the world.

So, this summer, (drumroll) I will be chronicling my writing journey.

As I take steps toward making this dream a reality, I’ll share here, with you!

So, without further ado, HEEEERRRRE is the first installment!

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This past weekend was my Mother’s Day gift to myself.

My kids and husband treated me well on Mother’s Day, but I had requested an overnight away to write and it happened this past weekend. I snuck away Saturday afternoon to a nearby city (let’s be honest… a hotel in the city, with a massage booked the next day is way more my style than a secluded cabin in the woods), and I wrote. I came up with my plan for the book, the blog, what I’ll be reading this summer (some for inspiration and some more practical/technical) and a new little added project on my website (I’ll share more later) that I am excited to launch this summer!

It was so, so good.

I managed to fit in a little shopping, (like I said above) a massage, ordered room service and got to work.

In my approximate 28 hours away, I started and finished a book on the technical side (Blog, Inc. by Joy Deangdeelert Cho), and started another on the inspiration side (Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin). I defined my purpose for the blog, book and new project using The Action Book by Behance (it’s an a-mazing tool, btw). I came up with measurable goals for the blog, book and project and created my summer reading lists.

Here are some highlights from my time….

 

Just a few months ago, my sweet friend arranged a meeting with a published author for me. I was excited to hear more about his journey into the publishing world and glean any advice I could.

As the 3 of us sat around the bar table, I was struck by how brave he was. I had recently been noticing that in all of my favorite authors. The common theme was they had overcome their fear of failure in order to pursue their bigger-than-self dream. It was exhilarating… and scary, all at once.

We chatted for over 2 hours and I walked away invigorated and deeply challenged. He didn’t sugar coat anything.

At one point in the conversation, he said something along the lines of, “Don’t tell me how much time you don’t have. We all have the same amount of time each day. Yes, you are a mom of 3. Sure, your children keep you busy. There are moms of 5 out there, working full time and single parenting while chasing their writing dreams. So. What are you gonna do with yours?” Yikes.

It became clear. I was at a crossroads. Was I going to sit around and dream about the time “someday” when this writing thing will happen, or was I going to pursue it? Full-tilt pursuit.

Sure, it will be messy. Yes, there will be times I’ll want to throw in the towel. I will prioritize and then doubt those choices. Sometimes that will prompt me to change accordingly and other times that will propel me to continue on, and get stronger as a result of my choice.

I will be forced to take myself seriously. And at the same time, required each day, to work for my planned amount of time, and then put it aside and determine to NOT take myself too seriously. There’s so much more to life after all.

And perhaps, the most sobering truth of all, pursuing a dream bigger than myself will require that I come face to face with the underlying question, “What if it just doesn’t pan out?” Gulp. And there it is. That’s the fear all great dreamers must face.

And each day, in the midst of that question, we must choose an exuberant (although sometimes not quite as confident) YES!

Yes to the dream.

Yes to our open hands and surrender to what that will look like.

And a ‘yes’ to settling on the belief that no matter the outcome, the pursuit of the dream is always worth it.

So, CHEERS (glasses clinking) to you for joining me on this journey.

And CHEERS to your dreams.

CHEERS to pursuing these dreams with big intentionality and even bigger surrender.

And CHEERS to believing our dreams are ones worth sharing with others.

 

What I’ve Been Writing

    

Lately I’ve been asked the question, “What are you writing?”  It’s a good question to ask.  One I enjoy hearing.  It tells me that you, my friends who are asking, genuinely care.  It tells me that you would like to know.  Maybe even that you want to read.  And although I enjoy hearing the question, it’s one I often struggle to answer.

I think because the short answer is, “Nothing.”

I’ve been writing nothing.  And yet, I know that isn’t true.

I remember getting into a bit of a rhythm with writing here on the blog during the summer.  And then the school year hit and I’m honestly not quite sure what happened.

Except that… I was able to attend a really great children’s ministry conference in California.  I walked away with tools for myself and our community.

Then, I contracted meningitis and recognized my need for a bit of a slower pace of life.

Then, I went to this amazing writer’s conference (insert plug for www.hopewriters.com) and it was truly incredible.  I walked away with one of the speaker’s words ringing in my ears, “If you can commit to writing 500 words a day (that’s one typed page), then you will have written 3 books by the end of a year.”

What?!?!?!  OK.  Challenge accepted.  So, then my focus turned from the blog to that commitment.  I began to finally give my book idea some bones.  It began to take shape.  And although it was far from perfect, I wrote 15,000 words.  Roughly 1/4 of a book.

Then my love of all things Christmas kicked in and I had so much fun with the season.  We were in our new home, approaching the one year mark, and celebrating our first Christmas there!  We decorated.  We chose the perfect tree.  We enjoyed seeing the kids wallow in the magic of it all.  We visited family and friends.  Then a blip of sickness hit (tis the season).  Then my husband had sinus surgery.

And then it was February.  And then I had my wisdom teeth pulled.

“So, what have you been writing?”

“Well, I was consistent for a while.  But, not so much now.”

This is the story.  This is my reality.  And sometimes these are the things I find myself believing about that reality…
1. You are not disciplined
2. You are not committed to see a plan through
3. You have no direction
4. You don’t know what you want
5. You are full of fear

Ick. Ick. Ick.  Lies.

And then a friend said, “You know, no one says you HAVE to write the book now.”  This is true.  There is no timeline.

And then my husband said, “Are you happy?”  To which I said, “Yes.  Most of the time.  Except for the times when I’m not.”  OK.  Then pressure’s off.  No need to set a deadline.

And then I read a blogpost of one of my favorite authors, Emily Freeman.  She said,

I have a project that’s been living in my bones and I would like to complete it.  Several projects, actually.  I can see them all, I know what they are to be, what purpose I think they are made to serve as I listen to my life and the Spirit’s heartbeat.  In the past I would have an idea and fairly soon after that, I get to work.  The vision grows as the work is done.  This time, though, the vision has been growing but the work isn’t done at all.

It can be confusing because so much of the rhetoric around creative work is that if you have an idea but aren’t acting on it, then it means you’re nursing some brand of fear, insecurity, or immaturity. Put your head down, drink more coffee, and get to work!  But what about the work that grows slowly?  What about the ideas that take years to form?  The ministry that needs darkness and time to bury its roots down deep into you?  The book that only wants to drip out of you, one slow word at a time?  The business that requires an un-rushed foundation?  Is the vision strong enough to carry our soul through the foggy right now?  If it’s not, are we willing to listen to the still, small voice and believe it’s telling the truth?  Can we hold on to our faith while we wait?

And I wept as I read.

It resonated so deeply in my soul.

Sure.  Maybe I could benefit from some direction and concrete steps.  I think that is true.

But, I also believe this “dream” I hold is bigger than my
current experience.  I need to continue living, learning and
embracing my “right now life” in order
to see this dream come to pass.

We had a beautiful weekend retreat with our church  community a few weeks ago.  It was so great.  During that time, God gave me a vivid picture of my oldest daughter teaching in an auditorium to many people.  I was there on the stage with her, but she was teaching.  And I heard God say, “You have daughters for a reason.”  Then I heard Him say, “This is a mother-daughter thing.”

Then, later that evening, our friend who came from California to lead our retreat times, walked me through a dream mapping session.  He asked good questions re: my skills, dreams, passions, current realities, structure of daily life, family, friends, vision, mission and culture.  Wow.  It was a powerful time for me!

Two things emerged clearly from that session:
1. A realization that I DO know what I want. (I was able to verbalize it all during our session)


2. A chord was struck deep inside me when a friend said, “Perhaps the picture of your daughter that God gave you earlier in the day is connected to this dream because in order for her own dreams to come to pass, she needs to see you act upon your own.” (Cue the weeping.  Silent weeping.  Unable to talk weeping.  I think it’s safe to say that it struck a chord deeply.)

You see, the challenge for me lies not in KNOWING what the dream and desire is.  I know it.  It is planted within me and I’m confident it is there for a reason.  The challenge lies in when to act and when to simply be.  Rhythms of rest and work.  Pursuit of something bigger than myself with somewhat hazy parameters and pursuit of the beautiful gifts directly in front of me.

Facing what is directly in front of me used to be a challenge.  I am a dreamer and creator by nature.  Day-to-day tasks and the repetitiveness of it all used to feel like a drag!  But, I am so content with it now.  Not even just content, it fills me up SO VERY MUCH.  I love my family.  My kids are growing so quickly.  I relish my days with them and even the more difficult moments are filled with more perspective and grace than ever before.

“So, what have you been writing?”

Well, you see, I’ve been writing lives.

You see those 3 adorable faces at the top of this post?  Yep.  How could you miss them?

I’ve been listening to their dreams.  I’ve been sensitive to their heart beats.

I’ve had some timely conversations with my preteen daughter and watched her embrace the “growing up aspect” of her almost 10- year old self unashamedly and with a bold confidence.  And THAT makes my heart sing!

I’ve been watching our 5 1/2 year old maneuver what life looks like as a middle child and find her sweet little self–complete with her gymnastics, tennis, hockey & wrestling dreams. The ninja turtle-clad superhero mother of many little Baby Alives has big plans and preferences.

I’ve been seeing our 3 year old through the throes of potty-training and 3 year-old self-control.  When words are lacking, sister likes to bite. Yikes.  I’ve watched her love on her baby dolls, and the next minute treat them as a football.  I’ve heard her laugh maniacally on the trampoline, simply over-the-moon happy to just be with her sisters, playing, happy.

I’ve been writing lives.  In my broken, messy, needing-grace-daily self, I have been doing the work of writing lives.  And it’s a beautiful discovery.

Sure, the dreams of being a published author someday are there.  I’m not worried about them going away.  And yes, I’m (in my own pace) taking steps to nurture and steward those dreams well.  But, perhaps the harsh lies I was believing earlier look a bit more like this:

Instead of…
1. You are not disciplined
2. You are not committed to see a plan through
3. You have no direction
4. You don’t know what you want
5. You are full of fear

Maybe it’s more like…
1. You are quite disciplined in not losing faith of your dream in the midst of your reality

2. You are willing to sit with the sometimes awkward feeling of “not yet knowing” in order to sort out the Spirit’s leading and timing of it all

3. (See #2)

4. You know exactly what you want & you are also aware of the fact that MANY things fill you up and provide you with the feeling of a “life well lived.”  This often means, you have to make. a. choice. in regard to WHAT you are pursuing at any given time.

5. OK.  Maybe a little.  This one isn’t an outright full-fledged lie.  Things in which I know the general outcome (daily routines, etc…) are much easier for me to say yes to.  The big dreams in which I lose a bit of control and don’t actually KNOW the outcome are a much more difficult yes.

But, I am becoming brave.

Day by day.  Bit by bit.  And in the meantime, I am doing the good work of writing beautiful lives.

Saying Yes

This summer, I took a bit of a silent vow with myself to say ‘yes’ more often—sure, to my own dreams and ambitions, my husband’s summer hopes, but even more specifically, my kids’ big bucket list of dreams that I envisioned them having.

As a mom, I find myself saying ‘no’ a lot of the time. I know the reality is that I’m likely not. I actually say ‘yes’ a fair amount too. But, when you are asked so many questions a day, you can often find yourself feeling the weight of the no’s.

And I’ll stop there. Before I get too deep and begin to spiral into a big “reasoning session,” I’ll simply state, I found myself wanting to say ‘yes’ to a lot of fun things this summer.

Simply because I can.

And I know these moments with them little are fleeting.

And I am convinced that despite the chaos, mess, and
sometimes lack of personal space that I have,
I will look back and miss these days so very much.

I asked the girls their bucket lists and they were surprisingly small.

Maddie:

  1. The pool (LOTS OF TIMES)
  2. Having friends sleepover
  3. Nighttime swims in pool (yes, the pool made the list twice)
  4. Movies (specifically BFG & the next Harry Potter DVD)
  5. Ice Cream
  6. Sleeping in
  7. Making a fairy garden

Harper:

  1. The pool
  2. Playdates
  3. 5th Birthday party fun
  4. Ice cream
  5. Horses

And Bryn repeated everything her sisters did. Especially ice cream.

So, we’ve been saying ‘yes.’ We’ve been saying it as often and as much as possible. And it has been SO much fun! We go to bed most nights this summer exhausted from a day of fun and sun. The girls are happy and we are soaking in the moments.

And, as usual, in the grand scheme of saying ‘yes,’ the seemingly underlying agenda is that (yet again) I am learning an important life lesson.

You see there are amazing benefits to saying yes. There are awesome things that come as a result. We get to watch our kids make so many memories. We get to see them laugh and be thankful and give us random hugs and kisses because they can’t contain their excitement. And when we do have to say ‘no’ (because let’s be real, that needs to happen sometimes too), they seem to be realizing more and more and as much as they can in their own 9, almost 5 and 2 ½ year old ways, that it’s not so devastating after all. And that mom and dad actually LOVE to say yes! And there will be another ‘yes’ coming very soon. Good gifts. We love to lavish them with good things.

And all of this is shifting my own heart in a new way toward God… who actually loves to tell us, his sons and daughters, YES as often as possible too! Much like our own hearts are naturally geared toward being our children’s biggest cheerleaders, so is our Father’s heart toward us. He loves to cheer us on. He loves to see us embrace big dreams and chase them!

And yet, perhaps the lesson I’m learning even more in this season is that He’s always there.

An exuberant and confident ‘YES!’
doesn’t always mean the confidence will
naturally carry through whatever it is you are saying yes to.

And He knows that too. And He’s there through it all. He’s not waiting for us to fail so He can say, “I told you so.” But, He’s ready for when we do fail (or when we lose a little of that confidence) so He can say, “Here I am. Come to me. Let me help. I know you so well and I love you so much.”

About a month ago, my two youngest daughters and I met up with friends at the zoo. Near the baby polar bear exhibit, my friend and her 2 littles approached us with smiles—and her little girl in a full-on lace and frills flower girl dress from a wedding she’d been in the week before.

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I felt my face open in a huge smile, and a weight lift, as I soaked in the meaning of her attire.

Mom said yes.

On a hot day in the middle of summer, at the zoo, with her sneakers on for walking, Mom said yes. And her yes was bringing me unknown amounts of freedom. Because sometimes the ‘yes’ that we know we’re supposed to give isn’t always easy, but I can guarantee that it always brings freedom. So much. Freedom for others to realize that we are in this together—this “band of mothers” seeking to do our best to raise powerful and happy lovelies.

We joined up with hugs and greetings and made our way around the zoo. Pretty soon into our adventure, we met up with another dear friend and her daughter. And all the kids wanted to ride the infamous “pirate ride.” The moms looked at one another with somewhat intuitive looks as we said, “OK!” I’d never ridden this before, nor had either of my kiddos. Early into the ride, I realized that the cannon shooting water was loud and the well-placed pirates were actually kinda creepy- mostly because they resembled characters from The Walking Dead as they seemed to be falling apart and the material of which they were constructed was breaking down. It was an old ride, in need of maintenance, and that was adding a level of “creepy” to it all.

My girls were quite terrified. But we were there. My mom friend comforted my 4 year-old in the front seat as I let my 2 year-old snuggle deep into my side and I “took it like a champ,” as a pirate shot water directly into my ear. Lord help me. What was this yes all about?!?!?!

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We made it through the ride. They may have regretted that yes (HA!), but they learned one very important thing that day.

I won’t leave you when your ‘yes’ gets hard.

And sure, today the ‘yes’ was a simple kids’ ride at the zoo. Years down the road, the ‘yes’ may become one I truly struggle with them making. It may be something that causes those in my life around me to judge and have very strong opinions toward how I, as a parent, should handle their ‘yes.’ But even then, it is my hope and prayer that I’ll remember the pirate ride and I will choose to remain. Choose to let them snuggle in by my side and not point an “I told you so” finger. Choose to remain their biggest cheerleader and choose love over any sort of fear-driven shaming.

A few weeks ago I took all 3 girls in for haircuts. In the chair, with her beautiful long blonde hair combed neatly down her back, the stylist asked our 4 year old, “How much do you want cut off?” Without hesitation, she said, “Take it to my shoulders.” Gulp. We had not talked about this prior to this moment. She has always said she wanted long hair. Just a trim today was her game plan. And in a moment, it all shifted.

The stylist looked at me and I looked at Harper. “Girl, are you sure?” She locked eyes with me and nodded stoically. OK. I gave the stylist the OK and he proceeded to cut. Massive amounts. Of her hair. Drifting to. The. Floor.

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She smiled the whole time. She was so happy. She nodded her approval when he asked. It went so well.

And then… we got in the car. Her eyes filled with HUGE tears and her lip quivered as she asked, “Mom, how long before it grows back?” Oh man. Hair regret. We’ve all been there. I locked eyes with my oldest and without saying a word, we both jumped into action.

“Harper, it looks AWESOME!”

“It’s so great girl! You can definitely pull off a long or short cut.”

“Wait until Daddy sees how beautiful you are! It’s amazing!”

“Harper. Think how easy it will be in the pool. Not nearly as many tangles.”

(cue the occasional comment from Bryn, “Is Harper sad? Harper is sad. Yep.”)

And the clincher from big sis, “Now your hair is the same length as your friend Reese’s! You guys can be twins!” YEEESSSSSSS!!!!

I quickly texted Brad to prep him. He is a lover of long hair. I let him know the situation and told him to put on his game face and be ready to encourage Harper a ton. Got it. He was on board and we were all united in the “Help Harper to Not Regret Her Big, Brave Choice” mission. And it worked. It worked so well.

Saying Yes.

It’s so fun. Sometimes it’s so hard. Sometimes it’s heartbreaking.

But, perhaps the bigger win is
who we all become in the process of saying yes.
Here’s to being our best selves and
bringing the best out in our kiddos.

And to that, I say a resounding YES!

We Carry their Dreams

We have arrived at the “two times a week” commitment with ballet. Gulp. That moment when the inner me nervously begins to chant, “This is too much. This is too much. This is too much.”

My 9 year old loves ballet on most days, except for those days when she doesn’t.

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Maybe I’m alone in this camp, but I remember times before I had children, or when my oldest was very small and watching parents maneuver the teeter-totter of their children’s activities and involvement levels. In my mind there were two clear camps of parents:

  1. Those who overscheduled their children. These were the ones I often instantly judged [Aargh. Embarrassing, but true] for, in my own mind, replacing activity with true connection. And…
  2. Those more enlightened ones who often completely threw in the “activity towel” and said no to all forms of organized activity (or at least very strictly limited their children’s activities to one per kid). Achieving a martyr-like disposition (one of which I loved, gulp) for the sake of “taking the road less traveled” and pushing back against our “going to hell in a hand basket, overscheduled society.”

And then my kids grew up a bit.

And they started to morph into little humans whose likes and dislikes grew beyond which flavor of popsicles they would like to enjoy after their naps.

And because I want to be a mom who truly sees and hears her kids and provides a support for them to grow into the people THEY are created to be (not the ones I envision them becoming), I had to revisit my “already determined and filed away” (been there, done that) view of activities and schedules.

And with that little loop around/re-visitation of a lesson I thought I’d already learned, this is what I’m discovering…

CHOOSING TO TRULY SEE AND HEAR YOUR KIDDOS IS HARD WORK

It requires a fair amount of intentional thought, time and work. It means being open to having your mind changed. It means admitting you don’t have an answer sometimes, taking time to think about it and come to a conclusion later.

Having hard and fast rules is easier on so many levels because it doesn’t require
living in the tension 
of
not already having a pre-determined
answer before a question is even asked.

Do you know what I mean?

If I already know (for example), we will only allow one recurring activity at a time per kid, then when something new peaks her interest, I can say “No” before she’s even finished asking. Done. Finished. Good job sticking to your guns! Pat yourself on the back. You. Are. Awesome. You have this parenting gig down to a science.

Meanwhile, my daughter quietly crumples a little
and a bit of her spirit is squashed because a dream
that was blooming in her heart was extinguished
before even allowed a moment to grow.

I am finding that for me to truly see and hear my daughters, I have to take regular moments each day to stop and just watch them. Just see them. With no agenda. As I do that, I find that I am blessed by what I see. They are such sweet, sweet gifts.

And they are people—people whom I don’t have to manage or control or convince. They are ones I get to watch grow and carriers of dreams that I get the privilege of experiencing and watching unfold.

And this is hard work because it requires more than that—more than just sitting back and watching. I hear them. I see them. I watch and listen as they teach me about their dreams, likes, dislikes and desires. Then, I have to tap into God’s wisdom that is readily available for me as a parent, and make choices that will guide them well into these dreams, likes, dislikes and desires.

IT’S OUR JOB, AS PARENTS, TO HELP OUR KIDS CARRY THEIR BIG DREAMS

Our 9 year old had been saying for almost a year that she wanted to pursue ballet.

Our 4 year old had been dreaming of riding a horse for well over a year.

So, we signed up for a ballet class.

And we promised to research horseback riding possibilities.

But, not just any ballet class… She would only consider locations that yearly performed The Nutcracker. She has dreams. And she’s committed. I may have even tried (to no avail) to persuade her to consider another studio because a neighbor friend was in classes there. But, she said no.

So, we found a studio, close to home and signed up. She loved it. But, after a few months, her class was canceled due to the number of girls signed up. They needed more than 5 to keep the class going and only 4 were attending. She was crushed.

So we found a new studio. That performs The Nutcracker. Check.

As for horseback riding—no need to worry! Her dreams were not easily forgotten. Our 4 year old definitely kept us accountable to finding a place! With a fully-operational and public horse farm less than 10 minutes from our house and an entrance sign in plain view on our way to ANYWHERE, we would not be let off the hook. J So, we signed up for summer lessons. And she is IN HEAVEN.

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But, this is the truth about their dreams.

 

IT IS NOT ALWAYS GLAMOROUS.

 

Just because a child has a big dream, does not mean she
has the capacity to carry it easily.

Our 9 year old just finished a week of ballet summer intensive. Ballet, character, tap, jazz, and modern—sprinkled with an intro to pointe and a little history of music and dance—from 9 am-4 pm, everyday for a week. She woke up the first day excited and dressed before breakfast. Fantastic!

Aaand… the other 4 days she complained and told me she didn’t want to get out of bed.

Similarly, our 4 year old came home from her 2nd horseback riding lesson so giddy and excited. Then her sister talked about how she got to help feed the horses in their stalls during the lesson. “It was so fun!” she said. To which our 4 year old responded angrily, “But not fun for me.” And stormed out of the room. News flash: While your sister was feeding the horses carrots, you were RIDING the horse in the barn. Dreams coming true? Remember? What the?!?!?!

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In days past, I may have given up. I may have said, “You will finish this week of camp and then no more. We will take a break from ballet and try again next year.” Or, “If you don’t appreciate your horseback riding lessons, then we will stop.”

But, in my spirit, I knew there was a better way. She is 9 after all. Aaannd 4. Four.

As a parent, giving up because I don’t want to hear the complaining, or even giving up for nobler reasons of not wanting to overextend her (and that IS a real thing that needs to be considered in light of each individual kid) doesn’t really teach much, does it?

It often does nothing more than give her instant gratification (sleeping in her bed) and leaves her with a greater sense of not being able to do hard things later on in life.

And it leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth and a shame-based cycle of thoughts wondering how other parents do it, what’s wrong with me and my parenting, and did I just take the easy way out and squash her dream a little?

More times than not, our dreams are
bigger than ourselves
and we need a team to encourage us in our pursuit
and help us 
carry the dreams to the finish line.

So, the question remains… if our kiddos carry big dreams and we are trying our best to see and hear them well, how do we know when to encourage and push them to stay committed and when to let go and watch them choose to move on from the dream?

My answer?
I don’t really know.

But, I think you will. You are her parent. You are her mom, her dad. And I believe with all of my heart that you were chosen specifically for this role and no one can do it better than you.

IMG_0787(Two year old dreams of rollerblading)

And I believe living in the tension of not having a hard and fast answer for everything is actually a great place to be. Not knowing in this moment, exactly what you’ll do when you cross a decision/turning point bridge with your kiddos days, weeks, months or years down the road is not a sign of a lazy parent. It’s actually a sign of an open parent. One who will see, hear, assess and decide according to all the factors given in the moment. When it happens.

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So take heart! Be confident. And don’t be afraid to watch your kids pursue something really big and great.

Raising Babes and Grief: I See You. You’re Doing It.

To the grandparents in Noodles & Company,

Hello sweet people. I see you.

I see you sitting with and listening to your young granddaughters as they innocently eat their noodles and ask endless questions that likely vary across a spectrum so wide I can’t even begin to guess.

Why is the sky blue?

Do you see this noodle—what does it look like to you?

Can I have a cookie?

Do you remember that one dog we saw last year with black spots?

Will you pretend to be a baby squirrel and play in the trees with me? I’m a baby bunny named Rosie.

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I also saw the tears that came seemingly out of nowhere from your oldest granddaughter. I saw her sister rush over to hug her.

I saw you reach for her, Grandma. You pulled her gently onto your lap and let her cry. I saw her sobbing. I saw you hold her as you likely have many times over the past days, weeks. This wasn’t the first burst of tears and won’t be the last.

I saw you, Grandpa, get up to buy the cookie they’d asked for. They ate a good lunch and the cookie was their reward. I saw you wipe your own tears quickly as you waited in line.

And my own heart lurched. I knew this scene all too well.

 

You are a grieving family. Someone you love dearly has died. Someone you never imagined out of the picture of your life is permanently gone from this earth. I can’t help but wonder if it’s a parent of your granddaughters. Perhaps your own child? Or heaven forbid, both of their parents.

I hold the hot tears back as my own happy daughters finish their lunches. They are happy—safely held by the concept of family that has never, in their sweet 2 and 4-year lifetimes ever changed.

I hold the hot tears back because this is not about me. I will not make it about me. But my heart is ripping inside my own body. I am grieving for you, your loss and your own deep grief.

And in this moment, I want nothing more than to say to you, sweet grandparents,

“You are doing a good job. I am so proud of you. Keep holding them close. Reassure them that it’s OK to feel whatever they need to feel. It’s OK to be angry. It’s OK to be sad. It’s OK to laugh when something is funny. There is no right or wrong way of grief.”

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I see your eyes lock with mine Grandma, and I try with every fiber of my being to transmit my heart directly into yours as I smile at you. You smile back, as you carry your granddaughter out the door and to the car. You are tired and unsure of how to do this all. But, you’re doing it. Moment by moment. Each hand held. Each tear that soaks into the shoulder of your own shirt. You’re doing it.

I want to tell you to take care of yourself too. Find your own shoulder to cry on. Find a hand to hold. Grieve yourself, too. As you maintain strength for your sweet granddaughters, find time to do what you need to do for yourself.

I see you Grandpa, as you silently tuck the forgotten cookie in your pocket and walk with your youngest granddaughter out the door. I see the sadness in your eyes. I want to give you a hug. But, instead, I say a prayer.

I am so thankful for you and your gentle hands. The cookies you’ll buy. The yeses you’ll give to bring joy to their lives, even in the midst of tragedy. I am hopeful for a community to surround you both in this difficult time. I am thankful that we all are fully capable, in any given moment, to grieve as needed.

In my years of counselor training and running support groups for grieving families, the ONE (most important) THING I learned over and over again is that

we, as people, can do the hard work of grieving.
We only need a safe space to do so and a community with which to do it.

I pray for space to allow all 4 of you to be able to do what you need to do as you process, as you grieve, as you learn what this means for your lives.

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As I sit and watch you, I reach for my own daughter’s cheeks. I hold them in my hands and kiss them. I tell her she is brave and beautiful and that I love her very much. She giggles. In that moment, I am reminded of what it means to raise babes, to parent.

Families all look very different, but one thing is universally true… where there is love between parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, there are moments of feeling as if your own heart is walking around outside of you. Sometimes your heart is bursting with so much pride and joy that you feel as if your smile will break your own face. And other times, the hurt and pain is so intense as you watch them hurt and feel pain and maneuver it all. You want nothing more than to fix and protect them from any type of grief or pain ever. But, we all know, that isn’t what life is about. We feel pain. We get hurt. We fall. Our children don’t need us to change that. What they need most is for us to let them feel all the stinking feels. They need us to help them process it all—whether through conversation, or simply holding them, kissing them or crying with them.

 

So, to you, grandparents at Noodles & Company, I know you may not feel capable. But, tell yourselves you are. Tell yourselves that regularly, because the truth is…. YOU ARE. You are fully capable. You are doing a good job. Keep it up. Keep loving. Keep going. You are doing it really, really well.

A Few of my Favorite Things…

Today we rest.

Our Sunday rhythm usually consists of church in the morning, but today, by a stroke of fate and goodwill, church met at 430 pm.  Hallelujah!

So, this morning, we rested.

We took it easy.

We filled our morning with all of our favorite things: pajamas, 2nd cups of coffee, sleeping in, snuggles, iPads, and later breakfasts out.

And on that note, here are a few of my recent favorite things…

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
With amazing new summer flavors such as Atlantic Beach Pie, Ylang Ylang and Fennel, Birch and Marshmallows (this tastes exactly like the foam off the top of a homemade root beer float), and Savannah Buttermint, one of our city’s local highlights, Jeni’s, has easily become one of our favorite places to treat ourselves as the temperatures begin to rise.

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Our Back Porch
We’ve been working to make this one of our favorite hang spots.  With some new deck furniture, brightly-colored plants in the pots, ceiling fans in the roof above our heads, and a great view of the girls new summer highlight (the trampoline), I anticipate many hours spent here this summer!

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This JCrew top
With the large ruffle sleeves, it’s just enough “outside the box” for me.  It’s probably my favorite spring clothing purchase.  Still working to find just the right pant/short to pair it with, but I look forward to an orange lip, some bold sunglasses and feeling fun and stylish in this beauty!

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Noodles & Company
With this new Chicken Veracruz salad (YUM!) and their semi-healthy kids selections, this has become one of my own and the girls’ favorite lunching spots after a park or the zoo.  Apparently Ruby, the koala, enjoys it too–well, at least the chocolate chip cookie.

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Nap time with this One
She will be 5 in August and she definitely does not nap MOST days of the week… but, every now and then she will hit a bit of a wall and want a nap.  And she always asks if she can nap with me in the big bed.  Some days I say no because I know I have to take advantage of the nap time to get some things done.  But, on the days I say yes, it’s always this sweet.

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ZEST Juice Co.
This lovely find is practically in my backyard!  They specialize in their cold-pressed juices and don’t joke around when it comes to quality and content.  Free delivery is even offered on large orders (if you’re thinking of doing a juice cleanse or anything along those lines), but I can only speak officially for the one smoothie I had- Blue Almond.  And it was delicious!  On a busy day, I was running errands and realized that I had yet to eat lunch.  This stop at ZEST did the trick!  Filled me up and kept me going.

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Columbus BalletMet
My daughter participated in her first recital with BalletMet this weekend.  And my initial impression of them held (if not increased to new levels) when I saw all the dance students perform.  It is a QUALITY program and I am so proud to send my daughter there. She is receiving amazing training in a fun environment and loving every minute of it!

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The Sisters
Although I didn’t have a super recent picture of Bryn, I must include ALL THREE of the sisters here.  Their dynamic keeps getting better and better.

Bryn and Harper (2 and almost 5) are playing imaginatively together so much more and it is so fun to see Harper step quite naturally into the big sister role when Maddie is away at school.  And Bryn’s little mind and vocabulary are skyrocketing–which of course, only makes it more and more fun for Harper and Maddie to play along with her.

And then the Harper-Maddie dynamic.  Although fierce (most days I break up at least 1-3 fights), they are hilarious.  Lately, they make one another laugh NON-STOP.  And Harper’s laugh is so great right now!  Full abandonment, joy unspeakable and sometimes a few snorts.

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Simply Tuesday book
Freedom, freedom, freedom.  This book by Emily P. Freeman was fantastic!  If you are looking for a fun read with lots of reminders to embrace our “simple, everyday moments,” this is the book for you!  Vowing to be a bench-dweller and stop to sit (because love does indeed sit) more and more this summer.
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I certainly hope you were able to enjoy a few of your favorite things this weekend!

 

 

 

 

On Being Present and Vulnerable…

The other day I had this thought and it looks a little something like this:

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It’s a simple reminder that I needed.

Lately, I feel as if I’ve been noticing this more and more…

Allergies and Anger

My “go to” emotion in times of distress is more often than not, anger. And yet, I’m realizing that anger is often a mask. Because being angry is WAY easier for me. It’s an easier feeling to have, than to wrestle with what is really going on below the surface. So, I get angry with my husband and his “49 moderately severe to severe” environmental allergies that prompt him to hunker down and choose to stay inside during most of the days of May and June.

And yet, the reality is, I am sad. I am disappointed.

Sad that we can’t as easily hop in the car and spend 3 hours at a zoo or park without it wearing him out due to all the reactions to the outdoor allergens. Sad that it doesn’t feel refreshing for him when we get out as a family for a bike ride or a dip in the pool. Disappointed that he feels bound by the problem and isn’t able to choose differently. And in the deepest, darkest place of my sadness, I am afraid. Afraid that it may never change.

And so we sit. On the couch. And we talk about our feelings. We remain respectful of one another as we talk, but we let the real feelings out, however ugly they may be.

WE CHOOSE VULNERABILITY AND A SPACE TO BE PRESENT IS CREATED.

Trying to be SuperMom

Prompted by my oldest daughter’s expressed desire to have one of us at her end-of-year 3rd grade picnic we worked things out so that I could be there. Dad would take both littlest ones with him to middle daughter’s gymnastics that morning, so that I could make it to the picnic on time. It was on the calendar, on the weekly white-board of activities. It was happening. Except… the time I had written down was wrong.

I thought to call the school and double-check that morning as soon as I had a moment to, once Dad was out the door on his way to gymnastics. I was off by an hour. And that hour threw the whole plan out the window.

Dad came home. Middle daughter was asleep in car. Youngest daughter was cranky and hungry. Dad, understandably, needed to get back to work. I made an executive decision to let middle daughter continue to nap for a bit in car while I make lunch for youngest daughter, send Dad to office and miss eldest daughter’s picnic. Deciding not to call the school, and hoping against all hope that the eldest, Maddie, would simply brush it off, or even forget our plan, I proceeded with lunch and then on to nap for the littlest.

After laying her down, I noticed two missed calls and voicemails on my phone. Gulp. And heartbreak…. It was Maddie.

“Mom. It’s me. Are you coming to my picnic?”
said in the saddest of sad voices (Click)

I dialed the school’s number, got her out of class, and tried to explain and clean up my mess over the phone. She graciously heard and said it was OK, but I could tell she was simply saving face in front of the office staff and I would hear her true feelings as soon as she arrived home.

Sisters and I waited at the corner in the van to pick her up off the bus and head for “let’s kick off Memorial Day weekend” ice cream. She got in the car and gave me the look.

“Are you mad?” I asked.

And then it all came out. Tears. Mention of this being a once-in-a-lifetime thing. There will never be another 3rd grade picnic. I had to share a blanket with my friend and her mom. I was so disappointed. We had this planned out and you messed it up Mom!

As she shared, MY HEART HURT so much. I wished desperately that I could take it all back and change it. We sat there in the car, not moving, as I said,

“I’m sorry. I wish things were different. I did mess up. It was my fault. I need you to hear this: I love you so much. I care about the things you care about. You are important to me and your activities mean a lot to me. I am human and I will likely disappoint you again. But, I hear you and I am really, really sorry.” 

WE CHOOSE TO STOP AND ASK A SIMPLE QUESTION… PROVIDING A SPACE TO BE PRESENT. AND VULNERABILITY HAPPENS.

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The ice cream helped a bit. The play date- turned into staying for dinner and giggling until close to bedtime (including sprinklers, water balloons, lemonade and pizza) with four of their neighbor friends seemed to help even more. She even came up to me at one point and whispered, “Thanks Mom. This is the best play date ever. I even had one minute where I completely forgot about you missing the picnic.”

ONE MINUTE. Well. OK. I’ll take that.

Rainstorms and Flowers

Yesterday while the two youngest napped, Maddie helped me pick out flowers for our porch pots. There was 15-minute stretch where it began to rain. We stuck it out under one of the covered areas, next to an array of beautiful flowers. We sat. I fought the feelings of “this is holding us up from our plans for today,” and instead, told myself that it was indeed OK to be bored and for plans to shift a bit.

We watched the rain. Chatted about flowers a bit. But mostly, we sat in silence, while I stole glances, looking at her, drinking her in a bit. She’s growing. She’s beautiful. She is her own person, with her own preferences and dreams and thoughts.

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On our way out, after the rainstorm, she surprised me by breaking the silence and saying,

“Mom. I just feel like I’m supposed to tell you that you’re really important to me.
And I’m glad to have you.”

Whoa.

CREATING A SPACE TO BE PRESENT ALLOWS FOR US TO BE AWARE OF OUR THOUGHTS AND VULNERABLE WITH THEM. 

And, always, that results in a beautiful gift. Try it and you’ll see. It may not look like you expect, but it WILL be beautiful. You’ll feel it in the settling of your soul.

As my husband and I watched our girls play in the sprinklers the other night with friends, enjoy a movie and sister-sleepover after their friends left, our shared glances indicated one thing, “We won’t get these moments back.”

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Let’s be present. Let’s allow our eyes “drink in” our loved ones around us and allow our actions to silently say, “I see you. You matter.” And just watch what happens. It will be beautiful.