Thoughts Throughout a Day

…in no particular order, all over the place just like my brain this week.

An apology without change is just manipulation. (credit: unknown Pinterest person)

Some people are more worried about what others think of them, how they are perceived by others, than they are about what kind of people they actually are. These people will never be committed to anything or anyone more than they are committed to self and their narrative.

If you’ve built a narrative for a situation, you are the villain and not the victim.

Intimacy requires spiritual unity. I had forgotten this.

Politics and policies are argued by the privileged, who, because of their resources, largely don’t have to live with any of the consequences of their stance. They don’t worry about not having health care or what they’ll do if their daughter becomes pregnant because of a rapist – they have the ability and access to “fix” those things. The masses, who have limited or no resources, are left to live with the results of the discussions of the privileged.

The Redemption Project with Van Jones really moves me.

Click Here for a Redemption Project promo.

Some people deserve the death penalty. It is unfairly meted out in our society, and until or unless we can fix that it shouldn’t be imposed. There are more people living in suburbia who deserve the death penalty than there are sitting on death rows who will be impacted by it.

Collateral damage is the “unexpected, unintentional, and/or unavoidable losses accompanying or following an accident or failure.” In real life it is a nurse at urgent care, seemingly tending her own old wound that still needs healing, who grabs your hand and says, “People just don’t think.” In real life it is a child’s friend who is now afraid when her parents argue, and it’s also the parents of that child.

Still thinking about the validity of this thought: People who can’t really look at themselves in a mirror are the ones who most often post selfies.

Why are SO many people running for President?

Hospitals see humans at their absolute best and their absolute worst. At birth and at death, and in all the messiness in between.

There are really good people filling hospitals all around the world. People struggling for breath even though they’ve positively impacted the lives of thousands of people. At the same time, there are people who’ve hurt others that are making plans for the weekend. This life is sometimes seemingly unfair – seemingly” because people who’ve hurt others and whose lives are filled with narratives can never really rest in security. Not in this life or the next.

Healing happens in hospitals, but it also happens on country roads, when your windows are rolled down and your music is loud.

Freedom…Freedom…You got to give what you take…Freedom. Hold on to my freedom…

Writing in a gratitude journal is an important exercise because it keeps me focused on the most important things. Going back to read old entries in my gratitude journal is even more important because it brings equanimity to my thoughts in a matter of moments.

I recently found the Bible I used during my teens and twenties. It’s filled with highlighted lines and earmarked pages. The forty-five year old me scanning what’s underlined easily sees this was the resource of an anxious young woman who made many, many mistakes. I am so thankful to find a book with pieces of my story – pieces of me – that I’d forgotten. It’s documentation of my progress in some areas and my lack of progress in others.

When I’m a big girl, a real adult, I want to publish a book. I’m writing pieces now, but they need to get much, much better. The pieces are like the daily training runs in preparation for a marathon.

Should I change my kitchen cabinets from white to blue?

Fatigue caught up with me today. That always happens when danger passes.

I’m going to keep being me. She’s not perfect, but I like her.

Oh Good Lord

I sat with my Mom at lunch today and thought OH GOOD LORD over and over and over again. It’s Mother’s Day and I wanted us to have a nice lunch with good conversation and then all these things – MomLife – kept happening. The wait time was going to be 45 minutes, someone didn’t want pasta, someone wasn’t sure of the kind of cheese used to make that restaurant’s version of mac and cheese, someone wasn’t finished with their story before someone else started their story and we had to fully assess the unfair interruption, and we even had fake nails came off which required a thorough inspection of the floor under our table. OH GOOD LORD can we please just all eat and let Grammy have 5 minutes of peace?!

I spent some time today wondering at what point in MomLife things calm down. And then I started to wonder if it doesn’t really ever calm down, and maybe it just changes. Maybe MomLife really boils down to moment after moment and day after day and year after year of thinking and saying OH GOOD LORD, just in a variety of different ways.

The first OH GOOD LORD moments happen during pregnancy. My favorite is when women hover around you to relive their awful birth experiences for you. Ones where they knew better than the doctors and nurses, the epidural didn’t work, they needed 119 stitches, and they ended up not eating or drinking anything for the 3 days they were in labor. What we should do is tell those women to shut it, but instead we just internally think OH GOOD LORD.

Women also say things like get ready for sleepless nights!, breastfeeding is best, let me share my recipe for puréed organic purple carrot and guava baby food, and I wasn’t sure the dishwasher was hot enough to really get things clean.

Fact: You will suffer from lack of sleep.

Fact: Millions of babies throughout history were not breastfed and somehow magically made it to adulthood as high-functioning wonderful people.

Fact: Purple carrots are the worst. (Or, millions of babies throughout the last century have somehow made it to adulthood on food prepared by Gerber.)

Fact: I have praised God for my dishwasher.

You know what’s useful info for a pregnant woman? Prepare yourself for leaving the hospital wearing the largest underwear of your life in the most comfy sweatpants you own. Your large underpants will hold a variety of attachments including, if you’re lucky, a to-go cool pack from your favorite nurse. Additionally, your largest-ever underwear will be held in place by an outer mesh underwear because your regular underwear will need reinforcement to hold everything in place where it should be. You will not allow yourself to sneeze or cough for days for fear that the inner and outer underwear and all the attachments will fail, and at the hint of any potential cough or tickling in your nose, you will inwardly cry OH GOOD LORD. The good news here is that at no point while discussing big underwear with other Moms have I ever encountered a woman who had a breach – so sneeze carefully new Moms.

Once you’re out of the infant phase, people love to see and share pictures of little ones smashing birthday cake. Moms are prepared for those birthday cake messes, so they’re adorable. However, every other day of the year messes are unexpected and not adorable. And even with the occasional ones you find funny, you will also find yourself groaning OH GOOD LORD as you stop to consider how to get gum out of carpet, if it’s OK to put tissues back in the box if they were all pulled out but not actually used, or if the amount of lotion that got in their mouth while they were playing with your lotion is the amount that requires you call poison control.

When your kids are off to elementary school and another child hurts your child’s feelings, there are two separate OH GOOD LORD moments. The first is a prayer for help in the moment of your awareness of the incident, when you are inwardly desperately thinking about the right thing to say to make them feel better. The second is minutes or hours later, possibly even when your child is asleep or has moved on, when you have a moment to think about it and you become enraged that the offending child could possibly say/do that to your child. In that moment, you think OH GOOD LORD because you suddenly realize that you are mad enough and irrational enough to lose your cool and yell at someone else’s child (and that child’s parents and their neighbors and all their relatives) and you don’t even care if you end up with your mug shot on the nightly news.

Then your elementary child asks crazy hard questions that no book can prepare you for. If you’re a well-seasoned parent, you might be able to conceal your reaction to learning that your child put a baby doll dress on your girl cat and secretly married her to your boy cat and has been praying they will have kittens. Or you could be like me and calmly explain that the cats are fixed and can’t have babies and so this is not one of those things to pray about…and that will result in your child questioning why you did this really mean thing and prevented them from having a family and OH GOOD LORD did I mess that up.

When your kids are off to middle school you learn that teachers send parents emails when children get good grades and that teachers call parents when children pull pranks that get out of hand. In the moment you realize a teacher is not calling to say your child is the recipient of a Nobel prize, in the pause where that teacher is searching for tactful words, you will think OHHHHHH GOOOOOOD LORRRRRD this cannot be good. And then later when your child gets home from school and you say Hey, your teacher called me today and that child says something like Mommy, I really thought it would be funny and tells you their thought process, you think OH GOOD LORD this child got this love for shenanigans from me and Is it possible this is my fault? This is maybe actually kind-of my fault.

Ella’s photobomb fail!

As my girls get older I find that the vast majority of the time they are out of my sight, when they’re at school or in a friend’s yard or at a sleepover, I think about them but I don’t worry about them. But the moments when worry or panic do hit me, my emotions are overwhelming and OH GOOD LORD how often they are irrational. The possibilities in my head can go from the slightly possible to the absolutely insane in about 5 seconds once I see a news alert of a school shooting, or learn of a child who’s been abused or abducted or addicted to drugs. I struggle sometimes to rein in my thoughts about those possibilities, something I suspect will never completely go away and a part of MomLife that is really, really hard.

Without a doubt, OH GOOD LORD exasperation is the most common of all the OH GOOD LORDs. These occur when you find your child’s dirty clothes resting literally right in front of the hamper, when dirty dishes are sitting on the counter literally right above the dish washer, and when you are asked to provide your child with a reason why they must bathe. Sometimes when questioned about an empty toilet paper roll, which coincidentally is just two feet from a bin of full rolls of TP, all children in my house will claim they have not used the bathroom that day. And OH GOOD LORD, really?

But the best OH GOOD LORD exasperation occurs when your children are embarrassed by you or shocked by you. They might, for instance, indicate that your camo pants are not appropriate even for hanging out in the yard. They might call you “extra” when you open their water bottles even though they have literally never opened a water bottle for themselves. They might ask you to jump on the trampoline with them and then say things like Mommy, that’s good for 45! Or they might offer to do your make-up so you can “really look good.”

And just when you think you can’t possibly handle another OH GOOD LORD exasperation or panic or fear moment, your child will say or do something that makes your heart melt. They might bring you breakfast for dinner or make you a card that says their favorite thing about you is your kindness. And you will tear up and think OH GOOD LORD I love these kiddos so much and I am so thankful and lucky to be their Mom.

This Mother’s Day was filled with OH GOOD LORD moments, and it was a really great day. I may have caught the girls fighting about slime containers but I also caught them praying for folks who need healing and planning with friends how to raise the most money for the local children’s hospital. Such is MomLife – a mixture of fun and peace and chaos and loud and quiet and annoyance and love all in one day.

Happy Mother’s Day to my Mom, who continually shows me how to be a Mom and who I am absolutely certain still has regular OH GOOD LORD moments because of me. Sorry I’m perpetually late to church and sneak in to the back row wearing my jeans and flip flops.

There Is Only One Me

There is only one me.

I say it all the time in my head when there’s just too much. I occasionally say it out loud when multiple people are talking to me at the same time.

There is only one me. I can only be in one meeting at a time, in one place at a time, in one conversation at a time, at one kid activity at a time.

There is only one me to process the plans and ideas and tests needed from the orthodontist and the dentists and the pediatricians and the special doctors and the guidance counselors and the therapists and the gymnastics coaches and the teachers and the tutors.

There is only one me to make sure there’s breakfast and lunch and dinner and bread and milk and granola bars and yogurt and chips and brownies.

There is only one me to monitor friends and social media usage and potential bad influences and Cadbury Egg intake and dresses that have gotten too short. Only one me to make sure the chorus outfit is clean on the right day.

There is only one me to navigate the that’s unfair and the that’s mine accusations that all siblings of all ages for all time have shouted. There is only one me to say stop touching her or you didn’t ask permission to be in her room. There is only one me to set my jaw and say do not make me pull this car over.

There is only one me to talk through bad dreams at 2 am. Only one me to provide reassurance, going to the bathroom with the door open and the light on so a kiddo having a hard day doesn’t feel like I’m too far away or not still listening to a detailed story.

There is only one me to answer hard questions in the moment.

There is only one me to pick up the pieces after the selfishness of others. Only one me to help them navigate all their emotions. Only one me to be the daily consistent force that cannot let them down. Only one me to be the one they can take everything out on, because I’m the safe one, and they can do that without fear of loss.

There is only one me to put them first, in every way and in all things.

There is only one me to kiss booboos and bandage scrapes. Only one me to hold hands while nurses do blood draws and scary new doctors do exams.

There is only one me to check that everyone made it on the right bus at the right time, and made it home at the right time, or to a program or an activity or a game at the right time.

There is only one me to make sure backpacks and binders have all the right papers signed and all the right homework in them.

There is only one me to show them how to set boundaries and that sometimes decisions come with consequences.

There is only one me to see the moments when they really need a boost of confidence and the encouragement to believe in themselves. Only one me to make sure I see it and they get it.

There is only one me to talk to them about God and take them to church and show them the benefits and difficulties of a life lived based on core principles.

There is only one me to teach them and show them that true happiness is found when we can live in such a way that we can be proud of ourselves, knowing we have integrity when no one is looking.

There is only one me who can show them that when people let us down, which is inevitable, we can still be happy and have lives that we love.

There is only one me after they go to sleep, working hard to reign in my horror and frustration that people drink, play, laugh, post selfies and talk about love and happiness while children spent the week at doctor appointments. When children see that hypocrisy and selfishness for themselves, there’s only one me to say I don’t have an explanation and it’s tone-deaf and it’s wrong.

There is only one me to teach them that forgiveness benefits us, even if others don’t deserve it and even if it benefits them and their narrative.

There is only one me responsible if I make the wrong call about everything from their health care to shirts that show midriff. Only one me to fret at the end of long days that I’m not doing a very good job at all.

There is only one me. Only one me who sometimes gets stuck in a pity party. Only one me who sometimes gets caught up in a panic about getting it all done and the weight of it all.

There is only one me who can give them a happy, healthy Momma.

There is only one me, constantly thankful for Papa Ted and Grammy and Papa. Constantly thankful for my sister. Constantly thankful for my neighbors and friends who love my girls and have hugs and encouragement for them and me at just the right time.

There is only one me thankful every day that I get to be the Mom of Ella and Audrey. Thankful even for days of extreme ups and downs with everything from doctor appointments to strawberry picking to silly shoe shopping to arguments in the car to cartwheels in Sams Club.

The truth is, there has always been only one me. There is only one me, and I am more than enough. There is only one me, and I am human and make mistakes. There is only one me, and I will apologize and fix it when I do. There is only one me, and I got this.

There is only one me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It Is Well

The Emergency Broadcasting System alarm message is the absolute last thing you want to hear when you’re on a long drive with two children, and one of them has just asked to stop somewhere because she has to go to the bathroom.

Tornado warning.

Tornado immediately takes my mind down a path of images of an F5 that tears up towns all around Helen Hunt. Warning tells me conditions aren’t just conducive, but that something has been spotted.

I knew the weather report called for rain, but that rain was scheduled for at least a couple hours later. It was dusk and not raining, but the sky did look a little odd. I found myself in the position of wanting not to alarm the girls while also wanting more info so I could make the best decision about what to do. Should I stop somewhere and hope that our luck was a little better than that of Cary Elwes, or keep moving to hopefully put distance between us and the storms?

I asked Ella to Google the area and see what she could find out. The answer: three funnels, although pretty far away. That made the decision to keep driving very easy – we could add some distance between us and those storms and keep making progress toward home. And I had about 10 minutes of pleasant driving, feeling good about my decision, before the sky became dark and the rain began to pound onto the windshield.

And when I say dark with pounding rain, I mean I and the other drivers around me turned on hazard lights and moved slowly over to the far right of I64. The rain hitting the car was intense and visibility was bad, and Audrey became frightened. I’m not sure what I said, but I found my “everything’s fine” Mommy voice and produced words to encourage her and assure her we were fine. The special lights the triangle button makes tell people where we are, and we’re all together, and the other cars are in it with us, and this is part of our adventure, and even though the rain is noisy the really bad part of the storms is far away, and this rain is going to make sure great flowers grow soon, and we’re fine.

I had no idea if she really believed my complete load of crap. I didn’t have the luxury of turning around to make eye contact. I had to be mindful that my body language was in line with my voice and did not show unease, I had to focus my external attention on the road, and I had to focus my internal attention on prayer.

And when I say prayer, I don’t mean Dear God It’s me Beth and it would be nice if this storm calmed down a bit. I was praying hard. More like, This is awful. Get us out of this. Please. Quickly. How did Jesus sleep through storms? And calm me down, too. I need help to stay calm because this is awful and the girls don’t need to know how awful it is. How could this happen at the end of our awesome spring break? Please. Please. Please. Keep us safe. Keep us calm. Are you there?! This is so bad.

The noise from the rain on the car seemed angry, and was adding to our tension. So I hit the button to switch from radio to ipod to try to put a soothing sound in the car. A recent addition to our song library came on, It Is Well – a worship song that samples the old hymn It Is Well With My Soul. The song’s beginning is quiet, with little instrumentation, and the singer almost seems like she’s praying quietly to herself, so you have to kind-of focus on her soft voice to hear the words.

And at the exact same moment, a couple minutes into the song, Ella and I started singing: “Through it all, through it all, my eyes are on you. Through it all, through it all, it is well…the waves and wind still know His name.”

Click here, and at about 1:45 is the moment.

Just a few weeks ago, I learned the story of the man who penned It Is Well With My Soul, Horatio Spafford. He wrote the words during a time of personal tragedy, just after the loss of his children. I cried when I heard my friend Anne tell the story, and again later when relating it to Ella. It really is *that* moving. How can someone, anyone, have so much faith during a time of such profound darkness and despair?

Click Here for the It Is Well With My Soul history

As Ella and I were singing the song, peace filled me. In part because I needed something besides the storm to focus my brain on. In part because the song itself is quiet and calming. And in part because I had this sudden realization about a needed shift in my life, specifically as it relates to faith and prayer.

I talk to my girls about God and faith and prayer, and I take them to church and we say prayers before bed and we sometimes even pray that we’ll find the missing book we need before we leave in the morning. But there’s a big part of me that I have not shared with them yet, and that’s how I pray and how often I pray. And a dark truth – that sometimes I don’t have total faith in my prayers.

I have always been alone with my prayers. In my own head. In my own space. I typically don’t share them or talk about them, out of habit more than anything else. At home I didn’t talk about my prayers because I wasn’t surrounded by people who take faith seriously or because it seemed like the girls were too little for that big stuff, and at work it’s not always appropriate to share that kind of thing.

I talk to God all the time, all throughout the day. It’s more like an ongoing conversation where I sometimes get louder if I think God isn’t listening. It’s what you might call cerebral prayer – a mixture of my nature to rely on facts and data, with faith in a God that doesn’t always need my facts and data, with my impatience in a God that doesn’t always move as quickly as I’d like. If you charted my faith, it hasn’t grown in the nice upward lines we like to see in financial documents. It’s up and down, sometimes all in one day.

My faith isn’t perfect. I don’t always believe everything will work out the way we want and pray for. Sometimes when I hear about a horrible diagnosis, my initial reaction is not for a miracle but that some people get their healing in heaven instead of here. I wish I could say that I have the kind of faith that moves mountains, but I don’t. But what I’ve realized is that my girls don’t need to see my faith or prayer perfection, which is not real. I don’t want them to think that perfection is the standard and that if they don’t have 100% faith they are a failure, or there’s no reason to have any faith if they can’t have full faith. They need to see my work in progress faith, because that’s real. And seeing what’s real is in part what will enable them to embrace work in progress faith in their own lives.

It’s OK to pray when I don’t know what to say or how to say it or have doubts. It’s OK to pray without the formalities of intros like Dear Heavenly Father and for me to speak like I’m talking to my friend in Colorado. It’s OK to pray and admit to God and everyone that I am afraid even though I’m praying. It’s OK to offer a song as a prayer, showing my daughter that sometimes – many times – I don’t have words, and other peoples words are the best words.

Within just a few minutes, the rain seemed less ominous around the car. The sky was a little lighter. Cars were spreading back out across all the lanes of the highway, and started moving more quickly. Our storm had actually passed pretty quickly. Ella and I talked a little about the scary few minutes and the song and our singing the waves and wind verse at the same time – one of the most memorable moments from the trip. And then I turned around to check on Audrey, wondering at how quiet she had been, and found that she was fast asleep. While I had been fearful during the worst part of the storm, struggling in my cerebral prayer, Audrey had fallen asleep…childlike faith at 100%.

Purses and Thoughts

My purse is out of control.

My beautiful blue crocodile Kate Spade is so full of stuff and so heavy that once I sat my bag down in the passenger seat, my car flashed the seatbelt sign.

I knew it was getting heavy – a couple of times recently I’d caught myself rubbing my shoulder and thinking I needed to clean a few things out. But my car thinking my purse needed a seatbelt? Come on, now.

I really only carry a purse to keep up with 5 things – wallet, keys, phone, iPad, and lip balm. I came home and dumped everything out, and I found that my usual suspects had become surrounded by things that didn’t need to be in there and that I didn’t realize were in there. Additionally I found an alarming number of things I have no recollection of whatsoever, and I’m not entirely sure they are all my possessions.

Two things became clear to me:

(1) The hair ties we are constantly looking for at the very last minute on school mornings are all in the bottom of my purse.

(2) It’s time to make some changes. Specifically, to set some boundaries for what I am willing to carry around.

I’m carrying around everything from a blue stone I received as part of a sermon to remind us of our baptism to the official name-change papers I received 6 months ago now. My folder with the tax stuff. A couple of Audrey’s LOL Surprise dolls. Tootsie Rolls. An old device I need to drop at Best Buy for recycling. A Time’s Up lapel pin. A Virginia Beach Rocks rock. A small container of slime.

I think in part what happens is I have good intentions of getting some things done – so I put the dry cleaning receipt in a pocket in my purse but I don’t actually get by there for weeks. (Zoots may actually be out of business by now and I need to probably check on that.) And in part as I am cleaning up after others when we exit the car, I put things in my giant bag thinking I’ll put them in the trash or put them away when we get inside. In part I’m carrying around things I might need, like Advil or my iPad in case I want to write. And in part I’m carrying around sentimental things that I may not see every day but are there to make me smile occasionally.

Why am I carrying around so much stuff? The first thing I decided is that everything I carry around from now on is going to be because it is something I need or that brings me joy. I think of myself as not a Marie Kondo fan because at no point will folding laundry ever bring me joy. The first time I watched her fold clothes and talk about communicating her affection through her palms, it reminded me of the scene in The Silence of the Lambs where the serial killer rubs his palm over the back of the kidnapped girl. WEIRD. CREEPY. CRAZY.

Watch Marie Kondo fold: https://youtu.be/Lpc5_1896ro

But as I’ve read a little more about her and watched her a bit, I’ve realized that like her or not I have been employing her “does it bring me joy” method all around my house for the last few months. I’ve donated clothes that fit but that I rarely wear because I don’t love them. I’ve gotten rid of house stuff I like but maybe just isn’t right in that space anymore. I’ve dug up lilies around my yard because I want flowers only planted with love, and I’ve been trying to fill our living space with things that all have positivity associated with them. I may have even made this little KonMari step-hop when throwing a few things in the trash.

So what do I do about my giant purse? I’m not switching to a smaller purse. One, I don’t like small purses. And two, I feel like I should be capable of controlling what goes in my giant purse. Just because I have an oversized bag doesn’t mean I have to fill it with stuff. But more importantly, I need to constantly filter for junk and stop carrying around things that don’t bring me joy.

I started to wonder if my purse is a metaphor for my thought life. Maybe I’ve been wasting time entertaining thoughts that aren’t productive. Maybe I need to literally toss out thoughts just like I tossed out lilies. That’s why my current developmental sprint is to actively think about my thoughts and replace any negative thought I recognize with a specific positive affirmation, adapted from 2 Timothy 1:7.

The old King James reads: For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

But I like the Berean version better: For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but of power and of love and of calm and of self-control.

I decide what I think about. Just like I decide what goes in my Kate Spade. In addition to the usual suspects it’ll carry my gratitude journal, a gift from one of my besties, a small/medium-ish supply of Tootsie Rolls, and a star from an American flag that my Dad loved and carried in his pocket for quite some time. It’ll carry a photo of one of my favorite places, a hillside in Ohio where the earthly bodies of some of my great cloud of witnesses are buried, and it’ll carry the statement of faith Ella made last year about choosing to remember God loves us (and that reminds me she said “darn” in front of the whole church and I was so proud of her anyway).

For God did not give me a spirit of timidity, but of power and of love and of calm and of self-control.

God did not give us timidity. He gave us the opposite of timidity, and that’s bravery.

April Fool’s Birthday Girl

Fourteen years ago, in the middle of the night, I was doing the exact same thing as I am right at this moment: laying in bed with my daughter just a few feet away, marveling about her.

Ella was born not long after midnight, on April 1. After all the post-delivery chaos of Apgar scores and examinations and congratulations, everyone went home and I was alone in a dimly lit hospital room with Ella. I had a daughter, a little swaddled baby making faint sighing noises in her sleep. I was a mother, and it was really just remarkable and unbelievable that a life had come from me. We were a team now, me and this little being with giant blue eyes that had seemed to look all around my face when I whispered to her. We were a team and that little girl should have been terrified because the Mom on her team had absolutely no idea how to care for a baby or what she was doing.

I wasn’t a child who’d dreamed of being a Mommy. I wasn’t a teenager who’d babysat to make extra money. I wasn’t a person who held other people’s babies. In the more than three decades of my life prior to Ella’s birth, I’m not sure if I held any baby other than my nephew – and that was always supervised by people who knew what they were doing. My poor kid had a Mom with a very short resume. I’d gone to a class to learn how to breathe consistently during her birth process, I’d learned in that class that I had to always always always hold and support her neck and head, I’d read a couple of books about babies and I’d even read ahead in the infamous What to Expect the First Year manual, and a nurse maybe 30 minutes prior showed me how to give her a bath. At any Mom company on the planet, I would not get the job.

Ella is 14 years old today. So the good news is that despite my lack of qualifications and preparedness, I did manage to keep her alive. Although I’m not sure that’s really much of an accomplishment. What you learn as your child ages and as you have multiple children is that they’re built pretty tough and I could have probably better utilized my countless hours fretting about things like possible milk or nut or bee allergies, could she get botulism if honey was simply nearby, when to switch from car seats to booster seats, and even if french fries with pointed ends could be too stabby in her mouth.

The real fretting settles in later, and seems especially heightened at this stage. The real question to fret over is am I guiding her toward being a good person? Or maybe it’s could her life be better if I did something differently? Or maybe it’s have I laid a solid moral foundation? Or maybe it’s am I properly protecting her from bad stuff and bad people? Or maybe it’s am I properly preparing her to inevitably face bad stuff and bad people? Or maybe it’s am I setting a proper example? Or maybe it’s have I prepared her to say no and yes at the proper times?

There is no end to the things I can fret about, and sometimes I just get exasperated with all the fretting I cannot seem to relinquish and I think I should have stuck to raising cats – I am certain I can do that! And yet I must explore all these questions and constantly assess and reassess what’s missing and what’s off and what’s right and what’s wrong. I have to do that because I’m a Mom, and because my greatest responsibility and privilege is to be her Mom. No other responsibility or people or thoughts or desires or work are more important than her and Audrey, or than what I need to do as a Mom.

I’ve never been one of those people that wanted to throw their kids giant birthday celebrations every year. It’s exhausting to plan and host those events and it’s exhausting to take your kids to them throughout the school year. Last year we had a party because Ella was finally a teenager and because I wanted to bring her joy in a time of confusion and sadness and anger. And so until about a week ago I’d expected to have a quiet birthday with her this year. She started talking about having a friend or two over and then another friend and then another, and then it was going to need to be different people on different nights and I found myself panicking at the thought of having very little time to prepare. And just as all the panic was at its peak, I realized that Ella has only four birthdays left in her official childhood. Four. Four is nothing. A tiny number. How could there possibly be only four childhood birthdays remaining?

So we celebrated. We had two sleepovers, two cakes and a set of cupcakes, stacks of facial scrubs and masks, trampoline jumping way after bed time, shopping with gal pals at the mall, singing at Olive Garden, and countless pieces of candy. I’m exhausted and my house is even messier than the mess it was last week. I have a recycle bin full of empty pizza boxes, a basket full of laundry, a trash can full of makeup wipes and KitKat wrappers, and a Momma heart full of gratitude.

I am grateful for Ella, a young lady who’s lovely inside and out. A kind and thoughtful friend. A super smart math whiz. A talented singer and actor and gymnast. A child of God who prays about everything, from the need for guidance about big issues to finding her phone charger. A young lady full of empathy and the desire to care for people who struggle. She may not keep her room clean, but she will take money out of her own wallet for CHKD or to feed the homeless or to buy a treat for a friend who’s feeling down.

I am grateful for the village of people in her life. I am grateful for the choices she’s now making about what kind of people to add to her village – I may have made the initial choices about who surrounded her, but she’s old enough to make her own choices about those things now, and she’s choosing well. And I am grateful that she’s such a wonderful young person despite all my flaws and mess ups.

In the stillness of night tonight, in a dimly lit room just like on our first night, I laid quietly by myself and prayed for sweet Ella. No matter what she may encounter in her life I want her to know deep inside and beyond a shadow of a doubt – or as my Dad would say “that she knows that she knows that she knows” – that she is loved beyond measure and that it is a privilege to be her Mom. I pray that she would love life and be filled with joy. I pray that she would get into the college she wants and have the career that she wants and get the life partner that’s just right for her and that she will keep her priorities straight. I pray that when she’s happy or sad or mad or has messed up or done something great, she will always want to call her Mom. And I pray that I will always have discernment about how to pray for her and how to guide her and how to be a blessing to her.

Happy Birthday, Brave Girl. I love that you are 14 and still call me Mommy, even when your friends are around. In exchange, I will no longer publicly chase you to smother those perfect cheeks with kisses.

Picture submitted by and approved by Ella.

Refurbish, Brave Girl

I hate messes.

I don’t like sand in my car, I don’t like PlayDough that gets stuck in toys supposedly designed for PlayDough, I don’t buy glitter or powder or terrariums if I can help it, and I don’t like substances like Desitin or vegetable oil that are really hard to clean off of things.

I hate messes, and yet my whole house is a mess.

And when I say it’s a mess, I mean it’s in crazy complete disarray. Like, stacks of books on top of my dining room table and china resting on shelves in the sitting room and gymnastics mats in hallways and toothbrushes in the dishwasher.

In the last three weeks, a wonderful team of people has painted our walls, baseboards, casings, doors and railings. Literally everything. As they moved from room to room, we moved our things from room to room. Every night we spent preparing for the next day, shifting what we could to accommodate the next round of work.

The last few days of painting happened while I was in Dallas last week, and the biggest change in color – a room going from cranberry to a linen color – had not happened when I left town. I absolutely could not wait to get home and to see it and then to start putting things back together. It’s been so hard for OCD-me to embrace the mess. Every day I’ve longed to just put things back together and back where they belong. On Thursday night I came home very late to a completely quiet and still house – my father-in-law had long before gone to bed with the kitties – and I walked though each room marveling at what a brighter, lighter place it is. It’s completely transformed.

The house that I’ve lived in for a decade has a completely different feel now. Same doors, same walls, same wooden railing…and yet with fresh paint in lighter shades, it’s different. It’s different and yet the same. It feels like my old house I’ve always loved and it feels like a new house that I’m so excited to live in.

It’s like old me and new me. It’s all me, but I’m different than I was two years ago. I have the same core foundation of components like faith and family, but I look different and I feel different and my countenance is lighter. Just like my house, I’ve been under construction for a while. Or maybe refurbishing is the better word.

The me that has emerged from refurbishing is stronger, focused and determined. I recognize I’ve aged as a result of anger with and disappointment in people, but at the same time I’m once again filled with youthful laughter and hope because my life is filled with genuine and kind and happy people.

The me that has emerged from refurbishing that is accountable to and for only me and my girls is a freer and lighter me, even with the weight of added responsibility. This me sets better boundaries and fiercely guards what things get my time and thoughts, to ensure that freer and lighter me stays that way.

The me that has emerged from refurbishing has realized that there’s a huge difference in Beige and Crisp Linen. Something can seem like it’s neutral or light, but once you’ve experienced actual light the darkness is revealed for the shade that it is.

Now that all the painting is done my next task is to put everything back in its place. But as I’m doing that I’m realizing that I do not want some things back in the same places they’ve always been. And not only that, but I do not even want some of those old things in my house at all. So room by room I’m making more changes – some additions and some deletions and some refurbishings.

I guess that’s what we should all strive to be as we age – a mixture of all of our learnings. We should be made up of additions or the things we’ve tried and liked along the way, and of deletions or the things we’ve learned aren’t right for us and we’ve removed, and of refurbishings or the pieces that change with us and with the times. And actually maybe we are refurbishings, if we’re doing life right – going through cycles of renewal or reconstruction.

Beneath the Crisp Linen that covered a deep cranberry tone in my sitting room are the same four strong walls that have always been there. The walls look different now but they are the same walls that hold up a second floor and a roof, that sit on a foundation that has not changed. It’s already kind-of hard to remember what that room looked and felt like, which makes me so glad I have this snapshot of the transition time – the time when some of one coat of primer covered the cranberry walls so you could still see the old room and yet start to envision the new room. In a corner where two of the walls met, it looked like there was an arrow.

An arrow is hidden deep within my home, in my favorite room, reminding me that refurbishing is an opportunity for me to be brave.

An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backwards. So when life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means that it’s going to launch you into something great. So just focus, and keep aiming. ~Unknown