Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Grace and Pieces

So I changed the name of my blog.

I did that for two reasons, one of which is I couldn't actually remember the URL of my old one, so I'm guessing no one else could either.

The second, and more pervasive reason is because this is a title that has been moving through my head and heart for months now and I just couldn't shake it.
I sign each of my emails with two wishes, "Grace and Peace."  For years now I have realized those are the two things I need most in my day to day life and especially in my life as a mom.  I need time and patience and hope and for the love of all that is holy I need to find the 30 single socks that match the socks in my single sock basket.  I need time by myself, I need time with my husband and I need time with my Savior.  But because it is inevitable that I will fail at all those things, I need the grace to not dwell on my failures or the failures of those around me.  I need the peace to know that we are going to be OK, that the work is necessary and the hardships are strengthening us and that my children aren't going to remember that they have had nearly 100 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the last two months.

The idea of Grace and Pieces came because I always find that I write best out of the parts that are broken.  The great thing about broken pieces is that when I just accept that they are broken instead of exhausting all my energy convincing myself that everything is fine and nothing is broken, I can just tell the truth.  Sometimes the truth is hard, sometimes it is hilarious and every time it brings freedom.  John 8:32 says, "You will know the truth and the truth will set you free," and that is beautiful.  But I like David Foster Wallace's take on it when he said "The truth will set you free.  But not until it is finished with you."  Freedom and brokenness are not mutually exclusive, in fact they are some of the oldest truths in the world.  So here I write, free and broken and totally OK with that.
I hope to write more, I always hope to write more and I hope to give myself grace when I don't write enough.

Grace and Peace be with you always.  Glad Advent to you all, may you give yourself grace and seek peace this Christmastide.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Please Stop Asking If We Were Trying, Because It Doesn't Matter

A few weeks back my husband and I joyfully announced that we are expecting our third baby in May. Four years ago we welcomed in our first little boy and two years later his brother arrived. Our home is busy and rarely clean and usually includes some sort of unknown crumb substance under whatever seat you happen to be sitting on, but it's great. We love our life and despite the past twelve weeks in which I have consumed pretty much only breakfast cereal and apples, we couldn't be happier that our family is going to include a new life in the spring.
In a world full of Pinterest-perfect baby announcements and glee-inducing gender reveals, there is no tutorial on how to steel your face or your emotions for the inevitable onslaught of questions regarding your now seemingly public body. Seriously, getting pregnant makes people think that they have filed all the necessary Freedom of Information Act papers and you must now reveal every. single. detail.

Aside from getting asked about how much weight you've gained and having to recount the things that make you nauseous while trying not to vomit at the thought of them, people always ask one insanely inappropriate and invasive question: "Were you trying for this one?"

This needs to stop.

First things first, the answer to your question is: It doesn't matter! A baby is growing inside me! A real human being is making his or her way into our family. And whether or not this journey has taken us years of turmoil and anguish or if it was a total surprise, this baby's life cannot be diminished by the ideal of trying or not. Furthermore, please never, ever add the words "or was this an accident?" to your question. My family is not an accident and no child ever deserves to be defined as one, watch your mouth.

Next, do you remember how babies are made? In case you forgot, they happen because two people had sex. So, if the frequency and protective states of our mutual sex lives is not a topic we cover often, this not an appropriate question to ask in line at the bank.

What's more is this question carries all kinds of connotations, purposeful or not, that are placed on my choice to have another child. In a brilliant article by Kristen LaValley called "The Shame of Baby Number Three" she expresses exactly what it feels like to have the judging gazes and questions from others about a third baby when you already have two young children. So often we feel like we are forced to tell you the third was a surprise or some how justify the size of our family to strangers who have no say in our household. Every time I am asked the question of "trying" while my youngest is crying and my oldest is starving and I haven't showered, I can feel the judgement radiating from whomever is asking. I know that they are questioning how we are going to fit three kids in our two-bedroom rental home. I know they see we don't make the kinds of money other people do. I know, I know, I know. But this baby is coming whether you feel the world is overpopulated or that we will never have a college fund for our kids or if three children will actually have to share a room.

New moms are subject to intense criticism from every angle and all we do when we question the purposefulness of a new life is heap another load of chastisement on women who already feel the weight of the world.

Moreover, non-moms are subject to the same scrutiny. I can't tell you how many friends I am desperately hoping, despite the odds against them, get pregnant and have healthy, happy babies.  On that day we will celebrate together with reckless abandon. Nothing is more heartbreaking than the look on a woman's face when someone callously asks if they "are even trying for kids" and that person has no idea about the torture that question brings up. Please remember the words you use are powerful and for someone who might feel powerless, questions about attempts to conceive or keep a child might just be their undoing.

Above all, we need to stop treating women's bodies as objects for public scrutiny as if your opinion on the size of my waist or the color of my hair or the kind of birth control I use, or don't, matters to my person-hood. Isn't this what all the debates and political rhetoric about "women's issues" truly is? I think we would just like our bodies not to be subject to the opinions, judgments and justifications of everyone else. Well, I digress.

So if you find yourself in communication with a newly expectant mama offer her congratulations, ask her when she is due, ask her if you can buy her a coffee, ask her surface level things you can discuss in line for a cup of coffee but unless you are best friends, maybe stay away from the question about conception.

Monday, July 25, 2016

My Cup Runneth Over: With Barkdust and Backwash

It is impossible for me to have a cup of anything to drink without my youngest son wanting a drink as well.  In fact, we have designated an Irwin Tools travel coffee mug as “Jude’s coffee mug.”  I cannot finish more than two sips of coffee without Jude saying “Coff, me?”  Seriously.

 Then it comes to the time we spend playing outside.   My boys start requesting to go outside to play around 9 am.  Naturally, we try and drink a lot of water.  And no matter what cool kid water bottles or special cups they ask for, it is inevitable that they will want my water cup. 

I have taken to specifically putting lemon juice in my water in hopes that it would deter them.  Nevertheless, Jude still takes his mud-laden hands and drinks.  Then, as he presses his mouth to the glass, the little pieces of dirt from the rock he was just chewing on fall into my water.  As he finishes taking a drink, a good quarter of what was in his mouth casually makes its way back into what was once a delicious glass of lemon water. 

But let’s survey the scene, shall we?

I am sitting in a camp chair that Noah and I received from my older brother Josh and his wife Natalie as an engagement gift.  Those chairs are nine years and four states strong.  I come from a family of people who are great at giving good gifts.  My cup runneth over.
That camp chair is in the shade of the garage of the house we live in.  Our house is the guest house on the property of another home owned by an amazing family from our church.  When Jon and Colette bought the house five years ago they took us to dinner and told us that when they saw this guest house they thought specifically of Noah and I.  We wouldn’t be able to live on the Eastside of Seattle if it weren’t for them, meaning we would have to leave the church we are called to.  My cup runneth over.
Speaking of home, our house shares a six acre lawn with the Aguirre family.  They love our kids and us.  We share meals and their boys have both been in our youth group from the beginning.  Our kids sit and dig in the lawn and when Miss Colette comes out they stand up to run and give her a hug.  (Except for Jude, who right now runs away from everyone.)  Our kids don’t know what it is to live in a cramped apartment with loud neighbors and a hard time getting outside.  They know that adventure waits outside their doors and that they have friends who want to play with them.  My cup runneth over.
While I sit in that camp chair I am reading Jen Hatmaker’s newest book For the Love.  That book was recommended to me by two amazing friends I have made in the last year.  Amy and Nikki truly make my life lovely and I couldn’t imagine my days without them.  Also, the book is fantastic and I love it.  My cup runneth over.

Next to me in the cup holder is a glass of once pristine lemon water, which now has flecks of mud and rock and bark dust in it.  It is still cleaner than the water that hundreds of millions of people fight to drink every day.  Not only do I have clean water to drink, my children have clean water to play in!  They can chase each other with it and make it into mud.  They can fill a pool with it and swim around without fear of disease or thirst.  My cup runneth over.
And then there they are.  My two remarkable boys, Soren and Jude.  They are prayers that were answered.  They are light and joy in our lives.  They are trial and perseverance.  They are patience just waiting to be discovered.  They are perfect and they are growing up too fast.  My cup runneth over.

I get to raise those boys with my husband, who loves me and them with reckless abandon.  He works extraordinarily hard because he believes in God’s church and what it means in communities and families and the world.  His hands play instruments and build projects and do manual labor and at the same time they lift little boys who are giddy to see him at the end of the day.  My cup runneth over.

I have been thinking a lot about perspective and gratitude lately.  Trying my best to remember the lenses I use to view the world and making sure each of them has as little distortion as possible.  When all I want is to sit and read my book in peace and my son spits barkdust in my water, my lens tends to be frustration and exhaustion.  But, on those good days when I try and don’t fail right away (which is most days), that lens is comedy and the truth that there is more water to be had and I’m glad he’s no longer thirsty.

Friends, our lives are running over with goodness and grace, and many of us have way worse things in our cups than just barkdust and toddler spit.  But if all we ever see is the error, we never see the water for what it is; necessary, life-giving and also just delicious. 

May you share your cup with whomever needs it.  May you spend purposeful time filling it back up.  May you laugh at what is left behind and continue to be filled up until it runs clean again.  May you find joy in throwing the water over your head and splashing around, appreciating the refreshing coolness of it.  
May we all have the courage to trust the cup will be full the next day.  May we have the courage to get silly and splash around in it at the end of the day.  And as you dance in the waves of grace, may your feet be washed from the dust of that day’s journey.   After all is said and done, may we save just enough to kneel before someone else and wash their feet as well.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

To The Not Yet Moms, I'm Sorry I Rolled My Eyes

Every single woman who wants to be a mom has, at some time, offered up a piece of advice to a current mom in hopes of being a helpful part of that mom's community.  And every single mom who has heard unsolicited advice from non-parents has smiled, turned her head, rolled her eyes and thought "You have NO idea."
I have done both.  I am sorry for doing both.  But most of all, to all you not-yet moms, I'm sorry I rolled my eyes.

Let me first say this, I have gotten great advice from not-yet moms.  I have a few friends who are straight up baby whisperers and I will listen to them every time because they possess some sort of voodoo magic that makes me want to use whatever potion makes them that patient, and smell that good.  But I have also been guilty, I mean really regularly guilty, of grumbling with my mom friends about these "other women" who have no idea how hard it is to raise littles.  I have muttered under my breath things that rational, well-rested me would have never said to anyone but hangry, tired, unshowered me is apparently less filtered.

I am sorry for two main reasons, and the first is the most painful.

So many, too many, of those not-yet mommies have been struggling through the unimaginable agony of infertility and miscarriage and the fear and loathing each month brings.  I cannot say I know even an inkling of that anguish.  It took us just a month to get pregnant with Soren and Jude came as a surprise that, if I'm honest, I wasn't prepared for.  I have never felt the pangs that come with celebrating the birth of baby who was born the same time yours was due.  I am sorry for your pain and I will weep with you when you weep, I will mourn while you mourn and I will do my best to never let the hardship of being a mom be the only thing you hear me talk about.  And if you need me just to stop talking, I will shut up and show up. no questions asked.

The other reason I'm sorry is a little more existential.

If I reject any advice every time, someone who doesn't fit my current life circumstances, offers up an opinion, thought or anecdote my community will be come exceedingly homogeneous.  There will be no diversity, no helpful exchanges, no room for grace or need for it.  There will only be like-minded individuals who rely only on their lack of individuality and not become interdependent on the thoughts, hopes, feelings, prayers and pain of others around us.   In that group, any empathy for others is quickly traded in for apathy because "if they only knew how hard this is" they wouldn't pray so hard to join the club.  It's a scary slippery slope and it's not one I want to go down.

The empathy for apathy trade goes the other way as well.  If I dismiss each effort to help given by a friend who doesn't have kids, their empathy for my "situation" will regress to apathy in not too long of time.

If we demand that only those who experience the same things as us get to speak into our lives with any sort of knowing or palpable empathy, we will only encourage apathetic stares and no longer claim the right to sympathetic looks.

We have to accept the "I'm sorry" statements from people who don't know what our current struggle looks like.  Whether it is parenting or the pain of childlessness, whether it's addiction, poverty, wealth management or weight gain, we must encourage sympathy and moreover empathy.  We are all hoping to raise these littles as a community, we are hoping that as the next generation rises they won't be bombarded by the stories of late, tales of hatred and fear that are centered around the unspoken demand for sameness.  And if we have any hope for these things we must be willing to hear the voices of those who are not like us and give them heed.

So to all you not-yet moms whose advice I have let roll off my back, I'm sorry if my actions caused you pain, I promise you I'm working on it.  Because this life isn't easy, but that doesn't mean yours must obviously be easier.

Let's choose today to foster empathy within our communities, let's keep them as diverse as we can, let's make space for disagreement, discussion and grace and hope and most of all love because we need it and so do our babies.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


I'm a photographer, that's my attempt at money-making job.  In that job I change the lenses on my camera all the time.  I have lenses that give me a greater perspective on my surroundings.  I have lenses that hone in tight to the faces and expressions of other people.  I have my favorite lenses, my everyday lenses and lenses that even distort what is really there, all in the name of art.
This is what life is like every single day in our lives, we change lenses.  We have lenses that we use in certain situations, we have joy lenses and cynical lenses and even lenses that distort any sense of reality.

An amazing friend of mine just posted about her frustrations with the fact that none of her three boys have ever been good sleepers.  Which means that for the last five years she hasn't gotten good sleep either.  Her youngest is not yet a year old and has a really sweet disposition.  But like his brothers, stays awake long past his bed time.

So the next post was a photo of little Sam, asleep on his mom's lap as she rubbed his back and the caption, "Mom fail - 33,425,000."

But she isn't a failure, not in the slightest.  And it's not like they haven't tried.  She and I have been friends for more than two decades and there are few people I know who put more effort into things that matter to her.  They have tried sleep training, Ferberizing, sleep counseling, every oil, prayer and trick in the book.  Still, she is not a failure.

She feels like a failure, only because sleeplessness is a lens in and of itself.

It is easy to see ourselves as failures when our ability to judge things clearly is obscured by the blinding light of exhaustion.  A perpetual lack of sleep shines like a torch you want to shield your eyes from.  It's sharp and aching and despite closing your eyes there is still no rest there because, eyes closed or open, you are still needed to perform.

That harsh light masks all nuance, all slight shadow and all subtleties.  When the lens you view life through is a pinpointed spotlight, all you see is whatever is in complete contrast to you in that moment and quite often, those are small flecks or tiny idiosyncrasies that aren't "supposed" to be there and all we see is failure.  But, if the lens was corrected, if the light was even, if our ability to see things are they really are isn't distorted, those small spots fade away into the bigger picture that surrounds us.

Weight is a lens.  Diet is a lens.  Money is a lens.  Marriage, divorce, children, miscarriage, hope, despair, and more are all lenses that shape our view of what surrounds us.  But not all lenses are good for seeing beauty, some focus too closely on the flaws.

So, friends, if you're tired, really really tired, I hope you have the community to support you and come around you so you can rest.  If you are hurting I hope they are there to help you heal.  If you are joyful, I hope those around you can rejoice with you instead of distorting your joy with their own lens.

But if you can't get the rest or healing or support you need right now, remember your lens might be stuck right now.  That doesn't mean your snapshots are really how you see them.

To my dear lifelong friend, you are an amazing mom.  I love you.  Your husband loves you.  Your boys adore you.  And my lens can see you perfectly and you are not a failure.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The "What if" Brand of Millienial Motherhood

I've been thinking about this for a really long time and right now my kids are watching Winnie the Pooh's Grand Adventure giving me exactly 54 minutes of time to write out my thoughts.  Yep that's right, my kids are rotting out their brain cells by watching a stuffed bear and his pals search for their best friend only to find out the following:

You are stronger than you seem
And braver than you believe
And smarter than you think.

It's been a hard couple days in the midst of the difficulty of parenthood but this weekend my inlaws were up to see the kids and it was wonderful. They let us go out on Friday night for like 6 hours.  It was time for my husband and I just to spend away knowing there were vigilant caretakers at home who love our kids desperately.  It felt like a little break from the constant onslaught of picking things up.  I have learned that the majority of my time each and every day is just spent picking things up and so when someone else does it for me it's brilliant.

The truth of the matter is that if I want to actually have my house picked up, my children can't be moving around in it, which gives me one of three options.  They can either be inside asleep, inside sitting quietly watching a show or outside playing in the yard.  

My first instinct is always always, outside.  Go play in our yard, we are blessed enough to have a giant yard and kind neighbors and live in a pretty secluded area so the front yard is a rather uninhabited area.  But, if they are outside and I want to clean up I can't watch them and there lies the rub.  I am constantly caught in this onslaught of doubt that says I need to be watching over them every moment because what if the bear or bobcat in our woods shows up and eats my kid, what if the UPS driver or neighbor boy comes down the driveway too fast and Jude doesn't run out of the drive way quickly enough, what if they decide to adventure out to the main road to watch the cars, what if... what if... what if...

So I watch them, or distract them or promise myself that I will fold that laundry once they are asleep until the sun sets and I realize I haven't had a moment of peace all day and that laundry pile becomes tomorrow's problem. And please hear me, I love spending time with my kids, my kids are awesome, no buts, they just are. 

Photo Credit - Lisa Felhous Photography
So people tell me to forget about the laundry and be present with my kids, I am told to let my kids loose and spend some time by myself and also that if I could just DIY myself an efficient cleaning caddy and do one load of a laundry per day my house would be sparkling.  But what if my day doesn't allow me to be present?  What if the demands of my job outweigh the demands for clean socks?  What if "me time" isn't going to happen in the next four years?  What if.. what if... 

When we go to the park I have to consciously choose every moment whether or not to follow my eldest as he climbs the big blue slide, I know he can do it and I know he loves it and I know he doesn't need me to catch him.  But, what if he falls off the side that has the fireman pole?  What if a bigger kid pushes him?  What if his foot catches on the way down the slide and I wasn't there to catch him and he cracks his head open on the slide footing below?  These are no exaggerated points, these are honest to goodness doubts I have all the time. 

If you are wondering, "Why does she think that?"  My answer would be "Seriously?  Don't you see it?"

Every day I open up social media I am bombarded with articles about the dangers of helicopter parenting and not letting your kids get hurt climbing trees and scraping their knees.  I agree with that wholeheartedly.  I want my kids to grow up knowing it's OK to learn by doing, to be brave enough to venture out without being certain, to make friends by traipsing in the woods.  I want all those things.  But I also am freaking terrified of the monster of public opinion.  Because WHAT IF my kid is one of those kids who makes a kid-choice when I'm not looking and then when everything hits the fan, I'm one left in the wake of being a terrible parent because I wasn't paying attention.

Each day I see people post vitriol about how some parent had been paying attention to their kids instead of their iPhone than that kid wouldn't have; been abused, been kidnapped, fallen in with the wrong crowd, gotten into drugs, climbed into a gorilla enclosure, etc..  They make sure the parents know that they are to blame for the behavior that has put them under the microscope of internet scrutiny.

Those same people post memes about being allowed to play outside all day without their parents.  They take incredible pride in the fact that when they were kids, they played tag instead of tagging their friends on Instagram.  They talk about telling their parents they were going to go play in the neighborhood and didn't get kidnapped, as if that's a sign of their own fortitude.  

We all need to understand one thing:  You can't have it both ways.

You can't allow your children to roam outside until dark and watch them the whole time.  We can't expect our children to form healthy friendships and check in with us every 15 minutes.  We can't let them learn the consequences of falling or riding their bike too fast or what happens when they take their eye off a baseball and then blame their parents for not teaching them better balance or hand-eye coordination or not dressing them in head-to-toe foam rubber.  

And when the world of older parents is placing a set of paradoxical expectations on an entire generation of new parents, especially mothers, we are not creating a generation of strong guides but of self-doubters hoping therr is a Google map to this journey called parenting.  

This is the same issue with all the "millennial issues" that people poke fun at or get enraged over on social media.  We scoff that "milliennials" want high paying jobs right out of college when older generations had entry level positions, but we also tell them to go tens of thousands of dollars in debt to get that education promising them that their job will pay for it.   The world wants employees that have youth and vitality and bring the voice of a younger generation but they also want them to have at least ten years of experience.  We are raising a generation of adults who are told they need to know everything, be everything and experience everything and in return they will only be scrutinized for their efforts.  We are raising doubtful and cynical and fearful mothers, fathers, daughters and sons.  

The hardest part of this is the fact that we are doing this from a distance. I would never imagine to say that my mom or mother in law or sisters would ever tell me to doubt myself or that I'm doing a bad job.   But their voices get lost in the din of the everyday expectation to have it all, even when all of whatever it is ends up contradicting itself 90% of the time.

So where is the hope?  Because frankly if there is no hope, then this is just a rant and like I said, I'm tired of being expected to be a cynic.  

The hope is this:  We must be radically encouraging of one another.  We must not prop each other up for the sake of ego but in honest engagement we much commit to walking this journey together.  We must look young mothers and fathers in the eye and say "You are doing really well," and "Your kids are doing great."

Above all else we must be allowed to TRY.  We must be given the chance to make our own choices without fear or doubt.  We must be allowed to gain the experience you say we need and even if we fail, we need to hear that you failed once or twice as well.

So can we agree to check our expectations against the reality we live in?  Can we agree that there is no Pinterest perfect world that actually exists?  Can we let our children fall and get back up without blaming anything but gravity?  Can we let our young mothers trust themselves?  Can we allow our new fathers to be the kind of dads they hope to be and give them grace when they're not?

Because you sweet mom, who loves her children desperately and would give anything to go to the bathroom without an audience, you are stronger than you seem and braver than you believe and smarter than you think.