Prettier With Age

My first date fell in winter when the plains states become little more than an icy wind tunnel connecting Canada to the Gulf. I wore thick white tube socks inside chunky-heeled brown on brown saddle shoes. And khakis. Lord help me, khakis. That’s an uncomfortable amount of severe tan tones off balance with the delicate rosettes outlining my collarbone in the cardigan on top.

There wasn’t a second date. It very well could have been the the outfit since that sort of thing is hard to recover from as a teenager. Mostly, I think it was because we spent an excruciatingly boring evening together and a silent dinner where I realized I had just wasted a year’s worth of emotional energy pining for a guy I didn’t actually real-life want. On his end it might have been the tube socks or the speed at which I ran to my door from his mom’s borrowed minivan at the end of the night.

Now you know the alpha and omega of my high school dating career. There was also the time I went Christmas shopping with a friend who began holding my hand and I let him for a few days because I was curious if it is possible to turn the good feelings of being wanted into a reciprocated wanting. It wasn’t. Then there was the time I went to senior prom with my girlfriend under whispers of “lesbian” because I had rejected the boys who had asked that I didn’t want to spend that time with and the ones I had wanted to ask didn’t – aka the common plight of most non-Disney teenage girls.

While adjectives like “unique” or “interesting” or “nice” or (my personal searingly favorite) “the kinda girl who gets prettier with age” sound like insults at seventeen, they feel more like prophesy now in mid-thirties.

I had a birthday this week and I’m here to say beauty does get better with age because time is the great sieve of knowing ourself, knowing what matters, and knowing how to align ourself with what matters. I believe that it is in the knowing of ourself that we are able to see the watermark of the God who created us. In the intimate knowing of myself I am free to know others.

I think often we hold back in our interactions with others because we don’t want to be misinterpreted as meddling or perceived as needy. At least, that’s been me.

The older I get, the more confident  I am in the strengths I have been given, the more aware I am of God’s artistry in the every day of life, and the more desiring I am to see that energy and honesty and beauty of character be drawn forward in others.

Especially now when it feels the world’s gone dark. I think most people still want to be light and give light. I believe we need to say the things. Say all the things. Without hesitating because we’ve been labelled dominant or needy.

It’s scary to say the things. Say all the things of encouragement and kindness and affirmation to others without being weird.

Back in those highschool hallways teaming with Chuck Taylors and Rocket Dogs, I walked the linoleum tiles shyly in my vintage thrifted saddle shoes anticipating big things ahead. Big things indeed happened and, for the record, I wish I still had those shoes today.

That’s the other gift of your thirties. You get to own your style and it not only doesn’t matter it’s unlike everyone else’s, it’s awesome and it’s needed.

Could possibly the biggest thing that’s happened yet since high school be growing confidently into my own beauty so others like my children and friends and social media strangers are allowed to stand in theirs?

 

 

Our Kids Don’t Care We’re Late & Neither Should We

Thanks to the magic of music camp for the bigs this week, my youngest and I found ourselves in the Nordstrom Rack shoe department where we fell into a time vortex as she tried on every.single.pair that sparkled, shimmered, lit up, had a face on it, or were in any other way irresistible to her preschooler heart. The scent of mall retail easily tips me into an anxiety attack, not to mention mentally prepping myself for the scene assuredly to ensue when said preschooler is carried out without new pink jellies that smell of strawberries.

We roamed around a lot of our city this week and as I listened to yet another public parenting meltdown, it has become increasingly clear that we are a time-harried group hassling our preschool aged children to hurry-the-eff-up with little to no success.

I would like to inject here that I understand the frustration since the daily activity of loading my children in the car would give the saintliest of saints heart palpitations. As my three year old so transparently revealed to our pediatrician recently, I “did a bad job not being shouty at us at bedtime”. No, I am not above parental sh*t losing and my children tattle on me to our family pediatrician to keep me humble in what I can only imagine to be a subtly smug proverbial flip of the finger.

But when it’s ten AM on a Tuesday and we’re losing it in front of other families we’ve got some issues to deal with that are usually about our own hearts and not our kids’ lack of respect for the clock.

No doubt we are all living through a critically stressful time both domestically and globally that has left no one untouched. No matter how separated or directly linked we imagine ourselves to be, we are storing the stress within the cells of our bodies with our children first in line for the fall-out.

I’m going to suggest a few parenting tactics here that I think will help us all ratchet back a bit. Yes, I hear how audacious and annoying it sounds to get parenting advice from someone struggling through just like everyone else that is, not to forget, LATE. TO. ALMOST. EVERYTHING. EVERYWHERE! (I would like to defend I’m only a few minutes late, only sometimes these days. Progress in positive direction.)

Build in Time to Waste

We already know this parenting gig is wildly inconvenient. We already know they are going to stop for every roly poly on the sidewalk. We already know. It is part of their natural child development to explore, to put order to their world, to imagine. What I miss when I don’t block enough time for my kids to enter their world as children instead of expecting them to be overly rushed mini-adults is the opportunities they create for connection with me. Mama, look! Mama, come! Mama (come be with me)!

HOW We Arrive Is More Important Than WHEN We Arrive

This is pretty self-explanatory. When I rush my kids they shut down. Their feelings get hurt and their heels dig deeper while I get crazier grasping for ways to prove I am the Actual Boss around here. We all end up miserable before slinking back (much later) for apologies. I’m trying to build in more buffer time so we are not compressed into stress, but when it just doesn’t work out I will most likely be late. At the end of the day (or two decades the kids are in our home) my priority is the atmosphere of our family. Every time. The End. Not the clock. I promise to try to text you if I’m late.

Drill-Sergeanting Orders vs Asking Kids What’s Next

Even if I am not falling off the ledge of control, it’s easy to get into a habit of barking directions at our kids. Put on your shoes! Get your hat! Wash your hands! Come, NOW! Instead, we’re trying to ask our kids what comes next and for them to come up with the answers, basically stealing all the best parts of Positive Parenting.

It sounds a lot like

“Lunch is ready. What do we need to do?”

“Wash hands!”

or “I can think of three things that are your ticket to the car. What are they?”

“Hat, shoes, and water bottle!”

Yes, it takes more energy and intention to do this the majority of the time, but it’s worth maintaining an element of fun in the day. Not to mention raising kids who are thinkers. It does, however, presuppose a certain amount of routine and clearly-communicated behavior expectations already foundational in the dynamic (& the hope no child is going through a smartass phase).

I am happy to report I didn’t have to football my child out of Nordstroms while she sabotaged racks of Ray-Bans along the way. Time to try allllllll the shoes on with my attention, not annoyance filled her little cup.

Parents of littles and how-can-they-be-this-big-already kids, I see you out there with your crew teetering between Intention and The-Brink. I know this place and I know we can do better. Not by trying harder, but by trading our benchmarks for what success looks like.

I love our city and I want to explore it with my kids without shouting at them about time and who’s in control and without listening to you do that either. I believe in you. I believe in me. I believe in the intelligence and kindness of our kids. Whether you loved or hated this parenting post, just wait ’til you hear what I have to say about the ineffectiveness of time-outs and making your kids apologize!

 

Creative Energy in the Confines of A Little Life

There is  life-force that stirs wild in the heart of the creative Christian. It is an energy that ambles and percolates and froths. But when the wildest part of the day whips peanut butter and honey instead of peanut butter and jelly, where does it go?

If ignored, this creative energy does not lie fallow. If suppressed, it twists and spins into bickering with my spouse simply for the satisfaction of having something to do, simply to prove I have not become part of the historic feminine cumulative where minds are left to rot in the boredom of domesticity. If neglected, this energy whispers ugly doubts disguised as truths to keep me disengaged.

If tended to, creative energy is a tether to the world that whirs into big ideas and intuitive empathy. The only way it fits into such a small life is to continually be made into something real and given away.

I take the olders to school. I take the youngest to the zoo, museum, ocean, the park. I drive the long way home so the jacarandas can toss confetti on our one car parade. I make dinner. I resweep the floor. This is a small life.

I plead God, is this enough for you?

I am reminded love is not parceled out in relation to the amount of effort, hustle, or works produced. Bigger love cannot be earned with bolder life choices. I have always been one for the bigger choice. It is easier for me to fly spontaneous into the face of challenge outside these walls. At 33 I’m learning the big love found in a little life.

Unrestricted love is here in the perceived smallness of sidewalk chalk art and songs goodnight. In the driving to school miles logged and driving me crazy moments.

On paper my life doesn’t look as overtly faith-infused as it did ten years ago. But I know the faithfulness required to live a quiet life has drawn me closer to God than other ostentatious choices before.

I make beds. I make lunches. I make moments for my children to remember and some I pray they will forget. I make words and walks and paintings. This little life of routines and I-love-yous and I’m-sorrys and crust-cut sandwiches is wide enough to experience the fullness of the resurrection.

 

Realities and Loneliness in Marriage

Loneliness in the single life is often palpable, but is it somehow more palatable when social expectation allows space for the sadness in unmet longing during singlehood? But what happens when Loneliness picks out a placemat and sets a seat at the family table after  you’ve already said your I Do’s Forever?

Reality is, eleven years later, I am not who he married.

Reality is, he is not the one I married.

Reality is, we forget to just kiss.

Some anniversaries you celebrate the marriage. Some anniversaries you celebrate the boot dragged, mud-flung, belly under barbed wire, jaw set, hard earned finish line of having made it through another year of parenting young kids without divorce. This is one of those years.

Reality is, we have to decide if we can flirt again, fall in love again, this year, eleven more years, every more after that.

Reality is, remembering the goodness of a partner in marriage in the midst of having and raising small children, our careers, and our own interests takes determination and faith and time; a list of all things already squeezed to the point of dry.

Reality is, we’ve wasted time over the years playing the Who’s Day Was Harder game when  we both needed more affirmation and less competition.

Reality is, we are functioning business partners but have to work to make space for the play when we get to be friends and lovers again.

Reality is, we don’t make sense together until you’re sharing our campfire, our beer, so we have to confidently rely on our relaxed intimacy instead of nods of approval from others.

Reality is, we are a Dreamer and a Pragmatist learning how to make a life together.

Reality is, there are some problems that perpetuate and we keep having to bring them before the Highest Judge with a repentant heart before bringing them (again) to each other, and before bed after exhaustion is never the time to do this.

Reality is, when Loneliness comes we name it. We look it in the eye. We serve it a piece of cake. We ask why it has come and what need it is representing or longing to be filled. We pray it or think it or write it or take it on runs with us and when we are able to convey these needs out loud to one another without sting or blame or judgement we do so.

In the meantime we make the beds, the lunches, the life.

We remember to say thank you. We remember that we each are trying. We remember to laugh. We invite Loneliness to be listened to but don’t let it have the last say. This is the movement of marriage.

 

 

 

 

 

Losing Balance and Gaining Grace

Hey friend,

Surprise! You’re pregnant again!

I wish I could whisper the secret code from us mamas of three in your ear to make it easier for you. But there is no secret.

The truest truth I know is this: There is no balance. Don’t let the books or mommy groups tell you otherwise. The strive for balance is a cultural catch-phrase winding families into a panicked frenzy. Don’t believe it. Chasing balance only offers you a chalice of shame.

I know it feels beyond your human capacity right now to have another baby. Caring for another soul.

Especially while your oldest is still a pint-sized person with a full grown bucket of personality and emotions.

Especially while your toddler demands being held – always – in arms and eye contact. Dimpled baby fists occasionally thumping your chest for the breastmilk run dry.

Especially while you pursue a career that whispers yes into your bones.

Especially while you’re still fighting for space to eat, rest, solo potty, simply remember who you are and how you like your eggs. Not to mention that little thing called marriage.

I know you know it’s going to be okay. But I want to repeat. I have faith in you. You can do this.

I would tell you if I can do it, anyone can. But you were there. You saw the hard and maybe that’s what’s so scary about this after all.

You knew a few months into parenting my first I went to bed crying. Nightly.  Knowing I was outside of my mind tired but the hard part was just beginning as babes and I would be awake together up to ten more times before dawn.

When our second was several months old I picked up mono with a bonus coupling of hepatitis that wiped me out physically and emotionally. One illness stole the independence and non-neediness I had so adamantly co-joined to my adulthood. You sat next to me while I was a shell of tired, blank of personality and guessed at ways you could help because I was too deep in the sick and the sad to assess the need.

Then our third came and there was no time to cave up. No hibernation period. It was sprinting with vaginal stitches. You witnessed it all.

There is no secret. Life balance a farce we’ve spun too much energy into already. Alternatively, there is trusting the goodness of the Creator who has already given you an intuitive understanding of the rhythms of life.

Instead, there is embracing seasons.

Instead, there is determining what is important and hacking the rest with comically oversized scissors.

Instead, there is focusing on a goal with full-throttle, head down, shoulder thrust into the now. Breathing. Turning. Locking eyes on the next up and going again.

Instead, (and this may be the most important one) there is lowering self-expectation and raising chaos tolerance.

It is not easy but it is good. I can’t wait to watch you experience that self-offering of grace even as your third curls close, heartbeat to heartbeat, the main things become the main things, and everything else shakes away.

It will be an undoing of sorts, but it is not to be feared.

You’re going to be amazing!

XOXOXOXOX,

From this mama of three to you, new mama, of three!

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That Whole Target Bathroom Policy Thing

Is Target Bathroom Policy Statement 2016 the new Starbucks Christmas Cup 2015? We’re still stale with the stench of that one even though most of us thought it was ridiculously misunderstood media hype. And didn’t we already spin this “protect families” argument, California, in 2008 when as a state we tried to vote down gay marriage rights? So far the biggest threat to my family has been our self-destructive pride and selfishness. No matter what your views on this are, closing your eyes and wishing a dichotomous way onto a deconstructivist culture is not the same as engaging in the world where all these realities exist.

There is a vivacious transgender woman who cashiers for us at our local Target. The number of times I have felt unsafe in the transaction: zero. The number of times my kids have stared: zero. If we find ourselves washing hands beside her, I imagine it will remain the same. Except I doubt that will happen because I am willing to bet she uses an employee restroom or that hidden single room behind the electronics section to avoid potential conflicts – crushing lessons of past experience learned.

Transgender bathroom policy doesn’t affect our family in any way while shopping Target, except maybe encourage me to shop there more often (if that’s even possible) because I take it as a bold statement of peace. I want to be a part of that. I want my kids to be a part of that. No, I will not be signing your Target petition under the main banner to protect me, the mom, and my kids.

And now I’ve offended so, so, SO many of you because I straddle a no man’s land of too conservative for the liturgists & non-churched and too non-churched for the conservatives in my life. Like my children, my head and heart live in a vast both/and question mark where the only certainty is God – in all male and female characteristics and generosity of goodness and love and grace- can handle it.

Do you know who I think is out to get my kids? Everyone. As a mama, every single person no matter how spiffy they look on the outside are potential threats to the physical and emotional safety of my littles. THAT is why we go as a family into the women’s restroom much to the smadness of my young son. That is why my kids know they aren’t allowed to play hide-and-seek in public places. That is why we call body parts “vagina” and “penis” (which is still really hard for this Midwestern 80’s girl to do) and normalize talk about appropriate vs inappropriate touching.

General vigilance and learning to trust our gut in our surroundings is what the kids and I talk about. This kind of wisdom is what I want the kids to know to navigate through the days, the years. Listening to their intuition and knowing they can rely on it – that’s what I want my kids to practice daily in our care. Tethering an awareness of their physical environment to their brain and stomach assessment, knowing their instincts are good, learning to take in character – this is what we circle back to in all public places.

Yes, I’m afraid. I’m afraid for the safety of the transgender community who are trying to do something as simple as pee in public. I’m afraid for all of us that when one person is dehumanized, we all have our humanity dulled. I’m afraid we will continue to confuse Christianity with protecting our privilege. I’m afraid we will STILL be discussing all this in a rageful way and all this anger of entitlement in our Americanism will seep into the fabric of my children. There are many things to fear here, but potty stops at Target (like most of the things in my red shopping cart) aren’t on that list.

 

 

A Discourse Against Short Term Missions

So dear church friend, you’ve signed up for a two week trip to the Southern Hemisphere this summer. You invite me to squeal in delight and chat over coffee but are dampened by my (unpopular) thoughts about this.

You want to travel. Travel. You want adventure. Seek it. You want to serve. Serve. But please don’t confuse your short term mission trip as the holy trifecta of these desires.

++++++++++

A hairbrush – long strands of auburn entangled.

Used deodorant.

Toothbrush.

You left these with a “thought you’d enjoy!” card on the back of the toilet. We did not.

You came. You gawked at the difference in culture and scenery. You danced with the people and couldn’t get over how happy the poor are. You left just as your bodies were adjusting to the time change, to the sun.

++++++++++

I have issues with the term “missionary” but for lack of better verbiage, I will say we lived as international missionaries for three years. In that time we were galvanized, softened, strengthened, reformed. It was excruciating at times. It was living fully. It was lonely at times. It was always good.

I cannot, all these years later, understand what impact was made for the unseen greater good of humanity other than it changed me.

 

The realities:

In the Majority World, the axis is relationships and relationships take longevity. We lived on $10,000 a year. Add your team’s plane tickets up. Gasp. Could you give that money to sponsor a long-term friend instead? That is an unfun sacrifice no one wants to hear. There is zero in it for you.

Being a year-round missionary is physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, everything-ally exhausting. I guarantee they are shouldering so much. And now they are hosting you. Taking you to the best strawberry vendors. Driving you to the orphanage. Running interference at the roundabout. And happy to do so. But is your presence life-giving to their spirit or a distraction from their work?

Please start saying thank you and stop leaving them your used toiletries for which they should be grateful.

Clearly, I am not ambivalent to this subject being a receiver of a great many half-filled travel shampoo bottles myself. (Please hold the hate mail about this post.)

So you want to go to Africa for two weeks, four weeks, a year? What I ask you is this.

Can you serve faithfully, without a backslap of affirmation right where you are?

Could you come in before sunrise to set up church and leave before anyone notices. every. Sunday?

Can you move the conversation at the check-out line from rote script into reflecting that person’s worthiness and beauty back toward them?

Can you see the bend of justice in the arc of time in this fleeting little moment now and draw others into its delicate shimmer?

Can you make one more dinner the kids complain about? 

If you can’t do these, don’t go to Africa.

If you do go to Africa, know it is mostly for your transformation. This is okay. Just be honest. Go to listen. Not to fix. Go without a watch. Without expectation. Let yourself be changed.

If you do go, please don’t leave your used toiletries. Unloading your unwanted is not a sacrificial blessing.

If you do leave your things, leave your best perfume on the dresser, your newest jeans in the closet, your stories on the coffee table.

Leave changed and prepared to give freely in your everyday life. This transformation is the long-term return of your short-term trip. Please, make it worth the energy and resources invested.