What if It’s All About Apathy?

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My reading group read The Screwtape Letters recently.  One of my big goals for myself was to finish all of the books before the meeting.  Up until Screwtape, I had a perfect track record, and it’s still nearly unblemished (probably until this weekend!) because I finished all but the last twenty pages or so.

If you aren’t familiar with Screwtape, it’s a CS Lewis book written from the point of the view of the devil who is mentoring his young nephew in the art of tempting humans and ultimately leading them to Hell.  You know… a light read.

Anyway, I have since went back and am finishing those last few pages.  During this reading, one thing struck out.  In a speech the devil is giving, he mentions how it is actually difficult to lead people to mortal sin these day because so many people are so blasé about matters concerning faith that they are actually ignorant of the sins they commit, not caring enough to learn about their faith to be fully informed on anything.

This reminded me of a quote from one of my favorite WB Yeats poems, “The Second Coming,”

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity”.

I’ve pondered that Yeats line frequently.  I wrote a paper partially centered around it in grad school, and I’ve never been able to get it out of my head.  After all, all too often in the world around us, I see it come to fruition.  And I also see it in the everyday lives of everyday people.  Most notably, myself.

How often do I make decisions without pondering the consequences?

How often do I push important issues to the back of my mind because caring slightly is impossible, and I feel much too fragile to care deeply.

How often do I sense deep conviction seeping in, and I push it away because it can overtake me?

How often do I train my thoughts on matters of little significance while letting the great matters slip?

And how often do I let my doubts silence my voice because I fear speaking with authority when there is always the chance I could be wrong?

I don’t watch the news.  I can’t – it’s too much for me.  Instead, I read my news.  For the longest time, it kept me up to date, and it gave me a bit more background, but most importantly, I would only read about global or national issues.  I’d leave all the shootings and kidnappings unread.

But lately even the written news — sometimes even just headlines — leave me despairing.

Intellectually, I understand this is a broken world with broken people, and no amount of anything is going to change that.  On the other hand, so much of it is just caused by pure cruelty and hatred and close mindedness.  Our world is necessarily broken, but does it necessarily have to be as broken as it is?

If more people cared, if for more people put aside their fear, if more people gave more of themselves, couldn’t it be a bit better?

Couldn’t we make a difference if we gave some of what we have?

And I get that we can’t all work at a global level.  Very few of us have the resources or the calling for such work.  But what about in our own homes and our own lives and our own communities?

I’ve always believed that the one thing most people truly crave deep down is to be known and to be heard and to be understood.

What if we started there?  What if we just closed our mouths more and opened our ears?  What if we actually did try to seek first to understand.  What if we saw conversations as a way to connect rather than a way to inform or to persuade or to impress?

These are my weaknesses.  These are the areas I struggle with.  Perhaps that’s why these are the areas I focus on.  But I think it’s a good start for us all.

After all, we can’t heal the world, but we can make it a better place.

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Overwhelmed

I’m overwhelmed.

School started last week, and I am doing my absolute best to keep everything under control, and it’s starting to feel like a pressure cooker.

There’s so much to remember.  So much to keep organized.  So much to keep on schedule. So much to keep normal.

And I’m succeeding.

And that’s scary.

If I’m failing, if I’m falling behind, if everything is a mess, then there is not a whole lot to worry about.  I can focus on surviving and getting through another day.

But now that my head is above water, I’m so afraid of falling beneath.  I’m so afraid of letting one ball drop because deep inside, I’m sure all the others will come crashing behind, and I’ll find myself slipping and tripping over them all.

I’m terrified of failure.  I have always been.

The one truth I have felt over the last few years is that I have been failing.  And when you are living in your worst fear, you get depressed.  You get overwhelmed.  Bad things follow.

But now I’m on the other side.  I feel like I’m succeeding – slowly but surely.  And now the fear comes back.  Now the fall can come.  Now one small mistake could land me back on the bottom.

And that’s absolutely terrifying.

And that’s always the weird part of mothering.  I know all the details don’t matter nearly as much as we believe it does.  I know it’s the relationship and the support and the love and the inspiration and the stability that matter the most.  And I think I do fairly well at those things.

But that’s not what the world sees.

The world sees the home and the matching socks and the perfectly fixed pony tales.  And that’s what the world judges you on.  And it’s hard not to listen to them.  Because their voices are a lot louder than my own.

And so I’m sitting here.  Still above water.  Praying there’s a balance — between loving and surviving, between nurturing creativity and nurturing responsibility, between being and doing.

But we aren’t called to succeed by this world’s standards.  We are called to something greater.  And I will still strive to balance between both worlds.

It’s got to be possible, right?

In the meantime, I guess I’ll sit here running against the wind.

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Mom as a Place

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My girls have my sweet husband wrapped around their little fingers, and it’s Mae who has been, as of late, taking advantage of that position the most.

She is 2.5, and she still insists that he rocks her at least for awhile every night.  Truth be told, I think he enjoys it as much as she does.

The problem occurs, however, when he is not home.  She then thinks that mom will do the same thing.  Now I’m not one to let them cry it out.  If she cries, I will go in there, but usually she will only get one brief rock out of me.  After that, I’ll go in and talk to her, but she knows she has to lay back down.

Tonight, during her brief rock, I was a tiny bit exhausted.  It’s been our first week of school, and everyone’s nap schedule is off which means everyone is throwing fits and just generally having a rough time.  And this all leads to me having a rough time.

So I was up there, and I was thinking how it must be to be a toddler… to have no real idea that other people have feelings.  To have no clue that all your mom really wants to do is sit down on the couch, cuddle under her blanket, and play Subway Surf on her phone for the fiftieth time this evening.

But then I started to think — at moments like these, what is mom to her?  What am I to her?

And it made me think back to the earliest days.  During the earliest days (the book Angel in the Waters does a great job explaining this,) mom is a place, a warm nesting place to gestate.  But then the baby is born, and I think in many ways, we still remain a place.

When a newborn cuddles, they love our touch and our smell and the sound of our heart beats.  But even as they age, how much of a school kid’s need for a hug is about the person of mom and how much of it is just the arms that they want to be in?

And then even as they age.  Teenagers might like going out and being with their friends, but they come home, and at least from what I remember, that home is the people and the need was to be in proximity to them.

I think that might be the case with a lot of our most intimate relationships, but definitely with the parenting one.

And I’m fine with that.  I’m more than fine with that.

I might spend my days trying to model for them and guide them and encourage them.  But in the end, if what they want most is my presence, I am more than happy to be that as well.

Mothering is an all in sort of endeavor.  We can’t just mother with our minds or our hearts or our hands or our words.  Our kids need all of us.

It’s my pleasure to give it.

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Three Books That Teach Kids About Charity

 

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This is a contributed post.  I received compensation for posting it.  

Child psychologists have often said that kids are born with this natural inclination to share, and as parents we often try to harness that predisposition to philanthropy so that they grow up to be the loving, caring adults we have always hoped.

Getting children involved in charity will widen their scope of the world, but there are also great teaching tools that you can use at home to help them understand global issues like poverty and illiteracy. These days, plenty of children’s book authors are writing charity-themed stories as a way to get them to relate to the characters, thereby teaching them about moral values such as empathy and compassion.

Beatrice’s Goat

Page McBrier’s story surrounds a young African girl named Beatrice who dreams of books, school uniforms and learning, but with five other siblings, her parents don’t have enough to send her to school. One day, a stranger provides her with a gift of a goat which Beatrice quickly learns that she can use its milk to earn money, money that one day could help her dreams become a reality. This book is a reminder of the obstacles many children are faced with when trying to pursue their education, and something as small as one euro a day for a child in need or supplying livestock for a family can make a huge difference, bigger than anyone can possibly imagine.

Cows for America

Another tale about international giving is Thomas Gonzales’ book that highlights the generosity of a small African village. A villager returns from medical school in America one day and shares the tragedy of September 11. The villagers are so moved by the events that ask a US Ambassador to visit their village where he is gifted with 14 cows as their contribution in their recovery process. The book also has some of the most beautiful illustrations and comes highly recommended for child educators.

The Giving Book: Open a Door to a Lifetime

The Giving Book by Ellen Sabin is an interactive tool that contains learning activities to engage its readers with charity, rather than just reading about it. Utilized by parents, teachers and many others, this book is a way for kids to experience the world of philanthropy in a fun way. Through The Giving Book, they become the authors of their own stories as the jot down their journey into charity.

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First Day of School

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I always want to write something the night before the first day of school.  Something profound.  The problem is that at moments such as these, all profundity escapes me.

I’m just left here sitting on my couch, staring at the wall, speechless.

Because there’s just so much to think about on the night before school.

I think about how excited I am for her.  Magoo has been skipping around the house for a week in anticipation.  Last night after dropping off her school supplies, she told me she was going to sleep all day today (didn’t happen) because that would make tomorrow come sooner.

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I think about how blessed I am.  This little girl is becoming a young lady.  (It’s true.  She told Goosie this awhile back.)  She’s confident.  And she’s smart.  She’s kind.  And she’s faithful.  I think back to years ago when I would get so sad at the thought of her growing up, and I laugh.  Because what I didn’t know back then was that as bittersweet as these moments are, the truest and most absolute joy of parenting is seeing them become who they are meant to be.  These are the things lives are made of.

And I think back to when she was two years old and I get wistful.  I remember the little girl who refused to leave the house without a princess dress, tiara, jewelry, and sun glasses on.  I think about the little girl who used to make me read Dr Suess’s ABC Book over and over again.  I think about the little girl who skipped through the zoo at two years old in trendy boots and a big furry jumper and a monkey on her butt.  I think of these things and I am overcome with gratitude for having lived them with her, for the privilege of being her mom.

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And I think of her school, and I think of her teachers; I think of all teachers, and my heart fills with emotion.  I think of the care they put into treating each child as an individual.  I think of the joy she has experienced and will experience as she shares special moments with them.  I think of people who forgo a lot of money to dedicate their lives to teaching in Catholic schools, and I pray that what they might lack in financial compensation, they make up for feeling the love of all their little charges.  These are the people who choose to give their all to my kids.  And when my mind falters and drifts to the what ifs and what could bes, I am reminded that these are also the people who would jump in the line of fire and who would dry bitter tears in the moments when I am not able to do so.

I’ve questioned almost every decision I have made as a parent, but not for one single second have I questioned the decision to send her to her school.  It makes her better; it makes us better, and it’s a place where the love of God truly does shine.

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And so I think that’s why I don’t often write on the night before school.  There are so many thoughts.  So many feelings that are just too big to put into simple words.

But this is the best I can do.

One day I hope my girls will be sitting on their couches, waiting for their children’s first day of school, and they will look back on these thoughts and know that just as they love their littles, they too were and are loved.  Truly and wholly and deeply.

Here’s to 2015/2016.

 

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A World Wanting to be Heard

I wonder how many of us out there sit alone in our quiet rooms at night just desperately wanting to be heard and seen.

Most of us spend our days out there in the world — talking to people, meeting with people, interacting with people.  And yet, I think we can spend our whole lives doing this without ever having anyone actually see or hear who we are.

Sadly, it seems as if the world is full of people desperately longing to be heard, but it’s greatly lacking in people who want to listen.

Because listening is hard.  It requires so much of us – it requires humility and grace and an ability to tolerate discomfort and hard things.  It requires us to see other people as individuals.  And that’s really hard because once we see other people as being real, we can’t use them as easily, we can’t tread all over them as easily, we can’t put them into neat little boxes.  Because when we see real people, we necessarily see pain, and for most of us at least, pain is hard to ignore.

This is an issue that is dear to my heart because I have three little girls.  And the world gives young girls in particular the message that they shouldn’t be heard.  That they can sing and dance and write pretty little poems, but the other things, the darker things, are better left inside.

The problem, of course, is that stifling those darker things – the pain and the confusion – doesn’t make them go away.  They just start to grow and fester.  They become malignant.  What once was some mild confusing feelings and pain are now bulimia and addiction and falling through nets that are not there.

And so I guess that’s one of the reasons why I write.  Because when I write, I can share the things the world would probably wish I kept quiet, and in doing so, I hope to give permission to others to do the same.

Our world revolves around quiet lives lived behind closed doors.  But quiet lives can hide raging storms.  If we broke out more and shared our storms with the world, it would be a whole lot messier but it would also be a whole lot healthier.

We wouldn’t see tidy packages; we would see tender souls, vulnerable and breaking but so beautiful it’s hard to take it in.

When we see another’s pain, we see another.  We see what needs to be seen, and we give them permission to shout their truth from the mountain tops.

It’s not easy – sharing ourselves – and it’s surely not without a cost.  All we can hope is that we have people around us who are able to foot the bill.

Who we are, who you are, is a gift.  Don’t be afraid to share all of it.  Even the parts that might feel a bit broken.  Because after all, that’s where the beauty lies.

This was originally published on my Psych Central blog.

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A Letter to My Girls on Life

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Hi girls,

I was up until 2:30 in the morning worrying about you three.  Most notably, worrying that I won’t recognize the right paths to lead you down.

I thought of moments I regret, of bad decisions I’ve made, of bad relationships I’ve entered, of choices I wish I could take back.  And I thought about some of the reasons I made those decisions and stayed in those relationships.  I thought of not feeling worthy enough, of feeling too broken, of being too lost, too alone, too confused.

And I looked at your three pictures hanging on the wall, and I saw the innocence and promise and purity behind those eyes.  I was overtaken with a desire to protect you.  To shield you from the pain of this world.  To keep you protected under wings of holiness.

And I realized that I couldn’t do it.  I can’t protect you.  I can’t keep you from people who would want to use you or control you.  I can’t inocluate you against feelings of doubt and insecurity.

And let me tell you, that is a terrifying feeling for a mom.

Right now, it’s simple.  You are 2,4, and 7.  I have a say these days.  I know who you are and where you are going.  I try to surround you with innocence and joy.

But it won’t always be that way, and the days when it won’t are coming on like a freight train.

And so I found myself lying in bed last night trying to figure out how someone who fell into all the traps I did could teach you not to fall into the same ones.  How can someone as imperfect as I am lead you down the paths of perfection.

And of course, the answer is that I cannot.  First of all that path doesn’t exist, and if it did, it’s not one any of us fallen people could tread.

You will make mistakes.  They might be the same as mine, or they might be different.  All I can do is vow to be here for you to help you pick up the pieces.

You will have doubts.  You will at times succumb to the pressures of society.  You will question yourself.  All I can do is be the voice of truth in your lives: reminding you daily of the value and purpose and beauty that is infused in all of your lives.

And you will find yourselves lost at times on roads that perhaps I wouldn’t wish for you, perhaps you wouldn’t wish for yourselves.  And at those times, all I can do is walk alongside you and help us find our way home.

Girls, you weren’t given a perfect mama.  If only I were, then I could lead you down the right paths.  But all we have is some imperfect people doing our best to find our way home.

And so as you are at the beginning of your journeys, my promise to you is that I will always be here when you falter.  Of course, I’ll be here to share your joys and victories, but perhaps even more important, I promise to be here during your defeats and sorrows.  I will be an open ear, a nonjudgmental place for you to fall.

I won’t always do it perfectly.  I’ll make mistakes.  But if you stick by me, I will do the same, and somehow we will find our way through the mazes of this life.

We aren’t perfect.  This isn’t a perfect world.  But the closest we come to Heaven is when we walk the path together.  And as long as I am in this world, you will never need to walk alone.

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Why Family Matters

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I want my kids to grow up in a beautiful world.

I want them to smell flowers and view sunrises and dance in fields of wildflowers and be so underwhelmed because it pails in comparison to the beauty they see among friends.

I want them to live in a culture where we protect the weak – animals and people.  I want them to learn from the world around them that the world isn’t for them.  It’s for us all.  Big and small. Strong and weak.  Wealthy and poor.

I want them to recoil at selfishness and find it odd and out of place.  I want them to continuously face bafflement in the midst of evil.  I don’t want them to understand evil.  I don’t want them to accept it.  And I want them to live in a world that rejects it as well.

I want them to see peace and prayer and love and support as the things this world are made of.  I want them to strive to be better because they see better all around them.

But then I turn on the news and I realize that this is not their world.

Their world is a broken one, a fallen one.  A world where redemption is harder to find than vice, and where the selfless are the ones who confuse people.

People win through deception and cruelty and trickery.  The strongest and wealthiest win it all, and the most vulnerable often go without the table scraps.

And some days this all feels like so much to overcome, an impossible hurdle to climb.

But then I remember that we live in the world as it is.  This isn’t Heaven.  This isn’t eternal reward.  This is a fallen world for fallen people.  And while we can’t heal it, we can remain a refuge for what we believe in.

We can fortify the walls of our homes and allow in the pure and the good and the holy.  We can leave out the distorted and the vulgar and the deviated.

We can’t keep our homes sin free unless we ourselves stay out of them, but we can use our sin as a means to provoke forgiveness in others.  We can use our brokenness to teach mercy and redemption and love.

I never quite understood why people always preached about things like the sanctity of the family.  And then I looked around and I realized that it really is the only protection our children have.  They look at a television screen and think it normal.  They look around and see people acting in whatever manner they choose and they start to believe they can too.  They live in a world that teaches moral relativism, and they can no longer decipher right from wrong or even believe that the two exist.

But that’s where our homes come in.  That’s where our families come in.

We do not live in a beautiful world.  But we can make our homes evermoreso, and in doing so, we can bring a little bit of God’s love into our broken world.

I can’t give my kids the world I want to, but I can give them the home I want to.  It’s a big challenge in this culture, but we are up to the task.

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The Rough Days

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The tears are rolling now.  The big, fat mama sized tears.  The tears made heavy by fatigue and stress and a profound disappointment in myself.

I sit here in a quiet house after twelve plus hours of parenting three little ones while my husband works late, and at this moment, the joys and the tiny victories of the day have faded from memory, and all I can feel is the regret of moments lost.  Moments lost to rush and fatigue and frustration.

These days are full.  There are swim lessons and back to school shopping and library reading programs.  There are dinners and lunches and breakfasts.  Most uneaten.  Some gagged at.  Plenty left in a clump on the floor waiting for my mop and broom.

And there are promises broken.  White lies told.  Words unheeded.  There are temper tantrums and whines and arguments.  These are the things of childhood, and as such, they are the things of parenting.

And I try to take them in stride.  I try to respond with patience.  I pray to see them through merciful eyes.  I remember that harsh words or frustrated tones can leave marks on little souls.

But sometimes, my imperfections get the better of me.  I snip.  I lecture.  And sometimes I yell.

My lecture today was needed.  Some things need to change.  Some behaviors need to be adjusted.  Not dealing with it would have been neglecting my parental responsibilities.

But it doesn’t make it any easier.  It doesn’t make it easier to see my eldest’s tears, the tears that come whenever I am anything but ecstatic with her.  It doesn’t make it easier to see my four year old’s serious face, the one she only uses when she knows she has misbehaved.

They know their behavior disappointed me.  And I’m glad they care.  They need to care.  But I hate that my eldest is in bed sad.

As humans, we need to know guilt when we hurt another or neglect our responsibilities.  Kept in check, it is a healthy emotion.  But it still hurts to know they feel it.  It really does hurt us more than them.

And now I’m sitting here, shaken by my evening, wondering how I’m going to get up and do it all over again tomorrow morning.

But deep down I know the answer.

I will do it all over again because the thing that is stronger than the frustration and sadness and anger and remorse is the love.  It’s the love that always brings us back to try better tomorrow.

Love is what can turn the word “tomorrow” from dread to hope.

It’s the only thing that makes sense out of it all.  Even when it’s all a big mess of frustration.

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Savoring Summer

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It has been a very long time since I have written.  I don’t normally take breaks from writing if for no other reason that writing keeps me sane.  But this past month or two I haven’t been writing because I have been savoring instead.

Things have been sweet, and things have been simple, and for me, those two things mean that things have been perfect.

I guess I shouldn’t actually use the word perfect because I’ve had pneumonia for the past month.  That part sucked.  But even with that, it just gave me a chance to learn to settle down.

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I learned how not to beat myself up every time my house would get messy.  I learned how to take things slowly and do what I could do – if that meant a load of dishes, that was great.  If the rest of the kitchen was messy, I learned that it could wait.

And what the lucky perfectionists among us eventually learn is that the more you relax your standards, the more you actually improve the state of things.  I can’t have a perfectly clean house 24/7 with three little kids.  When I try, I get overwhelmed and I buckle in on myself.  But I can constantly make small improvements.  And I find when I do that, I might have a load of clean laundry sitting on my ottoman (true story,) but the rest of my house is fairly clean.  Small steps lead to great victories, possibly the most notable being peace, comfort, and confidence.

All of this has led to peace, and it has also led me to believe in myself more.  I’m learning that I can do it, but I’m also learning that I am worth it.  That I can hold people responsible for cleaning up their mess.  That it doesn’t matter if they all like a pig sty… if I crave reasonable order to feel comfortable in my house, then I can expect those who love me to play along.

It’s my home too.

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But as much as all of that has helped things, the absolute greatest part of this summer has been just being with my family.  Mae is 2.5 now.  She is clearly still in the toddler stage and as such needs a lot of supervision, but it is so much less than last year when she was 1.5 and Goosie was 3.

I can take them places.  We can go to a park and I believe there’s only a 55% chance of catastrophic injury.  I can take them to the splash pad by myself.  I can take them in the backyard to play, and they play for the most part.  Sure Mae will still take off for the street sometimes, but oftentimes she doesn’t.  I could sit and read.  I could play along.  I could garden if it didn’t make my entire body break out into crazy allergic reactions.

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And these girls are fun!  They are creative.  We have some wilting sunflowers in our backyard. Okay we have sunflowers everywhere, but the ones they were focusing on were right by our patio.  Today they decided to pick the seeds off of the dying flowers and replant them.  Then we played catch.  With a real softball.  Because finally Magoo has decided to give it a try this fall.  This even beats out the fact that we bought the first season of Little House on the Prarie, and she loves it as much as I do.  Some of it goes over her head, but I think that might be a good thing.

And Goosie makes these amazing drawings.  She sings nonstop.  She’s constantly asking questions and dancing and making us laugh.  She starts swimming lessons next week, and I am so excited because she is absolutely fearless in the water.

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And then there’s little Mae.  Still my cuddliest.  Still the one who would spend her entire life sitting on my lap reading book after book.  She’s two and she bawls when I say I need to stop reading after 30+ minutes.  She’s starting speech soon for articulation issues, but she’s right on track with everything else, and it’s so adorable hearing her put together new and more complex sentences.  And if anyone looks hurt or sad, she is the first to walk over and say “k Mommy?”

These little girls…

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They are more than just my daughters.  They are these little souls that I can’t get enough of.  I obviously love them, but I like them just as much, and that is such a blessing.  They are my companions.  They are the best part of TJ and I.  They are our joy and our solace and strange as it sounds, our respite.

I would never say they are my friends.  For the next few decades, that is not my job.  But they are my companions.  We walk this journey together.  TJ and I are the leaders as we should be.  But those little ducklings walking behind us are our teachers.  They teach us how to lead.  They teach us how to mold them.  They inspire us to inspire them to greatness.

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Being a parent can be challenging.  And I think that’s why God made kids so great.  They make us aspire to be more so we can model more.  All the good I strive for, all the holiness, all the virtue, is given new meaning when I know that it will give them an example they wouldn’t otherwise have.

So yea…

I haven’t been writing much.  I’m sure that will change once school starts again and I have no time to process anything.  But for now I am having fun just living my life.  The overanalyzing can wait.  There are rainbows to catch.

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