Raising Little Women


If you would have told me ten years ago that I would be raising four little girls one day, I probably would have thrown up. When I’m reminded these days that I’m raising four little girls, the panic sets in.

It’s not that I don’t like being a girl mama. Being entrusted with the raising of these four little souls is the honor of my life. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

No, what gets the cortisol flowing is the realization that children learn how to be adults by watching the closest adults in their lives. And little girls learn how to be women and learn what it means to be a woman by watching one lady in particular – their mom. And if there’s any job I feel is beyond me, it’s the modeling of healthy womanhood.

But let’s say I have a moment of confidence and clarity, and I decide that maybe I can teach them at least the important things…

Then I turn on the television, and I see the objectification of women.

And I open the news, and I read about the rape of women.

And I look at advertisements, and I see the exploitation of women.

And I look around the world, and I see even with all of that, by almost any measure, we are the lucky women.

I would be lying if I said that I see all of this, and it makes me honestly search out remote mountain homes where we can live in peace. I’d also be lying if I said it didn’t make me sort of consider it.

I see all of this, and it’s overwhelming and it’s panic inducing, and I don’t know where to turn. So I look inside and I see panic and confusion, and I realize that I can barely lead myself, so how can I lead them.

But then I think of these words, “she is clothed in dignity and respect.” They have become a bit of a mantra to me. I play them over and over in my head, and as of yesterday, I decide to adorn a wall in my house with them.

Because what I realized is that this world gives us a false binary – either we can love ourselves above all others and look out for number one, or we can sacrifice everything and count ourselves among the invisible.  

There’s either self-aggrandizement or self-depreciation. Very rarely do we see anything in between.

But these words… that’s our in between.

They don’t say we are better or we deserve everything. But they also don’t say we deserve nothing and we fail.

No. They say we are loved. We are treasured. We are prized. And we are worth so very much that the God of the universe died for us.

And for you. And for them. And for us all.

We are worth so very much and no human being has the power to diminish that.

So I’m going to hang these words up and I’m going to read them daily and I’m going to try to live them.

And maybe with this one small step, we will be able to stand up in the face of all that wishes to tear us down.

Stand with me, won’t you? Our little girls are watching.

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The Politics of Listening

I don’t shut up well. I’m horrible at it. I think I might have been born without the physical structure that stops our mouths from moving or our hands from writing when the situation warrants it.

I spent years voicing my political opinions, and I spent a couple of years sharing my political opinions on Facebook.
I don’t regret this, and I’m not ashamed of it. I felt strongly, and I will always insist that those of us with a voice serve the world best by sharing that voice. (And if you are a literate middle class American you have more of a voice than the majority of people in this world.)
Lately though I’ve tried to hold myself back from some of these discussions. And the reason is that they often feel like a bunch of people standing around in a circle screaming at each other. The only difference is that in a real life shouting match people are a bit less likely to blatantly question and insult the integrity of each other.
I haven’t had skin thick enough to partake, and so I have sat back and listened. And by observing these conversations, I have noticed one glaring thing —
No one is listening. Nearly no one.
People are reading the words alright, but they are only reading them to find new ways to argue. It seems as if no one is joining these conversations to learn or discover new points of view. People just want to convert the other. Which is never going to happen because the other just wants to convert them.
And to be honest, part of the reason I have abstained from commenting is because I start to fear that arguing is even no longer as much about winning as it is about making oneself feel better about our own values and willingness to stand up for them. It’s starting to feel self-righteous.
And this is not an indictment against others. I am at least as guilty as anyone else if not more. (The rush of standing up for injustice can feel really, really good.)
But self-righteous looks horrible on me. More horrible even than it does on other people.
And so I’m left with what to do. These are important issues and they matter. To not speak feels negligent. But to speak feels futile and damaging and self-aggrandizing.
So I’ve decided that there’s one revolutionary thing i can do. One thing I’m not seeing done elsewhere.
I can listen.  
And when I say I can listen, I mean I can radically listen. I can listen and read the viewpoints from all sides. I can try to understand the underlying values of all parties. I can try to discern the priorities and fears and virtues and dreams and prejudices being brought forth. In the midst of a million arguments clamoring for attention, I can try to pay that attention.
And I’m trying to figure out if this is a cop out. But I don’t think it is. Because right now, most people are firmly entrenched on one side. The lines are clearly drawn. And the two sides aren’t going to come together. It’s going to take people standing in the middle to bridge those gaps.
I’ll probably fail sometimes, but my intention for the forseable future is to just stop. I’ll stop posting about politics or commenting or sharing or liking. I’ll take it in and absorb it. Hopefully one day I can then help bridge gaps. But even if that time never comes, at least I’ll know that I can understand both sides. I will know that I have been edified by listening to the values of the competing parties. I will know that I sought to understand before I sought to be understood.
So who is with me? Who wants to spend a month or two months or a year just listening radically? Who wants to remain open enough to hear inconvenient or unappetizing opinions? Who wants to become a repository rather than a dispensary?
Please join me.
(And to those few who I speak politics with in person, I’m still hoping to continue our conversations. A girl can only hold back so much!)

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Insecurity

I went to Best Buy today to buy a new band for my Apple Watch.  It was a birthday present from my parents, and I had been looking forward to getting it for awhile.

I got over to the appropriate aisle, and I was pleased to find that there were more options available than I had anticipated, and I really liked some.

So I looked.  And I looked some more.  And then I looked some more.  I compared them, and I contrasted them.  I felt them.  I turned them upside down.  And I tried to imagine what they would look like attached to my watch which I had inconveniently forgotten at home.

And for the life of me, I could not make up my mind. 

I kept trying to figure out what statement each would make.  What would it say about me?  

Ultimately a saleswoman came over, and I finally decided to just purchase the one she liked best because I couldn’t figure out another way to make this decision.

I brought them home.  I tried them on.  And I promptly decided to return them.

And let me tell you, this is absolutely and completely not me.  I’m not indecisive.  In fact, I’m way too impulsive.  Ask anyone who has tried to go car or house shopping with me. I purchase based on feeling, and my feelings come instantaneously.

And I’ve found myself frustrated by this recent development.  And I realized that it’s appearing in other areas of my life.

I’ve been a mother for over eight years now.  I’m pretty darn imperfect at it.  But I’m also pretty aware of where my strengths and my weaknesses are.  This is nice as it leads to a bit of stability in my perception of myself.

But lately that’s been gone.  It’s been like day one again where I question everything and berate myself for every misstep.  The good things get lost as the more I focus on the bad, the more it grows.

And it’s been there in my interactions with the culture.  I see all of the philosophical battles raging.  And all for but one issue, my opinions have been pretty consistent since childhood.  In fact, I recently found an essay I wrote in sixth grade and I realized that my philosophies may have become more fine tuned and sophisticated, but my leanings have barely budged.

And I’ve never been ashamed of my opinions.  They’ve been based on my values, and I believe my values are solid even though I often fail to live up to them.

So why lately have I been ashamed of my opinions?  I’m not talking about political party or candidate.  I’m talking about specific positions on specific issues.  

I’m not questioning these positions.  I’m just no longer confident sharing them.  I might post something and then I’ll take it down, insecure about what reactions may come.  And the reactions aren’t from one specific group – I’m afraid of both ththe liberal and conservative.

And I’m 39 years old.  Shouldn’t this be past me?  Shouldn’t I finally have earned some sense of security in who I am?  At the very least, shouldn’t I be able to pick out a watch without worrying about what others may think?

My hope is that this is short lived.  

In the past when I would get really depressed, I would wake up from that depression feeling like the worst kind of blank slate.  It was as if everything I had known about myself had been destroyed in the tumult and I had to start again.

I haven’t been depressed, but I’ve had the roughest couple of weeks of my life.  Perhaps this is all just the fallout from that.

What do you think?  Do you ever experience seasons of insecurity? How do you bounce back?

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Grateful For Us

It’s kind of been a rough couple of weeks.  I had just finished running some errands for TH and had finished dropping everyone where they needed to go, and I was in the car with Tessie on my way to drag myself into the doctor to see if this illness I’ve had for I don’t know how long now could be strep or bronchitis or if it’s just the blessings of 8 or so days breathing in dry hospital air.

I was thinking how rough things had been when it hit me.

Rough?

The only reason things are rough is because I have so many blessings to minister to.

I have the most amazing four little girls.

I have one who woke up every morning TJ was in the hospital and made lunches for everyone.  She would see me overwhelmed and ask me what I needed.  She helped her sisters.  And now that TJ is home and I’m not running to the hospital at all hours, I told her she could go back to being the kid, and I could take care of her.  That girl has a servant’s heart of pure gold.  She’s sweet and holy and oh so good.

And I have a Goosie who is struggling.  She’s so exquisitely sensitive under it all.  That sensitivity will break her heart at times, but it will also allow her to build monuments.  Monuments of love and compassion and truth and light and gentleness.  And those monuments will help her build bridges and build a life, and it’s so beautiful to watch.

And I have a Mae who is a little wrecking ball.  At this stage, she’s all will, but luckily for us, most of that passion is dedicated to making people smile and laugh.  She is remarkably empathetic.  She can pick up on other people’s emotions as well as someone three times her age.  It makes her a little upset when she senses anger or frustration, but it also makes her kind and loving and sweet and oh so social.

And there’s my little Tessie.  Right now, for an almost unbelievably short amount of time, she is all mine.  She adores her sisters and her daddy, but she’d spend her life laying on my lap, eating, cuddling, and being read to.  She’s quickly developing into her own person, but for now I am being selfish and I’m hoarding the moments where she is content to just be with me.  When she’s happy to just let the world go by and spend the heartbeats in my arms.

And then there’s TJ.  Last week he  was lying in an ICU hospital room.  He could barely talk to me.  It was dark and quiet and there were so many doctors and nurses.  And there were even more tubes and monitors and needles.  There were ice packs and alarms and wound dressings.  And all I wanted him to do was to translate to me all of the medical speak and tell me that everything would be okay.  But he couldn’t.  But as I sat there and watched him fight, I saw everything else of the last seventeen years slip away and all that was left was him.  The person who was chosen for me.  The person wh built a life for me.  And the person who fights so very hard for our family.  And I knew that at that moment he  was fighting for us.

And I guess in the end, I’m also grateful for what I learned about myself.  That I learned that I could do hard things.  (Thanks Glennon Melton!). That I could survive.  That I have the strength.  And that when push comes to shove, I can take care of my people.

And then there are all the the others – the people we couldn’t have survived this without.  But that’s for another day and a different post.  

Sorry for any and all typos – I just wrote this on my phone in the Fox’s parking lot, and I have to go in and feed Tessie quickly.!

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Bring On 2017!

Every year on New Years, we hear “new year, new you!” It sounds so enticing. After all, a new year is a new start. What could be better than to start off the year as a brand new person… a person who has overcome all your weaknesses and sore spots.
I don’t like thinking that way anymore. After all, who wants to be new? Newness denotes a lack of experience, freedom from trials, cleanliness, purity.
And we aren’t those things. We are worn in, smoothed over, roughened up. We’ve been challenged and inspired and torn apart and built back up.
We are all that has come before us, and we bring it all into the new year.  
And that’s not sad. That’s not depressing. That’s inspiring. That’s wisdom. That’s age. And that’s experience.
So as we start 2017, don’t look to create a new you. Take the beautiful you that already exists and give her some new goals. Believe in her. Tell her she is already enough… but still she can be more.
Happy New Years my friends. Thank you to all who have visited me on the web this year. Thank you to all who have commented or emailed me. And thank you to all who have shared your own struggles with me.
2016 was pretty good for me. Let’s do 2017 even better!

And sorry if my text shows up wonky. I’m posting this from my phone.

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Being a Wife

Catholics believe in vocations, and the most common vocation is that of marriage.  It happens to be the one I was chosen to and that I chose.  And please let me tell you that I suck at it.  I’m not a very good wife.

I try to be.  I think most of us do.  But I think a lot of us also tend to focus our attention on other endeavors and callings and trust that our primary one will sit peacefully on the back burner.  I think we believe that since we feel the love we promised on our wedding day that we don’t have to worry about doing the love we vowed on that day.

And perhaps it all stems from that messed up notion of love — the notion that says that it’s all about flowers and fluttery feelings and positive sentiment.  Or maybe the more mature married notion is that it’s about comfort and home.  Honestly, I think we’re taught by the world around us that love is about what we get from it, not what we give.  It’s about satisfying our needs rather than the needs of the other.  It’s about, first and foremost, our happiness.

And we only have to look to our children to see how that doesn’t work.

I think we all know that we can’t emotionally love our children but neglect them.  We can’t feel positive regard for them but let their needs slip by the wayside.  We can’t keep those feelings locked up inside and expect an occasional “I love you” or hug to be sufficient.

No.  We know with children that our love needs feet and it needs to be expressed through our hands and our mouths and our ears.  It needs to become a force in the world and in our lives.  Love needs to be acted.

And then it comes to our spouses, and we are just so darn tired.

Often we have spent the day taking care of the needs of everyone around us.  We have put out fires and built monuments and cleaned it all up by day’s end, and so when it comes to our spouse, we just let it out and trust that the feelings of love will suffice for the loose tongues or the tired eyes or the lapse into selfish thinking.

But it doesn’t work that way.

And so I think that I, at least, need to change.  I need to remember that the relationship that matters the most to me needs to be the one that I feed the most.  I need to remember that being in love with your partner makes both loving and partnering more difficult, but it also is what makes it all worthwhile.  And I need to remember that when I feel I have nothing left to give, that I still need to find a way to give more.

Because we can sit back and let the emotions do the hard work of marriage.  And we can sit back and let ourselves receive rather than give.  And we can then wonder why we are left feeling even more drained and tired.

Or we can step up and remember that it is in self donation that we receive.  When we give ourselves away, we build up something so much greater than ourselves.  We build something worthwhile and strong and beautiful.

And I am going to try better.  Because I suck at this, and I’m really sick of that.

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Living in the Snapshots

My parents have a lot of pictures hanging up in their house.  My grandparents did as well.  Perhaps that’s why before I had little kids with sticky fingers I had pictures all over my tables and end stands.

I remember some of the moments in their pictures, and some are from when I was too young to remember.  But still, they are embedded in my brain as reflections of what my childhood looked like — the oldest of which are tainted by the yellowing hue of late 70s film.

Those pictures always seemed wistful to me – reminders of our youngest days.  The glory days of our infancy.  The days to look back on once the busyness of the time has faded.

Just a week or two ago, I was walking past my refrigerator, and I saw the school pictures of my oldest three.  They are currently hung with magnets on my fridge because I don’t have time to figure out a more permanent place for them.  Passing these pictures made me realize that these days are the moments our family snapshots will be composed of.  These will be the days whose memories will be seen through the rose colored glasses reserved for the glory days of early childhood.  One day we will look back and our sweetest memories will be of these moments.

It gets hard to remember this sometimes when life gets busy and whines and sleepless nights and spit up rule our lives.  But these really are the days we will remember, the days we may long for.  The days that will provide the backdrop for the girls’ earliest memories and our fondest.

So in the last few days of this year, I’m going to try to slow down and enjoy these moments.  Celebrate them.  Embrace them.

Because we all know time is much too fleeting, and it can steal the moments we most want to hold onto.

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Merry Christmas: Shine Your Light

Have you all seen the video of the little girl with autism singing “Hallelujah?”

I don’t normally like the Christmas version so much.  I find the original to be so brilliant that any alteration thereof is a bit distasteful to me.

But still, it was making the rounds, and I was busy procrastinating, so I figured I would give it a listen.  And it gave me chills and tears and all of the happy feelings.

Here was a very young girl who the world will sometimes dismiss as having less to offer, shining a light so bright that it’s blinding, her power so much stronger than her years should allow.

And to me, it seemed the perfect metaphor for Christmas, the time when a baby came poor  into the world.  The baby that the world would have very happily written off.  The baby who turned out to be the Creator and the Redeemer and the Lord of all.  His light shown despite the humble exterior.

How often do we all feel small or ineffectual or like we simply aren’t enough?  How often do we avoid opportunities because we don’t feel we are worthy of them?  How often do we make ourselves smaller so as not to appear the fool?

Well I think Christmas should teach us to throw that all away.  We are so much more than we believe ourselves to be.  We are so much more than the world wants us to be.  The greatest gift given to the world came in the form of a helpless baby.  A gift to be unwrapped as the years went on.  We too are gifts.  And we too, when allowing ourselves to unfold, can bring treasures innumerable to those around us.

Our light, when allowed to shine, can be absolutely blinding.

So go out and have yourselves a Merry Christmas.  Hug your loved ones.  Kiss the babies.  Be Santa for the world.  And remember, the Light of the world came in the most humble of packages.  You have no excuse not to shine yours.

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God Bless the Teachers

Mae had her holiday party at school on Monday.  I was feeling wretched.  I was in the middle of one of my GI attacks, and I had just thrown up about an hour before hand.  I was prepared to sit there in the corner and pray that audience participation wasn’t required.  I was excited to see her with her friends, but I was also really looking forward to going home and tucking us all in for naps.

I walked in and all of the kids were doing the relaxation exercises that they do before yoga.  (The thought of 10+ three year olds doing yoga cracks me up to no end.)  And then they moved into their songs and dances.  A minute or two after I got there, the special ed aides/teachers brought in three more kids.  They had their own chairs and what appeared to be little tablets that allowed them to communicate when they couldn’t verbally.

After the songs were over, the SLP who was leading the group started getting all the kids involved.  She was asking questions as the kids sat there in the circle listening intently.  Thanks to the tablets and the help of the aides she was able to get the nonverbal kids involved, asking them questions and then eventually letting them help with the clean up like the rest of the kids did.

And like happens all too often in my life, my eyes started to fill with tears.  For the past 45 minutes this group of women had kept a group of 3 years olds engaged and interested, accommodating for all sorts of levels and abilities.  They were promoting language and manners and movement.  They were making them smile and laugh.  They were making me laugh.

I stay away from the debates over how much money teachers make.  I don’t know how much money they make, so I can’t really honestly get into the debate.  All I can think is that for all they do there is no way they could make enough.

But what I can say is that there is no way they get enough respect.  We honor so many people with respect in this country.  We look so highly on leaders and sports figures.  We trust our doctors and our nurses.  We expect professionalism of our accountants and dentists.

And yet when it comes to teachers, all we seem to talk about is accountability and oversight.  Standardization, testing.  It’s like we believe teachers couldn’t possibly be professionals in their fields, that they need to be monitored.

And I’m sure there are poor teachers out there just like there are poor quality workers in every field.

But my goodness.  The skills these people have.  They understand how little brains work.  They can teach kids to read and write.  They can make numbers make sense!  They get them excited about learning and growing.  They teach them manners and kindness.  They draw out the quiet kids and they reign in the more boisterous ones.  And at the big kids’ school, they teach them about God and faith.

What more important job is there, and what level of skill and dedication and knowledge and wisdom and love must be involved?

When I think of teachers, I always think back to my oldest’s first year of preschool.  I was so nervous to send her out into the world.  And then Sandy Hook happened, and we all saw the pictures and heard the stories.  We heard of teachers sacrificing their lives for the lives of their children.  We heard of a teacher repeatedly whispering “I love you” to her kids so that the last words they heard would be of love and not of the hate that was about to be brought down upon them.

And I walked in and picked up my daughter from preschool that afternoon.  I had my sunglasses on because my eyes were red.  I stopped at the prayer candles and I lit a candle.  My prayer was a silent one that day because I had no words and no idea what to even pray for.

But the one thing I knew was that those teachers were heroes and that teachers the world over would have done the same thing.

So to all those teachers who are finishing up Christmas or holiday parties today and who are about to begin their two week break, please know that you are noticed and you are appreciated, and my goodness you are talented.

And from all of us moms and dads and kids, our lives would be lesser without you.  God bless you and your Christmas.

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We Witness Aleppo

I first heard of Aleppo around the time most of you did.  I knew it was horrible.  I new there was a crisis.  I knew people were dying.

And then I shut my eyes and closed my heart.

This might be cold.  It was purposeful callousness.  But it also felt essential.  

I knew it was a path I couldn’t go down.  It wasn’t a matter of comfort versus discomfort.  It was a matter of sickness versus health.  If I allow such things in my heart, I can get lost, and if I’m not strong enough, I can find it very hard to get out of.  It can render me paralyzed.

Those of you who struggle like I do with boundaries inside your head probably understand.

For better or worse, that’s where I stood.  When I would hear Aleppo, my heart would turn into a mirror – reflecting back the evil and pain rather than letting it settle.  Never letting it settle.

And then I was nursing Tessie yesterday.  We were warm and comfortable, and I was loving her so dearly.  And I clicked the news on my phone and saw a dad running out of rubble, holding his baby who couldn’t have been more than a month older than Tessie.  I’m not sure if the baby was alive or dead.  Alive I pray.

And I believe I audibly gasped, “no!”  My brain and my heart were screaming, “no no no. No.” This pain cannot be happening.  This tragedy cannot be happening.  This can not be existing in this same world that I am in.  

But of course it is.

And so then I was left with what to do with it.  How do we stop gunshots half a world away?  How do we stop a hatred that is so much greater than any of us?  How do we help the victims and how do we stop this from being a part of reality?

I’m a Christian, so I will pray.  I’ll pray fiercely, and I will remember that this will help if even not in the ways we hope.

But I’ll also keep witness.  I won’t allow my heart to be closed any longer.  I’ll open my eyes; I’ll unplug my ears.

No one suffering will know this.  There won’t be any tangible results, but I can’t help but believe that in some way it will make a difference, if even only to open my heart to the suffering in the world.

Because what do we do when we are suffering?  Most of us will seek out another; we’ll share our struggle believing that a struggle shared is a struggle lessened.

For me, at least, suffering quietly and alone is the worst way to suffer.

And so I might be half a world away, temporarily safe in my quiet world, but I won’t let their pain ring out in an echo chamber.  

I will listen.

Because there might be suffering indescribable, but I’ll add my eyes to those ensuring the world won’t turn a blind eye.

And to those saying my witness is a paltry response to such pain, I say, “yes.  obviously.”  

But I will kee my witness.  And I will remember that I might be small, but united, our prayers can move mountains.

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