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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Believe

Someone once told me that he didn’t believe in God because God seems too implausible.

I thought of that this morning.  I asked Magoo if she thought I was a good mom.  She said yes.  Then she said, “actually, you try too hard to be a good mom.  You’re always trying to get everything done and get everything done ahead of time.”  And then she trailed off.

And it was just another piece of proof for me.

Ever since the night before I had been feeling like I wasn’t enough.  I was giving every ounce that I had, and it seemed I was still coming up desperately short.  I went to bed last night beating myself up for not trying hard enough.  For not being good enough.  For not taking care of my family the way they deserve.

And then she said that.  The exact words I needed to hear.  And I knew that those words would have never come from an eight year old without inspiration.

I still worry that my all isn’t good enough.  But now I’m reminded that I’m deeply loved – both here in my home and up above.

God exists and He’s all around.  We don’t really even have to look.  We just have to be open.

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Focus Your Heart on What Matters

Wow are there a lot of things we can be focused on in the world.  Especially this time of year.

This week I have been stressing out about Christmas decorations.  And Mae’s sleeping patterns.  I’ve been trying to figure out how to manage all of our Christmas shows/pageants/recitals.  I’ve been exhausted.

Just last night I was worried because while all of our Christmas decorations are up, our house is a disaster.  And I have two Amazon packages that haven’t come yet.  And I still need to go out and get Magoo some snow pants.

There are just so very many things to concern myself with.  Some of them are big, and some of them really don’t matter at all.  (Cluttered counter I am thinking of you.)

But then all of a sudden you find yourself in the middle of hundreds of people.  They are all huddled around one little girl with a tumor in the wrong place who is singing a song about fighting hard.  Her friends are hugging her.  Your daughter who is only a year younger is up there with some of her friends.  You’re surrounded by strangers and friends and acquaintances.

And all of a sudden you realize that there is only one single reason why the other little girl is the one with the brain tumor and not your little girl.  You realize there is only one reason why her parents have the sad eyes while yours still light up at the sight of your children.

But no.  Wait.

There isn’t any reason.

There isn’t any reason at all.

I know there’s a grand purpose to all of it, but according to what we know on this side of the veil, it’s all random.  And it could happen to any of us.

There’s very little you can do to help in these situations.  You can pray and donate money.  You can provide help in the tangible ways that they need.

But I think perhaps besides those two, the greatest thing we can all do is appreciate what we have.  We can love our children hard.  We can savor moments, even the ones that hardly feel like savoring.

Because temper tantrums and dirty laundry and too many engagements are the luxuries of worries.  Some are dealt harsher hands, and what a slap in the face it must be for those dealt tragedy to see those of us with kinder hands dismissing them or taking them for granted.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  All I can do is lie down in bed tonight and thank God (really and honestly thank God) that my house is full of all of my little girls and my husband.  That for at least the time being, we are whole and happy.

The greatest insult to all of our blessings is to let them pass away without ever being truly grateful.

And if you have a moment, please say a prayer for a little girl who has a big battle ahead of her.  And pray for her family and friends.  And please, pray for a miracle.

I do believe they are out there for the taking.

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The Importance of Self Care

You know how people (wise people perhaps) seem to always say that you have to take care of yourself and that you can’t give what you don’t have?  You know what I’m talking about. Usually then they will talk about the importance of putting on your own oxygen mask so you can help others get theirs on.

Well, let me tell you a little secret.

I didn’t believe them.

Not one bit.

I used to think that self-care was for other people.  It was a good idea in theory, and it was certainly something I would recommend to anyone else.  It’s actually something I would probably insist would be essential to anyone wanting to live a well balanced life.

But it wasn’t for me.

If I’m going to be really honest, I then might say that perhaps it might have something to do with self esteem.  Perhaps I never really believed I deserved time for myself or anything for myself really.  I guess I believed that I just had to give it all away because I didn’t deserve to have it in the first place.

And I can’t justify that logic because really there is no logic behind it.

I remember the day actually that I first started to believe that maybe I should take care of myself and allow space for myself.  It was probably about ten years ago.  Out of the blue it hit me that I was spending my life helping other people.  I was loudly and emphatically proclaiming that all people deserve respect.  I prided myself on this belief. I believed this more than anything.

And yet I excluded myself.

Once I realized that, I realized that something needed to change.  I realized that if I was going to center my life around the idea that humanity was created in love by a God who loves us enough to die for us that I would kind of have to include myself in that humanity.  That to exclude myself from that humanity was actually a bit prideful and arrogant.  After all, who was I to say that I was set aside as the evil stain on humanity?

And so I went about the slow process of changing those harmful beliefs.

But then sometimes I still butt up against something that shows me how far I still have to go even ten years later.  A moment will come up where I take care of myself a way that I haven’t in years (if ever,) and I will realize just how much I have denied myself.  And I have denied myself simply because I didn’t believe I deserved the care that I believe should be afforded to everyone.  I didn’t believe I deserved to be treated as a real person.  I guess I didn’t really even believe that I deserved to exist in the most fundamental of ways.

And I think this is an easy trap especially for mothers to fall into.  After all, motherhood requires endless acts of self donation.  And it’s easy to get lost in those gifts we give.

But what I’m starting to realize is that to truly dedicate yourself to a life of pouring yourself out, you need be full too.  It must come from a place of strength, and it must come from at least an attempt at wholeness.

Because if we aren’t full ourselves, we aren’t really giving.  We are allowing ourselves to be taken from.

And it’s important to remember that because giving generates feelings of abundance and love while allowing ourselves to be taken from just leads us to feel depleted and empty and resentful.

I still have a long way to go.  I still have dozens of ways I dehumanize myself.  And I probably don’t even realize half of them.  But I’m open and I’m trying, and more than anything I would urge you all to do the same.

Make yourselves whole.  Treat yourselves well.  Remember just how very loved you are.

And from that place of wholeness and love, go out into the world and paint it with your love.  Let your sacrifices shine.  Make it a more beautiful place to live.

Because it is a beautiful world, and we are beautiful people.

Truly.

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Trying So Hard to Do It Right (and coming up short)

Being a wife and a mother is important to me.  Very important.  It’s what I most want to succeed at, and it’s what I sadly most often fail at.

I had all of these ideas about this weekend.  We were going to finish getting ready for Christmas.  Our tree was already up, so all we had to do was decorate it and put up all of our other decorations.

It was going to be great.  We were going to have Christmas music on in the background.  The lights of the Christmas tree would softly illuminate the house, giving it a warm glow.  Afterwards we would have hot chocolate and watch a Christmas movie.  It was going to be amazing.  We would all feel so close and safe and loved.

But of course it didn’t happen that way.  We couldn’t find the box with the ornaments.  The kids were all running around screaming, touching everything they weren’t supposed to touch.  The baby was cranky.  We couldn’t find the lights that I wanted, and when we found them everyone was upset because they weren’t the ones they liked.

It was a nightmare.

And I feel like I failed us all.

I try so hard to keep things running in this house smoothly.  But they never turn out as planned.  So I’m trying to figure out if I’m planning wrong, or if I’m not trying as hard as I think I am.

I’m the mom.  It’s my job to keep everything together.  To make sure everyone feels loved and comfortable and cared for.  To make sure the memories are made.  To make sure everyone has what they need.

And so when that doesn’t happen, my mind starts to spin out.  I start panicking.  I start losing my ability to get things done.  And I yell.

I try to be honest when I write.  I like to think that by being honest, I can help other people feeling the same way feel like they are not alone.  But it’s hard to be honest.  It’s hard to say that most of the time I don’t feel like I don’t stack up as a mother or a wife.  I worry my nagging and my snips and my yelling are hurting little hearts.  I worry that they will grow up not knowing how amazing they are.  I worry that they will hear my frustration running through their heads.

And I worry that they’ll grow up being lazy because they will see me not able to keep up with it all.  I worry that I’m not teaching them enough discipline if they don’t have to clean up after themselves some nights.  And then I worry that I’m expecting too much of them when I do require them to clean up after themselves.  I worry at meals that I’m yelling too much trying to get everyone to eat a balanced meal.  And then other days when we have pizza for dinner around the coffee table in the living room I fear that I’m spoiling them.

I worry about them at bedtime.  I hate the rush that always ensues trying to get them to bed on time.  It doesn’t feel normal.  It doesn’t feel calm.  It feels stressful and trying and tense.  And yet if I let up, then I worry about their sleep and if they are getting enough.  And I try to start earlier, but as early as we start, it never seems like enough time.

But most of all, I just worry that who I am will hurt who they will become.  I want more than anything to protect and nurture and inspire and lead them.  I want them to see how very much they are worth.  I want them to embrace the good that is within them, and I want them to feel confident to chase after whatever it is that they want to chase after.

But am I?  Or are all my weaknesses too much for my hopes and dreams to overcome?  Will they look back twenty years from now and remember the soft light of the Christmas tree, or will they remember the mom who was so grouchy because she was always so worried about failing them all?

I hope they see the good, and I hope I see the good.

Right now I seem like a really large hurdle to overcome.

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In My Daughters’ Eyes

I was sitting on the couch rocking Tessie this evening when I turned on some music to sing to her.  I never sing well, but I sing much better with someone accompanying me.  A Carrie Underwood song came on, and as I sang along to it, Tessie started to get really relaxed and she just laid there staring into my eyes.  I still get goose bumps thinking of the moment.

In my head I started laughing thinking that perhaps she was hearing Carrie Underwood sing and thought it was me.  Perhaps that was why she all of a sudden became so peaceful.

But then I put away the self-deprecation for a second and I realized how utterly untrue that was.  I realized that it doesn’t matter that my voice can send all the neighborhood dogs running for the exit.  It doesn’t matter that people’s ears actually bleed when I try to hit a high note.

Nope.  To her, all that mattered was that I was her mama, and my voice is the voice she remembers from the time before she could remember.

I have brief moments like these, moments of clarity when I realize how pure the love of my children is.  But they are quick and few and far between.  More likely, the script going through my head is one of coming up short.  I play in my head all the ways I am failing my girls, all the things I do imperfectly for them, all the faults that I bring into our lives.

That’s a tiring head space to live in.

But then every now and then I get this epiphany.  I realize that my children don’t matter if I’m pretty or not or if I have a lot of money.  They don’t really care if I’m intelligent or witty, if I can cook well or if I can keep a house tidy.

While sometimes they might go looking for some of these trappings in me, deep down, all they really want is me.

And about who else could we possibly say that in life?

The world holds up a mirror and shows us our faults.  Our little ones hold up a mirror and show us who we really are, weaknesses and all, and let us know that we are absolutely accepted despite it all.

I’m sure this will all change.  I’m sure when I wake up and my girls are all teenagers, they will have a mighty detailed list of all the ways that I am failing them.

But still I like to think that deep inside, when you take all those wants away, what will be left is just a simple and pure desire to be with the one they knew first and the one who knows them best of all.

(And in the interest of full disclosure I guess I should mention that Tessie woke up as I was writing this and no amount of singing without the music would settle her down.  So perhaps she really wanted Carrie after all.  To which I say, sorry kid.  You are stuck with me.)

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Setbacks Are Not Destiny

A few years back I gave birth.  It was glorious and amazing and more than I ever could have hoped it could be.

And then it wasn’t.

I remember bits and pieces from that time like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.  It’s hard to see the big picture.  It’s just snippets of pain.  That makes me sad, but it’s what I have.

The good news is that I healed.  The bad news is that once you fall that hard, it’s hard to stop watching the sidewalk for craters.  It’s hard to believe that another fall isn’t just around the corner.  The fear lingers.

So as I got closer and closer to giving birth this October, I started to get more and more apprehensive.  Those days seemed long past me, and yet their shadow lingered.  Would I again fall?  If I did, could I pick myself back up again?  What if?  What if?  What if?

And then I gave birth, and I brought my newest daughter home and all seemed wonderful.

But then I had a day that was a little bit iffy.  It was within those first two weeks when most of us have iffy days, but that didn’t stop me from panicking.  I was sure I had fallen again.  I started researching postpartum depression (as if I didn’t already know enough,)  I started researching support groups.  I wanted to dig my fingers into my skull and grab out those scary parts.  Since I couldn’t do that, I just overanalyzed them.  Is this it?  Have I fallen?  How can I be sure?

But then I woke up the next morning and I felt pretty good.  The shackles felt like they had been released from my brain, and I was able to function normally.

This happened once, maybe twice, more during those first couple of weeks, and each one was milder than the one before.  But with the third one, even I believed that it would go away if I could just make it through the day.  I knew I would wake up on the other side.

And now it has been six weeks since my Tessie was born, and I think it’s been about four weeks since I’ve had an episode.

The storm has passed.

And I’m here on the other side laughing a bit at it all.

I ask myself when will I realize that setbacks are setbacks?  That they aren’t destiny.

I’ve always struggled with believing the bad.  I always assume that the bad stuff is real and the good stuff is a facade.  So if I make a mistake or I struggle or I fall,  I assume that is me and that is how things will be.  And when I’m doing well and moving forward and meeting my goals, I assume it’s the fluke.  Eventually I will fall, the reasoning goes, and all will be back to normal.

But this experience about a month ago is making me question that way of seeing the world.  If we assume we are the negative and the failures, then won’t we inevitably find negativity and failure?  After all, what is the point of standing back up if you believe the fall is the destination?

And I’m writing about this in regards to mental illness, but couldn’t it relate to anything?  Couldn’t it relate to goals and relationships?  To health and career and family and friends?

In the end, don’t we find what we are looking for?

And now I see this tendency within myself – this tendency to see setbacks as destiny – but I’m not quite sure how to remedy it yet.  Because sometimes insight leads to change.  For me, the road is rarely that straightforward.  I’m a bit too stubborn for that.

And so I ask all of you.  What do you do when you have a setback?  How do you keep your eye on your goals when you fall flat on your face?  How do you move forward?

I would love to hear!

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