Sunday, January 31, 2016

I'm Just Not That Mom.

I love Pinterest. 

I mean, I LOVVVVVE it.  I love to sit and gaze at recipe after recipe, bedroom after bedroom, quote after quote, and meme after meme.  I can easily lose myself in the world of dreaming and wishing and planning.  And in my fantasy reality, I am able to make the cutest little arrows to go on my son's wall, perfect hair ties for my daughter's ridiculously thick hair, and perfectly level cubbies for our shoes to go in by the front door. 

When  I wake up from my plans, I try a craft project that I saw that is usually labeled "Easy Do It Yourself," or, "Beginner's Steps To..." and let me tell you-  I am Pinterest Fail Mom personified. 
Other moms are buying onesies and magically putting the cutest ever quotes on them or taking a wooden pallet and creating a bed similar to one I once saw in Anthropolgie before I fainted at the prices and left, and I am over here struggling to make a Christmas tree on canvas out of my kids' fingerprints and watercolor paint. 

Y'all, I'm just not that mom. 

It has taken me a long time to stop apologizing for the mom I am "not" to my kids.  Somewhere along the way, I began to realize that when I keep focusing on what I am not, I am not focusing on who I am.  And by not celebrating who I am and steadily focusing on who I am not, I am not blooming where I am planted and we are all miserable as a result.   

I am not the craft mom.  I do not own a pack of craft paper or a Cricut.  All my crayons are very used and unorganized.  I don't have a hot glue gun, and I can only really use pipe cleaners to make Christmas candy canes.  I have never painted anything remotely beautiful or anything that looks like an adult held the paint brush, and I have no idea what the difference is between watercolor and oil pastels.  I can't even begin to tell you how much I don't do things with mason jars or know how to glitter paint a single item without my entire house being layered in glitter for two years.

I am not the sewing mom.  I have no idea how to operate a sewing machine.  I have never successfully sewn on a button or hemmed a pair of pants.  If my kids require a costume that needs more than fabric glue and felt, I'm out.  I don't make headbands, I have never attached a flower to anything, and I don't have any idea how to tie together one of those fleece blanket kits. 

I am not the cake decorating mom.  I don't know how to make a rose out of icing.  I can't make a cake topper look like Elmo.  I have no idea how to pipe pretty icing onto cupcakes.  And if it's beyond an old fashioned two-layered cake, I call Publix. 

I am not the handy mom.  I don't hammer things.  I have no idea how to change a tire.  I don't know how to hang a curtain or use a level.  I have never one time figured out where a leak comes from under my car and I don't know how to tighten things with a wrench.  I have never done anything more in handiwork than screwing a lightbulb into a lamp, and I have no desire to have a  pink hammer or any other color one.  Get me a blender or a new frying pan.  Please don't get me girl tools. 

I am not the "let's camp in the woods" mom.  I don't do camping unless it's cold enough to annihilate the chance of snakes entering the scene.  I don't do sweat, mosquitoes, and hard ground sleeping.  I have no idea if we need to be near a creek or away from a creek.  I wouldn't have a clue what to do if a skunk came. We would freeze to death if I had to make a fire for our survival, and if it's beyond roasting a marshmallow or a hot dog, I have no idea how to cook outdoors.  Including grilling.

I am not the "let's work in the yard while the kids play" mom.  See above concerning snakes and sweat.  No thanks. 

I am not the "I loved nursing my kids in the night" mom.  One, I didn't nurse.  (Can I say that outloud?)  Two, I don't enjoy waking up with humans, animals, or bad weather in the nighttime.  I didn't have sweet moment with my kids at 2 am.  In fact, 100% of the wake up times with them were, "Hurry up and eat and go back to sleep and why are you looking at me" moments.  Truth.  Sleep is all we have.  WHY DO THEY CONSTANTLY STEAL IT?  HAVEN'T WE GIVEN THEM ENOUGH DURING THE DAY? 

I am not the mom who reads two books a night to my kids at bedtime.  Who am I kidding?  I am not even the one who reads ONE per night.  When I'm done, I'm just done.  And I'm done at bedtime.  Every. Single. Night.

I am not the "I love to play Barbies and Army men for hours at a time" mom.  I will do it.  I have had Ken and Barbie fall in love at a taco truck and have fought in the desert with GI Joe.  But I have to be honest and tell you that the whole time, I am constantly trying to come up with a new game that doesn't involve role playing.  It's the worst.  I hate it.  So, so much. 

Know who I am though?

I am the mom who can make a mean pot of meatballs.  I know their favorites and I keep them flowing through my kitchen six nights a week.  They want croissant chicken?  Homemade spaghetti?  Chicken soup?  Tacos?  Chicken and rice?  Oreo cake balls?  Homemade buttermilk biscuits in a cast iron skillet?  I'm on it.  And in big quantities.  They will lick their plates and taste love in every bite. 

I am the mom who will say yes to sleepovers.  Nothing makes me happier than a couple of kids giggling over a show on the couch.  I love feeding hungry teenagers from my pantry.  I love kids in sleeping bags, lights-outs that aren't followed because there's too much to say, and big bowls of cereal for breakfast. 

I am the mom who drops it all to do a field trip or a class party.  Nothing makes me happier than making (smudgy icing) cupcakes, grading papers for a teacher, and bringing coffee to school office staff.  I love watching my kids in their element on field trips and will always have the backpack full of snacks on the bus. 

I am the mom who bawls every single birthday eve.  I always have.  I imagine I always will.

I am the mom who still makes out with their daddy.  Very few things make me happier than a good kissing session in the kitchen while I am cooking dinner.  I love to get all dressed up for date night and making it a big deal every other week.  I don't hesitate throwing myself across his lap for a good smooching, and I am sure to pop his bootie when he's wearing my favorite jeans. 

I am the mom who sticks it out.   I navigated my body and emotions through fourteen years of infertility, medications, pee sticks, and false hopes to get them.  I endured 41 weeks of pregnancy with one and 7 weeks of bedrest with the other.  I stuck by Spicy's side through the gates of hell known as colic and the "MY UNDERWEAR IS TOUCHING MY BELLY BUTTON" stage of his big sister.  I saw sweetness in the boy when I know for a fact others were talking about what a terrible toddler he was behind our backs and I am currently riding the identity changing waves of puberty with the girl.  I have sat up with coughing children with gritted teeth (coughing is my literal nemesis), handled 28 days of a fever of 102-104 with one child, and  survived 2 weeks of quarantine once she was well. 

I am the mom who apologizes.  I fail them.  Daily.  Lately, every other hour or so.  But thank God,  I have zero problem admitting to them I shouldn't have raised my voice or should have waited before I reacted or the endless assorted other legitimate reasons I have to say I'm sorry to my littles.

I am the mom who prays with them.  They get a paper cut or have a headache, and I instinctively lay hands on their injury and pray.  I developed a confession for them to speak over themselves at least once a day now for the last six years or so.  I delight in thanking God for them (especially when they're asleep, ain't gonna lie), and I love to spend our nightly time together with their daddy as we listen to him tell us an obscure Bible story we didn't know.  I love having communion with my family at home on our couch, reflecting on how sweet Jesus is and how much He loves us. 

But most of all,  I am their mom.  I am exactly the mom God wanted my children to have.

The day I stopped caring if I was the fun mom or the sports mom or the outdoor mom was one of the best days of my motherhood.  If I am worried about the label, I am locking myself in to an identity that in reality, they may or may not need tomorrow.  Moods change.  Needs change.  Hobbies change.  Styles change.  As they grow, they may need more or less of me in certain areas of their lives.  And as history shows, I will rise to whatever challenge or need it is that their ever changing world throws into my already overflowing lap. 

Tonight, out of curiosity, I asked my daughter, "If you have some friends' whose moms are the fun moms and some are the mean moms and some are the cool moms, what would you tell your friends your mom is?" 

She didn't even hesitate.

"You're the comforting mom.  You're definitely not the sweet mom.  But that's not what I want you to be anyway.  I want you to be the comforting mom.  Because when something's all wrong, it's you I want to comfort me."

In that moment, I realized all over again that if I stop worrying about all the little things I think they need or want and focus on mothering their actual hearts, I'll catch all the moments that matter and I'll be exactly where I need to be and what I need to be as they need it. 

Pinterest can keep its labels and its headbands and perfect cake pops.  I'm comforting my children through a hurtful world. 

I'm gonna sip on that one a while. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

I Won't Miss This.

Sometimes, you just need to talk to your sister. 

Mine called me tonight about something insignificant and as our conversations many times do, we ended up in a therapy session of sorts-  the younger one fixing the older one this time.  (We take turns on most things and I'm glad tonight was my turn.) 

Nothing paint peeling happened today.  (Ok, minus the fact that it is 8:03 pm and I literally just sat down for the first significant time today.  And other than the fact that my oldest got her finger slammed in a door.  And my youngest hasn't had a nap.  And I had to buy groceries.  At Walmart.  And my daughter says her throat hurts.) 

But it's the end of a week.  The end of a very busy, very taxing, very tiring week. There were so many good parts but it's just that there were so many moving parts.  I can't figure out what exactly it is tonight that is making me feel like my emotions are sitting right under my chest bone or why my nose has the very faint feeling that it's making snot for a good cry much like the Florida skies stack up rain for an afternoon downpour. 

I am such a thankful woman.  I really am.  I have blessings stacked on top of blessings in my life in every nook and cranny.  My cup runneth over.  My life is overflowing.  Gratitude is my closest friend.

I see it.  I really do. 

But even the most thankful of us need those moments where you stop and admit the words that our  multitasking female prides want to squish.  The words we have the hardest time uttering because they are reminders that even we are human.  The words that, having just got off the phone with my sister (a mom of three and the most human of us all), I was forced to admit as I told her I was so tired, I couldn't wrap my head around writing my 6th blog in seven days.  She reminded me that I am writing a book and homeschooling a child and raising two children and pastoring a church and working a new job. She also reminded me that being tired is fine.  She told me to write this one from where I am because it's where she is and it's where you are as well.  She told me to write and tell you about Saturday, when my daughter didn't do something I had reminded her twice to do the day before and I cried in exhaustion as I was disciplining her because I felt so underappreciated in that moment of her preteen humanity.  She told me to tell you where I am tonight because she said you'll understand.   I'm going to be real.  And I'm going to be raw.   I'll go first.  I'll say it out loud for us all.  And maybe, in your blurry eyed stupor, you'll nod your head.

I'm tired. 

I'm tired.  I'm overwhelmed.  And I need this cup of coffee to be a looking glass into my heart. 

I need you to nod your head with me when I say I'm not going to miss all of this.  Let's be real.  I won't miss sticky hardwood floors and I won't miss temper fits.  I won't miss the bickering of my children and I won't miss the feeling that I'm either dropping or about to drop a ball.  I won't miss the gnawing thought that I am screwing this up.  I won't miss the fear I am missing something important or the guilt that tells me I should have sat and read a book with her instead of taking that nap.  I won't miss feeling that I reacted too quickly or raised my voice too loudly or misjudged a behavior and hurt his heart. I still don't miss colic or all night feedings or the crying they do before they can tell you their ear hurts, so I can confidently say I won't miss the teenage mood swings or the eye rolling or the spontaneous combustion that comes out of a strong willed four year old.  I won't miss repeating myself over and over or the cold air that hits me in a peaceful shower when my kids pull back the curtain for me to referee a fight or pronounce a word on a worksheet.  I won't miss the days when I feel like I did nothing but fail them, fight with them, put them off, and let them down. I won't miss feeling like I spend 70% of my time at home doing things that don't matter in an hour- like Windexing the front door or reorganizing the Rubbermaid cabinet yet again. I won't miss the exhaustion that seeps into my bones while raising children- the kind of tired that isn't physical or emotional or mental or spiritual, but a sweet and salty and sour blend of them all. 


After I finished that last sentence, life happened.  My daughter came in to show me a new way she's decided to write her name.  My husband came home from a meeting and noticed our three year old was asleep on the couch, unbathed and still in his clothes.  I took our son to potty before I put him in the bed and then laid on the floor beside him.  He smiled at me and reached out gently and took my hand as he drifted back into his blissful sleep.  Both of my children's hands were pivotal tonight in bringing me back around to what I know the most. 

I won't miss the cold air interruptions to my shower, but I'll miss my freshly bathed toddler

I won't miss my kids acting like the other one was placed here to be a device of torture toward them every day, but I will miss seeing them laugh until they snort on the couch watching some stupid cartoon I can't stand.

I won't miss the stickiness of the floors or the crumbs on the couch that make me want to peel my skin off when I sit on them, but I will miss the "This is the best food I've ever had, Mom" comments I get every single meal.

I won't miss the drama or the temper or the repeating myself over and over day after day, but I will miss the noises from their bedrooms when they're having a dance party or making a fort or jumping on the bed.

I won't miss being interrupted every single time I blog or read a magazine or pee, but I will miss being needed to kiss boo-boos and zip jackets and open juice boxes and chips.

Oh my gosh, y'all.  We can't have one without the other.  We can't have the good without the bad.  And in fact, the parts we hate make the parts we love so much richer. 

They reminded me in five minutes what the last six days have erased from my thoughts.

MY face is the one they look for in a crowd of ten thousand.

MY hand is the one they reach out to hold when sleep is sweetly approaching or when they're afraid or uncertain. 

MY eyes are the ones they want to see their new handwriting and their jumps off the highest stair of the step ladder.   

MY ears are the ears they summon for a hundred times a day to hear their grievances, newly written love songs, botched up knock-knock jokes, and bottomless basket of questions. 

MY heart is their home. 

These two little lives that constantly push me to the edge of myself and all my sanity are the same two lives that make me feel more cherished and wanted than I ever knew I could feel. 

This is the mystery of motherhood. 

I am tired tonight. 
There are parts of this that are just "grit your teeth and get past this." Sometimes, those parts seem to last for years.There are entire chapters of raising kids that just flat out suck.  And I mean more than having to load your groceries into the trunk in the rain with both kids while one has pooped all over his clothes and your back gets wet changing him in the back seat sucks. There are parts of this road that leave you feeling stepped on, ganged up on, ran over, overworked, underappreciated, and completely forgotten.

But mixed in are the moments that count. The moments we live for.  The moments we signed up for.  You'll know them because they are the ones that make you feel alive and thankful and humbled and valued and more loved than you've ever felt. 

And for every thing we won't miss once they're gone, there are a hundred holes they'll leave behind that make our hearts ache with a love that defies human language.

I see you, tired momma.
I am you.

We will miss these days.  Just not today.  Not yet. 

And that's ok.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Worry Club.

Hi.  My name is Jill.

And I am a recovering worryaholic.
It's been said that when a child is born, so is a mother. 
If that's true, then when a mother is born, so is a worrier. 

When we finally had our first baby after seven years of trying hard, so many things felt like a dream.  She was angelic and beautiful and had a head full of black hair that looked like a perfect little baby toupee.  She was gentle and patient, almost passive and apologetic in her hunger, squeaking instead of yelling.  So dainty and feminine.  Cuddly and warm, I would wake up and she was laying in her baby wonder, staring at my face so curiously and sweet.  Seven pounds and nine ounces of love, physically perfect from head to toe.  All her doctors and nurses adored her and gave her a clean bill of health right away. 


But like most first time moms, I worried anyway.   

Is she TOO quiet? 

Is something wrong with her hearing?  I don't think she's crying enough.

Why doesn't she blink?  Shouldn't she blink if I get my finger close to her eye?

I didn't boil that bottle.  DO NOT USE THAT BOTTLE, ROD!  I only hand washed it.
Why isn't she pooping more?  Is she constipated?   SHE IS GOING TO EXPLODE IF SHE DOESN'T GO POOP!

Is 98.9 a fever?  She was 98.5 earlier.  She's getting too warm.  She's practically a volcano right now.

We dropped her pacifier on the floor of Walmart.  Throw it away. 

DID THAT CHILD WITH THE CONSTANT GREEN SNOT IN THE NURSERY JUST BREATHE ON MY BABY?   I will never leave her in the nursery again.  Ever.  Even though I am in charge of the nursery.  My baby is too good for this planet.

In my mommy naivety, I would think that if I could just make it through the infancy stage, toddlerhood wouldn't be as scary.  And then, one day, I came out of the bathroom and the front door was standing open and my toddler was nowhere to be found. I screamed at the top of my lungs for what felt like minutes, and I finally heard her two year old voice from what seemed like miles away. 

"I'm going to Chickaway," she yelled as she ran around the corner of our street, headed to waffle fries and nuggets in only her diaper while it was 43 degrees. 

I lost my mind, yelled and screamed, and after fetching her, sat her on the steps and lectured her on child abductions and strangers and how I would miss her if she was gone and how she could never leave the house again without me- not even until she turned 30.  When I finished shaking and talking and crying in front of my little angel girl, I said, "Do you want to say anything to Mommy?"

"Yes," she said.  "Can we go get chicken now?"

I. Can't. Even.

Then, it was, "If I can just get her through toddler years, she will be ok, right?  We will send her to school and all will be well."  Until the day she came home, humiliated by a teacher in front of her friends.  She said she was so embarrassed, she just stared down at her shoes until everyone stopped looking at her.

Scratch the elementary years off the list of worry-free days. 

Entering puberty wasn't a joke either.  Her social life slowly beginning, I've wondered many times if we've told her enough how much she cannot trust people she doesn't know.  Don't go to a bathroom by yourself.  Never let anyone take your phone away.  If you feel weird about something, don't do it.  WHY DID YOU NOT ANSWER THE PHONE WHEN I CALLED YOU?  Do you need me to come pick you up?  And if not, why don't you want to come home?  Sigh.

It's just so hard, y'all.   

I heard my dad say once that he was leaving to go on a ministry trip in the dark early morning hours one day.  As he drove away from the house, he said, "Thank you, Lord, for taking care of my family while I am gone."  He said as sweetly and as plainly as could be, he heard this rebuttal from Jesus...

"Who do you think takes care of them while you're here?" Ouch.

And yes, Sir.

I had to make a choice not to worry.  I think it's ultimately a choice we ALL have to make. 

Like every emotion, worry is optional.  We don't have to let it take root in our hearts just because we feel it.  Is the world a scary place?  Yes.  Are our children vulnerable?  Yes.  Do bad things happen sometimes?  Yes.  But you know what?  Most of the time, they don't.  And most of the time, we get sucked into a news story and fall into a hole of fear that is nearly impossible to climb out alone.  

Every single night of my children's lives, I walk back into their rooms after they've fallen asleep.  I sit at each of their beds and comb through the day in my mind. 

Did I yell too much?

Did I say I love you enough?

Did we play at all?  Did they feel validated and seen? 

Did I give them a reason to believe I am for them?  Did I make them feel insignificant and small?
Did I make sure they were full before bed, both their tummies and their souls? 

Did I treat them like items on my list of things to tend to today?  Did we laugh enough? 

Are these kids going to end up in therapy because of me one day?  Will they always want to come home to me? 

Don't get me wrong.  I don't sit worrying for endless amounts of time each night.  But if you're a mom, only you will understand what I mean when I say that all of those thoughts fly through my mind in a second as I kiss their cheeks while they sleep.  I study their faces every night.  I stop and breathe them in.  Abi's beautiful jaw line and Walker's luscious eyelashes.  I sniff for just a trace of that baby smell and convince myself they both still have it at 12 and 4.   And sometimes, I imagine it's the night before their wedding-- a big finish line of our lives, and I am kissing my baby for the last time before they belong to someone else. 

In that moment, by their beds every single night, Jesus meets me there.  And in my simple prayer, He hears my heart and all I can and cannot say. 

"Thank you, Jesus, for my baby."

I ask Him for the wisdom to see what He wants me to see.
I ask Him that I will feel the nudges He wants me to feel.
I have to make a decision once again to parent tomorrow out of the faith that He sees us and not out of the fear that He doesn't. 

You know what?  Even when my heart feels heavy because of daily circumstances and the wear and tear of raising a teenager and a preschooler at the same time, I go to sleep lighter when I think of how His eye is on them.  And as long as my eyes are on Him, we're going to be ok. 

He's what I should be looking at all the time anyway, isn't He? 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Green Eyed and Ugly.

I don't remember the first time I felt it. 

Maybe it was when my cousin got the purple Velcro Nike sneakers that all the seven year olds were getting while I wore my non-descript generic ones.

It could have been when a friend at my lunch table opened her lunch box and had the strawberry Capri-Suns that everyone was raging about.  JUICE IN A POUCH?  Get out of here.  Get out of here while I drink my homemade Kool-Aid out of my Care Bear thermos. 

Or maybe it was when She was the one who caught his eye.  Of course she was.  With her spiral perm (I had a spiral, too...  But hers was always. on. point.)  And her Guess jeans (my jeans had no special triangle label on the butt pocket because why would a good Christian girl want to draw attention to her rear-end?) 

If not by then, it definitely was when I got to motherhood and saw people with their perfect little cherubs sleeping through the night at 6 weeks of age while I was wrestling a very spicy 15 month old to sleep every single night.  (I literally cannot talk about this one, still.)

You know the word.  It belongs to a Green-Eyed Monster and its power is furious and consuming and as bitter as the winter wind itself.  It has ruined many friendships and squashed new friendships before they could take their first breath.  It has kept us awake at night, cheated us out of fun, and been the fuel behind more gossip than even the most honest of us will ever admit.  It causes us to hide people on Facebook, refuse to "like" cute pictures on Instagram, and post ridiculous and catty hidden messages that require the reader to have a Go-Go Gadget Decoder Ring on Twitter. 

And I am convinced it's from the pit of hell itself. 

If you haven't guessed it, I am talking about jealousy. 

As women, we are taught at such a young age by our society to measure up. 
In our entertainment driven first world, beauty is defined by airbrushed supermodels and perfectly unblemished actresses. Our culture is one of constant hypocrisy, where breastfeeding in public is frowned upon even in its most modest forms while mall lingerie stores flood our little ones' and husbands' eyes with images that are screaming to us confirmations of how ugly and fat we are.  We've been taught that those of us who have the brand new house, the 2.5 kids and the most tricked out SUV are the ones who have made it, while the ones who work two jobs, live in an apartment, and still drive a 1995 Nissan Sentra are "unfortunate."  #blesstheirhearts. 

And while I am all about being better, doing better, living better, I am constantly aware that in our 2016 womanhood, most of us are trying to master the dance of creating a better life for ourselves and our families while trying to avoid the Jelly Monster that is nipping at our heels and making us cynical instead of beautiful. 

When one of my children starts dealing with jealousy, my advice to them is always so easy. 

Look at all you DO have instead of what you DON'T have.  And if it's something you absolutely need in your life, find a way to get it with yourself intact. 

Ouch.  Looking at what I do have is sometimes the problem, isn't it? 

See, as moms, we can't see the forest for the trees. 

The problem isn't that one friend with the nanny who watches her kids while she takes exotic vacations with her husband. 

The problem isn't that some of us chose to stay home while the girls we graduated college with went on to pursue a career.

The problem isn't that our husbands are lazy pieces of crap while HER husband is deeply involved in everything from packing lunches to playdates.

The problem isn't even that she is constantly posting pictures of her perfect little Pinterest laden house and her Baby Gap children and her Martha Stewart dining room table.

The problem is US.  You.  Me.   

We partner with jealousy and let it consume and control our lives. 

The moment I seethe in anger over the success of someone else, I gave in to it.
The second I make a decision to withhold a compliment to someone because I just cannot let the words leave my insecure mouth, I joined hands with it. 

The minute I see what someone has, what someone has accomplished, or what someone is celebrating and I have to make a bitter accusation about why their happiness is unwarranted, I entered a covenant with it. 

The breaker I flipped when I decided she isn't worth my friendship or investment without a single justifiable reason, I actually flipped a light on to show my own insecurities.  Not hers. 

See, jealousy is a thief of life.  It's a thief of time.  And honestly, ladies?  It's robbing you of your motherhood. 

You don't live her life.  You don't eat with her husband.  You don't fold her kids' laundry. 
You don't see what she stresses about.  Your cheeks don't catch her tears.  Your hands don't write her bills.  You have no idea why she celebrates the things she celebrates.  You don't know how much money she has saved or budgeted for date nights and nights away with her man.  You don't see every heartbreaking prayer she has prayed over her children... the burden she carries for their specific needs of each of them...  her earnest cries that come only from a mother's heart.

And honestly?  Focusing on any of HER is taking away from what matters in YOUR home... You. 

Know what the enemy of jealousy is, every single time? 

Thankfulness.  Thankfulness, thankfulness, thankfulness. 

In fact, it's impossible to be thankful and jealous at the same time. 

When I am letting jealousy set its headquarters up in my heart, I am in essence telling myself that my husband isn't enough.  My kids aren't enough.  My home isn't enough. 

I am telling my emotions that someone else's blessings should belong to me. 

And when I put it in those terms, I want to fall on my knees and thank God for the husband I have that makes breakfast every Saturday so I can sleep in, even if he leaves the clean dish rag all wadded up in the bottom of the sink near the egg shells.  I want to sing a song of thankfulness for my hormonal almost-teenager whose room looks like a scene from CSI Meets Hello Kitty Rave Party but whose heart is tender and precious and eager to bless me as her mom.  I want to worship with all my heart for my habanero personality preschooler who makes gray hair pop up on my head every 3.8 minutes but makes my entire being melt to the floor with his romantic heart toward his momma.

Today, as you drink your coffee, how about with every sip, name something in your life you're genuinely thankful for?  The law of attraction states that whatever we focus on, we get more of.  So if you want more lack, by all means, focus on what she has that you don't.  Thankfulness, even if it's forced for a while, uproots the cancerous plants of jealousy and replaces their toxic growth with Spring.  And just like with anything else in life, the more you put it into practice, the more effortless it just becomes for you. 

What's that you've got over there? 
I missed it. 

I was too busy smooching my own blessings. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

I Have a Name.

We tried to get pregnant for seven years with each of our babies. 

And truthfully, after a year or two or five, people often forget you're trying to conceive or they think you've given up.  If anyone does ask, it's almost always a "You STILL haven't had a baby?"  Or the dreaded, "Ohhhhh, I'm so sorry" awkward conversation. 

Imagine the thrill that comes when you do get pregnant with your first child and you become unforgotten and in fact, celebrated.  Ten glorious months of not having to lift anything heavier than a piece of pizza, ten months of getting Taco Bell bean burritos delivered on demand to your front porch by friends and family, and ten month of back rubs whenever you ask.  Every little twinge that hurts you merits someone's undivided attention and your much coveted naps are treated like Willy Wonka's Golden Ticket as your bedroom door is guarded by your husband who won't even wake you if Ed McMahon shows up on the porch.

But hold on.  The minute-  and I mean the SECOND that Little Heavenly Slice is placed into your arms, you lose your identity. 

You become more invisible than you've ever been. 

Identity theft is alive and well in motherhood.  Lucky for us, the tiny robbers are super cute and while they do steal our money and our names, they also steal our hearts.  From the moment you go home from the hospital, you're referred to as Mommy.  People who rubbed your belly with affection at church every week from the first appearance of a bump literally don't even look you in the face as they go straight to your arms, asking ten thousand questions, but only about the baby. 

Is he sleeping well?
Is she nursing ok?

Where did she get so much pretty hair?
Doesn't she look like her daddy?

Did he get circumcised? 
Is he happy? 
How does she nap?
How often does he have to be changed?
How does the dog like her? 

The DOG?  You're asking about the DOG?  Meanwhile, you're over here going, "REMEMBER ME?  I played Bunco with you a month ago.  Remember, I got stuck in your recliner and couldn't get my giant butt out and you hoisted me up and we both almost fell and then I peed my pants? I am losing my mind, I can't find a single pair of underwear in my house, and I haven't brushed my teeth in three days so if you have so many questions, why don't you come over and let me take a shower and you can see for yourself?  Oh, and WHERE ARE MY BEAN BURRITOS AND WHY DID YOU STOP DELIVERING THEM TO ME?"

Don't get me wrong. 
There is so much pride for a new mom in the moments of giving answers to the questions.  We get to brag on their fast weight gain, what a champion eater she is, and what a good sleeper you were given.  But the truth is, after this huge climate change happens in your life, you begin to realize...

Not only am I always going to be someone's mother, but I may never be me again. 

I remember after I had my first child and my husband went back to work after our week together as a new family of three, I felt lost like I had never felt before.  We lived in the same house as before the baby, but it was like I was having to learn how to live in it again with a brand new roommate.  It felt like my life had become one big awkward school dance and I didn't know what to do with my hands. 

Could I nap when she napped or should I fold clothes?

Was something I was eating or not eating making my milk supply so crappy?

Did I spend enough time skin to skin with her today?

Oh gosh... WE FORGOT TO DO TUMMY TIME.  I knew I shouldn't have showered again today.  Showering made me forget tummy time and now she will never be able to hold her head up.  Great.

How long has that Panera Bread been there?  Six months?  WHERE IS MY LIFE GOING?

Self, gone. 
Hot meals, out the window.
Nice clothes, replaced by permanently stained local auto parts store t-shirts and yoga pants.
Identity, removed. 
Name, changed. 

Everything became so different. 

Fast forward twelve years and add another child. 

Of course, I got my bearings.  I learned the baby will be ok on a blanket for ten minutes while I put on makeup.  I learned that if you hear water sloshing, you should attend to that.  But otherwise, it's ok to sit down and read a book every once in a while (gasp) WHILE THE BABY IS AWAKE.  I learned that I don't have to entertain him every hour on the hour and it's ok to take a shower and put a movie on if they're in their padded cell (playpen) for a little bit.  (In all my years of ministry, I haven't counseled a single human being yet who blames their mom letting them watch cartoons for a little while every day for their abandonment issues.) 

But there's still some areas I haven't gotten my mojo back, even after all these years. 
I still find me introducing myself as "Abi's mom" or "Walker's mom" and skipping my name altogether.  It rolls off my tongue as effortlessly as my name itself.  And while being their mother is the honor of my life, I try to pause every once in a while and remind myself that my name is Jill.  Sometimes, I forget that I'm a grown up and I can do what I want (included, but not limited to: eating ice cream for dinner), and I don't have to be home all seven nights every week.  I can go out to dinner with girlfriends sometimes because I want to and in fact, this makes me a better mom.   I don't have to collapse on the couch in a tired disastrous mess every night, but I can steal a ten minute nap in my car on my lunch break or even order pizza to give me more time to sit down that night for a change.  I can tell the kids, "If my door is shut, do not knock on it unless there is a fire or someone is legitimately bleeding from the head" and can read a magazine or spend fifteen minutes crying on my bed over the end of a Lifetime movie I recorded and watched in tiny segments for a month.

I had to learn that the reality is not that the world rotates around my children, but it really does rotate around me as their mom and the woman of my household.  And in order for my little planets to stay in their healthy orbits, I have to know who I am. 

Before I was formed in my own mother's womb, my name was Jill.
God saw that I would love coffee, despise celery, and have a phobia of butterflies landing on me. 
He saw I would need a sister, I would have an affinity for Mexican food and super fun coffee cups. 
He created me to need to write my words down and make lists for everything.
He chose some best friends for me and set them aside for me to enjoy life with. 

He wanted me to have a relationship with Him that was for He and I alone. 

See, mommas, our children increase our value. They do not determine our value.

And the moment we start thinking our worth or our value comes from our ability to mother children is the moment we forget that we are loved because of Whose we are, not who we are.

It's a cold, rainy day in North Alabama as I write these words. 
I have written this chapter with my children in front of a TV, and yes, I bribed them into letting me have this hour and a half to write these very therapeutic words from my heart.  Partly because I am writing a book for you to enjoy with your cup of coffee, hoping some of these words will bring peace to you and remind you that you are seen.  You are known.  You are loved.

But I have to be honest.  A big part of today's writing was for me to pause a second and remember my name. 

He calls me His. 
The Name above all Names sees me.  Right where I am. 
And after I go brew a fresh cup of coffee in a second, I am going to watch the rain and be happy that I have been given so many beautiful names.  Jill, Mom, Momma, Babe, Bug... 


Somehow, today, that's enough. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

In the Heat of the Moment...

I was at Chick-fil-A yesterday with my youngest.  We had our nuggets and traded our book/toy in for a bowl of ice cream (I always pause and wonder if the book on koalas is more important than the ice cream but then I laugh to myself and go through with the frozen Heavenly drug deal), and he wanted to go into the Stinky Feet Room for a playtime with the random strangers he calls friends.  (That's a whole other chapter in this book.)

I sat in the room encased in plexiglass, subconsciously feeling like a snob for thinking, "Ew" the entire time at the smelly sock feet fragrance, when a dad sitting next to me said, "It stinks in here," and I felt less judgy.  Thirty minutes or so came and went, as did that many children.  I saw scuffles, kids stuck in tunnels, a micro-version of hide-and-go-seek, a few big siblings helping youngers get their shoes on, and of course, that ONE child. 

He had played a while, clearly a little younger than the average age in there at the moment, but old enough to play alone without his mom.  She sat near me, watching him and probably catching her breath for a few minutes, blissfully happy that she wasn't being touched and willing to put up with the smell of a toddler locker room to get the uninterrupted spa-equivalent time of sitting alone on a bench.  As it always does, time came to an end and she told Little Preshy it was time to go.  He sullenly came down the slide one last time and she went to grab his arm to put it in the sleeve of his jacket when all-toddler-hell broke loose.  He screamed.  He kicked.  He yelled.  He did my favorite "Double Your Body Weight and Go Limp" trick.  There was weeping,  wailing, and gnashing of teeth.  Then, in his rage and flailing, he bumped into me.  The mom looked at me for a quick and embarrassing, "I'm sorry" and kept wrangling the little Mike Tyson with all her might.  In our brief exchange, I felt what she felt- what we've all felt in those moments, and honestly, I wanted to cover her with a blanket to protect her from the judging eyes around us.   She wanted to disappear completely, but who doesn't while in the throes of war, as grenades are being launched at your very head? 

What I wanted to say was:

Dear, Precious and Embarrassed Mommy,

I don't know why putting on his jacket escalated into a full-on fight for you, but I get it. 

I've been you more times than I can count. 

I've been the mom with the child rolling around like he's on fire in the aisle of Target.  I've been the mom with a screaming newborn on an airplane.  I've been in the same aisle with the Perfect Mom and I've seen her cutting looks when my five year old daughter told me, "I WILL get that Barbie before we go home today."  I've also been openly whispered about for disciplining my child in public.  I was once told by a server in a restaurant that my baby was "bothering others" by crying because she got hand sanitizer in her eye.  (We were in a super casual pizza place and I was drinking Pepsi out of a paper cup.  Are you kidding me?)  I've also had to push a grocery cart so full it was rounded over with just my one hand, because my toddler screamed incessantly every time his butt hit the cart seat and I felt the condescending eyes of "That child should sit down because you told him to" even though he was one. 

What I want to say to you is this, dear mommy. 

You don't owe me an apology for just trying to make it through this moment in time. 
I don't get to judge your parenting, period.  But I especially don't get to judge it by the chapter I walked in on.

What I do know is there are ten million variables that led to that meltdown.  Mainly because Threenagers happen. 

What I don't know is anything at all about his sweet little life. 

I don't know his favorite thing to eat.
Or why he was wearing an Easter bunny shirt in January. 
I don't know what he ate for lunch, even though you were a few tables over from me. 
I don't know his favorite color, if he sleeps with a blanket, or what his bedtime fears are. 
I don't know what he's allergic to, if he was sick that day, or if he likes Power Rangers.
I  have no idea if this tantrum was out of the ordinary for him or if you go to bed frustrated and broken hearted every day by a pattern of bad behavior. 
I don't know if you're just now entering the Threenager stage or if he is just small for his age. 
I don't know if you were having an off day with him or if this was just par for the course.
I wondered if you needed me to say anything else to you or just let you be invisible like you wanted to be in that moment. 
I didn't see where he woke up that morning and I have no idea where you'll sleep tonight. 
I don't know what his favorite gift was for Christmas or if he was dealing with the stress of you and your husband fighting.  I don't know if you're happily married or blissfully single.  I don't know if he is being strong willed or simply mad because there were pickles on his sandwich and he doesn't do pickles. 
I don't know if he is acclimating to a new home or if he has a swingset or recently said goodbye to his favorite dog. 

Most importantly, I don't even know his name. 

What I do  know is that he matters.  This moment matters.  YOU matter.  And the reality is, there is way more to that moment than I could possibly gather in the heat of the battle. Your little boy bumped into me.  Yes.  Did it ruin my day?  No.  And if I can give you one piece of advice from this mom who has been there, it's this. 

If it ever happens again, be present. 

In that moment, however you have to face it all, be present. 
Take a deep breath.  Ask God for His grace.  Get on your knees.  Look him in the eye.  Grab him and hold him close. (Side note:  whispering in a child's ear is MUCH scarier and more effective than shouting.  Trust me on this.)  Give yourself permission to pretend the two of you are all that matter in that moment in time.  People will judge you.  Unfortunately, it just happens.  But you can't win your son's heart and appease the crowd at the same time.  So in that moment, when you feel like you've kicked open a bed of emotional fire ants, choose him

Choose your son over a group of people who will go home to their imperfect lives with their own set of mistakes and choices.  Choose your son, who wants you to fight for him-  and know that sometimes in doing so, it will feel like you're fighting against him.  Choose your son over the thoughts that are flying through your head of what people are thinking about you in that moment.  We're all passing through here.  And some of us were given spicier little gifts than others. 
Choose your son.  Follow through.  Finish it. 

Choose. Your. Son.

You're not alone, Momma.  Not even for a second. 
Your heart will break sometimes along this journey.  And sometimes, your cheeks will be in a constant shade of embarrassed crimson.  Just think of it as a little makeup bonus because if you're like me and in a fast food restaurant's playplace, you probably didn't put any on to begin with.

Then, get you a coffee to go and sit down with this chapter and remember that in the mountains of North Alabama, I am drinking a cup in cheers to you for fighting another day for the heart of your child. 

You are loved. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Expectations Versus Hope.

I fell in love with coffee my freshman year of college.  I'm sure it was the fact that I was running on fumes from the schedule that barely kept my head above water and also the late night pining away of my heart for the love of my life who lived some 300 miles away and saved his long distance rewards points for nighttime calls to me.  Like all 18 year olds, I found myself caught between high school and a career, fighting with all my might to prove my existence as a legal adult was legitimate.  I was exhausted beyond measure, living on ramen noodles and 29 cent cheeseburgers from McDonalds, and for some reason, my advisor was nothing at all like my Christian school teachers and principal and never cared that I was a full time student working until deep into the evenings to pay my bills and fighting tooth and nail to stay awake and survive my classes and mentorship programs.  The liquid life I would indulge on from Dunkin' Donuts came to represent comfort and salvation for me those long months of struggle.  Every drop of its Heavenly brew a drop of therapy, encouraging me to keep on keeping on. 

So keep on I did. 

That was 1995.  A lifetime ago.  When my hair was its original color, I didn't have a stretch mark to my name, and I drove a candy apple red Dodge Neon because it was cool to do so.   I felt like I could conquer anything as long as the coffee was strong and the music was loud enough.  You know...before I was old enough to know that what I was expecting out of life was like trying to cram my size 12 body into my size 8 jeans after eating ten years of chocolate cake and white bread. 


Now, here I am, closer to 40 than I care to admit and a little worn around the edges in so many ways. 

I am sitting in my home office as I write this, yesterday's ponytail still on my head and it's 7:30 pm.  I showered today, but I am still wearing yoga pants and a worn out sleep shirt that was cute when I bought it once upon a time, but the one my husband secretly hopes the washing machine will eat now.  There's dirt on my arm from park time with my kids, I have heartburn brewing in the back of my throat, and I feel cramps encroaching because you-know-what is on its way. 

Those days in 1995 when I was full of caffeine and promises, I thought that as I approached the big 4-0, I would have a whole lot of prestige and glamour attached to just the sound of my name.  I knew I would be living in my perfect house (my current one is much too small) with my perfect husband (he IS pretty darn close), we would be singing lullabies to our Baby Gap children (um, try Walmart- meets-yard-sale) in their Pottery Barn bedrooms (no comment), and I would be packing my Louis Vutton briefcase (Publix bag) for an important meeting the next day (after a glass of $90 a bottle wine, of course).  Instead, tonight, we had tacos with ingredients I bought from Walmart, one kid is in her room riding the waves of pubescent hormones with her iPod and the other is literally caked in mud on my couch with bedtime nowhere in sight. I am 90% sure that what I need to wear to work tomorrow is in the bathroom floor pile of dirty clothes.  And the super sweet luxury car I was supposed to own by now is a Toyota Camry with feet marks on the back of my seat from my tiny car seat passenger using my back as a kick drum to "Uptown Funk."

This is not at all what I imagined. 

From our first visit with the pediatrician, our brand new babies go for their first of many of life's tests they must pass.  We hear words like, "On the charts, they are only in the 20th percentile," or, "He is putting on weight a little faster than we would like to see," and our dreams for our perfect infant humans are dashed.  We begin right there in that moment realizing that what we expected is nothing like our reality and we are caught in a moment of decision that can change everything. 

When is the last time you threw expectation out the window? 

I am not talking about hope. 

I am talking about expectation.  Expectation means "a belief that someone should achieve something."    Expectation is the thing that keeps us feeling like our shoelaces are tied together and everyone knew ahead of time, but we didn't know until we fell on our faces.  It tells us our thighs should be thinner by now, that four years isn't carrying "baby weight" anymore, and that our Christmas party should have had more people than Jennifer's. 

"I should have stayed in college."
"He should understand by now where I am coming from."
"I should have gotten so much more done today than I did."
"She should be reading so much better than this before kindergarten starts."


It's too much. 
It's exhausting.
It's sucking the life out of you.

And it's not how you were meant to live.

The problem with earthly expectation is that it places the emphasis of its power on people and very temporary and fickle things.  It's a very dangerous place to be.   And in truth, it takes the focus off of WHO matters and puts very human restraints on territory that should only belong to the One who is able.   And it straight up steals the joy from now. 

Now matters.

I expected to get pregnant after our first anniversary.
I was blessed two times with children seven years in the making each.

I expected precious bedtime routines and storybook endings to my day.
I got a child who had colic and would only sleep with me in the recliner and is without a doubt the strongest willed child I know.

I expected to have my oldest child reading proficiently by kindergarten because after all, I was salutatorian of my graduating class.
I had a daughter who, in NO way could write her name by age 5, but has impeccable manners and people skills and has never ceased to bring honor to my name.

I expected to live in a grandiose, paid-for 8 bedroom mansion in the mountains (after all, all those junior high rounds of MASH told me that's what I would get).
I live in a rental house with a kitchen that is literally the size of the master bedroom closet I lived in before we left our lives to follow our dream in North Alabama.

As you read this list, don't feel sorry for me. 

Those years of infertile aching and dreaming made me a more grateful mom who appreciates tiny things like dirty socks and hand prints on the windows I just cleaned.
The spicy child I am raising will change the world.  You will literally know his name in your lifetime.
The graciousness of my once slow-reader causes her to be moved with great compassion on people who struggle. 
The tiny kitchen I have fed us like manna from Heaven during the physically hardest years of our lives.

He knew all along what my heart would really want.

Because of that, I choose hope over expectation.

Hope that HE sees me and has a better plan. 
Hope that HE is interested in what my heart wants and is more acquainted with it all than I ever could be. 
Hope that HE looks beyond my cereal caked shoulder and recognizes that this balancing act of womanhood leaves me tired and angry many days, but He always sees my effort and even more than that, my heart. 
Hope that HE sees my concern and my dreams for tomorrow-- even when my human conditions limit my pursuit of His best.
Hope that HE knows what I want and what I need.
Hope that HE sees me. 

I see you, too, Momma. 
You're not alone in your expectation.

This week, can we move from expectation to hope together?

I encourage you to pour a cup of Heaven's brew and sit a few times this week and examine your heart to find areas where you aren't enjoying the ride of motherhood because of your very human expectations.  Ask God, in His kind and gentle nudges, to show you what His intention for your motherhood has been all along.  Let Him remove the unrealistic expectations you've had and give you fresh eyes of hope for the areas where you need more, while seeing with eyes of gratitude what already belongs to you.

I am confident He will meet you at every golden drop.