passionate. not terrible. passionate.

She sits there in her room, tiny plastic pieces of treasures, books, pink feather pens surround her, a crooked tiara on her head and streaks of orange marker are drawn on her leg from her kneecap to her hot pink painted toenails.

She is forty pounds and forty some inches tall. She is three and she is the fiercest tiny human I have ever known.

I can’t remember whether we were discussing which pajamas she should wear for the night or who should put them on her. But I remember her being assertive with me. She was fierce when she looked up at me with her big brown eyes and said, No mommy. I will do it myself. Humpf.

After having three boys in three years when I discovered I was pregnant for the fourth time I was certain it would be another boy. Boys were what I knew. Surely God was not going to challenge me with the newness of raising a daughter. 

Oh but God has a funny way about things and He did in fact turn my world upside-down and gave us that daughter. We have loved more than we thought we could love and I personally have been challenged more than I thought I would be raising something supposedly filled with sugar and spice and everything nice.

We are so grateful. I am so grateful for her. Our little girl, the last of four children in four years and the only girl, she is precious to all of us.

But she is so fierce. Frustratingly fierce. Passionate. Wanting to go about things her own way. Princess dresses, painted-toes, Batman masks and Boba Fett blasters.

She regularly will grab her brothers and scratch them so close to their eyeballs, leaving Harry Potter-like scratch marks on their foreheads.

She pushes smaller children at play dates. Moments worthy of making me want to crawl into the playhouse and hide or maybe cry.

She was the first of my four children to try out a passion-filled shut up to my face while I was correcting her.

And a few weeks ago while we were visiting my grandmother and grandfather in New York my grandmother had asked one of her kind friends if she would watch our four kids for us while my husband and I attended a grown-ups only event. When we returned there was my girl asleep on the floor. She had protested with my grandmother’s friend all night long. My grandmother’s friend reported to me that the boys were great and she couldn’t understand much of what my girl said all night except when she looked her in her eyes and clear as day said to her, “YOU are NOT welcome here.” 

She just straight-up tells selfless, helpful friends of her great-grandmother they are not welcome. sigh.

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My sweet forty pound daughter. The girl with the big bows in her whispy brown hair and bangles all the way up her arm can be quite challenging. And yesterday as she was being assertive with me I felt the words creeping into my head. Terrible Twos. Even though she is not two anymore. Those words terrible and twos were lurking in the back of my head.

I had to remind myself.

Challenging, yes. 

Terrible, no. 

Fierce, tenacious, passionate. Yes.

Terrible, no.

Assertive, opinionated, strong-willed. Yes.

Terrible. No.

In the moments when the anger starts to bubble beneath the surface and my vat of patience is running low I find myself grabbing on the posh words of parenting which often flash in my face on the Facebook Newsfeed. Terrible Twos, threenager. This is how the world sees her.

And honestly. I have written about this before and finding myself needing to write about this again. These posh sayings are not helpful to me as a parent at all. Parenting is difficult enough. And when you are drowning the last thing you need is the world chanting bitter snarky sayings to you from the top deck. Oh you’re drowning, yeah that’s terrible. It will be a year of terrible, terrible drowning. And then the next year of it will be even worse, but good luck with that.

What I need when I feel the hard prongs of raising up children is someone to throw me a life preserver and hop in the water with me.

And when I breathe deeply, I remember God is with me in the difficult waters. Not shouting unhelpful sayings from the boat but right in the difficult waters.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown.

Isaiah 43:2

I can chose to breathe deeply, step out of my frustration, my impatience and on Sundays the crazy eyes produced by my aching pride when she is tenacious in front of a crowd in the front row at church.

I can pray for more peace. More patience. More self-control.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled.

John 14:27

I can breathe deeply and see the child standing in front of me, in the middle of the tiny plastic pieces treasures, books, and feather pens; with the crooked tiara and the orange marker drawn on her leg.

I can breathe and I can see her as God sees her. Precious. Uniquely knit together. Wonderfully made. A passionate girl in a crooked tiara trying to sort out this thing called life the same way I am.

And then I can be moved to compassion for her. I can remember that sometimes feeling great passion for things produces great emotion. And while I am a grown up and do not experience great passion about pajamas, my sweet girl has only been picking out and putting on her own clothes for a few months now and she does indeed experience great passion about pajamas.

And in my compassion I can correct her outside of my anger and impatience. I can help teach her proper words and tones for communicating independence because while I can be gracious and identify with big emotions and tenacity I will not tolerate sass or disrespect. Girl may be fierce but girl must be respectful to her momma.

And I can remember she is in the waters too. That God is with her. The rivers of passion and difficulty will not consume her either.

That in these challenging passionate days in the middle of tiny plastic pieces of treasures, books, pink feather pens, crooked tiaras and streaks of orange marker down her legs, the Lord is near and He is working on both of our hearts.

We are on a journey. It feels terrible but we will get through it. And God promises the waves of difficulty will not overcome either of us.

Step Away From The Cookie Dough

Breathe to reset. Accept that I am at the end of myself. Depend on something Greater than my feelings. And step away from the cookie dough.

I was thirty-five hours in with fifty-two to go of my husband’s work trip when I found myself reaching for the Pillsbury Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough in the blue package. I was going to slice that baby open with a Cutco knife on that clear seam from one end to the other and take a bite, ignoring the warning about consuming raw cookie dough or whatever.

It’s been a while since I found myself crazy-eyed, knife in hand and after cookie dough. In my right mind I know the facts, the logic, the wisdom. Consuming raw cookie dough is bad for your health and I know the tangible reality of the four pant sizes my waistline would grow after indulging in a savory sea of delicious dough thanks to the my now thirty-three year old sloth-like metabolism no matter how many half-marathon medals I have stashed in my nightstand.

God has made me an emotional being. If you have ever crossed my path at all, I can feel your head shaking up and down vigorously right now even before I hit the blue publish button.

As an emotionally wired being it is difficult for me to quiet my emotions and gasp onto that small voice of reason I have in the way back yonder of my head.

But God has been transforming me by His grace and His Spirit to shut down the emotional voices which seem to get me into more moments than one where I find myself crazy-eyed with sharp knives standing over things.

Reason. Oh reason. Reason is not my natural reaction. Reason has taken a decade to begin to hear truth big instead of hearing truth like a distant whisper in the background.

Reason, who has become my dear friend came to the rescue that day. Now it’s not quite yet the sledgehammer version of reason that I need but reason, over time has become more like a gentle prodding q-tip instead of a distant whisper. A gentle reasonable reminder to put down the cookie dough and the knives (thank goodness) and that gentle prodding then lead me to a deep breath.

It was solo parenting week for me while my husband was away. And I didn’t need cookie dough. I didn’t need spoonfuls of deliciousness to cure my impatience in that moment. I needed reason. I needed to step back from that knife and I needed to breathe so I could gasp truth. And grasp Jesus.

I mean I do parent everyday. I’ve solo-parented my one, then two, then three, then four kids at least four weeks out of the year for the last seven years. I’m no spring chicken. I am a pro. My husband was only away for four days. Some ladies solo parent more than four kids for months in a row. Or years. Or a lifetime.

But in my emotion I couldn’t grasp it. In the first hours of my week alone I clung to circumstances which are constantly changing instead of a God who is unchanging.

My emotions saw a small God and a big army of ants around the sink sticking their tongues out at me this morning and they seemed to chant na-na-na-na-na as they marched in line on my counter tops which I wipe down more often than I brush my teeth and wash my face in a single day.

My emotions saw a small God and a big sore throat in my oldest and my gut saying it was strep. So I wrangled four kids to the doctor before breakfast and experienced a new check-in system where I had to type in all our information in (again) into an iPad while my feisty two year old in her Princess Aurora Dress scratched her three older brothers over that toy of twisty wires and colored beads.

My emotions saw my own positive strep test big and a small God.

And then that breath. The breath. The reason. The remembering that life is bigger than this week and what God is teaching me in my own heart is more profound than the strep, the ants, the tantrums and the chaos.

That reminder of what I should do when I find I am at the end of myself. And Jesus is Lord over the every chaos.

Breathe. Accept. Depend.

Even though I parent every day I keep falling into this belief that I can do this whole parenting gig in my own strength. But that is where I find my teeth gnashing and my low voice grunting. That is where I find myself in the lowly place of reaching to consume raw cookie dough from the package like I am still a twelve-year-old girl without the God of the Universe.

Breathe to reset. To inhale the new and exhale the old.

Acceptance. To accept that I am at the end of myself. No matter how well I plan fun, structure meals, keep every countertop clean and every piece of clothing laundered the ants will still come marching. The curveball will always come especially when I feel like I am swinging pretty well. I love each and every little darling that The Lord has given to me.

But for me, parenting is the gift that stretches me. When I’m pulled apart and humbled to realize I can’t do this gig anymore in my own efforts. Left up to me alone, I’d be a raging crazy-eyed lady with a Cutco knife and a tube of Pillsbury Cookie Dough. Acceptance brings me to the gentle but needed reminder that I don’t hold up the world. I desperately need this lesson daily.

I don’t hold up the world and I don’t have to.

Dependence on something Greater. Yes. I am not able. But I know the God who is. I know God is writing this story so I will learn to trust Him more. In the chaos, tantrums, strep tests and taunting ants marching around my sink.

To lay my cookie dough down, breathe and say, okay God. I need you. Even in the mundane moments of motherhood. I sometimes think that God isn’t concerned with the mundane. I forget that he wants me in the monumental and the mundane. That He sees the triumphs, the trials and the times when I feel like I’m going from one mess to another. I forget that God knows every word before it is on my tongue completely. God knows my going out and my lying down. (Psalm 139:1-4)

God is interested in my daily moments and God sees me caring for sick kids and peeling writing children off of the floor. God sees me. (Genesis 16:13) And God simply wants me to trust that He will sustain me and walk with me through it.

In Matthew 11  Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

As a believer in Jesus I have access to a lightened load. I get so caught up in myself and my plans I forget this. I forget that Jesus wants to bear the burdens with me. I forget to depend. I forget I have access to divine intervention though prayer and the power of Christ in me, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)

Breathe. Accept. Depend. And put down the knives and the tube of Cookie Dough. I still had fifty-some hours to go at this moment and I desperately needed to try to remember I can’t do this whole parenting gig on my own.

And I still hope and pray in the next fifty-some years of parenting I can keep on remembering this.

Breathe to reset. Accept that I am at the end of myself. Depend on something Greater. And step away from the knives and cookie dough.

God works. He works in the chaos. He changes emotional beings into people who can hear truth.

Thanks be to the Lord over the chaos. Who quiets the turbulent and volcanic voices of emotion and helps the calming voices of truth work in my heart and change the way I live my life.

Chore Monster

My oldest son has been asking for chores and allowance for about a year now. My husband and I have given them little responsibilities here and there. We paid him a quarter a toilet if he would wipe the misses and splatter off the lids when he was three and four. And now as part of our daily lives all four of our kids set the table, pick up the yard, clear their dishes and put their own laundry away.

But we’ve never paid them. My husband and I both have a conviction that chipping in around the house is a responsibility when you are a part of a family. Our kids eat, play, use the bathroom and have clothes laundered in our humble home so it never seemed like not paying them was the end of the world.

However, as these boys grow and summer is upon us we have decided to take the plunge and pay for extra work around the house.

As a teacher in my pre-mom days I have toiled over charts, thought about creating my own with a pocket chart or a laminated one with velcro stickies but I just never landed on something that was just right to track the numerous chores of our three boys and the little lady who will be joining them on the chore train before I can blink. I needed to find something that would grow with us as we grow.

And then I remembered hearing of this marvelous website and app from my son’s first grade teacher.

Friends, I have found the most wonderful tool.  Chore Monster has exceeded my expectations today as I’ve added numerous children, almost thirty different chores and nine different rewards, only two of which are actually monetary.

Here is how it works. 

Sign up for free at: www.choremonster.com 

I would add all children first. Then when you go to add chores and rewards you can click on “copy chore/reward” for each additional child.

Adding Chores:

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When I added chores I selected some from the list but also created a bunch of my own. Chores I expect them to do every day like brushing teeth, making beds, getting dressed, praying at meal time, all of those are worth 5 points each. Other chores like dusting, clearing dishes, sweeping, playing a board game with a sibling, wiping counters and sinks are worth 10 points and I have a few chores worth 25 points: Wiping down toilets, folding towels, reading for 20 minutes, working on four pages of Handwriting Without Tears Workbooks, and writing and illustrating a summer story.

I then selected the box “make this chore with no schedule or due date”. Then chores can always be reoccurring and I don’t have to manage when they are due. As my kids grow this may change but for now we are just getting our feet wet.

Finally, when adding chores I searched google images, this is a built in on the page, to compliment the chores so when my kids view them in the app or on the desktop they all have a visual to match the text. This helps early readers and I think makes it look like more fun!

Adding Rewards:

This was the fun part for me. My kids don’t need a ton of money, a little will go a long way and also be enough to teach them about what things cost as well as enough for them to consider tithing to children’s church from their own wallets.

There are only two monetary rewards on our list. With this site, this can also change as my kids grow.

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For rewards I chose, pick what’s for dinner (50 pts), dates with mom or dad (75 pts), pick the family movie night movie (75 pts), stay up 45 minutes past bedtime (100 pts), five dollars in cash or for the iTunes store (250 pts), Reds Game with just Dad or go with one parent and stay at Kings Island until fireworks (300 pts).

The last two are really desirable for my kids but almost free for us because we have season passes to Kings Island and my husband has a clergy pass for the ballgames.

I’m hoping with the different kinds of rewards my kids will find healthy-just-right-for-them positive reinforcement.

I am trying out the point scale this week to see if I may need to up the ante. My oldest child’s chore monster has been active for all of two hours and he has already earned 55 points with his younger brother only ten points behind him with 45 points.

Completing Chores: 

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As my kids complete chores they can select which chores they completed in an app on the iPads or on my phone as well as on our desktop computer. Each child has their own log in with their name, picture and simple password.

After they log in their chores I have to approve them before they get points. You can change this in the settings when adding chores so chores are automatically approved, it’s completely up to you and your management style.

The site has lots of other fun features like:

-As I approve points, the site gives tickets kids can cash in to watch silly short movies, upgrade monsters and use to spin the wheel at the carnival. We’ve lost at the carnival every time so far and this made my four year old cry.

-You can add bonus points. This was amazing because after my four year old cried I basically gave him his points right back. But also as summer rolls on and can sometimes cause siblings to get on one another’s nerves when I mentioned the bonus point feature to my older kids I said I will only be shelling out bonus points for kindness to others or encouraging words to others from now on.

So here goes my first structured summer with chores. I’m sure the learning curve will be huge and I will probably have a hoarder of points cashing in for 250 dollars at the end of the summer or all my kids cashing in for the mommy and daddy dates at the same time. Please pray for grace along the journey.

And please go check this out now. As you are learning this site along with me this summer don’t forget to comeback and share your thoughts and comments.

Thank you Chore Monster. Go team Parents.

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Unraveling Grief

This very week, nineteen years ago I was riding in the front seat of our silver Town & Country minivan with my father manning the wheel. I stared out the window as we drove down Sycamore Creek Drive, my eyes fixed on the greening grass that streaked alongside the concrete curb.

I was fourteen, six weeks shy of fifteen and my father was about to say something to me in the privacy of that car, a simple sentence which would change me forever. I knew the words were coming. Every adult around me had been locked and loaded with the words for weeks probably bearing the weight of them and waiting for just the right time to delicately let the words leave their lips hoping the words would come out like the gentle drop of a pin instead of like an earth shattering atomic bomb.

I felt the weight of the words before they were even said. I knew they were coming, I was preparing for the earth shattering atomic bomb. As I prepared for the news I rehearsed the best way I knew how. Just like anyone would prepare for an air assault, I toughened up my exterior and pulled up my bootstraps. I was going to face the worst but appear like a strong fortress, absent of emotion, cold, but protected.

As I stared out the window, I heard my father say, “Rach, mom is going to die.”

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The words enveloped me. I had prepared for this exact moment and I responded in the best way I knew how. I kept staring out the window and all I could reply was, “I know.” As I stared and attempted to let disengagement consume me I felt warm tears begin to cover my eyes, turning the strong streaking line out my window into a blurry green blob, even mixing up sometimes with the grayness of the curb.

Staring at the green gray blob became too much so I drew my gaze in and I caught my reflection in the window. I saw the tears in my eyes reflected back at me and immediately I remember being overcome with disappointment in myself for not holding it together enough. For not being strong enough. For not preparing well enough emotionally to handle the news. And then the shame flooded in. I knew if I could see my reflection, my father could see it too. I knew he knew I was crying. I didn’t want him to know I was weak nor did I want to appear too emotional.

I felt the responsibly to be strong and brave in the waves of uncertainty and the shattered earth beneath my feet.

So the best I knew how I tried to go back inside my fortress to hide from my pain. I built walls. I hid behind a heavy mask and protected myself with layers of armor.

The armor I hid behind looked different in different seasons. In high school my armor was a tough girl exterior. I don’t think I wore it well but I flirted with rebellion, disengagement, relationships with men, drinking and recreational drugs. Anything I could get my hands on to help me escape my pain, I tried it. But my fixes weren’t fixing. My band-aids weren’t able to hold together the still open wounds underneath the armor and the masks.

I became exhausted from hiding beneath the bad to the bone girl I was trying to be in high school so in college I tried on some new ways to hid my pain from the world. For a season, during my days at Eastern Kentucky University I tried on the armor of busyness. Twenty-two hours a semester, 4.0s, overly-involved, mentor, sorority girl, chair of the committee, changing the world kind of busyness.

I never wanted to be known as the girl with the hard story so I ran from my hard story. Buried it so deep it even became difficult for me to remember my actual mother. I spent so long trying to be strong and burying pain that I lost even the happy pieces of the times I shared with her.

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Brene Brown writes in her book, Daring Greatly,

“When we don’t acknowledge how and where we are tender, we’re more at risk of being hurt.”

I had spent so many years hiding from where I was tender that I wasn’t even sure anymore how and where I was tender.

Brown also goes on to write from her own experience,

“Slowly I learned that this shield was too heavy to lug around, and that the only thing it really did was keep me from knowing myself and letting myself be known. The shield required that I stay small and quiet behind it so as not to draw attention to my imperfections and vulnerabilities. It was exhausting.”

From my own experiences in unraveling my grief over the loss of my mother I could not agree more. I spent so many years hiding behind strong personas, I forgot who I really was. I lost myself. And I felt isolated because I never let anyone know the real me. And I didn’t have my mother present to tell me how to snap out of it.

For so many years I hid and then I lost myself. I felt like a balloon, not tethered to anything at all, just floating around.

It has only been in the last five years that I have been able to slowly unravel my misconceptions about my grief. When you are fourteen you think you know everything about the world and about strength but truth is I knew so little about strength, I knew nothing about it at all.

I thought strength and vulnerability were like that greening grass and the hard concrete I saw streaking outside the window on that April morning. Two very different things which before I felt tender I believed would never blur.

But it turns out, today I believe strength and vulnerability are actually a lot like the blurry blob of grass and concrete I saw out my window when I was feeling tender. To see them both blurred together as one thing. That strength requires vulnerability and it takes a whole lot more strength to be vulnerable than it does to pretend that you can just keep marching on and hide beneath armor and masks.

Now I understand that to hide my pain is not strength at all. It is weak, cold and inhuman.

So I have loosened the bootstraps, tried to get rid of my solider boots all together and I am slowly unraveling unhealthy patterns.

I am trying to be more tender. To learn and remember where I am tender.

I am trying to remember my mom. To cry and sometimes shout to myself, “It sucks that my mom is not here.” Sucks is not apart of my regular vocabulary but it seems to fit there for now.

When I let myself remember the emptiness I feel when I think about her it helps me remember that this life is just not the way it is supposed to be and I long for heavenly places where there is no more crying and no more tears.

I try to talk about my mom with my kids because they ask about her.

I try to remember my mom with my brother and sister. Though my vulnerability with them causes tears. I can only share a little and try to remember the blurring vision my tears cause and what I believe that means. Grief is not black and white, or green and gray streaks or little neat steps. I can’t check off the boxes when it comes to my grief.

Grief is jagg-ed and criss cross with both hard edges and smooth shining surfaces. Grief requires a constant unraveling of our hearts.

I try to sit and wait with a hurting heart. I wait because if I try to bandage it on my own, I will never truly heal. I sit and wait on a Good God who sees me while I wait and promises He will bind up the wounds, I only need to wait and be still. (Psalm 147:3)

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In the jagg-ed and criss-cross places of grief, I have unraveled enough to know now that it’s okay to lean into uncertainty and earth shattering grounds, to be tender and broken, exposed and known because I don’t have to appear strong at all. That I can delight in the broken and tender places. It is there where I find God glorified. It is there where I see him holding all the threads of myself together. Taking away threads of misconception and binding me up with His promises to me and His truth.

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And I’m not all the way redeemed in my grief. I still have so much more unraveling to do. I may have only begun to chip away at the surface. But I have so much more hope. I know there is a real and good God at work in my heart because I never could have been called out from behind the armor on my own. Little by little God is working on me. Making me more aware of where I am tender and helping me see that to grieve is to simply be human.

Am I Doing Enough?

 

I know you know the days. The rising, eyes barely open at the first murmur of a child and one tiptoe in front of the other with them down the stairs as not to wake the others. You crack open your Bible over their morning show and digest a few verses before someone else needs you.

You simply pray, “Lord, help me be enough today.” Because those six words are all the time you have to pray.

Then it’s breakfast, teeth brushing, packing lunches and socks and shoes. Kisses and waves for your big kids and then off to cleaning up breakfast.

You almost make it up the stairs to brush your own teeth and comb your own hair before someone else is needing you again. So you rush through your routine to read a book to the one needing you. Then it’s onto blocks, more books and the more fastening up of costumes.

I know you know the days when the clock moves faster than the needs and you feel like you can’t. So you one foot in front of the other are onto making the lunches, sweeping the crumbs off the floors and wiping the jelly off the tables.

And you breathe. You pray again, “Lord, thank you for these moments.” Because again, six word prayers are just about all you’ve got.

You fold and you vacuum, you do what work you have set before you for the afternoon while littles are sleeping and those minutes seem to swoop faster around the clock than the others.

You squeeze in that cup of coffee before the bus comes up the road and you pray again. “Lord, help me be enough for today.”

From bus drop off to dinner is utter chaos and you are barely hanging on. Every creak in the house or drip of the roof sounds like the garage door. You long for your helper to be home. To share the reading, the wresting, the conflict resolutioning.

It’s all a gift but a blur until those tiny babes are fed, bathed, pajamaed and tucked in.

You are thankful for the moments but exhausted and wondering if the Lord helped you be enough today. Because honestly, somedays you just don’t feel like you are enough. You fret and you worry if you met every need and listened to every heart. You wonder if you are caring for those God has given to you well.

And during bear hugs, kitty hugs and good night prayers your son whispers, “Mommy, you are God’s masterpiece.”

And you haven’t showered, changed out of your pajamas, read enough of your Bible or prayed more than eighteen words for the entire day. You feel like you are barely hanging on. But you recognize that to someone, you are more than enough.

Somehow in some crazy way, even though we are barely hanging on we are enough. On the days we feel like we are at our best, at our worst or mostly on those days we feel just like one foot in front of the other.

In Christ. In some crazy way, one foot in front of the other. He makes us a masterpiece to someone, somewhere and at sometime.

He is really making us new and using our daily one foot in front of the other.

I know you know too.

Thank you for passing this on to someone who needs it.