Upon Turning 38 (And having a babysitter so I could write this.)

Twenty years ago today I turned eighteen. Now, that’s something. It was my first week at college. My New Student Orientation group took me out to dinner at Chili’s. I was a wearing a yellow and purple beanie and I was equally in love with my cute cheesy college and tortilla chips dipped in ranch dressing. Twenty years ago I stood on the padded Chili’s bench and let the table sing to me and me only. I loved it.

Twenty years ago. It’s just like all the annoying Hallmark cards always said. It goes too fast.

The night before last I held my baby throughout the night as he vomited every ten minutes. I whispered, “It’s okay. Mama’s here. I’ll always take care of you.” I told him he was brave every time I held his tiny body over the toilet. Every time he fell back against me, immediately asleep.

Then, after a night without sleep, I downed a cup of coffee and turned on the world’s best First Day of School Kids Bop music. I packed new backpacks and helped find missing pants. Sent them off to the terrifying world of new classrooms.

There’s a twenty year gap there between the girl dipping tortilla chips and the girl shushing her two year old in the night, telling her eldest that he is fun and interesting, just like fourth grade. And the gap between those years is deep and ravenous. Also, it’s sweet and small. I still love to stand on a bench and let the table sing me a song. I still love to eat tortilla chips, though I’ve given up on the ranch dressing. And Chili’s.

Here’s what I think I know, now that I’m 38:

  • If social media is too mean and you feel terrible about the shouting on it, it’s okay to stop hanging out there. Actually, I’d recommend it.

  • The world is a hard and scary place and we need each other to tell the truth.

  • As Ace has taught me, if you sing about the task in front of you it feels a lot easier to do it.

  • There is not as much time in a day as I used to think. So, sleeping is a good idea.

  • Also, exercise makes you happier.

  • Life is not what you accomplish, no matter how many “important” people say otherwise. It’s about hugging and playing.

  • I’m not perfect, so it’s not all going to get done. Especially email. (It took me a lot of therapy to learn that one. So if you’re still waiting for an email from me, that’s why.)

  • Raising kids is not about constructing something from the ground up using raw materials. It’s about growing a garden: surprising, hard, beautiful, sometimes heartbreaking. And rarely what you planned for. (See The Carpenter and the Gardener, which I’m currently reading.)

  • Hats are cute and they keep you from getting wrinkles.

  • Wrinkles are sometimes cute too.

  • There is not a perfect body. There is just the body you have.

  • God is not all air and mist. God’s in the flesh and making Godself visible through all the pain and goodness. The question is whether or not I’m paying attention.

  • Leading is hard. Making decisions is hard. Following Jesus is hard.

  • Early childhood specialists are the best people in the world. So are speech, physical, occupational, and feeding therapists.

  • The little rituals are the heart of a marriage. Our six am coffee dates are my favorite part of the day.

  • Birthdays should be celebrated every time, because nothing is guaranteed and being alive is a beautiful thing.

10 life lessons I can rely on during these troubling times

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(This was originally published at Atleteia's For Her magazine, but is no longer available there.)

This past week, in the midst of this country’s political upheaval, I’ve been shaken, and so have many people around me. There is much at stake right now. There is much to fear and much to work for, and it can feel overwhelming. When life is troubling, I’m learning to go back to the kernels of wisdom I’ve already gathered, the smooth stones I carry in my pocket to remind me what matters, what God has taught me, what it means to move forward with joy and gratitude.

  1. The peace of Jesus is not passive. Jesus is called the Prince of Peace, yet he had a way of always making someone angry. Jesus constantly offended the religious leaders and welcomed everyone into the circle, whether they deserved the invitation or not. Peace is never ignoring hatred or evil, and it always includes having the courage to tell the truth. Peacemaking requires action. Following the way of Jesus usually requires more pain on my part. It asks that I be quick to forgive, set relational boundaries, speak with honesty, and often, that I give up my rights to comfort. It is never the easier way, but it is always the way of Jesus.

  2. Questions are not something to ignore but to embrace. A life worth having is a life where you choose to stare your doubts down all the way. Once you get to the bottom of them, they shrivel. Their power is in their position in your periphery, lurking, hinting that what you believe or what you’re committed to is empty, or worse, a lie. They are loudest when you try to ignore them. But if you’re brave enough to hold them to the light, to examine their realities and their flaws, they have something bold to teach you, and their power withers. When I choose to turn my attention to my fear, to pull each sliver of my doubt from my mind, place it under the examination of God’s presence, God has proven up to the task. There’s a reason Jacob wrestled with God: The more we are brave and bold enough to deal with the fears and doubts and questions, the more we experience a God who meets us in the darkness, stays with us through the night, and sends us back into the daylight—altered, yes (Jacob walked with a limp for the rest of his life), but changed into something real-er, wiser, more our truest selves.

  3. When it comes to lines in the sand, I want to draw mine on the side of generosity and grace. In politics and theological frameworks, everyone has their opinion, and most of the time life—for better or for worse—has clarified their stance. There are reasons to be liberal; there are reasons to be conservative. If there weren’t, our two party system wouldn’t still be going strong after 240 years. In the same way, theology is a complicated system. There are many ways to read the scripture, and there is much to wrestle with in the Bible. When it comes to politics and theology, I want to form my framework in the place where kindness dwells. I want to look at the world, the church, and my community through the lens of Jesus’s life and teachings. If I have to draw a line in the sand, if I have to choose what I believe about a specific issue, I want to err on the side of generosity and grace.

  4. What makes a human being valuable is not success, but love. My son who has Down syndrome may not live up to most of the world’s expectations of power or prestige, performance or impressiveness. But our performance is never what makes us human. Intelligence is not what makes humanity as beautiful as it is. It is our ability to love and be loved, to make connections, to show empathy—these are the things that allow us to stand out from the rest of creation. These are the things that should be celebrated, in our children, in ourselves.

  5. Kindness should be our native language. The longer I’m married (only 13 years, so I still have much to learn), the more I believe that the key to happiness in a marriage is mutual kindness. It’s the hardest and the simplest thing. (Most of the time, the simplest thing is the hardest.) Also, the key to moving forward as a country? Kindness. The key to unlocking the deep and gnarled roots of racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia? It’s kindness. The more we practice listening, knowing, and befriending one another, the more the world will change around us. I believe that. Fiercely.

  6. The elderly have powerful things to teach us, and they deserve our time and our attention. I believe our culture and our nation is suffering acutely because we have forgotten how to listen to our elders. The simple way is always the hardest, but if we want to slow down our wild lives, we could start by visiting the vulnerable; start by listening to the ones whose wild lives have been forcibly slowed down. There is deep wisdom there.

  7. I choose whether time is my friend or my enemy. If time is controlling me, and my schedule does not reflect what I say are my priorities, I’m the one who has to make a change. I can’t blame the world for asking too much of me. I have to choose to slow my life down, and choose to make space for the people who matter most, even if that means sacrificing my status or my success.

  8. Wise people pay attention to their bodies. My body is not simply an annoying ball of feelings that I’m forced to carry around. It’s a gift from God. It’s a friend that wants to teach me about my soul if I’m careful enough to listen. Exhaustion and stress lead me to anger and anxiety. Every time I’ve hunkered down, forced myself to work through the pain or ignore my sadness or fatigue, the more I become the person I don’t want to be: quick to rage, less able to listen to the needs around me. God gave us our bodies so we can test the wind, learn the direction from which the storm is coming. The more we listen, the more we are prepared when the storm arrives (and it always does).

  9. Sorrow and suffering will be part of my life no matter what: I choose what that suffering does to me. I can either run from the pain of this world, or lean into it. Those who lean into suffering are battered, of course. But they come out of the battering smoother, like stones at the bottom of a river. Those who run from pain are still battered by it, but it doesn’t make them stronger, only more bitter. I don’t want pain, but when it comes I pray I’ll allow it to make me wise, that I’ll come out on the other side closer to the woman God has created me to be.

  10. Prayer changes us because God changes us. There is nothing easy about prayer. Also, prayer is incredibly simple. This is the rich dichotomy of the spiritual life. God wants to meet with us, and also? God is already here, already active. Prayer is simply allowing ourselves to be loved by our Creator, to be redirected toward the Way of Jesus, to be made whole. There is much work to be done in the world, much work to be done in our own hearts, but it all starts with the movement of God: in us, in the world. We are loved, and prayer is simply coming back home to that love, choosing to live there in the space where our Creator is endlessly making peace, mending brokenness, and creating beauty.

On the Glory of the Clementine, and Noticing

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One of the gifts of having a child whose development moves at a quieter, more deliberate pace than my other babies is that I have more time to notice the miraculous moments of his everyday growth.

Today I'm writing at GraceTable about the day Ace learned to feed himself a clementine, and the wonders of being present to notice.

Here's a little snippet:

And then that next morning I peeled Ace a clementine slice. I’ve been reading about the brain. How it learns something new by building more myelin and clumping it together. How the more you do a task, practice it and practice it, your brain makes new roads, new circuits, to travel down. How did Ace’s brain make the road that tells him eating is good? Was it every breakfast, lunch, and dinner when I forced food between his tight lips?

Or was it simply that morning when I threw two slices on his tray before moving my older boys from breakfast to the bathroom. Brush your teeth, wash your face. Is your backpack packed? Jacket and shoes ON YOUR BODY?

At some moment I looked up and he had closed his rolly fist around that quarter moon slice. And he’d realized he could suck it. The juice he swallowed lit the places in his brain that said: Food is good! Food is good! And he took more. And more. I offered slice after slice, which he dropped onto the floor beneath him, into his seat, into the neck of his pajamas.

And the brain-circuit had been built. Suddenly, without fanfare or declaration, Ace began opening his mouth for the spoonfuls of pureed spinach and salmon/sweet potato mix. His little fingers began to grab for the cereal on his tray. Amazingly, he started eating. Three weeks ago, he started eating.

Yes, glory gets lost in there. But sometimes our circumstances offer us the grace to slow it down, to notice what the exact food was that taught a lovely tiny human to eat. It was a clementine orange mandarin slice in the fist of my baby. One glorious piece of fruit, grown and picked and colored orange by the sun.

  Join me at GraceTable to read the rest of this wonderful moment