Monday, January 19, 2015

When the Unknown Looks Like Potty Training

Our little two and a half year old tornado of a boy pulled a package of underwear out of his drawer last week and demanded to wear it. I figured why not? His sisters were all this age when they learned the fine art of using the potty for more than a step stool.

Yet again, our household learns how boys are different from girls.

First, his sisters are appalled by little boy underwear. There's a pocket! Whatever is that for? He's a BOY--enough said.

Then, we learn that although Gus Monster is very into his new drawers, he's not really into his signals yet. Eight pairs and a bath later, I called it quits for the day. Should've done this in the fall when he was actually going on occasion. But, silly me. I thought he was too young to be pushed.

Just a reminder that having four kids only makes one an expert on the mistakes of motherhood.

I have no idea when this is going to work. Eventually, I'm sure. But if he'll be fully functional in the bathroom prior to the need for a new living room rug, well, that's questionable. We're living in the unknown--the time when all you can see is a small light at the end of the tunnel and you just plug forward everyday in hopes that it grows brighter.

I'm not just talking about potty training.

I curled up in the corner of our lumpy sofa on Friday morning with my devotion and the scary canyon of what ifs for Amelia looming on my horizon. We saw her neurologist on Thursday and our future right now is certain to hold more doctor visits, more tests, more therapies as we try to uncover what caused her brain to inflame itself. What caused her body to demyelinate and send us searching for answers.

So far, no doctor is really pleased with what they can tell us. We've had three different prognosis ranging from super scary surgical to expect full recovery. Right now, it's Clinically Isolated Syndrome. It might go away, her body may heal itself.

It might not.

No one is sure. Doctors for all their fancy degrees and clinical knowledge and case studies--they're just practicing medicine as my friend said yesterday.

They are learning and we are learning and the unknown can be frightening. That canyon will swallow me whole if I let it.

Rehearsing your troubles results in experiencing them many times, whereas you are only meant to go through them when they actually occur. 
~Sarah Young, Jesus Calling

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
There's a bridge over that canyon of the unknown. I can't see it when I'm pondering all the ways I'm going to slip and fall and have to claw my way back up rock walls. We want to live these lives that are all planned out and shiny with promise, but the truth is we live everyday in a dark unknown that's only pushed back when we focus on the Light--on the good, the beauty, the reasons to be thankful in the midst of fear. 

The blessings of superhero underwear and friends who make homemade blueberry pie and sick little girls who giggle incessantly. These are the images I want to rehearse in my mind when I worry--these are the moments I want to live through again and again.

Not the fear. Not the frustration. Not the many times I've cleaned the floor.

But the many times I've lived in the beautiful, known moment at hand.

Monday, January 12, 2015

When Sunday's Rest is Over & Monday's Reality is Settling In

They're squabbling over episodes of Harry and the Dinosaurs and I've begged for just a few minutes. I didn't get up early enough to write and despite drinking Sleepytime herbal tea before bed I spent a restless night alternately hacking and worrying.

Welcome to Monday.

The past several days have been like a month of Sundays. We've rested and recuperated and tried to stumble our way back to reality. I've sat and held Amelia while she slept and Gilmore Girls played in the background. Saturday morning we moved slow and curled around steaming cups of coffee and read magazines that have been piling up for a month.

I gave myself permission to escape via the Internet or Netflix or the glossy pages of Food & Wine. Thanks to friends who've been the hands and feet of Jesus in the form of folded laundry and hot food, there's been few dishes and even fewer piles of dirty underwear.

You know a friend is true when they fold your underwear.

For days we've lived in this alternate reality where the world gets to revolve around test results and doctor schedules and the hours of the Children's Hospital coffee shop. I didn't try to write and I didn't try to work because I've never been able to divide my life up into little segments and square each away to deal with another. I've always been a big tangled mess where every little thing bleeds into everything else.

Which is why when I rest, I stop. I halt whatever project I'm on and just retreat away into something mindless. Then Monday's reality hits hard.

And thank God.

Because there is relief in the structure, the schedule, the normal. Even when it's a new normal of monitoring progress and scheduling physical therapy and trying not to google every blessed worry. Because even though we are built to rest, we are also built to work and create and exercise.

We are built for the Mondays as well as the Sundays.

May your week be glorious, friends. May it be productive and encouraging and the very best kind of ordinary. Then, when it's Sunday again, may you find the softest pillow and the quietest hour.

And something good on Netflix.

Monday, January 5, 2015

When Words are Few and Hope is Hard

My words are few these days. Actually, they are plentiful but they are not worth hearing or speaking or writing. They spew forth like a volcano in hot fiery fumes of anger and distrust and anxiety. They leave behind smoke that burns when it’s inhaled by whoever was unfortunate enough to be in my path.

I miss the easy days of writing. Of saying what I heard with my heart and seeing it form on the page into sentences and paragraphs that helped me find meaning in the struggle of everyday motherhood.
But this isn’t everyday motherhood. This is grinding hard, clay molding, dough punching out all the air motherhood. This is the kind of motherhood no one signs up for but all our names are right there on the dotted line when that baby is called ours.

This is the really, really tough love.

The kind that loves through the unknowing, the unyielding, the unwielding force of uncertainty. The kind that never gives up hoping. The kind that stands its ground in a parking lot when you’re on your knees keening and the only hands there are a mother’s.

My mom held me through it the other night. In the puddles on the pavement and the shaking and the uncontrollable screaming.

I lost it.

Lost it all.

My image as the one who’s holding it together, holding on to hope, holding hands with Jesus through this walk. The umbrella of protection a mother should be to her children in a time of crisis. My faith that all things work together for the good.

Oh, I lost it.

I spewed out all those awful words no one should ever say and the scripture of my morning Bible study had no place on my tongue that night.

Trust, says the Lord.


When the neurologist says with calmness and frankness, I just don’t know what’s wrong.

Trust, says the Lord. Your hope is in me.

I’m having a really hard time with this obviously. Truly, I believe I’ll be better when there’s a diagnosis, when our comedy of errors with mistaken orders and misread scans is over, when I can look back on this a year from now and marvel at how we got through.

I’ll be good then.

I’ll be stronger. I’ll be better.

Right now I’m a muck of a mess. I don’t do well with unknowns. I don’t do well with trust.

I don’t do well with waiting.

Be still.

Jesus says that too. Be still and know.

But I don’t know.

I don’t know what’s wrong with my baby girl and I don’t know how we will get through this and I don’t know how I’m going to keep it all together.

Actually, I do know that.

I’m not. Keeping it all together that is. I’m just plain not.

But there are those who are. They bring dinner wrapped in foil and hands folded in prayer. I’m not trusting in a blind unknown. I’m trusting in a living God who has given us people to carry us through.

And if I'm to survive, I have to choose to trust in the great, unfolding plan he has for my little girl.

Her name is Hope you know. Amelia Hope.

18 God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever...
Hebrews 6:18-20

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"God Bless Our Christmas": A Giveaway for the Day Your Child Gets a Diagnosis

My sweet friend Hannah who ate chocolate chips out of the bag with me on the last night of the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer's Conference and won the award for best blog is an actual real book-on-the-shelf writer.

She wrote this sweet story and its accompaniments: God Bless Our Easter and God Bless You and Good Night . Beautiful board books for familes, not just children. She used vivid words and a soothing rhythm to remind us in God Bless Our Christmas who is the reason we have all these blessings to enjoy.

"The Christmas carols that we sing
Are full of joy and love.
I have such cheer this time of year.
It comes from God above."
--except from God Bless Our Christmas

I cuddled up on the couch last week to read this with Amelia, my four year old, and her best friend Ellie. They took a break from the ponies in the dollhouse to tuck into each of my sides and hear the words. Amelia liked the penguins best. Ellie liked the polar bears. I liked the simplicity that so often gets overlooked in our busy holiday.

But most of all I liked having a normal moment with my baby girl. Normalcy has become a thing of the recent past for us in the last few days. I suppose that's common--because when you get news that's hard and uncertain, a new normal develops. 

When I wrote these words to those who bear sadness this Christmas, I didn't know how true they would become for me--
Let this season of love put you back together again.

In the midst of uncertainty and fear, we are welcoming the arms of love that have wrapped tight around our family during these last few days.

Last week, I took my four year old for a stat CT scan and prayed only for an answer to why she had stopped using her right hand and begun stuttering and being clumsy. The test revealed that Amelia has an arteriovenous malformation (AVM).  It's a scary moment to realize your mother's intuition is right. That, yes, there is something very wrong and it might get worse before it gets better.

But here's the truth of our diagnosis. She will get better. This is a treatable condition that we still don't know about completely and there's still more testing to be done. But she will get better. Even if that better means a surgery or a drug regiment or who knows what. They tell us we're the best case diagnosis for something being wrong in her brain.

And I'm scared out of my mind that it will be nothing or something or anything. I'm scared I won't be strong enough for her, for my husband, for my other girls. I'm scared I'll run out of energy to give.

But I don't have to have enough of me to go around. I have a great big God who formed her and knows her and formed me and knows me. He knows what we need and what we can handle. He's given us a network of friends and family who are already begging for jobs to do, already bringing meals, already replacing my favorite lost pair of earrings.

God Bless Our Christmas indeed.

So today I'd like to spread a little Christmas love. I'm giving away one copy of God Bless Our Christmas . Winner will be chosen at random from comments left on the blog. You can comment on Facebook too, if you like, but I won't pool entries from there. One location is all I can handle.

Tell me whose Christmas would you like to bless?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Dear Ones Who Bear Sad Tidings This Year (Five Minute Friday)

It can be hard this time of year to find the joy in the twinkly lights and the broken nativity and the limp garland when all you want to do is hide away in a corner from the well-wishers and the do-gooders and the hope-bringers.

It can be hard to be facing a holiday ringed with family dinners and friendly hospitality and gift exchanging when there's one less seat at the table, one less card in the mail, one less gift under the tree.

When I was ten years old my mama walked this journey. My daddy walks it now. This stumble through the season of glad tidings when the tidings dealt you this year were dark and doomed. The tidings of grief under the shadow of fear.

I don't remember how Mama got through that Christmas. Her mother died three days before December 25 and we buried her two days after. My most vivid memories are that she bought me a black velvet dress and my uncle reamed all the grandkids for daring to ask if we would open the presents Grandmommy had already wrapped and placed beneath her tree. There would have been five of us kids at that time. Five of us to get through breakfasts and toys and tantrums and the joy of Christmas that would forever be tainted with shock.

I remember how we got through last year when the cancer was doing its death march across my grandfather's gut and the dementia was already eating away his memory. We just didn't talk about it. We visited and the last time I saw him speak and smile and know me was Christmas Eve. This year I want to talk and celebrate and remember that he loved the mountains and coffee and another plaid shirt wrapped alongside a good book.

I don't know how you do it. I don't know how you walk through a season of grief during a season of happiness, but I do know this. You're walking through a season of love.

Let yourself be wrapped and swaddled and cared for like that baby in a manger. Let that be the only hope you hold because it's just too much to try and care about shopping deals or holiday feasts or gingerbread houses.

Let this be a season of nothing but love and let love put you back together again.

In that glorious coincidence way God works, I wrote this as part of the Five Minute Friday crew. I haven't participated in months, but saw the prompt on twitter and had just five minutes this afternoon to word thoughts that had been tossing around for a few days. Then I click over to Kate's place to link up and her words today? They're on grief. So much so that she wrote an ebook about it and you can get it for free until midnight tonight.

Christmas makes the pain acute. My prayers are with you if you and yours are walking this journey right now. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Gifts that Give This Christmas Season

I don't know about you, but I'm on the lookout for more gifts that are less about a number of packages under the tree and more about what those packages mean to the hands that prepared them and the ones that receive. So here's a list of some of my favorite little shops for giving back as we head into a season that's really meant to be less about materialism and more about caring for one another. 

Black Tag Diaries Etsy Shop::

Meet Julia and Lance. They're world travelers, Christ lovers, and proud parents.
Meet Zara. They brought her home from Uganda exactly one year ago.
It was miracle beyond miracle that they did this in only one trip.
But it still wasn't cheap. Not that raising any child is, but when you start out with insurmountable fees, it's just one more stress for a family.  Who wants more stress when you have a two year old?
So together with Julia's talented dad, they've created an Etsy shop that showcases Julia's talents for decor and design. There's jewelry, home goods, and these sweet ornaments.

personalized custom wood christmas ornament

We ordered one for our tree this year to remind us to pray for our friends, count our blessings, and give with purpose. All proceeds offset their adoption costs. You can hurry up and get one right here

I'm not much for accessorizing. But I do love a great purse. The (ahem) older I get, the more I realize that maybe the Target clearance isn't always going to cut it. I'm a "buy one bag and use it for years" kind of girl, so I've got my eye on one of these bags with an amazing mission. It's the heart beat of our own finances to back and support small businesses, and when there's a business that gives back to the community the way Better Life does, I start to lose the argument with myself over price. So maybe one day soon I'll be carrying one of these.

I got to spend Saturday morning with these lovely ladies and learn all about The Noonday story from the only ambassador local to our area. She drove an hour and a half to share Noonday's passion for empowering men and women to build a life out of poverty.  Coincidentally, we had met in passing before--at Allume where I first heard of Noonday in 2013. Those great earrings I have on and that gorgeous black wrap? All handmade. I'm looking forward to hosting my own show this spring, but in the meantime if you'd like to support this cause with a purchase in time for Christmas we've got an open show that closes at 5 p.m. today. Click the link above our picture for details or message me on email, Facebook, or Twitter.

A subsidiary of Hallmark, DaySpring is a great line of cards and gifts that reflect faith in Christ. In addition to beautiful designs inspired by some of today's bestselling authors, the entire site is on sale in anticipation of giving the message of Christmas with a gift that lasts all year long.
Here are some of my favorite deals.

from: DaySpring Cards Inc

from: DaySpring Cards Inc.

It's my hope that I don't go farther than my laptop and my hometown square for the rest of my Christmas shopping. What's on your get and give list this year?

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Budgeting of Motherhood

Photo Courtesy of MBShaw Photography, 2012
I had a glass of chardonnay and she had some fancy fruit juice concoction and the room buzzed and hummed with the small talk of entrepreneurs and those who fund their dreams. I had on my bargain black ankle pants from Kohl's that I bought to have something cocktail party worthy, and she wore a slick business suit with simple jewelry and plenty of poise. But we sat and whispered together, not about the finances of small business but the budgeting of motherhood.

I felt like that scene out of Lisa Jo's book where she mentions being in the room with all the high-powered three-piece suits but all the other woman wants to talk about is how she handles the most important gig of all and still gets her paying job done.

This woman who is light years ahead of me on the American dream career path told me about her boys and getting dinner on the table and we commiserated over homework while my husband--who holds the same title she does for another company--networked and business carded and advised. She told me how he'd helped answer her questions the other day, and when he was finished talking, she figured she'd just learned enough to make the event worthwhile. It made me proud to hear that. Then just as we wound up the party, she asked him for one more piece of advice about some report they're required to run.

He told her how he gets started on that as soon as budget is finished in December. That he sets staggered deadlines, so by the time January blows in, they're already plugging away at the first third of the process and the rest is a downhill slide into March. (Mostly my words, not his. He used actual trade lingo and acronyms.) But she looked at him, eyes wide with disbelief and said, "But how do you do that with Christmas?"

He didn't have an answer. But I did. I leaned over and reminded her, "He has me. And I stay home."

Her question came from her mother's heart, not her financial officer's brain. A mother knows December entails teacher gifts and chorus concerts and family portraits and extra mail. She knows it's already list after list of goodies and gifts and glory, so why would she add something else to a plate that's already heaped high enough?

It's not that my husband doesn't help make the holidays happen, He does and he's amazing. But his mind isn't forefront with the worries that we haven't chosen an advent tradition or ordered Christmas cards or made the sugar cookie dough well enough in advance. He's never worried about all the little details because he's never had to. Even when I taught, this was my department. Maybe that's because of who I am or maybe it's more generic than that. Maybe it's because of who we all were created to be.

Mothers tend to be in the weeds--to borrow a term from my husband. We wade on in and get stuck in the rushes because we know all the little intricacies that we want to do or need to do or expect to be able to do. We do this regardless of our job status, our marital status, and our previous status.

But we're terrible at budgeting ourselves, at realizing that we all have a capacity and yours shouldn't have to look like mine.

When I chose to stay home, I increased my budget for motherhood. But it took me a long time to realize that where I spend that budget isn't the same as someone else.

I spend a lot of time letting my kids drag inside toys outside so they can pretend to be the orphans from The Boxcar Children. I don't spend a lot of time actually playing this game with them myself.

I spend a lot of time inventing new ways to hide kale and turnips in their food. But I don't spend a lot of time making that food look cute.

I spend a lot of time typing away at my own dreams. I don't, however, spend a lot of time actually listening to theirs. (And I should.)

My motherhood looks different than yours, and different than this woman with whom I sat with and had uninterrupted grown-up conversation. But I learned from her.

It is nothing short of luxury for him and me that I stay home.  That I am able to support my husband with home-cooked meals and leftover lunches. That I don't have to rearrange the schedules of others to accommodate my sick kids. That I don't have to experience the Sunday evening rush that bleeds into Monday morning mania.

I know lots of women love their outside the home jobs. I just wasn't one of them. I wanted to be, but my capacity for motherhood didn't include the job I had and hear me loud and clear--that is okay. And it is okay for you to not be me.

It took me a long time to get here. To see what I do at home as being as valuable as what I once did in my classroom.

I've realized the budgeting of motherhood is about more than how I spend my time or where I spend my days. It is about my honest response in pursuit of being the mother I've been called to be.

Which may not be the same type mom as you. Want to tell me about that in the comments? Have you figured out your capacity? How do you budget motherhood with career and marriage?