Tuesday, January 31, 2012


1 b : the reception of genetic qualities by transmission from parent to offspring

Last week, I was with a group of women when our talk turned to how messy it is to allow our children to feel and own their emotions.  Earlier that day, I had taken B and K to the downtown library right after picking K up from school.  (Mistake #1, as it turned out.)  On our way there, I asked K whether she had finished all of the Boxcar children books.  She hadn't, so I told her I would need her to go with me to the return desk.  (Mistake #2)  While that was fine at the time, upon arriving at the library, K was more than a little dismayed when B got to have the parking ticket validated while we sorted through the returns. (Mistake #3 and, boy, was this a biggie.)  One small thing set off a ten minute sobbing fit from K.

She cried while we returned the books.  She cried while I picked up our books on hold.  She cried while we walked upstairs to the children's section.  She cried while sitting on the tiny green sofa in the children's section.  The girl was feeling a lot of emotion about not getting that ticket validated.

Throughout all of this, I tried to do 2 things: not shame her and not shame myself.  Not shaming her meant not saying unkind things to her, not pointing out that she was making a scene and trying to encourage her to get her emotions under control while not threatening her.  Not shaming myself meant not beating myself up over an ill-timed trip (see mistake #1 above), not losing my temper and setting firm, enforceable consequences.  K left the library without a single library book that afternoon.  She also left without crying.  It took far longer than I would have liked, but she did settle down and read her Boxcar children book.

That night, a friend was sharing how her children get upset over the small things in life (no eggs for breakfast on Monday, scrambled eggs instead of sunny side up on Tuesday) and how it's easy as the parent to be offended by this behavior.  But if we put ourselves in their places for a while, we see how little control they have over their lives and we can then imagine how it might upset us to not get to choose what we have for breakfast.  As a group, we talked about how to let our children express their emotions while trying to minimize the sensory onslaught that their emotions bring.  I don't, by any means, have the answer for how to do this.  I do know this: I am ok with my children feeling - and expressing - anger to me.  That's part of their job as children, isn't it?  To get upset with their parents.  To separate their views of the world from mine.  To articulate when I am doing something that they disagree with.

Here's the thing: I don't want my children's emotional inheritance to be one where they lock up what they feel and don't learn healthy expressions for the whole range of their emotions.  Because I am learning - slowly and as an adult - that you can't really feel joy without letting yourself feel anger.  You can't experience gladness without letting the guilt in.  You must feel all of it to feel any of it.  This isn't easy for me, but it's an area where parenting has pushed me beyond my inadequacies.  It's an area where I am teaching myself when I say to them, "Don't yell.  Tell me what you feel and tell me what you need."

What inheritance do I hope to leave my children?

A love of books

A love of art

The ability to name their thoughts, feelings and desires

An acceptance of people who are not like them

A willingness to listen

A belief in the value of community

The knowledge of how to throw a great party

The ability to cook a tomato tart for a friend

Faith that when they get it all wrong, it will still be OK

I can't know what they'll get and what they'll miss.  I can only keep trying to be a parent who hands down these things as an inheritance.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


: a composition in verse

The poem is not my favorite literary form.  That would be the novel.  Yet during our trip to the library yesterday, I checked out three books of poetry.  Two by Mary Oliver and another that I found on the shelf and just thought looked interesting.  I first heard of Mary Oliver at a silent retreat.  At each retreat, we start our time together with a few readings before we enter into silence.  Once Oliver's poem Praying was one of our readings:

It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

Praying happens to be in Thirst, one of the volumes I found at the library yesterday.  The other volume is Blue Iris, which the one I've chosen to read first.  It's been a lovely journey so far, filled with meditations on nature and lines like "the long work/ of turning their lives/ into celebration/ is not easy" from the poem Sunflowers.  It has made me think and simultaneously calmed my restless, wearied, overburdened mind.

Why did this novel reader choose some books of poetry for company right now?  In part, it was because another recent (non-fiction) read had excerpts of several poems that I thoroughly enjoyed - by Mary Oliver and several other poets.  But it was also because I haven't been able to concentrate enough to read a novel.  I am now 100 pages into one, but while it is thoroughly readable, I am not jumping headlong into it.  Part of me wonders whether this is my spirit reining me in and discouraging me from numbing myself too much with words (as I am prone to do).   So when an idea struck me to spend some time in a book of poetry, I thought the idea might be divinely inspired.

Poetry has lessons I need to learn. 

Lessons about
slowing down,
savoring each word,
visualizing time, place, flowers, trees,
seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary,
and grasping everyday life as the gift it is.

If magazines are fast food, cotton candy reading and novels are healthy entrees, poetry is rich, decadent dessert.  Meant to be taken in small portions and savored.

I don't know whether my time in Mary Oliver's words is meant to teach or comfort me, I just know I am sinking into it and letting her words wash over me.

Black Oaks

Okay, not one can write a symphony, or a dictionary,
   or even a letter to an old friend, full of remembrance
   and comfort.

Not one can manage a single sound, though the blue jays
   carp and whistle all day in the branches, without
   the push of the wind.

But to tell the truth after a while I'm pale with longing
   for their thick bodies ruckled with lichen

and you can't keep me from the woods, from the tonnage
   of their shoulders, and their shining green hair.

Today is a day like any other: twenty-four hours, a
   little sunshine, a little rain.

Listen, says ambition, nervously shifting her weight from
   one boot to another - why don't you get going?

For there I am, in the mossy shadows, under the trees.

And to tell the truth, I don't want to let go of the wrists
   of idleness, I don't want to sell my life for money,
   I don't even want to come in out of the rain.

From Blue Iris: Poems and Essays by Mary Oliver

Monday, January 23, 2012


:the action or an instance of assessing: determining the importance, size, or value of

My daughter B hates the word assessment.  I know this because she told me so not long ago: "Assessment just means test.  I hate that.  They should say test."  So I thought it would be funny to block off part of my girls' schedule for today for assessment purposes.  Instead of testing them, I wanted us to talk about the importance and value of what we're learning.  I wanted us to assess together why we learn - broadly - and why we study the specific subjects that comprise our weekly plan.

While B was upset (read: threw a 10 year old's version of a temper tantrum) when she saw an assessment slot on her daily plan, her mood did improve as we drove out to Long Hunter State Park to walk while we assessed.  This park is lovely.  It's far enough removed from the city that we've seen deer and wild turkeys on past walks, yet it doesn't take us all day to get there and back.  The weather was perfect for our outing - not too cold with loads of sunshine (something we have been sorely lacking in Nashville of late).

On the drive, I offered up the first question, "Why do we learn?"  Both girls jumped right in - and not in the direction I would have expected.  B's immediate response had to do with the fact that learning by individuals is responsible for the advancement of society.  She talked about a person studying science and finding a medicine.  Or someone studying mechanics and inventing a machine.  I found it interesting - and not at all surprising - that this creative child of mine sees learning as a platform for boosting one's creativity.

A took a slightly different approach.  Her response was that we learn now in order to help us later in life.  I asked what that might specifically look like for her.  For example, how might she be at a disadvantage in the future if she stopped learning today?  That prompted a great discussion of how our minds can atrophy just like our muscles if we don't use them regularly.

Before moving on to our next question, I offered my own reason: We learn in order to become more of who God made us to be.  I think he means for us to use our time here learning so that we can help others (like B said) and find vocation and passion for ourselves (as A mentioned).

We then moved on to "What's good about learning?  What do you like about it?"  Both responded that learning is fun (with B seeing the added bonus that sometimes learning lets you show off a bit - that might require a follow-up conversation...) and I heartily agreed.  I told them that I've always loved learning and that I like it still.  We talked about how homeschooling lets me not only teach them, but continue to learn.  I told them that everyone has some gaps in their learning and that I love the chance to fill in some of my own gaps as an adult.

The final question was "What's bad about learning?"  A talked about how sometimes learning was time-consuming and could take her away from something she'd rather be doing.  This was to be a theme throughout the day as we worked through these three questions subject by subject.  I don't remember B's response to this question, in part because our conversation took a completely unplanned turn when I said that I think one bad thing about learning can be that once you learn something, you can't un-know it.  And that might be preferable with some things - like the Holocaust.  This prompted a full discussion of what caused the Holocaust and how people let it happen.  It was fun (if I can use that word when referring to the Holocaust) to have A jump in as I explained how WWI set up WWII.  That eldest daughter of mine knows and understands history.

Once we arrived at the state park, we walked through these same three questions about every subject we study.  I won't bore you with their individual answers, but my main take away is that they are very clear on why we are learning what we're learning.  There wasn't a single subject (even the dreaded grammar) that they thought is useless.  Instead, they were quick to offer reasons for studying everything from history to Latin to the Bible.  That doesn't mean they like everything.  I heard more than once that a subject could be boring and that it could take time away from other things they enjoy more.  But I was encouraged to hear them talk about learning, to see their minds click into the why behind the lessons, to just walk alongside them in the sun and discuss something very near and dear to my heart.

My daughters are in a stage (a stage that I fear is here to stay) where they fight/bicker/argue a lot.  I used our assessment day to talk about this, too.  I asked why God puts us in families and then what are the good things and what are the bad things.  They see our family as a place of support and fellowship ("So you won't be lonely," B said) and they were quick to expound on the good things.  I offered my own opinion that one reason for siblings is to learn conflict resolution.  They have sisters so that they can learn to live with someone who thinks and feels differently than they do.  I admitted to them that their fighting tires me.  We talked about trying to not respond in kind when a sister uses a sharp tone of voice.  I have no illusions that their behavior will change overnight.  Maybe it won't change at all.  But I think the advantage of conversations like the ones we had today is that it helps you keep perspective.

I thought before today that our school year is going well.  I know after today that my student-daughters would agree with me.  I thought before today that siblings just fight - it's part of what they do.  I know now that my daughters see the value in having sisters, even if the benefits get hazy in the fog of their own selfishness.

B may not like the word assessment, but by mid-day, she was declaring this one of the best days of her life.  We didn't get a history lesson in.  Grammar sat waiting on the shelf.  No Latin was spoken.  But it was a great day of learning.  And a great day.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


: to long or hope for : exhibit or feel desire (conscious impulse toward something that promises enjoyment or satisfaction in its attainment)

Sometimes God just wants to talk to me about something.  I shudder to think how many of these conversations I may have missed over the years, but I am listening now.  Two weeks ago, my reading for the day was Psalm 20, verse 4.  It's not long: "May he grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans!"  It might seem simple enough to you.  It did to me, too, at first.  My first impulse was to pray this verse for someone else, but as I started to do that, I heard a quiet whisper, "This is about you, not someone else."

I paused.  OK.  The desires of my heart.  I'll pray for those.  Long pause.  What might those be?  It almost felt like I was speaking another language.  My brain could not comprehend this string of words.  Or maybe it was that my heart couldn't comprehend.  I didn't journal much that day.  I just sat with the fact that I didn't know the desires of my heart.

After a few days, I asked J whether he knew the desires of his heart.  Without hesitation, he named two or three things.  As he named each one, I nodded along and my heart stirred in recognition.  Yes, I'd seen those desires in him.  By the end of our conversation, he'd named roughly a half-dozen desires.  I was tempted to ask J what he thinks the desires of my heart are.  But that quiet voice reminded me that letting others define me was probably part of what got me here - here being a woman with nearly four decades lived and a heart seemingly empty of desire.  Asking someone else the desires of my heart was not the way to go.  I'd have to figure this out on my own.

I tried using collage to help me figure out the desires of my heart.  Two things pretty quickly bubbled to the surface during that exercise.  I want to write and I want to create.  What I create doesn't always matter - collage is a current favorite, but I think the main thing is for me to use my hands to make something.  Whether that thing is tomato tart, a card for a friend or a journal cover, the point is the creating.  It satisfies me.  The writing?  I don't just mean this blog.  My heart desires the writing of a book.  And a little exploration of my heart let me see that I've bundled this desire up because it competes with another desire: my desire to homeschool - or do some form of work that is fulfilling. 

I am not, and never have been, motivated well by money (much to the chagrin and bewilderment of a former boss).  What does motivate me is sharing what I know, learning new and interesting things and seeing that my efforts directly benefit people.  Homeschooling satisfies not only those desires, but a desire to know and understand my children well.  I think my job as a parent is not to define who my children are, but to discover who they are and defend that to the world at large.

As I worked on my (still incomplete, unglued) collage, I got an image of the desires of my heart.  They were in the back of the closet, wrapped in heavy canvas, crisscrossed with leather straps.  With some prompting, I tried pulling those desires to the center of the closet, where I could see the package a bit more clearly.  There are layers of desires here, that much is clear.  How many - and how long they've been buried - I can't yet say.  But I finally see that they are there.

Having seen that I have desires, I've begun to see that God has been fulfilling my desires even when I didn't know it.  As I ran this morning, I realized this is one such desire.  I am not a particularly talented or gifted runner - far from it.  But it's the one form of exercise that feeds my body and soul.  Running clears my mind, it promotes positive self-talk instead of negative and it makes me aware of my body.  In the time after my leg surgery in 2010, I missed running.  Not at first, of course.  I could barely walk from one room to another.  But the longing was there.  I would see people running and my heart would ache.  I know now that this ache was desire.

For part of this journey I've been on, I wondered whether I even had desires, so discovering that they exist - and I've buried them in canvas and straps - brought forth new questions.  Why did I start hiding my desires in the closet in the first place?  Are those first hidden desires still there?  Why am I afraid of desiring?  Do I think the disappointment will be too much for me?  Do I fear conflict with J if our desires don't match?  Am I afraid that knowing my desires and acknowledging them to myself will make me more attractive, more radiant?  I'm still unpacking and attempting to answer some of these questions, so I don't have answers for you other than to say that I think the very fact that I am asking these particular questions indicates that many of the answers will be affirmative.

I finished a book today that was a perfect January companion.  It was thought provoking, encouraging and challenging.  It was the kind of book that makes you think about where you've been, where you are, where you're going.  A chapter that I read today talked about desire lines.  These are the paths you see that cut across the grass in a park.  Not the nice, neat, orderly paved paths.  These are the ones that show where people actually go.  If I could look at my life up to this point, where would my desire lines point me?  What have I been ambling toward, circling or walking through for years without seeing?  Where have I been going?

Since this post has contained so many questions, let's end with a few.  What are your desires?  Do you know them well?  Do you take them out of their containers every once and a while to polish them and then put them back on the shelf?  Or do you carry them around in your pocket, on a piece of well-worn, oft-folded paper to remind you of who you are and what you want most? 

Finally, my biggest question for both you and I: does knowing and pursuing the desires of our heart make us selfish? Or does it make us more fully who God made us to be?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


: the first month of the Gregorian calendar; from Janus: a Roman god that is identified with doors, gates, and all beginnings and that is depicted with two opposite faces

January is for recalibrating.  It is for returning to regular life after the excitement, sugar, reflection, and gift-giving of Advent.  It is for asking why we do what we do.  And whether we should keep doing it.

January is for beginning anew.  For starting anatomy instead of continuing with a dry astronomy text.  For choosing one running route and sticking to it until I can run the entire thing without walking.  For reading intentionally - whether it be a non-fiction book or a classic.

January is for listening.  To God.  To my body.  To my heart.

January is for continuing to listen when one of the three voices above seem silent.  There are things to be learned in the silence.  Silence does not mean there is nothing to be heard.

January is for looking back.  What things am I glad to leave in 2011?  What memories will I treasure?  Where did I go wrong?  Where am I headed in the right direction?

January is for looking forward.  What do I hope to continue in 2012?  Where are we going academically?  How is what we're learning impacting our daily lives?  Isn't that why we learn?

January is for planning.  How much vacation time does J have?  How do we want to spend it?  Spring break is when?  Am I willing to miss Holy Week for a trip to Philadelphia?  Should the Philly trip wait until May?  Can I go on two silent retreats or should I limit myself to one?  Is two selfish?

January is for starting slow.  I need to remember that when my mind gets carried away with planning questions.  This month has brought three four-day weeks in a row.  I'm trying to see that as blessing, not curse.  We've started our school year slow.  My plans for each day have been achieved easily and without nagging from me or groaning from the girls.  Does that mean I'm asking too little or that we've hit our groove?

January is for remembering.  Remembering that last January is when I finally felt like I had a tiny idea of how to best homeschool.  (I'm a slow learner.)  This month is for remembering that what I do best as a homeschooler - and parent, perhaps - is listening to my children and following their lead.  They have within them kernels of who they will be as adults.  I want to weed, water and tend them so that they can bloom. 

January is for remembering.  For remembering the magi who followed a star, the God who took on flesh, the extraordinary who became ordinary.

January is for being open to new possibilities.

May this month bring you all this and more.

Friday, January 13, 2012


: not expected : unforeseen

Raindrops giving way to snowflakes.

Ballet canceled.

Hot chocolate for after school snack.

Three girls + one mom = four books, four blankets.

Two episodes of Ruby Gloom on a weekday.

I love snow days even when the snow doesn't really amount to much.  At bedtime last night, I thought there was no way school would be canceled today.  I went to bed thankful for the snow afternoon described above, resigned to making the cold trip to take K to school this morning.  When J finished his shower, I climbed out of bed, pulled on yoga pants and a sweatshirt and plodded downstairs.  I looked out the window to confirm: no snow.  Then I saw an e-mail that mentioned school was canceled today.  Really?

I found the home phone (helpfully left on the charger well out of earshot from our bedroom).  Yep.  A call had come through.  Checked the MNPS website?  Confirmed.  No school.

Instead of lamenting the fact that I was out of bed, when I could still be snuggled up with my current book, I told the girls they could have cereal for breakfast (normally a weekend treat).  I made myself a cup of hot chocolate and sat down to read a friend's blog.  Her post, conveniently enough, was about Valentine's crafts.  So now I know what we'll be doing today (between books, recorded episodes of The Next Iron Chef, and a math lesson to keep us on track).  We'll snuggle in, pull out the craft paper, the new stamp pad I bought last week, the scissors and the glue and play together for a while.

I love the unexpected gift of a snow day - even when I don't get snow to go along with it.

Here's hoping your day brings unexpected gifts and that you receive them with open hands and willing hearts.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


3 a (1) : a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something (2) : an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking (3) : an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure

I had a small epiphany today - apt, during this season of Epiphany.  My realization didn't hit me with a bolt of lightning.  It was more like a seed that planted itself in my mind, burrowed in, was watered and fed over the course of a drive home and bloomed before my very eyes.

The day started much like any other.  After getting K to her classroom, I headed home and found A and B already at work on their daily plan.  Thankfully, this is not an uncommon occurrence.  We consistently get more work done in the morning hours, when we're fresh.  If the work is done in our pajamas, no one minds.  It's still good work. 

Before 9:00, A and B had wrapped up their independent work and we moved into our math lesson (prime factorization, for those of you who are curious about such things).  By 11:00, a Psalm had been read, numbers had been factored, anatomy had been started, a folk tale analyzed.  All that remained was for literature to be read.  I encouraged A to hop into the shower and told the girls I would take them to the library and then to Chick-Fil-A for lunch.  That's a treat around here.  Most weekdays, we eat lunch right here at home.  So A showered, I laundered clothes and B factored a bit more via Khan Academy.

After our lunch outing, they accompanied me to a dentist appointment.  They split their time there between playing on J's iPad and reading their books.  I set a timer for A, who got the iPad on the first shift.  When it went off, she was to hand it over to B.  The appointment took a bit longer than I'd anticipated, so B ended up playing for 12 minutes longer than A had.  (Don't you love how precise children are?  It was exactly 12 minutes longer, they both assured me.)  I had expected this since I didn't set a second timer.  And as a mom, I'd already planned a solution - A could play during the drive home.  What I hadn't planned on was to be greeted by their fierce discussion when I came into the waiting room.
As we walked to the van, B muttered in frustration, "A is mad at me."  "I'm not mad at you.  I just don't want to play without asking," A nearly spat back.  As it turned out, B realized she had played for longer than A, so she tried to give A the iPad back to equalize things.  But my rule-following firstborn didn't want to play an extra 12 minutes without checking first.  We had a short discussion about it before the drive home.  I don't really remember what I said, just that A ended up playing on the drive home.

As we drove home, it occurred to me how typical this was of each of my daughters.  B hadn't really done anything wrong.  She's a ten year old girl who has limited screen time.  Who could blame her for losing track of time and playing a little longer than her allotted 20 minutes?  A likes clear expectations - and fulfilling those expectations.  I told her she could play for 20 minutes and she wasn't going to play for one minute more without asking first.  Yet they could each learn so much from the other.

So as we pulled into the driveway, I turned off the van and faced them.  "Let's talk for a minute before we go inside," I said.  Both girls looked a bit wary.  "B, did you do anything wrong when you played for a few extra minutes on the iPad?"  "No," she immediately replied, "I didn't do it on purpose, so it wasn't wrong.  It was an accident."  I turned to A.  "Did B do anything wrong?"  Slight hesitation, then "No.

We then talked about how B knew whether she had done anything wrong.  She is a strong child - inside and out - and she has a very clear sense of right and wrong, regardless of whether she's been told to do or not do something.  She didn't need me to tell her it was OK.  She knew where her heart had been in the moment and that was enough for her.

A, on the other hand, wants things set out very clearly before her.  Give her a rule and she will do her best to follow it.  This is a lovely trait in a two year old and a terrifying one in a twelve year old.  As I explained to her, she must begin to decide for herself between right and wrong - without asking someone else.  She can watch her younger sister to see this in action and hopefully learn from her.

And what can B learn from A?  I asked her this and she replied with a bit of a smile, "To sometimes follow the rules?"  Well, yes.  And to realize that not everyone has such a strong barometer - or the same barometer of right and wrong - as  her own.  There is far more gray in the world than B sees with her black and white vision.  A is more moderate, more accepting of others who see and do things differently - B can learn from this.

I'm not a parent who revels in confronting my children with their weaknesses.  I hate conflict.  Even conflict with my children.  While this could have turned me into a terrible, permissive, weak parent, God has spared me that.  Today, I was able to take one minor incident and show them how the way they reacted was a reflection of who they are and how God made them.  They listened.  They heard me.  I think they even knew, acknowledged and agreed with the areas where I suggested they should grow.  It won't happen overnight.  Or maybe ever.  But I am thankful to have seen for a moment a glimpse of the source of their behaviors and to have offered some words to help them see themselves more clearly.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


1 a : to lose the remembrance of : be unable to think of or recall

I keep forgetting who I am.

About four months ago, my bible study group (we call ourselves the Ish girls) began studying the Enneagram via Richard Rohr's book and audio CDs.  I took online tests - the short free one and the longer one that cost a bit.  Both said 9.  A friend who knew more about this than I suggested reading the chapter in the book about your number after taking the test.  If the chapter resonated with you, you'd know you had found your number.  I read the chapter.  Definitely a 9.

The beauty of the Enneagram as opposed to some other tests like Myers Briggs or DISC is that it helps you see how your greatest strength is also your strongest weakness.  As Richard Rohr explains, our favorite sin becomes our favorite because we are so very good at it and it serves us well for much of our life.  For a 9, this root or favorite sin is laziness or acedia

Since learning this, I've looked for this sin in my life and tried to avoid it.  I should have known better.  Rohr makes it clear that the only way we can fight our root sin is with our root sin.  It's the biggest weapon in our arsenal.  The only way to be truly transformed is to see who you are, open it up to God and let him change you.  Because you'll never be able to change yourself.

Yet I've tried.

I've resisted my body's desire for rest in a time of grief.  I've berated myself for not doing a better job of maintaining our home during a busy time of the year.  I've seen my desire for quiet time as selfish.  And this last one is where things start getting really dangerous.  Because my desire - dare I say need? - for quiet time alone with God is a core part of who I am.  And when I start denying that - or shaming myself for that need, it is a very short drive to feeling completely lost.

I've gone so far as to say to my spiritual director, "I'm not sure when to be gentle with myself and when to be firm with myself.  Maybe a 9 doesn't need gentleness."  The sternest I have ever seen her was when she asked me whether Jesus is firm or gentle with me.  Even so, I left her house and continued to be firm, not gentle, with myself.

I have continued to find time to do my daily readings from the Ignatian prayer cycle, but I've shamed myself for this and made it into something I have to do, instead of letting myself rest in it, soak it up and leave refreshed.  It has become one more thing to make sure I get done every day.  One more way to pass or fail, not a way to simply live.

Sunday our church celebrated Epiphany with a Christmas tree bonfire and chili cook-off.  It was great fun - relaxed, communal, friendly.  Prior to the event, I'd read about an Epiphany tradition of writing down a sin you want to let go of in the coming year and throwing it into the bonfire.  I mentioned this to J Sunday afternoon before we headed to the church.  I'd left it until the last minute, but wondered whether we could each write down a sin and tie it to our Christmas tree that he'd just loaded on the top of the car to take for the bonfire.  "Honey," he said, "that's a great idea, but unless you want your sin blown away by the wind, you might want to think of another way.  There's no way it would make it tied to the tree all the way to St. B's."

I tabled the idea, until right before the bonfire was to begin.  I still wanted to do this.  It seemed so beautifully symbolic to me and I liked the idea of my sin burning away.  So I tore off part of the sign I'd used to label my Chorizo and Black Bean Chili and asked B whether she wanted to do this with me.  Surprisingly, this most-resistant-to-all-things-church daughter of mine agreed.  We each wrote down a sin and took it out to the bonfire with us.  It quickly became clear that we were not going to be able to get close enough to throw the paper into the fire.  If you've never witnessed it, dried out fir trees go up in flames quickly.  (Water your trees, people.  I saw clearly what fire hazards these things are.)  We decided instead to use a branch to stab our paper, holding it onto a tree that was then added to the blaze.

I saw one of our sheets of paper attached to a tree as it went into the fire.  I don't know whether it was mine or B's, but I'm hoping it was mine and that it burned right to ash.  Because in some ways forgetting who I think I am is crucial to becoming who I really am.  This means being willing to let go of sins that are so much a part of me that I don't even know they are sin.

A few months ago, one of the Ish girls shared that she'd been really aware lately of her sinful tendency to think she is not enough.  She gave some examples and I listened thoughtfully as she openly shared about her struggle.  I have been pondering her words for months because the first thought that popped into my head when she spoke was, "Is that a sin?"  It's something I should ponder because thinking I am not enough is not a fleeting idea for me, it's a state of being.  I believe this is not uncommon for 9s.  I get a daily thought for 9s with tips, pointers and recommendations on ways to be more aware of what it means to be a 9.  Some days are more convicting than others.  Here's a recent one:

Today, notice if you are playing the role of "Nobody Special" or the "Invisible One"—the modest person content to stay in the background. Do you really think that holding back your presence, opinions, and involvement will have no consequences on yourself and others?

Ouch.  Yes, I have long believed that holding back my presence and opinion will have no consequence whatsoever.  So what I threw into the fire and want to let go of this year is the idea - no, the firmly held belief - that I am not enough, not valuable, not worth it.

I do keep forgetting who I am.  In bad ways, of late.  But there is value to forgetting who I think I am if that will free me to be who I was made to be.  Especially if that will free me to be radiant, without fear of what that might mean.

Friday, January 6, 2012


: the end of the week; specifically : the period between the close of one work or school week and the start of the next

Weekends used to be about sipping coffee on Saturday mornings at a bagel shop, my warm cup in one hand, my book in another.  Weekends were about catching up with my husband, catching a movie and catching up on the laundry.  Weekends were about sleeping late and breathing deeply.

Then I had three children.

Then said children miraculously turned the ages of 7, 10 and 12.

Weekends are an entirely different ballgame now.

Let's just use this weekend as an example:

Friday Night:
Birthday party for K's friend

Birthday Party for A:
  • Super Commando Game Night at church
  • Sweet Cece's for dessert
  • Sleepover with Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone for their viewing pleasure.  

Pick up for A's sleepover at 9 AM.
Ballet parent meeting at 9 AM.  (It's a good thing we have two parents around here.)
K's ballet class ends at 10:30.
A's ballet class ends at 12:00.
B's basketball game starts at 2:00.
The rest of the day, blessedly, is free.  (Unfortunately, J is missing Vanderbilt's SEC season opener because it conflicted with B's ball game.  We can't do everything.)

Attend church, serving as lay reader during first service.
Come home.
Make lunch.
Make chili for Epiphany Chili Cook Off.
Load Christmas tree onto the top of the van to drop it off at the church for the Epiphany bonfire.
Attend cook off and bonfire.
Fall into bed.

While I'm using this weekend as an example, I should confess it's not actually a terribly busy one.  There's nothing Saturday evening.  B hasn't started her Sunday evening choir rehearsals.  I may even get a load of laundry or two done on Saturday (since that did not happen today).

I've definitely traded in the slow mornings with coffee and book for up and at 'em and carpooling.  You know what?  It's a better than equal trade.  I'm thankful for it.  After all, I get to live my life with these four:

Thursday, January 5, 2012


:age of my eldest daughter, as of today

Twelve years ago today, I was in labor for the first time.  It was the day after Florida State beat Virginia Tech in the BCS championship game.  I remember this because I was tired and went to bed early.  J stayed up to watch the game.  I kept waking up (from contractions, it turns out) and I wandered out from the bedroom to ask J, "Are you coming to bed soon?"  Somewhat exasperated after this happened two or three times, he said, "Yes! When the game is over!  What are you doing up anyway?"  Finally, around 2 AM I woke up to pain in my lower abdomen and had the wisdom to stay awake and see if I might be having contractions.  I was.  Three minutes apart.  Like clockwork.  J didn't get much sleep that night.  A was born about ten hours after I finally realized I was having contractions.

It's hard to believe I've been a mother for a dozen years, but there's no denying it.  Not because I've suddenly figured out how to be a wise, confident and effective parent, but because A is undeniably 12.  Her body shows it.  Her mind shows it.  Her eyes that roll at her father and I when we try to be funny show it.  Definitely 12.

For this year's blog celebration of her, I thought I'd share 12 of my A's favorite things.  You can always tell a lot about someone by the things they love.  Here's some insight into my twelve year old based on what she loves:

Favorite Drink: Water.  Don't offer her juice or milk or fruit punch.  She might have the occasional Sprite or Coke, but well over 90% of what she drinks is water.  She knows what her body likes.  Simple, straightforward, readily-available water.

Favorite Singer: Taylor Swift.  As I mentioned, she's a 12 year old girl.  Surely this entry surprises no one.

Favorite Sister: The one in the other room.  A enjoys her space and is not generally argumentative.  She fights equally with B or K - but far less than the other two fight with each other.  If you leave her alone, she'll leave you alone.  (Which is why she likes her sisters best when they're in the other room.)

Favorite Spot: Curled up in a chair, reading.

Favorite Friends:

From last year's ice skating birthday.  These friends are still her favorites.
Favorite Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner: anything from a restaurant.  For a girl whose mom likes to cook, A is one girl who loves to eat out.  Want her to feel special?  Offer to take her to Sweet 16th for breakfast.  Or Provence for lunch.  Or Zoe's for dinner.  Or Jeni's for dessert.  She likes to eat out.

Favorite Book: the one in her hands.  A reads a lot.  She doesn't keep track of every book she reads, but I think an conservative estimate is that she averages 7 to 10 books weekly.  She definitely reads more than 10 books during a vacation week and she might slip below 7 during Nutcracker or recital week, but the girl likes her books. (Which suits her father and I just fine.  We merely watch her with envy and ponder giving her more chores, for she surely has too much time on her hands if she can read this much.)

Favorite TV show: I started to write about Princess Tutu, a recent Netflix find that offers ballet, manga-style.  Then I realized nothing tops So You Think You Can Dance.  This show is a favorite of our entire family, but we started watching it for A.  It has exposed her to many different styles of dance and unlike Dancing with the Stars, the costumes are generally rated PG, not R.  She will often hear a song on the radio and say, "Oh! Tad and Lauren danced to this.  Remember?"  Only she's the sole member of the family who can remember every routine she's watched over the last three seasons.  It's amazing how good her memory can be about the things she likes!

Favorite Color: Green.  Not sure why, but there you have it.

Favorite Way to Earn Cash: Babysitting.  Not that she's actually had any babysitting gigs yet, but this girl is a natural born babysitter.  She loves her younger cousins and wants to hold the baby the entire time we're visiting.  Today at our homeschool group gathering, she spent as much time smiling at a 15 month old as she did chatting with her friends.  I see a calendar in her future packed with weekend babysitting gigs.

Favorite Time to Arrive: Early.  This child hates to be late.  And I do mean hates.  One Saturday last year, I misunderstood and thought her ballet class was canceled.  The teacher called me about 10 minutes after class was scheduled to start and asked if A was coming.  I told A to get dressed and we sped over to the studio.  A was a wreck the entire time, despite the fact that her teacher knew it was my mistake.  She truly detests being late. She gets this from her father.

Favorite Thing to Do: Dance.  And I think she was born to do it.  A is not an extrovert.  She's not a girl that you meet and think, "Wow. I best she loves being on stage."  So I asked her one time whether she likes to dance in front of people.  She paused to think, then shrugged.  "Well, yeah.  That's how you do it."  It brings her joy and her joy is so clear to the audience that I think it brings them joy as well.  It certainly brings me joy to see her doing something she loves and doing it to the best of her ability.

My favorite picture of A from her 11th year of life
Happy Birthday, A.  I look forward to seeing you grow into a name that is so apt for you.  You are graceful and gracious.  It is sheer grace to parent you.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


: not adequate : insufficient ; also 
: not capable 

My daughters are in a stage where they fight.  A lot.  Maybe this isn't really surprising.  Maybe you're thinking, "Oh, my children fight all the time.  Her children can't possibly be as bad as mine."  Or, "Poor thing.  My children love to be together.  I wonder what she's doing wrong.

Tonight as I was preparing to load all three girls into the van for B's basketball practice, a fight broke out between B and K.  I don't remember what the fight was about.  What I do remember is J taking me by the shoulders and saying, "You can do this."  I think he meant both that I could handle taking them to the practice alone and that I could handle parenting them through this age of constant conflict.  Yet here's how I feel: inadequate.

How can a woman who devotes large amounts of energy to avoid conflict help her children negotiate sibling relationships?  Because sibling relationships are about lots of things, chief among them: conflict and conflict resolution.

I don't think my daughters are really all that unusual in the way they fight and the things they fight about.  I don't have any sisters, but I remember taunting, provoking and being generally unkind to my brother (two years my junior).  What I don't remember is actually learning from all of that conflict. 

As an adult, I've certainly learned some ways to deal with conflict (otherwise I'm pretty sure I wouldn't still be married).  My favorite method?  Pretend nothing's wrong and hope it will go away.  When that fails, try to see the other person's side and hope that makes me feel better.  If absolutely necessary, state my side and brace myself for the other person to be angry with me.  

The problems with teaching any of my children these methods are manifold.  But the bottom line is that I don't want to teach my children my own techniques for conflict.  I'd like for them to be far better at facing and dealing with conflict than I am.  

Yet a mother with inadequate conflict resolution skills is all my girls have.  And I can't help but think that's part of God's grand design.

I think, in fact, that being less than perfect is a prerequisite for being a parent.  Marriage has done a lot to make me into a better and truer version of myself, but parenting is truly transformative.  Parenting shows me my inadequacies, my failures, my unabashed need for God.  

Perhaps I have it completely backwards to bemoan my inadequacies.  At least when I know I struggle in an area, I work harder to compensate for that in my parenting.  With some regularity, I tell my daughters, "Tell your sister how you feel.  Then tell her what you need.  Don't yell.  Don't whine.  Just how you feel and what you need."  It's advice I could stand to take.  Until reading a book on emotions a year or so ago, I didn't actually understand that it was OK for me to have needs.  So actually stating aloud what I need is a huge step.  I know that I am willing to go along to get along instead of standing up for what I think and believe, so I encourage my daughters to speak their minds - even when I don't agree with what they think.

Maybe it's the areas of my parenting where I think I am capable that I fail my daughters the most, because I'm relying on my own strength and not God's.  I think I'm letting them each be who they were designed to be, but one day they may tell me they wish I had pushed a little harder in one direction or another.  I think I'm giving them freedom, but they may wish I'd forced a few more issues.  Maybe they will one day wish I had fed them more meals from boxes instead of from scratch... ok, that one's probably not going to happen.  But I do think the areas where I feel weakest as a mother are the ones where I work the hardest and seek God's wisdom the most consistently.  They're also the areas where I am growing the most as a person because I am a parent.

Parents tend to think it's their job to teach their children all about life.  And it is.  But I think we often miss out on the other end of the equation.  We're meant to learn from them, especially in the areas where we are inadequate.  I think our children teach us how to live, if only we'll let them.

Monday, January 2, 2012


1 a : radiating rays or reflecting beams of light
  b : vividly bright and shining : glowing
2 : marked by or expressive of love, confidence, or happiness

Since 2010, I've chosen (or been given) a word for the year.  In 2010, it was change.  2011's word was unfurl.  For 2012: radiant.  So far, I have seen and experienced these words in ways both anticipated and unanticipated.  2010 definitely brought changes - some I had planned and some that caught me by surprise.  And I learned a great deal about unfurling over the course of 2011.  The image of an unfurled flag snapping about in the wind scared me off and on throughout the year, but I gradually learned to see the word as also being about a slow opening and revealing of my true self.  It's a word of exposure, to be sure, but I learned to trust that there were times when I should be willing to be vulnerable and open and seen.  Perhaps that experience is what has made me willing to accept radiant as the word for 2012.

I'm not someone who particularly enjoys attention.  While I will share my opinion with you if you want it, I won't force it on you.  I don't enter a room and expect - or want - all eyes on me.  I'm far more comfortable blending in than standing out.  So radiant?  That's a bit of a scary word.  Things and people that are radiant are noticeable and noteworthy.  Is this really a word for me?  Yet as I've prayed about it, the word has been clear.  And I know it's not a word I would have chosen for myself, so I'm trusting that this could only be a divinely inspired word.

I've felt that radiant was the 2012 word for several weeks now.  I've continued to pray (and perhaps even hope) for another word.  But radiant is the clear response and I am already noticing things that help me see this word differently.  This passage from Amy Carmichael was in a mid-December daily reading in Celtic Daily Prayer:

A pilgrim looked at the reflection of a mountain in still water.  It was the reflection that first caught his attention.

But presently he raised his eyes to the mountain.  Reflect Me, said his Father to him, then others will look at you.  Then they will look up, and see Me.  And the stiller the water the more perfect the reflection.

Maybe this passage doesn't immediately call the word radiant to mind for you, but it did for me.  I think being radiant - what we radiate - is all about what we take in.  If I spend time looking at God, you'll see that when you see me.  If I spend time absorbing the things of this world, that's what will radiate from me - from my countenance, my thoughts, my words.  What I radiate is, in large part, about where I fix my gaze.

This is one reason I've decided to deactivate my Facebook account.  I spend far too much time reading about what's going on in the lives of my friends instead of living my own life.  I'm a bit sad about this decision, even while I feel it's the right thing.  Facebook has been a great way for me to reconnect with friends from high school, college and other parts of my life.  But I have a feeling that simplifying my life and limiting the things that take my time and attention will be key to being radiant in a way that is expressive of love, confidence and happiness.

What comes to your mind when you hear the word radiant?  My strongest mental image is of how it feels to have my face warmed in the sun.  I think of the benediction "May God's face shine upon you..." 

That's what I want for 2012: to stand with my hands open and my face upturned, receiving what God offers and offering that back to others.