Category Archives: Thoughts

The I Do Chronicles {Part 6}: The Kindness Effect

Hey guys! Welcome to Part 6 of…

I do chronicle

If you’d like to see other posts in the I Do Chronicles, you can here.

Y’all have heard of the butterfly effect, right? About how a butterfly can flap its wings in Arizona and end up causing a tsunami in Japan? Or…something like that.

Well, I’m here to tell you that there is something we can all do, starting right this second, that will have just as powerful a ripple effect in our marriages.

For lack of a better term, I’m calling it the kindness effect.

I’ve seen it over and over again, but I’m all too quick to forget how amazing it is. Which is a real shame because it blesses my marriage so much every time I do remember.

Let me explain…

Last week, Shaun turned 35. His birthday was on a Saturday so I got the brilliant idea that I would do something special for him each day of his “birthday week.”

Day 1 was a mug of ho-cho with homemade whipped cream and a (hilariously large) tag with a love note.

hocho

Day 2 was a special (but quick and easy) lunch.

Day 3 were those Levain Bakery Knockoff Cookies.

I honestly can’t really even remember Days 4 and 5 (although I’m sure they were food related; you’ve heard about men and the way to their hearts, yes?).

Day 5 was his favorite crusted steaks (which he requests for any special occasion) and the Pioneer Woman’s blackberry cobbler (so easy and soooooooooo good!) + Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream.

Day 6 (his actual birthday) was a continuation of the food theme with leftover cobbler and a rosemary + veggie frittata (I used this recipe as my base but mostly just made it up as I went) for breakfast.

frittata

Did you notice what else was in that picture, though?

Yup, tulips.

And, no, I didn’t buy those for him. Because you can’t eat tulips (duh).

He had brought them home as a surprise at lunchtime the day before, along with an ice cold Diet DP (not my proudest moment to admit that I like/drink them, but I do…although, we are both swearing off sodas until Easter, so I guess I don’t anymore).

Not only that, but he had surprised me with a fun new game as a present a couple of days before that. (Anybody want to come play Hollywood Game Night with us?)

I don’t want to take credit where it isn’t due, but the best I could tell, even though it wasn’t my birthday week, he was responding to my efforts to make him feel special by doing the same for me.

Regardless of the reason for his efforts, I do know this: kindness begets kindness.

I definitely found this to be true the last time I did The 30 Day Husband Encouragement Challenge. Each time I complimented and built him up, he returned the favor, even if only by being in an exceptionally great mood for the rest of the day.

Last night, I came home to dinner on the table, a completely picked up house, a clean kitchen, and a load of laundry running, after the kids and I had left things less than super-tidy as we ran out the door for my class at the gym.

I had been dreading diving into the laundry pile and sweeping again at 8 PM. So to come home to a neat house was…heavenly.

So, this morning, I made him a breakfast sandwich as a thank you. I make them often, but I was feeling pretty bleary-eyed and unmotivated to cook after Nola woke me up at 6 (after I’d fed the baby at 4:30).  Still, I wanted him to know how much I appreciated his efforts from the night before, so I started scrambling eggs and cooking bacon all the same.

The way his eyes lit up when I brought it to him in his office made the (admittedly small) effort more than worth it.

See? Kindness begets more kindness.

Not only that, but kindness to your spouse is a surefire way of preaching the gospel. And not just to him.

You know that hymn, “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love?”

I think we often assume that means our love for the world. But the inspiration for that hymn is John 13:35, in which Jesus says, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

After all, why would a non-Christian believe for a second that our love for them is genuine if we aren’t kind to our own husbands?

I work with a teacher at the gym–we’ll call her Cindy–who, as far as I can tell, has a fabulous relationship with her husband. He comes to class with her sometimes, and all you have to do is watch them for five minutes to see that they not only love each other but they genuinely like each other too. It’s pretty rad.

The other day, all of our BODYPUMP instructors were practicing for a “launch” (when we teach new music and choreography together), and one of the instructors suddenly said in a scandalized voice as she was starting the music on Cindy’s phone: “Is this a picture of your husband’s abs??”

Cindy was mortified. But I love what she said: “Man! I didn’t think about anyone else seeing it. But here’s the thing. I like my husband. And I like my husband’s abs. And I don’t look at other men. I’m only interested in him. So, I put a picture of him on my phone.”

So, there you go. No wonder they have 4 kids. ;)

I didn’t think she had anything to be embarrassed about. In fact, I thought it was all kinds of awesome. Her admiration/appreciation for her own husband were a kindness to him, a testimony of their love, and a huge encouragement to me to appreciate and celebrate my own husband more.

And I guarantee you I’m not the only who’s noticed.

Matthew 5:16 says: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

I want that kind of marriage. The kind that shines so brightly that others praise God because of it.

I want to be the kind of wife who “does him good and not harm all the days of her life.”

Of course, it won’t happen by accident. It takes a lot more intentionality than I’m really keen to part with most days, if I’m completely honest. And yet, it’s so, so worth it when I do.

The thing is, I know not all of us have husbands who make being kind to them easy. And I’m definitely not advocating acts of kindness with the expectation of receiving kindness in return.

And yet. In combination with fervent prayer, I firmly believe it will come. Not necessarily quickly or in the form of gifts or acts of service (although All The Praise Hands for those for sure). Maybe it will be in the softening of a heart. In the subtle changing of an attitude. In the reciprocation of affection. In a gentler word than usual.

Note: I believe there are situations when people are so willfully degenerate that they have hardened their hearts to the effect of kindness. I still believe it can produce “better” behavior on their part (at least temporarily) but probably not true and lasting kindness in return. I still advocate pursuing kindness as far it concerns you, since only God may ever know the effect it worked on their hearts.

Because no matter how seemingly insignificant the effect, it’s better than none at all, right?

Anybody else willing to join me with practicing the kindness effect during this month of love?

I’ll have a few more practical suggestions (that don’t all come from me) next week, but I’d love to hear your thoughts too.

Like what you read? Like M is for Mama on facebook (pretty please?):

Sole-mates

me and the boys

When I was pregnant with Ezra, I was convinced I was having a girl for the first five months. We called him a “she,” and I daydreamed of dressing my little sweetie in all kinds of cute (but not cutesy) outfits full of bright, funky colors.

Then we had the sonogram to reveal gender (because I’m definitely one of those mamas that wants to know) and discovered that our adorable little “she” was actually a “he.”

Disappointed isn’t really the right word to describe how I felt. It was more like….thrown. I was thrilled to have a healthy little guy growing inside of me, but I’d been so sure he was a girl that it took a bit to adjust to the concept of royal blue and baseball instead of aqua (did you really think I was going to say pink?) and ballet.

Of course, we all know the rest of the story. After another boy, I got my long-awaited princess. And then, just in case I hadn’t gotten my fill of all things frilly, I got another double-dose of girliness in the form of identical girl twins.

But as much as I love all of my children equally, nothing could have prepared me for what a unique blessing having two boys back-to-back (they’re 18 months and 3 days apart) would be.

I don’t have wild guys. Although, don’t get me wrong—they’re definitely boys’ boys. They love a good sword-fight in the living room, using Mama’s best pillows as shields, and they’re obsessed with all things Lord of the Rings. They delight in frogging each other in the arm when I’m not looking and jumping down the last three stairs instead of anything so mundane as walking. And their shrieks during a tickle fight make my left eye twitch.

But I’ve never worried that they would climb on the roof and fling themselves off, just to see how many bones they could break. They’re not prone to smash things or speak in grunts. They beg me to let them take care of their baby sisters, and they both still insist on a kiss “on the lips, Mama,” every night before bed. 

They even like it when we match.

The other day, I got an order from JcPenney, and as I opened the box and pulled out a pair of leopard print TOM’s-style shoes that I’d ordered on major clearance, both Ezra and Simon, who were sitting at the kitchen table eating breakfast, got really excited and declared how much they liked them.

“Oh, well don’t get too attached,” I said. “I’m not sure I’m going to keep them.”

“Ooooooooh, Maaaama. You haaaaave to!” they chorused.

Confused, I looked at down at my shoes and then back up into their eager, pleading faces. “Why?”

Up came their feet, and before I could say, “No shoes on the table,” Ezra pointed to the camo slip-on shoes I’d bought him the week before and said, “Because, Mama, they just like ours. Except yours have cheetah print. You have to keep them because then we’ll all match.”

(Cheetah print = leopard print when you’re a seven-year-old boy who doesn’t know about fashion).

Simon’s head bobbed emphatically while he pointed to his own identical pair of camo shoes. “Yeah, you need to wear yours today, Mama, so we can all be the same.”

And so I did.

solemates1

Because I know the day is fast approaching when they will no longer think that “matching” Mama is the height of cool.  Some day much too soon, I will ask for a peck on the cheek and be lucky to get a rough side-hug.

But right now, my sweet, sensitive, loud, dirty, thoughtful, rambunctious boys are thrilled to be my sole-mates.

And I am, and always will be, thrilled to be their Mama.

Do you have boys? I’d love to hear about the little men in your life.

Like what you read? Like M is for Mama on facebook (pretty please?):

Too good to pass up

Every now and then, I run across something that I just can’t pass up, regardless of the price (within reason).

Let’s take a peak at exhibit A, shall we?

suitcase

I stumbled across this pretty little thing at Marshall’s on my day off (where I spent a good 2 out of my 10 free hours). And I put it in my basket without looking at the tag or thinking about where I might be able to use it in my house.

This doesn’t happen that often. In fact, a lot of times, I triple-check the tag before putting something in my basket, only to get to the checkout stand and hand it to the cashier with a regretful, “I think I’ll pass.” (Hilariously enough, I was literally opening my mouth to say this at Hobby Lobby the other day when I had a complete spaz attack and pretty much threw the lid of a ceramic, decorative jar I was holding on the ground, smashing it to bits. Happy ending: the cashier was super-gracious and, since it was already 80% off, had me throw the broken lid in the trash and still let me pass on the rest of it).

But not this suitcase.

IMG_9178

When I finally did look at the tag (because I’m pretty much incapable of buying something without agonizing at least a little bit over the price) and saw that it was $7.99, all I thought was, “Score!” Even though it’s not very big (about 14”X12”) or functional (it’s wrapped in paper and made of some sort of cardboard), I would have been at least tempted to pay twice as much as I did just because it was such an immediate YES for me.

IMG_9154

Of course, then it sat in my garage for weeks while I did other slightly important things like—oh, I don’t know—feed my children and scrub my toilets (especially crucial and particularly disgusting after your family gets hit by yet another round of the dreaded BUG).

IMG_9163

But the other day, I remembered my too-good-to-pass-up buy languishing in the cold and brought her in to play.

I’m not going to lie: I’m not a big fan of our weather at the moment. I know I shouldn’t complain considering that the east coast is clutched in winter’s icy death grip and the west coast is desperate for rain.

But around here, it’s chilly, gray, and drizzly, which I get tired of so fast.

IMG_9170

So, even though it’s only February 11th, and Spring won’t actually spring  around here for another month or so, I redid the little desk near the entryway with some encouraging words, a bright cheery fabric backdrop (fabric from Hobby Lobby), and, of course, my Marshall’s suitcase.

IMG_9159

You can’t see it in the pictures, but the words to Emily Dickinson’s “Hope” is the thing with feathers… are written on the bird art (from Big Lots, believe it or not), and the “My Hope is in You” calendar is from Dayspring (I think I paid maybe $12 for it with a coupon code).

IMG_9161

To complete the trifecta of encouragement, I included Emily’s “be thankful” print, which is meant for Thanksgiving but works as such a great reminder everyday reminder as I walk past this little vignette on my way to do yet another load of laundry.

IMG_9174

I’m loving this happy little nook right now, but I don’t think I would have bothered to gussy it up if it hadn’t been for that suitcase which was just too good to pass up and too cute not to put somewhere I could see her a lot. 

IMG_9176

It’s funny because home decor is such a frivolous thing. I could serve God just as well if I lived in a hovel with dirt walls (in fact, there are many who do just that who serve Him better than I do in my DIY house that qualifies as a mansion by 90% of the world’s standards).

But I also find that beauty—in nature, in my children’s grins, in an $8 decorative suitcase—can inspire me to worship, especially when combined with encouraging words. It lifts my spirits and pulls my eyes up from the muddy puddles on the ground to the shimmering raindrops clinging to every craggy nub and bump of the bare tree branches that reach gnarled arms in praise to their Creator.

Because, when you think about it, any opportunity for worship, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is too good to pass up.

Like what you read? Like M is for Mama on facebook (pretty please?):

Be still

be still

I’m struggling with motivation today, y’all. It’s rainy and cold outside—classic curl-up-on-your-couch-with-something-hot-and-read weather. Only, I can’t remember the last time I curled up on my couch alone and read (other than my morning Bible reading, which, yes, counts but is a little different), with or without the hot something (which, all of a sudden, strikes me as a good nickname for my husband).

I find that, whenever I have a crazy-busy week (see: last week), I feel a bit shell shocked the week after. All of that jittery adrenaline that propelled me from one up-til-2 AM painting session through to the next  up-at-4 AM on a Saturday morning to clean because the rest of the day of is bursting at the seams with BODYPUMP launches and errands and cooking and friends coming over and party preparations and too many other fun and hectic things to mention? It just deserts me, and all I’m left with is a sensation that I can only describe as how I imagine a helium balloon feels by about day 3.

I mentioned last week that I thought I would be breathing a big sigh of relief come Monday. Well, it’s Tuesday (right? it is Tuesday already? Holy cow), and I don’t remember exhaling yet. And it’s not because yesterday was so very busy (it was a notch or two less so than most Mondays) or that I didn’t get any sleep (I slept until 9:07; I checked my phone 4 times and then my husband’s to make sure it was actually right).

No, it’s more like that much busyness in that small amount of time is hard on my soul. I think I only did my morning devotions twice, maybe three times, last week. I hurtled from one activity to the next and tucked my children in with perfunctory kisses and lightning fast bedtime prayers. I wasn’t living so much as desperately hanging onto life’s tail.

Not that weeks like that are such a bad thing. Sometimes, they’re just necessary, and, boy, did I get a lot done!

But no amount of productivity is worth the kind of soul-weariness that makes you snippy and teary for no good reason on a long term basis.

There’s a reason that “Be still, and know that I am God” is one of the most well-known, oft-quoted verses in the Bible. It’s comforting. It’s rock-solid. And it’s so simple.

And yet so hard.

Be still. Stop. Cease. Desist. Quit scrubbing and painting and baking and hustling to that next sports event.

But I can’t, you say. If I stop now, all the madly spinning plates will  come crashing down to the ground! (At least that’s what I say).  And then I’ll have to add sweeping up the broken pieces to my list that already runs off the page.

And I’m certainly not making a case for laziness or not doing hard things. Sometimes, you just have to push through the weariness to get to that point where you can breathe a little easier. But once you get there, the breathing part is essential. Because, in the  same way that pushing a tired muscle eventually causes a tear, if you just keep “pushing through” to the next thing in life, you might end up with a bit of a broken soul. You might lose your ability to be still. To recognize the need for a Sabbath.

And I never want to do that. I’m a much meaner mama when I’m endlessly pushing through. When all my kids hear is a constant loop of, “Mama will play with you when she finishes…” instead of, “Let’s play right now.”

I still have a long list this week. That’s a given. But I am choosing to bump: “Blog and finish those pillows and take pictures of that dresser and repaint that room” down—way down—below: “Read my kids Narnia” and “play on the floor with the little girls” and “take a nap” and “curl up on the couch with the Hot Something” (either of the drink or the husband variety).

So, if you don’t see much of me this week, that’s where I’ll be. And if you do, it’s because I managed to squeeze it in the cracks of being still because I wanted to. Not because I felt like I had to.

And now I’m off to put the little girls down for naps and maybe even take one of my own.

Do you have trouble being still sometimes too? I’m usually okay with the everyday hecticness, but I definitely feel it when I’ve started sprinting on the hamster wheel rather than steadily trundling along.

How do you pull back and reset? I always feel better/calmer after reading my Bible and spending time talking to Jesus. That, and a day of hanging out with my kids and husband, and I’m always amazed at how refreshed and ready to jump back into the craziness I feel.

chocolate chip cookie

{Chocolate chip cookies + writing time at Barnes and Noble help too}

P.S. Inevitably, when I share something like this, I get several people gently chiding me about how short life is and how I really should slow down and take stock of the things that are truly important. And If that happens today, that’s fine. But please hear that that is exactly what I am advocating here. I am happy to have some things checked off my list because of last week. It helps me to better enjoy my times of rest and refreshment when things are in order because of hard work and diligence.  But I in no way think that constant “projecting”  is a substitute for “real living.” : )

Like what you read? Like M is for Mama on facebook (pretty please?):

A little chop goes a long way

My brother likes to use the word, “stupid,” as a substitute for the word, “REALLY.”

As in, “This cinnamon roll is stupid good.” Or, “That puzzle was stupid hard.”

I’m not sure how this came about considering that my brother is an engineer, not a surfer dude. But there you have it.

He’s expecting his first kid in April, though, and my prediction is that particular adjective get nixed from his vocabulary pronto.

I don’t usually follow his lead in this particular adjectival choice, but if I had to describe one thing in my brother’s terms, I would say, “My hair is stupid thick.”

Every single time I get it cut, even if it’s only been a few weeks like it had been last time, my stylist laughs and laughs at the carpet of hair on her floor. Then she sweeps it into a mound, and it’s like a fuzzy, disgusting mini-replica of Mt. Everest.

Seriously, y’all. I have so. much. hair. And it’s dense, which means that it doesn’t necessarily poof way out from the sides of my head (most of the time) because the sheer weight of it pulls everything down around my face.

Which brings me to a confession: for the longest time, I was afraid to cut much off of my own personal Hair Everest.

Why? Because I got a lot of compliments on my long, curly hair—a lot of dramatic statements like: “I would kill for your hair”—and I was at least a little bit nervous that I might pick an unflattering cut, and then it would take forever to get back to that place where everybody found my hair attractive.

Don’t get me wrong: I liked my long hair too. I’m not so vain that I would wear a style I hated just to get compliments. But it was just kind of there. It didn’t really reflect my style or have much personality other than its inherent long curliness.

I wanted to be brave. I wanted variety. I wanted to know what it would be like to have a “fun” haircut instead of simply a pretty one, even if it meant fewer compliments. I just wasn’t sure how to go about it.

(Another thing holding me back: the specter of my mushroom bowl-cut from when I was 8-years-old).

But after Ezra was born, everything suddenly seemed much more clear cut. (That happens when you have a newborn who is rooting for breakfast and gets a mouthful of hair instead). I decided it was finally time and cut a good 10 inches off my hair. I tried to talk the guy who cut it into really hacking it and making it funky and layered, but apparently, I wasn’t very convincing because I ended up with a strange blunt bob that looked a bit like a Pharaoh hat.  I had the quintessential “Mom cut,” and I was only 23-years-old (I tried to find you a picture but came up empty).

It wasn’t pretty.

And I sort of thought, “All right, well that’s what I get for being brave.”

But then, 18 months  and a good bit of safe-ish hair experimentation later, Simon came along, and I got really gutsy. I went for a BIG chop, with lots of layers. And each time I went back, I cut a little more off.

short hair simon baby 

This isn’t even as short as it got (I think I traumatized my husband when I cut it almost as short as his).

And you know what? It was incredibly freeing!

I’m not gonna say that some of the iterations were my best haircuts ever.

short hair simon

Note to self: uber-short hair when you’ve still got your chubby post-baby face is not a good look for you. Side note: we look soooooo young.

But they helped me get over my fear of what others would think and confirmed my suspicions that I’m not just a long and flowy kind of girl (although I like that too).

I’ve been experimenting with everything from super-short and layered to long with bangs ever since, and I absolutely love that I got over my hair hang-up.

Which is why it shouldn’t be too surprising that when I went to get my hair cut a little over a week ago, I said, “Let’s go shorter. And more textured. And less weighty. Seriously, thin the tar out of it.”

Which is how I ended up with this:

IMG_8802

Is it my best haircut ever?

 

 IMG_8810

Maybe not (my husband is shaking his head emphatically not; he likes it fine like this, but he loves my long hair).

But you know what it is?

IMG_8812

Fun.

IMG_8841

I really like it.

And also?

You know that part in You’ve Got Mail where Tom Hanks goes on a rant about complicated Starbucks orders and how they’re not just about a drink order at all but instead about an identity?

“TALL. Decaf. CAPPUCINO.”

Well, haircuts are kind of like to too.

And this is me right now: “Short. Funky. Easy.”

Because sometimes a little chop can go a long way towards giving you a “defining sense of self.”

And the best part of all? Lean in close because this is profound: hair. grows. back.

True story. :)

So, if you’ve been pining for a cut but can’t find the nerve, I say do it. The worst that can happen is hat hair for a few weeks. But the alternative just might set you free.

P.S. Since getting my hair cut 10 days ago, I have only washed it twice (yep, that’s how I roll), and both times, it has looked considerably different. It loosens up the longer it’s been since a wash. Here it is after a 2 hour exercise session:

workout hair

Have you ever gotten a big chop? Did you love it/hate it? I’ve done so many different versions of the short hair chop in the last 6 years, and I’ve liked most of them well enough (although when I see some in pictures, I think, “Hmm…not your best look, girl.”). However, I won’t ever go crazy-short again, I don’t think—both for my husband’s sake and because of my “stupid” thick hair, which tends to bunch up and up and and up at the roots when it gets really short.

What’s your favorite hairstyle EVER? I really love the funkiness of my short, tousled, angled hair, but I think I probably look best with longer curls. And I loved my bangs too. Maybe something like this:

floral tights hair

Like what you read? Like M is for Mama on facebook (pretty please?):

Getting over myself for Christmas family pics

merry christmas

{This was our “official” family Christmas pic this year}

Confession: I wasn’t particularly eager to post a lot of these pictures. They’re chock full of memorable moments, and my family looks precious.

But.

I don’t think I look so great in them.

IMG_9553

{This was our “yay for Christmas!” moment; also Shaun has fuzz in his hair, and I thought about editing it out but decided it was more fun to leave it; you’re welcome, baby}

IMG_9577

We took these on Christmas day out on my parents’ pond pier, with the last few scraps of light for the afternoon. I had planned our outfits ahead of time, but Shaun and I took a nap (Christmas nap = a Christmas miracle, courtesy of my mama’s not getting a nap herself because we went upstairs, and she stayed downstairs and dealt with our  supposed-to-be-napping-but-not-cooperating twins).

IMG_9570

I overslept and woke up just in time to splash water on my puffy face, swipe on some lipstick, throw Della’s hair in a messy top knot, stuff the twins back in their outfits (after they’d been removed to preserve them from mac ‘n cheese + Jello salad stains), smooth out a few of the boys’ cowlicks, and then hustle everybody out to the pier and insist that they look happy and relaxed just because crazy Mama wants memories, darn. it.

IMG_9617

They did their part like the little we-know-these-are-going-to-be-blogged champs they’ve become.

IMG_9603  But from the moment I glanced in the mirror after my nap and again when I saw the pictures, I found myself battling all kinds of critical thoughts like, “Goodness, those crinkles under my eyes sure are pronounced,” and, “Could I have picked a more unflattering pose? I look 20 pounds heavier,” and, “My hair looks like a soufflé that collapsed on one side.”

IMG_9662

Never mind that I also look happy (I was) or that my husband and kids think I’m plenty pretty enough (because, really, who else matters?).

IMG_9634

Don’t get me wrong: I’m under no delusions that I’m any great beauty, although I’m usually content with how I look. I’m a realist, aware of both my strengths and my flaws, and I’m pretty accepting of the fact that, at 31, I don’t look 25. Especially when I’ve just woken up from a nap where half of my face was smooshed up against a pillow, and the other half is only 1/4 awake anyway. (I dare you to do that math).

IMG_9596

{If I age with a fraction of my sweet mama’s grace, I’ll be thrilled}

And, while I have no desire to populate your nightmares with images of my bed-headed, cotton-mouthed, makeup-less self first thing in the morning (I save that kind of prettiness for my husband), neither do I want to give you the impression that I walk around in full makeup, every hair in place (yeah right, that never happens), cutely dressed, 24/7. It’s more like 6/3 (the rest is pajamas and workout clothes).

Which is why I’m happy to post shots like this one to Facebook:

honey face

(that’s me with a raw honey mask on, which I highly recommend both for soft skin and for freaking out your offspring).

I firmly believe that true beauty comes from within, no matter how hokey it sounds. I’ve seen gorgeous features twisted into a sneer of such epic ugliness that there is no beauty left. And I’ve seen seemingly plain looks transformed by a smile of genuine joy into something transcendently lovely.

IMG_9581

{Remember my dread of this little fairy sprite’s giving herself a home haircut? Well, she surprised me and cut off a little sprig right in the middle of her forehead…with craft scissors…at the gym}

And yet I still struggle occasionally with my oh-so-human desire to only appear put-together and cute for you guys.

IMG_9599

Ugh. I’m not a fan of that part of me. It’s definitely has nothing to do with keeping Christmas in my heart.

IMG_9673

{I like this one}

So, this is me getting over myself and acknowledging that, while I may not love what I see all the time, it’s good enough. And the chances that you were paying the least bit of attention to me—at least before I wrote all of this—when my happy children were so busy being their charming, beautiful, completely unselfconscious selves is pretty much miniscule.

And that’s the way it should be.

P.S. Please know I’m not fishing for compliments with this post. Even just a week removed from not “feeling pretty,” I can look at these pictures and actively like many of them instead of only seeing the flaws. I’m so grateful that God gave me the grace to not let my vanity get in the way of creating memories with my family and sharing them with you. I just wanted you to know that, if this is something you ever struggle with…me too. I’d love it if we could get better about getting over ourselves together!

Like what you read? Like M is for Mama on facebook (pretty please?):

Keeping Christmas all the year

honor christmas

Every year at Christmas, we watch The Muppet Christmas Carol. The songs are a bit cheesy and more than a bit dated, but the story is sweet and funny, and my kids love it. Best of all, it stays surprisingly true to the text and spirit of Dickens’s masterpiece and includes quite a few direct quotes from the book.

IMG_9764-001

Other than Tiny Tim’s iconic, “God bless us, every one,” probably the most well known Christmas Carol quote occurs when Scrooge fiiiiiiiiinally “gets it” and declares: “I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year!”

IMG_9901

But wait. Why am I doing a Christmas post when 2014 is less than 18 hours away?

IMG_9937

Because I can think of no better New Year’s resolution than keeping Christmas in my heart all the year.

After all, Christmas is not actually about new bikes and designer purses. It’s not about Santa and his elves. It’s not even about a time when the world is maybe just a little bit kinder and gentler place (is it really, though?).

IMG_9970

It’s about Jesus, the Christ.

IMG_9749

It’s about the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us and gave words like these flesh too:

christmas1

Emmanuel. Not distant and cold but near and more real than the warm blood that pulses through our veins. God with us, coming down in the midst of our sticky apple juice floors, bankrupt finances, shattered marriages, grief for a lost child, and bitter feuds.

IMG_9983

Even though he didn’t have to. Even though he could have stayed in heaven on his throne and left us wallowing in our sin and despair. Even though heaven come down to earth in the form of a babe lying on a prickly bed of hay is so radical and strange that most of the scholars anxiously awaiting their Messiah couldn’t recognize him in the rumpled, red face of a newborn. Even though dwelling among us meant that he would one day die a violent, bloody, excruciating death among thieves. 

IMG_9775

Yes, Christmas is about love and joy and generosity and peace, and I certainly want those in my heart year-round.

But it’s also about pain and sacrifice and taking up your cross.

IMG_9727-001

Because Jesus was born to die for our sins. And then rise again. There’s the true joy. There’s the gospel, the extravagant good news of Christmas. And life. And eternity.

Jesus was born to save us all.

IMG_9991

Of course, if I simply try to keep Christmas in my heart all the year, I will fail. Miserably. I will get distracted and absentminded. I will become overwhelmed and bogged down in the cares of life. I will be snippy and tart and and selfish and just plain mean. I know because I did all of those things at certain points during the much-lauded “most wonderful time of the year.”

I know because I’m fighting them today when my children interrupt my writing to make audacious requests for milk and lunch and more toilet paper.

IMG_9893

Thank God there’s more good news: because of Jesus in me, I already have Christmas in my heart, today and every day.

I know it. And yet I forget.

IMG_9715-002

So, this year, I want to remember like no other year before it. To wake up each day with Christmas in my heart because the God of the universe donned a cloak heavy with every trapping of humanity to become the Savior of the world.

IMG_9787

I have a laundry list of specific things I’d like to accomplish in 2014. But they all fade to nothing next to these two commandments:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength…

and

Love your neighbor as yourself.

IMG_9815

That’s Christmas. That’s Jesus. And that is my heart’s desire for this new year.

Like what you read? Like M is for Mama on facebook (pretty please?):

A Majority of One

This evening, I’m going to…

 

Are you?

I don’t know that I’ve made a single political comment here on the blog before, but it’s not because I don’t have strong convictions about “the issues.”

I do. And if you know me well, I’ll happily discuss them with you if the opportunity arises.

I might even get a bit worked up about some of them.

But I, like so many others, am often reticent to talk about my beliefs in any public forum, not because I’m ashamed of them, but because I’ve let myself become conditioned to worry about stepping on others’ toes who don’t agree or who just don’t want to talk about it at all.

At least, I feel that way with my peers.

Whenever I taught high school (6 years of Spanish, ESL, and English), I had no problem brainwashing helping my students be informed about the issues, even if that meant telling them exactly what I thought about a particular topic (have you noticed that it’s acceptable to “introduce” an issue for debate and then step back, but it’s much less okay to express a specific opinion or attempt to sway someone to your point of view?).

The irony is that a lot of those kids practically were my peers in terms of age (since I started teaching when I was 19, and I had quite a few seniors who were only a year younger than I). But the gap in our authority levels made me comfortable with telling them what I really thought.

Not so much with my friends, neighbors, or colleagues…unless, of course, I know you already agree with me.

But I’ve been reading more and more blog posts and facebook updates from non-voters who just don’t see the point.

Or maybe they think that politics are just a little beyond them.  Especially women.  They haven’t watched that many newscasts or read that many articles about “the issues,” so they feel unqualified to express their opinions with their ballots.

After all, isn’t voting better left to the interested and informed?

Maybe.

I would honestly much rather have people voting who know why they’re supporting their candidates.

But I don’t think that gives anyone an excuse not to know his/her own mind and heart.

In fact, I would argue that you don’t have to have a “political” bone in your body or have watched a single debate to be qualified to vote.

You just have to have convictions that are based in truth. And a basic understanding of which candidate best aligns with them (are you going to find a perfect match or a completely trustworthy option? No. That’s the drawback of having humans for politicians).

Speaking of convictions, since I’m writing this post, I’ll tell you about mine.

First, let’s start with what I’m not.

I am not a Republican, Democrat, or Libertarian.

I am not even, first and foremost, a conservative (although I embrace that label more readily than the others).

So, what am I?

I am a Bible-believing Jesus-follower, which means that my convictions about some of the key issues like abortion, gay marriage, the national debt, and the welfare system are informed by God’s word, not CNN, Fox News, The New York Times, or even my family.

And having the Bible as my basis for truth means that:

  • Life (beginning at conception) is sacred (Psalm 139: 13-16)
  • Marriage is a holy, God-ordained joining together of one man and one woman (Mark 10:7-9)
  • Debt weakens an individual’s (and by extension, a country’s) efficacy and strength (Proverbs 22:7)
  • We are to be kind/generous to the poor, but idleness/entitled behavior is wrong (Deuteronomy 15:7-11; 2 Thessalonians 3: 6-12)

You may not agree with my stance, but you can hardly fault me for holding fast to it since to declare myself a Christian one moment and then the next to say that I am ambivalent and/or uninformed about what I should believe would be pretty inexcusable.

And to say that I believe in the infallibility of the Bible and then apologize for its standards would be downright disingenuous, not to mention cowardly.

So, at least for today, I am casting aside my fear of public censorship and scorn and declaring my intention to vote for my convictions, to the best of my ability with the options provided me (because if I wait to vote until the perfect candidates come along, I never will).

And I encourage you to do the same.

Honestly, my encouragement is less about simply being another body in a voting booth (although the very ability to do so is a phenomenal privilege that should never be taken for granted) and more about examining your beliefs—especially if you’re a fellow Christian—and why you hold them (or, if you don’t have any…why not).

Because if we’ve got a stronger opinion about which contestant should win American Idol than who should lead our country, there’s a problem.

And it may not be with “the system” at all. The problem may start with us.

Because if we know what’s right but can’t find the time or motivation to stand for it, there’s no guarantee that someone who shares our knowledge will do it for us.

What can be guaranteed is this: if we don’t vote our convictions, others will vote theirs, and then we will have to live with their decision, not our own.

 

(I’m pretty sure that could read “woman” too : )).

Like what you read? Like M is for Mama on facebook (pretty please?):

Move-it Monday: Grace for the now…

Good morning, folks!

If I were to list all the things I need/want to get moving on this Monday and then all the things I’ll still have waiting for me tomorrow no matter how much I get after it today…I think I would totally freak myself out (and bore you).

So, I won’t do it.

Instead, I will remind myself and hopefully encourage you with this fact:

My Album 4-001

He doesn’t guarantee us tomorrow or even tell us to make sure our ducks are in a row for it (quite the opposite if you read Matthew 6), but he does promise this:

“’My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

And while I’m pretty sure that doesn’t mean that He’ll wave his God-wand and plunk a passel of finished painting and sewing projects down in my lap, I think it does mean that if I give Him my crankiness, my sleepiness, my I-don’t-want-to-do-this-because-my-feet-hurt-ness…He will give me the grace today to be kind, alert, and non-whiny enough to love others and bring glory to Him, regardless of how many things I check off the list.

Let me assure you that I am primarily preaching to the choir (myself), but I know so many of you are harried mamas, students, professionals, etc., and I have the oddest inkling that I might not be alone in wanting to skip Move-it Monday entirely.

(How about Mull-over-it-then-do-it-tomorrow Monday? Better?).

And yet, that’s not really an option, now is it?

So, do I what I hope to do today, and take the grace He offers for the now.

And remember—when you are weak, He is strong.

P.S. Don’t forget to go enter our $50 Shabby Apple giveaway! That ought to make Monday a little more bearable.

Like what you read? Like M is for Mama on facebook (pretty please?):

The Milk of Human Kindness…

The older I get and the more kids I have, the tenderer my heart gets toward the plight of the hurting.

Don’t get me wrong.

I’ve never been one to gloat in others’ suffering, but I’m a “fairness” girl, and that strong sense of justice and balance doesn’t lend itself naturally to compassion.

It does tend toward thought patterns like, “She got herself into that mess. She should just suck it up and get herself right back out again.”

{Never mind that when I’ve gotten myself into a pickle, I sure do want other people to feel sorry for me…maybe I’m not as all-about-fairness as I thought}

god is good-001

How attractive (and Christian) of me, right?

But more and more, I find myself understanding the meaning of the phrase, “It makes my heart hurt…”

Before I had kids, I could hear about tragedies involving young children and think, “How sad,” (and mean it), but at least a sliver of my emotions was never fully engaged.

Now, I hear about a child suffering, and my stomach clenches like a fist, while bile rises in my throat. And, it’s true—my heart feels a literal squeeze of pain.

But it’s not just the young and helpless that get to me now. Tragedies just hit me harder than they used to because I automatically think things like, “What if that were my child?”

So, when I heard about the young gunman who walked into the movie theater in Colorado Friday morning and took the lives of 12 people and injured dozens of others, I felt…bereft.

And angry.

And it wasn’t because I personally knew anyone in that theater.

It was just so wrong. And sad. And sick.

The most twisted part to me was the fact that he released some sort of gas bomb before he started shooting.  I haven’t heard anyone say that this was the reason, but I can’t help but think that he set the bomb off so that he could get people out of their seats since it’s a lot easier to pick off your prey when it’s running around in a blind panic instead of sitting down, protected by seat backs.

Ugh.

I was talking to my husband (who’s still in California) about it on the phone later that day, and I said something like, “What kind of place do we live in that anyone would do such a thing?”

His answer?: “Earth.”

And it’s so true.

Every single day, atrocities like that shooting and worse (if there are degrees of such things) happen in every corner of this fallen planet.

And it just made me feel so defeated. So…sorrowful for the state of humanity.

But then, today, after a hectic morning (8 AM BODYCOMBAT launch practice + teaching 9 AM BODYPUMP on an almost empty stomach + a $6 smoothie that was supposed to help my shaking muscles recover that instead got dumped all over the van’s floorboard {it got replaced} + an ill-advised Goodwill run with a very tired toddler), I found myself at Sam’s with a basketful of groceries and nothing with me to pay for them (I sometimes forget to bring the credit card they accept with me when I go).

My hips were aching as I hauled Della out to the van for my checkbook, and I couldn’t help but feel a bit embarrassed by all the pitying glances as I hobbled my way out into the 98+ degree weather, looking very pregnant and, well, yes, pitiable.

Somewhere in the sweaty slog from the store to the car and back, Della fell asleep on my shoulder, and before long, her head had slipped down to my chest, and the entire weight of her little body was slumped against my belly.

When I got back inside, for one brief moment, I had a horrible sinking feeling that someone had taken my basket because I didn’t see it right away.  So, the relief I felt when I did locate it less than 10 feet away from where I’d left it was acute.

I made a beeline for the checkout, prompting several, “Bless your hearts” (it’s Texas after all) and, “She’s just plumb worn out, isn’t she?” (were they talking about Della or me?) along the way.

I tried to smile, but I was on a mission: get the heck out of Dodge.

So, when I rounded the corner—dragging my oversized basket behind me with one hand—and one wheel struck the pallet I was trying to maneuver around, the frustration I felt was considerably more acute than the relief from two minutes before.

A lady in the adjoining line apologized profusely for being in my way, and I’m sorry to admit that I felt a flash of irritation because she was in no way blocking my path, and I felt like she was patronizing and feeling sorry for me because of the sleeping toddler/big belly combo.

(My annoyance quickly turned to shame when she helped me dislodge my wheel).

Now, some people are good at asking for help. (In a positive way…I’m not talking about “mooching”).

I’m not really one of them.

I can be climbing the gym stairs with three bags and a toddler, plus two other littles trailing me, and, 7 times out of 10, I’ll still try to open the door by myself even if there’s someone else around.

I’m not bragging.

I actually think this response is a fairly prideful and ungracious one, and it’s something I’m working to get better at—this whole letting others help me thing.

But, in this case, I was “plumb worn out,” physically and emotionally, and I was so focused on how to get my membership card out of my wristlet (which was, of course, attached to the arm holding Della) that I didn’t notice a lady standing at my elbow at first

 

And then I heard her say, “Could we help you put your things on the belt?”

 

 

 

And my knee jerk response was, “No, thank you.”

But something—the Holy Spirit?—kept those words from tumbling out of my mouth, and instead, I said, “That would be great.”

Before I could even think why, tears were stinging the backs of my eyes, which, if you know me at all, is not how I usually roll. And I felt a stab of panic that the already-to-be-pitied, pregnant, toddler-holding (thank goodness the boys weren’t with me!) mama was going to complete the image of harried helplessness and start blubbering right there in the Sam’s checkout line.

I kept my head down and concentrated on pulling things out of my cart and myself back together. And I was doing a decent job of both until I thanked the woman’s husband, who was helping too (including extracting a large case of chicken broth from beneath the basket that would have been practically impossible for me to get to), and he said, “No problem. It’s what I would want someone to do for my wife.”

He didn’t know me, so he had no clue that my husband had been gone for two weeks, but somehow that made his simple paraphrase of Luke 6:31—which says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (or your wife, as the case may be)—all the more soothing of a balm to this frazzled mama’s heart.

I fought back tears of gratitude and humility (or whatever the correct noun for feeling humbled by something is) all the way to the van…right up until the guy rounding up the carts saw me struggling to strap sleeping Della—blankie and all—into her car seat and offered to load my groceries for me.

By that point, I had stopped caring about being pitied and was just grateful that I’d thought to bring my big, bug-eyed sunglasses with me because the tears were streaming down my cheeks.

I climbed in the driver’s seat and let the air-conditioning cool my hot face as I pretty much sobbed for the next 10 minutes—partly because I’m hormonal and haven’t gotten just tons of sleep this week and partly because I was so overwhelmed with thankfulness for a series of simple, yet profound acts of kindness.

The next thing I’m going to say is going to sound a tad sacrilegious, but at least let me explain before you grab your torch and pitchfork.

If, as Shakespeare claims, there is such a thing as “the milk of human kindness,” then I’m pretty sure that makes God the cow. 

After all, we are created in His image, and any capacity for love and selflessness comes from Him.

And I was privileged to witness that capacity several times today, a mere 36 hours after I had contemplated the senselessness of the deaths caused by another human being who had also been created in God’s image.

That’s right.

I believe that James Holmes (the shooter) was crafted in God’s image every bit as much as you and I are.

Sadly, in the less-than-perfect state we now live in, some of God’s attributes in us—including His justice, His holy jealousy, and, yes, His righteous wrath—can become so warped as to be nothing more than ugly mockeries of how He intended them to be.

Regardless of our divine blueprint, because of free will, we still have the ability to “go to the Devil” to a spectacular—and tragic—degree.

With the depraved, demonic actions to show for it too.

I had to take a break from this post to go pick up my boys from my mom’s house, and when I came back, a friend of mine had shared a blog post from a woman who was in that theater when the shots began and was convinced, at several points, that she and her two teenaged daughters were going to die.

Even so, she was even more firmly convinced that—regardless of whether she met her Maker that night or 50 years from it—God was good,

In fact, she wrote the post, which is very well expressed, as an answer to those asking—either genuinely or contemptuously—“So, do you think God’s merciful now?”

Her answer?

A resounding YES.

I’m so glad I saw what she wrote before I finished my post because two specific things she said stood out to me and were on my heart as well:

1) “(God) is not the cause of evil, but He is the one who can bring comfort and peace in the midst of evil. It’s been amazing to see the outpouring of love from so many people after this unthinkable act. Yes, there was one evil act, but it is being covered by thousands, possibly millions of acts of kindness.”

Source: google.com via Abbie on Pinterest

 

and

2) “God is always good.

Man is not.

Don’t get the two confused.”

 

 

Amen, sister.

I certainly couldn’t have said it better.

Except, perhaps, to add:

God is always good.

Sometimes, man imparts His goodness to others.

And it’s a beautiful thing.

I’m praying that I’ll be the milk of human kindness to someone who needs a little refreshing this week, and I pray that you will too.

Like what you read? Like M is for Mama on facebook (pretty please?):