Light and Loveliness

Reflections of Emily Sue Allen

Family / Motherhood

Take Notice


One photo a week throughout the year. 7
/52 (a few weeks behind)

I sliced my index finger open tonight. I was carefully cutting up potatoes to roast in the oven. I wasn’t rushing. I wasn’t distracted. Miraculously, there were not three little people circling my legs as I stood at the cutting board, as there often are. Still, somehow the blade met the edge of my finger and took with it a bit of material it would have been nice to have kept to myself.

Ouch.

I didn’t cry, but I did feel a little stunned.

How did that just happen?

All afternoon, I have been thinking about the jumble of thoughts I’ve had in my brain all week. I sometimes feel myself moving about on auto-pilot–as moms are known to do on little sleep–while my brain whirrs away in some other place, but just a few hours ago, the glorious Seattle sun came out and beckoned us to the park for some fresh air and play time.

***

I sit on the park bench where things become clear, sun on my face and the crisp March breeze blowing the straggling hairs across my face that have fallen from my unwashed top-knot mom-‘do. I watch my kids dart to-and-fro about the playground.

Slow down, Em.

Slow. It. Down.

See them running and laughing? Take notice.

The one in yellow leggings and an oversized sweater: She’ll be five next week, even though it was only a few blinks ago that she was swaddled up in a pink blanket, smiling in her sleep between feedings. Her spindly, runner-legs carry her around the park loop and her wild hair follows behind.

Take notice.

The one in a blue athletic jacket and the oversized, awkward teeth of a pre-teen boy. That is your son that came home from the hospital at seven and a half pounds and is now nearly staring you in the eyes. Nine on Saturday. Nine years old. How did that just happen?

Take notice.

I will, I say to myself. I am taking notice.

I notice that for all the irritating moments of the same messes and the same squabbles happening over and over, that we are knit together. These mundane, ordinary days are the ones where the seeds once sown are sprouting and growing…not quite like I imagined, but better. Sweeter. More interesting and challenging. Young hearts eager to squeeze all the fun out of life and a mom who wants to make sure that every day of innocent childhood that can be afforded to them be kept so, carefully guarded with love and sacrifice.

So I watch and cherish the time, fiercely protecting these years from the angst and horror of the outside world. There will be a time when the carefree days are clouded with the complicated issues of humanity, but for now, I revel in the lifeline they are for me. They remind me daily that there is heart-rending beauty in the midst of this broken world.

PS. For those who are worried about the cut, I am fine. It’s not serious, but not awesome either. I’m here typing awkwardly with all the wrong fingers while my bandaged digit points at the screen so I don’t accidentally tap it against the keys. I guess one could call this adventures in writing.
…………

“The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” James 3:17-18

1341. the purple dress, 1342. big brother doing dishes of his own accord, 1343. gentle reminders, 1344. seeing a friend’s heart awaken to the love of God, 1345. growing Kindred Mom community, 1346. healing conversations, 1347. podcast plans, 1348. husband to the rescue (re: finger), 1349. growing into vision, 1350. a sweet gift from a new friend in the mail

Life & Faith / Thoughts

Processing Pain

One photo a week throughout the year. 6/52

My phone vibrates in my pocket and I want to dig it out to see who has sent me a text message. I’m puttering around my over-stuffed kitchen. There is hardly any counter space and there is food and mess and dishes for eight people, which means it pretty much always feels like a disaster, even if I diligently scrape and rinse and stow dishes away after every meal. On one level, I’ve made my peace with it. On another level, it feels like an irritant; a constant reminder of all that I’m not good at. I reason there is not much that can be done. The space is small and there isn’t much storage space.

It’s a problem in more than one area of my life. There are a lot of things floating around that don’t have a permanent place to land. I’m not especially attached to any of it, but dealing with clutter takes a special brand of focus and energy that seems to run in short supply for me. I care far more about connection and creativity to stress about which papers go in the recycle bin and which should be filed away, so all the papers live in piles wherever they might be least likely to be disturbed. I would like to say I know where most of the important things are. I used to be able to keep those kind of details close at hand in my brain until I started having kids. Now, it is possible that I might be holding a pen in one hand while I look around for the location of that same pen on the surfaces around me, frustrated that I can’t find something to write with. I joke with my husband that I sacrificed most of my brain cells to give birth to six beautiful children, and we both laugh because its partly true.

The sink water runs while I dry one hand on the towel near me to retrieve my phone. I read the words.

“I miscarried last week. It has been rough for me. Trying to reach out.”

I flick the faucet handle down and feel instantly powerless to comfort, powerless to help in any meaningful way. My chest tightens up and tears scratch at my eyes and I suddenly forget how to pick up dishes, rinse them and set them in the dishwasher. This isn’t the first pregnancy loss. Or the second, or the third even. With each one, I watch the hope drain out from afar, and it breaks my heart. Truthfully, I don’t know the pain in any first-person way, but I imagine it and feel whatever it is that one feels when wanting to absorb the shock that someone else is feeling in the midst of their sudden emptiness.

What do I say? What can I say?

I can’t land on anything solid.

One of my children dashes through the kitchen and down the stairs to the basement with a younger sibling in hot pursuit of some stolen treasured item that went down the stairs with the former. My guess would be it is a bouncy ball or a flip-open magnifying-glass toy, but I don’t care enough to ask or intervene.

I keep looking at the text and wish I could be instantly there, holding her head in my lap, stroking her hair gently, and praying for God’s comfort to meet her in the sorrowful moments—in this sorrow-filled season of uncertainty—while we both cry about it.

It seems unfair to encounter sorrow after sorrow when the desire of the heart is great. Maybe it is unfair, or maybe it is part of what is knitting us closer together. I have never miscarried, but I have seen other hopes die. I know the pain of loss in other ways and these reminders of it are what keep me tender-hearted and compassionate to others in their own seasons of struggle.

With all my heart, I wish I could find a way to help her around the pain instead of having to watch her go through it, but I’m aware that I don’t have that kind of power.

I fumble with my phone while I dry the other hand and manage a lame text in response. Lame because it accomplishes nothing, fixes nothing, and doesn’t make me feel any better either.

I sit down on the floor of my kitchen, my back against the cupboards under the kitchen sink. The only comfort I have ever found in these moments when my heart is deeply grieved comes from Jesus. It feels simplistic to put it like that, but it is true. When I discovered for myself that He shows up and enters into the wounded, hurting space to set a weeping woman free from lifelong fear, freeing her—or rather me—from the heavy responsibility to hold every last thing together, from the grip of despair, from the anger that drains all the beauty out of life…when I discovered that every last ache will one day be redeemed by the power of His all-consuming love; that was a day that changed everything for me.

I turn my heart inside out and beg for His sweet mercies to land close to the broken heart on the other end of this text thread. I ask Him with fervor to gather up her brokenness and comfort her the way He has comforted me in the lowest moments of my life. Tenderly. In the protective way of a good Father. Lord, in Your mercy, let it be so.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 1 Corinthians 1:3-4 ESV

1331. new shoes for all the kids — at 70% off, 1332. the beauty and mystery of transformation, 1333. late night dreaming-while-awake, 1334. seeing a vision coming to life, 1335. fabric for a new baby banner for a friend, 1336. engagement party for a girl I knew when she was less than 10 years old, 1337. a lasagna gift, 1338. roozy boozy showing me where her feelings live, 1339. hubba-la-bubba-la baby babble, 1340. purple birthday plans in the works

Family / Motherhood

Flourishing in Motherhood

One photo a week throughout the year. 5/52

We arrived to our weekly homeschool group a few minutes late, as usual. No matter how highly I personally value punctuality, I have not been able to reliably get myself and six kids to destinations on time since my youngest was born nearly a year ago. With all my heart, I want to arrive on time, but I’m only one woman and there are quite a few personalities in my family that frequently prevent me from finding success in that quest.

Still, every time I arrive somewhere late, I feel defeated.

The other moms are huddled in a circle, sharing pertinent announcements and prayer requests with the group. I’m late, but my friends open the circle and draw us in with warm smiles. I have one hand on the stroller where my little guy is squirming around, attempting to escape the clutches of his 5-point harness. My other hand pats the head of his 3-year old sister who is sitting on my foot with her arms wrapped around my leg while she warms to the new environment. The other kids have dispersed to look for their friends who are in the adjacent gym space, bouncing balls and running about with energy to spare.

I’m here. Whew. I’m here.

One sweet newcomer to our group begins sharing about the tumultuous journey of watching her elderly father approach death. His health has been steadily declining, and everyone expects him to pass at any time, but whenever the family makes peace with his passing, he rebounds back from the brink of death for a few days.

She tells us how it is hard to be caught between savoring the last days/weeks with him and mourning the life that is slipping away before her eyes.

Tears are streaming ferociously down my face. I genuinely feel for her, but there is also a moment where I realize that her vulnerability to share with our group has poked a hole in my brave-mom facade, revealing the raw and tender part of me that I’ve been hiding all week.

We comfort her and pray for her, and then I find the courage to say out loud:

I feel like a constant disappointment these days…

The rest of this essay appears on Kindred Mom…head over there to read the rest!

“How blessed is the man who has made the Lord his trust, and has not turned to the proud, nor to those who lapse into falsehood. Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders which You have done, and Your thoughts toward us; There is none to compare with You. If I would declare and speak of them,
They would be too numerous to count.” Psalm 40:4-5 NASB

1321. essays received for Kindred Mom, 1322. a smoother week than last week, 1323. baby walking everywhere, 1324. valentine-making with friends, 1325. kid wonder’s night out with friends, 1326. small amounts of seattle snow, 1327. invitations, 1328. the growth I see in myself over time, 1329. compliments regarding my sons, 1330. jill briscoe talk – the importance of living our mission

Life & Faith / Motherhood

Finding My Voice

One photo a week throughout the year. 4/52

From a young age, they tell me I have natural talent. It’s nice for them to say, but I’m a quiet, reserved child, so I’m not sure about that. I like to sing but I don’t like drawing attention to myself, which means I never sing very loud. I wait until the music is turned up a bit or until I’m in my room where I can close the door. I listen to my mother sing harmonies and quietly try to imitate her, tuning my ear to the nuances of the music.

In the middle years, my life is tumultuous. My dad doesn’t live at my house anymore. He took my youngest brother with him, and nothing feels stable or normal. I cope by muscling out perfect grades in every class, unable (or unwilling) to accept less. Anything less than an “A” would expose the reality that I am crumbling on the inside. I am fractured—just like my family—and I sing to keep myself afloat. It is the only art I can make, partly because I don’t really have to work at it that hard, and I am fighting deep depression. Maybe they were right about the natural talent. I like to think it was God’s lifeline to me. He gave me a voice to explore so that I might learn how to explore other things that bring life and joy—little by little, inch by inch.

I go to college and find myself thoroughly deconstructed. I can’t keep up the perfection I managed to muscle in earlier years. Instead I crack open the rawest place and scribble lyrics of my deep brokenness, squeaking out desperate prayers and pleas for God to come and help me find a way out of the dark place, proclaiming a desire to heal long before the healing comes.

God brings me a man that takes me by the hand right out of that mire. We make love and babies and very, very slowly, light begins pouring into me. He disarms me with his humility and opens up the spaces I’ve curled in around. The fears that hold me with fury start losing their grip. Simple times, little faces, and rearranged perspective starts me looking for beauty in new places: the ordinary moments of every day; the miracle I am living.

I find a camera in my hands and start freezing everything beautiful I see. At first I think I’m going to be somebody bigger or better, but I quickly learn that seeing deeply is far more important than the constant pressure to prove myself…to myself. Behind vanity, sometimes there are worthy pursuits. Vanity, however, can set the less mature person in a compromised direction. My subjects smile into my lens and I see the vulnerable moment just before I click when they are asking themselves, do I look ok? Do my faults and fears show? Does my nice outfit and carefully groomed appearance hide my insecurity? No, it doesn’t. It does help me see for myself that I am not the only one that constantly wonders if I am (fill in the blank) enough, and I see a new beauty in humanity that only comes in a shared vulnerable moment.

My sweet neighbor teaches me how to sew. I never wanted to learn, especially when my grandmother wanted to teach me as a child. It took too much time and effort to make things look perfect. I just knew it, even though I never really tried. She shows me the way to embrace things that take time; the value in one step at a time. Now I experience a calm purpose as I wash, dry, iron the fabric, tear the cut edges to square up, measure, cut, align, pin, sew, and turn. The process is beauty to me.

For many years, I carry a cavernous hunger. I am desperate to be filled, even though all the food I devour doesn’t touch it. I eat my feelings, as they say, and love the starch, the carbohydrate, and convenience of things in packages. I don’t want to cook, because I’m terrified of being locked up in a chauvinist marriage. I tell my good man from the beginning, I am not your house maid. I am not your cook. He loves me anyway, and does all those things until I learn on my own that filling the hearts and bellies of the ones I love is one of the greatest joys, and that chopping stuff with a good knife is therapeutic.

I write words in every different place over all the years from the early to the present. Journals, spiral notebooks, and one blog after the next. I don’t call myself a writer because it is scary to own my voice. I avoid. I hide. I agonize. I stretch. I try to write again and again until the dam is compromised enough to fall down completely and bring the rushing water all the way through the previously dry channel. My voice is found, and while I am trepidatious about the power it wields, I know that I can’t rest until I help others find theirs as well.

********

Friends – I am eager to share a new venture with you. It is a project that is very dear to my heart, and I am believing it will be an encouragement to many. I invite you to check out Kindred Mom, a collaborative blog where many different women will be sharing about their motherhood experiences through story-driven essays. I would love your support as Kindred Mom is getting established. You can do any of the following:

> Follow us on Instagram and Twitter
> Join our Kindred Mom Facebook Group
> Submit an essay to Kindred Mom
> Subscribe to our Email List
> Read along as we begin sharing essays and let your mama friends know about the blog

“You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” Psalm 16:11

1311. my husband’s constant (and sacrificial) support of all my crazy ideas, 1312. roozy boozy’s new haircut, 1313. hank starting to find his confidence with walking, 1314. big buddy’s constant hugs, 1315. riding together as a family (still new and quite exciting), 1316. seeing threads come together, 1317. making some new banners, 1318. met new neighbors, 1319. sermon on the vastness of God’s redemptive power, 1320. friends on the Kindred Mom journey with me

Family

New Ride

One photo a week throughout the year. 3/52 

Eleven months ago, when our youngest was born, we outgrew the miracle mini van we have been driving for the past 5 years (the story of that van is part of this post, if you are interested to read about it). Adding one more baby put us over the 7 seat limit of our Sienna, so we have been driving 2 cars whenever we have to go somewhere as a family for the past year. Most people would have seen this as not ideal, but we were not in a position to buy a new vehicle at that time, so we committed ourselves to making it work. Most of the time, it wasn’t an issue. During the week, I was with the kids while daddy was at work, and the seven of us (kids + mama) fit in the van just fine for our normal activities.

The biggest sacrifices we made were 1) not being able to do much traveling outside the city for the year, and 2) my husband and I not being able to sit beside each other (and I’ll be honest..hold hands) in the car whenever we did travel together. We went to church and other local destinations caravan style in two cars with hands-free ear buds in so we could still talk en route to wherever we were going.

I didn’t think we’d be getting a new vehicle for a while, as we’d been able to make the caravan set-up work fairly well, but looking ahead to spring and summer (and a number of trips we hope to be taking), we have been talking on and off about all the specifics we would need in a vehicle upgrade to meet our needs. My husband wasn’t excited about a passenger van (believing the one pictured above would be out of our price-rage/too hard to find)…the other passenger van options were underwhelming for him. I, personally didn’t see how an SUV option could be a great long-term fit for us, with growing legs and the travel bug we have. We talked, looked, prayed, and waited.

A few weeks ago, we had a date-night planned and a sweet friend over to watch our kids. It was the perfect opportunity to go on our own and check out a few of the SUV options my husband had narrowed down the search to. One sit in a third-row seat, and we realized that an SUV really wasn’t going to work. Fully prepared to wait months more if needed, we left the dealership in conversation about what other options were out there.

The next morning, he found the listing for this van, the Nissan NV 3500 – a newer 12-passenger van with a number of awesome features, at a dealership 20 minutes from our house. It was a bit over what we wanted to spend, but not prohibitively so, and since he had been looking for one of these to check out in-person for many months, we decided to go check it out. These vans are typically used for commercial purposes and the passenger configuration is less-common, so they are really hard to find. At a minimum, we thought it would be a great opportunity to see it in person in the event we wanted to get one in the future. I had no idea we’d be driving it home that night.

There are a host of smaller details surrounding the purchase of this van that are meaningful to me, but tedious to write. Suffice it to say, I doubt there is another vehicle in the world that meets our family needs more perfectly than this one does (and will for the foreseeable future).

We are all excited for the adventures to come, and I feel incredibly grateful for the space, the smooth ride, the ability to travel together, and the blessing of holding hands with my hardworking husband who made this purchase possible. I have been on a high ever since we brought it home, and every time I step up into the driver’s seat, I am reminded of what a gift this vehicle is, what a gift my family is, and what a gift this life I live is. Grateful is an understatement.

Watch out grandparents – we hope to bring our jumbo van and delightful crew to see you sometime soon.

“And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19 NASB

1301. Voxer & Voxer groups – great for busy moms, 1302. launched new site for moms, blog post coming soon, 1303. successful homeschool week, 1304. dinner tonight with friends who are moving soon, 1305. important mail sent off, 1306. upcoming girls night invitations sent out, 1307. physics experiments with friction and inertia, 1308. everyone working together at home, 1309. laundry mostly done, 1310. calls from faraway friends and family

Family / Life & Faith

Nicknames

One photo a week throughout the year. 2/52 

I asked for smiles, and I got mostly smiles. The one on the left looks a little constipated, but he did technically comply with my request. I am in love with the oversized purple hat that swallows up Roozy’s head, and the swagger that Missy Moo carries with her wherever she goes. There is KidWonder in the back, masterfully wielding her big-sister powers to get a smile out of our nearly-toddling little guy. Oh,  and handsome guy on the right, heart-eye emoji’s for you.

As I am looking ahead to a new year of possibilities, I have been thinking about what I want this blog space to be for me going forward. There are some new exciting things on the horizon (I’ll be announcing very soon) that have helped me realize that here on this blog, I want to continue sharing the most genuine thoughts about my years with these sweet kids–about my thoughts for them and my adventures with them–so that one day they might return here and discover new things about what their mama treasured in her heart during their young years.

Many of you know that I don’t share their names on the blog, which has been my small attempt at preserving some online anonymity for them as they grow. One day, they will make choices about how they want to be represented online in connection with their real names, but in the meantime, I feel that it is a small gift to give them the space to be shrouded in at least a little mystery as I tell our family stories.

That said, I have been mildly frustrated by the limitations of writing intentionally about each one without their names, so, I’ve landed on the compromise of sharing their nicknames here instead.

In birth order, I’d like to introduce:

KidWonder – My creative, effervescent oldest daughter who enjoys life to its very fullest and is constantly creating with whatever materials she can get her hands on. She is a quirky, artsy, hilariously random, and unlike any other person I’ve ever met…in a good way. She sees the world in her own way, and in the most pure and innocent sense, does not care what anyone else thinks of her.

Mr. Clean – My oldest son; a sharp and organized guy who will take every word you say literally. If I say we are leaving the house at 1pm and his watch shows 1:01pm, he will playfully heckle me about why we haven’t left yet. This trait is one part annoying, two parts useful. In many ways, he keeps our house on the rails without trying. He loves order, and shows strong leadership ability…both things that challenge me in good ways.

Big Buddy – My middle son who is a little more tender-hearted than his older brother, loves music, and has a quirky and varied musical palette. He loves everything from classical to Michael Jackson to electronic music to indie bands. He often asks me poignant questions about abstract things, and I love that he is curious.

Missy Moo – This girl brings spirit to our house. In a family full of personality, she shines brighter (and talks louder) than anyone else. I suppose that is what it takes to be heard as the fourth-born. She is a sweet singer, has shown significant interest in being a runner, and is an unstoppable force.

Roozy Boozy – This little miss is all about purple these days. She has been self-planning her next (3rd) birthday for the past 8 months, which is set to be a purple extravaganza. She has a stubborn streak like her oldest brother, but she’s also a keen observer of things. She’s a quieter soul (thus far), but has no problem standing up for herself.

Hank the Tank – Somewhere in the first months of life, Daddy started calling this guy Hank the Tank. He was big at birth (10lbs 4oz) and grew quickly from there. He’s a content, strong fella who has a tender heart and bright smile, and has bonded closely with Daddy — more than the other kids at this age. He has never been a cuddler (he actually actively resisted cuddling from the earliest days, which was a surprise to me), but he is a fierce force of love. I’m interested to discover more about him this year as he turns 1 year, begins walking, and joins the ranks of the adventurous (mobile) Allen kids.

1291. our weekly dinner group, 1292. connections with new friends, 1293. group voxer chats, 1294. answered prayers, 1295. beauty found in unexpected places, 1296. re-discovering the tub of special baby clothes I’ve saved for each child, 1297. little creative minds experimenting with physics principles, 1298. friends sharing breakthroughs, 1299. moments I remember to be silly with my kids, 1300. a new van

Life & Faith / Motherhood

Burdens Laid Down

One photo a week throughout the year. 1/52  — Taken January 1, 2017

There are maybe fifteen of us sitting in a circle, some holding babies, some quietly giving thanks that their kids are in the children’s wing of the church, coloring, laughing, and playing with bubbles on the other side of the building. Quiet space to think is not always afforded to moms with little ones. Constant noise and endless needs keep the mind running in high gear, always managing a mini-crisis or preparing for the next one that will undoubtedly arise within the next few hours.

I am the mom quietly giving thanks for an opportunity to think about all that 2016 brought to me.

Each mama in the circle has a pencil and a white sheet of paper with a few reflection questions to consider.

Line one asks me, “What are a few words that encompass your experience in 2016?”

I haven’t really given it a lot of thought until this moment, and I feel a little surprised that I write down: healing, restful, simple.

It wasn’t a dramatic or spectacular year in the ways I’m used to. It may have been dramatic out there in the wide world, but here in our little home, and in my inner-heart space, there was a settling; a breathing-out; a letting-shoulders-relax…a new experience for anxious me.

In February, I gave birth to my sixth child—a 10lb 4oz hunk of love that has delighted all of us throughout the year. The months that followed feel fuzzy in my mind, but I know that while I might have been tender, I was also full to the brim of joy and the reward of little faces greeting me every morning. Our family danced through the delicate transition period after the new arrival with more grace than usual, probably because God heaped it on us with great generosity.

Throughout the summer, I watched my older five play outside in the mild Seattle sun for hours and hours, it’s rays warming me through in a new and unexpected way. I cradled my infant son and felt the weight and beauty of his soul in place of the heavy burdens I’ve carried in years passed. I set down every other thing that I have collected over the years with the intent to prove myself valuable or successful or even just ok in my own skin—and instead took up the practice of breathing slow and looking up through the glittery leaves above me as I pondered the lavish beauty of life that is easily missed by those who are running, chasing, and thoughtlessly squandering what is right in front of them in pursuit of all the not-yet’s…as I have done for years without realizing it.

In October, I wrote all the thoughts I could about simplicity and my pursuit of it; a little surprised that I have begun to cherish the journey I started years ago when I first picked up the book Freedom of Simplicity by Richard Foster. I’d venture to say that the pursuit of simplicity has been a difficult and humbling experience, but as I begin to discover the rewards of it, I can’t recommend it highly enough. There are cords that hold us captive to things without our knowledge, but simplicity opens the door to a different, and more beautiful reality.

The last months of the year found me up to my ears in gratitude for the fullness of my life and the realization that even though I’ve struggled through years of hard things and hard feelings, sometimes there is a stretch of time where the angst falls away and the lungs are filled with hope that all the lost and broken things will one day be restored.

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:10 ESV

1281. little hands that pinch and pat their way through nursing, 1282. the purple girl and all the purple things she loves, 1283. ‘seriously cute’ reminding me often that even when she grows up and moves away, she will visit me, 1284. mr. bubs and his delight that I run my fingers through his handsome hair when he hugs me close, 1285. my diligent guy who quiets my soul by quieting the house clutter, 1286. moments of grace with my growing girl who is learning how to carry herself with dignity as she straddles the line between imaginative child and blossoming teen, 1287. some quiet hours alone for the first time in a while, 1288. new books and new horizons, 1289. warmth of community, 1290. the satisfaction I find in creative collaboration

Life & Faith

Cultivating a Teachable Heart

He really is a stand-out kid; smart, capable, clever, and helpful. He brings me more joy than I could say with his goofy 8-year-old grin, and the thoughtful ways he cares for others. He also knows how to push my buttons with incredible precision.

Whenever I correct his behavior, he resists, pushes back and tries to wrestle me for control…all too often. Many times I can take it in stride—stay the course, and calmly hand down a reasonable consequence—but give me the right recipe of exhaustion, feeling spread thin, and boiling frustration over the fact that we have been around this bush a million times, and you will see my grace for him melt away as hot anger overtakes me.

I think to myself, “If only he wouldn’t contest my authority. If only he would listen to me and understand that his choices have real consequences. If only he could see that what I do is ultimately meant to help him. If only he were a little more teachable, maybe this wouldn’t be such an exhausting experience.”

For all my frustration with my son’s stubborn behavior, I can be exactly the same way.

When a leader or trusted friend points out a sensitive area of in my life that I can’t (or don’t want to) see, I throw up my defenses and try to reason away things that may need to be addressed. When God convicts my heart about a behavior or an issue, my natural tendency is to deflect, compare, or excuse myself from it. Acknowledging weaknesses, mistakes, and straight up sin isn’t comfortable for anyone. In fact, it is something like digging out an infected splinter. It might hurt in the moment, but it is ultimately for the best in the long run.

“My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline, and don’t be upset when He corrects you. For the Lord corrects those He loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom He delights.” Proverbs 3:11-12

To be teachable means that I choose to be humble.

It means I am open, listening, and ready to take action in a new direction, with new perspective when it is given to me—even if dealing with the circumstance is inconvenient or uncomfortable. It means I lay down my pride so that I might receive wisdom from God as a willing student of His grace, acknowledging that His ways are not my ways (Isaiah 55:8). There is a deeper reality than what we often see on the surface.

Sometimes God corrects me, not to humiliate me, but to keep me from harm.

Sometimes God prunes my branches, not to damage me, but to help me bear fruit.

Sometimes God humbles me, not to make me angry but to soften my heart and prepare me to receive His good gifts.

Sometimes God slows me down, not to punish me, but to help me hear His voice in the quiet of my heart.

Sometimes God allows me to feel weak, not to put me in my place, but to show me how mercifully He can heal the deepest hurts as I trust myself to His care.

“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” 1 Corinthians 13:12

To cultivate a teachable heart means I recognize that sometimes there are things in the picture that I do not see.

Cultivating a teachable heart opens me up to understanding myself and my circumstances from a new perspective. It means that I can move forward, humbly and confidently, after receiving the Lord’s discipline, care, and guidance for whatever challenges lie ahead of me without my pride in the way.

Cultivating a teachable heart is a core part of being a disciple of Jesus. It requires that I acknowledge my dependence on His grace, and invites me to remember that as His child, He delights in me. He corrects me entirely for my benefit, that I might lay hold of abundant life and the peace that passes all understanding.

“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6

*This post was originally a guest post for Christine Chappell
Motherhood / Thoughts

The Generous Parent

I sit on my deep red couch with my journal open on my lap. The chatter of childhood surrounds me as my six kids alternately play and argue their way through the morning, fighting over random toys or who gets to be in charge of the pretend play scenario they have cooked up. I make a list of things I shouldn’t forget to do, and jot down notes of quiet thoughts I simply don’t want to lose track of in the momentum of family life. I write down: What does it mean to be a generous mother?

About then, my seven year old plops on the couch next to me and leans into my personal space. One part of me wants to send him back to play with the others and preserve the gloriousness of not having someone touching me at every moment, but before I give that command, my eyes fall across my journal page—a Holy Spirit invitation to recognize that this is a moment I can choose to be generous with my son.

Even though I really want my space and a little room to think my own thoughts, I close my journal and put my arm around him for the awkward cuddle of a long-legged, tender-hearted boy who feels the need for midday mama-snuggles. I know these days won’t last, and just this once, I feel satisfied that I am aware of his need and prepared to sacrifice my space for a few minutes of filling his heart with my attention. In this moment, I am a generous mother.

I don’t always make the gracious choice. In my heart, I want to, but tiredness, busyness, and spread-thinness impedes my ability to give my children my best at all times. Most often, I am stumbling through parenthood, powered by love, but not always able to get the tenderness I feel for my kids to show through gentle actions and encouraging words.

Nothing else has illuminated my humanity and the daily struggle to circumvent selfishness in order to humbly serve my family quite like parenthood. I find that sometimes even small gestures of kindness require a significant effort (especially when I am short on sleep, and consequently short on patience). Sometimes it is easier to stay focused on my to-do lists, and on the never-ending tasks of ordinary life, without pausing to attend to the little ones who simply want my attention for a few moments.

Like any other mom, I want to give my children the best of everything, whenever possible. I entertain hope that they might be spared suffering, ridicule, poverty, and challenges throughout their lives. I pray for those things, but deep down, I recognize that I can neither promise nor guarantee safe distance from adversity. I often forget that what I can give them, and what they really need in these years at home, is a parent who is invested, attentive, and tuned in to their emotional needs in addition to their physical ones. I forget that generosity doesn’t always mean giving them stuff. Sometimes it means allowing the inevitable interruptions of childhood, and purposing to give my attention generously to each as they seek me out.

At Christmas, we give gifts wrapped with paper and tape that can be opened in the excitement of Christmas morning. Every other moment of the year, we have the opportunity to give gifts that are only opened with the tenure of relationship, by forged connection and trust built in the mundane moments. We must recognize that our attentive presence is invaluable for our children.

This is what it means to be a generous parent: to see and embrace our children, to hear about their dreams and worries with listening ear and words of encouragement, and to celebrate the small victories they have in every stage of development. If we can do these things in their years at home with us, they will see return on our investment throughout the rest of their lives.

*This post originally appeared as a guest post for Meredith M. Dangel. 

Life & Faith / Thoughts

Contentment: The Struggle to Find It

We’re only here for whipping cream. I first looked for it at Costco since it is usually in the dairy section there, but this time it was nowhere to be found. I had to make another stop at another store with a parade of kids behind me. While they’re exiting the minivan, I make them stand on the white line that separates the parking spaces. It makes me laugh when they naturally line up in order of height. As we go, I look like a mother duck and her ducklings; quite a sight for the city-dwellers around who can’t seem to hide their incredulous expressions at the length of our line. It is equal parts thrill and chore to get through the aisles of a store with all six in tow for one item. I have to lead the way and simultaneously mind the line so no one strays or knocks merchandise off of shelves as we go by. It’s not the easiest job, but I have learned to be at peace with the work it takes to accomplish anything with a bursting nest…most of the time.

In a few days, we will be in full feasting mode, and the preparations for Thanksgiving Day has me reflecting in the quiet of my heart. I ponder the merits of having not only a thankful heart, but going a little bit further to cultivate full-fledged contentment. It seems like the two ideas could be the same, but in my mind gratitude is a start, and contentment is a deep space where profound peace resides.

A brief look at the differences: Gratitude is a currency—something I offer in response to gifts received—but honestly, I can say thanks all day long and still harbor hidden feelings of envy and bitterness about my life and what I don’t have. I can outwardly feast and inwardly feed dark things in my soul that erode my joy. In contrast, contentment doesn’t allow such an internal conflict to persist, because it is not a currency like gratitude.

Contentment is a posture.

It can be practiced in every kind of circumstance. I can cultivate contentment even when the extremities of my life exist in tension—joys and heartaches intermingled in the same space. I recognize that cultivating contentment is merely embracing the truth of what is in front of me, joys and challenges alike.

For many people the joy of this season is laced with anxiety, loneliness, relational struggles, and heartaches of all different kinds—troubles carefully hidden behind the shiny things, twinkling lights, and warm greetings. I have experienced all of these things over the years, and even though I am currently in a sweet season with my crew, I find that holidays still seem to paw at my tender heart spaces. It’s the pause between the action that gets me; the reminiscing, the longing for restoration in relationships, the acknowledgment that even while everything around me is beautiful, I still find it a challenge to celebrate every moment because some moments are just plain hard.

Contentment means I own what is true in my life and see the value in it, whether the season I am in is full of joy or full of challenges, or an odd mix of the two. It means choose not to waste my energy trying to escape what is before me, but instead engage it and work through it, believing that God has a purpose for allowing each season. I struggle to find contentment when I am looking for something tangible to hold tight in my fingers that makes me feel like I am in control of things I am actually not in control of. Contentment means I lay my heart wide open to receive what God gives, and I remain open to the strength, encouragement, and guidance He supplies daily as I commune with Him, whether or not my daily reality is bright and shiny.

Contentment is an invitation to embrace what I have been given, even if those things are not what that I expected or wanted.  Contentment is seeing the purpose in my present situation. What can I learn? How can I grow? How can I give thanks for even the challenges I have in front of me?

Contentment is being present in this moment. Instead of dwelling in the past and the sorrows of yesterday, I am awake to the opportunities to love today. Instead of looking into the distant future and all the not-yet things, I am tuned in to the blessings that hedge me in. I have a roof over my head. I have warm (albeit well-worn) slippers on my feet. I have the noise of happy children around me as I continue sorting out my journey with the Lord in the humble spaces, doing the unglamorous but faithful things.

Contentment is not static. It is an active, intentional cultivation of gratitude in this moment. Contentment is an open-heartedness that lets beauty in and lets stress, pressure, disappointment, and struggle out.

Contentment means I recognize that the nagging pang of inadequacy, and the need for “more” of whatever I don’t have—is a foe that is deliberately working to undermine my joy and my ability to fulfill the purpose of my life with intention.

We struggle to find contentment because we erroneously believe that to cultivate or embrace contentment is to say something akin to “everything is right in the world”. Certainly everything is not right in the world. However, cultivating contentment is a way of saying that in my small space, and my small life, I recognize that the blessings afforded to me are extravagant in comparison to many people and I am grateful for them—even though I may also still struggle to reconcile other things in my heart.

Contentment doesn’t mean I have no further goals or desires. It doesn’t mean that I feel total peace at every moment. It means that in this moment, I choose to shut out the noise and strong messages coming from everywhere that I need more, more more. It means that I acknowledge that who I am and what I have are enough to find a measurable amount of peace right here and right now.

Contentment means I pause to account for the endless gifts in my life that I can easily overlook when I’m plunged deep into worry.

Contentment is a recognition that the things I don’t have, weight I have not lost, the brokenness in relationships that has not been restored, the emotional, mental, or physical challenges I have faced—do not define my value, do not define my success or failure, and do not change the reality that God’s mercy is new every morning. All of the above things do not preclude me from giving thanks for the smallest things in my life that fill the empty pangs in my soul, even if only momentarily at times. I can struggle and still stretch my heart open to receive from God the good things He gives.

Contentment is a way of celebrating tiny milestones, and if practiced faithfully, contentment is a sure way out of despair, discouragement, and disconnection, just not always in a timeframe that suits my sensibilities.

Instead of looking down at the mud I stand in (sometimes up to my hips), it means turning my face upward to the sky in gratitude for the rain that falls, washing away what is not needed and nourishing my roots that are stretching down deep in the soil, growing stronger all the time.

Today, I invite you to turn your face up and open your arms wide. You might still feel the mud at your feet, but do you also feel the rain?

“For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.” 1 Timothy 6:7

1271. the full and good season I’m in, 1272. my ever-faithful husband, 1273. visitors coming, 1274. simplicity, 1275. steadily regaining strength, 1276. toddler conversations, 1277. helpful children, 1278. super deal on a nice dress, 1279. chubby baby hands with a really strong grip, 1280. writing time and new writing friends