The Fury of Fall

Early fall can be a confusing time in the Pacific Northwest. Hail has been known to pelt down on my car as I drive home from work, while the sun simultaneously shines in my face and glistens the wet road.

I’m cozily wrapped in a sweater to fight the morning chill, yet by afternoon, I’m peeling off layers as the sticky sweat of summer seems to linger on my skin. 

This time of year is a majestic paradox of stormy and beautiful, cold and hot, fast and slow,  all mixed together. Patches of green, yellow, brown and hints of red, paint the landscape. The lawn’s grass still grows wildly as the trees begin to lazily litter their leaves upon it. 

My family and I begin to find our rhythm again that we lost in the blur of summer. Back to school routines, shorter days, and the thought of a warm home-cooked meal, offer a welcomed permission to curl up in a blanket and crack open a good book. 

Yet, the beginning of fall is hectic. Mornings are a repeated reel of breakfast, getting dressed, brushing teeth, packing lunch, and heading out the door to catch the bus. 

It’s a constant ebb and flow of keeping up our urgent, fast-paced schedules, while also finding the time to drink that cup of tea and bake fresh banana bread. I often figure out dinner on my way home from work and it’s all I can do to just get the kids in the bath before piling into bed, Yet, there are those afternoons where the clouds roll in beckoning us indoors for games and hot drinks. There are those mornings where a candle is lit,  the sweatshirt stays on, and the second cup of coffee is sipped. 

I find myself lost in the variety that early fall offers us. Stressed one minute, totally calm and relaxed the next, I’m as unsettled and undecided as the weather. One thing, however, remains constant among the changing seasons and that is God’s longing for us. 

I heard a song recently called, “Reckless Love,” by I AM THEY. The lyrics of this song struck a chord with me so vividly, I’ve had it playing on repeat in the car for days. As the chorus echoes in my car speakers, I’m relieved at the reminder the song has provided me: 

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God

Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine

And I couldn’t earn it, I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God, yeah

The message in these lyrics that resonated with me is that the Father’s love is never-ending. It is not something we can earn or deserve and there is something extraordinarily peaceful about that thought. No matter the mistakes we make, how selfish we are, or how tired we might feel, God’s love chases us down and is given freely, without a second thought. 

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My husband and I sometimes get into this routine at night where we watch a show together but we are sitting in different places in the room. He’ll take the comfortable recliner and I always gravitate towards the end of the couch where I can put my drink, snacks, or whatever I am working on, on the table next to me. The other night, I looked up at him and realized that I really wanted him on the couch with me. I didn’t need him to come rub my feet or share my snack, I just wanted him near. 

 “Come sit by me.” I told him. 

“Why, what do you want?” He replied jokingly. He came over and sat by me bringing his Costco-sized extra soft blanket with him. Nothing else had changed much except we were now in closer proximity, but It felt good. It felt better just to be by him. 

Sometimes I feel that’s all the Father wants is for me to just come and be near Him. “Come sit next to me,” He beckons. “I want to share this space with you. I want to be near to you. I don’t need anything other than your presence here with Me.”

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With the start of the school year, I cherish the times my kids and I share before bed (the sweet times, not the I’m throwing a tantrum because kindergarten is so overly exhausting and I just need to sleep ASAP times). 

There’s a favorite story of ours, Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! by Candace Fleming. In the book, the main character Mr. McGreely has a lovely vegetable garden that he has worked really hard to grow. But of course, there are rabbits that keep sneaking in and eating all his vegetables. The story has a very Peter Rabbit vibe to it. 

So in attempts to solve his problem, Mr. McGreely builds all sorts of obstacles to block the rabbits from reaching the vegetables. 

However, the determined “flop ears,” keep getting in to the garden. During this whole debacle, one part in the story describes Mr. McGreely as furious

My 3-year-old son asked me one night, “Mom. what does furious mean?” 

“Really angry.”  I told him. “Mr. McGreely has worked really hard on growing his vegetables and no matter how much he tries, the rabbits keep getting in his garden and eating them.” I summarized.

“Oh.” John replied, his voice dropping an octave mid-word. 

My dad and I share a passion for reading. He and I have passed books back and forth to one another for many years. He recently passed a book on to me called The Furious Longing of God, by Brennan Manning. In this book, Brennan describes God’s relentless and intense love for us and uses the term, furious

Up until reading this book, I always thought of anger as the best synonym for furious, like I described to my son.  But now, when think of fury, I think of the intense and powerful longing love of God the Father. Brennan says, “God is sheer Being-in-Love and there was never a time when God was not love. The foundation of the furious longing of God is the Father who is originating Lover, the Son who is full self-expression of that Love, and the Spirit is the original and inexhaustible activity of that Love.” 

As I think of God in this way, it has transformed how I view this new season. Cold, frosty mornings with crispy yellow leaves hanging off tree branches and pink cotton candy sunrises are just skim off the surface of God’s beautiful love and longing. 

After school the other day, my daughter Hadley pulled out four fall leaves from her backpack. They were small and a vibrant red color with beautiful scalloped edges. 

“Hadley, these are beautiful!” I exclaimed. “Did you get these at school?”

“Yup.” She nodded with a grin. “Out on the playground. I thought you’d like them. “And look,” she pointed out, “ no rips, no holes, no tears. They are perfect.”

I’m not perfect. I’ve got lots of rips, holes and tears, but I’ve also got Jesus and his perfectly scalloped love and the Father’s vibrant, endless longing. 

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We have had a couple thunderstorms this season already, which seems a bit unusual in the Pacific Northwest. My son is deathly afraid of thunder. He has many three-year-old fears, which he would gladly rattle off to you, but this one tops the list. Not only do we need to lay with him during the night when there is thunder, he also needs to be held by us. He needs one arm around him or our body up against his. Sometimes, he squeals or whimpers when the sky booms and other times, he is completely still, too frightened to even move or make a sound. 

I, on the other hand, love thunder. Thunder has always reminded me of the power of God and how mighty He is. It comforts me and reassures me of His magnificence. When the clouds roll in and the sky darkens, His fury, like that of the gathering storm, begin to reveal His greatness and bring me to a place of reverential awe. I’m reminded again of those lyrics and that He longs for us: 

There’s no shadow You won’t light up

Mountain You won’t climb up

Coming after me

There’s no wall You won’t kick down

Lie You won’t tear down

Coming after me

So let the end of September and the start of the fall continue to be a time of mixed up chaos and peace. Let it be a song about God’s never-ending love and longing for us.

When Things Get Hard

“It looks great!”  I tried to reassure you. “Your, “a,” is touching the belt line and the foot line and it’s a complete circle! I’m going to draw a star next to this one because it’s my favorite.”

I swear I saw your eyes roll as I drew a star next to a little “a” in your handwriting book.  

“I don’t like it. I’m done with this stinky book!” you snapped. 

I sighed. So much for my “summer school” attempt. 

My sweet Hadley, I have had many conversations with you about what to do when things get hard. I always tell you, “when things get hard, that’s when our brain grows and that’s when we learn. If we aren’t ever challenged, we won’t ever learn. Things would just be easy and boring.”

I tried to explain to you that day that your ability to persevere is the important thing, even more so than a perfect, “a.” I’m not sure you wanted to hear it at the time or any of the other times we’ve talked about, “trying your best,” but my hope is that it will eventually stick. 

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“I want Mama to do it,”  your two-and-half-year old brother irrecoverably yelled. His face was flushed and his red curls matted. A tired tear fell down one chubby cheek while both his hands clutched the hem of my shirt. 

“Okay. I’ll brush your teeth buddy, but you have to listen and do exactly as I say or Daddy will do it.” I wiped the tear off his cheek with my thumb. 

Brushing you and your brother’s teeth has always been one of my least favorite things to do, I fully admit to this. It has been a task your daddy sort of unknowingly assigned to himself, along with filing your fingernails, and washing your hair. He has a sort of tenderness and care for these necessary jobs that I just don’t seem to possess. 

Yet lately, John has only wanted me to brush his teeth. Why?!?!?  I brush too vigorously, I’m impatient, and I’m not as thorough. Yet, “I want Mama to do it!” has been a nightly chorus line chimed repeatedly at bedtime for the past several weeks. 

Brushing your teeth is hard! I don’t like it. But I do it (at least I do it when your dad can’t or he argues it’s my night to do so), otherwise you might end up with “green pirate teeth.” 

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“I don’t ever want to be a mom!” you declared.

Your cheeks were pink and stained with tears as you lay on your bed, clutching your blankets, curled up in a fetal position. 

“It’s not fun!” you continued. “You never have any fun.” The sobbing persisted and I sat there on the edge of your bed. 

“Of course it’s fun!” I reassured you. “But being a mom can also can be hard. Sometimes that doesn’t look like fun, but it doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it.” 

I wanted to tell you so many things that night, but sleep was definitely high on the priority list for you. You are also starting kindergarten next week and I have some additional thoughts on that I’d like to share.

Being a mother is the hardest thing I have ever done. It doesn’t stop being hard, I am beginning to gather. But I think the rewards and benefits of parenting begin to reveal themselves little by little. It’s as if life doesn’t want to give you too much sweetness at one time, so it rations it for you, making it last, helping you avoid a stomach ache. 

I must confess something to you. I don’t like when things are hard. I’ve never thought of myself as much of a “go getter.” I like to be comfortable. But motherhood is the singular thing that continues to be hard and it is the one thing I feel I have shown the most grit and perseverance for in my entire life.

I continue to get up each and every day and be a mother. Some days are hard, but it is a commitment I made and I am never giving up. I can never give up. This seems to me to be the very definition of having grit, perseverance, or “to keep going when the going gets tough.” So you see Hadley, if someone like me, can do one of the hardest tasks I’ve blessed with undertaking. I know, you can do hard things as well. 

Being a mom might not seem like its fun to you. That’s because I’m putting in a lot of hard work right now developing your character and helping build your sense of “what’s right,” in the world. I lay boundaries. I say no. I am not here so you can just have fun. I am here to raise you. I am here to help shape and mold who you are, this doesn’t always come out as fun, but believe me, it is rewarding. Being a mom is not easy, but it can be fun, despite what it may look like.

You are about to start kindergarten next week and so you’ll embark upon a long journey in school and education. I wanted to share some additional thoughts with you that I hope you’ll someday find helpful. 

It’s going to get hard. There are going to be some things you don’t know. There will be some people who aren’t entirely kind. 

You have some extraordinary gifts. You’re an encourager, you are empathetic. You tell your friends, “believe in yourself.”  You must tell yourself this as well. 

When your brother recently fell out of bed one night, you were quick to comfort and remind him, “It’s okay John. One time I rolled out of bed and my sheets came with me!” You chuckled and turned to your side, falling quickly asleep. 

My hope for you as you start your kindergarten year and things get hard (and I hope they do) is to remember this: Be the best you. There is no one else like you, Hadley. You’re it. You are the only you. God made you with care, paying attention to every detail. You are wonderfully made. 

Persevere,  just keep trying. You might not have the hang of something yet, but you will. Dory had it so right when she kept saying, “just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”

Be kind. Be patient. Continue to be the encouraging classmate who looks for someone who needs a friend. 

Most of all, try the hard thing. It might be saying “hi” to someone new, or taking the time to add details to your work. It might be to practice writing your lowercase letter “a.” But I promise you, the reward is worth the risk. Even if you fail. Because succeeding was never the reward in the first place, it was the effort put forth and that fact that you gave your all.

I hope you see when you are older, even though I wasn’t a big fan of brushing you and your brother’s teeth, that I did my best to raise you and I love you. I have grit when it comes to being your mom. I will keep coming back. I will wake up day after day, I will fight, I will not give up on you. Being a mom is my hard thing. You are the sweetest gift life has rationed to me.

Take the risk kid, write the lowercase “a.” Write it a million times, because soon it will become easy, it will become rote, and it will be shaped the way you’d always hoped it would be. 

 

Confessions of a Summer Mom

I yelled at my kids. No, I screamed. It was the kind of scream that made my throat hoarse after. It was the kind of scream that caused my daughter to nervous laugh and my son, with a face of astounding bewilderment, to follow suit. This upset me even more. 

After what I suspect was the result of days or even weeks of festering, built-up frustration and stress, I yelled at my kids as we were trying to head out the door. 

Then, the shouting stopped and the burning in my throat subsided. Tears came as immediate guilt set in. An apology of “I’m sorry and I just need you to listen,” escaped my lips. My son pointed at the trail of black mascara lining my cheek as my empathetic daughter’s eyes welled up with tears. Her little hand patted my back. “It’s okay, Mom.” 

It was as if the puss had suddenly been released from an infected wound. The built-up intensity that often smolders beneath the surface had escaped.

“Let’s pray,” I suggested. We held hands, making our own mini circle. “When two or more are gathered,” I thought. “Even little hearts count.” I sought forgiveness from the Lord and my kids. I thanked Him for my precious children, whom despite my outburst, I really, truly love. After the cycle of anger, guilt and redemption was complete, I felt my shoulders relax. My body still shaking like it had witnessed a traumatic event, felt lighter as we shuffled out the door. 

Leaving Target proved to be rather trying. John scream-cried as I grabbed the bags and swiftly pushed the red cart away from the check stand. I made my way to the exit, ignoring the howls and crocodile tears. My hair was pulled and arms scratched as I wrestled his heavy, wriggling, and oh-so-stubborn, almost three-year-old body into the car seat. 

“I just wanted to see something cool!” He wailed. 

“I just wanted you to listen,” my mind echoed. How could I blame him after what he had just witnessed his mom do before we left the house. If this tantrum keeps up, maybe I’ll shed those five pounds I’ve gained since summer started just trying to buckle him in. 

I find summer to be quilt difficult. I never seem to remember how difficult it can be. The routine has changed for everyone and I find that I am actually the one struggling to adjust the most. My free time seems limited to minutes a day and not even consecutive ones, or late at night if I can stay up that long. 

I haven’t been motivated to write or work out. I often question when is the earliest, most socially acceptable time to start drinking wine on a given weekday. Some days all I want to do is curl up and binge watch Outlander. Sometimes it seems my singular goal for the day is when I get to have time to myself. 

“Another episode?” my daughter asks. 

“Sure.” It gives me more time to just sit here. Am I wasting away a summer with my kids, letting precious memory-filled possibilities slip through the cracks? Instead of waking up with the excitement of a new day, I find myself stressed, tired, lazy, and unmotivated.

What is wrong with me? 

My husband reassures me that I’m not a mean mom and when I ask my daughter, she says I seem mostly happy. Yet, I feel all I am doing is constantly correcting behavior, setting or restating boundaries, and saying “don’t do this or that.” 

Is this all a mom does? Is it just me because other moms seem calmer than myself? Is this just on the surface? Are they smoldering underneath as well? Are summers just as hard for them? 

Maybe this explosion of emotions in front of my kids was the release that finally needed to happen. I do somehow feel lighter. Much like that feather floating in the Forest Gump movie, feeling so heavy and not quite comfortable where I landed, I needed that gust of wind to pick me up and float me off again. 

Around the end of July last summer, I wrote about how to avoid the sometimes tempting downward spiral of self-pity. Something to do with the time I year I suppose. My body and mind lull and I’m needing to find motivation and increase my positivity and energy. Much like the green tomato on my windowsill that fell off the tomato plant too early, I need time to redden and ripen in the morning sun. 

In the summer blog post I wrote about a year ago, I said that I found scripture, self-care, and friends to be among the things that can remedy my mid-summer slump symptoms. I needed to be reminded of this again. 

I had the most comforting thought driving home tonight after spending a couple hours over a couple drinks with some friends.  And that is, “I’m not the only one.” 

It isn’t just me who is crazy and feeling these feelings. It isn’t just me who feels constantly on edge, impatient, or angry. I’m not the only one who feels that I am in constant output mode with very little received or what seems to be very little to show for it. 

My kids aren’t the only ones with difficulties. I’m not the only one who can’t seem to manage my time to workout or read my bible. Summer is difficult for other moms too. 

It isn’t just me. I’m not the only one.

It isn’t just you. You are not the only one. 

Earlier this summer, I wrote a little story about a trip to Trader Joes. I thought the story in itself held a great theme for the summer. That is, letting the kids be the lead in making the memories. This involves improvising, going with the flow, and not being rushed:

“Today, we went to Trader Joes after a fun summer morning at the park. Normally, when at any grocery store with kids, I put my two, almost three year old son in the shopping cart seat right by me and talk to him about what we need to find. My five year old daughter walks along the side and helps put items in the cart. 

This time however, as we approached the entrance and I grabbed my usual big cart,  my daughter pleaded to push one of the small kid carts. I didn’t feel like arguing with her because, well, what was my reasoning? That shopping would be harder? That it would take longer? Was I in a rush to leave? It’s summer, what else do I have going on? So I said, “sure,” and waited for what was coming next. 

“I want to push a shopping cart too!” my son shouted. 

So in we went, two kids, two kids carts, one list, and one mom who prepared herself for this sudden improvisational shopping trip. 

I laughed numerous times and apologized to strangers profusely. I directed cart traffic, barked orders, pulled one cart and pushed the other and confiscated extra treats that were snuck in.  It took us twice as long at the store, if not longer. 

At the end they got to help unload the cart at checkout and received some surprise stickers. I quickly traded in the two little carts for a big one because I was not about to let them out in the parking lot with those things. 

With the shopping bags loaded in the big cart,  I placed my son back into the cart seat and my daughter held onto the side of the cart. I accepted the receipt and breathed a sigh of relief. Things were back to normal. I was back in my comfortable place as we made our way to the car. 

I could have said no to my kids and made them shop in our usual way, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as memorable. Not nearly as special to them. Not to mention, the tantrum or fit that would have ensued had I said, “no.”

Improvisation is never the quick or easy route. It certainly wasn’t quick or easy at TJs today. I shouldn’t always be so quick to say, “no.”

Mothers are the master improvisers, but it’s not always easy.  Letting my kids in on the daily music of life or the writing I create, which almost always is inspired by them, will open up more opportunities for improvisation, which could lead to deeper and more meaningful experiences and stories.”

Keeping my kids in the lead on making memories is important to remember here. But more importantly, in order to let them lead, I need to remember to take care of myself. 

After my angry outburst that occurred earlier this summer, I have done the things that have proven to help replenish my depleted resources. I have read scripture, met with friends, went on a date with my husband, started working out, and have taken some meaningful time to write, read or just be. 

I find myself in the last half of August (say it isn’t so!), in a much better place. We’ve made some wonderful memories and it’s been a good summer. 

Shoebox of Joy

A timeline of my life spread out before us as we floated on my bed in a sea of necklaces, earrings, and bracelets. A significant amount of these jewelry pieces I forgot I even had. They remained tucked away in a shoebox in the back of my bedroom closet since our move several months back.

My first gold cross necklace from when I was a young girl catches my eye along with my grandmother’s diamond heart necklace. Both remind me of my family roots and deeply held faith. A locket my husband gave me when we were in high school and a teal beaded necklace from our honeymoon in Maui remind me of the love we’ve shared.

All the memories came flooding back to me. It’s like when you hear that once familiar song or smell the scent that reminds you of that distant memory. As I sat there with my daughter sorting through my accessorized past, I let my jewelry take me back on a journey through the younger years.

Hadley found a little box of dangly earrings and dumped them out in her lap, tossing the box aside. She sifted through her pile as if  she was scooping up handfuls of sand looking for lost treasure. It was like she had been presented with a box of chocolates and was taking a bite of every one to experience each flavor, but doing so at an incredibly fast rate. Declarations of joy and surprise left her lips, “Ahh!”, “Nice,” and “Hehe, look at these!”

She held up a pair of long dangly gold earrings with maroon faux gems, circa 2004. “Ohh these are pretty!” She tossed them aside. “Oh look, the Eiffel Tower!”

“I forgot I had those!” I smiled picking up the other Eiffel Tower earring and holding it next to the one in Hadley’s hand. They reminded me of my always obsession with Paris and anything French.

“These are pretty. Can I put them on you?” Her eyes lit up like the Paris sky.

“Sure, just be careful.” I leaned in and felt her little fingers tickle my ear lobe, gently searching for the “cut,” as she called it. She had found a chocolate to savor just a little longer.

“Am I hurting you?” She carefully stuck the looped backing in and pulled it down.

“No, you’re doing great.” I smiled fully content and relaxed.

Hadley had really wanted to go through my jewelry ever since she had received a create-your-jewelry box kit for her 5th birthday. We put it together and she filled it with a few of her bracelets, a horse necklace, and Sofia amulet.  She’s been “into jewelry,” every since. Particularly, my jewelry it seems. She’ll ask questions about what I’m wearing, which honestly right now rotates between my two favorite pairs of stud earrings and my Tiffany’s heart necklace.

We discovered that one of Hadley’s favorite pieces of jewelry of mine was a shell necklace. One smooth, pearly, round shell hung from a string of tiny green beads. This was one that I got my first time in Maui with my family.

Trips to Edmonds beach are among her favorite summertime activities and our annual Whidbey Island trip every spring with our family is her happy place. We’ve collected numerous rocks, sea glass, and shells from the beaches there and filled a mason jar that we keep in the kids’ bathroom to remind us of our beach trips. This beachy shell necklace must remind her of that. I could almost feel the warm Maui sun on my sand-covered toes as I held the necklace in my hand. Maybe she pictured walking along the rocky shore with Nana and Grandma, clutching fist fulls of precious beach treasures.

Recently, I’ve jumped in on the “Tidying Up,” phenomenon. I’ve scoured parts of the house and asked myself the all-important question, “Does this bring me joy?” Some things have yet to be Marie Kondo’d in my house and my jewelry is one of those things.

We had completed the first step by dumping it all out on the bed. Would this be the day I’d tackle my jewelry? Would I hold each piece in my palm, ask if it brought my joy, thank it, and part ways or put it back in my shoebox?

Before having kids, I used to accessorize regularly with long necklaces or dangly earrings. I’d get compliments on my outfits and jewelry. Whether going out with friends or heading off to work, I had the time to carefully select the jewelry I wanted to wear. Never anything expensive, but carefully planned and put together.

As I’ve gotten older and become a mom, I’ve found that simple and important pieces of jewelry are what have remained steadfast. The long and dangly bling of my past, I could let go of. Or at least, stuff away in a shoebox.  

My husband gave me the heart locket a few months after we started dating for my 18th birthday. I wore that locket most days. I worked as a server at a local cafe my first year of college.

Before each shift, I’d tuck that necklace under my stiff, white collared t-shirt and secure the green apron around my waist. My nights at the cafe were spent counting down the hours until I was off and got to go see him. I’d reach up to feel the locket between my fingers bringing me a bit closer to him as I waited for that last table to leave.

One night, I reached up to feel the necklace, only to find it wasn’t there. My heart raced and panic swelled up in my chest as I breathed slowly trying to stifle the tears. I had lost it!

I searched the cafe floors and checked to see if the locket had slipped down my shirt. In the moonlight, I  peeked under and in between the seats in my car. A fellow server took a flashlight out to the parking lot to help me look. I can’t remember where the necklace actually was, but I know it was found, because I still have it.

This heart locket necklace will always have significance for me because it came from the man who has loved me unwaveringly for half of my life. It’s also a reminder for me that each piece of jewelry has a story and a connection to my past, like a small fragment of shell or smoothed-out sea glass in a jar full of collected memories acquired over the course of a lifetime.

I didn’t end up getting rid of any of my jewelry that day. I scooped up the dangly earrings and placed them back in their little box. I closed my grandmother’s jewelry box and gathered all my Hawaii necklaces and laid them back in the shoebox.

That wasn’t the day to sort through my jewelry and decide if it brought me joy. Because, honestly, all of it did. It was a box of my past, present, and as I sat there with my daughter, future. Parts of me I might never be able to explain to her, and the parts she may never know of me, and yet all the parts that make up the person that I am today.

 

This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series “Remember This.”

It’s a Jungle Out There

My plea furiously fled through my fingertips. Tears streamed down my face. I tightly grasped my phone, my seemingly only source to reach the outside world, as I typed out my frantic message. Facebook, my only method I could think of at the time to reach people quickly. I needed help. I needed advice and I needed it fast:

“Okay… Now would be the time for words of encouragement or advice from moms with two or more kids. The first kid will be okay right? My poor girl is having a really hard time and my heart is breaking for her. We’ve only been home with her little brother for 4 days and it’s been really hard. We even have tons of help! But Hadley has regressed in her potty training and pees her pants every 30 minutes, cries all the time, has lost focus to play or complete any kind of task. Those are just a few things. To make it worse, I can’t pick her up or hold her in my lap because of my stupid c section. Oh and she has a cold so the little guy and I have been upstairs all day. I’m like the neighbor who says “ hi,”  occasionally to her. I just need to hear that it will get better and that she’ll be okay.”

The transition to two kids was one of the hardest things I have ever had to go through. My second c-section had made my ability to stretch my love to reach two children seem totally impossible. I was grasping for any advice or help to get me through. I had all the physical help one could possibly have with two grandmas, two aunts, and my dear husband, rotating around the clock at our house. I didn’t have many close friends who had more than one kid at the time. Words of encouragement were what I needed, even if they were from someone who was a, “Facebook friend.”

Words seem to sometimes not be enough. When a stranger offers advice or a kind life lesson phrase, often unwanted or unsolicited, it can seem empty and shallow. Even when someone close to us offers a word of wisdom, depending on our mood, it can seem cliche.

Sometimes though, words are exactly what we need to hear. We are desperate for them. Desperate to hear the words that affirm our thinking, feelings, and experience.  

I got a lot of responses from my post that day. Some I clung to.

That’s just it. When we get a response or phrase we find hope in or we like, we cling to it.

The kids and I started watching a new show on Netflix, Our Planet. The first episode we watched was, The Jungle. Dodging poison dart frogs, picking off ants, our young watching our every move while learning and growing, are just a few examples of how I related motherhood to the jungle, figuratively and literally, while watching this show on Netflix. This got me thinking about life as a jungle. This tangled up, intricate, intense, beautiful display of life, is made up of layers, much like the jungle, and the different experiences people have.  

Sometimes we get so stuck in our motherhood lives, tangled in roots at the jungle floor, that we forget other people outside of our home have lives too. They have been through things. Hard things. Sad things. We will never know where the well-meaning comment or advice stemmed from that the person behind us in-line at the grocery store so graciously shared. All we see is the spit-up, tantrums, and the smell of our showerless selves on a continual basis. It is truly difficult to see good intent and take the advice for what it is. Honest, truthful and heartfelt (most of the time). It’s hard to see the whole jungle or even know it’s there, when you feel stuck at the forest floor. There are people who have seen more of the jungle than we have. Perhaps we should listen to what they have to say.

Like anything, it is challenging to see beyond the circumstance you are in, which is why I think taking advice or a meaningful comment from someone looking in (if only a for a 2-minute glimpse) might not be such a bad thing. If you like it, take it and cling to it.

I believe when people offer us moms advice or words about motherhood, that we shouldn’t take offense so easily. People are well-meaning. Especially women who are older and are moms. They have been through the jungle (Maybe they still are in it. Do we ever leave?), but have seen the other side. Maybe their kids are grown and they know that we will truly miss these days? How are we to know if we haven’t been through it?

There is something to be learned from people who aren’t in the same stage of life we are in. We should not so easily brush them off as misunderstanding or overstepping strangers.  Just because they aren’t sweeping away the thick jungle foliage with us, doesn’t mean they don’t have anything to offer or haven’t swept away huge jungle leaves themselves.

Now that I’ve adjusted to life with two kids and I’ve, “been through that part of the jungle,” I can see the beauty of having two kids. I see my son and daughter playing together, laughing, even arguing and learning, and I know that all that jungle madness I went through was worth it. My heart did indeed stretch and my love reached them both. This is not something I would have known unless I experienced it myself. No amount of words of wisdom or advice could have gotten me through or prepared me. I had to live it. Breath it. Let it crush me down like a pounding rainfall, only to let me rise up again spilling over with bigger, greener leaves and a colorful display of tropical blooms.

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This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series on “Rewriting the Script.”

He Needs Room, Not Perfection

“Mom, will you write Jesus down for me so I know how to spell it?” Hadley asked. She continued on with her plan, “I’m going to write him a note.”

“Of course,” I responded with surprise. My daughter proceeded to set up her spot at the kitchen table. Colored construction paper, stickers, and our bucket of markers were carefully arranged. Finally, she settled herself down in the chair.

She started drawing figures on her paper. “What color is Jesus’ hair?” She looked up at me curiously as I wrote down J-E-S-U-S on a notecard and slid it in front of her.

“Brown hair.” I took a swig of water, “Here, I’ll get your bible and we can look at the picture.” I grabbed her children’s bible from the kids’ bookcase and flipped to the new testament. There was an illustration of Jesus showing his typical smile, long brown hair, flowing robe, and outstretched arms, that you so often see in children’s bibles. “There, see,” I pointed out, “brown hair.”

Hadley glanced at the picture to confirm and then continued on with her drawing. I stood there wondering what had brought on this sudden urge to write Jesus a note. This idea was somehow laid on Hadley’s heart and she had responded by taking action. I was so proud of her. So often, when things are laid on our hearts, they are sudden and almost out of nowhere. She must have felt that she needed to speak to Jesus.

One of Hadley’s favorite things to do lately is draw pictures or write notes to her family and friends. The people she loves most dearly get these special art creations from her. And now Jesus, was one of them. This was her way to show Him that she loved Him.

“I hope the mailman will be able to get this to Him.” Hadley continued coloring in her and Jesus standing together. I wanted to tell her, “He’s already got it sweetheart. He already knows everything in your heart. We don’t even need to mail it.” But I also wanted to continue to support her desire to mail this letter and complete this act of worship for Christ.

“I’ll get an envelope. Then you can write His name on the front.”  I suggested.

“I’ll draw a house on a cloud too.” she concluded.

“Good idea.” I grinned. “This is the sweetest thing ever,” I thought to myself. My heart was full.

A few minutes later, as Hadley was starting to decorate the front of the envelope, sounds of frustration could he heard. “Uhhhh, No!” she cried.

I approached the kitchen table, “What is it?”

“I can’t get the J right! It has to be perfect!” Hadley explained. She started to write her J again, the hook was getting her caught up. She must have wanted it to look exactly like mine. Again, I thought to myself what I wanted to say to her, “It doesn’t have to perfect. Jesus loves this gift you’ve given Him.” Only this time instead of keeping the thought to myself, I had to share.

“Hadley, it doesn’t have to perfect. That is the wonderful thing about Jesus. He doesn’t expect perfection from us. Just try your best. It’s the thought that matters.”

“Uhhh, no! It has to be perfect!” She declared again. I realized in that moment, I just had to step back and let her wrestle with it. I had said my piece, but she was in the thick of it and hadn’t really heard what I was trying to say.

After several attempts, she was satisfied enough with her J. She had moved on, added the final touches on her envelope and note. I was still stuck on her frustration though. What brought on this need for perfection?

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I’ve never thought of myself as a perfectionist. I can let little things go. In my career, as a teacher, I feel many educators tend to lean towards the perfectionist personality type, although not all.  I remember one group activity in particular during a staff meeting where we had to make a poster about… something (okay the details of the group assignment fail me). Someone had asked me to write. Somehow I always get stuck writing on these dang group posters. I do not have neat teacher handwriting. I am not a perfectionist and my handwriting is crap. I am also left-handed, so my hand just drags past my letters smearing the ink on the paper and my hand,  but I always end up having to write on these lovely group charts. At any rate, we had been listing bullet points to go with whatever the main idea of our poster was. I started creating bullet points for things we hadn’t written in yet, only to discover we had one pre-created bullet point left and no other details to add. Did this bother me? No. “Let’s make it into a star.” I suggest. “I’ll just cross it out.” Looks of sheer horror and disgust were thrown my way. I could see some teachers in my group grappling with what to put with that last unclaimed bullet point! I was however, done and completely satisfied with our task.

While I declare I am not a perfectionist, that I am easy going and don’t feel the need to control everything, my husband might argue differently with me. He and I love the tv show Friends. We constantly throughout our ten years of marriage and dating before that, have shot back and forth Friends related quotes and banter. I always thought of myself as a Rachel. But my husband was quick to correct me. “No, no. You’re most definitely a Monica. You’re Monica, with the looks of Rachel, and the appetite of Joey.”

I totally agree. He’s right. I’m Monica. I like things neat and clean. I don’t like clutter. Bins are my jam. My kids will have memories of putting away toys in bins for years to come. If I were to choose a category where I am closest to being a perfectionist, it is definitely keeping a tidy home. This is why the mantra, “It’s better than it was,” is so helpful to me while I clean and organize. This is why I am trying to delight in my children at this age and embrace the crunching beneath my feet as I walk across the kitchen floor.

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So this brings me to my question. If Jesus doesn’t expect perfection from us, why do we expect it of ourselves? I’m not sure. It can be exhausting to expect perfection from yourself or from others. I recently read a quote from Ruth Chou Simons @gracelaced: ”So fluff, fold, and tidy up in this season, but more importantly- let’s have decluttered hearts that prepare Him room.” She was referencing this holiday season and the need we can sometimes feel to have our homes perfectly decorated and prepared. It struck me because this is an area of weakness for me where perfectionism can rear its ugly head. Rather than focusing on outward tidying of things, more importantly, my heart needs to be tidied and uncluttered. I need to make room for Jesus, just as my daughter did when she wrote Him her love note. I hope I can continue to encourage Hadley that Jesus doesn’t expect perfection from her and nor do I. Jesus doesn’t expect a perfect heart. He just needs room to be there.

These Two Boys

These two boys. They have no idea the amount of joy and love they’ve brought with them into this world.

They don’t yet know that their moms spent their childhood together. They don’t know that it all started because one of us decided to sit next to the other on the bus, as it huffed toward school that first day of kindergarten. They don’t know the number of sleepovers, Mariah Carey lip syncs, or the amount of times that we both declared an undying love for A-Rod.

They don’t know that we were there for eachother during the brutal adolescent years. Through the acne, boy crushes, heartbreaks, and poor fashion choices.

They don’t know that we were in each other’s wedding party and that we gave speeches, read poetry, and said “cheers,” to lifelong happiness. They don’t know the tears that were shed when our hearts desired to be moms so badly. Or, the sheer joy we felt when we met one another’s babes and we finally were.  They don’t know the delight that our hearts experience when we see our children talking, playing, hugging or interacting together.

But they do know that walking with a friend and splashing in puddles is pretty much the best thing ever.

Luke,

Your mom is one of the kindest, most thoughtful souls I have ever met. You bring her more joy than you could possibly know. She was meant to be your mother. Her heart couldn’t have been more ready for you. And just as she has always been there for me, she will always be there for you.

She is smart, so smart. Brilliant. She’s got the best sense of humor and can effortlessly exchange banter with the best of them. 

Sometimes your mom and I go for a stretch of time without talking or seeing one another. Life just gets in the way. However, we have known each other for decades, and the bond that was made all those years ago, will always remain.

With Love,

Kayleen