Why you should stop trying to earn God’s love

I gave my three-year-old a bowl of grapes the other day, and he said something that broke my heart.

“Jack. Eat your fruit, buddy.”

“Why? Because it helps me grow big and strong?”

“Yes.”

“And because you and Daddy love me more when I eat my fruit?”

My heart about stopped. Did he really think that my love for him had anything to do with him eating his grapes? This concept sounds so obvious and juvenile to us…but how often do we subliminally believe that God’s love for us changes with our behavior?

“Buddy. Mommy and Daddy love you always and forever no matter what. There’s nothing you can do to change that. We want you to eat your fruit because it’s good for you. We want what’s good for you because we love you.”

“Oh. Ok!” Then he ran off to watch his sister play Mario Kart. I can’t stop thinking about this exchange. My love for these tiny people runs deeper than anything I know. I tell them I love them every day. I show them I love them by making their meals, keeping them clean, comfy and addressing their every need – and a lot of their wants, too. There’s nothing they did to earn my love for them, I loved them before I birthed them.

In fact, if kids had to “earn” our love, we would all be in trouble. These miniature, bouncy humans have approximately zero to offer their parents, rationally speaking. They are loud when you tell them to be quiet. They are quiet when you tell them to speak up. And we love them. They are expensive, exhausting and create more dirty diapers than should be legal. And we love them. Purely from a place of logic and reason, children are a net drain on our finances, time and energy…And we love our kids unconditionally, regardless of what they bring to the table. We love them because we love them, not because they did something to earn it.

Is this not the same way God loves us?

What can I possibly offer the God who spoke the world into existence? Nothing. And He loves me. He provides for my every need and even a lot of my wants. Here I am, loud when He wants me to be quiet; quiet when He wants me to speak up. And He loves me. Even when I do all that I can to serve Him, I’ve accomplished nothing He couldn’t have taken care of by Himself. He loves me because He loves me, not because I did something special to deserve it. But because He is love.

As Christians, we say that God loves us, but do we really believe that? After our passive-aggressive retorts to our spouse; after habitually making everything a priority except Jesus, after we snap at our kids and ignore our neighbors; we realize we’ve messed up. Again. We pause for a moment to come up for a breath of air and feel like we’ve failed God too many times. And then we do something dangerous: we mistakenly intertwine God’s love for us and His delight in us – something that we cannot affect; and something that we can. It’s there that we’ve missed the crux of grace. We begin to feel unloved and unworthy because of our failings, like somehow God’s love for us is dependent on our behavior. Good news, friends, it isn’t.

His love for you will never waver. I mean, how could a human do anything to alter the very character of God who has existed forever? Is there anything more comforting than that? He. Loves. You. And do you know what exhilarates me? That separate from His love for me, God can actually delight in me. When we obey Him, when we pursue Him, when we delight in Him  – He delights in us. “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.” (Psalm 147:11)

My husband is taking on the massive DIY project of ripping out the old, yucky carpet on our stairs. We wanted to make them look less “The Money Pit,” and more “Pinterest.” This is a legit project involving an orbital sander, hammers, and dozens of other toxic or sharp items procured from Home Depot. Jack has intently watched his Daddy rip carpet, sand and paint when he finally asked to help. What help can a 3-year-old actually provide in a staircase redo? About as much help as I can offer LeBron James in perfecting his free throw. Nada. And yet David and I were thrilled that Jack wanted to help with the project. David handed him a wrench and told him to tap on each of the already-secured screws to, you know, “make sure everything was tight.”

As parents, our delight obviously wasn’t in Jack’s wrench-tapping skills. Our delight was in Jack’s heart to please his dad. We already loved him to capacity, whether he was watching TV or helping his dad. Because we love him, we were thrilled that he desired to help his Daddy accomplish his work. We love our son while he is hitting his sister. We love him when he gives her a hug. But we delight in him when he does the right thing.

John Piper explained, “Therefore, we are doing what is right when we are understanding the truth of God’s value for what it is, and feeling it proportionately to his universal supremacy, and acting in ways that express God’s supreme value. That is what ‘right’ means.”

I’m so grateful that God uses parenting to give us a glimpse into the way He feels about us, His children. God loves you always, without condition or reservation. He loves you at your worst and at your best. He loves you because He loves you. He loves you so relentlessly that He desires you to seek Him and delight in Him. And when you do seek Him, obey Him and value Him, you delight Him. Does this not blow your mind? That the God of the universe can actually delight in you, when you delight in Him? That God uses tiny people who cannot even tie their own shoes to demonstrate His perfect love for me?

A lesson in magnifying joy

My 3-year-old son broke his tibia two months ago. This daredevil child (who I pulled out of the zoo’s alligator pit by his feet a few months back), fractured his leg by – get this – jumping from the coffee table to the couch. Seriously? The kid has fallen from a 7-foot high play structure without a scratch, but landing on the soft couch was apparently awkward enough to score us three trips to the hospital and a bright orange cast from toe to mid-thigh.

Allow me to reassure you that my child’s broken leg is more reflective of his personality than my parenting. My non-daredevil daughter has made it to four-and-a-half years old with no injury worse than a “paper cut.” I use quotations because no one has actually seen one of these “horrifying afflictions” on her skin. But we do purchase Band-Aids in bulk because, well, she gets them “all the time.” If you mother a bouncy boy, I’m sure you can empathize with the wildness of little males. And if you do not, please pause for a moment to appreciate all the additional gray your head does not have.

So there we were, three weeks into the chaos that is parenting three preschool-aged children, two of whom did not walk. According to the orthopedist, even a drop of water on the cast required an immediate blow drying, and I felt like I’d busted out my Conair daily. I’d removed tomato sauce, ranch dressing, dirt and jelly from that neon, weaponized toddler leg. I’d even smelled it, certain that nearby dog droppings had made its way into the tiny crevices. (It wound up being the dirt-caked jelly. Never thought I’d be so happy to smell dirt-caked jelly.)

Don’t get me started on getting the children into or out of the car (which we do a dozen times a day). Remember that logic puzzle where the farmer is crossing a river with a fox, goose and a bag of beans? He has to bring them all to the other side of the river and can only carry one at a time, but can’t leave the fox alone with the goose, or the goose with the beans. It takes him seven trips to bring all of the parties across the river. This was my life bringing groceries inside the house. I was the farmer and I strategically struggled juggling bags and children into my house, only in my version, the goose’s leg had a neon orange cast and the farmer, goose, fox and bag of beans all whined excessively.

Three weeks in, I was tired and defeated. I cracked open my bible to James 1:2-3. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” Joy? Joy?! Shoot. I had complained more in three weeks of my son’s broken leg than I had in my three decades of life leading up to it. “My arms hurt!” “This cast stinks!” “Why do you people need to eat dinner every niiiiiiight?!!!”

James preaches on, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (James 1:19-20) Quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…So basically if we used myself as an example, you could just take me and then do the exact the opposite of that, and there’s the way we’re supposed to act. “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” (James 1:26) Worthless? Yikes, James.

So where do I go from here after that kind of admonishing? James actually hand-holds me through this one: “Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror, and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” Reading James 1 in the midst of this joyless parenting trial felt like a quick mirror-check at a dinner party, where I find gobs of mascara under my eyes. “Whoa, sister. Good thing you checked that mirror!” I reassure myself but then I leave the mascara under my eyes and head back to chat it up with my friends. How ridiculous, right? And yet, that messy mascara is my spiritual gunk when I read these words and don’t let them impact my attitude.

I’M READY TO JAMES 1:19-IFY MY PARENTING.

A few nights ago, my husband suggested we take a few minutes to pray together, thanking God for the blessings in our lives. Air conditioning, clean running water, healthy food, healthy babies, access to some of the best medical care on the planet, books, forgiveness, hot coffee, a washing machine, a car, a job, Nutella. We could have gone on forever. How quick I was to complain about ONE hardship amidst all this bounty. Reminding ourselves of God’s perfect and generous provision readjusted my perspective immediately. I was suddenly…joyful.

It took my 3-year-old’s broken leg to magnify the joylessness I allowed to hold me captive in my parenting. I’m hoping I shed that joylessness along with the nasty orange fiberglass cast we sawed off and left behind at the doctor’s office. I’m ready to James 1:19-ify my parenting. Let’s do it together!

Have you ever felt joyless? What things do you do that bring joy back into your joyless life? I’d love to hear from you.

When Your Life Becomes a Pinterest Fail

I recently had a day. Like, a DAY. You know the kind? When you wake up too late for coffee? (Fail.) You frantically rush the kids to dress, eat and sit still for a bumpy, mediocre ponytail that you’d have NEVER let your mom get away with. Ants invaded your kitchen while you slept – a pleasant reminder that you did a lousy job wiping down the counters after dinner last night. (Another fail.) You are a grump, and grumpiness is scientifically proven to be eleventy-gazillion times more contagious than Hand-Foot-Mouth-disease. So now your kids are all grumps, too. And you’re annoyed at them for being grumps. (Fail again.) You barely make it through carpool pickup at noon and by the time you’re flipping four burnt but passable grilled cheeses (fail) you remember that you never dropped off the husband’s dry cleaning which needs to be ready by tomorrow. (Fail.) The laundry is out of control, you don’t remember when you last mopped and your kids won’t touch their lunches. So you escape into the pantry and cry. Because how is it humanly possible for a person to spin their wheels this hard yet fail so miserably?

When I quit my paid job to stay home and raise babies, I expected a few things: 1.) My real house would now look like my Pinterest house. 2.) The stress in my life would disappear. 3.) After pouring into them daily, my children would obviously “arise and call me blessed,” à la Proverbs 31. Isn’t that supposed to be the legacy of a stay-at-home mom? That’s her entire job, what excuse does she have for failure?

Yet here I am, five years of full-time motherhood under my belt, basking in my shortcomings as I sob into the unorganized hodge-podge of processed foods I swore I’d never feed my kids.

After a teary afternoon of failure-basking, I finally snapped out of it to realize my problem wasn’t my litany of mom-fails; my problem was my misplaced identity. I’d been measuring my worth on a scale of everything but Jesus. Pinterest, Martha Stewart, the gluten-free Joneses. I measured my success by my ability to avoid feeding my kids refined sugar (hello, popsicles); by how clean my floors were (not); by how organized my pantry was (please see “hodge-podge”). Imagine the most eternally-insignificant way to gauge success, and that was my barometer.

I know better. And yet I was letting “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.” (Matthew 13:22) I was speeding on the expressway to fruitless living. As I put the words to paper, I now realize how out-of-whack my priorities can get. The desire for cleaner floors, my obsession with 7 extra grams of sugar and the absence of labeled snack baskets in my pantry were sending me to the brink. Who is this girl?

Have you ever done this? What kind of yardsticks do you use to measure your worth? Job promotions? Raises? Losing baby weight? Being a “Good Mom”? Punctuality? Being noticed? Being liked? Having an organized house? The list never ends. It’s great to excel in these areas, and God can be glorified in all of these things – but they cannot be the measure by which we obtain our value. If they are, we are missing the gospel. And this week, I missed the gospel.

Sometimes we know cognitively that we need Jesus’s forgiveness, but our hearts are a little slower on the uptake. Understanding the gospel and being transformed by it must go hand-in-hand.

“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all…God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:7-8; 10-11)

I was going through an identity crisis and I didn’t even know it until I was disciplined for it. If my hope and identity is in the eternal, if I am properly fixated on loving God and loving people; of going into the world and preaching the good news to all creation (Mark 16:15), I shouldn’t be rattled by the inability to make my pantry look adorable.

The tears of self-defeat sure as heck sting. But how grateful I am for this discipline; for the reminder that if I seek unimportant, worldly things, my life will inevitably be shattered by those same unimportant, worldly things. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18) So let’s turn our eyes from the burnt grilled cheeses and ant conventions in our kitchens to a kind of mind-blowing love that anchors our hollow hearts with forgiveness and hope.

* Photo by Kai Lazarte via Flickr

How to be the church we were meant to be

The Southern California June drizzle declared war on my frizzy hair. I sat with three other fourteen-year-old retreat-goers, and we eyed the straws and gumdrops in front of us. In our freshman awkwardness, we tried to look more bored than the person next to us. We waited for the middle-aged church lady to give us instructions.

“Each group will use the gumdrops and straws to build a church. The group that builds the largest church will win a prize,” The woman announced as she held up four Snickers bars. “You have ten minutes. Get started.”

Eight separate groups of creaky-voiced boys and brace-faced girls began sticking straws into gelatinized sugar. Tall, wobbly towers sprang up around us. Our group members just stared at one another. Competitive by nature, my ears had perked up as soon as the lady mentioned that a winner would be declared. I had an idea.

“Hey! Guys! Since a ‘church’ is actually made up of the people and not the building, let’s build a bunch of gum-drop-and-straw people!” My group members indifferently nodded. They either thought I was an idiot or didn’t care, but they bought in and soon we had erected 8 adorably sticky gum-drop people. I was very pleased with myself. Game on, people.

“Time!” Ten minutes had elapsed and I couldn’t wait to blow this lady’s mind with our out-of-the-box game move. She made the rounds, stoically measuring each group’s “church.” She approached our table and I excitedly studied her face, waiting for the light bulb, the excitement, the congratulatory smile. Instead I was met with confusion. “What’s this?”

“Well,” I beamed, “You said to build a ‘church,’ and a ‘church’ is the people, not the building, so…” I did my best Vanna White as I pointed to our sad little straw men, brutally slain by the expression on this woman’s face.

“No… That wasn’t what we were going for.” Just like that, I set up my own literal straw men, and she destroyed them. (Could I at least get some bonus points for irony?)

At fourteen, I gave lip service to the idea of the people comprising the church, and yet the closest I got to living that out was through a failed straw man illustration at a church retreat. I grabbed a nugget of truth and ran with it only far enough to hopefully win me a Snickers bar.

I thought I understood what it meant to follow Jesus. I never missed a Sunday service, I didn’t use profanity, I prayed before meals. I would gladly dig my Conservative heels in during political debates with friends, using the Gospel as a bludgeoning tool for the “unsaved.” And of course, I thought I was perfectly fine. I was saved by grace, through faith. So there I sat, lazy and complacent with my golden ticket of salvation, waiting blissfully for the rapture. “I’ll just be over here, watching homeless people and orphans around me from a comfortable distance.“ “Don’t want to get too close, because, well, safety.” “I don’t feel called to serve ‘those people,’ “I’m busy with school/work/kids/life, maybe during another season when I have more time.” Can you relate? On and on we go, rationalizing why we don’t have time for the only work we were ever created to do: love God, love people.

Children starve, homeless people freeze, orphans dream of adoption in our own city…while we sit idly by, calling ourselves “Christians,” a label we think we deserve because we avoid orgies and certain four-letter words and we vote Republican. We join bible studies and hear Beth Moore speak and we play worship music in our air-conditioned cars while we drive our kids to another extracurricular activity.

The idea of the believers being the church is not new. The early church looked less like a weekly country club gathering and more like people who were actually being the hands and feet of Jesus. And yet here we are, two thousand years removed, we “Christians” sit complacently for an hour in our Sunday best, surrounded by people exactly like you and me.  We check the box and then congratulate ourselves for raising well-behaved children. When did we start relegating “church” to a building where we attend a one-hour service on Sunday?

Seventy-seven percent of Americans call themselves Christians. Can it be true that eight out of ten people love their neighbors as themselves? Does your city live out the gospel? Are eight out of ten of your city’s inhabitants feeding the hungry, adopting the orphans and caring for the sick? If the church is an overwhelming majority, then why are kids still hungry in our city? Does your neighborhood look like the hands and feet of Jesus, moving to meet needs? Does your household? Do you? If we are honest, I think we are failing at doing the “good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)

So we, the church, have failed and we fall short, but we already intimately know how beautiful and mysterious God’s grace is. Let’s accept it again and watch in awe as it covers these very failures to unimaginable depths. All of them: my complacency, my selfishness, my greed, my ambivalence to suffering, and on and on forever. No one can fail so badly that God’s grace doesn’t cover us if we seek Him. But the story doesn’t end with epic failures on our part, mind-blowing grace on His, then us grace-recipients sitting idly, clutching our golden tickets of salvation. Let’s live this thing out, let’s work out our salvation in fear and trembling, letting God work though us to fulfill His purpose. (Philippians 2:12-13)

Ok, so we are the “church.” You and me. We are saved by His grace, through faith. And we’re not supposed to just sit here. So what are we supposed to do?

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” Galatians 5:13

“Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

“But be sure to fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things He has done for you.” 1 Samuel 12:24

Let’s seek out the needs around us, matching our abilities to those needs. Let’s connect with our neighbors and love them like we’re commanded. We’ve started believing these weird lies, like the only way to serve Jesus and love others is to dig wells and build homes in third world countries. How beautiful that our brothers and sisters in Jesus are serving people this way. As someone who cannot distinguish a wrench from a ratchet, I will not likely be erecting a home for anyone who wants a non-collapsing roof. I’m good at other, less build-y things.

But if I match my skills and capacity with the need around me, I will identify needs and rise to the occasion. I can make a meal for someone who is sick. I can invite my depressed neighbor over for coffee. I can host lemonade stands with my kids and donate the proceeds to charity. I can take my kids to the park in a poorer part of town and bring extra snacks to share with kids. There is need all around us. If the church outnumbers the non-church, we should be resounding voices of willing hearts, eagerly seeking opportunities to show Christ’s love.

It’s great that we attend our Sunday services, rocking out to the worship music and nodding along to the sermon for an hour…but a week has 168 hours. What are we doing with the rest of them? Where’s our fruit? Let’s be the church that we were intended to be. Let’s move.

Must I love those neighbors, too?

I couldn’t believe it! New neighbors had finally moved into the vacant house next door.

Prospective friends! Do they have kids? Do they like board games? Are they awesome? My mind began to run wild with the potential of new BFFs living just a stone’s throw away. But those daydreams came to a screeching halt after a few interactions that struck me as odd: they avoided eye contact, ignored my “hello” waves, and practically ran away from me when I tried to strike up conversation. I soon realized they were neither renting, nor had they purchased the house they were occupying. They were straight-up SQUATTERS. I wanted to crawl out of my skin.

A bank representative came to ask me questions about the folks occupying the home still owned by Wells Fargo. I had a few questions of my own. What were they DOING in there?! Were they making drugs? I have KIDS! Why do I have to live next door to shady people? Seriously, who just moves into a vacant home??

I proceeded to live my life inside my own lines: attending church, teaching my kids about Jesus, and hosting a Bible study in my home. Of course, I filled our Bible study friends in on every juicy detail about our new illegal neighbors. Then I cracked open my Bible and gave lip service of my gratefulness for the relentless grace and love that God lavishes on me–the same grace and love that I’m called to lavish on those around me.

“Go in peace, Bible study friends! I love you all dearly. Just look out for those creeper neighbors as you get in your cars. Don’t make eye contact, lest they mug you. God bless you all!”

The squatters came and went for three months. The house lights would turn on at strange hours, and they had some kind of workshop in their garage. I speculated, I wondered, I gossiped.

What a Pharisee.

But God was working on my heart. After about two-and-a-half months of resenting my neighbors, I felt a gentle nudge: Hey, so remember all that basic, Gospel 101 stuff about loving your neighbor as yourself? Yes, of course I remember. But surely that command didn’t refer to THESE neighbors. They are here illegally. Can’t I just stick to loving the other sweet neighbors across the street, instead? They’re much easier to love.

I resisted, I rationalized, I searched for any excuse to ignore this command.

Then the gentle nudge started to feel like more like a big slap in my face. Mark 2: 16-17 came to mind, where Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. The Pharisees, side-eying Jesus, asked his disciples: “‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’”

And here I stood, claiming that I was committed to living out God’s word, while completely missing the second most important commandment. “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Galatians 5:14).

Two and a half months passed before my head knowledge of God’s Word reached my heart. TWO AND A HALF MONTHS until I looked at the 20-something-year-old girl next door and thought, Hey, that’s someone’s daughter. More importantly, that’s God’s daughter. What if no one has ever told her there’s more for her than this? So I tried to forge a relationship. I brought her a bag of oranges from our tree. She gratefully thanked me, saying she almost never eats fresh produce. I asked her about her life. She was guarded.

I started thinking about this girl all the time. I just wanted to hug her and tell her, “You and I are the same! God sees us exactly the same, we are created in His image, and no matter what you’ve done, Jesus paid for it.”

About a week after that initial conversation, I pulled into my driveway with a car full of kids and groceries. My neighbors stood in their driveway, all their belongings strapped to their beat-up car. A locksmith and a bank representative escorted them out. Oh no! I thought.They’re leaving already?! I ran my kids inside and turned on an episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, filled an empty Trader Joe’s bag with oranges and ran into my driveway. I wanted to tell the girl what I should have told her two months ago, but when I looked up, the car was gone. As quietly as they had moved in, they moved out.

I stood in my driveway and cried. I missed it. For three months, I gossiped, I judged, I hated, I condemned. And I missed the most basic tenet of my faith: love God, love people. How could I have been so dense?

Some families willingly move into dangerous neighborhoods for the sake of sharing the Gospel with their neighbors. I had the luxury of staying in my comfortable home, in my safe neighborhood, with a mission field conveniently moving in next door to me. I missed the opportunity to live missionally because I let my desire for comfort speak louder than the truth of the Gospel.

I missed it. I messed up. As I stood in my driveway crying like a baby I also knew that God’s patience and grace were covering me. Where do I go from here? I could wallow in my failures. Or I could repent, get up, brush off the dust and do better next time.

Can you relate? Where are you allowing your desire for comfort to speak louder than the truth of the gospel?

Are minivans basically flannel pajamas?

I’ve always hated minivans and their radically sloping hoods. Why are they so close to the ground? They look like clown cars. Or like if Wayne Szalinski took a Smart Car and blew it up with the machine in from “Honey I Blew Up the Baby.” (Don’t pretend you’re too good for that movie. We both know you watched it and “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” dozens of times as a child.)

Remember those awful 1990s minivans with wood paneled exteriors? Some great things came out of the 90s: slap bracelets, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, pogs. But wood-paneled minivans? Not so much. They go in the same 90s-fail category as Crystal Pepsi and Olestra. But I digress.

Anyway, here’s my problem: our fourth child is expanding my uterus daily, and we are up against a hard deadline. Before August we will either need to purchase a larger vehicle, or strap one child to the roof. In the interest of not getting arrested or committed, I have decided to go with the first option. David and I test drove some cars a few weekends ago, and the results were unbelievable…I kind of fell in love with a minivan. The Suburban was great, too. But…the minivan maneuvered like a little coupe compared to the ‘burb. It had two dvd screens in the rear and SIX CUPHOLDERS in the front seat. This made me so happy there were almost tears. (Extra cup holders are my love language, along with nachos and Pad Thai noodles.) And the doors just swooshed open with the click of the key fob! Picture it, people: stroller, diaper bag, newborn in my Ergo, plus three kids ages five and under barreling towards the car. But then, “click!” doors open. Three older kids let themselves in. If the cup holders didn’t create tears, the button-slide-doors definitely warranted them.

Sitting in the car was so comfortable, I felt like I was wearing flannel pjs. But therein lies the problem. The car also looks like flannel pjs…So…am I the worst if I don’t want to drive around town in flannel pjs? I wouldn’t ever wear them to the grocery or to school pick up…but isn’t driving a minivan essentially wearing flannel pjs…and a retainer and a green face mask while your hair is in curlers?! flannel pjs

“Hey guys, I’m just going to make a quick Costco run.”

Perhaps my biggest takeaway from this dilemma should be the realization that I need to think less of outward appearances. Let’s be real, everyone I know who drives one is awesome and completely rocks the minivan. But do I have what it takes to get over myself? Is driving a minivan really like grocery shopping in flannel pajamas? Or am I just a self-absorbed whiner who can’t identify a first world problem if it ran her over in a wood-paneled minivan?

What do you think?! Can I pull of a minivan? Suburbans are awesome but they don’t have sliding doors! Help me, Obi-Momfriends. You’re my only hope. No, seriously. I’d love your thoughts.


 

Ten Kid Gifts Under $10

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When my daughter turned four, my husband and I asked her what she wanted to do for her birthday. We braced ourselves (and our wallets) for Disneyland or a pony. She responded quickly, “I want to go to Sonic! And can we please eat in the car?!” Yes, my child. Yes, we can.


sonic selah

This is the face of a birthday child who wants for nothing. This is the face of a child eating a $2 grilled cheese and some fries dipped in ranch. I know what you’re thinking: “Thanks for the Sonic story…where are the gift ideas?” Well, friend. My Sonic story is a critical precursor to the gift ideas, because you know what? As it turns out, my kid did not want or need a pricey birthday gift. I’d venture to guess yours might be equally satisfied with less this holiday season. In that vein, here are 10 gift ideas under $10 for kiddos.

1.) LUNCH DATE with mom/dad/grandma/grandpa. Give your child a cool, sticker-covered certificate good for a one-on-one date at the fast food location of choice. Remember these little beings cannot drive, so the freedom of choosing their food and company is kind of exhilarating.

2.) DISCOUNT MOVIE. Bling out some construction-paper ticket stubs with rhinestones. Wrap it up. Take that kid to the dollar theater. Boom.

3.) SECRET MISSION SCAVENGER HUNT. Set up a scavenger hunt in your neighborhood. Wrap your first clues and start time/date in a box along with a magnifying glass for your little special agent.

4.) MOM AND ME BAKERY. Get a box of funfetti cake mix and a tub of frosting. Throw in some sprinkles and decorative icing. Wrap it up all fancy. Now don’t forget to explain to your kid that you two are going to transform your kitchen into a bakery for a day. And also make sure you follow through. Otherwise you just gave your kid a wrapped box of groceries, you weirdo.

5.) A little PACKAGE OF SEEDS, POT and paint/markers/stickers to decorate the pot. You can plant the seeds together and watch your seedlings grow.

6.) CANDY SAMPLER PLATTER. Grab a bunch of little candies or yummy fruit snacks and put them on a platter from Dollar Tree. Cover that sweetness with cellophane and a big ribbon, then declare it a delicious experiment to determine your little person’s favorite treat.

7.) DOLLAR TREE SHOPPING SPREE. Give your kid a $5 bill and let him pick out whatever his sweet little heart desires…at the Dollar Tree. The thrill of the hunt and freedom to pick out his own loot will blow his little mind.

8.) CRAFT BOX. Check out the dollar aisle at Target or head back to Dollar Tree and fill a clear jar or box with all kinds of art supplies: googly eyes, glue, pipe cleaners, glitter, markers, paper, fuzzy balls, tinsel, and let your kid’s imagination take it from there.

9.) CAN YOU SEW IN A STRAIGHT LINE? My daughter saw some felt bunting (you know those little triangle banners?) and begged for it like it was a grilled cheese from Sonic. I’ll be buying some felt in her favorite colors, cutting them into triangles and sewing up personalized room décor. You can make this with hearts, stars, triangles, circles, whatever. Easy. Cheap. Awesome.

10.) Take your little person to a real, live BASKETBALL GAME: at your local high school. Cheap, local and fun. You could even wrap up a little basketball so he or she has something to open.

Hope one or two of these ideas can help lighten your holiday load without lightning your wallet!

This post was originally published on December 3, 2013 at Girls on the Grid.

Photo Credit: Allerleirau, Creative Commons

WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME?!

We’re a week into transitional kindergarten. Now that my sweet family has endured my overcaffeinated-drill-sergeant-8:05AM-self, I feel the need to calmly ask every mother who has gone before me…WHY DID YOU NOT TELL ME ABOUT ALL THE THINGS?! Why are we not collectively freaking out about the madness of elementary? I just stepped into a whole new world of daily school drop-off and pick-up and it is NOTHING like I expected. I need to unpack this. Please help me.

Friends whose tiny ones have not yet begun the daily school routine, I want to warn you about a few things that come along with your oldest child beginning real school. It’s not like preschool, where attendance is optional and you can excuse your tardiness with, “Supes long line in Starbucks drive-thru!” …Ok, so after I typed that out I just realized that was actually never an acceptable reason for tardiness. Sorry about that, Ms. Kathy and Ms. Tammy. Thanks for not expelling Selah.

Ahem.

Thing #1: You will cry.

I used to stare blankly at the weepy-mom facebook posts about little Junior starting school. “Let me get this straight,” I thought. “You’ve been wiping Junior’s bottom every few hours for his entire life and now you get a break for three measly hours and you’re going to cry about it? Just…No.” I prematurely decided that upon Selah starting school, I would excitedly cheers my insulated coffee mug with the other moms’ to collectively celebrate a job well done: one kid is slightly more independent than they were last year. Hear, hear!

And then I dropped my precious baby girl off on her first day. I held the unexpected tears back like a hero, but only until I stepped out of the classroom. Then I ugly cried all the way to my car, and when I looked up to wipe away the mascara-laden waterworks, a speed-walking, sidewalk-staring 10-year old boy nearly ran over me with his rolly backpack. Today I had to jump on the grass to dodge a 5th grade Tony Hawk. It’s a jungle out there, you guys.

Thing #2: The parking situation is worse than Target on a Saturday.

Selah’s school is 1.5 miles from our house. It should take four minutes to get there. But I’d never driven past at 8:10am, when ALL OF THE PEOPLE from ALL OF THE HOUSES come out to look for one of 20 parking spaces. The four-way stop has 30 cars waiting to turn left! I finally turned left but I’m here and there are no parking spaces! I can see her classroom but I cannot GET to her classroom! If I didn’t have to face these people twice a day for the next 8 years I would bust out some of my interpretive driving moves. Once you do finally park (a block away, on the street), you scramble and sweat to unbuckle and wrangle the older two, a backpack and a preciously chunktastic one year old who is too slow and too shoe-less to walk on his own. You run like the dickens with your wild chickens to find a perfectly calm classroom, full of punctual children practicing their letters on individual whiteboards. How did everyone else get here so EARLY? Is there an underground parking lot? Do they teleport? How do all the other parents know all of life’s secrets?!

Thing #3: Three hours is not that long.

So you drop off your oldest on her very first day. You blubber to your husband about how you are certain you brought your sweet baby girl home from the hospital exactly three months ago and now she is in school. You momentarily get a hold of yourself to make a quick trip to the grocery store with your other two wild things. You put your groceries away, do some laundry, the standard morning pick-up of the living room toy massacre, reclothe your boys who are now inexplicably stripped down to their chonies. And boom, it’s 11:15 and you need to go pick up your girl. The time just evaporates into the air.

Thing #4: Grab someone in front of you on this wild parenting ride and beg them to tell you the ins and outs.

In that vein, Mamas and Papas of elementary people: TALK TO ME. I am one week in and I just can’t even. Selah’s teacher is so incredible I cried again at back to school night as she explained every tiny detail of what she does for her students. I am overcome. With joy. With mourning. With pride. With excitement and fear and exhaustion. And we’ve only been in school FOUR DAYS! Help me. Tell me all of the things. What do I need to know!?

 

3604332214_905b4aafdd_zIs this a 10k? Or is it parents at morning drop off? WHO KNOWS?

Photo credit: Paul-W, Creative Commons

Present over perfect

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It beckoned me from in between the utility bill and Papa Murphy’s mailer. A shiny, perfect Pottery Barn Kids catalog. I ditched the other envelopes that rudely reminded me of adulthood to indulge in the teeny backpacks and preciously-preppy baby models. My own real-life ragamuffins could wait. It was time to accessorize my kids’ rooms and monogram their lunchboxes. In my head.

Selah starts transitional kindergarten in the fall and I can’t wait to vicariously do the whole back-to-school thing. To walk her into the classroom on her first day; backpack stuffed with fresh crayolas, sharpened pencils and shiny Lisa Frank folders covered in hot pink puppy rainbow bubble sunshine ponies. I’ll fill her little lunchbox with pb&j, sliced apples (skin removed if I’m feeling extra fancy), goldfishies and carrots. A happy face on a post-it if I have time. Look how perfectly-doting and precious I am in my head, packing this sweet child up for her first day of real school! And right when I was about to congratulate my future-self for imaginary “fancy” parenting, I spotted the lunch boxes on page 13 of that PBK catalog:

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Wow…cool lunchbox, Hailey. I love that your mom made you a BUTTERFLY BRIOCHE SANDWICH with herbed ricotta, mandolined radishes, parsley and chives that she probably picked from her organic garden this morning while you slept, after she did Cross Fit in her Lululemon pants and before she made your dad eggs benedict. I have Lululemon pants too! But I save them for special occasions…like big holiday meals requiring elastic waistbanded pants. Anyway, I’m sure Selah would be happy to share some of her Shark Bite fruit snacks with you. What’s that? Oh, I don’t know if they’re gluten-free, and yes they probably do have high fructose corn syrup…Probably extra HFCS, actually. And red dye 40…and probably red dyes 1-39, too. Look, you guys both have love notes from your moms though, so you have that in common! Yours is in French? That’s cool…Selah’s note is just a picture I drew of stick figures high-fiving. But stick figures are the same in every language, so she’s essentially multi-lingual as well. I think you’ll both get along swimmingly.

Another lunchbox in the PBK catalog had a sweet little note affixed with washi tape and the sandwich was cut into a circle with julienned red bell peppers affixed to the top, making it look like a baseball.

Is this real life?

How is Selah supposed to face her fine-dining peers on the inevitable day I forget her lunch and drop off Taco Bell? Pottery Barn Kids, can we please style the next round of lunch boxes with PBJ, baby carrots and Pirate’s Booty? I feel like Pinterest is forcing us to prove how much we love our children through an unspoken new calculation of school lunch complexity. OP (organic produce) + GF (gluten free items) + BB (bento box) + FSLTOTWTA (foods shaped like things other than what they are: bread as baseballs, bananas as mummies, sandwiches that look like storm troopers, bread rolled like sushi, anything cut with a cookie cutter – except cookies, of course, please see “GF.”) = parenting love quotient. I hope you don’t buy those Smuckers Uncrustables because, well, OP/GF/FSLOT/PWA fail, and clearly you do not love your child. (If you did buy these on accident, you can bring them to me and I will eat them all. They are DELICIOUS.)

To be clear, I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with school lunches fancier than the French Laundry. If you have the capacity to do this for your kids and also not lose your mind, you go, Glen Coco. But in this age of social media where we trap ourselves into measuring self-worth by Instagram likes and comments with clapping emojicons, we should ask ourselves: are we making these lunches for our kids? Or is it for the iPhone photo, promptly blasted to our friends while we shoo away the precious babies at our feet who we are allegedly assembling these masterpieces for?

Maybe this isn’t a problem for you. But let me tell you a story about a horrible pet owner. Two years ago, a blubbering lady whisked her dying 5 lb. dog to the vet. The dog had contracted a stomach virus and became dehydrated so quickly that she started seizing and nearly died. After that little pup’s first night of IV fluids in a cold cage, the pet owner came to visit. She walked into the exam room and was so struck by the pathetic shivering preciousness before her, complete with a tiny hot pink bandage from toes to shoulder, that she immediately… TOOK A PICTURE WITH HER PHONE. Not picked up the dog to snuggle it. Not spoke sweet encouraging words to a scared 5 lb. ball of fur. She exploited the tiny pup to share a pic with her Facebook peeps. (Whoever she may be…Ok, fine it was me. Pet owner fail.)

I know what you’re thinking: weren’t we just talking about school lunches? Yes. But it’s the same thing. There’s a right way to take a picture of your 5 lb. furball and post it on Facebook; and then there’s what I did. Both look exactly the same to the onlooker. There’s a right way to knock it out of the park with school lunches more intricate than the Sistine Chapel. And then there’s missing the point. Maybe trilingual Hailey loves radishes and herbed ricotta. But if it were my kid, she’d be way more stoked on a bagel and cream cheese, no matter how much Facebook liked the brioche butterfly.

I guess my main point is this: if you love making your kid fancy lunches, AWESOME. If you’d rather throw a Smuckers Uncrustable in a paper bag with an apple but you’re great at doing crafts with your kids, ROCK ON. If you can’t craft but love hosting dance parties in the living room with your littles, SWEET. If dance parties are out because at weddings you have been mistaken for both Steve Urkel and Elaine from Seinfeld, but you’re present and engaged when you’re running errands with your babies, YOU ARE A STAR.

In this era of Pinterest-everything and first-graders’ school lunches more elaborate than the dinner served at my wedding, let’s not miss the point. Love your babies however you were built to love them best. And don’t succumb to the pressure to gourmetize school lunch if that ain’t your jam. Heaven knows we mamas have enough on our plates already. Hailey’s mom isn’t real. She is an employee of Pottery Barn Kids whose full-time job is to beautifully style high-end lunchboxes with sandwiches that took an hour to assemble. She nailed it, but you don’t have to. We all have this imaginary ideal modern woman in our heads who is perfectly fit, rested, cooks like Giada, never nags her husband and does not get frazzled. This woman is not a thing. If you meet someone who says she is, she is lying. Your sweet kids adore you because you’re their mom. Not because their lunches look like they had a personal stylist.

“Present over perfect. Relationship over rushing. People over pressure. Meaning over mania.”

-Shauna Niequist

Let’s choose present over perfect every time.

photo credit: s.h.u.t.t.e.r.b.u.g Creative Commons

 

When Parenting Gets Easier

Jack’s cast came off a few weeks ago.

How deceptively simple that sentence sounds. Allow me to reword it for accuracy purposes. Ahem: A hospital tech wielded a loud, motorized saw to hack off my 3 year old’s stinky orange cast. Jack screamed and writhed while I held him down and simultaneously parented my two other children who were 3 feet away. They took one look at the tech, her fierce saw and Jack’s screaming face, and were terrified into angelic obedience. (Maybe I should always carry around a loud machine to ensure perfectly-behaved children…If you see me with a vacuum cleaner in my purse, you’ll know why.)

I’d been waiting four weeks for this child’s leg to heal, to get that stinking cast off. Four weeks of carrying around a 33 lb. 3 year-old and a 22 lb. non-walking 16 month-old. Convinced my life would be easier as soon as all three of my children were walking, I had long-ago circled this date on my calendar. I talked about it to anybody who asked about Jack’s leg, mentioned the word cast or even looked in my general direction. I told whoever would listen of the light at the end of my tunnel. May 2nd…May second…May my second child walk again!

May 2nd came, and in we went to the pediatric orthopedist. There was screaming, whining and Daniel Tiger. There was a dropped lollipop embedded in hospital waiting room carpet, which I immediately scooped up and threw into the trash. There were subsequent tears and copious amounts of hand sanitizer. There were wipes to remove the sticky from the fingers. There was a motorized saw to remove the cast from the leg (and hopefully not to accidentally remove the leg from the body). And then it was done. Suddenly, the cast was gone and we were free to go home. I picked up the sticky crayons, paper, wipes and remaining evidence of three miniature people waiting in an exam room for an hour.  I was ready for the simplicity and ease I so vividly foresaw for us after this glorious day. I was ready for a manicure.

We walked fifteen minutes to the car in 95 degree heat. (A mild spring day in Fresno.) My ogre-like double stroller was especially cumbersome at 3:15pm, smack-dab in the middle of nap time. The kids were sleepy and deliriously requested unreasonable things like going to John’s Incredible Pizza immediately or that I buy them actual jet packs for flying. (“Can’t we just go to Target and see if they have jet packs?”) And then I noticed the weirdest thing. The cast was off, but there was still whining. There was still screaming. Jack still couldn’t walk.

I loaded the big kids in their car seats, reached down for Carter to find that after our fifteen minute walk, only one of his feet still had a shoe on it. The other was likely hurled from the stroller while I was busy daydreaming of manicures. At this point I was spent and wouldn’t have gone back for the shoe even if had magically transformed into gold and I could sell it to send all three kids to college.

We were all sweaty and exhausted. I sighed, reveling in the fact that as long as these babes were buckled into their seats, the 20-minute drive home wouldn’t involve much parenting. I could sit in my driver’s seat, blasting the A/C and Tay Swift while we enjoyed the ride home. Then Jack declared a potty emergency. And as I unbuckled his seatbelt I realized: There is no light at the end of this tunnel. This is parenting. It will never, ever be easy or simple or perfect. So why do I keep setting little parenting finish lines? “It’ll be easier when they are potty-trained…When everyone is in school…When they can make their own food and I’m not preparing 12 meals a day…”

Funny how I keep setting my hopes on all these arbitrary finish lines and milestones, as if that’s when parenting will suddenly become easy. The finish lines come and go, but the “easy” never comes. Time after time I realize that I’m setting my hopes on the wrong finish lines. There’s only one thing in the world that doesn’t change or disappoint, and it actually isn’t “in the world.” It’s weird to know something so fundamentally in my head and watch my heart repeatedly stake its hope in other things.

After Jack’s cast came off, and to celebrate my 30th birthday, David rented us a beach house. OH, how I anticipated this trip. In the midst of scream-filled grocery trips, unending laundry piles and a newly potty-trained young man who aims about as well as 50 Cent, looking forward to this trip pulled me through some gnarly parenting days. And then the day finally came. We left our kids with their saintly grandparents and joined our friends for a whole weekend of board games, wine tasting, shared meals, dancing and great company. But do you know what I did? I looked so forward to this trip that I put all my hope in it. I fixed my eyes on it. While the trip itself did not disappoint, (seriously, it was the best vacation ever,)  it did end. The week after we came home I was in a funk because I staked my hope in something as fleeting as a vacation.

Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on JesusConsider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”  (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Has there ever been a more relevant Bible verse for the all-consuming, failure-ridden job of parenting? We need not lose heart in parenting if we only have one finish line, unchanging and perfect. If my finish line is the checkout line at Target and I get projectile-puked on while perusing the sunglasses, well, I’ve failed and now I also smell like puke. But if my finish line is at the end of my race, with eyes fixed on Jesus, then NBD to that projectiled popcorn and slurpee. Jesus works anxiety-miracles in my heart and Tide works laundry miracles in my washing machine, and my race will go on. Eyes on Jesus, y’all.

I have no idea what it’s like to parent teens or adults, but I already lose sleep over what my fearless, fun-seeking 3 year old boy will be like at 16. Kris Jenner once said, “Little kids, little problems; Big kids, big problems.” (I hope we can still be friends after I’ve quoted Keeping Up with the Kardashians…but if that’s a deal-breaker, you can just pretend I heard it on NPR while some snappy jazz music faded in and out.) The woman has a point. Parenting starts out hard and just gets harder. There is not an “easy” part of parenting. Ever.

Infant sleep-training failures, toddler-puke at Target failures, your adult kid marrying the guy who interrupted Taylor Swift at the VMAs; whatever parenting stage we’re in, it will NEVER be easy. It will always be hard, we will always fail; but how much more so if we fix our eyes on the here and now? Fellow parents: let’s do ourselves a favor and stop erecting miniature finish lines. Let’s not grow weary and lose heart. Let’s parent our kids with eternity at the forefront of our minds, lest we allow the puke that covers us at Target to define our races.

And now for the vanishing cast shot:
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Ta-da! Here’s to hoping we never, ever have to see an orthopedist again.