Ain’t love a kick in the head

I don’t know how single moms do it. I solo-parented for one day and found myself Yelping nearby “Nail Salons with childcare.” (Bad news: turns out this isn’t a thing.)

Raising three kids under four is like working at a spa. You spend all your energy helping other people get comfortable. You watch them relax, eat and do their favorite things all day long. They’re living the dream. But you? You’re hungry, exhausted and just when you’re about to take your lunch break, someone has soiled himself and you need to give him a bath…Okay, fine I’ve never been to a spa.

Back to last weekend. I desperately rallied my tiny troops so we could leave the house for a fun outing, “Go potty!” “Stop hitting your sister!” “Don’t eat the dog food!” My patience waned as the clock ticked. The kids were so slow to obey. They disobeyed me in the same ways we’d discussed dozens of times. Didn’t they know I only wanted what was best for them? When I tell them to use the restroom, it’s because I don’t want their teensy little bladders to uncomfortably fill up mid-car ride. Jack doesn’t like it when Selah hits him, so Jack shouldn’t hit Selah. (Golden rule = common sense, y’all.) And for crying out loud, don’t eat the dog food. It tastes like, well, dog food, and we are VEGETARIANS, you guys.

I was exhausted and annoyed for having to repeat myself. I wished they’d just obey me. That they’d turn back to a few of the very basic lessons my husband and I have been drilling in since infancy: Obey us. Love others. Be a vegetarian.

We were already five minutes late when I plopped my 3-year old son on my lap to put on his shoes. He had one hand in each shoe, and against my repeated instruction, he wildly swung his shoe-hands over his shoulder behind him, nailing me in the eye with the rubber toe of his tiny Chuck Taylor. “Ouch!” I cried. “Jack! I told you NOT to wave your shoes in the air. You disobeyed me, and now you’ve hurt me!” He shrunk and began to cry out of shame and remorse. “Sorry, Mom,” he said through tears. My eye throbbed in pain. I vacillated between wanting to discipline my boy and wanting to check the mirror for a shiner. Either way, I really wanted him to wallow in his mistake for a minute before I forgave him for this “grievous” offense of…hmm. accidentally bonking me in the eye.

After stewing for a minute I realized my own giant pride had rationalized my failure to exhibit even an ounce of grace towards my son. “But he disobeyed ME! His MOTHER!” I thought. “He said sorry, but why should I be so quick to forgive him when he brought this upon himself through his own disobedience?”

And then it hit me: God forgives me every day. Instantly. I disobey Him (in much more grievous ways than an accidental kick in the head,) and He forgives me. Immediately. Boom. Done. He calls me to obey His commandments because He loves me and wants what’s best for me. And when I disobey and cry out to him in remorse, he catches my tears with the very hands that were nailed to the cross to pay for the sin I just committed.

Tainted by original sin (thanks for that, Eve), I sometimes cave into my desires to disobey God. And then I reap the consequences. My children disobeyed me (sin), and I reacted gracelessly, in a fit of rage (sin). Jack and I don’t share the same exact struggles. I don’t, for example, desire to wildly flail my shoe-hands. (I prefer to use shoe-hands for handstands. Better traction.) But we are cut from the same original-sin cloth.

God’s Word tells me, “Rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.” (1 Peter 2:1) All of these things destroy relationships and hurt people. His rules make sense. When I obey them, my life is better. I’m living the way I was designed to live. His burden is light. (Matthew 11:30)

I recently heard someone describe parenting as “looking at yourself in a full-length mirror.” AMEN. Nothing in my life has so clearly demonstrated my failures and inadequacies like parenting. I used to think I was patient. Then I had kids. And now I understand that my own grace and patience is a joke. So what now?

Enter the One who invented patience, willing to fill me with His spirit if I seek Him. James 4:6-8 tells us that God gives grace to the humble. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” So what does that look like? It starts with making time to read His word. Sound hard? Pray about it. Pray for God to stir a desire so strong in your heart that you can’t wait to spend time with Him. And then take a tip from Nike and Just Do It. If you have time to Facebook or read this essay about fantasy nail salons and Jesus (hopefully your takeaway emphasizes the latter), then for Pete’s sake you have time to open your Bible. (I mean this lovingly and I’m talking to myself here, too.) Because it’s only through Jesus that I can channel the kind of grace to immediately forgive a shoe-handed kick in the face.

Lord, thank You for the beautiful, exhausting, hilarious and humbling job of parenthood. Thank You for showing me where I fall short and how much I need You. Help me to parent my children with the kind of unbridled grace and mercy You show me. I fall short every day. And You forgive me every day, Your steadfast love never ceases; Your mercies are new each morning. Thank You, Jesus.

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?

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

Made for each other

I was making dinner last week while Jack (3) played in the backyard. I realize how idyllic and normal that sentence sounds, but let me assure you, it is loaded. Jack is a wildling. An explorer to the core; an adventurous limit-pusher who generally does not adhere to reason. I’m struggling with the words to adequately convey this child’s personality, but I trust this story will help: a few months ago at the zoo, I pulled Jack out of the alligator exhibit by his feet.

The kid gives me frequent heart palpitations, and maybe there’s no causation here, but I’m just saying that my scalp had not sprouted a single gray until he began crawling, and now I have at least 17.

Anyway, I’m chopping onions, looking up every 15 seconds to make sure that Jack is not choking on a grasshopper, scaling the pool fence or, you know, spontaneously combusting. Glancing up from my cutting board again, expecting to find my dirt-covered boy playing with sticks in the grass, what do I see? Sticks, grass…no Jack. He’s just absent from where he was standing 15 seconds ago. Gone. I search the left side of the yard and then the right before ditching the onions and running after my precious, heart attack inducing Houdini.

I’m standing in the backyard, exactly where Jack was in the middle of the lawn, and he is nowhere. Three new gray hairs sprout. The gate to the front yard is latched but now I’m transforming into a super-hardcore Liam Neeson a la Taken, convinced Jack has been abducted by creepy Euro gangsters. (Rational idea, myself.) Before hastily purchasing a plane ticket to Albania, I see flickers of a small figure moving between the fence posts just behind our yard. You guys, Jack had found a loose fence post, moved it to the side and just walked through it. This fence backs up to a small vacant field and then a super busy street, with cars whooshing by at lightning speeds. I moved the loose post to the side and stared at my small blonde boy, who stared back at me. My eyes must have looked like they were going to pop out of my head, because he immediately said, “Sorry, Mom!” before running back through the opening and into our yard.

I mean…How do I stop the gray with a kid like this????????????? Does Clairol have a frequent buyer punch card? Because I need one.

I heard a Focus on the Family podcast a few years ago right around the time Jack was born (I’m convinced the timing here is no coincidence). On the podcast, some parents with grown children were talking about how specifically God designed people. Take, for example, our hands. They are crafted carefully. We can test the temperature of food, or check baby’s head for a fever. We use the same hands to dry tears and spank defiant bottoms (just keeping it real). And they are shaped perfectly for cradling a nursing baby’s head. So specifically did He design our hands for the tasks they would meet. How much more specifically did God design my personality to pair with my child’s? He knows my strengths and weaknesses, He knows where I need sharpening and refining. He knows that my son requires a specific type of patience and steadfastness to parent him daily. And He chose me – in spite of me lacking this very patience and steadfastness – to be his mama. To love him, train him up and walk along side this sticky, bouncy wildling. He chose me for Jack, and Jack for me.

In the last three years, Jack has knocked down a few parenting rules I made for myself pre-kids. (Hypothetical parenting is always adorable after you actually have kids, isn’t it?) Before I had children, I remember watching kids run amok or scream their faces off in public and I’d think, “Wow, you should really control your child.” Then I had kids, and now I get it. You can’t “control your child.” You just do your best. You love your kids, parent consistently and even then you fail. Sometimes you’re exhausted, defeated and just hope your mistakes didn’t cause any permanent damage.

Parenting Jack is like going to a personal trainer. But I have weak, puny muscles. So it’s going to hurt. God uses this feisty, wild little person to expose my atrophied or non-existent character muscles. And just when I think I’ve nailed it on my patience issues, we launch into the parenting equivalent of high-intensity intervals. Jack hits a new milestone, develops new quirks, FRACTURES HIS FIBULA*, and I’m left to stretch a little more, acutely aware that I’m already stretched to capacity.

Sometimes I think it’s hilarious that God planned for our three kids to be born within three years of each other. Because I find myself humbled and at my wit’s end all. the. time. And yet He did it on purpose. Every day I encounter dozens of areas of my life where I just can’t keep up: A dirt-rock launched in the kitchen, scattered into a million tiny dirt clumps on my newly-steamed floors; seven loads of laundry finally done – and then they all decide to go puddle-jumping; three tantrum-ing toddlers at Costco, disapproving looks abounding. How will I survive this?

These are the workouts, my friends. These are the intervals. The stretching, the molding, the pain and pressing on when I want to just sit it out. Can you relate? We are in the thick of this motherhood thing, and you know what? We can do it. Because He put us here on purpose. He matched us with our precious babes, their ages, their strong wills, adventurous little hearts and all. He is refining us through them. Let’s run this race. Let’s go with the pain and maybe by the time they move out we will all look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Or something.)

Do you ever find your littles stretching your capacity for patience, self-control, joy, kindness, forgiveness? This is our race. Let’s just focus on today, putting one foot in front of the other and I truly believe that one day we will look down at our character-abs and be all like, “Dang! When did I get that six-pack o’patience?” Let’s do this.

* It should be noted that I started drafting this blog post just days before Jack FRACTURED HIS FIBULA jumping off of the coffee table. God is hilarious.

What it’s like to have three kids

I was talking to my friend Kim a month or so ago about that viral blog post “So, you would like to have three children,” where the author explains all the reason why having three kids is sheer insanity and chaos. Very entertaining piece. Kim suggested I write a counter-point. And in true myself fashion (read: always tardy), here I go.

Having three kids ages 4, 3 and 1 is, to put it simply, full. The days are packed with tangible, definable activities like doctors appointments, preschool, park trips, road trips, Taco Bell stops, church, friends’ houses, library, gas station, grocery store, etc. The days are full. But the minutes are bursting at the seams: Carter needs a diaper change, Jack just whacked Selah with a light saber and is covered in breakfast. Selah’s pants are on backwards. Your shirt was clean 7 minutes ago when you put it on, but for some unimaginable reason you wore white and now you have Cheetos fingerprints on your shoulders. Remember when you told your childless, pregnant self that you would never feed your toddler Cheetos, and definitely not before 9am? Well, that was adorable. You reheat your coffee (again), don’t have your makeup on yet and you have to leave five minutes ago. Three tornadoes with their own little plans to conquer the world swirl around you, one runs out the back door and into a mud puddle. And this is just your average Tuesday at 8:17am.

And then there’s getting into the car. The morning has been brutal, but at least you have your insulated mug of coffee, the lifeblood of moms everywhere. You rush outside to the car, everyone is dressed and has shoes on, and at this point you basically deserve a trophy. (Although the socks do not match. Whatever.) And then your 4 year-old says, “Ew, what happened to your coffee, mom?” You look down to see that the child on your hip spat up. The tablespoon of upchuck has covered his shirt, somehow dripped down yours, your pants and into your boot, but not before missing your thermos. But not just any part of the thermos. The little indented part meant for your MOUTH. You silently mourn your morning caffeine, hoist your oldest  over the outer carseat, into her middle carseat. You swat the muddy pebbles out of your 3 year-old’s hands and plop him into his seat, commence a seatbelt buckling contest with the oldest, who despairs that she came in second place in a contest that isn’t really a thing, only a tool you thought you cleverly devised to save time. But now you’re making the moment teachable by explaining that guess what, sometimes we lose, and it’s not super fun, but if you’re not good at something you need to practice it more, so maybe you need more practice at losing. And then she screams, you feel like a jerk, the baby laughs and you get behind the wheel to drive away, hoping to only arrive 10 minutes late.  Then you see your purse on the hood of your car. Finally pulling out of your driveway, 12 minutes late for preschool, who’s that racing up the street alongside your car? Oh, that’s just your dog. You contemplate leaving him in your dust, but refrain. 14 minutes late.

The show must go on.

Having three kids is full. And it is hard. But here’s the thing. So is having two kids. And so is having one kid. It’s always full, it’s always hard. Right after Selah (my first) was born, I asked a mother of four, “How do you do it? It’s so hard with one child! All my time is taken up with one kid, how do you have FOUR?” She replied, “It’s always 100% hard. One child is 100% hard. Two children? 100% hard…Your capacity just increases.” AMEN, sister.

Let’s pretend for a moment that I work out and have credibility to draw an analogy from fitness-related things. My friend Kristin runs. A lot. Like 5 miles a day. Ask Kristin to run 8 miles tomorrow, and she’ll be like, “Ok, well, it’s a little more than usual, but I know how to run five miles, so 8 miles will be harder, but doable.” She will exert herself and sweat and it will be hard. But she could do it. And if she kept doing it, 8 miles would become her new baseline – it would feel easier than it did at first, but she’d always have to exert herself to run 8 miles.

If you asked me to run 8 miles tomorrow, I would probably silently stare at you until we both feel very awkward and then ask why you hate me and want me to die. I do not have the muscle, endurance or shoes needed to run 8 miles. (Can I wear my Toms?) But if I built up endurance slowly, over time, first running one mile, then two, then three and so on, I could totally do 8 miles. When I had one baby, it was hard. Two kids under two? That felt impossible. But over time, you just figure out little tricks to make life work, and sometimes you even look at your sweet kids and your eyes well up with gratitude that you get to raise them. Ask me to what it’s like to have a third child and I will tell you this: It is hard. But so is having two kids. And so is having one kid. I exert myself. I sweat and cry and some days I just have to be satisfied with the fact that we’ve all made it to the end of the day alive and only called Poison Control once.

But here’s the thing, the sweet moments are sweeter with three kids. The joy is truly multiplied in the good times. Three dancing, laughing children make my heart want to burst out of my chest and into a ray of sunshine. (That sounds messy and cheesy. Like something from the dollar menu at Taco Bell.)  The hard times are, as you’d imagine, harder with three kids than with two or one. One kid screaming his face off at Chili’s is a little different than three kids screaming their faces off at Chili’s. I’d imagine four or six kids screaming their faces off at Chili’s would be even more stressful. This is probably why I’ve never seen Octomom at Chili’s.

I guess my main point is this little gem I stole four years ago from that wise mother of four: It’s always 100% hard. And also Nike’s 1990s slogan: Just do it. And also Don’t forget to tip your waitress. Especially if you take three screaming babies to Chili’s.

It's like this.

Full. Like my lap.