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936Pennies Family Motherhood

When We Glimpse Just How Fragile Life Is

June 15, 2016

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I decorated our boys’ room today. They eagerly watched from their new bunk bed as I penned small marks on the wall and pounded in tiny nails. “Thank you for celebrating our room, Mom!” My oldest exclaimed. It will be a sad day for me when he starts correctly using “decorate” over “celebrate”. I kind of adore that he loves to “celebrate” our house.

As I hung up paintings of mountains and bears with the words, “Be brave, little one”, my heart was grieving.

I try to avoid the news. It’s not that I want to be unaware of what’s going on in the world, it’s just that I have an issue with fear. I’m quick to let it grip me, suffocate me, and pull me under.

I think most moms are. We just have so much to lose.

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But this week the news has been unavoidable. And as I stretched the measuring tape from nail to nail and hung copper stars on my boys’ wall, I mourned for mamas I do not know.

For 49 mamas shedding endless tears over their babies who were taken from them in an unthinkable act of evil.

And as we all sit in our own homes, grateful it wasn’t us and praying for those it was, I hear news of another Mama. One in the very same city where those 49 were taken. And I read of her own son—only two years old—snatched by an alligator while he dipped his toes into the water at the lagoon’s edge. I read of his Daddy, in brave instinct launching into the water and grabbing the animal, desperately trying to wrangle his helpless boy from the beast’s mouth.

The father lost.

And my heart pounds in my chest as I think of the scene.

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They were on vacation. And I think of the mother who will board an airplane to go home, her whole being aching at the empty seat beside her.

I push a curtain rod through a bright blue curtain and hang it over my boys’ window. I picture that mother setting her suitcase down at the front door, walking into his bedroom, and glancing at the pictures hung. The toys still strewn about. The little bed empty.

We read these stories and we weep. We weep for those lost and for those who loved them. And then we weep because our eyes have been brutally opened to just how fragile life is. And it terrifies us.

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This week I have had a difficult time focusing. Several times just to clear my mind of the sadness saturating the news, I’ve set aside responsibilities and taken a walk with my boys. I watch them just to watch them. I notice what they stop to notice. A flower blooming among the tall grass. A leaf bug jumping among the pebbles. How the arch of the branches over our path forms a fort. I watch them because I can. Because they are here.

It is events like this week’s that give us a crude reminder of just how fragile life is. It is taken by evil as well as by chance. So much of it is completely out of our control. I write about these 936 weeks that we have with our children. But the difficult truth is this:  we are never guaranteed those 936 weeks.

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All we have for certain is today. We have today to linger longer in that embrace. To kiss that pudgy little cheek one more time before bed. To sit with her and string beads on a string. To help him construct that new lego set. To help her with the math problem she’s been struggling with, or to take her mind off of it with a trip to the ice cream shop.

We have today to speak truth over them. To tell them how brave and beautiful and wonderful they are.

We have today to set down the to-do list, turn off the cell phone, and take a walk together.

When we get to tomorrow, if the one who holds our heart is not there with us, what would we wish we had done with them today?

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May we not allow fear to steal today away from us, for today is all we have for certain. Let us use what we have right now, this rotation of the earth, to “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time.” (Ephesians 5:15-16Today is our gift, to enjoy and to give. It is too short for regret and too precious for fear. 

Whatever tomorrow brings, may it find us grateful that today we chose to hold hands a little longer, to read a book together under a big shaded tree, to lie in the grass next to our loved one and stare up at the clouds as they give way to the stars.

This week as you grieve for those grieving and say prayers for strangers, the stories and blog posts and media coverage will fade. But let us not forget the way it has opened our eyes. Let us not forget how it made our hearts suffocate when we thought of our own loved ones there one moment and gone the next. May we stop waiting on tomorrow to live for what really matters most. Let us not forget that today is all we have for certain, and live every little bit of it full of gratitude and awe for the gift that it is.

Family Life Seasons

The Sacred Pause Between Seasons Of Life

May 26, 2016

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I froze in front of the refrigerator.

I had been moving at a high, efficient speed. My friend was watching our two older boys, and the baby was asleep. It was time to pack. But then came the task of taking down the photos and art from the fridge, and it brought my momentum to a halt.

Three months ago we pulled in late to this driveway, unloaded our meager belongings with the help of friends, and set up camp. Not home. Very intentionally, we chose not to hang up photos, and to hold off on buying a new bed for the boys. Boxes would remained packed in the garage.

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For their sake, we needed our boys to know that this was temporary. So that when we move into the next house, and unpack their toys, hang framed memories on the walls, and setup their new bed—they’ll know it in their hearts–That we are home.

These past three months have felt excruciatingly temporary. Transient. Uncertain. And at times, quite lonely.

The heart of our family has ached for a place to call home.

And yet, as I stood before the fridge, carefully taking down photos and art projects, I saw it. I realized just how much life has taken place in this very short season.

From our family adventures into the mountains, to quiet mornings at the kitchen table; watercolors guiding our creativity, and mountain breeze flowing in from the open door–this season has changed our family.

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We’ve celebrated two brithdays. And we’ve lost a child.

We’ve grown friendships, and fed the homeless.

Our little boy made the newspaper. We sat by a quiet road and watched a moose meander his way through a pond. We drove all day to behold the Collegiate Mountain Range.

My husband and I have sipped wine while watching the sun descend behind the mountains, dreaming together about what is next, and celebrating just how far we have come.

We were longing for four walls and a spot of green grass to call home—all the while Colorado was etching the letters “Home” onto our hearts.

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So many memories have quickly woven themselves together into our hearts, establishing this place as home. This short season has been riddled with difficult days. Overwhelming emotions. Uncertainty. Doubt. Fear. And heartache.

And I am amazed to stand back now, looking over these past few months, and to behold just how much life they represent.

Three months hardly seems long enough to make its mark as a significant piece of  person’s life. And yet here we are.

Sometimes it is these short seasons—often the very difficult ones— that foster the most growth within us.

Those lonely seasons, the ones that hold heartache, and cast a shadow of doubt upon your plans—it is these seasons that show us who we are, and how much we need this loving God who will hold our hand and pave the way before us.

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Maybe you’re in the middle of one of these short, uncertain seasons. Or maybe it has been a long one. And yet you find yourself standing on the brink of what is next; balancing between two seasons.

May we never step forward into the next season before pausing to think back on the one we’ve just walked through. Let us stop, take account, and see what this season had to teach us; and the growth it performed in our hearts.

Let us appreciate it in all of its rawness, for the emotions and unexpected hardships, for the glimpses of beauty and the subtle reminders of why we chose this path in the first place.

Let us take a sacred pause, and give thanks.

And then let us step forward.

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Faith Family Living With Intention

The Day We Shared Our Son’s Birthday Cake With a Homeless Man

April 25, 2016

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I pushed the knife gently down into the cake, which bounced back up around the blade; soft, moist, chocolate perfection. A first birthday cake for our youngest, who turned one year old today. Only this first slice was not for our birthday boy.

I set the oversized piece down gently onto a paper plate next to a ham sandwich. I scooted the sandwich over on the plate, making room for a pile of tortilla chips and some guacamole. I carried a second plate of sandwiches over to the picnic table, and then handed the first plate to my husband. “Do me a favor?” I asked him. He waiting for my request. “Take this to the homeless man lying over there?” I looked over to the edge of the parking lot; to a man lying on the pavement, his head resting on his meager belongings. He was high as a kite; his arms outstretched to the sky, waving back and forth as if chasing imaginary birds. My husband nodded, and walked in the man’s direction.

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I watched from afar as my husband set down the plate of food. The man continued to sway his head, hardly aware of my husband’s presence. My husband returned to our table, and we sat down to our own sandwiches as our boys leapt from rock to rock by our picnic spot.

A few minutes later I stood to get something from our car, and noticed the man, still laying on the pavement, but this time holding a sandwich to his mouth.

Here is where I must make an admission. Ever since moving to a new city a couple of months ago, and noticing right away the large population of homeless individuals, I have felt a pull to help. But I have not acted on that conviction. Until today.

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A few days ago, out of the blue, my husband had told me, “I’ve been thinking lately about how to help the homeless population here.” I found myself surprised by his comment, because it was the very thing I had been pondering for weeks. I find that when something has been on both of our hearts and minds, it’s usually best to give that thought some strong consideration. My conviction grew. But I was unsure of how to help. After all, there are so many  in need.

The picnic spot we chose today, we had driven past it a few weeks back. On that day there had been at least a dozen homeless men and women on the edge of that parking lot. Today, there had been only one. That man. And as I stood at the back of our SUV, staring at our loaf of bread, cooler of sandwich makings, and a birthday cake, I knew that we could help one. If there had been many more, like the other day we had driven by, I would not have been able to help. But today I could. 

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And here is where I make another confession. In the past, I have been one to silently question why a person ends up in homelessness, or similar situations. I have questioned their work ethic. Their priorities. Their addictions.

Today I chose not to. Today, I did not care what brought this man to that spot at the edge of the parking lot. I didn’t care that he was under the influence of drugs. I didn’t care how he had spent his time the evening before. All I cared about was that when he returned to a clear state of mind, that he would discover a meal waiting for him, and a slice of birthday cake. That he would know that someone saw him, and for more than a nuisance. I cared that he would feel cared for. Thought of. Considered.

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After all, when Jesus cared for the sick, the lonely, the destitute, the ignored, the disdained—He did not stop to question how they had ended up in their circumstances. He simply loved on them and served them. He did not stop to qualify them for His care, He just chose to notice a need and meet it.

I think that so many times we hold back from caring for the poor and needy because the need seems so big, so overwhelming, and so hopeless. But I wonder how different this world would look if we all began believing that we could help just one person. That we could toss our preconceptions aside, bringing love and kindness to one person’s day. That we could show one person that they are not forgotten.

It begins with each one of us. It begins with noticing. It begins with not walking on by when we know for certain that we can do one thing to help. It begins with something as simple as a ham sandwich and a slice of birthday cake.

936Pennies Family Motherhood

When Stopping To Smell The Flowers Is Not Enough

April 20, 2016

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His feet plop down into the dry, red earth. His clumsy coordination changing to agile navigation before my eyes. He is slow. Slower than his big brother by the two years that span between them. He is my smeller of flowers, stopping to examine every smallest detail of the trail.

His Daddy hikes thirty feet ahead of us, holding onto his big brother’s hand, and carrying his baby brother in a pack on his back. We trail behind. I know that we have two miles ahead of us, and we should hurry. But hurry is not this one’s style.

Over our recent hikes, I have gradually come to realize that it is not his feet that are slow. Rather, he has slowed his attention—giving no thought to the idea of “hurry up”. In essence, he is being a kid; and kids stop to ponder. It intrigues me, and I learn to embrace his pauses, and bend down right next to him, examining the newest pebble that has caught his attention.

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These hikes into the mountains, with his hand in mine and us making our way leisurely along behind the rest— these have become precious times to me. Side by side our feet navigate between, or over, rocks protruding from the earth. This is when finds himself most free to speak his mind. And I am learning that this not-quite-three-year-old boy has much to speak about; his thoughts soaked in wonder and intrigue.

“Do fish talk, Mom?” He asks it out of the blue as we round a corner; Daddy and brothers coming back into view ahead. At times we catch up to them, only to quickly fall behind again. My breathing becomes heavier as we climb the rocky path. And as I inhale, the overwhelming aroma of wildflowers catches me by surprise. “No Love, fish don’t talk.” I smile at his simple question. He is figuring out his world, question by question. “Oh.” He replies, and leaps off of a rock in the path.

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As we hike he brings up memories from half of his life ago; events I haven’t thought about for quite some time. Obviously he has. They are a part of him. And this hike, I know, will be also; a part of him, and a part of me. A part of us.

“Oh Mom!” He stops me with the urgency in his voice. He bends low, slightly sunburned knees grazing the earth. “I spied something!” He lowers his face to inches from the ground. “It was this!” he exclaims. I squint. He fingers the pebbles, picks up a piece of mountain gravel the size of a poppy seed. And we rise and hike on.

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I listen to his rhythmic hiccups until the sound of water crashing on rocks begins to drown them out. “Oh Mom! The waterfall! I found the waterfall!” He runs ahead. A mechanical voice sounds from the phone in my hiking pack, confirming that we have indeed taken a good many minutes to reach our destination. I find myself thankful for each one of those minutes, and every conversation woven throughout them as my boy and I slowed time and gave it new life.

I had brought a lot to the trail that evening. When we began our hike, my shoulders had ached. My head had pounded and my heart was heavy with burden. Yet with each unrushed minute on that path, I found myself that much further from the burdens of life. With his simple talk, intriguing memories, and attention to creation’s detail, my son somehow unwound all of the stress and anxiety gripping my spirit. He did this simply by reminding me to stop. To smell. To see. To linger. To live. Really live.

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He reminds me that life is more than burdens and lists and to-dos and agendas and stress. And that it is also about more than simply stopping to smell the flowers. He taught me that smelling is not enough. That we must also touch. Name. Examine. Appreciate. Ask questions. Admire. Respect. And linger. And only then do the pressures of life become less. Only then do distractions and things of little matter fade into the background. Only then do we remember what matters most in life.

Take a lesson from my boy this week (I will be). Take a walk. Wherever you are. Through the sun or through the snow. In the rain or against the wind. A stroll through the city park, or a hike along a mountain ridge. And do. Not. Rush. Pause whenever you find something beautiful. Examine, admire, memorize. And don’t stop walking until the burdens and anxieties that you arrived at the path with become overwhelmed by the beauty of creation.

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936Pennies Family Living With Intention Parenting

What Is In Your Child’s Hands Today?

March 14, 2016

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He takes my hand in his and gives it two gentle squeezes, and I forget all else going on in that moment. I look at him quizzically; he seems to hang on to every one of my words these days. Two days before I had squeezed his own hand in mine, and he had asked me why. “It’s a way to tell someone that you love them, without using words. It shows them that you are thinking about them.”

He quickly adopts this as a new form of communication, surprising me with hand squeezes while we’re in the car, out on a walk, and running errands; a constant reminder that he’s thinking about me, his hand memorizing the feeling of my own.

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In the coming weeks I find myself more and more aware of what is occupying my boys’ hands. I read it in Rachel Macy Stafford’s book, Hands Free Life, “I want my daughters to remember holding our cat, Banjo; a wooden spoon to form cookie dough; musical instruments; books; bike handlebars; ladybugs; seashells; and especially my hand in theirs.”

I read her words as I sit out on our back deck, watching my boy, nearing five years old, practicing his grip on an old tennis racquet, maneuvering it just right to hit a plastic ball across the yard.

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Stafford continues in her book, “Because my actions greatly influence their actions, I make it a priority to exercise daily, go outside, and do things with my hands like baking and reading books.”

I’m thankful today that my boy sees my hands occupied with the pages of a book, a pen, and my journal; and in a few minutes, with a tennis ball as I join him in the yard. I know that many times—too many times—they see my hands busying themselves in a cadence across the laptop keyboard, or they watch my thumb dancing across the screen of my smart phone. And yes, the work is important, but I have to ask myself, do they see my hands wrapped around technology more than they see them fingering the pages a book, sprinkling cinnamon sugar over muffins, or wrapped around their Daddy’s hand?

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What our children observe our hands holding day in and day out will greatly determine what they decide to busy their own hands with. What might begin to change if we started taking note of what occupies our hands most?

I want my children to know well the slight cramp of thumb and wrist after gripping a marker or paintbrush, as they splash color across a blank canvas. I want them to know the feeling of both bread dough and garden soil caked underneath their fingernails. When their hands slip into mine, I want to feel their small calluses from swinging on the monkey bars and pulling each other around the yard in the wagon.

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I want them to be well acquainted with the feeling of craft glue dried onto the tips of their fingers. I want their fingertips to know the softness of bird feathers, and the prickles of pine needles. I want them to know how to hold a pea pod between their hands, and slice it open with their thumb nail to get at the peas inside. I want them to memorize the perfect hand placements, and how to grip the branches just right to scale the tree at their favorite park.

Most of all, I want my children to know the assurance found in the slight squeeze of my hand around theirs, a silent reminder that I love them, and am thinking about them right there in that moment; and that I wouldn’t rather my hand be busy with anything else.

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Today may we all pay a little more attention to what we occupy our hands with; choosing to fill them with the very things we hope our children will wrap their own hands around. May we be the ones to model what is truly important in life, by what we choose to grasp within our palms.

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As Stafford says it so well, “Today I want you to remember my open hands—not my multitasking hands, the ones too full, too busy, too pushy to gently tuck your hair behind your ear. I want to love you by opening my two empty hands.”

Empty hands are hands that are ready to receive, whether it be that craft project they are so proud of, a bouquet of wild flowers gathered from the yard, or their own little hand in yours. What will fill your hands today?

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Faith Family Living With Intention

The One List That Completely Redirected My Family’s Life

February 26, 2016

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“One, two, three, four, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven…..eighteen…sixteen…twelve……………I don’t know. Ready or not, here I come!” He popped his head up from behind the large fake rock in front of the house. He looked back and forth, watching for movement, considering where to begin his search. I kept silent as I watched him search high and low throughout the cul de sac for his two new buddies.

Inside my husband and our two youngest boys napped, weary from a whirlwind three days. A half hour before, Zeke, our four-year-old had been munching on granola when I heard the boys playing outside. “Do you want to go meet some new friends?” I asked him. He had thought for a moment before replying, “Uuuuuuummm, yes.” He abandoned his snack and grabbed his shoes.
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His hand clung to mine as we made our way across the street; the boys greeted us with an eager hello. After the older one, age eight, told us of his love for shrimp, and the youngest, age 6, described every detail of the bicycle he received for Christmas, all three boys were quick to challenge each other to foot races between houses.

The sun cast a bright orange glow across the horizon as it made its descent behind the mountains. I set out a folding chair in the front lawn and took a seat. There I sat for nearly an hour, doing nothing but listening to the boys’ laughter as they raced across front lawns. It was a perfect end to our first full day home in the mountains.

A friend asked me a question recently, one that has left me thinking about my answer this past week as we packed up our life and relocated our family. As we drove West with all of our earthly belongings packed into a homemade trailer, her inquiry stuck with me. She asked me how our move to Colorado had come about.

After all, not many families who are settled into their first home with secure jobs, friendships, and a church home decide to uproot their family and start fresh in another state.

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Her question was the same one that I have been asked over and over again throughout in the recent months. Whenever it came up that we were moving from Kansas City to Colorado, the first question people asked was always, “Why?”, or, “Is it for a job?

Each time I would smile before explaining, “No. We just need the mountains.”

A year ago, I don’t think that I could have given that answer. I think I would have felt like I would have to justify such an “extreme” decision with more solid reasoning. But over the past year, God has been revealing to me a piece of His heart that I hadn’t quite understood before. He has been opening my eyes to the pleasure that He takes in His children, and His simple desire to bless them and see them thrive in His presence. This life altering lesson all began with a simple list.

I blogged about it a while back, when we first announced our intentions to move to the mountains. I shared of this simple list we wrote out almost one year ago, a list of family values—of everything we want out of life.

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It is not a bucket list. It is not a goal list. It is not a to-do list.

It is a list of all that God has set a fire in our souls for. It is a list of passions. It is a list of where we want to go in life. It is a list of what we want to mark our days with—and what we want our boys to grow up knowing intimately. It is the forces that we want them to be shaped by. It is the values we want to govern our life and family with.

The values penned on this list each act as a gear, setting into motion the life we most desire. They are strategically composed together to create a rhythm to our years, one that will make up the melody of our family’s legacy.

Our list is made up of exploration, financial stewardship, generosity, physical activity, a deep understanding of Jesus’ commands, respect for nature through travel and exploration, wonder, journaling, and a love for life-long learning. The list is rough, and still unfinished. Yet it created a framework for how we want to do life; acting as a compass pointing us towards the life God uniquely created us to live.

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The past few months have been full of arduous work and heart-wrenching goodbyes. Yet, sitting now on the other side of our decision—on the fulfilled side—I am discovering that taking big chances and making “extreme” choices is not so risky after all. Perhaps the big risk is found in not making these kinds of choices. Because never taking the risk or making the choice is a surefire way to never get to where your spirit longs to be.

Maybe you are in this place; yearning for something more, but unsure of how to get there. Perhaps you don’t know what it is that you really want in the first place. That is the first step, you have to ask the important questions, ones like, “What do I value most in life?” and, “Which values do I want my family to be governed by?” and, “What makes me feel most alive?”

At the end of your life, what would you regret not making a priority? 

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It’s not about chasing after every whim of our hearts. It’s about sitting down (with your spouse, if you’re married), and digging down deep to the roots of what God has planted in your spirit.

It’s about naming those things that light a fire within your spirit, the things that bring your family together, the things that most inspire you to worship the Creator, and bring you closer to Him—and then chasing after those things with full abandon. We only have one life on this earth. So go ahead—take the first step, begin your list. Believe in something fiercely enough to make it happen. It might just set into motion the most fulfilling life you’ve ever known.

Faith Family Motherhood

Helping Your Child Through Change When You’re A Little Afraid Of It Yourself

February 20, 2016

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I heard him whimpering behind the closed door. Moments before he had been sent crying to his room for bad behavior. This was not my boy. He kept promising to listen and obey, and then failing to deliver on that vow. I knew fatigue played into his non-characteristic behavior—the child hadn’t napped in a week. But there was more; something deeper, something troubling, something he could not tame.

I crept in and placed one foot followed by another into the wooden ladder of the bed his Daddy made for him. I snuggled in beside him and pulled him near. He turned into me and the tears began to flow.

“What’s bothering you?” I asked. He tried to gather his words; to push them through the sobs.  He managed to still his quivering lip for a moment, and choked out the words, “I’m just sad.” I wrapped my arms tighter around his little body.

“Does thinking about moving make you sad?” I asked.

“Yes.” he replies. I whispered silent prayers. Lord give me the words.

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“What makes you sad when you think about moving?” I press on gently. At four years old, his spirit is fragile, this sensitive boy of mine.

“I just want to be with you.” He replies.

“Oh honey,” tears sting my own eyes now, “I will always be here for you. When we move, I will be here with you.”

“I’m just sad.” he says, unable to explain his emotions any further.

“Are you scared when you think about moving?” I ask.

“Yes.” he replies.

This is when I begin to doubt our decision. I wonder if this is right; if he can handle it. Emotions cloud what I know to be certain. I press my face into his hair and take in his scent.

“When you think about moving, what makes you sad?” I ask him.

He thinks, and I can see his mind straining, trying to form his fears, his emotions, his unknowns into words, He mumbles something about a dinosaur. I assure him there will be no dinosaurs.

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I walk him through the process, step by step. Today we’ll clean. Tonight someone will come look at our house, decide whether they want to buy it. If they do, there will be many days of getting ready. Some things we will get rid of, but we will keep his favorite toys. Yes, we will bring your cars and books. Yes, we will bring our dog. His body begins to relax in my embrace.

We’ll find a new house, we’ll make new friends. “Things will change,” I tell him, “but even when that change is sad or scary, we’ll be there for you. And when you feel afraid or sad, you can talk to us.

I pray he always will.

And he does, over the following weeks he brings up his concerns and fears, dotting our everyday conversation with thoughts of what our new home might be like, and asking how we will make new friends. I see the fragility of his spirit through glossy eyes and a quivering lip as we leave his friend’s house, and I explain that we won’t be seeing him for a while. 

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One morning about a week before we move, I can tell that he is struggling. I might be, too. I busy myself with packing lists and projects. I have been shrugging him off, apologizing for my busyness and suggesting he goes and plays.

He lays down on the floor, pulling a blanket around him, and welcomes the heat of the furnace blowing against him. I set my laptop down next to me, and crawl underneath the blanket next to him. For days it has been like walking on eggs shells with him.

I begin with the same question we’ve been revisiting to for weeks. “How are you feeling about moving?”

His face turns from sad to angry. “It just makes me a little bit mad.” he tells me.

“Why does it make you mad?” I ask.

“Because I want to stay here and move to the mountains.” he explains.

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His words are saturated in grief. This four-year-old boy of mine is mourning the loss of what has been his life for the past couple of years. I can feel the pain in his heart, because the same pain resides in my own. He has voiced what I have been afraid to. I picture myself just that morning, standing next to my husband in church, his hand in mine, and the tears I fought back all through the service. Tears of grieving, of leaving behind everyone and everything that has become so woven into who we are. 

It is often these difficult decisions and big changes that make up an intentional life. They are choices that we know will cause our children, and ourselves, some pain, but will ultimately lead us on to the great things that God has in store for us. And as we go through the mourning of losing what was, we find that we have a Heavenly Father whispering into our spirits the same words I spoke to my son as we laid curled up on the floor next to the heating vent.

In the big changes of life, just as I promised my son, our Heavenly Father promises to us, “I’m here, my child. It’s ok to be sad. But take heart, I have great things in store for you. Just trust me, take My hand, and follow My lead. We’re on this adventure together.”

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Family Motherhood

Why I Stopped Judging How Other Moms Feed Their Kids

February 15, 2016

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My eyes weighed heavy with sleep, something I had lacked in over the past four days as our boys fought off a terrible stomach bug. They had eaten very little in days, and now I only wanted to get some calories into them. The buffet was my husband’s idea. Surely we would find something they would want to eat. I pinched a pair of plastic tongs around a blueberry muffin and placed it on one of the plates. I stepped forward to the pasta dishes and read the signs above each one. “Cheese.” “Cream” “Spicy”. None of these would do.

“Excuse me…” I caught the attention of the young man behind the buffet. “Could I possibly get some plain noodles for my boys? No butter, please.” He was kind; asked whether they want macaroni noodles, or penne. I thanked him, and we turned back to the table, balancing their plates of plain noodles and blueberry muffins. As we passed by another family enjoying their dinner, I couldn’t help but notice one woman with a bottle of organic salad dressing sitting next to her plate.

And here is where I make my confession.

Up until recently, my first thought would have been something along the lines of: Who brings their own salad dressing to a salad bar?

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This would have been my response up until a few months ago; until I had to stand by helplessly every single day, watching my two-year-old son writhe in pain, having no idea how to comfort him. Until I began having to read labels closely, scrutinizing every word as if hunting down an enemy.

I used to be quick to judge those who were jumping on what seemed to be the newest fad diet bandwagons. It’s easy to see someone who makes a drastic change to their diet as extreme, or perhaps trying to appear somehow superior. Oh, we don’t say things out loud, most of the time. But we have our opinions. 

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For nearly three years I wrote about transitioning my family onto a whole food diet. With that writing came a whole lot of experimenting and research. And with that knowledge, we were able to help many people. But knowledge can bring with it an inclination to judge, label, and jump to conclusions when we see someone else doing things differently than we are. And I admit that at times I fell into that pit of criticism.

And in that, I was very, very wrong. Never has that been more apparent than in the past few months.

Within the span of three months, my two year old’s body stopped processing lactose, leaving him absolutely miserable for days on end. At the very same time, the autoimmune disease that I have lived with for over a decade began showing signs of what we always knew was possible. Having one autoimmune disease makes a person very susceptible to developing another autoimmune disease, and that is what my body began doing. The symptoms worsened rapidly, and I was finding myself quickly unable to go about my everyday activities.

Something had to give, and it was wheat. Within two days, my symptoms were completely gone.

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This is how we found ourselves as “that family”. You know, the one at the pizza parlor ordering a vegan cheese pizza for their son, and a gluten free pizza for mom.

This is why I did not jump to judge the woman at the salad bar who had toted along her own dressing, because I understand now that she may have some very good reasons for making that decision, and more importantly—it is her decision to make.

I am curious what might happen if we all had a little less to say about what was in the shopping cart of the woman ahead of us in line. What if we were to shift our focus to taking care of our own family’s health, while leaving the next mother over to do the same for hers? What if we put away the labels, and began supporting each other while setting our difference in opinions aside? What if we began sharing our knowledge only when it was asked for, and only when it will build up rather than tear down?

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Most importantly, what if we began to consider the struggle that goes into a Mama’s “extreme” decision? Because at first glance, we cannot see the pain in a mother’s heart as she has had to tell her son that he cannot enjoy the treats that his friend brought to school. When we are quick to label, we fail to see the hours a fellow Mama has put into dissecting ingredient lists, scouring grocery store aisles, and researching solutions and alternatives, all in the name of her child’s wellness. We cannot see the fear in her spirit when she considers what could happen if she lets down her guard, or if something slips past her little one’s lips that will hurt them. These are the things we don’t see when we jump to conclusions.

Sometimes what can appear as an extreme choice really boils down to a mother’s extreme devotion to protecting her child—and that is something we should all respect.

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Food has never been more political. But what would happen if we stopped wielding our opinions as weapons, and instead began respecting the hard-made decisions of the moms who have to tell their children, “No, Honey, you can’t have that one.” Even better, what if we began considering them when it is our turn to bring snacks to an event?

I propose that it is time for a new kind of food revolution, one where we applaud each other despite our differences. A movement of encouragement, rather than competition. A movement where we can band together under our common goal of feeding our families the best way we know how to.

“The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.” Romans 14:3

Faith Family Parenting

The Day I Yelled Twice

January 18, 2016

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Backing out on the gravel drive, I breathed one last quick prayer, that all of my crazy effort to deep clean the house over the past two hours would pay off. That we would finally get an offer. As I prayed, my heart ached with regret. The past fifteen minutes had been ugly. The volume and tone of my voice aimed at my sweet boys had gone completely against the words I had copied down in my journal the morning before,

There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

(Proverbs 12:18)

I had thrust the sword.

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I slowed the car and pulled over to the curb. Turning off the engine, I glanced at my side mirror before opening the door and winding my way around to the other side of the car. When I opened his door, he was bouncing his cars up and down on his lap—unaware of my shattered spirit.

I wrapped my arms around him and buried my face into his little chest. Then I pulled back and looked straight into his eyes; my own began to water. “I am so sorry, Buddy. I am so sorry that I yelled. I know that I was stressed and trying to get the house ready, but I should not have yelled at you. That was wrong. I was wrong. I’m sorry.” He looked at me with his eyes sparkling, and he hardly gave his answer a thought before replying, “It’s so ok Mom. And you are very pretty.”

I thanked him before softly closing his car door, and then making my way to his brother’s side to make my second apology. And then I climbed back into my seat, started the engine, and we made our way towards the park. They had forgiven, and I willed myself to do the same; to forgive myself for the harshness in my quick, sharp words.

Yet that was only my first yell. The second came minutes later.

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I hoisted the car seat up and out of the middle of the back seat. My infant boy squinted his eyes against the bright sunlight. As I lowered the carseat into the stroller, I did what I had done countless times before, and sent the bigger boys ahead to the playground a few hundred feet away. I shoved my bag into the bottom of the stroller, pulled on my hoodie, and gave the baby his bottle, and then we made our way toward the swings to meet the boys.

As I came around the big red slide, something did not set right. My boys, always right there busy at play, were not. I looked up from the swing set  and caught a glimpse of my eldest boy. His white-blonde hair shimmered in the afternoon sun—almost as bright as the thin layer of ice on the pond that he was standing next to, just a foot away.

My heart stopped in my chest. And this is when I yelled for the second time that day—only this time my voice was high and tight with panic. “Zeke! Zeke come here now!” His little brother stopped, about a hundred feet away from the pond himself, and turned back towards me. My eyes remained fixed on Ezekiel as he turned to me, then back to the thin layer of ice. I prayed he would not trust it.

Come here, my boy. Don’t trust it. Trust me.

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I continued to yell, and then exhaled as he began jogging back towards me, away from the ice.

When he was still thirty feet away from me, I calmed my shaky breath and addressed him sternly, “Do you ever, ever go by the water alone?” I asked it short and sharp. Loud. Intense. He looked down to the grass. “No…” he answered softly. He looked up, noticing my eyes beginning to fill with tears. “Why not, Mama?” he asked. I tried to gauge whether he could handle my next words, and decided that he needed to hear them. “The ice is not strong, Love.” My voice was choppy as I choked out the words. “It will break, and you will fall through. If you fall in the water you could die.”

I then wrapped him as tightly as I could into my arms as he buried his tears into my chest. “You scared me, Zeke.” my own tears mixed with his. “It scared me too!” he wailed. And I knew that we both had much to learn from this.

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There is a place for raised voices. There is a place for yelling; to turn a child away from danger, and guide them back to safety. I yelled twice on that day. One warranted, one not. One yell evoked pain, and one brought life.

As a mother, the temptation to yell can be fierce and persistent and can seem impossible to control. But if I fail to harness to power of my yell—if I use it where it has no place, then it might just lose its power when I need it. When there comes a time when my child is in danger, and my raised voice induces no alarm because I have abused its power—that is where tragedy may strike.

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Let it be my prayer—let it be all of our prayers as parents—that we will not abuse the power of a yell. That we will not speak harshly except where harsh words have their place. That the hard words will be said only when they give life, not take it. 

Let us be careful to raise our voice only once—when it will be a “fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.” (Proverbs 13:14)