More Grace

We have had some REALLY good days lately.  The girls are in such a sweet spot.  We’re mobile, they’re getting along, we’re on a schedule (and they can deal with reasonable changes to the schedule,) I’m keeping up with work, I’m being active most days of the week, and our house isn’t a total disaster.

To get here, I’ve had to let some things go.

No part of our dinner last night was homemade (unless you want to count my impressive culinary techniques of “boiling water for pasta,” “microwaving vegetables,” and “opening a jar of pasta sauce” as home cooking). Clean laundry might sit in a hamper for a week.  This morning’s Target haul is still sitting in bags, unpacked, while I write this blog post.  I ate Zoe’s sandwich leftovers for lunch.  I haven’t sat down for a formal Bible study time since Sunday. Zoe excitedly shouted “Clifford!!!” at Barnes and Noble story time yesterday, and I think the other moms thought that she recognized him from the books—but it’s definitely from the show. I blow my coffee budget by one coffee a week every week.

But this is life right now.  And I’m writing this while I finish my cup of coffee, before I grade papers, before I put away the Target haul and wash the bottles and clean up from the morning—writing while my heart remembers the scene right before naptime:

I was dancing with my girls—both of them—to “Your Grace Is Enough.”

We probably listened to the song ten times.  Each time the song ended, Zoe would just keep dancing like the groove machine she is, saying “more grace! More grace!”, fully expecting that I would play the song again.

Zoe gets it. 

I spent so much of my life being afraid of failure.  I didn’t make the jump rope team in third grade, and literally never tried out for a sports team again.  In junior high, I was on a recreational swim team but I wouldn’t go to meets because the thought of trying my hardest and losing stressed me out too much.  I went through struggles in high school and college and hid them way too long.  And in 2006, I met the Lord in a place of desperate need and said I guess grace will have to do, because I have no options left.

I was the most reluctant grace recipient ever.  Like I GUESS I’ll take it, but man, I WISH I could have earned it.  If only You had given me more time before hitting rock bottom, I might have created my own grace and not needed You for it! 

I’m so thankful that God grows us over time and not all at once, because 2006 Sarah would have been majorly freaked out by 2014 Sarah with her sometimes stay at home mom, sometimes consultant, sometimes professor, sometimes hands-on and sometimes Clifford-on, “letting some things go to focus on what matters most” instead of “trying to be good at all the things” self.

In the past, I didn’t always apply myself fully because I didn’t want to try my hardest and not be pleased with the results.  I thought “grace” was an excuse for not trying.

Now I know that grace is the reason I CAN try.

Grace gives me the freedom to try my hardest and give my all, knowing that any results are up to God anyway and that failure or success don’t define me.

Grace gives me the freedom to stop trying in areas that don’t matter to me, and to focus on where God has called me, trusting that He will make all things work together for my good and that the responsibility of making life work is off of me.  Grace is letting go of my need for perfection and letting something better and more lasting define me and guide me.

Grace is dancing through life, living as the me that I was created to be, saying “more grace!”, fully expecting that more grace will come.

Because it will.

Coffee Date

It’s been a while since I’ve done a coffee date-style post (although, don’t worry, there’s been plenty of coffee consumed).  Here are a few things about my life that I’d share with you if we were having coffee.

-Life with two: getting easier.

I am hesitant to put this into writing (because if mothering has taught me anything, it’s that as soon as you find something that works for a stage, the stage changes…) but I think I’ve found a good rhythm with the two girls.

Photo on 10-24-14 at 4.16 PM #4Riley’s face says it all.  GASP! 

About two months ago, I sat down and listed Zoe’s main needs (peer socialization, exposure to kind adults at church, arts and crafts, music, some unstructured play time in our house, time outside, and physical play,) my daytime needs (finishing work projects, some exercise, seeing other moms, and getting the heck out of the house), Riley’s needs (eat, nap, and get bathed from time to time), and our household needs (buying groceries, food prep, bottle washing, Target trips, not living in a hovel).  This is actually a rather annoying amount of things to juggle without a plan, so instead of looking at each week as a blank canvas and trying to figure out how to fit all this in, I made a weekly schedule that include all of these needs.

Now, Sunday through Thursday, my job each day is just to execute “the schedule,” adjusting as needed based on the girls’ needs that day.  For everyone’s sanity, this schedule includes 20-25 minutes of TV for Zoe.  It also includes a valiant effort at getting the girls to nap together (which works most days for at least 20 minutes—THANK YOU, JESUS!) and an iced coffee around 1 pm.

When Daddy’s home on the weekends, we change things up, but during the weekdays everyone seems happy and my sanity is intact—so I’m not changing a thing until I need to.

Also, did you notice that I’m letting the girls sit next to each other in that picture?! That hadn’t happened since Riley was about 3 weeks old because Zoe was getting violent with Riley. Happily, a few weeks ago, she decided she loves Riley and wants to be a great sister.  It was like someone suddenly flipped her switch from “destroy the invader” to “love your sister with all your heart, soul and mind,” so although our massive intervention efforts had to have helped, I ultimately give God praise for softening her heart towards her sister.

My day-to-day life is SO much better now that going to the bathroom is no longer a perilous choice between taking two kids (one of whom can’t sit up and thus needs a baby carrier) into my tiny bathroom, or peeing as quickly as I can hoping I won’t come back to screams and blood.  Zoe’s day is no longer spent in and out of time-out.  And Riley has an adoring fan and playmate instead of a need for a restraining order.

IMG_3629Buddies! My soul sings.


-Ministry anecdotes: they write themselves

A few weeks ago, David shared with the congregation how we sing “Jesus Loves Me” to Zoe before bedtime and naptime.  After the service, I shared with him that earlier that week, she had screamed, “No ‘Jesus!’ Want ‘Bout That Bass!'” before naptime.

You guys probably won’t get that update from the pulpit.

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(Related: that disconcerting moment when your daughter rattles off in her little 23 month old voice, “yeah, it’s pretty clear, I ain’t no size 2.”  Right, because you’re a 2T…needless to say, I am paying more attention to song lyrics now).

This theologically rich exchange also occurred last Sunday:

Zoe: (trying to grab my keys away from me) “NOOOOOOOOOO! MINE!!!!”
Me: “Zoe, who’s the boss?”
Zoe: “Jesus.”

Boom! goes the dynamite.


-Taking care of business:

I’ve been contemplative for the last few months about what type of professional life and family life I want to have in the next two years now that I know I have two girls.  The question before me: am I building a job for myself, or a business? 

While I really want to build a business, I’ve concluded that for at least the next next year or two, I am just building and maintaining a job for myself—a job that has the potential to become a business, and that is set up on sound business principles, but is just a part-time job of no more than 8-10 hrs a week.  I can always build a business (how braggy does that sound? But you know what I mean), but these “little years” are the only time I’ll have these girls home full time with me.  I see an impact from my efforts with them and I don’t want to regret missing out on this time, so I’m capping myself off at a very small number of clients per year.  Just call me a boutique consulting firm.  Ha.

In the meantime, I can still implement principles like diversifying my client base and utilizing good accounting practices that will pay off if I do “go bigger” in future years, so thinking those things through has been fun.


-Date nights: 

One of the main reasons I like working is that I like to make money.  I don’t care about accumulating wealth; to me, money is just a tool to pursue what you value.  And one of the things I value most is this guy.

photo 1Just a normal night by our pool overlooking the water, dressed up in our house clothes.
Or date night.  You decide.

I don’t write a ton about our married life on here because my husband is an adult and can share his own narrative with you (also, I don’t know if people really want to read much about their pastor as written by his wife. Hashtag potential awkwardness).

But let me just say this about our married life: having two kids kinda makes you partners in controlling chaos.  And escaping the chaos is OH SO IMPORTANT.

Me as a mom of one: should we have the sitter come before she goes to bed, or afterwards? I don’t know. I don’t want to traumatize her!  Maybe afterwards.  And there’s only one or two sitters that I really trust…ok, here’s a 3 page document about all of Zoe’s preferences.  Even though she’s sleeping and will likely be sleeping the entire time you’re gone.

Me as a mom of two: You have a pulse and two arms? Cool.  We’ll see you later.  AFTER THEY ARE ASLEEP.  

Yes, that is exaggerated.

But my point is, the intense feeling of I NEED TO GET OUT OF THIS HOUSE ALONE WITH MY HUSBAND strikes way more often with two than with one, so I’m so glad that I am working and it is financially possible for us to have a few date nights a month.  Also, Zoe thinks the sitters are her friends and talks about them all the time and even prays for them to come, so I am really thankful for them.


-Writing: 
I harbor a secret dream of writing a book.  There.  It’s out there.  And although sometimes I just have time to write a grocery list or a Facebook post, I’m trying to keep writing something every week.

What’s new with you?!! 

Mothering the Second Time Around

I’m at that part in the newborn phase where I start to simultaneously rejoice because I’m sleeping better…and still wish I was sleeping better.

In the earliest weeks with Zoe, motherhood was truly a joyful free for all.  I mean.  Look at me.

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I was thrilled to be a mom, but I couldn’t even hold my head up anymore.  I was just so tired.  I remember laying on her playmat when she was about five weeks old and sobbing because I just wanted to sleep more than anything.

Riley is a much easier baby than Zoe (there are no pictures of Riley like this…not a one)

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but she still isn’t sleeping through the night (although, PRAISE THE LORD, she is not up for 1–2 hours at a time several times a night, screaming the second you stop rocking her at the preferred rocking pace and altitude like a certain someone).

When we began considering a second child, it wasn’t the finances or daytime difficulties that I had to get over.  It was my fear of being tired.  I literally had nightmares about being that tired again (those nightmares would wake me up, and then my anxiety about this issue would cause insomnia…how meta, right?)

I’m one of those weirdos who loves being at my peak all the time.  When I worked full time, I very rarely drank even a glass of wine on work nights because I didn’t want anything to slow down my performance at work.  I put my all into my workouts and rest in between them to make sure I get maximum results.  I eat for energy.  I pay attention to how I work and live and critique myself to make sure that I constantly improve.

Being tired is my nightmare because it puts the brakes on all that.  Fatigue makes me forgetful.  It makes me want to sit around instead of work.  It makes me feel lazy.  It makes me crankier.  It makes my brain work slower.  I’m not at my peak when I’m tired, and the kicker is that no matter how I critique myself or try to push myself…I’m still tired.

For someone who loves game plans and self discipline and results, this is obnoxious.

But mothering the second time around means that everything I’ve learned about living under grace instead of perfectionism is actually internalized, instead of out there waiting to be learned.  Mothering the second time around means that I know that this is a phase—that it will take time, but eventually I’ll feel like me again (maybe even a a more badass version of me.  I looked for a better non-swear-word descriptor than badass, and there just isn’t one).  Mothering the second time around means that I can admit that yes, the middle of the night feedings are obnoxious, but they also create a bond between me, my baby, and God that nothing else could produce.

The first time around, I despised the weakness and tiredness.  I loved everything else about being a mom, but I just wanted to be BETTER (faster! stronger!) again.

This time, I’m learning to accept the tiredness not as weakness, but as signs that I am working HARD, getting stronger as a mom and wife, and doing my best, which is all you can ask for from yourself.

I’m learning that I have a choice in how I talk to myself—I can praise myself for what I accomplish despite being tired, which is life-giving, or I can chastise myself for what I still won’t have the energy to accomplish, which is pointless.

I can live in this phase, accepting it as it is and trying to enjoy it for what it is—or I can wish it away anticipating the time when my accomplishments feel easier to measure and achieve.

A certain husband says “we’re done” with kids.  I hope I win this debate, but just in case I don’t—I’m going to soak up the weakness and tiredness instead of loathing it.

Because I am mothering the second time around, and so I know:

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someday I will miss this tired.

A Photo Exhibit

Here are some photos that probably shouldn’t make the blog…but in the interest of promoting fine art, they will anyway.  MWAHAHAHAHA.  Crack open that cab sauv.  It’s about to get sophisticated up in here.

I call this one, “Who Woke Who Again?” 

Photo on 10-10-14 at 6.28 AM #3Contrary to appearances, I didn’t rouse myself at 5:15 am, that’s for sure.

This one is titled, “Hey Girl Hey.

hey girl heyJust catching up on the latest gossip.

This photo series is called, “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Two of Us.  Also, Zoe Dressed Herself.” 

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This piece is called, “Silence is Suspicious.  Very, Very Suspicious.”  

IMG_3246(Me: “Zoe, are you eating cereal?” Zoe, through a full mouth: “No.”)

The following gem is from our recent professional family photo shoot.  During our session, Zoe went rogue and refused to smile unless David threw her into the air or unless the camera was pointed at Riley (in which case she would throw herself onto the floor in the background of the shot and roll like a log towards Riley screaming “cheese!” So helpful.)  

I call this, “Photojournalism at Its Finest, Birth Announcements at Their Worst.”  

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Lest you think I’m unfairly picking on Zoe, this photo is titled “WHO Did They Send Me Home from the Hospital With?”

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“Call Me Maybe” was the hottest song of the summer.  In 2012.  Hence, I call this photo, “Out of Date.” 

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And I’ll pick on myself a bit too.  Our next photo is called, “Why Mom Won’t Ever Be a Craft Blogger”  (alternate title: “Is that Minnie Mouse or V for Vendetta?”)  

IMG_3564“Oh well,” Zoe says.  “I’ve already been exposed to V for Vendetta.  I’m cool with this.”

IMG_3565Zoe then added “eyes” (related: she recently pointed to my eyes and counted 1, 2, then to the lenses of my glasses and counted 3, 4…a wonderful flashback to third grade.)  

IMG_3567After making Minnie Mouse, Zoe requested that I use my mixed media “skills” to create “fire.”  Um, ok, little pyro.  I took my best stab at it, then invited her to paint it.

Things got a bit messy.

And…edible.

The resulting photo is titled, “If You’ve Ever Wondered What Goth Zoe Would Look Like, Here’s Your Answer.”  

IMG_3571I can’t even.

The second-to-last photo in our exhibit today is titled, “Don’t You Dare Pay Attention to that Baby.” 

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And our concluding photo, “Nobody Puts Toddler in a Corner.  No One Who Wants to Live, That Is.” 

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From the Other Side…ish

Today, we took a drive.  And our drive took us past that exit—the one that holds the hospital where I met Zoe for the first time, where my heart grew more full than I ever knew it was capable of.

It’s also where my heart broke.

It’s funny how an interstate exit can hold so much of my life’s experiences.

Someone asked me the other day if I was still grieving our failed adoption, or if getting Riley had ended my grief process.  I appreciated the question a lot, mostly because it’s something I’ve tried to avoid thinking about and sometimes the things we avoid are the things we most need to face.

Like everything grief-related, it turns out that there’s not a simple answer.  But here’s a start to an answer and some of what I’ve been mulling over: in my mind, these events aren’t comparable.

Loving Brianna resulted in great pain.

Loving Riley resulted in great joy.

They are different girls, different situations, but Brianna wasn’t an overture for Riley—she holds her own story, and so does Riley.

Riley isn’t a solution or answer to my grief.  She is a completely separate blessing.  I appreciate the gift of having her as my daughter all the more because of what I experienced on the way to her, but that’s MY story—not hers.  Her story doesn’t begin with my pain, but with her birthparents’ selfless decision to have her and love her in the best way they could think of.

Riley was born at a different exit of a completely different interstate.  Literally, and figuratively, this is the truth.

And that exit is where I’ll start her story when I tell her about it.  We didn’t adopt her to heal our hearts or to replace “the daughter that got away.”  We adopted her because we wanted and loved her.

But for those of you who have been following MY story, I will say this: for months after our failed adoption, I felt like I moved through life with a painful and gaping emptiness.  I tried my hardest to embrace and be filled by the blessing of Zoe, and was never NOT filled with joy by God’s goodness in giving me her and David to love.  But I felt, very keenly, every day, the absence of the family member we had wanted and planned for.  I felt this way before Zoe, too—I tried my hardest to embrace the life stage I was in, but I just knew that I had more love to give and so badly wanted another person to spread it to.  The emptiness was something I felt every day, through breakfast and lunch and evening walks and bedtime, a constant message beating in my heart even when I told it to shut up and go away: there should be another person here to love.

I don’t feel that way anymore.  My heart is fuller and happier these days; it’s a companion I don’t mind having along.  And that’s a wonderful, wonderful gift that I humbly and gratefully gasp out thanks to God for.

But am I “healed?” Am I “over it?” The unbidden thoughts and feelings that came as we drove by the exit today tell me, no.  I’m not.  And I don’t know how that works in this type of situation, honestly.  Maybe full healing comes with time.  Maybe it comes with reconciliation.  Maybe it comes with answers.  And those last two aren’t dependent on me, so maybe it doesn’t come.

But in case you’re where I was, in the emptiness…I thought I’d send you this message from the other side…ish of emptiness:

When you get here? The pain of the loss you’ve experienced doesn’t negate the joy of God’s grace.  The existence of grief doesn’t diminish the gift.  Just because there is darkness, doesn’t mean it wins forever (“the light shines in the darkness, and the the darkness can never extinguish it!”) It is scary now to think about opening your heart again, but when you do and it’s right, you will be able to cherish and love as if there was no in between.

IMG_3415Crowder sings, “Earth has no sorrow that Heaven can’t heal.”  I cling to that, not my situation, not the child in front of me.  And here, the writer in me would like a nice ending statement here, but the real-life-liver in me is finding out that, like all things grief, there isn’t one.  It’s a journey and an annoying one at that.

But you’re not alone on the journey.  And there is joy that you can’t picture still to come.

 

Transformation by Toddler

I’m living in a token economy right now.

Due to some previously-alluded-to adjustment issues, sweet Zoe—and everyone else!—now receive a sticker reward for “nice touches” to Riley.  I personally am wearing one sticker; Riley is wearing three (the rules get a little fuzzy after the sticker is awarded).

In addition to our positive reinforcement, we are also making heavy use of “time out.”  Even Java, our bichon poo, spent some time in time out today for not listening (Zoe’s advice to our canine inmate: “sorry to mommy!”)

I was never one of those moms who was totally overwhelmed by a newborn.  There were tough moments, but it was actually easier than I expected.  Your basic duties: hold them and help them stop crying.  You’re doing great!

Toddlers? Totally different story.  Your job description reads teach, coach, prevent injury to other and self (this involves putting yourself “in their head”—basically, lose half your wits, pretend you drank three energy drinks, and feel ALL THE FEELINGS at once and you might be close) and MAKE A HUMAN BEING OUT OF AN ANIMAL.

Now, I’d be lying by omission if I didn’t mention that I genuinely enjoy toddler Zoe.  I’m actually kind of obsessed with how funny, intelligent, and interesting she is.  But every so often, she seems untamable and I just think, please hold me and help me stop crying.  I have no idea what to do with this kid.  

IMG_3483“Just taking a cute photo of Ri—AHH!!”
Toddler impulse control strikes again.

And those times make me feel like a real big failure.

On Wednesday I was feeling particularly bogged down in despair at my inability to control (I should probably write “positively coach,” but let’s be real…) Zoe’s behavior when I got to leave the house for a few hours for a work meeting.  I put my lipstick on and walked out of the house, trying to avoid a conspicuous fist pump as I breathed in the sweet, sweet air of freedom.

As I trotted into our city’s coolest coffee shop sans stroller, diaper bag, or concerns, I thought: maybe I should go back to work full time.  At least I feel successful at this.

And then, as we waited for our conference call to start, one of my fellow team members showed me pictures from her daughter’s recent wedding and then read this blog post out loud to me.  And unexpected tears came to my eyes because I realized: there is so much more to come.

Raising a toddler is hard.  When each day takes everything that I have, it’s hard to keep the long view in focus.  I find myself focusing only on this stage’s successes (or often, challenges).

But as my teammate reminded me, I’m not raising my girls to be toddlers.  I’m raising my girls to be teenagers, adults, professionals, friends, moms, wives, grandmothers.  There’s a whole life ahead of them.

And when I look up long enough to remember that? It totally changes my perspective.

The day-to-day life in the two-under-two trenches is hard, but by working with them every day on kindness and gentleness and self control and sharing and all of the things that make us, you know, NOT ANIMALS, I am hopeful that there will be days ahead of me where:

  • my preschool-aged daughter will share some of her favorite things with her younger sister (this already happened this weekend when Zoe and I were leaving a birthday party and she told me that she wanted to share her party favors with Riley!)
  • my elementary-aged daughter will discipline herself to work towards a goal she is passionate about
  • my middle school daughter will stand up for an underdog at personal cost to herself
  • my high school daughter will love volunteering with children at an underserved elementary school
  • my college aged daughter will understand how to set boundaries
  • my adult daughter will thoughtfully consider her gifts and the world’s needs, and make a career choice she enjoys
  • my adult daughter will understand that a good relationship takes work, and will be dedicated to doing her part of the work, producing a joyful and life-giving relationship that we’re all proud of
  • my daughters will be friends. Maybe, they will even be MY friends.

It’s easy to focus on the toddler behaviors that need to be modified (and they do need attention).

But when I take a step back, look into my daughter’s eyes, really see the amazing human being in front of me, and dream for a second about the potential, that is so much more life-giving and inspiring.

IMG_3496I don’t have all the answers to deal with Zoe’s pinching problem.  My sticker system may not work.  I might lose my temper sometimes and other times I might be so shocked by a behavior that I can’t muster a good response.  Riley will have a whole different set of issues when she gets to this age (pray for me?)

But Zoe isn’t just a toddler.  She is a human being with a beautiful heart and limitless potential. She’s a gift.  She’s MY gift.

I love what Gloria Furman writes in her book Treasuring Christ When Your Hands are Full: 

“God’s sovereign grace releases me from the worry that I’m doing a haphazard job of orchestrating my children’s lives for them.  The gospel reminds me that a mother’s plans are not ultimate; God’s are.  God is the one who has created these children, and he has far more intentional intentions to glorify himself through these kids than I could ever dream up

He knows the number of their days and no part of their story surprise Him.  He is the God to whom we want to actively, daily entrust our children.”

My expertise is limited, and some days my patience is too.  But God knows what she needs—and what I need.  And as I earnestly seek Him, I am equipped with what I need to serve her, and to grow into the mom and person God wants me to be.

Some days, I look at my daughter thinking “AHHH! She needs to change!!!”  But really, we’re both on a transformative journey.

And the sweet thing is that we’re traveling together.

Photo on 9-22-14 at 6.57 PM

At Season’s Change

Last night, David and I finally unpacked the last moving box.  We still have a few blank walls, and our fall decorations have turned up missing (which makes me wonder what else might be missing) but for all intents and purposes, we’re settled.

The fall semester is one third of the way done.

It’s football season, which means I see significantly less of David.

It’s finally cooling off a little here in Florida.  I saw people in sweatshirts on our walk Wednesday morning (and rightfully so—I mean, it was 78 degrees.)

I’ve switched to hot coffee drinks.

Riley had her two month appointment this week.  I found myself thinking: “you’ve only been with us two months?” It feels like she’s always been with us.

All of these signs point to a new season.  Thank God.  

It’s no secret that 2014 has not been an easy year for me.  The year has been full with anxiety, waiting, sadness, and loss, capped off by housing issues and a forced move.  I feel scarred by this summer, which held the highest of high notes with Riley but was very difficult otherwise due to constant moving and adapting (and honestly, summer in Florida could be its own brand of seasonal affective disorder.)  My grandfather died a few weeks ago, necessitating a 36 hour trip to Colorado to celebrate his life and the joy He has found in His eternal life with Christ.  I found myself telling David “I’m so eager for a new season” about 600 times this year, but it seemed to just keep blending together into one challenging one.  I’m not proud of what all this angst says about my ability to be content no matter the circumstance—but I’m also aware that some seasons are just hard, and that even if you do your best to choose joy in the hard times, it’s okay to look forward to when that joy comes more easily.

The last box we unpacked was full of random items.  Tools.  Newborn diapers (oops.)  And this stuff:

IMG_3453This is proof that, even in the midst of a hard season: a miracle can happen.

Riley came out of the womb without a name.  She left the hospital with a temporary name.  But in 2-3 months, she’ll have a permanent name.  How like our God—who lovingly takes us into his family as we are, gives us His name and His strength for our life here on earth, and gives us the assurance that we will belong to Him forever in heaven.

The miracle of Riley reminds me that no matter what my circumstances may look like, there is one circumstance that supersedes everything: that I have been loved, as I am, without doing anything to earn it, by a God who wants to unite me to Himself forever.  As I pass through seasons of life, learning from each one, this truth is my constant—and I long for it to be the lens through which I view every season, stage, transition, and role I play.

“What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now!”
I Peter 1:3-4 MSG  

 

A Sweet September

I wanted to wait to write an update until I had something deeper to say than “here’s a bunch of cute and funny photos of my kids, plus a comment or two that I think is witty” but at the rate my brain is going (or NOT going,) that means you won’t hear from me until Christmas.  So, indulge me in another “life lately”-style post!

I recapped the highlight of our Disney trip in my last post.  Not covered in that post was the next day when, thanks to wrong directions from resort concierges and staff, I spent several hours roaming around three Disney resorts with the girls looking for what I had been told was an “amazing playground.”  We never found this mystical place, but we DID get to ride three buses, two boats, walk approximately 3 miles, and experience the excitement of being stranded in a remote area of a wilderness campground for an hour—all in 90 degree weather.  At each stop of our incredible journey, I had to break down the stroller (and infant car seat!) and take the two girls, our diaper bag, and the Ergo safely on and off of the mode of transportation by myself because apparently the staff can’t help (“lawsuits,” they explained, as if this single word could make me understand why they stood there watching as I struggled with 75 lbs of people and things.)  Ahh, the happiest place on earth!

This campground selfie sums up the trip nicely:

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“Just a fun day with the gir–AAKKKK!”
Guess I don’t have to worry about when to expose Riley to peanut butter anymore…

On the plus side, I realized that if I could live through this experience, I could probably handle taking both girls shopping, so we’re a bit more functional these days.

Let’s see…other updates…

Riley has woken up to the world, and man, is she pretty!!

IMG_3329Don’t mind the Harry Potter-style scrape on her head…I’m calling her “The Baby Who Lived (No Thanks to Zoe)”

She has started batting at toys, tracking really well with her eyes, smiling in response to our faces, cooing, and kicking her playmat piano like it’s her job.

IMG_3199It’s apparently Zoe’s job too.  Every day she’s hustlin…

IMG_3335Riley’s all, “seriously, Mom?? I thought that thing was supposed to be for ME.”

Riley remains peaceful and happy—basically, a dream baby.  She’s been out of newborn clothes for three weeks, which is so funny to me since Zoe was so shrimpy.  We have her 2 month appointment this week and I’m very curious to see how much she weighs!

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On a related note, Zoe is 25 lbs now.  I’m pretty sure 3 lbs of it are hair.  Check out this recent post-nap hair:

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My dad, mom, and teenage siblings vacationed at a nearby beach over Labor Day weekend. We didn’t want to subject the family to our nighttime wake ups, so we commuted back and forth every day for a few days.  It was so much fun! My parents made sure that I got a little “vacation” myself—I got to go paddle boarding twice, didn’t have to cook for a few days, and my dad watched Zoe during her nap times so that I could take Riley to the resort Starbucks and cuddle with her (one-on-one time with her is so precious to me.  As are iced soy lattes.)

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Like a true Florida baby, Riley was in the ocean at 6 weeks old.  She totally kicked back and relaxed.

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1.5 week later, Aunt Kelsey came for a visit to meet Riley.  All parties enjoyed her visit and craved her attention, as evidenced by this darling photo collage (click to enlarge.)

Aunt Kelsey collage

She was a HUGE help in practicing my routine with the two girls, cooked us a few freezer meals, babysat Riley so I could get some one-on-one time with Zoe, and even encouraged David and I to sneak out for two date nights while she was here.  Since she left, Zoe has continued to thank God for “Ke-sey” before bed every night.  It is so sweet to watch my girls fall in love with my family.

IMG_3410Some personal updates: I am LOVING work right now.  I don’t talk a ton about work here, but right now I’m teaching an undergraduate public health writing class and am really enjoying watching my students engage with each other and our course content.  Public health writing is equal parts formula and craft, so there actually is a lot to teach and finesse even at the undergraduate level.  It’s fun to give thoughtful feedback to my students and watch them apply it, and to encourage and coach them in their career aspirations.  I’m also writing two grants a month for a local nonprofit through a grant writing business that I’m a part of, and just wrapped up the last part of my last summer consulting project, which involved training the staff of a local nonprofit on a 3-5 year evaluation plan that I created for them after working with them to help them define their desired impact.  I work on Mondays from 9-1, during nap times (the girls are coordinating their naps most days right now which is fantastic,) and as needed on weekends and early mornings.  It’s not too much, I love it, and I get to spend the majority of my week with the girls.

IMG_3381I’m feeling a lot more comfortable with both girls now and feel God’s goodness every day as He somehow equips me to do and enjoy my day.  I definitely don’t shower or cook from scratch as much as I used to, but I’m in a good groove otherwise.  There’s always clean laundry in our drawers (or at least in a hamper somewhere,) I can take the girls most places without having to over think it, we’re sleeping better as Riley is down to one nighttime wakeup most nights, and I’ve gotten back into exercising again  (I wasn’t starting from scratch, but it felt like it—my kudos to anyone who has recently started an exercise routine.  I had to legitimately pray and coach myself through some of those initial workouts!)

My goals for the next month is to keep that routine going, to eat real lunches (that hasn’t been happening lately, but I know that continuing to get back into an exercise routine will help my appetite get more regulated again,) to have two date nights with David, and to deep clean my house 1x.  (I know, aim big!!) I also want to keep having regular “quiet times”—whatever that needs to look like in my day :)

Photo on 7-28-14 at 6.45 AM #2I am also back volunteering with our youth group girls, thanks to some youth group moms who are making themselves available to watch the girls each week.  The support our church family gives us is unreal and we’re so thankful.  I am excited for the year ahead with my high school girls.

I will close with some gratuitous adorable pics, because I live for excess!

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That Time I Betrayed All My Principles (And Loved It)

Until Zoe was about 13 months old, I had a parenting philosophy that we were not going to “do” characters in our family.

Laugh all you want, experienced parents: I was convinced that I could shield my daughter from becoming a pawn in the merchandising machine of Disney, Nickelodeon, and company.  We would spend our time playing with natural wood toys, painting, exploring the outdoors, eating organic food, and reading books with watercolor illustrations.  Our trips to Target would remain peaceful; Zoe would never demand Sponge Bob fruit snacks or throw a tantrum over not getting the Big Bird toothbrush because she wouldn’t know who they were.  

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

When Zoe was 13 months, she discovered Elmo.  We had never watched Elmo at home, but she discovered a small Elmo doll at Target, picked him up and hugged him, and wouldn’t let go. For the price of a latte and a small part of my soul, I could make her smile this big?! Okay, I thought.  We’ll let Elmo in our cart and into our house and maybe even into our hearts.  BUT JUST ELMO. She’ll never discover his friends.

IMG_2362Zoe with her favorite Elmo of the multiple Elmo dolls we now own.

Apparently these kid marketing people are, like, good at their jobs.  These little Sesame Street characters are everywhere, and once our family and friends realized that Zoe liked Elmo, they made sure that she owned the whole neighborhood.

Ok, so we’re sticking to Sesame Street characters.  They’re at least associated with education, I reasoned.  We won’t do any “fluffy” non-educational characters though, and she is definitely not watching TV.

I held strong until she was 18 months old and I was at my parents’ house trying to watch three kids and finish two grants.  It was miraculous: fifteen minutes of “Elmo’s World” once a day gave me the time to check my work, make a meal for Sam or Olivia, or do the dishes while Zoe sat still! Ok, but TV is only at Gigi and Papa’s house! I said.

A week after we got home, Zoe had an ear infection followed by the stomach bug and stopped eating or drinking for three days.  “She needs to stay as still as possible,” her doctor said.  “Try TV.”

Two weeks after Zoe recovered, Riley joined our family.

Let’s just say that I can recite entire episodes of Elmo’s World now.  (“Birthday” is my favorite.  Only a real Scrooge doesn’t like to celebrate a fictional fish’s birthday for 17 minutes and 34 seconds, and Mr. Noodle’s attempts to “wrap a present” on this particular episode are far better than his groan-worthy acting on “Play Ball.”)

Flash forward to two weeks ago, when David and I had the following conversation:

David: So, I’m still signed up to go to that conference at a Disney resort in two weeks.
Me: Can you get out of it? We have a newborn.
David: (checks) Nope.
Me: Well, I guess I’ll stay home alone with them for three days and three nights…
David: Don’t do that.  You guys should come for at least part of the time.  If you can handle them during the day, I’ll be able to help you at night.
Me: Okay.  “Night” and “help” in the same sentence? We’re in.  But I’m not taking both of them to a theme park.  I haven’t even taken them both to Publix yet.  What can I do around the hotel?
David: Hmm. Do you think Zoe would like a character meal?
Me: She doesn’t really know any of the characters.  (Brightens) Wait! We have two weeks.  That’s enough time for her to learn their names.  I’ll show her some videos on YouTube.

I’ll pause and let you re-read that last sentence.

MY MORALS HAVE SLIPPED SO LOW, GUYS.  

And last night, as I sat across from my chicken-nugget-eating, dessert-buffet-partaking, character-knowing, HAPPY little girl, I thought: I’m so glad!

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IMG_3296Some rules were meant to be broken!

But seriously, as I adjust to two kids, I have to have SO MUCH GRACE for myself.  It is hard work, and it would be easy to drown in guilt because I’m not as good as I want to be at it.  This night was a great reminder that sometimes, my expectations of what I “should” do and the rules I’ve created for myself about what kind of mom I want to be are actually blocking fun and enjoyment from my life as a mom.

Last night was the best night of Zoe’s life.  I am so glad I got to enjoy it with her!

Life with Two So Far

I thought I’d write a little post about life with two kids.  This is a good illustration of what my day to day life looks like now: 

Photo on 8-17-14 at 11.06 AMIf you detect a slight hint of fear in my eyes, you’re right on! It’s a little overwhelming to have two under two, especially when one is a strong-willed and energetic toddler and one is a completely helpless baby.  Throw in a move and starting a new semester as an adjunct instructor, and wow, it’s been a crazy month.    

I’ve been SO blessed to have lots of family help over the last few weeks, as David’s mom and my mom both visited for about 9 days each.  This, along with David’s paternity leave, provided me with about 3.5 weeks of a 2:2 adult-to-child ratio.  Without this, I think someone might be dead (and the odds are fairly even for all of us–Zoe from self-inflicted daredevil-style injury, Riley from Zoe-inflicted injury, and me from fatigue and/or despair! LOL.) 

I start every day sitting in the bathroom for a minute and telling God, “I need you!!! I can’t do this alone! You gave me these girls.  Now please give me what I need today to be the best mom to them!” After that, I take a deep breath, force myself to leave the bathroom, and try to take it hour by hour because I don’t know how long my day will be, what sorts of toddler challenges await me, whether Zoe will be nice to her sister or will spend the entire day trying to pinch and hit her, whether I will get to take a shower or not, whether I will get a break at all in the form of simultaneous naps or if I will just spend the entire day caring for babies (my “workday” now can easily be 4:45-5 am until 9-10 pm, so if they don’t nap at the same time, it is a long day.) 

One thing that I DO know is that my day will be purposeful…because although it may be difficult sometimes, I believe wholeheartedly that I am right where I am supposed to be with the children I am supposed to have, and that God will give ME what I need to give THEM what THEY need.  

Every day I have to admit my inability, put my faith in something beyond my own abilities and energy, and trust in Him for what I need.  It’s humbling, and honestly, “humbled” is not my favorite feeling. 

But every day He has been faithful to provide what I need—whether that is patience, insight into their needs, energy that belies my sleep deprivation, a positive daughter/daughter moment…

IMG_3128(Zoe loves to play “patty cake” with Riley)

…a friend who is miraculously able to come over when I need an energy outlet for Zoe, dinner delivery, a break in the extreme heat that lets us get outside, a fun hour where Zoe does not challenge me once, or a positive text when I need the extra encouragement.  Also, the God who invented the coffee plant is a good God.  Amen.  

Here are a few things I LOVE about being a mom of two: 

  • I’ve been trying to take Zoe for some special “mommy/daughter trips” that are just me and her.  She REMEMBERS them and talks about them later.  It’s so sweet and makes me feel really good about the time that I invest into making it happen. 
  • Seeing Zoe and Riley interact.  Zoe is very sweet with Riley about 85% of the time.  She says “hi Riley!” every time she passes Riley’s bassinet, whether Riley is in it or not, and in the mornings she usually wants me to put Riley into her bed so that they can cuddle for a few minutes.  Zoe sleeps with a blanket and an Elmo doll, and she will tuck Riley in with her blanket and will make her Elmo doll dance for Riley.  Riley is very interested in Zoe…unless she’s sleeping.  Even then, Zoe will often find a way to involve her in an activity!  
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  • Having Riley around has brought out a nurturing side in Zoe.  She really loves playing with her baby dolls now, and thanks to Grandma, we have expanded our collection of toy baby accessories to include a toy bottle, a toy bouncy seat, and a toy Pack N Play.  In between these and the real baby accessories littering my house, there is NO mistaking the presence of two under two in this household.
  • One day when Zoe had been particularly unkind to Riley, I was feeling very discouraged…until I saw Zoe pick up her baby doll, sweetly cuddle with it, and sing “Jesus Loves Me” to it.  It made me feel like everything I have been doing to try to help Zoe learn about kind and nurturing behavior will eventually pay off.  Learning at this age is a lot of scaffolding, but eventually, she will act kindly without me having to constantly instruct her.  Plus, when she does get it, Riley will have another role model.  
  • Zoe is OBSESSED with riding with Riley in the double stroller.  
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    When we go for walks outside, Riley tends to open her eyes REALLY big.  Zoe thinks that Riley is being intentionally funny, and giggles hysterically at her.  It’s hilarious.  
  • I finally bit the bullet and hired a sitter to come for a few hours a week to help me get my consulting/teaching work done.  I felt too guilty to do this with one child and tried to just work during nap times, but with two, I know that their naps won’t always coincide and so I felt very confident in the decision to hire a sitter.  God provided a great and energetic sitter—an alum of our youth program who is currently home for a “gap time” between college and graduate school. I’m scary excited for 9-1 on Mondays! 
  • With two kids, there isn’t a lot of time to spend sitting around holding Riley, so I sometimes worry about our bond.  However, when she does get fussy, she seems to relax the best with me over any other adult in our home.  I love this! 
    photo-72I may not feel the slightest sense of mastery yet, but I’m excited to keep improving as a parent of two and I am so thankful for the chance to parent these girls with my amazing husband by my side!