Keeping it real: challenges are the worst.

motivatorWhen it comes to making important life changes or tackling a challenge, I say there’s no better day than tomorrow to start. It should come as no surprise that I’m a little resistant to discomfort, a lot resistant to pain. Sorry if you were looking for something motivational on your Whole 30.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I got up super early and drove a ways to pile on layers of clothing and poop in bushes so we could enjoy the beauty and majesty of God’s creation by climbing a tall mountain. I’m still conflicted about the experience: a real love-hate, mountaintop-valley, life-lesson kind of thing.

I was enjoying myself and reaching for my first snack, a banana, while I gazed up at what I thought was close to the summit, because I could see silhouettes of other hikers yonder. When my husband informed me that we would probably be 1/3 the way up the mountain by that point, my enthusiasm started to wane.

Later, I asked him to check our elevation – 12,100 feet above sea level – and I decided that the last 2,000 feet of our journey were probably throwaway. God wouldn’t make treelines and treacherous deadly mountaintops if he intended me to walk on them, I reasoned. “We’ve come so far, let’s turn around now,” I looked at him with my helpmeetiest doe eyes. But he wouldn’t let me.

Between the icy surface of the rocks, the cutting wind, and the chalky taste of a Clif bar in my mouth, the rest of the hike was less than enjoyable. Every so often I would stop and tell my husband to go on without me, vowing to wait for him right where I stood. He refused. When we were probably 300 feet away from the summit, and all I could see was huge, slippery deathtrap rocks that I had absolutely no desire to climb, I got real.

“Nick. I am staying here. I am serious. Please. Please. I don’t care about going up there. PLEASE.”

His patience had run out, but his stubbornness had not. I followed begrudgingly, and once we finally reached that stupid official marker at the top of the mountain, I couldn’t enjoy the view, because I was afraid I was going to fall off of the mountain, and I also knew the impossible journey ahead of me to get down. I ate another banana, this time bruised and soggy, and hunkered down, mostly ignoring my husband. We got a few pictures in which my smile was fake and my dread thinly veiled. What a time to be alive.

From the top of the mountain, I did notice two distinct types of people. In the first, people were cracking open beers and taking pictures, holding signs, donning their sponsorship clothes and looking invigorated for Instagram pictures, no doubt uploaded at Beau Jo’s where they enjoyed more beer. The second group was more conspicuous, like the wife near me who quietly wept and ignored her husband’s consoling pats on her back. We were kindred spirits, she and I.

I would love to say that I am so glad we officially summited and the accomplishment was something to be proud of. I would also love to say that I was changed for the better on that mountaintop, that I understand myself and the world a little bit deeper, and I can see hardships and challenges from a perspective that allows me to push on.

But, alas. Today at Crossfit, I was attempting a rope climb. I got less than a foot from the top, and I allowed the looming descent to influence me. I sloppily slid down the rope, and I never quite made it that high for the rest of the workout. I could have pushed myself to the top, but I didn’t, and I have a rope burn to show for it.

I’m still no expert at hard things, still not stoked about rising to the challenge. Kudos to all of the genuinely perky and inspirational people out there, filling our feeds with smiles and motivating words. For the rest of us, let’s just try to show up and be honest about our experience, even if we flounder and grumble.

So, about the mountain. I guess I’m glad I did it, but I’m not sure I would do it again. Too hard. How’s that for motivational?

Why I need to cry my eyes out about kindergarten

meandmygirlWell I wasn’t so sure we’d make it to this point. When you have a tiny colicky baby who doesn’t sleep, the thought that someday she’d have spindly legs and her own signature and start kindergarten seemed a little like heaven. Hard to wrap your head around, but a good thing to aim for nonetheless.

So why do I feel the need to cry my eyes out and beg her to cuddle on the couch for just a little longer? There are a few reasons.

Regret. I wish I had enjoyed things more, appreciated the fleeting nature of infancy, and given myself and my family grace when things were going badly. What if. What if I had taken the right supplements or believed the right things or asked for help sooner when I had postpartum depression? Why didn’t I clean the breastmilk off of my shirt or wash my hair before all of those pictures the first year, which show up in my Timehop every day? And if I had really known that she wouldn’t always fall asleep on my chest, I might have kept her there for longer.

I’m afraid. Was I enough? Did we do enough as parents? Are any of us equipped for kindergarten or bullying at school or learning to read or whatever will come our way? When suffering comes, because it will, will I point to all the good and true things when I don’t actually know what to say or believe?

And that pesky problem of time. These five years have flown by … so slowly. At every point that I checked on our progress, I thought my moment, day, week would last forever. But here we are. I want time to just pause long enough for me to look at every baby picture, watch every video, read every journal entry, and soak it all in so I can move forward equipped with a full tank of love and understanding of what we’ve been through.

I have a feeling that the parents’ eve of kindergarten and sitting at the deathbed of a loved one are the two times in life that we really wish for this chance to stop and take it all in. I guess maybe when she graduates from high school, but that sounds like heaven again, so check back in 13 years. The rest of the time, we’re ticking off the seconds and willing them away sooner. Especially in waiting. Or in loss. No one wants to relish that.

But that brings me to the good news. We made it! We are living this life together, and it’s scary and we hurt, but there’s also joy and exhilaration in letting go and just going forward. For a little girl in her shiny new school shoes and for her mama in tear-stained flip flops, this is what comes next, and we can be thankful for it and dread it all at once.

If I’ve learned one thing this far into motherhood, and I sincerely hope that I have and there’s something to show for my gray hairs, it’s that it’s OK to feel all the things.  I’ll always have regret, because I’ll always make mistakes and get messier than I plan to. And I’ll always have fear, because as much as I try to be brave, you can’t be brave if there’s not something to be afraid of in the first place. Allowing myself to feel it all frees me up to really experience the joy that comes from growing and moving on to new things. Teaching my girl that through tearful smiles will give her permission to feel it all too.

But bigger than regret, fear, or any other feeling is the love that I have for that 5-year-old girl. While the late-night nursing sessions and sweet lullabies of the past won’t carry her through the future inevitable heartache of feeling unseen, unknown, unaccepted by people around her, we have a lifetime ahead of us for me to hold her close and remind her of who she is and who loves her.

So, come Monday morning at kindergarten drop-off, it will be time. Time to cry, to be brave, to be excited, to be thankful, and to move forward ready to learn and embrace the new. And that sweet girl of mine will probably feel a few of those things too.



Finding beauty — not shame — in the mess

beautynotmessDuring the early days of my depression, dirty dishes kept me down. It turns out, you have to eat. Like every day. And even though I wasn’t necessarily tapped into that need, my husband was, and the dishes were proof.

I was captive to my smelly kitchen sink, with dried trails of food caked on plates, salad bowls with days-old avocado permanently encrusted to the sides, and hand wash-only pots taunting me. It was enough to send me back to the couch and pretend that I hadn’t seen it. But the whispers could still be heard: “You are a failure. You can’t even load the dishwasher. Would it be so difficult to rinse? You will never catch up.”

My husband always jumped in and cleaned the kitchen, but now, instead of remembering him serving me, I remember falling short. I remember failing at something that I wanted, needed to do.

Not long after my first daughter was born, friends brought over dinner and ate with us. Sticky BBQ chicken, salad, and grilled corn, I think. After we ate, my sweet friend cleaned up my kitchen. She hand-washed a dish that I had left on the counter after coming to terms with it never being clean again. I was just waiting on the kitchen trash to find its way out to the dumpster so there would be room in the trashcan to throw the dish away, maybe next week or at least next month, surely.

I felt so loved when I saw my sparkling clean kitchen. But it was immediately followed by shame. My friend had seen my mess and gotten in it with me to clean it up, even if just for the night. I imagined what she must be thinking about me, and I felt so different from her. Her own kitchen was clean and she also had the vitality to clean my kitchen, while I couldn’t muster the energy to nibble the rest of the chicken meat from between those two wing bones.

It’s truly a despairing cycle, when a simple act of love makes you ashamed. But I think shame, womanhood, and motherhood too often go hand-in-hand.

Who else feels like you don’t measure up? Any other women out there who strive toward an image of perfection, fueled by self-hate, disappointment, or discouragement? What other mamas compare what you’re feeling inside with what others look like outside? Does anyone else think that mess = failure, instead of accepting the mess as a natural byproduct of living?

I’m learning that the messier we are, the more we’re growing, trying, learning, and living. Mess = life. It’s been a winding path that led me from the throes of depression to being able to write about it, in a sort of awe that remembers the heavy weight of those postpartum days, months, years, but also sees from the perspective of a passerby some of what was so heavy on my back, which is so much stronger than I ever gave it credit for.

Now dishes have become a ritual for me. I light a candle by my sink and chip away at my work for the day, for the moment. I’m genuinely thankful for the energy to cook and eat and wash dishes, and for children and a husband to feed. Sometimes I’m behind and my sink looks like it used to, but I’m not ashamed. Other times I feel productive and successful when I’ve stayed on top of the dishes for a few days in a row. Then I usually give myself a little break and end up behind again.

My cycle of despair has been restored to a cycle of life. Of mess. I see my journey toward healing every day when I tackle the most mundane of tasks, doing the dishes.

And today I’m especially thankful for the people who aren’t afraid of our mess, who join us in it at the risk of shame or awkwardness or a little extra work. It makes me want to be someone who sees beauty instead of a mess.

Why all moms should ride roller coasters

elitchsThe summer only just started, and I’ve already been to two amusement parks*. I have to say, taking mothers to amusement parks is an integral part of healthy parenting. And this is coming from someone who just a week ago HATED roller coasters.

Let me explain. I spend a great amount of my time and googling on making healthy choices and avoiding catastrophes. What should I drink this afternoon? Why, pure cranberry juice of course, to ward off any lurking UTIs and clear up my acne because of the salicylic acid. Should we go to the zoo? Not with the traffic on Colorado Blvd. right now! What are the effects of stress in my life? Elevated cortisol levels, belly fat, shortened life, basically you’re going to die if you get stressed out. Good luck.

So when given the option to sit or hang my body on a man-made contraption that will get my adrenaline pumping and then fly me around, I will always pass. Or rather, I used to always pass.

I realize some of you might love amusement parks. You’re probably the type that sing at karaoke bars and answer unknown numbers on your phone. You probably won’t relate to any of this. Not my problem.

Here are the reasons why I – and any other sensible, cautious, risk-averse mama – should make it a priority to go to an amusement park (without children) and ride roller coasters.

  1. Own that adrenaline rush. How many times have you been asleep in bed, heard your child roll over/scream/barf, and your heart rate went through the roof? Especially for new parents, it seems to be a nightly occurrence. There is something so gratifying about claiming the power over your adrenaline: I am choosing to push my body into super-stressed mode, because if I can’t control even the basest level of human needs – my sleep – I will control which ride I subject myself to. And I will *like* it.
  2. Scream with abandon. Now that you’ve put your body in this heightened level of awareness and survival, you can scream, unlike nearly every circumstance with young children that truly gets your blood flowing. For someone who will walk across the room to tap on someone’s shoulder instead of yell to get her attention, I really do need a drop from 100 feet in the air to get a loud sound out of me. But once it does, it’s such a relief!
  3. Ketchup bottle it. You know when you’re almost out of ketchup, but it’s the only way your kids will eat their meat/veggies/cod liver oil? You squeeze that bottle for every last drop. And you might add some water and swish it around and then squeeze some more. That’s how you have to view the amusement park. This is your day (or night). You paid good money to get here. You have a babysitter. You are out with your husband or girlfriends or if you’re really legit, you’re by yourself. You have to make the most of this. There’s no pussyfooting around with the ferris wheel. You get your butt on the Mind Eraser and you scream your face off.
  4. Build your clout. All of those sweet talks with your children about being brave and trying new things? They mean nothing if you can’t do it yourself. But here’s the perk: you can have a few margaritas or beers or shots of espresso, which will really help relax or motivate you, and your kids can’t. So you have an advantage.
  5. Feel secure with some boundaries. I told my husband I would ride everything except the Tower of Doom, because I still had some wits about me. I’m looking for a thrill, not a free fall. I have enough problems with my pelvic floor. I drew the line here this time, but maybe next time I’ll be up for it. Who knows?

If you found yourself nodding along with anything I’ve said or intrigued by the rush and relief of a roller coaster, get after it. Throw caution and sensibility to the wind.

Might I just add: don’t wear white because water rides and dirt, don’t wear flip-flops because they could fall off, don’t overdo the funnel cakes and churros (spoken from experience), and parking is $15 if you’re going to Elitch Gardens but free at Lakeside Amusement Park!

This is not a sponsored post, but Elitch’s did invite my family to an event (and gave us free parking and passes for rides), and Lakeside helped raise funds for my daughter’s preschool, Augustine Classical Academy, by providing a night for area schools only to enjoy the park with a portion of ticket sales benefiting the school.

Brokenness and grace, strength and grace.

mygirlsMy two-and-a-half-year-old is the kind of sweet that I just want to squish. Her glowing cheeks and pudgy flesh bracelets and diaper-clad butukis. I just want to squish her.

When we’re in a library or church or at a 3 a.m. rendezvous to pull the covers back up, I whisper gently to my little love. And she glares at me and says, “Talk REAL.” Gentle whispers are no longer tolerated.

She has become self-aware, like when, five hours into our road trip, she tugged on her seat belt and screamed, “I’m stuck!”

And the destruction that has been part of her nature is now the object of her fascination. She will list things she wants to destroy, to gauge how funny the threat is: “I will hang from the lights and break your eyeballs and tear up this blanket! Ah hahahhaha!”

Yesterday, when I walked into the room, she casually looked up at me and said, “Hi, Mama. I’m going to break you!”

Truer words, eh?

I’ve never been more aware of my brokenness than in motherhood. Yes, I’m sinful and bent toward destruction (not unlike my toddler, it’s worth noting). But my brokenness also plays out in a general reality that I’m not quite in working order.

Like a tricycle with a wobbly wheel, I just can’t get the job done gracefully. I leave laundry in the washing machine for too long, I meal-plan for only three days out of the week, I forget to brush hair and wipe faces for picture day. It’s not graceful, but it is grace-full.

With my brokenness, I’ve learned to give myself grace and receive it. What a silly thing, that we wouldn’t want to accept grace, that we’d have to learn to. But in a culture where Crossfit is a thing, I suppose it isn’t so crazy that we would try to muscle through whatever shame or failure or flailing we experience.

(On that note, maybe I’ve been so reluctant to really embrace Crossfit – something I’ve been flirting with for a year – because I’m just learning to be gentle with myself, and Olympic lifts and lung burners are just not gentle.)

Anyway, there is a rope wound around my heart that pulls me when I feel broken, when I’m faced with the reality that this job of mothering, adulting, living, is really too much for me. And then the grace brings some slack, and I can breathe and my heart can beat, and I can go on.

But the other side of this rope tugs and tells me that I can be strong. That I was created for an abundant life and to glorify a big God and to do important things, like writing a book, or comforting a scared girl who fell off her bike, or making a beautiful meal with centerpieces and all.

I can only imagine that the slack that this strong rope brings is grace too. Because whether I feel weak or I feel strong, I need grace. I need to be tethered to something, and what a gift, if that can be grace.

It’s certainly worth clarifying that by grace I mean the free and unmerited favor of God, his forgiveness of my sins, and his unconditional love, all because of Jesus Christ. Giving myself grace means reminding myself of this.

So yeah, my kids break me. When my littlest rubs my back and says, “Close your eyes, sweet, sweet child. Go to sleep now.” (Which I have never said to her. Seriously, where do they get this stuff?!) Or if she is defiant and oblivious and takes her diaper off and steps in poop and gets angry at me for whatever is “disgusting” on her foot.

Yep, either way, I’m broken. I’m reminded of both the vastness of my love and the tediousness of my role, and I’m overwhelmed by both.

But my heart can keep beating, and I can keep going, because I am known and forgiven and loved by God. There is grace.

In other words, there might be mildewed laundry in my machine, poop on my wood floor, and leftovers on the table with candles and linen napkins. But I know it’s OK, because there’s grace. And also, I’m probably too sore to care, because Crossfit.

What am I doing.






Why I’m choosing to be vulnerable

shameI recently got some article comments and an e-mail that sent me into a shame spiral. The kind that whispers, “You idiot. What are you doing? Stop it, now. Disable your blog and erase your emails. Stop texting. Keep your thoughts in their twisted mind where they belong,” while you rehash everything you’ve ever written or shared with people in your life.

It’s kind of exhausting. I had to take a coffee break during my spiral. Seriously.

It made me want to never be vulnerable, never make a sperm joke, never try to articulate the darkest crevices of my wrinkly, issue-laden brain.  I felt offended, but even worse, insecure.

Then I thought about this one time recently in my kids’ bathroom:

My daughter threw down a new insult during bath time. She whispered to her sister and then was too ashamed to repeat it. Like most put-downs, I think she didn’t know if it was inappropriate or merely silly.

The insult? “You have 100 butts.”

I’m not sure where this came from, but I do see why this is significant to her. In our house, we value quality over quantity. One good butt is better than 100 mediocre ones any day. Butt I digress.

Words can be cutting, but only if you let them. In my daughter’s case, I think she was just testing out her voice. Some people aren’t trying to be ugly, they’re trying to see if what they say has any worth. If they have any worth. I can relate to all of it.

But sometimes, cutting words come from bleeding people. When people are in pain, their words are the first indication. Whether it’s what they say or what they leave unsaid, hurting people often can’t get beyond themselves when interacting with others, stranger or loved one alike.

Even when someone else’s pain hurts us, we can choose to be vulnerable and authentic. We can choose grace over shame. We can care for ourselves and care for other people by trusting that truth and authenticity lead to freedom.

In my recent shame spiral case, I don’t think all the contributors were in pain, but I’m guessing at least one of them was. Regardless, I felt hurt and I wanted to hide. But I won’t let myself stay there.

So in my house, (the new rule is) we’re not allowed to talk about people’s butts, but we are encouraged to stifle shame with vulnerability; use our words as a form of art, sharing information, or therapy; and offer our inner thoughts even when they are misinterpreted or offensive.

In theory, this is working for us, but I think that’s because the kids are focusing on the first part, and I’m focusing on the rest. Check back with me when they start getting insecure about their own butts and we have to fully tackle the shame issue.

In the meantime, I’ll continue divulging too much information, saying awkward things that make sense in my head, and wrestling with issues important to me, here on the old blog. If you have a problem with it, please be nice. If you aren’t, you have 100 butts.

Are we going to have another kid?

Photo by Amber Ratliff.

Every time my husband and I talk about having a third child, I cry. I uggggly cry. He thought we were just talking about hopes and dreams for the future and third-row seating. Boy was he wrong.

The emotion that welled up inside of me (and still does) is hard to put into words, but I will try.

The first time we decided to get pregnant, we had no idea what we were in for. We knew the logistics of conception, the horror stories of birth, and the family picture at the end. That’s like 0.001% of the knowledge we would learn. Side note: we committed to cloth diapering way too early in the game.

The second time we decided to get pregnant, we knew we didn’t want to have an only child, and the general haze of parenthood was starting to lift enough that I could see my husband standing a foot in front of me. It was kind of mind over matter, because we knew what we were getting into mostly, but we decided to do it anyway.

If you are cringing, because I keep saying, “we decided to get pregnant,” I’m totally with you.

The idea of “family planning” can be so offensive. I think of women who were raped and impregnated. I think of women who chart their ovulation meticulously and no amount of planning can bring them the family they yearn for. I think of women who cherish the baby growing inside of them who dies. None of them planned any of it.

But for my husband and me, we talked about having a baby, we made love (Just kidding; I would never say that. So gross.) We made lov-ing someone else a priority over our own comforts. And we got pregnant fairly easily. I’ve felt deep guilt over this fact: that we can get pregnant when we try and carry the baby safely to term. I’ve felt deeper guilt than I’ve felt gratitude to God, which is a big problem.

I think what God wants, and what we desperately need, is to come to Him with thanksgiving. Always. It’s easier to do that when you have a healthy pregnancy or a bouncing baby. It’s harder to do that when you’re facing loss and grief that makes your heart drop to your toes. In either circumstance, it’s right. It’s appropriate. And we should do it together.

I’m not saying we should thank our Lord for taking a baby who hasn’t been born. Maybe a more mature believer can authentically do that, but not me. I’m thanking the Lord for my sweet friend’s Mama-heart and a precious baby, gone too soon. That she provided a safe, nurturing home for that tiny baby, and that she is trusting God, even though she won’t meet her baby this side of heaven.

I’m thanking God for another sweet friend’s Mama-heart, who faithfully asks her Father for a baby, even though He hasn’t given her one yet. I thank Him for her warmth, hospitality, and her nurturing spirit and her diligence to pursue His truth, even when it hurts. I thank Him that He made her a Mommy, even before she has anyone to call her that.

And I thank Him for my two babies, who now live with us and fill our home with their giggles. I thank him for my trusty uterus and my husband’s jazzy sperm that make it happen.

Sometimes we feel paralyzed by the weight of pain, others’ or our own, and we don’t make it to thankfulness. It’s why I couldn’t feel gratitude past my guilt for having two babies.

But if we can help each other there, take turns carrying the stretcher holding the grief-ridden mama, I really think the heaviness will lift. Where there is thankfulness, there is freedom.

What does that mean for our family? I’m not sure why I (seemingly) get to answer the question, “Do you want more kids?” and so many others don’t. Right now I’m just trying to thank God for my circumstances and my dear friends’, in the good times and the hard ones.

And if you make a joke about the hard ones and making babies, I will absolutely start crying. So just don’t.


(family photo by Amber Ratliff)

Five things I want my daughters to know

to my daughersIt’s the New Year, and my resolution comes from my reflection. Thinking back on the last several years, I see patterns I’d like to break and opportunities I’m ready to take. With children, I think regrets can sink deeper. With the Timehop app, deeper still.

When a picture from my first daughter’s first year pops up, when I was in the throes of postpartum depression, I long for a re-do. To relish the tiny baby snuggles and keep a level head with the all-nighters, knowing it truly does pass. I so wish I would have had the capacity to feel the fullness of the love and terror I felt, instead of putting on the shroud of numbness and apathy that comes with depression.

But there is grace. In an effort to forget what is behind, I will push forward clinging to hope and understanding that regret will be part of this journey too. Regret can be just a tiny shadow in a landscape of laughter, messiness, tears, and living.

The line is fine between squeals of laughter and shrieks of impending breakdowns and overall apocalyptic behavior. I find my intentions in parenting get lost in the madness, and some days we’re just trying to keep our voices to a dull roar and our biting remarks in our head. Or perhaps the roaring and biting is all me, and the two and four-year-old are developmentally appropriate.

Either way, in the midst of disciplining marathons, homemaking monotony, and the overall challenge of parenting, I’d like my children to know a few things above anything else. This is my letter to them.

Dear Laila and Adalynn,

I’m not sure if I’ll read this letter to you now or down the road. But I hope that you’ll know these things in the tiny moments and the big ones. I pray that you’ll know the God who made you and who gave you to me and your Daddy. I want you to know these things about our life:

  1. I delight in you. You make me smile, you make me chuckle. Laila, when you tell me you should be able to watch Kung Fu Panda because your friend who is clearly shorter than you can watch it, I grin. Adalynn, when you say “actually” before or after most clauses, I love it.

    You fill my Instagram and star in my best one-liners, because you’re both pretty great. You make life fun.
  1. You are not a burden. Privileges can be heavy. When you got your new bunk bed, there were a lot of ways you had to grow – you had to keep your room clean, learn how to share a room as sisters, and Adalynn, you had to adjust to the tantalizing freedom of a big girl bed without being disobedient.

    It’s a privilege being your mama. God is letting me care for you, teach you, and have fun with you. It can feel heavy sometimes, and not just when you crash your bike a mile from our house and I carry you home. I have to learn how to meet your needs when mine go ignored and fill my ears with Caillou or the Hungry Caterpillar or kid songs when I basically detest them all. I am learning that sacrifices and blessings are two sides of the same coin. Being your mama can be hard, because God’s biggest gifts are, but it’s not a burden.
  1. You are not my everything. My days and phone storage might seem to be consumed by you. And even though my sour mood might reflect your nap boycott, you do not define who I am or determine my identity. That’s a good thing! You are free to be your own person, learn your own lessons, and make your own mistakes without the threat that I will unravel.
  2. I am broken; you are broken. Sin is a big part of growing up, whether you’re 4 or 34. I will fail to trust God. I will act terribly. I will think murderous thoughts. I will disappoint you. You’ll do the same things, probably with a permanent marker in your hand. Just as we can always go to God to ask for forgiveness, I hope we can always go to each other. The cycle of sinning, repenting, and being made new will mark our lives, and it will surely be part of our relationship too. I will always love you, no matter what.
  3. You were made to reflect God. When you create magnificent ice cream cones out of play-doh and break out in revolutionary dance moves to Bruno Mars in the kitchen, you are right where you’re supposed to be. Possibly even father along, because of your parents’ dancing genes. Being a kid should be fun, and you should play over being serious nine out of 10 times.

As you grow, this list will change. But tonight, in this snapshot of time, I want to remember these thoughts. And I hope that you’ll carry some of this through life, braiding it in with the other voices and truths that make up how you see yourselves. I love you to the moon and stars.


Your Mama


Christians, you’re handling the Syrian refugee crisis wrong.

While the Syrian refugee disaster is nothing short of devastating, our response – namely among Christians – in the United States is polarizing and causing a wake of devastation of its own.

It’s no surprise that Christians fling themselves from one end of the political spectrum to the other, quoting the Bible and holding staunch to our theology and those who agree with us. What a shame, as we continue into election season, that we have separated ourselves, like sheep and goats or donkeys and elephants. Brothers and sisters, they will know us by our love for each other (John 13:35).

Yes, there are refugees to love and U.S. veterans to love, there are the least of these, there is our neighbor. We’ve got a lot of loving to do. Let’s start by giving – even the smallest, salt-grain sized – grace to fellow believers who think differently than we do. It’s OK to start small.

Wherever you land on the issue of welcoming refugees into our country, I think you got there because it feels like coming home, where things feel right and make sense. Where we know who we are and who is in charge. It’s where we feel loved.

For me, home feels like a Father who is sovereign and good, and love prevails over fear every time. You can make assumptions about what that means, but you won’t really know until you understand me.

When my dad immigrated to the United States from Pakistan nearly 50 years ago, he adopted the American dream as his gospel, moving here at 19 to further his education, build a career, and earn success. He became a U.S. citizen in January 1983, two years after marrying an American woman, my mom, and just five months before I was born.

Raised by a Missouri Synod Lutheran and a Muslim, I had a childhood carefully built on rules, like a house of cards, which might have had less to do with their religion and more to do with my personality. Perfection is attainable, if you try hard enough. No elbows on the table. Hard work with a little elbow grease doesn’t matter, unless someone commends your hard work. So my coming of age story needed a lot of to-dos and parameters, but with a reason behind it all. Christianity can be good for that.

By the time I realized I didn’t need to kiss dating goodbye or be a teetotaler for total control over my image and good standing with God, the pendulum swung heavily to the other side. I’ve found the pendulum carries shame and grace, idols and dogma everywhere it swings.

But then there’s Jesus. The one who stops us in our tracks, and makes us, the unlovable, utterly loved.

Fear of failure and authority motivated me for a long time, because I didn’t understand that God was powerful and good, and that he loved me. You can’t effectively love other people until you understand that you are loved by God; you just can’t.

I only share my story – a small piece of ground that my life is being built on – because I think we lose sight of our humanness in the midst of tweets and headlines and tirades on social media. Someone vehemently opposing you has her own lenses through which she views the world. It’s OK to try them on for a peek.

Every one of us, whether a displaced man or a Wall Street man, a Muslim from Syria or a Christian from the U.S. suburbs, is looking to come home. We want safety and comfort in four walls and a roof, sure, but we also want the policy, rules, and motives of the people in charge to be in line with what we think is good, beautiful, and true.

There is too much about this world that is not good or beautiful. Let’s draw together to point to who we know to be true, Jesus. Of course, let’s find shelter and comfort for those who are hurting, who have lost more than we could imagine. But we can’t honor the stories of those who need our help before we’ve honored each other’s stories.

You are enough.

allthepoop“I don’t want to change you, anymore.”

My toddler said this to me, after she crapped her pants for the fifth time today, and she didn’t want another diaper change. (We’re working on pronouns.) But it might as well have come from the heavens, because it’s profound.

OK, I get that sin is an issue and I am despicable and Jesus is my only hope. God the Father loves me just as I am, but too much to let me stay that way.

However, I think about sin with the same ease as I do cancer. I either avoid it at all costs, or it becomes the center of my dark thoughts. I’m struggling with grasping the concept, and I hope someday I’ll arrive at the place where my theology and belief in a good God shelter me when I get the Tuesday afternoon call that the tumor is cancerous. The shit hits the fan, but I’m saved. Death is coming, but I’m unafraid.

I’m not there yet. It’s messy and anxiety-inducing. For each step I take forward in understanding the fall of man, my other foot takes a step toward grace that is so sweet and life-giving. I wouldn’t mind camping out at grace for awhile.

Let’s get back to my message from heaven, a la my tummy bug toddler. Things start to feel a bit more roomy when I think that I don’t have to change anymore. I can stretch out my arms and breathe a little. What if it were to say to myself, “I don’t want to change you, anymore?”

1. Your body is OK. Better than OK. Stretch marks? More like battle scars. Gray hairs? Wisdom strands. Punctuation points on your face, like brackets (wrinkles) or periods (acne scars)? Girlfriend, please; tell the world your story. Diastis recti? OK, maybe work on that to avoid future complications.

But what if we didn’t have to grind away for change, to reverse the clock, to firm and flatten? What if *gasp* we are beautiful as we are, because we have loved and been loved and our time has been well spent. Just sit with that thought, like a mud treatment. You’ll be glad you did.

2. Your parenting is OK. Sure, you suck at playing with your kids because you always want to play “sleepy time” or “clean up time,” and every child knows that’s a farce. But you are amazing at sneaking veggies into unassuming foods and you tell killer bedtime stories and you truly want your daughters to believe that they are created special and beautiful. There’s value in that. You are a good parent.

Don’t focus on your weaknesses and take away from the strength of your gifts. There is much to celebrate.

3. Your place in the world is OK. Whether the extent of your interactions are in the checkout line or you manage a team of thousands across continents, you are right where you need to be. A smile, truly seeing the person in front of you, and acting generously is your best step at loving whomever is around you. You are needed.

After a lifetime, or too much life, spent trying to be smart enough, pretty enough, good enough, holy enough … I don’t want to change you, anymore. You are enough.

OK, so literally, my little girl just pooped like crazy again, and again she said, “I don’t want to change you, anymore,” but I know that there’s a diaper full of sludge waiting for me. We still have to deal with the yuck. I looked her square in the eye and alluded to her fecal output. But this time, she turned away and said:

“I want Daddy to change you.”

I’m not sure what to do with that.