A few years ago, my parents bought a new lawnmower. It isn’t just any mower. Oh, no. This bad boy is a zero-turn, superspeed, grass-chomping terror mobile.
It has a seatbelt.
It needs a seatbelt.
It’s one of those mowers with the handles that move in opposing directions to steer it. My mechanically-inclined brother swears it’s very easy to steer. I beg to differ. You can’t convince me that those handles aren’t arbitrary doomsticks, producing random results with each push and pull. It’s like a slot machine on wheels, only with sharp blades and tons of horsepower.
Side note: I am a pianist. I’m quite used to my right and left hands doing different things at once, while my feet do something entirely different. But this mower. THIS MOWER. I am telling you– it’s sentient. It scoffs at my ambidexterity.
While I was visiting my mom this week, I offered to mow her lawn. Now, when I say “lawn,” you should be picturing several acres, dotted by trees, flowers and other beautiful obstacles, just waiting to be crushed by 1,000 pounds of steel. It’s the penultimate Mario Kart track. I’ve never driven this mower (let’s call it “Megatron”) for longer than a few terrifying seconds on my parents’ driveway. After considerable effort and a number of lucky guesses, Mom and I successfully get Megatron to start, and I buckle up and ease out of the garage, hand trembling on the throttle. Megatron bucks and roars and veers every way except the way in which I wish it to go.
I avoid approximately 4,000 trees on my way to the open field that Mom suggested as a good “starter patch.”
So far, so good. I’m sweating a little, but I haven’t hit anything. Oh, wait…I just hit something. Did Mom notice? No? Onward.
I make it to the field, feeling very much like Bambi stepping out into the meadow.
I make it one lap around the field.
Surveying my work, it looks like a badly failed field sobriety test. Another trickle of sweat drips down my back. Just as I start to ease the doomsticks back into some sort of forward motion, I see the neighbor approach the fence. I gingerly climb off Megatron, careful never to turn my back on it or break eye contact with it as it roars at me and inches nearly imperceptibly down the hill. The neighbor looks at Megatron, then back at me, then at the bead of sweat running down my face.
“Is it that obvious?”
He gazes over my shoulder at my mowing progress, which looks a bit like the gameboard from “Chutes and Ladders” and then back at me.
I say, “I hope that if God lets people peek down from Heaven on loved ones, that Dad isn’t peeking at this mess right now. He was an expert on this thing. Made it look so easy.”
The neighbor smiles at me and says, “You’ll be fine. Here’s what you need to remember: You can’t white knuckle it– makes it even harder to control. Use a light touch. Secondly, when you’re in the straightaway, use that time to prepare for what’s next.”
Light touch. Prepare for what’s next. Got it.
Climbing aboard Megatron once more, I baaaaaarely touch the doomsticks in the direction I want to go, and miracle of miracles– it works. As I breeze down the straightaway of the field, I think about the sharp turn ahead and mentally calculate what I need to do next.
I am ready for it. And I make it.
I mowed that whole field (only hit one pole just a little), another open area and the whole front yard with its smorgasbord of traps (hit a power line guidewire just a smidge. It’s fine. We’re all fine). Megatron was placed back in the garage, appropriately humbled to have been broken by a mere mortal like me, and I went triumphantly into the house to pat myself on the back (Literally. Had to check myself for ticks).
I love a good analogy, so here it comes.
I’m a (slowly) recovering control freak. I white-knuckle my way through most things. And the more I latch on with my death grip, the more out of control things seem.
This isn’t all up to me. Life is a machine made up of many different parts– all working to make the whole thing go. It’s not all doomsticks and death grips. There are other mechanisms to help us steer.
When I pray, I let go a little. When I read my Bible, I let go a little. When I talk through my feelings with my family, I let go a little. And it all feels more manageable when I do.
And that advice about using the straightaways to prepare for the curvy parts? That’s genius.
Our kids are entering new and unknown seasons of life in different ways. I’m entering a challenging, but exciting season in my career. Life is changing at breakneck speed.
Now is the time to prepare for what’s next. The twists and turns that we can see, but also the ones we can’t yet. Be present, but be prepared. Life is anything but predictable, but we can still handle it with a light touch. It takes practice and patience. I am not there yet, but I’m easing my way out of the garage, anyway.
Get out there and show your Megatrons who’s boss, friends.
I love this time of year. As soon as I toss the last smooshy jack-o-lantern into the garden, I’m ready for Christmas. Now, before you judge—I don’t put up a single twinkle light until the day after Thanksgiving, but believe you me—after Thanksgiving, I am full-blown Buddy the Elf. Let’s pause for a moment, though, to give Thanksgiving the respect that it’s due. I’ve never been a huge fan of turkey, and between you and me, I am all-out TERRIFIED that I am responsible for making said turkey this year (No one should ever have to do something that requires them to salt the inside of a body cavity. It’s just not okay.). However, I can’t wait to be surrounded by family and friends, marveling at all for which I have to be thankful. There’s just something about the sacredness of a day of remembrance and reflection on all of the good things in your life that makes you feel warm and makes you forget that you just pulled something’s neck out of its butt. So, yes. Thanksgiving is great. BUT—Christmas. Christmas is my jam.
I have been known to take an entire day off, just to Clark Griswold my house, inside and out, while I listen to Christmas music and watch Christmas movies (in a very specific sequential order that only makes sense to me). I buy wrapping paper that matches my Christmas tree; I dress my dogs in little Christmas sweaters–I will even drink disgusting, digestively-dangerous eggnog one time per holiday season (I think it’s written in the Constitution that you have to, right?). I love it. All of it.
This year, though, something is different. I’m still as excited for the traditions, the lights, the gift-giving…but it’s all tempered by some feelings I would rather not feel. Four months ago, our family lost the greatest, kindest man I’ve ever known. Thanksgiving will be our first holiday without him. My cruel subconscious forgets for a split second now and then that Dad is gone. I’ll see something that would make the perfect gift for him and have a moment of excitement before I remember and my heart feels the familiar twinge of grief. I’ve started to text or pick up the phone to tell him something about a hundred times since he has been gone, and then I remember, and the sadness makes me catch my breath.
The holidays can hurt.
I hurt for my mother, who has spent every holiday for nearly 50 years with my dad. I hurt, knowing that if I have 36 years of memories that are equal parts treasure and torture, then how much more must it grieve her?
So many of my friends and family have lost someone they love this year. Whether it be a spouse, a parent, a grandparent, a friend, or a baby they hadn’t yet met, but fiercely loved, the loss is real. It was abundant this year. More than I can ever remember. Other friends are coping with painful divorces, crushing disappointments and broken dreams. Loss takes many forms, but they all hurt.
For those of you who are like me, trying to balance the happiness of the season with the hurt in your heart, I want to encourage you that it’s okay to belt out Christmas carols one minute and melt into tears the next. Even though I wish I could turn my heartache off like a faucet, I’m grateful for it. Grief, as cruel as it is, reminds us that we had something worth grieving for. It softens us and proves the value of what’s right in front of us. Let yourselves hurt, friends, but then make new traditions and memories. Don’t curl up in the past and stay there.
Whether you have lost a loved one or lost a dream, you don’t have to grieve without hope. I know that I will see my dad again someday, and there is nothing more comforting or priceless than that. Pain is temporary in this life, and we have a loving God who wants nothing more than to see us through the hard seasons if we’ll only let Him. If that sounds nice, but like it’s out of reach for you, I promise you it isn’t. It’s for everyone. I would love to talk to you about it if you’d like to know more, or if you just need a listening ear. There is no better time than now to get to know the Healer of Hurts. He has saved me from myself and my despair time and time again, and He’ll do it for you too.
Brothers and sisters, we want you to know about those who have died. We don’t want you to be sad like other people—those who have no hope.–I Thessalonians 4:13
I wish you all the happiest of “Oh-My-Word-What-Do-I-Even-Do-With-These-Giblets?” Days. (Seriously—why do they leave the giblets in? I know it’s allegedly for gravy, but no. Just no. Giblets, you guys. No.)
I wish you an even merrier Christmas (I am totally throwing snow up in the air in my imagination right now), and a Happy New Year (can I get an “amen” that 2016 is almost over??? Bye, Felicia!)
‘Tis the season to be emotional pogo sticks…and that’s okay.
I saw my GI doctor yesterday for my regular visit to check up on the fiasco that is my insides. We celebrated the fact that I haven’t had an extended hospital stay in just over two years. We lamented the fact that I still have SOD and IBS and GERD—pretty much all the letters.
As he poked around on my furious innards, he asked what I’ve been up to. I told him we just finished the longest and shortest summer EVER, and I’m getting ready to start my busy travel season for work.
“Remind me how many kids do you have?”
“Five, between my husband and me.”
“FIVE? And you work full time? And you travel? My dear, you don’t just have irritable bowel syndrome. You have irritable LIFE syndrome.”
We proceeded to talk about how your brain and your digestive system are tightly connected (please refrain from any head vs. rear end jokes, thank you very much). You can lie to your brain sometimes, but you can’t lie to your gut. The gut knows. The gut sees. The gut reacts…like a boss.
As usual, he implored me to take a vacation, reduce my work hours, create something called “free time” for this thing called “more sleep.” So many magical unicorns. I only rolled my eyes twice. Maybe three times.
I left the office with a shiny new drug to placate my angry insides. It’s a pill roughly the size of a ping-pong ball, and it tastes like dryer lint and old potatoes. I have high hopes.
Irritable Life Syndrome. I don’t feel like that’s the case, but my GI bills say otherwise. How can it be that when my brain’s glass is half-empty, and my tummy’s glass is fizzing with Alka-Seltzer, my heart is full to the brim? Because God nourishes my heart with the peace that passes all understanding. The peace that keeps you from completely losing your junk when you find the bathtub full of chocolate milk. The peace that stubbornly replaces your resentment with compassion when life isn’t “fair.” Stoically bridging the gap between my southern and northern hemispheres, my heart makes peace with what should be an “irritable life” to the casual observer–one desperate prayer at a time.
Admittedly, sometimes my brain tackles my heart like a 300-pound freshman linebacker who just got put in the championship game. Sometimes there’s no stopping it, and my heart gets clobbered.
More often than not, my heart is there to gently pat my frazzled, pulsating brain and say “there, there” when it threatens to revolt. Heart can talk Brain down from the ledge 9 times out of 10. It runs interference between my pragmatic gut and my idealistic thoughts of how things should “really be.” It reminds me that my life is GOOD. On my worst day, my life is so good.
Heart gently nudges me to look when my kids are playing some imaginative, albeit horribly messy game. It softly shushes Brain when it starts to calculate how long it will take to clean up after whatever creative display of childhood has just taken place.
On the occasions when Brain sneaks an angry outburst past it, Heart marches me in to meekly apologize to my children. It reminds Brain that they will only be little for such a short time.
I don’t have Irritable Life Syndrome. I have everything I’ve ever wanted. It doesn’t always look exactly the way I thought it would, but as long as I continually ask God to keep my heart soft and full, my brain will be just fine.
Now, Gut…that guy’s always going to be a jerk, but I’d rather have Heart than all the Guts in the world anyway.
God, please make my heart soft for You and for my beautiful, crazy life.
You may remember that we decided to move about eight months ago. Eight months later, here I am, sitting in my same living room in my same house, looking out at my same backyard. To quote the infamous Arnie Grape in one of my favorite movies: “We’re not going anywhere!” All that mental anguish over leaving the home where I’ve raised my babies since infancy for nothin’.
We jumped with both feet into the seventh circle of you-know-what that is making a home “show ready.” And show, we did. We packed up five kids, two dogs and laundry basket after laundry basket of crud and killed hour after hour while strangers paraded through our home. We were repaid with mostly useless, mildly entertaining feedback. My personal favorite was the couple who wants one more bedroom than our house has. Um…yes. So do we, actually.
I took comfort in each comment of “you have FIVE kids? Your house is immaculate!” Oh, friends, I took each of those comments and tucked them in my pocket to pull out on days that it looks like a giant reached down and briskly shook our house like a big, brick snow globe.
God, give me the strength to accept the number of bedrooms I cannot change, the courage to change the flooring I can, and the wisdom to say “are you KIDDING ME? NO.” to the tire kickers. Amen.
So. Here we are. I am about 50/50 on relief that we don’t have to move and terror that seven of us still live in this clown car of homes. Oh, and because I am full of good ideas, I decided that what we really, really need right now is a kitten. Because: masochist.
In all sincerity, he is the sweetest, most adorable little ball of delightfulness in all of feline Christendom. He’s just perfect, and we love him. So, no regrets. Just dubious timing.
Jump in the clown car, Mufasa. We create space here where space does not exist.
As we move our ten pounds of stuff from our storage unit back into our proverbial two-pound bag, I have become creative about how to re-re-combine our two households into one. If you’re newly married or just delaying your household merge, maybe these hard-learned lessons can save you a few hours of rocking back and forth in the fetal position.
1) If you haven’t used it in a year, RUTHLESSLY PURGE IT. Seriously—box it up for Goodwill or sell it. In 365 days, you’ve marched through all four seasons, my friend. You’re not going to use it. Don’t you lie to yourself. You know it, and I know it. Purge.
2) Don’t completely eradicate your children’s memories of their pre-blended life. Be sensitive to the fact that things that may bring back sticky memories for you might hold dear memories for your children. In the same vein, don’t be afraid to hang on to a few pictures of you and your ex and your kids together. Don’t put them out on the mantle, for crying out loud, but in most cases, your kids will someday appreciate the gift that is permitting them to keep the memories they choose to keep–not just ones you choose for them.
3) Can’t decide between “mine” and “yours”? Sell ‘em both and get “ours.” Is your 4-slice toaster really that much better than his? Does it matter that his knife block has a filet knife, and yours doesn’t? Does it? If you’re at an impasse, then sell both and get something you can agree on. The trick is agreeing. If you are incompatible shoppers (you know who you are), then please ignore this advice. For the good of salespeople everywhere—please. I’ll just be over here enjoying my new 72-speed mixer, while you guys fight it out over whose whisk is better…
4) Foster philanthropy in your greedy little children. If your precious womb-fruits are anything like mine, they are hoarders. Hoard-ers. I can’t throw away so much as a rotten banana without my children bemoaning some far-out sentimental reason we have to keep it. My strategy? Guilt. Guilt those little packrats. Remind them that there are people in the world who have NOTHING. Let them take some of their own things to a shelter or Goodwill and then really make a BIG deal about how someone less fortunate will be forever changed by the gift of their soccer cleats from three seasons ago. Soon, they’ll genuinely catch the generosity bug and give more freely and practically. It’s a slow process, but it works.
5) Purging. Never. Stops. Any chance you get, clean out your junk drawer. Attack your attic. Gut your garage. You’re never done, y’all. It’ll creep back up on you before you know it. Don’t let your “stuff” rule you.
5.5) Pray for my husband, will you? Bless his sentimental, hanging-onto-things heart. He married a ruthless purger. Thankfully, we love each other so much, that I will happily overlook his box of antique cell phones if he lets me throw away 30 or 70 pairs of his old flip flops. I may or may not have a 50 pound box of memorabilia from my pageant days, and he has not so much as uttered a word about it. Offer grace to your family and accept it back from them.
Good luck creating your own space where there is no space. It’s not futile if you are patient with your family and relentless in your pursuit of order in your chaos.
“All things should be done decently and in order.”—I Corinthians 14:40
Last week, we finally had a beautiful, sunny day and our three youngest kids took full advantage of it. I lubed them up with sunblock, pulled swim shirts over their protesting heads, and positioned them where I could still take conference calls, but make sure no one was setting a fire or playing with homemade lawn jarts.
That day, they built tiny boats out of tree bark and rescued imaginary Smurf villages from imaginary floodwaters. They birdwatched, jumped on the trampoline and had a wonderful day. As much as I was trying to just hold it together with a full day of work, making lunches, cleaning up after the “creativity” and managing the day-to-day, I was consciously touched by how much fun they have together. Periodically throughout the day, I’d do a quick skin scan when someone would ask me for something to make sure they weren’t getting eaten by mosquitoes or sunburned.
Fast forward to the next morning, when my stepson asked me to put some lotion on his back because he thought he had a sunburn. I helped him get his pajama shirt off, and HOLY MOLY. There it was. A big, juicy blister the size of a quarter, on top of two little epaulettes of tiny sunburn blisters—one on each shoulder. After nearly passing out, I discovered that in the process of switching from dry clothes to swim clothes and back, he “took his swim shirt off for a little bit.” Umm…how long of a little bit? I tried to recall every time I looked at him the day before. Was he wearing the shirt?!? WAS HE?!?!? His two compadres (my biological children, to make matters worse–amiright, stepmoms?) were fine. No burns, no bites, no problem. How did this happen? Well…he didn’t bother me during the day, frankly. That’s how. He wasn’t the squeaky wheel, asking for twenty different things at once.
My red-headed stepchild (he really does have red hair) is the one who got burned, because he wasn’t actively vying for my attention and I falsely assumed what was working fine for the other two was working fine for him. I am heartbroken that anything happened to hurt him while he was in my care. I vastly underestimated the delicacy of Ginger skin.
I don’t consider myself to be a “helicopter parent.” More of a stealth “drone” parent. I’m watching, but I don’t want them to know I’m watching. Oh, but BlisterGate…it caught me completely unaware.
What did I learn?
They all need to be watched differently, because they all have different needs.
In this case, the need was for swim shirt mandates and extra sunblock, but it made me think about other, intangible things I may overlook that I’m not providing as a stepmom. I’m just too new at this to know what they are or how to offer them yet. I’m adept at providing what my bio kids need because I know them about as well as I know myself.
I give waaaaaaay more space to my stepsons than my biological kids out of a desire to respect their comfort level with the whole stepmom situation. As a result, I’m struggling to figure out how to show and tell each of them how much I love them as they are simultaneously being told the opposite. I wish they could see my heart, just for a second. *sigh*
Aside from giving my little fair-skinned stepson a full body SPF 50 dip every hour the next time he is with us, I will be on high alert with all five kids for ways that they need to be watched (and loved) differently. My husband, a veteran stepson for quite a few years now, assures me that it just takes time, but love will make its own case eventually.
I have time and I have SPF. Bring it on.
I urge you to live a life worthy of your calling. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.–Ephesians 4:1-2
I’ve spoken to a few of you recently about the special kind of torture that is seeing an issue in your children/marriage/blended family/etc, knowing that it’s a problem that needs to be addressed, and being 100% powerless to do anything about it. It’s maddening, isn’t it? Here’s this big, hairy problem crashing through your family like a runaway yak, and for a variety of reasons, you are the one person who is least able to intervene and solve it. In the meantime, you are forced to dodge the steaming piles of yak poo this lumbering nuisance leaves behind, while you assess and repair the damage. Talk about adding insult to injury! Not only does it feel like you’re the only one who really wants to stop the yak, you have to clean up after the stupid thing when it goes on a stampede.
If you find yourself in this position for whatever reason, I’d like to share a few suggestions that have helped me. I have to be honest, that some days I am much better at following my own advice than others. I am not immune to stepping right in the poo—believe me.
1) Talking about the yak won’t catch the yak. It will however drive you crazy and distract you from the things running wild in your life that need to be caught before they grow up into yaks. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t breed yaks.
2) Don’t try to reason with a yak. You’ll get kicked right in the face. Did you invite the yak? Are you feeding the yak? No? Then stop trying to analyze its behavior. It won’t stop the stampede, but it will drive you nuts, Yak Whisperer.
3) Let the yak get caught. Hide your valuables, find a comfortable seat a safe distance away, and watch the yak foolishly tire itself out. A yak can’t tell the difference between insanity and perseverance, but it will eventually get its head stuck in a fence. It’s a yak.
4) Give your yak to God. He made you. He knows what you need. Maybe you need this yak in your life for some reason that only He understands. Ask Him to change your heart and bring you peace and stop begging Him to change your yak into a kitten. Seek His comfort, especially when you’re stepping right in the piles. He doesn’t get tired of hearing you ask—even if it’s the same prayer, or just the same word over and over. Some of my best prayers are incoherent babbles.
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world. – John 16:33
What has worked for you? What hasn’t worked? I am desperately seeking improvement in my own Yak Management tactics. I’d love to hear from you.