Could you use a nap and a million dollars?

Dear Reader (you, the cute one sitting over there. I mean you),

Could you use a nap and a million dollars?

OF COURSE YOU COULD. Everyone could.

We’re tired and we’re stressed out and we’re sick of it. A nice long nap and a million bucks would solve quite a few of our problems.

We’re tired of being tired and we’re tired of the adult stress.

We’re pretty sure adulthood wasn’t supposed to look like this, with the dirty laundry and the piles of bills on the counter and the really, terribly, stupidly annoying people who are trying to make us insane.

I know it’s bad manners to call people stupid. I’m not calling people stupid– I’m calling them stupidly annoying. You see? It’s different. (If you could see me right now, you might notice a wee bit of an eye roll situation occurring on my face.)

But guess what. I’ve written a book for us all.

I Could Use a Nap and a Million Dollars: Biblical Alternatives to Stressed Out Living is on the way. Coming to you sometime in Winter of 2018, the publication wheels are already grinding away. My editor and I have been sending the manuscript back and forth, getting the details just so. Once again I remember how a good editor makes a writer sound much, much smarter than she really is. I love editors so much.

But I love you, the reader, even more. Writing this third book was really hard. I sat down every day at the computer and I asked God to give me insight on what you needed. I want to encourage you, I want to make you see things differently, and I possibly want to make you shoot some sort of beverage out your nose every once in a while.

To do this, I wrote about a zillion chapters to cover every kind of stress: Housekeeping, finances, annoying relatives, discontentment, and pride. Just to cover a few, you understand. I can’t promise that every chapter will connect to every woman who reads the book, but I did my best to approach it all with honesty, ridiculousness, and encouragement. And then I searched the Bible to find how we can adjust our hearts to find the peace and abundant life Jesus promised us.

I hope you’re excited to find a better way to live! I know I am. We’ll be discussing it here on the blog, too. I’ll be telling you all sorts of awkward stories about stress in my life and we’ll laugh and laugh and laugh.

Well, you can laugh and I’ll join you after my eye stops twitching.

 

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Parenting Teens: Summer Edition

My husband is at work right now, and I’m sitting in my pajamas feeling all shades of guilt. In theory, I’m home “parenting” the “children.”

But what I’m really doing is “whatever the heck I feel like,” because our kids are now 11 and 14 and they barely know I’m in the house. While Eric slaves away with airplane doodads and gewgaws, I’m drinking coffee in his reading chair.

Look: here’s photographic proof of parenting a 14 year old girl the first week of summer:

parenting teens during summer
That lump under the blanket is a woman-child who could literally survive in this house for days and days without me, provided the wi-fi keeps running and the cupboards have food she recognizes.

Her 11-year old brother just thumped in and out of the house about four times. Where is he going? I have no idea. What’s he doing? No clue. He keeps returning alive, though, so I’m not worried.

This is a remarkable contrast to ten years ago, when every summer day lasted precisely 120 hours. Audrey would wake me up at sunrise every morning, demanding a list of the day’s activities. “Mama, do now? Do now, Mama?” And then Caleb would poop his pants at exactly that moment, all before 6am.

By 10am we’d played every game, splashed in the kiddie pool, and crossed the street to the park. And we still had ten more hours to fill until bedtime. By noon I was praying for the rapture. By dinner time I’d lost the will to live.

Somehow we all muddled through, and ten years later the whole situation is completely unrecognizable. Now Audrey and I have long and loud discussions about whether her ten besties will be allowed to come on our family summer vacation (no they will NOT) and I threaten to throw Caleb’s devices under the back wheels of the van.

The ease of this whole situation has me unnerved. I feel like I should be doing something far more productive with them, but mostly I feel like it’s been a long school year and we all need some time to do nothing. (Except for Eric, who really needs to keep working so we can eat and stuff.) We’ve done algebra until our brains exploded, we’ve made lunches and done chores and completed vocab packets. We played tennis and practiced instruments and drove back and forth to the school a million times. We went to two youth groups and studied the book of Acts until we know the apostles like family.

The kids need a break. Eric and I need time to stare at the ceiling and contemplate our life choices.

And also, the future looms before me. This might be our last summer like this, bored out of our minds together. It won’t be long before both kids are working, driving, and living their own lives. I’ll probably need to get some sort of full-time job to pay for college tuition.

It’s all going to change soon. I don’t fear the changes; it’s time for the kids to experience all life has to offer. They’ll need our support in completely new ways, ways that don’t demand 6am diaper changes or transportation to a friend’s house.

I think we’re all ready for what’s coming, but for now, we have this summer. Negotiating over screen time and whether ten extra teenagers can join us in California in August (no they CANNOT), for three solid months.

I love this time of life. I cherish it. And I hope you cherish your summer, too.

(Unless you’re the mother of littles, then just hope for survival.)

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All the lies they tell young mothers

Young moms: you have been lied to. Just a little bit.

The lies are uttered with the best intentions from liars who aren’t malicious– just forgetful.

“Cherish every minute,” random people tell you. “These moments are precious and fleeting and you will miss them when they’re gone,” they claim.

I roll my eyes at these fools and their rose-colored glasses of yesteryear. For your sanity, let me set a few things straight:

Your children are indeed precious. They are beautiful, created in the image of the Creator, and when they sleep they look exactly like angels. Whether you gave birth to them or adopted them matters not– they are humans of infinite value and worth. Please do cherish your children. You’ll never regret the work they take or the sleep you lose, and your heart will continue to swell with love for them forever, it seems.

However, some of the parts of young motherhood are exhausting and horrible and you will, in fact, not miss them. And you shouldn’t feel guilty for loathing certain parts of the job because you’re basically doing the world’s hardest work around the clock.

The list of things you will not actually miss:

You will not miss screaming toddlers in the car, running three different directions after three tiny children, watching five episodes of Calliou in a row, Goldfish Crackers smashed into the carpet of your vehicle, potty training accidents, explosive poopy diapers in expensive stores, holding them down for immunizations, temper tantrums in front of Grandma, keeping them out of the pond at the park, chasing them around the jungle gym, screaming fits at church, nursing a baby seven times in three hours, marital intimacy interrupted by a hoard of short people pounding on your bedroom door, small fingers reaching under the bathroom door as you try to tinkle in private, STICKINESS EVERYWHERE IN YOUR HOUSE (good lord, how do they get everything so sticky??), or digging in their mouths for whatever foreign object they just popped in there.

Trust me.

One day you’ll be sitting quietly with a book or wandering thoughtfully through a store, clothed and in your right mind, and your children will be right there with you– walking quietly or even having an intelligent conversation.

Sure, they’ll be older and sassier and might smell a little funny. Their teeth might be coming in all cattywampus and they might be wearing socks that haven’t been laundered since October.  You will miss the pudgy baby buns and the wispy, feathery hair. You’ll miss how they lisped words wrong for a while, and you’ll remember how sweet they smelled after a bath.

And yes, you will certainly miss the days when they couldn’t talk at all and therefore couldn’t sass back or point out your every error.

But please ignore the fools who will try to get you to believe every single moment is precious and adorable and glorious. They’re simply too old to remember the work that tiny children require. Do not beat yourself up if you’re finding your life less than enjoyable and sometimes think about running away to a beach in a tropical country with no cell service.

You are a good mom, even when you don’t feel like it. You’re doing a great job, even when your children are insufferable and you’re sure you’re screwing it all up. You will make it, even though you feel like your last nerve was shredded two days after their birth.

Motherhood is hard. Anything worth doing is often hard, and rarely requires that every moment has to be bronzed and polished and remembered with joy.

You’re doing it, Mother of Little People. And your kids will one day grow into great humans because of your work. Don’t lose hope.

And know that some of the older moms around you keenly remember every tantrum and endless day– we’re rooting for you, not silently judging you in the canned vegetable aisle. We’re on your side, I promise.

Together we can outwit the liars with the bad memories who make you feel terrible on accident. Just remember these days accurately, so you can one day throw a lifeline to a mom younger than yourself.

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Control Girl: Simply one of the best Bible studies I’ve read in years.

Before recommending a book to your reading audience, it’s good manners to actually finish the book yourself. Control Girl by Shannon Popkin* is my newest Bible study, but I haven’t actually finished it yet.

I drink coffee every morning, try to get my brain to wake up, and see what God has to say to me while I read. Often the results are sketchy, especially if the caffeine takes too long to kick in.

But sometimes a book is so good that (even partially caffeinated) you have to reread portions because it’s so helpful. Sometimes you have to just demand that everyone reads it even before you’ve finished the whole thing. I was ten pages in when I knew my friend and I would study the book together over the summer. I was about twenty pages in when I knew I would recommend it to the women’s ministry at my church.

In fact, I think there are only two kinds of people who don’t need to read it:

  1. Dudes
  2. Women who have never once in their life wanted to control a situation, a person, or the future. (I have not actually met any women like this.)

While Popkin is a gentle, friendly writer who graciously states the truth, I’m still convicted. EVERY MORNING I have to face the truth about myself.


And the thing is– I’m tremendously grateful. Do you know what kind of woman I’d be without the Holy Spirit’s ceaseless work in my heart? I’d be exactly like the seven women from the Bible that Popkin highlights in the book. And while God and I have made some tremendous headway in recent years before Control Girl, I still face a lot of anxiety over situations I can’t control, over relationships I can’t manipulate, and the future that refuses to bend to my plans.

I’m starting to see how much stress I cause myself by being a micromanager. I even wrote a whole chapter about this into my new book, I Could Use a Nap and a Million Dollars (coming winter of 2018!). But Control Girl takes it further than a chapter. It helps me face some of my darkest impulses, every morning before 7am, and I’ve never even wanted to throw the book across the room.

But you don’t have to take my word for it.

Shannon Popkin’s website has all kinds of fabulous freebies for you. This is the trail I followed before I decided to buy the book, and I think you’ll find these links helpful too:

  • Are You a Control Girl? Take the Quiz! Start here and don’t blame me if you don’t like the answers. I wasn’t too excited about myself, either.
  • Blog posts to help you sort out your answers after you take the quiz.
  • Control Girl to Jesus Girl Series: This is a nice selection of case studies of real women who ran into their own control issues, and how the Holy Spirit worked in their situations. It always helps to know you’re not alone, right?

Here’s the thing, dear reader. The results are in– attempting to control the world and all the people in it will bring destruction. If you doubt me, just read the Bible stories of the women highlighted in this book. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can choose another way to live, one that brings grace and freedom to ourselves and our loved ones.

If you want help choosing the better way, Control Girl is a great place to start.

 

*Affiliate link, which means I’ll make a small portion if you purchase from the link. But I did buy the book– it wasn’t given to me as a promotional event.

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The day my husband suggested closing the door might be a viable alternative to a home renovation project

My laundry room causes me mild levels of despair. Here, see for yourself:


There’s nothing specifically wrong with it, unless you’re not into bare studs and exposed insulation.

And let’s not forget that one naked lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. Some people might NOT FIND THAT ALL TOO BEAUTIFUL, maybe.

For heaven’s sake…

But all things considered, it could be worse. It’s dry, it’s relatively warm, and has electric and water going to the important places. I can’t complain, but I also can’t escape the gloom that creeps up on me every time I go in there.

I made the fatal mistake of looking for laundry room ideas on Pinterest. WHY. Why do I do this to myself? Because of course I found examples like this one:

photo courtesy of Pinterest and homebunch.com

And this one:

photo courtesy of Pinterest and estestinc.com

Good grief, America. We’ve lost our minds. Who needs a chandelier in the laundry room?That’s just too far.

A few nights ago I went for a walk and could see  into my neighbors’ laundry rooms. Most of them are bare and functional like our house, but some of the owners have upgraded to actual walls and flooring. The wheels in my head started turning.

After stalking my neighbors’ choices in a very creepy fashion, I stood in the basement and tried to imagine it with drywall and more than one pitiful lightbulb– less fancy than the American Laundry Monstrosities pictured above, but better than the utilitarian setup we have. It was a nice little idea, I thought. I got a little excited and then dragged Eric into the room to enjoy my vision with me.

Eric’s logical mind took one good hard look around the room. He pointed out the obvious things I was overlooking, like ducts and pipes and electrical outlets. “How do you even get around those things?” he dared to ask out loud. Even though he could tell his wife was unhinged with visions of laundry room glory.

I don’t even know what this is. Maybe the water connection to the hose?

Obviously the room was plumbed and wired by people who cared not a whit about the poor fools who would need to finish the walls after them. “Not my problem, Kemosabe,” seemed a likely phrase bandied about by tradesman as they installed permanent objects one inch out from the wall studs.

Good grief, guys. Could we let up on the foamy insulation stuff just a wee bit?

Since paying a professional to drywall the utility room this year clearly isn’t in the budget, we’re stuck. Eric looked at me calmly and suggested, “Why don’t you just close the door? Then you can’t see in here.”

I blinked at him, searching for a response I wouldn’t regret later. And on my way out of the room, I shut the door behind us. The very aggravating thing is that the man’s right– if the door’s closed, the problem goes mostly away.

I mean, yes, the despair and gloom reappear as soon as I step foot in there, but it’s not like laundry is my 24/7 job. I get to go to other places in the house, too. All places far less gloomy than this basement, I might add.
But for now, shutting the door just saved us about $53,292,765 in renovation costs, by my rough estimate. I guess I’ll have to be okay with it.

See? The problem disappears.

 

When a loved one faces a crisis, simply show up. (And maybe shush up a teeny little bit.)

Last Tuesday found me driving through miles of cornfields, sweating through my good silk polyester blouse. The air conditioning in the van was out, the mid-May temperatures had skyrocketed to the high eighties, and I had no choice but to get in that hot box with wheels and drive to the middle of nowhere.

I mean, technically I drove to the middle of Michigan but that’s pretty much the middle of nowhere.

A family member had passed away and I was headed to the funeral. I wasn’t sure what I was about to experience in what was bound to be a very difficult service. I was absolutely certain I had nothing to say, no way to help, and zero ability to relate to their pain.

It was hard, folks. Sometimes life is just so hard, and even though we walk next to the pain, not directly through it ourselves, being on the fringes can be hard too. Sometimes we pull away because we realize we have no way to make it better, and fear any words we offer will only make things worse.

But I’ve learned this– pulling away is the worst possible thing we can do.

What we do is this– we show up.

That’s it. Our very presence is often the best gift we can offer. It doesn’t have to be just at a funeral, either. Sometimes we show up in hospital rooms, on front porches, church sanctuaries, or backyard fire pits. Anyplace your loved one finds herself, join her there.

This is why I drove through cornfields and gladly sweated through that blouse. I did it because I learned an important lesson more than twenty years ago when my grandmother passed away. Although Grandma had lived for more than seven decades in her Polish Catholic community in Detroit, she’d moved across the state a few years before she’d died. My mother was an only child and it seemed fitting that Grandma lived close to us as she aged.

When Josie died and we planned the funeral, my twenty-year old self knew, just absolutely knew, that no one would come. Grandma had only lived in our town for a few short years, and really hadn’t developed strong friendships or ties. Who was going to drive to our little podunk town just for a short funeral?

I’ll tell you who. The Polacks, that’s who. They showed up in droves. It felt like hundreds of wrinkly old Polish people drove in from Detroit, Chicago, and Toledo.

Many of them didn’t even talk to me, and they didn’t need to. Their presence in that little funeral service was more than enough. Their effort to be there spoke love to us.

There was one little guy who did speak to me, and he told me about how wonderful my grandmother had always been. Then he told me how nice her figure was (my grandma was hot?!) while his wife was standing next to him, and I’m pretty sure I’ll take the memory of that awkward conversation to my grave. So honestly it would have been better if he hadn’t spoken at all.

Which brings us to our point about shushing up…

It’s often our anxiety that runs our mouth in uncomfortable situations. We don’t know what to say, so we say all the things.

No. Please, just no jabbering to calm our own nerves.

This is the space to listen.

This is the space to choose to be calm and very, very attentive.

This is the space for hugs. Possibly gifts of chocolate or a cake.

And if there are words to be spoken, they need to be very encouraging, kind, and gracious. Completely focused on the other person, not our own story to tell.

Also, those words need to be really brief.

That’s it. We just need to show up and shush up.

The last two years have brought some really difficult situations into our family. Never have I had the answers or the solutions or anything close to the right words.

But three times I’ve looked into a cousin’s eyes and seen the difference that showing up makes.

And yes, on the way home I stopped for a milkshake with 800 calories that barely took the edge off my emotions, but while I was there I pulled it together for their sake.

Friends, let’s show up for one another. May our presence speak love when there just aren’t words.

 

 

Letting go of what no longer works for you

Picture this. Family dinner after church, in celebration of Mother’s Day. While around the table someone made an innocent comment that was, quite frankly, hilarious and also completely and totally inappropriate if you took it the wrong way. (Which we did.) Those close enough to hear it froze, completely aware of how funny the comment was, but also aware of the kids at the table.

One of us broke down and snickered a little, then repeated the comment. Our daughter, an eighth grader, laughed and laughed because NOTHING GETS BY EIGHTH GRADERS, especially if it’s inappropriate. Soon Grandpa was yelling, “What?!” from the other end of the table and we refused to tell him because there are just some things you can’t shout cross the room at Sunday dinner.

Well, not at Eric’s family’s house anyway. My own family would have yelled it and then the entirety of us would have howled with delight, but Eric’s family is a little more proper about these things.

But let’s forget what was actually said and focus on the fact that we laughed over this silly thing with our child. We all realized it was funny.

Things change. Parenting changes.

Ten years ago we could talk about anything in front of the child and most of it went right over her head. She was sweet and innocent and really excited about JoJo’s Circus and Dora the Explorer. But we can’t parent her like she’s four years old anymore, because she’d get eaten alive in middle school.

We’ve had to let go of parenting styles that worked for a certain period of time, and we’ve embraced this new age. New responsibilities, new freedoms, new challenges.

And now let’s talk about the couches at church.

I don’t know about your house of worship, but our church building is where old couches go to die. It’s a slow death, plopped in the youth room where teenagers flop on them, toddlers leap from cushion to cushion, and old women (me) nap on them when they get too tired.

Some of the most hideous couches ever created had come home to die in our youth room. Not to mention the closet was full of junk no one recognized. Not to mention the walls had been painted in 2003 and had suffered fourteen years of abuse from hyperactive teenagers.

Yes, we knew it was ugly. We knew things had to change but no one had the guts to drag the couches to the dumpster. (Or set fire to them in the parking lot, which would have been more fun.) ((But the fire department disapproves, apparently.))

Our new worship leader arrived a few weeks ago, and he has no qualms about getting rid of old, crappy couches. He had us pile them up so they could be disposed of ASAP. He ordered a crew to clean out the closet, not really caring who donated the old costumes that were used in a sermon skit in 1985. (For the record, it was the church’s Clean Up Week, and we’d all shown up to work. It’s not that Mike is a Bossy Pants.)

The couches are gone, the closet is clean, and new paint is on the way. We’re letting go of what no longer serves us.

I don’t know why we get so paralyzed and cling to stuff that used to work but now just weighs us down.

It can be really hard to realize your child is growing up. It can be terrifying to throw out a couch, wondering who donated it and if they’ll be mad because you tossed their hideousness to the curb.

All the change is upsetting, sure. But isn’t it more upsetting if nothing ever changes? Are babies supposed to stay babies? If your kid was 18 but still in a crib and trying to nurse, you’d be freaking out a little.

If your spouse never changed, you’d still be married to a twenty-two-year old who likes thrash metal and trucks from the 1970s.

If your church never changed, you’d be missing opportunities to engage the culture that lives right outside the door.

It’s okay to take a good, hard look at your life. All of it. And it’s even more okay to accept that something isn’t working and needs to be changed.

Comfortable? Never.

But life-bringing? Absolutely.

Does your family love to travel? I have just the book for you!

I take it as my solemn duty to find excellent books for you, my dear reader. Good news– just as the summer is coming, I’ve found the perfect vacation read. At Home in the World, a brand new book by Tsh Oxenreider, will make you feel like you traveled around the world.

Except without the jet lag and the culture shock and the tiny little issue of funding the trip.

The Oxenreiders did it for us! And then Tsh recorded it all for us to enjoy. And some of it she recorded so we can be really glad we didn’t have to experience it– like the home they rented where the sewer next door sort of exploded and then soaked the neighboring properties in unpleasantness. Or the long, dusty trip across a portion of Africa with three children. Those parts we can experience from a comfortable distance.

Most of the book is full of thoughtful explanations of why their family decided to take this nine-month journey from Asia, to the Pacific region, Africa, Europe, then home. What motivated them, why they sold their house, what was important to them as they traveled– we learn all these things as we enjoy the experience with them.

If you like to travel but feel guilty about it, like this is some sort of needless extravagance, this is precisely the book you need. Our family arranges our entire schedule and budget to travel as much as we can, and I often have to fight off a nagging feeling that we could be doing something much better with the money. This book reminded me that we’re not being extravagant. We’re teaching our children (and ourselves) something valuable by moving beyond our own world.

If you like the idea of travel but find it uncomfortable, expensive, or impossible for whatever reason, this is also the book for you. The Oxenreiders saw beautiful and important things all around the world, but also grew closer as a family. They played on playgrounds and saw Victoria Falls. They moved through the chaos of an Asian street and played in the woods with friends.

Real life, all around the world. I promise you won’t be disappointed. Click here for the At Home in the World’s Amazon page.

(All photos are courtesy of Tsh Oxenreider and her launch team, which I was happy to join! I received a free digital copy of the book, but all opinions are my own. Also, all Amazon links are affiliate links. End of fine print. Amen.)

My Three Favorite Things About the Mediterranean Love Plan

When I accepted the opportunity to be on the launch team for The Mediterranean Love Plan, I was hoping for a free book. I like to travel and I love to be married, so I thought maybe the book might be a good fit for me to review.

Lucky for me, and hopefully for you, the book was an awesome fit and I learned a lot. Eric and I have been married long enough that we’ve gotten through the weird first years when everything was new and challenging, and then we gritted our teeth and made it through the baby and toddler years, and then we coasted through the kids being in elementary school. (Also known as “the years when Jessie actually understood math homework.”)

Now we’re helping the kids plan for their futures as independent adults. In the blink of an eye this house is going to be empty and my beloved and I are going to be staring at each other over an empty table, silently weeping into our gluten free noodles because we’re old and the kids are living their own lives and we have nothing to live for.

Just kidding. Eric and are are going to be texting the kids from the south of France while we eat seafood and sample delicious wine in the sunshine. And The Mediterranean Love Plan has only proven that our plans are indeed good ones. The author, Steve Arterburn, thinks that the Mediterranean cultures know something about living well, and that healthy, active, passionate lives translate to really great marriages.

I agree.

I enjoyed the book as he walked the reader through simple, practical steps to help a marriage thrive. Here are the top three reasons I think you’ll like the book, too:

1. It values strong, vibrant marriages, and helps us believe we can have one if we’re willing to work at it.

I don’t want to believe that only rich and pretty people get to have great marriages. I want to know the old people down the street and the pastor at my church and even little old me can have a great romance. And I want it to be with my spouse! The Mediterranean Love Plan helps normal people have an above-normal marriage.

2. It encourages you to be the best individual you can be, which helps you have the best marriage possible.

Great marriages don’t require magic or some secret knowledge. Arterburn encourages each reader to be the most interesting, healthiest, most caring individual he or she can be, and then helps us visualize what our marriages will become when we are thriving as God intended us to thrive.

3. It give practical tips on how to do that, assuming we might not know what specific things might be beneficial.

Of course we’d all have glorious marriages– if we had the first idea of how to do that. Gently, Arterburn breaks down the steps for us just in case we need really specific directions. I know I do. The book even addresses how to dress, how to touch, what kind of food might be fun, what your mate needs to hear, and good questions to ask at the dinner table. You don’t have to wrack your brains trying to figure out what might make your marriage come alive; Arterburn has loads of helpful, specific suggestions.

If you’d like a marriage book that believes you deserve a great romance and then gives you the steps to do it, I think you’ll love the book too. Try it and see! Click here to get your own copy. 

(All links to Amazon are affiliate links, and I did indeed receive a free copy of this book for review. All opinions are my own.)

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