Tuesday, February 17, 2015

lemonade grace

Parenting is a non-stop lesson in tough grace.  We give it our all; sleepless nights, umpiring fights, vomit-covered sights.  We Dr. Seuss and brush teeth and play chauffeur and stock up on fruit snacks, goldfish, and tubes of yogurt as though preparing for the end of times.  It's hard and exhausting and rewarding and amazing all in the same breath.  It's tough.  And we don't give ourselves enough credit.  We don't allow ourselves to realize we need a bit of slack grace.

Parents are comparative and competitive.  We place high expectations on our little ones, other parents' little ones, and other parents as well.  This leads to massive amounts of judgement.  Hell hath no fury than a mom who watches another mom parent her child in a way that differs from her own beliefs.  The Superbowl ad where a gaggle of parents are gathered at the playground, ready to go head-to-head to defend their singular {and, let's be honest, petty} beliefs?  Yeah...it's a jungle out there.

But I find that the harshest of all critics isn't the other parents out there, who catch a mere snapshot of my day while I'm sack carrying my screaming preschooler down the aisle at Target, and decide I'm an unfit mother.

No, no.  The meanest and most judgy person I face each and every day is the one staring back at me in the mirror.  On the toughest of days, not only do I find myself sinking deep into the soft bags under my eyes, nestling into the wrinkles, and wallowing in the stretch marks; but I climb into my mind, capture the not-so-great moments of the day, and push 'play-repeat'.  Evaluating my actions and the responses of my children like an NFL coach reviewing film after a disappointing loss.  But rather than make notes for improvement, I sink deeper and deeper into the dark place of 'bad mommy'.  I pop some popcorn, pull on comfy sweats, and pout about how I reacted horribly to a situation.  I mourn the forlorn look upon my childrens' faces as they hear my snappy-toned, less-than-graceful rant.  I dig a little pit of self pity, dive down deep, and wait.

Usually I don't wait long though; as children's tears and looks of disappointment are kryptonite,  I've got to do what it takes to get rid of them, before their power renders me completely useless.  So I apologize.  Genuine, hand-holding, eye-contact apologies that almost always include the phrase mommy is trying hard to be better.

And I am.  I really, really am trying to be better.  I can't say that I know a whole lot of people who aren't striving to be better, people who walk this planet completely satisfied with every component of their lives as well as themselves.  It's human nature to strive for more--and that includes for ourselves.  We want to better ourselves--financially, physically, professionally, and relationally.

But then there are these seasons of parenting, like the present one for instance, where I feel that I'm spending the better part of my day apologizing.  To my kids, to myself, to God.  My actions are too much--over dramatized and irrational--or they're not enough--withdrawn and uninvolved.  I volley back and forth in this lose-lose space, like a table tennis game between Hannibal Lecter and the hunter who killed Bambi's mother.  Neither is worth cheering for.

But it's funny, the way God works.  Even when I'm smack-dab in the middle of my self-deprecating pity party, He shows up to remind me of His grace.  The 'stuff'' I won't give myself because I've been 'that mom' one-too-many times. He gives it willingly without merit--and in the most unsuspecting ways, from the most unsuspecting people; the ones who are more often than not, the people who are witness to victims of my less-than-graceful mommy/wife/self moments.

Like when I'm on the highway.  Driving 60 mph {ok...maybe it was closer to 70...}.  And I hear a tiny voice behind me say, "Moooommmm...dis seat is awwlll wetttt!".  Bathroom accident?  No, no...I would have actually preferred that.  Instead, the {formerly nearly full} styrofoam cup of lemonade, indignantly carried from the restaurant despite my request to leave it behind so as to avoid situations such as the one I was experiencing at that very moment, had 'magically' sprung a leak, and had relocated its contents in the back seat of my vehicle.  Joy.

A slew of questions, peppered with a few less-than-savory words flew from my mouth before I could even capture the thoughts.  Through a burst of tears, an answer.

The culprit?  Oh, that's easy.  It wasn't the 'frustwated' preschooler who angrily shoved her straw through the side of the cup when she discovered that despite her super-awesome display of shriek/howl/whine disturbing the peace, she was *not* in fact going to get the toy she so desperately desired.  No, no.  That would be too easy.

No...the *real* reason the booster seat was now a soaked lemonade sponge was "dat sharp straw!".  Obvi.

Now the thing is when my sensory-sensitive child complains of something *askew* in her sensory world, it's in my best interest to attend to that request, or reap the awesome reward of a round of shriek/howl/whine disturbing the peace--only *this time*, you're strapped into the seat of a moving vehicle.  My only escape from the hell that would soon ensue was to utilize the shoulder of the highway, where I carefully removed the car seat from the back after discovering that not one, but both cup holders were filled to the brim with sticky, sweet annoyance.

I must have looked mildly deranged to my fellow highway companions as I violently overturned the booster to expel the lemonade, then yanked off the fabric covering so I could squeeze out as much as possible so my 'precious preschooler' would not be triggered by the sensation of wetness.

I felt the whirlwind of nerves and fear and rushing wind of passing cars, all while my three-nearly-four year old daughter sat on the other side of the car; sobbing into her knees, which are drawn up and encircled by her precious little princess shirt-clad arms.  And why was she sobbing?

I wish I could say "dat sharp straw", just as she had, but alas, it was more like "mom's sharp tongue"...and let's leave it at that.

As my lemonade rant ended, and as much of the liquid as possible had been sprayed back on to me, and the outside of my vehicle during my tantrum {funny, God.}, I settled both her and I into our seats, re-buckled, and exhaled slowly.

The guilt.  The self-loathing.  The disappointment.

I mean, she's three.  Three itty bitty years old.  A walking perpetual time bomb of spills, messes, skinned knees, and marker-covered body parts.

I glanced into my rearview mirror, fully expecting my tear rimmed eyes to be equally matched to my tiny counterpart; only to be surprised by sparkling eyes and a giant smile.  I turned around {I had yet to begin driving...}, and reached out to find a tiny little hand, fully ready to apologize.  Before the words formed in my throat, I found grace.  In that tiny little hand, I found grace.  A single purple flower, {plucked earlier from the shopping center landscaping, despite my request to leave them alone} paired with the words, "dis is for you, mama...I love you!".

Heart explode.


That simple.  No 'toughness', no struggle, no comparing...just a completely unmerited act of kindness and forgiveness and 'betterness'.  God gave Raegan this intense desire to experience life so fully that she needs to capture it; pluck it from a professionally landscaped garden, against all social cues; and extend it as an olive branch.

Just as quickly as the parents in the advertisement overcame their difference for a common cause; Raegan decided to bridge the gap, patch the wound, forgive the words; even before I had a chance to utter them.  Grace.  Easy as that.

grace.  {and dat sharp straw}

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


There's this phrase, butterfly effect, which works within the realm of chaos theory; and it says a small change in one part of the world can result in larger differences down the road/'round the corner/later in life.  The origin of these terms are wrapped up within the world of mathematics, a subject area that, let's be honest, is one that created its own little butterfly {negative} effect in my life when I was in the realm of my own chaos theory high school pre-calc classes.  But often times the term 'butterfly effect' is used within a context outside of mathematics, as a trope of sorts, to attempt to offer up some sort of an explanation for the events that unfold.

My {lengthy} path to IF:Gathering, if you want to be honest, is dotted with many little butterfly effect moments; which makes sense if you consider that I was working living in my own little chaos theory {ahem, life[!]}.
floral arrangement: Floral Geek
Your body and mind and soul don't always sync with one another.  In fact, it's a rare gift for one to feel as though they completely have it all together; that it is {fully} well with their soul.  The broken world in which we live doesn't promote feelings of contentment.  Faster, farther, greater, higher, better, more, more, more, {more}.  These are the comparative adjectives upon which many of us {feebly} attempt to seek happiness, fullness, achievement, satisfaction.  And when you start throwing out the superlative adjectives, it's a dog-eat-dog world that leaves 99.9% of us feeling the 'worsest' about ourselves.

So I was about here in my life...in the midst of an overwhelming storm, gasping and grasping, overwhelmed by the undertoe.  The chaos theory I was experiencing was so much inmyhead that I couldn't climb out and release the hold it had on my heart and body and soul.  I knew I needed to feel those comparative adjectives about myself, I knew I needed to seek and move and step one foot in front of the other foot.  I'm a smart girl.  But to say I couldn't bring myself to congeal a thought powerful enough to spark another thought and another thought and revive my punctuated heart, was a bit of truth I was so, so embarrassed to lay claim.

I needed a breath of fresh air.  I needed my lungs to be filled with rejuvenating, life-giving oxygen; to have that source of life pushed through my veins, awakening my stagnant and sad blood, revitalize and restore me to a place where I felt whole-er.  {I couldn't venture to use the superlative here...my whole-est me isn't even on the radar yet...}  Being an extrovert who was inadvertently plopped into a space where introvertedness was a natural byproduct of our family's Rocky Mountain-to-Lonestar move, I found myself floating in a space of discomfort; desperately wanting to be connected, plugged-in, a partofsomethingbigger.

I kept recalling a breakfast I had shared with one of my sweet friends before we moved, who had a bit of experience with being 'new in town'.  She had shared that it would take about 18 months to feel settled, connected, and home.  Eight.teen.months.  I remember hearing that, thinking to myself, "no way 18 months...I'm such a people person...it will be a breeze.".

While it wasn't quite a breeze, I have been blessed an extraordinary network of sweet friends who were either raised with the bylaws of southern hospitality, or have come to accept it as a character trait in the time they've inhabited the great state of Texas.  I suppose the butterfly effect of receiving good southern hospitality inversely affects the way in which others show such hospitality.

It was out of this southern hospitality, this willingness to reach out and extend a much needed hand to those who so obviously need it, that I became a partofsomethingbigger.  It took me about .6 seconds to decide if I wanted to attend a MOPS {Mothers of Preschoolers} meeting to which I had received an invitation. A sweet fellow mama saw my pain, sadness, loneliness, need for connection, and with one flap of her wings, like bellows, my lungs and heart and soul filled with hope.  Hope for friends and connections and people who had similar stuff going on in their lives {i.e. littles who siphoned energy like mosquitos in the south, homes that don't clean themselves, laundry that manages to regenerate faster than a toddler can eat a tube of toothpaste [laugh.  until it happens to you.]}

Needless to say, I needed this.  Whatever 'this' was.

MOPS was a 'thing' that I didn't get to participate in while I was teaching.  It's not that there aren't groups out there for rockstar moms who work outside the home, and it's not that there aren't working mamas in my very own group.  It's just that for me, in that season, it wasn't feasible.  Over the course of the past year and a few odd-so months {gasp...dare I say almost 18 months?!}, I have come to learn what 'this' is.

This is an extraordinary collection of strong, beautiful, eloquent, fun-loving, loyal and devoted ladies who love their children fiercely {even in the midst of a tantrum in the middle of the checkout lanes in Target}.
This is a safe and comfortable place where one can seek solace and serenity and sanity, any time of the day or night {'cause trust.me., it's a certainty that there's at least one of us mamas awake; feeding and comforting littles, changing and washing sheets, rocking sick munchkins, worrying incessantly about anything and everything under the sun...you name it.  Someone's awake.}
This is church.  An assemblage of women with a fire burning for God.  The fire is the work of the whole group; helping and reaching and hugging and lifting those whose individual fires might be dwindling to a spark or smolder at times.
This is where connections are made, lives are changed, women are encouraged and inspired and loved and fed {well.well.fed.  MOPS does brunch right, y'all}.  Moms get reprieve from crying, clingy children.  They get reassurance that they're not alone in the battle against the gray.  Or the tired.  Or the weight.  Or the yoga pants.  {wait.  I take that back.  In the name of Jesus, I *need* the yoga pants.}

MOPS is one of my favorite butterfly effects.  I was in chaos theory.  Scrambling, crying, staring, introverting, yelling, not-showering.  And then an empathetic and compassionate mama fluttered her outstretched wings and not only comforted, but inadvertently fueled the pilot light deep within my soul.

Oh, and how those MOPS ladies have fanned that light.

laughs, love, hugs, funny stories.
prayers, encouragement, acceptance, hope.
inspiration, relaxation, motivation...and all the carbs I can eat.  {seriously.  the food.}

So then there's this one butterfly.  One sweet, amazing, tender-hearted mama named Lisa.  The effect of her flutter of wings landed me in the Austin City Limits venue this past weekend; hands raised in praise, my tears serving as the vessel through which my mascara relocated in dark streaky trails down my cheeks.  The event was IF:Gathering, the vision inspired by the impassioned wordsmith Jennie Allen.

Haven't heard of her?  Yeah...that was me a little over a year ago.  Then Lisa, a beautiful soul who entered into my life by way of the flutter of butterfly wings that landed me in MOPS, added fuel to my fire.  My book-devouring, word-hungry fire.  Changed in so many ways with the name Jennie Allen.  Her book, Anything, became my insta-mission as I detoured to the book store on the way home from MOPS that very same day.

As I read and highlighted, re-read and black-inked my pages...I felt the flit of Jennie's wings, softly fluttering in my soul.  This.  This.  This is my next best thing.  My one step deeper.  I wanted needed to be a part of this.

And oh my stars.  I watched butterflies flutter, fires fueled, friendships forged.  Goosebumps and tears and perma-smiles.  We were there for one reason, and One reason only.  And oh, is He good.  He brought us the butterflies; set each and everyone in place, wings poised, ready to set into effect one small and {at times} seemingly insignificant spark that, upon landing in the dry places, can light up the world.

God always hears our cries, 
and helps, and it's often a surprise to see
what form God will take on earth.
~Anne Lamott