Be Love

img_6608When I was a child, I used to dream about lovely things like becoming a ballerina or being able to lick off BOTH beaters when my mom was baking a cake. As an adult, however, my dreams have changed somewhat (although I still lick off both beaters when my kids aren’t looking). As a grown-up, I’ve dreamed of more grand things. Like meeting Jen Hatmaker.

For those of you who may not know her already, you are about to, and you’re welcome. She’s only the most hilarious, genuine, kind, encouraging, inspirational author and speaker of our generation. Stop what you’re doing right now and go on Amazon to buy her books and listen to a few of her podcasts. You won’t be sorry.

Jen Hatmaker lives in Austin, and I’ve seriously contemplated moving to Texas just so we can “accidentally” become fast friends. As it turns out, though, Jen actually came to me! Last weekend she was in central California as part of the tour for her most recent book, For The Love. Obviously I had to go see her. So, I packed up myself and the baby, and drove for “what should have been 3- but turned into 6-hours” through the worst Bay Area Friday Afternoon Traffic ever (remind me again why we live here?). But in the end, we made it. And it was totally worth it.

I had an amazing weekend and I met some amazing people. I even got a book signed by my new best bud, Jen. But the best part of the weekend? I left inspired. Inspired to change myself for the better, and hopefully better the world through that change.

The topic of the weekend was “Be Love(d)”. Jen spoke on how we are loved by God (“Be loved”), and how we can “Be love” for others through our life and our actions. The message totally hit home for me, and I’ve been thinking non-stop about the implications of being loved and being love.

There have been several times in the last week where I have literally shed tears over the brokenness around me. It seems like everywhere I look there is discord and fear and hate permeating our communities, our country, the whole world. Racism is rampant. Our political future is at an unnerving tipping point. Terrorism and violence have leaked into our very neighborhoods. People against people. Us against them. Each man for himself.

Yet I refuse to believe that it has to be this way. The brokenness that I feel is surely breaking God’s heart as well, and we can no longer afford to sit idly by and watch the world unravel before us. Action is required. And it begins with us. In fact, Jesus actually straight-up gives us the answer to our current predicament.

When Jesus was questioned about what was the greatest commandment, the most important rule to observe, he answered:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Matthew 22:37-39

Love! That’s it. The tool that will fix brokenness is love. And love, my friends, is something we can all afford to give.

I am a strong believer that lives are changed one at a time. That deep, meaningful connections–surrounded by love–are what change individuals. And when one life is changed for the better, that one life will influence their family, their community, and the world. It starts with one, but the effects are exponential.

This week I put into practice this idea of “being love”,  quite by accident, and I was blown away by the results. A woman had recently moved into our neighborhood, and she has a baby that is about the same age as Hannah. I’d seen her walking with her baby a few times and had exchanged smiles and waves from across the street, but I hadn’t really introduced myself or gotten to know her at all.

Anyway, on Wednesday afternoon I was baking muffins with the boys and the recipe made a lot more muffins than I was expecting. We had muffins covering every surface of our kitchen, and I was trying to figure out what to do with all of them. Then an idea struck me: maybe I should share some of these surplus muffins! (I know, sometimes it takes me awhile to come to realizations that should be quite obvious.).

So, I packed up a plate of muffins and wrote a quick note welcoming this new neighbor to the neighborhood, and we walked them over to her house. When my neighbor opened the door she was delighted and her eyes filled with tears.

“Nobody ever bakes for me!” She said, “I’m a pastry chef instructor, and I guess people don’t feel like they can bake for me! Thank you so much!”

My first thought was, “I sure hope I got out all of those egg shells from the 4-year old’s “help” in this little project”, but mostly I was just happy that she was happy.

The next day I was rushing to unload groceries from my car before I had to zip out again to pick up Jacob from preschool. I was kind of in the zone, running back and forth from the car and trying to make my deadline. As I was unloading the last bag from my trunk, however, I looked up and saw my new neighbor walking down the street. I glanced up, smiled and waved, ready to get back to the task at hand. But instead of continuing on her walk, my neighbor stopped in my driveway.

She asked if we could talk for a minute–I could tell something was bothering her, so I put down my grocery bag and listened. She went on to tell me her story, a story of brokenness and loneliness and a deep need for love. At the end of her story, she  said, “I don’t know why I just told you all of that, but I just needed to tell someone. And you seemed like someone who could listen.”

And in that moment, I knew exactly why she had just told me all of that. Love. I had done one small, simple, seemingly insignificant act of love, and it literally opened the door to this woman’s home and her heart. Love changes everything, and it does not have to be complicated. It can be as simple as sharing some muffins, putting down your grocery bag, and listening.

So that is my challenge to you, friends. Be love. Whether the world is falling apart around you, or everything is going along just fine, be love. Love is like a rain drop in a pond, and it sends ripples out into the world. Be the kind of love that sends out ripples of goodness and kindness and hope together.

Be.

Love.

 

 

First Baby vs. Third Baby

I’ve been in this mommy gig for almost 6 years now (but don’t even get me STARTED on how my BABY is about to turn 6. SIX! No. Nuh-uh. Nope. I refuse to acknowledge that these babies of mine will soon outgrow me in wit and height, and I will cry IF I WANT TO.). A lot has changed in those six years–the age and size of my child(ren), the availability of new and improved baby paraphernalia, the fact that my doctor now advises feeding peanut butter to babies. We’ve gone from a family with just one baby, to a family with three children aged 5 and younger. The most notable change over the years, however, would have to be with myself.

I don’t know if I’ve become more wise over the years or if I’ve just given up, but the fact is, I do things differently now. Like, really differently. From my first baby six years ago to our third baby right now, my parenting style has…ahem…shifted. You can see this shift in basically every aspect of my parenting (or lack thereof). For example:

Healthy Eating
First baby:
I literally baked his first-birthday cake from the dirt of the earth. It was made from  stone-ground whole wheat flour, home-made applesauce (cooked from the apples I picked myself. Off an actual tree.), and organic angel kisses. Nothing but the most pure, natural ingredients for my little sunshine.

Third Baby:
I’m pretty sure she just ate an Oreo that had been wedged under the couch since before her conception. She is 7 months old.

Sleep Training:
First baby:
I read Happiest Baby On The Block cover to cover and I implemented the 5 S’s of “calming the fussies” like a BOSS. Happiest baby on the block? Check!

Third baby:
What? There’s a baby crying? Ah, no baby ever died from crying…right???

And while we’re on the topic of sleeping…

Naps:
First Baby:
All naps must be done in a crib, with baby sleeping flat on his back. Play soothing white noise in the background and minimize distractions. And, of course, while baby is sleeping I should work on getting some shut eye as well–after all, good mommies sleep when the baby sleeps!

Third Baby:
I forget that there even is a crib at home, because we’re never at home. Between preschool drop-off, kindergarten drop-off, grocery shopping, errands, exercise, preschool pick-up, and kindergarten pick-up there is exactly zero chance of this baby taking a nap in a crib. Carseats, strollers, baby carriers, a blanket on the grass, and my weary arms make excellent napping spots. Mommy hasn’t slept in 6 years, so we’re just gonna roll with it.

Mom’s fashion:
First baby:
Oh my goodness! My pre-pregnancy size-tiny jeans are snug! Oh, the despair and the agony! At least my perfectly styled hair with fresh highlights still looks cute!

Third bay:
I don’t even know what size I am any more because I refuse to look at those blasted numbers printed on the tags inside my pants. If they fit and I’m comfortable, that’s all that matters. I’ve named my muffin top “Frank”, and I’ve decided to make peace with him so we can be friends. I dress Frank in yoga pants and flowy tops most mornings, and we can all move on with our lives in harmony. And this is nothing to say of my shoes that have also grown with each baby that I’ve pushed out of my body.

My hair is worn in one of two fashionable styles: Top Knot or Low Knot, well out of the way of grabby baby fingers. My hair is tinged with gorgeous gray strands that I earned while chasing my boys across busy parking lots and rescuing them from precarious perches.

Public Breastfeeding
First Baby:
Hold on! Let me grab one of my four nursing covers and slip away to a private room where I can nurse in privacy and modesty.

Third Baby:
I’m already late for kindergarten pick-up, so I just whip it out in the Target parking lot. Privacy has been a myth since my toddler learned how to open the bathroom door, and I’ve already lost my modesty in a birthing suite three times. So, ya know, whatever, Bro.

Bathing:
First Baby:
Every-other-day bathing is ideal so you can practice proper hygiene without drying out baby’s skin. Between baths, make sure to dab at exposed skin with a warm, damp towel infused with essential oils and good chakra.

Third baby:
We went swimming in a public pool over the weekend. That should count for at least a week, right?

Receiving Unsolicited Advice
First baby:
Wow! What powerful insight. You’ve done this before, so you probably know what’s best. After all, what do I know–I’m just a new mom. Maybe I should just implement each piece of conflicting advice I get from a complete stranger who doesn’t know me, my situation, or my baby.

Third baby:
(Smiles and nods her head while rage boils from the deepest core of her being and smoke bellows out her ears)

Bodily functions
First baby:
Baby spits up on you and immediate panic sets in. You change your entire outfit, and that of the baby before setting about disinfecting all exposed areas.

Third baby:
Baby spits up on you and you wipe it off your shoulder with the end of your ponytail. The dog laps up any spillage that made its way to the floor. Eh, good enough.

Time Management
First baby:
WAH!!! I don’t have time for ANYTHING any more! Having a baby is hard work! How am I supposed to get ANYTHING done with a BABY?!?!

Third baby:
I only have the baby today?! Halelujah, sweet Jesus! I have a whole hour to get stuff done…hmmm…what should we do? I know! Let’s go get our nails done, do our monthly Costco shopping trip, get an oil change, and run a half-marathon. Piece of cake! (Oooh! Maybe we should get some cake, too…)

Date Night:
First baby:
Date night is important. We’ll call on our army of local family and same-life-stage friends to help babysit so we can get out at least once a week for some alone time to recharge and reconnect.

Third baby:
Nobody wants to babysit two crazy boys and a baby. Not even if you pay them. We are in the “Netflix and a bottle of wine on the couch after bedtime, but try not to fall asleep before the end of the movie” stage of life. And I’m okay with that, because I can’t stay awake past 9 PM anyway.

Dressing The Baby
First baby (a boy):
Pajamas every day. That should do it.

Third baby (a girl):
I spend tens of minutes that I don’t have each morning styling the fluffliest, furliest, adorable-est frock and bow combination for this sweet flower baby. Tutu? Check. Tights that look like ballet slippers? Check. Sparkly tiara? Check. Now, let’s create an excuse for an outing so we can parade the baby in public.

A Mother’s Love
First baby:
I love you more than the breath of life itself. I would not even hesitate to lay in front of a barreling train for you. In fact, I’ll even watch 3 episodes of Caillou in a row with you just to see you smile. Sacrifice, baby. I’d give it all for you.

Third baby:
I love you more than the breath of life itself. I would not even hesitate to lay in front of a barreling train for you. In fact, I’ll even watch 3 episodes of Caillou in a row with you just to see you smile. Sacrifice, baby. I’d give it all for you.

Some things change (okay, MOST things change), but the important ones will always remain the same. To each of my babies: I cherish you, I’m for you, I love you. And that, my friends is one thing that will never ever ever change.

Starry Eyed

 

2016-07-03-starry-mops-logo

You may have noticed that things have gone kind of quiet on here lately…for a whole month, to be exact. Life has been BUSY. In the last month, both boys celebrated their first day of school (all the “WOOHOO”s!), which is a whole thing. Getting kids early to bed, and early to rise every day with a hearty breakfast in their tummies and a healthy lunch in their backpacks is no joke. And while the kids have been celebrating their first days in their new adventures, I have been busy preparing for a first day of my own. Today all of my efforts came together and the adventure finally began!

But before I tell you about the new adventure, let’s rewind a bit.

About 2 years ago, shortly after we moved to California, I joined a group at our church called MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers). I’d heard of MOPS for years (in fact, my Mother-in-law was one of the founding leaders of MOPS International back in the early 80’s), and I had several friends in MOPS groups, but it just never worked out for me to attend a group of my own. Once we were in California, however, I knew that I needed to find a place for me. A place where I could connect with other moms AND get a break from my (darling) children (who were completely overwhelming to me at the time).

MOPS has totally filled that space in my life. As soon as I joined the group at our church I started meeting new mom friends and getting connected. It was love at first sight. For the past 2 years, MOPS has been the thing I most look forward to every week. It’s been a total game-changer, and I’m so glad I finally decided to be a part of it.

Now, fast forward a bit. Shortly after I started attending my MOPS group, I was asked to step into leadership. But not just any role, the main role. Like, be in charge of the whole group. I’d only been in the group for about 2 months, so I was honored that they would even ask me…but  I had to say no. This was right when we were considering homeschooling the boys for the following year, and I knew that I couldn’t lead both my boys and the MOPS group well. I declined, but I told them to think of me again in the future if they needed more leaders.

Fast forward another year, and the opportunity came up again to take over leading the group. Hannah had just been born and I was sensing that homeschool wouldn’t be the right fit for our family the following year. If we didn’t homeschool, I knew that I would have the time and energy to pour into MOPS and I could give a leadership role the attention it deserved. The timing was right this time, so I said yes! The next few weeks were a blur of learning as much as I could from the standing coordinator before she handed the reigns completely over to me. By the end of May, the transition was complete and I found myself suddenly in charge.

Over the summer I planned leadership retreats, tracked down about a dozen community leaders to come speak at our group, worked with the church staff to plan and execute publicity and marketing materials, and tried to learn as many of the behind-the-scenes details as I could. There are, as it turns out, a LOT of behind the scenes details that go in to running a ministry.

Everything was coming together beautifully. Then, about 3 weeks ago, tragedy struck. Our ministry leader and my mentor, Dee, suddenly passed away. Dee was a huge advocate of MOPS, and she had a great love and passion for our group. Her passing was a shock to me and to everyone in our church and community who knew and loved her. At her memorial service a couple of weeks ago, hundreds of people filled the room to share funny stories and precious memories of this incredible woman. Dee will be greatly missed by me and by her MOPS family.

But even in the face of tragedy, today came.

Today was our first official meeting of the year, and it was amazing. We had about 50 moms at our first meeting, and as I was walking around the room everyone seemed to be having fun and connecting well with one another. We had a huge breakfast spread and there was enough coffee for everyone. Win, win, win.

My team worked so hard to make the room welcoming and gorgeous (thank goodness for them, because I still haven’t even figured out how to hang up pictures in my house!). I was so busy running around that I didn’t get many photos, but here are a few photos of the room before the moms arrived this morning:

img_6486 img_6488

img_6489

Everything ran smoothly, and I am so grateful. Grateful for the incredible moms that I get to travel with on this grand adventure, grateful for God’s provision, and grateful for the calling to leadership.

This morning I gave a brief talk at the group to introduce myself and the MOPS International theme for the year, “We Are The Starry Eyed”. It went something like this:

MOPS Welcome Talk 2016: We Are The Starry Eyed

Like all of you, my family is very important to me. I love my family more than life itself, and I will do anything for them. Well, almost anything. There is one thing, however, that I have sworn off until my kids move out: housecleaning.

Not too long ago, before I decided to boycott housecleaning, I decided to vacuum my house. Now, you have to understand that even before I quit housecleaning, I did it very rarely. Like, only when the filth and the general level of broken health codes required that I do something.

Unfortunately, we had reached that point, and the cleaning simply had to be done. Between a dog, two boys who spend most of their waking hours tromping through the woods, and a baby who is learning the fine art of “self-feeding”, our house had reached a new level of disgusting. Even I couldn’t ignore the mess any longer.

So, when the stars aligned and I had both a napping baby AND two boys happily playing Legos in their room at the SAME TIME, I seized my opportunity. I quietly slipped upstairs so the happily playing boys wouldn’t realize I was trying to be productive (A mom’s productivity is, of course, the quickest way to make her children need her). I took out my vaccuum and I spent 20 minutes attempting to remove the layers of filth that had accumulated in the month or so since I’d last braved housecleaning.

When I finished vacuuming upstairs, I proudly surveyed the work I’d accomplished. As I was patting myself on the back, however, I realized something. It was quiet. TOO quiet.

Every mom knows that TOO quiet is the second most-feared sound, next to the terrifying high-decibel scream that follows the silent scream when your baby gets hurt.

I took a deep breath and headed downstairs to the boys’ room, bracing myself for what I would find. When I tried to open their bedroom door, however, it wouldn’t budge. I finally pushed my way through and discovered the source of the barrier: clothes. Lots of clothes. Piles of clothes. In fact, strewn across the floor was every single piece of clothing our family owns (P.S. We own too many clothes). Clothing from every dresser and every closet and every shelf was piled in the center of their room. Forget that I had just spent an hour folding laundry and putting it away that morning. Now, we had MOUNT LAUNDRY…and it was about as tall as Mount Everest.

But we were just getting started. I walked down the hallway to put the vacuum away in the laundry room. When I entered the laundry room, I was greeted with pure chaos. The boys had emptied our craft bin and “decorated” the entire room with streamers and stickers and paper cutouts and scrapbooking decor. It looked like someone had taken a Hobby Lobby and shook it out all over the room. It was, the boys declared, a party.

And just when I thought I’d seen enough, I looked down and saw the dog’s water dish. Where there should have been clean drinking water, there was a yellow puddle. I didn’t even need to ask the boys, because I already knew. They had been using the dish as target practice–PEE target practice. And, in all honesty, I was quite impressed they were able to aim and hit such a small target with such accuracy. That takes mad skills.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry or scream or just pass out right then and there. So, I decided to take some age-old advice: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

Since this was a PARTY according to them, we had our party. We put on the party hats that were lying on the laundry room floor and we finished hanging the streamers over the door. We jumped in the pile of clothes like it was a giant leaf pile.

And then we got to work. We dumped out the dog dish and disinfected the living daylights out of it. The boys learned how to fold socks and pants and shirts. The party is still up in the laundry room, because it’s actually kind of cute and it makes laundry day a little bit more fun.

I made a conscious decision that day– one that didn’t come naturally, but that was necessary in that moment (for my sanity and the physical safety of my children). I decided to embrace the mess. Because, in the end, isn’t that what life is like?

There are times in life when everything seems to be going well, but then–BAM!–some MESS happens. The drawers of your life are emptied out into a giant pile in the middle of the room, and you can’t even see around the mess.

A tragedy strikes your family. You long for another baby, but it’s just not happening. Your husband leaves town for business right as your toddler contracts a double ear infection. Your housing situation falls through. Loved ones pass away, and you are reminded of the fragility of life. We see injustice in the world, and it breaks our very hearts. You’re having an “I Quit” day and you just want your mommy, but Mom lives a thousand miles away. You yearn for a better tomorrow while just struggling to get through today. Motherhood is full of dark times. There is pain. There is sorrow. There is despair. Darkness comes in many different forms, and we all face it at one time or another.

But there is hope! Even in the darkness, we can find the light of hope. This year at MOPS we will be joining together as friends and comrades to support each other on the front lines of motherhood. Through both the light and the dark–no matter what we are going through, whether it’s a “dark” struggle or a “light” joy, we are in this together. Because together? Together we are stronger. And together, we are The Starry Eyed.

Starry Eyed means looking for the light, even when darkness is enveloping. It is an opportunity to hope recklessly and to witness God’s presence guiding things seen and unseen, comfortable and uncomfortable. Starry Eyed means running wildly toward hope when it seems that all else has been lost. Starry Eyed means finding the wonder in the mundane (Can I get an “Amen” for endless piles of laundry and dishes?!). Starry eyed means finding comfort in the kindness of friends and strangers alike. Because this journey of motherhood? It can be rocky and confusing and downright scary. But as the Starry Eyed, we find our hope and wonder and kindness together–and we find refuge.

Psalm 139:12 says, “Even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You.”

When we are going through the dark times of life–the chaos and the mess–we can find our refuge in God. We can choose to live courageously in both the light and the darkness, because He’s GOT this. We can perform significant acts of kindness that will send ripples of light out into the world. We can open our eyes to wonder, and choose hope over fear. We can move forward courageously, because we are the Starry Eyed.

When we reflect back over our lives, this year is going to stand out. It will be the year that we decided to live fully by both sunlight and moonlight. It will be the year that we embraced the beautiful mess that is motherhood. And the best part is, we will experience it all together.

So, thank you. Thank you for joining us on this journey at MOPS this year. YOU are important, and we are so glad you’re here. This will be a year where we will be stretched to challenge ourselves as individuals and as mothers. It will be a year that we will create new friendships and deepen old relationships. It will be a year when we will laugh and cry (and laugh and cry some more…because we’re moms, and that’s what we do best). It will be a year of learning to embrace both the dark and the light, because…

we are the Starry Eyed.

 

Dear Kindergartener

  
Dear Son (Who Is Now A Kindergartener),

For the past 5 1/2 years I have alternated between dreading this day and pleading for it to arrive: your first day of kindergarten. And now it is here. The day I had been anticipating and wondering about and preparing you for and praying over is actually really truly happening. Tomorrow is the big day. In the morning you will wake up a new person, a Big Kid Kindergartener. Not my baby or my toddler or my preschooler, but my school kid. And I couldn’t be more proud.

You are an amazing person. Did you know that? God has created you to be uniquely you, and you are utterly and perfectly who He wants you to be. He made you to be loving and passionate and feisty and strong. He made you with Big Feelings. He gave you a deep desire to fiercely protect the underdog. He made you to be curious and creative. He made you to run and jump and climb like an American Ninja Warrior. He made you silly. There is no other you, and you are wonderful.

The world is full of incredible people and incredible moments, but it can also be harsh. So, when the world starts to tell you that you isn’t good or isn’t good enough, remember how amazing you are. Keep your head up like the warrior that you are, and be confident in the you that God has created. Up until now you’ve been under the shelter of my wing, but now it’s time for you to spread your own wings. As you venture out into the world, you will become more and more independent each day. Carry on strong as you make your own mark in the world, because I can’t wait to see what that mark will look like!

So when you wake up tomorrow morning (probably tired) and you refuse to eat your breakfast (because you hate eating in the morning), I hope you are at least a little bit excited. Excited to meet your teacher and classmates and new friends on the playground. Excited to find your seat at the table and sit in circle time (it will be a lot of sitting…just try to enjoy the rest).  Excited to play in the science corner and the art table and the dramatic play center. Excited to learn more about reading and numbers and telling your own stories. Excited to listen respectfully and take turns and be a good sport. Excited, most of all, for the grand adventure you’re about to begin. Because this year? This year is the beginning of one of the greatest journeys of your life.

Enjoy the ride, my not-so-little boy.  I am so very proud of you and I am 100% for you. Be kind, be happy, be attentive. Sometimes (if the teacher isn’t looking) be really super silly. Be you. Because you is amazing, and

I.

Love.

You.

XOXOXOX,
Mommy

P.S. If you see me tomorrow morning and my face is extra watery, just know that it’s a common condition that all kindergarten mommies undergo on the first day of school. It’s a love leak. It will likely reoccur during many of your milestones, including but not limited to: Any and every graduation (kindergarten, High School, College, Masters Degree, PhD, Doctorate, etc.), losing your first tooth, winning a participation trophy in Little League, every time you give me flowers,  getting your drivers’ license, seeing you in a tux on prom night, whenever those dang Facebook Memories pop up and I see you as a baby, and your wedding.

 

The 10 Stages of a Family Road Trip

IMG_4911 3

Each summer our family completes a pilgrimage to our homeland. Like our great forefathers Mary and Joseph, we cast away the comforts of home and journey forth to the place of our birth. It’s a daring adventure that covers thousands of miles and that brings us closer together as a family (Literally. We’re stuck in a car within poking distance of each other for days on end. We’re very, very CLOSE.)

Seeing as we are currently smack dab in the middle of The Great Homeland Pilgrimage of 2016, I have noticed a pattern of stages that occur during the course of a family road trip. It goes a bit like this:

Stage 1: Anticipation
Hooray! We get to go on a road trip!  I can’t WAIT to see the country and make precious memories with my family! This will be sooooo much fun!

Stage 2: Preparation
You neatly pack and organize all of the essential items. You package your childrens’ color-coordinated outfits into Ziploc baggies for ease-of-dressing on the go. You pack a NoseFrida and baby Tylenol (and a little Melatonin), just in case.

You hone your “I Spy” skills and research the latest fads in travel games. You create customized road trip bingo boards with interesting sites and trivia for the places you’ll be driving through (you laminate them for good measure, because they’re going to get SO MUCH USE!!!).

You stock up on healthy snacks and go to the dollar store so you can buy little trinkets to surprise the children with while you’re on the road.

You map out the stops along the way that include really cool parks and indoor play places for “wiggle breaks” while you’re on the road. You book a hotel with a pool and research family-friendly restaurants.

You make sure there is a fresh oil change and full tank of gas in your car.

You are totally, absolutely 100% road trip ready.

Stage 3: Departure
You load up the car the night before so you can make sure that Tetris puzzle of luggage and toys and dog crates will fit snugly and safely in your vehicle. You put the kids to bed early the night before so you can rouse them at daybreak and get out of town before the other drivers crowd the roads. Everyone is slightly groggy from the early start, but they are still totally, absolutely 100% PUMPED for the adventure that is about to ensue.

Let’s hit the road, Jack!

Stage 4: Road Trip Bliss
You sing songs as you pull out of the driveway and laugh with excitement as you discuss the interesting places you’ll be driving through today. The kids play happily with the dollar store trinkets you surprsied them with this morning and your oldest child reads a book to the younger children. The dog curls up peacefully at the childrens’ feet and drifts off to dreamland. You sip your coffee contentedly. It’s almost like Heaven, but in a minivan.

(This stage lasts for approximately the first 5 minutes, or 2 miles, whichever comes first)

Stage 5: Road Trip Hell
You notice that the car is making a strange sound and shaking every time you press the brakes. Whisper a silent prayer that you don’t have to use the “runaway truck ramps” when you drive down the mountain passes.

The kids are super tired and they’re already bored with the toys and games you have prepared for them. They are now using your beautifully laminated Bingo boards to play Sword Ninjas.

You hear a scream from the backseat, quickly followed by the second-most-awful phrase that can be muttered during a family road trip (“HE STARTED IT!”). You look back to see your 4-year old clutching his bloody nose…but it’s not that big of a deal because the dog is already licking his face clean.

You decide to pull over for lunch so you can handle The Situation and mend your childrens’ tears with chicken nuggets and milkshakes. Thankfully there’s a Burger King with an indoor playplace at this exit (*Gold Star* for researching this stop during Stage 2!).

You walk in the door to Burger King and your kids are PUMPED to play on the playground and eat the chicken nuggets and milkshakes that you promised them in the parking lot. When you walk in the door, however, you get a strange feeling. The lobby is full of very disgruntled looking customers who are holding receipts and staring daggers at the pre-pubescent fast food employees who are supposed to be microwaving their lunch. A lady sitting at a table leans over as you walk in the door and hisses, “I’ve been waiting here for half an hour. For a cheeseburger. This might not be for you.”

You’re right, disgruntled Burger King customer, this is NOT for us.

So you leave the “restaurant” and walk across the parking lot to the only other eating establishment: Taco Bell. Only, your kids are not at peace with this decision to leave chicken nugget-milkshake-playground-happy-place, and they are becoming quite vocal and violent in their protestations. When you suggest that they eat a cheese quesadilla they fall to the ground like a heap of writhing, screaming fish out of water.

You order them the cheese quesadilla anyway and  kindly escort them back to the minivan where they can fully express their disapproval in a constructive and productive manner.

By the time your husband brings out the cheese quesadillas, you have put on a movie, re-buckled the children and nursed the baby. All is quiet and right with the world. You calmly pass the now-comatose children their cheese quesadillas and hope they won’t notice what they’re eating since Chase from Paw Patrol has lured them in with his hypnotic acts of heroism.

You start the car right as child 1 takes his first bite of the quesadilla, only to hear a violent wretching sound and shrieks of “IT’S SPICY! IT’S SPICY! BLEHAHEHALJALTKHAADHGKLJADSHFPOIUE;LKFASDGKHADG!!!!!!” coming from the backseat.

Fast food restaurants: 2   Family trying to eat a quick meal on the go: 0

You sic the dog on the spat out quesadilla and throw an applesauce squeezie and a bag of Goldfish crackers to your child. You turn the movie back on and pray for the next 13 hours to please go quickly if you love me and these presently-unharmed children, sweet Jesus.

Someone from the back seat utters the first most-awful-phrase that can be muttered during a family road trip (“Are we there yet?”), but you barely hear them because you’ve already put in your ear plugs.

Stage 6: Arrival
Where’s the bed and the mini bar?!?!

Stage 7: The Destination
You see all the places and visit all the people.  You take the car in to the shop and spend $700 of your vacation fund on new brake pads and rotors (at least you didn’t have to use the runaway truck ramps on the mountain passes). Your children act like lunatics escaped from an asylum because they’re off of their well-honed routine. Nobody sleeps because the baby is teething and your children aren’t in their own beds (They’re not in their away-from-home beds, either. They’re in your away-from-home bed, and at least 30% of the time one of them pees in that bed. Good thing you pre-packaged clean clothes into Ziploc baggies, because now you need to use the baggies to stuff pee clothes into until you can find a suitable place to wash them).

This, my friends, is what memories are made of.

Stage 8: Returning
After tearful goodbyes and a careful re-working of luggage Tetris, you load up the car and begin the journey back home. Everyone basically skips straight to Stage 5 and you just pedal-to-the-metal into the sunset.

Stage 9: Home
YOUR BED!!!!!
(and unpacking)
(and laundry)
(and grocery shopping)
(and locating that funky smell coming from somewhere downstairs)

Stage 10: Reminiscing 
You look back at your Instagram photos and Facebook posts from that trip and you remember the road trip glory days. You remember that quirky roadside attraction and that glorious  view along the Sierras. You think back on the lazy days you spent with your family and long-lost friends, and you yearn to be back.

Hooray! Let’s go on another road trip!  I can’t WAIT to see the country and make precious memories with my family! This will be sooooo much fun!IMG_4911 3

 

A Story of Friendship

30330_654094382710_310571_n

The original small group couples (plus the first couple of babies) in 2009

This story began eight years ago.

In 2008 Jon and I embarked on our first Grand Adventure as 20-something newlyweds. We decided to pack up our house, our cars, my classroom, and our dog and move 1,000 miles away so Jon could attend a top-ranked grad school. It was a huge decision that would impact every area of our lives (and our pocketbooks), so we were nervous.

There were a lot of “what if’s”: What if school didn’t work out? What if I couldn’t find a job to support us during those years? What would it be like living in a place so different and so far away from the only place we’d ever lived? What if we missed our family too much? What if we didn’t meet any friends?

Through all of the what if’s, however, we had confidence because we knew that this was where God wanted us to be. So, we moved forward in faith, trusting that it would all work out.

Shortly after arriving at our new home in Palo Alto, California we got connected to a great local church that some of our friends were attending. We decided to join a small group Bible study that met once a week in a couple’s home. After all, we still didn’t know many people, and maybe this would be a good chance to meet some new friends.

Little did we know then, but that one decision to join a small group would impact our lives forever.

On the first night of our small group I tried on about 15 different outfits. I wanted to look cool without looking like I’d tried too hard so I could make a good first impression. I was incredibly nervous–as I always am when meeting new people for the first time (I try to play it off in public, but I am 100% an introvert and social gatherings often set me in a panic)–but I was also excited to hopefully meet some people our age.

When we walked in the front door of the Barley’s tiny top-floor apartment on that first night we were greeted with hugs and huge smiles, and I knew we were in the right place.  These people were genuine, and I couldn’t wait to get to know them more.

Over the next two years the couples in that group would become like family to us. We found commonality in our faith, our careers, our joys, and support when all of our husbands worked too hard. We went through a lot together in those two years, and the years that have followed. Three of us became pregnant with our first child at the same time. More than one of us miscarried. One of us adopted. One of us nearly died. And, eventually, most of us moved away.

Over the years we kept in touch and followed one another’s adventures. When our family embarked on our next Grand Adventure to Ireland, our small group friends journeyed along with us in prayer (and in faithful reading of my blog!). And when our third Grand Adventure moved us back to California, some of them were still there to greet us and welcome us “home”.

Our lives are so very different now than they were when we first met eight years ago, but this is the kind of friendship that spans time and distance and life change. In the two years since we’ve been back in California I have met up every couple of months with the ladies from that original small group (I refer to these gals as my “comfy friends” because I can wear my comfy sweats and messy hair around them, and they’ll do the same for me). It has been such a source of contentment and  joy to have my comfy friends back in my life again!

A few weeks ago we managed to hold a reunion with the 4 families from that original small group that are still living in the Bay Area. It was absolutely incredible to see the husbands and wives and children and careers and homes that we had prayed for all those years ago–here, in the flesh.

And, while it was amazing to have all of us together under one roof again, it was short lived. Because next week? Next week we send another family off on another Grand Adventure. But that’s not the end of this story.

You see, this family of dear friends is not just moving anywhere. They’re moving to Ireland, the same far-away country that we recently moved from. Actually, they’re moving to Cork–the same city where we lived two years ago. More specifically, their house is in Rochestown–the same neighborohood where we once lived. In fact, they will be living just a few doors down from our former home, and walking the same streets where we once walked.

The irony of us moving back to California to such wonderful friends, only to have them move halfway around the world to the same neighborhood that we recently moved away from, is fascinating. I am so excited for them and the adventure that is unfolding for their family. Excited for what awaits them, but also excited because our story will continue through them.

I love it when God surprises me like that. He wrote this whole story before time began, and when the pieces come together He must smile knowingly because He planned it that way from the very beginning. It’s not luck or coincidence that I have these friends in my life or that our paths have crossed over time and space. It’s providence. It’s God’s provision for our present and His protection for our future. I can trust God’s providence because He already wrote the ending of our story. And it’s GOOD.

So, as new plot twists and characters enter this story, I will be ready. Ready to embrace the journey and the story as it continues to be written in our lives. Ready to trust and follow the Author. And, most of all, I will be ready to be amazed.

Because amazing is what He does best.

13734989_10101770435884350_1879005076983275259_o

Our small group reunion, July 2016

The God-Claw

istock_000017954645_medium

My boys have been obsessed with the movie Toy Story for the better part of three years now. And when I say obsessed, what I really mean is that their very hearts beat to the rhythm of Buzz Lightyear’s lasers and Woody’s lasso throws. They eat, sleep, and breathe the mantra that toys are a kid’s best friend. They dress up in Toy Story costumes and go about daily life as if they actually are the movie characters they idolize and adore. They have memorized every line of every Toy Story movie (including the lesser known spinoffs such as Toy Story of Terrors and Toy Story That Time Forgot).

All this to say, I have seen a lot of Toy Story. A LOT.

For those of you who may be *ahem* less familiar with the movie, you should know that a critical point in the first Toy Story movie centers around a toy claw. Andy (the boy who loves his toys with all his heart, soul, and strength) goes to Pizza Planet (Pixar Chuck E. Cheese’s) where there is an arcade claw machine full of little squeaky green alien toys (Which, by the way, Disney does not manufacture for consumer consumption. They have about 50 different versions of alien toys available through various retailers, but none are the exact size, squishy-ness, and squeaky-ness as the aliens in the movie. I know, because we have bought and tested all 50 alien toy products that are currently available. But I digress…).

At one point in the movie, Buzz Lightyear (the hero toy) gets trapped inside the alien claw machine. In his moment of greatest need, the aliens speak to him. They explain how The Claw is their master, The Claw chooses who will stay and who will go. In short, The Claw is boss over their life.

So a few weeks ago when a friend of mine compared her life to that of an arcade claw machine, I immediately thought of the aliens in Toy Story. I thought of The Claw that is master, that chooses who will stay and who will go. Only in my life, the claw is not a mechanical metal pincer that drops from the sky–it is God. The God-Claw. God is my master, and He chooses who will stay and who will go. The metaphor made perfect sense, and it’s stuck with me.

There have been so many times in my life where I look back and can see how “The God-Claw” has swooped in and moved me to the exact time, place, and position I needed to be in. Like when He put me in this little Bible study in college, and that’s where I met my husband. Or when we got married THE DAY AFTER WE GRADUATED COLLEGE–without a job or a home or a savings account–and we returned from our honeymoon to a job offer and the most perfect student teaching placement I could have ever dreamed of, in the same city as the new job. Or when He carried us a thousand miles away from home to a graduate school we were not qualified to attend and could not afford–but then we got there, and every missing piece of the puzzle came together at the exact right time. Or when He transplanted us halfway around the world to experience life and a culture that would shape our lives and our family forever.

And here we are now–living, working, serving in the place where The God-Claw has deposited us for the time being. I never know how long I will be in a particular place or doing a certain work, and that’s fine. Because I am not the Master. He is.

As long as He is the Master–which, by the way, is forever–I will be His little alien, doing the best that I can where He has placed me, and being willing to go when He calls me. Whether it’s a new job, a new skill, a new parenting method (or two or three…I’m finding that each child may, in fact, require totally different sets of parenting methods), a new surrender (We’ve recently hired a house cleaner because I’ve recognized that I simply can’t do it all. I have to surrender my pride in thinking that I can do everything and be everything. That was a humbling realization.).

Whatever it is, I need to be willing to go where He’s calling. And if He’s not moving me? Then I need to stay. To stay on and continue in the work He has already called me to, and do that work the best way I possibly can.

So that is my hope–that I would be attuned to the movements of “the claw” and that I would be willing to allow it to move me. That I would fully trust God, my master, and hand over the reigns: contentedly, willingly, faithfully, obediently.