The success lie (on family, failure and faith)

30 July 2012


We are babysitters this weekend, slumber party novices leaving evidence of mildly irresponsible late-night milkshake drinking. Blankets, pillows and swords litter the hallways. Before he heads to work, we cuddle in a very large, very comfortable, very I-don't-ever-want-to-get-up-from-here bed. I feel his chest rise and fall heavily, hear him sigh as he says, "I'm sorry our bed sucks. I'm sorry for all of it."

It takes me a moment to register what he's saying, what he means, how his heart drops in the memory foam of the bed.

We are laying on a big, soft symbol of success. And our pokey, old, free-for-the-taking mattress back home is a symbol of failure. 

We all believe that, don't we? The house, the job, the car out front, the kids in excelled learning, the 401k. These are barometers of a life well done. We work hard for them, make sure they're shiny, take comfort in them and feel successful. This is what we're told we deserve, what we can get it if we try hard enough, what will make us happy and what will keep us secure.

Except, it's a lie. It's a lie we are all too willing to believe. Honestly, it is so much easier to look successful with hard work and money than it is to prove we're successful in quiet prayers and patience.

What is success anyway? How other people see you? How you think you look to the outside world? Does it really matter what Dave Ramsey thinks? Is the interest rate that big of a deal? I don't believe those things influence or determine success. 

My sister is successful not because of her wonderful bed, not because of her athletic kids, not because of the house or picket fence or chocolate lab (though those are all real and fantastic things). She's successful because she and my brother-in-law just celebrated 20 years of marriage. They are successful because of the hard work, time, patience and sacrifice they put into marriage and parenting. They are successful because they come home together, pray together, serve God together, and love their kids together. They are successful because they believe all these things are gifts from above, a life they never imagined, a family based on faith and hope and love.

And us? We haven't failed just because we don't have a house, a backyard, a sturdy retirement account or spotless refinished hardwood floors (though that would all be very nice). We are successful because our kids are happy and we get to spend the majority of almost every day with them. We're successful because we are pursuing something we know God has called us to do. We're successful because at the end of the day, we come home to each other. We're successful because we get to show our kids and our friends and our communities how faithful God is, how He's provided, how He's leading, how He loves. We're successful because we work hard, not for the house and the car payment or the fully vested stock options, but we work hard at prayer and perseverance and obedience.

We're successful because when we fail, it's not over. The failure is never permanent. Mercies are new every morning, and we get to try again. Jesus holds it all together, and it all belongs to Him. 

"Oh, babe, don't say that," I tell him. The house we are staying in is filled with the laughter of our children and their cousins. They are so happy and free. We get to serve my sister and her family on this happy occasion of a 20th wedding anniversary. And I feel so blessed and so thankful for one night of peaceful sleep in a big, comfy bed.

We are a success story... one I can't wait to tell.

What is your success story? I know you have one.

A change of scenery

26 July 2012

egg harbour

Sometimes a change of scenery is less about the roadtrip, less about the milkshakes, less about the sprinklers and the playgrounds and the beaches. Sometimes a change of scenery is about just that: a change of scenery. A chance to see how things look from up here. A few days to gather one's breath and view things from a different perspective.

From up here, I'm not sitting in front of my computer waiting for good news. I'm not looking at our books or photo albums or Matt's toolchest, wondering what goes and what stays. I'm not clicking refresh on our support account three, four, five times a day. And I'm not hiding behind curtains, afraid of the sun, or standing in the kitchen wondering exactly how many cookies I ate that day [answer: eight].

Instead, I'm listening to "the grannies" talk about retirement, realizing we all have something that weighs on our minds and our pocketbooks, hard questions for the future. I'm watching my children play with aunts and uncles and puppies, under the shelter of towering oaks, grateful for families that drop everything for a chance to play catch or build forts at dusk. Instead, I'm awake in the night not from crying babes, but for a sweet glimpse of sleeping boys, head to head, legs and arms filling every inch of their shared bed.

Instead, I'm digging toes in sand, closing my eyes and praying peace... the kind of prayer one can pray from a safe distance, out of the fray. I'm convalescing this worried heart, rehabbing my tired mind, praying peace and still saying yes and listening for His voice in the quiet of a Wisconin pine tree.

While I rest these sandy toes, my man stays behind and works. He's still saying yes, too. And in these five short days, a slight shift. A change of scenery... even if only a step or two.


I wrote this earlier in the day, before seeing Sarah Bessey's invitation to share what it is that's saving our lives right now. But I knew this was it. I wrote it knowing that these five days, this gift from Matt, this time away, is saving my life right now. Because tonight I watched the wee lad dance in the rain. And I shared an oh-so-rare bottle of wine with my sister-in-law. And I heard thunder and felt wind and closed my eyes on the shores of Lake Michigan. 

This, this moment - here today, gone tomorrow - is saving my life right now. What is saving yours?

Today, you are the sea

25 July 2012


Oh how I missed you, water and waves. You are only a Great Lake, but I can pretend. I don't mind. Today you are the sea.

He points his finger, yelling "Beach!" He was one week old when we first took him to the sea, when water and wind first splashed his wee baby face. And now he is nearly three and his deceptively fast legs take him home.


There is just something about watching them splash and run, roll around in the sand, fly into the surf with abandon. They are squealing, hopping. They are dirty and wild. We have no rules here, no wash your hands, no don't touch that. We are young and free for the next 90 minutes.


I hold my breath and take in the scent, the breeze, the sky.

Today, Lake Michigan, you are the sea. And we... we are young and free.


For today, it is enough

20 July 2012


I've been praying this week, a bit more than usual. Carving out quiet times, seeking sacred spaces. Writing it down, these stories and promises, words flowing like air. I read them again and again, listening for His voice, asking Him...

How will this work?
Show us the way.

It's harder than it ought to be, reading and writing and saying...

Yes, I believe.

I drink the words in, taste them on my tongue...

God, give mercy.

It's not much, these four syllables, overlapping in my brain and my heart. It's not much, but those five minutes or 10 seconds are all I have.

And for now, for today, it is enough.


A two-for-one, joining Five Minute Fridays with #SheReadsTruth. You can join us there, too.

Sweet relief!


Sweet relief!

My brood and I are escaping the near-hell that is our fair city and the worst drought and heat wave of the last half century. On Sunday, Granny, me, and the wee three are going up north, to the land of dairy and Donald Driver, to camp out with the in-laws for a handful of days. (It'll be a miraculous feat if we all survive, but I'd rather take my chances on the road for 12 or so hours than for another week in blazing-hot-as-the-sun temps, trapped in our apartment with the three hooligans.)

Sadly, we're leaving Matt behind. He is staying here, working and finishing up some projects, readying us to go. It was his idea, sending us to Wisconsin, hearing my voice crack as I laid on the bed thinking of another week indoors, in the dark, so homesick for wind and water I could hardly breathe.

I've been high-fiving him all night.

So, thank you, honeyI will send you a mental postcard from Door County. You have saved my life, once again.

A summer of reading, music, and not much else

17 July 2012


Last week I had a fantastic skype with my friend Nicole, updating one another on our lives, our kids, and - what's turned into one of my favorite aspects of our relationship - what we're reading, watching, and learning.

And since it's summer, and our schedule is more relaxed and fluid than it normally is (which for our family isn't saying much), the books and movies and activities to-do list is more fun than obligation.

So here's what we've got going on this summer:

My Books:

shot_1341781756708.jpgStill: Notes on a Mid-faith Crisis, by Lauren Winner : a book on navigating the "middle" of one's faith, Still leads me towards creative inspiration and hallowed prayer. Winner writes of a marriage ended and faith lost not from a place of bitterness, but from profound longing and anguish; a refreshing - though painful - perspective.

Grace-based Parenting, by Dr Tim Kimmel : This book comes recommended by loads of people and I'm averaging about one page of notes per five pages of reading. Confession: I don't read a lot of parenting books, so I don't have much to compare it to, but I feel none of the guilt and frustration I usually feel when I come across a how-to parenting book. Rather, I feel supported in our counter-cultural holistic family lifestyle.

Death Comes to Pemberley, by P.D. James : You know not only am I a fiction girl, but I'm an Austen girl. I was hesitant to pick up this continuation of the Pride & Prejudice story, written by a modern author, but it's a great mystery surrounding one of Austen's most stupefying characters: the sly Mr Wickham.

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, by Jen Hatmaker : On date nights, Matt and I usually end up at Barnes & Noble. Sans children, an hour alone with books and coffee is pure heaven for us. I picked up this book, and before I knew it, had read the first 30 pages before closing time. When I shared this with Nicole, she said, "Oh, I just finished it!" Like minds and all that. Thankfully, it was on sale for the Nook so I - gasp - bought it.

Full book reviews - hopefully - will be forthcoming (if I finish them... you know the drill). Stay tuned!

My Kids' Books:

Jack is reading several books by Kate DiCamillo, including his running favorite, The Mysterious Journey of Edward Tulane. I love that my boy loves books. And after months of urging him to try reads outside of Potter and Star Wars and Magic Treehouse, I'm so happy to see him explore new things.

Ella loves Eric Carle. Right now our nighttime favorite is The Very Busy Spider. Asher, who is much too busy for books, even gets in on the mooing and meowing action.

Mad props go to our local library, for loaning me these books and welcoming my rambunctious brood several days a week, and, as always, for being patient with the subsequent fines. Also, honourable mention to Sarah Bessey and her 10 books a day series. My to-read list has never been longer!


Mylo Xyloto, Coldplay : This album is brilliant. Coldplay seems to be one of the few bands that grows in lyrical content, style experimentation, and musical depth each and every go 'round. Love them. Love this album. Dance, work out, and/or cry to it. Favorite track: Charlie Brown.

The Shelter, Jars of Clay & Various Artists : This is our Sunday morning album. From the back of the car, I hear Ella sweetly singing "Where you lead us, we will follow," and I know she's not just singing the words, but she's singing the story of our family. Favorite track: Out of My Hands.

The SuburbsArcade Fire : I was late to the party on Arcade Fire, but I'm so glad I arrived! We have nearly nightly dance parties with the kiddos to this album, and I find that the post-modern-alt-rock arrangements touch my soul in ways not felt since Coldplay's Rush of Blood to the Head. Favorite Track (do I have to pick just one?): Ready to Start. (currently $2.99 on amazon!)


The Way. Matt and I have been wanting to watch this film for ages. Several of our friends have walked "El camino de Santiago," or, The Camino, arriving home with stories of God and renewal. The movie is touching and has an internal, brooding kind of way about it. Not bad, but rather contemplative and stirring. And the cinematography! Oh, this film is gorgeous, in vivid European color and texture.

The Ides of March. Beware the film with sketchy protagonists. This film is meaty and fastmoving, and I felt like it was over too soon. As it reaches the climax, you know how it's going to end, but you still want to believe in the goodness of powerful people, even when you realize it's a mirage we're all only too willing to believe.

The Chronicles of Narnia films. This is our go-to cinema party staple. Good, family-fun fantasy, with spiritual depth and many teachable moments. My favorite is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe adaptation; my children's favorite is Prince Caspian. But don't get my husband started on The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, unless you want to continually hear sighs and weary proclamations, "That's not how it happens in the book..."



A friend of mine recently lamented that she had heard of the lazy days of summer, but with her six children, the concept eluded her (for good reason!). I can't speak for everyone, but somehow we have embraced these so-called lazy days. Maybe it's the heat, maybe it's the lack of a yard, maybe it's apartment living or transitional living or the days of waiting we still find ourselves in. Whichever reason, our keys to lazy living are this:

1. Forts. We build a lot of forts. In the living room, in the dining room, in the kids' room. It's messy and things get moved around and usually someone gets milk or food on my favorite quilt, but it keeps all ages occupied and happy for at least an hour or two.

IMG_20120710_114028.jpg2. TV. Yes, sadly, we watch a lot of TV these days. But I'm trying to mix it up: videos from the library, wii games, Friday night cinema parties, Netflix, and so on. Some days I feel uber guilty about it, this enormous amount of screen time, and other days I'm all like, "It's hot, I'm tired, they'll survive." That, in a nutshell, is my summer motto.

3. Occasional Outings. We are a one-car family, and with the heat, we really don't do many outings. Usually just one or two big ones a week. And by big I mean walking all three kids to the library or local playground before it hits 90 degrees at 9am. We alternate library outings with splash park outings and trips to the farmer's market, depending on the car situation.

4. Quiet times. By lunchtime, we all - kids and mom included - need a break from each other, so I make everyone take a non-negotiable quiet time in his or her (or our) room. Ash usually (still, but not for long!) naps, but Jack reads and Ella plays with Legos. Quietly. Sequestered. Away from Mom. Even if just a half hour, this helps us all slow down, recalibrate and face the rest of the day.

These things aren't much, but it's just about all I can do to keep the sanity around here. Our life is unorthodox, our near-future ambiguous, and I'm trying to not take it so seriously or, conversely, treat it too mundanely. We spend our days together, we laugh, we bodyslam, we jump for joy when daddy comes home, and - sometimes - we chew on the television remote. 

Ok, that's just the toddler. 

So.... what are YOU doing this summer? Any ideas for beating the heat in tight living quarters? Potty-training tips? Book suggestions for kiddos or adults? Summer recipes you want me to have my husband try?

[disclaimer: book/music suggestions contain affiliate links]

It's a strange thing

12 July 2012


The sun wants in, but I won't let it.

For a second there, a brief moment, when it was still 6-something-AM and the baby came screeching through the living room, I caught a glimpse of clouds. But they didn't last, and now the sun wants in, and I am enclosed behind shades.

It's a strange thing to long for darkness, to wish for storms, to lay awake listening for thunder only to fall asleep until the heat stirs you back into day again. I think this is how I've always lived my life, this Kansas girl, waiting for storms. Even on a cloudless day, I search for them, turning my head towards the wind.


When we first landed back in the States, we were surprised by the heat and the sun. We were tired and achey and hid from the outside world, putting ourselves back together again. Then one day - late afternoon - a clap of thunder, and the downpour came. Hail and wind and thick green skies. When the hail died down and long sheets of rain kept coming, we five ran for the street, dancing and laughing.

Broken edges rounded by a whetstone.


Some say I expect the worst, never hope for the best, always wait for the other shoe to drop. But this isn't true. The truth is I'm always hoping for the best, expecting a miracle, waiting for a surprise. I want brooding, dark thunderheads to drop rays of glory around us. I want to shout, "Yes, I knew it! I believed, and look, here it is!" I want to drink, to fill ourselves up with it. Cover the children in it, dance in it, throw it back up to the heavens in praise.

But this stale sun scorches my feet. My head hurts, temples throbbing. We keep indoors, curtains pulled closed, waiting.

It's 10-something-AM and I'm just now taking my coffee in bed.


Epilogue: It rained, today, at approximately 3-something-PM. Beautiful, warm, steam-inducing rain. I sat on the balcony with the baby, his knees scraped badly from a morning fall, kicking my feet under raindrops. I felt heavenly water dimple my face, and I cried.

What a surprise.

The joyful anticipation deepens

10 July 2012

Proverbs 3:5-6 {a personal paraphrase, from the Message}

Do you have a piece of Scripture - a lyric, a sonnet - anchoring your spirit today? Share it in the comments. Let us throw life rafts to one another.

Bookstore Confessions, on the Sabbath

09 July 2012

I observed the Sabbath today. Four precious hours, armed with an oversized Fossil bag filled with library books and chapstick (my bricks and mortar), an iced coffee, and a cool summer breeze shocking the system, giving me unmatched, unanticipated pleasure after ten days of 100 degree heat.
A comfy chair is not so important to me as a beautiful view.

My intention was to read uninterrupted, but more often than not, I found myself writing. In my head, on my phone, in the pink journal gifted to me by the Thursday morning mums from Donabate. I write them letters here, prayers and questions, updates from a life in exile (or in my case, two years in my homeland; not exactly exile, but not wholly benign, either).
I think the city is beautiful.
Bricks and wrought iron.
Ivy and concrete.
Trees lining a busy boulevard.
Flip-flops on hot pavement.
It seems the city speaks to me, sometimes more than people do.
I recently told someone (ok, fair disclosure: commented on a blog) that The Confessions of St Augustine was "one of my favourite memoirs." 
Oh my, who even says that?!
Truth be told, this is mostly a lie. I have read it and I did love it, but I don't remember it, don't remember why I loved it. I don't recall the words or the voice, or the rush in my brain when I closed it and felt I understood it, felt it speak to me.
Where does one find The Confessions of St Augustine in a bookstore? In Christianity? Alphabetical by Author? Au for Augustine? He's certainly no Dr for Driscoll.
Then today, in the book I'm reading, a quote:
God is He Who gives God.
I remember you.
Ah, here he is. Philosophy. Obviously.



I have a love/hate relationship with bookstores. I love the smell, the mature scent of a thickly turned page, the world written out and displayed for my hungry eyes, the cover art and the panelled walls.
I hesitate. Should I really post all these existential gems on my blog? What if I write a book one day and all material must be unpublished, virgin, the rights of first refusal and all that?
Yet I hate the excess, too many options, so many possibilities but so little time and money, the bad cover art and - when it comes right down to it -  the words written that I might want to write someday, inscriptions to other people's loved ones and not my own. They have written books, and I have not. Not even a novella.


I am afraid I have next to nothing to offer. No skill, no trade, no big words made fancy by pedigree or experience. Time is all I have to offer the world. And my children; they are perhaps my true offering to the betterment of society. Though now, more than ever, I am less inclined to part with them.
I do have Jesus to offer the world, but He's difficult to market and impossible to replicate.
I covet their words, their bylines, and their cover art. I covet my need for them, our communal need to read, to learn, to grow through and from them. I wish I had something to say.
My time... and my children... and my Jesus...
But other than that, I mostly love bookstores.

Loved and led, in the night

06 July 2012


In the night, we all get jumbled.

She comes in first. "A bad dream," she (always) says. I scooch, give her a pillow, and hug the side of the bed. Then the wee lad calls, "Mommy, I done!" It's 3 am and he's decided he's had enough sleep. Husband sighs, stumbles on feet and over legos, and tries to talk him down for just a few more hours. 

He's barely back in our (crowded) bed when the eldest comes in, holding his nose and covered in blood, "My nose is bleeding," I hear under muffled tissues. I'm up quick and with him at the sink, washing his face and changing his shirt. 

Then I hear the baby again. "Daddy.... I want in Ella's bed!" Husband tells me he kinda lied to him, promising him milk and cuddles in the girl's bed, hoping he'd fall asleep and forget. But he didn't, and in a second Daddy is up and the cries are quieted. It's just me and the girl again, in my bed, for what seems like the thousandth time in her five short years.


A few months ago, I went to the doctor, told her I was feeling run down and asked her to medicate what she could do for me. She quickly recounted the ways I could perk myself up: eight glasses of water a day, endorphin release, make sure I'm in community... oh, and get enough sleep. 

Water, check. Endorphins, mostly check. Community, check check check. Sleep?! She almost had me there! Silly woman, she delivered my babies. Doesn't she know? It's the "get enough sleep" part that shuts the whole thing down!

Nearly ten years in, I keep thinking we'll grow out of this phase. I envision a crisp and sunlit morning of lazy lie-ins, just the two of us alone in our own bed, well-rested and ready to conquer the children the world. Give me another five years and maybe we'll have this whole sleep thing sorted, everyone waking up in the bed they fell asleep in, everyone happy, everyone fixed.

jack and dad sleeping

But I'm starting to realize this is what parenting is, how it should be. We open our arms when they come to us, we jump to our feet when they cry out, we clean them up when they bleed. They don't need to be fixed, just loved and led as we go.

"It's a good thing Mom was awake at 4am," I hear the eldest say as I finally emerge from our girl-cocoon at 8am. I walk down the hall and see - not for the first time in this long week - my sweet husband curled up in hot pink zebra sheets. 

It is a good thing, I think. Being here with them is the best thing.

I would really kill for some sleep, though.

To ask for some help, from you

03 July 2012


I came to Starbucks to work and write, but it is hopping with people and the music is jamming and I've got three or four open documents in my queue, staring at me with cursors blinking. One sentence here, one paragraph there. Another is nearly finished, but waiting to pass on to better eyes than mine before hitting publish.

It is harder than I thought it would be, writing about leading a lazy life, or describing what it was like to walk arm-in-arm with my grandmother in an art gallery several months ago (lesson: write sooner, rather than later), or having a family member peruse your heart for fear it might slightly injure her's. This writing, it's a tough nut to crack. And sometimes I feel all the nuttier for it.

Which leads me to ask for some help, from you, wonderful warrior readers. What do you want to know? What have you been reading, or where do you suggest I look? I want to write more for us here, and less for me and my issue of the day (or week, or year). Let's jump off something, and wade into the depths a bit, and crack this bad boy together.

I'm all ears and typing fingers. Where do we go from here? 

On searching for family

01 July 2012

IMG_20120630_113439.jpg So I'm spreading my wings a bit and writing over at Sarah Bessey | the intersections of a spirit-filled life today. I'm so grateful she was willing to host this piece, which was a bit of an experiment for me. Not just the guest posting, but the opening of a door in my writing that has remained closed since, oh I don't know, the 4th grade?
She grasped my hand as we stood there on the brown grass, while wild boys raced round us on wild boy business. In that moment, I was her mother, and we were a family, and it didn’t matter that at the time I had no father, and my own mother was on the other side of the state.
Come hang with Sarah and me to read the rest.