To My Fourth Child…

To My Fourth Child

Photo used with permission by Stephanie Lancaster of Adara Photography.

Hi Baby,

I can’t believe it’s been a whole year since we welcomed you into our family. It’s been a wild ride already, hasn’t it? People always say you’re the happiest baby in the world, and I know it’s because you’re so loved by so many people. You would never know it, but things are a lot different for you than your big sister and brothers.

When your sister was born, things were much…quieter. She had a room all to herself, full of brand new pink baby things that belonged only to her. In the mornings she would wake up early, and Daddy and I would hear her laughing and talking to herself as she started to stir. During the day, she got love and snuggles from so many people at day care while Mommy and Daddy went to work, and we were both so anxious to give her our undivided attention when we got home! At bedtime, we would gently rock in the glider, singing sweet, quiet songs as she drifted off to sleep.

You, dear child…

Well, that story probably sounds like a fairy tale to you. Your room is shared with big sister’s furniture, clothes, and 8-year-old girl stuff. The only thing in there that belongs to you is your crib and pile of diapers in the top dresser drawer. Those are pretty much the only things that belong to you period, since everything else is a hand-me-down from someone. You are almost always awoken abruptly by a sibling who either does’t understand the word “whisper” or several who are fighting over who gets to hold you first. During the day we shuffle back and forth to the gym, Walmart, Chick-fil-A, and…well, those are pretty much the only places we go. You spend as much time in your car seat in an average week as any of your siblings did in a month. And bedtime? HA! It’s more like a circus, complete with clowns, acrobatics, and plenty of animal noises. Rather than peacefully laying you in your quiet bed to drift off as your sleep-trained older siblings did, Daddy and I take turns hurriedly bouncing you (the glider is in my room serving as a holder of clean laundry I probably will never fold) because you’re over-tired thanks to the big kids who make way too much noise for you to sleep when you want to.

When your brothers were your age, they had playmates. Our Prince Charming had big sister, just two years his senior, then he became a middle child at just about your age when Sweet Carrot came along. Those two boys have always been inseparable. Mommy started staying home when Sweet Carrot was born, and our mornings were filled with costumes and sword fights and coloring each other with markers when Mommy wasn’t looking. Now two of your siblings are in elementary school, and the other one would rather play by himself than with you most of the time. He just doesn’t seem to appreciate the way you chew on his action figures and throw them across the room, does he? You don’t seem to mind too much, though, as long as there’s a roll of toilet paper to unravel because Mommy forgot to shut the bathroom door again.

There are a lot of things you don’t have. You don’t have a keepsake box because I keep forgetting to buy one (but there is a pile on my dresser…), I already lost the lock of hair from your first trim (in my defense, you tried to eat it while I was helping sister with a project, and it got scattered), and you didn’t even have a first birthday party (you won’t remember, it’s cool). I don’t read to you unless you overhear me helping the big kids with their homework, and I don’t flinch when you eat Cheerios off the floor. (Sweet Carrot probably put them there for you.) You don’t have much 1-on-1 time with me, and sometimes I wonder if you’re getting the short end of the stick.

And then I remember your tribe.


To continue reading this post, please click here to view the full version on Knoxville Moms Blog!

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The Good in the World: Small Acts of Kindness

Good in the World

This post originally appeared on the Knoxville Moms Blog on June 16, 2016. To read the post in its entirety, please click the link below to view the main page. Thanks and enjoy!

When my mom shared with her mother that she was pregnant, my grandmother cried. These were not tears of joy for the sweet little baby to love and cuddle; nope, she was sad.

Now before you go and think my grandmother is a horrible person – she is really quite delightful – let me explain. My grandmother lived through the Great Depression in a rural Tennessee town and lost her twin sister and baby brother due to lack of medical care. She saw many of her friends and family head off to Europe and Japan during World War II only to come home changed forever. She raised a family during the Civil Rights movement in Memphis, one of the most violent places in the country (then and now). She has seen wars, natural disasters, violence, hatred, death, and all the pain and sorrow of this broken world, and she genuinely feared for the next generation.

Truthfully, my grandmother’s concern was not baseless. This world is hard. And dark. And painful. But there is hope.

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“Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.” -J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Small Acts of Kindness and Love

True, there is much darkness in the world, but I believe there is more light. It only takes the small light of a candle to dispel the darkness of an entire room, so by each of us shining a little, I believe we can make this world a better place. My grandmother was right about life’s troubles, but she was wrong to fear. Since I was born in 1985, we have seen immense advances in medicine, social justice, protection of vulnerable people groups, tolerance, love, and more. We do not need to fear for our children; our children give us hope.

How do we raise up a generation that will change things for the better? We teach them the value of small acts of kindness and love. Model it for them, and invite them into the process. As Arthur Ashe famously said, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”


If you are enjoying this blog so far, please head over to Knoxville Moms Blog to read the full post. Keep on hoping, friends!

Don’t Hurt My Baby! Christ’s Love and the Mama Bear Instinct

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They say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned… Except a mama whose baby has been scorned, and that might scare the pants off the devil himself!

A few years ago my 4-year-old daughter started taking dance lessons. She loved the giant mirrors on the walls and the tap-tap-tap of her shoes on the hard floors, and I loved the small, Friday morning class where everyone knew each other. There was one girl in her class who was a close family friend of the studio’s owner, and the girl’s two adorable younger sisters were often sitting in the waiting area with me and the other moms during class. We often chatted about our kids and newfound role of “dance moms.”

One day after class, the toddler sisters of the girl in Princess’ class must have been hungry or cranky or I’m not sure what, but the owner opened a typically-locked door and came out with popsicles for all 3 of them. As my daughter looked on, she turned to me wistfully, longing for a treat for herself. The owner was handing out the popsicles as the other students were standing around, so I assumed those 3 had been the first recipients of special treats for the class. I smiled at my Princess and motioned for her to go stand behind the other girls to wait her turn. Grinning with anticipation, Princess politely waited as the owner passed out the 3 popsicles. However, her smile quickly faded when the owner turned around, closed the freezer, and shut the door behind her. Without even glancing down at my girl, she locked the door and went back to her office.

My Princess was bummed about not getting a special snack, but honestly, she got over it pretty quickly. I, however, flashed back to every moment of my dorky, awkward childhood, desperate to be accepted. In my daughter’s brief moment of preschool exclusion, I was swept under a massive wave of my own insecurities and buried hurt of being rejected over and over again.

Look, I know I overreacted, but to say I took it a little too hard would be doing me a very gracious favor by underestimating my obvious baggage. I was furious at the owner’s lack of consideration for the other students in the class, her apparent dismissiveness of my own precious angel, and at the other parents for not taking up arms with me. (Well, there were only 4 of us, so I guess it wouldn’t have been a very impressive revolt anyway.) But most of all I was hurt. Certainly the appropriation of my own feelings of rejection was overkill, but it was probably the first time I realized the critically important truth of being a mama bear:

Seeing my children hurt is far more painful than enduring it myself.

 Don’t Hurt My Baby

Last week I shared that loving my children is the purest, most effective way to love me. As parents, we see the long-term positive effects of having others care for our children, so it means that much more to us to see it happen with our own broods. In the same way, we know the scars that can come from even the most trivial slights by another (I’m sure I’m not the only one still carrying some baggage from my childhood hurts!) and dread our children experiencing the same. Whether it’s the helplessness of seeing our children in physical pain when they are sick or injured or the torture of watching them endure emotional pain from a mean kid, unfair teacher, or a shocking encounter with the real world, our souls bleed when our children hurt.

It’s a trait we inherited from our Father when we were made in His image…

God has always been concerned with the needs of his beloved. Jesus reminded us in Matthew 22:37-40 that the entire story of Divine work in humanity is centered on love – love for Himself and love for others. The Lord’s heart is especially tender toward the poor, the helpless, and the vulnerable – much like our own children.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27

“Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:17

“This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.” Jeremiah 22:3

“Don’t rob the poor just because you can,
    or exploit the needy in court.
For the Lord is their defender.
    He will ruin anyone who ruins them.” Proverbs 22:22-23

“What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, ‘Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well’—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?” James 2:14-16

Jesus went so far as to say hurting his children is a direct wound to God himself:

 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’

“And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’”

Matthew 25:41-45

The Mama Bear Instinct

Parents are fiercely defensive of their young: it’s an instinctive response to threats that has helped our species survive. We hurl ourselves into gorilla pens dangerous circumstances to protect our children from physical harm; we monitor travel and lifestyle choices – even decisions about vaccines – to protect our children from illness; we step onto the playground or lunch room or whatever social situation to protect our children from emotional harm. As parents, we are compelled by nature and compassion to tend to the needs of the ones whom we love.

God mysteriously chooses to use human connections to accomplish his work in humanity; therefore he has charged us with the task of looking out for each other. Jesus said it this way:

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:34-35

Christ took care of the finishing work to protect us against the work of the enemy. His atoning death on the cross and victorious resurrection from the tomb defeated death and sin once and for all. Now, with access to the living power of God through the Holy Spirit, there is nothing holding us back from living out the Kingdom of God…

…Except ourselves.

Are we caring for the needs of the poor, helpless, and vulnerable? Can others identify us as disciples of Christ by our love for one another? Do we truly love our neighbor as ourselves? Are we only looking out for those who are like us, or do we follow the biblical precedent and invite everyone to the table?

If we understood our offenses against one another as offenses against God himself…

If we all truly lived by that Golden Rule that parents of all faiths and non-faiths teach their children – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Luke 6:31)…

If we applied our Mama Bear instincts to all of God’s children and not just our own…

Then we would be fulfilling that Kingdom work of really loving our neighbors. If we want to love God, we start by loving each other.

“Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

To Love Me Well… Love My Children

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How can I have a relationship with a God I can’t see?

Last week we celebrated my son’s 6th birthday. The party was more than a month after his actual birthday, but he insisted on having a bounce house and sprinklers, so a belated celebration it was. We settled on Memorial Day weekend with an inflatable water slide that turned our backyard into a swamp suitable for Yoda to train young Jedi warriors, but hey, it was fun, right??

We hosted a gaggle of children in addition to my own crew, all precious to my Sweet Prince. However, the ones who stole my heart weren’t there for the water slide. Of course, that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t get some play time in…

These two may have been the wettest of the bunch, but there were others who showed up to love my boy with wicked Nerf guns and Pokémon cards before they went about their adulting business. Yes, these special guests are grown men and women, not related to us, no kids of their own, with nothing obligating them to a 6-year-old’s birthday party when they could totally be out doing grown-up things like driving motorcycles or whitewater rafting or shopping for appliances… And yet they came.

They come over and over again, week after week, year after year. They come to birthday parties, preschool graduations, and over for dinner when my socialite 8-year-old begs for “company.” They make Play Doh creations, give us special treatment when we visit them at work (Chick-fil-A, of course), teach the kids’ classes at church, and model a life that is following Jesus. They simply love my children, and in turn, they are loving me.

Love me well

One of the great mysteries of faith is the idea of loving a being which we cannot experience with our 5 senses. Certainly we can connect with the divine in less tangible ways – the work and power of the spiritual realm is often misunderstood and vastly underrated by the exhibitionism of the internet age – but aside from recognizable theophanies, interacting with an invisible God can feel like explaining Pinterest to your great-grandmother… Where do you even begin??

Jesus was once posed a similar question:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘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.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:36-40

The Pharisees get a bad rap for being the bad guys in the Gospels, but truth be told, the whole Pharisaical movement was born out of that one question: how can I have a relationships with a God I can’t see? 

Seeking to understand the Mosaic traditions of Judaism in their contemporary context, the Pharisees wanted to shift the focus of Hebrew worship from temple sacrifice to personal study and prayer. Their endless lists of rules missed the heart of the Law, to be certain, but ultimately, they were asking the same questions we are. Their answer landed on legalism; Jesus pointed to loving people. 

Love my children

To anyone who is a parent, it should come as no surprise that the best way for us to love God is to love his children – each other. He spent over half of the Ten Commandments (plus the majority of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy that you never read because it feels rote) telling us how to respect one another, and the critiques of literally every minor prophet in the Old Testament boil down to Israel failing to care for the needs of her most vulnerable people groups.

Jesus’ entire ministry is devoted to loving God’s children. His miracles may be symbolic of large-scale principles, but let’s not forget they were still worked through individuals. He saw the needs right in front of him, and then he met them. We ought to take that as lesson #1 of “How to Be Like Jesus.” In Matthew 25, he gives us this familiar parable:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

Matthew 25:34-40

If I had the job of writing section subheadings in the Bible, this one would be, “Jesus Tells Us How We Can Love a God We Can’t See.” It’s so simple: love his people.

We are created to live in community, and family is both the primary foundation of community and the primary vehicle through which God demonstrates his relationship to us and vice versa. We are most moved when others minister to our children, therefore, so is God.

If you are new to following Jesus, or if you’re considering it but not sure where to start, look to the greatest commandments – the second answers the “how” of the first! Love God, and love your neighbor. Look at the needs right in front of you, and meet them. Mentor a kid. Help someone who is struggling. Visit someone who is alone. Feed someone who is hungry. Get involved in community. That’s where the magic happens, because that’s where God’s heart is.

God is saying to us now, To love me well… Love my children.

To Thine Own #Selfie Be True

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This post originally appeared on the Knoxville Moms Blog on April 13, 2016. To view this post in its entirety, please click the link at the bottom of the page.

When I was growing up, there were two things my mom could not live without: her planner and her camera. Ironically, she was very often losing them both. A few of our contributors are known for their love of planners (it is one of Lauren’s New Year must-haves!), but that is one of mom’s obsessions that did not rub off on me. The photoholic tendencies, however, are another story.

My mother has thousands of pictures. Most of them are in albums because back in the day you had to actually print pictures to look at them, so I can think of an event or trip or vague time in my life, go pull out that year’s album (or set of albums – thousands, I’m telling you!), and bask in all the 80’s glory of perms, shoulder pads, and pastel everything. I can walk through all of my awkward phases of the 90s (what’s that? You only had one awkward phase? Boy did you ever miss out! *eye roll*), then point to my brothers’ awkward phases to make me feel better. There are pictures of every family member, all our friends and teammates, and every teacher we ever had. But one person is noticeably absent from almost all these seemingly endless albums…

My mom.

Of course she was there, but she was always on the other side of the camera. She cherishes all the memories captured in those photos, especially since they are all taken from her perspective! But as I get older – and watch my parents get older – I wish I had more pictures of my mom to reminisce on my childhood from my own figurative lens, which was very often directed toward my mama.

This brings me to now, my own life as a mom. The truth is, much of my children’s day consists of looking at me. Whether I am playing a game with them, serving them food, disciplining them, or snuggling on the couch, there I am, right in their midst. I memorialize these occasions for myself by snapping pictures, but these will one day be their memories as well, so shouldn’t their perspective also be recorded?

Enter selfies.


To continue reading the full post, please click here to visit the KMB site. Don’t be camera shy; to thine own #selfie be true!

How to Survive Night Terrors: A Totally and Completely Serious Guide to Endure and Not Die

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This blog originally appeared on the Knoxville Moms Blog on March 28, 2016. To continue reading the entire post, please click the link at the bottom of the page.

It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for: the baby is sleeping through the night! Whether you were one of those blessed souls who endured years of nighttime feedings or one – whom all the enduring moms hate – whose precious lamb snoozed a full eight hours the first week home from the hospital, this is a day to be celebrated. Suddenly, with a few nights of uninterrupted sleep under your belt, the sun shines brighter, the birds sing more sweetly, and the world spins a little more gently in your well-rested world.

Just when you get to feeling like a real human being again, you start getting used to this “sleeping” thing, you get a little overconfident and take a trip with your tiny offspring. A few hours in the car, sleeping in a strange place, overstimulation from family or activities, and then you find yourself in the danger zone: enter night terrors.

If you are so lucky to have never experienced a child with night terrors, let me first congratulate you, and second I must warn you, because these little episodes have certainly earned the moniker “terror.” Imagine you are in a deep sleep – you know, the ones you never had before baby started sleeping so well – after patting yourself on the back for a great trip with your perfect little angel baby traveler. Suddenly you awake to a scream – nay, a blood-curdling shriek coming from your child’s room. Anticipating a knife-weilding intruder or the cat seeking revenge for eating its food, you run into baby’s room to find her standing in her crib, back pushed against the rail with her eyes wide open in a wild, frightened stare, screaming like the first time she met the Easter Bunny and thought it was Donnie Darko.


To continue reading the full post – and catch some great advice from the founder of helpmommy.com – please click here to visit the KMB page!

Creating a Summer Routine You Can Live With

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Today I am posting on the Knoxville Moms Blog about my ridiculous aversion to organization and how I am trying to overcome that this summer! Click here or on the link below to view the full post!

Congratulations, mamas, you have made it to the end! School is officially out in most of the area, and any stragglers are not far behind. For most families, this is the long-awaited and much-needed reprieve from the relentless routine of early morning wake-ups, late nights of homework and extracurricular activities, and endless obligations for class parties, school plays, etc. etc. etc. After nine months of the same-old, same-old every.single.day, parents and kids alike are ready to ditch the schedule and just relax.

I am among those moms who take relaxing a little bit too far, if that’s possible. If you’re like me, summer mostly consists of 10 weeks of utter chaos as kids stay up late, sleep all morning (or, if you’re a parent of littles, wake up at exactly the same time only exponentially more cranky), and days filled with moanings of “Moooooomm, I’m so bored!” Of course those weeks are speckled with fun-filled days of ridiculous, what-was-I-even-thinking chaos, such as overnight trips, zoo days when it’s 95 degrees and humid, swimming all day and expecting the kids to stay up for a bonfire, and visiting family who expect your children to act like well-mannered humans and not the pack of wild dogs you’re pretty sure you’re raising.

Of course not all of us live in this madness. Yes, there are some moms out there who run a tight ship when their little sailors return to the U.S.S. Homebound each summer. They schedule out their days with crafts, educational activities, play dates, and exciting outings. These are the moms who do science experiments, make their own fruit leather from scratch, and they might even BAKE with their children! (Good gracious, they’re superhuman!) Do a quick search on Pinterest for “summer schedule” and you’ll find them out there, simultaneously ensuring their kid is smarter and more well-rounded than mine and giving me an anxiety attack thinking about all the planning they must do. If you’re one of those moms, hats off to you, my friend, I simply cannot.

Where is the middle ground between these two extremes? Although I typically prefer unstructured play for kids, it is clear that with a new baby in the house (he was born the week before school started last fall) we really need to establish a routine for our family. I am very easily overwhelmed by planning and schedules, so the key for me has been finding a balance to create a summer routine I can live with that still keeps our family on track.

Below I’ve compiled some of the best – and most realistic – ideas I’ve found out there (obviously none of them are original; see the second paragraph about my typical summer) to give structure to your days and actually enjoy this season together.

Check out Knoxville Moms Blog to view the full post, complete with links, portables, and lots of great tips to create a summer routine you can live with!