Peace on Earth (and in Your Home) – Navigating the Tension through the Holidays

This post originally appeared on the Knoxville Moms Blog on November 23, 2016.

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

There is nothing that brings my heart more joy than being with family. My husband and I are extremely blessed to have four wonderful children together, and the majority of our immediate family live locally or just a short drive away. While we get to enjoy family time fairly regularly, I always look forward to Thanksgiving, when we travel to visit my extended family. The holidays are that special time for many people to meet up with loved ones they rarely see and reminisce, bond, and make memories together.

Then 2016.

Guys, let’s be real. This year has been tough on everyone. The last few years have brought to light many social and political issues facing our nation, and all that building tension climaxed this year with possibly the most divisive election cycle in American history. While some people like to keep their circles small and unified in beliefs, I count myself lucky to belong to a large, diverse family holding many different opinions and convictions. The one thing that unites us — and probably how you can tell we’re related — is our passion and stubbornness when it comes to what we believe. 

While I’m pretty sure my family’s Thanksgiving celebration will not include any punches being thrown (fingers crossed, y’all!), you might not have the same confidence for your own holiday gathering. If you are one of the many people worried about facing family with whom you disagree politically this holiday season, remember these pointers to make sure your get-togethers go smoothly, and maybe one day you can even look back on this year and laugh. Or you can just survive until January; I mean whatever you gotta do, bruh.

  1. Go with a plan. And the plan is, let’s just not.

To continue reading, view the full post on the Knoxville Moms Blog. Happy holidays, and remember that family is worth not fighting for. 😉

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!

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.

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!

And Suddenly, It’s Christmas

This year I’ve heard a lot of people talking and posting on social media about our culture’s tendency to skip Thanksgiving celebrations and go right from Halloween to Christmas. Status rants and funny memes are filling my Facebook feed; here’s one of my favorites:

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I get it; we are such an over-marketed consumer-culture that we rush from candy to mistletoe so quickly without ever taking time to slow down and be thankful. Last weekend my friend saw Santa at the mall and requested those who think this is okay to please unfriend him on Facebook. I did not heed his instruction, but I have to ask… Is it really all that bad?

Is rushing from Halloween to Christmas really rushing anything at all?

I’ve already told you that I’m not really big on “celebrating” Halloween, but I do love me some Thanksgiving. It’s one of my favorite times to visit my friends on the margins, to sit down and enjoy a meal with children of God who have been rejected by the Church. In a setting where we are often pushed to move from place to place, Thanksgiving is a time to savor the people and relationships that I value so highly. Thanksgiving is also the one time of year I travel to West Tennessee to visit my extended family, and it is my absolute favorite two days of the whole year. I adore my clans, I adore their food, and I cherish the memories I have of growing up together and the memories my children are creating. It is truly a time for me to be thankful. I absolutely, in no way whatsoever, ever want to gloss over Thanksgiving.

However, I have to admit coming home at the end of November feels like being thrust onto the starting line of a race as the gunshot fires, and I don’t even have my shoes laced up. In fact, I’d rather be home in my pajamas and robe cuddled up by a fire watching the race on TV. Because waiting until 4 weeks before Christmas to even begin preparing for the season of giving and light seems like a much more detrimental kind of rush. Office parties and teacher gifts and church plays and soup kitchens and holiday baking and gift exchanging and decking the halls and falalalaaaaahhhh it’s exhausting!!

If there is such concern for rushing holidays, it seems like we should be happy to ease into Christmas, extending the joy of the season to eight wonderful weeks of sharing goodwill and cheer. Stretching out the season minimizes the stress of shopping and gives us the gift of time – time to shop, time to help, time to celebrate, time to remember… Rather than rushing the Christmas season through a marathon month of doing all of the things, let’s go ahead and rush from October into full-on holiday mode. Let’s dive right into the beauty of everything that Christmas means.

Is there ever a bad time to plan ways to bless those that we love? To bake with our kids and share hope with the hurting? Is it ever too soon to sing songs celebrating the birth of our Savior or to put lights on our houses reminding us of the Light of the World? When “should” we start building fires and filling our homes with scents of cinnamon and nutmeg? Is November too early to marvel at the ridiculous miracle of the Messiah being born in a stable? That God Incarnate put on human flesh and entered both our literal and spiritual mess in his mission to redeem mankind? Is there ever a bad time for that?

I don’t think so. Because Christmas should always be in our hearts – the love, hope, family, peace, joy and light that makes this season “the most wonderful time of the year” is the same that fills our spirits every day that we serve Jesus Christ. So go ahead – trim those trees, hang your stockings, and fill that shoebox with gifts of love. It’s almost Christmas, after all.

Tips for Growing Families in Small Spaces

A growing family is always a blessing… but it also comes with a lot of challenges! Our “shrinking” home seems to be one of them. Check out this post from Knoxville Moms Blog that appeared on October 8, 2015, and see if these tips can help you manage your small space too!

Tips for Growing Families

When my husband and I bought our home in 2009, we were so proud to get the keys to our first house. Our daughter was just 15 months old, and this 1400-square foot, 3-bedroom rancher was the perfect space for our little family of 3 to spread out. The realtor described it as a “starter home,” which made sense considering we were just starting our family and our life as homeowners. What I have learned that term to mean 6 years and 3 more kids later is “place you don’t want to stay for very long.”

Don’t get me wrong; I love our house! We have a fantastic yard, unbelievable neighbors, and the most picture-perfect screened-in patio for morning coffee and Sunday afternoon naps. But when we brought home our 4th child in August, each of those 1400 square feet seemed much smaller than they did in 2009. Still, we have managed to make our situation work. While expanding our frontier may be on the horizon, in the meantime, here are some of the tips and tricks I have learned for making a growing family work in this same little house.

  1. Get organized. As much as I hate to say it, surviving a big family in a small space starts and ends with organization. Get rid of things you don’t use, or put them in storage. Rotate clothes and toys so you only have to contend with small quantities at a time. Label everything so you can easily find less-used items that are tucked away. Actually file stuff in the filing cabinet! (Yeah, some people really do that! I am not inclined to be one of them, but desperate times call for desperate measures.)

Click here to see the rest of this list on the Knoxville Moms Blog! I hope these help you!