Gloriously Unregimented, Highly Distractible Me

I'm going to let you in on a little secret.  I used to be together.  I was organized.  Some might have even classified me as Type A.  I spent at least 18 years of my life living this way, so naturally many people I grew up knowing and don't often see on a regular basis still view me as this personality type, even if I no longer adhere to the stringent Type A requirements.  Time and life experiences can change people, I think.

The other day, I read a parenting article about stress.  It alleged that having three kids is the most stressful.  One mother of four kids commented that once you get past three, you just don't have the thought capacity to even try to maintain perfection anymore. 

I would contend that it's stressful to have any number of children.  Also, that with the addition of each child, a measure of grace is added to you as a parent that enables you to "handle" another child.  As a mother of five plus one downloading, I totally agree with the sentiment that perfection is just not a goal I strive for anymore.  And, believe me, I used to. 

So does this mean I've lowered my standards?  Or have I finally learned to just relax?  I'm not sure.  Now I'm the complete opposite of what I used to be - I'm Martha turned Mary.  I still love a checklist, but now I can't remember where I put it.  The four walls of my home may be crumbling down around me, but [most days] I'm able to look into the eyes of my children and connect with them in a way I didn't used to be able to. 

People tell me often enough that I seem just like the type to have a gajillion kids running around. I'm so "easy going." I laugh, out loud, and tell them I guess I put on a good show. It's hard for me to think of my tightly-wound, chronically-stressed self as easy going. But, you know what? I think I might have turned out that way.

Five years ago, if you would have told me I'd be reading a book called If I'm Diapering a Watermelon, Then Where'd I Leave the Baby?, I'd have laughed and said, "I think you meant to give this to my mom."  Nevertheless, I nodded and Amen!'d my way through the book and all of it's painfully true glory.
I am the one who starts out to get her child a drink of water, stops briefly to pick up a paper clip from the floor, and ends up weeding in the garden with absolutely no understanding of why that child is still thirsty.
My guess is that I'm using only about 10 percent of my brain, at best, but I'm using that 10 percent at 185 percent of its capability.  That poor little portion of grey matter is always being asked to put out more than it was designed for.  And it is being asked to do so at a nonstop, incessant, seagulls-swarming-around-your-head kind of pace.
We don't usually engage in one intensive activity and push it to the limit.  We have hundreds of less intensive activities that fill every available space in our day and our brains.  Before we even answer one child's question, three more kids have thrown their question into the mix.  We don't have time to stop and redirect ourselves thoughtfully.  The oatmeal is boiling over, the UPS man is at the door awaiting a signature, and the baby has just gone into the backyard without a diaper on.  I would LOVE to be able to stop in between each task, turn my attention fully and thoughtfully to the next item needing my input, and give it my very best.  ...some moms can leave an activity for a moment, confront an issue that has suddenly appeared and then pop right back to the original activity.  In other words, these moms have a back burner.  But we gloriously unregimented moms, for whatever reasons, possess stoves that no longer come equipped with back burners - our stoves only have one burner.  It's a front burner, and it's always on.
I think she's been reading my blog.  It sounds a lot like spinning plates and asteroids, right?

Because of Carol Barnier's book, and another I just started called Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud, I have come to realize the need for margin in my life and how to create some.  Because I'm highly distractible and because I have trouble saying "no," I have painted myself into a corner of chaotic obligation.  Plus, I'm late to everything.  (Annoying.)

I hate that I'm not Martha, even though Jesus clearly doesn't require us to be.  How much praise did he have for Mary?  (A lot.)  Mary was able to just be and to appreciate.  I am learning to embrace who God created me to be. I am recognizing that we can change.  God created this often-introverted, scatter-brained, highly-capable but totally unfocused self.

I need to embrace my highly distractible nature, while having confidence to put up boundaries to protect my sanity.  I long to surround myself with people who understand that I simply cannot always be surrounded by people. People who understand that I love them dearly even if we only hang out every other month. Sometimes I feel like all I'm doing is pouring out. Sometimes I just need to steep.  Other times I need coffee with friends, I really, really do.  But sometimes.  I just need to be.  (And be alone.)

You see, Mary gave into the moment.  She recognized the wonder of what she was experiencing.  I have had the privilege of experiencing so many moments.  I can't even imagine how many I missed those first Martha-doing, twenty-some odd years.

You know, I enjoyed being a Martha while it lasted.  I got a lot of stuff done expeditiously, but I didn't know what I was missing on the other side.  A life full of wonder.

Spinning Plates and Asteroids

Life, ya know.  It's hectic (to be conservative).  I'm sure you've all seen the memes about introverts.  To make matters worse, I'm the homeschooling introvert of 3 kids with two kids 2 and under running around under foot while I try to achieve even a modicum of success at that.  Add a little bit of extra first trimester exhaustion to the mix (spoiler alert if you aren't on Facebook - Shep #6 is arriving around August 30th), and that just puts me at a level of difficulty I'm not sure I signed up for when I started this gig.

Due to lack of time (but not a lack of words, you know there are always plenty of those), allow me to sum up.

Most days, this is what I feel like I'm doing around here:

Most days, all it takes is a single distraction - a phonecall, a trip to the drive-thru for a cup of [decaf] coffee, an out-of-the-house commitment, Facebook, a string of text messages, a well-intentioned house project - for our entire day to end up like this:

And so, as I steal two minutes to throw this on the blog while frozen pizza is cooking for lunch (yet again), please forgive me if I seem out of touch.  Don't take it personally.  I love you all dearly.  I'm just doing the best I can.


True Wisdom

I watched a really good movie one time.  Okay, I've seen it more like a dozen or two times.  And the description "really good" is probably generous from the perspective of a movie critic.  I've never agreed with them, though, so my assessment holds true.  For me.  I'll fess up now.  It's Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.  The one liners in the movie are relentless - one right after another. 

Strange things are afoot at the Circle K.

So what you're telling me, essentially, is that Napoleon was a short, dead dude?

Teacher: Now, who was Joan of Arc?
Bill: Noah's wife?

Most of them are ridiculous, but there's one.  One that resonates in more than the typical stupid comedy way. 
The only true wisdom consists in knowing that you know nothing.
They attribute that quote to Socrates in the movie.  A slight bit of internet investigation suggests that Socrates never actually said this, and it's most likely attributable to Plato's summaries of Socrates' teachings.  The important thing is that when I first heard this quote, I was a very young girl, maybe 6 or 7.  It meant nothing to me. 

For my tenure in middle school and high school, I knew I knew more than everyone else around me.  It's a pompous thing to say, yes.  I didn't actually know more, but I definitely felt that way.

When I got to college, I started realizing just how "smart" I was not, when I was surrounded by some brilliant people.  The majority of the people there were smarter than I could ever dream to be. 

I got married at 19, had a child at 20, and quickly learned that I knew absolutely nothing about being a wife or a mother. 

Fast forward to now.  I'm not exactly a seasoned old woman.  I'm 31 years old.  But, I can tell you, I whole-heartedly know that I don't know much of anything.  I'm not dumb.  But I am aware that life is about much more than book smarts, or beefed-up resumes, or accomplishments.  Every single human on this planet has a complicated story full of successes and failures, relationships, struggles and triumphs that weave together to create a uniquely individual personality and outlook on life.

I do believe in absolutes.  I believe there is a right and wrong.  But I also believe that for when the right and wrong isn't clear...there is grace.  I know that I have made mistakes.  I know that my words have hurt others.  I know that I don't always know the right thing to do, even when I believe there surely is a right thing to do.

So, this post.  It's about this:

I sincerely apologize, from the bottom of my heart, to those whom I have hurt with my words, whether recently or in the past.  What the world needs is not more opinions from a faceless blogger.  What the world needs is a face to meet another person in their mess and give them grace. 

I had the blessing/luxury/handicap of growing up in a Christian home.  My world was safe and comfortable.  Everyone should experience safety and comfort in their lifetime.  But I say this was a handicap because it clouded my perspective as one of privilege.  I'm learning that there's a world of hurt on the other side of safety and comfort that I know nothing about.  And this world is the one that needs to see love and grace from the likes of me.

I spent my day today reading the beautiful, heart-wrenching memoir of one Kara Tippetts, a mother of four, dying of terminal cancer.  Describing how she came to grow in the faith, I was inspired -
I appreciate the women who had grown up in faith and didn't face the struggles I had endured.  Coming back I realized I had something to share with them  I could share the heart of the brokenhearted and challenge those women to return to their campuses and share the love they knew with someone who looked like me.  I was no longer intimidated by the differences because I knew I was uniquely made.  My story mattered.  I had grown in freedom and grace, and I returned not embarrassed that I wasn't a spiritual giant.  I simply had more growing to do.
I want to remember that each person carries their own baggage.  And some of it so very heavy.  Some of it is so fragile.  We need to handle our human interactions with care.  With tact.  With grace. 

I keep coming back to that word.  It was my defacto theme for 2014, and I'm keeping it for 2015 even if that breaks rules.  Shoot, I'll keep it for life, until the day I die.

You see, Grace said, "You are worth it."  You.  When Jesus died in my place, in your place, he did it because he deemed us worth it.  Every single last one of us.  Even if we were the only one to do it for.  That means more than words can ever say.  If by showing someone else grace, they catch even a glimpse of what Jesus did for you and for me, my time here will have been worth it. 

But mostly, I'm sorry.  For the chances I missed because I thought I knew a lot more than I actually did.  For the words I spoke when I shouldn't have because my brain didn't listen to my heart.  For the times I said things that hurt.   For the relationships I squandered or severed because I was self-righteous.  For the judgments I cast on people who have a very different moral compass than me.  For all of the splinters I have pointed out in spite of the plank in my own eye.  For all of that. 

I know now, I know very little. 

But thank you, God, for grace.


I grew up in the Baltimore metro area.  Despite the fact that I was a 20 minute drive from the inner city, I classified myself as a small-town girl, most unquestionably a suburbanite.  Growing up in a small town has its charms.  You would usually see someone you knew every time you stepped foot inside the gas station, snowball stand, sporting event, or Kmart (hey, we weren't fancy in Joppatowne).  The community rallied together in good times and in bad, whether unprecedented athletic victory or tragic death.  The schools were good because the parents were involved.  Yadda, yadda, yadda.

And yet...I always found myself wanting a little bit of anonymity.  I didn't necessarily want to see someone I knew every time I went to Kmart for shampoo or a Coca-Cola.  It came time to apply to colleges.  Despite the fact that I desired anonymity, I did not want to go to a giant campus like University of Maryland, College Park.  I convinced myself I could be anonymous by doing something totally out of character for me - moving to a different state to a school where I would know not one single soul.  Yes.  That was my solution.

Mercer was a small school, so no one stayed anonymous for long.  Even people who don't know another soul.  It was just another small town. 

Over the past 31 years, it seems I have perpetuated the same cycle of wanting to be anonymous, finding a small, comfortable niche, rendering myself no longer anonymous.  What happens next is not always the same.

We've lived in our current home for nearly nine years.  Sam and I stayed pretty anonymous for the first few years.  Then, we plugged in.  We put down roots.  We made friends.  We joined a church family.  I regularly see people that I know in Target or the grocery store or Dollar Tree or the handful of other places I actually go anymore.  The difference between my 18 year old self and my 31 year old self is that I don't hide anymore.  I say "Hey!"  I engage.  I notice.  (Okay, not always.  Old habits die hard.  But I have shown marked improvement.)  Maybe the real difference is that I'm okay not blending in anymore. 

The fact of the matter is, with five kids, you can't.  No matter where you go, people notice. 

I dropped Ben off this morning for his hour and a half long Bible Quizzing practice and the four younger kids and I set off to take care of some business.  We landed at Big Lots, and despite the fact that we got the closest spot to the door, it was not easy getting everyone safely across the street and into the store.  It was a slow morning, so the employees had nothing else to do but watch us coming.  One woman met me at the door with a cart and said, "We were watching you.  We thought you might need some assistance."  Bless her. 

When I stopped at the tire place to get our wheels balanced, the employee met me in the parking lot so that I didn't have to unload everyone.  Bless him.  When I told him I'd be back at 11:30 after I picked up my oldest, he replied, "Oh?  You have another one?"  Indeed.  "You've got your hands full."  Yup.  Full of good stuff.

And since the tire balance took longer than anticipated, we found ourselves next door at Hardees for lunch.  We made ourselves at home and the sweet employees catered to our every whim, bringing extra ranch sauce to the table for my saucy kids and doing it with a smile. 

I can't exactly slink in and out of...anywhere...anymore, but I think this is another one of God's mysterious workings - how he always knows better than me.  All of my life I've wanted to remain anonymous.  With five constant tagalongs, that simply impossible.  And it turns out, connecting with people who notice you, is almost always a blessing.  I hope that whether because of Noah's big blue eyes and goofy teeth, Leah's two-ness, Sarah's gregariousness, Abby's shy smile, or Ben's professorial presence people who take notice of us are blessed in return.

We weren't meant to blend in.  We are meant to connect. 

(Just maybe not all the time.  I am still an introvert after all.)

What's your style?  Do you prefer anonymity or community? 

From Noah with a Way-Too-Long Preface from Jennie

My Christmas cards were late this year.  I cried about it.  If you asked my level-headed husband, he would contend that the latest cards would arrive no later than two days after Christmas.  I would contend that means they might as well not have gone out at all.  To further complicate things, in the postpartum chaos that was Christmas 2013, I failed to save my Christmas card ledger with updated card recipients and corrected addresses.  I had to revert back to 2012, which doesn't seem like a big deal, but it's amazing how much can change in two short years. 

This is the point where everyone is saying, "Man, I wish I had her 'problems.'"  Because, you know, they aren't really problems. 

This Christmas was wrought with lots of little things that compounded together made it feel a little less "Christmasy" than usual, all punctuated by an actual problem on December 17th, a geocaching hunt - turned terrible eye injury for my dearest Sam.

So, on Monday, four days before Christmas, two days after I mailed our cards out, Sam had surgery on his eye.  To understand fully, his eyesight is like another child.  In January of 2013, he went from being legally blind to having better than perfect vision when he gave himself Lasik surgery for Christmas.  [Edited to say:  HAHAHAHA.  He is amazing, but pretty sure this did not come out the way I meant for it to.  He gifted the surgery to himself.  An actual doctor performed it.  Phew.]  And now, because of a literal thorn in his eye, his eyesight is potentially tarnished.  His ophthalmologist is optimistic (say that 5x fast).  For him, the hardest part is waiting and seeing.  It's a good life lesson.  I just wish I'd been the one with the thorn in my eye.  Goodness knows I have enough weird health issues this year.  What's one more? 

So, because of my own [lack of] organizational skills, Sam's eye injury (for which, by the way, if you have prayed him through, we are so very grateful), and my general winter blues that seemed to come a little earlier this year, we delegated the writing of our annual Christmas letter to one of the kids this year.  And if you didn't receive one in the physical mail, I apologize for the oversight and ask that you accept this electronic version as a substitute.  I'm asking for grace this year.  Lots and lots of it.  Wish I was as good as giving it to myself. 

Merry Christmas, my friends.  May your 2015 be the best year yet!

Dear Friends and Family,
It seems that Mommy and Daddy are pressed for something called “spare time” these days, so they have gotten very good at delegating tasks in order to get things done around here.  That means, this year our annual Christmas letter is coming to you from me, Noah, since 2014 was my first year of life.  (And I’m the cutest.  That’s not relevant, but it’s true.)
In January, I watched Mommy entertain all of us in the waiting room of her OB’s office at naptime with loose items from her purse while waiting for Daddy to come and rescue us from certain boredom and mischief.  It was the best when she found those loose Smarties she’d been meaning to clean out for weeks.  I took careful notes from my big sister, Leah, as I watched her lick the kitchen sponge, eat two-day-old mac-n-cheese off the floor, and paint real nail polish on her face like lipstick.  Then, we took our first of many homeschool “field trips” of the year – this time to the urologist’s office to check out Mommy’s kidney stones.  (This was not one of our most favorites.)
In February, we went to Disney World for ten days.  Sarah was devastated that she wasn’t tall enough for Expedition Everest, Leah slept in a pack-n-play in the bathroom, and Daddy and Mommy made me my very own nest inside of a suitcase for a bed.  It’s okay, they left the lid open.
In March, Leah turned two, but it didn’t mean much to me since I wasn’t even allowed to try the cake.
In April, I perfected my pterodactyl impression.  Sometimes it’s hard to get your point across as the fifth child.  When you screech like a baby pterodactyl, you get results.  We took a quick work trip for Daddy to Maryland, during which I sang (or squawked like a large birdlike dinosaur for the duration of the drive depending on who you ask).  April was also the month Mommy took all of us kids to Target and made it to the cafĂ© for popcorn before she realized she left me and my stroller at the customer service desk.  I forgave her.  Actually, I slept through this, but I heard the stories.
In May, I watched Mommy cry tears of joy over Ben finishing his yearly math work.  She’s a bit obsessed with completing what she starts.  Ben celebrated with a cup of hot tea and a book.  Sarah turned five.  I still didn’t get any cake.
In June, I grew some horns on my head.  It’s okay, they went away as quickly as they appeared.  I helped Mommy and Daddy decorate their 2nd grade classroom for VBS, and by “help,” I mean I laid on the floor and took a nap while they did all of the work.  Abby was elated they were her teachers this year.  Ben, Abby, and Sarah all stole the show in the VBS musical.
In July, we took another whirlwind trip to Maryland to hang out with Grandmom and Grandpop.  I got my first taste of a good, old-fashioned Maryland snowball.  Then we all shivered because it was only 74 degrees that beautiful July evening.  (You know, because we’re from Georgia.) We also began our newest family hobby – geocaching.  This would take us on many, many adventures this year.
In August, we took a trip to the Emerald Coast for Mommy’s birthday.  You guessed it, still no cake for me.  But, I did eat a lot of sand.  I really started bonding with Leah.  She teaches me the coolest stuff, like how to cover every square inch of one’s body with diaper cream.
In September, Mommy frantically tried to cram as much “official” school in with Ben, Abby, and Sarah (the now kindergartner!) before leaving for our Most Epic Adventure yet, meticulously planned by Daddy.  Ben started Bible Quizzing, which is great because that means I’m the man of the house for 1.5 hours a week on Tuesday mornings.  On September 30th, we set off on our full-fledged cross country trip.  It was the beginning of a long partnership between me, my carseat, and the baby carrier.
In October, we covered 7,105 miles, found 190 geocaches, stayed at 18 different hotels across 27 days in 17 states, left 2 blankies behind, visited 1 zoo (unless you count Vegas), lost 1 tooth, and landed safely at home with 7 happy, tired Sheppards.

In November, I finally got to eat birthday cake.  Hooray!  But since my birthday is all the way at the end of the month, I kept my belly full of raw onion in the meantime.  (It’s the only thing I can reach in the pantry.  Leah taught me this too.)  My personality really started to shine at age One.  I love being mommied by my big sister, Abby (she even changes my diapers), and Sarah and Leah really know how to make me giggle.  I just tackle Ben.  He’s a good sport and lets me win.  Also, got my first set of black eyes.  The fireplace won that contest.

Finally, December.  I hope this month finds you well.  I have had to sit still for far too long typing this up, so I’m going to step away from the computer and run around the house, flashing my dimple, and stirring up mischief.  That’s what little boys do. 

Mommy and Daddy said it would be polite to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a blessed 2015.  If you ever find yourselves in central Georgia, please come play with us! 
Love all year long,
Noah (and Sam, Jennie, Ben, Abby, Sarah, and Leah too!)
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