The Year of Authenticity

Instead of a resolution or set of resolutions that I will invariably quit before I even sollow the trend of selecting a word or theme for 2017.  I batted around a few ideas, "Others" being the main contender, before deciding on "Authenticity."  I hesitated to land on this one because I'm afraid it won't stretch me to improve.  I'm afraid it will encourage me to be content with my flaws and dysfunction instead of challenging me to overcome them.  Ultimately, I decided that's no different than what I'm doing now, and by being "authentic" I'm at the very least admitting that I have these flaws at all, and maybe some public accountability will help me change.  Or maybe, what I consider to be a flaw isn't one at all and hashing it out with friends will help me to embrace it.  (Wishful thinking.)

I think I'm just tired.  Of pretending to be everything other people think I am.  I'm tired of pretenses.  Let's just be honest here.

To kick off the Year of Authenticity I decided to come right out and confess some things.  This will paint a picture of Who Jennie Is at the beginning of this adventure.  

This is me.  In bullet points.
  • I have trouble getting started with most tasks because I overthink them and anticipate every possible problem.  Also, having 6 kids pretty much guarantees that whatever I set out to do will have to be accomplished in 15 minutes increments of time, a lifestyle I have not yet embraced or accepted.
  • My inclination is to react instead of listen and respond.  I spend a lot of time unnecessarily angry.
  • I am genuinely content to stay home ALL THE TIME.  That said, my greatest adventures and best memories are from the times I venture out of the home and my figurative comfort zone.  So maybe, just maybe, I need to be a little braver.
  • My home is mostly chaotic all of the time.  It's not all kids screaming and running around, just stuff and actual dirt everywhere.  I feel like I can't keep up and live in fear of someone just popping in and seeing how gross our living conditions are at any given moment.
  • I have no idea how to wear makeup.
  • I feel like the first 30 seconds of this video every time I wake up.  To quote Garth Brooks, I'm much too young to feel this *#$! old.
  • I care too much about just about everything.
  • I tend to hyper-focus on unimportant details.
  • I genuinely want to and seek to ease the burdens of others, but feel paralyzed by thinking what I plan to do isn't "big enough" or "helpful enough" or simply not knowing what to do.
  • I am very guarded about letting others help to ease my burdens.  I hate asking for or accepting help.
  • Having 6 children has forced me to change in ways I never expected.  I prefer who I am now over who I used to be, but my brain hasn't caught up to the fact that I am no longer a Type-A perfectionist.
  • I rely a little too heavily on comfort food.  And comfort coffee.
  • I rely a little too heavily on myself.  Trust in the with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6
  • I have a passion for missional living.  For me, this means figuring out a way to show love to my family, our friends, my neighbors, and even strangers whose paths I believed I was ordained to cross. 
  • My inner voice is ceaselessly negative.  Despite the fact that I feel totally comfortable encouraging others, I am an expert at discouraging myself.
  • I'm terrible at receiving compliments.  
  • I think my kids are awesome, but I also know they're all sinners.  And they're learning from one of the best sinners in town (me).
  • I prefer to blend into the background.  I despise being the center of attention.  God's funny joke is that he gave me six kids.  You can't lurk around with a family our size.  Because, you know, we bring the party wherever we go.  
So there you have it.  The good, the bad, the ugly.  It's all true. 

 What is the point of all of this? I guess I'm just laying my cards on the table. In the spirit of authenticity. Maybe I'm looking for validation in the form of a "Hey me too!" But if I don't get one of those that is fine also.

I read a timely quip from the author of one of my all-time favorite books, Love Does, just this morning.  
Don't let who you are keep you from who you're becoming. ~Bob Goff 
Here's to a New Year embracing who I'm becoming in spite of who I am.

The Noise, Noise, Noise, Noise

I don't know if this blog adequately portrays my life.  I paint pictures of sunshine and roses, but there are some big, dark, cumulonimbus clouds and painful thorns as well.

I try, very hard, to find the treasures in the little things, in each of my kids' personalities, in their successes, in the lessons from our failures.  But, sometimes, things just aren't okay.

I don't know if it's an early-onset of seasonal affective disorder, or what, but I have been cranky lately.  I'm extra snippy, overly sensitive, and easily provoked.  For those of you who have been wondering, Anger is my de facto ruling emotion of late.

Some days just aren't okay.

I feel a little overwhelmed.  Not just by the normal managing-the-household, homeschooling duties, but from a run-of-the-mill life perspective.  ALL OF THE THINGS are stressing me out.  I want to fix everything.  I feel helpless to do anything.  I don't know how to feel or think about most things.  I spend too much time reading the opinions of others and weighing them against my own thoughts and feelings.  "Is that what I think?" I wonder.  "That doesn't seem right."

I think this is my natural tendency as an introvert.  I pool all of my resources and try to figure life out inside my already crowded brain.  And it's not crowded with important stuff.  It's crowded with things like the random location I saw Noah tuck Abby's Bible Quizzing book and how many and what kind of donuts each child likes and an internal debate about whether or not I can actually go the alleged 60 miles to empty it reads on my gas gauge.  And don't forget to move the wet clothes to the dryer.  Then actually start the dryer. When you add the NON-STOP opinions of a world that freely gives their opinions to that mess, it's utter chaos.

It's when I turn into the Grinch.  All the noise. Oh the noise.

I think this is why I'm broken. There's too much noise. I'm spending so much time reading and considering the words of others that I'm neglecting spending any time reading and considering the Word. I'm seeing the world through my feelings when I know full well the heart is deceitful above all things. I'm hoping to fix things and control things with my own feeble abilities instead of trusting in God, that same one who, you know, created the entire universe.

When I look around, I see nothing but mayhem.  When I look to God, I find peace and comfort.  Why do I bother with anything else?  Because I'm human.  It's what we do.

Maybe not a great thing to admit, but I'm adopting the prayer of the father of the epileptic boy.
"I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"
It's my own lack of trust that prevents me from experiencing the fullness of a life with Jesus.  But I think that I might be on to something.  I'm done with the noise.  If you need me, I'll be listening for that still, small voice.

(But seriously, if you need me, call/text/email/stop by/send me a letter.  I'm still here for you.  Even if I seem crazy.)

No Filter.

Those family portraits with the perfect hair and matchy-matchy outfits?  We know it took 100 takes to get the one you posted on Facebook that you casually referred to as a "snapshot."  Because otherwise it would look like, say, this one: 

Like with one kid pouting because we didn't let her hold the baby, one kid acting absolutely insane because she's so tired but past the point of getting a nap sporting hair that's doing who-knows-what, one cranky toddler who sat still for 10 solid seconds but protested loudly the whole time, one baby who desperately wants her mama, and two big kids who basically rock (at least in this particular shot). 

I think that's why this is one of my favorites of late.  Because this is real life.  Personalities galore.  No filter.  Unedited.  Authentic.  My herd.  

Maybe it's weird to pick a word on October 14th, but I'm doing it.  My word for the limited remainder of 2016 is Authentic.

I can feel the burden of expectations lifting right off my shoulders.  I'm free to be me.  We're free to be us.  It's a lesson I want my very unique children to learn much sooner than their slow mother. 
Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day.  It's about the choice to show up and be real.  The choice to be honest.  The choice to let our true selves be seen. ~Brene Brown

South of the Rio Grande

Sometimes we go on little adventures.

My favorite adventure recently was at the tail end of a six-week cross-continental trek, way at the bottom of the country.  We landed at a hotel in Fort Stockton, Texas the night before with three sick kids.  The bottom three children were all vomiting, and while that was sad and awful for them, I selfishly worried that our biggest, most exciting adventure was not going to happen the next day if they didn't get better.  In a hurry.  We fixed chicken and rice in the hotel room, did some much-needed laundry, called it an early night, and prayed for speedy recoveries.

The next morning we loaded up the van for our trek south to Big Bend National Park and, what I anxiously anticipated, Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico.

After a quick stop at the Visitor's Center in the park for a stamp in our kids' national park passport book, we wasted no time getting to the border crossing.  I loaded up our bookbags with water bottles, sunglasses, diapers, wipes, and a few spare clothes (because, you know, all of the vomiting the day prior).  When we checked inside at the building, the ranger gave us a quick rundown of what we could expect when we go down to the river to cross, what's in the town, and what the weather was like (15 degrees hotter across the river for some unknown reason).  Given that the day was sunny and hot, the ranger looked at our less than tan skin and recommended hats for everyone in the party.  (We're embarrassingly pale.)

We planned to spend enough time in Boquillas to eat lunch, look around, and grab a souvenir or two.  We walked the path down to the river.  As we cleared the vegetation on the U.S. side of the river, we saw a man in a flat-bottomed boat shove off from the Mexico side to meet us.

We were a little concerned because no one in our 8-person party speaks a word of Spanish, but that didn't matter.  The Boquillas residents were well-versed in English, and we were easily able to communicate.  For a fee, we opted to hop in the boat rather than wade across the deep river (which is a viable option for some).  The boat operator insisted that we all get in together and he quickly and ably rowed us across.  (Kudos, that was no small load.)  On the other side, we had the option of riding a burro, riding a horse, riding a pickup truck, or walking.  The first 3 incur a fee.  It's free to walk.  Given the fact that it was hot as Hades (even for these GA folks) and we felt like we were there on borrowed time, we opted for the pickup.  Once again, the driver insisted that we could all ride together, inside the truck, so we packed in - 4 (including the driver) in the front, 5 in the back.  I read somewhere that the National Park on the Mexican side of the river requires that a guide stay with all visitors, so even if you decline their services, they kind of shadow you while you are in the town.  Our guide, Esteban, rode in the back of the truck.  As we bumped along the dried-up creekbed in the pickup, I noted the "social roads" that the park ranger had warned about, places off the beaten path where locals tried selling their wares without permission.  When we reached the town, Esteban escorted us into the Mexican customs office where we told them our intentions and received a temporary visa for the day.  Note: This was the only air conditioned location in Boquillas.

Esteban lobbied hard for us to go to Boquillas Restaurant at the end of the road, but we opted for the closer (more famous) Falcon's Restaurant.  Jose Falcon opened the restaurant in 1973 at the height of tourism in Boquillas.  It used to be no big deal for anyone to cross the river back and forth between Mexico and the U.S.  The events of September 11th changed everything.  When the border was closed, the town of Boquillas was cut off.  The nearest Mexican town is hours away via terrible roads.  The U.S. crossing was their lifeblood. 
The events of September 11, 2001, destroyed Boquillas del Carmen's traditional way of life. In May 2002, the border crossing from Big Bend National Park to Boquillas was closed indefinitely. As of October 2006, only 19 families of around 90 to 100 residents remained in Boquillas. Most of the town's residents had been forced to move away by the closure of the tourist crossing and destruction of the town's traditional economy.
On January 7, 2011, the US National Park Service announced plans to reopen the crossing using a ferry and a passport control center planned to open in the spring of 2012.  After multiple delays, the new Boquillas Port of Entry was finally officially opened on 10 April 2013. -from Wikipedia
Today, the daughter of Jose Falcon operates her father's restaurant in his memory (he died in 2000). We enjoyed chips with salsa, pickled jalapenos, and cheese dip.  The kids enjoyed their typical chicken & cheese quesadillas, I order beef tacos, and Sam got green chili chicken enchiladas.  The highlight for everyone on the hot day was the refreshing Mexican Coca-Cola (and Fanta) with real sugar.  The meal was fantastic, and the people won us over with their sincere gratitude for our patronage. 

(Random funny of the day:  Leah smuggled the yellow toy from our doctor kit into Mexico.  For some unknown reason.)

After lunch we walked down the staircase to get a better look at the river (okay, lies, we were hunting a geocache which is not easy to do with Esteban looking over your shoulder, but we did get it!). 

There is a gorgeous gazebo overlooking the river with a view of the mountains.  We were sweating too much to really enjoy it.  According to Esteban, the weather was not unusual for the end of September, which made me feel even more love for the ever-hot residents of Boquillas.

Full family shot courtesy of, you guessed it, Esteban.  (He was precious.)

We did a little shopping in the curio shop, where each child picked up a token to remember Mexico by and then we went on our sweaty but merry way. After we turned our visa back in at the customs office, we tipped our guide who had radioed back to the pickup truck who was waiting to take us back to the "international ferry."  He politely offered us some steeply discounted, homemade trinkets, and how could we refuse?  We left with a bracelet for each kid and a super-cool wire scorpion.  As we handed the money over, I almost wanted to cry.  He was so unbelievably grateful.  As we loaded into the truck, he shouted, "Goodbye, nice family!  Please come back and see us!"

I just kept praying that Hannah, who was strapped into the Ergo on me, would not throw up in the sweet driver's truck.

When we reached U.S. soil, we had to check back in at the border crossing.  This time, we presented our passports via a scanner to a remote border patrol officer in El Paso to whom we communicated via phonecall.  I'm sure I looked like a noob, but we were allowed to re-enter without any hiccups.  Our day in Mexico was complete.

It was awesome.  Worth every effort.  And every penny.  The residents of Boquillas were sincerely grateful for our visit and showed the greatest hospitality.  I want to go back and buy up all of their trinkets.  And give them hugs.  Maybe when it's not 100 degrees.

And that...just barely scratched the surface of the treasures at Big Bend.

Choose wisely.

I preach to my kids a lot.  I'm sure they'd testify both to the accuracy of that statement and to the fact that preaching isn't necessarily effective.  This is, however, my parenting style, despite my best efforts to simply let my no be no and my yes be yes.  I always feel there is more I can explain or teach or clarify.  I'm sure it comes as a big surprise to you that I have lots of thoughts and words.  (Hence, this blog.)

One of the things I tell them pretty regularly is that their attitude determines the outcome.  If you think badly about something, it's probably not going to go well.  Granted, I am one of the world's foremost pessimists (ahem, realists) who always imagines the worst case scenario and then almost always finds myself pleasantly surprised when things don't go as badly as I suspected.  However, I am painfully aware that when you enter a situation with dread, fear, anxiety, and hesitance, it robs you of the fullness of the experience, not to mention the time spent worrying about it in the first place.  I would love to save my children the time it has taken me to learn this lesson. 

And yet, I still haven't learned it myself. 

I'm not sure if you've noticed, but this world's a hot mess.  And, because I'm a pessimist, I don't have a ton of hope that it's going to improve a whole lot.  I spend a lot of time lying in my bed at night, staring at the ceiling, trying to solve the world's problems.  I think about all of it.  All of the things. 

Turns out, I have the solution for pretty much all of the conflicts in our world.  It all comes back to one thing.  We just need to love each other.

So simple. 

And yet...

It's not. 

I don't know how to say this delicately, but we don't know what love is.  It's not a flutter in the stomach or a pitter-patter in the heart.  It's not sunshine and roses and putting on a happy face.  Love is not an emotion or a feeling.  It's not neat and tidy. 

Love is action.  It's messy and uncomfortable.  Ultimately, love is a choice.

I'll repeat that part because it's what I want to stick. 

Love is a choice.

This is best illustrated for me by imagining that one person.  You have one too, I'm sure.  That one person who just makes you insane.  (If you don't have that person, let me know.  You're probably more qualified to write a blog post about love.)  I think of this person that irks me so badly I want to break stuff after our interactions.  You know the easiest way to react?  Write them off.  Ignore them.  Seethe about them.  Send snarky texts about them to your besties.  You know what's harder?  Being kind.  Being patient.  Choosing to love them.  You know why we should?  That's what Jesus did.  That's what Jesus does.

You know what would have been easier for Jesus than dying on the cross for the sins of millions of people who would scoff at, deny, and rebuke him for generations?  Not dying for our sins.  You know why he did?  He chose to love us.

What is love?

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

It's work.  It's a conscious, kicks-you-in-the-butt choice.  It's hard.

I can tell you that patience, kindness, and humility do not come naturally to me.  If I had to pick a character on Inside Out to represent my default emotion, it would most definitely be anger.  And my memory for wrongdoings against me is long.  Ask Sam how regularly I refer to wrongs I "suffered" in my childhood.  (Hint: It's A LOT.)  It is because of these facts I know that love is a choice.  It's not a natural tendency.  It takes work.

So, practically speaking, how can I love others?

I can listen more and react less.
I can try to understand the "why" behind other people's thoughts and actions.
I can stop holding minor offenses against people and being offended by every little thing.
I can regard others more highly than myself.
I can keep my mouth shut when the situation warrants.
I can say the hard things when the situation warrants.
I can persevere.
I can pray.  For the lost, the downtrodden, the irritating, the displaced, the elected.  By name.
I can remind myself that Jesus loves each and every one of them enough to die for them, the same as me.  
I can let my attitude determine the outcome by deciding to love. 

I can choose to love. 

Perfectly Imperfect Day

One of the perks of living in a world full of chaos and turmoil is that it causes one to evaluate what is really important in life.  Or maybe it's the sudden clarity, how I can look at things from a slightly different perspective - a sort of silver lining effect.

It's the reason I was okay with lazily slapping some thawed out Thanksgiving pumpkin roll from the depths of our freezer on the table and calling it breakfast.  "See, kids?  It's pumpkin cake.  What a treat!"

It's how, after completing a math lesson a piece with each of my girls (from last school year, mind you), we opted to just throw some of those stigmatic Lunchables and Lance crackers in a cooler and head for one last midday-weekday hurrah at the pool/splash pad before they move to weekend-only hours for the rest of the season.

As the day wore on, after swimming in the pool, splashing around, dining on "fancy" picnic tables in the hot, afternoon sunshine, we collected our things and traipsed back to the giant van where I realized that I'd only brought enough dry clothes for half of the family, but decided - It's cool.  We're only going to be strapped in carseats on the way to drop Ben at church for a quick youth event anyway.  No big deal!  This is not a real problem in the grand scheme of life.  We've got diapers for the little ones.  Dry clothes, be darned.  Two mostly-naked babies, one girl sitting on a towel in a wet bathing suit, two dried girls, and one completely-dressed near-teenager ought to get us to our ultimate destination.  We dropped the biggest kid at the very-short youth event during which I planned to make a happy hour Dunkin' coffee run.

Except, on the way to feeding my coffee addiction...the entire 24oz bottle of water consumed at the pool went straight through our chronic, habitual pee-er.  And with not-clothed babies and a mom wearing "dry clothes" (loosely interpreted as last night's pajamas now soaked through from the wet bathing suit underneath), stopping at a public restroom was not really an option.  As I weighed the possibilities ("Sit tight!  We can make it back to church.  They don't expect anything differently of us there.  They know we're a hot mess!"), the problem-solving child took matters into her own hands, procured the largest diaper in the diaper bag and relieved herself in the backseat of the van.

I almost died.

Of laughter.

This child has been potty trained for quite some time.  We're talking...years.

And yet, the problem was no longer a problem.  Well done?

That still left us with about 30 minutes to waste as we pulled back into the church parking lot.  It was about 2:30pm, and, I assure you, well beyond naptime.  We eyed the mostly-shaded playground and decided to go for it.  After combing my van for the third time hoping some spare clothes would magically appear, I came across a pair of shorts for Noah.

We filed out of the giant blue van with fully-dressed nine and seven year old girls, a four year old girl in a bathing suit and flip-flops, a two year old boy in just shorts, an infant in last night's pajamas, and me, also in last night's now-wet pajamas.  I put my sunglasses on to shield me from the glare of Noah's neon white belly.  I shrugged.  They played.  It was surprisingly lovely.  Even more surprising was how compliantly they filed back into the van at 2:57pm.  (Just kidding, I had to wrestle Noah into his seat.  There may have been karate chopping involved.)  We picked Ben up, got home, and I promptly put Hannah in her crib, and laid down next to a beyond-tired Noah for his way-late nap.

As is the custom at naptime, I read him a (very short) book.  Then I sang him the ABC's.  Immediately following the alphabet song, he screamed, quite belligerently, "JESUS!!!!"  That, of course, meant that he wanted me to sing Jesus Loves Me, and given his current state, using polite manners was not a battle I was picking at that particular moment.  It was also not lost on me the irony of how angrily he asked me to sing him such a sweet song about our Lord and Savior, but I obliged the request and he sweetly pretended to try to go to sleep while I sang it.

I tiptoed out of his room to take a much-needed shower.  When I emerged from the bathroom thirty minutes later, I discovered Noah.  Not sleeping at all.  Watching Leah play a Kindle underneath one of four very-elaborate blanket forts that sprang up in my living room yesterday.  And what's that sound?  Oh, it's Hannah.  Also not sleeping.  On the bright side, no naps means earlier bedtime.  See?  Silver lining.

Was it well-planned?  Perfectly executed?  Without flaw?  Manicured and coiffed?  Not even a little.  But it was enjoyable.  Hilarious.  Well-lived.  And most of all, not taken for granted.

Don't be sad. Be kind.

This world, man.

Things seem to be unraveling pretty quickly, am I right?  Of course my parents have been thinking that for years.  And their parents before them too.  As it turns out things have been pretty bad for a long time.  Well, actually, since practically the very beginning.  Of man.

So, while I'm here wringing my hands and staying awake at night solving all of the world's problems instead of drifting off to sleep, I have to remind myself that I cannot solve all of the world's problems.  I cannot.

Abortion, racial injustice, presidential candidates, poverty, parent-less children, terrorism, natural disasters, gun violence.

It's daunting.  It's depressing.

I can't fix it.

But you know what I can do?

I can hold the door for the person behind me.
I can write an encouraging note to a friend who's down in the dumps.
I can smile at the person holding up the line at the checkout instead of frowning.
I can call my server by name.
I can get to know a stranger.
I can send a text just to check in.
I can stop being afraid.
I can pray.  All day long.
I can learn as much as I can about as much as I can.
I can try to understand a different perspective.
I can high-five.
I can tell my representatives how I feel about it.
I can stop hoarding and share.
I can laugh with those who need to hear a joke.
I can listen to those who need an ear.
I can cry with those who have nothing left but tears.
I can withhold judgment and refrain from jumping to conclusions.
I can respond with grace instead of anger.
(And then...) I can apologize when I don't.
I can deliver a meal.  Or at the very least, chocolate chip cookies.
I can stop to help.  Or chat.  Or dance to the Smokey Joe's Cafe soundtrack in my living room.
I can stop looking at "the big picture" and bring it down to a personal level so that it's not just "an issue" anymore.  Instead it becomes the story of an individual, just like me, who is in the midst of very real, very serious, very unpleasant circumstances with some super hard choices.

I have a tendency to view situations as all or nothing.  If I can't be all in and I can't do it to completion with an A+ result, I'm out.  Forget it.  But real life isn't like that.  Sometimes you just have to dip your toes in.  Do the first thing before the next thing.  Intentions are great, but actually doing it is better.  I get so distracted by the big picture that I forget that details matter.  Small things can make a profound difference.  It's probably best to start there.
How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a naughty world.
~William Shakespeare, Merchant at Venice
Here's to being a candle.  However small.

"The eyes of the world are upon you."

Several years ago, I woke up in a haze just as Sam closed the garage door and headed to work. I confess it was earlier in the day than I preferred to wake up, especially in the summertime with nowhere to be. It wasn't the sound of him leaving that roused me, however. It was the sound of what I thought, in my just-woken stupor, was a lawnmower coming along the side of our yard into the back. My initial thought was, "Oh that is SO nice. One of our neighbors must have gotten sick of our knee-high backyard weeds and decided to mow for us." Then in just a few seconds the sound got louder. And louder. It was so loud that the house began to shake.  As I was now more lucid, I realized it was obviously not the early morning neighborly gesture of a backyard lawn-mowing.  I jumped out of bed, looked out my bedroom window and saw a helicopter hovering above the trees behind our playground.  Not only was a helicopter preparing to touch down, but half a dozen policemen with guns drawn were sprinting across the yard, trying to get into my shed, trying to open our back gate, looking under the kids back porch "fort" made out of a sheet thrown over a card table.  As someone unaccustomed to this kind of excitement, I panicked (code word for "started to cry").  I made sure all of the doors were locked, that the alarm system was armed, checked on each of my sleeping babies, and I called Sam (no answer).

Then I did what every self-respecting woman would do in that situation.  I called my dad - you know, the one who probably wasn't awake yet and lives 800 miles away.  I'm not exactly sure what I thought he could do, but I thought he might be able to talk me down from crisis mode.  Or, at least, be on the phone with me when the serial killer I presumed to be hiding in my house popped out from my kitchen pantry and murdered me.

Thankfully that didn't happen.  And my dad is a very calm soul who successfully navigated a 6:30am phone call with a crying crazy person.  He stayed on the phone until the helicopter was gone, the policemen had dispersed, and Sam returned my call.  It turns out, some men who robbed a nearby convenience store had fled on foot through our neighborhood.  They were apprehended a few doors down the street hiding by our drainage pond.

Local law enforcement doesn't play.  (Thanks, Men in Blue.)

I think about this day a lot.

I think about how fortunate I am to live under a blanket of safety every minute of every day.  I think about the fact that I really don't know what it is to fear.  I take for granted the protections of our local police, the state police, and on a much larger scale, our United States armed forces.  I think about what it must be like to live in war-torn nations today.  And to not know whether you will make it home alive from something as innocent as going to the market.  I think of what it must be like to know that a foreign power has invaded your homeland, and to not know the fate of your future.

And today, I think about the brave young men who landed on a beach in France 72 years ago, as part of a collective effort to preserve freedom. 

On June 6, 1944, across an ocean while most Americans were sleeping, 156,000 Allied troops resolved to fight evil and take back Normandy.  Ultimately, because of this invasion, the liberty of an entire continent and possibly, the entire world, was preserved.

We have no idea what that was like for them - the horrors of what they did, saw, lived through, and died from.  As time marches on, all we have is the memory of a generation of men and women who banded together as a country in big ways and small ways to ensure that the war was never fought on our turf, so that our safety on American soil was never threatened.

As we study history, I am regularly moved to tears by the convictions of those who came before us - how brave and resolute and brilliant they were.  I love this country.  And I'm so thankful to be a citizen of it.  I will never be able to thank enough, the men and women who sacrificed to give it to us.  May we never take our freedom for granted.
“Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it.”  – John Adams, in a letter to Abigail addressed July 1777
"They fight not for the lust of conquest.  They fight to end conquest.  They fight to liberate." ~ Franklin Delano Roosevelt, radio address June 6, 1944
“History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid.”
–Dwight D. Eisenhower, first presidential inaugural address, January 1953

“Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people. Those who have known freedom and then lost it have never known it again.” ~ Ronald Reagan, from his first inaugural speech as governor of California, January 5, 1967
The Greatest Generation is quickly dwindling.  I just pray we continue to honor their tenacity, valor, and grit long after they're gone.  May we pick up the baton and run like our freedom depends on it.

Mom Things Resurrected

100 (or in actual reality, eight) years ago when I started this humble blog, I used to do a regular post on Wednesdays called "How to Know You're a Mom."  If I had it all to do over again, I'd name it something more clever and less clunky than that, but if that's my biggest regret, I'm doing okay.

I remembered this list as a cute little diary of sorts a few days ago.  It started back in a time when I was working and blogging was something I did on my lunch break.  Now, I'm a stay-at-home mom with few spare moments to sit down a type, despite my endless "How to Know You're a Mom" material happening right before my very eyes every moment of the day.  Interesting how life works out sometimes.

I sat down to compile a list of these things this week, for old time's sake.  And as I did, it became abundantly clear that something has changed in those eight years.  Whether it's me or society, that's up for debate.  I've written about my insecurities of which I have plenty.  Add that to a culture that stands like a runner at the starting block ready to pounce on someone, anyone for the slightest perceived wrongdoing.  Yeah, that's right.  Perceived.  Some of these things we get up in arms about are simply preferences.  Some of these preferences are based on internet memes that haven't been researched in the slightest.  I know better than to blindly trust a self-declared expert on the internet.  And yet, they get in my head and plant seeds of doubt.  Of course, some of these things are legitimate things to be concerned about, but I'm evidently unable to separate the meaningful from the meaningless.  So that's my mental condition.  Apparently it's not getting any better.

It's prompted this list.  Whether it's once or the resurgence of an old habit, here are this week's Mom Things: 2016 Edition - on Friday (because really, I'm always late these days).

1.  You take an adorable picture of your child climbing on the dishwasher just like her brothers and sisters before her and you want to share it with the world - BUT (!!!), then "the world" (aka the people on your Friends List on Facebook) will know you use plastic plates and cups and, worse, put them in the dishwasher.  You post it anyway and brace yourself for inevitable secret judgments and possibly public chastisement because while most of those plastics are BPA-free, not all of them are.

2.  The Walk of Shame has taken on new meaning as what you do when you parade your kids down the church hallways to their Sunday School classes with pink noses and shoulders from too much fun in the sun on Saturday.  (Or wait, is that better than toxic sunscreen?)

3.  You live in fear of Protective Services coming to your home and taking your children because your five month old's arm got broken completely accidentally during a diaper change by her dear, sweet, and loving six year old sister.

4.  You hesitate to even take your two year old to the doctor for a collarbone fracture two months later, which he earned by trust-falling to no one off a kitchen bar stool in a fit of rage.

5.  Your nine month old cruises around the house in a 90's-era walker like an Olympic track star, but you're scared to document it on Facebook, because, well, you know, the Judgmental Judys.

6.  You pat yourself on the back for remembering to pack a snack for each of your children before their afternoon homeschool co-op.  At the end of the day, your nine year old daughter tells you that a classmate informed her that her Goldfish are going to give her cancer.  You aren't sure if you're angry or scared.  In your house, Goldfish are a food group.  Add that to the list of things you're supposed to consume within the privacy of your own four walls along with hot dogs, Kraft macaroni and cheese, and Lunchables.

7.  You positively refuse to let anyone look in your vehicle and prohibit carseat photographs just in case one of the chest clips has slipped down or someone should happen to notice that your 12 year old is no longer rear-facing.

8.  You went to the drive-thru at McDonalds after an afternoon of exhausting errands with a bunch of sleepy kids.  While they slept you rewarded yourself to a 3-pack of chocolate chip cookies to prolong the nap.  What you didn't bank on was McDonalds having to bake the cookies from scratch while you and your giant, hard-to-miss van parked out front on display for the world to see.  There's no way you weren't spotted at the worst-of-all-bad fast food restaurants.

9.  You don't pay too close attention to the child climbing in and out of your shopping cart with the agility of an ape, because she's been literally scaling walls since she was 15 months old, until a well-meaning observer comments that she really ought to be careful.  You realize this is probably not acceptable behavior and for the benefit of the onlooker, tell her to stop.

10.  You hesitate to mention the times you lost your children at the St. Louis Zoo, Walt Disney World (just as an Electric Light Parade was about to start and you couldn't get down the road to even search), or the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan because that would indicate that you have taken your eyes off of your children for literally 15 seconds (the time it took to get separated in each case).  By the grace of God, they were all safely returned in minutes, and you're thankful no one caught any of those events on a cell phone camera for instantaneous upload on YouTube.

Many of you will probably read this and think "Wow, she needs to get her crap together."  Some of you will think, "Have a little confidence, lady."  Others might feel the same way as me.

All I can say is that I admit my shortcomings as a mother.  I'm not a perfect mom.  But here's a secret, none of us are.  Especially not the ones who think so.  Maybe some day I'll be more heavily convicted about food, carseats, plastics, whatever the issue du jour might be, but for now, I'm just doing the best I can.  I don't think there's any more our children can ask of us.

Let's remember that.

(If I do another one, I promise to be a little less cynical.  Maybe.)


But it's a GOOD hard. I mean it.

People sometimes wrongfully assume that because I have six kids I must be some sort of parenting expert.  Let me just clarify something for you right now.


I don't know what the heck I'm doing.  And I won't pretend for a moment I've got it all figured out.  If you ask me for advice, my answer will probably be just that - "I don't know."

Because here's the truth -

It's hard.

It's hard whether you have one or ten.

It's hard whether you work out of the house or don't.

It's hard whether you send your kids to public school or private school or homeschool.

It's hard whether your baby sleeps through the night or doesn't.

It's hard whether your child is compliant or strong-willed.

It's hard whether you have a struggling learner or your child is so smart they think they're smarter than you.

It's hard whether you are brand new at it or have thirteen years experience.


It's a good hard.  It's worth it.  Just like working out, you take the sore muscles with the exhilaration of a post-workout high and the promise that it will be worth it.  It's worth it.  It's so worth it.

It feels like we're inundated with all of this pressure to be perfect and we have the platforms to pretend like we are, but I say just ignore it.  Anyone who has an answer for everything in life is lying, either to you or to themselves.  No one has it all figured out.  And that's okay.

Having children was the best thing that ever happened to me because it helped me realize that things just aren't all about me.  Want to learn selflessness?  Perseverance?  Patience?  What it feels like to love someone else unconditionally?  A child can teach you those things.  And more.  (Edited to say:  I have obviously not learned these things in totality, but rather have been afforded many opportunities to learn them, thanks to these tiny people.  I'm very much a work in progress.)

I waver each day between trying to focus on the good things and being transparent about the bad.  My hesitation with sharing the real bits is that someone might mistake the negative aspects of parenting for cons on a list of reasons not to have kids.  Those negatives are just circumstantial.  They cause temporary unhappiness.  They don't steal the joy that is had by having kids.

After securing a very last minute Mother's Day substitute for our Sunday School class (to whom I'm most-definitely indebted), we set out for a spontaneous trip to the beach.  You might find it humorous that I use the word spontaneous when it took about 6 hours of furious texting, searching, and packing, but that's the closest it gets with a family of eight.  We embarked on the trip way-too-late, and arrived at the hotel after midnight with a crew of six kids that had slept part of the way.  We managed to get everyone back to sleep without any major crises by about 1am and determined to wake up and get going to maximize our time at the beach the next day.

At 2am, my sweetest-baby-ever, Hannah, woke up screaming.  It was the high-pitched, inconsolable kind of screaming the likes of which can wake up an entire hotel, not only the other guests in the very same room.  It was the kind of screaming I had to get under control just to walk her down the hallway outside, so I could, well, get her under control.  I'm still not sure why she was crying like that (other than the fact that she was a little off her schedule and out of sorts), but I do know she's the reason I ended up spending most of my night sleeping in the passenger seat of our van.  If you don't count the fact that I had an alarmingly real dream about a S.W.A.T. team canvassing the entire parking lot culminating with me sitting bolt upright as a cat plodded across the roof of our van and the slightly embarrassing encounter with a man packing up his vehicle next to me who probably surmised I was either a vagabond or involved in some sort of lovers quarrel, I actually had a pretty good night's rest.

Needless to say, Mother's Day morning didn't go exactly as I imagined it would.  But it began with a giant cup or seven of coffee.  (As all good days should.)

Later in the day, after the hours worth of sunblock application on eight people of varying sizes had certainly worn off and two tiny people were hours late for their naps, we decided to head back to the hotel for a little rest.  Unbeknownst to me, our nearly-potty-trained two-year-old, had left more than a small "present" for me in his swimming trunks, just as we arrived at our van from the beach.  A full pack of wipes later, and he was deemed "clean enough" to ride in his seat back to the hotel.

These are the things, in my rookie-mom-dom, that would have ruined my day.

"Figures.  Little twerps probably planned it.  Don't they know this is my ONE SPECIAL DAY!!? Classic - no sleep and a pooptastrophe."

What it's taken me 13 years to realize is that, these things are hardly real trials.  They're just life.  It's what they do.  It's what I do.  And it's what I did to my mom and what she did for me.  It's what every mom in the history of the world has dealt with.  These things are not new or planned or coordinated by tiny conspirators.  Sometimes, having kids is hard.  But at the same time, it's a good hard.  Know what I'll remember about that Mother's Day trip?

I'll remember a husband and father who made the trip possible.  A four year old who wasn't afraid.  A two year old who played so hard we couldn't wake him up for dinner.  A pair of sisters/best friends who must've ridden 500 waves on boogie boards.  A pair of brothers who swam together.  A baby who wouldn't stop smiling (you know except for that whole screaming incident).  

The good stuff.  I'll remember the good stuff.

It's a choice we all have.  We can wallow in the bad or we can choose to see the good.  In our postmodern world it's become trendy to believe that we're entitled to be pissed off.  I have lots of thoughts on what we're entitled to, but I'll just say that I don't think there's anything beneficial about living an angry life.  Don't do that to yourself.  I'm not going to let myself live that way either.

Relish the good.  I dare you. There's so very much of it.



Seven years ago, I met this chick.

She's the one who turned me into an outnumbered mom.  She's the reason I cried inconsolably at the end of my maternity leave because for the first time I just didn't want to go back.  She's the one who stayed home with me while the big brother and sister were at school after I lost my job and schooled me on the ins-and-outs of being a stay-at-home mom.  She was the first child to climb out of her crib before the age of one.  She was the reason I stood post at her door for hours at a time trying to get her to fall asleep for a nap (because, by golly, I was going to win).  She was the first child to have stitches.  She was the first child to have stitches again.

She's the child who nearly cut her finger off trying to open her own toys on Christmas day, left a trail of blood across the entire house, and attempted to stop the bleeding with a band-aid in her bathroom.  She's the child who threw up in the sink in the middle of the night and tried to clean it up herself because she didn't want to bother Mommy while I was sleeping.

She's the girl who puts on a dress, then goes and rolls in mud.  She would never brush her hair if we didn't make her, and yet still manages a still-fashionable, wild and crazy Farrah Fawcett look.  She will not go to sleep without at least two hugs from every member of the family and a seriously sloppy kiss on the lips.  She always remembers to say her prayers at night and before every meal.  She takes good care of her toys.  And she loves her sisters and brothers with every fiber of her being.

She gets up first in the mornings and snuggles with me in my bed.  Sometimes she falls back to sleep, but usually she goes and wakes up a baby or two to deliver to me.  She is an independent woman, despising asking for help.  She's good with numbers.  She's an eager learner, always ready with a million questions, even though the questions themselves don't always make a lot of sense to anyone except for her.  She's a great listener.  And she has a fantastic memory.

She plays soccer with gusto, and when she's not contemplating strategy (you can practically see the wheels turning), she's literally bouncing up and down with enthusiasm.  She does all sorts of daring tricks on the backyard swings and in the pool.  She loves to give gifts.  She loves to eat sandwiches.  Her favorite color is orange (today at least).  She has an imagination that's out of this world.  She gets embarrassed when people laugh at the hilarious things she says.  But she's got plenty more where that came from.

She's just...Sarah.

And she's awesome.

The other day, out of the blue, Leah looked at me and said, "God knew we needed a Leah."

Indeed, precious girl, and God knew we needed a Sarah too.

Happy Seventh Birthday, Sweetest Girl!

Go and Be Comfortable.

Yesterday, we spent the day doing the usual school routine and as I wound down for the afternoon, I could hear from the kitchen table that our neighbor was on his mower, cutting his grass.  I reminded myself I would probably need to do the same thing soon and carried on.  As early afternoon turned to late afternoon, I piled the six kids into the van to head for the soccer fields for back-to-back games for the three older kids.

That's when I noticed the mangled wiffle ball in the middle of our driveway.

At first, I thought, "Oh, he must have hit that with the mower and it landed in our yard."

Upon further inspection, however, there was not a single blade of cut grass anywhere on the driveway.  That chunked-up wiffle ball had been purposely placed there.

Apparently, he'd hit a wiffle ball on his mower and assumed it was ours.  I guess that seems reasonable.  We do have six kids and our driveway abuts his yard.  And sometimes, things roll down the natural elevation change into his yard.

The thing is, though, we don't even own any wiffle balls.  (We're a soccer/basketball family.)

So, my panties got twisted in a hurry.  Who does this guy think he is?!  He hits a wiffle ball with his mower, walks back to it, picks it up, assumes it ours to deal with, and tosses it in our driveway.  The NERVE!  It would have taken no more effort to throw it in his own trashcan or even our trashcan that was less than ten feet from the piece of junk's placement on our driveway.

Grumble, grumble, angry text messages to complain about it some more, grumble, grumble.  Consider passive-aggressive counter move of tossing it back into his yard.

My heart condition is the best.  (Can't you tell?)

Now let's rewind a few nights ago to when I was sitting around the house after finishing a Jen Hatmaker video series called "Pulling the Thread" after which I felt empowered to view my mission field as right where I'm planted.  It seems more genuine, more noble, somehow, to hop on a plane for the remotest areas of the world and tell others about Jesus, but is it really less noble or even less necessary to do the exact same thing right here in my home town?  Overseas, short-term missions are awesome.  The missionaries who serve overseas are amazing, and deserve our unrelenting support, but does that mean I need to beat myself up about not being able to go right now or yet?

I contend that it does not.

You see, I might be living in a prosperous, not-very-diverse area, but these middle-class/upper-middle-class white people have souls that need Jesus every bit as much.

It's true.  Don't be mad.

I don't pretend to know the heart condition of my neighbor.  Maybe he was just doing what he thought was the neighborly thing to do - he returned what he assumed to be our missing ball.

The point is, I have neighbors whose heart conditions I don't know.  I encounter people every single day in whose lives I can make a difference in some small or large way.  But I have to see them.  I have to encounter them.  I have to be willing to be uncomfortable.

I like my home.  I'm a homebody, and if it weren't for my adventurous husband dragging me out of my comfort zone on epic cross-country "field trips," I would probably never leave my kitchen table, or the familiar territory of the local Aldi, our home church, and the public library.  I don't think it's inherently wrong to like being home or to like familiarity, but I don't think it's okay to remain there and limit ourselves.  There's so much more to see and experience in this world, in our country, and even (perhaps, especially) in our home towns (where we spend the majority of our lives) when we dare to leave our own comfortable corner of it.  It's hard to think about others and recognize how others might view the world if everyone we see looks and thinks like us.

I just finished reading Kristen Welch's Raising Grateful Kids in and Entitled World and a few things have jabbed me like a knife.
Being others-oriented is about as countercultural as it gets.  Self-centeredness is so prevalent in our world that we don't even recognize it anymore.  We are a society of the entitled; we think we deserve whatever we have - and then some.  
Society screams me, and Jesus scream them.  Becoming others-oriented is not a matter of flipping a switch; it's a lifestyle you cultivate. 
I have a knack for making the simplest things complicated.  I have two purposes for my time here on this earth - to love God and to love others.  If my relationship with Facebook is any sort of indication of my spiritual condition, I'm failing pretty miserably at both of those.  Instead of realizing my worth and value as a child of God, I seek "likes" on the internet.  Instead of loving others, I promote myself.  Instead of leaving the familiarity of home where I might have to feel awkward or uncomfortable I consider myself first, and others second.  This flies in the face of the Gospel.

So what does that mean?  I'm grateful for grace, thankful I'm forgiven, and I'm working towards looking even slightly more like Jesus each day.  It means I'm terrified to do so, but praying that God will make me uncomfortable.  I'm actively seeking ways to serve others instead of hiding behind my selfish tendencies.

Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.  And above all of these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  Colossians 3:12-14

Jesus didn't tell us to Go and be comfortable. He said to Go and make disciples.  He said it would be hard.  Guaranteed.  Jesus lived a life of discomfort, culminated by the ultimate pain and agony - the recipient of all of God's wrath for my own sin.  The very least I can do is take a first step outside of my comfort zone and make myself second.  If only I didn't have that darn inherent sin nature to make this all about me, and less about Him.  What can I say?  I'm a MAJOR work in progress.


Broken Mint Candy

Last week the kids and I returned from a trek to Maryland, where I hoped to help my parents begin what will be the long process of cleaning out my late great aunt's home.  It's no secret that she liked to hold on to things longer than most, and that she kept many things most people would consider to be trash.  As a child of the depression, she saved and stored and kept.  I think that generation learned through living with nothing to collect and store up things long after collecting and storing was no longer a necessity, I suppose as an insurance policy.  Working through the kitchen mainly disposing of expired food, I came across one particularly noteworthy item that really stuck with me.

It's a prescription pill bottle.  Filled with pieces of broken peppermint candies.

At first I laughed.  "That's insane!" I thought.  And really, maybe it was.



I thought about that generation of men and women.  These are the men and women born in the teens and twenties.  These are the same men and women whose childhoods took place during the bleakness of the Great Depression.  These are the men and women who watched the entire world go to war and they either served in the armed forces or pitched in at home, but there was no opting out.  They were brave, savvy, and resourceful.

They had very little, so they learned to treasure everything.  Even broken mint pieces.  (She might have used those someday!)

How far have we come from this mindset?

Now, we have everything, and yet we treasure practically nothing.

I'm not suggesting we should start bottling our broken mint candies.  But I am suggesting that we pause for 0.2 seconds every once in a while and recognize the blessings staring us in the face.

Jon Acuff said on Facebook a couple of years ago:
If my grandfather, who fought in a tank in WWII, was alive I'd tell him what a hassle it is when a website makes you scroll a lot.
It's the fact that we totally ignore just how easy we have it.  We literally have the entire world at our fingertips.  And, what do we do?  We find ways to complain about it.

My own father once told me:
As my old friend from Bethlehem Steel used to say, if the Russians knew what kind of shape we're in they'd attack today.
And that's funny, except, it's not.  Because, by and large, my generation doesn't know what it is to be scared, or to struggle, or to think outside the box.  My generation is used to being served on a silver platter.  Only, we have grown tired of the silver platter and we're hoping to upgrade to platinum on someone else's dime, forgetting all the while that ceramic is more durable, cost-effective, and practical.

Folks, we've got it made.  And for some reason, we're constantly dissatisfied.  Let's not be.  The next time we're tempted to whine about something ridiculous - like, Saturday when my coffee tipped over at the kids' soccer fields and I declared something like, "Well, this has been a complete waste of a day!" - let's stop, take a deep breath, and remember -

If this is the worst thing that happens today, I'm doing alright.

Let's find things to treasure.  Smile at the perfect baby handprint on the glass.  Notice the sun rays peeking through the storm clouds.  Watch as a flock of birds flies through the sky with perfectly coordinated movements.  Thank the person with the thankless job who serves you every day.

Treasure all of it.  Even the broken mint candy.

Why Are You Afraid?

Most of the time being a life-long cynic means I am pleasantly surprised when things don't turn out as badly as the doomsday scenarios my mind has become so adept at conjuring up.

But sometimes, those worst case scenarios actually happen.  And I sigh and say, "See.  Told you.  The whole world is stupid.  Now leave me alone so I can cry in the shower."

I will admit that crying in the shower doesn't do much actual good.  But patterns bear repeating.  Hot showers and tears are as cathartic as a cup of coffee and a bag of Twizzlers.  Because eating when you're sad or stressed is totally healthy too.  

I waver between caring way too much about everything and throwing my hands up in the air and saying to heck with it all.  I can't decide whether to educate myself more or bury my head in the sand and pretend I'm an ostrich.  I think, "But one person can make a huge difference in this world."  Then I turn in an instant and wonder, "But honestly, what can one person really do?"  My mind is a jumbled mess of incoherent trains of thought and then, suddenly (and usually briefly), moments of clarity.
And he said to them, "Why are you afraid?  O you of little faith!"  Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea and there was a great calm.  -Matthew 8:26
That's me.  The one of little faith.

Why am I fearful?  Because I make it about me.  I think I'm the one who has to control everything.  Spoiler alert:  It's not about me.

Instead of fretting and worrying and agonizing, I need to trust that the God of the universe who numbered and named each star, who feeds and shelters the sparrows, who knows how many hairs are on my head, can calm any storm.  I need to remember that while many things that happen in this life surprise me, nothing surprises God.  He saw it coming.  And he already has a plan to make it work for his good.

God can take ugly and make it beautiful.  He can take evil and work it for good.  He can.  I don't have to.  At least, I certainly don't have to alone.  I don't have to serve him up optimal conditions or circumstances.  He can work with bad.  That's frequently his specialty.  And it turns out so good.

I often console myself with the words, "It's going to be okay."  That's my human nature talking.  Ultimately?  It's all going to be better than okay.

Some days are hard.  That's life.

Tomorrow, I pick up my pieces, brush myself off, and give it my best shot.  I'm just one person, but I can be the best Jennie I'm able to be.  I will trust God with details beyond my control.  Thankful for those fresh mercies every morning and a life verse to keep me motivated.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.  Colossians 3:23
But seriously.  It's going to be okay.


A Chance to be the Fly

Last Friday morning at 6am I sat straight up in bed.  Sam had just left for work.  The soothing aroma of freshly brewed coffee was wafting into the bedroom, but that wasn't what jarred me awake.  I'd had a semi-conscious realization.  As we are now halfway through our fourth year of homeschooling, and time seems more fleeting than ever, I pondered to myself, "How old will the rest of the kids be when Ben is a senior in high school (six years from now)?"

The resulting answer is what brought me to an alarmed state of consciousness.

Assuming we continue to homeschool all of our children all the way through and don't add any more children to the herd, when Ben is in 12th grade, I will have...

A kindergartner
A 2nd grader
A 4th grader
A 7th grader
A 9th grader
A 12th grader.

Literally, K through 12.

I did what every reasonable person would do and I sent my husband a message at work.

"Do you realize this!?"

He was naturally unconcerned, and responded the way he does so well, with a calm, calculated comment to defuse the entire situation.  Aside from the fact that it's (ahem) six years away, we'll get through it the same way we get through our current circumstances - one day at a time with adjustments along the way.

A lot of people probably wonder, and many people have asked me what it's like to teach a first, third, and sixth grader with a baby, two year old, and three year old running around.  It's just life for us, and I don't feel like we're doing anything exceptional or extraordinary.  I'm praying that's what it will feel like six years down the road.  I'm not saying it's easy, and I'm not saying I'm particularly good at it.  It's just life, and we do it.

So, I figure it might be fun to run through a typical day at the Sheppard household.  Here's your chance to be a fly on the wall.

7am:  Noah wakes up and plays with the two toys he insisted on taking to his crib with him the night before.  He calls, not so quietly, for Daddy to come get him.  That means Mommy.  We're working on it.

7:30am:  I get in the shower with my cup of coffee.  (Yes, I take it in there with me.)  I tell myself I should get up before my kids because that's what the internet says good moms do.  Vow to do it tomorrow knowing full well that no matter how early I get up, I will be accompanied by miniature people who lie in wait for the slightest movement and interpret that as permission to start their days.

8:15am:  Fix breakfast and/or entertain the option of delegating breakfast prep to one of the older kids.  On those days anticipate breakfast running a little later and making a larger mess.  It's okay.  (I tell myself it's okay a lot.  It's a coping mechanism.)

8:45am:  Call everyone to breakfast table where I intend to cover one of our three read-aloud-together subjects.  Listen as each kid lobbies for a different one.  Wait as everyone remembers a condiment, beverage, or utensil not already available on the table, and get approximately two sentences in before Noah finishes chugging and starts thrusting his cup into everyone's face "politely" yelling, "MORE JUICE PLEASE!"  Meanwhile, 3 year old Leah babbles on about how she "already knows" all two sentences of what I just read and walks off leaving her breakfast untouched.  Two more sentences into the lesson, Sarah falls off the kitchen bench, Abby stands up and begins attempting a standing split or pirouetting, and Ben makes a comment like, "The Danish King?  What's he in charge of?  Cheese danish?" And then laughs at himself because he's his mother's son.  We muddle through the remaining pages of the chapter while Leah and Noah provoke each other to wrath in the playroom and Abby continuously asks how much longer until she can go play outside.

9:15am:  I realize it's a gorgeous day outside and it would be better for everyone involved if the kids got some much-needed wiggle time in the form of fresh backyard air.  I happily clean up jelly and syrup puddles if it means I get to rest my ears for 3 and a half uninterrupted minutes.

9:18am:  Leah returns from the backyard and has to change her entire outfit for the second time since breakfast (where she didn't eat anything, but somehow got syrup all over her body) because she voluntarily played in a wheelbarrow full of rainwater and got a splash of wetness on the knee of her pants.

9:30am:  I attempt various chores because, let's face it, I'm behind on every single one of them.  Halfway through starting the washing machine, Noah needs a diaper change.  Halfway through stripping beds, Hannah needs to eat.  Halfway through everything, someone else requires something.  I decide to call and pay a few bills which means I lock myself in my master bedroom closet where two doors away, at least two children are knocking and crying to let them in.  My phone drops the call 3 times because, well, I'm calling from a closet.  I decide to try again another day.

10:30am:  After a solid hour of playtime, I call a child to the kitchen table to "knock something out before lunch."  Both girls sit and complete their math lessons at the same time because Sarah likes taking her time test at the same time as Abby in the name of friendly competition.  Abby cries foul and I launch into an explanation of how it's not really unfair because their time tests are based on their respective abilities.  No one cares.  Noah poops for the sixth time that day.

11:45am:  Ben, who has been reading in his room for the entire morning, emerges ready for lunch.  I remind him that he has yet to complete any actual schoolwork so he does a logic puzzle then goes out back to torment a sister or two.

12:30pm:  While the frozen pizza cooks (don't judge me), Ben and I sit down to discuss grammar.  He laughs out loud that anyone would ever confuse "Let" and "Leave" or "Sit" and "Set" with each other  like the good little grammar snob that he is.

1pm:  I attempt another read aloud subject at lunch.  While everyone has food in their mouth, I speed through a lesson on the digestive system from our anatomy book.  Somehow, no one loses their lunch despite graphic descriptions of what exactly is going on inside their bodies even as they chew.  Noah insists on wearing his shoes while he naps, and despite the fact that it flies in the face of everything I believe in, I allow it.  Because we're behind on everything and I can't fight ALL OF THE BATTLES.

2:00pm:  Hannah sits in her high chair with six kids worth of baby toys on the tray while I complete a grammar and writing lesson with alternating first and third graders.  Ben sits at one end of the table making snide remarks and casually taking two hours to complete a single math lesson, not because it's difficult but because he procrastinates like a BOSS.

3:00pm:  I realize we've only done half of the subjects on our charts.  I make a cup of coffee and turn on Phonics videos for a three year old who is determined to do school like her big brother and big sisters despite my pleas to wait another couple of years and just play.  Ben realizes he has a lot to do before he's awarded screentime and gets angry because he's not finished yet like Abby and Sarah who have so much less work than him.  I mumble something about age and responsibility, and being expected to perform according to your abilities.  Then I sneak peanut m&m's in the pantry because no one saved me any pizza and I'm just now realizing I never ate lunch.

5:00pm:  I kick everyone outside redirect everyone to the backyard where they can grab a few more moments of vitamin D while I pick up the pieces and reflect on another day in the Sheppard homeschool.  I lament the fact that we skipped Latin and Art again.  I smile at the ridiculously hilarious things each and every child said throughout the day.  I shake my head over the attitudes that arose and blame myself for all of the negative qualities I see in my children.  I consider that even on our worst days, we are incredibly blessed to have each other, however imperfect.  And I rejoice that we created memories.

Lately, I've found myself grumbling about silly things here and there.  Some of them were (home)school related and some were just general life and people related.  Then I think to myself "if this is all I have to worry about, I'm doing alright."

I hope that's what the fly would say.

Lady, you're doing alright, in spite of yourself.

Then we'd share some pantry chocolate.

One day at a time, right?

"Ten" Pieces of Unsolicited Advice from my Corner of the Internet

It is becoming increasingly obvious to me that I'm getting old.  I recently realized that most professional athletes are now younger than me, even quarterbacks.  I watched a football game and as the wide receiver jumped four feet off the ground in the end-zone to snag a ball and came down and landed on his shoulder only to pop right back up to do a celebratory touchdown dance, my first thought was, "Oh!  I'd totally break something if I did that!"  I graduated from high school 15 years ago.  I'm on the cusp of raising a teenager when it feels like just yesterday I was 12 myself.

All of that, but mostly, technology makes me cranky.

Maybe it's not so much technology but the grip it has on all of us.  I find myself frustrated and indifferent to newer technology because I remember a time when we all so easily coped and, yes, even thrived without it.  It's a great, distant memory - those days when I woke up, drank a cup of coffee, and did something productive like, took a shower.  These days, most of the time I roll out of bed, grab a cup of coffee, and check my phone.  What's so important on there?  Not much, I tell you.  But good gracious, I can't seem to fathom the possibility of missing something like reading ANOTHER BLOG POST regarding "Ten Things not to Say to...Large Families/Small Families/Single Folks/Your Grandmother/Your Postman/Children with Questionable Fashion Sense/Babies with Ears."

I'm guilty of writing a few of those posts myself.  I seem to think people care about ALL OF THE OPINIONS floating around in my head.  That's not so bad, I guess, so long as I'd be willing to say these things to people's faces.  But it seems like we're not allowed to say anything to anyone anymore.  I mean, pretty much every opinion piece on the internet tells me Ten Things Not to Say to someone.  Heaven forbid we cause someone else to be even remotely uncomfortable.  Heaven forbid we take our faces out of our phones and actually converse with someone in real life.

I'm an introvert and it's taken me a very long time to learn how to chit chat and make eye contact and all of those normal social behaviors.  I've still got a long way to go, but I'm a work in progress.  For example, I am now capable of ordering take out over the phone without an anxiety attack.  I'm now able to sit in a waiting room and crack awkward jokes with strangers to pass the time.  I am now functional enough in new social settings to introduce myself to others and attempt small talk.

Only...now I feel like I probably shouldn't.  What if one of those Ten Things Not to Say comes out my mouth?  What if I offend someone?

I honestly don't want to do that.

So here's what I decided.  It starts with me.  I've decided to give a pass to anyone who says any of these "Ten Offensive Things" because I don't want to be the person who's offended by chit chat.  I want to be the person who welcomes a real life conversation with someone who's not staring a phone.  I want to teach my children that sometimes platitudes are just that.  When someone sees my large family in the grocery store, it's not actually offensive for someone to look at us and say, "Wow, your hands are full!"  It's true.  My hands are full.  And I do look tired.  And there are enough of them for a basketball team plus a sub.  Maybe I really like basketball and that was my plan all along - to birth a coed, multi-age basketball team so we can play pick-up games all across the country on our travels.  (Or not.)

I don't want to live life walking on eggshells.  I want to hear the "offensive things" and learn to respond gracefully.  I want to say the things I don't even realize are offensive and have a real life conversation with the person I just inadvertently offended so they can tell me why they are upset by it.  I want to mess up, face-to-face, and learn how to overcome it.  I don't want to be soft.  I don't want to be thin-skinned.  I want to hear other people's stories and learn why they think and feel the way they do.  I want to make eye contact.

Will you join me?  Let's give each other a pass.  Let's do our best to be nice and apologize when we aren't.  Let's let it roll off.  Life's too short to take the little things so seriously.  I have better ways to spend my numbers days here.  We all do.

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