The Work of Rest

Frantic.  That’s the only way to describe my brain these days.  Utterly, exhaustingly frantic.

It’s strange, actually.  Here I am in this supposed “restful” season of life, this newfound territory of school-aged kids, and yet my life feels noisier than ever.

Just last week, Matt found me sitting outside.  In the dark.  Rain drizzling down.  Quiet and still.  Visibly confused, he asked if I was okay.  Because, you see, some people are still, quiet, sitting-under-the-drizzly-moonlight kind of people.  I am not those people.

For better or for worse (typically for worse), I’m an up and down, always doing, rarely still kind of person.  I’m a content-devouring kind of person, flying through books, journals, podcasts, and blogs like it’s my job.  I’m a time-filling, multi-tasking kind of person.  Still and quiet makes me feel nervous.  Antsy.  Still and quiet makes me feel like I’m somehow failing.  Like I’m missing something.  Like I’m less-than.

Because, the unfortunate truth is that my identity has always been directly tied to my productivity.  To my accomplishments.  To my tidy house and well-mannered kids and crossed-off to-do lists.  To the feeling that what I do matters.  That I matter.

For years, I’ve spun my wheels and busted my tail to carefully craft this identity.

This identity of the Strong One who needs no one and no thing.  The one who’s GOT THIS, thankyouverymuch.

The identity of the Omniscient One who can dish up the right answers.  The one who is more apt to turn to Google than Jesus in times of angst and uncertainty.  Because, let’s face it.  Sometimes it’s just easier to get insta-answers via Siri than waiting on the wisdom of the Lord.

I breathlessly flit and fly around in an attempt to be viewed as the Omnipresent One who can meet all needs and be in all places at once.  To simultaneously be present for my church and friends and school and kids and husband even if it kills me.

And, God knows how I want to be the Righteous One.  The good girl who dutifully, restlessly, does all the right things in the right order at the right time.

Anyone would feel frantic when attempting to assume the identity of the Almighty God.  Anyone would crumble under the weight of this delusion, this sin.

And that’s where I found myself last week.  After another day of attempting God-likeness, I was done.  Exhausted.  On the verge of crumbling.  Frantic and overwhelmed and tired of playing God.  Desperate to hand the reins back over.

You see, sometimes the most loving thing our Good Father can do for us is to cause our carefully constructed identities and plans to crumble into pieces.  Sometimes, it’s that very wreckage that reminds us that we’re not divine beings after all.  That we’re desperately in need of a Savior.

And you know what I love so much about my God?  He doesn’t just leave me wallowing in my mess.  He steps into the wreckage with me and pulls me out.  He looks to me with kind eyes and a merciful heart and shifts my focus back to His character.  His goodness and grace and all-encompassing-sufficiency.

Because God knows.  He knows that’s where it should have been all along.  That’s where true rest can be found.

But here’s the deal: all of this Jesus-following business actually takes legit discipline.  Rest takes work.  Training.  I have to DISCIPLINE my heart to rest, my thoughts to linger on God’s faithfulness.  And that night, as I sat under the dark, drizzly night sky, this is precisely what I was doing.  Training my racing brain and frantic heart to take pause and rest in God’s unchanging nature.  To sit in the quiet.  To be okay with the still.  To reassume the posture of a mere mortal, confessing that my attempts to be anything greater were nothing short of blasphemy.

So, here’s the plan.  If I’m gonna hustle, I’m gonna hustle my way right off of that throne I’ve been desperately attempting to occupy.  And if I’m gonna work, I’m going to work to point back its rightful occupant.  If I’m gonna spin my wheels, those wheels better be spinning right back to Jesus.  And if I’m gonna strive, I’m gonna strive to remember that He has already done the work that really matters. And in Him alone can I find true rest.

So can rest really take work?  Yeah, maybe.  If you’re anything like me, that is.  But if the reward of my work are eyes laser focused on the crucified and risen Christ- the only omniscient, omnipresent, truly strong, and wholly righteous one- than you better believe every ounce of effort is worth it.

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seven.

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Mary Grace,

Seven.  SEVEN?  So what if you’ve spent the past 364 days compulsively talking about your birthday; I’m still confused by this new reality.

I’ve spent some time this week reading through your previous birthday posts, and perhaps I should just say “please reference birthday posts from year one through five” and leave it at that. Because you, my girl, are holding pretty steady.

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At one, I summed you up as “feisty”.  At two, I wrote, “You’re very verbal. Let’s rephrase that. You never shut your mouth.”  On your third birthday, I spoke to your hilarity and volume: “You have us rolling in laughter all day.  You love to entertain and bring laughter… The louder the better is your motto.”  At four, I wrote about your creativity, imagination, and confidence- how “you will not be forced into a mold”.  At five, you loved to “draw and create.”  And last year, I marveled, “I continue to be amazed at how comfortable you are in your own skin.  Without looking to the left and the right, you keep staying your course.”

ALL OF THIS IS STILL SO TRUE.  With every passing year, you just keep doing you.  And you’re pretty stinkin great.

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A few new developments in the life of SEVEN! YEAR! OLD! Mary Grace:

You have developed a recent fascination with the presidency and recently orchestrated an elaborate presidential campaign and election.  We’re talking campaign posters, voting booth, speeches, the works.  You now consider yourself president of our home which has proved problematic from time to time.  We’re working on it.

You’re kind of “ehh” about school but are developing a love for reading.  You devour all things Stink Moody and Critter Club and will read any book about fierce animals that you can get your hands on.  You’re also legitimately obsessed with school cafeteria food.  And have created more playground “clubs” than I can keep track of.  So.  Maybe you’re not so “ehh” about school after all.

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You’re a night owl.  Most evenings, you stay awake LONG (for the love, way too long) after your supposed bedtime.  BUT!  You no longer bang your head on the floor to fall asleep!  Because, earrings!!  When you got your ears pierced this summer, I may have convinced you that banging your head would surely RUIN YOUR PIERCINGS.  And, behold.  It worked. Small victories.  And no more forehead perma-bruises.

You, my child, are not a follower.  You’re constantly leading, directing, creating, teaching, and scheming.  Every single room in our house bears witness to your creativity, half-baked business ventures, and fully-baked mess.

Your best friend is Elizabeth.  Your favorite show is Cupcake Wars.  Your favorite food is hummus.  And your favorite song is Taio Cruz’s Dynamite.  Because of course it is.

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You have a lightning fast wit, a fiery spirit, and a generous heart.  When you believe in something, Mary Grace, you don’t. back. down.  I pray that God channels all of this for good.  For Him.  Because, when that happens… girl.  This world just won’t be the same.

Happy birthday, you big seven year old, you!  Love you to pieces!

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Friday Favorites: Kid Edition

Once upon a time (as in, ONE TIME), I decided to get all fancy and jump on the Friday Favorites bandwagon.  Well, I’m back.  Because friends let friends know things.  And I have some things you should know about:

THE water bottle.  

Specifically, the Avex Kids Autoseal Freeride Water Bottle.  For years, I have been on the prowl for the perfect kid water bottle.  One that doesn’t have extraneous pieces, is completely leak-proof, holds plenty of water, and is durable.  I thought I’d spend my life searching in vain until I discovered this brand.  We’ve had these over a year, and they have quickly outperformed our beloved Nalgenes and Contigos.  You’re welcome.

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The PediaCast podcast.  

Okay.  I could get on my “Oh my gosh, you guys!  I know your Facebook mom groups can diagnose allllll of the ailments, but you know another person who may be able to help you out?  Oh, that’s right!  Your pediatrician!” soapbox.  That’s a soapbox I have REALLY BIG FEELINGS about.  But I’ll restrain myself.  Instead, I’ll send you onto this fantastic podcast that I’ve been loving for a while now.  It’s all evidence-based insight into some of the big issues and questions in the realm of pediatrics.  Check ’em all out, but I especially appreciated two of the most recent episodes on vaccinations.  (Spoiler alert: THERE IS NO CONSPIRACY.  We- your friendly pediatric healthcare providers- are actually not involved in some covert operation to get rich off of your kid’s shots.  I know this may come as a surprise for some, but we do indeed believe in science.  We value modern medicine.  Know that vaccines save lives.  And want your kid and others to stay healthy.  That’s all.  The end.)  (I really tried to restrain myself.  Really really tried.  xoxo.)

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Jen Wilkin teaching me how to parent.  

Alright.  So, you took my advice and listened to PediaCast.  You heard the evidence.  You got your kid vaccinated.  You’re feeling pretty good about yourself.  And then, suddenly your kid turns two and becomes a crazyperson and you don’t even know WHAT TO DO.  No worries.  Gotcha covered.  One of my favorites, Jen Wilkin, led a parenting class along with her husband a few years ago.  And y’all, it’s SO good.  Super practical and Christ-centered.  You can listen to the sessions here.  My only regret is that I didn’t get my hands on these years ago.

Target’s Cat & Jack line.  

Confession: one of my (many) great flaws in life is my love for overpriced kid clothes.  Interestingly, I hate to shop for myself.  Hate. It.  But, put me in a room filled with smocking and appliques and monograms?  The struggle is real.  So, when I can find kids’ clothes that are SO CHEAP that my kids and I both love, it’s a victory.  Enter Cat & Jack, Target’s new kid’s line.  They even make little girl’s jeans that are so soft and comfy that Mary Grace is willing to wear them.  And that says a heckofalot coming from the kid who won’t let anything “not comfy” come near her body.  Clearly, I just needed a little more fuel for my Target Love Affair.  Clearly.

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I Am: 40 Reasons to Trust God.

After a friend mentioned this book a while back, I hopped on Amazon right away to order one for our family.  We’re always on the lookout for solid resources that can help us teach our kids the Bible, and this is a good one.  There are PLENTY of books out there that kindly inform my darling children that they are precious.  Wonderfully made.  Loved by God.  We have tons of ’em.  But what I love about this particular book is that Diane Stortz shifts the focus away from US and back to GOD.  She hits on 40 names and attributes of the Lord while teaching through scripture.  We read this on a daily(ish) basis- typically once my kids are already restrained in their seatbelts in the mornings.  Because, y’all.  These kids may be precious and wonderfully made, but having a kid belted into a seat can be a beautiful thing.

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It’s time. New Year’s in the bush. Let’s do this.

Sixteen years ago, I went on my first overseas missions trip.  Montego Bay, Jamaica, baby.  I signed up because I had FOMO before FOMO was even a thing.  Every one of my friends was going on the trip, and I was not about to miss out on the fun.  Little did I know that God would use that very trip- and my iffy motives for signing up- to wreck my teenage self for the nations.  For the marginalized.  For him.

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(Please note how serious we were about laying rebar and spreading the love of Jesus.  I even went to the trouble of purchasing a black and white disposable camera for the dramatic effect of our tireless efforts.  We were clearly HARD AT WORK, you guys.  #allforthemission)

Flash forward a few years to 2004 when I first stepped foot on African soil.  This time, I signed up because, hello, KENYA.  I was also a college student who was sick and tired of the status quo.  I loved Jesus, craved adventure, and longed to step outside of my privileged college experience and put feet to the faith of which I spoke.  Once again, wrecked.

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Shortly thereafter, I graduated and promptly (read: one week later) started grad school and bought a house and got hitched.  (Go big or go home.)  Had babies.  Launched into a new career.  In other words, LIFE HAPPENED.  And, aside from a few crucial trips to Congo, I haven’t made it back overseas since.

Until now.

It’s time.

Well, actually.  Actually, I have a dozen reasons why now shouldn’t be the time.  Because, money.  And the holidays.  And jobs.  And can my kids even survive without me for ten days?  I DO NOT EVEN KNOW.

(A tiny sidenote for all of you high schoolers and college students out there.  Want some unsolicited advice from Aunt Catherine?  Go overseas NOW.  Get involved in God’s mission around the globe NOW.  Take a gap year or a summer or a few years after college and GO.  I know, I KNOW, life seems so crazy right now.  It feels like it’s a rat race out there to score the best internships and summer jobs and whateverelsethereis, but lean in close while I fill you in on a little secret: LIFE JUST GETS CRAZIER, PEOPLE.  Take full advantage of these years before you get married, before you have kids, before you are knee-deep in a career, and consider going now.  You’re welcome.  XOXO, A “Wise” and Increasingly-Wrinkled Thirty-Something-Year-Old)

Y’all.  I’m a master of conjuring up lengthy lists of “what if?”s.  I can think up seemingly legit (and sometimes really lame) excuses with the best of them.  These days, there just seems to be a limitless tally of details to work out and unknowns to think through before saying “yes” to, really, anything.  And a trip overseas?  It’s felt so complicated.  Almost paralyzing.  And still, I felt a quiet voice saying, “Catherine, it’s time.”

I am learning that the white-knuckled grip I have on MY plans and MY life and mymymy doesn’t exactly resemble the type of surrender to which we’re called.  And that following Jesus looks a lot like, oh you know, following Jesus period.  Putting our “yes” on the table PERIOD.  End of story.

So often, I wait for the unknowns to be made known and the details to be perfectly ironed out before I make good on my promise of “yes, I’ll follow.”  Over the years, I’ve watched others come and go.  And sometimes go and stay.  I’ve cheered them on and sent some checks and lifted them in prayer and silently thought, “Well, it’s good thing they’re going.  Because it sure doesn’t make sense for ME to go.  Not right now.  Not with kids.  God, I know you’re faithful, and I know you’re good, but just not right now, mkay?”

And then.  This trip.  Gracious.  Medical missions in West Africa with a group of medical professionals from our church.

Partnering with local medical providers who work with clinics where neither medical care nor the gospel message would otherwise be available.  

Providing clinical guidance and support to those working tirelessly in these rural clinics.  

Devising an EMS-like system to transport the sickest of patients.  

Laying the framework for converting a small clinic into a larger referral hospital.  

In a country where infant and maternal mortality is astonishingly high and the desperate need for the gospel even higher.  Over the New Year’s holiday, people.  I mean, I’ve spent some quality time in the African bush before.  But never have I ever celebrated New Year’s in the bush.

It’s time.

And, despite all of the uncrossed t’s and undotted i’s, I’m really, ridiculously pumped.

Want more details?  Interested in supporting this trip?  Send me a message, leave a comment, shoot an email, or send off some smoke signals.  There are some pretty stinkin exciting things happening in West Africa, and I’d love for some of you guys to be in on the excitement!

It. Is. Time.  Let’s do this.

Back to School (or, Alllll By Myselllllllfff) (or, I Think I’m Alone Now) (or, IT IS SO QUIET WITHOUT KIDS)

Well, friends.  This week marks the beginning of a whole new era in the life of the Allisons. Six and a half hours a day, five days a week, my kids are out of this little nest from which I type.  They’re all in school, leaving their mother to wallow in this now-oh-so-very-quiet nest.

Ha.

Y’all, I love my kids something crazy.  But I also really, really enjoy quiet sometimes.  And school.  And teachers.  And quiet.

So, the stats.

We have a third(!) grader(!) who was VERY ready to get back into the swing of schedules and predictability and learning.  Last week, he told me that this past summer was the best yet.  When asked to elaborate, he said, “Well, vacation was good but not TOO long.  And we went to the library a lot.  And I really, really loved that calendar you made me.”  The kid may look like his father…

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IMG_1026We have a first grader who was not quiiite as stoked to return to the classroom but who, fortunately, can easily be lured into the school building with the promise of rectangular pizzas and corn dog nuggets from the school cafeteria.

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IMG_1035And we have a kindergartener!  Elizabeth went to one full day of school last week for her staggered entry day.  And today, she’ll be with her full class for her first day of for-real kindergarten.  She’s equal parts excited and nervous and is armed with her much-loved locket.  And her equally-adored (and adoring) big sister who (hopefully) walked her into her classroom this morning.

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IMG_1081It’s a big year.  A school-year that has been long-anticipated and prayed over.  Things always seem to be shifting and changing around here.  This year is certainly no exception, and I’m pretty pumped to see what God has in store for us.

But for today?  Today, I’m pretty sure that His plans (or, ahem, my plans) involve sitting and resting and drinking an extra celebratory cup of coffee.  In silence.  Blessed, glorious silence.  That is, until the clock strikes 3:45.  Then, all bets are off.

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A Prayer For The Mom Who Thinks She’s Screwing Her Kids Up Forever

The other day, I had a moment.  This particular “moment” actually may have lasted a few hours- perhaps a day or two- but whatever.  We’re mincing words here.  The general theme of my freakout sesh: OMG AM I SCREWING MY KIDS UP FOREVER?

Now, my friends.  This question has been a long-standing theme in my eight and half year tenure as mother.  In fact, this question taunted me even before my first child took his first breath:

“The guy at the gym actually told me I shouldn’t be stairstepping while pregnant!  OMG AM I SCREWING MY KID UP FOREVER?”

“I just chugged a fully-caffeinated latte like nobody’s business, and now my unborn child is surely maimed for life.  OMG AM I SCREWING MY KID UP FOREVER?”

Once he was born and that warm, snuggly, always-crying-never-sleeping bundle of joy was in my arms, the doubts just grew louder as I navigated the typical quandaries of young motherhood.  Breast or bottle?  Work or stay home?  Cry-it-out or pick-him-up?  Everyone had an opinion.  I was overwhelmed.  And all I could gather was that I was probably wrong and that OMG I WAS SCREWING MY KID UP FOREVER.

Flash forward a few years, a couple more kids, and a whole heckofalot parental second guessing, and you’ll arrive at my most recent freakout moment: our school choice.

A bit of background.  I live in a county with an insane number of school choices.  Private and charter and magnet and homeschooling and year-round and modified-year-round.  And then.  Then there’s the standard, run-of-the-mill, traditional neighborhood public school, where we happen to send our kids.  (OMG.  Am I screwing my kids up forever?)  

Another crucial piece of info: we absolutely love our kids’ school.  The teachers, the administration, the families, the culture.  It’s been a great fit for us, and I am very, VERY grateful.  And yet, there was that fateful night recently in which I lost my ever-loving mind.

“What are we even doing?  So-and-so is learning a dozen languages in first grade!  They’re probably learning rocket science while our kids are just learning normal things like reading and math!  Normal!  My snowflakes are going to be normal!  And the test scores!!  Maybe we should be looking more at test scores!!  Because COLLEGE!  Don’t we want our kids to go to college one day?  Also, scholarships and jobs!  They need those too!  And we’re ruining their chances by sending them to a just-average school.  Oh my gosh they’re going to be NORMAL, and WE ARE TOTALLY SCREWING THEM UP FOREVER.”

Y’all.

Here’s the thing.  We live in a day and time in which everybody’s business and opinions and perfectly-filtered-lives are constantly in front of our eyeballs, and that can make things… tricky at times.  But you know what I’ve found?  That maybe the so-called Mommy Wars are actually settling down a bit.  That I’m not surrounded by an angry mob of judgey-pants moms after all.  That the judgement is typically coming from within my own messy heart.

Because the other night when I was doubting all of our parenting choices- when comparison got the best of me and my pride clouded out my view of God’s faithfulness- I was the one at fault.  It was my sin at play.  My eyes darting around, taking notes on everyone else’s lives.  My silent declaration of “God, not thy will but MINE be done.  Or maybe those people over there… their wills look pretty great too.”

So, before we demonize social media for adding fuel to the Mommy Wars fire and point blaming fingers at everyone else, maybe we should stop to check our own selves first.  Because I can talk a big talk, but you know the truth?  Many days, I seek man’s praise more than God’s.  And, more than I desire God’s will, I want to measure up.  My KIDS to measure up.  I try to match the omniscience of our all-knowing God by researching and analyzing every decision until I can pat myself on the back and declare, “Mama knows best.”  I compare, doubt, second-guess, and fret.  Oh, I fret.  And I walk around with a white-knuckled grip on my kids’ lives, completely sold on the lie that the buck stops here.  That my kids’ futures lie in MY hands.  That my excellent decisions will yield perfect children.  That it all comes down to me.

Say what you want about the Mommy Wars.  But all that right there?  That seems like a much more legit battle to be fought.  Because until I can see our God for who He is and put myself back in the right position (read: NOT ON HIS THRONE), the Mommy War that is dangerously waging in my own heart will never cease.

So, for today at least, my battle cry looks a lot more like a prayer of surrender:

Hey God, this parenting thing is crazy hard.  In a world with so many voices and platforms and Instagram accounts, I pray that your voice would be the loudest.  Your Word the truest.  Your faithfulness my anchor.  

Although I spin my wheels and bust my butt to know-all and be-all things for my kids, I acknowledge that all sovereignty, knowledge, and power actually rests in you alone. Forgive me for trying to steal your glory by exalting myself up as Sustainer of All Things rather than pointing my kids to You, Lord.  Because the truth is- apart from you, I am not enough.  My power is insufficient.  And my wisdom is faulty at best.  

But you have given us your infallible Word and your guiding Spirit.  You have promised that your love is everlasting and your grace sufficient.  So, when my eyes start darting around as they tend to do, comparing notes with every other parent out there, may they ultimately rest on your goodness and sufficiency.  May your truth guide me.  

And in those moments when I cry out in desperation, “Oh, my God!  Am I screwing my kids up forever?,” may your love and mercy wash over me as I am reminded once again that I have never had that kind of power over my kids’ lives anyway.

And thank you, God, for that.

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on loving them big and sending them out

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Elizabeth had spent weeks studying the hotel’s website.  Daily, she’d pore over stock pictures of the mediocre-to-most hotel breakfast.  “So you’re saying I get to eat ALL THE BACON I WANT?” she’d confirm again and again, completely mesmerized by the notion. She rehearsed the details and the plans.  Shopping.  Food.  Pool.  Friends.  Food.  Nails.  Food.

Over the past few years, The Kindergarten Trip has become quite the beloved tradition in our home.  This all came about when Matt took a cue from our church’s phenomenal counseling pastor, Brad Hambrick, who had started a similar tradition with his sons.  His purpose?  “Defining special occasions and major lessons with a memorable trip.”

We loved this idea of celebrating specific rites of passage with concentrated one-on-one time with our kids.  Sure, we were in it for the fun.  In Elizabeth’s case, we would shop!  Swim!  Eat all of the Hampton Inn bacon her little gut could handle!  (Oh my gosh.)  But we also desperately want to grab ahold of these golden opportunities to speak truth into our kids’ lives at pivotal moments.  To press pause on the crazy at home and to carve out the space and time to invest in relationship.  To insert ourselves, as parents, into some of the biggest transitions in their lives and to create positive memories surrounding these moments.

I know this might sound really Pollyannaish to some, but it really comes down to this- we just want our kids to know to the core of their being that they are loved in a no-matter-what kind of way.  Because they WILL screw up.  They’re going to run into tough situations in school.  There will be hard questions and big conversations and bad days.  And we want them to know that our house- imperfect though it may be- is a place of grace and mercy and truth.  We want our kids to know that they can run to us with all of their everything.  And when they do, we’re going to point them right back to the One who loves perfectly.  Because, while I am known to roll my eyes and grit my teeth in frustration, His patience never runs dry.  His grace is perfect. And his strength is limitless.

I want to teach them to run to us so that, ultimately, they learn to sprint to Him.

I want to surprise them with grace and to love ’em big and, then, to look in their eyes and say, “You know what?  There’s a love that’s even greater!”

That’s the goal.  And if a one night trip a few hours down the road to Charlotte gets me one step closer to accomplishing this, then we’re on the right track.  Because this parenting thing is a marathon.  And sometimes we’re just lucky enough to get “really spot on” (Elizabeth’s words, not mine) hotel bacon along the way.

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29 days. Let’s do this. (Or, Unanswered Questions with Mary Grace)

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I love summer.  I do.  The lazier mornings.  The looser schedules.  Hair that’s turned straight-up crunchy from chlorine.  That elusive moment the cry of “I’m booooored” succumbs to creativity and unplugged play.

The other day, I found all three kids outside creating some wobbly structure out of discarded toilet paper rolls.  Those moments are pure magic.

Unfortunately, summer also seems to bring out the crazy in me.  I mean.  I guess fall can bring the crazy out in me in equal measure.  As can, oh I don’t know, winter and spring.  But SUMMER.  I feel all of the pressure to do all of the things.  Right now.  Really well.

Gotta make those memories!  Gotta be a “fun mom”!  But just don’t go creating a generation of self-absorbed, all-about-them kids!

Lazy days at the pool!  But, oh wait!  Don’t forget the chore charts and workbooks pages!

Rest!  No, play!

Go!  No, stay!

Let ’em be bored!  No, give them enriching experiences!

Parenting is hard work, y’all.

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And if these intrusive thoughts are not enough to get me all flustered, the steady stream of kid questions and musings stand ready to DO ME IN.

For example.  Last week, the kids were watching Planet Earth.  Naturally, I was feeling pretty good about my mothering because, while some children were frittering away their hours with Pokemon, mine were learning biology.  Ecology.  Lots of ologies.

Then, it came.  “Mom.  What’s SPERM?” she yelled.  “Sperm, mom, the SPEEEERRRM.  What is that?”

Ohmygosh.  So much for education; give me Disney Junior.  GIVE ME POKEMON.

Later that day, we found ourselves at the North Carolina Museum of Art.  Again, I’m feeling pretty smug at this point, patting myself on the bat for having children who could tiptoe around priceless pieces of art without wreaking complete havoc.  Children who were interested enough in the artwork to carefully sound out the descriptions of each painting.  (Children who now know that “sperm help make babies.”  Because we’re very well-rounded around here.)

We wandered through gallery after gallery.  We saw mummies.  Ancient artifacts.  But there was one burning question of the morning that Mary Grace just needed answered.

“Mom.  Mommmm.  What’s a…” and she pointed at the word in question.  “Virgin,” I whispered.  No, mom.  Let me read it!  And she sounded it out.  Carefully.  Slowly.  Loudly.  “Vvvviiiirrrginnn.  What’s a VIRGIN?”

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Y’all.  Art galleries are quiet.  Art galleries do not generally seem accustomed to young children.  Art galleries can hear everything.  So, you can imagine that my daughter’s newfound interest in the immaculate conception felt particularly… deafening.

I’m telling you.  Summer is exhausting.

So, we’re on the homestretch.  T-29 days to be exact (but who’s counting?)  29 days of fun/games/amusement/excitement.  29 more days of unstructured, lock-’em-outside-until-dinnertime play.  29 more days of crunchy pool hair and popsicle-stained mouths.  29 more days of “mommommommommom” on repeat all the day long.  29 more days ’till my countertops are overrun with backpacks and homework and papers to sign and date and return.

We’ve got this, moms of summer.  Let’s finish strong.

Though, if I’m completely honest, yesterday’s question du jour (“How do babies get in mommies’ tummies anyway?”) made me a tiny bit doubtful that I can swing another 29 days of Q&A.

“Well, Mary Grace,” Matt said, “God just puts them there.”

“Ew.  That’s SO GROSS,” she yelled.

Summer.  It’s winding down.  So, may these final days and weeks be filled with equal measures of fun and rest.  May the hard days be punctuated with easy, early bedtimes.  May the easy days linger on as you enjoy the small things.  And may you have the good fortune of evading questions that you’re JUST NOT READY TO ANSWER thankyouverymuch.

Godspeed.

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The Untethering of a Heart

It was their bedtime, and I was beyond ready.

Tensions had been running high that day.  Attitudes were hot, patience was waning, and apologies were being doled out (read: forced out) by the hour, half hour, minute.

We were done.  I was on the verge of crossing the day’s finish line.  And all that separated me from the couch were a few goodnight kisses and prayers.

We rolled though their prayer requests as we do… friends who are overseas… friends who are planting churches… invisible ailments on little five year old appendages… and, this day, I happened to mention a few little ones at our church who are sick.  Really sick.  Desperately-in-need-of-prayers sick.  They prayed, I prayed, and as usual, bedtime was signaled with our collective “amen.”

Except not quite.  As I hurriedly tucked each girl in, eyes on the long-awaited prize (Netflix + pajamas + couch), I heard Mary Grace’s raspy little voice ask, “I don’t get it.  Doesn’t it make God sad that these kid are sick?  Doesn’t God want these babies to be healed?  If He can do anything- if He can heal people and make people see again and make dead people alive again- why doesn’t He just DO it?”

I exhaled deeply as I prepared to offer up the best answer I knew to give in that moment.  Because, little did she know, her weary mama had been busy firing off variations of those very questions herself.

“God, I know your Word says that you, Lord, are our refuge.  Our shield.  That we have no reason to fear because you will send your angels- your ANGELS- to guard us.  But, God, what about Castile and Sterling?  Dallas and Orlando?  Where were you then?”

“God, I know you are a God of justice, but what about Nice?  Istanbul?  Munich?  I’m just having a hard time with this, Lord.”

“God, I know you are El Roi- the God who sees- but things are feeling pretty pretty bleak down here.  If you really saw all of this mess, wouldn’t you… do something?”

I’m pretty grateful that we have a God who can handle our laments and questions.  A God who GETS that we’re finite humans and who isn’t dumbfounded by our doubts.  Because, the truth is, I find myself wavering between numbness and despair these days.  It’s just headline after headline, hashtag after hashtag… rinse, repeat.

But then, I hear the whispers.  “Catherine, I do see.  I do care.  And I have never, not once, left my throne.  So, don’t despair, and do not grow numb.  Look to me.”

And I do.  I look to Him.  And as I approach His throne with all of my brokenness and questions, I feel the gradual untethering of my heart to the things of this world and an ever-growing homesickness for eternity.  For our future reality in which death and pain and crying exists no longer.  When peace is restored, justice reigns once more, and we worship together as one tribe, one nation, one people.  And slowly but surely, future hope starts peeking through the ominous clouds of the here and now.

The reality is, this world’s brokenness spares no one.  We see it in our families, marriages, churches, jobs, newspaper headlines.  Brokenness everywhere.  But in it all, I keep returning to the truth that, while our present reality may seem bleak and our situation desperate, there has never been a moment in history outside of His sovereign reach.  Never will be.

Friends, these days have been impossibly tough for so many of you.  And I certainly do not have all of the answers.  Heck, I don’t even have MANY of the answers.  But there are a few things I know for absolute sure:

I KNOW that our laments do not fall upon deaf ears.  Our cries of “enough, Lord!” are heard by a God who loves us, quite literally, to death.

I also know that, just as the beauty of this world only pales in comparison to the glory that awaits us, the harsh realities this broken world- the injustice, sickness, pain, terror, and death- will soon exist no more.

So, may we resist giving up, shutting down, and growing numb by the hard things of this life.  May we engage in the hard.  Wrestle with the pain.  Confess our doubts.  Ask God the brutally honest questions.

May our weeping usher us into a greater urgency to see His kingdom come.

May we not get so bogged down and beaten up by the darkness that we’re rendered ineffective witnesses to the one true and inextinguishable light.

This world we live in- it’s beautiful.  And it’s ruthless.  A broken and glorious mess that teaches us every single day that Jesus is better.

Better than “making America great again.”

Better than guaranteed safety and security in these days of targeted shootings and ISIS.

Better than reassuring MRI results.

Better than very best this life has to offer.  Better than life itself.  He’s better.  I’m convinced of it.

And the untethering continues.  Unleashing my heart from that which does not last, all to bound it tight around that the One who does.  The One who is better. Our Hope.

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The Rivah. 2016.

 

Just this morning, I was scrolling through my phone’s photo library when I was struck by a particularly alarming trend: sunrise pictures.  Of my children.  ON VACATION.

IMG_0329So. Many. Sunrise. Pics.

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Hi, my name is Catherine.  And I mother children who do not sleep.  Sleepless children who also happen to live and breathe the timeless adage, “Go hard or go home.”

IMG_0270And they. went. hard.  Per usual.

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Flying off docks like crazy people.

IMG_0251Kayaking.  Skiing.  Tubing.

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IMG_0289In the rare moments we were not in the water, we were doing other very crucial things.  Crucial things like paying visits to the neighbors’ pigs.  As you can clearly see, I do it all for the kids.

IMG_0371So, we swam.  We whispered sweet nothings into the ears of giant swine.  We painted.  We read.

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As we were packing up to leave, Mary Grace said, through tears, “I just don’t like the feeling I get when I have to leave a place I really love.”

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I nodded.  Agreed with her.  And we ended up staying an extra day.

IMG_0181Because, the way I see it- if you’re gonna go hard and wake up for seven sunrises, you might as well go even harder and stay for one more.

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