Dear mom, now I get it

Dear mom,

The other night I snuck into my own kids room while they were sleeping to spy on them. After doing the nightly crib search of “where is he at underneath all these stuffed animals and blankets?” I looked over into the corner and saw the pajamas of a little girl who asks to wear them nightly but ends up sleeping in her undies any way.

They don’t know I’m in there.

He doesn’t know that regardless of which side of the bed his feet end up on, his hands will be clutching a lovie, his bottom will be in the air, and his cheek will be smooshed against the mattress

She doesn’t know that her blanket she isn’t able to sleep without will inevitably end up flung off of her or that her body will be sprawled out in every direction with no pjs on it.

But I do.

I get to know these things about them that the rest of the world doesn’t know.

That they don’t even yet know.

Like the way their skin felt when it was first laid on mine.

Like the pitch their voice squeaks out when they feel really proud of what they’ve done.

Like the shape their face takes when their eyes are about to well up with tears.

Like the warmth of their morning cuddles or the stench of their dirty diapers.

Now it makes sense, mom.

All those times you knew something was wrong the moment I answered the phone.

When you knew you needed to knock on my bedroom door and check on me.

When you knew what the light in my eyes, crack in my voice, and quiver in my lip meant.

When you knew I felt afraid even though I thought I was hiding it so well.

When you were cooking dinner and already knew exactly which foods that night I would pick around and which ones I would devour.

When you knew the words I needed to hear.

When you knew the space I needed to sit in.

When you knew the consequences I needed to face.

When you knew how hard I tried, how badly I failed, or how far I’d come.

When you knew the hug I needed to embrace.

Because you knew me, mom. You knew me even before I really knew myself.

And now I get it.

From one mom to another

I have seen a picture of the well known Katniss-Everdeen-salute floating around with the caption, “this is me when I see another mom with her screaming toddler in the store.”  Well, I am here to tell you that I am currently her.  I am another mom navigating the same store aisles as you while our toddlers attempt to completely unravel us in front of other, once peaceful, shoppers.

I’m in these trenches with you. I do not have much to look back on and I do not really know where I’m headed. I’m just right beside you speaking solidarity. And it is from here that I am going to share a short list of life-giving phrases that have been infused into my mama-brain by many others that have gone before me. These aren’t deep theological truths or even necessarily practical to-do’s. I’m not trying to give a pep talk or ensue a guilt trip. Rather, I wanted to share some simple sayings that continue to free me up when I’m tempted to cower in fear and shame or puff up in pride and judgement. I hope they give some life and liberation to you as well:

Breathe it in

I know this is the most cliche one in the book and border line obnoxious. I know it can tend to have a reverse effect and bring about similar negative feelings (like guilt) I just mentioned above. At times though, these words have been spoken into my situation in such a tender and timely way. I’ve realized those times are not typically an antidote to long days- and certainly not long nights- but rather as a sweet reminder in the still moments. I now try to whisper this kind cliche to my own still moments. Moments where my legs are tingling from both my kids dozing off on them. All squished on the same sofa. All feeling the same sunshine beating through the big window. There won’t be very many more moments where I’m wrapped in the same fuzzy blanket as my Buddha-belly baby wearing only his diaper and my pig-tailed toddler wearing every color and pattern imaginable. And I tell myself to breath this very moment in. Every little bit of it.

This too shall pass

While I have found it freeing to speak over these moments with words about one day missing things like this, I’ve also found very different words necessary in the moments that I need to just be, well, kept alive. I’ve found that it’s not only about kindly whispering to myself, but sometimes assertively shouting at myself, “this is not forever!” Because if it were, I’d be done. Gone. Count me out. Mom fail, at life. But seriously. Some parenting days are really really hard. And I’ve had to give myself permission to say that and to stop there. I think it’s okay to admit if we don’t drool over the smell of our new born baby or jump for joy over our toddler’s first real birthday party.  We like some phases more, or less, than others. Certain milestones have more, or less, significance to us than others. No one says to enjoy every single moment of anything else in life. Some minutes we are just trying to make turn into hours. Some days we are just aiming to get through. And even some seasons, we are literally just surviving. Don’t worry mama, there will be more than enough good to remember.

Everyone is different

I know this sounds both vague and obvious, but it’s been crucial to me in so many ways; particularly in times of grasping for easy answers. I think one messy thing about parenting, like all relationships, is that as human beings we have a hard time heeding godly wisdom and accepting general life principles that produce likely consequences or benefits. Yet we want seamless formulas and seek after quick solutions where there are no text book answers. There are no textbook answers because there are no textbook kids. There is no magic number for an amount of sleep a child must get or an amount of veggies a child must eat. No doubt our impact is significant on our kids’ well being. But our gauge should be our own kid and not everyone else’s. This frees us up to love and parent our kids for who they are: with their very own tendencies and idiosyncrasies and struggles and strengths. We don’t always have to make sure our kids are “on par” with everyone else’s. Kids develop at different paces and need different things. And that’s really okay.

You have nothing to prove

A competitive nature mixed with an insecure spirit is breeding ground for performance driven parenting. Don’t ask me how I know. But the life-injecting reality is that there is no other human being, not even that mom that we most want to esteem us or simply accept us, that we have to give an account to. We do not have to have the approval of anyone. We do not have to live up to their standards or do things their ways. We can promote other’s from the crowd without needing to step on stage and be recognized with them. Our worth as a mom is not measured by other people’s perceptions and opinions of us. We can be free to lean on and learn from each other, without competing and comparing with one another. We can be both teachable in who we’re becoming and stable in who we already are.

There’s grace for that

Honestly this phrase is just my whole life theme. But it has guided and guarded me as a mama, too. For all my worst mom-fears, there’s grace for that. When I’m in a season of survival, there’s grace for that. When I fail my kids. Again and again and again. There’s grace for that. Grace for winning and grace for losing. Grace for learning and grace for longing. Grace for striving and grace for resting.

So much grace.

What my daughter’s 3 year old birthday taught me

Last month our daughter Reese turned three. We decided that we would take advantage of her being young enough to think that hanging out with only her family for an entire day was still cool. We thought we would take the opportunity to capitalize on family time, experience, and try to keep it fairly low key yet fun.

The day started off at a donut shop and ended at the place with the yummiest pizza and best prizes.. that’s right, the one and only, Chuck E. Cheese. Actually in all honesty (they did not pay me to say this), I was pleasantly surprised by the prices and even the pizza. I guess when you go into a place expecting to pay hundreds of dollars to win a tootsie pop and eat melted cheese on a piece of cardboard, it can really only go up from there. So there is my first lesson: the lower you set your expectations the higher chance they have of being exceeded. But seriously, as pleasantly surprised as we were and as enjoyable as the day was, there was this moment that stopped me on the inside, in the midst of the chaos. With the smell of cheese pizza filling our nostrils, the sound of ski balls crashing and motorcycles racing, the bright lights flashing and the presents around the table crowding us in, I kept hearing my daughter essentially say “is it time for the next thing yet?”

I couldn’t really blame her. Sensory overload was in full affect for us all. But that’s when the somewhat lighthearted yet striking thought occurred to me, “well this kind of flies in the face of what we try to teach her every other day of life.” Places like Chuck E. Cheese make it hard to practice things like slowing down, enjoying, and appreciating. I’m not here to bash Chuck E. Cheese, or Disney Land, or Christmas Day. However, it did open my eyes in a fresh way to the cycle that celebrations and vacations can be. It’s often something like the hype, the high, the crash, and the confusion.

So how do we bridge this gap between a day filled with confetti and the inevitable normalcy of the next day? How do we teach our kids, and our own selves, to grapple with all of life’s “day afters.”  How can we expect our kids to not aggressively rip through their presents and quickly move onto the next when we’ve set up the entire day to say it’s all about you? How can we expect them to not be met with disappointment and confusion when they wake up the very next day to hear the opposite message of stop whining, life isn’t all about you? 

To be clear, I don’t regret what we did that day. I wouldn’t change a single thing about where we went or what we did. It was a really fun and memorable day. In fact, Reese has continued to talk about how her birthday was “her favorite one yet!” Especially because she got to meet “the real Chuck. E Cheese!” Which is obviously saying a lot considering her long and experienced life. But of course, like most things in life, this is not really about Chuck E. Cheese. It’s about how we help our kids process the days of  all-you-can-eat-cake and the days of all-you-must-eat-veggies.

So here are 5 lessons I want to store up and take with me to the next birthday:

  1. Tell them what you want them to know

    This may seem like a silly point to make but I think sometimes we forget the simple power behind actually vocalizing things. At least I do. Words mean nothing without actions. But words build a foundation of understanding underneath the actions. So in the years to come, my hope is that after we bombard our kids’ room with a beautiful rendition of the birthday song, we take the time to actually tell them what Lewis birthday’s mean to us . We want to help them navigate the excitingly out-of-ordinary day ahead of them by simply talking to them about it. While this doesn’t buy any melt down free guarantees, it reiterates the values and expectations that are the same even on the mundanely ordinary days.

  2. Remind them thankfulness is a part of the day

    One of Reese’s crash-symptoms was that she was “unable” to talk to her family on the phone at the end of the day. The ones who had taken time to wish her a happy birthday and many who sent her gifts. I get that she was mostly just an exhausted kid after a fun day. And let’s be honest, even as adults, trying to find adequate ways on special days to say thank you can feel daunting and tiring. So as a take away, instead of trying to force thank-yous, we want to carve out time for them. Hopefully this creates the space for gratefulness to become more genuine and thought-out on their own. And also for giving thanks to become as much an expected part of this whole birthday gig as cake is. This might mean calling a few people to thank before bed. It might mean Face Timing the next day. Or it might mean sending a thank you note a few days later. Whatever it may look like, we hope that carving out time to say “thank you” is a reminder that ultimately it is people that make special days, so special.

  3. Explain who it’s about and who it’s for

    I think it’s good to say “this day is about you!” And then to take it a step further and say “and you are made up of a lot of other people!” Just like the day itself took a lot of other people to make it what it was, our kids’ lives take a lot of other people to make them who they are. So it’s a non-exclusive mix of being about them and for others, too. Then we can strive to help them see this as a happy thing and not a dutiful thing; “isn’t it fun that the people who love you all get to enjoy celebrating you together? Let’s think about the best ways we can make it special for them too!

  4. Define deserve

    A super easy leap (or maybe baby step) to make is thinking that the more we are given things, the more we deserve them.  I think the human heart takes what we have been given and subtly makes it into something we ourselves got. “Given” implies a free gift and “got” implies an earned reward. Suddenly the parties and presents and pizza become a birthday right. When our kids think their rights are being withheld they become upset. And when they think their rights are being applied, well, they become indifferent. After all, it was something they deserved.

  5. Emphasize worth

    I think there is an important difference in the message “you are deserving” and “you are valuable.” True value doesn’t incite entitlement but beckons honor. Birthdays are a unique opportunity to shower our kids in honor and affirmation and encouragement. This could look like everyone in the family taking a turn to say one thing they love about the birthday boy or girl. It could also look like all thanking God during prayer time for one specific thing He is doing in that person. Or having friends write down a word that has marked their life over the past year and giving it to them to keep. Whatever creative and meaningful ways praise their person-hood.

    Whether it’s a surprise slumber party or small family dinner the goal is to say to our kids that we delight in celebrating them simply because they are delightful. And that is what we hope our kids remember… even more than getting to meet “the real Chuck E. Cheese!”


Treasuring time and setting traditions

If you know me you know how much I genuinely love every season of the year. Like, when someone says “okay but say you had to choose a place to live in that only has one season” nope nope nope. Not playing your game. I choose every season. More accurately, I kind of choose the changing of seasons. Sorry. I’m a total game ruiner with this one.

Seriously though, I love seeing a backpack-swallowed kid get on the bus for the first day of school just as much as I love seeing kids who have gained a year’s worth of knowledge jump off the bus and run towards the first day of summer break. I love the first snow fall and the last snow melt. I love the smell of the first spring rain and the fresh feel in the air that means autumn is upon us.

So as the days of tan lines, sunglasses, and lake hair come to a close I start anticipating the days of scarves, crunchy leaves, and salted caramel lattes. I enjoy the spontaneity of summer yet crave the formality of the fall.

To me, the coming of fall means a new pace. It motivates me to connect the underlying things: our family values and the home-culture we hope to create to the practical things: our day to day life which includes our own set of work schedules, priorities, and preferences. The coming of the fall season gives new opportunity to practically and creatively carve into our lives what we hope marks our family and not just our calendar. From annual traditions, to weekly celebrations, to daily disciplines.

It could be family oriented, like pizza night (I lived with a family in Africa who made pizza every Friday night, did a fun story time around the table, and watched a movie together) or devotions when you wake up and books before you go to bed. Or it could be individual based, like playing ultimate frisbee once a week or plopping down every night after the kids go to sleep and gulping that long-awaited- frosted-over glass of milk. I think staples in life give us simple joys to look forward to and create special memories to look back on.

Some of these routines and responsibilities have already begun to play out in every day things like chore charts and check lists, craft time and chill time, daddy’s days off and doctors appointments. And then there is the (extra) fun stuff. The traditions and celebrations and simple joys.

So— as Fall 2018 approaches, I wanted to share a few things we have started to/plan to include into our weekly lives:

Tuesday- TUTU Tuesday!

Reese is a long standing member of the tutu craze club. It got to the point where she was begging to wear one There was no real reason to say no except for “we don’t just get to wear tutus every day of life.” So, we chose a special day for it! And boy does she look forward to it, every single week. And I must admit, it’s a lot more fun for me this way too.

This is also now a day that we specifically talk about/think about/pray for Reese’s cousin and her family all throughout the day. Tuesday’s are her hospital day.

Wednesday- World Wednesday!

This is one I’m hoping to dig a lot deeper into and get a lot more creative with. The idea is to teach the kids about about rest of the world— other counties, cultures, and colors. To educate on differences and celebrate diversity.

Practically this may look like going to a park or grocery store that is in a different part of town. Or spending the whole day learning about people with differing disabilities. Or making and eating food from a different country. Or learning about and praying for missionaries.

Christian Resource: “Gods Very God Idea” -Trillia Newbell

Kids YouTube: “PK Words From Around the World” and “Baby Language Song ASL”

Friday— fun Friday!

The goal is to do something FUN every Friday. Maybe going to a park or play place or something special that goes along with that season (eg pool in summer). Then Friday nights are designated family nights. This could be anything from building a fort, to game night, to a movie, to making calzones together.

Sunday- r e s t & r e s e t

…So there you have it. A sampling of small and simple Lewis traditions.

The fun thing about traditions are that they are yours. You can create them, morph them, dispose of them, and sometimes they happen into being all on their own.

For more: 10 family-fun-hacks that I’ve most likely either stolen or just heard of–

  1. Breakfast for dinner night
  2. Picking a primary family hobby and investing time/resources here
  3. Picking a life skill to hone in on with a child for chunks at a time
  4. Clean up house day
  5. Visit parent at work day
  6. Holiday traditions: sibling sleepover on Christmas Eve, annual hay ride at pumpkin patch, new outfits on Easter
  7. After school tea time
  8. Serve somebody else day: visit nursing home, cook someone a meal, send a card
  9. Jammie day
  10. Celebration dinners: starting something new or completing something old; major and minor mile stones

Sally Clarkson

Grief: the uninvited friend

“Mama come see! Come see!” I hear exclaimed from the bathroom.


I see her ducks, all varying in size, lined up along the edge of the bath. I force my face to light up in surprise as if I had never seen her do this before. And of course she would do it at least a dozen more times after this in the coming weeks.

And as the scenario always goes.. “this is Reesey, Decwin, Daddy, and Mama,” she says pointing to each of them. But this time was a little different. There was an extra duck she had put up there (yes she somehow accumulated at least 5 rubber duckies). She pauses at the last one, so I light heartedly ask her who the other duck is.

Then it hits me.

Maybe someday I’ll tell her. Tell her about her other little brother or sister. The one that the “extra ducky” so abruptly reminded me of. But, for now, I will just look into her big innocent eyes and tell her that I love our little ducky family.

Right there in the middle of my daughters bath time. Grief happened.


Here is what I have learned and observed about it:

1. Grief is unapologetic

It barges in on us. It’s the guest who makes their way into every party yet didn’t get an invite. It is oblivious to time and surroundings. Sometimes it sticks with us like a deep and dull pain, other times it pricks us like a sharp sting, and then there are times that it completely rushes over us like a wave. Grief can just feel plain, well, mean.

2. Grief can be sort of kind

But I have found the sneaky soft side of grief. It has, at least for me, brought some sense of comfort. It reminds me that they (the one I’m grieving over) were real and that they are worthy. So worthy and impactful that there will always be a lasting them-shaped hole that gets filled up with sorrow. For me, grief allows my heart to hold on to what my hands never got to.

3. Grief is confusing

It warps time in a paradoxical way. It can feel so familiar that it makes us wonder if we really ever knew life without it yet it feels so fresh that it makes us wonder how so much time has already passed. Eventually, it can also cause us to be genuinely thankful for the newness that has come of it. Maybe it’s new love (like in remarriage or friendship), maybe it’s new lessons (like learning that time is so very precious and fragile), or maybe it’s new life (like a little boy who that sudsy girl lining up her duckies now calls brother). Yet we simultaneously wish with all of our hearts that it never had to happen this way.

4. Grief is worth grieving

I believe it’s good to keep perspective and to fight off a “woe is me” mentality. Or as I have heard it called “navel gazing.” But I also think we can wrongly dismiss the legitimacy of what we, or others, are going through by always adding qualifiers like “at least….” One simple and comforting thing someone once said to me in response to me sharing something I was going through was “man Nat, that sucks.” They genuinely meant it. We don’t need to or get to hear that every time. But maybe sometimes we should. We don’t have to justify or dismiss grief based off of comparison. It’s not always about better or worse. Sometimes it is just about, different. And grief is worth grieving. Because it’s real, and it’s yours.

5. Grief produces empathy… or can

Ray Ortland says “Suffering is not meant to get me thinking, ‘Nobody can understand me.’ It’s meant to get me thinking, ‘Now I can understand others’.” It’s hard to put into words but suffering and sadness really do have a way of connecting us to others. Of making us more raw and relatable. Of helping us not just feel things for people, but with them. It has the potential to make us more soft and less hard, more careful with our words and less careless with them, and more understanding and less assuming.

6. Grief reminds us there is more.

As Christians we believe that pain “reminds the heart that this is not our home.” Because Christ chose to become a man acquainted with grief and loss and longing, through Him (his life, death, and resurrection), we now get to know a future life without it. Here, grief will have to knock at the door. And it will not be allowed in. But until that day, we are given comfort and hope. And a God who is both sovereign and kind.

“O Church of Christ upon that day,
When all are gathered in,
When every tear is wiped away
With every trace of sin;

Where justice, truth, and beauty shine, And death has passed away;

Where God and man will dwell as one, For all eternity!”

A letter to my son

A little over two years ago I wrote a letter to my daughter (linked at bottom). While it also reflects my hopes and prayers for my son, I wanted to write a specific one for just him.

Dear Declan,

Eyes: I pray that your eyes see, really see, every humans worth. That they will not be used for the exploitation or denigration of others. That they wouldn’t be afraid to cry.. like at Remember The Titans. That they would reflect depth. That above all, they would gaze into the glory and grace of Jesus and everything else would grow strangely dim.

Ears: I pray that your ears will never stop hearing the simple things like planes soaring or birds chirping or your sister laughing. That your ears will be quicker to act than your mouth is. That they would be open to hear talks with your dad. That above all, at the end of your life, you would hear your Father say “well done.”

Mouth: I pray that your words would be gentle and courageous; and that they would protect and defend. That its favorite shape would be a genuine smile. That you would use it to enjoy and appreciate good food. Above all that I would hear it loudly sing the praises of your King in the back seat of our car, in the shower, down the aisle from me, and in a village half way across the world.

Hands: That your hands would work hard at whatever they do. That they would help others up when they fall down and reach out to be grabbed when you yourself fall down. That they would firmly shake the hand of both the executive and the man with a sign on the street corner. Above all, that they would be open to receive grace and forgiveness in Christ.

Mind: I pray that your mind would grow in knowledge but even more so, in wisdom. That your mind would be a battle ground against destructive thoughts and a factory for growth, creativity, and reflection. Above all, that your mind would constantly mull over the Words of God.

Feet: I pray that they would jump and run and kick and climb. That they would bring you to the tops of mountains and feel the edge of the ocean wash over them. Above all, that they would go wherever God would lead you.

Heart: Lastly, I pray for your precious heart. That your heart would feel deeply and love fiercely. That it would be big and be brave. That it would have an evident connection to your words and actions. Above all, that it would rest secure and strong; not just as a servant of God but a son of God. A fully known, accepted, held, and loved- son.

No matter where you go, what you do, or who you become, our love for you is settled. And our arms are always an open place for you to run.

I’m glad you’re my boy.

Love, Mom

Postpartum hacks

As of today my baby boy is two weeks old. It’s been two weeks of short nights, curious little eyes, body pains, therapeutic snuggles, moments of utter chaos and so so much sweetness.

While having my second go-around on this new born thing doesn’t at all make me a pro, I decided to compile a list of what I’m calling “postpartum hacks” that have mostly been passed along to me and that I hope to implement during these days.

So to you mamas whose trash is full of diapers, sink is full of bottles, and shirt is full of stains; this ones for you. For us.

1. Read a book or binge watch a show while feeding baby. It’s enjoyable and its effortless, and it will always be a sentimental connection to the new born days.

2. Hide some chocolate… or any treat of choice. When you need a quick pick me up, whip that delicious chocolate (dark for me!) out of your hidden stash and treat yo self. Tastes like deliciousness and adulthood.

3. Be easy on your body. Instead of focusing so much on how your body looks focus more on what your body can do. Remember your body brought forth life and continues to give it daily. Consider the messages your body sends to your baby like warmth, love, safety, and provision.

4. Sleeeep! Every chance you get when you need it.. which is every chance you get.

5. Adjust quiet times. As a Christian these demanding days honestly make “quiet times” with God feel a little daunting. A friend once encouraged me that this season is an okay one to set aside our bible reading plan that has us in Leviticus and instead spend 15 spare minutes in the Pslams. Even if we don’t have the same emotional and mental capacity, our souls need Gods Word. So keep feeding on it, even if it is more like small snacks. *also fill your mind with good music and podcasts.

6. GO! When given the opportunity… get out for bit! Leave the baby for a few minutes with someone you trust and sit at a coffee shop, go on a walk, or just drive around the block with the windows down.

7. Identify energy drains. A podcast I was recently listening to suggested identifying our typical “drain times” during the day. With my first child I discovered quickly that one of mine was during the time between dinner and when Dad gets home (for us about 5:30 to 7:30) This is ironically the time when I’m building an imaginary wall and my daughter, and now son, are simultaneously determined to knock it down and be as close to me as humanly possible.

8. Apply energy fills. Instead of resorting to checking out during this time, though, we should follow up by identifying our energy fills. It might be sneaking away for 3 minutes to lay on our bed and stare at the ceiling, or stepping outside and breathing in fresh air, or closing our eyes and imagining bed time. But it’s finding, and applying, that little something to give us an extra push to get through the day more faithfully and fully.

Well, now I’m going to go eat some chocolate and binge watch Parenthood. Orrrr feed my baby while my toddler is climbing on me. Whatever.

Mom life.

Let’s embrace it.

Let’s laugh.

Let’s snuggle them like we don’t have long.

Let’s count the small wins.

Let’s breath in each precious moment.

I’d love to hear your own ideas! So drop your postpartum must-haves and go-tos below.