Margin Mom · motherhood · writing

Why I Can’t Coupon,Wrangle Laundry, and Write a Book at the Same Time

This week alone my three-year-old dressed himself three times.

Each time we had to negotiate a change of shirt or shorts or underwear because he was dressing himself from the dirty laundry pile on the floor.

We ran out of milk, lunch meat, bread, peanut butter, and fruit all on the same day. I packed my kids cheese and crackers for lunch, fixed grits for breakfast, and promised them I’d try to go to the store. They’d been telling me for two days we were running out of food. (We have plenty of food. It’s just all in the freezer or requires prep more advanced than my six-year-old’s skills.)

I should also mention that the freezer is hidden behind the piles of clean clothes that haven’t migrated out of the laundry room yet.

I used all my brain power writing and editing yesterday morning so I gave up the idea of price matching and instead came home with the biggest jar of peanut butter I could find.

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I should also mention that at this moment Gus is eating powdered donuts for lunch.

People love to remind me I can’t do it all. Nope, I can’t.

People also ask me how the book is coming. Well, I’ll tell you. Pretty much everyday I hold my head in my hands and wonder how bad the reviews will be and why I can’t think of a phrase other than “tilted his head” to use in conversation.

I get a little sick to my stomach thinking about how I can never write as well as ________________ (insert name of whatever author I’m currently reading).

I wonder if the story is too idealistic, too flawed, too close to my home and heart. I wonder if my grandmother would be proud.

Then I start writing again and every now and then, I think, maybe it won’t be so bad. Looking forward to our annual Edisto trip helps. Planning interviews and excursions all in the name of research helps. Drinking iced coffee in the library while there’s a babysitter at home helps.

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Remembering that this the story God gave me–word by word, moment by moment, through the eyes of editors and friends and in the windows of my own heart–that definitely helps. My novel is about letting go, embracing grace, appreciating how every flaw in your past can make you who you are today.

Mine has certainly made me. And my present re-makes me every day.

So some things have to go. Like clean floors and big savings and making sure Gus matches. For now, it’s just enough that his clothes are clean.

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amelia · faith · just write life · motherhood · writing

What It Means for Me to Live Prayer

IMG_6043In February, when I attended FCWC (which is really more retreat than conference and I recommend it wholeheartedly for introverted writers and harried moms who want to be writers), Robert Benson was the keynote speaker. I wrote a little about some things Robert had to say about hurry and life and living within the steps of the Ancient Dance.

Robert will tell you he is a little man but God is great. He’ll also tell you the Yankees are the only baseball team worth watching and if you dress like an artist people will believe you actually are one. Because of my proximity to the staff at conference, I got to spend a little extra time with him, and because I have a habit of putting my foot in my mouth, we had a good laugh together. We wound up in the same shuttle on the way back to the airport–over an hour of him and Eddie Jones (who is my publisher) talking church and baseball and publishing’s state of affairs.

One of those divine moments you have to watch out for at conferences where everyone believes God will place you where He wants you. God placed me where I could listen.

Robert has written a lot of books about life and Christianity but not about Christian living in the self-help sense of the genre. Don’t expect a how-to list and questions to work through and a Facebook chat group.

I purchased Living Prayer because I’ve been in a season of life in which I wrestle with prayer. Not just the action of it–what it means to pray ceaselessly or in communion–but what it means to pray and ask and receive.

Or to not.

IMG_2246I wonder over and over when we pray for healing and restoration and then say God is good when we receive those things if we could have received them without the prayer? And when we don’t, we say that is His will, so if His plan is unchanging, what is our purpose in prayer? What is the point?

Prayer, for me, has not been a rhythm, a stepping to a cadence my soul already knows. Rather it has been a beating and a brush-off. A way people had of offering comfort when what I really wanted was someone to rail with me, to hold me while I wept, to tell me that I am out of tune with God’s rhythm because prayer is not about what I can get but what I can receive.

Prayer is not meant to be the catch-all we so often make it.

People tell me God is so good when I answer their questions about my daughter’s health. I nod. God is good.

But my daughter is not healed.

She may never be, and that is our reality.

She compensates well and we move through our days and maybe I might call her physical therapist because her hip drop is back and her leg is very stiff and she cried the other night because her knee hurt. If her next MRI shows her lesion has receded, I’ll be surprised. If it shows a new spot of deterioration, we’ll still go through our every day and maybe see her neurologist an extra time or two.

And the only prayer I have is that God will show us how to live though our days.

I no longer offer petitions for her body or mine. I offer praise for every day that is better, for every moment that we are broken, for every set of hands that folds with mine. Then i get really quiet because Robert says we cannot hear God’s voice when we are too full of our own. 

And “it is our brokenness… that holds the key to whatever we have to share.”

There is a chapter in this book about Walking in the Dark. If you’ve never walked that path, perhaps you cannot yet understand. But if you have…

“Perhaps God needs me to pray so I can be about the business of laying myself and the people and places and things I care about on the altar.”

And that simple act is what I am learning prayer is. A laying down. A lifting up. A coming to the altar.

I’d love to have you join me there.

For more about what I’m reading, writing, and listening to these days subscribe to my monthly-ish newsletter.

motherhood · writing

On “Working” Mothers and Doing It All

IMG_6257I finished The Bronte Plot this week. So then I pulled old, old copies of books by the Brontes themselves off my shelf and contemplated actually reading Wuthering Heights since I’d tackled another copy of Jane Eyre back in January and loved it.

These books belonged to my maternal grandmother, a woman I realize now I barely knew, but who left an indelible enough impression that I’ve crafted a novel around her memory. And ironically, tucked inside the front cover of that Jane Eyre I found too delicate to read (I have a tendency to break bindings) was this yellowed article torn from some Lowcountry paper, a fact deduced from the wedding announcements listed on the back.

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I can’t remember now how I came to possess these treasures of my grandmother, but I would guess my mother gave them to me at some point. Which makes me wonder if Grandmommy White Hair (that’s what we called her and I’m sure she appreciated it) left it there for her to find. It cites stats from 1983–the year my mother went back to work after staying home for a year with my brother and I. The year she also had another baby we brought home from the hospital in a Christmas stocking.

I’m not sure what the message in this piece of forgotten paper was.

But I’m sure it wasn’t a chastisement or a discouragement. As sure as I am it wasn’t that, I am equally certain, that perhaps, the last lines were her intent. In an article that says nothing different than articles of the same topic today–working mothers make less than their male counterparts, women in general make up much of the work force for less pay, women with children are more likely to take underpaying, part-time jobs, or become self-employed–the close is that even with the monetary discrepancies, women work for “independence, autonomy, and feelings of self-worth”.


My friend re-posted an article this week–a reminder to mothers that our work matters here at home too. We forget that all too easily, and we live in a world that glorifies the mom who can do it all.

I follow a lot of mothers who are big bloggers and for a long time I thought they either were a) much more organized than me, b) required much less sleep than I, or c) more loved by God because of how they’d been blessed.

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You know the women I’m talking about, right? The ones who homeschool and cook organic, paleo meals from scratch with ingredients price matched and make sensory bins for every child and delight in every moment on Instagram and run an Etsy shop out of their garage and have a blog getting 10,000+ hits a month and have a book deal with Thomas Nelson and go on dates with their husbands and call themselves “stay at home” moms.

We have a habit of believing these accomplished ladies have found some secret to motherhood–some balance–that the rest of us have not yet discovered.

They have. She’s called the babysitter.


People tell me all the time they don’t know how I do it all. I get this from people who really only know I have four kids. From people who know I have four kids and blog and write for the newspaper. People who know I have four kids and a book contract and the title Editor. People who know I have four kids and freelance for the first paycheck I’ve brought home steady in five years.

Then they find out I make homemade pizza on Friday nights and they really act like I’ve accomplished a great feat.

So I tell them the truth: this is the first year I’ve been able to do motherhood and writing to build a career and homemaking with any sort of balance.

Because for twelve hours out of every week all four of my kids are in school at the same time.

And when they’re not? When it’s Spring Break (hello this week) or vacation or too many snow days, I drop some balls. And I hire a babysitter.

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The truth is no one is doing it all. Not all by themselves. There are grandmothers or aunts or best friends or college students or husbands there helping. What women who are doing great things for Jesus from the corner desk in their kitchen have that you don’t have is the ability to admit– I can’t do it all without some help.

Some of them are just more transparent about that than others.

My favorite podcast these days is Anne Bogel from Modern Mrs. Darcy with What Should I Read Next. After that, I love Tsh and The Simple Show. They got together a couple weeks ago and talked work. How they run big business blogs and write books and travel and raise kids and homeschool all in one day.

Did you guess it? They have help.


Staying home is the greatest blessing my husband and the Lord could have ever given me. Being the one who’s available when they’re sick, when we have dentist appointments or doctor check ups or Career Day or field trips, is a gift–and sometimes, a drudgery. Let’s be honest.

I believe I was called home. I believe some women are called out. I believe we’re all great moms.

But I also believe (because my mom who raised seven children and worked outside the home all my life except for 1982 tells me all the time) WE ARE TOO HARD ON OURSELVES AND OUR EXPECTATIONS ARE UNREASONABLE.

Yes, I do what seems like a lot of things. But I have a team of people who back me up on all those things and extend grace when I miss a deadline.

Yes, I make homemade pizza. But we also have a line item in our budget for Chic-Fil-A.

Yes, I have four kids. And when I carve out time to do the work that enriches my soul, I become a better mom.

And they get two hours with a babysitter who isn’t impatient or snappy, who lets them eat more popsicles, play games I hate, and she jumps on the trampoline with them for an hour.

Everybody wins. And that, friends, is when it pays to be a working mother.

Want some of my favorite tips for doing it all? AKA Podcasts to Listen To, Books to Read, and Shows to Watch while folding the laundry? With a recipe for pizza too, of course. Sign up for my monthly-ish newsletter. First installment coming this weekend… maybe. If the babysitter is available.

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just write life · motherhood · savor · writing

Because Hurry is No Posture for Anyone

Unless there’s an emergency. Hurry is allowed then.

I spent last week in the company of great writers at the Florida Christian Writers Conference (you can head over here if you want to know why I go to writers conferences).

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Our keynote speaker was Robert Benson who can talk eucharist and Yankee baseball in the same sentence. My only quandary after hearing him speak is which book to read first. I’m leaning toward Living Prayer because a review says Benson “makes the ordinary events of life seem mystical and the mystical seem ordinary.” Which is the consistent cry of my heart and probably why I was moved hearing this man speak about life and art and writing and Jesus.

“Hurry,” he chastised softly one morning, “is no posture for a writer.”


 

Everyday I get out of bed and stumble over to the preset coffee maker and pour a cup. I nestle into a corner of our couch and I study and pray and journal. Sometimes I blog or read or socialize with others awake in the dim light of dawn.

Then my kids wake up and rush, rush, rush and hurry, hurry, hurry become my mantra. Somewhere between the turning over of the clock from 6:29 to 6:30 my slow easy morning becomes a winded sprint and there’s yelling and fussing and so much stress.

Hurry is no posture for a mother either.

When I hurry–when I push and prod and pull my kids through our morning routine–I set a tone for the rest of our day. I wake them with the notion that we are already behind and we must rush to catch up.

What if instead I woke them with the notion that we have a whole day of discovering God’s goodness upon us? What if I saw the morning as a filter through which the rest of our moments, our comings and goings, sifted through? What if instead of posturing hurry, I postured slow?


 

Sometimes I let them sleep in until almost seven. I make pancakes or oatmeal and hot tea for little sore throats. I pack up my computer so it’s not taken out until my work day has resumed and I listen when they chatter and I smile when they laugh.

I promise not to yell.

We load the banged-up minivan and we run through the day on the short drive to school without actually having to run.

And the only difference between when we get to school on these days and when we get to school on others is me.

Me.

My actions didn’t change. Lunches still got packed. Shoes still got lost and then found. Breakfast dishes were left on the table and the cat might have been left in the house.

But my attitude said slow down. Savor. Sip. Stow away the goodness and the glory in the mess and the broken.

Hurry, my friends, is no posture for anyone.

Slow down. Look around. Catch your breath.

You’ll get there no matter the route you take. But the difference will be in the journey.

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Robert Benson with me on the last day of conference.
faith · family · motherhood · writing

In the Broken

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The little pink porcelain cross hung over her cradle. Strength it read. For me, more than her. I kept it in her keepsake box and rubbed it like a talisman more than once last year when all the unknowns piled up because of her little brain and inside my sleepless one.

She broke that cross the other day.

Now it sits in a corner of my kitchen counter, waiting for superglue or hot glue or some other miracle.

Last week Joshua repaired three broken toys and a decorative teapot Annabelle got at a yard sale.

And I’ve told you all about my peeling paint van that often needs more repairs than there are digits in the emergency fund.

Yesterday the little man tried to be helpful. He climbed onto the open dishwasher to unload the cups for his whiny sister and strung-out mama. Never mind that I have said DO NOT CLIMB IN THE DISHWASHER a ridiculous amount of times since he became mobile nearly three years ago.

He fell and used the top rack to break his fall.

So, yeah, my life is pretty much full of brokenness.


 

I had a friend tell me this week that–

brokenness can be beautiful because it’s in the fall our need for Jesus is most magnified.

And oh, how I need.

My husband traveled this week. Not a big deal, I know. He’s home more than he’s gone and when he’s here, he’s all in. For that I’m grateful.

But sometimes the timing of his trips and the timing of my sanity just don’t match up.

Broken.

He got the sobbing-don’t-ever-leave-me-and-don’t-ask-me-to-manage-the-budget-and-these-kids-are-too-much phone call yesterday while he was at the LAX airport.

In my defense, the threat of snow had closed school two hours early and I don’t know about yours, but for my kids, transitions are the hardest part of everyday. If I ever homeschool one reason will be because we get along better with less transitions.

This introduction of the girls into the space that is not usually theirs and was already full with my to-do list and my thought that if they were home they could at least do their chores, made for a harder than needed to be afternoon.

The dishwasher incident broke me.

And I cried in the closet and my eleven year old tried comforting me and said (this is wisdom, really), “Having a conversation with you is like that conversation I just read with Gale and Katniss. You know? When he gets mad at her because he thinks they’re running away together and she thinks they should save Peeta’s family too?”

Well, the night before they had tried reading Bible stories with me, so I guess she figured Hunger Games might work too.

It kind of did.

See, Katniss and Gale fought because they had different expectations.

And my expectations are not at all the same as my children’s.

They expect some attention, and a little freedom to turn flips on the trampoline, and a snack, of course.

I expect them to be excellent readers because I was a reading teacher (and I love reading). I expect them to not only help, but to do so cheerfully, without complaining ever (apparently I’m the only one allowed to complain). I expect them to get along and love each other and listen to me all the time.

I think I forgot they are children. And they are broken and sinful and selfish.

Just. Like. Me.

They are also imaginative and compassionate and patient with their crazy mama. They are loving and kind and generous. But, they do not always meet my expectations.

I wonder if I meet God’s?

I think, yes. I think He doesn’t expect anything more of me than to come, broken, kneeling in my closet, weeping, begging for a little calmer heart.

He expects me to let Him handle this.

He’s my glue miracle. And he’s in the business of repairing the broken.

 

Books · family · linkups · motherhood

Raising Grateful Kids (review and promise)

The very thing most parents long to give their kids— a grateful heart—is destroyed in our attempt to simultaneously give them the worldOn a rainy December Monday just before Christmas, I spent my “work hours” in the waiting room of a Honda dealership getting our infamous 2004 Odyssey fixed of all the recalls that had filled up our mailbox. And I told them to figure out what was wrong with our doors, change the oil, and give it a general inspection.

Needless to say, this was an all day process. Luckily my mom came to my rescue and we Christmas shopped and went out to lunch. Smack dab in the middle of my Panera Autumn Squash bread bowl, the service department called. All those recalls—airbags and starter switches—fixed free of charge. But they’d evaluated all our other… issues and those came with a $2500 price tag.

For a van they’d give us $500 on trade-in value.

We almost bought a new vehicle that afternoon. I had that moment of “this-is-ridiculous-and-it’s-not-safe” followed by the overwhelming truth: I really, really want a new van.

And I don’t want one because of the work this one needs (which we actually are getting done in stages for half the price at local mechanic shop). I want a new van for one primary reason—the recall I most want fixed, Honda won’t honor. The peeling paint.

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That’s a cosmetic issue. Not a safety factor.

My friends joke how much they love our van—they always know it’s me! And while I truly don’t believe anyone who knows and loves us judges us, I still have to swallow a whole heaping mouthful of pride every Sunday I park in the lot beside much nicer and shinier and newer vehicles. At Ingles, I duck my head in shame and make sarcastic comments about Honda when the bag boys bring out my groceries. I beat others to the punch when giving directions to our house—just pull in the drive with the paint peeling van!

Clearly, I’m really, really bothered by this. And I could raise my voice and shake my fist and fight a fight with corporates who don’t care (because I’ve tried); I can rage against God how unfair it is I always manage to pick the lemon of the group; I could just throw down the tax return on a new paint job and be done. But I won’t get to go to the beach this year or make another dent in our debt.

Truth is, while we do need a new van, it’s not a dire need. We can drive this one (and we intend to for one more year while we save). I can be grateful that it gets us everywhere we need to go, and I’m not devastated when Gus pokes a hole in his Chic-fil-A cup full of Sprite on the way home. (Seriously, every single time.)

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So one of those kids isn’t mine. But this van is big enough for all of mine plus a couple extras. And this is Gus just before he spiked a fever. Fun times.

But I’m convinced I’m entitled to a new van because this one, to be honest, just makes me look bad. And I’m so tired of looking bad.

Then my daughter tells me she needs new jeans. Because she only has one pair of jeggings and she needs more. Oh, and her shirts aren’t cute and can she go to camp this summer and when is she getting a new bike?

But she doesn’t actually need any of this. Which is what I say.

And you don’t need a new van, whispers that still small voice. I know what you need and when you need it, and I promise I will provide.

Unless my pride gets in the way first.

This last month, I joined with over 300 other bloggers and people of influence to read and generate interest in Kristen Welch’s new book, Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World. To be honest, I had to walk away from it early on because of this:

Entitlement didn’t start with my kids. It began with me. I entitled them because I was entitled. (p. 10)

Ouch.

Truth is, I can’t raise my kids to be something I’m not and grateful probably isn’t the first word that comes to mind when people describe me.

I complain. A lot.

I gripe. A lot.

I want things. A LOT.

But I have everything I need.

What I love most about Kristen’s voice in this book is how real she gets. She relates their mistakes and failures along with their successes and she humbles herself over and over to say, she knows she’s not always getting it right–but she knows there’s a better way.

There’s a better way to raise our kids than to just give them the world. Because this world is temporary and it is not our home. This world is harsh and it is not forgiving. This world is broken and we are called to heal.

And gratefulness starts the same place as entitlement–in my home, with me.

So that’s my review and here’s my promise:

If you buy this book, Kristen’s not going to tell you how to fix your kids. She’s going to give you some words to ponder and apply to yourself first. Then, when you’re ready she’ll give you some practical advice that will help you raise grateful kids and your own grateful heart.

I promise you won’t feel the same after.

If you read it (you can get it here on Amazon of course!), drop me a line! I’ll be posting some more thoughts with #raisinggratefulkids on my Facebook page. I’d love to have you join in the convo there, a little mini-book club for the late winter blahs…

and the days when raising kids is hard, hard, hard!

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amelia · motherhood · Uncategorized

Looking Back and Moving Forward

Found this sitting in my drafts folder from almost exactly a year ago.

When our diagnosis was still AVM, when we were still being told surgery would be an “easy fix” (don’t you just love doctors’ optimism?!?) and had no idea that one year later, our daughter would still struggle.IMG_3481

There are good days and bad days and in-between days. Sometimes I still sit in the school parking lot and cry. But this line breaks my heart when I read back over and remember our darkest moments of this time: I can’t suit up for this fight with everyone watching. I think the biggest lie I bought during that time was the idea that I had to be strong. Instead my kids have learned more about trusting God from my inept brokenness than I ever could have taught them by faking my way through the fear.

Yesterday started with Amelia refusing to wear shoes to school. We’re in the parking lot of her tiny little Christian school at a tiny little church in the middle of the country with the mountains all around and I’m throwing her backpack and saying, “Well, fine, then. Stay home. I don’t care.”

Except I really, really did.

I don’t know how to walk this line. How to parent her through this time in our lives without caving to every little whim (she ate gummies for breakfast by the way). I don’t know how to discipline my child with the “slightly bleeding arterial abnormality” in her brain. I don’t want to yell, but I still need to be the mama. I don’t want to be selfish, but I still need a little bit of time for myself. I can’t suit up for this fight with everyone watching.

She didn’t go to school. Of course it was my one four hour block in the week where everyone goes to school and I keep “office hours” with the free wi-fi in Chic-fil-a and try to write. But another mama came to my rescue. Hers weren’t going either. They all played hooky at her house and ate funnel cakes at 10:30 a.m.

Don’t judge us. Sometimes everyone just needs a little break.

{Maybe I should insert here that our Sunday School Christmas party was the night before and it was at least 10 p.m. before anyone went to bed. Sort of explains the morning meltdowns.}

But when that break is over, reality is still there. My big girls are still in need of attention, the dishes still have to be done, and we’ve got a plumber bill coming to go with the new pipes in the bathroom.

And then apparently I ran out of steam…

What moments from this past year are you dwelling on as Christmas draws near?