Monthly Archives: November 2011

Would you rather . . .

  • Would you rather be smart and unattractive or very attractive and not very smart? 
  • Would you rather sing every word you speak or whisper every word you speak?
  • Would you rather be remembered and hated or completely forgotten?

We play this game around the dinner table or around the homeschool table. It’s always interesting to catch a glimpse into the minds of my children.

This morning, ThingFour was building blanket and pillow forts with his brothers and randomly thought of a Would you rather question. So he ran in to ask me, Would you rather have a really good job but not be yourself or be yourself and have a really bad job? 

Everyone quickly agreed – we’d all rather be ourselves, no matter the job.

But then we started discussing what constitutes a good job. ThingFour said being a garbage man would not be a good job. But ThingFive shouted, Oh! I’d love being a garbage man! That would be FUN!

Riding around town, hanging off the back of a loud truck, using strong muscles to heave giant cans of trash — what’s not to love about a job like that?

Then the boys remembered the 60 Minutes story from this past Sunday night about homelesness in America, particularly in our area of Florida. One father interviewed on that show finally found a job as a garbage man and was able to get his family into a home. ThingFour soberly stated, Being a garbage man would be a good job if that’s the job that kept you from being homeless. 

Or if that’s the job that made you happy! I added, smiling at ThingFive as he flexed his muscles, no doubt picturing himself lifting heavy trash cans with one arm.

Yeah, I want my children to have jobs that bring them happiness, jobs that allow them to feel most like themselves. Just as importantly, I don’t want them to look down on people, thinking some jobs are bad, not worthy of respect.

How about you? Does your job make you happy? Does your job allow you to feel most like yourself? Would you rather be poor and do a job you love or rich and do a job you hate? Would you like to ride around town flexing your giant muscles as you hang off the back of a loud garbage truck? 

Dancing In The Mercies Of A New Day

This morning, I danced around the living room with my children. Even my 13-year-old daughter humored me and let me spin her around like I did when she was 3.

Last week I was not a joyful, fun momma. I was stressed, and I had headaches, and I was grumpy and short-tempered.

This week is much better. We are back to normal. Aren’t you glad life is like that? Each morning is a fresh start. Yesterday may have been awful; last week may have been horrible; but today is a brand-new beginning.

Today I can choose to laugh and dance. I can choose to give piggyback rides around the living room and relish in my children’s giggles.

Today I can be silly with my children. I can choose to savor their child-likeness rather than be annoyed by their childishness.

Today I can make time for fun and play. I can soak in the sweetness of the children God has blessed me with.

Today we can appreciate that we do not often know loneliness in this family.

Today my cup overflows with the blessings of these six children.

These are the children God has given me. God has been good to me . . . -Genesis 33:5


How is your cup overflowing today? How are you celebrating the new mercies of this day? 

Failing Well

I didn’t fail the test, I just found 100 ways to do it wrong. -Ben Franklin

I don’t really like failing. I don’t enjoy making mistakes. And I don’t like doing something unless I’m good at it.

This character trait must be genetic because I seem to have passed it on to ThingTwo. She hates making mistakes. Recently, we were playing Would You Rather during dinner. I asked the children, “Would you rather lose every time you play or never play?”

Five children said they’d rather lose and still play than never play — whether it’s a sport or a board game. ThingTwo smiled and honestly admitted, “I’d rather not play. I really hate losing.”

Earlier this year, when doing pre-algebra, she missed several problems in the lesson, making a C on the assignment. She came to me almost in tears. I explained that my goal was for her to learn, that learning was even more important than making an A. “Sweetie, it’s OK to make mistakes. You’re learning. We all make mistakes when we learn.”

With a quivering lip and eyes welled with tears, ThingTwo told me, “Yeah, but I like to learn from other people’s mistakes! I hate making my own mistakes!”

Aaah, at least she is honest.

In recent years, I’ve forced myself to try things, knowing I might not succeed. I know my children are watching, especially ThingTwo. I want her to see me try and not be the best. I want her to see that you can survive failure.

So for a while, I swam laps every morning. Even though I was horribly slow and hated it and thought I might drown Every. Single. Morning.

I took a college class — seventeen years after my own college graduation. As it turned out, I did very well in the class, but I was a total failure at cooking and laundry and being an attentive mother during those six weeks.

I tried a crafty art project this fall. It wasn’t perfect, but I learned some things to do differently if I try something like that again. And it’s good enough to hang on our dining room wall, imperfections and all.

I guess you could say I’m being more intentional in my failures. I want to fail well, learning and moving on, maybe even to fail again.

How about you? What have you failed at lately? 

We seem to gain wisdom more readily through our failures than through our successes. We always think of failure as the antithesis of success, but it isn’t. Success often lies just the other side of failure. — Leo F. Buscaglia.

Veteran Wife, Mother, Grandmother

At our town’s Veteran’s Day ceremony, I met a hero.

As I stood beside the large Vietnam War sign explaining to my sons how so many soldiers coming home from that war were dishonored and disrespected, a white-haired lady wearing a sporty American flag jacket stepped beside me. She pointed to the bricks at our feet and began to tell me her story.

Twelve of those bricks bore the names of her family members. A father, a husband, four sons, two brothers, some brothers-in-law, two grandsons, a great-grandson.

She has spent most of her life sending loves ones off to war. Her husband fought in World War 2. Her sons were in Vietnam. Her grandsons went to the Persian Gulf and then Iraq. Her great-grandson is about to head to Afghanistan.

I know it sounds corny, but I felt humbled to be standing next to her.

I never even got her name, but she has made a lasting impression on me. This lady has known sacrifice. She has known fear and uncertainty and then unspeakable joy as her loved ones have returned home. And each of them did return home — a miracle, no doubt.

She came to honor the veterans. She came to see the names of her own family members etched into the bricks. She came to remember her husband, who has been gone more than ten years now.

But this lady, tall and dignified with her crown of gray hair – she deserves to be honored. She is also a hero. The veteran wife, mother, grandmother.


Because some days, a momma just needs a reminder that her kids aren’t always rotten & every day’s not a terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad day.


Today might not be my Mom-Of-The-Year nomination day. But these kids are mine. And I am theirs. And we are going to hug and cry and apologize and forgive and start all over again tomorrow.

This is what it’s like to live in GRACEland.

Goodbye, Comfort Zone

Last week, I had two adventures outside my comfort zone. And I lived to tell about it.

I’m a stay-at-home, homeschooling momma. Most of my days are spent in a pair of stretchy black yoga pants and some layered tank tops.

I don’t normally rub shoulders with people who look like they stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine. In high school and college, I was never known as the most fashion-forward of my friends. I was always the frumpy friend. And then, later, in my 20’s and early 30’s, I was having babies and nursing babies, and the most important thing about my clothes was that the baby could have easy access to lunch and that spit-up stains not be too noticeable.

But last week, my friend Kristi told me about a fashion show at a nearby clothing boutique. It sounded like a fun girls’ night out. Goodbye, Comfort Zone.

So I put on a new outfit and this beautiful bracelet and these shoes that make me look so much taller and leaner.

Surrounded by the bright lights and the runway models and the beautiful people, I felt a little bit like I was playing dress-up. But I had a blast! Kristi said she felt like we had dropped into the middle of an episode of Sex and the City. I’ve never really seen that show (which only proves how out of my comfort zone I was!), but it did feel like we should be bumping into Sarah Jessica Parker at any second.

It’s probably a good thing we didn’t, though, because I would have embarrassed Kristi by mentioning Square Pegs or something.

My first steps outside my comfort zone were so exciting, I was hoping my next adventure would be equally successful.

My husband had purchased a Groupon for an airboat ride on a lake filled with alligators. State wildlife officials say there are more than 9500 gators living in that lake.

Number one – I don’t like alligators. Number two – I’m not really an outdoorsy girl. Number three – I don’t like bugs. Number four – I don’t like alligators. Goodbye, Comfort Zone.

Fortunately, it was too chilly and windy for the bugs. So I didn’t have to worry about that. I did, however, have to wear headphones that had been on other people’s ears to protect my eardrums from the extremely loud airboat.

And the captain drove fast over the open lake. The wind beat against my face so hard that I felt I might suffocate. How ironic would that be? I wondered. Not being able to breathe because too much air blew too hard into my face! My eyes watered. My hair tangled. The loud, vibrating engine shook my head, making my teeth rattle.

Beneath us, around us, somewhere were thousands of alligators. With the wind whipping in my face, I reminded myself that the captain drove tours like this many times a day, twelve months a year. It’s not easy to flip an airboat. I would not become dinner for an alligator family.

And you know, I was actually disappointed when we didn’t see any alligators at all! Here I was way, way outside my comfort zone, and not even one alligator showed up for it!

But I did see eagles and ospreys. I saw a heron fishing for dinner. I saw flocks of birds perched on reeds along the marshy land take flight as our very noisy boat approached.

I saw this -

and this -

I saw this -

How beautiful is that?

I would have missed that if I hadn’t left the comfort of my stretchy yoga pants and home.

My two adventures outside my comfort zone were very different — a little Carrie Bradshaw, a little Steve Erwin. But not only did I live through them both, I had fun!

How about you? How have you stepped outside your comfort zone lately? 

No More Autopilot


Have you ever done something like this?

The other day I was drying off from my shower and starting to get dressed when I suddenly thought, “Did I shave my left leg?” I mean, I knew I shaved my right leg; I remembered doing that. But I had no memory of actually shaving my left leg. So I rubbed my left leg. Smooth. Seriously? Two minutes — three, tops! — had gone by, and I didn’t remember shaving that leg at all.

This sort of thing happens to me often. I will finish a shower and not remember using conditioner, though my hair is smooth and soft. Or I will drive home from a doctor’s appointment and not remember passing by stores or buildings that I had to have driven past.

Do you do this too?

It’s like my brain goes on autopilot handling these mundane tasks, and I don’t really pay attention to doing them.

And it’s not such a big deal when I’m shaving my legs or conditioning my hair. But sometimes I will get up from the table, where I’ve been sitting with one of my children. And I know my child has been telling me something about a Lego creation or about an episode of Phineas and Ferb or about the trick bike his friend has, but I won’t remember a word he said. Because my brain was composing that email to a friend or planning next week’s menu instead of listening to him.

Then it really stinks to be on autopilot. Because my children are not mundane tasks. They are people I am investing in. And I know that my time with them is far too brief to spend it on autopilot.

And so I want to be more deliberate, more engaged. The minutes I spend on autopilot add up to hours and days and months and years. And what kind of a life is that? Coasting through, half paying attention, half engaged.

There is a magnet on my fridge that says, “The world is full of people who will go their whole lives and not actually live one day. She did not intend on being one of them.

I want to live being fully present, alert, noticing the smell of the shaving gel, the shape of the rooflines, the vibrant colors of the cars I drive past. I want to look my children in the eyes and listen and actively respond to the things they tell me. I know there will be times when they won’t be jabbering non-stop, so I want to soak it in now. Some day, they will need to talk with me about something far more important than Legos and trick bikes, and I want them to know I will stop what I am doing and listen, really listen.

No more autopilot for me. I want to live my life.

Risking My Sanity

It had been a long time since I’d taken all my children to Wal-Mart at the same time. This weekend, I remembered why.

We were packing a box for Operation Christmas Child, and I wanted the children to help pick out the items. I thought it was important for them to go into a store with the sole purpose of buying something for somebody else, without buying anything for themselves. And so I risked my own sanity for the sake of teaching my children altruism.

On Saturday, I took the five younger children to Wal-Mart. Stay with me. ThingTwo, please hold BabyThing’s hand and don’t let go. Boys, do not climb on the cart. We are buying things for the shoebox; do not ask for anything for yourselves. Watch out for other people, and stay out of their way. I reviewed expectations before we left the van.

And really, they weren’t bad. It’s just that there were five of them – and one of me. And every time I moved from one aisle to the next, I had to count and make sure I had all of them. And usually I didn’t, so we had to stop and retrieve the straggler.

When we stopped to look at things, we took up so much room in the aisle. So I kept reminding them, Please scoot over. You’re blocking this nice lady’s way, kids. Even though that lady didn’t look nice at all as she shot arrows at us with her dark eyes.

As I pushed the cart down the aisles, ThingFive kept climbing on the side. With a forced patience, I would stop and remind him, Please don’t climb on the cart. You’re too heavy. You’re making it hard to push. And he would obediently hop off. Then two aisles later, he would climb back on. Either this child has Dory-like short-term memory issues or he is quite persistent and eternally optimistic that I’ll change the rules for him.

There was much debating about which HotWheels car to choose. Ten hands were pulling the packages off the wall to inspect each closely. ThingFour bounced a large ball. That won’t fit in a shoebox! big sister ThingTwo reminded him.

ThingFive deliberated forEVER over which toy he should add to the box. Meanwhile, the others had chosen a slinky, a yo-yo, a car, and a brightly-colored squishy plastic frog. All the good stuff that was inexpensive and fun had already been chosen. I sensed a meltdown by ThingFive. Thinking quickly, I announced he would choose the items on the school supply aisle. Come on, let’s go to school supplies! I turned the corner. One, two, three. I counted children. Come on boys! Catch up! 

Down one aisle, ThingFour walked backwards. Sweetie, look where you’re going. There’s a woman behind you. ThingThree noted what he wanted to buy for himself as we walked past toys and movies and clothes. We’re not thinking of ourselves today, remember? We’re buying things for the shoebox child.

ThingFive climbed on the cart. I stopped the cart. He hopped off. ThingFour held onto the side of the cart and tried walking in one direction while I walked in another. Bicycles hanging from the ceiling had a magnetic pull on him.

In the school supply aisle, BabyThing let go of his sister’s hand and ran squealing to the CARS notebooks. We’re not buying anything for ourselves, remember? The shoebox child.

ThingThree and ThingFour turned school supplies into airplanes, which they held high as they jogged around, their airplane noises filling the store. ThingFive slowly, meticulously chose the items for our box. I tried not to rush him. I closed my eyes and promised myself I would begin the shoebox purchasing in August next year, bringing them one at a time to choose gifts.

We chose a t-shirt. No, we cannot buy you the Darth Vader one. Nothing for us. Only the shoebox. We picked out a toothbrush. I forced a smile as I explained why we’d “waste space” by packing a bar of soap and a washcloth in the box.

I pushed the cart, turned a corner, counted children, retrieved the ones lagging behind. I pushed the cart, ThingFive climbed on the end. I stopped. He hopped off. ThingThree walked in front of the cart and abruptly stopped. I halted a centimeter short of banging his heels. ThingFour zig-zagged down the middle of the aisle, obliviously bumping into other people’s carts.

ThingTwo held fast to BabyThing’s hand. Their good behavior buoyed me.

As they piled the items on the checkout conveyor belt, excitedly explaining to anyone listening, All of this stuff fits in this box!, I remembered that sometimes what’s best for my children is riskiest to my own sanity. Sometimes I have to force the smile, speak patiently and remind them of the rules in order to teach them the important lessons in life.

But boy am I glad we only do this once a year!

How about you? How do you teach your children to serve others? Do you pack a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child? Have you taken multiple children to Wal-Mart? Did you live through it? Did they?

The Grace Microwave

You know what’s the fast track for learning to live in grace? The microwave cooking version of learning grace? Living in an apartment building with a bunch of other missionaries. No, wait. Living in an apartment building with your children and a bunch of other missionaries.

Yeah, there’s no pretending. No putting on a show. It is what it is. You are what you are. And everyone sees. Or hears.

Shortly after we moved here, my girls were leaving their bedroom window open just a little. With no screen. It didn’t take long for the boys to discover this. And it took even less time for the boys to find great sport in tossing things from our third floor window to the bushes below. Legos, hair brushes, paperwads, Polly Pockets, the sisters’ panties.

I didn’t realize the boys were doing this until the girls looked out their window one day and spied their stuff, their embarrassing stuff, in the bushes. I don’t even know how many times I traipsed down three flights of stairs and around the building to retrieve army men and K’nex creations and American Girl doll shoes and embarrassing little girl underthings.

The boys also discovered tiny bubbles in the paint in the hallways of the building. Self-control is not the most natural character trait in most little boys. So they picked at the bubbles and peeled at the paint until we had a spot strangely resembling the state of Texas in our hallway. There’s no hiding that.

When the fire alarm screams at midnight, there’s no pretense. We stand around outside with all of our co-workers in whatever we happen to be wearing at midnight.

If the children are asleep, I can hear my downstairs neighbor’s surround sound television. If my apartment is completely quiet, I can hear him sneeze. And you know what that means? He and his family can hear us. Because I’m sure it’s quiet in their apartment a lot more often than it’s quiet in mine!

So when my boys run and jump and turn cartwheels and thump on the floor, the people downstairs hear them. And that very next second, when I shout, “Hey! No jumping! The people downstairs will think you’re falling through the ceiling!” Yeah, they hear that too.

When I completely lose it and go all DragonMomma and start breathing fire and smoking at the ears, the neighbors can hear that. People who don’t know me well often think I’m so patient and one of those have-it-all-together mothers. After living here for four years, I’m pretty sure nobody in my building believes those illusions of me.

When you live in a building like this, there’s no putting on the mask and playing perfect Christian family. There’s no way to pretend or act every hour of every day. Children behave like children; they make messes and noise and mistakes. And sometimes I am exhausted and out of patience and I react with lots of myself and very little Jesus.

And so I fall into grace.

This living arrangement has been an intense tutor in my need for grace, in learning to give grace to others.

We’ve also learned to fix windows so boys can’t throw their sisters’ panties into the bushes.

How about you? Have you ever been in the Grace Microwave? Have your children made it impossible for you to pretend like you’re the perfect family? Have you made it even more impossible by turning into DragonParent? 

Wheeling, Dealing & Donating At The Halloween Candy Exchange

They started early this morning. With ThingFour encouraging everyone to be polite and ThingTwo mediating to make sure everything was fair, the five younger children turned our living room floor into The Halloween Candy Exchange.

With the skill of experienced Wall Street brokers, they traded a fun size Milky Way for two Jolly Ranchers, a trio of Gobstoppers for a pack of Smarties, two Dum Dums for a Tootsie Pop. ThingThree quickly became the Tootsie Roll mogul, wheeling and dealing until he owned every Tootsie Roll, large and small. ThingTwo refused to accept any offer for her rare white Nerds, no matter how sweet the deal.

After they had been trading a while, I quietly said, “If you have any extra hard candy you’d like to donate to our Operation Christmas Child box, we can start a pile here on the table.” 

Right away, a couple children brought over some suckers. ThingTwo persistently nagged encouraged a brother to donate a piece of candy. She reminded another brother that I wouldn’t allow him to eat the suckers with red dye anyway, so he might as well put those in the donate pile.

They were proud of themselves for donating a piece or two of candy. They congratulated themselves that some child in a third-world country might eat her very first piece of candy ever, all because of their generosity. And then they went back to their piles of candy and finalized any remaining deals and trades.

A few minutes later, ThingTwo glanced at the table, then she looked back at their large piles of candy scattered across the living room floor. “Is that all we’re donating?” Her voice rose in disbelief. “That’s not a lot compared to what we have left!

I only smiled and said, “Yes, this is our donate pile.

Without any hesitation, ThingTwo grabbed a handful of candy from her stash and dumped it into the donate pile. “It felt like I was giving a lot until I looked at all I had left,” she explained.

I could learn from her example.