Created with Sketch.
Kindred Mom Podcast
9 minutes | 6 days ago
All is Calm, All is Bright…Or Not
I have a backpack at church tonight instead of my usual diaper bag. Inside it are only a Ziploc with Pull-Ups and wipes and a small Kiddie-brand fire extinguisher. I brought a freaking fire extinguisher to church. (Can I use “freaking” and “church” in the same sentence? Oh well.) It seems bananas to me, but not as wild as the fact that, in a sanctuary full of people, they hand out crayons all around, including one to each of my four small children, except all the crayons are white and have wicks and they light them all on fire. I love Christmas Eve candlelight services. Or, rather, I did back before it became the most ridiculous worst-case scenario I find myself in every single year. At my church, Christmas Eve services go like this: Walk into the foyer from the sub-zero cold. Wait for glasses to defog. Greet as many people coming out of the earlier service as you can find. Hand out Christmas cards or bags of caramel corn, if you managed to get as far as cards or caramel corn this year. Mosey into the sanctuary and find a seat as the Spotify Christmas playlist fades and the pianist begins, signaling that we have about 90 seconds before the service starts for real. After the welcome, we pray, read the Christmas story from Luke 2, and watch someone light all five Advent candles. If this sounds a little rote as I tell it now, it may help to know I’m increasingly drawn to the repetition of this one sacred night. At the end of all this, we get instructions to “take one and pass it down”—underneath the leftmost chair in each row sits a box of candles, each tucked into individual plastic holders. The pastor reminds us to always tip the unlit candle to the lit one (to prevent hot wax drips) and to hold it upright for a minute after we blow it out at the end. Then someone turns off all the lights. (Typically, this responsibility falls to my husband, the ridiculously good-looking sound guy whose board is right in front of the bank of light switches.) For a few moments, the only light comes from the five Advent candles. The pastor lights his little candle and starts walking down the center aisle as people on both sides dip their (unlit!) candles to his, then pass the flames down their rows. After he’s started lighting candles down the aisle, we start singing “Silent Night” a capella. By the second verse, all two hundred (or so) candles are lit, and they stay that way for the remaining verses. The sanctuary has a warm glow as we sing together, our faces shining in the firelight. “Silent night, holy night All is calm, all is bright…” At the end of the song, we blow out our candles, wait with them upright until the wax hardens just enough, then pass the boxes again, this time from right to left, depositing our candles and replacing them under the leftmost chair of each row for the next service. We head out of the sanctuary, linger for a while in the foyer—long enough for autostarted cars to warm, if only a little—talking to friends who attended this service and the ones coming for the next one (I always pick the middle of the three services so I can at least try to catch everyone), pass out more cards and caramel corn (maybe). Then we brave the cold and drive home to continue whatever prep or merrymaking we have planned for the night before Christmas. At least this is how it used to go, back before I started bringing a fire extinguisher in my backpack. I’m sure the service feels much the same to the people around me, but it stresses me all the way out. I have four children, ages 3, 5, 7, and 9. Lately, my strategy for Christmas Eve service is less about fellowship and more about tactical maneuvering. We arrive early but miss the foyer chat (I didn’t make cards or Christmas treats, anyhow) so we can take the seats closest to the door, because I need to be as close as possible to the sound board (and other parent of this weird little circus, who mans the faders and knobs). These are everyone’s favorite seats—the first to fill at every service, hence my early arrival—and I don’t want to monopolize them, but I’m aware I may need to exit very quickly with no notice. I nod a nervous hello to my husband then plant myself in the third seat in. The preschoolers sit on either side of me and the elementary girls sit on either side of them, taking up the five best seats in the house. I give them Very Serious Instructions regarding behavior in this service and Even More Serious Instructions about the coming candle situation. “Most of all, you have to listen VERY CAREFULLY,” I tell them, hoping to cover all contingencies. I pop my backpack under my seat, unzipping it proactively and double-checking to make sure my hand knows how to find the extinguisher in the emergency that may well be imminent. I’m anxious and I’m hot. The wispy hairs that have flown out of my messy bun are sticking to my face and neck in an itchy, annoying way. (Oh yeah! I definitely meant to fix my hair and put on some mascara and change out of yoga pants! Shoot!) Ready or not, the piano starts to play as my husband turns down the playlist coming from his production computer. We’re doing this, I guess. The next half-hour is filled with open-flame-related anxiety and whispered reminders to stop stomping on the floor with winter boots, stop facing the wall, stop talking (or at least talk quieter), and the like. We sing songs. My kids are familiar with them and thus sing with great gusto and fair-to-moderate pitch. I’m trying (failing) to keep myself regulated as we get closer to the moment when four little candles with four menacing flames will be held tightly in eight unpredictable hands. Finally, it’s fire time. My oldest is in the leftmost position, so she gets the box from under her chair and hands it down. I question for the one-millionth time the wisdom of telling the 3- and 5-year-olds, “Yeah, I think you guys might be old enough to hold candles this year,” while also congratulating my foresight to braid all three girls’ hair to decrease the chances of catastrophe. I triple-check the fire extinguisher, this time propping it upright inside the backpack, which I’ve moved to my seat. Pastor Eric gets to the last row and Jenna solemnly tips her unlit candle to his. We have ignition. I help the little two and then glance around, paranoid, passing out instructions as loudly as I can while still staying below the ambient volume of “Silent Night” sung a capella. About the middle of the third verse, I see 5-year-old Brian getting a little too curious about his candle. I whisper with increasing volume and panic, “Away from your face, Bud! Away from your face! BRIAN!” But he’s mesmerized. His head bows in slow motion toward his flame, then jerks back suddenly. I see in the golden candlelight a little curl of smoke disappearing from above his forehead. He lets go of the candle with his right hand (managing to keep it upright in his left) and rubs his noggin, looking at me with both surprise and offense. I smell the distinctive aroma of singed hair, but there is no persisting fire and, just like that, the song is done. We blow out candles (“Gently! Keep them upright for a minute!”) and put them away. I zip my bright-red Kiddie extinguisher back into my bag and put it on my back, grabbing the hands of each of my preschoolers. As we exit the sanctuary, I let go of Brian’s hand to high-five my husband. “Another year we didn’t burn the church down!” I exclaim. “I didn’t even have to use this,” I point to my backpack. “And Brian’s hair was only a tiny bit singed!” At this point, all the anxiety I’ve been holding inside bubbles out in maniacal laughter. My husband gives me a thumbs up, I grab my son’s hand, and we walk through the foyer, drawing weird looks as I crazy-laugh. I didn’t remember to warm up the van ahead of time, so we march out to a cold vehicle and, after buckling the little ones in, I sit in the driver’s seat and take a deep breath. All is calm. All is bright. Well, the “bright” part is over, but at least I finally have something like “calm.” The ambient volume is anything but peaceful noise but less anxiety-inducing—no sense of impending doom, no need to put out a literal fire, and the chilly car is oddly relieving. In an unexpectedly serene moment of clarity, the weight of the service hits me: God came as a baby. Emmanuel. God with us. He came to be with us in my minivan amid a chorus of “can’t we please light some more candles and sing again? For Christmas?” He came to be with us in the sanctuary now smelling of my son’s burnt hair. He came to be with this weary mama as I put my pyromaniac children to bed alone on the night before Christmas while Dad stays at church through the final service. As I take a moment to connect with the God who opted to enter this world full of noise and chaos and brokenness and beauty, there is calm. I can’t rightfully say I am calm, but I can enter His calm in this moment where He is with me. Later, once all four kids are down (with a melatonin assist to counteract their fire-fueled mania crossed with anticipation of presents), I light a candle on my dresser and sit in my room. All is calm, all is bright. Recalling again the first Christmas, I wonder how calm it actually was. Birth is not typically described as “calm,” especially with livestock and shepherds hanging around. Mary—a first-time mother far from home, was learning to nurse and care for a newborn without the benefit of her own mother’s presence. These are not ingredients I would choose for a night of beatific serenity. My mind swirls with the possible scenarios Mary and Joseph endured that night; none of them includes unbroken calm. Perhaps my desire for Christmas-related tranquility is overrated. Maybe the Christmas carols have it overstated. “The little Lord Jesus, no crying He made”? Uh…sure. Shoot, if there was a fire in the stable to keep Mary and a new, vernix-covered squishy Jesus warm, it’s altogether possible she had a little bit of stress over the possibility of straw catching on fire. But even if all was not calm that starlit night, He came. God was there—the Prince of Peace Himself—and that was enough. Robin Chapman is a part-time writer, editor, and birth photographer and a full-time imperfect mama, wife, Jesus follower, and normalizer of failure. She’s trying to learn how to do this motherhood thing in a way that doesn’t land the whole family in intensive therapy. She has a heart for helping other mamas buried in the little years with hope, humor, and solidarity. You can find her hiding out in the bathroom with an iced dirty chai, writing and editing and making spreadsheets for Kindred Mom where she is a cheerleader for mamas, or online looking for grace in her mundane and weird life. She lives in Fairbanks, Alaska with her four delightful (crazy) kids—some homeschooled, some public schooled, some too young for school at all—and her ridiculously good looking husband, Andrew. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and her blog.
6 minutes | 11 days ago
The Map of My Heart
I sat, perched in my seat, silently struggling to pay attention to the sermon the pastor was preaching. Instead, my eyes flitted around the room. I wondered if this was where we belonged. We were visiting another new church for the first time. Finding a church after moving was proving to be one of my least favorite things to do. I missed the familiar. Saying goodbye to those we’d known and loved well still stung. After our recent move across the country, over 1,200 miles away from the home we had known for the previous 13 years, we hoped a place to worship and serve would help us begin to feel at home. This small church reminded me of the one we attended back in Texas. As my eyes wandered, I noticed there were several families like ours with young children. We had an 18-month-old son and another little boy on the way at that time. I looked at the other moms around the room. Would we end up being friends? A few weeks later, we decided it was a place we should stay and get connected. I kept looking at those other moms, smiling, pretty, and friendly enough. But they all seemed to know each other so well already. Their kids already played together, grinning and giggling with one another. I learned that most of these families were founding members of this young church that had started just a few years prior. It had been a long time since I was the new person at a church. I was sure these ladies didn’t really need my friendship. But I was equally sure I did need theirs. I made up my mind to take a chance, to jump in with both feet and see where I landed. One of those smiling moms came up to me after church the next Sunday to introduce herself and welcome us. She told me about a local petting zoo she thought my little boy would like. Later that week, I looked her up on Facebook and sent her a message. Hesitantly, I asked if she and her kids would like to go with us to the place she had recommended. She said yes, and she even invited a few other moms from church too. I walked up to the entrance, excited and nervous about spending time with these ladies. From the first smiles and greetings, I could tell how genuinely kind and caring they were. In the warm sunshine, the smell of hay and animals filled the air. Our children scampered from chickens to goats, sheep, and other farm animals. Some eagerly wanting to touch them, others wanting to keep their distance from these strange and noisy creatures. Over packed lunches, we chatted as we watched our little ones on the playgrounds. We took pictures. The conversations flowed so easily that day. To me, it felt more like a normal get together than a first meeting. There were four moms and about a dozen kids, on that first outing. And from there we kept getting together…more moms, and more kids! We gathered at the park for play dates and for prayer. We met for story time at the library. We savored picnics and ice cream. We united during Bible studies and moms’ groups. We shared life for two short years. Too quickly another job opportunity came up for my husband, and we moved back across the country…again! Heartbroken, I left the wonderful friends I’d worked hard to make in this short time. Back in Texas, in a completely different city, starting over again proved equally daunting. We didn’t know a single person. After moving twice in less than three years, would I have the strength to care about people that much again? Or would it be better to keep to myself and not let my heart get invested this time? The scene was the same, in a different place. I sat in churches trying to listen while looking around and wondering. This time was even harder than the last. Our now three-year-old son missed the friends he knew and loved. It broke my mama’s heart to see his nervous face each week, and for him to refuse to go to children’s church. Finally, one Sunday, he walked into a room where a handful of other children his age were playing. I sat in the service with my husband praying he might enjoy class this time. In the bulletin, I noticed a list of openings for singers and musicians on the worship team. Being a lifelong pianist and singer, I have always been part of worship at church and hoped this might be a great opportunity to use my musical skills to meet new people and get involved. When we picked up our little boy, for the first time in weeks, he was smiling! At each church we visited previously I asked him, “Did you have fun?” Until then it had been, “No, I don’t know anybody.” That Sunday when I asked him the same question, his answer was finally different. “Mommy, I had fun. I played with a new friend. Her name is Vivian.” I thought to myself that I needed to meet Vivian’s mom. A few weeks later, I met Vivian’s mom and shared the story of her sweet daughter’s kindness. Her friendliness is a big reason why we decided our church was the right place for us. Both mom and daughter are precious friends to us to this day. Now we have a whole new community of friends in yet another place on the map. We meet friends at church, at mom’s groups, Bible studies, and many times just by striking up a conversation at the park. I don’t know how long our current location will be our home, or how many more places we will go on this journey. But I know wherever we go, I will meet people I want to get to know and love. I have left and will continue to leave pieces of my heart all over the map. Each place I have lived, from my childhood home, and during the 20 years of my married life, every city and state, holds a little piece of it. My life is sweeter and richer because of the people I have met along this road of life. I cherish the friendships and the memories I carry from each one. In some form or another, we will always be connected. There is room for everyone, always space for one more friend, because the map of my heart reaches far and wide. Angela Sensenig is a follower of Jesus Christ, a wife, and mother of two little boys (and one little dog). She is a former teacher now embracing her role as a stay at home mom. She finds joy singing and playing the piano, riding horses, and running. Through the changing seasons of life and family, it is her goal to practice contentment and gratitude every day. She is so thankful to God for grace, His unfailing love, and for the gift of motherhood. She loves being a mom so much that she started a blog in hopes to share encouragement about life through God’s Word and her reflections on raising children. She is passionate about learning and sharing Biblical truths that will enrich and refresh the hearts of mothers everywhere. You can find more of her writing on her blog. You can also follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Thankful Mommy on Pinterest.
4 minutes | 13 days ago
More than Apple Pie
God help me, I wish I’d never started that pie. If I hadn’t been convinced my worth could be found and sifted together with flour and sugar, I might have avoided breaking my pie plate and my son’s heart. One day back in those early years, I decided a pie was the ultimate way to prove my legitimacy as a wife and mama. My 4-year-old son wanted to help me with it. He loved helping me with everything. His little hands planted themselves on the pages of my open cookbook, his sweet head with its cloud of curls moving back and forth, looking at the recipe and glossy picture. Silently, he moved around the small kitchen table we’d inherited from Grammee and Grampee, picking things up and laying them back in place reverently—the rolling pin, the pastry blender, a spatula. In theory, I loved his desire to help. On the other hand, if it meant an extra-messy kitchen, “help” gave me hives. That pie was beautiful in its pan. Cinnamony apples peeked through strips of pie dough woven together in a crisscross pattern and bound with crimped edges. My son was beautiful too. I still see his big eyes in that sweet face with the kitchen window framing the pretty fall day behind him when he asked, “Can I put it in the oven, Mama?” I tried to make him understand: The pie was heavy. The oven was hot. He lifted the glass pan. His sweet little hands gripped the sides cautiously. Suddenly, it was on the floor—shards of glass, cored and sliced Granny Smith apples, brown sugar, and ruined pastry lattice mired together in one heaping wreck. The big, brown eyes of my son looked up at me—looking for love and understanding, wanting to feel safe. All I could see was my carefully crafted ego lying there, shattered on the floor. I lost it. I did not kneel down and comfort my son. I yelled and broke his heart into pieces too. *** I believe that event still affects him to this day, especially the way he perceives his intelligence, gifts, and interactions. I think this is where a lot of the voices in his head came from—the ones that make “I’m sorry” burst forth from his lips so often. The opportunity I missed with my son still haunts me—waking me up in the wee hours to mourn. I tried to treat my emotional issues like ingredients that could be baked and made palatable. In the cracked glass dish of my soul, I brought to marriage and motherhood lies, violence, omissions, and misunderstandings. As much as I tried to hide it, the distorted ways I perceived the world came oozing through my perfectly crimped crust. *** Back then, a great apple pie represented my wifehood. I wanted legitimacy at any cost—so badly I could taste it. I thought “it” was about pie. I poured my identity into it along with the lemon juice and sugar and cinnamon, and I bowed to it as an idol. No amount of apples or butter can tell me who I am or who God calls me to be for my family. These days, I rely on the Bible for identity and parenting recipes. I wish I could share a story of redemption, the kind beginning with a heartwarming anecdote: A couple of years later, when faced with another, similar situation, I handled it so much better by… I can’t. Mistakes and redemption don’t always come in equal ratios. Only God can unwind some of the trauma we impose on those we love most. What I can say is my mentality has been redeemed: I am not a perfect apple pie; I am a child of the heavenly Father and have been blessed by Him with these children. In His eternal sight, all of us—my children and me—are worth more than any cooked or crushed apple pie. Jay Jones is a writer, a mama, and an audio editor for Kindred Mom. God has changed each goal Jay has ever had, chiefly those concerning her relationships and writing. If it is part of her life, she wants it to please Him. Self-taught in many ways, she is always looking to make connections and find ways to improve her brain, her blog, and her brood (ages 2 to 13 years). Married since 2004 to her husband, Taylor, she’s been tied to her college sweetheart for nearly a quarter-century. Together, they raise their 4 children in the Chicago suburbs, where they enjoy pursuing creativity in the midst of the daily grind. Whether it’s writing screenplays, gardening, or gaming, Jay’s family is usually cultivating something. As a mama to both teens and toddlers, Jay is passionate about instilling deep, identity-forming truths in her children. Her other interests include: encouraging others, reading when she can, and learning what she can about where the mind-brain-body-reality intersects with Biblical perspective. You can find some of her musings on her blog and on Instagram.
6 minutes | 20 days ago
The Voice of a Narrator
“Mommy, can you read to me?” My son gazes hopefully up at me, books clutched against his chest. “And then you can read this one and this one!” He hastily places library books on the couch next to me and excitedly wiggles his way into my lap. “Has our new book come in?” I lean past my son and turn to my daughter, hoping she’ll say yes to the arrival of a new audiobook. I recently downloaded apps for our library onto my iPad, and we have been requesting digital and audiobooks. “Nope,” she tells me. Sighing, I pick up my son’s book about a fire ninja and begin to read, attempting to focus on the characters he so enjoys and wincing as his bony body squirms on me. I wish I was the type of parent who enjoyed reading out loud to my children. I like books. I like reading. I like my children. But I do not enjoy sitting and reading aloud to them. When I sit down to read, I feel my energy wane and my mind wanders to other things I could be doing. My own voice drones on as I ignore the dishes needing to be washed, dinner needing to be made, laundry needing to be folded, and then put away. I’m a multi-tasking, Type A, efficient worker, and the weight of household responsibilities pulls at me as my schedule is interrupted. I sit here and attempt to fight the distractions, bound by my desire to be a good mom and connect with my child over stories. I have seen many studies about the benefits of reading out loud, about the connections formed when I sit down and read with my children. They learn rhythm and new vocabulary by listening to the sound of my voice, increase their attention spans, and build comprehension, among other benefits. I do try to focus and listen to their comments about the characters and the pictures, to ask questions about the plot or setting to engage them. I do enjoy hearing their thoughts and appreciate how their minds work. I just don’t actually like to sit down and read out loud to them. My son accidentally elbows me in the ribs and I move him to the cushion next to me. “Do you want me to finish this?” I ask him. “Then you have to stop moving.” I don’t like the frustration that comes out, and it takes effort to control it. I continue to read the story, attempting to add emphasis to the characters, growing resentful at the fact that I am stuck in this spot, hoping my son doesn’t catch my impatience. This isn’t how I envisioned I would be. Some of my earliest memories involve my mom reading to me. We went through the infamous Little House book series the summer before I started kindergarten. She read the Narnia series and countless picture books. I can recall the cadence of my mother’s voice as it washed over me, painting pictures of prairies and woods, lions and witches. I was secure and warm by her side as she read about life on the prairie, snuggled up in my bed while she read about snowstorms and a White Witch. Though I was swept away by the plot, I stayed tethered to my mother, knowing that no matter what happened in the story, she was going to be there for me. I hoped that when I became a mom, I would imprint upon my children the same love for stories—that they would sit quietly and listen as I read intently, stopping to comment and await their input. I wanted them to feel safe and secure, warm, and protected as I curled up with them and read to them. I never expected I would be the problem. I try. Really, I do. I research the best read-alouds for their ages and request the books from the library. I plan reading during their snack or quiet playtime, or just when they’re sitting nicely. I know they truly enjoy listening. The stories can be interesting, the characters comical or relatable, or the embodiment of someone we know in real life. But still, I am glad when I don’t hear the sound of my own voice anymore. I finish the stack of stories my son brought over and send him off to play, fretting about the time I wasted and the mountain of things I need to accomplish. I work on the dishes, listening to the chatter of the children in the background, relaxing as I get a moment to myself. “Now can we check if our book came in?” my middle daughter asks me. “Great idea!” I reply and dry my hands to grab the iPad, hoping to hear that the audiobook we requested is available. “Look! It came in!” my oldest says as she scrolls through the app. “I’m going to borrow it.” “Who do you think the masked man is going to be?” I ask. We’ve been waiting on tenterhooks to find out what happened in our current series, The Land of Stories. The last book ended on a cliffhanger, with the protagonists coming across a masked man. “I think it’s a bad guy!” my son pipes up. “I bet it’s their dad,” my daughter says. “What makes you think that?” I ask, and we talk about the clues from the last book, remembering details together and laughing at some of the crazy antics our favorite characters got up to. I set up the iPad at the kitchen table, and the kids grab their art supplies. They settle in to color, and I start the audiobook. Then I continue with the dishes, parallel to my children, smiling as we all listen intently. I am content, not distracted by the pull of a mile-long to-do list from the never-ending drudgery of household responsibilities. My hands are working, so my mind is free to be engaged, and I laugh alongside my children as the narrator describes a silly scene. I don’t like reading to my children, but that doesn’t mean we don’t read together. They might not hear the sound of my voice as often as they’d like, but they know I am near them, listening with them to the voice of a narrator whose words wash over us, painting pictures of magical lands and fairy-tale characters. There are plenty of characters and places we can talk about, laugh about, and connect with. The memories we’re making might not be precisely what I pictured when I imagined how I would be as a mom, but we’re still connecting with one another over books, sharing ideas, and learning from each other. And I have to say, I do like it. Beth Robinson resides in Northern California with her husband and three children. A former teacher in a public school, she now teaches her own children at the dining room table. Her mother introduced her to the library at a young age, and she did the same for her children. She’s thrilled to see them share her excitement each time they check out new books. She’s even more thrilled that two-thirds of the children can read to themselves now. If Beth is not reading, you can find her gardening, attempting new recipes, or taking her children out to explore.
9 minutes | 25 days ago
January. Perhaps feeling the weight of winter on our collective shoulders, our small church congregation begins a new practice of gathering in the basement after service for muffins and conversation. I grab muffins for my kids, talk for a minute or two to the few people I know, and then commence the awkward standing-around-trying-to-look-busy. I am grateful to have a whiny, clingy toddler because I can at least occupy myself being a mother instead of a loner. We moved here last summer, and while I know it can take a long time to forge friendships, I leave church feeling discouraged. I long to be past small talk and to know people well enough that I know what questions to ask about how their weeks have gone. When my kids have finished their muffins, I help them put their heavy coats back on and head to the parking lot. A midwest winter is a lonely thing when even our urban neighborhood goes quiet. The rest of the year, when grass is visible and the sun shines, we can linger on sidewalks and hang out on porches. There is an energy that flows from the streets to my veins, and it helps me feel connected. But in winter, the cold sends us all indoors to shelter, to warmth. We huddle up and hibernate. My children are snuggly, but they are not my friends. February. I board a plane to Los Angeles for a weekend getaway with my dear friends, none of whom I’ve ever met in person before. I can’t help smiling as I walk down the plane aisle toward my seat, because I can’t imagine anything better in this moment than a weekend of adult conversation under the California sun. We stay up late every night, lounging around the hot tub or eating chocolate at the kitchen island, sharing family stories that make us laugh until we cry. When it comes time to head home to Indiana, I’m in awe of the fact that these friendships which started online have blossomed into something so deep and profound. Waiting to check my bags at LAX, I notice a few people wearing face masks and I make a note to wash my hands a bit more vigorously. *** March. The weather has finally started to warm up, and it seems we are coming out of hibernation. On March 12, I keep my oldest home from school because he is running a slight fever. By the end of the day, we learn school is closed for the foreseeable future, and he will not get to say good-bye to his teacher or classmates. Over the course of two weeks, I watch my entire calendar get wiped clean by invisible but omnipresent forces. I drive home from Aldi one day, not yet knowing I will soon make a semi-permanent switch to grocery delivery. Just before the final turn toward my home, I pass a median full of sunshine-yellow daffodils. Back in the kitchen, I say to my husband, “Have you seen all those daffodils?! They are beautiful. I don’t remember them from last year.” “Lindsey,” he replies, laughing, “We didn’t live here last year.” My jaw drops open, and I am silent as I think it through. How can time simultaneously be moving so quickly and so slowly? *** April. My friend Mary Kate, one of the women I met face-to-face in L.A., creates a group for our friends on a messaging app called Marco Polo. I had used it once before, several years ago, but few people I wanted to talk to seemed to have accounts, so I didn’t stick around. Now I dive back in. I see my friends’ faces, get tours of their gardens, and hear their children giggle (and shriek) in the background. I open the app one day and notice that several of the women from my Monday morning prayer group are on there. I consider making a group chat for us—but it feels presumptive. Some of these women have been friends for decades, and I still feel like the new girl. Who am I to insert myself into their lives this way, to assume they’d like to talk with me more than they already do? But I take the risk. I try to make that first message as lighthearted as possible: “Hey—this is a totally no-pressure thing!! Don’t feel like you need to respond. I know everyone is totally tired of screens lately, with all this at-home and e-learning and whatever. But…I just thought it could be fun. So, here we are. Again, no pressure.” But I feel the pressure. I feel the pressure of needing to continue growing these relationships, somehow, even in quarantine. Otherwise, I fear I’ll be stuck totally alone and isolated by the time this is all over. Within a few hours, all four other women respond with what feels like enthusiasm. What I am learning during quarantine is isolation and loneliness do not necessarily exist in concert; it’s more than possible to have one without the other. I am more isolated than ever in this strange time, but my loneliness is slowly abating, thanks to a free app on my phone and the offering of an invitation. For years, I have understood the power and necessity of vulnerability, but it’s always scary. It’s scary because until the very moment I hear someone say, “Me too” part of me keeps believing the lie that I am the only one. But one of the surprising gifts of the pandemic is that now, I know without a shadow of a doubt that I am not the only one. The specifics of our experiences vary, of course, but we are all here, doing the thing: staying home, distance learning, canceling plans, wondering what life will look like in the year ahead. It is easier to step into vulnerability because we are confident others will understand what we’re going through, the factors complicating our decisions, or the way we’ve suddenly begun to resent the word “unprecedented.” May. I look out across the yard and see my four friends, gathered around a fire pit in chairs spaced six feet apart. (A tape measure was involved.) In ten weeks, I have seen no one in person except for my four immediate family members, the bartender who handles carry-out at our neighborhood brewery, and the nice teenagers in the Chick-fil-A drive-through. But tonight, my prayer group and I move our conversation from 4G to fresh air, and I feel so light I could float into the sky like a balloon. June. I’ve had all notifications on my phone turned off for months, but now I’ve decided to allow Marco Polo notifications. Every ping is a lifeline, my tether to the outside world, the cord that connects me to other moms in a season when I might otherwise feel totally isolated in my home. July. I stand in my kitchen slicing up an orange with my phone propped up against the backsplash. I am listening to a message from my friend, and she is out on a walk. She is crying as she comes to terms with how much she will miss her daughter when she leaves for college. I feel two things at the same time: compassion and sadness for my friend in the middle of a hard transition, and also intense gratitude that she chose to share these raw feelings with me. I begin to cry, too, and I’m not sure which feeling is the source. August. This summer, the five of us dedicated what must be hours and hours of video messages to our questions and worries and hopes about the pandemic, schools, and anti-racism. We went along on rides to quarantine-appropriate camping trips and hikes, and we’ve cheered one another on through the dreaded COVID nose swab. We have said, “You’re probably asleep and won’t see this ’til the morning,” only to learn someone else was up folding laundry and someone else was watching Dirty Dancing. We’ve learned how awkward it is to pray aloud into our phone cameras. Our church still meets on Zoom. My children are attending school virtually for at least the first quarter. We’ve moved into a new home, and we introduced ourselves to the neighbors standing at least six feet back. I don’t know when we’ll be able to open our doors and host a dinner or small group. I don’t know if we’ll get to spend the holidays in Florida with our families. Marco Polo still holds the majority of my adult conversations. But this I know: I am not alone. Lindsey Cornett is a writer and editor who lives in Indianapolis with her scientist husband and three young kids. If her kids aren’t demanding to be held, she’s probably carrying a pen, a book, or a coffee. In both writing and life, she hopes to provide hope and solidarity to any other women who find themselves afraid to make mistakes. She is a co-founder of The Drafting Desk, an email newsletter of soulful encouragement for recovering perfectionists. Her writing has been featured at Coffee + Crumbs, Motherly, and (in)courage. You can always find her on Instagram or learn more about her writing and editing services at www.lindseycornett.com.
7 minutes | a month ago
Memories of My Grandmother
I keep a photograph of my grandparents on my living room wall. My mother’s parents sit shoulder-to-shoulder and my Grandpa casts a sideways glance at his wife, who looks straight into the lens through her cat-eye glasses with a wide, toothy smile. They look happy, content as if they know a secret. When I look into their satisfied faces, I remember being a child in their home, and I miss them. Every Sunday afternoon, my parents, brother, and I sat ourselves around my grandparents’ big, round kitchen table for a lunch worthy of church clothes, tablecloths, and polished manners. With heads bowed, as Grandpa asked God to bless the bounty of crop and kitchen before us, I squinted against the plate of cornbread in front of me—my favorite. With the “Amen,” I seized a golden muffin, stuffed it with butter, and filled my plate with Grandma’s cooking: purple hull peas my brother and I spent summer afternoons shelling, the corn we husked that Grandma scraped and creamed, potatoes dug from sandy soil then boiled, salted, and mashed. The crowning glory was the cornbread, soft, warm, golden like the afternoon sun in August, sweet but salty with edges crisp from the cast iron pan. Grandma’s cornbread was perfect. To my child’s mind, Grandma was perfect. Grandma’s house was a sanctuary, a place where you could find not only a home-cooked meal but a warm slice of cake to finish it off before you curled up in an armchair to read or nap. Her home was warmth, comfort, contentment, and rest. Grandma never worked outside the home, but that is not to say she did not work. She served with her hands, sent her daughter to prom in homemade dresses worthy of the department store, filled the Methodist church with gospel hymns on piano, placed a warm meal on her table three times a day. She knew how to want not because she wasted not, knew how to economize—canning what she could, freezing what she couldn’t, mending clothes she sewed for husband and children—because her husband’s modest single income required her to be so. She worked the invisible labor of caretaker of home and family, until one day she couldn’t do any of it. I was ten years old when Grandma had the first stroke. What followed was a blur of medical equipment and change. I saw my mother wade through a mess of at-home care while her own mother faded before her eyes. In spite of doctor visits and extended stays in a rehabilitation hospital, the strokes did not relent, as if insistent on the defeat of a woman who sat down only to read her Bible. Our Sunday lunches were replaced by afternoons in a nursing home, where I did my homework on a cold vinyl chair while my mother asked her mother how the nurses were treating her, whether she liked the food, whether she needed clothes from home. Grandpa was left alone in the house he shared with his wife for 60 years, until my mom found him one day unconscious on the floor by the kitchen table. The official cause of death was a heart attack, which is another way of saying heartbreak. By then the conversations with Grandma were more about explaining who we were and whether she knew us until the conversations stopped altogether and her smile became something familiar but foreign, the way a toddler smiles at strangers. Then she was gone, too. I first felt Grandma’s absence the day I graduated high school. After the ceremony, my parents and I took photos outside the big baptist church along with the rest of the graduates. Sandwiched between my mother and father, I smiled under my cardboard graduation cap as a friend snapped a few pictures of the three of us, then a couple more with my brother. As I walked to my car, I noticed lingering groups scattered around the parking lot. A handful of classmates, still draped in their wine-colored polyester robes, stood encircled by beaming family members. I saw my peers embrace grandmothers in soft-hued dresses and share congratulatory handshakes with nodding grandfathers, and I felt a loss as if I’d forgotten something essential. With each milestone—college graduation, marriage, motherhood—I felt the same absence again and again. There were no photographs to take which might reflect the relationship I craved. As friends described holiday dinners at Nana’s house or obligatory lunch dates with Gram, I named my hunger: Grandparent Envy. I wanted more than memories cut short by death. I wanted more time to sit in the dim evening light of my Grandma’s living room and ask her questions about who she was and who I might become. I wanted to exhort my grade-school self to ask more questions and take good notes before it was too late. I wanted her to hold my babies and read them stories, or sing along as her great-granddaughter played “Amazing Grace” on the piano. I wanted her to visit my kitchen and show me how to cook peas and make cornbread come out right. What I ended up with was a handful of physical leftovers from a life—a few handwritten recipes, a box of photographs—and a child’s collection of memories. The rich aroma of cake batter as I sat on a squeaky step-stool and watched sugar, flour, butter, and eggs blend into something delicious in a domestic miracle. The red skirt she sewed just for me that spun like a pinwheel and made me feel like Annie Oakley. The soft, floral scent of her dusting powder and the cool touch of her hands while she read me picture books in the big armchair. The joy when she said “yes” to ice cream sundaes and soda, never making me choose. Her kitchen table, covered with warm home-cooked meals, and her perfect cornbread in the center of it all. April is a wife, mama, and native Texan who loves hands in the dirt, hikes in the woods, and the company of good books. When she isn’t homeschooling her three wild children or muddling through their messes, you can find her barefoot in the garden, baking in the kitchen, or adventuring with her kiddos. During all the minutes in between, she writes. You can find her blog posts, personal essays, and fiction writing on her blog. She shares moments from her life at home and elsewhere on Instagram.
4 minutes | a month ago
Those Kinds of Friends
“When can we meet for dinner?” There were four of us on the text thread. Coordinating our calendars required a herculean effort of texting back and forth, negotiating childcare duties with our husbands, and keeping our fingers crossed that no one would suddenly throw up while we were walking out the door. Finally, we found a date that worked for everyone and arranged to meet at a local taco restaurant. Before our drinks even arrived, my friend, Elizabeth, got right to the point. “Look,” she said. “my mom has a group of friends that meet for dinner once a month. They’ve been doing it for years, watched each others’ kids grow up, and gone on vacations together. I was wondering if y’all would want to be those kinds of friends. If you do, I think we should commit to monthly dinners together.” We looked at each other awkwardly. Though we all attended the same church, our friendship was surface-level at best. But excitement sizzled up, too. We felt chosen, entrusted with the vision Elizabeth had cast. If we were honest, it sounded exactly like what we all craved, too: let’s raise our kids together, grow old together. She knew, even if we didn’t yet, that real friendship wouldn’t spontaneously blossom just because it sounded like a nice idea. We would have to take the first steps and commit to the logistical hurdle of setting aside two hours each month, in seasons that we could not yet foresee. We all agreed. And a few days later, Elizabeth texted again: “I think I’ve waited the appropriate three days to text y’all after a great ‘first date’ to see when we can do it again! Get your planners out…” Despite our erratic schedules, we tried, nobly, to organize a dinner together each month. We settled into an every-other-month kind of pace, but the first day of the new month reminded us all to try again. We took turns picking the restaurant, trying local joints, and discovering new favorites. Our group text thread became a lifeline. We helped welcome new babies into the world by painting nurseries together and calming each other’s fears about childbirth. We started a Sunday School class together. And once we realized that we wanted our husbands to become friends too, we started planning couples’ cookouts and game nights, pitching in for a babysitter to watch our growing brood of kids. Christmas was approaching. In contrast to our monthly dinners “out,” we began planning an elaborate girls’ night “in.” It felt long overdue: the last time I had watched a movie with someone other than my husband was with my college roommate … almost a decade ago. In our texts back and forth, we exchanged ideas for our evening together, growing more and more excited as we counted down the days. When the much-anticipated night finally arrived, we snuck out of our houses as soon as we put our kids to bed. We showed up with movies and snacks in hand, scarfed down some Christmas cookies, and spiked our hot cocoa with liberal amounts of Bailey’s. Then, we settled onto the sofa, pulling blankets over us to watch Love Actually. The camera panned across the London-Heathrow airport, zooming in on various couples who hugged and kissed as they reunited at last. Hugh Grant’s familiar voice set the scene by reminding us that “Love actually is all around …” And that was all we remembered. An hour later, we slowly stirred, opening our eyes and stretching. We had slept through the entire movie and completely missed our night together! Unable to muster up enough energy to try again, we stumbled sleepily into our cars to head home. Could there be a more appropriate symbol of friendship during this season of life? In the trenches of early childhood, as we struggle to navigate who we are and how to reclaim our identity, passions, and social lives, what we often need, more than anything else, is a long nap. In the future, we will be able to make it through movie night without falling asleep. We will be able to leave our houses without worrying we will wake up our children. We might even be able to carve out a standing dinner date instead of scrambling to clear our schedules every few months. For now, though, we live within the tension. We commit to our friendship without quite knowing how we will find the time for it. We trust that each small investment of time and energy will matter in the long run. Every text message, coffee date, and failed movie night — crammed into the margins of our busy lives — nurtures our souls and sustains us until the next time. Because we’re those kinds of friends. Callie Dean is a writer, researcher, and musician who believes that art can change the world. You can usually find her running, baking bread, or sipping chai. She lives in Shreveport, LA, with her husband and two sons.
8 minutes | a month ago
Thanks, No Thanks, Pinkie Pie
Lilly, barely 4 and still the baby, is laying on her belly in my bed beside me, chin in her hands, feet kicked up like she’s seen her big sisters do all her life. It’s about my bedtime and well past hers. An altercation between her sisters woke her up, and she needs a place to be while they settle down, so she’s chilling in my room while I read. It’s nice—there’s nothing really pressing; she’s just hanging out. But then she spots a shiny, black battery bank on my headboard and grabs it, immediately bringing it to her ear. It’s almost exactly the size of a phone, even happens to have its “on” button where an iPhone’s “home” is. She proceeds to prop herself up on her elbows and spend the next—I wish I were exaggerating—20 minutes staring at this black phone-like brick. She scrolls up and down with her right index finger, types away with her itty-bitty thumbs, makes and answers phone calls and video chats. “Hello, fwiends…Yes…No, I don’t think so, but I will in the afternoon. But first, we will have dinner.” Her one-sided “conversations” sound eerily familiar. What has happened that my 4-year-old would rather talk to a piece of plastic than to me? I’m right here, reading, and that never kept her from chattering at me before. I’m not offended that she doesn’t want to talk to me—it’s 10:00 pm and I’d rather not be talking to children right now—but why is the “screen” so intriguing to her, even when it’s not doing anything? Then it comes to me—I remember being in my bedroom several weeks before, putting away laundry while Jenna (my oldest, age 9) chattered on, narrating a picture book she’d written called “The Boy Who Didn’t Baleev In Himself.” “…and then the boy tried to fly, but he just fell on the ground. ‘Oof. I guess I’m just no good at anything.’ Mom! Are you even listening?” “Wha? Oh. No, baby. I’m really sorry. I got a message and I need to just send someone a link real quick for work. Hang on a sec and I’ll listen better.” [Unknown amount of time passes.] “MOM. You said a second. It’s been like five minutes!” “I’m so sorry. Here.” [I set my phone to silent and lay it face-down.] This scene, or variations of it, unfolds constantly throughout the day. I’m trying to mom my kids, but a notification dings and I’m sucked into my phone. I manage good-enough parenting, but not a bit more. I’m not bringing my best self to them. I guess that’s where Lilly gets it, this compulsive screen-staring. We’ve all heard how detrimental screen time is to kids and how kids tend to model their screen usage after their parents. We’ve all seen campaigns about not robbing the kids of attention by staring at the phone constantly. Honestly, I hate those guilt-trips with the fire of a thousand suns. I don’t need one more ounce of mom shame—not for staying home or working or vaccinating or using my phone. I am using my phone mostly for work stuff, and the work is meaningful to me. I do want them to see me doing work that helps others and makes me feel alive. It just so happens that my work is largely done on a screen. And besides, this is not a one-way phenomenon. My various screens pull me away from them, but my kids also interrupt my creative work on the regular. It’s not like work is getting my best self, either. This week, I was on a Zoom call with my team. I joined late (because kids) and resorted to letting them watch My Little Pony to keep them out of mischief. I grit my teeth—Pinkie Pie’s voice is distractingly obnoxious, even when she provides free babysitting. And then she was not doing her job at all—the consequences of utilizing an animated horse as a nanny. My middle two kids were in a yelling match and someone’s hair was pulled and someone was thirsty and she spilled her water so she needed more and also there was a puddle. I was progressively pulled away from my meeting as the chaos increased. ”Excuse me. Sorry,” I muttered as I muted myself. Finally, I just removed my earbuds and walked away to deal with whatever fresh hell just materialized in the living room, fearing the fallout of not managing this now. *** So my children aren’t getting my best self. My work isn’t getting my best self. This dilemma reminds me of my kids’ hourly fights where everyone gets hurt and nobody wins. I feel bedraggled and guilty for giving everyone short shrift. I’m doing the best I can at all my roles, but what happens when “the best I can” kinda sucks? I want to find a way to separate my realms, even if just a little, so they don’t intrude on each other constantly. I hate feeling forcibly disconnected from everyone all the time. I don’t expect to reach the oft-discussed “balance”—some unicorn homeostasis where my work is work and my home is home and everyone gets the best of me in their scheduled and well-defined slots. I just want…better. I dream of sitting on the floor with all four babies, reading to them, playing blocks, offering art projects full of glitter, and then guiding them to clean those projects back up with grace and equanimity. My phone will be off and out of the room. My children will know they are my priority. And then when it’s work time, I will be entirely focused, monotasking at peak efficiency. My children will be within eyesight, but playing quietly together. Perhaps the big two take turns reading to the younger siblings. Oh! Maybe they can work on teaching the littles to read! If they get bored with that, they will begin quietly cleaning the house. They will cheerfully cooperate to manage their own behavior. Uh…right. So that’s clearly not happening. Truth be told, their happy self-management is not the only part of this scenario that’s pure fantasy. I hate glitter—even more than I hate essays telling me I’m a terrible mom for using my phone in my kids’ presence. And while I’m being transparent, I’m just gonna say it: sometimes conversing with my children is boring. I love my kids. I love spending time with them. But when my attention is completely focused on them for long chunks of time, I get antsy and the clock slows down to the point where I wonder (constantly) if it’s broken. In addition, my kids get weird. They swiftly start feeling entitled to my full focus all the time, but I don’t have enough attention to give 100 percent to each of four children. The math doesn’t work. It’s not like I haven’t tried to separate my worlds—years ago I got rid of most notifications on my phone, so I know now that when my phone dings, it’s probably something I want to see fairly quickly. (This works for me about as well as telling the children to watch My Little Pony while I have a meeting—I can try to minimize distractions, but they keep finding me.) The urgent always invades from whatever realm I’m not currently living in, and I always try to address it immediately. That immediacy is something I am reexamining—when every need and request receives the same priority (the very top), life becomes unnecessarily chaotic. Maybe rather than giving all my attention to whichever need I’m trying to meet right now, I need to give more to assessing my own motivations. Is this need really emergent or does it just feel urgent? Do I want to respond right now because that’s necessary or because I neurotically and aggressively meet needs? Can this wait? Perhaps the urgent does not need to be such a tyrant. Eventually, I want my kids to become adults who know how to adapt to the world around them. I want them to know when to focus and when to switch tracks to attend to something urgent. But they won’t ever have “balance” entirely dialed in, so they will have to fight for it, just like I do. As I sit at my table writing today, my kids are eating lunch. They pull me away every few minutes with a fight or request for more milk or food, but my work is getting done. (Both kinds of work.) I don’t always get it right, but I am showing them how to be people who do their best, even when “good enough” is as far as their best can go. It’s not comfortable, but I can teach them to live in the uncomfortable mess and pull of life as it is, rather than being mad about what it “should be.” Do I really want to fully separate these worlds of mine? My work brings me sanity, saving my brain from an endless stream of unfollowable words from four different mouths simultaneously. And, while my children do pull me away from my creative work constantly, they also provide the bulk of the material for it. I hesitate to call it symbiosis—it’s a lot more frustrating than the word implies—but the bleed between my worlds isn’t all bad. Robin Chapman is a part-time writer, editor, and birth photographer and a full-time imperfect mama, wife, Jesus follower, and normalizer of failure. She’s trying to learn how to do this motherhood thing in a way that doesn’t land the whole family in intensive therapy. She has a heart for helping other mamas buried in the little years with hope, humor, and solidarity. You can find her hiding out in the bathroom with an iced dirty chai, writing and editing and making spreadsheets for Kindred Mom where she is a cheerleader for mamas, or online looking for grace in her mundane and weird life. She lives in Fairbanks, Alaska with her four delightful (crazy) kids and her ridiculously good looking husband, Andrew. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and her blog.
7 minutes | a month ago
Not the First Time
“I’m just a little bit scared,” he says as we drive to the school where his evaluation will take place. “You don’t have to be scared. I’ll be with you the whole time,” I promise as I watch him in the rearview mirror. “No, Mom. I’m just a little bit scared,” he repeats, holding up his hand, thumb and pointer finger barely touching to drive his point home. He may not be that scared, but I can barely see straight. Scheduling this evaluation for the morning after Daylight Savings was not my brightest decision. Neither were the multiple cups of coffee on an empty stomach. Part of me is unsure if it is the caffeine making me shake uncontrollably or the fact that my 4-year-old will be walking into a room full of school therapists ready to pick apart his every word and move. This isn’t our first evaluation. This isn’t the first time I’ll be walking hand in hand with my child into a room full of professionals, the first time I’ll have a complete stranger tell me there is something wrong with my child’s development. Yet I am terrified, shaking, and on the verge of tears. I know what they will say, the diagnosis, but in order for him to get into the free preschool program with therapy, I have to let him go through this again. The room may be different and the therapists new, but I am no stranger to the feelings overtaking my body, mind, and heart. It is still frightening; I am still scared. I’ve done my research and know what to expect. I know my son well enough to know why we are here and what they will find. But my mind begins to wander: what if? What if there is something else wrong that wasn’t caught the first time? What if the fears I have kept hidden deep in my heart are realized? What if this routine evaluation doesn’t go as planned? These thoughts add to the anxiety I can’t control. I am relying on the bravery of my 4-year-old to get me through. I hold tightly to his hand, more for my sake than his, and reassure him that everything is going to be fine. We have done this before, I tell him. I know he is going to do great. I’ll be there with him the whole time; he won’t be doing this alone. I hope these words soak into his subconscious as I let them soothe my anxious heart. He is slow to start as seven pairs of eyes watch every move he makes. He sits on my lap as I rub his head, kiss his cheek, and tell him he is doing a great job. He is quiet and reserved, though cooperating the best he can. I tried to prepare him, but it is hard to remember the purpose of this strange encounter when you are four and thrown into a room of strangers asking you questions and dissecting every sound you make. Still, he was better composed on the outside than I was on the inside. It’s not easy having people watch you so closely, listening so intensely, interrogating you to see what knowledge you hold that can be outwardly expressed. It’s hard on my mama-heart to watch. Part of me feels like I’m being evaluated too. You know the official diagnosis, so what have you been doing to ensure the success of your child? I have to swallow the guilt that threatens to consume me. I have to silence the voice inside my head that tells me I’m not doing enough, that he’s sitting in this room because of me and all the ways I have failed him since the moment he was conceived. As he sits on my lap, I continue to reassure him. The words I whisper to him are just as much for him as they are for me. It is hard for me to hold my tongue and not translate for him when the words he has are too hard to understand. I know what he is capable of; I know what he can say and do. I know his struggles and his accomplishments better than anyone. There are moments I don’t hold back, sharing with pride all that he can do physically, just to ensure they know that he is extremely talented in other areas. I want them to know this disorder does not define who he is or determine what he can do. But they don’t care what I know, they care what he can and cannot communicate. I hate to watch him struggle and not have me to lean on. I can’t minimize his weaknesses with my strength—my ability to understand him almost perfectly. I can’t be his voice, the one who knows every word he says, who laughs at the jokes no one else can understand. He has gotten used to me being his translator, his crutch when words are hard. I can’t do anything to make this better for him; helping him now would hurt him in the long run. I stay quiet, whispering comforting words and prayers to my broken heart, hoping everything works out for his best interest, even though it kills me. Being in this room is heart-wrenching and daunting. For the hour we sit on these tiny chairs, surrounded by therapists rapidly taking notes, I try to keep one eye on my son and one eye on their papers. One by one they move down the row, each taking their turn on the floor where my son now sits playing. He gets braver the longer we are in the room. “I got what I need; your turn.” Every time they move along, I feel like I am being punched in the gut and I can’t help but speculate about what they are writing. I know the end result, regardless of what they find: special education, multiple therapists to assist him throughout the school week. It won’t be much different than the therapy he’s been receiving since he was three with the therapist who has all of my trust. I wonder how I will fit these other therapists into our life, how I will extend faith and grace to them as they work to help this boy of mine. The diagnosis is given—they agree with the initial diagnosis from a year ago. The IEP is worked out. After an hour with my boy, they know what he needs and we work together to form the best plan. I thought once I knew for sure that his diagnosis wouldn’t change, that none of my fears would come to fruition, I would stop shaking, but I haven’t stopped since we left the house. All of this is still hard for me. After a year to process and work through his diagnosis, I thought it would get easier. I thought that with one evaluation and a year of therapy in our arsenal we would be better equipped for these battles. I don’t feel stronger, and it doesn’t feel easier. I am still watching my son struggle and there is only so much I can do for him. I have come to the realization I can’t fix this for him—I have to search for and rely on others to help us get through it, even though that means subjecting him to more evaluations. I don’t think they’ll get easier. Fear will always loom in the depths of the unknown. I gather the paperwork and carefully place it inside my bag. I hold my son’s hand as tightly as I can, relying on the bravery he showed me in that room to ease my anxiety. I swallow the lump forming in my throat as I tell him how proud I am. I know this coming school year is going to be hard for him, that it is going to push him to his limits more often than not. These hardships he has to go through, that I have to go through alongside him as his mother, are trying, nerve-racking. He’s only a little bit scared, though, and he makes me brave. Jacey is a wife to her husband of eight years and together, they have three children. She finds solace in words and between the pages of a good book. Her writing has been featured on Coffee + Crumbs among others. You can find her on Instagram or jaceywrites.com.
8 minutes | 2 months ago
The Fruit-Bearing Tree
I stand at the granite surface of the kitchen island, chopping kielbasa into coins and feeding dry spaghetti noodles through each smoky disc for a dish in progress for dinner. A lone fly buzzes around, hoping for a taste of the meat, but I wave him away. I’m hacking the recipe from one of my 11-year-old’s favorite cookbooks in a manner that saves no time, but proportions smoked sausage and pasta noodles perfectly. Aiming my words at the smartphone balanced on my 32oz. green plastic tumbler, where I am recording an audio text to someone, I say something I have never said before: “My insecurity hurts you, but it’s not about you. It’s a deep-rooted weed. It’s a plant growing in the wrong place. God is helping me uproot it in this season, but it’s a messy process.” The image of a diseased tree grows in my mind as we sit down to dinner and load really good pasta onto our plates. After dinner—the only meal regularly staged at the kitchen table—I’m overwhelmed. That table is a lot after dinner. The baby’s high chair is pushed to face the southeast corner of the table, between Mama and Daddy. Rather than watercolor smears on the dark wood together with notebooks, books, our butcher paper dispenser, Post-its, pencils, scissors, and succulent plants in glass containers, there are now crumbs, relish, corn kernels, and broccoli stems littering the table. The sun is going down and taking the rest of my energy with it. The pasta is mixed in with plates, silverware, and half-empty cans of soda and sparkling water, and it’s all sucking the life out of me. My husband is anxious and fretting for freedom too. He’s itching for respite after being on call all day with the double doors closed and monitors staring at him expectantly. We stand at the table, trying to decide who will finish it all up in the next hour—Who will wash dishes and put things into Tupperware and scrape plates into the garbage and load the dishwasher and take out and replace trash bags? Who will be responsible for the baby? Who will run baths? Who will face the complaints and downcast expressions that inevitably follow the bedtime announcement? I’m momentarily paralyzed. This happens every day. It’s no one’s fault, I tell myself. He’s working from home, not having a party. We’ve both been working our butts off. Abruptly, my mind turns back to my pre-dinner revelation. (SQUIRREL!) “It’s the tree. We have to fix the tree!” “What?” Hubby asks. To me, he looks totally confused. “Remember when that guy from the garden center said, ‘Make the tree healthy?’” I head back to the table to grab plates while he starts rinsing the dishes one-handed with the baby on his hip. “Uh-huh…” “Remember? He said the way to deal with pests on a tree was making the tree better.” “Yeah,” he says. “I’m the tree!” As I say the words, I think of those who birthed insecurity in me—interactions with people and experiences that scattered their white dandelion seeds in my soil. They set my root ball in the ground crookedly; they didn’t feed me nutrients I needed. My roots didn’t take hold properly, and I blew with changing winds—different opinions and circumstances. I hear the guy from the garden center echoing in my head as I visualize myself, a sick tree, and I finally understand his counsel. Trees hold their food and water in their needles or leaves, so if they’re not protected from high winds, they lose the very things they need to be strong and beautiful. Like a tree weakened by disease, which attracts pests, I have been twisted and eaten up by insecurity. From sapling to mature tree, all my connections with this world have affected who I am today—my growth and my areas of struggle. “I get all worked up and scared over the kids and over my friends, but I feel like God is saying I don’t have control, and I never have. I can only be responsible for my responses. I have to make sure I’m well watered and fed and getting my nutrients from God instead of just worrying. Otherwise, faithlessness sprouts in me and casts a shadow on all my relationships. It affects them too.” “Right,” Hubby said like it had been obvious to him before God enlightened me. *** Insecurity is an old acquaintance. We first met when my best friend abruptly moved to Oregon, leaving me behind. Then, what felt like days later, we moved too. Life turned upside down for me. Fearing more loss and abandonment, I made relationships claustrophobic. I watched them closely and told them how they had to act. Through the years, insecurity has done a number on my friendships. I have desired friends, valued loyalty, and feared abandonment in ways that border on illness, yet I grapple with doubt that any friendship can be a trustworthy environment for my heart. When insecurity led to pride, I let friends down too. I’ve seen it too many times. Connections falling apart, turning cold, mutating into distant civility. Gradually, confidantes have transformed until you’d think we never knew each other. Did I ever actually know her? Or did we just become other people, gradually growing to dislike what we once loved? I haven’t got it all figured out yet, but I’m beginning to realize: I tend to see every disagreement as an attack. Intellectually, emotionally, and rhetorically, I go to war. But insecurity cannot be my compass. Friendship won’t work if I always think I am right instead of trusting God’s wisdom. Likewise, being a good mama isn’t about trying to control every decision and belief and direction of my children (or, worse, believing that I can, as if I am the Almighty). I love them, but I may not engineer (or even modify) them. Motherhood and friendship—relationships and connections—become sick trees, if they’re overtaken by insecurity and fear. So, I’ve had to change my mind about how to do life in front of my children and how to bring God’s wisdom into my walk with friends. That’s repentance, and it’s the first step in the lengthy and dirty process of digging out unhealthy roots. Insecurity doesn’t have to be an unrelenting wind that dries me out and makes me brittle. If I try to stand up to that wind alone, it will snap branches and create wounds leading to strange offshoots of emotion, behavior, and thought that diverge from the narrow path along which my Shepherd, Jesus is leading. Instead, I trust Jesus to be my Tree Guy, ridding the soil around me of creepers and other clinging plants. The Lord alone can pack the earth where I’m planted back into place and provide a guiding stake to straighten me out. The truth is, God makes all things new. I’m a fruit-bearing tree planted by God. As Lecrae said recently on Instagram, “Healthy trees don’t grow overnight. Neither do healthy people.” The spreading fungi of insecurity deeply influenced my mind—my perception—as I went through hard experiences and listened to mean words. The messages I received are just as real to me now as ever—the past isn’t the past; it’s now. However, I don’t have to drink in that insecurity. I can let God uproot lies and plant truth instead. I do that by changing my mind about who I believe—whether I will dig out the invading roots of insecurity by believing God instead. If I let God keep pulling up the thistles and dandelions and wild clover in the soil of my soul, maybe the evidence of Christ’s transformation will blossom more freely. Jay Jones is a writer, a mama, and an audio editor for Kindred Mom. God has changed each goal Jay has ever had, chiefly those concerning her relationships and writing. If it is part of her life, she wants it to please Him. Self-taught in many ways, she is always looking to make connections and find ways to improve her brain, her blog, and her brood (ages 2 to 13 years). Married since 2004 to her husband, Taylor, she’s been tied to her college sweetheart for nearly a quarter-century. Together, they raise their 4 children in the Chicago suburbs, where they enjoy pursuing creativity in the midst of the daily grind. Whether it’s writing screenplays, gardening, or gaming, Jay’s family is usually cultivating something. As a mama to both teens and toddlers, Jay is passionate about instilling deep, identity-forming truths in her children. Her other interests include: encouraging others, reading when she can, and learning what she can about where the mind-brain-body-reality intersects with Biblical perspective. You can find some of her musings on her blog at and on Instagram.
5 minutes | 2 months ago
Cry, But Not Alone
Sitting on the floor on the darkest side of the dresser, I sat rocking my baby, stifling my own sobs, and praying I wouldn’t wake my husband. We were living in my parents’ house until the drywall dust settled in our very first house. The days of being displaced stretched out before me–we had been at my parents’ for two weeks and it looked like another month before we could get back into the little house we loved. I desperately wanted my own space, but for the time being my little family squeezed into one bedroom—my son slept in a drawer on the floor. Every time the baby whimpered during the night, I would quickly pick him up out of the drawer to sit hunched in the corner to start the feeding process. From the beginning, it had been challenging to get my son to nurse properly. Every feeding I would spend five minutes trying to nurse, then tiptoe downstairs to make him a bottle, and finish off each session pumping and storing milk for the next time. I quickly got adept at doing this by the light of the fridge, even in the middle of the night, but the pressure to keep the baby quiet through the whole painful process felt like a weight on my back. It was exhausting, I sobbed through it all. And the whole time, no one in my parents’ house except me knew what I was going through. Looking back, I know to call it postpartum depression, but then I thought I was just weak and failing at everything. We didn’t have our house together, I couldn’t get my son to nurse properly, and I couldn’t stop crying. In my deepest moments of pain, I wondered if I made a mistake. Maybe I should never have had a baby. I endured six weeks of extremely long nursing routines, having nursing consultants try everything from guards to teaspoons to help us, and at the end, I was left feeling like a failure. I was defeated and embarrassed by the amount of people who had seen me undressed and at my lowest with no progress to show for it until a new nurse came for a home visit. She let me cry and then told me I had put up a valiant fight and it was time to let it go. She could see in my eyes that I was not doing well and she gave me permission to just let it be. After six weeks of struggle, her affirmation that I was not a bad mom was the magic I needed. When I relaxed into that confidence, my baby suddenly started eating properly, sleeping through the night, and we moved back into our house. It’s been eighteen years since those nights I spent curled up in the corner. I had two daughters after that son, and he’s now in his first year of college. I don’t rock babies anymore, but the depression never really left, and two years ago I was diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder. I didn’t know then how many nights I would spend crying in the dark, with or without a baby, but I think about that twenty-one-year-old girl often. If I could go back and tell her one thing it would be this: go downstairs and wake up your mom. For so many years I thought crying had to be done alone. I thought I was the only one who could rock my baby, cry my tears, and bear the burden to figure it all out. I felt so alone and I wished someone would help me, but no one knew. Years later, I told my husband and my mom and they both said the same thing. “I wish you would have woken me up.” People were never meant to go through life alone. We are meant to live in a far more interconnected way than our North American culture allows. When we’re isolated, it’s easy to think everyone we see thriving is doing it perfectly all on their own. But that’s a lie. They’re either not alone, or they’re not doing as well as we might think. If you just had a baby and are struggling with postpartum depression, let me offer some hard-won advice: call someone. Wake someone up. Cry, but not alone. It’s hard to tell someone you’re wondering if you’re not up to the task of parenting and asking where God is in the night. It is life-giving to say these things aloud, and doing so does not make you unspiritual or a bad mother or the wrong person for the job. It makes you normal. And that other mom you’re talking to? It makes her feel normal too. So wake your husband, call your mom, open up in a mom’s group or at church, talk to your doctor or midwife, or even book an appointment with a counselor. Reach out. Be brave, honest, and vulnerable. The community built during the hard times will be there to support you for the next eighteen years. Rest easy, you were never meant to handle this alone. Jennifer Holmes is a wife, mom, Christian School music teacher, and writer who also happens to have Bipolar II. She’s exploring how mental health and faith intersect and invites you to share that journey. She loves to podcast, blog, and share on social media, often early in the morning all wrapped up in blankets. Follow along at her website and on Facebook and Instagram (her favourite). Her podcast can be found by searching Jen’s New Song on iTunes, Spotify, or through her website.
7 minutes | 2 months ago
Putting In The Time
It started with a cough. A deep, hacking cough that shook my entire body, right to my core. Literally. I coughed for months—straight through Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. My bronchitis sounded worse than it felt, with one horribly embarrassing exception: every time a cough took me by surprise, a drop of pee did the same. By the second week, I wasn’t very surprised, and I had learned to cock my hip and subtly shift my weight whenever I felt a cough about to explode through my chest. This is not fine, I thought. My pelvic floor had been weak ever since I gave birth to my first son seven years earlier. He was tangled up in his own umbilical cord, and it took me six hours and the help of a fetal vacuum to push him out. At the time, I remember feeling very grateful I had been able to finish the job without a C-section, but in the months that followed, as I started trying to get back in shape, I realized I could no longer run without peeing. Not any distance. Not even if I limited liquids and took care of business before I set out. I guessed that the strain of pushing for so long had permanently stretched things down there. So much for the expensive jogging stroller. The loss of control wounded my pride so badly, I simply gave up running. But, to tell the truth, I wasn’t that worried. Giving up running wasn’t a huge loss for me. We could walk to the library just as easily as run there, and I wouldn’t even have to get sweaty. I thought I could just ignore my problem and it would fade into the background. I thought it was isolated and it wouldn’t affect how I lived or enjoyed my family. Almost seven years later, I finally realized I couldn’t pretend my pelvic floor weakness into oblivion. It had followed me through two more births, and quite suddenly and unexpectedly became an issue that consumed almost every waking thought. I started wearing pantyliners to go on hikes and I would ask my husband to chase after our toddler when she tried to escape. I no longer trusted my body to perform the most basic function, and no amount of Kegels seemed to get me anywhere. I cautiously brought up the subject with friends, who all agreed that sneezing is the worst. One well-meaning older lady told me that sex was the answer, and another told me I could just have surgery and forget about it. Even as I nodded along, I didn’t feel reassured. I suspected my problem was worse than they imagined. I was beginning to grasp its magnitude, and I was afraid. When I googled my symptoms, I learned that I had “stress incontinence.” Yikes. That sounds like a problem for a nursing home, not a 30-something mama chasing after toddlers. But if it had a name, then surely I wasn’t alone. Surely there was some way to find healing, some way I could cooperate with my own body again. After months of anxiety, someone handed me the name of a physical therapist. “She’s great!—she can tell just by how you stand and walk what exercises will help,” my friend assured me. “She worked wonders for me.” I showed up to my first physical therapy appointment wearing heeled booties, skinny jeans, and makeup. I care about my image, and I was about to tell a stranger that I also wet my pants sometimes. As I peered into the therapy room and spotted all the sneakers and leggings, I realized with chagrin that it had been so long since I’d trusted my body, I didn’t even own the right clothes to freely move around. My therapist, a friendly and energetic woman, laughed at my boots and told me to stop apologizing so much. She didn’t bat an eye when I poured out my most embarrassing secret (and her subsequent questions made me realize I still had a lot to be grateful for). When I asked her with tears in my eyes whether I was ever going to feel comfortable in my body again, she told me something I won’t soon forget. “Melissa, we can work on this. Your brain has forgotten how to connect to your pelvic floor. Those muscles are stretched out, but we are going to make them strong. We are here to remind your body what to do.” She told me that eventually, if I kept working on it, my body would remember how to hold itself together again. “Are my knees supposed to hurt?” I asked her a few minutes later as I lay on my back with my feet on a chair and a kickball between my knees, crunching all the air out of my lungs. She assured me I was doing exactly what I was supposed to do, that my knees are connected to my adductors and my adductors are connected to my hips; everything is actually connected to everything else (just like the song says!)—even my stress levels. I had been compensating for my lost strength by using every other part of my body in strange ways, so every part would have to learn to work differently—even my knees. I was doubtful as I shoved my feet back into my leather booties and left. I had a new trick, but I wasn’t sure it would matter. Consistency has never been my strong suit; I’ve tried a few “miracle” programs before and never managed to stick to them. What if I can never reconnect with this part of my body I’ve neglected for so long? What if all my bad habits are too ingrained for me to overcome them? I missed two days of exercises that week. It was hard for me to work a new routine into the hectic rhythm of my days at home. As I lay on my bedroom floor at midnight and attempted to repeat the simple exercise, curving my lower back down to the carpet and breathing out until my lungs ached for fresh air, I reminded myself to keep trying, that doing something is better than nothing. I wish I could say I was all better after a week. I wish I could say I don’t have to worry about my pelvic floor anymore. But I’m still working on it. Connection (and especially reconnection) can be hard work. Sometimes it is uncomfortable, and sometimes a false start makes me want to give up in despair. But I can’t assume a real connection will happen without a deep investment, or without affecting every other part of my life. Just like any relationship I’ve ever had, forging a bond is slow and requires my persistence. No matter how much I want it when I start out, it won’t become second nature instantaneously. I have to put in the time. Melissa Hogarty is a habitually overwhelmed mama who is learning to slow down and sometimes say no. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and three kids, who regularly teach her that she has more to learn in the areas of grace, patience, and letting loose. She can often be found cuddled up with a good novel or pulling cookies out of the oven. Melissa is an editor and regular contributor at Kindred Mom and a member of the Exhale creative community. She enjoys singing with her church worship team and fellowshipping with other moms. She also writes a personal blog, Savored Grace, where you can find recipes as well as ideas about motherhood and faith, and occasionally updates her Instagram.
6 minutes | 2 months ago
Friends Who Do Not Fear My Pain
I am a MOO, which has nothing to do with cows, although that would spark a smile. In my life, MOO stands for Mothers of Offenders. The word offender just made this all so serious. I am the mother of an offender. This is my smashed-heart story. That I am a mother at all still fills me with wonder. I knew from a young age my body would never be able to bear children. Instead of crying over that, I chose to live a large life of faith in the God who created me. In my early thirties as a single youth pastor, I began meeting with a group of at-risk tween boys. Actually I couldn’t shake them. They were beautifully messy and risky, and they eventually chose to follow Jesus. The night they made that decision, God whispered to me that these boys needed more than a youth pastor: they needed parents. With open hearts, my new husband and I parented more and more. Now, decades later, we have five delightful grandchildren who are being raised in safe homes, with love and the knowledge of Jesus—the very things their fathers didn’t have until they were older. I wish this was true for all four of my sons, but as I said, I am a MOO. One of my sons committed a serious crime as a young man, and the prison system has been a part of our lives for 21 years now. I still remember the phone call when this became our reality. I remember the awkwardness of the jail visits which later became prison visits. Jail and prison are very different, and I hate that I know that. I can still hear the door slamming and locking behind me for the first time, can still picture sitting in that booth, picking up that phone, and seeing my son’s face through that glass. My dear son, whose whole future had just changed, who wasn’t sure if he was still loved. I also had to go to church the next Sunday and answer questions about the front-page article in the newspaper. When my son was arrested, people tried to figure out what to say to me. Most often they truly meant well, but it didn’t touch the anger I felt toward my son. It didn’t touch the grief I felt over his lost future. It didn’t soothe the very public shame my family now bears. Shame is already a story stealer, and because my shame rested in the crime my son committed, I didn’t know how to put words on that any more than my friends did. So I walked into a room filled with beautiful women just like me. We are MOOs. We support each other. But none of us want to be there. This is a place we can be honest about the shame our own children have brought us. We walk each other through the court system and then the other systems in place for those who are incarcerated. But we wish we didn’t have to. Being a MOO means I must enter into another person’s pain. To help her is to also relive my own pain. I have to hear stories that are tragic, stories that have no easy ending point. Being a MOO also means we really see each other. We already know what the woman next to us means when she opens her mouth. No glassy-eyed I don’t understand. No judgment. No, I can’t bear to know this exists in my safe world. This connection is a rare find. But to get it, I have to be honest about my own pain too. I wish the universal nature of struggle made it easier for all of us to ask for help, especially in situations like mine, when the mistakes that led to heartbreak cannot be undone. But in a culture of scarcity and perfectionism, there can still be so much shame around reaching out. It is easier to numb that pain—by eating or drinking the pain into oblivion, or becoming so “crazy busy” that I don’t have time to feel it. I could overshare my pain, trying to get a shot of dopamine from attention (or use oversharing as an excuse, believing no one understands me). Sometimes I want to do everything right, hiding behind a face that says I am okay even though I am smashed inside. No wonder I can stand in a crowded church, worshipping God with all my heart next to people I love, and still feel alone. Sometimes I feel like no one really knows me. Sometimes I think I have to pretend I am someone else to find any connection. Do you know what the best part of being a MOO is? In a small group meeting among other mothers who are not afraid of my pain, I get to share my real stories. Speaking these truths aloud in this safe space helps me live my other days in the real world. We never compare whose pain is worse. Instead, we listen. We give each other words of encouragement. Sometimes we share out of our experience—we’ve been there before. Some words seem to come directly from the Holy Spirit, who comforts us in our sorrow. We laugh at things other people could never understand. I don’t need to talk about my experiences with prison every day. Nor is it safe for me to talk about my story (and my son’s story) with everyone. Some people don’t care. Some people may be more interested in salacious gossip than my heart. Some people have enough in their lives to handle without the weight of my experiences on top. Only certain people get to know this brave, vulnerable part of me. This connection with other moms who also know the awkwardness of prison visitations builds me up to live the rest of my life more fully. I no longer live under a cloud of secret shame. For a few hours each week, I know I am heard and understood—and that is enough. Brenda Seefeldt Amodea is a pastor, speaker, wife, and mom to four men with their own brave stories. Her life is a story of getting her heart smashed and the many times she has chosen to get up. She shares the beauty of her pain at www.Bravester.com. Sometimes these stories shared are better in person—complete with prayer together. Maybe you would like her to come to your group and share?
6 minutes | 2 months ago
Too Much Happens Before Coffee
Faintly aware of the familiar ethereal tune of my cell phone alarm, I swipe the clock icon toward “dismiss” to silence the symphony of chimes that interrupt my late-morning dreams. I suppose I should get up, I half-heartedly muse while glancing at the time: 8:03 am. Stretched out alone in our queen-size bed, I ponder all the things on my schedule for the day. I have meetings this afternoon. I can’t forget to water the hanging baskets today. I need to schedule that delivery, call the insurance company, and pay the bills for next month. No reason to delay; I’d better get started. I saunter off toward the bathroom to wash my face, brush my teeth, and pull my hair down from a top-knot, but in our one-bathroom home, more often than not, this space is occupied at this time of day. I make my way to Brian’s office, which was a guest bedroom before COVID hit in March. He has already started his work for the day, but it’s a slow morning. “Make sure you get your coffee sooner rather than later,” I tease. It’s the running joke in our home: “Too much happens before coffee.” Work may be slow now, but any number of circumstances could pop up before noon. I take a seat on the bed while waiting for the bathroom to be free, and our 4-year-old daughter ambles in, joining the two of us. With wild blonde bed-head and sleepy smiles, she crawls up next to me for a morning snuggle, hugs, and kisses. “Hey Eleora,” Brian starts, “what is the song you sang to your sisters before falling asleep the other night?” Our eyes meet, and I grin knowingly. Our older two daughters, Olivia and Amelia, informed us after Eleora had fallen asleep the night before, that she concocted a tune comprised of “booties” and “butts” and other words kids find hilarious. Eleora bashfully hides her face in my side in response to this question. By now, her older sisters have joined our guest room/office gathering and have caught on to the conversation we’d begun a moment ago. “Why don’t you want to sing your song for mommy and daddy?” Brian pries. It’s written all over her face: she’s embarrassed. Amelia pipes up, “I’ll sing it!” and proceeds to recount a silly tune where every other word is “booty.” Giggles ensue, but Eleora’s embarrassment turns into tears. Brian scoops her up and reassures her all is okay. It’s too early in the day for diffusing hurt feelings—we haven’t even had coffee. Still in our pajamas, piled on the guest bed, we take turns finding Eleora’s most ticklish spot: her armpits. Before long, her eyes are dry and the small room fills with peals of laughter from everyone. We catch our breath as Brian glances over at his work. Still slow. We all agree there are times and places for goofy songs about “booties,” and Eleora no longer feels embarrassed. I finally make it to the bathroom to get ready for the day and choose an outfit appropriate for a Zoom meeting, but still comfortable enough to wear around the house. I head to the kitchen to finally prepare breakfast when I notice the time: it’s already after 10:00 am. How on Earth did two hours just fly by? Astonished by the passage of time, I recount the pace of our lives just a few months prior. Alarms while it was still dark, Brian gone before the kids woke up, business all day, and exhaustion in the evenings. When COVID hit, none of us knew what was going on, and even with Brian newly working from home full-time, our days were anything but relaxed. I’d jump out of bed in a frenzy, racing to make a grocery run just as our local stores opened, hoping I’d be able to snag a pound of ground beef or a whole chicken. Upon returning home, I’d wipe down everything out of an abundance of caution, lest I bring an unknown virus into our home. For many of us, those early spring days could be accurately described as chaotic. I shake off the memory of those days and pull a box of blueberry muffin mix out of the cabinet. Yes, this is perfect for today, I smile. The girls will love this. Minutes tick by as I prepare the muffin batter, throw a pan of bacon in the oven, and scramble seven eggs in my trusty cast-iron skillet while the aroma of blueberry muffins fill the air. Two batches of muffins later, and everything is cooked. I dole out servings among five different plates. 11:22 am, I read on the clock as I shrug casually, whatever. “Breakfast is ready!” I call while delivering plates to the table. “MUFFINS!” the girls squeal as they bound in from the living room where they had been playing with Barbies and Matchbox cars. Brian emerges from the guest room and takes notice of the time. “I guess this is technically more like brunch,” I suggest. “Yep, but it works because now we don’t have to worry about lunch,” he teases. Before sitting down, I fill two mason jar style glasses with ice and reach into the fridge for the pitcher of cold-brew coffee. A lot has happened before coffee today. I pour coffee and cream over the ice, plop a stainless steel straw into each jar, and ponder how much our lives have shifted from a cycle of work-school-eat-sleep to one completely outside of any cycle. A type of work, life, and school integration that sometimes affords us slow mornings, blueberry muffin brunches, and cold-brew coffee at 11:30 am. Much like our coffee that brews for eight hours overnight, slow and mellow, we have adopted some routines that are slow and mellow too. The five of us enjoy our accidental brunch together, a fine way to wrap up a slow morning. A lot has happened before coffee: a lot of laughter and a lot of memories. Work beckons Brian back to the guest room, and I prompt the kids to get dressed for the day. They can’t stay in pajamas all day, right? My to-do list for the day is waiting for me, but I’m ready for it because of all that had happened before coffee. Mary Kate Brown is passionate about helping others find healing and wholeness. She writes online about her healing journey from autoimmune disease and champions others to be their own best health advocates. A “crunchy” mom at heart, her interests include holistic wellness, real food cooking, and faithful stewardship of our bodies, spirits, families, and land. Mary Kate, her husband Brian, and their three daughters left their lifelong home in the Chicago suburbs to pursue their dream of homesteading on a rural property just south of Grand Rapids, MI. Most days you can find her in the garden talking to her plants, homeschooling her three daughters, or taking appointments with fellow writers as a member of the hope*writers enrollment team.
5 minutes | 2 months ago
The Best Decision I Didn’t Want to Make
Do I really want to do this? I was eight months pregnant. Four hours of tossing and turning now counted as “a good night’s sleep” so I could have one at least every now and then. Sitting in line at a coffee hut, waiting for something called a “White Zombie” which promised even more caffeine than a regular 20oz. latte, I discussed my plans for the evening with my BFF. (Yes, I was having an ungodly amount of caffeine while pregnant. Yes, it noticeably freaked out the bowling-ball-sized boy under my shirt. But I was low on options—I needed to parent my pair of toddler girls.) My sister was in town for the first time since she’d moved to Europe a few years prior. We’d hung out some, but I felt a little panicked at our limited remaining time. Her plans that evening included a reunion of the book club she’d been in when she last lived here—and I was invited. This morning, I’d dragged myself out of bed after an even-worse-than-normal night’s sleep. I was uncomfortable (see: eight months pregnant) and grumpy. The idea of dragging my enormous, introverted self, after dinner, to a stranger’s house full of women I didn’t know (but who all knew each other) sounded…less than appealing at 11 in the morning when I was already fried. “I don’t know if I have it in me. I want to spend as much time with Kori as possible, but I just don’t know if I can,” I said into the phone. My friend reminded me I was free to go or to skip it, then let me talk myself in circles until I figured out what was most important to me today: I tentatively planned to go. Time with my sister was more valuable than avoiding the unpleasantness of peopling while pregnant. As the day wore on, I continued to waffle. The regular business of toddler sass and making dinner drained what little energy I had left—the effects of my late-morning White Zombie had worn off long before—but changing a decision I’d already made seemed like more trouble than it was worth. I put on my cutest casual maternity top (making an effort, but not trying too hard) and a ton of concealer under my eyes and went. When I arrived at the hostess’s home, I hefted myself out of my car, waddled past a row of unfamiliar vehicles (plus one I recognized as my sister’s), and nervously knocked on the door. The women were warm and friendly. They asked all the usual pregnancy-related questions and we made the usual small talk. I felt the usual level of awkwardness and sounded the usual sort of derpy. Eventually, we all had our plates with veggies and fancy cheese and seltzer water and settled down to the serious business of the night. Since they hadn’t met in years, we weren’t discussing a common book; instead, everyone brought a book to recommend to the group. Now, I don’t people well under the best of circumstances (which pregnancy is not), but I can book like a total boss. We talked about the books we’d each brought (I brought Shauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine) and why we brought them (in my case, recipes). There was much laughter and much taking-photos-of-book-covers with our cell phones to add to our already-absurd TBR lists. By the time we’d made it around the circle, it was late. I was exhausted (which, for me, is sometimes like drunk, but the happy kind) and more relaxed than I’d started. People started trickling out, but some of us stayed. The conversation worked its way from books to kids to childbirth. Before I knew it, the clock said 11 pm, my sister had gone home, and I was discussing rental property and postpartum sex with these women I’d only met four hours prior. Kori went back to Czechia (well, Czech Republic as it was known then), but I kept meeting with those women. We discussed books quarterly, decided that was not frequent enough, so we added another. Now we meet six times a year with movies thrown in when the book happens to have one. We eat excellent food and have added wine to our beverage menu, but we still get to the serious book discussions and the gut-busting laughter. It’s been nearly six years now. Some of the members have cycled out and more have come in, but I still think of this group as the very best decision I really did not want to make. I think of my beloved book club often when my introversion and exhaustion make the idea of peopling seem like far too much effort. The tired introvert still calls the shots frequently (I prefer to think of it as letting self-compassion win). But when I decide to move toward a crowd despite my hesitance, it’s always because of this group of strangers-turned-immediate-friends, the laughter they nearly didn’t bring into my life because I was too pregnant to meet new people, and the joy they are still bringing. Robin Chapman is a part-time writer, editor, and birth photographer and a full-time imperfect mama, wife, Jesus follower, and normalizer of failure. She’s trying to learn how to do this motherhood thing in a way that doesn’t land the whole family in intensive therapy. She has a heart for helping other mamas buried in the little years with hope, humor, and solidarity. You can find her hiding out in the bathroom with an iced dirty chai, writing, and editing and making spreadsheets for Kindred Mom where she is a cheerleader for mamas, or online looking for grace in her mundane and weird life. She lives in Fairbanks, Alaska with her four delightful (crazy) kids—some homeschooled, some public schooled, some too young for school at all—and her ridiculously good looking husband, Andrew. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and her blog.
6 minutes | 2 months ago
The One Who Walked Away
On the third day of unpacking and still surrounded by boxes and packing paper up to our ears, I decided it was time for a breather. We had just moved to Northern Virginia, an area I had never heard of or visited before we arrived. My husband and our 3-year-old son were out running errands, so I put a jacket and shoes on our 2-year-old daughter, bundled up our 6-month-old son in the umbrella stroller, and we went for a walk around the neighborhood. I couldn’t wait to explore our new surroundings. I knew there was a little park directly behind our house, but I decided to take the long way around. Part of me hoped I’d run into some people and be able to introduce myself as the new neighbor. Another part of me hoped to make the walk without being approached. My daughter wanted to push my son in the stroller so we made slow progress. About 15 minutes later, we rounded a corner and meandered up a small hill. I told my daughter that the playground was near. Her eyes lit up and her little blonde head strained to look over the top of the stroller so she could see what was ahead. As the playground came into view, she took off running, leaving me and her brother behind. I caught the rolling stroller and followed her to the playground, parking it near one of the benches. When I looked up from unbuckling my son, I noticed another mom across the playground with her three children. She waved, and I waved back. My heart leapt at the thought of meeting someone new and yet my feet were stuck to the ground. As I contemplated whether or not I should make my way over to her, she stood up and started gathering her things and corralling her kids. For a split second, I thought she was coming over to introduce herself and I felt a surge of excitement laced with panic. I fumbled inwardly to put together a proper greeting where I introduce myself as Catherine, instead of Mommy. Just when I had my words ready, she started walking away from us, toward a well-trod pathway between the trees. As she disappeared, my heart sank down to my glued feet. I berated myself for not gathering up my courage and approaching her. I even thought about quickly hauling my own kids that way, as if to go home and “accidently” meet her, but fear again kept my feet firmly planted in the grass. As I sat there, I pondered our many park days in our old neighborhood. How many times had I been the one to walk away? I remember plenty of instances at our old home when my children and I had the park to ourselves, then another mom and her kids would make their way toward the playground. In a quick moment, I would decide that we had been out long enough (but truth be told, I just didn’t want to make small talk)—I’d gather my things and my kids and head home. Now, as the newcomer on the other side of the park, I realize that those were missed opportunities to make a new friend or even minister to people. Maybe the moms I never met were new to the area, like I am now. Maybe they just needed a listening ear. Maybe, maybe, maybe. As a mom, I find myself trying to balance two worlds: one where I desperately crave authentic adult connection and one where I desperately need alone time. These two worlds collide often as my small children loudly interrupt my scant time alone, clamoring for their own emotional connection needs. I feel drained, never full, always on the brink of running dry. I am not sure what will fill me up—spending quality time with my family when deep inside a part of me longs for a break, or finally being away, either out with friends or alone, and secretly missing the beautiful chaos of family life. These constant dissonances leave me feeling war-torn and battered. I often feel like I can barely manage the basics of clothing and feeding my children or making it to the end of the day with my sanity still intact. I wonder how I can cultivate connections—with my family or with other women—when I am struggling to meet the physical demands of motherhood. The only answer I have identified is that when I am feeling this dry, I must run back to the Source. I must cultivate the connection with my Heavenly Father by spending daily time in His Word. Doing so will align my perspective with His and shape my mindset for the day. As I lean into Jesus more, I am reminded that He is the One who never walks away, that He desires and pursues relationship and connection with us. It is He, after all, who made and designed us for relationships. He is the Well of Life that never runs dry. When I tap into the strength He provides, I find that it spurs me on to go the extra mile in pursuing connections with my husband, my children, and my friends. I am more in tune to the promptings of the Holy Spirit for ministry opportunities, taking a meal to someone or doing a grocery store run, listening to someone who just needs to vent, loving people where they are with no expectations. When I move out of my sphere of comfort into the realm of discomfort, growth happens in ways I never expected. Taking a step in faith by being intentional in my relationships instead of being rooted in fear has led to some of the most meaningful and rewarding friendships I could have ever imagined. So, the next time I walk to the park and encounter someone I do not know, I will gather my courage by the bootstraps, walk over and introduce myself. I never know whose kindred spirit is waiting for me on the other side of the playground. Catherine Love and her husband live in Northern Virginia with their four young and very active children. When not making meals, tending to boo-boos, or giving hugs and kisses, Catherine can be found running, swimming, or reading. She is a sinner saved by grace and is deeply thankful for the work of Jesus in her life. She can be found on Instagram at or on her personal blog.
8 minutes | 2 months ago
No Bandwidth for Family
We moved from the old house—the only house our big kids had ever known—to have a basement like the one we have now. There was more to it, obviously: The old neighborhood was transitioning from Family-Friendly Oasis to Fast-Paced Urban Hub. All the affordable and sensible improvements we could make to the structure of our old place would not touch its need for serious renovations, and no matter what we tried, we shared our old basement with millions of spiders. For all the charm of that 1948 building and the half-acre of land upon which it sat, we outgrew it. In this new house, God gave us all the things my secret heart desired, and for which I was too afraid to ask Him. Our son still longs for the narrow wood slats instead of these hand-scraped, wide plank floors, saying they were better for racing his cars. Everything else is the definition of more than we could have asked or imagined: composite decking, granite, laundry upstairs (read: not in the basement with the spiders). What’s more, now Hubby has his basement! It’s spacious and full of sunlight. We have made it into a space for our family to play, another thing that could never have happened in our old home. Deep pile carpeting spreads out over epoxy for bare feet. Couches, a recliner, air hockey, arcade-style basketball, foosball, and ping-pong are all stationed along the cement walls promising family fun. One night, as two-thirds of the big kids were gaming, the baby was running into the hammock swing then Whoa-ing back, and Hubby and I were breathing hard with the table tennis paddles in our hands when the realization hit us: we can only stand to talk to each other with phones in our hands, listen to each other if we’re also ping-ponging, and be happy if the kids are allowed to game from the time they wake up till the time their heads hit the pillow at night. Our brains have a deficit of attention. We have to be distracted to stand each other, to stand ourselves. I’ve learned this is part of what happens with too much blue light and too much distraction, like tv (the true opiate of the masses). Too busy. Too preoccupied. Systems and devices deprived us of human connection. The devil sought to keep us relationally disconnected. Things like gaming systems and phones were ready distractions from the people in front of us, but we had choices. As we integrated our emotions with our thoughts, we finally accepted and said out loud, “We are giving our family away to distraction.” In contrast to the night of gaming and table tennis, a tornado blowing eighty-four miles per hour, uprooting mature trees and dropping them on cars and fences, and shaking our A-frame swing set chased us into our basement for shelter. As the electricity went out, our entire family—Mama, Daddy, thirteen-year-old, eleven-year-old, nine-year-old, and two-year-old—huddled into one car so we could pick up Chick-fil-A for dinner. And into one room, because we had one candle and one flashlight as well as an assortment of battery-powered “lights” gathered by kids that made me smile—a lighted makeup mirror, a hover ball toy, and a Bluetooth speaker turned on its head because of the light ring around the circumference of its bottom. Robbed of our devices, which had run out of juice… In the dark, we finally engaged in a way we don’t often do, except when we vacation to new places that are more compelling than our electronic temptations—no wifi connection. We are in the coliseum of technology—Hubby, Wifey, and family, and we’re cheering at all the distractions as our family time and connection is being devoured. We’re playing a part in the demise of our own relationships, while apps devour us, and devices offer us greater and greater spectacles. We don’t have enough bandwidth for family these days. *** Counselor Adam Young says, in his podcast, he believes we sin most against our children. Though my thinking can certainly change, I agree. Pride and complacency are most tempted by wet clay. As I work the clay of my children’s hearts, trying to mold rapidly drying earth into godly bricks—by teaching them everything from how to potty to how to cook, it becomes easier and easier to think I know it all. Recently, we went on a vacation with friends who are walking ahead of us, already doing the hard work of parenting in longhand, rather than defaulting to our habit—a rapid method of connecting by substituting time for extravagant gifts, meals together for fast food—short parenting. We watched them and absorbed without ever hearing a word of judgment or correction or advice: Helping their children brush their teeth, encouraging them to get outside and away from big and small screens, getting up and taking walks and hikes and dragging them on a giant unicorn float named “Madame Majesty Sparkle.” They were completely present, instead of sitting back in pop up chairs of convenience and letting important bonds float away on invisible waves of time and apathy. We came home committed to spending more of our time engaging life according to the example of connection our friends lived out so simply. We want to do the work it takes to get real meals made for the family, show we care by the effort we put into putting our things down to look each other in the eye and help with homeschool work, read a comic book drawn by our child, and get down on the floor to play with the baby. My oldest was the first person to say to me, “Good enough isn’t good enough,” and it’s true. Before, our temporary satisfaction brought on by screens was followed by wicked withdrawal symptoms— ingratitude, sour stomachs, insomnia and melatonin issues, anxiety, depression, developmental regression and failures to launch, chaos, manipulation from the kids, and infighting between my husband and me. I have accepted good enough as our life for too long. I have ignored the dead soil, broken connections, misfiring brains, dysfunctional systems, and developed a deep fear of the awful plants growing in our toxic field. I see the fruits of nonorganic play and genetically modified interactions resulting in a total inability to thrive. No one talks. No one listens. No one cares. We’ve been missing each other. Our failure to lead, whether it’s due to fear or weakness, is sin. For too long, it has enslaved our whole family. *** We’ve become keenly aware there will be consequences for every idle thought, word, action, and system. Every apathetic or frustrated omission bears fruit at every intersection with ourselves and this world. Someone once said to me: “We’re either causing or complicit in the culture of our home.” When I consider the Kingdom of Heaven, I hear “culture.” It’s a climb to create culture, so we’ve begun to scale the mountain. We’ve started leaving the tv to its master, the devil, along with all of the other devices under his employ (kidding, not kidding.) We started playing Trivial Pursuit together and eating at the dinner table again. Weekday video game meetings have been cancelled. Fuse-ball and air hockey and Pop-A-Shot together are fine. We haven’t figured it all out—no one has—but we’ve said the scary things out loud to each other. We’ve opened our hearts to God so He can teach us to lead our family out of the ditch and help us amend the soil and weed the garden that is our family. Jay is a writer, a mama, and an audio editor for Kindred Mom. God has changed each goal Jay has ever had, chiefly those concerning her relationships and writing. If it is part of her life, she wants it to please Him. Self-taught in many ways, she is always looking to make connections and find ways to improve her brain, her blog, and her brood (ages 2 to 13 years). Married since 2004 to her husband, Taylor, she’s been tied to her college sweetheart for nearly a quarter-century. Together, they raise their four children in the Chicago suburbs, where they enjoy pursuing creativity in the midst of the daily grind. Whether it’s writing screenplays, gardening, or gaming, Jay’s family is usually cultivating something. As a mama to both teens and toddlers, Jay is passionate about instilling deep, identity-forming truths in her children. Her other interests include: encouraging others, reading when she can, and learning what she can about where the mind-brain-body-reality intersects with Biblical perspective. You can find some of her musings on her blog and Instagram.
8 minutes | 3 months ago
Thank You Very Much
“I am going to need to speak with you in my office,” the doctor said, and I thought nothing of it. I was so thrilled to see my baby kicking around during the ultrasound that I didn’t foresee that something might be the matter. “Your baby’s brain and all major organs are fine,” he leaned forward in his chair and cleared his throat, and that was when I realized that he was about to say the word “but. . .” “But, it is clear to me that your baby does not have a left hand.” I will never forget laying eyes on my firstborn son, three months after that ultrasound. I had pushed for over two hours and was afraid that I wouldn’t have the strength to hold him. When the midwife held him up to me, my first thought was that he was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen. His head was covered in a mass of dark hair. I held him and comforted his newborn cries. He settled on my chest and looked up with a piercing stare. There was an air about him that exuded confidence even as a newborn. He didn’t know that the average baby had two hands. He was just fine, thank you very much. A seasoned nurse in her fifties cared for us that night. She bathed my baby, and her voice was sweet and calm like a mother when she reassured me: “Just wait and see all of the things you will do now with one hand as a new mom. This boy is going to be fine.” My heart warmed as worry fled. “Thank you very much.” As he grew up, he continually surprised us by conquering anything he set out to do. A natural athlete, musician, and exceptional student with a charismatic personality that draws people to him, my son thrived with many strong friendships. Having only one hand didn’t seem to hold him back at all…until he was 14 and our family moved to England. A new high school in a new country was a different story. He worked hard to figure out how things worked in this new place. We continually asked him if everything was all right, and he assured us it was. It was February of his first school year in England when he confessed something was wrong. He was being bullied at school because of his missing hand. He didn’t want to tell us he was struggling, but it was devastating for him to continue holding it inside. “Mom, I don’t think that I can go on the geography field trip next week,” he approached me one day after school. This wasn’t like him at all. “Why not?” I asked. “The kids in that class are really awful to me. The teacher had us pick groups for the trip today, and no one wanted me in their group. Can I please stay home that day?” he begged. The taunting was so emotionally difficult, my son ate his lunch in the bathroom. Depression was lurking at the door of his heart and mind. My husband and I wanted to talk to the school administration and implore them to help. “Talking with the school won’t do any good, Mom,” my son told me, looking hopeless. “Do you know the names of the kids who are giving you a hard time?” I asked. “There are so many, Mom. I don’t know most of them. They are younger than me and older than me. It is like the whole school is out to make me feel horrible about myself,” he confided. As we talked with him, I sensed a plug had been pulled from his heart and the lifetime of love and confidence that we had poured into him was draining out before our eyes. I have never felt so desperate as a mother. Prior to this, I had heard of kids being bullied but never contemplated the soul-wrenching tension a young person wades through when they face that kind of degradation. Victims fear that if they report the misconduct and the bullies are given consequences, then the bullies could make life miserable when no one is looking because that is what bullies do. This particular school had a culture of bullying, and we felt helpless. Eventually, my husband and I arranged to meet with the teacher leading our son’s year group to tell her we were considering finding a new school due to the bullying problem our son was facing. My desire was to help the school work through their problem so my son would be the last one who experienced this. I was hoping for the chance to explain to them how their methods had fostered this atmosphere to exist. When we sat down, the teacher immediately began singing our son’s praises. His academic accomplishments and musical contributions were impressive. She had comments from other teachers to share with us about what a great kid he is. Despite all her praise, we tried to open up about the way his peers were treating him, and she immediately went cold. “I don’t believe that is really happening,” she had the gall to say. “What reason would we have to make this up?” my husband asked. “You said he was eating lunch in the bathroom. I don’t believe it. We lock doors so students can’t do that,” was her response. (“When you are desperate, you find out which doors are open,” my son later informed us.) That meeting quickly came to an end and we informed her we would be removing our son from the school. As we drove away, my blood boiled and my heart broke. The lack of empathy our son was being shown was shocking. Later that week, I wrote a long letter to the headteacher explaining how certain systems within the school were making it possible for kids to get away with bullying. I received no response. Not only had we not been heard, but bullying could persist and affect other students because the school wasn’t interested in taking an introspective look into or correcting their widespread problem. I started making phone calls trying to find another school. Changing schools in England is not easy. Most of my inquiries were simply met with, “We do not have space in his year group.” However, there was one woman who brought tears to my eyes with her warm response. “We do not have space in his year group, but I am so sad to hear what he has experienced. That should never have been allowed to happen. I can’t promise you anything, but please send in an application to my attention, and I will personally present your case to the headteacher.” Those kind words filled me with hope. She gave the gift of empathy by allowing her heart to connect to our plight even though she might not be able to offer a solution. “Thank you very much,” was all I could say in a shaky voice and I hung up. Fortunately, this school was willing to make a spot, and my son is now thriving there. The new school prioritizes the needs of every student and it is evident across the board. Their approach to everything shows their desire to care for their students as individuals. It is a safe place. Empathy is not my strong suit. My wiring lends itself more to problem solving and perseverance than feeling. When I encounter a person with a problem I cannot personally relate to, or I do not see a solution for, I shut down emotionally and can be dismissive and distant. Standing against bullying with my son has taught me an important lesson about the value of empathy. Galatians 6:2 urges us to “Bear one another’s burdens,” it doesn’t say we are to solve everyone’s problems. Some problems are complicated and feel unsolvable, but as I come alongside and help bear the weight when life gets heavy, I lighten another’s load by letting them know they are seen and not alone. I have learned to put myself in someone else’s shoes and imagine what they are feeling as they walk their road, and in so doing, I have seen life-giving connections form. The solidarity we form through empathy is a source of hope we all need. Amy Mullens and her husband are church planters in England as well as parents to four children (17, 14, 12, and 5). She is addicted to seeing Jesus change lives and loves to walk people through God’s Word in small groups, through her writing or over a cup of coffee. Exploring the English countryside, getting lost in a book, or catching up with an old friend are among her favorite things.
7 minutes | 3 months ago
Growing Back Together
I pull into a parking space facing the doors of the coffee shop, put the car in park, and freeze. Butterflies flit through my stomach and up into my throat. I run my sweaty palms up and down my thighs and take a deep breath. I see her pull into one of the front parking spots, gather something from her passenger seat, and walk in. Meeting one of my oldest friends shouldn’t feel this way, but—other than her email invitation for coffee—we haven’t spoken in years. When I saw her email, I thought it might be a scam or she’d been hacked. We hadn’t communicated in what seemed like forever, so why would she reach out now? But something nudged me to open the message anyway. It started simply enough: “Hey, it’s been a really long time, but I’ve been thinking about you.” My eyebrows shot up and my jaw dropped a little. I will do almost anything to avoid conflict, so opening back up a line of communication which had been conspicuously silent felt risky. “Maybe we could grab a coffee and catch up?” My mind flashed back to our last conversation at her going away party, the awkward way I felt and the blunt way she’d tried to hold me to a higher standard. “It feels like I don’t know you anymore,” she’d muttered sadly. “Well, maybe you don’t,” I retorted. For months, I’d held back, slowly building a protective casing around a new job and relationships, thinking the old wouldn’t mix with the new life I was creating. I rarely shared the details of my life and the choices I was making. Maybe it was to avoid any conflict or maybe to prove—to whom, I’m not sure—I could do life completely on my own. I devoured every experience in front of me—those that were good for me and those that weren’t. She didn’t know a battle raged inside me—no one did. Independence pulled me one way and expectations from everyone else pulled the other way. I was trying to figure out who I wanted to be and didn’t think I needed any additional input. I wondered if it was safe to be myself around her anymore. Would she accept me if I was different than I was before? Maybe she would, but I didn’t know if I could handle it if she didn’t. So I just didn’t tell her—or anyone. We didn’t exchange insults or raise our voices. It wasn’t dramatic or heated. The relationship just ended. Our many years of friendship, now fully cocooned in the past. Before this, she’d known me deeply. We weren’t the kind of friends who merely made millions of trips to the mall and had slumber parties. Instead, we were sisters of the heart. We lamented teenage crushes and heartbreak, spent countless hours serving and worshipping with our church youth group, and helped each other achieve the appropriate height in our early 90s bangs. She cheered me on through college and finding my first job. Conversation after conversation, we tried to figure out the best way to get her brother’s best friend to fall in love with her. And he did. I was a part of their meeting, many of their dates, and their wedding. Even after she married, I felt completely at home as the third wheel. Until I didn’t. As my life began to change, we grew apart, and finally walked away from a decade of friendship. But, now, at her invitation for coffee, I felt a clear nudge… this time it prompted a “yes” to her simple invitation. *** I take another deep breath and reach for the door latch. I plaster on a smile, cross the parking lot, and open the coffee shop door. She sits just to the right of the door waiting for me. We greet each other awkwardly and quickly decide to order. She hands me a gift. I kick myself for not thinking to do the same. I grip my coffee with both hands to keep them from shaking. For a couple of hours we sit, meandering through old memories and carefully cracking open outer shells to reveal the lives we’d grown since we’d parted. We avoid a minefield of difficult conversations but slowly begin to reestablish a connection. Her timid, “How are your parents?” soon turns into an “I remember…” while we laugh over fun memories. Little by little, the desire to reawaken our friendship begins to be exposed. At first, her invitation to reconnect felt hard. After years of allowing my conflict-aversion to have the loudest voice, it felt daring and brave to say yes to coffee one afternoon—to say yes to a second chance at friendship. The choice required both of us to step into the possibility of rejection. I’m thankful she was courageous enough to send the first email and for the nudge I felt to say yes. *** I whip into a parking space, and my phone lights up with a text, “I’m here and have a booth,” signed with a pink heart and a smiley face. As I hop out quickly with a skip in my step, I make a mental list of all the things we need to catch up on. The vibrant colors of the restaurant mirror our light-hearted greeting—a ready smile, a quick hug, and we jump deep into conversation. “Tell me about…” we both start, then laugh, “No, you start!” I slide in across from her. She’s already ordered chips and queso, and for the next two hours we do our best to fill in all the gaps of what’s been happening in our lives over the last few months. Conversation is easy and continues out into the parking lot. Another quick hug, and we say good-bye with a promise to schedule another time together soon. Now, our conversations feel almost shorthand—we don’t need explanations of family background or how a story began. We laugh over old memories. We mourn the loss of grandparents. We’ve invited other old friends to join us occasionally, but mostly it’s just the two of us, usually over a long lunch and always with lots of new stories to tell. We understand how important this reconciliation was for both of us and we recognize the beauty in the longevity of our friendship. It turns out, all those years ago, she did want to know all that made me who I was—the fun-loving teenager and the woman who struggles through hard things. She wanted to see and understand all my thoughts and choices. In the last 30 years, we’ve both grown into something new and beautiful. Bethany McMillon is a coffee, football, and ice cream lover from McKinney, TX. She adores her number-loving accountant husband and her growing too fast boy. Bethany works full-time as a teacher and school librarian, which aligns perfectly with the joy she finds in reading and writing. She is passionate about building deeper relationships with both Jesus and those that she loves. Her spirit is most settled after she has connected with a friend about God’s mercy and grace over coffee, sweet tea on the patio, or even a side-by-side walk through a local neighborhood. She hopes to encourage women to find and hold onto those connections within busy and quick-paced lives. Bethany is a member of the Hope*Writers community and writes almost weekly on her website, www.BethanyMcMillon.com. She can be found on Instagram @BethanyMcMillon and on Facebook at Bethany McMillon, Writer.
7 minutes | 3 months ago
In the summertime, Wednesdays are reserved for a standing lunch date with some special ladies. I’ve grown with and known these moms for nearly a decade, so as we sit around a table enjoying a few rare hours of grown-up conversation, our discussion inevitably spring-boards back to the topic of our children and to the blessed struggles we encounter with our lovable progeny. These moms and I have long since graduated from the endless exhaustion of 3am feedings, torturous toddler debates, potty training and frazzled temper tantrums. Thankfully, those early childhood battles have been successfully won at this point, or at least survived. We’re now war-torn veterans stepping into a new role with grown-up kids. Some of us are newly initiated empty nesters. A few of us have one or two out the door with some stragglers at home, hanging on in high school. As promised, these babies grew up, and, yes, they will always be just that—our “babies,” no matter what the numbers on their driver’s licenses say. So plunging into this new chapter of necessary separation is a frightening transition, and the ever-present question we ladies keep circling back to again and again is essentially this: How do we begin to disconnect? It is counterintuitive to talk about disconnecting with your child. I’ve spent more than two decades fighting tooth and nail to make solid connections with these kids, to help them know they can fully trust their dad and me to instruct them in everything from tooth-brushing to long division to forgiving and loving one another. We’ve made so many connections at so great a cost, why ever consider a disconnect? We do it because it’s right and good for these new adults (or almost-adults) to begin to stand solo, to trudge their own paths. It sure doesn’t feel that way to my mom heart, though. I’m not sure how to responsibly turn off the spigot of 24/7 support, care, and full-on instruction that they still seem to need. Never mind that these young adult-ish humans in my house are making it quite clear they are ready for that well to run dry. This is perfectly normal, of course. Kids are always desirous of their own complete and total independence far sooner than they are capable of sustaining it. Parents know that, which may be why we struggle so fiercely to know how and when to properly step back. “They could fail!” my friends and I catastrophize. No, they will definitely fail at times. And meet with pain. And consequences. Still, the healthy human progression toward becoming a competent adult requires a disconnection begin to inch into the picture. That’s one of the reasons we keep our Wednesday lunch dates. “I worry that I didn’t teach him enough Scripture while he was young.” “Do you think she is remembering not to go out alone after dark?” “He does NOT need a credit card!” “Oh, hey, have I told you what my precious, bonehead adult child did last week?” Our roundtable of moms is a merry mix of laughter, worry, and unwelcome ignorance. It’s an infectious kind of ignorance that sticks to your bones and might make you twitch a little, because the reality is that there are so many things happening in our big kids’ lives right now that we are not privy to. They have stepped into this big, free, dangerous world, and mom can’t be there to swoop in with a safety net, instruction manual, and Spider-man band-aids. Disconnection is a scary thing for me. It’s a faith-building thing. Thankfully, God knows what’s up even when I don’t, and they are His children, too. Primarily so, in fact. Why do I always forget that? And so we grown-up girls continue to weekly pass around the chocolate-chip cookies and remind each other of our own Father’s instruction to “train ‘em up in the Word and they won’t depart.” Sometimes, though, it looks very much like they might. So we put down the cookies and we pray and pray some more. And we commit them to His hands, all the while knowing God may have to pry our sticky little mommy fingers away. Disconnecting in a holistic and enriching way requires a kind of grace and peace only God can supply. We are digging hard into that truth. This circle of veteran moms encourages one another, but we also affirm that we don’t have the answers. We settle for cheering on the mom who decided to not take the bait for another fight with her grown kid. We commiserate with the mama whose baby is met with some hard consequences for a foolish adult decision. We remind each other again and again that, though we miss them, the goal has always been for them to go. And they are still in process. We remember out loud that the women we are now didn’t exist when we were twenty, so our babies probably still have some space to grow. And so, it seems, do we. Thankfully, God is at work on us all. In days past, we felt ourselves to be a physical life-line for our children, literally keeping them alive with food and boundaries and love. But we are not designed to stay in that life-line role. And I have to believe that when a healthy disconnection takes place, a new and different kind of connection will be established with these adult children, something that’s richer. Less of a lifeline and more of a love-line. Less about requirements and desperation; more about respect and willing affection. If the Wednesday mamas had a mission statement, I think we would say our goal is to become the most highly valued advice-givers our grown kids could ask for. Advice, mind you, not necessarily instruction. Man, that’s tough, because advice-givers often must wait to be asked for their advice. So we mama bears struggle to wait in the fringes until our grown cubs decide to come to us. We pray God will give us peace in the waiting, no matter how long. And we pray also He will keep them from drowning in the torrent of good advice that will surely burst forth when they do finally ask. We breathe our Father’s grace and trust He will make this weird, difficult, adult-sized new connection into something beautiful that points right back to Him. Jennifer Hildebrand loves piecing together words to explore the intersections of faith and daily life. Her poems and personal writings have been featured in print and online in publications such as The Rabbit Room, Fathom Magazine and Christian Woman Magazine. Jennifer lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with her husband and three kids and periodically shares poems and other musings at brandedmelody.blogspot.com.
Terms of Service
© Stitcher 2020