The (pre)School Transition

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It’s the Tuesday after Labor Day, which means one thing. If life were a musical, summer’s starring role is about to end. Her arms have been wide with bright days and lingering sun. She’s thrown her head back and sung rain storms. She’s dazzled us with gardens and greenery and growth.

But somehow, we’ve reached curtain call.

This morning, buses and carpools are depositing eager children at the front steps of schools. A new round of kids with combed hair and new backpacks will pop up on my news feed (bless you, Minnesota, for starting school after Labor Day.) Parents everywhere will be shocked for a moment by the palpable presence of quiet, the rearrangement of family dynamics.

Tomorrow is our eldest’s first day of preschool. And like most days, I’m sure she’ll run down the sidewalk toward the van, sun-bleached hair swinging, and for a few minutes, it will feel like any other outing. Three sets of buckles. The usual haggling over watching a show. Keys. Air conditioning blasting from the vents. Some sort of phantom squeal from the hood of my van.

And then, somehow, we’ll be at the double doors of school. We’ll navigate the halls and stairs to the preschool room, where I’ll gently nudge my daughter, blinking and tentative, onto a new stage.

Thankfully, preschool is like a year or two of dress rehearsal for the real deal. We’ll practice stepping in and out of a new routine for a couple of afternoon hours, three days a week, but not much else will change. At least in theory.

By this time, I’m sure you’ve read your share of articles and blog posts about this, so I won’t bore you with the nostalgic/sad bits about how I remember my first fall with my infant daughter, how I carried her everywhere in a baby backpack so she could see the wild brilliance of September’s colors firsthand, and how now she’s all grown up and going to school. *Sniff*

What I will tell you is that during that season of transition, I had to fight off darkness every single day. I was on maternity leave and my deadline for going back to work was approaching too fast. And while I tried to make the most of my time with my firstborn, much of it was tinged with sad. With fear of leaving her. Of adjusting to parts of my life without her, and vice versa. It seemed that from the moment she was put in my arms, I had to start practicing how to let go.

But it wasn’t just about letting go. It was about trust. 

I had to trust that I wasn’t the only one that was supposed to raise my child.

That in her lifetime, there would be a series of caregivers, teachers, aides, helpers, leaders, and professors in charge of her well-being. That other people were meant to be a part of her development.

As much as I hated having to accept this new concept in the beginning, I’m now incredibly grateful for it. It’s not about shifting responsibility or shuffling childcare duties.

It’s the widening of my daughter’s knowledge and the deepening of her experience.

It’s faith that she’s meant to be a citizen at large in this world, and that each instance of my letting go is the broadening of her capability. When she walks into that classroom, she will get to practice being a person outside of the context of our family.

And I’ll find (yet another) instance to practice trust. To kiss her and tell her she’s strong, she’s smart, and that she’ll do great. To believe those things enough in my heart to convey them to her with words.

Starting school could be another transition filled with worry and fear, if I let it. I question my daughter’s ability to listen and obey classroom rules the first time, every time. I worry about her strong will and mischievous bent. I wonder how my younger daughters are going to get their full naps in. I already feel constricted by the new schedule that hasn’t even started yet. 

But trust says these things will work themselves out. That it’s no use to worry about tomorrow, or get worked up about what may or may not happen.

Each day has trouble. Each day has grace.

And like any good show, we simply must go on.

Planning a 40-Day Fast

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If life is a river, I’ve hit a snag with my easy-going motor boat ways.

I told you that last week, I felt a current of change in my life. Most of it was because of the combination of reading this book Seven, and spending a lot of time talking things over with God and feeling that something was amiss.

Then I started doing some reconnaissance. I’m watching my life, seeing its areas of excess. I’m noticing how often I let my toddlers turn on the faucet and play in the sink. I’m noticing how many times a day I want to open the fridge or the cupboards for something to snack on. I’m noticing that I tend to throw clothes that aren’t dirty in the laundry instead of putting them away.

I’m noticing how much food we throw away. I’m also becoming aware of how much of my life is spent consuming or thinking about consuming, food or otherwise. And I know this is the place to start, for me. This book – A Place at the Table – and the commitment to a 40-day fast.

And then I read this today. Isaiah 58: 6-9.

“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
    to break the chains of injustice,
    get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
    free the oppressed,
    cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
    sharing your food with the hungry,
    inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
    putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
    being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
    and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
    The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
    You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

Well then. Sounds a little like divine placement in my day.

My country is still up in the air, but I’m leaning towards Mali, Africa. Our church has a partnership with them, and I have a strong interest in their Hands of Honor program, which works with young women who don’t have much of a future. More on that later. PS. I’m going to ask for your help brainstorming something.

Side note: I’m not planning on roping my family into this. As the head chef and grocery shopper in the house, I’m the one who has the most to learn about my perceptions, preparations, and mindfulness surrounding food. What I buy, the habits I keep, the food I serve – everything I do pours into my family.

This will mean extra work on my part, which is fine. It will also mean going into BEAST fasting mode in order to keep myself from snagging bites of my girls’ sandwiches and snacks, or whatever off-limits deliciousness I concoct for everyone else for supper.

What it mostly means is that I’m going to have to figure out this self-denial thing, which is probably the flabbiest part of my brain. I don’t really deny myself much of anything right now. I also have a strange habit of eating bowls of cereal before bed, because I think I sleep better on an occupied stomach.

Both of those things are going to have to change AND I somehow have to change them gracefully, because it won’t be fair to my family if I turn into a zombie. I probably won’t get any good writing done either, because I’ll mostly just be shaking out the keyboard looking for cookie crumbs THAT I WONT EAT. I swear. I just want to smell them.

Start date: After Easter. That means April 6, if I can research my foods, figure out how/where to get them (within reason) and get a hold of the book. A group of lovely people from my church are doing this as well, so I’ll have a good support group (read: people I can text and whine to about the gastrointestinal effects of eating so many beans.)

Wish me luck.

Better yet, if you’re interested, join me? Leave a message in the comments or email me if you’re interested in taking part. 

Stepping out of the way (blog hop with the Creative Jayne)

Hey guys, today I’m linking up with Kayla over at The Creative Jayne for her Encouragement Community blog hop. Kayla and I got to spend a day together letting our kids play while we talked about her ideas for starting a mama’s group in our church, and I was so thankful to get to know her better. Her heart is wide open and she’s funny, sweet, and has an amazing eye for design. Please take a few minutes to poke around her beautiful blog, check out the other two lovely writers in the hop here and here, and explore Kayla’s recommended vendors. Then head back here to hear what I learned from *gulp* speaking in front of a group of teenagers this week.

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The room was mostly dark, save for the stage lanterns and a string of blue lights slung across the front. I stood on the corner of the front steps, microphone in hand. The group of high school kids I was speaking to were all on their knees, bending over a giant roll of brown butcher-type paper rolled out across the floor, scrawling down things they were thankful for.

Just moments before, they had been huddled, arms out, everyone finding a shoulder to reach out to. They gathered around one boy in the middle – a boy who came up to me during one of the opening songs and whispered a story that broke my heart. A boy who asked if we could pray for him as a group.

Later in the evening, I looked back and saw every body standing, singing, their voices wide with emotion. For the sake of the world, burn like a fire in me.

And me? I had been preoccupied/worried for days. Reading. Writing down verses. Staring at my computer screen. Not because I was afraid to get up in front of high schoolers to talk about prayer. Not because I dislike public speaking. Not even because I couldn’t figure out anything to wear except a flannel shirt, which has become some sort of uniform for me.

Honestly, I just didn’t want the students to think a praise and worship night was weird.

Here’s the great part of being a mom to children under five. THEY DON’T THINK I’M WEIRD. They don’t judge. They accept me as I am. The greasy hair, the tired eyes, the clothes I may or may not have worn yesterday… none of it matters to them. (And for these things, all mothers of young children say amen.)

But I know they will get older, and inevitably, it’s not going to be cool that mom can talk like a monster with her belly. That beautiful innocence. Gone.

So I want to believe I was maybe a teensy bit justified being worried about standing in front of high schoolers, talking about PRAYER and GOD and singing quiet songs in a dark room.

Except that I shouldn’t have been. The kids I spoke to that night were incredible. They listened. They reached. They cared for another and, according to what I was reading in their scribbles and pictures of gratitude, they cared A LOT about the world around them.

Who was I to *almost* get in the way of something they needed to learn and experience because I was too worried about what they would think? What would have happened if I allowed myself to worry too much about their opinions.

I know it’s cliche to say it, but I had to step out of the way. I had to quit worrying what the students were going to think about a prayer and worship night.

I had just had to talk honestly about the things my heart knew about prayer – how it’s easy and beautiful and real and raw, and how God wouldn’t have it any other way. How communication between our heart and His needs no filter, no formula.

What more can we do in our day to day lives if we take the fear of what others might think about us out of the equation, and simply love them for all they are worth? How would that change the way you interact with the people in your life and around it?

Let’s be a community willing to speak from the realness of our hearts and the blue and broken honesty of our lives.

What Mary was Really Thinking

garden_statue_maryTonight at our Christmas Eve service, I watched an amazing friend bring some of my musings about Mary, the mother of Jesus, to life. I cried. I laughed. I watched Mary step out of her stained glass, stone-carved perfection and become a real person.

Christmas is steeped in tradition. For me, Mary was a Sears nativity figurine in a blue robe that was always caught in some sort of ceramic breeze. She was beautiful. Untouchable. In my mind, she was perfect – the woman God chose to carry his Son. She knew what she was doing, right?

Then I became a mother, and I realized none of us really knows what we’re doing.

No matter how perfect every picture, every icon, every statue might make her look look, on the night of Christmas Eve, Mary was a scared girl in a cow barn laboring through clenched teeth.

I don’t know where you’re at this Christmas. But maybe you’re like me, wanting to hear an old story with new ears. If that’s the case, my version of a window into Mary’s thoughts is for you. Merry Christmas, friend. Merry Christmas.

****

Breathe. Breathe.

No room. No room? Who says “no room” to a pregnant woman? I know. I know. Census. Travelers. I’m thankful for a roof. But wow. I’m going to have a baby. In. A. Stable.

Breathe. Breathe.

Father God, I have no idea what I’m doing. I don’t know how to have a baby. This is my first time. And I don’t know how to handle it. It hurts. Do You hear me? It HURTS. For the record, my mother didn’t say anything about this part. It was all “your sweet little hands” and “just a few pushes.” Right.

Breathe. Breathe.

Joseph told me to lie down. Like it’s that easy. On straw. STRAW. Dry, dusty straw that’s been sitting in a barn for how many months. No thanks. Think I’ll stand.

Breathe. Breathe.

Father God, I don’t know how to be a mom. I mean, I don’t even have any diaper rags along with. How is this going to work? No really. He’s your Son, but he’s still going to need his diaper changed. Everyone says it’s instinct. I’ll see Him, and I’ll know what to do. But really, will I?

Breathe. Breathe.

Why does no one talk about labor? What is it – some sort of secret code? Rite of passage? How long is this going to last? I wonder if anyone left the inn early. I really want to wash without a bunch of cows around.

Breathe. Breathe.

Father God, keep Him safe. Keep me safe. Keep Him safe. Keep us safe.

You wouldn’t bring me all this way to lose your child, right? The angel didn’t say anything about that. He said I was going to have a Son. So it’s going to happen. I’m going to have this baby. Your baby. In a stable full of cows.

Forgive me. It feels a little…strange. Why here? And why me? Wouldn’t it have been better to pick a mother who’s already had children? Who knows what she’s doing?

God, I honestly don’t know where I fit in all this. I don’t know how to be a mother to your Son. I’m not perfect. I lose my temper. What if I mess up? Can I mess up? Are You going to be mad at me?

Breathe. Breathe.

Do you know the hardest part? Ever since I was a little girl, I loved hearing the shouts when firstborn sons were born. The family would get up on the roof and call out, and everyone below would stop what they were doing and clap or dance.

But no one knows we’re here. My firstborn deserves all the shouting in the world, God, but instead it’s going to be quiet on this roof. Silent.

Well, except for the cows.

Breathe. Breathe.

Hush little baby. Mama’s here. Daddy’s here. Father’s here…. Always here… Hush. Please come. Please come soon.

I love you.

Letter to my little girls

IMG_3920 (800x533)Dear daughters,

You are the chocolate in my cake and the butter on my bread.

You are a month away from turning 1 and 3, constantly changing, growing, moving, speaking, thinking.

Your milestones are built on routine and care.

You are full of glory, made in the image of God.

You are full of wind and frustration.

You reach and still can’t get things. You speak and we correct your speech. You climb and we pull you down.

You are still figuring out where the boundary lines are drawn.

You scream your desires into our days, always wanting, wanting, wanting, not always understanding when we say no.

You want to taste the batter and lick the spoon. Your eyes light up when sweetness hits your tongue.

You think mangoes are heaven.

You know that the world is broken every time something hurts, and this we can’t explain until you’re older.

Your toddlerhood is part wonder, part terror. It is like loving a tornado.

Your babyhood is stretching, growing muscle and grace, approaching girlhood. You watch the way things work. You learn seemingly without effort.

You are not a job. Or a skill we can become good at. Some days everyone fails.

Raising you is like raising up a house from an endless pile of boards and nails, windows and doors. It requires tools we don’t always know how to use, skills we don’t yet have. It is repetition, repetition, repetition.

Sometimes things fall and break.

Sometimes we all have to start over, gathering up the pieces from the sawdusted floor.

And some days we hang a door on the first try, wondering at the ease.

You are gracious with our efforts. You grow. Take shape. Learn how to open and close things on your own. Learn how to occupy yourself, live within the frame of your body.

Still, we want you to be more than a body, a structure, pretty lashes and a roof.

We want you to become the definition of home.

Haven to those around you.

So we keep building. Hammering. Hollering. Trading tools.

You are labor and love, and we learn that these two things must coexist.

That love without labor has no depth.

That labor without love cannot produce beautiful things.

That cake needs chocolate, and bread needs butter,

and we need you

to round off all the sharpness in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

Take Care, Make Care – Juliette’s Story

#throwback thursday much?

#Throwback Thursday much?

Today’s Take Care, Make Care post comes from someone I admire, respect, laugh with, cry to, and have shared a ridiculous amount of life experiences with for the past 15 years. Meet my best friend Jules. If ever I need a sounding board, cooking buddy, or walking partner, she’s there. (OK really if I need anything, she’s there.) Hers is a constant faith, well-fed with reading and prayer. That faith saw a huge test this past year for she and her family, and I really wanted her to share the self-care tactics that got her through. She gracefully agreed, so without further ado…

—-

Hello readers! I’m beyond honored to have the opportunity to write on Rachel’s blog. Rachel and I have been best friends since we met in the hallways at Northwestern College back in 2000. From the early days of freshman year where we thought it might be entertaining to take a Friday night and dine at McDonald’s in our high school prom dresses, to spending all of our flex money on whole pints of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, to planning our weddings, and finally, starting our families, we’ve gone through most of our big life changes together. She’s loyal to the core, funny, steadfast, encouraging and one of the best people I know.

I’m thankful for her desire to encourage others by sharing her life joys and struggles through her beautiful writing, and am delighted to share my own journey with self-care as a Fellow Passenger.

A little bit about me: I am a stay-at-home-mom of two beautiful children (Jameson-3.5 years and Lila-9 months), I have been married to my dear husband Brad for almost 9 years and live in a quaint riverside town called Marine on St. Croix. We spend our days going on adventures around our village, reading books, and naturally, pretending to be some kind of prehistoric creature.

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Two of my favorites: Jameson and Lila

The past year has been something of a whirlwind for our family. In July 2012, we made a decision to downsize from our house in Roseville, MN, as we were hoping to have more children and my desire to stay at home with them wasn’t financially possible. After 3 1/2 months, we had a purchase agreement on our house and sold it in December of 2012.

We spent most of 2013 paying off debt, looking for homes, and saving money by living with my dear in-laws who housed us for 9 months. We moved into temporary housing for a couple of months starting in September of 2013, and finally closed on our home in November.

Needless to say, 2013 was a tough year; a baby on the way, homeless for nearly 11 months and house hunting. I found out quickly the transient life was not for me. In addition to all of this, I was dealing with anxiety / postpartum depression, and it was in full force about a month after Lila was born. Self care at that time felt difficult to nearly impossible, but it was something I had to start prioritizing or else I was going to sink.

Today, I’ll share on a few different areas that have helped me in balancing my own care routine: Exercise, Counseling /Prayer, Caring for my own Interests and Simplification.

Exercise:

This isn’t new information, but exercising daily is proven to reduce stress levels, boost happy chemicals, help prevent cognitive decline, boost brain power, sharpen memory, tap into creativity, and get more done. My exercise goals right now basically include getting some movement in every day. Baby steps. We have a P.O. box in town since mail doesn’t get delivered to our street address. This offers us one daily errand that requires a short walk of about 8 blocks or so. It’s a small but effective way to get out of the house and move around, especially if I’m pushing a 40 pound toddler in a stroller or hauling a 20 pound infant in my backpack, or both.

Counseling / Prayer:

For the past couple of years, I have been seeking treatment for OCD / Anxiety through a couple of different Christian counselors, as well as a Christian Psychiatrist. Being a believer in Jesus, it was really important to incorporate my faith walk into my mental health. I wholeheartedly believe that mental health and spiritual health are connected. In addition, I have a group of friends/family members who pray for me and who I know will be there to encourage me through the struggle. Having a circle of prayer support is crucial for me as I continue in the battle.

Interests:

Music is a huge love for me and one that’s very important to incorporate into my life as much as possible. A few years ago, my husband and I bought a piano off of Craigslist for $50. Most days, the kiddos and I will sing songs and play around with music for maybe 30-45 minutes. It’s a way for me to do something I love and have an outlet for my own creativity, but it also teaches my kids about the importance of music and helps them learn through song.

Simplification:

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Love these guys – Brad and Juliette

I realized pretty early on after having kids that I wanted to stay home with them. Unfortunately, our mortgage didn’t coincide with that desire. If I was going to give up my job, something else would have to give. We needed less. Less mortgage, less debt, less stress, just less. We sold our home and did what we set out to do, just 12 short months afterward. Today, we are basically debt free and finally settled in a house that we can afford on one salary. By simplifying our financial life, we’ve been able to care for ourselves and also our children more effectively.

It’s easy to see what a strong impact that properly caring for yourself has on those around you. You’ve just got to make the time to do it. My therapist reminded me that our children see us as a reflection of who they are. When I stopped to think about that, it struck me. If I’m not actively working on making the best version of myself that I possibly can, what will I be reflecting to my children? What am I saying about who I am and who they are? Ultimately, I want to exemplify the spirit of someone who can laugh easily, love deeply, and trust the God whom I serve that he made something beautiful when He created me. Only then will I be able to be that reflection of God’s grace and mercy at work.

That first garden [at Addiezierman.com today]

Hey! I’m guest posting over at my great friend Addie Zierman’s blog as part of her One Small Change series. Addie is a STELLAR writer, thinker (with a new book out!) and member of my writing group, and this series has been a huge source of encouragement to me. Each post has taught me how to incorporate better stewardship of the world I live in into my life. Head over and check it out, and be sure to read some of the other great posts. Oh, and buy her book. Really. Do it. 

Here’s the beginning to get you started.

——

first-gardenI grew up surrounded by food.

My grandparents were dairy and crop farmers. My dad likewise raised crops, feeder pigs, and beef cattle. I spent my formative summers eating fresh corn on the cob, mulberries, green beans. Peppers. Zucchini. Spinach and asparagus, homemade bread.

Come July and August, my mother became a produce machine. Corn was cut and frozen. Tomatoes were canned for salsa and sauce. Mulberries were boiled with sugar and lemon and canned as sauce to pour over vanilla ice cream. And when the freezer was getting low, my dad sent a pig or a cow to the butcher, and came home with boxes and boxes of white paper packages carefully labeled in blue meat locker ink.

But when I stepped out from under my parent’s roof, food took on a different shape for me. A new, costlier shape. It was no longer just, well, available. What was worse, I started seeing it in terms of dollar bills that, as a college student, I never had enough of.

—Keep reading

 

 

 

Lent Log – Week 1

calendarIf ever I had a chance to get angry, this past weekend would have been it. Husband gone, babies teething, a toddler who found my secret stash of scissors – a perfectly brewed storm.

And yet, when my daughter went into stealth mode while I was nursing, and I found her a few minutes later with a pair of kitchen shears in hand, I took a really deep breath. I didn’t yell. I listened to her explain, in the animated half speech of two-and-a-half-year-olds, how she needed to cut the threads hanging from the shoulders of her dress-up Cinderella gown because they tickled her.

She wasn’t quite as forthright about why she had to cut her hair as well, but what can you do.

Meanwhile, one of the twins decided to get really cranked about her teeth coming in, and daddy being gone, and not understanding why MPR just wouldn’t ever come out and say what was really happening in the Ukraine.

On Sunday we were late to church. Monday we were even later to Play and Learn. Normally, being late primes my internal rage, pumping harder every hot minute that ticks past my desired leaving time.

And yet, somehow, the anger only circled, a dark shadow trolling the bay.

***

If you’ve ever baked bread, you know that there are a few key ingredients. Flour, yeast, water, salt. When those ingredients meld together in the right environment, they react. The yeast creates gas, which causes the flour and water to bubble and lift. Eventually, the whole mass rises.

When you control the ingredients, you determine the type of bread you’ll make. But the rise is always a mystery (at least to me). It is the least controllable part of the process, and the one that takes the most patience.

I started to think more about controlling my anger some more this past weekend when I was, vigorously punching, ahem, kneading bread dough.

What’s funny about anger is that sometimes I can control the situation surrounding it, and sometimes I can’t.

If I want to control the situations surrounding my anger, I simply need to plan well enough to keep the mishaps to a minimum. (Easier said than done, but in theory…?) For example, if I don’t want to be late, all I have to do is get us moving towards the door half an hour earlier than I normally would have started. Or if I don’t want my toddler giving herself a mullet, I should put all scissors under lock and key.

And in the situations when I have no control over the outcome? When I mixed everything right, used the right ingredients, and yet something still went horribly, awfully wrong?

I still have command over my response.

Slow driver in front of me? Busy restaurant server? Feverish baby screaming in my face?

Breathe. Practice quiet love the way Jesus did when thousands of voices screamed for his death.

***

I appreciate the practicality of finding ways to avoid being angry with a little time management and planning. But those situations don’t always cause me to think with my spirit.

Where I’m really seeing my Lenten practice start to sweat is when I control what feels like the uncontrollable rise of my anger. I need to understand the triggers that normally set me off and see them as just that – triggers. When I face the situation, I have to find that detached calmness (the one I wouldn’t normally be able to muster if I were to just blaze right into fixing whatever went wrong.)

I see Jesus in this. Jesus who, in his work with people, didn’t immediately triage and treat. Jesus who listened. When those around him were flustered and begging, he answered back with patience. When 5,000 people needed to be fed, he got creative with what he had. He used every opportunity as a moment to teach. To love.

After a week, it’s encouraging to see glimmers of change. I feel less defeated when I go to bed, no guilt-monkey twirling his tail around my arm. I don’t raise my voice as often, and have felt, generally, more pleasant. Kind. Less likely to snap.

It’s not been easy, and I’m learning which of my own rules I can bend, and which ones I can’t. The whole void thing? I’ve only used it once. But deep breathing? I use this every single time. Going to bed early is a tough one – I’m still fudging around, trying to figure out the optimal time. (I broke the rule altogether on Tuesday night, and paid for it all morning yesterday.) But for the most part, I think I have a solid set of ways to work with my emotions.

Next step is to find some good, easily accessible reading to drive my focus on the Cross. Any suggestions? Or anything that’s helping your Lent practice stay strong this week? I’d be glad to hear them!

Why I won’t give up sugar for Lent

Picture4It starts with the slide of the door along carpet. The little footsteps. My glance at the clock proves right – it’s too early to be up.

Anger rolls over beside me, rubbing its eyes.

We eat breakfast, and the yogurt is the wrong color. The wind is sending ghostly whips of snow across the yard. The twins wake up in the middle of my first cup of coffee, owlish and out of sorts. The laundry pile has reached epic proportions. There’s enough milk for one more bowl of cereal.

Anger simmers, waiting.

And then it happens. My toddler and I square off against something meaningless – not wanting to wear pants, giving up her nook, taking something from her baby sisters.

Anger EXPLODES.

I fear this ever-present emotion that overtakes me most days. Honestly, it makes me want to give up. Until today. Because today, I’m deciding to give IT up instead.

***

Some people give up sweets for Lent. Others give up coffee, pop, or caffeine in its entirety. Huffington Post suggested fried food, cigars, or devices.

I can’t help this nagging feeling that something about this is all a little off. If I give up something I enjoy in order to remind myself of Jesus, and then I start wanting that thing but can’t have it because I’m remembering Jesus, I’m going to get cranky. And if I’m cranky, I’ll start associating semi-bitter or negative feelings with Easter.

That seems a little, well, backwards.

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m not strong enough to work past the unhappy feelings I think I’d have if I gave up something I really enjoyed. Weak character? Faulty theology? Blatant misunderstanding? All very possible.

But if Lent truly is a season “to rid ourselves of all that prevents us from living a truly Christian life”, I have to wonder how far giving up little luxuries like sugar and meat and cigars is going to go.

This year, I want to try something different. This year, I’m giving up anger for Lent.

No more yelling.

No more face flushing, fast pulsing, blood pressure spikes.

No more disappointments that burrow into a den of resentment.

I live with the flashing of anger every day. I also eat sweets and drink caffeine. None of them are particularly good for me. Here’s where I see the difference though. I know how to tame my cravings for sugar and coffee into moderation. But anger is never moderate. I never feel halfheartedly mad.

When anger comes, it overtakes everything. It is mental and it is physical. It affects my ability to love those around me, and it crowds out my capacity to carry grace.

If I’m going to give something up to better remind myself of the meaning of Easter, shouldn’t it be something that Jesus himself asked of his friends? For example – in the garden on the night of his arrest, Jesus told his disciple Peter, “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52)

Here’s where I’m going with this. I’ve celebrated Easter since before I could eat Cadbury eggs. But this year, I want it to be different. I want more from the story, because soon I’ll be teaching it to my little girls. And in order to be a good story-teller, I need to engage with the story.

I don’t want to just read a few verses, go to a couple of services, and call it good. If I think this story of redemption and grace is important in my life, I need to LIVE in the mystery of the plot. For me, and for this Lent season, that means cutting out something that separates me from living in grace.

Right. So, it’s all fine and good to talk churchy and idealistic, but I also need to have a plan. Here are some tools I’m hoping to employ.

Going to bed earlier. I can’t stop the girls from getting up in the middle of the night. Nor can I convince Ellis to stop getting up earlier and earlier. But mama, it’s light outside! But my ability to rein in negative emotions is severely impaired when I’m tired. So early bedtime it is. Like 9:00 early. Sigh. I’ll clean my house another year.

Void_Space_by_Maandersen Image replacement. This is a little weird, but I want to have an image in my head to replace my feelings of anger when they come. Call it a new focal point – something to keep me steady. My image is going to be a space void. Yep. A big, open, solar void. I’m smart enough to know I won’t be able to replace mad feelings with happy feelings. But mad feelings with nothing? With space? With silence? With void? I don’t know why, but I think it can work.

Deep breathing. This is completely rote, but it also works. If I can remember to close my eyes and take a solid, in-through-the-nose-out-through-the-mouth breath, I will give myself pause enough to assess the situation, think about the void, and slowly back down.

Prayer. Nothing flowery. Straight up “God REALLY please help me out here” will do the trick.

Redirection. Once I’m off the ledge, I want to remember why I’m doing this in the first place. I want to remember the story of Jesus in the season of Easter. Not to be a better person, but to be a stronger believer. A sturdier story-teller.

It’s a tall order, and to be unabashedly honest, I’m not sure how it’s going to go. Anger comes when I’m tired. It rears after the babies having been screaming in tandem for more than five minutes. It’s red hot when Ellis dumps bowls of spaghetti sauce on the floor, or kicks me in the chin when I’m trying to cajole her into pajamas. It stews quietly when the temperature drops and we’re all faced with another day inside the house.

But Lent was meant to be a challenge. A challenge to deny myself for the sake of the cross. So why not deny a character quality I want to prune out? Why not choose something I want to keep giving up after the 40 days of Lent are over?

Why not do something that makes me more like the Jesus I want to remember?

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Do you have a great idea of something to give up for Lent? I’d love to hear what it is, and why you picked it.

Present when I need it most

It starts at 3:23 am, a hungry cry.

And then another, 4:08.

7:07 welcomes a broken chunk of window lattice, and Ellis rapping on the window. Followed by an exclamation. “Mama, I’m poopy.”

7:11, a glance in the mirror when no glance should have been taken, hair three days bedraggled, face a tired shade of pale.

Ellis asks me at 7:14 if I am crabby. I do not lie.

There is snow on the ground and the floors are chilly, so I attempt to build a fire at 7:34.

At 7:40, there is no longer a fire.

I am in the middle of a soggy bowl of Special K when the hunger chorus erupts from upstairs at 7:45.

8:30 – Diaper time for all three girls.

At 8:52, the twins are asleep in their swings. (And as a quick aside, one of the best pieces of advice someone gave me about living with twins was to never to put anything off. If the time is available to do something, it behooves you to make the most of it. So when my girls sleep, it’s the perfect time to get my toddler outside in the morning.)

I cajole Ellis into her snowsuit, boots, hat, and mittens.  We venture outside to let the chickens out, collect eggs, and generally burn off steam.

I am away from the clock at this point, but I know we have at least an hour or so of solid sleep time. Ellis needs to play outside as much as I need to go straight back to bed. She wins. Until suddenly the world is tragic, and the only way she can fight off her frustration is to flop face first into the snow when I’m trying to get her to walk. And then something happens.

I break. Every single frustrating minute from the morning pile-drives my patience and I have to fight back against the weight of it. So I yell. I yell at my daughter to stop laying in the snow so we can walk down the driveway. She yells back, and we both stand there, snorting steam into the winter air. I imagine we look like rams, heads lowered, ready to clash again at any moment.

I turn away, staring down the length of the snow-covered driveway. I feel a thousand miles away from anyone.

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

The verse from Proverbs 15 comes from out of nowhere, slips in the door without knocking, stands in front of me.

It is another confrontation. But this one I know how to handle.

I pick my little girl up off the ground, and then I get down on my knees in the snow. Her blue eyes are crystalline with tears. I apologize for my yelling, tell her I love her. The wind blows around us and I feel it pushing away the heat of my anger.

Happy now

Happy now

My daughter looks at me, wiping her nose on the back of her mitten, and says, I sorry too mama. I happy now. I laugh. Happy now is her code for everything’s okay. I’m ready to move on.

And just like that, it IS okay. We walk down the rest of the driveway, check the mailbox, come back to play on the play set, and journey off to go pick another bunch of wild grapes growing on our corn crib. They are incredibly sweet after the frost.

I grew up in the church, so I’m familiar with the phrase “the word of God is living and active”. I also get that it sounds a little fake, or maybe just too evangelical, but hear me out. Because I haven’t ever felt a bible verse be more present and real than in that moment, in the snow, having a face-off with my toddler.

The verse became more than a platitude. It became truth – real, actionable, truth. Anger put a sudden halt on my discipline, but Forgiveness let me walk hand in hand with my daughter.

I don’t have a lot of time for quiet, introspective Bible reading these days. I think God knows. I think He also understands, and in the moments when I’m almost ready to crumble, He carefully places a verse in my palms.

Then He waits for me to do something with it. Because it’s not enough just to know truth.Truth needs to be practiced, moment by moment, mess by mess, until it’s meaning emerges.

Living. Active. Present when I need it most.