The School Years

As I lay down my pen at the end of a new short story draft, I again have to acknowledge my strong affinity for mother-son themes. This makes me think of my own son, my eldest, who seems to hunger near-constantly for time one-on-one with me.

He lost a great quantity of mommy-and-me time after his sister was born. Now they both fight for me. It’s a survival instinct, I’ve been told, a scrambling for resources. Both my kids know that they rely on my care and affection and they’ll shove the other aside for it. During our group cuddle times, for example, they’ll both try to hedge the other one out by covering my body with theirs and excluding the other sibling.

I began my slow entry into homeschool last week. I bit the bullet and ordered a curriculum because I’m not ready to write my own lesson plans, no matter how simple that might be for the kindergarten year.

The homeschooling foray began when I made my family regulars at the local library branch. Both my 5-year-old and my 21-month-old have learned to hold out their arms when I appear struggling under a new load of books. (Personal experience recently taught me that they cut you off at fifty items checked out at any time…but the librarian waived the block on my account when I promised I’d just returned a stack of books in the book drop. Yeah, I sound like an addict. I know.)

My son has been regularly asking to have me read him “a book I haven’t read before.” I’ve gotta say, reaching this stage and moving beyond the “read it again! again!” ad nauseum stage is a mental reprieve. A hunger for new knowledge is rising within you, my son, and I’m so excited to explore it with you.

Painting the Sun in his Solar System kit.

Just one week into homeschooling–it’s only kindergarten, so it takes a short while to cover our subjects and most of it is fun educational books, a little math and reading lessons.

My daughter isn’t so sure she approves of the new attention her brother is receiving. I’m helping her transition by giving her lots of cuddles, a short bit of play-time with Mommy before school with her brother begins, letting her draw on scratch paper while we do math worksheets, and feeling grateful on a daily basis for the invention of non-toxic washable markers. Seriously.

I’ve met the beginning of school feeling empowered instead of overwhelmed and this is a total surprise. I’m witnessing my son’s excitement and my daughter’s curiosity and this beginning feels right and correct (and if I were in the book Jane Eyre, I might call it auspicious!)

You’re bound to see posts from me in the months and years ahead that strike a different note. I predict exhaustion, discouragement and the inevitable confusion that we all encounter when the road is long and the going is tough (I have to constantly remind myself that all things worthwhile are those we pay through the nose for…)

Why did you decide to homeschool, Elise? I’ve been asked this question many many times. Firstly, I’m committing to homeschool for just this year; I can’t foresee beyond that. Secondly, I was homeschooled through the 10th grade and I’m convinced it made a hugely positive contribution to my education and the development of writing skills that prepared me for my vocation. Thirdly, I believe homeschooling is the best choice for my family.

Coloring with her grandpa

My son’s love language (in the terminology used in The Five Love Languages of Children) is Quality Time. He’s one of the most rambunctious, curious, verbal and inquiring children I’ve ever met. His desire for devoted attention, someone to speak to him and listen to his thoughts and questions is a deep-set need that, when unmet, results in a boy with a rampant naughty streak and a high volume of vocal operation. That behavior also correlates, I unofficially suspect, to my elevated blood pressure.

Among the first things that I noticed when I began home-based instruction was that he’s become happier and more content. The mischief hasn’t evaporated, but my kiddo’s “love tank” is fuller and he knows it.

I’d expected the beginning of homeschooling to further threaten my sanity, at least initially, but that hasn’t been the reality. Gratitude surrounds and enfolds me as my own excitement rises, eager to learn side-by-side with my son, to watch this young man develop and store new information, to watch his potential blossom.

And so we enter the school years!

(Prayers for my own endurance, patience, and ingenuity are always appreciated!!)

Summer Churning

Elise, what have you been up to?

Where shall I start? It’s officially summer, so my garden and I have been racing each other to see who can weed/grow weeds the fastest. Ha. It’s no contest. I lose.

But the flowers are gorgeous and I keep picking these bouquets that knock my socks off! Seattle friends–I’ll make you a pretty posy is you want to stop on by!

My energetic 4-year-old is learning to swim and getting really excited about outer space and volcanoes. Also, the Disney Pixar film Wall-E is his bliss.

My 19-month-old is babbling a storm of words to replace her baby sign language. She also climbs onto everything and unbuckles her car seat harness while I’m driving.

I’m running to keep up with both of them and to keep them from killing or maiming themselves for roughly 12 hours a day.

I rise early to hone that edge of wakeful clarity and I write before I shower or eat breakfast. Finally I look the part of the crazy writer at her desk in her bathrobe, frizzy hair, and huge glasses! (Bucket list goal complete! And no, I don’t have a photo of that one for you!)

After a rejection that made me sadder/angrier than usual, I decided to up my publishing game. I plan to submit one short sci-fi/fantasy story per quarter to the Writers of the Future contest. My goal is to place in the competition within the next five years. That gives me about twenty short stories to write and submit. Holy moly, Elise.

Thanks for supporting me, James!

I’m in the very final stages of prepping a story submission to the above contest. It will be my first submission after setting my goal. I’m optimistic and exhausted, all of which is normal.

…What am I writing? I thought I’d share a little about the drafts on my desk right now. My head is full of ideas and I keep outlining and planning in this detailed, rigorous style that leaves me tired but confident. It is a new season for me and things are churning out. They don’t always come easily, but they are churning. (Things of quality, I hope!)

Elise’s short story drafts:

Focal Point – a magical, dangerous painting blinds a young woman in the first year of her marriage and her only hope for healing lies in revealing her own dark secrets.

Recollection – a government official’s routine visit to a small desert town unearths questions of hope and mysterious rumors that hold secrets to the town’s survival.

Inheritance – three adult siblings are astonished to find in their grandmother’s inheritance not money or real estate but distilled memories – they’ve inherited their grandmother’s social, gardening, and teaching skills, for better or worse.

Have you entered a new season of sorts? I’d love to hear about it!

Anything but Plain (WA)

My desk is in the forefont and Jason’s desk is farther down.

As the capstone to my participation in the Cascadia Residency this year, I and four other artists stayed in a beautiful riverside retreat center in Eastern Washington called the Grunewald Guild. We experienced warm, mild weather, created art, took restorative breaks in hammocks, and gathered around fresh meals that were prepared for us. We worked hard, really!

It was a true residency—we didn’t have to worry about cleaning or cooking or chores. We showed up to make art and the rest was taken care of.

Hammock!

I set up my studio in an old schoolhouse that had been converted to an art library. It had an amazing vibe and was washed in gorgeous natural light all day. Yeah, I just used the term “amazing vibe.” I must have been hanging out with artists!

I shared studio space with Jason, who was working with twine and white primer and sculpting it.

Chatting with Jason in our studio.

My own project was drafting two new short stories. The first story gave me trouble until I realized that my two main characters needed a rich backstory that connected them to each other. This particular piece is a murder mystery set in a prison inside a fantasy world. (It’s part of the Two-Tone universe, for those of you who have read my stuff). Once I realized that my “investigator” character had, twenty years prior, been a teacher to the prison’s warden but had to dismiss the warden for being unfit to pursue a career with him, I’d set the stage for a power play between former master and former pupil that had flipped over so that the pupil now bore all the power and the master held none.

It took me roughly a day-and-a-half of struggling, frustrated that I couldn’t begin fleshing out my scenes right away, but I think the added time of prep-work was worth it. In the process of building these notes on character history, my warden also changed from male to female (no, not like the Jurassic Park dinosaurs) and this made things more interesting.

Workin’ at a standing desk that I made out of a low bookshelf.

Our days during the residency were tranquil but industrious. On two occasions we did studio visits, taking a walk through the spaces where each artist was working. We artists gave an overview of how we did our work and explained our particular projects in greater depth.

On a related note—I’ve recently been discovering the joy of experiencing art (visual, musical, literary, etc) by an artist who I personally know. This lends additional complexity and empathy to an experience I would otherwise have no context for. When I know the artist, I see her story in her work and I a can genuinely rejoice when her work successfully hits the mark.

Collaborations and relationships are the bonus that you can never plan on for residencies like this. I had a chance to collaborate with Aaron, an extremely talented musician. We combined some spoken word pieces of mine with his piano accompaniment. There was a great amount of improvisation and performance to our piece. I am slowly absorbing the possibility that my writing will continue to ask this of me—theater and reading/performing in front of people…but that’s a post for another time.

Me and Aaron!

The short pieces that I read with Aaron were four reimaginings of Psalm 23. The collection was titled I Lack Nothing. Four readers performed it in March 2018. They did a really good job. Watch the recorded performance of I Lack Nothing. (Approx run time 15 minutes.)

I Lack Nothing was my culminating project for the Cascadia Residency. In February 2018 read Darkness to Light, a narrative about my family’s journey through miscarriage (very raw and heavy) as part of an Ash Wednesday service. A few weeks later I directed the reading of I Lack Nothing and followed that up with a workshop on how to write modern-day psalms pertaining to our personal lives.

The cast from I Lack Nothing.

Psalm-Writing class.

Teaching the Psalm-Writing class.

Some ideas are presently percolating in my head for how fiction stories might find a place among the church community. Right now, I’m chewing on the idea of dramatizing scenes from the story, to be performed in conjunction with a sermon series that shares topics/themes with the fiction.

The “dramas” would be short a means of introducing or supporting the sermon and would also serve as “teasers” for the longer work of fiction. It’s obviously still in the conceptual stage, but this is an example of how the Cascadia Residency has taught me to think about the intersections between art (writing, in my case) and church (the community of Sanctuary CRC Church in Seattle, in my case).

And then there’s friendship. No matter how busy and frustrated my life is, there are moments when my heart stands still, caught by surprise, because someone has reached toward me, hoping to connect, to know me and be known by me. That’s when I glimpse beyond the person or the artist or the colleague, to see the soul beyond. Time stands still for a breath and I smile at this offer of friendship. Late-night games were played, phone numbers exchanged, collaborations considered, selfies snapped, and hope for the future was sown tenderly during those days in Plain, WA.

Me, Colleen, and Amy on the river steps

I’m so grateful to the Cascadia Residency for providing this opportunity, to Sanctuary Church for partnering with me, to the Fuller staff and my fellow artists for creating a community where my wild kids were loved and welcome, a place where I felt safe enough to cry. I’m grateful to the Grunewald Guild for creating a loving and lovely sacred space for making art.

My family came out for part of my residency!

My son and his new friend, Amy.

She would like to drive, already.

A huge shout-out to my mom, my husband, my friend Heather, Shannon, Amy, Jason, and everyone else who lent me a hand and spend hours and hours with my kids so that they could both be “out of Mommy’s hair” but still have a chance to see some of me while I was away from home.

Thank you, Jesus, for the road ahead and the life to fill with more art, memories, and community.

Onward!

Amy, Aaron, Colleen, Me, Jason

Good Stuff

water-lilliesToday I have good news to share!

A glimpse at the day-to-day first: I’m at the tail-end of a very challenging season in which I’ve had to hold down the proverbial fort with home and children for three months while my husband studies for a big engineering test. (The test is April 13th! Wish him luck!)

I have been faced repeatedly with depression, exhaustion, and feelings of overwhelm as I’ve tried to meet the additional chores and hours of childcare that this season requires. Reminding myself that is it a temporary challenge has only been mildly helpful. We’ve been met with kind offers of meals and friends who hang out with me while I can’t see James. This has been a mercy. But I still have, I admit, thrown multiple adult tantrums.

In the midst of this not-so-healthy season, James and I both decided we’d try going to bed earlier and getting up earlier. I began writing early in the morning, before the kids woke, instead of after they went down for naps (by which time I was routinely wrung-out). James now comes home earlier for dinner and the result is we all have more time together in the evenings, without such a mad rush through dinner and routine.

A few weeks ago, I’d received a rejection for a short story that sent me spiraling down. I had reason to suspect my story was of high interest to the journal, only to receive a form rejection in the end. (you didn’t even like it???) It was dashed hope that made me so despondent. I don’t think I’d have been nearly so troubled if they hadn’t held on to it for a long time.

What did I do with my artistic angst? I found means to channel it. Overhearing a conversation with another writer friend, I decided to join a subscription service that streamlines the hunt for publishers and makes a tailored search much simpler. (Writers, if you are trying to publish and you haven’t heard of Duotrope, check it out!)

I’m sharing the valleys that lead up to the “hooray moment” because I want my blog posts to be as honest as possible. Advertising only the good stuff is misleading and harmful to everyone involved, if you ask me.

Elise has a new short story published! I couldn’t tell you if it was the subscription to Duotrope that brought this about, but I have channeled my energy toward short fiction publishing in a much more focused way, and here is the first fruit!

Summer of the Lilies, a literary short story, has been accepted and published by Longshot Island. Read Summer of the Lilies here.

Writing has so many similarities to life. The “good stuff” that is truly exciting to share is often sprinkled lightly among lots of toil and frustration. I am grateful for this moment of rejoicing, grateful for the faithful friends who cheer me on, for the fellow artists who inspire me, for the God who planted this passion in my heart.

Hope you enjoy the story!

Love,

Elise

Swim

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“Put your face in the water. Blow bubbles. See? Like me!”

I immerse the lower half of my face and push air through my nostrils. I raise my face from the pool in an expression of excitement.

My son copies me once, then refuses to repeat the action.

He needs to learn to swim. Sure, it’ll take years before he’s close to mastery, but the process should begin early for his safety’s sake.

Did I mention that my four-year-old has a history of hysteria whenever he gets the teeniest-weeniest splash of water on his face? I’m sure swim lessons will be a piece of cake.

Oh, my sweet son…you teach your baby sister sign language, you rise each morning with a helpful and cheerful spirit, your drama keeps the house warm and noisy every minute of your waking hours. Your heart is big, colorful, tender.

A part of my cynical adult self mocks you when you howl at the water on your face, and another part confesses my own fears. I’ve just learned to hide them better. I do the things I know I’ll be good at. I make myself too busy to take time to experiment.

I’m afraid to ask for favors. I hate the thought of inconveniencing the rest of the busy world. I’m afraid to compromise my thought-out schedule in favor of beautiful spontaneity. I’m afraid of the work and hassle it takes to travel with little ones in tow. I’m afraid of getting insufficient sleep to function.

Perhaps my son would mock me if he knew. Or maybe he’d hold out his hand, like he sometimes does to his little sister and say, “It’s okay! Come with me!”

I miss the bygone days of mentorship. My mom gave me pep talks every night. One-on-one encouragement. She bought me private writing lessons. She read all of my earliest stories.

Many of my friends wonder and marvel at my desire to homeschool my kids. I know. I know. The time investment and the challenge is huge. But I also know what it did for me—and I want to nourish my kids in similar ways. I don’t frown on parents who put their kids in school. I just can’t ignore my own compulsion, drawn from the well of my own memories.

I wish I could still be homeschooled. That someone who loves me as much as my mom could walk me through this daily mess of being a mother and a writer. I want individualized worksheets and weekly goals. Sure, I do some of this for myself and my husband is a wonderful life coach when I ask it of him.

Maybe I’m tired of being an adult.

What do I do now that I don’t have a parent to put her face in the water to show me it’s okay? Sure, there are self-help workshops and motivational speakers to fill the need, but I want it to be more spiritual and ancient. I want to sleep on someone’s hearth and wake in the morning to walk through dewy grass as I listen in a sleep-daze to my mentor’s thoughts on life’s most important truths.

Elise, will always be a hopeless romantic.

The only way I know for sure that I am growing is that I’m brave enough to do things that scare me. I may not have the mentor/sage I dream of, but I can let my heart point me, quivering compass arrow that it is.

I will allow myself to get dinner cooked late, even though it scares me to think I may be a less-than-adept homemaker. Especially if it eases my mind and heart with the extra time to breathe.

I will actively think of things that would make my life better and easier and I will ask for them. Childcare. Friends to visit me when the going gets tough. Simpler meals.

I will purchase a YMCA membership and use the included childcare for my mental health before I use it to work out. My mind is teetering on melt-down on a daily basis and I would be an idiot to ignore the warning signs. I’m afraid to commit money to this kind of self-care. I’m afraid to make the visible stance that says “I’m worth it.”

I’m going to put my face in the water. And it’s going to be okay.

I’ll learn to swim.

Pushing On/Pushing Back

In my twenties, running as fast and hard as I could seemed like the best way to ensure I was climbing my ambition in the right direction.

But now, more than ten years past my college graduation…I’m seriously assessing the cost of such behavior and asking myself,

What do I pay for in mental fragility, depletion of emotional reserves, temper with my kids, and closeness with my husband when I run myself completely out of proverbial steam?

A therapist recently gave a lecture at my mom’s group and shared a story of helping an overwhelmed couple restructure their life (which wasn’t going at all like they wanted it to) into something nearer the life they both hoped for. She instructed them to imagine family memories they hoped to make in the next five years, ten years, fifteen years, etc. Then to reverse-engineer their current life to make space for making these memories.

Begin with the memories you want to have.

I’m endlessly discovering I’ve made myself a slave to hyper-efficiency, trying to optimize and maximize the productivity possible in the time I’ve allocated for my personal work.

During a self-assessment of emotional and mental health last week, I tested into a dangerously-high category of burnout.

Time for a change, am I right?

What memories do I want to make? What do I yearn to remember when I look back on these years? What do I want to be remembered for?

I want to be a mother who is present and delighted with her children while she is with them. So I’ll make focused time to *be* with my kids. I’ll strive to tidy up after I’ve played a bit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I want to teach my son and watch him make learning connections as we do hands-on activities like cooking, art, and gardening. I’ll save some of these projects to intentionally do at a slower speed with my son at my side, learning to be my helper.

I want to remember parenting as a teamwork sporting event, working with my husband, finding times to laugh together and to be vulnerable in our struggles. So I’ll be honest with him and I’ll look for ways to be silly and lighten the mood.

I want to be a creative writer who is neither stifled nor depressed, which means chances to write and dream and build and create the worlds of my fiction. So I’ll continue finding and carving out time for this in my week.

I want a healthy mind, refreshed and unstrained. (I don’t want piles of memories of screaming at my kids or backing the car into a post, or dissolving into furious tears…all of which happened in the space of one day last week). So I’ll plan regular, restful activities for myself that aren’t just staring at a movie screen at night, but truly restorative activities for me. A weekend trip to a museum followed by lunch–by myself. Coffee and a pastry at my favorite Italian cafe.

For a goal-oriented and driven person such as Elise, I run a real risk of tucking my chin to my chest and charging ahead so effectively that…I might actually miss everything else in the blur. And someday soon, my energy will give way and I’ll be down in the dirt, wondering if I’ll find the strength to stand again.

Why this change in perspective? I’m pretty sure a good chunk of it was due to having kids. My four-year-old and one-year-old remind me constantly that I can’t love them well or be a fun-to-be-around partner for my husband when I’ve burned through all my daily reserves by 6 pm every day. (Welcome home from work, honey! I’m a basket-case!!!)

I’ve recently begun reading the book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. I found it while scrolling through “available now” audiobooks at my library, and took it for a sign. The author draws some very sobering connections between rest and effective, insightful work (“work” defined as the stuff we were made to do, that we feel is our calling or purpose or particular passion). The author insists that work and rest are not polar opposites, but rather complementary and equally necessary elements to healthy, vital human life and creativity. Pang laments the American tendency to wear “overworked” as a badge of honor. Humans aren’t meant to live like this.

I, for one, am personally tired of recognizing some issue in my psych-emotional health, a place where growth is truly needed, and then doing nothing fruitful toward addressing it.

So. I acknowledge I am burning out. Yes, this is normal for hundreds of thousands of parents. But normal does not mean healthy, nor does it mean what’s best for me and my family (another quip from the therapist’s lecture).

I want to strive for best. Not settle with normal. I’ve made a list of activities that are not designed to be productive. Simply restful, restorative, joyful, invigorating, and stimulating to my mind. I’ll aim to do one once a month. I’ll also set a limit of 2-3 nights a week in which work takes place after dinner. I’m sick at heart from putting my kids to bed and then rolling up my sleeves for chores once dinner is put away.

I’m aiming for small changes. Doable changes. And a more compassionate heart toward the mind and body that carry me through life, so that I can be a long-distance runner in my life and career, instead of a sprinter.

Happy New Year, everyone! May your goals be worthwhile and achievable!

XO

Take Care

fruittart

Having the second baby has made me slow down. A lot. My new normal has squeezed me toward ultra-focused sessions of writing and drafting in the afternoon and a running list of priorities that I update daily.

My household chores have been broken down into a monthly and weekly rotation. I prep my dinners on one particular afternoon a week, and I plan-plan-plan so that the important things that I truly value aren’t left behind in the dust of chaos of raising two young children.

My baby is crawling now. And eating everything on the floor. And making a bee-line for the toilet bowl when the bathroom door is left open.

My four-year-old is learning to fold laundry (hallelujah!) because I’m hiding jelly beans in the clothes (thanks for the tip, Mom!). He’s gaining traction in his understanding of letters and their meaning. I see the world of books unfurling its first beautiful page to him.

I am striving to view my youngsters and their stream of constant interruptions as opportunities to meet them with love and grace—to allow myself and my expectations of myself to change. To not push myself too hard with my daily to-dos. To delight in each small academic achievements of my boy. To feel the cosmic greatness of an after dinner chase scene in which I run after my kiddos with a cloth and wire tunnel on my head.

My life is inching out of mayhem and into a semblance of order. I can actually predict my schedule with moderate accuracy. My evenings are not a consistent heap of vegetation on the couch after the monsters are tucked into their recharging stations. My mind is gently stretching its wings as it comes to trust this bit of restored freedom and rest. And I feel I’m finally back in a place where loving others (the act of loving, not the momentary feeling) is possible again.

I want to be part of the sisterhood that says, “You’re hurting. Let me bring you dinner.” Or “You’re lonely. Come on over to my house when your kids are up from their naps.” Or, “You need a break. I’ll do your dishes while you take a long shower and pretend you’re at the spa.” I hate feeling trapped in the weeks and months of living in a moment-to-moment rush where deep-breathing is something I can only manage on my yoga mat in the pre-dawn.

My time is not unlimited, nor is my schedule empty, but my heart is filling. The waters of my mind are clearing. My hands have slowed enough to set down my dish sponge and baby wipes and instead grasp a sister’s hand as I say, “Let’s do this together.”

We were made to take care of each other.

Stand Up: (A mental health reminder for introvert parents)

silence-sunset-1379641I’ll rush to defend a friend, but cringe and sometimes fall silent when it comes to defending myself.

I once loved to argue. I am still easily riled up.

When it comes to protecting time to myself, to write, to sleep, to speak to no one, I am apologetic yet fiercely determined.

I explain to my husband that my attitude of distant exhaustion is not so much a reflection on him as it is a dried up, empty-tank-feeling in me.

I can’t decide whether I do a bad job of standing up for myself or if I’m just in the throes of how *difficult* it is to actually stand up for myself as a mother of two young children.

“What are you looking forward to when the kids are older?” my husband asks me.

He has already told me he’s anticipating hikes and boy scouts with our eldest. I’ve made a reference to my eagerness to learn at all over again when I begin homeschooling my son. Then, with a deep sigh, I say “Is it horrible that I’m really just looking forward to having more time to myself?”

I don’t want to go join a convent. (Though a week in one would be amazing!) I don’t want to leave my kids at my mom’s and drive to Canada (okay, last month, there were several panicked days when the idea stuck to me) and I don’t actually wish that I had a different life altogether, I just feel like the fight to protect a little space for myself, to preserve a few minutes for writing in my day, a snatch a sliver of time to exercise my body, is more effort than its ultimately worth.

I looked at my face in the mirror the other day and thought, “Okay, I see it. I’m aging.” And I wondered if I should feel some other emotion than resigned. My new beauty slogan has been “the most beautiful thing on your face is your smile” which I think is a paraphrase of Mother Teresa.

This is what I’m trying to say today—I don’t think that standing up for yourself has to look like a heroic, top-of-the-cliff-with-your-hair-flapping-in-the-wind kind of moment. I don’t look like Rosie the Riveter every day of my life. But I love myself. I love who I am after I’ve finished a new short story. I love the excitement that flows through me when I’ve finished organizing some part of my life. I love the gentle grace of a weeded garden bed and the peace that settles on me when I glimpse it from my window. These moments of preservation for my art and my sanity are not extraneous time-sucks. The non-essentials just might be the essentials. And if I don’t successfully protect them every single time, that’s okay, too.

Because I might just be living the hardest year of my life. (A mother of four told me that her first year with two kids was her more difficult, and I think I’ll take her word for it).

So I’ll keep standing up for myself. I’ll try to defend this tired, worn-out woman, and keep finding ways to nourish and delight her spirit. I’ll do my best to shield her time from busywork and facebook binges, from disorganized bouts of spinning her wheels, and also especially from moments of self-condemnation. Because she really is doing her best. And “best” is not perfect. It’s usually messy.

Stand up for yourself when you can. I say this especially to us parents who are used to giving and giving and giving to our kiddos. Find something that delights you. Rest when you can, even if it’s ten minutes on your back in the living room listening to a white-noise app. (Yes. I do this.)

So I’ll keep standing up for myself. I’m okay knowing I don’t have to look like Wonder Woman while I’m doing it. I’ll just try to keep some semblance of a smile on my face so that I can be beautiful the way Mother Teresa sees it.

I’m worth the fight. My heart and my mind are worth the fight. I want to stay filled up and strong for my husband and kids.

So I’ll keep standing up for myself.

The Art of the Do-Over

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What would you do over, if you could?

My husband and I were recently talking about things we truly wished we could do over again. He’d wished he’d attended high school prom with the girl who’d asked him. I wished I’d actually dated a particular boy in my senior year of high school, despite my parents’ objections—because, looking back, I’m pretty sure he was my first love. But I was an extremely obedient daughter and I did what I thought was best at the time.

Do-overs. Regret is a slow, sweet poison that we enjoy as a self-stew (because we’re complicated creatures), but the truth is, most regrets are pointless unless we use them to wise-up or, even better, go try to fix a past wrong through an action we take in the present.

Yeah. Like messaging an old friend on facebook out of the blue and apologizing for a painful mistake I’d made. In my case, it was poorly executed judgment from a position in which I should have been impartial. And although the talk was totally awkward, it ended with kind words and exchanging photos of our children—peace offerings.

Regrets and wishes for do-overs give me the reminder I’m not static, living my life on one unwavering course. I screw up, I hurt people, I act with oblivious carelessness, but you know what’s really encouraging? Apologizing has got a hell of a lot easier. I can’t explain it. Maybe my pride got majorly deflated in college after someone called me out for gossiping. (Yep. That stopped me in my tracks. I had an artificial fever for about 24 hours. Pure shame). Or maybe the art of begging forgiveness truly grows easier with practice, just like everything else.

The conversation about do-overs left me uplifted, almost like a pep-talk. I saw that my regrets had altered how I live now, guiding me toward what is truly valuable, exhorting me to embrace integrity, honesty, transparency and awkward humility.

I like to think that God is sanding down my rough edges so that the person I’m becoming is more loving, less rushed, and porous to the reasons for joy and laughter that surround me daily.

Dare I ask…What would you do over? Does your do-over bleed into anything you might do today that would heal the world, even in a small way?

Beauty will save the world, you guys. I believe it.

I See You (a Father’s Day letter)

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Beloved,

I see you. Up in the morning with the little one smiling on your shoulders as she rides through the house in the hiking backpack carrier that you wanted for your birthday. You yearn to bring our babies along on your outdoor adventures. The beauty of that desire does not escape me.

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I see you. Curled up on the couch in the morning light with the baby snuggled into the hollow of your chest and neck, sleeping in peace and safety. The empty milk bottle sits on the coffee table, a testimony of our teamwork, sharing her midnight feedings.

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I see you. Rushing home, changing your clothes, diving into last-minute dinner prep. You talk to our preschooler with loving interest. He knows he’s important and precious. You sing and make silly faces at our baby. She knows daddy is fun and safe and reliable.

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I see you. Laboring after sunset, building shelves, painting doors, sawing metal rods to fit the closet. You work tirelessly and gently. You don’t snap at me or speak tersely at the end of the long day. You give as if it doesn’t hurt or wear you thin. How is that possible?

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I see you. Smiling at me from across the kitchen, admiring me and finding me beautiful, desirable, even in those moments when I’m frantically scrubbing dishes or mopping spit-up off of the floor. You see beyond my harried exhaustion and admire my eternal, unchanged self leaving me astonished and humbled. Ashamed, too. Because there are many days I can’t hope to be as good a partner to you as you are to me.

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I see you. Holding my hand, kissing my lips, meeting my eyes with acceptance and grace. Together, we have lost unborn children, become landlords, traveled to Europe, constructed homes in blistering heat, birthed two little humans, hiked tropical jungles, grieved the death of loved ones, collaborated on art, co-led a Bible study, savored live theater, blended our literary tastes, pulled each other back from black depression, designed a place for creative community, fought and made-up and stonewalled and lashed out and begged for forgiveness, sat still and held each other close while we witnessed a river flowing past us.

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I see you. The father of my children. All five of them. “Father” is just one of the important roles you play. But it’s never been more valuable to me than it is now.

Happy Father’s Day. I wouldn’t want to do this with anyone but you.