Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Body Image and Our Daughters

Monday, September 8th, 2014

A new Human Barbie has been crowned. I’m not kidding.

I never knew this category existed, but apparently the newly crowned Barbie is the second Human Barbie.  Sheesh.


Meet the newest Human Barbie; she’s a 16-year-old from Ukraine:


Human Barbie



This picture disturbed me on multiple levels.

First, I had to look at this photo several times to determine if she was real or not. (She is.)

Second, her measurements. You can read about those here. Apparently, she hasn’t had surgery or photoshop to help out with those pesky problem spots. She inherited this body (minus the colored contacts) and she’s proud of it:

“If I can become famous for my appearance in some other way, I will be extremely happy,” she told the Daily Mail. “I think I’ve achieved this image better than anyone else. I’m the ultimate vamp woman.”

(By the way, what’s a vamp woman?)

Third, this information is apparently newsworthy in our culture.

All this got me thinking about body image and appearance and especially about our daughters.


daughter, golden-hour, light, dusk



How do we talk to our daughters, in this self-obsessed culture, about their bodies?

How do we alleviate  anxiety about their appearance when the Human Barbie makes international news?

This is what I’ve come up with (so far):

I think it starts with how we treat our own bodies and how we talk about them in front of our daughters.

How would you answer the following questions?

1. What are you saying about yourself in front of your daughter?

  -Are you (still) vocally obsessing about those extra pounds you gained at Christmas?

  -Do you talk negatively about yourself because of your appearance?

2. What are you saying to other women around your daughter?

  -Are you rating yourself and/or other women based on weight?

  -How often is the first thing you say to someone else: “You look so cute, great, skinny, etc.”

3.  Does the need to exercise control your schedule?

– Are your relationships/home life suffering because you’re exercising obsessively?

4. What kinds of activities are you pursuing with your daughter?

– Do you choose activities that engage your/her whole person, not just the ones  that cater to you/her appearance (shopping, manicures, makeovers, etc)?


Ok, I know what you’re thinking–Wow, who just showed up and ruined the party?

But, just hang with me for a second.

My point is that our daughters SEE. They observe how we spend our time and take note of what’s important to us. They HEAR how we talk about ourselves and others. They UNDERSTAND what we value based on our choices.

Ann Voskamp uses a stunning, two word phrase in her book One Thousand Gifts: All eye. It’s a reminder to be on the lookout  for God’s story in our lives and others’ lives, and to be thankful for His gifts. All eye.

Our daughters are all eye, too. They see and absorb the things that we do, the way that we treat people, the way we relate to our “selves” .

I don’t say this from on high; I struggle with these things, too. Isn’t it sad to think that since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to be thinner?  There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t wish it was so. I suspect it might be the same for you, too.

But I have a choice whether this THING–this aspiration that our culture hands down to us that drives girls and women to NOT eat, binge exercise, or vomit– will control the choices I make for myself and my daughter. (For some, I realize it doesn’t feel like a choice, that it’s taking over your life and you want it to stop, but you can’t. Please tell someone you trust TODAY.)

I strive to pass down to my daughter the value of  things in moderation–to really enjoy good things like food and exercise, but not to the point of worshipping them or letting them control her. That’s a problem for all of us as humans, not just women. We elevate the good things around us to a place of ultimate satisfaction, a place that they were never meant to hold. They cannot ultimately satisfy the deepest longings, but we want them to so badly that we  easily spin into a cycle of addiction.

So, what does it look like to enjoy good things in moderation with our  daughters? Well, I’m a work in progress, but here’s what it looks like in my house.

1.Abby and I enjoy going shopping together occasionally. But, we also bake together, go to coffee shops, and sometimes read together.

2. I  like to exercise, and I carve out time when I can. It clears my mind and the endorphins are pretty nice, too. But sometimes, I have to say no to the inner drive for MORE, MORE, MORE, because…well, I have a family to take care of.

3.  I made a pact with a friend recently to just STOP commenting on other women’s appearances so much, even when it’s complimentary. (It’s harder than I thought.)

Disclaimer: I think  there’s something really breathtaking about a beautiful woman. And that’s okay. God created ALL women beautifully. But again, we have a tendency to take the good things that God gives us and elevate them to a dangerous place. Furthermore, have you ever stopped to think about what our compliments to the extraordinarily beautiful and thin women do to the women who aren’t? 

4. The person in #1 still obsessing about those extra Christmas pounds in September?  Yep, me. But I don’t share that with my daughter. Every now and then, I talk about it with my husband (his favorite conversation!), but mostly I mull it over in my own mind, constantly reminding myself that the value of my life  is not found in my dress size. Or being crowned the next Human Barbie.

daughter, sun-flare

Isn’t she lovely?

So, what do you think? What are some ways you tackle body image with the girls in your house? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Interview with a 2-Year-Old

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

I’ve been blogging for almost a year now. {Hooray. Cheers. Fireworks. [enter any celebratory phrase here]}

One of my most popular posts this year was Interview with a One-Year-Old.

So, for my one year blog anniversary , I decided to interview Jonathan once again, but this time, as a two-year-old.


baby, interview, 2-year-old


Me: Hi, Jonathan. It’s good to have you back here at onNeutralGround.

Jonathan: (stares longingly at the bagel with cream cheese across the kitchen that I haven’t had time to eat yet)

Me: Uh, okay. Jonathan, I’ve been wondering: What’s it like being the fourth child? Do you like being the baby in the family?

Jonathan: Nnno.

Me: Oh, ok, really? Do you have anything you’d like to add to that sentiment?

Jonathan: Noooo.

Me: I see. Let’s move on.  What’s your favorite toy? I mean, besides the dishwasher. I know, you really like that singing puppy–you know, the one that sings Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.

Jonathan: Nno.

Me: Gosh, I could have sworn that was your favorite toy. You always smile when I turn it on.

Jonathan: Noooo.

Me: Well, what’s your favorite food then?

Jonathan: No.

Me: That wasn’t a yes-or-no question.

Jonathan: Niihhhoooooo.

Me: Um, ok. I see this isn’t going very well. Let’s see. We went to the beach this summer. I know you didn’t like it at first, but by the end of the week, you really enjoyed the water. I’ve got pictures to prove it.

beach, kids, waves

Jonathan: Nnnnnnno.

Me: You don’t like the beach?

Jonathan: No.

Me: Well, what about the sand? It’s pretty fun to build sand castles.

Jonathan: Nooooh.

Me: Well, Jonathan, I have little else to ask you. Hmm. Maybe, are you looking forward to fall? The leaves changing and all that.

Jonathan: Nnnnooooo.

Me: {flustered} Oh, you’d say “No” to anything I asked you.

Do you want a Pop-Tart?

Jonathan: Yes.

Me: Wait, what?! Can you repeat that answer?

Jonathan: No.






A Fierce Memory

Thursday, August 14th, 2014


All seven of us squeezed in around the large table, adorned with traditional white linens and a vase of fresh flowers. We stared wide-eyed, slightly self-conscious over the abundance of food, but ready to indulge ourselves anyway. Electric ceiling fans whirred overhead, not adequate to cool the space filled with warming pans and electric griddles. The food was as thick and heavy as the air. Beads of sweat formed around our water glasses and at the napes of our necks. Patches of innocent red swelled on our cheeks. This was brunch in the South–heavy, full, and luxurious.

Eager to find a cool breeze, my oldest son scarfed down his pancakes with fresh whipped cream and escaped to the open air of the courtyard patio. The other two followed shortly, after a quick scan of their plates to confirm that there was no noodle left behind of the white cheddar macaroni and cheese.


Meanwhile, Duane and I enjoyed conversation with a good friend while we sipped coffee and savored spoonfuls of butterscotch pudding, slowly sliding spoons against the curves of glass to get every last bite.  During our conversation over empty plates, the kids’ frolics in the courtyard caught my attention.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw them follow trails of brick walls on the patio, counting bricks with their feet. They stepped over cracks, whirled around wrought-iron light posts, and climbed over benches. In that moment, as if in a sleepy dream, I saw hazy pictures of myself as a little girl in my Easter dress, bouncing around under the hot Texas sun. My grandmother used to take our family to a restaurant with an open brick patio every year for Easter brunch.

After that, I couldn’t get my grandmother out of my mind.


* * * * * * * * * *

Nonny died almost ten years ago. The day I spoke at her funeral, the images of her and her house–those details that absorb into your childhood and squeeze out indelible memories–flowed out of me like poetry.


grandmother, granddaughter

^^^What a chunky monkey! ^^^

Nonny was not a typical grandmother. She weighed 108 pounds and wanted the rest of the females in her family to follow suit. She never gave us cookies or ice cream; instead she welcomed us to heaping piles of red grapes dressed up in a scalloped bowl. I remember having many conversations around that bowl of grapes on the glossy, glass-topped table, probably while dreaming of cookies.  If I ever wanted one, I had to sneak into the pantry and search for the well-hidden tin to get my fill of fat, sugar, and salt.


She had a hot pink, plush arm chair in the living room that I thought was the coolest thing in the world. It didn’t go with anything in the room, but it still fit. She had a knack for making different pieces look like they belonged together (not handed down, by the way). My dad and I played countless hours of rummy–me in the pink chair and my dad, like the gentleman that he is, across from me in a folding chair.

Nonny had the best laugh (which WAS handed down). Hers was a jovial, sophisticated chuckle, while mine is more of a vehement guffaw. She especially chuckled at me when I probed  the stretchy skin that hung on her 80-year-old arms. She never scolded me, she just looked down into my eyes and responded playfully: “Ha. Ha. Ha. You think that’s so funny.”

She was the best-smelling grandmother ever. I realize that’s an odd category, but she smelled luxurious. She kept a litany of beauty products on top of a mirrored vanity. Sometimes I’d find my way into her room and crawl on top of the beige leather ottoman to sit in front of the mirror. I indulged myself in her Lancome face powder with the over-sized powder puff. I swooned over her collection of perfume bottles that sat on top of a brass tray, each with a different ornate top, like fancy art museum sculptures. But the jackpot was the drawer full of lipsticks. I remember opening the mint green tubes and inspecting each color. Each creamy cylinder was a varied shade of pink,only slightly used and perfectly shaped. It was almost as exciting as finding the cookie tin, deep in the pantry.

Story has it that I made a big ole mess of her vanity one day and she wasn’t too pleased. I don’t blame her. It’s hard work to look and smell that good.

^^^Isn't she sassy?^^^

^^^Isn’t she sassy?^^^


Her screened-in patio was the best. An astroturf  rug (really!) covered the smooth concrete floor.  The furniture matched–green cushions with a white and yellow floral pattern. The patio overlooked  thick spirals of green ivy that covered the backyard. Since the backyard was off-limits, I played on the stone wall that divided her driveway from the next door neighbor’s.

I spent countless hours walking back and forth on that wall, counting stones with my feet, stepping over cracks, climbing over it from one side to the other. Just like my kids did that sultry, southern day at brunch, when I felt like I was in a dream.

Memory is almost as mysterious as dreams. I’m not sure what triggered the flood of images of my grandmother that day. Was it the similarity of the restaurant’s brick patio, the thick summer air, or the feeling of full you get from a decadent meal? I’m not sure.

What I do know is that some memories are painful, but I don’t have many of those from Nonny’s house. These memories are fierce, luxurious and full–like a hot summer brunch in the South.


^^^Me, Nonny, and my siblings.^^^

^^^Me, Nonny, and my siblings.^^^


Here’s to you, Nonny.


And Babies Don't Keep

True Confessions

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

True confession: I was kind of dreading this summer. Not even really because of the fiasco that was LAST SUMMER (you can read that happy little story here: Summer’s Revenge).  

It’s just that my kids are getting older now. They have conflicting desires, different friends, and they CAN’T DRIVE. I had visions of spending my entire summer behind the steering wheel, squinting at the sun’s glare through my windshield instead of basking in its glory on a towel next to the pool.

We didn’t sign up for summer camps, either. Not one.  I know. Totally un-American. And maybe even crazy.


But a friend asked me today what I’ve enjoyed most about my summer. I thought about it for a minute (since we haven’t been to the beach yet) and replied: Just being with my kids. What’s even cooler is that is was TRUE.  I didn’t say it because I thought I was supposed to feel that way and I didn’t say it  so she’d think I’m a better mom than I am (there’s plenty of evidence to prove otherwise). I really meant it.

Another true confession: I’m reading Anne Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts.

Erg. That was even harder to admit.

I’ve always prided myself on staying away from ridiculously popular books. For instance, The Purpose Driven Life–never read it. And proud of it. (I may have some soul searching to do.)

The world is divided into two camps: those who love Anne Voskamp’s writing style and those who loathe it. I happen to be in the former category.  I became acquainted with her writing first through her blog. I really enjoyed the few articles I read there, though the persistent piano melody in the background  feels slightly manipulative, like at any moment I’m expected to weep like I’m at a funeral.

Piano music aside, she’s one insightful lady, so I decided to take the plunge and read the book. This week, I’ve been reading little bits of it, in the calm of the morning before the kids wake up. I was particularly struck by the words in her chapter First Flight:

“Never is God’s omnipotence and omniscience diminutive. God is not in need of magnifying by us so small, but the reverse. It’s our lives that are little and we have falsely inflated self, and in thanks we decrease and the world returns right. I say thanks and I swell with him, and I swell the world and He stirs me, joy all afoot.”


I promise there’s a connection between Confession #1 and Confession #2.

Truthfully, there hasn’t been much spectacular about our summer. (Well, except for that trip to Las Vegas for kids aka Great Wolf Lodge. That WAS spectacular, especially because we were with extended family.) But I’ve enjoyed it, anyway, because of  its simplicity. I’ve been thankful just to see their faces each morning without having to rush them out the door. I’ve been thankful to see them jump together into the deep end of the pool. I’ve been thankful and honestly surprised at how well they’ve gotten along, even through the long hours of summer.

So, my falsely inflated self says thanks for these simple things, and the world returns right, because my ego deflates for just a little while, and for a small second I acknowledge His good gifts. You can bet I’ll return to that falsely inflated self, and not relish the goodness of God, and for that time, His grace is bigger.

For right now, I’m thankful to Anne for the reminder to see beauty in the ordinary and then to thank God for it.

And guess what? I haven’t been behind the steering wheel (that much). I might even have a little tan.


(Gotta run. The three olders are beginning to fray at the edges. It’s not all roses. Still hoping to say thanks.)

The Other Side of Thirty

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

birthday, balloons, 30

Yesterday, I turned 36. It was different than turning 35. I realized that I am now on the other side of my thirties, plunging head first into the big 4-0.

I remember the exact day when my mom turned 40. Early in the morning, before she woke up, I blew up a bunch of gold balloons with big black letters and numbers on them that said: Over the Hill and 40! From a child’s perspective, I wanted to do something nice for my mom on her birthday. From a 36 year old’s perspective, maybe that’s not the first thing she wanted to see when she woke up. (Thanks, Mom, for receiving my “surprise” with a smile.)

While it continues to be a somewhat strange and existential experience to grow older and see crow’s feet forming around my eyes, I love this side of THIRTY.

Here are 5 reasons why (in no particular order):

#1- Friendship. It’s so much easier than it used to be. Maybe because I’m more comfortable in my own skin (though I still have a long way to go) or maybe it’s because me and the women I’m around are able to overlook minor offenses and petty comparisons. Not so easy to do in 4th grade.

#2- Friends. Not a repeat of #1, but an added benefit of being on the other side of thirty, is that age is beginning to mean less. I have friends who are in their 20s and friends in their 60s. That’s a beautiful thing. Generation gaps can sometimes cause confusion, but they can also open the door to enlightening conversations and much-needed paradigm shifts.

#3- Marriage. As I grow older, it means my marriage is growing older, too, which is quite frankly the BEST thing about being on the other side of thirty. How did we get through that first year(s)? I was an emotional basket case.

After 13 years of marriage, I can truly say we really KNOW each other. We’ve grown so much in taking ourselves less seriously, but taking our marriage very seriously. Even this morning, we were laughing about our less-than-helpful patterns of communication (his) and our relentless insecurities (mine).

#4- Kids. Seriously, one of the greatest things about my birthdays now are the enthusiastic responses of my children. They love picking out and giving gifts. Of course, I don’t need anything from them, but it’s a joy to watch them G I V E.
I got a dollar from Stephen (from his own money), wrapped in a handwritten note. Abby picked out a very HIP color of nail polish. And Aidan gave me what every teenager dreams of–an iTunes card (not sure what that says about me).

#5 Parents. It’s true that as we get older, we appreciate our parents more. For me, it’s because enough time has passed that I understand how hard parenting can be. There’s more GRACE for weakness, because I am weak myself.

* * * * * *

And then you realize that this life is passing by really, R E A L L Y fast, which makes you want to hold on tight to everyone. Parents. Kids. Friends. Spouses. But you can’t. And so, you do the best thing you know how: enjoy THE STORY now, with open hands, trusting that there is grace to laugh at the future, because THE STORYTELLER is the one who’s writing it.

Know Your Kids

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014



“Through the blur, I wondered if I was alone or if other parents felt the same way I did – that everything involving our children was painful in some way. The emotions, whether they were joy, sorrow, love or pride, were so deep and sharp that in the end they left you raw, exposed and yes, in pain. The human heart was not designed to beat outside the human body and yet, each child represented just that – a parent’s heart bared, beating forever outside its chest.” -Debra Ginsberg


kids, parenting, children


My son Stephen and I went for an evening walk last night. At first, I envisioned a leisurely walk by myself with only my camera for company–the glow of the evening summer sky  is perfect for taking pictures.


But, when me and my camera were only halfway down the driveway, Stephen yelled from the screen door, “Mom, can I come with you?”


“Sure, Stephen. C’mon. “


“Put your shoes on first.”


“No, you can’t ride your scooter. We’re taking a W A L K.”


roses, natural light, sun flare


So, my eight-year-old walking companion, my camera and I set out at a slow pace, holding tightly to the solid white line of the country road. Few cars travel down this street, but when they come, it’s fast and furious. I walked on the outside with Stephen in the grass,  just like my dad used to do with me. He would take me for long walks but never let me walk on the outside.


country, road, wildflowers, dandelions


We stopped along the way to capture wildflowers and tall grass, especially where the light hit them just right. Stephen patiently endured all my stopping for photos, while I listened to his ongoing monologue about what animals he would buy if he had a million dollars (a parrot, a monkey, and a bald eagle, by the way). I encouraged him to maybe look into being a zookeeper.

{Tangent: We have a long standing agreement in our house that we are not going to own pets. The last thing I want to spend my spare time doing is vacuuming dog hair. Cleaning up after 4 kids is enough. But, how can I not get this kid a pet??? He talks about animals 24-7!}


Daisies Unhinged


Stephen is a wonderfully zany kid. For example, he’s been wearing the same 7 rubber bracelets–the ones with the different slogans on them like “Follow your Dreams” and “Jesus for Japan” (just to name a few) — on his right arm for two years straight. He never takes them off; he wears them with pride. He lost one swimming once and responded with heartbreak: “That was my favorite one. It said Never Give Up.”  Me: <Gulp. Heart in throat.>


slogan bracelets




Last night, he wanted me to photograph his superhero poses (he was wearing his Spiderman pajama shirt after all)  and he especially wanted me to capture him in midair, like Superman.


I did. We giggled. For a brief moment, when he saw the picture, I think he thought he could really fly. His chest swelled, his eyes beamed–just like they do when someone asks him about his bracelets.
















The thing about last night is that Stephen and I were getting to know each other, not just as a mom and a son, but as people. This little boy is  wonderfully made in the image of God, with all sorts of dreams and interests and aspirations. I want to know about them.

This wasn’t a time of correction or discussing his “issues”. There’s a time for that. It was a time for being interested, to listen, to engage.

Soon his identity will transcend being our son, and really  does already. He belongs to Jesus.

And one day, he’ll go and be a zookeeper and have his own friends and be a neighbor, parent, husband to someone else. He’ll become the person God created him to be and I’ve got a front row seat (for now).

So, for my final Parenting in Weakness post, I encourage you to know your children as the people God has created them to be. Guide them, discipline them, and make them do chores. Those are good things. But make sure you KNOW them, too.

Take time to listen to their longings.

Know their particular gifts  and encourage them to use them.

Don’t just chide them in their weakness, help them; because you know that you are weak, too.

Give your children enough space to let God speak to their hearts rather than your endless lecturing (so, so, so hard).

Finally, chill out. You’re not the Writer of the Story, you’re  a supporting actor at best. You have an important job for sure, but ultimately, the Author is up to things you can’t control, see, or even imagine.  That’s hard because it doesn’t feel safe when we’re not in control.

But we cling to the promise that He is good, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
― C.S. LewisThe Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Rest in that truth.


light, arrow, road sign


And Babies Don't Keep

That’s Not Fair

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014



If you have kids, you’ve heard it a million times:

That’s not fair.

My three oldest kids are  three and a half years apart from start to finish.  It’s amazing how often I’m walking on egg shells because of those three little words.

Are there enough cookies for everyone to get two? Who gets the last sip of my soda?  Who gets the last scoop of green beans (ok, just checking to see if you’re paying attention)?

“Why does he get a playdate?”

“She got to go swimming yesterday.”

“He ate all of the cereal.”

That’s not fair.


parenting in weakness


We love “being fair” as humans, probably even more as Americans. I work, I get what’s due to me. If she gets a piece of chocolate, I get one, too. It’s only fair. Curiously,  “fair” is seldom used to defend someone else; instead,  it’s used  to defend the rights of the person who wants what the other person has. It’s primarily self-focused.

So, we have a couple of little phrases of our own  in response to That’s Not Fair:

#1 We live by grace and mercy


#2 Rejoice with those who rejoice.

#1 In God’s kingdom, do we really want what’s fair?  Fair looks a lot like Jesus NOT dying on the cross and us paying for our sin instead. If God played fair, we’d be in a heap of trouble. Now, we don’t hammer this into their heads every time they say or imply: that’s not fair. But the concept  informs our responses to their pitiful pleas, though there are times that I respond in a  sing-songy, “Remember-children-we-live-by-grace-and-mercy.”

But that’s mainly to annoy them.

There are times when someone’s going to have a playdate and the other isn’t, when one has 3 birthday parties in a month and the others don’t, when there’s only one piece of chocolate cake left (in that case, I get it!). How do I want them to respond in those moments? See #2.

#2 Rejoice with those who rejoice.

{Ok, we’re seriously working on this one folks. It doesn’t come naturally to ANY of us.}

In Tim Keller’s sermon, Blessed Self-Forgetfulness, he exhorts us to let go of having to be first, having to be the best, in order to actually enjoy the accomplishment of another, just because it happened… just because it’s beautiful. He used a hypothetical  example of an Olympic ice skater who’d be totally content to come in second place  just because the artistry and skill of the gold-medal winner was so stunning, she could rejoice simply because it happened.

Seems far-fetched, I know (that’s why it was a hypothetical example). Tim Keller  admits that this kind of “self-forgetfulness” is way outside of our paradigm.  But isn’t that one of the beautiful, yet arduous, things about being in community: learning that we’re not the center of the universe, that there is joy when we love one another, instead of always demanding what’s fair.

When the curtain closes on this brief parenting gig, that’s really one of the things I want them to remember. I want them sitting around the table together, making fun of me, rolling their eyes at all the times I said, “Rejoice!” when someone got something that they didn’t. But I also want them to remember me praying, not only for them, but for my own heart because I want what’s fair, too… for meoften.

(And “fair” looks a whole lot like a trip to Italy. Just sayin’.)


**How do you respond to That’s Not Fair in your home or community?






Parenting in Weakness: A 3-part Series

Monday, April 28th, 2014


So, for the next 3 weeks, I’ve decided to post a series of 3 articles on Parenting. I’ve called it Parenting in Weakness, because that’s what I’m good at–weakness. I’m not a parenting guru. I’m often disappointed by my inconsistency. I often wish I was more structured, more creative, more ______________. But Jesus DOES speak to my heart in this parenting gig, and if I slow down long enough, I hear Him.

The truth is that Jesus is transforming weak people, because that’s all He has. And that’s what He’s good at. Here’s the first part in that Story:


It happened one day while I was changing sheets. I lifted the pillow and saw a pile of gold, shiny wrappers. My eyes followed the trail to the floor behind the headboard. More gold, shiny, EMPTY wrappers. Someone enjoyed a major bout of candy consumption in secret.

There’s a phrase we use in our house: if you’re doing something in secret, it probably means it’s wrong. I mean, not even “probably”, more like there’s a 99.9% chance that it’s wrong. My kids are just like yours (and we’re just like them, but that’s another story). They hide the things they don’t want other people to see.

I’ve prided myself on applying this little nugget of truth about human nature to my children’s lives. It’s true. Secrecy should raise a red flag. But something was gnawing at me last week. Just because they understand something is wrong doesn’t mean they’ll actually do something about it. Perhaps, unintentionally, I’d even heaped more guilt on their fragile hearts.

So, in a moment when I was quiet enough to hear the Spirit’s whisper, I tweaked my prized parenting philosophy to: if you’re doing something in secret, ask for help. If you’re hiding, SEEK. Because really, I want to be a safe place for my children to ask for help in temptation and even full blown sin, because that’s what Jesus offers me, nothing less. I don’t just want the alarm to go off and scream: that’s wrong! I wan’t them to have a helper in their time of need and right now, in this stage of their lives, I’m Jesus’ representative of grace, mercy, and help to them.

Sadly, the truth is that their sin inconveniences me, so I’m not always the safe place I long to be. I get angry with their repeated sin, but you probably don’t notice, because it’s in secret. And this is where we’re really in the same boat as our children. We need Jesus to enter into the secret places to show us that he’s better than a thousand pieces of candy or the control and ease I long for.


“It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are . . . because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing.” –Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets

Part 2: That’s Not Fair

Part 3: Know Your Kids

the things we do for L O V E

Monday, April 7th, 2014

The Things We Do For Love

Two days ago, we woke up at 4:30am, stumbled bleary-eyed into the shower, then crammed all 4 sleep-walking kids into the minivan for a 12-hour drive to an award ceremony for our daughter. If you follow the blog at all, you know that Abby won 2nd place in her age bracket in the Carl Sandburg student poetry contest. Shortly after we found out that she won, we also found out that the reception would take place while we were away for spring break. Erg.

Duane and I were really disappointed, but immediately thought that we just couldn’t do it. We’d had the trip planned for many months. I couldn’t get it off my mind, though. I asked the teacher what the reception would be like. She told me via email that there would be a published poet there to speak to the kids, each winner would receive a journal, and they would have the opportunity to read the poems out loud. While I was reading her email, Duane happened to run into the teacher at the kids’ school and she told him the same thing. He came home, we looked each other in the eye, and agreed: she needs to go.

There were many things we needed to forfeit to make it happen: a leisurely cup of coffee before we hit the road (who am I kidding? We have 4 kids. Leisurely is NOT part of our vocabulary), a hot breakfast, SLEEP, and 4 kids slumbering peacefully well beyond the crack of dawn. Is there anything worse than waking sleeping children?

So, there we were… on the highway… in the dark… at 530am…with 4 kids. Now many of you have done this kind of thing before. You travel through the night so you miss the traffic (you’re crazy) or you wake up super early to get a head start (you’re also crazy). We don’t. We like to sleep. We pack the car in the morning when the sun is in the sky, NOT the moon. We like our “leisurely” cup of coffee.

So, why did we move mountains (intentional hyperbole) to get her there? We knew that this ceremony would be an invaluable experience for her. It would affirm her gifts as a writer, give her a chance to speak in front of others–a valuable skill, and most importantly, it would be an opportunity to celebrate with her and the other winners.
The things we do for love.


She took her place at the podium, barely reaching the microphone. She self-consciously tucked her hair behind her ears and began to read. As I watched, I wondered what God was up to. Would this event be a significant marker in her life when she retells the story that God is writing for her one day? I didn’t cry; I wanted to, but I knew she’d be embarrassed. The things we do for love.

I smiled a lot and took lots of pictures, then smiled some more. Her teacher came and cheered her on. Good friends came to celebrate, too, and even brought us dinner so we didn’t have to stop on our manic 12-hour mission to get there on time.

As we sat at the picnic benches eating dinner with our friends before the ceremony, Abby emphatically stated that her mom did NOT help her with the poem. And she’s right. It was a project between her and her (wonderful) teacher. I was tempted to defend myself– all the years of reading Goodnight Moon and Three by the Sea at bedtime, countless hours of listening to books on CD, her learning to read on my lap while I taught Aidan to read. But instead, I remained silent. It’s her time.

And I can relate, because I’m a child myself. We never really know all that our parents have done for us.

So I just smiled and agreed.

The things we do for LOVE.

*Read Abby’s poem here.

Abby Poetry

Going Home

Thursday, February 27th, 2014


There’s a song by Louis Armstrong called “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?” I almost cry every time I listen to it, partly because of Mr. Armstrong’s unforgettable voice, but mostly because there’s a deep connection with the places where we grew up.  Fortunately for me, there are a lot songs written about New Orleans, or rather unfortunately, since I’m prone to get teary.

In a few weeks, our family will be taking the very long way home to New Orleans to visit family. Abby is particularly objecting, not because she doesn’t want to go, but because she wants to fly. We always had to take an airplane when we lived in Philadelphia. But I’m excited for the drive. I’ve never gone this way before. Duane and I will at least appreciate seeing new parts of the country from the road.

There’s a certain thing that happens when I go home that I can’t quite put my finger on. I only know that when I’m there I feel like writing poetry. The sense of comfort and nostalgia that set in are too heavy to keep to myself. There’s a unique beauty in being entirely familiar with a place–knowing city streets like the back of your hand, even after 20 years of being gone. It’s a human experience we all share-the comfort of returning home.

It  only becomes more powerful when we share that experience with others. So that’s what I’ll do. My kids will go to the same Storyland in City Park that I went to 30 years ago. And, they’ll slide down the same steep dragon slide that took every ounce of bravery I had as a seven-year-old to climb its many steps.  They’ll spar on Captain Hook’s pirate ship, ride in Cinderella’s pumpkin-turned-stagecoach, and climb inside the mouth of the whale that swallowed Pinocchio whole.

slide at Storyland, New Orleans City Park

Then, we’ll go out for snowballs, drenched in sweetened condensed milk. Get the typical sno-cone image out of your mind–fast. Snoballs are superior in every way. They’re made of perfectly shaved ice that masterfully absorbs the sugary syrup. They’re not crunchy, like the aforementioned sno-cone, and there’s not a pool of juice left at the bottom when you’re finished–just a mush of sweet, soft ice.  I used to walk 6 blocks almost every day in the blistering summer to Van’s Snoballs for one of these icy treats.

It may also be time to show them the house where I grew up. I think they’re old enough to think that’s cool, but what do I know? I’ll think it’s cool and Duane will be a willing participant, as we drive around the old corner on River Oaks Drive. Hopefully, Van’s will be open. I should make them walk the 6 blocks for a snoball. Nostalgia taken too far? Probably.

Duane and I will go out a couple of nights to listen to music and eat some really, really good food. Maybe we’ll go to some old haunts, like Cafe Brazil or the Maple Leaf for music, or Jacques Imo’s for food, or PJs for coffee, but there’s a crop of really new places since Katrina that clamor for my attention as well.

Lately, I’ve been listening to a new song called “Steamboat” by Look Homeward.  Listen here.

It goes like this:


Steamboat carry me, to my delta home;

Steamboat carry me, I’ve got rivers in my soul.

Part of Verse 2:

When I finally reach New Orleans, I’m gonna dance with all the ghosts;

I’m gonna swim in eerie water and drink to every toast.


I almost cry every time I listen to this one, too.

Yes! Steamboat carry me (or at least my Honda Odyssey)  back to my delta home, if only for a few days- I’ve got rivers in my soul.

P.S. Listen to a live version of Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans by Louis Armstrong here.


What do you love about your hometown? What are your favorite childhood memories there? I’d love to hear about them.