Isabel Turns Five

photo.PNGOur sweet Isabel celebrated her fifth birthday this week. Who can believe that? Five years in a flash, and yet I can’t remember life without her.

Actually, I totally can. I remember all those years in a house full of boys, times when I felt very much alone in my home of males — and plenty of times when I knew it was something very special to be the mom of so many boys. By the time we had Henry, our fifth son, I had embraced the unique and wonderful vocation of Mom of Boys, the notable charge of raising tomorrow’s men.

When Isabel came along, I had become very much at peace with never having a daughter. It’s not that I didn’t want one, but after so many boys, I had to acknowledge that it might not happen. I knew other women raising boys — and lots of them — and I loved being part of this adventurous club.

My pregnancy with Henry (and Augie five years prior) involved lots of bed rest and other physical challenges that made Paul and I feel like life with five children was The Plan. In other words, we didn’t foresee having another baby because the last two pregnancies had been so challenging for me.

But God has an interesting way of doing business sometimes, and His Ways (I’m happy to report) are not always mine. When we found out baby number six was “unexpectedly” on the way, I was terrified and emotional. I second-guessed God’s wisdom in allowing this to happen, I felt abandoned and undone.

Hormones can make you a little crazy, it seems.

Here are my memories of that time, of finding out we were having another baby: I can’t do this. This isn’t part of the plan. The last pregnancy was too much. We have five boys, what else can I handle? My body is going to give out. My mind might possibly as well.

In the grand scheme of things, these feelings lasted about four days. But it was an intense time, those four days. It’s a lot to deal with, the shift in perspective. One minute you are training for a half-marathon and managing your five sons, and the next you’ve thrown on the emergency brake and come screeching to stop.

It’s like the comedian Jim Gaffigan said: you want to know what it’s like to have a fourth baby? Find someone who is drowning, and throw them a baby.

That was me. I was preparing not just to add another baby to an already crazy plate — but to spend the next nine months watching my body slowly fall apart. That was my plan.

But lo and behold, that pregnancy — baby number six — was the easiest, most peaceful one of them all. None of the previous issues surfaced, it was smooth sailing the entire time.

And then, after that, the most beautiful thing happened. We had a daughter. Which I did not see coming.

But even better than that (if you can believe it!) is that in the midst of that season, of having a sixth baby, woah!, I finally learned to abandon myself and my plans to God. It’s not that I realized you get what you want (a daughter, after five sons!) but that in that beautiful, totally challenging season of having two small children while trying to keep up with four bigger boys, I stopped trying to do anything but what was directly in front of my face.

In that season after having Isabel, it was intense and overwhelming. But there was grace. The grace came from realizing that none of my worth came from what I did — it was in who I am. Not in my accomplishments or my service or even in my role as wife and mother. My worth was from being God’s creation — God made me, and he delights in me. And that is enough.

And here we are, five years later, and our sweet Isabel is getting bigger. I’m so grateful God didn’t limit me to my own plans for my life, I’m so humbled that he knew I could handle another sweet soul to love.

This originally appeared in The Southern Cross

The Secret to a Happy Marriage

Life may be crazy, but it is never dull.

Life may be crazy, but it is never dull.

A few weeks ago I met up with Paul at his office downtown. Paul works in a building that used to be a mill and was beautifully restored a few years ago. It has offices and gathering spaces that hold the integrity of the building’s historic significance and is hip, classy and elegant.

There we sat, on this glorious day, and ate outside at the deli that is part of the complex. The sky was blue, the sun shining bright and I soaked it all up and rejoiced that winter was winding down. A few minutes later, the door to the nearby banquet hall opened and out poured a stream of people. Local businessmen and women attending a civic club were finished with lunch and heading back to the office. Men with handsome ties and perfectly combed hair, women with crisp skirts and tweed jackets and just-right heels, all of them walking past and making nice conversation and wishing each other a good rest of the day.

I watched the scene unfold and thought to what my afternoon would hold. Driving a van filled with sweaty boys home from practice. Making sure there was enough food in the house so no one melted down. Calling the seven-year-old back to the table, again, to get this one last row of subtraction done for homework. Maybe break up a squabble. Maybe bandage a scraped up knee.

“It’s funny,” I said to Paul as I came back into the present, “how your weekday world is filled with people dressed professionally and acting proper and mine…is not.”

I was joking about this later and one friend remarked, “Sort of like ‘clothed and in their right minds.’”

Right minds indeed.

Sometimes I laugh when I think about the difference between Paul’s day and mine. If he was having to handle some of the attitudes and toxic waste, there would something very, very wrong in his law office. For me, wiping organically-created footprints off a bathroom floor is all part of the (very messy) deal. Having to monitor people’s attitudes to determine if sugar levels are too low is just one footnote in a day’s work.

But the beautiful thing is this: it’s not a competition. Paul goes off and does his thing, I stay here and do mine. And sometimes, it’s reversed. Sometimes I’m out doing my thing while Paul is home with the kids and the key, we discovered many years ago, is not to keep track of who is doing what and how hard they worked.

I remember when we started doing the math and figured out the key to happiness in marriage isn’t a 50/50 breakdown. It’s me giving 100 percent — and Paul doing the same. The minute I start keeping track of whose turn it is to (insert household chore here) the minute I lose. It takes too much energy to be mad and frustrated at Paul, I’d rather be getting the evening chores done so we can fall into the couch and watch Downton Abbey together!

There’s so much pressure on married couples these days to “share the load,” and yes it’s true that sharing the load is a big part of marital bliss. But the best way to make that work is to give everything and ask for nothing. It’s a scary proposition, isn’t it? What if I give my all and don’t get anything in return.

The best part of this whole, inspiring column is that I wrote most of if early in the day and by bedtime I was worn out. Exhausted. In over my head and not feeling this motherhood gig, like at all. And I read these words, not on a high but down in the trenches and thought “ouch. I don’t want to give 100 percent today. That’s too much.”

But it’s not. You push through and just do it. And you are so grateful for a loving spouse who at the end of his day giving it his all too, turns to you and says “keep up the good work.” Tomorrow is another day.

This originally appeared in The Southern Cross.

Nailed It.

I walk into my bathroom and there is a boy sitting at the toilet (the lid is down, he’s not using the bathroom). He’s just finishing up trimming his nails and the clippings are all over my plush bathroom rug.

Me: Did you just trim your nails all over the floor?

Him: Yes.

Me: Next time, would you please have a spot you’re aiming for?

Him: I was aiming for the floor.

IN OTHER NEWS: would you do me a little favor and consider signing up for my blogposts via email? It’s the orange button up there right above my picture on the home page. Thank YOU a million. xo

The Best Book You Will Read this Year

bookA few months ago I was scrolling through Instagram and noticed a picture of a book that looked interesting. It’s not often that I get pulled into product endorsements but whoever posted the pic was raving about this book and I just felt really compelled to buy it.

So I headed over to my Amazon app, found the book to be quite inexpensive and decided to buy. Two days later the book was in hand and I was doing nothing but reading.

The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up is an easy, fascinating read that will help you climb up on your clutter issues and conquer. I’m totally serious. I’m not getting paid to endorse this book, but I cannot tell you how LIFE CHANGING it was for me.

I like to think of my self as being a minimalist, but I think I’m actually not that at all. I’m just really good at hiding clutter. I’m tidy, but only in the in-view spots of my home. And what I was beginning to find was that the closed-off spaces were stressing me out. Like I’d go to put something in my closet and feel an overwhelming sense of sadness. And despair. It sounds melodramatic but it’s true. We couldn’t walk in our closet. We couldn’t easily put our clothes away. Some of the areas I did so well organizing for the boys I had never even attempted for myself.

And don’t even get me started on my pantry. It was a nightmare, and I knew it was time to do something about it when I found bouillon in there that had expired in 1998. I’m serious.

So I bought this book and I devoured it and then I spent the next seven-to-ten days purging everything I could. Our closet. The pantry. The linen closet. The art/supply closet. The coat closet. The boys rooms. Isa’s room. I was on a roll because for the very first time, I knew exactly how to handle the mess. The book told me what to do.

By the time I was done I had an entire room’s worth of large black bags. I was dizzy from the freedom, from the beauty of closets and shelves that had space on them. Just open spots with nothing to put there. It was glorious.

The gist of the book is this: don’t decide what you want to get rid of. Decide what you want to keep. When you go through each space, take it all out (which is exhausting and a giant mess) but then when you put things back you really are committed to only keeping what you really want and need.

I’ve always struggled with getting rid of things, especially if I was too attached to the sentimental aspect of an item. The book handles that too! It’s a weird concept but it totally worked for me. When you examine and consider each item in your home, when you determine what you want to keep, you show gratitude to each item that you decide to discard. Weird. But it works.

I had dresses and jewelry and knick knacks that I couldn’t get rid of because of what they “meant” to me, sentimentally but not in a practical sense. And I had to take each one of these items and sort of (in a non-theatrical way) make a mental note of gratitude. For the lesson it taught me, for the memory, for whatever it was that it brought me to own this THING. But to also remember it was just that, a thing. And then I’d place the item in a bag and say a little prayer that it would bless someone else along its journey.

For me, what  I noticed as I moved through our belongings, was an unhealthy attachment to these things. I was “in slavery” almost to the amount of stuff I felt obligated to keep. And telling myself it was okay to let them go was a relief that gives new meaning to “take a load off.”

The book has so many helpful tips and yes plenty of weirdness too. It’s from a Japanese writer, translated into English, and there are certainly some cultural differences within. But there is so much to gain from reading this book that I recommend you get it and sort of ignore the stuff that strikes you are wacky. It’s worth it.