A Pollyanna Lesson

A Pollyanna Lesson

I've put off writing this post for over a month, mainly because it seems like every time I try to write it I think of an entirely separate situation that it could apply to or another way it might offend someone or I'm just reminded that there is a near-deafening roar of information and opinion here on the world wide web at the moment. But when I truly can't get away from something, there's usually a good reason. Please know up front that I say all of this in love and that I've certainly not achieved any of it 100% by any means. I'm just trying.

The last few months have been, to use a word that has really had its moment lately, unprecedented. First there was (and is) the global pandemic, the result of a virus that has killed thousands and infected--body, soul, and spirit--millions more. There have been some really amazing moments that have transcended class, politics, or geography (see just a few compiled here).

But whether the angst is concerning the source of the virus, the response to it, the politicization of it, or just the decision for or against wearing masks to fight it, the tension online has been at an all-time high. Extended quarantine/lockdown, business closures, and social distancing/isolation have all taken a toll as we have sought to quiet (or stir up) our fears by turning on each other, usually by way of comment sections.

I get it. I am an Enneagram 6 (we tend to peddle in Worst Case Scenarios) and even I with my long list of Scary Things did not see any of this coming, nor have I handled well the idea that such a deadly virus is still largely a mystery. And when we're afraid (of much more than being sick... lost jobs, depression, anxiety, loss of access to other medical care, lack of support/community, etc.), we lash out at those around and latch onto whatever we think will make us safe. Since we have different opinions on that, things can (and did) get ugly.

Then over the last month, there has been a massive national response to the murders of three different black people in a brief time period (Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd). While some responses to their deaths have turned violent and destructive (which no serious person I know is condoning), the positive effects of this outpouring of concern and empathy from people all over the country, particularly white Christians, have been monumental. I'm not here to debate that... any movement away from racism and toward racial justice/reconciliation that is done within the framework of the gospel is a good thing. But, as always, these conversations and events have sparked fierce debates on what those changes should look like and have caused some irate reactions from some who do not want to be confronted with the truth of our nation's racial history and current reality.

On top of all of this, it is an election year. Hooray! Let's take the most divided and polarized time in recent history and throw in a literal "us versus them" contest. Perfect.

Okay, I'm not here to talk about politics. Honestly, I'd rather chew off my arm. =) But I think it's worth mentioning that some of the comments and posts we've all seen over the last few months have been just plain ugly about a variety of topics besides this election. And I'm not even talking about conversations between strangers (even though that's still the norm). I'm talking about people being hateful to people they KNOW and apparently have the guts to chew out on Facebook when they know they won't be seeing them at church because it's online. Yikes. Masks on, gloves off.

So, as election season descends upon us and things ramp up even beyond the fever pitch they've already seemed to reach, I want to encourage you to check out a few resources that will help guide our thinking when it comes to another round of "If You Don't Agree with Me, You Must Hate My Guts." Or something catchier. Then we'll get to the "lesson" part of the post.= )

Them by Ben Sasse- Written by a U.S. Senator who explains, as the subtitle says, "Why we hate each other and how to heal." Senator Sasse is a Christian and a good man. This is well worth your time.

Political Tribes by Amy Chua- this book explains "group instinct and the fate of nations": basically, what political tribalism really is and why it harms rather than helps the groups that cling to it most fiercely.

You're Not Listening by Kate Murphy- man, what a timely book, whose subtitle says, "what you're missing and why it matters." When the MO of most online interaction is to devolve into virtual screaming matches, this book is more relevant than ever before. I genuinely want everyone I know to read it.

Competing Spectacles by Tony Reinke- this is a short little book that teaches us how to "treasure Christ in the media age." We are constantly inundated with information nearly every moment of the day and we desperately need discernment in how we process and respond to it. Reinke provides a biblical framework for how to do that.

The Good Neighbor by Maxwell King- this is a biography of Fred Rogers and boy, do we need more Fred Rogers in the world. If I could personally assign every American some homework it would be to watch an episode of Mr. Rogers at least once a week. Maybe some of his kindness would rub off.

Humility by Andrew Murray- probably the hardest one to implement but the most valuable one to read. Murray's short little book on humility is something we need to return to again and again. We are never more Christlike than when we are seeking humility and never less like Christ than when we reject it in favor of pride and self-importance. This is a great book.

Coming soon: A Way with Words: Using Our Online Conversations for Good by Daniel Darling and
Divided We Fall by David French

Finally, I'll leave you with this scene from Pollyanna (I didn't forget the title of this post... it just took me a while to get here). If you haven't read the book or seen the movie (which you should totally do), Pollyanna is a little orphan girl who's come to live with her rich aunt, who is fairly grumpy and basically runs the town. Pollyanna comes across the pastor of the local church practicing his very fire-and-brimstone sermon and innocently suggests the "glad passages" her own father used to preach from. Throughout the movie, she encourages the pastor and others to play the "glad game" with her: always looking for the good in everything and everyone around them, even when it becomes almost impossible.

In this particular scene, though, she shows the pastor her necklace that is inscribed with these words: "When you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will." (Watch the scene here.) That's where we are, isn't it? We look for the bad and are pretty much never disappointed!

It's a great movie and that's a great little game, but it could be revolutionary if we actually put "looking for the good" into practice. I'm not talking about ignoring sin or injustice or being "okay with" things that are objectively wrong. But I think if we are honest with ourselves, we can see that there's a whole lot of space between acknowledging that someone else has a different viewpoint (or is even completely biblically off-base) and choosing to belittle or dehumanize that person. We have been reduced to memes of ourselves and each other and it seems like the biggest victim of "cancel culture" has been the Golden Rule itself.

It would be quite a day in this country if we would recognize and understand that there is not a single person that Jesus did not die for. There is no one across any political aisle from me that Jesus loves less than he loves me. I am not more highly favored to God because I believe a certain way about anything. I base what I believe on what He says in Scripture and try to live that out, but He doesn't love me more because of it. Every single person, no matter what their stance is on any single issue, is created in the image of Christ, is fully loved and known by Him, and is eligible for His saving grace.

"Even if...?" Yep, even then. That is God's creation you're talking and posting  and commenting about. Even them. If loving our enemies is good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me.

I read an amazing article from the guys over at Rambling Ever On (please read the whole thing), who shared this quote:

 Few things communicate genuine love like listening to a person. And a most sacrificial form of this can be when we listen and observe and try to learn from people who dress differently than us, act differently than us and think differently than us. My brand of cultural Christianity often thinks you have to have answers and that revealing ignorance is shameful. But exposure to other cultures teaches me that there is so much I don’t know–about God, about people, about the world.

I think it is incredibly easy to assign motives we can't fully understand, intentions we'll never really know, and malice that may be present but may also be projected. Again, I know there are issues that we can and should stand for. I'm also saying that the way we stand is just as if not more important than the fact that we are standing. Imagine if a driver gave you the finger and then you noticed they had a certain church's bumper sticker on their car. Maybe it was even the pastor! That might affect your opinion of them and their church a little. Well, it seems like over the last few months we have collectively flipped the bird (sorry, but it's true- have you BEEN on Facebook??) to each other, to kindness, to civility, and to empathy, and goodness gracious, do we need to beg God to help us get them back.

Join with me, friends. Tensions are high, misinformation is rampant, anger is rising, and fear is flowing. But we can stop it. Not in our own strength, but in His. I know it's confusing and exhausting to be a person right now. There is so much injustice, so much hate, so much wickedness. We want to do better but it's hard to know how. We want to stand for right and against wrong but it feels nearly impossible to separate light and darkness sometimes. We want to be kind but that post we scroll by just gets us so riled up and our keyboard warrior fingers begin to fly. If we stay silent, are we complicit? If we speak up, are we causing more division? It is just plain hard to navigate these days.

Still... the tides are turning; in some ways it feels very much like we are on the verge of something. I'd love for it to be revival, wouldn't you? Aslan is on the move.

Please look into some of these resources. Check information you find against the Bible. Use discernment and discretion before you jump onto something just because it "sounds right." Listen. Care. Look for the good, and find it.

A Few Books on Race

A Few Books on Race

Source: Oh Happy Dani

I share a lot about books so it only makes sense to me to share several titles that have helped me have a deeper understanding and clearer perspective on racial issues and the history of racism in America. This is not even remotely an exhaustive list, but it includes books for almost all ages and covers multiple eras.

This is so important. We cannot even begin to do the work that needs to be done for reconciliation if there is not a knowledge and context for what has already taken place. Today’s weariness and outrage is not tied to isolated events. A long history of injustice and evil has perpetuated these feelings.

I’m praying for the courage to listen and learn and let those who have experienced injustice lead toward the light of Christ’s redemptive power and saving grace. ❤️

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson https://amzn.to/2XFnlL7

Blood at the Root by Patrick Phillips https://amzn.to/3gz3Psj

Under Our Skin by Benjamin Watson https://amzn.to/3dnW9Hm

Buried in the Bitter Waters by Elliot G. Jaspin https://amzn.to/2X97Ufl

I Never Had It Made by Jackie Robinson https://amzn.to/3dbC6w3

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (and the rest of the series- these are middle grade fiction) https://amzn.to/3gxeQKV

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson https://amzn.to/2X9uuo1

Books for a Graduate

Books for a Graduate

Welcome to my new series that has been highly anticipated by zero people but that I am excited about because it will give me an organized way to share some of the many books I've read over the last several years. I hope you'll follow along, and if you have any topics you're interested in, please suggest them! (A few exceptions: horror, most sci-fi, thrillers, etc. I don't do scary. =)

First up- graduates! It's May, and despite Covid-19's best efforts, graduates are still graduating (even if it's via Zoom). More than ever, launching out into the world feels very scary: what a world to launch out into! Jonathan wanted to buy a book for a few of his golfers who are graduating, and as I was thinking of recommendations for him, I ended up with a whole list. Each of these books is full of practical and/or spiritual wisdom for the graduate in your life (but would be a good read for anyone).  I chose these specifically because their content is especially applicable to young people seeking guidance on their new paths (These could all work for high school or college graduates). Here we go! *Cue the Pomp and Circumstance...*)

Undergrad graduation in 2011. My graduate school graduation was supposed to be last week. Ha! Covid and my newborn had other plans. =)

1. The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman- This book might pop up on several of these lists because it's just that good, but as you can tell from the title, this is an excellent choice for someone who is about to make a whole bunch of big life decisions. I can't recommend it highly enough. Emily gives practical advice in such a loving way, and the wisdom in this book will serve you long past graduation. (Bonus pick: her book A Million Little Ways is also a wonderful option- the subtitle "Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live" is so timely for graduates.)

2. You Learn By Living by Eleanor Roosevelt- You don't have to fully agree with Eleanor Roosevelt's politics (I don't!) to appreciate the wisdom in this book. It feels incredibly fresh and current for today despite the fact that it was written 60 years ago. It covers topics like maturity, time management, and public service that are useful no matter what your graduate plans to study or pursue.

3. Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin- I love everything Gretchen writes, but this book in particular is so great for graduates because they're at a time in life when forming good habits is crucial to future success. Her advice is not one-size-fits-all but instead gives ideas for all kinds of personality types for implementing healthier, happier habits in their daily lives.

4. The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis- I think that if there's ever a time that someone needs to be reminded in a powerful way of the reality of spiritual warfare, it's a young person leaving home for the first time! This book is entertaining and even funny at times, but the message of it is loud and clear. Graduates on the edge of their next steps are going to face opposition and doubt from a very real enemy, and reading about it from the perspective of an admittedly witty demon makes it a little more accessible than yet another sermon. =)

5. The Road Back to You and The Path Between Us by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile- I include these as companions to each other because the first one is such a great introduction and the second one is just as important as it is in the context of relationships. SO- say what you want about the enneagram (actually, don't, unless you actually know what you're talking about =), but it is an amazing tool for people, especially young people, to help understand how God made each of us and how to best use our strengths (and weaknesses) for His glory. These books teach the enneagram from a Christian perspective--no weird or woo-woo stuff-- and are invaluable to the process of self-awareness that all young people need to experience. I so wish I had known about this as a young adult!

There you have it. I know it's kind of a lame time to be a graduate and feels anticlimactic to walk across your living room or yard in your cap and gown. But I think this time is a pretty good starting point for graduates as they realize in a big way that life definitely doesn't always turn out like you planned, and that's okay! The Lord sees and knows it all and He has big things in store!

 Congrats, grads!

Amy Jane- Two Months

Amy Jane- Two Months

Well, it's nearly 10:00 PM on the day that Amy Jane turns two months old and I'm just sitting down to write this post because I didn't even think about it until this morning and then this afternoon I could have written it while Alice was asleep but I chose to take a nap. (#priorities) Even tonight I thought about skipping it (mainly because practically zero people care and despite the nap I'm still tired) but I was so faithful to do these with Alice and I'm thankful to have the written record of her first year because goodness knows I've forgotten so many things. Plus I'd hate for Amy Jane to grow up and be like, "Mom, where are my tediously long blog posts detailing every moment of my early life?" and I'd just have to shrug and say, "I was napping." (I mean, I was napping, but I'm trying to do both.)

I can't believe this baby is two months old because, weirdly enough, it doesn't seem like it's been that long. I mean, the actual day she was born and the time leading up to that feel like forever ago, but I think that's mostly because during the last few weeks of pregnancy time just stands still and your life is a blur of groaning, sleeping, and going to the bathroom every three minutes (thank goodness the toilet paper shortage hadn't happened yet). But the actual time she's been here has just flown by and has seemed shorter than two months. Well, April flew by. March did feel like its own year, didn't it? Good grief. What a time to be alive.

Anyway... on to happier things.

Weight and Length: I actually know this because she finally got to see the doctor today for the first time since she was a few days old. She is 10 pounds 2 ounces (up two pounds from birth) and 23.75 inches long (almost 4 inches from birth!). For reference, she is one pound lighter but one inch longer than Alice at the same age, who was already turning into the little butterball she would later become. It looks like for now Amy Jane is going to be tall and skinny like her daddy!

Nicknames: Sisert (Alice's pronunciation of Sister), Dot (from A Bug's Life... it's the eyes!), Bean, Little Nugget, and many other obnoxiously sappy and ridiculously terms of endearment that usually reference some type of dessert

Happy girl!

Sleep: I hesitate to even write about this because I don't want to make anyone hate me, especially other moms of newborns, but she's sleeping about 7 hours consistently every night. I KNOW. It's such a gift and I think the Lord just really knew what I could handle right now and chose to give me a baby who slept well. (See multiple references to naps above.) She is sleeping from around 12:30-7:30 (give or take about 30 minutes). Like Alice, she sometimes struggles to actually fall asleep, but then stays asleep all night. Such a gift and one I am genuinely grateful for.

Eating: She's on a good 3 hour schedule right now... occasionally she needs it to be 2-2.5 but it's almost always 3. (Although last night's cluster feeding would suggest otherwise... so thankful those are few and far between. Yikes.)

One day I'll get a picture where they're both happy, but for now this seems to sum up their relationship pretty well. Pure joy and total confusion. =)

Clothing: Because she's so long, she's outgrowing most of her newborn sleepers, but her 0-3 ones are hilariously big because she's so skinny. Ha! I need to get her a few from Carter's because they run much slimmer. I've tried to hold off on buying her very much since we're still not really going anywhere, but it's too warm for her to wear sleepers while we're outside so I'll probably pick out a few little things for spring and summer (all of Al's 0-3 clothes are winter so hand-me-downs are out). It's a chore to shop for baby clothes, but I guess I can take one for the team.

Mood: She has gotten SO smiley in the last few weeks and I love it. She was very stingy with her smiles until recently but now she loves to smile at us, especially her daddy! Unfortunately, her witching hour seems to be between 10-11 at night, but thank goodness Alice is a sound sleeper and the crying doesn't wake her up. She's pretty content unless she's hungry or wet!

Lots of these lately.

Loves: Daddy (specifically being held in the carrier)
Her paci
Being swaddled
Her bouncy seat (in small doses)
Alice (in small doses =)

Doesn't Love: Tummy time (Alice hated it too)
Riding in the car
Being wet
Being ignored (aka not being looked at or held) for long
Having her clothes changed

What I Want to Remember/Milestones: She is really starting to show her personality... like I said, she has been smiling so much more and has been super alert and starting to recognize each of us more  distinctly. She's especially interested in following Alice with her eyes and being interested in what IN the world she's doing (don't worry, honey... she bewilders us all on a daily basis. =) She discovered herself in the mirror, so that was delightful. We don't do it every day, but as often as we can before her nap, Alice will lay on the bed while I feed the baby and I'll read or we'll listen to an audiobook. I love how Alice is so affectionate with her and is constantly saying, "Oh, my baby. It's okay, my baby. Come here, my baby." (Ironically, she becomes my baby and Alice rejects all ownership when any work is required of her regarding her sister. Ha!) I am thankful for all the time we've had together as a family to walk, swing, and play without needing to rush around to the next thing all the time.

What I'm Looking Forward To: Oh, man. Ultimately, I'm looking forward to this crazy virus getting under control and things moving toward a safe return to places reopening (I might have cried a little when the governor authorized libraries to open back up soon). We miss our church family, our friends at the Y and the library, and (obviously) just the chance to go out to parks and normal places. So even though we are proceeding with caution (especially with the baby) and maintaining all the safe practices that are being recommended, you better believe we will be thrilled to get back to at least part of our normal routine! (Ask me how I feel when Jonathan eventually goes back to work and I actually have to solo parent for the first time in months.) Other than that, we are going to North Carolina in June (fingers crossed for no more flight changes!) and we are so looking forward to the rest of our families meeting Amy Jane for the first time! (Also, good barbecue. Don't @ me, Texans.)

Me: I'm okay. I'm a lot better than I was a month ago. It is still risky business for me to spend much time online or looking at the news because I can spiral pretty quickly, but I think I've gotten to a pretty good place of staying informed without overloading myself. I've also started exercising again after finally getting back to my doctor to be checked out and she says I'm back to normal (that's debatable... =) I'm ready to get back in shape and for all my pants to fit again... that said, I'm starving all the time thanks to breastfeeding, so I'm trying to eat well while also giving myself permission to enjoy the occasional treat (and by treat I mean handful of Golden Oreos. You quarantine your way and I will quarantine mine).

I think in terms of parenting, I'm still navigating having two kids and trying to figure out how to really give the best of myself to both of them. Alice still needs a lot from me and even though she doesn't act jealous about the baby, I can tell when she is wanting more one-on-one time so I try to make it happen as much as I can. Amy Jane's needs are pretty simple (and I can't really physically give her any more than I already do!) but I still feel like we're getting to know each other, if that makes sense. It's so funny to have a daughter who is four and a half and who I know like the back of my hand and to have one who is two months old and is still very much a mystery to me in a lot of ways. Sometimes I just stare at her and wonder what she's thinking and who she'll become. I didn't know that about Alice either but now I do (as much as I can at her age) but I just have to wait and see.

It's a little hard for me not to know what's coming, but honestly, it's for the best (and I say that as a 6!). If I had known the road we'd walk down with Alice's speech before it all happened, I would have just curled up in the fetal position and cried. But of course it was the best thing that could have happened to me as a mom, and I'm more thankful than ever than it was with my firstborn. I was talking to one of my sisters today about expectations with your kids versus with your students (since I've had both) and I got to thinking all over again about how wildly different (in many ways) this whole motherhood journey has been from what I imagined. Motherhood is such a collection of paradoxes. It's natural but incredibly difficult, joyful and terrifying, exhausting and empowering. And as I watch both my girls become who they will be, I find more often than not that they are making me more fully who I am in the process.

She is such a sweetheart.

Anyway, that's enough deep thoughts for tonight. I'm sleepy and rambling...never a good combination. And I'm just getting this in under the wire for the actual 2-month date, but Amy Jane, never let it be said that your mom didn't love you enough to write way too much about your sizing needs and sleep habits on the internet.

Amy Jane- One Month

Amy Jane- One Month

Writing ANYTHING right now feels weird and like it requires a whole paragraph of qualifiers, but you all know I know what's going on and let's be honest, I have nothing new to say about it, so we'll just go ahead.

I have tried and failed to write Amy Jane's birth story (a term I really don't care for, by the way) for weeks. I wrote most of it earlier a few days ago, got to the end, and thought, "Eh, this sounds really negative." Well, that's because it was. I watched an interview with Beth Moore recently where she advised against publishing anything you write while going through a hard time "until you get out from under it." Even a month later, I think I'm just not out from under it yet (maybe once my recovery is truly done I'll feel a little more charitable toward the anesthesiologist who starred in, if life were like Friends, an episode entitled, "The One Where the Epidural Doesn't Work and You Get Twenty Stitches").

On the other hand, I do love how my blog has served as a kind of history for our family over the years (since it hasn't served as anything else since anyone can remember, because I'm lazy) and I am glad to have a written record of so many things about Alice that, sadly, I would have totally forgotten by now. Plus I'd hate to feed into the stereotype of the over-documented firstborn and neglected subsequent children, so I want to keep documenting things about Amy Jane for my own memory's sake. Here's a few (okay, it's never a few) little things about our sweet baby.

Weight and Length: she was 8 pounds 2 ounces and 19.5 inches long at birth and has definitely grown but we won't know for sure how much for a while since her one month checkup is being pushed back thanks to "the situation" (I refuse to name it directly... it's become the Voldemort of diseases).

Nicknames: Since we are calling her Amy Jane (both names), I am hesitant about nicknames because I really don't want her to end up being called AJ (no offense to anyone with initial names. I have a great fondness for D.J. Tanner in my heart). So far the one that's sticking the most is "Sisert" because that's Alice's pronunciation of sister. =)

Sleep: Well, she is an angel and has been sleeping for 5-6 hours almost from the very beginning. She's gone over 7 hours several times which is glorious and something many other mothers probably hate my guts for as they're reading this and for that I apologize because I can take exactly zero credit for this miracle. (#highlyfavored)

Eating: She's eating about every 3 hours during the day (sometimes closer together at night before bed) and takes a bottle in the morning. My nursing experience this time around has been SO much easier than it was with Alice (I still think back to those first few weeks and pity my poor self!) so I'm thankful for less pain, obviously.

Clothing: She's still very much in newborn clothes. Sadly, almost everything Easter-related she has is 0-3 so it will likely swallow her, but she'll just have to be swallowed because those bunny outfits need to be worn! I didn't buy her very much in newborn sizes since you never know how long a baby will wear those but she's shaping up to be like her sister in that regard (Alice wore newborn stuff for over two months). I am loving having her wear the few things of Alice's that we saved! Those side-by-side pictures are my favorite!

Gotta have that monogram! 

Mood: Hmm... shall we say, concerned? =) She's not an unhappy baby, per se, and is fairly content a lot of the time, but she does frown a lot. I think she's just befuddled by all the noise, her whirling dervish sister, and probably (don't babies sense things, like dogs?) the state of the world at the moment. Who knows? But she is very sweet and in general is extremely long-suffering considering how many times a day she is aggressively hugged.

My girls!

Loves: Daddy (finally, a daddy's girl! ha!)
Being swaddled
Her paci
Being held tightly and rocked
Bouncing (really, any movement seems preferable to being still for her)
Lying on her side (supervised, of course! Calm down!)
Walks in the stroller

Doesn't Love: Being left alone (aka not being held) for long
Whoever's holding her sitting still
Loud noises (her sister has yet to receive this memo and continues to startle her on a daily basis)
Losing her paci
Bath time (at least the first little dip... she gets used to it and calms down)

I love how she folds her hands like this!

What I Want to Remember/Milestones: So many things! After her traumatic entrance into the world, I'm grateful for all the sweet and positive moments to balance the things I'd rather forget. =) From the first time Alice met her, she has been totally in love and so sweet. Al has struggled in other ways (the fact that it's no longer just the two of us at home during the day, the fact that I'm less accessible to her, the fact that OUR WHOLE ROUTINE IS OFF INDEFINITELY... you know, small things in the life of a four-year-old. But despite all that she has never taken any of it out on the baby and I'm very thankful for that. Everything is, "Oh, baby, I know baby. Come here, baby." Followed by attempts to pick her up that to her chagrin are thwarted each and every time. BUT it's all just precious and makes me so happy. We have had an unexpectedly crazy amount of time together as a family that we would never have had otherwise (especially Jonathan) so despite the reasons for that I'm a little amazed every day that he is able to be around for pretty much every minute of her first few months of life. There are certainly challenges in having a newborn and toddler while he's working from home, but it's still true that his being here has massively eased the transition for me.

Other little things to remember: Amy Jane is extremely strong like her sister was... already trying to hold her up (and doing it a little bit!) and putting weight on her legs when she's held up. (I've seen babies months older who don't do this so I think it's hilarious. #legday) She is very snuggly once she really settles in but that can take a while. She's staying awake for longer stretches during the day and is constantly looking around with her huge, bright eyes just taking it all in (again, usually with a very concerned look on her face). And she's just so pretty. That hair! I can't believe all her hair (but it does prove the old myth because my reflux with her was BRUTAL).

What I'm Looking Forward To: Oh, I don't know... EVERYTHING GOING BACK TO NORMAL PLEASE AND THANK YOU, LORD. (Sorry, moment of panic.) Seriously, though, this has been such a weird and scary time to have a baby who has basically no immune system yet. I want to be able to take her to church to meet friends, get back in a routine with Alice and really all four of us, etc. That's a whole other huge and totally beyond-my-control thing so regarding Amy Jane specifically I'll just say I'm looking forward to (fingers crossed) taking her to the pool this summer (which Alice is SO excited about showing her) and also for her 0-3 month clothes to fit so she and Al can start wearing all their matching outfits. (#priorities)

McNeese Party of Four!

Me: Who, me? An enneagram 6 who is four weeks postpartum (after another extremely painful and traumatic labor/delivery experience) during a global pandemic?? *Insert Ross Gellar "I'm fine" gif here.* I really am okay, just struggling along with the rest of humanity during these crazy days. Everyone is having a hard time with this and so many people are in so much harder situations that it seems really pathetic to be like, "Hey, I know there's a pandemic on and people are dying but last month my epidural didn't work and I cried a lot." I mean, it's true, but I'm certainly not unique in my suffering, you know? So the short(ish) answer is that I'm still having a pretty hard time. I think having a newborn feels like Groundhog Day anyway (the constant feeding/burping/changing that feels so endless and cyclical... "You're going to nurse this baby every 3 hours from now until you die." Obviously untrue but still an accurate description). But during other hard times, it's weirdly comforting to know that despite my own stuff, the rest of the world just keeps turning and things "out there" are fine. Well, now, we know that things "out there" are certainly not fine and in fact are pretty awful, so the fact that my home is the only place I can really create and control the level of peace to any degree is super scary. Like everyone else, I'm just doing the best I can while acknowledging and giving thanks for how incredibly privileged we are to have the resources we need to stay home.

All that was me as a person... specifically as a mom, though, I think one thing that's surprised me a little (and I felt this way with Alice, too) is how I'm still just myself. Believe it or not, a brand-new personality doesn't emerge along with the placenta after you give birth. (I apologize for that visual. If you don't have a visual of it, well, be thankful.) For better or worse, I'm still just me. Sarcastic, worried, caring about my family and friends, listening to Disney music, reading constantly, etc. In a way that's comforting. Motherhood is certainly a transformative thing but I think it adds to you; it doesn't necessarily have to subtract.

Miss Priss couldn't be bothered to open her eyes this morning despite having slept nearly 8 hours!

Oh, and to answer the typical fear of all moms--"will I love this baby as much?--the answer, of course, is yes. I love her as her own little person, I love her as Alice's sister, I love her as the fourth and final (you heard me) member of our family. I loved our family of three but I definitely think the past month, while challenging, has felt very natural because it seems like we are complete now. Despite all the uncertainty, the tears, the anxiety, the constant juggling of toddler and baby from parent to parent, the excess of Disney+, and the figuring it out as we go, I just keep coming back to the overwhelming feeling of this is how it's supposed to be. I'm so thankful to God for my girls and this weird but wonderful time.

Into the Unknooooowwwn

Into the Unknooooowwwn

If you haven't seen Frozen II, the title of this won't be as meaningful to you, but if you have, I'm sorry that it's now stuck in your head. Although, to fully appreciate it, just imagine Alice bellowing that one phrase over and over into her karaoke microphone (thanks, Gigi). It's truly the gift that keeps on giving and at this point I think we should all agree to just let Idina Menzel sing the song and no one else. (Even she is pushing it a bit. #soloud)

Anyway, as you can imagine from my cozy little perch here at 35 weeks pregnant (haha), I am not only ungainly and large but also not feeling super chill about the many unknowns (and knowns! ah!) coming at me at lightning speed. Being pregnant for the first time means everything is unfamiliar and terrifying; being pregnant the second time means everything is familiar and terrifying. Right? I mean, this time I know what to expect in a lot of ways and it's still scary. Don't get me wrong; I've been organizing baby clothes, doing a little (okay, maybe more than a little- SUE ME) shopping for matching outfits, and nesting in general, and I am SO excited to have another baby in the house. Alice is going to be the best big sister and I'm already a big fat mess of emotions over all the sweet moments to come. But, as you may know, there's more to it than cute onesies and matching sister shirts.

As an enneagram 6, I default to imagining worst-case scenarios, but I'm really not even doing that. (I've only allowed myself a couple of full-on negative mental spirals that ended in tears during this pregnancy. Bleh. Zero stars. Do not recommend.) So, as I've told Jonathan repeatedly over the past month, even BEST-case scenario, things are just going to be hard. Even the best labor and delivery is super hard on your body, even the best newborn can keep you up all night, etc. (Even the best Alice can begin weeping when her episode of Mickey Mouse Club House ends or she is forced to use the bathroom. You know, hypothetically speaking.) So the knowns are scary (pain, sleep deprivation, etc.) and the unknowns are even scarier (when and for how long I'll be in labor, how Alice will handle things, how Amy Jane will eat/sleep/breathe, etc.). You know, simple stuff. Nothing that would keep you up at night.

I'm a lucky mama. Truly.

As always, it helps to keep things in perspective and recognize that other people are dealing with much harder things. We've experienced loss just this week in our own church family, and I know others who are walking through financial stress, chronic illness, and more. I've also read quite a few books about pretty heavy topics recently (kind of dark choices given my current situation, but also good reality checks that my life is super uncomplicated in most ways). So even though giving birth and adding a second child to our family is a legitimately big deal and will mean a huge transition for us, it is still, at the end of the day, something that is commonplace and that tons of families make it through on a regular basis. Ultimately, we will be just fine.

And, at the end of the day, I have to trust that God knows what He's doing, sees us, and will take care of it all. I read somewhere not long ago that it's essential for Christians to get to the point that we consider God's will to be the best thing that could happen to us. I think for a variety of reasons we tend to view it as something that is "harder but better." I think a lot of preaching we've heard over the years has framed God's will as the holy but unappealing alternative to whatever dreams or plans you'd really rather pursue. But if "the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord" and He truly wants to give us the "desires of our heart," then His plans for me must be better than anything I could imagine. Of course they may include hard things I don't fully understand, but trusting Him with my future still seems like the best option (He is God, after all, and I am decidedly/blessedly not).

Lately, I've been attempting to follow Emily P. Freeman's morning rhythm of "PRWRP." That stands for:
Pray (a "borrowed" or scripted prayer)
Read (Scripture)
Write (Journal... the hardest one for me, ironically!)
Read (spiritual nonfiction)
Pray (regular requests)

I certainly don't get to do all the steps every day (somehow Alice isn't as committed to my quiet time as she is to making sure I dish out her 17 breakfast courses each morning) but I have been trying, which is better than nothing. For the "borrowed prayer" portion, I've been using Emily's own prayers written in each chapter of her wonderful book, The Next Right Thing. This morning (right before my doctor's appointment and in the midst of some serious pregnancy anxiety) I read these words:

"Unbound by time or place or gravity, you go ahead of us into an unknown future. You walk toward us with love in your eyes. You stand beside us when we find ourselves in unsure places. You sit next to us in silence and in joy... We resist the urge to sprint ahead in a hurry or lag behind in fear. Let us keep company with you at a walking pace, moving forward together one step at a time." 

I love this so much. Unlike me, God is not bound by a limited knowledge of the future. His "thoughts and ways are higher" than mine (Isaiah 55:9) and I don't need to demand answers I'm not ready for or stay stuck in what's already happened. He is there to walk with me at the right pace, shining a light as I need it and in His timing, not mine. If I had known all that would take place for our family over the last four years of parenting, I probably would have fainted like a woman in a silent film! I don't need to know everything that is coming; I just need to know the One who does. (I think there's a song about that!)

As usual, this post is 100% talking/preaching to myself, so don't be surprised when I'm still struggling with the same worries a week or two from now (#type6). Tonight I'm just thankful for the reminder to walk with God, not ahead of or behind Him, and to trust His plans for me. Those plans may need to include a lot of naps, chocolate, and Disney+ over the next few weeks, but it will all be fine as long as Alice doesn't discover the special hiding place I created for her Frozen microphone.

Books for a Better Year

Books for a Better Year

"But Ashley," you might say, "we're a month into 2020 already!" Well, sure, but let's be honest... January is cold/flu season, everyone has a holiday hangover (emotionally, financially, etc.), and the weather is generally gross. It's basically a bonus month and I think we can all agree that surviving this month (which has been seemingly 27 weeks long) means that we get a do-over for all things "new year" related. Hence, I'm bringing you these recommendations on the *last* day of the month. We have 11 more whole months to make 2020 awesome! (Personally, my "new year" is gonna start around April due to the fact that I'll be giving birth here shortly. =) Also, I've read about a gazillion books in the last 5 years and I feel like I need to start putting all that to some sort of use and sharing them more regularly here!

So, here we go. Some of these are newer releases and some have been out for a while, but all of them have been read and loved by yours truly. Some are habit-related, others lend themselves to more a mindset shift/way of thinking, and others just have some good information that will benefit you and/or your family. All of them will help you see the world in a better way!

Anyway. My plan to blog more has gotten away from me (shocker) and this is a bit of a cop-out post since it doesn't require as much from me, but rest assured that a) I have several blog post ideas that I am truly excited about that I am going to try to get written soon and b) I do love these books and think they're worth your time!

"Having fun isn't hard with a library card!" Why yes, I was super popular as a kid. Can't you tell?

Atomic Habits by James Clear. I just finished this last night and I loved it. I've seen this book all over the place since it came out (with rave reviews from people I trust) and I totally get it. It's SO good, so practical, so easy to read and simple but not dumbed down... just a great book on habits that gives great ways of thinking about how and why we do the things we do. I'll be recommending this to anyone and everyone for the foreseeable future.

Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin. I love this book so much, and it may seem excessive to have two books about habits on the same list, but it is the beginning of the year (bonus month notwithstanding) and this is a great one. Gretchen Rubin is one of my all-time favorite authors and this book has SO much good and practical information in it. I love how she can make even something as seemingly dull as habits warm and personal and strangely appealing. She takes all kinds of personalities into account and gives ideas that can work for literally anyone. (Honestly, any of Gretchen's books would help start your year off right!)

Competing Spectacles by Tony Reinke. I was actually on the launch team for this book and got an advance copy but I don't even know that I posted about it anywhere except Instagram (oops!). However, I'll make up for it now! This is such a great book. The subtitle is "Treasuring Christ in the Media Age" and I think we can all stand to be reminded just how important it is to have the right perspective on the endless stream of information (and misinformation), entertainment, and distraction at our fingertips. Reading this is a great way to help you reset yourself if one of your goals for the year is to limit/restructure your media consumption (just in time for the election, right?).

The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile. Okay, let me get on my enneagram soapbox for just a second. I know that it's been talked about to death and you're probably sick of hearing about it (especially if you have no idea what it's all about- I was the same way!) but this book is an excellent starting point if you're interested in learning more. I truly believe that the enneagram is an extremely valuable and useful tool to help us understand ourselves and those around us, be more compassionate and empathetic, and grow into the people God created us to be. Like anything, it can be abused or distorted, but this book provides a faith-based understanding of how it all works and is worth your time. (Steps off soapbox, shaking and red-faced.)

168 Hours: You Have More Time than You Think by Laura Vanderkam. I love a good book on time management, and most of Laura Vanderkam's are along those lines, but this one is probably the most widely applicable (in my opinion). We all have 168 hours in our week, and what we do with those hours largely depends on identifying what we truly value and where we want our time, energy, money, etc. to go. There are some great strategies for reevaluating your schedule and making changes based on what's actually important to you as well as questioning/challenging the "way it's always been" with a fresh perspective.

Praying the Bible by Donald Whitney. I had to read this for a class last summer and it was a huge game-changer for me. I'm not proud of this, but prayer has always been my biggest struggle. It can feel awkward, forced, obligatory, empty... I'm just being honest here, guys. Prayer is hard, and I know I'm not alone in that. This book gives such amazing insights into using God's own words to talk to Him and I am continually grateful to have come across such a wonderful technique/process. If you're interested in strengthening this particular discipline in your life (and aren't we all?) I'd start here.

The Next Right Thing by Emily P. Freeman. I just can't recommend this highly enough. I think I've raved about it to anyone who would listen since it came out last spring. Emily P. Freeman is so wise and wonderful. Her writing is beautiful and calming and yet cuts straight to the heart of so many struggles we face regarding decisions, our souls, and life in general. I truly believe anyone in any life stage can benefit from the principles in this book, which is a tall order considering that so many books focus only on moms, or couples, or twenty-somethings, or whatever. It's just great, period. Please do your soul a favor and get this as soon as possible (and if you do audiobooks, Emily's voice is incredibly soothing). Also, the topics in this book are often covered in her excellent podcast of the same name, so definitely check that out.

There you go! Happy reading and happy New Year! Thanks for the practice run, January. We can take it from here.

Word of the Year

Word of the Year

If you're like me, you have probably 1) chosen a word of the year in the past and 2) promptly forgotten about it by March at the latest. (Oops!) It's super easy to get caught up in the newness of January and make resolutions, set goals, and choose words that we think will define our experience for the next 12 months, only to return to business/life as usual fairly quickly. We are easily distracted creatures ("Squirrel!") and rather than beat myself up about it for (at least) the tenth year in a row, I'm just going to try again but with what I hope is a more productive mindset.

One thing about choosing a word, phrase, or motto for the year is that, just like with our other resolutions, we want to "go big." I find myself being aspirational instead of practical when I'm thinking about the future, but I'm changing that. Should I have ambitions and dreams and "shoot for the stars"? Meh, I guess so. But the fact is that I have a four-year-old, am pregnant with my second child, and in a stage of life that is about to become extremely demanding of my time and energy in a way that is going to require some very practical, useful, reasonable (aka achievable) goals from me. I need a word that is going to reflect where I am in life and help me frame in the right way, not a word that is something I hope to or could someday be. Aspirational/ideal versions of myself are off the table for now. (Clearly, at 31 weeks pregnant, I'm not the best version of me in any way. ha!)

My best self. Ha! It's incredibly freeing to start the new year without the pressure of dieting, though. Thanks, Amy Jane. =)

Kendra from The Lazy Genius (for sure one of my life gurus in so many areas) just did a podcast episode about planners that spoke to me in this area. She said we buy all the planners, organizational tools, cute bullet journal kits, etc. and expect them to fundamentally change us into people we may or may not actually be. I've struggled with this for YEARS: it seems like a grownup thing to use a planner, so I buy cute ones and hope for the best, but the truth is I'm just not that person. I'm organized, but as a stay-at-home mom with one child and relatively few appointments (I mean, I know what time Chick-fil-A breakfast ends, so what else do I need to remember??), I can keep track on my phone and avoid the guilt that another wasted planner brings. My friend Michelle just shared on Instagram that she finally acknowledged this about herself, didn't buy a paper planner this year, and felt so FREE. I get it! (Side note: I did, in fact, purchase a 2020 planner because it was on clearance and it was Rifle Paper Company, which I cannot resist. So PRETTY! But one of my favorite purchases ever from this past year is my undated planner from Rad and Happy because you can just fill it out whenever without wasting days/weeks/months and feeling like a bad person. Hooray!)

So, with all that in mind, my word of the year is VALUE. Gretchen Rubin, one of my favorite authors and podcasters, recommends choosing a word that has several forms or meanings to give it even more use/weight in your life. For me, value is about the noun (as in what I believe, hold dear, or treasure AND principles I live by), the verb (taking care of/appreciating what's mine) and the adjective (valuable- what something is worth).

This applies to pretty much all of the goals I've set for myself this year. Goals related to our health and wellness obviously reflect value for our bodies, minds, and souls. If I value my health and my family's health, I'll choose to plan ahead, choose healthy foods more often than not, and prioritize my exercise routine. Learning and sharing about books and reading is valuable to me, so I'll continue to make time to read (although, in the spirit of value, I'm aiming to read fewer but better books this year. I'll have to write a whole post about that sometime, because I have many thoughts. =) This will also affect how I look at my home and possessions. Is something valuable to me because I'm a sentimental packrat or am I just being lazy and not wanting to clear clutter? (Both?) The value of items I buy will also be considered: at the age of 30, I'm getting past the point where my feet can handle super cheaply made shoes or my face can handle the cheapest makeup. I'm not going crazy with designer brands, but upgrading some things in those areas will give me more value for my money.

Another application of the word is taking the time to understand and articulate my own values. Of course they align with Scripture, but what are they? What values does our family live by, and how will I teach them to my kids? Obviously Amy Jane's off the hook in this area for a few years, but Alice is definitely old enough for us to be teaching her clearly what we believe and what our family culture is (besides Bible stories, etc. which we already do). Korie Robertson's parenting book recommends choosing just one or two words or values that you really want to instill in your children and letting your discipline and instruction stem from those (hers are strong and kind, which I love). It's easy with a baby or toddler to kind of gloss over this big-picture stuff since the truth is you're just trying to, I don't know, get the kid to put on a pull-up or eat their orange slices without a battle (how oddly specific, Ashley!), but we're getting to the age where I want to have these things cemented in my mind so I can share them confidently with her.

There are so many things I do value- relationships, deep conversations, reading, writing, my home, etc. - and so many things that I spend time or money or attention on that either don't add value to that list or that have little to no value at all (Twitter scrolling, I'm looking at you). So going forward, I want to ask myself:

"Do I value what I'm about to spend time on, or at the very least, is it valuable to the things I do value?" (What a great and gripping sentence. ha! For example, though, I don't really "value" cooking in that I don't enjoy it much, but I value taking care of my family and feeding them. Or letting Chick-fil-A feed them.)

"What are my core values (beliefs) and how does this book/podcast/article align with them and Scripture?"

"How am I using my time wisely on valuable things?"

"Am I conscious of my values and intentionally sharing them with Alice in the context of our family culture?"

"Is it valuable (or worthy of) my time to get caught up in some internet controversy?" (99% of the time, NO it is not.)

"Do I need another shirt/pair of shoes/set of scrunchies? What is the value of this purchase?" (Don't hate on the scrunchies. Best comeback of the 90s BY FAR.)

"Am I finding my value/worth in Christ and showing His love to others?"

You get it. It's all about priorities, worth, principles, and asking simple questions that apply to so many areas of my life. As I head into a season of LOTS of transition in our family, I feel like this is a really concise way to look at the decisions we make over the next few months. Having a newborn kind of reduces your existence down to feeding and sleeping, so having a baseline of this "value" question will help alleviate some of the stress that is bound to accompany anything extra in our lives. And, since my actual #1 resolution is to nap all I can in the coming months, putting a high value on sleep is going to be the easiest "yes" of all time. =) Scratch everything I just said. Is it too late for my word to be sleep? (And those of you with babies laughed and laughed and then twitched a little. I know. I'll just nap while I can. To quote Grandpa Joe in Willy Wonka, "Let him sleep. Let him have one more dream.")

Do you have a word of the year? How are you going to keep it in mind? DO TELL.