How a skirt, poop and OxyClean taught me the beauty of motherhood

Have you ever had those days, or let’s be honest, one of those seasons of parenting when you think, “This is never going to end! My life is going to be an endless cycle of ___________ (fill in the blank…sleepless nights…kids who refuse to eat vegetables…fighting over screen time…etc.)?”

Whatever your parenting crazy cycle might be, when you’re in it, it feels incredibly isolating, draining, tedious, and loooooonnnnnngggg. And it’s nearly impossible to find or even feel hopeful that the cycle will end.

That’s exactly where I was 10 years ago. I was a stay at home mom to a 3-year-old and 1-year-old. And I was parenting to survive, not parenting to thrive.

On the outside everything looked fine. We looked like the typical happy family, and I worked really hard to make sure it appeared we had it all together.

But I was barely surviving as a mother. I got angry – A LOT – and found myself parenting with a “just get through this” mentality. You know…just get through the day until my husband gets home, just get through the summer until school starts…

The truth is, I had a lot of ugliness in my heart towards being a mom, and most of it was directed towards our oldest who seemed to know exactly how to push my buttons.   

So, I filled our days with lots of distractions – playdates, camps and TV – because it was easier to do those things than face the reality that parenting was more challenging than I’d bargained for.

It was hard to find the beauty of being a mom in that season.

That is, until Easter Sunday 2010…

>>>>>>>

As a mom of boys, I realized early on that trying to win the clothing battle with my kids was a lost cause.

Other than funerals, weddings and the occasional family Christmas card photo when I pay my children to wear pants with zippers (yes, I pay them), our boys have always preferred to be dressed in a steady diet of athletic shorts and t-shirts.

But this Easter, I decided to pull rank and made sure everyone was dressed up in our finest. Being a clotheshorse, I was excited to wear a new skirt I’d been saving for the occasion. White eyelet with a beautiful embroidered bouquet of flowers, this skirt said, “Spring is here and so am I!”

After church, we picked up the boys from their classrooms and headed to the car. Being Easter Sunday, the church lobby and parking lot were packed with people. We finally snaked our way through the crowd to the car, when our oldest announces he has to go to the bathroom.

Our son was just barely on the winning side of potty training so, I knew it couldn’t wait. I asked my husband to take our youngest and pull the car around to the front of the church. We would only be a minute. I grabbed his hand, headed back into the bustling church lobby and made a beeline to the ladies’ room.

Surprisingly, we were the only ones in the bathroom.

In my insistence on the boys dressing up for Easter, I just knew his lack of experience with a button and a zipper was definitely going to end in disaster, so I went in the stall with him and quickly helped him undo his pants, all the while he’s saying, “Hurry, Mama…Hurry, Mama,” and I’m thinking, “Hold it son, hold it son!”

As soon as I helped him, he dropped everything to his ankles, turned his back to me and started taking care of business. “Whew! Crisis averted,” I thought.

But just as he was about to finish, while he was still facing the porcelain throne, he let out the biggest fart I’d ever heard his sweet cheeks make! Only it wasn’t just a fart, as it came out completely loaded with an arsenal of diarrhea!

There I stood. My beautiful, white, Easter skirt now resembling a Jackson Pollock poop painting, while my 3-year-old had crap running down his legs and all over his new Easter pants and socks and shoes.

I’m pretty sure I started hyperventilating at this point, but I managed to gather myself enough to strip him naked from the waist down and wipe him up as best I could.

I knew I had an emergency pair of shorts and underwear in the car, but there was no way I could walk a half-naked toddler through the lobby of church on Easter Sunday. So, I gathered up his soiled clothes, crouched down and looked him straight in the eye as I said,

“I’m going to the car to get you some clothes. I am going to leave you here, in this stall. As soon as I leave, you lock the door. You are not under any circumstances to open this door. Do not open this door for anyone but me. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mama.”

I stepped out of the stall, waited for him to lock the door and prayed to God that no one found him in this state. I was already imagining the headlines, “Half-naked child found in church stall on Easter Sunday….” I began making my way back through the lobby toward our car, praying to God that no one saw me…or worse, smelled me.

As expected, my husband was waiting at the curb in our car. I headed straight to the open tailgate of our minivan (yes, a minivan) where I kept extra clothes for emergencies.

As the tailgate opened up, my husband, clearly irritated that we’ve been gone forever, looks back and says, “What is taking so long?!”

I just looked at him and yelled, “OUR! SON! JUST! POOPED! ALL! OVER! ME!!!!!”

With hot tears streaming down my cheeks, I grabbed the bag of extra clothes, went back into the church lobby, into the ladies’ room to find my little guy patiently waiting for me in the stall where I left him.

On the drive home, I sat silently in the front seat, crying as I looked down at the mess of my skirt thinking, “It’s ruined. I’ll never be able to wear this again.”

And yes, I was crying about the mess of my skirt, but I was also crying about the mess of my heart.

I hated how I felt at that moment, in that season. I knew I needed to change some things to find hope and purpose in my parenting.

Right there, driving home from Easter Sunday covered in poop, I asked God to forgive me and to help me find the beauty behind the hot mess of my life.

When we got home from that memorable morning, I called my mom to get some advice on how to save my skirt. She recommended cold water and OxyClean.

I could have just stuck the skirt in the washing machine, poured in the soap and hoped for the best, but I knew it would only remove the top layer of filth. The stains were pretty big and needed some extra attention.

I soaked the skirt in cold water and began treating all the spots with OxyClean. It wasn’t an easy task. I had to scrub it several times and let the detergent sit on some of the spots to really penetrate the stains. But eventually, the original beauty of the skirt was there. The stains were gone.

>>>>>>>

It’s a similar process when we trust God to change our hearts and fill us with his hope and truth.

In Romans 15:13 it says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

The truth is I had forgotten it wasn’t my life, or my children or my circumstances that gave me hope. I had stopped trusting God with my parenting. I thought the frustration and anger I felt at the time was the way it always would be.

And when I did pray, I would just throw up prayers of desperation to God, hoping something would change. But that was basically like thinking I could throw my soiled skirt in the wash, pour in the soap and expect it to come out spotless.

Just like my skirt and the OxyClean, I needed to make time to soak up God’s truth through reading his word, praying for his strength and help, and letting him clean up my stinkin’ thinkin’. 

During this season of my life, I was reminded of John 17:20 where Jesus said, “I am praying not only for these disciples, but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message.” Knowing that Jesus was praying for me was incredibly encouraging. I wasn’t alone in this battle. He was praying for me to have a fresh perspective toward parenting, too.

>>>>>>>

Today, if your motherhood journey feels more poopy than perfect, start by inviting God to join you in the journey.

He is for you. He intentionally made you to be a mom. And he desires for you to be filled with his joy and peace, and overflow with hope as you trust him every messy step of the way.

Happy Mother’s Day!

When it comes to business, I am shark bait

For the last few weeks my family has been watching Shark Tank reruns on CNBC. Other than one time, when the husband of a close friend of mine was in the Tank to secure a deal for his start-up, I’ve never really watched the show.

But these last few weeks of watching have made me a fan. And my favorite episodes are the ones where the hopeful entrepreneur comes in with a product that the Sharks initially harpoon, only to be biting one another in the end to win the deal (here’s looking at you, First Defense Nasal Screens).

While watching the show my husband will often comment on what he would have done differently had he been in the hopeful entrepreneur’s shoes. He’s been a successful salesman for 20 years, so winning skeptical people over is child’s play.

For me, the show reminds me of my own feeble attempts at becoming an entrepreneur.  Over the years I’ve come up with several business ideas that, at the time, I believed would be my escape from the daily grind. But what Shark Tank has shown me is that if any of these ideas ever came to fruition, I most likely would have drowned before I ever entered the tank.

Idea #1 – BeautyBiz

This was my idea to open my own beauty store and sell all the boutique skin care and makeup lines that I couldn’t easily acquire in my middle America town. It was the late-90s when online shopping was in its infancy and stores like Sephora were only found in France. So, I started writing a business plan, convinced a lender would happily jump on board with my vision to bring the best in beauty to our city.

There was a store like the one I wanted to open about two hours away. I remember making a field trip with my mom, spying on the business, taking notes on how I would do things differently (better lighting, sample stations throughout the store, highly informed and passionate sales associates who can answer any makeup or skin related question, a membership club for frequent shoppers, exclusive happy hour events to showcase new product lines, etc.). At this point I was certain I would put the Dillard’s Clinique counter out of business (take that, Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion!).

Given the fact I had no money or retail experience, in the end all I had to show for my beloved BeautyBiz was a large, 3-ring binder filled with pages I’d printed off from the Sephora website (most of which was in French), plus a spreadsheet of brands I called to find out their terms for new retailers (none of which I could meet). But that binder had fancy tabs and a great cover I’d made of beauty images glued together a la the Seventeen magazine mood boards from my bedroom in the 1980s.

I threw the binder away years ago, but I learned a few lessons from my first attempt at entrepreneurship. First, I still love makeup and will forever be a sucker for anything that says it’ll make me brighter, firmer or have longer lashes. Second, a 3-ring binder filled with pages printed off from a French beauty website is not the same thing as a business plan.

Idea #2 – Luxe for Less

I don’t consider an outfit complete without the right accessories. I love purses, shoes, scarves, and my favorite is jewelry. You’ll rarely catch me without it, even at the gym. So, what’s a gal to do when you are tired of the bling in your wardrobe but don’t have a lot of cash to spend on shiny new things? Call Luxe for Less!

This was my idea to have fellow fashionistas gather for an exclusive sale on one another’s classy, cast-off accessories. You’d bring items from your closet no longer in use and sell them to your most fabulous friends.

I dreamed that Luxe for Less would become the premier second-hand sale of the fashion industry. To test the water, I hosted the first Luxe for Less event at my house. I remember spending time coming up with just the right creative copy for the invitation:

Ladies!

Want a new bag but find that your budget can only afford a coin purse?

Then you need to get the Luxe for Less!

This Luxe for Less party is all about PURSES!! 

How it Works

Bring at least one or more bags from your wardrobe. The bags should be gently loved – meaning something you would still be seen in public with, but you’ve grown tired of carrying (not ready for the garage sale). 

Bags can be everything from designer to discount, clutches to carry-alls, diaper bags to duffles. 

But the best part of the marketing pitch was my bio at the end:

Leslee Stewart, an admitted accessory addict, is the instigator of Luxe for Less. My closet is bulging with accessories I once loved but have since forgotten, thanks to something new, better, brighter, or bling-ier.

My goal with Luxe for Less is to help my friends clean out their closets, go home with fabulous finds at a fraction of retail, and have fun!

I’m not sure what’s worse – the use of too many exclamation points, my obliteration of alliterations, or my bio that clearly needs to be read while using jazz hands. I was passionate about purses, people!

As with BeautyBiz, Luxe for Less fizzled out fast. I only held the one party – (exclusive!) – but I did walk away with a great Prada knock-off that my uber-stylish friend, Stephanie, brought to the soiree. I carried that purse for a few years but eventually the bag was more less than luxe, and I had to say goodbye.

Even though it never amounted to more than a few pages of marketing copy and a happy hour, I had fun dreaming how my designer consignor party was going to take the world by storm, one accessory at a time.

Idea #3 – Organikins

My friend, Heather, is a very creative person. She can see an idea in a high-end decorating magazine and magically make her home look the same with some extra yards of fabric, a staple gun and trip to Goodwill. She also has a degree in printmaking and is a fabulous artist.

At the time this business idea sprouted, we were both new moms and were inspired by the growing trend for organic baby food, diapers and toxic-free bottles. One day over lunch, we came up with the idea of creating organic baby clothing that promoted a green lifestyle like recycling and using energy efficient light bulbs. (Insert eyeroll here.)

Our plan was simple. Heather would develop the designs, source the materials and print out the designs on onesies and t-shirts using her old college silk screening tools. I would handle writing our business plan, marketing the product and convincing my brother-in-law to design a free website.

We hit the ground running. Heather found an organic baby clothing supplier and printed up a few onesies. I found a sample business plan online, modified it, came up with clever marketing copy, and took my brother-in-law to Panera for a free lunch. Because what says you should do me a solid and build my website for free more than the You-Pick-2-Combo?

In the end, it never amounted to more than a few onesies that my baby wore. My brother-in-law was nice and appreciated the lunch, but in the end, he declined due to “real” clients and “bills” to pay. Heather eventually packed up her silk screening materials and we said goodbye to our Organikins dream. Our shirts may not have been a bright idea, but that baby of mine sure was!

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Idea #4 – DinoMom

The last business venture I explored came about after a girls’ weekend in Austin. I’d gone to visit my best friend from college, Kelly. We spent Saturday shopping stores along South Congress Avenue and came upon an art festival filled with vendors and unique items. One of the vendors was selling these awesome plastic dinosaurs they had upcycled into a succulent planter. I fell hard for these plastic t-rexes and triceratops, so I happily paid $15 to bring one home to my sons.

When I got back, I decided I could make the same thing and maybe give them as birthday gifts to the boys’ friends. Because of course, most 6-year-olds want their own plant to take care of.

I found the plastic dinos at Wal-Mart in the dollar bin and bought one. I then hit up Home Depot to get a plant. I nearly cut the tip of my finger off trying to carve out a hole on a velociraptor’s back, but I persevered. I painted him purple and created a little tag that I tied to his neck explaining what kind of plant it was and how to care for it.

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Dinotag

I decided to debut my first DinoMom creation at the birthday party of friend’s son. I carefully wrapped up the planter in a gift bag and added a $10 Target gift card, just in case the kid started crying when he opened it. I’m not sure what the boy thought of the gift, but his mom loved it. In fact, several of the moms thought it was a great idea. And that’s how I found myself with an order for 5 more dino planters. Immediately, I flashed forward in my mind and saw myself in a booth at a craft fair, just like the one I visited in Austin. I was ready to do this!

I went to Wal-Mart the next week to buy some more dinos for the order, only they were sold out. I tried a few other stores near me, but no luck. I called my mom back in Oklahoma to complain about the lack of dinosaur inventory. She offered to see if her local store had any. The next day she called me to say she’d found some and would be mailing them within the week. Hurray! My business wasn’t going to be shuttered after all!

About a week later, a large box arrived in the mail. I saw it was from my mom, so I naturally assumed it was the dinosaurs she’d located. I opened it, expecting maybe seven or eight animals. Instead, I found a box full of dinosaurs, horses, lions, tigers and yes, even bears. Oh my! There had to be 50 plastic, dollar bin animals in the box.

I called my mom.

“Hey there. Noah’s Ark arrived today,” I joked. “I appreciate you doing that, but I only needed a few.”

“I know you only needed a few,” she replied, “But my local store only had a couple. So, I called your aunt, and she found the rest of them in her Wal-Mart. I didn’t want you to run out, so we bought you all we could find.”

I love my mom, but I should have expected it. She is a graduate of the “more is more” philosophy. Oh, and she has a master’s degree in “Don’t throw that out. I’m saving it for a project I want to make.”

I made the dinos for my friend’s order, but after that, I kind of lost interest. There was something about that excess animal inventory that zapped my desire to make any more. For months, the box of plastic toys sat in a closet in our guest bedroom. Every time I’d open the door, I’d see the word “DINOS” scratched in Sharpie on the side of the box, reminding me my business was like those toys – extinct.

It took a move to another state to finally make me get rid of them. I donated them to Goodwill along with the rest of my closet clean-out items.

I like to think that maybe, some other mom out there found that pile of dinos at Goodwill and it sparked an idea to create something new and begin her own business.

My journey to almost entrepreneurship showed me that, while I may have a few bright ideas, it takes hard work, determination and relentless drive to make a business succeed. My business ideas? They were dead in the water before they even left land. At least I didn’t have to brave the Tank to find out.

Friday free-for-all: What’s up with the weather and what I’m buying my husband this Christmas

It’s another fantastic Friday which means it’s time for my Friday free-for-all post.

The weather

The weather is finally cooperating and letting me wear boots and sweaters all day, versus that weird thing where you bundle up in the morning but are in flip-flops by afternoon. Despite my flair for the dramatic, I don’t like multiple clothing changes in a day. Since I live in Texas, I am well aware that this weather streak will not continue. Odds are we will be in shorts on Christmas. But I’m enjoying it while it’s here.

Speaking of weather, it snowed in south Texas last week. Like a couple of inches. My kids are extremely jealous of their friend who lives in Austin and got a snow day. (Yes, you read that right. A snow day. In Austin.) So maybe, just maybe, we’ll see a little white this year. The sleds are ready and so are we.

Christmas gifts for my husband

I am one of those weird people who likes buying Christmas gifts. I get a lot of pleasure thinking about what to buy for the people I love and finding things that are maybe a little different or unexpected. And yes, this means I usually don’t buy items off someone’s registry for a baby or wedding gift (Sorry. Not sorry.). Also, I really don’t like giving gift cards. Might as well put money in an envelope. BORING.

All that being said, my husband is one of the hardest people in the world for me to shop for. He is a man who knows what he likes and clearly what he doesn’t. For me, one of the dreams I have is that one day, he will open a present from me and be blown away. Like seriously can’t stop talking about what an amazing present it is. Like brags to other men about what a great gift giver I am, how I know him soooo well, etc. Mind you, this has only happened once in the 25 years of our relationship so the odds are clearly not in my favor.

Knowing that my dream likely won’t become reality, here are a few of the things I’ve bought for him this Christmas, which I suspect he’ll say are “pretty good” (his phrase to describe just about everything). Also, there’s no chance of me spoiling the surprise by posting these because although he loves me deeply, he never reads my blog.

Native long-sleeved shirt by Tumbleweed TexStyles 

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Little known fact – my husband was born in Texas but moved to Oklahoma at nine months old. Regardless, he’s proud to say he’s a Texan, especially since we now call Texas our home (as for me — Sooner born, Sooner bred, and when I die I’ll be Sooner dead). Despite his frequent comments of, “Texas Forever,” I really like this shirt. It’s a great weight, too — 100% preshrunk cotton and a little on the thicker side.

Side note – Tumbleweed TexStyles was started by two high school teachers and a portion of their proceeds benefit Texas schools. Bonus!

Weber’s Greatest Hits cookbook

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Jon is pretty good in the kitchen, but he’s even better on the grill. He makes a mean pork chop, juicy pork tenderloin and his grilled chicken is never dry. While I bought this cookbook to inspire him, I am personally looking forward to reaping all the yummy rewards.

SmartWool socks

Smartwool

I have been a fan of SmartWool socks for several years after my mom gifted me a pair. They are simply the best for keeping your feet warm and dry, without sweating. I wear them all the time in the winter. I finally convinced Jon to try them about a year ago and he’s hooked. In fact, we took a wagon ride about a week ago to see Christmas lights, and the temp that night was in the low 30s. He leaned over at one point during the ride to tell me that, while his tush was freezing, his toes were nice and warm. They are a little pricey for a pair of socks, but totally worth the investment.

Philips wake-up light with sunrise simulation clock 

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Ok. I’m kind of going out on a limb with this gift, but let me explain. Jon appreciates a good gadget. Flex Seal? He tried it. Belts that let you customize the size for a perfect fit? He owns one. Drop Stop car seat gap pillow? We have them for every car. He’ll watch shows like Shark Tank and The Profit, and then suddenly a box shows up a few days later with — you guessed it — whatever new gadget he saw on the show.

I’ve learned to take his love of a good gadget in stride. I’ve also seen how many of them his parents have purchased over the years, which gives me a better understanding of where it originated.

That said, I bought this sunlight simulation clock because lately, it’s getting harder for him to get up in the morning. Blame the time change. Blame workload. Whatever it is, he just isn’t ready to get up when the alarm goes off (I mean, who is, really?). This alarm has a gentle light that slowly gets brighter as the clock inches closer to the alarm going off. It’s supposed to simulate waking up with natural sunlight, to make you more alert and ready to face the day. Plus the light works as a bedside lamp.

Will it work? Who knows. But if he starts waking up with the alarm, looking as chipper as the lady in the photo above, I’m buying one for my kids.

A girl can dream, right?

Happy shopping, my friends!

Happy Holidaze

I have a confession to make about last year’s Christmas card – I didn’t send them on purpose.

Like many of you, life is busy for our family. When we aren’t working, we are busy moving our boys from school, to sports, to the shower, (occasionally, at best), to bed, only to get up the next day and do it all over again. So, by the time December 2016 rolled around, I hadn’t really given the idea of a Christmas card much thought.

But then a text from friends about needing addresses for Christmas cards reminded me that I hadn’t done anything. I wrote back that I probably wasn’t doing cards and if I did, it would be some hodgepodge collage of crazy cell phone photos because there was zero time to get a perfect, good looking family photo taken. Besides I know (as does every mother reading this letter) exactly what it takes to get that perfect, good looking family photo taken:

  • Find a photographer, clear the schedules and pray for good weather
  • Shop for outfits that coordinate but don’t look too matchy-matchy
  • Beg and plead with your children to wear the clothes you picked out for them – you know, pants that require a belt and shirts that actually button up – then threaten them within an inch of their lives not to get food, or dirt, or wrinkles on said clothes
  • Listen to the whining on the way to the photo shoot about how much they don’t want to do the photo shoot
  • Arrive at photo shoot and bribe children and husband with candy to, please, smile like a normal person
  • Get photos back only to realize that everyone in the photo looks fantastic, except you (Why did I wear that outfit?!)
  • Spend way too much time online selecting just the right card design
  • Begrudgingly check off “Christmas cards” from your holiday to do list and be thankful you have a whole year before doing it all again

But last year, I didn’t make time for all the above, so the hodgepodge collage would have to do. I downloaded the photos off my phone, found the ones I wanted to use and set aside one hour at work to get them done. But I forgot that hour was reserved for a conference call. “No problem,” I told myself, “I can multitask like a boss! I’ll just do the cards while I listen to the call.” Two birds? Meet one stone. Boom.

As the call commenced, I got started on the cards. A layout was selected, photos dropped in place. Edit here, polish there. Tweak, adjust…and voila! The card was done. I read through it a couple times and sat back to admire my work. “Not bad,” I thought. “It’s not our best card, or the prettiest, but it’ll do.”

I went to the order screen and punched in my quantity. In skimming through the order process, I saw a note that said if I wanted to pay $.99, the card company would do a review of my card to make sure everything looked correct, however it would delay the order by a few days. I thought for a moment what a nice feature that was, but I didn’t need it. I’m pretty sure my internal dialogue went something like, “I know what I’m doing. I’ve been a professional writer for 20 years. I’ve checked it twice for errors. Didn’t see any. I need to get this thing done, in the mail and off my list.” So, I scoffed at the extra review, hit submit and ordered the cards.

The confirmation order email came as I was about to head out the door to go home. It was past 5 p.m. and Jon had already called to remind me that Rinner had a soccer game and I needed to get home. But before I shut down my computer, I decided to go back and take a screen shot of the card to show Jon.

In rereading the card, I suddenly had a moment of panic. I had misspelled the word “Merry” on the front of the card. Whaaaat?! I put three ‘r’s’ instead of two. Agggghhhh!!! I frantically pulled up the card website and searched for a number to call. I finally got to customer service where a recorded voice said the wait time was 45 minutes. Agggghhhh!!! I can’t wait that long!!! So, I hastily sent them an email with “Help” as the subject line. I explained my mistake and I would be willing to pay whatever was needed to correct it before it went to print. I immediately got an auto reply that the company would respond to my inquiry within two days. I told myself to stop freaking out, wait for the response and don’t say a word about this to anyone. “Don’t worry,” I reassured myself, “you’ll get this fixed.”

For the next two days I regularly checked email for a response. When I finally heard from them, the customer service person was polite but didn’t pull any punches. “I’m so sorry, but at the time your email was received, the order had already gone to print. We are unable to make any changes or revisions at this time.” He told me I could keep the cards and they would give me a slight discount in reordering, or return them for a partial refund. After the mess I’d made creating and ordering them in such a distracted rush, I decided to return them and forgo a card altogether.

That weekend our minister began a Christmas sermon series called “Holidazed.” It focused on how we often spend the days around Christmas feeling dazed from all the demands and pressures we put on ourselves (over decorating, buying gifts out of obligation, sending the perfect card – ahem), rather than making time to cherish the “holy days” of the Christmas season.

As I sat there and listened to the message, I felt God nudge my heart. He said. “Tell the story of the cards.”

My internal dialogue immediately started with the excuses. “God, look. I just want to forget this ever happened. People won’t notice if they don’t get a card from us this year. I didn’t even want to do Christmas cards in the first place! Can’t we just keep this between you, me, and that Tiny Prints customer service rep?”

“Go on. Write the story.”

Sigh. “Ok.”

So, here it is. Our 2016 Christmas card with its hodgepodge collage of pictures and one too many ‘r’s’ in Merry.

2016_Christmas Card

Looking at this card today, I am embarrassed at what a holidazed state it put me in. Why did I think I couldn’t mail them with that little mistake? Why didn’t I pay $.99 to have someone else review them? Why did I create them in such a distracted rush in the first place? Why? Why? WHY?

Pride. That’s why. Writing that word makes my nose sting and my eyes fill with tears. The truth is the last few years have been hard. Two moves in three years have left me with shallow roots and a deep desire for anything familiar, safe, and constant. But pride tells me to keep up a good appearance. And the perfect, good looking family on our Christmas card is the best illusion – at least once a year in your mailbox.

But this year I’m embracing the imperfect. The truth is sometimes the days are hard and I need help to get through. My kids aren’t perfect, neither is my marriage, and the crazy thing is, it’s okay. There is joy and freedom in the honesty of my imperfection. The imperfection is…well, perfect.

And the reason my imperfection is perfect is because God sent Jesus to be the answer to my messy, crazy, unpredictable, difficult life. He is grace when I fail, peace when I’m afraid, hope when I’m confused, and a light when I’m lost. Jesus came to be all of those things and more for me. He came to be all of those things for you, too.

As it turns out, in 2017 the stars magically aligned and allowed us to take a decent family photo. And as much as I like how polished we all look, I kind of miss the hot mess express of last year’s card.

So, stay tuned for 2018’s card. Whether polished or a hodgepodge collage, whatever we do, I promise to spend the $.99 from here on out.

2017_Christmas Card

The mama bear effect

Claws out. Teeth sharp. Hair on end. Ready to fight. This week a new side of me came out in full force. Her name is Mama Bear and she is not to be messed with. Ever.

I’ve heard about the Mama Bear effect from other mothers. When her cubs (kids) are threatened, whoa, Nellie! Watch out! She’s on the attack!

This week my son came home from his baseball game. Happy about the team’s win, he shared play-by-play how they sealed the victory. Then in passing he said, “Oh, and so-and-so told me that his parents don’t like me.” Then he bounced off to his room to get ready for bed.

“Not like you?!” I immediately thought? “My precious cub…I mean, son?” Surely they had it all wrong.

I followed him into his room. “What do you mean, ‘Not like you?’” I tried asking it without too much steam pouring out from my ears.

“Oh, he said they just think I act too crazy or something,” he said, literally shrugging his shoulders from not caring (or understanding, or both).

I kissed him good night and got out of his room as fast as I could. As soon as I shut his door, hot tears poured down my face. I was M-A-D!! I began replaying over and over in my head what I was going to say to that boy’s mother at the next game. She wouldn’t know what to do with the scraps I was going to make of her!

My anger then moved into fear. Would my son always struggle to make friends? Was life always going to be hard socially for him? Why couldn’t he have some “explainable” reason for his behavior instead of just being a very passionate and rigid personality? Will people always judge him at face value instead of really getting to know him? Should I pull him out of school and keep him home to protect him from the pain of others’ opinions?

Before I knew it, I was a hot mess of tears and snot. Not sure how to get myself out of the emotional tailspin I’d gotten myself into, I went to my room to fall into bed. But before I could cry myself to sleep, I heard the voice of the Holy Spirit tell me to get up and get my bible.

God instantly led me to Psalm 4:1-5, 8:

Answer me when I call to you.
O God who declares me innocent.
Free me from my troubles.
Have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

How long will you people ruin my reputation?
How long will you make groundless accusations?
How long will you continue your lies?

You can be sure of this:
The Lord set apart the godly for himself.
The Lord will answer when I call to him.

Don’t sin by letting anger control you.
Think about it overnight and remain silent.
Offer sacrifices in the right spirit, and trust the Lord.

In peace will I lie down and sleep,
For you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe.

As I read through these verses, I felt the peace of the Holy Spirit speak to me to let God be my son’s defender.

There will be circumstances time and again when my Mama Bear wants to growl, roar and fight over gossip, hurtful behavior and assumptions made about my son.

My job isn’t to constantly defend him, but to allow God to reveal his truth about my son’s heart through his actions, and mine. I also recognized I need to allow my son to see that his confidence and self-worth don’t come from the opinion of others, but rather come solely from the Lord.

After reading the verses and praying about it, I realized there won’t be a showdown at the next ballgame. Instead, I’m going to keep my words to myself, forgive the other family, extend grace and relax. (Deep breath…..)

So, simmer down, Mama Bear. Your Papa Bear – God the Father – has got this covered.

Originally posted on gfcbeautifulblog.com

So this is 40

Throughout my life, I’ve heard turning 40 referred to in less than pleasant ways:

Over the Hill.
Middle aged.
Lordy, lordy, look who’s 40!

From grey hair (already got it), to adult acne (say what?), to extra chin hairs (thank you, Grandma!), most of the older women in my life have left me believing there is little to be desired when it comes to turning 40.

The big 4-0 arrives for me this month and since there’s nothing I can do to stop it, I’ve decided to embrace it.

Hey, world…I’m 40! (There, I said it.)

To mark this once-in-a-lifetime occasion, my husband and I started a 40-day prayer challenge a few weeks ago (he hits 40 three weeks after me). We are reading “Praying the Circle: A 40 Day Prayer Challenge” by Mark Batterson. It’s a companion book to Batterson’s “The Circle Maker,” a book that has had a profound spiritual impact on us over the last two years.

There’s some big stuff on my prayer list for 2014 and this book is helping me pray about it in a way that is specific, exacting and dogged. I’ve come to a place where I’m not asking God once to answer my prayers; I’m petitioning Him every day, for 40 days, reminding Him of His promises and determined to hear from my Heavenly Father.

Spending time in this book and prayer each day got me thinking about the significance of 40 days in the Bible. Here’s a few interesting things I found:

  • Noah spent 40 days on the ark, waiting for God to deliver him to dry land (Gen. 7:12)
  • Moses spent 40 days on the mount, waiting for God to deliver the 10 Commandments (Exodus 34:28-29)
  • It took the spies 40 days to scout out the Promised Land before bringing back fruit (Numbers 13:25)
  • Jonah warned the people of Nineveh that if they didn’t repent, God would destroy the city after 40 days (Jonah 3:4)
  • Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by Satan, prior to beginning his ministry (Matthew 4:1-2)
  • After his resurrection, Jesus spent 40 days with the disciples sharing the wisdom of God’s kingdom (Acts 1:3)

When I looked at the biblical events that occurred around 40 days, almost all of them had something to do with a trial, waiting on God, and trusting Him to deliver His children out of their present situation.

After reading these facts, I was reminded of Psalm 40, one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. In it King David wrote,

“I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 40: 1-3)

After reading through that chapter, and reflecting on all the miracles God performed related to 40 days, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that God has me focused on turning 40.

I believe He wants me to view this birthday as more than just a milestone on the calendar. He wants me to see it as He does – it’s a milestone that marks a turning point in my life – a milestone where I can look back in the future and recognize that the time I took now, just before my 40th birthday, to pray and petition God, was the beginning of something amazing.

So like David said in Psalm 40, I’m waiting patiently for the Lord to answer me. And even if my answers don’t come at the end of 40 days, I’m not going to stop. I’m going to keep circling the big things on my list, because I know that God has the ability to answer them anytime, anyplace, anyhow.

And that makes turning 40 feel fabulous!

Originally posted on gfcbeautifulblog.com.

Sticks, stones and self-sabotage

The other day I was floating along in life, feeling like everything was pretty good, when a friend made a comment in passing that opened the floodgates of doubt and worry in my mind. Suddenly I found myself replaying our conversation over and over, trying to dissect each word, tone and facial expression of my friend, hoping to uncover the true meaning behind what she’d said.

My friend was clueless about how her comment had affected me. She was just innocently passing along some information that another person had shared with her – information about something I’d said that that person didn’t particularly like hearing. Even though I hadn’t done or said anything wrong to the person she got the information from, I couldn’t shake the idea that somehow, someone I’d encountered had registered a bad impression of me.

It’s amazing how quickly our mind and emotions can go from happy to sad. Some days it’s like riding a roller coaster – up, down, good, bad, pleasant, miserable. Why did I allow a simple comment from my friend send me on the mind games crazy train?

I let myself stew over her words all day long, until finally my husband asked me what was up. He could tell by my abnormally quiet demeanor that the cogs in my brain were on overdrive.

I shared with him how I was feeling and how upset it had made me. I felt deflated, defeated. It made me want to shy away from opening my mouth and speaking the truth – even when it’s done from a spirit of love and grace.

He pinpointed my mind-sabotage pretty quickly. It all boiled down to a lack of self-confidence on my part. As much as I try and tell myself that, “sticks and stone may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” it just isn’t true. Words can wound us. Words can open the door to self-doubt. Words can make us want to downplay who God has called us to be out of fear of what others might think or say. No matter what I might tell myself, at the end of the day, I still want people to like me. And when they don’t, I struggle with how to handle their dislike of me.

My husband reminded me that no matter what others might think of me, the only thing that really matters is what God thinks of me. I am His daughter, the apple of His eye. (Deut. 32:10) He knows everything about me. His thoughts about me are precious. (Psalm 139)

Even though I “know” everything my husband was telling me, too often I forget it. I let the influence of others shape my self-perception.

In Romans 12:2 it says, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” And Psalm 94:19 says, “When doubts filled my mind, Your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.”

That’s what I want – to change the way I think, to let God’s comfort erase the doubts of my mind and bring hope and cheer to my heart.

God, give me Your confidence. Renew my mind. Help me not put so much weight in what others think of me. Help me to see myself through Your eyes – as Your precious child. Let me be a reflection of Your grace, love and forgiveness so that I might help others experience the freedom that comes from living fully in Your presence. Amen.

Originally posted on gfcbeautifulblog.com

Friends in a Facebook world


For many years I thought the more friends I had in my life, the better my life must be. I spent most of my teens and 20s collecting as many friends as possible. I treated my physical life like a Facebook life – the higher the number of friends I had, the more social invitations I received, the more gossip I was privy to, the more “fun” I seemed to be having. But despite having lots of friends in my life, there were still times I felt very alone, like I didn’t have anyone I could really be myself around. It’s a strange feeling to be surrounded by so many people, yet close to no one.

Then a job moved me away from all my friends, away from all that was familiar. It was actually a blessing in disguise because God used that time show me what His word says about being a friend, and how wrong I’d had it all along.

God’s not called you to be best friends with everyone.

The type of friendship God’s called you to is distinct from any other relationship in your life. It’s different than relationships with your family, your co-workers, a mother/daughter relationship, or even a mentor/mentee relationship.

In order to better understand what true Godly friendship is, it helps to understand the difference between friends and acquaintances. Acquaintances are usually socially satisfying. True friendships are emotionally satisfying. Think of it this way: acquaintances are head-to-head relationships, but true friendships engage the heart.

So true friends – best friends – cannot be all of your Facebook friends. It’s not possible to have the type of relationship God’s called you to have with a host of people. For me, there’s only about three or four people in my life who fit this description.

And why is that? It’s because there is a closeness involved with true friendships. The closeness is made in the day-to-day. It’s not dependant on a staged environment. I don’t have to get a coffee or go shopping with one of my best friends in order to have a good time. These are the ladies in my life who I don’t bother cleaning house for. They are welcome, no matter how much laundry is piled up.

We need to be careful about who we chose as our true friends. In this type of relationship you will be sharing your heart and hurts with one another. And you will influence each other – good or bad. Proverbs 22:24-25 says, “Don’t befriend angry people or associate with hot-tempered people, or you will learn to be like them and endanger your soul.”

Friends are either going to make you better or make you worse. You’ll be a better or worse wife because of your friends. You’ll be a better or worse mother because of your friends. You’ll be a better or worse Christian because of your friends. You’ll be better or worse at spending money because of your friends. You’ll be better or worse at taking care of your health because of your friends. Friends influence friends.

That’s why it’s so important to choose them wisely. As it says in Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” A true, Godly friend will sharpen you, and vice versa. She’s not going to make you a duller person.

A friend loves at all time.

In the Facebook world of friendship, it’s very easy to hide or even delete someone who is bugging you. Maybe she shares a little too much personal information, or maybe she’s always pushing her politics on you. Whatever the case, Facebook makes it easy to put distance between you and a friend you’re not feeling so friendly about.

But in the real world, that’s not so easy, especially when it comes to best friends. What are you supposed to do when your true friend is driving you crazy?

I have been friends for over 20 years with Kelly, when we met our freshman year of college. Despite the length of our relationship, there have been times when I haven’t been the most lovable person. And there have been times when Kelly’s tested my resolve, too. But our friendship has endured because we’re both committed to doing what it says in Proverbs 17:17: “A friend loves at all times.” Kelly knows that I’m going to love her whether she’s lovable or not, whether she needs me or not, whether we have the best time or a boring time, and I know she feels the same about me.

We need our friends to stick with us – especially when we don’t act like it. And we need to tell our friends, “I need you…and even if I don’t need you…I want you!”

Are you my friend or my counselor?

In true friendships, God’s called for counsel to be a two-way street. When you look at your group of friends, are they your friends or are they your counselors? Are you their friend, or are you their counselor?

In Proverbs 27:9 it says, “The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume and incense.”  Godly friendships shift counsel back and forth.

I can’t tell you how often I see people use Facebook to answer their problems! Should I date this guy or not? Should I change jobs or not? We love getting other opinions, but we need to exercise caution on what we reveal and whom we seek counsel from.

Last year my husband and I were considering moving our oldest to a new school. This is one of those things I could have posted on Facebook and asked for lots of ideas and opinions on where to go and what to do.

But instead I sought the counsel of my best friend, Amy. Amy’s a former educator with her own specific ideas and opinions on education. She very easily could have used that to influence me and the decision we were facing. But she didn’t. Instead she prayed with me and gave me good advice that wasn’t based on her own opinions and feelings on the matter.

Heartfelt counsel means my friend is going to speak to me from the heart, to the heart. It’s soul talk. She speaks to me from a place of counsel – from her own soul – it’s not from the top of her head. I don’t want someone who just speaks about the obvious things of my circumstances. I want someone who can speak to my heart.

I don’t have a single close friend who I don’t get good counsel from. It’s one of the most important hallmarks of my relationship with them. I don’t want someone to patronize me. I want them to tell me like it is, even when it’s hard to hear. We have to have someone in our life who gives us heartfelt counsel. And when friends come to us with their problems, we want to be able to have a word from our heart to theirs.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend.

If you’re going to have a Godly friendships – “iron-sharpening-iron friendships” – and you’re going to get close, then you’re going to get stuck with that iron from time to time. Wounds are going to happen. We are going to hurt those who are closest to us. It’s inevitable, especially in friendships where we are going to give and receive heartfelt counsel.

Proverbs 27:5-6 says, “An open rebuke is better than hidden love. Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.” This verse says that a good friend is trustworthy, even with a wound.

In my relationships with my closest friends, there have been times that I’ve had to share something with them that I knew could potentially hurt them. And sometimes the truth I had to share could have ended our friendship.

Honesty isn’t easy, but God’s called you to speak the truth in love to those in your life that you care about. This isn’t about tearing down your friend or putting her in her place. This is about speaking from your heart to her heart, even if she might not like what you have to say.

And if a true friend ever has to come to us and “wound” us about something, we need to trust that it is meant to bring healing to our lives. We need to trust their good will, whether or not we agree with what they are saying.

Cover, counsel and pray.

Having these types of friendships comes with a risk – the risk of them betraying your confidence.

Proverbs 17:9 says, “Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter (gossips) separates close friends.”

Sometimes an intimate friend will share something big with you, and you just can’t quit thinking about it. You think you need to tell somebody – or maybe pray with somebody about it. But you know how that goes…you tell somebody, then they tell somebody, then they tell somebody…

In her teaching “A Wise Friend,” Beth Moore has a great suggestion on how to handle juicy news. She suggests when a friend tells you something big, go find someplace quiet and tell every single detail of it to God. Beth says,

“Pour it all out to Him…say, ‘Lord, you’re never going to believe what she told me!’ You know what the strangest thing is? If you do this, you will have the same emotional satisfaction you get as when you tell a friend. Pouring it out to God will do the same thing. It’ll get it off your chest and you’ll feel more at ease.”

Some of the biggest offenses and hurts some of us have been dealt have been at the hands of a friend. Instead of gossiping about a friend, we need to guard them and their heart.

I constantly have a problem with black pepper getting stuck in my teeth, so I always appreciate it when a friend will tell me about it and save me the embarrassment of continuing to blather on while all this stuff is in my grill!

We have the same responsibility to cover our friends when they’re showing a little too much emotionally. Instead of gossiping about her situation, we need to cover her, counsel her and most importantly pray for her. It’s what you’d want her to do for you.

Let’s commit to being better friends the way God intended for us to be.

Recommended Reading:

  • How to be a Best Friend Forever by John Townsend
  • Necessary Endings by Dr. Henry Cloud
  • Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud & John Townsend
  • “A Wise Friend” video message from “Wising Up” by Beth Moore

Originally posted on gfcbeautifulblog.com.

Get yourself a Bible promise

When my mom was a little girl, growing up in the First Baptist Church of Norman, Oklahoma, her pastor taught her a simple but important spiritual lesson that has served as cornerstone of her life, and mine:

“Get yourself a Bible promise and stand on it, because God’s Word never fails.”

Growing up, when I would go crying to my mom about something that had gone wrong – a friend hurt my feelings; I failed a test – mom would often quote Preacher Hallock’s famous line to me.

When I was in high school, I remember asking God to show me a verse in the Bible that could be “my verse” – a verse that, no matter the situation, I could turn to as God’s promise specifically for me. I can’t remember exactly how it happened, but one day God led me to Proverbs 3:5-6:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.”

As soon as I read those verses, I knew they were my “Bible promise.” Throughout high school and even into college, those verses became a strong foundation for me.

When I was scared about leaving home to head to college, they were there saying, “Trust in Me…” When I started getting serious with a boy, they were there saying, “I’m directing your path…” It seemed no matter the situation, my Bible promise was the perfect answer to calm my fears and put my mind at ease.

After college, I married that boy I got serious with and we started our young married life; a life that quickly became centered on our growing careers and expanding social life. Life was good and we were happy. There weren’t a lot of uncertainties and I found myself drifting further away from my walk with God. I would still pray and go to church, but mostly I was doing what I wanted to do and directing my own path.

Then life started throwing me some curve balls – a couple of career changes, two moves across country, lingering health issues, and the birth of our two kids. It didn’t take too many of these uncertainties to come my way before I found that “leaning on my own understanding” did nothing to bring me peace and comfort.

So I dusted off my Bible promise and really started practicing what Preacher Hallock had taught my mom all those years before. When I didn’t know what to do, I trusted in the Lord. When I felt myself getting frustrated, I let go of trying to figure it out (leaning on my own understanding), and gave it back to God. The more and more I practiced my Bible promise and gave control of my life and daily situations to God, the more peace came my way, even when I didn’t have all the answers.

God loves hearing our prayer requests, but sometimes we need to stop asking Him what to do and look to the Bible to find out what He’s already said about our situation. Remember, His Word never fails, so ask Him to show you a Bible promise you can stand on, no matter what.

Do you have a Bible promise? If so, I’d love to know it and what it means to you. Share yours in the comments below.

Originally posted on gfcbeautifulblog.com

Split personality house

I’ve always subscribed to home decorating magazines. Country Living is probably my favorite. The homes that grace its pages have inspired what I’ve tried to make my home look like over the years.

From the outside, I’ve done a pretty good job of making my house magazine ready. Welcoming wreath? Check. Potted plants with trailing vines? Check. Cute doormat? Check.

And when you step through the threshold, you might expect to be greeted with an entryway that looks like this, right? Warm and lived in, yet perfectly appointed with timeless, stylish décor.

Well, it’s warm alright, thanks to the fact that we live in Florida. And lived in? You betcha. By me, my husband, our two rowdy boys and a dog that sheds year round.  Oh, and don’t forget the mile-long Hot Wheels track. Mind your step, please.

Welcome to our home! Watch your step, please!

As the lone female in my house (dog included), I pretty much make the decorating decisions around here. And while he might have chimed in on a few paint swatches, my husband’s only serious décor request was for the TV to line up directly with the couch. So by in large, our home definitely “feels” like me. It reflects my personality.

But since we’ve had kids, their decorating style has started to infringe on mine. Gone are the cool coffee table books, replaced by Nerf dart guns and Spiderman coloring books. A bowl that sat atop the coffee table now houses stray baseball cards, toys from Happy Meals and a pirate eye patch. 

The sunroom is the best example of where my kids’ and my decorating style clash. Here’s the left side of the room. It’s the side you can see from the main living room in our house. My original plan was to turn this into a reading room with vintage garden furniture, a rug and a few lamps. But, I haven’t done too much decorating in here.

Why, you ask?

Future reading nook, perhaps?

Here’s why. This is the right side of the same room. Knowing this was on the opposite side of the same room, would you be inclined to curl up with a good book? Me neither.

Toys for days….

As my kids’ have accumulated more stuff, I just keep buying more baskets, bins and storages boxes. That way when it’s time to go to bed, they just walk around and drop their precious plastic trinkets into one of the boxes and, voila!, my house suddenly feels like mine again. At least until morning.

I can hear all you moms of grown kids saying, “Enjoy it now. One day you’ll miss stepping on a Lego in the middle of the night.” Honestly, I don’t know that I will. Not the Lego part, anyway. Those suckers hurt! And in all honesty, there’s a part of me that’s looking forward to reclaiming what was once mine. I’d like to eventually use the hall closet for more than just a basketball hoop.

Two points!

Until then, I’ll keep dreaming of what I wish my house looked like, while I enjoy living in how it actually is today – filled with the sounds, sights and people that make this house our home.

Originally posted on gfcbeautifulblog.com.