“Knot” Fixing It

My daughter has always been a hair twirler. As soon as her hair was long enough and her fingers agile enough, her right hand found comfort there. She is constantly looping & unlooping those wispy brown strands.

Recently, it’s gotten worse. When she was a baby, it was a sign that she was getting tired. Now almost two, it’s a sign that she’s alive; she is always always twirling. It’s getting her into trouble. Yesterday I had to cut her finger loose because her hair was wrapped too tightly and was cutting off circulation. Every morning, the right side of her head is a nest of knots. I have to brush out chunks, leaving damaged frizz behind.

Jame and I actually had a discussion about it last week. How do we make her stop? When we pull her hand out of her hair, she puts it right back. We don’t want her to hurt herself or (for vanity’s sake) leave herself bald on one side.

I decided to do some research (i.e. Google it). The first article I came across said that hair twirling is a self-comforting activity. That’s why initially Leanor was doing it when she was tired. It was just her way of decompressing. The article further explained that she will most likely grow out of it in the next year, and since she isn’t showing other signs of distress (lack of communication, fear of being touched) that it’s probably just a developmental stage.

Instead of being stern with her when she twirls, the article suggested to “fight stress with love.” It said that often when new stresses come up in a child’s life (weaning off a bottle, a new sibling arriving, etc.) the behavior can intensify.

*Cue Lightbulb Moment* That exactly explains our circumstances. The last three months have have brought a ton of baby sister snuggles and kisses and squeals of delight…and about triple the twirling. Perhaps this is the way Leanor is adjusting to her new role as big sister.

My problem is letting her twirl. I’m a fixer. I see a problem, and I have a solution for how to untangle it. There’s strategy for undoing the snags and a plan for avoiding future knots. As much as I want to scold her for messing up her hair, I’m beginning to realize that I’m not actually helping.

Sometimes people need to twirl. When a problem or stress comes up, they may not need a fixer or a solution. They just need someone to love them through the stress, to pray for them & be there for them while they live in the emotion of that unexpected circumstance.

There is a time to speak, and a time to be silent. We tend to jump on the former and disregard the latter. It’s instinctual for us to want to make it all better, to speak the wisdom that brings about life change. But good advice isn’t accepted unless it falls on open ears and soft hearts. And the key so often to keeping ears open and hearts soft is just to listen and love.

It’s humbling to not fix it. Listening and loving sometimes feels idle and useless. And giving advice gives us a sense of control and power over a situation.

But God is the one who is the ultimate Fixer. Before we jump in to help, we need to ask ourselves if we’ve even brought the Lord into the solution. The Holy Spirit might want us to hold off on all the talking and simply love and pray and listen and wait….and let Him do the work of speaking. In His sovereign solution, “not fixing” may be the best fix there is. He has a way of untangling our messes better than we could ever imagine anyways.

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How to Survive Young Motherhood

My phone buzzed on the counter this morning. The text asked me how my day was going. I paused for a moment and scratched my head, “What have I done today?” For an embarrassingly long minute, I drew a blank.

I’m realizing that my life has become a washing machine, both figuratively and literally (will laundry ever cease?). Every day is a tumbling haphazard spin cycle…but somehow this feels normal because every day is like this. My days are spent mopping up spilled juice, corralling fighting kids, cleaning up poop, making macaroni and cheese for lunch (again), and picking up toys off the floor. The level of mess depends on the day, but every day is messy. My job is to keep everyone alive and to keep the house in some semblance of order. How successful I am depends on the day, and sometimes depends on the ratio of coffee to blood coursing through my veins.

Take today as an example. The day isn’t half over, and I’ve changed multiple diapers, picked up a steady stream of messes my kids have trailed through the house, kept the older two from killing each other, and nursed the youngest one. It probably doesn’t seem like much, but it is my reality.

Tomorrow will look completely different and yet somehow shockingly similar. I’m slowly learning to settle into unpredictability as a pattern of living. It’s not complex (though fitting 3 car seats into a Sentra when the van is in the shop can feel like rocket science) or technically a “real job.” It’s not glamorous or even unique. I’m not doing anything different than a million other moms who have stayed home with their babies. Yet, it’s still an adjustment to pacing. The movement is slower, but somehow more exhausting than the quick cuts of my pre-kid life. It’s unpredictably predictable. Or predictably unpredictable. Either way, it’s tiring.

Maybe you’re like me who always saw herself as a mother but hasn’t necessarily always felt maternal. Maybe you were the one growing up who didn’t enjoy babysitting, who accidentally made babies cry, and who found nursery work at church to be a spiritual form of torture. And now you’re the mother to pooping, screaming, messy little lives.

If any of this sounds familiar to you, don’t be discouraged. Instead, celebrate the little wins. When you feel like your intelligent mind is being sucked dry by the constant repetition of simple commands, celebrate when they’re actually obeyed. When you feel like you’re strung out on the worst kind of drug because of sleep deprivation, celebrate a 4 hour stretch instead of 3. When your mirrors and windows look like a 6 handed grease alien attacked them, celebrate the 3 tiny humans whose greasy hands are having the best time methodically destroying your peaceful living space. When people ask you what you do all day and you don’t know how to answer, remember that your job of keeping these snot monsters alive is important even if it feels like it isn’t.

Celebrate the little wins, and the God-given souls that are the future and your legacy. It might feel like chaos on repeat for now, but that is ok. God has something to teach us in the slow motion mess of young motherhood. Sometimes it’s gross and boring and rage inducing…but it’s also beautiful. And it’s over too soon.

Favorite Reads of 2017

We’ll be heading into the last week of 2017 pretty soon, and I think I’ve finished the last book I’m going to be able to squeeze in this year. Where did the time go? (said every Mom who wishes she had more time to read…or shower…or sleep).

This year, I noticed a couple of trends in my choices: memoir reading & re-reading. I read 8 memoirs/autobiographies this year. I’m pretty happy with my picks. I loved almost every one I read. Real life people are interesting to read about, especially when they tell their stories beautifully.

I also re-read 9 books. My goal was 12, but I had a baby this year…so RIP Re-Read 2017.

Enough excuses. Here are a couple of my favorites from 2017:

Talking as Fast as I Can. I have a problem. I’m an actress memoir junky. I’ve read them all: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Jenna Fischer, both of Mindy Kaling’s, and (in one of my dumber moments) Amy Schumer. Lauren Graham tops them all, in my opinion. She manages to be hilarious without being vulgar. She also doesn’t come across like she’s trying to make you laugh; I think she’s just genuinely funny. It’s a quirky intelligent humor. She was perfect for the role of Lorelai…because she is Lorelai, minus the drama. As a fan of the show, I was already certain I would enjoy reading this book (give me all the insider knowledge on everything Gilmore). But Graham made me love her for her. Her voice is funny, smart, and laid back. I made me want to have a cup of coffee with her. Can someone make that happen? Luke?

The Humans. This one was a Jocelyn pick in our book club. If you don’t know Jocelyn, you should. But in case you don’t ever meet her, here’s a fun fact: she always picks the most intriguing books. This one is no exception. The Humans is a hard one to categorize. Is it satire? Is it science fiction? Is it philosophy? Is it a love story? I’m not sure what it is, but I liked it. The main character is an alien who has to take on the human form of a mathematics professor, recently killed after making an important mathematical discovery. The alien is now on reconnaissance, attempting to ascertain if the professor told anyone of his discovery & obliterate the threat. Some of you sci-fi haters may cringe over all of that, but the book is actually incredibly charming. Imagine a story told from the perspective of someone who doesn’t understand human culture. This book is funny! But it’s also smart and doesn’t shy away from dealing with some of the finer points of what it means to be human.

Those are just a couple of the good ones. Final count on my 2017 reading was 31 books. Not too shabby. I’m looking forward to a new year of reading in 2018. Maybe I’ll even catch the elusive 52 books in a year goal.

Josie says, “L to the O to the L, mom.”

Enough of Not Enough

It’s easy to start to struggle with purpose in times of transition. And that’s the season we find ourselves in: transition. In the last couple of months, we have implemented new boundaries in our finances, have been blindsided with a difficult diagnosis of a beloved family member, and have gone from having two children to three. Things are changing. It’s a lot.

As a result, I’ve developed a bad case of the “not enoughs.” My house is never clean enough. I don’t do enough intentional activities with my children. I’m not active enough in the ministries I’ve been a part of. I don’t work enough hours in my very part time job. I’m not a loving or patient enough wife. I’m just surviving. And that fills me with guilt. I should be doing more!!!! I should be better than this!!!!!

The culture screams against this: You are enough! Push all of that guilt away. Accept yourself. The intention is good, but the focus is in the wrong place. The more focus I put on myself the more glaring my failures are. I can bury the guilt, but it doesn’t eradicate it. The roots are still there; and before I know it, little sprigs will begin to push through the surface.

The truth is, apart from Christ, I’m really not enough. I just keep on messing up and making mistakes. I bury myself deep in fault, mired in a thick soil of guilt & shame. The more I try to dig myself out, the deeper the hole becomes.

Only Christ is enough for me. He digs down to the roots of guilt and shame sunk deep and pulls them up and out and sets them on fire with His grace. In the flames, He says, “ENOUGH! Stop wasting your time digging up guilt when by MY grace I’ve already forgiven the root of it! You are FREE! I am enough!” He does the work because that’s who He is. I’m free because of who HE IS, not because of the stuff I’m fixing. He is more than enough, and He takes me as I am and makes me into what He wants me to be in His timing.

Stop digging. And watch Him do it.

He puts it better: “Cease striving, AND KNOW THAT I AM GOD.” Enough of this “not enough” stuff, and more grace…always more. He is always enough and more for me.

Jehovah Increases

Early Monday morning, we welcomed our third baby into the world. She’s beautiful. She has a full head of black hair, a clearly defined dimple on one side, and the squeakiest cry you ever heard. We named her Josie.

Jame and I have always struggled to agree on names for our kids. We’ve felt an unspoken (and probably self-imposed) pressure to find the perfect name, something simultaneously meaningful & unique, distinctive but not alienating, traditional yet modern. With Josie, it came easily.

Her name means “Jehovah Increases.” It seemed fitting, since her coming was a bit of a surprise to us, that her name be a reminder that God is the one who is sovereign in increasing our family. Plus, if we are honest, we have been watching a lot of Riverdale. (Shoutout to you Archie comics fans). 😜


Thirty minutes after our girl was born, we saw the first headlines of the Las Vegas shooting splash like a dark wave over social media. As we spread our exciting news to friends and family, my heart broke to think of the mothers who would notified that their babies were gone, taken too soon for no reason.  The juxtaposition of so much joy with so much pain in a single calendar day left me feeling exhausted and almost numb.

More than anything, it made me want to break out of that hospital and get home to my family. I think when tragedies and violence take place like this, my heart goes into protect mode. I want to gather my people into the nest and shelter them from the hate, the violence, the hurt in this world. There is something about feeling so out of control that makes me want to control everything. If I can just keep my children safe from all the anger and division, if I can just keep them sheltered from outside influence, then I’ll never get a call like that.

But I have no control. The very best people get sick and die. A car coming from nowhere at just the wrong time can claim innocent life. A much anticipated concert becomes a bloodbath because of a madman with a gun. I cannot keep my kids safe like I want to, even if I activate quarantine code. We don’t live in Eden anymore; sin has corrupting influence that doesn’t scale back with time. It’s escalating, like a dirty snowball tumbling downhill. I cannot stop it by hiding from it.

Even if I was capable of keeping every evil influence out, what kind of life would that be for my children and myself? I don’t know the purposes God has prepared for their lives, but I hope that He is preparing them (and me) to stand up against injustice and hate. You can’t stand up when you’re hiding underneath a rock. In my desire to protect and shelter, I don’t want to cripple my children from understanding and preparing to live with purpose in the world that we live in, to face it in its sinfulness, and to point it towards the only Way out. 

So that leaves me here with a newborn in my arms, scared and sad and confused by what is happening. Where do I go from here? I go to the Rock. He has not given me a place to hide, but a firm foundation on which to stand. He asks me to trust Him when life doesn’t make sense. He asks me to believe that if the worst were to happen, He is there, and His eternal shelter cannot be destroyed by hate or guns or death.

In the meantime, Jehovah, increase my faith.

When You Realize That 40 Weeks Is Actually 10 Months…

We are nearing the end, the final month. My internal treasure is pushing against the confines of her temporary home…In other words, she’s running out of room in there, and people are beginning to notice. They give me those pitying glances as I waddle past, and ask that customary question, “Are you ready?” The answer is inevitably “never” and “yesterday” at the same time.

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My first/last 3D ultrasound. Coolest. Thing. Ever.

The last month is rough. Not only are there physical demands that come from a 6-10 pound human just chilling in your uterus, but there are the mental ones too. The end is close, but not quite there. And the gap is what kills me. Whether I’m ready or not for the change to take place, I’m ready to at least get started. But it’s a waiting game. And since I can’t get started, I sit around, quietly expanding and sweating profusely (AZ summer probs), while my mind wanders to what will be. Time will tell, but time is frustratingly tight lipped.

I’m conflicted too, because the last baby is very special, and I really don’t mind her being comfortable there, sharing her secret movements with just me (and anyone else who doesn’t mind awkwardly touching my abdomen). It’s just that I wish I could also know what to expect after she makes her debut. But as the proverb goes, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”

Also, cake sounds fantastic right now.

All of that to say, there are a lot of feelings being felt, and there’s no eloquent way to say it: I’m a bit of a train wreck. My husband fielded a phone call from me earlier today that consisted of me cry-snorting about how everything is changing and what is even the point of it all. As always, he knows how to turn my doom-and-gloom into something resembling a faint grasp of reality. He assured me that we’ve been here before on the cusp of change and have also survived the plummet that follows.

He also suggested that I take some time to process it all, write about it, and pray about it. So I put my kids down for a nap (or in Peter’s case, not-so-quiet-time), and here I am processing. What follows may seem obvious to you, but it all left my brain & heart this morning when I was weeping on the phone. I need a refresher course:

– CHANGE IS GOOD. God doesn’t desire sameness for us. He saved us to transform us, and in the process glorify Himself. That process of change is of His own doing and in His own timing (much to our chagrin). But that process is GOOD. Ultimately it leads us to be more mature followers of Him. Whatever we are facing, it’s purposeful even when we don’t see it. Our job is to faithfully lean into the process, be open to His leading, and surrender control over how we think it should go.

– WAITING IS GOOD. Just because there is pause doesn’t mean that there is no movement. God can do so much (if not more) when we are forced to wait. In the wait, we realize that we are powerless to control outcomes in the way that we want.  We must stop long enough to recognize that He already knows how it all ends. We would prefer immediate clear cut answers so that we can predict and plan. But in the wait, He begins to chip away at our self-reliance and gives us supernatural peace that a well managed calendar can’t sustain.

– HE IS GOOD. When it comes to contentment in any season of life, the question that is most pivotal is this: Do I actually believe that He is good? If the answer is yes, then any overwhelming, angering, frightening, exhausting, life-sucking circumstance that we can imagine is purposeful and born out of love. And if it is from the hand of a loving and good God, we can survive/make it through/stand up with Him in it. It’s not always a welcome answer, but it’s the one we must anchor ourselves to.

As I’ve finished processing all of this, I’ve also come to the realization that there’s no graceful way to land this plane (That’s a cliché, not a metaphor about my size…just to clarify 😜). I’m still a month away and covered in flop sweat. I’m still astounded by how close I am to being able to cry on command. But I also know that truth is heavier than feeling, and if I have to choose any foundation to rest on, it’s that He loves me through it all.

Now where’s my cake?

It’s the Who

It’s that time of year. When it gets toasty in Arizona, the Engrams go to Colorado. It’s a long established tradition that has been around since before I picked up the name, and it’s one of my favorites. During the summer, Colorado doesn’t ever really touch 90 degrees. It rains there too, which makes every view another impressive display of God’s green thumb. Did I mention that it’s cooler there too? With the humidity of monsoon season in full force in Arizona, sub-90 sounds like paradise to this pregnant mama.

Take me there!!

However, Colorado isn’t just lush scenery and cool temps for me. Seven years ago, I made the exact same 12 hour drive with the Engram clan. I was dating their oldest son at the time, this quiet guy with a full head of dark hair and a heart for Jesus. I felt honored to be included on the family trip even though we’d only been dating for a couple of months.

(Off Topic Funny Story: I totally misunderstood when Jame said, “You’ll be sleeping in my parents’ room,” and thought that I was going to be sleeping at the foot of their bed. There were definitely pullout couches that I didn’t know about until about 6 hours into the drive. Major whoops on my part, but I think they were impressed that I was just going to roll with it.)

This trip wasn’t the last time we’d visit Colorado, but it was on this particular trip that I fell in love with that handsome contemplative oldest son. Maybe it was laughing together at Frasier episodes or the long talks on the balcony or the German food and the ice cream. Maybe it was the cool air and the gorgeous views. Whatever it was, I left that trip pretty sure that James Engram was “it” for me.

Tomorrow I will be making that 12 hour drive to Breckenridge with the Engram family. We’ll enjoy the fresh air and the views and the ice cream and the German food. But I’ll be thinking of him too, because I’ll always associate that beautiful place with Jame. He is in Japan this time, serving the Lord with a team from our church. Fortunately, I get to bring along tiny glimpses of him in my children: Peter’s long lashes & Leanor’s appetite. 🙂 But I’ll probably be remembering too, where it all began and the man I’m so proud to have as my husband.

It’s the “who” that makes the place special.

Perhaps I had Colorado on the brain when I was reading in Psalms earlier this week:

My soul yearn, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh cry out for the living God. Psalm 84:2

This verse brought me to church. At Desert Springs (my home church), so many of the people are inspiring. The Word of God is clearly taught. The worship is beautiful. But I think sometimes I come into the sanctuary with a heart for lesser things. They’re good things, even God-ordained things: the sounds of beautiful melodies, the warm greetings from friends.

But am I entering those walls first of all because I want more of Him, the Living God? Or is it because I want more fellowship with friends or more songs that move me? The Psalmist yearns for the courts of the Lord, not because the building had something to offer him. It was because of WHO He was going to be with when he entered that building.

The reality is if it’s not first and foremost about Him, then the building is inconsequential, the worship just notes strung together, the people just friends. He elevates it all to something more. The building becomes a means to an end, with the end being that we get to meet with Him and be encouraged with His Word. The worship becomes more than excellent music but an opportunity to praise His name in a unique and creative way. The people become more than just friends; they’re family members united eternally by His blood. We should not just love the local church because of the stuff it’s made of or the services it provides, but because God is there in a place He designed where we could get to know Him better.

It’s the “WHO” that makes the place special.