October 26, 2015

What the Lady at the Grocery Store Didn't Tell Me

My older daughter is a high-school junior.

Oh, mama, let me catch my breath for a second, because I'm still caught off-guard by that shocking fact.

My daughter. My firstborn. The baby with whom I share a middle name and, sometimes, clothes, is a high school junior. 

I didn't feel this thrown when she finished middle school. "Freshman" sounded young and still childlike. Sophomore comes off as inherently and appropriately immature (see "sophomoric"). But junior? As in, next stop, senior? As in, "start paying attention to all those college information emails from the school guidance counselor you've been dismissing up until this point"? As in, "you'd better figure out who's going to take her senior pictures"? 

Hold on...I'm still regrouping.

While I'm at it, I'm flashing back to my new-mom days and to that older mom at the grocery store, telling me, "Cherish every moment. It goes by so fast. In a blink, she'll be all grown up."

With the clarity of hindsight, here's what else I think she might have told me if it hadn't been abundantly clear my baby was on her last Cheerio and I was on my last nerve.

1. It goes so fast, but sometimes only when it's already gone. When you're in it--I mean, IN it up to your sleep-deprived eyes--motherhood often creeps by with agonizing slowness. Right about the time you're figuring out the whole senior picture thing, you start to think you just got her 5-weeks-2-days-and-36-minutes-pictures done. But that doesn't mean you didn't appreciate all the moments in between. 

2. You are not the only one. Whatever "it" is that you feel like you might be the only mom doing or not doing or feeling or not feeling, you've probably got company somewhere. Find another mom at library lap time or in the church nursery or at the pediatrician's, lay "it" on the line, and wait for the blessing of a "me, too" moment. There are few things more encouraging than to say or hear, "Really? I thought it was just me."

3. Everything that's good to do is not necessarily good to do right now. When my older daughter was not quite 6, we started her in kindergarten, dance, and a midweek kid's club at church. All in the same week. Rookie mistake. (Only kindergarten ended up making the cut that year.) As a mom, joining a book club might be good. Training for a marathon might be good (I mean, not for me, but some some other mom). Repainting your bedroom might be good. Getting your master's degree might be good. But any of these good things might not be good in this season, and they almost certainly are not good all in the same season.

4. It will be okay. That thing you're worried about right now--getting your baby to sleep through the night, potty training, friend drama, college applications? It will probably turn out just fine. Of course, some things are not fine at all, and my heart goes out to parents who are living with these every day. Also, the journey from here to okay is often hard and exhausting. But with some effort and time, most sources of mom worry end up working themselves out. And this is coming from one of the worryingest mom worriers of them all. I worried that my firstborn would never learn to write her name or count past 29 or have any lasting friends or survive high-school geometry. She did. It was all okay. And your "it" most likely will be, too.

5. You don't have to fight every battle there is to be fought. TV/sugar/screen-time consumption. Messy rooms. Kids who don't love reading. That t-shirt your elementary child wants to wear day after day. There's always something that can be an issue. And what matters to one mom for very good reasons might not matter at all to another for equally good reasons. But in general, is this battle eternally important? Does it have to do with shaping your son or daughter's soul? Will it really count in a week or a month or a decade? I personally try (try) to use this litmus test: many years ago, the cane seat in the chair I use at our computer broke through. (I tried not to take it personally.) My then-4-year-old wrote me a note about it. Translated from her preschool phonetics, it said, "I'm sorry ('srre') about the seat but that's not the importantist ('inpotinist') thing because God is." If it's not an importantist thing, maybe it doesn't need to be a thing in my life or in your life after all.

Of course, these days, I am the older mom at the grocery store. (Let me catch my breath again.) For a list of what I'd tell a young mom now that I've put in 16 years at the University of Motherhood, hop over to Mom Babble(Really, I'd be so grateful if you put off painting your bedroom or training for that marathon or whatever and clicked on this linkYou're heading there right now? Thank you so much...can I send you some cookies?)

Gratefully shared @ Works For Me Wednesday.

October 18, 2015

I Don't Deserve to be Treated This Way

A few Saturdays ago, I was having one of my mom freak-outs.

I felt overwhelmed and tired and crunched for time and stressed and discouraged. 

So I did what I always do under those circumstances: I started running around like a maniac, doing bits of one project, then abandoning it to do a piece of another. The whole time, I was slamming things and babbling incoherently and generally scaring my daughters--except that they've seen this so many times before, they're used to it. Which is terrible but true.

A few hours later, when I'd calmed down, I noticed a sticky note my daughter had written to me, mid freak-out. She'd posted it on the faux-vintage Ghiradelli canister that lives on my counter for easy access to chocolate-for-medicinal-purposes.

The note said, "We love you."


And that, mama, is what grace looks like. That is what mercy looks like.

My girls gave me what I didn't deserve, and they didn't give me what I did deserve.

Which is what God--the Grace-Giver, the Merciful Judge--does. 

He loves me most when I am least lovable. And His love, like that of my sweet daughters', doesn't hinge on what I do or don't do.
"This is how God showed His love for us: God sent His only Son into the world so we might live through Him. This is the kind of love we are talking about--not that we once upon a time loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they've done to our relationship with God." (1 John 4:9,10 The Message)
My girls and husband and God also do not give what they get from me. They do not treat me the way I treat them. They do not repay me in kind but by being kind.
"The LORD is compassionate, merciful, patient, and always ready to forgive. He will not always accuse us of wrong or be angry [with us] forever. He has not treated us as we deserve for our sins or paid us back for our wrongs." (Psalm 103:8-10 GOD'S WORD Translation)
Missionary and author Amy Carmichael wrote, "Our feelings do not affect God's facts." The fact is that my family loves me. The fact is that God loves me. These facts are not altered by what I say or do or feel like or act like.

I don't deserve to be treated this way. In fact, I can't deserve to be treated this way. There is nothing I can do to earn this kind of unconditional, lavish, generous mercy and grace. This is does not mean I have an excuse to be as undeserving as possible. It just means that I love God and my family not to get something from them but out of gratitude for what they've already given.

I'll be keeping that sticky note on the canister on my counter for, oh, forever. 

To remind me of how much my family loves me and how much God loves me.

And to remind me of how to love them. 

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Have you been on the receiving end of some mercy or grace lately? I'd love to hear about it.

October 9, 2015

5 Reasons Moms Shouldn't Feel Guilty About "Alone Time"

A few months ago, I put together a little list of "Mom Fails That Aren't."

"Loving your alone time" was #5 on this list.

I was so grateful to hear from moms who said they were encouraged and appreciated the perspective that some crazy standard of "perfection" is not the goal of motherhood.

But along the way, I also heard from several moms who said they still feel guilty about loving their alone time. 

I don't think their guilt is so much about taking time alone: I think most moms understand they need to do it, for their own sake and the sake of their families.

I don't think the guilt comes from doing it; I think the guilt comes from enjoying it. I suspect some moms think their time alone should be viewed like a trip to the dentist: necessary maintenance for the greater good but not something to be anticipated or savored. 

Admittedly, as one of the most introverted introverts ever to draw a breath of air, I crave solitude more than, well, anyone else I've ever met. But I'm convinced all moms need time on their own to recharge, refill, and regroup.

For the as-yet unconvinced, here are five reasons moms should take time for themselves, by themselves--and why they should feel absolutely free to love it while they're doing it.

1. Good stuff in, good stuff out. There are plenty of analogies I could use here: a rechargeable battery, a gas tank on a car, etc. Maybe you're thinking, "I already get the point. I don't need an analogy." Well, I'll give you one just in case it's been a long day (or a long night) and your abstract thinking is a little fuzzy. Picture a pitcher of water. It gets poured out into glass after glass until eventually, it has to be refilled. You, mama, are that pitcher. I know: obviously...but stay with me. You pour out love and attention and wisdom and creativity and energy and sympathy and discernment and enthusiasm over and over again into the little glasses who live in your house. Eventually, you're empty. Usually, this happens right about the time someone in your house wails that they're thirsty. You've got to get it to give it. Spending time on your own is for your family, not against them.

2. The Master example. No one ever loved better or deeper or more passionately than Jesus. He spent a lot of His time on earth in the middle of crowds so thick, He could barely move through them. What did He do for a counterpoint to this? "He left and went to a place where He could be alone" (Matthew 14:13). Following Jesus' example in anything is a good idea, and this is no exception. If the Master Teacher did it, we've got a lesson to learn from it. (And if you find that your people follow you to your alone-place, take heart: Jesus had the same problem. Check out the link at the Matthew address above.)

3. You don't have to unlike everything you liked before you were a mom.
Before you had kids, what did you enjoy doing? Did you suddenly develop an aversion to all those things just because your title officially became "mom"? Motherhood changes you for the better in so many ways, but it doesn't completely wipe out everything you were before. Doing some of what you loved, pre-motherhood, while you're in--IN--motherhood fills you up. Which is necessary and good. See #1 on this list.

4. Loving alone time doesn't mean you don't love your kids, too. These are not mutually exclusive interests. Both things can be true. You love other people and other pursuits at the same time you love your kids, don't you? This is not an either-or-deal; it's and-and.

5. Taking time for yourself does not make you a bad mother. You are not abandoning or neglecting your children. You are not ignoring or brushing them off. And if taking time to be by yourself makes you a better mom (and it probably does), then doing it is actually an act of love for your kids. And actively loving your children makes you a good mom! You are not taking some time for yourself because you don't love your kids, but because you do love them and want to give them your best. So get out of the house or into a bubble bath or wherever and be blessed.

We moms have plenty we can feel guilty about. (See "With Apologies to My First-Born: 5 Things I Feel Really Badly About" for one of my mea culpa collections. It's down a ways on the "Lists & Laughs page of this blog.) 

But enjoying--yes! ENJOYING!--time alone shouldn't be on the list. So how about making a new list instead? "5 Things I'm Looking Forward To Doing the Next Time I'm By Myself," maybe? 

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *
If you're still not sold on this subject, click over to "The Importance of Alone Time for Moms" at Go Forth and Mother.

And by the way, that dentist's visit does not count as "alone time" even if your kids aren't with you. That's all I'm saying.

How do you like to spend your alone-time, mama?
Share it here or on Facebook!

October 1, 2015

31 Things I Love (That You Might Love, Too)

Based on extensive research--namely, scrolling Facebook--I've figured out that this "take the challenge of writing about the same subject every day in October" thing is, in fact, a Thing. I think it's officially called 31 Days.

But this is not that Thing.

I do love to make blog lists, though (which is why most of my blog posts are lists). I was mulling over a "things I'm thankful for" list, but I'm sure that's been done or is being done or both. As well it should be. I've also been thinking about a "favorite faith-building resources" post, and I still might get to that at some point. 

But in the interest of 1)doing something on this blog every day of October and 2)thinking about things I'm thankful for, I settled on this list of loves. Which would be totally self-indulgent except that I'm hoping you might end up loving something on this list, too. 

(Although it goes without saying, I want to say it anyway: this is a list of mere things. My affection for these does not in any way compare with the heart-wrenching, soul-changing love I have for my family.)

Since this isn't a 31 Days project, I figure I can set this up any way I want. And the way I want is just to add to this post-in-progress every day this month and put the daily "thing" up on Facebook and Pinterest. By the time we get to October 31st, I'll have a complete list...and maybe you'll have a few new things you love, too.

(Which reminds me: what do you already love? Please share! It could be something that will change my life but I don't even KNOW about it yet!)

1. "October," by Eric Whitacre

I already put this autumnal anthem on my "What I'm Hoping to Do This Fall" post, but I can't think of a better #1 item for a love-list that's set this month. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. Play it in the background of whatever else you're doing, and it will make your whole day better. 
"October is my favorite month. Something about the crisp autumn air and the subtle change in light always makes me a little sentimental, and as I started to sketch I felt that same quiet beauty in the writing. The simple, pastoral melodies and subsequent harmonies are inspired by the great English Romantics (Vaughn Williams, Elgar) as I felt that this style was also perfectly suited to capture the natural and pastoral soul of the season." (Eric Whitacre)
2. Cozy, fuzzy sheets on the bed. Goodbye, crisp cotton of spring and summer; hello, sleeping in a hug. These Berkshire Bedding Microloft sheets are supposed to be "the new alternative to flannel"--warmer, softer, and more breathable. The bad news about them is that they
make getting out of bed at least 200% more painful. But they making getting into and being in bed (already two of life all-time great pleasures), about 1000% more wonderful.

***Bonus love related to #2 + tie-in to #1: "Sleep" by Eric Whitacre. The most gorgeous grown-up lullaby.

3. Maple Apple Cinnamon Muffins
 Need muffin therapy?
Click here to print the recipe.
4. Thoughts To Make Your Heart Sing, by Sally Lloyd-Jones. 
I'm saving Lloyd-Jones' brilliant Jesus Storybook Bible for another list, but her "gorgeous and innovative collection of 101 simple-yet-profound thoughts on faith" is one of our family's dearest treasures. For children but absolutely not just for children, this lovely book is full of wisdom and inspiration. For instance...
"Did you know that leaves aren't really green? They only seem that way. Each leaf contains chlorophyll--the green color that captures light and turn ti into food for the trees. It's this green that hides the leaf's true color. In the autumn, trees produce less chlorophyll, the green fades, and so the leaves show their true colors--blazing reds, yellows, and golds! The leaves were always those brilliant colors--we just couldn't see them. And the Bible says you can't see all you really are either. But one day, when God mends His broken world once and for all, you'll be all He made you to be-and then your true colors will come shining through." ("True Colors," from Thoughts To Make Your Heart Sing, by Sally Lloyd-Jones)

5. Deliberate gratitude.

6. Saigon cinnamon. Sweeter and more aromatic than the supermarket or dollar-store version, this cinnamon upgrade is worth tracking down just for the pleasure of inhaling its spicy scent. I've ordered it from King Arthur Flour (they call theirs Vietnamese cinnamon), but I also loved what I got from Amazon for about a third the price. Take your pick, but get your hands on some before you get much further into fall and winter baking. This is what the holidays smell like.

7. Tree of Life necklace. My gifted and talented friend Heather, owner of Treasure Trove Jewelry (TTJJewelry on Etsy), put up a picture of this gorgeous piece on Facebook a few months ago, and my sister commented that she loved it. I ordered one for her for her birthday, and when she opened it at a family party, I commented that I loved it, too. A few weeks later, when I got in the car after church, a box with this necklace--my necklace--was sitting on the front seat. The preface to this story is this: 1)my sweet husband and I met 22 years ago at the back of the sanctuary of the same church we still attend; 2)Heather and her family also attend this church; 3)after I remarked on how much I loved the necklace, my husband secretly ordered one from Heather; 4)when he gave it to me, he told me it was a slightly belated "happy day-we-met 22nd anniversary" gift. And the moral of the story as I told it to the middle- and high-school girls in my Sunday School class? Go to church, meet a nice guy, then he buys you jewelry. Love it..and him.

8. BarkTHINS Snacking Chocolate. I've been looking over this list and have noticed a disturbing lack of chocolate. Well, I'm fixing that right quick with this entry. I find these addictive chocolate shards at my local grocery store--which is saying something because I live in a "city" that doesn't even have an Olive Garden. My point is that these are readily available, fair-trade, non-GMO, and entirely beneficial to mental health. Looking for a fall tie-in? Try the Pumpkin Seed version.

9. This mum from my mom.

10. Our road in autumn.

11. Lovely Thanksgiving ornamentation. Naturally, if you're seeing any kind of craft on Guilty Chocoholic Mama, it's going to come from someone else. This one comes from The Deliberate Mom Jennifer...and as a Canadian, she's already put her banner to use. Those of us on U.S. soil have a few more weeks to get ours together. Either way, if you're looking for a beautiful, autumnal DIY deco project, check out Jennifer's post "How to Make a Gorgeous Thanksgiving Banner." I'm going to attempt this in preparation for hosting my in-laws for the great feast, so it goes without saying that intercessory prayer would be appreciated. At least I know I've got my pumpkin pie recipe down.

12. Moms' wisdom-for-all-seasons. Next up: course curriculum for a PhD in Maternal Studies.

13. Big-sister/little-sister Homecoming photo op. 
When you're a young mom in the grocery store, and older moms look at your baby and tell you, "It goes by so fast...in a moment, she'll be all grown up," this is one of the moments they're talking about.

14. October nights. As in..."Listen! The wind is rising, and the air is wild with leaves. We have had our summer evenings, now for October eves!" (Humbert Wolfe, and no, I'd never heard of him until now. But I love this quote. So a list of Things I Love seemed like a good place to put it.) 

15. Our barn quilt square.
So our old farmhouse came with an old stone house/spring house/milk house that's one of my favorite features of the place. What was once a large window on the back had been covered over with a square of sheet metal. Which had not bothered me, but was, apparently, driving my mother to distraction. When barn quilt squares started showing up on (appropriately enough) barns in our area, she told me she was having one painted for me to replace the hated metal square, and I picked a "star mosaic" pattern. My parents took our actual house paint to the artist for an exact match, and now the much-maligned piece of metal is history. Note that we didn't put this on our barn...these pieces can be sized to fit pretty much any structure. Wander around these links for a while to find everything you'll ever want to know about barn quilt squares, including how to make your own if you're a crafty type.

16. Apple-butter aroma therapy. Thanks to my
Photo credit: Cooking Light/
Becky Luigart-Stayner; Cindy Barr
mama for reminding me how much I love the smell of simmering apple butter. Load this honey-infused, overnight version from Cooking Light into your slow-cooker before you go to bed, and wake up to apple-y comfort.

17. Apple pie. I've made Nancy Baggett's "Favorite Deep-Dish Apple Pie" from The All-American Dessert Book for a few years now, but for a recipe that my blogging friend Karen says tastes just like her grandma's, see "What I'm Hoping to Do This Fall," item #7.

18. "Come Alive (Dry Bones)." This Lauren Daigle song is a new all-time favorite in our house. If you haven't read the story behind the song in a while--or, ever--check it out here

19. Marshmallow Pumpkin Latte shower gel from Bath and Body Works. Okay, thus far, I think I've done pretty well not to load this list with pumpkin this and pumpkin that. But it's time to give in, and this is the way to do it.

20. Frozen Cathedral, by John Mackey. Contemporary American composer John Mackey was asked by John Locke, Director of Bands at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, to write a concert closer for a 2013 performance of the school's Wind Ensemble. Mackey thought, "I can do that." Locke asked him to make the piece so powerful that, when it was over, the audience would immediately stand to its feet. Mackey thought, "I can do that." Locke asked Mackey to dedicate the piece in honor of Locke's late son. And Mackey thought, "I can't do that." Ultimately, Mackey's wife guided him toward the idea of mountains--which Locke's son had loved--being a sacred place for some people. Thus Frozen Cathedral was born, written, and given its world premiere on March 22, 2013. This is not just music, and the 15 minutes it will take you to listen to it are worth it for the journey from darkness into light.

21. Giving Thanksgiving its due. I don't want to talk about Christmas right now, but not because I'm anti-Christmas. I'm just very pro-Thanksgiving, and I don't like to brush past it as something that needs to be done and cleared out of the way to make room for the next thing. A season for everything, a season for everything...

22. The Ragamuffin Gospel, by Brennan Manning. "[God] is not moody or capricious; He knows no seasons of change. He has a single relentless stance toward us: He loves us. He is the only God man has ever heard of who loves sinners. False gods--the gods of human manufacturing--despise sinners, but the Father of Jesus loves all, no matter what they do. But of course this is almost too incredible for us to accept. Nevertheless...through no merit of ours, but by His mercy, we have been restored to a right relationship with God through the life, death, and resurrection of His beloved son. This the Good News, the gospel of grace."

23. Falling for Rapunzel, by Leah Wilcox. In the category, "Children's Books That I, Personally, Prefer To Goodnight Moon."

24. Crackling wick candles. Like having a campfire right in your living room. Without the mess or, you know, the fire department.

25. Cheater Apple Cinnamon Pancakes. 
The cheat is a "complete" pancake mix. Yes, I'm that kind of mom. The apple and cinnamon are apple cider in the pancakes and applesauce in the topping and (wait for it) cinnamon in the batter. Here are the specs if you want to make a batch yourself.

Apple Cinnamon Vanilla Pancakes 
(Click here to print this if you're old-fashioned like me that way.)

2 cups complete pancake mix (I like Krusteez Heart Healthy "Light and Fluffy" Buttermilk Complete)
3/4 cup apple cider (a little less for thicker pancakes, a little more for thinner)
1 teaspoon cinnamon (see #6 on this list)
1 teaspoon vanilla
vegetable oil for frying

1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup pure maple syrup

Blend pancake mix, cider, cinnamon, and vanilla just until no more dry mix shows up. Lumps are your friend. Cook in a well-oiled skillet until golden on both sides. For the topping, mix the applesauce and syrup and heat for a few seconds in the microwave until warm. Spoon over the pancakes. Savor the cheat. 

26. The Triple Chocolate Bread over at Southern Krazed. Seriously. I made some earlier today, and if I ever quit eating it tonight, I can go to bed. So I can get up and have more FOR BREAKFAST. Made with cocoa powder, almond milk, and coconut oil, this is health food in my book.

27. This quote from C.S. Lewis. Also, every quote from C.S. Lewis. 

28. The power of music to say what can't be said any other way. 

29. My Contigo no-spill (really!) travel coffee mug. Brilliant.

30. Sugar-free French vanilla creamer. To go in my coffee. That goes in my Contigo no-spill coffee mug that really doesn't spill. Yes, I know this fake food is evil. I don't care. I love it.

31. The best version EVER of "Itsy Bitsy Spider." By Go Fish (motto: "music for kids that doesn't drive parents crazy").

Thanks so much for letting me share some of what I love with you!
If anyone needs me, I'll be sipping my coffee with vanilla creamer, 
listening to all this music, and eating apple pie by the glow 
of my crackling candle before I climb into my fuzzy-sheeted bed.
Or, at least, I'll be wishing I was doing all that.