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A Funny Thing Happened At The Tea Party

Last night my daughter asked me if we could have a tea party. My daughter is three and the idea of having a tea party with her sounded awesome so I quickly said yes. Little did I know how excited this would make her. She instantly gave me a huge smile and even let out a squeal of delight.

The next morning all she could talk about was her tea party. I must admit I was also excited about this upcoming mother-daughter bonding time. First, she had to go to school. I assured her that we would have a tea party as soon as we came home from school.

As expected, the first thing she asked me when I picked her up from school was, “Is it time for my tea party now?” When I answered yes, she once again squealed with delight.

By this time I was feeling pretty good about my relationship with my daughter. I, too, couldn’t wait to share this special moment with her. Of course we had to invite the boys because once they heard about a party they wanted to attend.

We arrived home and started to prepare for the tea party. I watched my three excited children wait patiently as I gathered the cups, juice and cookies. We sat down and began our tea party. My daughter was grinning from ear to ear. It was wonderful to see how excited she was.

And then she said it.

“YAY! Now I’m four!”

In one phrase I realized that I had completely missed the deeper meaning behind the tea party. At some point, months or weeks ago, we were talking about her next birthday party. She said that she wanted to have a tea party for her birthday party.

My daughter thought she was attending her birthday party today. Suddenly, phrases from earlier in the day made more sense:

“Mom, we didn’t invite Ella to my party.” “That’s okay sweetie, we’ll see her soon.”

“Are we gonna open presents at my tea party?” “No there aren’t presents at a tea party.”

I sat there and realized that my daughter was convinced she was turning 4 today. She was celebrating a birthday that wasn’t due to arrive until February. I panicked. I wondered how she would react when I broke the news to her. This day had been so perfect up until this moment and I was about to ruin it. Smiles were about to be traded in for tears.

I debated not telling her. I thought maybe I would just let it go and she would figure it out on her own. One glance at my older son and I knew there would be no letting this comment slide. He was moments away from bursting her bubble. If I didn’t let her down easy, he was going to do it the only way an older brother knows how: mockingly.

“Sweetie, today isn’t your birthday. You are still three. This is a tea party. What a wonderful time we are having at this tea party. This is the best tea party I’ve ever been too. Wouldn’t you agree?”

My son couldn’t help but add a comment about how she is a twin and she couldn’t be turning four unless her brother was turning four as well.

I held my breath and waited.

She took the news as gracefully as any hostess would. She smiled and nodded, acknowledging her mistake, then changed the topic.

Crisis averted.

Sure, for the rest of the day my daughter continued to confuse the tea party with her birthday party, but the tea party was not ruined. My children and I enjoyed our tea party. No one got upset. There was no fighting. And even if it wasn’t my daughter’s birthday, I know she had a good time.

No More Wishin’ Wells

The other day I was driving with my kids and it was raining. My daughter noticed the windshield wipers and commented from the back, “They making that nice and clean!”

After agreeing with her, I asked a follow up question to my oldest son, “What are the things called that wipe the rain away?”

I waited for his answer. My heart was hoping he’d give the same answer he has given for the past three years. I wanted him to say, “Wishin’ wells!”

That’s what he’s always called them. I’ve never once corrected him. At first I wondered whether I was doing him a disservice by allowing him to continue to call them wishin’ wells. As his parent I’m supposed to teach him the ways of the world, it doesn’t seem fair to him not to tell him the correct names for things. What if he’s 10 and still calling them wishin’ wells? Do I really want him to suffer the humiliation from his friends making fun of him for not knowing the correct term for windshield wipers? Surely he would know the truth before he turned 10, right? But I was not going to be the one to tell him.

Because wishin’ wells is such a better name for windshield wipers. Windshield wipes are boring black squeegee blades that wipe rain from the windshield of your car. Wishin’ wells provide hope. With each swipe of rain, wishin’ wells bring an opportunity to wish for something better. As if replying immediately to your wish, wishin’ wells leave a clean glass allowing you to look clearly into your future. It’s hard to compete with wishin’ wells. Who wouldn’t want a pair of wishin’ wells on her car?

And so, the other day when I asked him, I waited anxiously for my son’s response.

“Windshield Wipers,” he said unenthusiastically, perhaps wondering why his crazy mother didn’t know the answer to such a simple question.

My heart sank. Someone had told him. Or he figured it out on his own. There were no more wishin’ wells.

This is a side effect of kids growing up. They learn the correct names for things. They start to sound more like adults than little children. They start to dress themselves correctly instead of putting their shirts on backwards. They spell their name correctly instead of printing each letter backwards or upside down.

Most days I’m pretty sure I take the cute things for granted. I assume that my child will always act that way. Until he doesn’t. All too late I discover that the moment has passed. I try to recall whether I captured it on video or in a picture. I hope so. Because there are so many cute moments that I’m sure I won’t remember them all.

There is one I will try to remember forever. I hope I never forget about the wishin’ wells.

What if Christianity was like that?

[Yesterday I posted Part 1 of my review of Blue Like Jazz the movie. This post is not so much a review of the movie, but instead a post inspired by themes from the movie.]

When I first heard about The Hunger Games, I didn’t want to read it. My coworker described the plot to me and I told her that I thought I would pass. I’m more of a chick-lit kind of girl. There was nothing about a story of teenagers fighting to the death that sounded appealing.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I felt like the book was stalking me. It seemed every time I checked Facebook, someone was posting about how much they loved the book. I listened as my sister-in-law gushed about how amazing the book was. I overheard coworkers talking about their mutual love for the book. As the release of the movie drew nearer, it was hard to avoid the chatter about Hunger Games. Every person I heard talking about the book loved it.

Eventually I felt as if I was missing out by not reading the Hunger Games. I wanted to know what was so special about a book about teenagers killing each other. I witnessed so many people in love with the book that I wanted to experience that love too.

What if Christianity was like that? What if all people could talk about when they talked about Christianity was the love they had for it? What if Christians were known as a people who loved instead of a people who judged?

What would it look like if Christianity became something that so many people were in love with that those who weren’t Christians couldn’t help but be curious about it?

When did Christianity become something to be ashamed of? How did we let the actions of a few extremists set the tone for an entire faith?

I wish that people knew that Christianity is not about the rules. It’s not about telling others why they are going to hell. I wish that people knew that Christianity is about a relationship with a loving God who wants to journey with us as we navigate through a life of good days and bad days. I wish that as Christians we remembered that we are not better than anybody else and God never tells us to judge others. I wish we focused more on our duty to love and care for others rather than our tendency to alienate them.

I’m excited about the conversations that will take place as a result of people watching Blue Like Jazz. I’m hoping non-Christians will be curious to learn more about the faith. I’m hoping that Christians will be brave enough to examine their portrayal of God to others.

I don’t have God all figured out. I’m confident I can spend my whole life searching and I’ll never know all the answers. God is bigger and more complex than my human brain can ever grasp. But I know that my life is immeasurably better when I allow God to be a part of it.

My review of Blue Like Jazz the Movie (Part 1)

Last night I went to see Blue Like Jazz. It’s a movie based on the book of the same name written by Donald Miller. Several years ago, I read the book and loved it. I remember reading the book and thinking “Can he really say this in a Christian book?” The book caught my attention and helped me see Christianity from a different view.

I was excited to see the movie because I thought it would be like the book. To be honest, I expected it to be good but I didn’t expect to be surprised by anything. I thought it would be like when I saw Hunger Games. It was a great movie but I knew everything that was going to happen because I read the book.

Blue Like Jazz was not like that. The screenplay was adapted quite a bit to make it more like a continuous story and not a collection of writings. The movie follows Don, a college student from Texas who transfers to Reed College, a liberal school very different from his southern Baptist culture in Texas.

As I watched the movie, I related with Don in several scenes. Having been raised going to church and an active member of my church youth group, I found myself in an entirely new world when enrolled at Ithaca College in upstate New York. I was meeting people who openly rejected the Christian faith.

For the first time in my life, I wondered if I had been scammed by the Christian faith. Was I a Christian because I had been brain-washed as a child? Did I actually believe that a man could be hung on a cross and three days later be alive again? Why would a loving God allow poverty and natural disasters? I listened as people told me about how closed-minded and hateful Christians were. The Christians they talked about were not the Christians I had grown up with, but I felt ill equipped to argue otherwise. I didn’t know how to stand up for Christianity without also defending all the extremists at the same time. Did I really want to be associated with a faith that included people more filled with hate than with love?

I’m not going to spoil the ending but the final scene of the movie really resonated with me. My heart ached as I listened to Don say words I wished I had thought to say years ago. I wanted to apologize for all the same things. His monologue very accurately described my feelings related to my behavior in college. Even now, even as the wife of a pastor, I find myself needing to apologize the way Don did.

I never regret my time at Ithaca College. Much like Don in Blue Like Jazz, being in Ithaca forced me to interact with people and lifestyles I had never been around. I met and befriended people who were nothing like the people I grew up with. They believed things far different than the things I believed. Listening to their worldview made me question the things that I had always accepted as truth. Watching their passion for causes helped me decide what I was going to be passionate about. I graduated college a stronger Christian than when I entered. I still did not have all the answers but I knew that there was a God that loved everyone, even those who didn’t love him back.

The message of Blue Like Jazz is a message of love. I have a lot more to say about that but this post is already pretty long so I’ll follow up with a post tomorrow.

Blue Like Jazz is playing in limited release right now. You can find out if it’s playing at a theater near you here: http://www.bluelikejazzthemovie.com/. This isn’t your typical cheesy Christian movie. There is a lot of beer drinking, some drugs and some profanity. It’s not preachy. It’s not corny. To quote a tweet from Donald Miller, “if you don’t want the people around you to know you’re a Christian, you might identify with [Blue Like Jazz].”

I hope you’ll go see Blue Like Jazz. If it’s not playing near you, I hope you’ll read the book. Christian or non-Christian, I believe both the movie and the book have a message for all of us.

Beautiful Masterpieces

My children love to color. Coloring time is a staple in our daily activities. Each of them has a different technique: my daughter is quick and only makes a few marks on the page; my younger son uses a lot of colors and presses down very hard with his crayons; my oldest son takes his time adding intricate details to his work. When they are finished they love to marvel over their masterpieces. They smile with great delight as they show off their perfect creations.

My kids love to color but they have one stipulation at the beginning of coloring time: they must start with clean paper that has no marks, folds or tears. Do not even think about giving them a piece of paper that has a few crayon marks on it. If you accidentally tear a corner while ripping paper out, you might as well try again because they won’t accept it. If they are going to make a masterpiece, they cannot work with a flawed piece of paper.

I’m thankful to serve a God that doesn’t work like that. I’m so glad that God doesn’t take one look at my imperfections and flaws and throw me out because I am of no use. I’m grateful that God can take me with my marks and scars and still turn me into a masterpiece. I image that when I allow God to work in me, God is just as proud of God’s work as my kids are with their masterpieces.

The Pizza Disaster of 2012

Sometimes I’m not sure what comes over me. I have these moments when I get confused and think that I’m Martha Stewart. Maybe not even Martha Stewart, just a woman who is comfortable in the kitchen. A woman who can see a ball of pizza dough in the grocery store and know that it will make a beautifully delicious homemade pizza worthy of pinning on Pinterest. But instead I am a complete disaster in the kitchen incapable of cooking anything without a carefully written recipe telling me step by step what to do.

And so began the homemade pizza disaster of 2012.

To truly understand what came over me, I must mention a conversation that happened the night before ‘the incident.’ It was bedtime and I was saying goodnight to my oldest son. As I was leaving the room he asked, “Mom, are you bored with us?” Not quite sure what he was getting at, since I would never categorize life with the three of them as boring, I asked him to explain. He replied, “Well, it just seems like you read and do work a lot and you don’t want to play with us.”

At that moment I would have purchased my son a brand new car if he had asked. My heart ached when I heard his words. Had there been no ounce of truth to that statement, I would have dismissed it as a tactic to delay bedtime, but I knew in my heart that his feelings were legitimate. I had worked a lot of hours for the past month and I could tell he noticed.

And so, the following day, we set out on an extraordinary day filled with fun adventures and make-your-own pizza.

At lunchtime, I gathered the children into the kitchen and we began making the pizza. With the baking stone in the oven, I began rolling out the dough onto a cutting board. So far, things were going well. We took turns spreading the sauce and sprinkling cheese. The pizza was ready for the oven and all that needed to be done was transfer the pizza onto the baking stone.

This was the first problem.

In hindsight, I must have rolled the dough too thin because there was no way to transfer the pizza from the cutting board to the baking stone without tearing the dough. Adding to the problem was the fact that the baking stone was hot and awkward to work with. I decided to opt for a room temperature cookie sheet. Having covered the cutting board with flour, I knew that I was going to need something to put on the cookie sheet to prevent the dough from sticking. Again in hindsight, I can see why spraying the cooking sheet with PAM would have been a good way to go; however I decided to stick with the flour technique and began to sprinkle flour on the cookie sheet.

Funny thing about flour on a metal cookie sheet: it doesn’t stick. Instead of serving its purpose, the flour quickly became more of a nuisance than a benefit. I’ve never been one to let a little flour get the best of me so I continued the transfer process tearing several holes in the bottom of the dough. Once completely on the cookie sheet, I began to reconstruct the pizza and for a moment I thought I would be able to salvage the pizza. I put the pizza in the oven and set the timer.

Ten minutes later, I checked on the pizza and it looked great. It still had 8 minutes to cook so I went into the study to help my son who was trying to print something from the computer. Once again in hindsight, I should have realized that the pizza was going to be done in less than eight minutes. In the back of my mind I had this thought, but assumed that the extra time was to allow the dough to thoroughly bake.

Still assisting my son, the timer went off. At this point I was very excited to finally taste the fruits of our labor. I opened the oven door and discovered that the pizza was almost black. My heart sank. Our family project was destroyed. There was no way the picky eaters in my house (myself included) were going to go for a blackened pizza.

Sadly, this story ends with me substituting our delicious homemade pizza for a frozen pizza from the freezer. I worried that my kids would be devastated that their carefully crafted pizza was ruined. The bright side of this story is that they didn’t care. By the time the frozen pizza came out of the oven, they had forgotten all about the black pizza.

Before throwing the pizza out, I captured a picture to remind me of this day. It probably won’t be going viral on Pinterest anytime soon, but when I look at this picture I’m reminded of the time I made pizza with my kids.

It’s All About The Follow Through

When I was in sixth grade, I taught my friend how to do a back walkover. To quote from Wikipedia, a back walkover is “an acrobatic maneuver in which a person transitions from a standing position to a gymnastic back bridge and then back to a standing position again, undergoing one complete rotation of the body in the process.” The two of us were working on a gymnastic routine to be performed for a grade in gym class. We were given a list of maneuvers each with a different point value. To get an “A”, your routine had to equal 25 points. A back walkover was worth 5 points. It was the most difficult maneuver on the list.

For days, my friend and I worked to perfect the back walkover. Neither of us was able to do one but we were determined to learn in order to receive a perfect score. Each afternoon we would take turns spotting each other and helping the other person. Watching my friend, I could see exactly what she needed to do in order complete the walkover on her own. She was uncertain, but I could see that she was very close to getting it. She just needed to trust her hands as she descended backwards. I told her to keep her eyes on her hands and follow through. After a few more attempts she did it perfectly. I tried several more times but was unable to master it. In my head, I knew exactly what I needed to do. I could watch my friend do it and know exactly what she was doing wrong. But I just couldn’t do it myself.

I feel that way about parenting. In my head, I know exactly how I should parent my kids. I know the techniques for remaining calm when overwhelmed. I know that I should cherish the little moments with my kids and not wish away their childhoods in exchange for quieter times. I write on this blog about the useless attempts at trying to be the perfect mom. I share insights about motherhood and how to see the bigger picture.

And yet, I can’t seem to do it myself. I can understand it in my head and even explain it to others but I still struggle with following through. I still get frustrated and lose my temper with my kids. I still find myself chasing perfection.

I am pretty sure if I had kept trying, I could have finally completed the back walkover. After enough practice and coaching I think I could have done it. Parenting is a lot like that. There are aspects of parenting that don’t come naturally. Some skills must be practiced over and over before they are learned.

I don’t have parenting all figured out. I am confident that I never will. But as I continue to figure things out, I will continue to practice my follow through. It won’t make me a mom that is perfect, but hopefully it will make me a mom that is always improving.

I Miss Lazy Saturdays

When I was in college, the dining hall served brunch until 1 p.m. on the weekends. There was a make-your-own waffle station and a made-to-order omelet station. In order to make sure we didn’t miss this wonderful meal, my roommate and I were careful to set our alarms for noon so that we’d make it before the omelet station closed. Once in the dining hall, we would usually sit for hours talking about the previous night and/or the latest drama in our lives. At 3 p.m. the dining hall began serving dinner, which meant that they put out freshly baked cake and pie for dessert. Sometimes, my friends and I were still finishing up brunch when the cake came out. We found a piece of cake to be a perfect way to end a good brunch. Once adequately stuffed, we would usually meander our way back to the dorm and watch TV or take a nap until dinnertime. In summary, Saturdays in college were basically a wash. Nothing of great importance was typically accomplished on a Saturday.

One Saturday after I got married, but before I had kids, my husband and I watched an entire season of Grey’s Anatomy. We rented the DVDs and spent the day in front of TV folding laundry. We ate all of our meals sitting on the couch as to not miss a minute of the show.

I often wonder if people without kids know how special their Saturdays are. I worry that they treat Saturday as a day to get stuff done and spend the day running errands that they can’t get done during the week. I understand that it’s not practical to have a lazy Saturday every weekend but if you aren’t having one once a month you are missing out. As a mom for the past 5 years, here is what I miss most about Saturdays:

1. Sleeping In. I’m pretty sure I could spend the entire day in bed. I probably couldn’t sleep as late as I used to, but between snoozing and watching junk TV the only thing that would motivate me to leave the bed would be to eat something. I could definitely sleep until 10 before having to turn on the TV.

2. Staying Up Friday Night. Knowing that there is nothing to wake up for on a Saturday is the perfect excuse to stay up late on a Friday night. I don’t necessarily need to go out, I am just as happy staying in and reading a good book or catching up on email and my DVR.

3. Eating Dinner on the Couch. Confession time, this point isn’t limited to just Saturdays. Prior to having kids, my husband and I used to joke that our kitchen table was the most unused piece of furniture in our house. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit how often we ate in front of the TV. If we weren’t eating out, we were eating on the couch. There is just something so rebellious about eating on the couch. Every once in a while, when my kids are gone, I’ll still enjoy a meal on the couch.

If adults who don’t have children do not spend their weekends staying up late on Friday, sleeping in on Saturday, and eating meals on the couch, please don’t ruin it for me. Please allow me to fantasize that this is how “the other half” lives. Know that I won’t call you before noon because I’m assuming that you are still sleeping. If I see you in the store at 9 a.m. and showered, know that I’m going to be completely baffled. My advice to the non-parents out there: Live it up! Sleep the extra two hours. Put off grocery shopping until the afternoon. Don’t waste your Saturday being productive.

I promise I won’t judge you, because if it were me, I’d be sleeping in and watching Storage Wars marathons every Saturday.