on living Advent

Saturday, December 20, 2014

image by Baz Ratner
This week I called an old friend - the kind of friend you talk to twice a year, but with whom you share your secrets. I told her nothing was as it should be, and lately I'm just talking to the ceiling. Advent, she told me. It's the season of waiting, and you're living in it.

It's easy to celebrate waiting in a symbolic way. To remember the young pregnant woman, to reflect on the prophecies of Isaiah, to sit in silence and awe. It's easy to light candles and reflect on their anticipation. Advent in the abstract draws up beauty, wonder, inspiration. It's easy.

Advent in real life isn't quite so serene.

We told our children there was no Santa. They argued with us.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Today I'm over at Mamapedia, sharing how my husband and I thought we'd raise children without Santa, but our kids had other ideas. You can read more here.

If you are here from Mamapedia, welcome! You may be interested in my thoughts on refusing to hide, or why I don't want to give my children a faith that scares them (and what I'm doing to prevent it). If you connect with what you see here, you can follow along on Facebook. I'd also love to meet you! You can email me at awidemercy at gmail dot com.

When you want to do more than survive the early years

Friday, December 12, 2014

You and I, we're doing something hard. We're devoting our energy to meaningful lives, to sharing our souls with our children, to staying connected with our spouses, and to nurturing our wider communities. Then we're waking up and doing it again the next day. It's grueling work. Rewarding - yes. Beautiful and worthwhile - of course. Honoring to God and to the little people made in His image hanging onto our legs - to be sure. Still. It is really hard.

The question I ask myself most often is, how do I maintain my pace? How do I keep giving my best to the people I love? How do I keep showing up and being present, really present, day after day after day? How do I keep up with both the physical and emotional needs of my family? How do I keep pursuing the ideas and projects that nurture my soul? How do I do more than just survive the early years of mothering a large family? How how how how how?

How do you structure your kids' time? And how much does it really matter?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

"Stop. Don't panic. If you cry, you can't think about what you need to do next. Look around you, and find the next place to put your foot." She drew a ragged breath and clutched her dad's hand. Another breath. Then she looked down.

The next logical step was unclear, even to me. We'd chosen this trail because a guide had told us it was perfect for kids. In one sense, it was. They'd climbed the walls of caves and discovered waterfalls, and the views were enough to make even little boys pause.

But this trail was much too dangerous for small children. The boulders went straight up, the water below was fast and cold. For the last hour we'd picked our way through uneven rocks muddied with ice and slush. My kids are accustomed to the hard work of hiking, but this was too much for any of us. All the same, here we were. We'd gotten up the steep embankment somehow. Now we had to get down it.

I looked again at my little girl catching her breath beside her dad. She wasn't crying because she was scared. So far, her fears are limited to Swiper the Fox and the monster she insists lives in our laundry room. She doesn't understand how easily something could go wrong right now. Instead, she cried because she thought she couldn't do it. We knew she was wrong.

How the internet changed this highly insensitive parent's home

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Sorta Crunchy's post on the Highly Sensitive parent is making the rounds this week. Did you read it? Are you Highly Sensitive, too? I skimmed it and quickly realized I'm not. In fact, it's safe to say I am the Highly Insensitive Parent. I am the queen of throwing a disgusting diaper in the kitchen trash because "we're about to take it out anyway," then allowing it to fester a few hours before I actually take out the trash. Also? I love to hear kids playing. The squealing, the pounding on the floors, the sound of a bucket of toys upturned in another room - productive, cooperative play is the sound of success. It never bothers me. I read about the experience of Highly Sensitive parents, and I just could not relate.

Even so, it changed me.

When you need a superhero cape to get through your day: a guest post by Emily Pardy

Monday, November 3, 2014

image by TurtleCraftyGirl
“Are you okay? You seem irritated,” my husband asked me as I pulled out the laptop and harrumphed myself onto the couch.  

“I am irritated. I have no time for everything I need to do, want to do, and pretty much feel guilty whatever I choose to do no matter what.” I took a deep breath. I apologized. I silently prayed for grace and caught myself when my mind started to wander again. 

Right now, I'm the busiest person I know. I meet people all the time who feel exactly the same way. Frankly, I don't know anyone who isn't juggling too much or feels like their plate is too full most of the time.  

Multiple times a week I run into the “Who’s Busier?” conversation trap with my friends, family, co-workers, or classmates. As a wife, mom of two young children, blogger, full-time grad school student, part-time retail associate, and author editing my first book…well, let’s just say the competition for “Who’s Busier?” is steep with me.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

I am sharing a story about my husband's brain injury over at Hello, Darling.

If you're here from MOPS, welcome! You can read more about my husband's accident here. You may also be interested in my thoughts on refusing to hide and living through a close call. If you connect with A Wide Mercy, I would love to hear from you by email (awidemercy at gmail dot com) or on Facebook.

We're so glad you stopped by!

sitting in that smudge between our hells and heavens

Friday, October 24, 2014

It's late, and I usually write early, but my mind has been thinking about this blinking cursor all day. What do I say about today? Where do I even begin?

My little boy is better. Today was his first full day at school, his first day to play in the neighborhood. He is too thin, too easily cold and spent, and he will likely have more pain over the next few weeks. But today was our first taste of normal life in a long time, and we are all thankful for it.

Normal life. That's what we had today. And tonight, I'm unsettled by it.

Life never presents itself in a tidy fashion. While my little boy went back to school, I prepared for a birthday. Because tomorrow, my baby boy turns two. My baby - my child who died for two minutes and came back to us in July. And my baby - our last baby, meaning that after nearly eight consecutive years, the making-and-raising-babies stage of my life is closing. For years people have told me this would happen. I never believed them.

what it's not

Friday, October 17, 2014

image by arthouse design
My little boy is sick. Really sick. Since last Thursday, he has had periods of intense belly pain and vomiting, followed by hours of feeling normal and asking for food. He was in the ER four times between Friday and Tuesday night, was admitted to Children's Hospital Wednesday, and until yesterday afternoon, when we finally saw a specialist, no one has had any idea why he is so sick.

A guest post from Teri Murphy: On loving ourselves as much as we love our neighbor

Friday, October 10, 2014

Fung Leo, Flickr Creative Commons
Love your neighbor as you love yourself. - Jesus

It’s spread throughout Scripture, this idea of love. What it is, who it is, why it matters so much. I was raised in a conservative Christian household to believe that love means throwing yourself away in order to serve others. To never put yourself first - to do so would be the epitome of selfishness and un-Christianness.

And yet...Jesus so clearly assumes that we love ourselves. How can this be? 

“Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”  As I love MYSELF? I must’ve glossed over this bit for all my life. I know the golden rule: Treat others as you want to be treated. I don’t actually treat myself that well. I reserve the good treatment ONLY for my friends and neighbors.

But this is a command, isn’t it? Jesus is literally telling me ALL THAT MATTERS about the entire Bible so far.

Do our lives have purpose, or possibility?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Not long ago, this story ran through my newsfeed.

Don't get me wrong, I love this blog and blogger. If you aren't following her, please do. But her story gave me pause. I thought, I've never once told my kids they have a purpose in life - a specific destiny only they can fulfill. Should I be saying that? Do I even believe it anymore?

Nailing down God's purpose for my life was a big part of my old way of thinking. Who was I meant to be? What was I supposed to be doing? Did He want me to buy this house or that one? What school should I attend? What major? What schedule? Where do I work? When do I have kids and what will their names be and do I let them cry it out or hold them and do I send them to preschool and if so, when? The thoughts consumed me. What was God's purpose for me? 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Once I stepped off the plane, I knew I was home. Which is a funny thing to say, because until that moment I'd spent nine whole days of my life in Colorado.

Today I am sharing one of my very favorite stories about God's will and our move to Colorado over at Venn Magazine. Are our lives like a Lego set, and it's our job to find the next specific brick to move forward? Or are we co-creators with God, offering materials that He uses to shape our lives into something new? Head over to Venn to hear how we ended up in Denver, and how I see God's will these days.

If you followed the link from Venn, welcome! You may be interested in the three things I learned from the best and dumbest decision I ever made, or how giving up on God's will strengthened my faith. If you like what you see here, please shoot me an email at awidemercy at gmail dot com, or stop by the Facebook page and introduce yourself. I would love to meet you!

I don't want to give my kids a faith that makes them afraid.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

"How was school?"

They clamor in, grubby hands full of backpacks and jackets. Predictably, the introvert is exhausted and the extrovert is energetic. Usually it's the more outgoing child who fills our ride home with his answer - what games they played, what his friends said, the gauge of the day's lunch (funny how academics never make the cut) - but today his brother climbed into the front seat and spoke up first. 

"We learned about how the universe began. All the classes came to my room and the teachers did a presentation."

"Really?" I said, genuinely interested. 

"Yeah," he said. "But Mom they talked for a long time about the beginning of the world, and nobody ever said anything about God. Some people in my class said they didn't believe in God, that He didn't have anything to do with how the world was made. I told them God made everything."

There it was. 

The seasons always surprise me.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

photo by my lovely friend Janet Jacob
It snowed on Friday.

As much as I love living in the West, my internal clock has not adjusted to its seasons. I'm surprised by them every time. I spent the first half of my life in the South, where March promised blooming trees and t-shirts. But March here means two more months of muddy slush and sudden snow. Septembers in the South are, truthfully, awful - muggy and warm until the very end, leading everyone to grumble about the summer that just won't die. Not so here, of course. I knew it wouldn't stay hot for long. After Labor Day I took stock of our coats, but I assumed I had several weeks to replace shoes and gloves. It's only early September, right?

on all of the wins nobody sees

Friday, August 29, 2014

My name is Stephanie, and I didn’t eat any brownies last Thursday. Those brownies sat on my counter all day long, and I didn’t eat a single one when nobody was looking. Not eating them was the most productive thing I did all day. I fought those brownies – and I won.
And nobody ever even knew about it.
I'm over at Five Kids is a Lot of Kids today, talking about the wins nobody ever sees. Click here to read the rest. 
If you're here from Beth Woolsey's blog, welcome! You may like reading about how we are not created for death or how a book on natural childbirth changed my life. If you're winning a fight nobody sees right now too, I would love to hear about it. You can email me at awidemercy at gmail dot com. You can also follow along on our Facebook page. So glad to meet you! 

on refusing to hide

Friday, August 22, 2014

I didn't always see the world this way. I blame Brene Brown. Glennon Melton, too.

On September 12, 2010, I received the weirdest email of my life. Sent by my lifelong friend's estranged  husband, it simply read, "She failed an alcohol test at the outpatient clinic tonight. They are admitting her for inpatient. She just couldn't do it."

I stared at the screen, utterly confused. What is this guy talking about? Failed a test? Inpatient - does that mean she's going to rehab? What in the hell is going on? 

the day I put my homeschooled kids into school

Friday, August 15, 2014

It wasn't sitting well with me. I kept trying, but I just couldn't picture the new school year at home.

I love homeschooling. Well, I love having my older kids at home with me. I love reading books together and playing outside in the middle of the day. I love playgroups and time for adventures. I don't love the constant chaos, or how little focused time I have with my two younger kids. I don't love being responsible for creating all of the energy for our day. Homeschooling requires you to be both the engine and the track for moving your kids forward, and that doesn't leave a lot of energy for much else. I love homeschooling, but suddenly I dreaded the idea of starting another year. I mean, really dreaded it.

But I have strong convictions about education, and what young kids need to thrive. I couldn't just ignore those ideals. Colorado has a charter system, and I found myself constantly staring at my phone, googling schools throughout the day. I couldn't find a school that genuinely interested me. In my head I went back and forth, round and round, all day long. I love having them home, I would think. But I can't be both train and track right now, I would counter.

O Captain my Captain.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

“O Captain my Captain.”
My friends and I stared at the screen, mesmerized. I was in high school, and Dead Poet’s Society was only a few years old. I’d watched it so many times I’d memorized whole scenes, yet every single time Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke) climbed onto his desk, tears streamed down my face. I too wanted to suck the marrow out of life. Like his students, I believed Mr. Keating (Robin Williams) when he said, “We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race, and the human race is full of passion.” There was a powerful play going on, and I wanted to contribute a verse.
In high school, Robin Williams changed my life. I'm sharing the story today at Venn Magazine. 

We were not created for death.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Our hearts weren't made for death.

We were never meant to come into contact with it. Our souls were created before the Fall, before Adam ever tended a field or Eve knelt beside her dead son's tomb. We were designed for communion, for relationship, for life to flow in and through and all around us. We were made for green sprigs and first birthdays and falling in love. That is our truest home. We were not created with death in mind.

Is it any wonder, then, that grief would be so exhausting? That touching death in any way would produce so much anxiety and fear? When it enters our lives, even for a moment, we are forced to do something unnatural. The weight of it draws us away from our true selves. Our common reactions - disbelief, anger, withdrawal, fear - are the opposite of who we really are, because we must process this awful thing we were never intended to face.

on living through a close call

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

My life has been a series of close calls.

Late one Fourth of July night back in college, a friend, my sister, and I were driving home from a day at the lake. The truck ran off a slick country road, hit a tree, and bounced. My baby sister and I weren't wearing seat belts, and as I realized we were out of control, a thought - from God - ran through my head. "It's just like 'crack the egg.'" In one motion I curled into a ball and pulled my sister down with me, and we pinged inside the cab like kids playing a game on a trampoline. When the truck stopped, we were lying on the roof. A potentially fatal accident, and the three of us rolled down the window, climbed out, and stared at the truck, amazed. In fact, rather than hospitals or worse, that accident was the catalyst to a love story. Sixteen years later, that friend is asleep in my bed right now.

For the days when you'd rather hide backstage

Monday, July 14, 2014

The baby is screaming, the toddler is in the almost-but-not-yet stage of potty training, and one of the big boys has a cold with the snotty attitude to prove it.  Some mornings I long for a stunt double.

A nanny, a tutor, a housekeeper ... anyone willing to step in for the impossible, disgusting, and  dangerous parts of my life, while I drink coffee backstage.  To un-goop floors, enforce the media restriction, soothe the fussy baby, wipe the runny noses.  I want someone to show up and make being a mom easier.  I'll take over again when life gets to the good part.

The problem is, I suspect this is the good part.

healing takes a long, long time.

Monday, July 7, 2014

One thing I know for sure: healing takes a long, long time.

It's been not quite two years since we left a destructive theology. Six months later we moved across the country, decided to stay married, and wandered into a little Anglican church one Sunday morning. We are now in our second year of healing. As far as I can tell, the roots of damaging thinking have been pulled out of my life. I no longer cry when I hear them, the way I once did. I've rejected the idea of a temperamental, abusive god who is dangling us all over the pit of Hell - the "even when you're repenting, you're still sinning" god.

what I learned when my son went to work with me

Thursday, July 3, 2014

He asked to go to work with his dad. The neighbors' kids were planning a "bring your child to work" day, and he wanted to do the same. But it's not safe for children to be on site at my husband's job, so he had another idea. "Mom, can I go write with you?"

I don't make a dime writing. There is a small stipend for the editing work I do, but honestly my time as a barista was more lucrative (though not nearly as rewarding). Right now I'm not making a meaningful contribution to my family's income, but in my house, writing is my job, not my hobby. Because I love words, because I love you guys, and because I'm convinced words have the power to open our hearts and move us out of our cells of isolation and fear.  Though it's not a source of income, my family refers to the time I spend writing as my work time.

So one afternoon last week, my oldest son went to work with me. First he perused A Wide Mercy. Then I showed him how to write an article, choose and format images, publish, and share on social media. He wrote a submission letter (and even sent it, because I have very patient and generous coworkers), heard about the importance of editing, and studied my magazine's internal database for sharing information. Then he wrote for a while.

Work has always been my biggest source of insecurity in parenting. I know all the arguments for

what I wish I'd known when I was raising toddlers (the first time)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

This is my crew. My first two are eighteen months apart, my second two are twenty-one months apart. Right now, I'm raising my second round of toddlers. As I'm chasing my current little ones, I often think back to the first time I had two toddlers - balancing one on a public potty while holding the other away from the toilet with one arm, scanning a playground for two little heads at all times, the exhausted whiney late afternoon hours, the intense bedtime routines, the way I was forever searching for sippy cups and helping with shoes. The fight for my
lap during story time. The fighting, period (that part doesn't really change). Nurturing little ones close in age is an intense experience. And - thanks be to God - I get to do it all again.

when it's time to talk - even if you're uncomfortable (a guest post by Tyler Francke)

Monday, June 23, 2014

Sometimes, you meet someone and know right away they're your kind of people. That was how I felt when I discovered Tyler Francke recently. One article, and I was hooked. His words seemed thought-out, thoughtful, and gentle. My impression is that he's not the loudest voice in the room, but when he speaks, you won't want to miss it.

So I was thrilled when Tyler agreed to share a few of his thoughts here. If you, like me, hear his voice and know right away Tyler is your kind of people too, check out his new book, Reoriented, here.

Meet Tyler Francke.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

I have a friend who works as an admissions counselor for a Christian college, which, as I understand it, means that he pretty much talks to pastors for a living.

Ok, that's an oversimplification, I admit. He also talk to prospective students, in addition to the pastors.

Anyway, as you might expect, the pastors he meets with have all kinds of questions about the college's positions on a wide variety of doctrinal issues: predestination vs. free will, complementarianism vs. egalitarianism, continuationism vs. cessationism, Coke vs. Pepsi, Team Edward vs. Team Jacob. (Like most biblically based institutions of higher learning, my friend's school is pro-Lautner all the way.)

Being theologically grilled on a regular basis sounds to me like only slightly more fun than being a proofreader for scripts of new Spongebob Squarepants episodes, but my friend enjoys the discussions. There's just one question he doesn't like.

"I hate it when they ask me about homosexuality," he told me recently. "It's just hard to explain my position, and I'm so afraid I'll say the wrong thing. I just hate that question.

what we talk about, when we talk about social media

Thursday, June 19, 2014

2 pm, and not one kid was resting.

My exhausted little girl would have fallen asleep, but her brothers kept meandering through the room, asking for snacks and nipping at each other the way puppies and brothers do. I can't begin to guess why my baby boy was awake. Maybe he was overtired, maybe he's cutting a tooth, maybe there was a full moon. For him, sleep is always mysterious and delicate. And yesterday, it didn't happen.

Hell hath no fury like a mom without a nap time.

Are you sitting down?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Because Huffington Post just published my article.

"The truth is, none of us knows who our kids will grow up to be. Mine sing worship tunes, recite prayers and quote Scripture from memory often. They also still use the same slang as their Grandpa and pretend the milk in their mug is coffee, just like mine. Children are hardwired for imitation, and they naturally want to please their parents. My children mean every prayer they utter. They also mean it when they cry in despair because they are too tired to brush their teeth. It's not that their faith isn't real. It is. But it is too immature to be held out for the world to see. "

Click here to read the rest.

I never ask this, but if you follow A Wide Mercy and the article resonates with you, would you mind sharing it in your circles or leaving a comment? The thing is, HuffPost Parents publishes a ton of articles in a day. The ones that pass through our news feeds are only featured after they have already gained traction. So unless we share it first, nobody else will see it. If not, it's okay. We can still be friends. But if you're comfortable sharing it, I would be so grateful.

If you are here for the first time from Huffington Post, welcome! I'm so glad you stopped by. You may be interested in what I think kids really need, or what happened when the police showed up on my doorstep recently. If you connect with what you read, I would love for you to join our email list by contacting me the old fashioned way: shoot an email to awidemercy at gmail dot com, and let me know. You can also follow on Facebook or Twitter (though I'm a novice at Twitter - you've been warned).  So glad you're here.

ACK! Huffington Post!

on vulnerability, connection, and that time the police came to my door

Saturday, June 14, 2014

This thing we do - writing and reading blogs, emailing one another, talking over social media, the whole thing - is really about connection.  I don't write to build a career, I don't write to be heard.  I write because years ago, I was barely getting through the day. I was miserable, trapped, and I couldn't see my way through. Until one afternoon when I stood in my kitchen for almost an hour, reading the same blog post over and over. Someone had been where I was. I couldn't get over it.

Words became my lifeline. For the next year, blogs, emails, and articles were the bread crumbs that led me away from anxiety and fear and toward an entirely different way of life. Now, I write. I write because somewhere there is a woman standing in a kitchen, feeling the way I once did. Freely I received, freely I will give.

But connection doesn't just develop online. It also happens on back porches and in coffee shops, over phone calls and play groups. Everything in us longs to be a part of a whole. We look for it in
churches, in our families, in our friendships, with our kids. No matter where you are in life, the endgame for all of us is to build meaningful connections.

What I didn't realize until I started writing, though, is that real connection requires vulnerability. I can't connect to my neighbors or friends if I don't share my life with them, and if they don't do the same with me. I can't connect to the woman in the kitchen if I'm not willing to share my story - my real story, the way things actually happened, and not just the way I wish they'd happened - here.  Intimacy necessarily means exposure. It means honesty and compassion and valuing the person in front of you more than any philosophy or religious conviction. Connecting with others happens when we look, really look, at another person, and recognize the image of God.

But not everyone is safe. Not everyone wants to connect or values vulnerability. Sometimes you reveal the thing you love most in the world, the idea or passion or person you once tucked close to your chest, and they stare back numbly. Crickets. Or worse, you offer a sacred piece of yourself, and they point out where you went wrong.

And all at once I feel like Donkey in Shrek, skittering across a rope bridge as it sways over a bottomless inferno. Shrek essentially tricks Donkey into crossing the bridge, then tells him not to look down. Partway across the bridge Donkey loses his nerve and starts screeching, "I'm looking DOWN, Shrek! I'm looking down!"

That is exactly how I felt when the cop rang my doorbell last week.

My Colorado neighborhood is very different from my neighborhood in the Deep South. Almost no one here has air conditioning, which means in the warmer months, there isn't much privacy. Windows are open, people are outside more than in, and lives start to intertwine. I hear a mother soothe her disabled child late into the night.  I hear the fussy baby in the backyard behind ours. The family that lives five houses down? I can't quite piece together how they are all related, but they have kind faces, and my children love to play with their dog in the front yard. Summers in Colorado build both vulnerability and connection into daily life.

I'm outside every single day. I'm with my kids more or less every daylight hour. So I was floored when the officer said someone called about my daughter. My daughter is three years old. What could she possibly have done to garner the police's attention?

"One of your neighbors called because she was worried," the officer said. "They saw her riding her bike in the road without any clothes on, and they were afraid of who might ride by and what could happen to her."

It's true. Lately my little girl has been pushing boundaries, and following her brothers down to the cul-de-sac where most of their friends live. Like most three-year-olds, she is also flippant about clothing. Yes - my entire street has seen her streaking behind her brothers on her little bike. But if they have seen her, they have also seen me. Standing in the middle of the street to make sure cars slow down until she is safe, calling her name over and over, bringing her back to our yard and reminding her that three-year-olds are not allowed out front alone. They have heard her cry, "I'm not three! I'm five and I can ride with brothers to see friends!" and they have heard me say, "No, honey. Not yet."

Our street has certainly seen her in all of her glory. They have also seen me parenting, in all of mine.

I assured the police officer I am watching her closely, and I will make sure she doesn't go outside without clothes on again. The officer was clearly uncomfortable with the conversation. Relieved, she quickly left.

All at once, I was looking down too. After the officer left I looked down and around, wondering which neighbor had made the call. I have devoted my life to honesty and connection, and I hold sacred the vulnerable moments I observe in my neighborhood. But someone did not feel the same way about me. They were watching my family life unfold, and they didn't like what they saw.

At first, I wanted to retreat. Close the blinds, keep the kids inside, tell no one. Hide. If a neighbor was concerned, why didn't they come to me? Better yet, why didn't they help shoo my meandering girl home? Goodness knows I could use a hand most of the time. If they feared for her safety, there were many opportunities to voice their concern to me. Why call the cops? And if they weren't willing to connect with me, why should I continue to be so transparent with them?

Because as a society we are disconnected. We fight so hard for connections because they are not an intuitive part of our daily life. We search out deeper relationships, we choose vulnerability, we keep doing this hard thing because without the deliberate act we will stay isolated - staring at one another from behind our screens, our blinds, our pews. Staring at each other day after day, but never looking for glimpses of the image of God.

I wanted to pull away. But if I do, I lose a part of who I am. I lose the freedom and hope that connections bring into my life. I remember when I was that woman in the kitchen, and I don't want to be her again. I don't want to be isolated and put together. I want to be transparent - whether that's here, on the blog, or standing in my yard, chasing a naked toddler. I want to be vulnerable. I could pull back to where I'm always safe, and no police officer ever rings my doorbell again. But if I do, I give up who I am.

This week I have practiced not looking down. Instead, I keep looking up and around. I've reminded myself how much I love this way of life. I've remembered the value of connections, and why it's worth it to pour out my life to the wide wide world. Not everyone is safe, not everyone values connections the way I do. But how they act does not determine who I am.  As for me and my house, we would rather be vulnerable and connected than safe and alone.

If you would like to leave a comment and blogger is acting squirrelly, please feel free to email me at awidemercy at gmail dot com.  I love to hear your thoughts!  Speaking of emailing, if you haven't already done so, please sign up to receive a weekly email of new posts from A Wide Mercy.  Facebook is iffy, I'm still a novice at Twitter, and I don't want anyone left behind!

I just want to talk for a while.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Creative Commons - Kevin Dooley
A few weeks ago I read a story with a beautiful sentiment:  I just want to talk for a while. I hear that phrase and I ache with understanding. Isn't that all any of us wants?  To listen and be heard?  To know and be known?

As much as I love stories, the ones I most need to tell often stay silent in my gut. I know I'm not alone in this. We all do it. It's not that I'm ashamed of them, it's that I don't have a resolution.  How can I tell a story if I don't know how it ends? The relationships are still happening, the questions are still unanswered. They aren't going to be resolved in an 800 word essay or a two hour meal.  By now, they are woven so deeply into the fabric of my life, they are part of who I am. When someone asks, "How's that going?" My response is always, "It's okay."  What else is there to say?

Some things stare us in the face and defy resolution. In those moments, we just need to talk awhile.

when you ask for grace, and get a house instead

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Creative Commons: Franco Folini
Friday evening. I've just served plates and the house is in that brief lull of quiet chewing. My doorbell rings, and it's my landlord.  He looks stressed. "I have a problem," he says. "The bank foreclosed on my daughter's house today. I hate to do this to you, but I've got to give you thirty days notice. I'm going to need this house for her."

It takes me a minute to comprehend what he's saying. My first thought is, can he do that? But my landlord is a good man and I already know I won't push back. I feel like a cartoon character hanging in mid-air just before he plummets. We'd planned on staying another year, at least.  As he's talking all I can think is, I don't want to leave our neighborhood. I can leave this house, but please let me stay in my neighborhood.

The next morning my family hits the pavement. The market in Denver is insane right now.  Houses are sold or rented in hours. Many never even officially go onto the market, and instead change hands by word of mouth. We decide our best chance is to talk to every person in our neighborhood.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Welcome from Mamapedia!  If you're not a sentimental mom either, you may relate to my experience with giving our kids a perfect life, messes, successes, and how we spend our days,  and what happens when you drop the ball, then pick it up again.  So glad you're here!

If you connect with what you find on A Wide Mercy, you can follow along on Facebook or Twitter. You can also join our email list by contacting me at awidemercy at gmail dot com.  Thanks for stopping by!

the sentimental gene

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Creative Commons - Pink Sherbert Photography
I'm terrible with formalities.

Today my middle son graduated from his kindergarten enrichment program.  He stood in front in his cap and gown, kicked in rhythm, and sang, "Start spreading the news, we're leaving today," while parents watched through their phone screens.  It was a delightful, giggly, adrenaline-infused moment in my little boys life.

Afterwards, what did we do to celebrate?  Not one thing.  I didn't plan a party, I didn't call extended family to let them know.  In fact, I was the only one there to see my little boy graduate today.  Both my best friend and husband missed it because I never told them about it.  They both would have been there, but since they didn't know it was happening, they never had the chance to plan around it.

Showing up matters.  Ceremonies matter.  Making a big deal about our kids' milestones matters. Creating traditions, honoring our kids' accomplishments ... all of it matters. And I'm really bad at it.

It feels like most mothers have a gene - the sentimental gene.

when you're searching for a God you can trust

Monday, May 26, 2014

Creative Commons - Tom Haymes
I never left church.  The Sunday after leaving a destructive theology I sat in a different pew - jittery, anonymous, and hoping for the best.

Is it odd I never left?  Almost everyone with a bad church story steps away for a while.  But I never did, because part of what propelled me to leave was the gut feeling this is not it.  I know God's love, I've tasted it before, and it's not here.  

So I kept showing up.  At first I was at a mega-church, crying every week and staring at the screen while everyone around me swayed to the music.  Mega-churches are gentle places, meant to draw a crowd.  When your head and heart are as messed up as mine was, a crowd is reassuring.   I could just ... sit there.  Sit, hear words of love, and slowly nurture the furtive hope within.  It was exactly what I needed at the time.

After we moved, we chose a different course.  I'd read about the liturgical way of life and my husband loved the simplicity of the worship, so we landed in an Anglican church.  Our footing was uncertain, but we kept moving forward, compelled by that gut feeling that prodded us to search for the God we once knew.

when you're looking for your village

Thursday, May 22, 2014

We're standing in a dark hallway, silently weighing our next move.

Behind one door, I hear the baby's slow, sleepy wail.  From the next, the toddler dashes out, sees us, and runs back in.  Her shenanigans woke up her brother.  My husband's not home, and everyone is off their game.  They both should have been asleep an hour ago. Where do I start?  I choose the baby's door, and my best friend moves quietly toward my giggling daughter.

We're both tired, my friend and I.  She's had a long week at work, and she still has things to do before her day can end.  My kids are not her responsibility.  But she sings my daughter to sleep anyway, because that's who she is. My friend is quietly faithful to everything she touches.  Deadlines or not, she isn't going to leave me to conquer a runaway bedtime alone.

on giving our kids a perfect life

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Once I saw those two little pink lines, everything in my life centered around creating the best possible world for my baby.

I choked down prenatal vitamins, ate salad when I wanted french fries, avoided wine and paint fumes.  I spent hours researching car seats and baby beds, googling the merits of a carrier versus a sling.  I washed tiny clothes in detergent I could barely afford, stocked up on all the best supplies.  I wanted everything that touched my baby to be perfect.

Once he was born, it only got worse.  In the beginning I hardly left the house.  Nothing mattered except his routine, and I spent my life in  three hour rotations - eat, cry, sleep, repeat.  I fretted over every tiny detail of his day.  I desperately wanted to get motherhood right.  I wanted to protect him from every germ, every mistake, every potential danger, every possible discomfort.

I had no idea how spectacularly I would fail.

on my first year of he-who-must-not-be-named

Monday, May 12, 2014

Homeschooling is one of those things.  Like breastfeeding and co-sleeping, the topic of homeschooling inevitably kills a vibe in the room.  Everyone has a story, and everyone is ready to defend their choice.  

I breastfed two and bottle-fed two.  I co-slept over a year with one baby and put another 6-week-old infant in his own room.  And my kids left a great classroom experience to come home and learn with me. I hope it goes without saying that I am not a soldier in the mommy wars.  

Having said that, I wanted to share what I've learned from my first year of teaching my children at home.  Only we won't call it homeschooling, because that word is divisive and specific to a certain crowd, a crowd where everyone else often feels excluded.  And I wonder if I'm reflecting more on another year of parenting than I am the ways my children learned to add?  Because what I didn't realize when I made educational decisions for my family is that the teaching part of homeschooling isn't that big of a deal.  Teaching your kids just isn't as hard as it sounds.  The real challenge of homeschooling is that you never stop parenting.  You don't have to/ get to drop your children off in the morning.  Whether that feels like a burden or a privilege, honestly, depends on when you ask.

Welcome!  If you are looking for a blog about raising a bunch of little kids and finding grace in unexpected places, you've come to the right place.  You may be interested in what I believe kids really need, what I learned from the best and dumbest decision I ever made, and what I am learning from my husband's brain injury.

If you connect with A Wide Mercy, I would love to add you to our weekly email list.  Shoot me an email at awidemercy at gmail dot com, or leave a message on our Facebook page to join.  You can also follow along on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.

So glad you stopped by!

to the ones who won't get a card this weekend

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Creative Commons - Gates Foundation
"To all the unselfish moms out there who traded salon cuts for pony tails, designer bags for diaper bags ..." So it begins.

The barrage of Mother's Day messages.  For the next four days, we will be cobbled with sentimentality everywhere we look - TV, social media, grocery stores, restaurants.  Don't get me wrong, I love my kids.  I love being a mother more than I could say.  But this year, the Mother's Day sentiment has made me cringe.

I picture Faith Wambua, singing and 'playing dead' with her two small children in a Nairobi mall.  Her hand rests on her baby as she keeps him still and quiet for five hours to avoid being killed.  Five hours.  Can you imagine?  I picture her lying on that tile floor, and tears rise from my chest.  Mothering is so, so hard.

when you drop the ball, then pick it up again

Monday, May 5, 2014

Creative Commons - Love From Ginger
When you're interviewing for a job, you always tell stories that paint the picture you want to create.  When they ask about flaws, for example, you pick the flaws that highlight what a good employee you are.  "I have to be careful not to bring my work home," maybe, rather than (and this would be the truth for me), "I am ten minutes late everywhere I go."  You make sure the story you're telling helps you get the job.

Writing is (or, it can be) the same way.  When people share faults, they share the faults they have already accepted in themselves.  They tell the cute kind of embarrassing stories, and avoid tales of real humiliation.  Even in our honesty, we share the truth in a certain light, and make sure it catches us at a good angle.  We don't share our current mess.

But this story does not catch my best light.  Even if this one episode is over, it will probably happen again.  Believe me, I would love to not share this particular angle with the big wide world.  But if I avoid it, I paint a reality that is not fully honest.  And I let you feel like the kid in the back of class who can never quite get her act together.  Maybe it would be easier, but there's no grace in that light.  That's not where I want to live.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Welcome from Mamapedia!  So glad you stopped by.  You may be interested in why I let my children out of my sight, Easter morning with my little girl, or what I believe kids really need.

If you connect with what you read on A Wide Mercy, please join along!  You can join us on Facebook or Twitter, or shoot me an email at awidemercy at gmail dot com to get weekly emails with new posts.  Thank you!

when you're building a family

Friday, May 2, 2014

photo by Jesse
When you're building a family, you wash a lot of dishes.  

Clean plates - blue, purple, pink, and orange - line the counter at dinner time.  My husband chops grilled chicken and sprinkles some on each one while I dole out scoops of rice.  Four cups filled; two with lids, two without.  Four dinners served, and received with varying enthusiasm.  Seven minutes later, one wants seconds, one refuses to eat, and one asks if I have any dessert tonight.  If so, he'll eat more chicken.  Nine minutes after that, four little plates line the counter again.  I scrape, rinse, and load them.  Scrub the rice pot, wipe the counters, hit the "wash" button, and listen to the satisfying hum of the dishwasher.  

In the morning I will unload those little colored plates, and we'll start all over.  Over and again.

Parenting feels the same way. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Sometimes you hit send and then think, Wait, what did I just do?

I feel that way this morning, as I share a very personal part of my life with the big wide world.  Today I am sharing how I've met Jesus through the years over at Venn magazine.  I would love it if you'd follow the link.  Your kindness makes me brave.

If you are here from Venn, welcome!  So glad you stopped by.  If you connect with what you read on A Wide Mercy, shoot me an email at and join our weekly email to get regular updates.

How a passionate woman made peace with the Bible Belt: Give Peace a Chance

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Good morning!  This is the next installment in our series, "Give Peace a Chance."  Dana is an evangelical pastor's wife in the Bible Belt.  I asked her to share how she has found peace within the church specifically because Dana does not fit that stereotype.  She is passionate, full of big thoughts and wild dreams.  If Dana is on your side, you're going to be just fine.  You can read more from Dana at MoJoy blog.  You can also follow her on Facebook or through email.

I am not Southern.

This sign is posted in the Alabama town where I grew up
I live in Georgia, spent sixteen years in Florida and grew up in Tennessee, but geography doesn't make one Southern.  It's only in the past few years that my eyes have been opened to the reality of church culture in the Bible Belt.  On the short road where my congregation meets, there are six other churches. This is typical of the region.  There is a church for every kind of opinion, and because there are so many choices, it's easy to hole up with a group of entirely like-minded people and convince one another of your rightness.  There is no need to tolerate differing opinions when you can just go to the church down the road.  About my own church family, I have heard everything from "I hear ya'll don't wear ties in the pulpit," (not true - we don't have a pulpit) to "I hear ya'll don't preach the Bible or believe in the Old Testament" (also not true).

on messes, success, and how we spend our days

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

He walks in to a mess.

I'm working on laundry.  I've already folded and put away four loads, and now the final basket waits for me on the couch, beside a heap of clothes needing hangers.  The kids opened a box from their grandma this afternoon; paper and new outfits for each of them litter the opposing couch.  Breakfast dishes sit heaped to one side of the kitchen counter, Legos and empty plastic eggs are strewn on the floor.  All of us have been busy with other projects today, and it shows.

5 things I learned from my husband's brain injury: my messy beautiful story

Friday, April 18, 2014

Healing takes a long, long time.  That's the first thing I learned from my husband's brain injury.

The second is this:  I can do hard things.  I can take four children under seven years old to a liturgical service, where there is little childcare.  I can deal with insurance companies myself, I can parent and be married in new ways.  I can do hard things.  But I can't do them alone, and I will rarely look cute while they happen.

Last May my husband wrecked his bike on the most unassuming dirt path in Boulder, Colorado, while our six-year-old son rode behind him. He split his helmet and was knocked unconscious. My son gave a stranger my number, who called the paramedics, then called me. By the time I made the hour's drive to the hospital, my husband was awake. He had some internal injuries, but he was alert - giving his social security number and asking about our son when I arrived. He's okay, see? We dodged a bullet.  He's okay, I told myself over and over.

We didn't dodge that bullet - we took it square in the gut. But not all wounds are fatal.

It feels like going home.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Don't try to replace our old dog, he said.  Just sit with the sadness, he said.  Remember?

But then spring came.  Everywhere we went people were walking their pets, and he remembered how much fun our old pup was, back when he was healthy.  He softened, and began watching rescue sites and animal shelters' "I'm adoptable!" pages. Until, on Friday, he said, "I think I found the right dog for us."

He was right.  The dog was a perfect fit for our family.  But when we went back to introduce the kids and fill out paperwork, something unexpected happened.

Our little boys grieved.

They'd said good-bye to our old dog before he died, they'd sat and cried with us after he was gone.  Still, the idea of a new pet brought a fresh wave of sadness I did not see coming.  One son insisted we name the new dog after our old one.  The other grew edgy and uncertain, springing quick tears all weekend.  Were they not ready?  Or was their sadness inevitable?

When I asked God for the future I want

Monday, April 7, 2014

Right now, my two "big" boys are 7 and 5 1/2.  They are followed by my little girl, who is 3, and my toddling boy, who is 17 months old.    During all the lunacy of bringing home a newborn with a toddler on my hip, or the crazy-making of raising two preschoolers at the same time, or even the insanity of moving four tiny kids across the country ... in all of the crazy seasons having four kids in five years has brought to my life, never has my home so closely resembled a zoo as it does right now.

Essentially, early elementary boys are puppies.  They wake up playing, eat while playing, fall asleep playing.  And they seem to be continually living out some sort of Despicable Me-style battle scene that includes death by bodily function.  They never stop talking - ever, ever, ever - and they prefer to talk at the same time.

death in a time of facebook

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

"Then I see a news article that stops my breath. "Victim in fatal crash identified as head pastor of …' Above the headline is the name of a dear family friend. He officiated my wedding, buried my husband’s grandmother. He was my husband’s first boss and remained his mentor. For almost 20 years they had met for lunch and talked on the phone a few times a year. Now he was dead, killed this morning on a highway in our hometown.
And I find this out on Facebook."
Today I am over at Converge Magazine, sharing how social media affects the way we think, talk, and even grieve.  You can read the rest here.
If you followed the link from Converge, welcome!  You may be interested in what Legos taught me about Lent, or how my faith grew when I gave up searching for God's will.  Don't forget to follow along on Facebook or Twitter for new posts!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Welcome from Venn Magazine!  You may be interested in why I gave up on God's will, and how my faith grew stronger as a result.  You may also relate to what Legos taught me about Lent.  We're so glad you stopped by!

Today is another installment of our series "Give Peace a Chance." We are asking how we can be peacemakers within the church.  In light of the recent World Vision controversy, never has there been a more important time to consider how we make peace with one another, and work together on the things that most touched the heart of Christ. Scroll down to read today's installment, written by guest blogger Mikkee Hall.  "I sat there in judgment, and I recognized in myself a source of the lack of peace in the church. I was doing what is most damaging ..." Read the rest below.

Give Peace a Chance: Division and Peace both begin with me.

Creative Commons - by Photo Everywhere
This is our third installment of the series, Give Peace a Chance. We're asking, how can we be peacemakers in a noisy, sometimes chaotic room. The World Vision controversy weighs heavy on me today. Never has there been a more important time to ask how we can be instruments of peace within the modern church.

Today's post is by Mikkee Hall. Mikkee is my best friend, and I refer to her here often, though I never use anyone's names. I asked her to share her thoughts because Mikkee is the most peace-loving person I have ever met. Yet below she shares how she finds in herself both a source of division, and a source of peace. As I read her words, over and over I thought - me too. I can't wait to hear your thoughts as well.  
I grew up in a fundamentalist church. As a child, I found church to be a place of internal division – one very fundamental denomination pitted against all the rest – and my church was convinced we were “the only ones who had it right.” Though I have long abandoned my fundamentalist roots, as an adult I continue to experience this feeling of one denomination being pitted against another. I find myself yearning for a place of peace and grace, even when I disagree.

when you're burned out (and lists just don't help)

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Burnout.  I have it.

I'm tired of standing in front of my pantry every afternoon, staring down the work of cooking, serving, and cleaning up another meal for six people that most of them aren't going to eat .  School has slowed to a contrived trickle, and my patience for chasing toddlers out of toilets is thin.  I am uninspired and disengaged.  I sleep through my writing time, then write during time dedicated to my kids, while they squabble and destroy the room around me.  I daydream of beaches and room service, leisurely mornings and quiet meals.  I want a vacation from my life.

But that isn't my reality.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Welcome from Mamapedia and MOPS!  You may be interested in thoughts about getting out of the race with other moms, how I handle the days when I'd rather hide back stage, why I let my children out of my sight, or what kids really need.  Don't forget to join us on Facebook or Twitter to get regular updates on new posts as well as inspiring links and quotes from other blogs.  So glad you're here!

the cost of peace: a guest post by Fr. Chris Bollegar

Creative Commons - photo by suvodeb
This is the second installment of our series Give Peace a Chance, which asks the question:  In the modern church, what does peace look like?  Does it equate to silence, or is it something more vocal, more active, more intentional? How do we make peace with one another in the middle of our debates and controversies?  You can read the first installment here, and you can find my thoughts here.  

The best part about hosting a series is I get to introduce you to some of the people I admire most.  Today's guest post is written by Father Chris Bollegar, who is an Anglican priest.  Fr. Chris is the most humble leader I have ever known.  He was the first spiritual leader I've ever met who is comfortable saying from the pulpit, "I don't know."  I thank God for his influence in my life.  

If you would like to hear more of Chris' thoughts, you can find his sermons here.  I would highly recommend checking out Jan 26 and March 9 first.

Peace.  When we talk about peace, what is it we are talking about?

Is it co-existence without coercive violence?  Is it that we simply agree to disagree, and live and let live?  Is it setting aside the law of non-contradiction with its clear binaries?  Is it learning to just "love one another" (a phrase so many zealous apologists from either side of our public debates mock and despise)?

There is validity to defining peace as the absence of something we deem destructive to human flourishing - the absence of violence, for example, or coercion, oppression, or bigotry binary logic.  But if we leave it there, we fall far short of the kind of peace that Jesus spoke of and the Christian tradition, in its best moments, has hoped for.

But the challenge in defining peace is similar to the challenge in defining love.  Once we 

failing up

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Lately, every time I sit down to write, I stare at a silent screen.
Vulnerability is the birth place of creativity, Brene Brown says, but lately I don’t feel like being vulnerable.
Not here, not online.  Because recently a friend died unexpectedly, and because my kids are communicating a need in their behavior I don’t know how to address, and because I am working hard to talk about more with my husband than grocery lists and how much we have in the account.
I’m vulnerable in a half dozen places right now, and I don’t want to talk about any of them.  So I stare at a silent screen.
I resist because I don’t want to be seen as uncertain.  I can talk about past issues all day long.  New to motherhood?  I’m your woman.  Leaving destructive theology?  Moving across the country?  Pull up a chair.
But reconnecting to your spouse after a difficult season?  Moving out of crisis mode, and accepting the new as normal?  Please don’t bring it up.  How to really hear and respond to what your kids are communicating, and not just react to the slammed door, the relentless whining?  Let’s talk about something else.
I can talk about old issues with you all day long.  Current ones, though, I like to avoid.  Because I want to be the wise one.  The gracious one, the one who has struggled and found her way.  Not the one who still has a long way to go ... 
And don't forget to check back tomorrow for our next installment of Give Peace A Chance, as one of the people I most respect looks at the question, "How can we be peacemakers within the church?"


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