A mother’s watch

Can we just? For a second?

Parents of middle schoolers and high schoolers please hear me in this: 80% of you are killing me. With the iPhones for 10 year olds, and the phones in the bedroom and the unrestricted access to the internet. And the Instagram and the snapchat. (Shudder: especially the snapchat.)  YOU ARE KILLING ME. I am dying.

I thought we were on the same team here.

My daughter is twelve–12–TWELVE. Know what I was doing when I was 12? Playing with Barbies and drawing pictures of horses, and eating dinner with my parents and sisters almost every night, making lemonade with real live lemons, and learning to sew scrunchies with my mom, and playing catch in the street with my actual dad not a paid private coach, and reading books and traveling and sightseeing and being forced to listen to Kenny G and Nat King Cole every time we drove anywhere.

It was a idyllic childhood for sure, but here’s what all of my friends, including those less privileged than me, were NOT doing:

  • Face-timing boys in our room until midnight.
  • Taking fifty duck-lips selfies per day and posting them on the internet for literally everyone to see.
  • Feeling increasingly depressed as the day goes on because the number of “likes” we got on any given picture of ourselves is not equal to or greater than the number of likes we got on a similar selfie the day before.
  • Being asked by a seemingly nice boy to send a picture through text.
  • No, a better picture than the ones on Instagram.
  • No, a better picture.
  • A better one.
  • So that he can show it to a friend.
  • Or getting dumped by a seemingly nice boy because you’re not available to snapchat on an almost constant basis–while other girls most certainly are.
  • Sending or receiving pictures through social media accounts that your mother would kill you over.
  • Worrying that you wouldn’t be cool or accepted because you didn’t participate in such a manner of online activity.

Hey I could go on–I really could–but we all get the idea. My kids are not perfect, by far: but this internet stuff is friggin’ out of control and scary.

(For time’s sakes let’s not even zero in on all the sickos out there that can super easily get their demonic eyes on pretty much any photo of our child that is sent into the digital universe.)

Prostitution: bad. Sex slavery: bad. Human trafficking: bad. Child pornography: so bad. And if we are genuinely angered by rape culture and violence towards women, and people who prey on children, or women who sell sex and men who buy it–we have to take it upon ourselves to change society, starting with our very own precious children and the way we passively allow them to adopt such casual views towards sex.

We have to actively teach them that a person’s worth has nothing to do with a heavily edited sexually suggestive disappearing photo sent through an Instagram direct message. (Did you guys know that’s a real thing now? Yeah. I just figured it out.)

If you live in my town and our kids hang out regularly, I almost guarantee you are the type of parent who wants their daughter to at least develop a healthy concept of self-worth. You want her to take care of her body and her soul, and you want her to make safe and strong decisions one day regarding sex. She cannot do that without your guidance and protection, as a 12-year-old faced with the kind of pressure these kids are faced with these days. I can’t even imagine it.

It is up to us to guard their hearts and minds. It’s up to us to make and enforce rules especially when it comes to parts of culture that have such a potential for spiritual damage. It’s up to us to say “We don’t do that and this is why.”

Let’s promise each other that, from now on, we will monitor and limit our children’s access to the internet. Let’s make rules about their social media accounts. Let’s talk to them about sex and sexual predators and most importantly, let’s teach them to respect themselves and others–let your words and actions set good examples.

Set boundaries because your seventh-grade girl? May not know exactly how to say “No, it’s not okay to ask me for a ‘better’ picture, or any picture at all, and it’s not ok to be mean to me when I say no.” Check your son’s phone. Place restrictions on their browsing and googling capabilities. And keep watch even as they get older.

I don’t want my son getting addicted to pornography any more than I want my daughter to have to compete with it. I don’t want their hearts and minds damaged by it. I don’t want to unintentionally set my kids up for a lifetime of sexual temptation and spiritual struggle. I don’t want their future spouses and children to suffer because of what I neglected to teach them about and protect them from.

Will they face these temptations one day? Will they have tough decisions to make after they leave my home? You bet. But I will not allow them to swan dive into this raging fire while they are still tender and still learning and still growing.

I vow to be a better preparer. I vow to do my job as a parent to raise kind, caring people who love God and others.

Pierce the night

I used to hate spring. Used to think, “Ugh, allergies. Ugh, 2 more months of school. Let’s just skip it and move straight into summer.” Maybe it’s because Florida winters were never really cold and bleak enough to make me long for spring warmth.
And then, Oklahoma: where the wind comes sweeping down the plain and murdering my nerves with 20 degree temps hurled at my face at 80 mph for a solid 4 months. I have never hated winter more. Dark, cold, dead–that’s what real winter is like, and it is literally the worst.

Springtime in Oklahoma, though–that first mildly warm day, those first green buds on bare branches, little green shoots of grass breaking through my crunchy brown lawn–is a welcome and celebrated season for me now. Oh how good that sun feels on my face! Thank you God for this warm-ish day, for these little purple weeds adding color to the landscape, for these extra few hours of daylight. 

And how much more easily I can grasp the true joy of Easter–after a dark and cold and dead three days, a light shoots forth; it has got to be the most beautiful light there ever was. Never is there a more welcomed glimmer of sunrise than after a long, scary, pitch-black night.

Jesus is that light. He is miraculous life after a painful and tragic death.

One of my favorite songs is “O Praise The Name (Anastasis)” by Hillsong. Aside from Hillsong lyrics being like cursive in my mouth anyway, this song is pretty much the most bombest Easter song there ever was:

“His body bound and drenched in tears,

They laid Him down in Joseph’s tomb

The entrance sealed by heavy stone

Messiah still, and all alone.

…Then on the third, at break of dawn

The Son of Heaven rose again.

Oh tremble death! Where is your sting?

The Angels roar for Christ the King!” 
Jesus has been God’s plan of rescue and redemption from the beginning. He is God in human form and He is for everyone. The hardest heart. The worst sinner. The most unrepentant unbeliever. He came for the most broken, the hurting, the angry, the vengeful, and the lonely. He came for us, all.

There is no ground too frozen that He can’t break through. No dark corner where His light can’t reach. There’s nothing and no one in this world that is so far gone that He can’t heal and fully restore.

And spring–new life, green buds, purple weeds, warm sunshine–is a physical reminder of this good news: His love for the people He created, and His power over death.

Feeding wolves

For the record: today, forgiveness is hard. Today, forgiveness just isn’t my world; it cannot possibly be required of me today. Today, I wanna bring up old shit because, know what? It’s all the sudden fresh in my head. I feel beaten and abandoned. Today all my scars are itching, and my head is pounding, and I am tired. And all the wrong doers who wrongly did wrong to me need to suffer, if only just a little bit, because dangit–I suffered. I still suffer. I thought suffering would go away by a certain point, but as it turns out, some hurts will never ever completely fade away.

And I don’t want to pray about it. Why should I? That friend needs to pray. That family member needs to pray. That dang spouse needs to pray. Not me. I want to wallow in my anger and sadness and jealousy and of course, sarcasm:

Today it’s not fair, and bitterness is festering in my heart, and not only am I allowing it to fester, I have been feeding it.

Maybe it’s lack of sleep. Maybe it’s pregnancy hormones. Maybe it’s just, idk, Satan tryna drag me and everyone else down.

You guys.

This day of all days is when I need to pray the most. This day is when I have to read my bible, it is when I must continue to forgive.

This is when my friend, my family member, my dang spouse, needs me to show love and mercy instead of hate and discouragement. This is when doing the hard and holy things is not only at its hardest but at its holiest. I’m not capable in my own strength.

This is when I need to remember that I, too, have been forgiven, and I have received grace and mercy. (Grace: getting good things I by no means earned. Mercy: not getting what I did deserve.) Because my relationship with God is based on these things, so must it be with others. And when I boil it down (well, when it is boiled down for me) forgiveness is required of me every day–it’s a pesky non-option if I expect to be forgiven by my Father in heaven. (Mathew 6:14-15)

Today is when I must put aside my wrath, and bitterness, and strong urges to throw all the shade. Today I chose compassion and gentleness and love. (Ephesians 4:31-32)

And I breathe.

And I keep trusting the One who is always trustworthy. And I keep going.

Doing Life

Here in Oklahoma it’s been spring all winter. I am genuinely terrified of what this may mean for tornado season.

Life for us is moving at a rate of 80,000 times the speed of light. All the sudden my oldest daughter moved away and my little ones are in elementary and middle school; and I inexplicably have a two-year-old and a baby in my tummy. I am classifying my children into subgroups at this point in order to wrap my head around parenting on so many levels. I’m convinced that not only will I drop the ball (which is covered in spikes and on fire), but that I’ve never had the ball to begin with and I’m not even sure where it is or when it’s coming to me. Y’all pray for my children because they’re growing up with Toni at the wheel.

Here I am monitoring subgroup B’s progress in school this past week while we all had the flu and the stomach bug and Caleb was out of town:

Mia: “I need to bring dessert and $10 for our Indian Taco fundraiser dinner by tomorrow.”

Me: “What?! 2 DESSERTS? Did I know about this? I have to make TWO? I can’t bake! I can’t move! I don’t have cash! What do I DO?! This is overwhelming! Catastrophic! What kind of desserts again?! I guess I can buy some. Ok yes. I will buy desserts. I can do this. This can be done by me.”

Mia: “And $10.”


Merrick: “Where is the stapler so I can finish up my science project which I have done completely on my own without bothering you for a single thing up until this moment?”

Me: “Love God and love others, son. The rest will work itself out.”

These are the actual days of our lives.

In other news, money is tighter than it’s ever been in our married life. Something about having 5 kids and medical bills out the yin-yang due to unexpected high risk pregnancies really drains the ole already empty bank account. Our Kia bit the dust hard this week so we are on the verge of becoming a one-car kind of family. You know, harkenin back to simpler times and whatnot. This is fine because of school buses and my husband’s very flexible work schedule. One car means only one car payment, less gas and less insurance. It also means money saved from me not hitting up Target on the regular.

Please keep my husband in your prayers. The past two years have been gut-wrenchingly difficult for both of us, but he in particular has been fighting demons left and right.

At the moment, Caleb is taking heat from loved ones for doing what he knows in his heart to be the absolute right thing to do. Following Jesus in a literal sense is so hard. Forgiveness is not a theory–it’s an action and a decision. The devil throws everything he can at you when you’re on the right track, and this has never been more evident for us as it is now. I am so proud of how Caleb has handled himself over the past several months despite how much heart pain has come from actively doing the crazy crap Jesus commanded–loving the unlovable and forgiving the unforgivable; living as an ambassador, as a beloved son; shining like a light in the dark places. He isn’t perfect, but he is trying.

And I have never admired my husband more. He is truly a brave light. I hope one day he is able to share his amazing story with those that can only understand their own anger and hurt right now. There is so much good to come out of even (what may rightfully be considered) the worst offenses.

God is at work, and we are happier than we have ever been.

The Problem with Church People

Lemme tell you about some church people. You guys, seriously: they are some of the most hyper-critical, selfish, greedy, gossipy gossipers that ever gossiped.

For real: Rude. Conceited. Prideful. Vengeful. Big-mouthed. Bossy. Immovable. Unbendable. Cold. Calloused. They are all about themselves. They are always angry over something. They are super-sensitive. I cannot even with church people most days.

They have their own culture and their own songs and their own language, dress codes, and secret signals. They say they are the hands and feet of Jesus–and that’d be believable, if Jesus was a backstabbing hypocritical gluttonous know-it-all who never helped anyone but himself.

They are jumpy and judgmental. They are grudge-holding and unforgiving.

And I? Am one of them.

The trouble with church people is that–wait for it–they’re people. People are so incredibly flawed and there is not one person–NOT EVEN ONE–who is even remotely righteous in his own power.

But church people, like non-church people, are trying.

We are trying.

Truth is, following Jesus is much, much harder in practice than it is in theory. We want to love and serve and give and be and do–and then, life. Anger. Confusion. Hurt. Sickness. Not every believer has the strength at every time.

We strive towards living out Jesus’s teachings, but we still seek validation and acceptance and approval out of our human nature. It’s a tough habit to break.

We worry. We know what the Bible says about it, but we still fight the very physical symptoms of anxiety and depression.

We criticize. We feel so unsure sometimes in our own knowledge of biblical concepts that we pick apart another believer’s words and actions–we hold each other to impossibly high standards. Deviations from script, or sometimes even questions in general, are intolerable.

But we are trying.

The early church loved Jesus. They devoted their entire lives–their families, careers, assets, everything–to serving Him and serving others in His name. Here’s a verse I have grown to love because it shows how Jesus works through the Church:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teachings and to fellowship, the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Everyday they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those that were being saved. Acts 2:42-47

It sounds like a bunch of hippy dippy brouhaha to the modern ear, but can you imagine how amazing it would’ve been to be a part of something so simple, but so powerful? All because the apostles whole-heartedly believed in and loved Jesus.

Worthy of notation: Jesus freakin’ LOVED the church. Loved. It. Died for it, actually. It was part of the deal from the get-go. Jesus planned to be with us as a church through the work of the Holy Spirit.

To hate church people is to hate the church, and to hate the church is to hate what Jesus died for.

So lemme tell you about some church people:

A few key mechanically-inclined members have kept me in a semi-safe, and running, vehicle over the course of the last seven years. 

Three friends prayed me out of (or physically restrained me from) what would have been some nasty alcoholic relapses.

A group of no less than ten stone-coldest of believers loved me and my husband straight through the darkest, ugliest parts of our marriage.

Half our church is at least partially responsible for the thriving health of our currently-baking baby (and my husband’s sanity).

A small army of Godly men and women continue to disciple me through all my faults and mistakes with a genuine desire to simply heal my heart and help me grow closer to God.

These church people have welcomed me, loved me, fed me, clothed me, nursed me, educated me, forgiven me, cheered me, supported me, trained me, apologized for me, moved me, comforted me, and they did so faithfully and willingly.

I mess up–half the time I mess up accidentally on purpose. I second-guess myself constantly. I’m far from perfect and I assume this is how it’s gonna be til I die.

We don’t have all the answers, but our faith is strong because our God can move mountains. Our love is deep because we have experienced unconditional love. Our hope is high because our God keeps His promises.

And He promised to build His church with ordinary people, to do extraordinary things.

especially this day

Valentine’s Day 2017: this is the 15th Valentine’s Day I have spent with Caleb as my main squeeze. He is not much for empty romantic gestures, or really even just romantic gestures in general; but he does always remember to bring home chocolate and that’s pretty much the thing I want most in the whole wide world always. We work well together in this way.

I’m probably like most people I know in that I don’t expect or desire expensive things. I don’t want stupid cards on commercial holidays. Roses actually make me sick to my stomach any time of the year.

But dang it: comparison is a freakin’ thief of joy, and while I don’t specifically require anything from my husband on Valentine’s day, I get bummed as I watch the Facebook Floral Extravaganza unfold from sun-up to sun-down, topped off with Instagram photos of smiling faces over candlelit dinners at fancy restaurants. (Insert obligatory sentence about jealousy and greener grass, etc. HERE.)

I crave attention from my husband unlike any other living thing craves anything at all. And it has to come naturally or else it doesn’t count. Valentine’s Day Attention is acceptable, but contrived nonetheless. And–hey–chocolate is perfect, but it is no substitute for what I really want: kindness, thoughtfulness, laughter and loyalty throughout the year.

And he delivers. Question is: do I?

I read something recently that was particularly convicting. We vow to love, honor, and cherish our spouse–now, I can care for my husband in sickness and in health like a total boss. I will never cheat on him. I will love him until the day I die; but do I make him feel special? Does he know how much I like him? Does he know that I think he is funny, and smart, and pretty much the best guy ever, not just from what I say but also from how I treat him? Do I actively verb-cherish my husband?

And y’all.

I’m not sure that I do things on a regular basis that would indicate to him the certain level of respect or admiration he deserves simply for being the one God put into my life. I feel like I fail at this at least 70% of the time–especially lately.

I love this guy. I love our children, our home, the life God has allowed us to build. May I never lead him to think otherwise.

Life, in a shell.

Can’t sleep and can’t breathe. I am free and clear to do whatever activity I so deem worthy and appropriate, and that activity is mostly eating. I am starving, but also really tormented digestionally.

Also, I am having a girl.

And you guys.

I’m insanely happy about this (as long as Caleb doesn’t express a desire to try one more time for another son.)

Merrick was bummed for about five minutes about not getting a Phinneas to his Ferb, and then we all sort of zeroed in on the fact that Arbor will grow up with a sister close in age, and that got us excited.

Honestly. I can’t wait to paint them girls’ little piggies, and watch Frozen on repeat, and make unicorn pancakes. They can share a room, it’ll be so dope. And? Matching outfits. Matching outfits on ALL the days.

Names: it’s important we all understand my all-or-nothing approach to everything. The artist-standard obscure hippy side of my brain wants to go with Valor, or Cedar, or Ember; but then sensible Toni chimes in with Lucy and Annabelle and Johanna. (And in defense of Lucy, I have loved it since I was 12, as documented throughout other naming adventures over the past decade, and Caleb is pitching it extra hard.) (Side note: Pretty sure we would have found ourselves with a Duncan or a  Slade had “she” been a “he”.)

I am experiencing a slight urge to nest (cleaning and rearranging and decorating and organizing…okay, a strong urge.) and have been able to rally the children to my cause–they’ve been moving furniture and hauling boxes and basically being very helpful and obedient children when it comes to Mom’s random bouts of feng shui.

Basketball is dominating our schedule right now, soon to be replaced by baseball and softball; I’m thinking of steering Arbor into  a more low key activity like, I dunno, kite flying; cause organized sports are going to be the death of me, I can already tell. (This is a terrible plan since Arbor’s energy and strong willed-ness will not be contained in anything less than probably super-extreme competitive parkour-ninjutsu.

Speaking of strong willed-ness, Arbor is potty training. We’ve had a fairly successful week but I’ve also witnessed some of Arbor’s most epic tantrums. It’s like wearing big girl panties (or as she likes to call them, “pammies”; I DIE) has kicked up her sense of independence (and sass).

Overnight she grew six inches taller and started speaking in complete sentences and counting to ten in three different languages. I’m not sure how this preschooler replaced my toddler who replaced my teensy bald-headed baby.

Kids grow up. Did you guys know that?

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