Tuesday, October 30, 2012


This past weekend, I went on a retreat with the women’s group I’m honored to be a part of, and to serve on as one of the board members. It’s my favorite event we do all year, one I  count down to starting at the end of summer. I always know something life changing, or at least perspective changing, will happen to me. This year I got both. Right now I’ll focus on the perspective change.

Many of you who know me, and some of you who don’t but have followed What If I Said long enough to notice my emotional trends, will know that I have a pretty low stress threshold. I get overwhelmed easily. By stupid little things that to normal people wouldn’t make one lick of difference. And once something small happens, every subsequent thing looms larger and larger, until I’m spiraling out of control on a wave of crazy.

I’ve had a rough October. With a wedding, various family crises, birthdays, planning for a women’s retreat, kids falling into a firm school routine, emotional upheaval... And when I say rough, I obviously just mean rough for someone like me, who absorbs stress, others’ troubles, and even normal everyday occurrences, like a dishrag, letting them weigh me down like dirty water. Someone like me, whose biggest accomplishment is getting laundry folded. Not put away. Just folded, and, if I’m lucky, into a basket. A basket that will sit in a corner of my living room for 2 weeks while we dig through it looking for clothes, until eventually it all needs to be folded again. And again. So you see, even my accomplishments have the hamster on a wheel quality.

This weekend, God spoke to me, through many different mediums, the word “Breathe”. That’s it. Just breathe, which in my mind, can be loosely interpreted as “Be. Just be.” Actually He’s been speaking it to me almost all year, and in my frenzied, out of control perception, it has been impossible for me to breathe. I say that frequently- “I don’t even have time to breathe!” I actually got quite offended with God earlier this year, and with the person He spoke to me through, when he told me that I needed to “Stop looking ahead to what the future holds, and enjoy where you are. Take a minute to notice your surroundings. Breathe.” Well! I was so angry I wanted to scream. One more item to add to my list of things I couldn’t possibly handle: Breathing, of all things!

When I try to sit back and make a mental list of all the things that make me feel like I can’t breathe, there’s never even anything concrete. All the things I list seem trivial, and something that most “normal” wives, mothers- stay at home or otherwise- could handle. And I just can’t. I’m ashamed of my freak-outs, embarrassed by the fact that I can’t seem to deal with what- to most people- is a normal life.

I came home from the retreat this year in the middle of Hurricane Sandy. Wet, clammy, miserable, with a head cold that I’d acquired over the weekend, to boot. My house was a disaster. My kids were out of school because of the storm. My husband and I were at each others’ throats all day, cooped up in the said disastrous house, with the three rampaging kids. Came home to stress and discord and mess and storms. It was one of my ruder awakenings, as we always get upon every return from vacation. I lost my ability to keep things in perspective rather quickly. Today was no better, with fights over homework, Atleigh catching my cold, realizing that Ashton never got his Halloween costume and making a last minute run to the packed, picked-over aisles of K-Mart to find him a costume that he didn’t even really want. Tonight, my accomplishment was getting my kids into bed unharmed. No teeth brushing. Chloe, as I type this, is sleeping with Nutella smeared across her upper lip. Atleigh, who is still awake and howling from her bed that she “Can’t go to sleeeeeep”, has strawberry jelly up her nose. Obviously, dinner was not one of my accomplishments tonight, either.

So did I breathe through all of this? The answer is probably more no than yes. But I did try. Some of it may have been breathing through gritted teeth, or through my nose as I counted to 10. And honestly, some of it was probably breathing in deeply so I could get enough power behind my yell. It will take practice.


Here are a few things I’ve embraced this weekend, and can focus on now that I’m sitting alone in my living room, just breathing. Just... being.

- I have Christ in me. The hope of glory. Hope. Of glory. Not the “already attained” glory. Hope. Which means I will always have room to grow, room to make mistakes in, room to BE. Because I will always have hope that tomorrow, I will be better.

- I can do all of this hoping with a good attitude. Hope without a good attitude isn’t hope at all, it’s malcontent. It’s just waiting for something better to come along without being satisfied where you are. And so we carry that dissatisfaction into our next “something better”, until we’ve exhausted them all and left ourselves with nothing but hope deferred and a heart made sick.

“I pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul- not the grim strength of gritting your teeth, but the glory-strength God gives.” Colossians 1, MSG

And following that,

“This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike, ‘What’s next, Papa?’” Romans 8, MSG
While I’m sitting here, reminding myself to breathe, reminding myself to BE, I can wait with expectation. See, He’s not just telling me to breathe for survival. He’s telling me to breathe in all the promises He’s made me, to breathe in and hold within myself the “What’s next?” It goes hand in hand with the hope of glory thing.

And so, for now, for tonight, I can hope.

 I can breathe.

I can be.

And if I can do those three things, I’ve accomplished a lot more than that basket of laundry.

I bought this book today- two chapters in and I've cried probably every three pages. If you're struggling with some of the things I've just written about, I'd recommend it to you.

And here are some songs that help me get through those moments when I feel like breathing is the last possible thing I can do (keep in mind I tend towards more melancholy music. Maybe you prefer "I Will Survive". That's perfectly fine) :

Glen Hansard- Bird of Sorrow

Eden's Bridge- Shadow of Your Hand

David Crowder* Band- Sometimes

Waterdeep- Hush

Mumford & Sons- After the Storm

Jenn Johnson- Come to Me

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Third's Fourth

My baby turned four yesterday. You would think that each year of seeing them grow up would make it a little easier, but it never does.

I didn’t cry over her this weekend.

I didn’t have time. And the magic hour between three and four is so gradual, you don’t even notice it’s happening- that true change from a toddler to a child. When does it happen? In the dead of night, while she’s sleeping? Do her dreams change from images and impressions to concrete stories of princesses and friends? Does it happen during the day, while she prances around pretending, while she’s learning to write her name and draw a dog? The answers to those questions, I don’t know. I only know it’s happened before my eyes, and my very last baby is no longer a baby. The realization has struck me hard over the past few weeks: noticing her lengthening limbs, the faded bruises all over her bony shins the same as mine were. Her knobby knees. The thinning in her cheeks, the way she moves her head and hands while she talks. The way she looks me in the eye while we’re having a conversation instead of wandering around distractedly.
I’ll miss her. My last little baby that I never asked for, and God gave her to me anyway; knowing I needed her. Someone told me a few weeks ago that they’ve always heard the third child is magic. That’s what my Atleigh is. Magic, pure and simple. She’s the purest form of magic, in that she is a gift that was so unexpected, so completely outside of the box, that she had to be everything I wanted before I even knew I wanted it. And so He handed her to me, the tiniest gift imaginable, with the biggest personality I’ve ever seen. He handed her to me, trusting that I would love her, rejoice over her, laugh with her, weep over her, pour my heart’s blood into her, just as I have with all of my children. Just as He has for me.

And so, happy fourth, littlest. I’m crying over you now.

Here are some photos I took of Atleigh for her birthday- I'm trying to make it a practice to do a special shoot with each one of my kids on their special day. Atleigh's party theme this year was Lalaloopsy, so, as you can see, we totally went for it.

Atleigh's made quite a few appearances on What If I Said. You can read more about her here:

On Raising Grace-Challenged Daughters
Terrible, Terrible, Terrible
A Happy "Accident"
Our Many Little Days

Monday, October 15, 2012

Weekend Discoveries

I’ve discovered a few things this weekend. Not life lessons, necessarily, but just little “take notice” things. For instance:

Chloe went on a play date yesterday. Now, she has friends that she plays with sometimes, but usually they are family friends, where all the kids play together at once. This was her very first schoolmate play date. I’ve said before that Chloe is the perfect middle child. No, really, she is. So far, she has none of the infamous middle child characteristics (which her father sports so well). She’s more like the perfect filler to our kids. She’s easygoing. Happy. Gentle. She is the perfect cohesive balance to Ashton and Atleigh, who are definitely more high maintenance- Ashton with all of his intellectual angst and “Nobody understands me” drama, and Atleigh with her high-flying, devil-may-care, baby of the family mindset. So having her gone all day on Saturday was a huge eye-opener to me. I will admit, somewhat abashedly, that because of her low maintenance personality, my poor Princess tends to get lost in the shuffle sometimes. She’s not really assertive, but she’s confident enough in herself to not be needy. She just floats along on the maelstrom of the Box House, a happy little butterfly, singing, dancing, pretending. But I missed her yesterday. Missed her being the sweet little icing in our Oreo. Ashton and Atleigh have nothing in common. Nothing. The stress level in the house ratcheted up about 10 levels without Chloe there to be buffer between the two A’s explosive personalities. Who was going to play the computer, who was going to sit in the coveted corner of the couch, heck- who was going to use the bathroom first. Who cares who uses the bathroom first?? When she came home Saturday evening, a sense of balance returned to our household, and I realized for the first time how much of a true unit we are. How we all need each other, balance each other out. This was a happy discovery for me, to know that we are our own little entity in this world.

Here are some other, several less happy, discoveries I’ve made this weekend:

* Not sure how it happened, but Chloe’s Betsy Ross costume that we bought, for her speech competition, was missing her little mop cap. The only thing I can think of is that it fell out of the bag when she tried it on in the store. This was a very unhappy discovery.

* No stores carry JUST mop caps. None that I found anyway. None of the four that I went to, or the three that I called, had them. This afternoon was an unfulfilling one of trekking around in absurd high heels (more on those in a minute), searching for an elusive circa 1776 piece of white cotton headwear.

* As far as I can tell, there are no belts for boys with snaps to change belt buckles. Ashton got a Confederate Soldier belt buckle to wear with his Stonewall Jackson getup, but no belt he owns supports such a thing. Add that to my unfulfilling afternoon.

* Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. Today I had to get inventive. Here’s what I did: I bought a $5 belt from Walmart for Ashton, along with an 84 cent seam ripper to tear open the stitching holding the buckle in place. The seam ripper broke off  three stitches in, after which I progressed with a dull serrated kitchen knife, all the while having vain imaginings of putting a huge jagged cut somewhere in the region of my eyebrow, and wondering how that would play out with my schedule for the week. Thankfully, nobody was maimed. I finished ripping the seams out, tossed aside the original buckle, and fitted the CS one onto the belt. Then I folded it back over and superglued it. The glue started to melt the synthetic materials but, hey, it was only $5. Voila! Instant Confederate belt! For Chloe’s annoying mop cap dilemma, I bought some red gift wrap ribbon (not even cloth ribbon. PAPER ribbon! Betsy would have rolled over in her grave- which I found out on Wikipedia is not actually where everyone thinks it is, by the way) grabbed my favorite white(ish) knit beanie, and threaded said ribbon through the knit holes, and then tied in a knob on the top. Not quite the same effect, but hopefully close enough for a classroom of first graders.

* On top of all this today, I wore high heels. I bought a pair a few weeks ago that I’ve been eyeing for months, and I finally gave in. I NEVER wear heels. I mean, ever. Not since I started dating Jeremy, who is only a few inches taller than I am. Here was my discovery concerning the shoes: High heels are ridiculous. And sexy. I heard at least 5 comments about my shoes. Yeahhhh girl. Despite the torture, and the resultant blisters, and the many times I whispered under my breath “fuh fuh fuh fuh” (which is NOT a shortened term of the expletive, just so you know; it’s just how I breathe when I’m in pain) while telling myself I just had to make it to the car, just had to make it across the parking lot, beauty is pain and daggone you look sexy girl, I’m pretty sure I will be wearing those shoes again. So, there’s a little discovery about myself: I’m an idiot, and a sucker for admiration.

* Contrary to what I thought, not all patches are iron on. I discovered this the hard way tonight, while trying to iron Ashton’s patch onto his costume jacket. So, what did I do, instead of just nixing the idea like any sensible person would? I did the non-sensible mom thing, and sewed it on the sleeve instead. Another discovery: I’m no seamstress (actually this isn’t shocking news to me at all. Domesticated I am not). But, the patch is on, for better or for worse. I wondered aloud to my sister if she thought that the soldiers during the Civil War had to sew all their own patches, darn their own socks, etc., or did they get the nurses, or their mothers or sisters or wives or daughters to do it for them? We concluded that they must have had to do most of it on their own, on the march and in the trenches. And they probably did a much better job than I did. I contemplated rousing Ashton from his barracks to sew his own flipping patch on, and let him really experience what those men had to deal with, but again, I decided to do the mom thing and let him get a good night’s sleep before the day of his big speech.

Once most of the costume issues were resolved, I took the kids outside to take a few pictures of them all turned out. While there, I made a few more discoveries, which are probably elementary, but to a mom whose kids are just starting to grow up, it was an epiphany. While I was behind the camera, watching them laugh and tease each other, I had one of those out of body experiences we moms sometimes have, looking at our kids and thinking, “This is mine. I made this. I can’t believe I’m a parent.” It seems so surreal sometimes, when I really think about it. I think a lot of time as mothers, parents, whatever, we tend to see our kids as just an extension of ourselves. I know I do. I sometimes don’t acknowledge them as their own people, wholly other from me. I mean, so completely other. Yes, they are a part of me, and I a part of them, but really, they are not MINE. They are their own, and ultimately, HIS. And they’re growing up so fast. So, so fast. They have their own interests, senses of humor, ideas of the way things should be. What am I going to do? My years of influence are swiftly waning. These little people, who will sooner than I can ever imagine be big people, who are mine but not mine, will soon be grown and gone. And so here was my final discovery of this weekend: My time with them is short. These next 4 or 5 years are going to mold them more than the last 9, 7, and 4 years put together. What am I going to do with that time? I hope I discover newer, deeper waters in these little souls I’ve been entrusted with. That I can discover all the best parts of them and cultivate those good, sweet, wholesome things into a thriving life. I pray that I never contribute to brokenness in them, and that I can help heal any that comes along, as I know it must. And I pray that when the time comes, I discover new strength in myself to let them go, to be who they are meant to be.

So maybe I need to rethink my opening statement of not learning any life lessons this weekend. Apparently I’ve discovered more than I thought.


Here are a few of the pictures I took tonight. As you can see, by the time I got to Ashton, I was losing light, but I decided to embrace the graininess as totally period, and therefore acceptable and cool. 

 Remember, I said we would do what we must, when it came to the Old Glory themed costume.

 Those eyes.

 This is the face of a child who has read one too many Civil War histories (oh yes- he has read them). He was so excited for me to take his picture, and as soon as I lifted the camera: Instant serious face.

As usual, you can follow me on Instagram, @mbsmoot, to see my life and discoveries in photos.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Underwhelming Confidence

I'm not a naturally confident person. Oh, I try really hard. I'm good at quips and comebacks. But I'm not good at eye contact, at small talk, at approaching an already formed group and joining conversations. It gives me heart palpitations just thinking about it. The truth is, I'm the walliest of wallflowers. I'm happy that way. I observe and take note. I'll know your favorite color, what role you played in your high school theater club, and it's possible you won't even remember my name.

Having this tenuous confidence has its many drawbacks. One of them happened to me today. See, not having overweening natural confidence, it doesn't take much to throw me for a loop. Today, some flippant little comment on Facebook sent me into a tailspin of epic proportions. This person didn't mean to ruin my day. I'm sure of it. Nevertheless, they did. One little comment, which made me feel foolish, had me questioning my entire life. I hate feeling stupid. It's one of the worst feelings I can think of.

And so I found myself, on the floor of a stranger's bathroom, having the mother of all meltdowns. Like Adam and Eve, my eyes were opened- opened to see myself wearing knee pads and clutching a pink plastic toothbrush through blue latex gloves, scrubbing someone's toilet. And, like Adam and Eve, I was ashamed.

No. There is nothing shaming in honest work. I don't hate my job. Most days I'm perfectly fine with it. But, because of this brokenness inside of me that can cause my entire world to shift thanks to one meaningless comment, today, I was not fine. I found tears streaming down my face as I scrubbed that toilet, asking myself what I was doing here. The song came on my playlist- "I Will Not Forget You", of Enter The Worship Circle fame.
And I felt God gently prompt me, "Have you forgotten? Have you forgotten Me, and who you are in Me?" To which I returned, in the midst of said meltdown, "NO! No, it's YOU who's forgotten ME! You've forgotten me! I'm on my knees in front of a toilet! What happened to all these so called 'GIFTS' [insert enormous air quotes here] I'm supposed to have been given?" See, in my mind, at just that moment, the value of a gift was only as high as someone else valued it. You can sing like the very angels of heaven, and if no one hears or cares, then that makes your voice valueless. And because someone, a near stranger who has no impact on my life, did not value me, I felt valueless. I felt lost, adrift, the tiniest useless speck in a sea of nothing.

Now, a few hours later, I can see my folly. I can toss out the clever quip that's expected of me, brush off a little remark without letting anyone see that it's burned my skin like ash. Hindsight being 20/20, and all that. But my descent into that darkness was very real, however temporary. Which leads me to the question: Who is my confidence in? Who do I boast in? I certainly can't let it be myself. Because as soon as those foundations are shaken even the tiniest bit, I stumble. I crack.

And so today, I'm placing that confidence in the one who said He wouldn't forget me. I'm resting my value in His hands. I may never be a natural in social situations, exuding confidence and charisma. I may never find "value" by the world's standards, value that fades with time, or cracks under pressure, or is only worth as much as someone is willing to pay for it. But I'm confident in this one thing: I'm valued by the One who, in the end, is the only One who is allowed to weigh and measure me, and find me wanting.

And He never does.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Our Many Little Days

The favorite part of my week is my two days off that I get to spend with Atleigh. Having been a stay at home mom for all of my babies up until this time last year, this new normal has gotten to me. The older two kids are gone all day at school, so I can tell myself I'm not missing out on anything on workdays; but Atleigh... I miss her. Knowing that she’s at home, and I’m not with her like I was with Ashton and Chloe, well- it’s a little wrenching. So we make the most of our Mondays and Tuesdays when it’s just the two of us. My little Mini-Me and I. I savor every moment with her charming, quirky little self. Some days we sleep in, waking up next to each other in the bed slowly (she always ends up in our bed sometime during the night), and planning our day. Some of those days we just go walk around Target or Michael’s, creating impossible wish lists. Some days we drive around with the windows down, blaring Justin Beiber like we're 6th graders. Some days we stay at home and watch movies, have picnics on the living room floor, play games. All days we laugh.

Today Atleigh and I went on a leaf hunting adventure, taking along my camera. Here are some of the photos we took while we meandered along our street, picking up leaves that caught our fancy, savoring the cooler weather and overcast skies. True, I had to bribe her with Halloween Oreos to get her to wear the scarf, and to get her to stand next to the rope that she swore up and down was a rattlesnake. But we had fun. We always have fun on our little days together.

 She demanded payment for scarf wearing, and ate her cookies in front of the camera.

 I did NOT tell her to pose like this. I don't know where she got a hold of an Olan Mills catalog.