Dear New Mom – Part 2

Dear New Mom,

A year ago I wrote a letter to you. I saw you on the subway, and you had that amazing look, a look I know so well — the look of a woman in love with her newborn.

So I wrote to you, and I meant every word that I said. Now, your baby is just over a year old, and the glow is gone, but it’s replaced by more maturity and tenacity. A year in and you know some of the work this thing called motherhood takes — it has its moments, doesn’t it? Still, each step, each word – it’s all amazing.

And of course, if you didn’t know before, you know now that every writer, blogger, researcher, celebrity, and Russian babushka has an opinion and expresses that opinion about everything from tummy time to tuna.

This past week, I found myself sorting through old pictures and just like that, I was taken back to a time when I was you — watching this little person become. So I thought back to the letter I wrote last year and I’m adding my voice to the chorus. I ask for you to forgive me when I get it wrong.

First off, there are those who tell you that you really don’t know what it’s like to be a mom since you only have one child….AS IF!! That’s just crazy talk right there! Yes you do my friend! Okay, you may not know what it’s like to be a mom of five, but you sure know what it’s like to be a mom of one. We just have to stop this crazy comparison talk. Just because I have five, doesn’t mean a mom with one doesn’t know what it’s like to be a mom. A mom with six kids is not more of a mom than you are. A mom who adopts is not less of a mom! If you have a child, you’re a mom and that’s it.

Don’t be afraid to travel with your child. Take them early and often. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but you will feel like superwoman when you’ve gone on even a short trip with them. It’s  amazing. I remember traveling to Greece with four kids under six, the youngest was four months old. Two of them got chicken pox on the airplane. I learned that I could do anything, anything if I could do that! You’ll feel the same traveling with your toddler! You will know that you are superwoman!

You’ve likely now had people give you the “first year advice.” It may have been over supporting your baby’s head while you were holding her; it may have been over not keeping them warm enough, or because you made the mistake of breast feeding in public, or pulling out a bottle of formula. Likely you could sometimes laugh, but other times it felt so hard and destructive, and when you got home you dissolved into a puddle of tears. It’s so hard, right? You don’t want to be rude, but you really need to be given space. Remember how in last year’s letter I told you about safe space? Know your safe spaces and your safe people – be nice to others, but don’t let them into that space. I learned to listen to some people, and to others, I had to quietly blow words away. To make it fun, put away a dime for every time someone gives you advice. You will get rich so quick – it will be awesome.

You are smart! Sometimes the loud voices forget that we are smart, and that we are capable of figuring this out for ourselves without a 24-7 diet of information. Trust your intuition because you are probably right.

If you want to dress your kids like they belong on wedding cakes, then you do it! I don’t regret one bow tie or ruffle. It was so much fun dressing those kids, and believe me, the time will come when they will have none of it so just enjoy it while it lasts.

Enjoy the process. It’s so easy to wish our lives away and forget the moments. And I am going to be annoying here and say this: It goes really fast. It doesn’t feel like it does, but as I looked back over my pictures, I was lost in the smiles that good memories bring. We had so much fun. Fun at bath time, fun on picnics, fun on airplanes. There was a lot of joy in the midst of all that growing.

I have to say new mom, that you are my favorite! I am so on your side, and I apologize from my generation for making you believe that you can do it all – because if there is one thing I know — you can’t do it all. Something has to give, and unfortunately it’s usually us. So go with grit and grace, there are a lot of us older moms on your side.

Love, Marilyn [yes – that IS me in the picture – I always made sure I had a nice bathrobe for pictures like that.]

P.S. I ate tuna while I was pregnant.  Lots and lots of tuna. And it’s likely that your child will be potty-trained when they are 13, so don’t buy into this “They aren’t potty-trained yet?! (said with incredulity) Mine’s been potty-trained since ___!” And the point is….?


No Child Should Have to be the Firstborn….


Firstborn children have the joy and burden of being first. The joy of newness and expectation, the burden of insecure parenting and wanting to get it right. No child should have to be the firstborn. But someone has to, and they deserve special applause as they teach their parents more of what it is to parent, to grow, and to love with an indescribable love.

In our family that someone is Annie.  Today, that infamous day when buildings fell and people wept so many years ago, is her birthday. So today I pause and write to our firstborn.

Dear Annie,

You turn 30 today! I can’t believe it until I look in the mirror and see the laughter lines and tear marks disguised as wrinkles on my face. And then I know – yes indeed! I have a 30-year-old.

No child should have to be the firstborn — and yet, you were. After a long labor, you ushered us into parenthood with hardly a cry. “Is she okay?” we asked anxiously. But you were fine – all six pounds four ounces of your tiny self with your bright blue eyes. You were perfect.

We took you home in baby pajamas that were three sizes too big for you. They were yellow with “Le Petite Bebe” embroidered on the front. During those first few hours at home you slept and slept – and we looked over your Moses basket with worry: “Should we wake her up? I don’t know. Do you think she’s okay? I don’t know.” We decided to wake you up.

That was a mistake. From then on we adhered to the mantra “Never wake a sleeping baby.”

Two weeks later, we moved and this began the trajectory of your life. From a Chicago apartment to a house in New Hampshire to rose gardens in Pakistan; from bustling Cairo to small-town Essex – you have lived in apartments and houses and more apartments and learned to call each one of them home, even when they hurt you.

We look back at pictures and you are so little and we are so young.

You grew up knowing airplanes and airports, thinking that Saturday morning cartoons came in two-hour videos, eating kebabs and curry before you had teeth, having more stamps in your passport at five than many do in a lifetime, and believing that Arabic is the language of the world.

You were so gentle as you taught us about parenting. You were our naiveté and our idealism; you were our youth and our mistakes; you were our uncertainty about curfews and our ignorance about boundaries; you were our energy and our travel; you were our reentry angst and our struggle to fit in the new world we found ourselves.

You have given us so much grace on this journey – and we thank you.

You are a reader and dreamer, you are a shout for justice and a ready made party. You are a writer, an artist, a doula, a friend.

You are daughter of our youth and our heart, and we love you. And so we raise our glasses to you the firstborn – resilient, beautiful, talented, funny, irritating, brave, engaging, and lover of all things champagne on a beer-budget.

Happy Birthday Dear Girl!

How I Felt Going to Boarding School….

I was so little when I went to boarding school. And most of my friends were as well.

When I look back on it, we all acted so brave. But if there was one wrong word or misstep, tears were at the ready. And that’s why I love this video so much. Because my whole childhood of going to boarding school and saying goodbye to my mom came back to me, but without pain. Just a lot of laughter. I don’t post this to be heartless, but because I relate with it so much! Happy Saturday!

The Last Child

Jonathan and Stef at Stef’s Graduation from college in May

Last night we moved our youngest to an apartment. While normally at this time of year we move him to his dorm at college, this is different. This time it feels permanent. He has really left home. With his leaving, a sense of goodness and joy has gone. My daughter and I sit on the porch feeling a bit lost and not a little sad.

I wrote the words below a couple of years ago, and I read them again today, wanting to remind myself that the best thing I can do is pack him off and place him where I have placed him countless times before — in the arms of the Father. The Father who does not walk, but pulls up his robe and runs to greet his children.


Like most parents I feel a mixture of pride, nostalgia, and relief. We’re given our children as gifts with no guarantees and no exchanges. I’m grateful for this– I’ve no doubt my parents would have traded me in for a better model several times over.

There are times when you feel in your marrow that you’re failing your kid, when you stay up late into the night pleading for mercy and grace. There are other times when you’re downright cocky thinking “I’ve so got this parenting thing covered!” only to fall flat in the next breath.

The last child gets the parent who picks the pacifier up from the floor and pops it in baby’s mouth, hoping no one sees them but pretty sure they wouldn’t care even they were seen. They get the parent who is weary of curfews and just wants their child to be quiet when they sneak in at 2am; the parent who looks at them and softly admits they wish they had tried pot in high school. They get the parent who knows that every picture their child paints is not a Picasso masterpiece, but can still look at it and say “my, isn’t that a lovely shade of blue!”

They get the parent who knows more about grace than they could have ever imagined and can say without hesitation that parenting is “but for grace…”

An opinion piece in the Washington Post written by Michael Gerson eloquently articulated many of the emotions I feel.

“Parenthood offers many lessons in patience and sacrifice. But ultimately, it is a lesson in humility. The very best thing about your life is a short stage in someone else’s story. And it is enough.” From “Saying goodbye to my child; the youngster

So there you have it. I am but a ‘short stage’, a blip if you will, in the life stories of my kids, but a blip who loves them with a fierce, protective, God-given love. A blip ordained by God to share in the awesome and terrible responsibility of parenting.

So the sun sets on the stage where I see my son most every day. Where life is lived in family–in the morning through shared coffee and silence, in the evening through shared meals and discussion.

In all of this I am reminded of the Father who loves with an everlasting love, a love “utterly trustworthy and completely unpredictable”. *

And the best thing I do as I pack them off is place them where I have placed them countless times before — in the arms of the Father. The Father who does not walk, but pulls up his robe and runs to greet his beloved children.

National Middle Child Day

Today is National Middle Child Day. I didn’t know this until this morning when the joys of social media alerted me. I’m glad they did. Because my middle child, Micah, turned 27 on Monday and with traveling I had not had a chance to celebrate him through writing.

The following is a blog post that I wrote five years ago, but it describes the amazing person he is and I celebrate him today as a man who has survived being in the middle.



It’s difficult to describe my son Micah.

Born between countries, he entered the world on August 10th in 1988. We left Pakistan two weeks earlier and were transitioning to the United States with Florida as our base. I well remember our shock at re-entering the United States. When we left for Pakistan, we had a tiny 3 month old baby and had never lived anything beyond the student life. We went straight into working overseas for three years.

On return a lot had changed. We realized that with 2 children and one coming any day, we could no longer subsist on our fine student cuisine of Ramen noodles and generic soup. We realized that to get money, people put a card into a slot, punched some numbers and out came the cash. Our first visit to an ATM was memorable. We realized that the cost of living in Pakistan was vastly different from that in the United States, and we realized through our first fast-food meal at Kentucky Fried Chicken that one thigh and breast piece of American chickens were the equivalent of a whole Pakistani chicken.

I went to a doctor who was willing to take on a pregnant woman in her last month of pregnancy and at my second visit she breezily told me that she was going to be on vacation for the following 10 days. I looked at her in shock “But what if I go into labor?” She dismissed this saying I was nowhere near ready to deliver and we parted, me with the “just in case” number to call should the baby decide it was time.

The “just in case” number was used just a few days later as I felt those familiar pains that were not a stomach ache over dinner at a restaurant. By midnight that night I was at the hospital and delivered Micah in the wee hours of the morning in Daytona Beach,Florida– just blocks from the famed Daytona Speedway.

He joined Annie, an almost three year-old and Joel, a 14 month old. For years we called them twins born 14 months apart and indeed they were inseparable.

As parents we were warned about middle children – that is was easy for them to lose their way, lost in the shuffle of a big family and struggling for their identity. I don’t know why, and I can only attribute it to the hand of God on his life, but that was never the case for Micah.

Born in the middle, he was never lost.

As a young child, he had a quiet confidence in who he was. When I went into labor with Jonathan a day before his 7th birthday, he looked at his father and I and said “If our baby is born, I won’t be able to have a birthday party!” We assured him that he would have a birthday party no matter what, and so sixteen years ago with Jonathan just hours old laying on my lap, eight little boys ran through our house in Cairo, playing games, going on a treasure hunt and eating their fill of ice cream and cake. I’ll never forget that birthday. My guess is that if it was up to me, I would have promised that we would be sure to celebrate his birthday as soon as we could but maybe not that day.  My husband, who knows what it is like to be a middle-child, made sure that the expectations of a little boy were not lost in the chaos of labor, transition, breast-feeding beginnings and new-born wonder.

As his personality developed, so did his sense of humor and unique personality. At 12 he walked into the kitchen and said to me “Mom, Just so you know, I’m probably going to be the boy in this family that dates the most!” “Oh really?” I replied “Why’s that?” “Oh, I don’t know, I just have that feeling”, and off he went.

Micah had a strong sense of justice and clear view of right and wrong. He exercised that view fearlessly through middle school, unafraid of the opinions of others in this most cruel of ages, the slandering, insecure, gossiping breed that defines the developmental stage of those in grades six through eight.

When we moved to Phoenix in 2003, Micah saw this as a chance to grow and embrace a bigger school and more opportunities. And he did with determination and drive – he was the lead in almost every school play that was performed in a school of three thousand students; he excelled in speech and debate, writing his own pieces as a senior under a pseudonym so the real authorship could remain anonymous; he became president of National Honor Society and gave such a memorable speech that when he smashed our car into someone else’s later that week, instead of being angry they looked at him and said “Hey, you’re that kid that did that speech at National Honor Society! That was great!”  They said it with complete admiration and their smashed car seemed to fade into the background.

Micah graduated from university and a year later married Lauren, his soul-mate. He found his match for humor and love of life in Lauren and their life together will surely not be boring as they negotiate the worlds of acting and film, striving to be themselves among narcissistic competitors. Micah is now editor of a popular, zany television show called Portlandia and his gifts of humor and film-editing can be seen throughout each episode.

So I celebrate this child of ours on National Middle Child Day. Thank you Micah, for who you are in our lives. We salute you. 

He Won’t Have a Pancake this Year

Connor pancake (1)

He Won’t Have a Pancake This Year by Robynn

Yesterday my sixteen-year-old daughter was trying to teach me how to upload the pictures on my phone to the cloud. It’s a frightening prospect, one I’ve resisted, for several months now. I don’t want anything happening to those pictures. What if they never make it to the cloud? What if there’s a sudden downpour and they’re lost, washed away, forever?

As she was showing me the new cataloging potential Google has kindly (and freakily!) put in place to organize all my pictures, I happened to see pictures of last year’s pancakes. And before I could reason with myself, before I could dispel the rising grief with an attempt at humour, before I could distract myself with a sip of tea, before I knew it, I was in tears.

Every year, since the kids were tiny, on the first day of school, I make pancakes.

These aren’t any ordinary pancakes. The recipe is my dad’s old recipe that he perfected at Utopia House on the backside of Murree Hills in far away Pakistan. Dad would measure and mix cautiously the ingredients into a coloured Tupperware bowl. He’d raise the wick slightly in the kerosene stove, wait the appropriate time and then gently light it while holding his breath and praying for success. Once the flame was burning blue and clear, the ancient cast iron griddle inherited from Auntie Sadie Philbrick (or was it Auntie Helen Gamble?) would be wiped off and placed on top of the enamel stove. When the griddle was hot the batter was portioned out…sizzling pancake batter would slowly rise up and bubble before dad would turn the hotcakes. There was always homemade syrup and Nurpur butter. Usually there were fresh peaches or apricots cut up. Often there would be freshly made black raspberry jam. Occasionally dad would make a shape with the batter. He’d cover the design with more pancake and our round cakes would be embossed with faces, or animals or figurines.

Those were the pancakes I wanted my children to grow up on. Those pancakes became a part of their childhood, as they’d been a part of mine.

On the first day of school I always wake up a little earlier. Using dad’s recipe I carefully blend the dry ingredients before adding the milk and the eggs, the oil and the vanilla. I pour out the pancake batter on the modern electric griddle, shaping for them the number representing the grade they are about to start. When Connor was starting grade six his pancake was a “6”; Adelaide had a “4” that year; and Bronzi a “1”. It’s what we’ve always done.

I saw last year’s pancake photos and I started to cry. Connor won’t have a pancake this year. He just graduated from high school and he starts at University in the Fall. He won’t be here on the morning I make Adelaide an “11” and Bronzi an “8”. I walked into the kitchen and there he was. “You okay mom?” he asked. “You won’t have a pancake this year,” the tears started up again. With a crooked and caring smile he came over and hugged me. He let me cry a little.

Grief bubbles up in odd places—I didn’t quite expect it to rise up to the cloud in a picture of a pancake. I really had no idea letting Connor go would be so hard. I’m afraid no amount of syrup is going to sweeten his departure.

Dad’s Original Pakistan Pancake Recipe

(He’s since changed it to include whole wheat flour and flax seed and more baking powder and who knows what all! ….but this is the original…this is the one I’m keeping near the griddle!)

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

pinch of salt

2 cups milk

2 eggs beaten

1/3 cup oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix dry ingredients together. Mix wet ingredients separately. Gently add wet to the dry and stir carefully. Avoid over mixing. Ladle batter onto a hot griddle. Make shapes! When pancakes begin to bubble flip them. Serve hot with ice cream and sliced fruit, or maple syrup, or fruit syrup, or peanut butter or cheez whiz or nutella!

The Boy Behind the Speech

The Boy Behind the Speech by Robynn

Connor has been chosen, by his peers, to give a ten minute speech at Manhattan High School’s commencement. The selection process was a little intimidating—or at least it would have been for me. Connor had to submit a written piece to the administration. He then had to deliver a two-minute speech to his classmates (all 400 of them) who then voted. And Connor’s was chosen.

Lowell and I are very proud.

And to be honest, Lowell and I are also a little nervous!

It’s remarkable to me how our Connor is all grown up. It’s unbelievable, really. How did that happen? Other people’s children grow up steadily, at an even pace of development. But not Connor–he’s exceptional that way I suppose–he just zipped up! Swoosh! I don’t know what miracle or scientific anomaly happened in our family but yesterday Connor was in grade six. He had his first job as a paper boy, saved up his money and bought a Wii. The day before that he was a seven year old resisting showers and personal hygiene of any kind. And just the week before that he was crawling around on his hands and knees on cement floors making this hilarious duck sound. Now, at age 18, with only 14 days of school left, he’s graduating from high school.

The only reason we’re nervous is because of other things we’ve heard come from this kid’s mouth.

 When he was nine years old and having a particularly bad day he mumbled this,      “Every kid has one childhood and you’re ruining mine.”

Personal hygiene was always a struggle for Connor when he was younger. He resented every shower, every scrub brush, every washcloth. Once when he was seven, I reminded him to take a shower and indicated which body parts he should remember to wash, his response was loud and impassioned, “Pits?! I have to wash my armpits?? I’ve never washed my pits in my whole life!” Another time, around that same season, I asked him if he had changed his underwear, to which he exploded, “Change my underwear?? Really? You’re killing me, Mom!”

Connor was always an articulate boy. He said what he felt and he said it with conviction. When he was eight years old he was fed up with the games his sisters played. He thought they were meaningless and lacked substance. In a heartfelt moment he confessed, “I’m so disappointed with God. I prayed for a baby brother or a dog that talks and he hasn’t given me either.” This was the same boy who wrote me a note when I went to the hospital to deliver his youngest sibling. The note read, “If the baby’s a boy I’ll have a lot of fun. If the baby’s a girl I’ll have another sister.”

We never knew what Connor might say and when. One time we had a group of pastors visiting mutual friends in North India. We offered to take them out to lunch on the Sunday they were in town. Midway through the meal, Connor leaned over with something significant to offer the conversation. He began with a question, “What’s a lesbian, Mom? He then turned to the pastors by way of explanation and said, “Late at night, after me and my sisters go to bed, my parents watch adult movies. That’s where I heard that word.” (For the record, ‘adult movies’ meant anything that was not Disney!) Lowell and I nearly choked. The three men with us burst out laughing!

This same young man when he was ten declared, “You are the worst mother in the whole world.” Not thirty minutes later he said, “You are the best mom in the world. I love you.”

These quotes and quips came from the boy. Connor is now a man. He is worthy of the trust his classmates have in him. He is a person of faith, he’s intelligent, well–spoken, and passionate. He has a great sense of humour. Politically engaged, civic-minded with a strong sense of justice, Connor has what it takes to leave his classmates with a little comedy, a little inspiration and a great challenge.

Never mind what you’ve said in the past, Connor —you’ve got this, Son!

Mothering Matters


Mothering Matters by Robynn 


We have this precious picture that sits on Lowell’s dresser upstairs in our bedroom. It’s one of the rare professional pictures we had taken of our children when they were younger. I love it for how it captures their personalities. Each of them: Connor, Adelaide and Bronwynn are present and the photographer caught their essence. I also love it because it brings back memories of one of the best days I ever had in India.


For whatever reason the children had the day off school.  I remember agonizing over how we would spend that day. There were obligations that I could have attended to. There were certainly things that needed doing. But there was also list of things that I had been wanting to do with the kids. Things we had talked about for a long time but never done. We decided that would be day!  


Adelaide needed new shoes for school. We stopped at the Bata shoe store and found a pair of black Mary Jane shoes with shiny buckles. We met my friend Ellen and her two girls for lunch at one of our favourite restaurants. I can’t remember what we ate but I can imagine it—all spicy and gravy yumminess with fresh roti to scoop it up. I’m sure the kids had sweet lassis. I’m sure I had chai.  After lunch we popped into an “Archies” store-–India’s Hallmark equivalent and then into a neighbouring bookstore. We browsed the toys and booksPerhaps Connor got a new Tintin book to add to his collection. I can’t remember.


We hopped on to a cycle rickshaw and continued into our beautiful day. Just as we were passing a large cinema, the kids squealed let’s go see Lage Raho Munna Bhai and I said, shockingly, sure! The kids ran ahead, as I paid the cycle wallah. I met them at the ticket counter. We hurried into the darkening theater and found seats. It was a great movie—full of silly slapstick, occasional dance scenes, blinged up saris and lehengas. There was colour and music, laughter and tears. At intermission the men came around with crates of pop on their shoulders. We indulged and had pop and maybe some numkeen.


From the cinema we made our way, again by cycle rickshaw, to the photographers studio. This had been my one thing I really wanted to have done. We arrived a little hurriedly, afraid we were running out of time. The kids, all three, were glistening with sweat dulled only by a little grime and left over movie giggles. I spit-shone an orange Fanta mustache off Connor. I tried to smooth Bronzi’s sweaty bangs to the side. Adelaide attempted to rub some dirt off her capris pants. The three of them bounced on to the bench. The photographer giving them instructions in Hindi, they scooted closer to each other, tilted their heads according to his demands, sat up straight as he indicated. And then it was over. I admit, I was hoping for a little more session and a little more photo from our photo-session. But the photographer just tilted his head to the side and nodded that he had what he needed. We could come back in a week to collect his masterpiece!


Next to the photographer’s studio was a small corner store. I ran in and got cold mango “Frootie” juice boxes to keep the kids hydrated. Humidity and heat were part of the day’s adventure.


The sun was beginning to dip low on the horizon but there was still one more promise to be fulfilled. We took an auto rickshaw halfway across town so that the girls could get their ears pierced. The beauty salon was clean and cool. They were pleased with their pale faced clients. Bronwynn opted to go first. She sat, brave and four, tiny and focused in the big chair. Holding my hands tightly in her little fists she didn’t breath. Her little nose squinched up into her forehead as the pain registered. Adelaide, watching it all, decided she didn’t quite want her ears pierced anymore. She would wait. We stopped for ice cream and a few groceries on the way home.


As we tumbled into the courtyard, spilling our stories all over daddy who sat waiting for us under the mango tree, there was so much joy. We had had a good day.  I couldn’t stop smiling. I had been a mom that day. I hadn’t tried to juggle ministry responsibilities or team expectations. I had shaken off all guilt and had immersed myself in the day with my children. It felt like a dream day.


Even now the kids all remember bits and pieces of that wonder-day. Adelaide, then 7, remembers ice cream and how Bronzi didn’t wear the matching outfit to hers (I think Bronwynn probably had it dirty before we left the house)!Bronzi was only four but she remembers the juice boxes and the ride to the beauty salon. She remembers the auto rickshaw and seems to think the auto walla drove past the salon and had to turn around. Nine year old Connor remembers how much fun we had that day. He remembers the movie: it was a comedy, set in Bombay, with music. He remembers going to the studio for pictures. His face lit up as I asked him about it.


During those years in North India I battled seemingly conflicted roles. I never felt I had the freedom to just be a mom. To be fair, it was my own agonies that made this an issue for me. No one else was demanding anything else of me. I was determined to mesh my mothering with my other passions and responsibilities. In the end I fear I downplayed my maternity. My children got the brunt of this “philosophy”; they were the ones that suffered. They endured my leftover bits of energy at the end of full days with other people. When my best was given to those who came to my gate, or those who called on the phone, it was my little people, my tiny loves, that saw the grumpy side, the impatience, the inconsistent temperament. I regret that so keenly now. I wish I had known so many things back then, most importantly, I wish I had known how very much mothering matters. Those other things–teammates and ministries, work responsibilities—those matter too. But I really wish I had known how much mothering matters.


And so this picture reminds me of an immensely happy mom-day. I’m pleased the kids remember the day too. That matters to me somehow. We’ve had other good days too. We’ve laughed lots. We’ve had other ice creams and countless juice boxes. We’ve shared lunches with other friends and we’ve been to other cinemas to watch other films. But I’m grateful for the sticky sweet memory of this mothering day in September some time back in 2006.

Dear New Mom

mom n baby

Dear New Mom

I can tell this is new for you. You have that glow of joy and uncertainty as you readjust the blanket around your tiny baby. You protect with your arms against the crowds that are pushing around you in this crowded subway space, and you respond tentatively to the occasional smiles from strangers. For who doesn’t love a baby? 

I wish I was sitting closer to you so that I could strike up a conversation. So many things are going through my head. I’ve given birth to five babies on three continents – I like to think of it as a kind of record. I remember so well those beginning days where all the world was colored baby.

What would I say to you new mom? Right now you’re either basking in the glow of new motherhood or hating that everyone thinks you should be basking when all you want to do is sleep and cry. Sleep when the baby sleeps. It’s so hard to do but it’s so important. Don’t spend energy cleaning the house or going on social media or instagramming your life. Sleep.

Take advantage of the space people will give you for a short time. For a short time, the only time in your life, people will expect nothing from you other than to be with your baby. Don’t pass up this opportunity. I promise you will never get it again. If you have the chance to sleep until ten in the morning with your baby, do it. You will be so glad.

Your baby will cry. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom. Babies cry. They just do and it can be so hard. Don’t be afraid to remove yourself if it gets too hard. Put ear plugs in and separate yourself for awhile. Sanity is critical and there may be times when you think you are going insane. So step away for a time if you need.

A bit of sadness is normal in those first days, and periodically it may surface. But if it continues, go seek help. There’s postpartum sadness and then there’s postpartum depression. They are two very different things.

You are not weak for asking for help. The Western world does this baby thing all wrong. Away from moms. Away from friends and sisters. Isolated in suburbia or not knowing your city neighbors. New moms and babies are created for community, for help. Find yours.

That mom that asks you if your toddler is potty-trained yet? Best stay away from her. Because it will continue into higher stakes and bigger comparisons. And it will be beautifully, camouflaged passive-aggressive behavior. First it will be about potty training. Then it will be about talking. Then it will be about grades and sports. It will end with her daughter marrying a “good Christian boy” and you will have to confess that you want to kill her. It’s not worth it. Competition is never-ending and it will not help you. Break the madness. Live above and beyond competition.

When you have an uneasy feeling that your pediatrician is wrong – they probably are. So gently or forcefully push them. Same with that teacher who misjudged your child – don’t be afraid to speak up. The one that thinks your child is going nowhere? You’ll be sending them a copy of their college report with all A’s. Trust me on that one.

But also know that your kid is not perfect. And they probably did bite the other toddler in the church nursery. If you accept early on that your kids are not perfect, it will be easier when others let you know in clear language.

Know that the playing field levels when they are teens or young adults. That’s when parents with perfect children go into hiding, or at least get a little quieter. Because it’s hard to maintain a perfect image past those wonderful middle years.

Remember that well-oiled and shined armor that served you so well when you were single and newly married? It now has a soft, sweet-smelling crack in it. Arrows from others can find their way straight through the crack. Know your safe people and cry and laugh with them. Be kind to those who aren’t safe but don’t let them into your sanctuary.

Above all remember, there is so much grace needed in this journey of parenting. Grace for your kids. Grace for your husband. Grace toward in-laws. Grace toward the well-meaning and clueless. Grace to yourself.

That baby that you cuddle so close will one day be an adult. An adult who you drink coffee and laugh with, an adult who you cherish. And there is little sweeter than enjoying a relationship with your adult child.

It’s your subway stop now – but wait, you forgot your diaper bag. The first of many things you will forget. Goodbye new mom. I wish you joy and grace. 

Picture Credit:–arms-legs-mother-arms-164583/

In Praise of Tooth Fairies & Memories

We have moved a lot. My oldest daughter has lived in 17 houses in 29 years of life. My husband is on his 34th or 35th house. I haven’t counted mine.

In all the movement, creating and defining place becomes difficult and sometimes painful. What and where is home? Does ‘place’ matter? What is stability? These are just a couple of the questions that go through your mind. I write a lot about this in the book Between Worlds with a whole section devoted to “Home” and another devoted to “Belonging.”

Some of the hard parts are around what you keep and what you throw or give away. It can be agonizing going through your things, packing up place.

But in all the hard and serious moments of trying to figure this out, there are the ones that are so funny you stop and laugh until your sides ache. A few years ago we had one of those moments and yesterday relived them.

A few years ago my daughter, Stefanie, was going through one of my boxes of ‘special’ things. She found an odd and old looking bag with something tiny inside and an old note. She took one look and her face paled.

“What is this?” she asked, holding up the bag and wrinkling her nose.

I took one look and started to smile and then laugh.

“Teeth,” I said. “Baby Teeth”

She looked like she was going to throw up.

“They are from the tooth fairy.” I added, thinking that would make it all okay.

It didn’t.

“MOM! I can’t believe you kept some of our baby teeth” said the non-mom who has never been responsible for creating place in a world of movement.

Our kids loved the fictitious tooth fairy, who brought them a shiny dime from America wherever they lived in the world. And of all the teeny, tiny birthday teeth she (I) collected, these were of few of the remains. Relics of sorts. (you can tell I’ve turned Orthodox.) Something to remember when life turned more complicated.

And here is the note:

The memory comes quickly as I read it – her best friend had moved to Indiana and she no longer wanted a shiny dime. She had outgrown the dime.

So there in my small box of “keepables” are a plastic bag, baby teeth, and a note from long ago.

So in praise of the toothfairy, and memories that can’t be given or thrown away,I offer you this memory. What about you? What are your memories with children that surface in a life of movement? 

PS- she got the ticket…..

On Being a Mom & Birthdays of Adult Children


It’s a cold January day here in Cambridge and I wake full of memories. 23 years ago today I gave birth to our fourth child, a girl, in a hospital in Cairo, Egypt.

The birth was attended by my friend, Mary – a nurse who acted as advocate, caregiver, and labor coach to many of us who lived in Cairo. My sister-in-law, Terry, had come from the United States with my niece to help after the birth and she cared for all of us well, keeping visitors close or at a distance depending on the day, and making an abundance of homemade bread that met the needs of the post-partum soul in miraculous ways.

Stefanie Sevim Gardner was born tiny at 17 inches long and a bit over six pounds. Her personality showed up quickly and though tiny, we knew she was a force to be reckoned with. At 23 she is still small — and mighty. Her middle name is Turkish for ‘my love’. Coincidentally she was born 9 months following my husband’s first trip to Turkey.

She is creative and passionate, a voice for the homeless and marginalized. As with all our children, it is wonderful and agonizing watching them find their way in the world. But mostly, it’s wonderful.

It was probably good that there was no such thing as blogs when my children were small. There were too many moments that I would have blogged, moments that may have ended up public instead of private.

Today I pause to reflect on parenting – as I do on the occasions of all of my children’s birthdays. If any of us really knew what parenting would be like, we would run to the nearest cave and hide. It is far too overwhelming a job, and we are far too inadequate.

As my friend, Rachel, put it, as moms we are never enough. We are never enough to cope with the surprises and inconsistencies of being moms. We are never enough to be everything we want to be to our children. We are frail, inadequate, far too human, and far too short-sighted. We are never enough.

Rachel says this in an essay published in a new book called Mom Enough – The Fearless Mother’s Heart and Hope: 

“I am not mom enough. Never was, never will be.

But I am on the frontlines of another war. The battles are raging and the casualties could be my children, my husband, or myself. This war isn’t about me being mom enough. This war is about God being “God enough.”

And this is what I think about when I think and pray for my children – but particularly on their birthdays. Is God enough for my kids? Can I believe that God is enough for them? Will he hear them, guard them, comfort them? More so – will they hear him, will they feel his readily offered comfort, will they allow themselves to be guarded by the Almighty God? 

There are, Rachel says, “Mathematics of Grace” and as I think about birthdays and adult children I close with her beautiful words:

“And somehow, in God’s mathematics of grace: Mom (never enough) + God (infinitely enough) = Mom enough.

Mom enough to believe and to be called Chosen, Daughter, Righteous, Honored, Heir, Forgiven, Redeemed.

Trusting in God, because of Christ, I will rise from the graveyard of Mommy War victims, victorious and filled with resurrection power. Loving and living in his perfect enough-ness, I will live to parent for another day. Never mom enough, but filled with the One who is always enough.” quoted from Are You Mom Enough (Mommy Wars) by Rachel Pieh Jones now in book form from Desiring God

Today I am grateful for Adult Children, Birthdays, and most of all – the Mathematics of Grace. 

Blogger’s note: You can get Mom Enough electronically for FREE!! Yes! There are free gifts in this world and this is one of them! Just click here. If you want it in paperback format you can purchase on Amazon by clicking here.



On Protection in the New Year


When I look back at parenting small children I sometimes take in a sharp breath. Not because anything tragic happened, but because tragedies could have happened, and many times over. From croup that sounded like a wounded puppy, in an isolated area with no medical help, to high fevers and salmonella, you cannot parent five children without several ‘catch your breath’ moments.

And I think about protection. And how much we want it and need it and pray for it. Protection. Preservation. Safety. Shelter. Refuge. Strength. So many words associated with protection. From the minute our babies are born we are endowed with a fierce need to protect. Our babies are the gap in our armor, the place where an enemy can send a sword and pierce us, sometimes fatally.

Protection. Protect — “[pruhtekt] to defend or guard from attack, invasion, loss, annoyance, insult, etc.;cover or shield from injury or danger.”

But babies grow up and as they grow, our ability to protect diminishes by thousands. No longer are we with them night and day. We share them with people, some worthy and others unworthy, and we let them out of our sight. We know that this is what makes a healthy adult, but it is not without fear that we release them.

If we are honest, we know that even when they are small a certain amount of danger in the form of germs is a good thing. A healthy immune system is not born of protection but of exposure.

What about us? What about me and my family in the new year? Is a certain amount of danger a good thing? Is a bit of risk necessary? Is protection from God born, not of isolation, but of exposure?

Just as we cannot protect our children from everything, we cannot protect ourselves as we go into the unknown of the year. We don’t know the paths where we will trip, the places where we will shudder under the weight of fear.

A year ago I wrote a piece on fear. In that piece I wrote this:

“While I don’t believe we are all called to go into war zones, and I believe we must exercise discernment and wisdom, particularly when we have others who we are responsible for, I do believe that no matter where we are and what we do, when we live under fear, we are using bad currency. When we make decisions based on fear, we go bankrupt.

When fear is our currency, we cannot live effectively. Whether this be around parenting, around work, or around where we are called to live, this is truth.When fear is our currency, we forget that safety is not about where we live, or work, or play.”

While thinking about protection, I picked up a Christmas present from my daughter, Annie. The book is a new one by Eula Biss titled On Immunity: An Innoculation. I loved Biss’s first book, No Man’s Land, and my daughter was quite sure I would love this one as well. Her most recent work comes from the personal experience of researching vaccinations when pregnant with her son. In the first few pages of the book, Biss recounts the familiar story of Achilles. So badly did Achilles mother, Thetis, want to protect him, that she took him by the heel and immersed his body into a river to make him invulnerable to injury. Achilles becomes a famous warrior, but as fate would have it, an arrow finds the one place where he is vulnerable and he is killed. Thus the famous story of Achilles heel.

The point is clear. There is no way we can shield ourselves from all the danger, sadness, hurt that comes our way in life; no way we can protect ourselves from the same in this new year.

The more I ponder this, the more comfort I feel. The picture I see in my mind is me, standing on the sand of a vast ocean, holding my arms forward in surrender, in humility. Like the tide of the ocean, the year will come with joy and with sorrow, it will hold things I will love and things I will hate. There will be times where I feel exposed but I will never be without his Presence.

As I was writing this, a memory came to mind of my son Joel. We had been in Cairo only 2 weeks when he slipped on the sharp edge of a bed and cut open an area right above his eye. He was two years old, screaming and bleeding profusely. Somehow we made our way to the emergency room in a hospital on the banks of the Nile, and a kind doctor took care of the wound, with tiny, precise stitches. And as I looked at those beautiful blue eyes of my son, his fear and pain so evident, I just kept on whispering “I’m here Joel. Mommy’s here.” I couldn’t protect him, but I could be present. Maybe my presence was enough. 

“As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you” Isaiah 66:13a

The Perfect Christmas Present to give your Child This Year!


The Perfect Christmas Present to give your Child This Year! By Robynn

The children’s pastor and his assistant at our church have been running a competition of sorts. Write down the perfect Christmas present a parent can give a kid on a piece of paper. Stick it in the box. The winner who accurately guesses gets a prize. I didn’t know what the answer they were looking for was, but I suspect it wasn’t an Xbox 360. (That’s what I wrote down!) On Saturday we received a letter in the mail revealing the Perfect Christmas Present! For those married the answer is your marriage. For the single parents it was time. Strengthening your marriage is vital. It’s an important gift. Spending time with your child is also key. But are time and marriage the most perfect present out there that you could give your kid?

I think not. The answer should have been:  “A Nap!” –and by that I don’t mean put your kids down for a nap…. no I mean, as a parent, take a nap! That’s the best thing you can do for your kids this year.

I’m serious!

When your children are young taking a nap is like a well-coordinated, oft-rehearsed magic trick. First you have to get everyone’s needs met–little people must be fed, faces and hands must be washed, diapers and pottying must be taken care of. You have to use quiet movements and a gentle voice. Under no circumstances can you at all convey your desperation or your secret agenda. You have to pretend there’s nothing really at stake. Nothing’s going on. It’s no big deal. Should the stars align, and all three of your children actually fall asleep, or find quiet corners of the house apart from one another to allow the sleeping ones to stay asleep and the waking ones to not destroy each other or the games they quietly play, you can, again nonchalantly, disappear to your pillow and hope against hope that your brain and your bladder cooperate long enough for you to actually fall asleep. When it happens….if it ever happens…it’s pure magic!

When your children are older you can declare your intentions. I usually use a loud threatening voice, “I’m going to take a nap. You need to be quiet. DO NOT wake me up. No fighting. Turn the volume down. Don’t be obnoxious!” I usually repeat, “DO NOT wake me up,” a couple of times. Then I lie on my bed, sticking ear plugs in my ears, I close my eyes and think sleepy thoughts. I take a nap.

You might wonder why a nap for yourself is the best gift you can give your child! Naps help facilitate the other really great gift kids long for: presence. Your child wants you to be there, to be present, to be attentive. They want time with you. They really aren’t looking for anything else. All you have to do is show up. It sounds simple but anyone whos ever had to cook dinner and host Christmas and shop for Aunt Sue and not forget to bring the treats for Sunday School this week and find the wrapping paper and decorate for the office party and track down the recipe for eggless eggnog and clean up the dog’s mess and vacuum the front room and drive the daughter to work and dust the family room and turn in the forms for the youngest’s IEP and get the Christmas cards in the mail—anyone who’s ever had all that and more on the brain understands it’s not that simple.

It’s hard to tune out the thousands of distractions. It’s hard to set your phone down. It’s hard to resist the urge to pick it up the second it zimmers and vibrates. It’s nigh impossible to resist the temptation to just quick see who it is. At the end of a long day, it’s tough to turn off the tv, or to mute the volume. All you want is a few moments of peace. It’s difficult to take the headphones off, to turn the podcast off.

Both of our older kids are in choir. The choir teacher at Manhattan High school, Mr Chad Pape, at every concert says something like this, “All the research shows that whatever influence their peers or their teachers have, no one has greater influence on your kid than the loving adults who live with them. So thank you for coming tonight. Please turn off your phones and your ipods. From the stage your kids can see the lighted screens light up your nose and they know that you really don’t care.” He says the same thing every time. And he’s right.

My kids can see my distractions. They know if I’m listening or not. When Bronwynn was little she’d tell me stories, long elaborate stories of dreams she’d had, or of pretend happenings or of real life adventures she hoped to have. While she talked I’d emit little listening sounds, “ahh”, “oh”, “mm mmm”. Many times she’d stop me and say, “Mommy use words. Don’t mmmm. Use words.” She wanted to know I heard her. Even then, she knew the difference between a distracted mind and an engaged heart.

Taking a nap helps you be the parent you need to be. With little kids you desperately need energy and enthusiasm, strength and stamina. A nap helps make that possible. When your kids are older you need to be available. Teenagers rarely talk when you have time or the space in your schedule or questions. Teenagers talk later. Usually closer to their bedtime. Usually past your bedtime. Taking a nap gives you the oomph to stop moving, to look them in the eyes, to slow down your quest for the day to be over, to be there.

It’s not going to happen every day, obviously. You work. You have things to do. Life doesn’t allow for such luxuries. But whenever you get the chance, take it. Don’t think it’s selfish, don’t think you don’t have time. Make it happen when you can. Taking care of yourself in these little ways helps you take care of others. It’s the same wisdom behind the Flight Attendant’s “Put on your own oxygen mask first before helping those around you.”

If you normally exchange gifts at Christmas time, I wouldn’t recommend wrapping up a note that says, “Mommy gets a Nap!” and giving that to your sweet progeny! (Not unless you’ve got a therapy fund already started!) Wrap up the blocks, or the Frozen DVD, or the Vera Bradley backpack, the new jeans, the box of chocolates, or the American Eagle sweatshirt. Watch their joy as they delight in the gift you gave them. And then later while they’re enjoying their new games and toys sneak off and get them the thing they really want: take a nap!

(Come to think of it, taking a nap contributes to the answers Pastor Chris and Chris suggested. Naps make marriage work better and naps allow you to make time for your kids!)

Every Scribble is not Awesome

stick figures

Saved in boxes of “must keep” items are a couple of school papers from our children. Some are drawings, some are stories, some are humorous, child-answers to questions. They each tell a story of their lives at the time. They are funny and poignant. I periodically pull these out as reminders of the past, who they are and where they came from.

With five children we had a lot of art work and pictures created through the years and it always created a dilemma. What do you do with all that art work? With all the stories? With all the pictures? One mom I knew framed them and all over the house were frames with children’s artwork encased in glass. They were color-coordinated to match the colors of the ‘art’. But if you looked closely, the attractive thing about these arrangements were the frames – not the scribbles. The frames were beautiful and classy. The art work was mediocre at best. Every scribble was not worthy of framing, every scribble was not ‘awesome.’

We live in an age where everything children do is put into the category of ‘awesome.’ We want the world to know that our kids are amazing. They are smart – smarter than your kids. They are beautiful – better looking than your kids. They are talented – more talented than you can possibly imagine. Anything less and our children will suffer from serious self-esteem issues.

Or will they?

Probably not. In fact if they grow up with a realistic view of who they are in relation to the broader world they will be healthier and wiser. They don’t need to wear booty shorts that say ‘Princess’ across the butt; they don’t need to wear t—shirts that proclaim how ‘special’ they are. Our children need to know who they are in healthy ways before God and man. And sometimes that means knowing that someone is better than them.

We are told that all men are created equal. And this is absolutely true in the purely spiritual sense. There is no hierarchy in the Kingdom, but on earth our children will meet kids who are better than them. Everyone cannot be the lead in a play. Everyone does not have a voice like Celine Dion. Everyone does not have sports ability equal to Olympic competitors. Everyone does not have equal talent.

Everything your child does, everything my child does is not awesome. It just isn’t. If you tell them a scribble is awesome what will you say when one of your kids draws something that shows real talent, real potential?

As I was writing this piece I picked up the book The Narcissism Epidemic and began to read it. The book is a candid look at the obsession with self in American society. It points out the real dangers of a society obsessed with self; a society that thinks everything it does is awesome. Toward the beginning of the book the authors relay a story about one of their kids in preschool. The curriculum began each day with a little song “I am special, I am special, Look at me.” The author suggested to the preschool teacher that a better song might be “I promise to listen to Dad and stop kicking him in the face when he tries to dress me.” As they discussed the pros and cons of the ‘I am special’ song the author told the teacher that these sorts of songs are linked to narcissism. The authors are careful to say that one little “I am special song’ does not a narcissist make, but a daily deluge of “you’re special, you’re awesome, you’re the best” has that potential. In their words:

“Of course, one “I am special song” is not going to turn a child into a narcissistic nightmare, just as a single raindrop won’t get a child wet. But a deluge of these “special” ‘messages could have a negative impact. Today’s culture rains enough narcissism to get everyone wet.

Parents have probably always thought their kids were amazing and special. Perhaps the difference is they didn’t expect the world to agree. They were content holding it in their own hearts and affirming their children in healthy ways that were honest and validating. Ways that produced character as opposed to narcissism.

If your kids are like my kids, everything they do is not awesome. Some of the things they do are excellent, some of the things they do are unique, some of the things they do are average. But it doesn’t really matter. I love them. A piece of art that wins an award does not make me love them more, and my guess is you feel the same. You don’t love them for what they do, you love them for who they are.

Perhaps if we figure out healthier ways of communicating this to our children we will see the death of the narcissism epidemic in my life time. Perhaps it’s too far gone and it will take another generation to kill it.

If more of us understand that everything our kids do is not awesome perhaps we have a fighting chance of changing a generation to be kinder, less self-centered, more concerned about the world. I for one want to give it a try.

Picture Credit:

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The Dance of Parenthood


It begins like a slow dance or ballet. The music is beautiful and haunting. That baby we take home from the hospital, from the orphanage, or from the foster care system comes into our lives, and while everything changes it’s a slow change. We have anticipated this for a long time. The baby blankets and onesies are purchased and waiting. We have bought or borrowed a crib for the little one. The curtain goes up and the ballet begins.

Every movement of that first baby feels recorded in our hearts and memories, it seems like forever. The first smile, the day they sleep through the night, their eating, pooping, sleeping habits all weave their way into our lives.

As another child comes the music changes and the slow dance stops, replaced by the chicken dance where there’s little grace, just a lot of squawking and moving. It’s fun but it’s exhausting.

Middle years are the Macarena and Bollywood. There’s a rhythm and grace and fun. You got this thing. You can criticize other parents because wow – your kids are amazing and their kids? Better beware because they are headed straight to the state penitentiary by way of the principal’s office. But not yours. Oh. No. Yours are amazing and talented and oh you are so thankful for Grace. The Grace given to you of course – not that bestowed on others.

Every parent thinks they dance well during the middle years!

And then the teen years come and you bow humbly even as the dance changes from the Macarena and Bollywood (which you love) to that of rock and roll where your head is splitting and you don’t understand the words but you think you caught a swear in there. It’s so fast you are spinning. The activities, the angst, the long talks punctuated by angry silence, the fun yet exhausting dance of rock and roll.

And then comes parenting adult children. 

And suddenly it all changes. It becomes like jazz music: you agree on the notes and then you improvise. Negotiation becomes a key word. The parental dance goes back and forth between being too worried and too involved and throwing your hands up saying “well, it’s their life!” But even thought you throw those words around, you are always there waiting. When the text comes at midnight you hear the buzz. When the call comes in early morning hours you know to take it. When they make decisions you disagree with, you know that you still love them and will love and pray for them until the day you die.

Slow jazz constantly in the background but no longer a central part of your life. The furniture is rearranged and the house echoes with empty. You miss them deep in your soul, but you know you’ve raised them with wings to fly and they are exercising those wings well.

There are times when you pour over photo albums and you remember when they were so little. And you think “I thought they were so big. I expected so much out of them.” But you realize now that they were so little and the world was so big.

And though the dance has changed so dramatically through the years, you pray that even as you occasionally stumble and fall you will dance every step with grace. 

What dance of life are you currently in? What dance of parenthood?

Picture credit:

On Taking a Daughter for her Senior Year of College

We left as it was barely dawn. After a series of perfect summer days we had a downpour of rain, forcing us to run windshield wipers on high and drive with extreme caution.

The evening before was smooth as can be as boxes, containers, suitcases and clothes of all sorts on hangers were passed through an open window out to our car parked in our small, concrete space at the back of the apartment. City living at its most efficient.

Senior year. She’s off to her senior year of college. And we have seen so much growth in the last few years. This is my “do it afraid” girl. She is afraid but she does it anyway. All her life she has been like this. “Mom, I’m so scared.” “I know. I know you are.” I always hug her tight, so tight. But she does it anyway. Even afraid. It’s one thing to do things when you’re confident, entirely another to do them afraid.

She does it afraid.

Many of her friends have already graduated and are off to graduate school, the working world, or unemployment. She took a gap year, choosing to spend the year following high school graduation in a program in Italy and Turkey.

But now its her senior year. I well remember the pack of potential and the cute pair of shoes we packed up so long ago.

So we head off through the rain, stopping for coffee half way through the trip, arriving in Brooklyn as it stopped raining. A 6th floor studio apartment shared with another college student will be her home for the next nine months.We oooh and aaah over her roof top view – Lady Liberty to the left, the Empire State Building to the right. It’s incredible. We partially unpack, head out to get some supplies and food, and back to the apartment to hang white lights, that ‘must have’ for making her feel at home.

I take a few pictures, feel satisfied that she has a comfy chair to sit in and reflect, to hear the quiet and we hug her and head off, our car rattling with empty.

This parenting thing – it vacillates between easy and hard. The minute they are born our hearts are exposed, easy targets for hurt, pain, anger, and suffering. But also open vessels for joy, laughter, pride, and amazement. They all go together, mixed up so well that you know you can’t have one without the other. And so it is more precious.

And as I say goodbye to this pack of potential, my mind wanders to another part of the world where parents are holding tight to children as rockets fly, where other parents wander through a mountain region, desperate to give water to quench the thirst, to soothe the parched lips of their children. They too have packs of potential but those packs of potential are not given a chance.

I don’t feel guilt, rather I beg for mercy. Guilt never helped anyone. Mercy and grace help millions every day.

So as I say goodbye to my fourth child as she starts her final year of college, I beg for mercy and grace for those a world away, whose hearts are exposed, easy targets for those who perpetrate evil. And I beg for mercy for those who do it afraid.

Lord have mercy on the children of the world.


Perfectionism — The Meanest Girl You’ll Ever Meet

Mean Girls

When my son Joel was six months old I got pregnant with our third child. We were living in Islamabad, Pakistan at the time and scheduled to take a trip to the town of Layyah to visit our dear friends (incidentally Robynn’s parents.) We had been tremendously busy and stressed so we cancelled the trip. Nine months later Micah Christopher Gardner was born.

The pregnancy whacked us over the head with its surprise. And then Micah was born and we and the world rejoiced over this incredibly beautiful baby boy. He was perfect. Brown eyes and a bald head, patient even from birth, our world could hardly contain our love for him.

But outside the world of our little family there were whispers of discontent. Sometimes loud, other times soft, always audible the whispers said things like “Three kids in four years? That’s ridiculous!” “What were they thinking?” “They’ll never be able to handle it!” “Don’t they know about birth control?”

The damage was slow and insidious, like a cancer that takes over in incremental but determined steps, finally resting in bone, liver, and lung.

So I made a vow. The vow went something like this: No one would ever see me out of control. No one would see me struggle. No one would be able to point the finger and say:

“She’s overwhelmed.”

“She can’t do it.”

And most of all “She has too many kids.”

My vow led to a rigid and subconscious striving for perfectionism – something I had never battled. My house would be clean. My kids would be well scrubbed and well dressed, resembling kids that could sit on top of wedding cakes smiling at the crowd. We would light candles at dinner and breakfast. We would show THEM – the whisperers. Except that we had moved on to a new place and those who whispered were no longer a part of our lives.

Vows we make can damage our souls. At heart my vow was to be perfect. But perfectionism is a fickle frenemy.

Perfectionism is the mean girl. The one with the pretty hair and the even prettier teeth. The one who you feel so inferior to, but you are overjoyed that she wants to be your friend. You spend time with her but at the end of the day, when you go home to your true self you realize you have compromised and you hate who you have become. Perfectionism is the mean girl, the ‘plastic’ that you will never be able to please.

The imperfect? The mess? The real? They are your true friends. Because you realize you can’t do it on your own, you do need help. You need help from community. You need help from God. You need someone to laugh with, cry with, confide in, voice anger with.

Like so many things in my life it took some time for me to confront the vow, to confront the lie that had grown into an ugly weed, rooted deep, and taking away the beautiful. 

I am free of this vow – it took a long time and some humble moments of soul-searching, some confrontation from people who recognized the mean girl in my life and begged me to break free. While it occasionally comes up during periods when I am over tired and insecure, for the most part I recognize it for the weed that it is and pray that the great Gardener of my soul will pull it, even if it hurts.

And I am grateful — grateful for growth, for honesty, for recognition that the mean girls in my life have to go.

So I ask you now – what are the vows you have made that take over your life, and need to be confronted for the lies that they are? 

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To Love is to Hurt

to love is to hurt

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” CS Lewis – The Four Loves


It’s Sunday night and the house is dark and quiet. A cool breeze is coming in from the open window and watchful cats curl up on the window ledge, nocturnal beasts carefully observing an outside that they will never reach.

It has been a full weekend. Reconnecting with friends through visiting, playing games, and a long walk by the rocky coast. A Pentecost service, remembering that day so many years ago when the Holy Spirit, like tongues of fire, came down. My dad’s 88th birthday and me absent from this momentous occasion, the result of a life lived far away from those you love. A manuscript delivered in the mail on Friday evening, opened today, and reviewed with fear and trembling. And a long talk with two of our children, both home from college for the summer.

It all crashed down on me well after I was supposed to be in bed and asleep. Despite the full, glorious weekend, I’m caught in a vice-like grip of worry for those I love. Crashing against a tired body was a tired heart, a heart lost in tears that quickly dried in the cool breeze, only to come again with more force.

And it came to me again, like it has thousands of times in the past, to love is to hurt. To love my kids is to hurt for their pain, to rage at some of their choices, to delight in their successes, to weep at their tragedies. To love my adopted country means to weep that a group of terrorists brutally attacked the airport, killing and wounding many. To love means to get tired from caring, to feel weary from listening. To love is to hurt.

But I have known in the past what an ice-cold heart feels like, the numb apathy that accompanies it, and I will pick this pain any time, every time. Because this pain is proof that my heart is alive, alive with God-given feeling. This pain is proof that my life is full, full of people and places that I love. This pain is proof that I desperately need God, God to reach through pain and worry with a promise of redemption. Because to love is to hurt.

Stacy is away from Dubai this week, visiting Houston. She says this about today’s muffins: “I’ve made cinnamon and brown sugar muffins for tomorrow’s post, using buttermilk and melted butter, so they are extra moist and delicious. Bonus: The house smells terrific!” Head here for the recipe for Cinnamon Brown Sugar Buttermilk Muffins. To love is to make people muffins!

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