Friday Book Chats: Books from my Childhood

No reading impacts you like the reading you do in your childhood. Perhaps it’s because your imagination is so vibrant and alive, or perhaps it’s because your mind isn’t so cluttered with other things. Regardless, many of my childhood games and fantasies were the product of books I read. I wore dresses, aprons, bonnets, and boots until I was twelve thanks to Little House on the Prairie, the American Girl books, and Mandie. This post is dedicated to the books that shaped my childhood and have maybe even shaped who I’ve become.

I learned to read when I was 3 years old. When I was very small, my mom made recordings of herself reading my favorite books. They were my own books-on-tape. I followed along with her voice over and over again until I could recognize every word. By the time I started kindergarten I was reading Little House on the Prairie books on my own.

My dad read books with me until I left for college. In the beginning he would read to me, but by the time I was in middle school and high school we would divide the reading. Many of my favorite childhood books were ones we read together.

It was so hard to narrow down this list, so I decided I would only include books I read pre-high-school.

As always, you can find a list of current Kindle deals at the end of this post.

Picture Books

Max the Bad-Talking Parrot by Patricia Brennan Demuth. I know almost no one who read this book as a child, but I just adored it. Max the parrot lives with his person, Tillie, and always speaks in good-natured rhymes. One day, Max’s rhymes turn rude when he overhears what he thinks is an insult, but an encounter with a burglar turns him sweet again.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. What even is there to say about this book? It’s the most classic bedtime book of all time.

The Giving Tree by Shel Siverstein I always hated the boy in this so much. Poor tree.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. Sometimes you just have a bad day and Alexander gets that – gum in your hair? lima beans for dinner? These really are life’s worst tragedies. Besides, when you’re a kid it’s always entertaining to watch other people being unhappy. 😉

The Berenstein Bears by Stan and Jan Berenstein. I think I have read every single one of these except for the new Christian ones that have come out in more recent years. I still remember Mama Bear’s line from the one about telling the truth – “Trust is one thing you can’t put back together once it’s broken.” Wise words, Mama.

Chapter Books

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. Really I should just say the whole E.B. White trio – Stuart Little and Trumpet of the Swan are equally fabulous. But Charlotte’s Web is the one that made me a collector of stuffed pigs for a good year or twoOne of the things I most remember about this book was the way it dealt with the death of Charlotte. It was one of the first children’s books I read that addressed death and it really stuck with me.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater. My dad has a penguin obsession – well, I don’t think it’s a real obsession, but for as long as I can remember any time there was an animal involved in anything – a card, a game, etc. – he has always chosen a penguin. So reading Mr. Popper’s Penguins together is a strong memory.

The Mandie books by Lois Gladys Leppard. I cannot in good conscience recommend these to children today since they are full of embarrassing racial stereotypes like Mandie’s Cherokee friend, Uncle Ned, who frequently says things like, “I promise your father, Jim Shaw, that I take care of Papoose when he go to Happy Hunting Ground.” Also, Mandie is quite spoiled and a little bratty (after the first book). Still, I LIVED these books in elementary school. I adored them.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. I think this book was my gateway into fantasy. This is probably the best retold fairytale I’ve ever read (a genre I particularly like) and was before its time. I read this book over and over and over again and it will always hold a special place in my heart.

Pocahontas: True Princess, and Two Mighty Rivers: Son of Pocahontas by Mari Hanes. This is another pair of books that most people haven’t heard of, but some of my other uber-conservative homeschool family friends have read them. They are more historically accurate fictional stories of Pocahontas and her son, Thomas Pepsironemeh Rolfe. These books had everything – danger and intrigue and romance and Native Americans. In my mind I made the perfect Pocahontas in my brown fringed shirt and moccasins, never mind my blond braids and blue eyes.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I remember reading these, but I more vividly remember the radio dramatizations we would listen to in the car on road trips. They are so very well done, really bringing the stories to life. The Horse and His Boy is probably my favorite – I don’t think it gets enough love.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. I read these books with my dad before the movies came out. I think I spent the whole year I was thirteen in Middle Earth. I was one of those kids that tried learning elvish. This was my first introduction into more adult fantasy and I was utterly captivated. It was shortly after reading these books that I started working on my own fantasy novel, which I still have 50,000 words of somewhere.

The American Girl Books – I’m just going to mention these all together briefly and say that this books really did make me interested in history in a way that influenced a lot of my future reading. I particularly loved Felicity and still have the doll.

What were your most-cherished childhood books?

Current Kindle Deals

*As of March 20th. I use the US Amazon site. Prices may vary on other sites.

New On Sale:

Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel ($2.99). Get it, get it, get it!!!!!! Read my review here.

A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving ($1.99) A classic.

Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, Lauren Winner ($1.99) I did a mini-review here.

The Alphabet of Grace, Frederick Beuchner ($1.99)

Outlander, Diana Gabaldon ($1.99) I mentioned this series in my Books I Love to Hate post, but a lot of people disagree with me.

Still On Sale:

Wild by Cheryl Strayed ($4.40) You can read my review here.

The Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown ($2.99) I haven’t read this one, but it has rave reviews.

The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins ($6.49) This is the lowest price I’ve ever seen this new release. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s recommended for fans of Gone Girl

The Bean Trees, Barbara Kingsolver ($4.99) One of my favorite writers. Kentucky native Taylor Greer tries to escape her roots but succeeds in collecting a 3-year-old native American girl along the way.

An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, Barbara Brown Taylor ($3.99)

Mistborn– The Final Empire, Brandon Sanderson  ($4.99) This is the first book in Sanderson’s Mistborn fantasy trilogy. Just finished this. It’s great.

Found: A Story of Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer, Micha Boyett ($3.03) One of my best books of 2014 and one of my favorite spiritual memoirs.

The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd ($3.99). There’s a reason this book is so popular. It’s great.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you use a link to make a purchase a small percentage of your purchase will go towards supporting this site. This does not affect the price of the items in any way. 

To Be (or Not To Be) a Mom: The Continuing Saga

Back in October I wrote this guest post for my friend Brett over at his site, Irresistibly Fish. I had every intention of posting it over here as well, but somehow it slipped through the cracks. I’m posting it here today because I never had the opportunity to share it here and it’s something I’m still really wrestling with in my life right now. Brett has an entire series on his blog called “To Be a Mom” that you should check out if you want to hear some great perspectives on motherhood. (I was the only guest blogger who is not actually a mom).

I do want to be sensitive to any of you who may be struggling with infertility or grieving miscarriages.  I understand that it may be hurtful to hear someone else questioning if they even want children if you have lost deeply-wanted children or are struggling with infertility. It is so not my intention to cause you more pain so I wanted to post this “trigger warning” for those of you who may not want to read this one. 

Also, to be clear, this is not a criticism of people who choose to have children. I believe there are many people who are meant to be parents. This is just an exploration of my own sense of purpose and calling.


To be a mom used to be something I dreamed of. As early as elementary school l I told people I  was telling people that I planned to have six kids (mostly girls with one or two boys thrown in). I regularly made and updated lists of my favorite baby names.

I grew up in a home where motherhood was valued and praised. I have a wonderful, selfless, self-sacrificing mother and my dad adores her. Since I have two sisters who are significantly younger than me, I started practicing my mothering skills at a young age.

To be clear, there was never any pressure or expectation placed on me by my family that my calling in life was to be a wife and mother. I simply had a natural bent towards domesticity and nurture. I like cooking and baking and I love small children. I think I “get” them better than I get adults. Maybe this is because there are parts of childhood I’ve never outgrown – for example, the urge to stomp my feet when I am frustrated or to sing tuneless songs narrating what I’m doing or to be scared of things like balloons that might pop at any moment – so I understand where they’re coming from a lot of the time.

I started babysitting when I was twelve didn’t stop until I was 25. I taught 4-year old Sunday school class at my church all through college and after college I transitioned into full-time nannying, which is the closest you can get to parenting without actually having your own kids. (Of course, this varies from situation to situation, but in some of my jobs I did the grocery shopping, prepared meals, did homework and school projects, washed clothes, bought clothes, arranged play dates, bought birthday presents for parties, and attended school functions so I honestly think it’s fair to say that this was part-time parenting).

I met my husband at 18 and was married at 22. Our plan was always to wait a few years before we started our family, but I still wanted a big brood of kids and felt pressure not to wait too long. As I was nearing 25 and nothing was happening for me career-wise I started to think, “Maybe we should start having kids.” I believed that having kids would be meaningful and frankly, I believed I’d be good at it. It was something I’d always wanted to do.

And then, about two years ago, something in me changed. I can’t explain exactly how or why, but I woke up one day and I no longer felt the desire to have children. People joke that nannying is its own form of birth control. I don’t think it was that nannying made me stop wanting kids. But I do think nannying made me want to be the right kind of parent.

To be a mom, to really be a good mom, you must be willing to die to yourself and to invest the best of who you are into your children. I have a mom like that, so I know what it looks like. I have worked with different kinds of families and there is a profound difference between the parents whose priority is their children and who are willing to sacrifice their comfort, their careers, and their dreams to invest in their kids and the parents whose priority is themselves or their careers or the image they want to project. I don’t doubt that these second kinds of parents love their children. But based on my experience with those kids, I don’t think they are being the kind of parents their kids need them to be.

I started to wonder why I had wanted a family in the first place. Why do most people have children? I don’t mean that in a flippant or cynical way. It’s something I asked very seriously. One of my deeply held beliefs is that WHY we do things matters tremendously. So I started to ask. Do I want children because I’m hoping they will give me a sense of purpose? Because it’s the next thing to cross off the list? Because nothing else in life is working out and this feels like the next logical step? Because I’m afraid of missing out? Because I believe it will express a unique kind of love with my husband? Because I’m curious about what a mini-me-and-Jonathan would be like?

For many people, the desire to have kids is probably some combination of those things. And that’s not necessarily wrong. I’ve just come to believe that, for me, those reasons are not ENOUGH. For me, there has to be a deeper sense of calling and with that a commitment to sacrificing whatever is required to parent well.

Understanding what parenting really means and what it requires has convinced me that it isn’t something that should be undertaken lightly. I genuinely believe that God took the desire for children away from me for a season because it isn’t the right time. Not long after I’d had this total change of heart, the opportunity for my husband and I to move overseas came up. Our move abroad has been one of the best decisions we’ve ever made, and we wouldn’t have made it if we’d had a child or even been trying to have one.

I don’t know if this feeling will last forever or if God will bring back that desire again at the right time. I do believe that God is ultimately in control of my family and that whether or not we have children depends on him much more than on me. But as much as it depends on me, I want to make sure I pursue motherhood for the right reasons. And if I should get pregnant unintentionally, then I will embrace that as a clear sign of God’s timing and will trust that he will equip me for what he’s calling me to.

I used to long for motherhood, but now to be (or not to be) a mom is something I strive to hold with open hands. I want to keep it in proper perspective, neither looking at it as a means of personal fulfilment nor refusing it out of fear or selfishness. To be a mom is a high calling, but it isn’t everyone’s calling. I want to be sure I’m listening to mine.


Image from;

To Genevieve, On the Occasion of Your First Day on Earth

Dear Genevieve,

The day you were born seemed to stretch out forever, like the sky. You woke your mom up in the middle of the night, but then you took your time making your entrance. Your mom and your dad and your grandma (who came across the ocean just to meet you) and people clear across the world waited a full twenty-four hours for you to finally arrive. Your mom told me those last nine hours of labor were the hardest thing she’s ever done. But I know she would say that you were worth every minute of it and that if she had to, she would do it again if it meant holding you at the end.

Josh, Laura, and Genevieve Louise Rhoads

Daddy, Mommy, and Genevieve Louise Rhoads, born Tuesday, August 5th at 1:03 am . 8 lbs. 3 oz of perfection.

You won’t remember meeting us because you were only 14 hours old, but I will always remember your tiny, perfect body, your wide-open eyes and the impossible sweetness of your little mouth. The way your face is shaped distinctly like your dad’s and how you already have your mom’s long. tapered fingers. You lay in my arms so quietly  kicking your feet and sticking out your tongue, like you were still getting use to the feel and the taste of air.

As you grow you will hear the story of how your mom and your dad moved across the world, far away from their home, their friends, and their families because they held a precious seed of hope that would become you and they believed that this was the best way they could provide for you. Some days it was really hard for them to be so far away, and scary to be having you in a country where the language and culture still feels rough and strange. But they were brave and God gave them the strength and encouragement they needed to push through the hard days. One day, you will get to be the coolest kid in the first grade when you tell your friends you were born in South Korea. I hope when that day comes you remember your parents and everything they sacrificed to have you here.

Your mom and dad are some of our closest friends. From the day we found out you existed we have watched them preparing their hearts and their lives for you. We have hoped and prayed with them  for you. And today the waiting and the hoping is over. Now comes the part where we marvel together as your glorious life unfolds.

Jonathan and Genevieve...He looks good with a baby, doesn't he?

Jonathan and Genevieve…He looks good with a baby, doesn’t he?

The world is a miracle, darling, and you are part of that miracle. We can’t wait to know you – your favorite color, your talents, and what things make you laugh. But no matter who you become in the course of your life, you should always know that you are deeply wanted and greatly celebrated.

So Genevieve…Happy Birthday, and welcome to the world. We can’t wait to hear your story.


Kid president actually says this way better than me. This video makes me all weepy – in the good way.

Hope for the Evangelically Screwed Up: An Invitation to an Honest Conversation

After my last blog post where I touched on some of the ways that my evangelical Christian background damaged me, I received an email from a woman I deeply admire and respect. She is a mother of five who I used to babysit for when I was in high school and whom I have remained in contact with over the years. I actually thought of her as I wrote my last post, knowing that she subscribes to my blog and would read it. Honestly, I was worried that some of the things I said there would be hurtful to her or would cause her to see me differently. What I wrote was true and I have no desire to hide that, but there is a part of me that just hates letting people down. So when I received her email in my inbox, I opened it with some hesitation. I was worried. This woman is tremendously gracious. I was not afraid she would berate me or say anything unkind. I was, however, afraid she might be disappointed. Imagine my surprise when I opened her email and found it overflowing with gratitude for sharing my story. She shared with me that she had recently been struck by the realization that she had become one of those people I talked about – looking for the right formula to raise kids to be Christ-followers. Imposing certain protocols to ensure their safety from the secular world. “I naively believed that I could single-handedly keep them from the world (pardon the drama).  No account for individual personalities or even more, God’s faithfulness. I believed that they could skip over the part about being insecure, faking it, etc. if only we did things a certain way.  This has been a tremendous burden.” In the end she asked me to share any advice I had for her as a mother. I was blown away by her candor and her graciousness and deeply humbled that she would ask for my thoughts. Me in all my 25 year old wisdom. Ha.

I will be the first person to tell you that I am not in any way qualified to give advice. Probably not about life in general and certainly not about parenting. However, I have spent the eight years since leaving my parent’s home and my charismatic evangelical church trying to forge a way into adulthood. In many ways I am still trying to do this. I can’t speak authoritatively about what it means to be a parent, or even what it means to be an adult, a Christian, a woman. All I can do is speak from my own experience. I wanted to share a little bit of my ongoing conversation with this woman. I have spent much of the past few years grappling with my faith, my evangelical upbringing and the corresponding unhealthy understanding of God, of myself, of the church that I developed. I am only just starting to write about these things, but I believe that writing about them is a crucial part of the process for me. Another crucial element is dialogue. It is continuous conversation with others, throwing around ideas, trying to put words to the wrongs we’ve suffered, to the pain we’ve caused, to the grace we’ve received. It’s something I cannot do alone. So I am sharing it.

The following is an excerpt from a long email I sent back to this mother. This friend.

“Maybe it isn’t possible to avoid the struggles so common to adolescence and young adulthood. Maybe struggling with identity, with insecurity, with our bodies and with the pressure of the expectations of others is unavoidable. Because even if we remove ourselves from the world’s version of these things, they emerge again in different ways- inside of the church, in the youth group, in homeschool groups, in families.

Sometimes, in trying so hard to teach kids the ‘right’ way to act, I think what we have inadvertently communicated is that these actions are what make us holy. That these actions are the mark of true believers. In trying to teach children to act rightly, we’ve become judgmental of others, assuming that certain actions we don’t approve of indicate the state of their hearts.

We try to tell our children not to judge others based on how they look, but we do it all the time. And I think the worst part of this is that we aren’t just judging what sort of personality they have or whether they are nice or not, we are judging their hearts and their relationship with God based on outward elements we have come to believe are signs of rebellion or impurity. Who are we to judge other people’s hearts that way? That’s not the biblical principle of looking at the “fruit” in someone’s life. We aren’t looking at people and asking, “Are they kind? Are they patient? Are they full of grace towards others? Do they speak with wisdom? Are they humble?” We are looking at people and saying, “Are they dressed the way I think a Christian should dress? Are they listening to music I think a Christian should listen to?” 

Something that really shaped me in my tween and teen years was the implication that the only thing keeping me from all sorts of inappropriate behavior was my parents’ strictness. That their vigilance was all that stood between me and a life of sin. This was something I inferred, not something they ever said to me, but regardless of what made me feel that way, it simply wasn’t true…. No, I don’t think they should have let me do whatever I wanted, but I had a genuine desire to do right. While my parents always verbally affirmed that they trusted me and that it was the world and others they didn’t trust, their actions communicated that they didn’t. Jonathan has often commented in conversations we’ve had about my childhood and adolescence that my parents seemed to act out of fear a lot when it came to making decisions. From the outside it looked very much like they didn’t trust me to make good decisions. And I think that’s true. And as a result, I also came to believe that I couldn’t make good decisions. But I wanted to be good and I wanted to please my parents and please God. So the only way I knew to accomplish that was to hold fast to what I did know – follow the rules that have been set for you and don’t associate with anyone who doesn’t follow them. I knew how my parents and the church leaders responded to people who didn’t act the way they expected them to. And I didn’t want my parents or leaders to ever look at me the way they looked at those people. So there was always an incredible amount of pressure to act the way they expected me to act. So much of my “right” actions were not based on the conviction that this was the right way to act, but were based on fear that if I didn’t act the way I knew the church leaders and my parents expected me to act, my heart and my intentions would be judged.

And the thing that really bothers me is that these prescribed actions are so arbitrary. They are man-made distinctions. Being modest is biblical, but it’s the evangelical subculture that has decided that wearing spaghetti straps means your heart is impure. (Not to mention how this kind of judgment skews our perspective of our bodies and of our sexuality, but that is another enormous topic for another time). ” 

I love my parents dearly and I know that in every parenting decision they made they genuinely were doing the best they could at the time. This isn’t about pointing fingers or calling anyone out or living in the past. What it is about is healing and growing. It’s about dialoguing with a new generation of parents (which many of my friends are newly a part of or on the cusp of joining) about ways we can change. It’s about wrongs we can acknowledge, lies we can reject, judgment we can stop passing. It is about hope we can have, grace we can extend, and life we can give. I don’t know where all of my questions about faith and Christianity and God and the church will ultimately take me, but I think it starts here with an honest conversation.

Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That (catching the anti-baby bug, or an update on the state of my uterus)

For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to be a mommy. Not only did I play with baby dolls from toddlerhood to embarrassingly far into my preteen years, but I also routinely made lists of the names I would give my children, updating them as my tastes matured.*

Not only did I want kids, I wanted a lot of them. Six! With a set of twins! Preferably redheaded! I said before I understood the dark realities of pregnancy, childbirth, and child-rearing. By the time I graduated from college I had bagged myself a red-headed sperm-donor husband and had brought my hopes down to the more reasonable goal of three to four biological children and at least one adopted child to break up all the little redheads.**

I wasn’t entirely naïve. I had done A LOT of babysitting in high school and college. Mostly with very young children. At one point my senior year I was getting up at 5:30 AM to watch kids for a few hours before school, heading to another family’s house from 10:30 – 3:30, and then finishing my day with a third family from 4:00-6:30. And after college I worked for a year as a full-time nanny, which I extensively chronicled earlier on this blog. I got burnt out and exhausted from working with small kids all the time, but no matter how tough it got, never once did I waver in my conviction that I wanted to have kids of my own someday.

About a year ago I got baby bug in the worst way. Everyone was getting pregnant and having babies and, being in a meaningless corporate job at the time, I found myself wishing for motherhood more than ever before. I knew that the timing wasn’t right. And I knew that the sudden, overwhelming urge to quit my job and grow a baby was not a good enough reason to bring a human into the world. But the logic of the situation did not stop me from hoping against hope that the baby fever was God’s way of preparing me for a surprise pregnancy. And even though I wasn’t trying to get pregnant (in fact, I was actively preventing) I still managed to feel disappointed every month when it became clear that God had not miraculously intervened and made my body defy science and logic to conceive anyway. Jonathan and I agreed that we would re-visit the topic of baby-having in a year or so and see how we felt about it then.

For several months I continued to have baby-on-the-brain. Then I decided that if getting pregnant in a year or so was a possibility, I should probably do all of the things I really wanted to do pre-baby. Hence the commencement of Operation Lily Runs a Marathon and Operation Lily Goes to Grad School. I really wanted to undertake Operation Lily Travels the World, but sometimes even I have to be an adult and realize that I can’t have everything, so I settled for last summer’s vacation to the Dominican Republic and my marathon trip to Disneyworld. I also decided that before I had kids I wanted to be healthier, which led me to a radical diet change where I cut all sugar and starch from my diet and started eating lean meats and vegetables. I lost 20 lbs in 7 weeks and have a lot more energy and much fewer health problems than I did before.

I’ve made a lot of changes and a lot of progress over the past year: I quit my job, started grad school, ran a marathon, changed my diet and lost weight, did some travel, grew out my hair, and stopped biting my fingernails. But something else changed too. Starting in about October and growing steadily ever since has been a strong feeling that I no longer want to have kids. Not just right now. Maybe not at all. Ever.

If you know me at all, you know how weird that is. Like I said before, all I have ever REALLY wanted in my life is to one day be a mommy. I mean, I’ve wanted to have a meaningful job and a good marriage and to write and help others and all of those things too, but even when some of those things have been unclear or I have felt directionless, I’ve always had this deep desire for motherhood someday to hold onto.

In fact, my desire to be a mother has driven me to the point of fear sometimes. Thinking of having a house full of kids has made me feel a lot of pressure to figure out what I want to do career-wise as fast as possible because I don’t feel I will have the luxury of going back to school or trying to figure that out once I start having kids. I have put a lot of pressure on myself to get these things figured out because, after all, I’m 25, and if I really want to have 4 kids, I’m going to have to get started on that in the next few years.

But for the last 4-5 months I’ve found myself wondering if I really want to have kids, and I’ve concluded that what I really want is to have babies, not children. In other words, I love the idea of carrying a baby and then having this tiny little creature who is part of Jonathan and part of me and part something all his own. But I don’t want to bring an 8-year-old to dance class or fight with a 10 year old about cleaning his room. And I certainly don’t ever want to have a teenaged son.

Frankly, there’s a part of me that doesn’t even understand what the point is of having children. I know most of you won’t get this, but sometimes I think, “I could spend most of my life raising these kids who may or may not turn out to be good people, regardless of how good of parents Jonathan and I are, and for what? So they can go out and have their children that they spend their lives raising those kids so that those kids can grow up and have their own families.” There’s just something inherently narcissistic about it to me. I mean, if we just wanted children out of a desire to give of ourselves and our love and raise great men and women to right the wrongs of the world, there would be no more orphans. We would look at these millions of parentless children and find exactly what we were looking for. But that’s not all. We might want those things, but we also want mini-me’s made in our own likenesses.

Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful that there are parents in the world. After all, if my parents had felt this way, I would never have existed. And I like existing. I’m just not sure that, for me, the reasons above are good enough reasons to have children. I’ve been thinking a lot about parenting and how, to do it correctly, it really does require you to sacrifice everything for the sake of your kids. I see the family I work for now where the parents aren’t willing to self-sacrifice for the kids, and how their kids suffer for it even though they have all the material wealth in the world.

And I look at my own family. I have two parents whom I respect and admire deeply. Not once in my life have I ever doubted that they loved my siblings and I and that every parenting decision they made was genuinely out of a desire to do the best for us. And yet, I look at my siblings and me – my brother who has wrestled with addiction for at least 10 years, my sister, whose entire understanding of her world has been rocked to its core since leaving home, and me, who has lived believing that my best would never be good enough and that no matter how good I was and how hard I worked, fault would be found in me. My youngest sister is on the brink of adulthood now and we have yet to see the things she carries.

My point in saying all of this is not to rag on my parents. It’s to point out that even having some of the hardest-working, most self-sacrificing, godly and loving parents in the world, we have reached adulthood deeply scarred. If this is the reality for a family so committed to raising their children well and loving them deeply, I am utterly terrified to think of what I, a much more selfish person than either of my parents, might do to my theoretical children.

When I started to articulate how I am feeling about all of this, it sort of freaked me out. I mean, I have ALWAYS been the one who loved kids and couldn’t wait to have a family. And more than that, I’m really good with kids, especially really little kids. It’s one of my main skills – something I pride myself on. Jonathan and other close friends are convinced that this is a phase I am going through and that I won’t feel like this forever.*** They might be right and that will be ok. It may be a phase I am going through that will last 6 months or a year and then it will fade away and I will go back to the way I was before. But for now, this is where I’m at and I’m embracing it instead of fighting it.

So what does the future look like for the girl who spent her whole life planning on being a mommy only to discover that she might not want to be one? Honestly, from right here it’s looking pretty unlimited.


* If I had named my kids at age 11 they would have been called Chloe and Oliver. But then, of course, we named our dog Chloe so I couldn’t use that one anymore.
**Because I am convinced that all of our children will be redheaded, recessive genes be damned!
***At least, Jonathan is certainly hoping that’s the case. I can’t really blame him, I mean it’s sort of false advertising for him to pick a wife based on the fact that she wants to bear him 4 sons, only to find out after the deal is sealed that she really doesn’t want any. Bad form, Me. He has assured me that he will still love me if I do not bear said sons. But I can tell he still thinks the whole thing will blow over.

Saving Up Questions for Heaven – Learning to Live Questions Without Answers

I am starting my fourth week as a nanny (again!) and so far it’s been a breath of fresh air. I’ll admit, these kids lead a pretty privileged life – beautiful home that’s been professionally decorated, closets full of clothes that are much nicer than mine, tennis lessons, karate, gymnastics and dance. They are not believers and they certainly have their bratty moments (as most kids do), but they also have plenty of moments when they are sweet and fun and overall I am glad I get to hang out with them instead of sitting at a computer all day.  It’s true that I have been going to sleep at like 9:30 every night, because running around with the kids is much more physically demanding than my desk job was, but I am much less emotionally and mentally exhausted. I just can’t get over the contrast between what I do now and what I was doing at my old job.

Office job: Spend 3 hrs changing the amount of square footage available in a set of buildings in every print and electronic marketing piece in existence.

Nanny job: Spend 3 hrs swimming at a pool with a pretty cool water slide and getting tanned.

Office job: Rainy mornings mean a lot of yawning and extra coffee while editing lease proposals.

Nanny job: Rainy mornings mean going to the movies and getting paid to watch Madagascar 3.

Office job: Working with boys means putting up with crude humor and bad language.

Nanny job: Working with a boy means learning how to play Pokemon battle (yes, apparently that’s still around.)

I think there’s a clear winner and a clear loser here! This week is the last official week of summer for the kiddos. After school starts, I will only be with working in the afternoons to early evenings and will be able to devote my mornings to increasingly long runs (yuck!), reading, writing, baking, and, when my semester starts at the end of September, online classes.

I am genuinely happy about the job change, even if nannying again isn’t the impressive career-path I think I should be on. I am mindful of my own tendency towards discontentment and have been asking God to help me keep my willfull heart in check by practicing gratitude in the midst of many still-unanswered questions. And I think the kids sort of help me with that in some ways.

Kids ask a million questions – if they can do things, have things, go places – as well as constant questions about the world around them. In just the past few weeks I have been asked all of the following:

Which is better for you, wine or beer? (I said neither was good for you, but maybe wine was a little better because you usually drink less of it?)

How do you get money?

Why don’t you have any children?

S, when her mom asked if she wanted to have all of her initials monogrammed on her first day of school dress or just an S – “Can it say something different? Could it say Party Time?”

I wonder what God looks like? (S told me she thinks He is green like broccoli. No idea why.)

As funny and sometimes annoying as kids are with all of the questions they want answers to, I can’t help but find it endearing because I see so much of myself in that. I think God must also look at me sometimes and think, “Stop asking me questions! Why do you need to know? It’s not important, I can take care of it.” Or “Why would you even ask that?”

There are still a lot of things I don’t understand about what God’s plan for J and I—why neither of us seems to be able to figure out what we really want to do or should be doing and where God’s hand is in what feels like random wandering. And then the questions of whether it’s more important to do something that makes you a bit happier on a day-to-day basis but doesn’t pay very well (giving you fewer opportunities to pursue the things you care about) or to do something you don’t really care about but that makes enough money to enable you to pursue the things you do care about? Not to mention my own questions about God – who he is and how he is good and why when I read the Exodus story I feel sorry for the Egyptians instead of feeling amazed at God’s deliverance.

There is a quote from a poet I love that I was reminded of recently and have taken a lot of comfort from. Rilke was a German poet who wrote during the beginning of the 20th century. This passage comes from Letters to a Young Poet.

“I beg you…to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer…” ~Rainer Maria Rilke

So, here I am – attempting to live everything – to live today fully, whether it brings joy and laughter, or frustration and more unanswered questions—and to strive to see all these things as threads of a tapestry whose pattern I cannot see yet because I won’t be able to understand it until it’s completed. And to believe with hope that one day, without even noticing it, I will have lived my way into the answers, so that those questions won’t seem to matter anymore.

Things You Should Never Text Your Husband

Last weekend I went with Christina to her cousin’s birthday party at a cool restaurant in downtown Raleigh. While I was there I received a text message from a friend who got married a few months ago. The text contained a picture of a positive pregnancy test. I was really excited for her, and also amazed at how quickly they’d gotten pregnant since they’d only been married a short time. I forwarded the picture to Jonathan along with a message that said, “Well…I guess they decided not to waste any time! I just got this text from ‘Monica.’ ” (name changed to protect the innocent.) Then I stuck my phone back in my coat pocket and kept chatting with everyone. About 15 minutes later I realized I never heard back and pulled my phone out again. No messages. I left it on the table and continued with dinner. About three minutes later, my phone started buzzing in uncontrollable spasms. You know when you are in an area with no signal for a while and then you connect again and all the stuff that’s been sent the whole time you were out of signal comes through all at once? Well, that is exactly what had happened. Apparently, back in my coat pocket, things hadn’t been going through. I looked at the screen to find three texts and about 10 missed calls from Jonathan. For a minute I thought, “Geez, why is he so worked up about this…it’s not really even his friend.” Then I looked at the text exchange and found that what I thought I had sent had not all gone through. This is what he had received:

I am in soooo much trouble...


Needless to say, the man wanted to kill me. I tried to talk him down, explaining that I would never just joke with him like that. That I was so sorry. That obviously I would never tell him that I was pregnant via text message and that I would also never take a pregnancy test while out to eat with friends. That I should have thought it through and should never have sent that message in the first place. That I was the worst wife ever. His response, “Are you completely insane?!” And later, “Do not ever send me something like that again!” On Friday night, our marriage was on shaky ground. To all my girls out there, married or not, learn from my mistake. Never send your husband a text message with a picture of a positive pregnancy test on it! Or an email even, probably. Oh, technology…how you have failed me.

So the weekend started out not quite as expected what with the panic and rage, etc. but Saturday morning dawned very sunny and promising (although also quite cold and windy.) We put on all of our cool running gear in which we look awesome and very professional: running tights, shorts over tights (Christina),knee brace (me and Jonathan), long sleeved shirt, jacket, arm-band for carrying iPod, fleece headband that covers your ears, socks, running shoes, and those cool knit gloves with the special fingertips where you can still use your touch-screen phone while wearing. We were decked out. I wish I had a picture so you could behold us in all of our awesomeness. And it is a good thing too because that wind was COLD! But all three of us succeeded in running our first 11-miler with no walk breaks, just occasional stops for water. I can’t stress enough what an accomplishment this was for all three of us. We are not runners. Any of us. And yet, in just four months we have gone from running ¾ mile and then nearly puking or passing out (at least that was me back in September) to doing a 2hr, 11-mile run. I am amazed at the human body. (Although somehow, despite being in the uncontested best shape of my life, I’m still hanging onto those 10 lbs that have tipped me over the edge of my “healthy weight range” and into “overweight, but not yet obese” range. But that’s another story.)

In celebration of our amazing accomplishment we went to Outback and used a Christmas gift card to eat a large amount of Bloomin’ Onion, steak, baked potatoes and Caesar salad. Yum. (Perhaps now understanding those lingering 10 lbs…) We went home and had a relaxing, uneventful night.

Sunday morning, Jonathan wakes up in horrible pain all over his stomach and back. At first we think it is food poisoning, but after a few hours we realize it’s something more than that. Eventually I take him to Urgent Care hoping they can do something for him. The man is in so much pain it is all I can do not to burst into tears, but, knowing that wouldn’t be the least bit helpful I instead make a lot of un-funny jokes. It’s something I’ve always hated about myself-that in a medical crisis I get so upset I feel the only way to keep myself from exploding with grief (not helpful) is to crack corny jokes (equally not helpful.) Eventually the doctor tells us it is either a kidney stone or the early stages of appendicitis and we go home to wait and see. Thankfully, a few hours later it becomes clear that it is not appendicitis and after drinking what seems like several gallons of fluids, Jonathan starts to feel better. We are so thankful that Jonathan is more or less back to normal with only a few residual side effects.

I have heard from multiple sources that kidney stones are one of the most painful things the human body can experience. Most say it is the closest equivalent men can experience to childbirth and some women who have been through both even rank kidney stones as the more intense pain. I feel horrible that Jonathan had to go through that. But I know that one day, a few years from now, when that positive pregnancy test is mine, I will be reminding him of what this felt like. And I will probably point out the fact that he was only dealing with something smaller than a dried pea. While I will be dealing with something the size of a small watermelon.  But don’t worry, I probably won’t tell him any of that in a text message.

Kidney stone. Not Jonathan’s. Ew.
Approximate size of baby…though probably heavier than a baby…I hope


The Problem With Kids These Days

I don’t know what’s gotten into me lately, but for the past two weeks or so I’ve suddenly become completely baby crazy. I’m delighted by the thought of tiny people calling me Mommy, by holding someone who has my eyes and Jonathan’s red hair and something entirely and amazingly their own. I find my mind wandering at work to figuring out how we could convert our office into a nursery.  And suddenly, although for the last year I’ve thought nothing of it except that I’d like to have children in the distant future, I wish I could have them tomorrow. While I was nannying, there were days that I wasn’t sure I even wanted to have kids anymore. But the last two weeks it’s been like a switch suddenly flipped and I feel totally differently. This hasn’t really changed anything. I am NOT and am NOT planning to get pregnant for several more years.  (Just to make that abundantly clear to those of you who are just skimming this. I don’t want to start getting awkward congratulatory messages.)

What this baby-craze has made me think about is, well, children. And parenting. While I don’t have any kids of my own I have done a LOT of babysitting and nannying over the past ten years. During my time last year as a nanny I was “parenting” 40-45 hrs/week. I have worked with about 15 families at different points and in different places and have witnessed a lot of parenting styles and techniques. I have worked with well-behaved kids and with little monsters. I’ve come home saying, “I will never let my kids do that,” or “That’s a good idea, I’ll have to try to remember that when I have kids.” It’s easier when you are not the parent to stand outside of the situation and see how different parenting styles affect the kids’ behavior. Unfortunately, more and more I’ve seen some really disturbing attitudes towards parenting in both Christian and secular homes. Talking to other friends who work as nannies only confirms what I already felt was true. Kids these days are a different breed than when we were growing up.

To some extent, every generation finds ways to reject things about the generation before theirs. In this case I think a lot of today’s parents felt constrained by their own parents and felt that they had to meet certain expectations of who they would be/what they would do, etc. The tendency these days is to really allow children to develop their individuality and to try out all kinds of things so they can “figure out what they like,” to encourage them to be anything they want to be. This sounds great, in theory, but the reality is that children are not adults. They do not naturally appreciate the sacrifices of others or understand how to be considerate of one another. They are not naturally respectful of or submissive to authority. They have to be taught to obey, to be considerate, to appreciate the things they have. Hence we have some of the most privileged, over-stimulated, ungrateful, self-centered, out of control children the world has ever known. As a seasoned childcare provider, here are some particular things I’ve encountered (generally with kids 12 and under) that drive me crazy. If you’re a parent and you’re easily offended by parenting critiques you might not want to read this:

Food: Two year old children do not have a sophisticated enough palette to truly have likes and dislikes when it comes to food. “My child is a picky eater.” Your child is a picky eater because you allowed them to be a picky eater. If you only feed your child chicken nuggets and pizza then of course all they will like is chicken nuggets and pizza. If you feed your child green beans and carrots from an early age, they will learn to like or at least tolerate green beans and carrots. If you allow your child to have ice cream as a snack every afternoon, you can’t expect them to be happy when you offer them an apple. Eventually kids do develop preferences that are legitimate just as adults who are not “picky eaters” may have two or three foods they just really don’t care for. But there is nothing in the world as frustrating for a babysitter as trying to feed a two year old and having them scream at everything you put on their plate until you figure out what it is they feel like having at that particular moment.

Bribes: While it makes a child temporarily happy to give them something to quiet down a temper tantrum or ward off hysterics, it ultimately encourages bad behavior. The answer to a temper tantrum is never “What can I give you/promise you to make you calm down.” This is lazy. This is caring more about not having to deal with the tantrum and enforce consequences than shaping your child’s character. We excuse things in children because they are children. We say, “They’ll grow out of it,” but spoiled kids who get their way when they pitch fits become spoiled adults who pitch different, but even less attractive, fits when they don’t get their way. Teaching your child that they will always get what they want if they make enough fuss is setting them up for failure.

Parents who use their children as a security blanket: there are so many parents these days who act as if the main reason they have children is so they themselves can feel loved and needed and important. When their kids get upset about a decision they’ve made or say something like, “You are a mean mommy!” they can’t stand the way that hurts their own sense of security so they give in to the child so that they feel better about themselves. That’s just selfish. Their kids might be happier with them in that moment, but I can guarantee you they don’t respect them and it is ultimately not the best thing for the kid. Small children are not your friends. If they cannot even use the bathroom on their own, why do parents think they can make all kinds of rational decisions? Little children are not logical. Often, they cannot be reasoned with. This doesn’t mean we don’t value kids or consider them as much people as adults. It’s like this: we would certainly agree that a man who is a plumber and a man who is a doctor are equally valuable as human beings. But if I need surgery, I’m not going to ask the plumber to do it just because he’s a valuable human being. Kids ultimately feel loved and secure when they know someone is taking care of them and their boundaries are clear, even if they don’t act that way in the moment.

Overstimulation: It is not fun to a 5 year old to go to kindergarten, play two sports, take dance lessons, be in a play group, and learn to play the cello. It is exhausting. No wonder they’re cranky!

Inconsistency: either between mom and dad or between the parents and their other caregivers/authority figures. This confuses kids because they don’t know whose expectations they have to meet when and causes them to act out. I’ve had authority figures who were inconsistent. Frankly, it is terrifying as a child to not know what is expected of you and when you’ll get in trouble. Consistency between caregivers is huge as well as consistency with one. If you have a rule and sometimes you hold hard to it, but other times you let it slide, the child doesn’t know if you are serious or not or whether you really mean it. It makes them feel out of control. The family I nannied for this past year did such a great job of consistency with each other as parents and with me. If I reported something to the parents or had to punish one of the kids they ALWAYS backed me up, even if they might have done it differently because the most important thing was that the kids knew their parents and I were on the same page.

To sum up…I think the main problem with kids these days is parents these days.  Sometimes I just want to shake them and say, “Your child is not in charge. You are an adult. Act like one.” If parents were just diligent with these things when their kids were little, parenting would get easier and easier (theoretically) as they grew up. Of course, I have a whole other shpeil about the way some excellent parents of young children have trouble parenting adolescent children. My own parents were terrific parents of small kids, but had a hard time transitioning to a lower level of supervision as I got older.   Having said all of that…I am sure I will screw up my children in my own special way, I just don’t plan on it being one of these. End of rant.

PS-In case you are interested I am posting two new pages: books I’ve read (this is a list of everything I’ve read in the past year or so. I don’t necessarily endorse or recommend them all) and blogs I follow. A list of fellow bloggers (including most recently my little sister, Anni) you might know.

Like A Little Child: Lessons on Love

It’s over. I’m no longer a nanny. Friday was my last day with the kids. We played at home and read books and made bookmarks and went to Sami’s school picnic at the park and then we came home and I put Dylan down for his nap. I hugged him and said, “I love you soooo much.” And he said, “No, I luh loo so much!” and that’s when I knew there was going to be trouble. I went downstairs and painted Sami’s teensy tiny toenails and her dad came home and took pictures as I read to her while we waited for the polish to dry. And then I said goodbye, I climbed in my car and I blew my horn and I drove away. And the second I turned the corner I burst into such hysterical sobs I had to pull over for a few minutes because I was squinching up my eyes so tightly I couldn’t see out of them.

As much as I have looked forward to this day, and as many times through the winter that I felt bored to tears and could not imagine another day spent entertaining little ones, it was still overwhelmingly sad to come to the end of it. I’m sure it’s similar to how elementary school teachers feel, growing close to a group of kids that they spend so much time with over the course of a school year only to have them move on, but nannying is also different. It is so much like being a mother and the relationship is so much closer than a teacher with an entire classroom to share her care and affection with. There were many days that I felt frustrated and tired and that I wasn’t doing anything worthwhile with my gifts and it was very, very hard. But I also lost my heart to these kids. I’m excited to move on to a new phase in my life and to hopefully move into some sort of career I find meaningful. But that doesn’t change the fact that I will miss them and the way that they love me—without expectations, whether we have a good day or a bad day, whether I’m impatient or gracious—ultimately it makes no difference to them. At the beginning of each new day when I walked in the door, anything that had happened the day before was wiped away, and they loved me.

I think that’s how Christ intends us to love each other. Without expectations and with no memory of wrongs. He says to come to him as little children, but in some ways I think it’s the other way around. I think He also comes to us as a little child. Not in the sense that we are His protector or that He puts his trust in us, but in the sense that His love for us in uninhibited like a child’s. He loves us this way, with no expectations and no record of our wrongs. His mercies are new every morning and His love for us is simply because we are ourselves.  And regardless of whether we have been faithful, whether we have trusted or have doubted, whether we have honored Him or not, whether we have made right choices, whether we have pleased Him in every way, He loves us freely and without limits.

I know I ragged on CCM music, but there is a song that’s been echoing through my mind for the past week, particularly as I’ve thought about leaving the kids and what I’ve learned about God loving me from their loving me. Most of you probably know this song, but I’ll post the video and lyrics anyway. Being from Louisiana I especially appreciate the image of “Loves like a hurricane.” A hurricane runs its course relentlessly and nothing can stand in its way.  I have seen such a picture of this in the kids’ love for me. It is also relentless and nothing, not even my own impatience, unkindness, or grumpiness, could stop them from giving it to me. And the rest of the song reminds me of how much greater and more perfect God’s love is than even these sweet kids.

Written by John Mark McMillan (and performed by him here), but probably  most famously recorded by David Crowder. “How He Loves.”

He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden,
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realize just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.

And oh, how He loves us so,
Oh how He loves us,
How He loves us all

Yeah, He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves.
Yeah, He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves.

We are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,
If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.
So Heaven meets earth like a sloppy, wet kiss,
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest,
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets,
When I think about, the way…

He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Oh how He loves.
Yeah, He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves us,
Whoa! how He loves.