My parenting nuggets

I just uncovered this draft  from my MANY unfinished blogs and decided it was pretty good hahaha so I decided to share it.  Since this writing, my children have called me “extra” less and “salty” and “sassy” more often. I take all these descriptions as compliments because honestly my worst nightmare would be them referring to me as “nice” or “good at doing laundry.” I will take a little salt and sass any day.

My husband asked me to write two paragraphs for his sermon tomorrow for Mother’s Day. Being the wordy one that I am, that was an impossibility so I am hoping he can find a few nuggets in my many words.

Motherhood is a crazy ride. Like super crazy. It has made me into someone I don’t even recognize at times. I have never gotten it too right but I have learned a lot about myself when my heart has been broken and when it has been full. Parenting is definitely a means of sanctification if we let it.

We sat around the dinner table tonight eating my Mother’s Day dinner (barbecue- I have definitely gone to the dark side of boydom eating habits) and talking about how “extra” I am. Well, to me extra always means something good. Extraordinary. Extra awesome. You get it. To them however it means something along the lines of “we don’t get you” and “where do you come up with this stuff….” I am perfectly happy embodying their definition as well  because I always want to keep my kids guessing so they seek out interesting people in their lives who are not predictable and boring.

My boys summed up my parenting in two phrases….”low level suffering” and the “world does not revolve around you.” I sat  back, ate a hush puppy and was well pleased with the summary of my parenting approach. And here is why…..

When our children are young it IS all about them because, well, we are trying to keep them alive. I remember bringing my oldest home and being sure I would accidentally kill him. Sit on him, forget him in the car, or he would cry himself to death. Then the second one came and I just knew I had the perfect little family. I remember going down to Munn Park with their matching GAP t-shirts and thinking I was definitely EXTRA amazing.

Then the third one came and post partum hit me and I realized I was only extra DONE. I was weeping constantly, hated my life when I really loved it, having my first fits of panic attacks, and wondered if I would live the rest of my life locked up and who was going to nurse my baby. It was the scariest time in my life. I was undone for the first time as a mom and it made me feel vulnerable and uncomfortable. Why? For many reasons but it made me look at the reality that I had been a very prideful, judgmental mom who looked at those who could not keep up with me as lazy and incompetent. As I became a mom who could not eat, sleep or care for her children, I began to understand better the moms who struggled. I had to deal with my own reality- I was not superior to anyone and I needed to greatly get over myself.

Then we adopted a 12 year old from foster care and everything I knew as stability in our family was gone. In a few simple days, it was like I was living in someone else’s house. The dynamic changed. The birth order changed and now I had to change. Well, that was not how this was supposed to look. We were supposed to feel like we had rescued this child from a life of orphanhood and constantly feel like we had been obedient to God’s commands. So basically I thought a euphoric state of good deadness was destined to flow through my veins. What actually happened is that I had to face me. Me who had grown controlling and unwilling to budge when it came to my children.  I had expectations and no one dared to thwart them. But now I had a child who had never been in a functional family and had spent 8 years in a group home. How was that going to fit into my little box of mommyhood?

It didn’t and it began to break me down….in all the right ways. Instead of worrying what this change would do to my children, I started being thankful that they would learn sacrifice and compassion for another human being who was only acting out of what he knew. It got super ugly in my heart sometimes and God always brought me around to thanksgiving even when I was adamant to be bitter.

So I was suddenly a mom of 4 boys and had really never liked too many guys before I met my husband. I could not relate to them, understand them or getting into their heads but God said to just love them. Even if they seemed like aliens sometimes. But no matter if we have boys, girls, foster children, adopted children….the truths are all the same.

Children need to grow up knowing there is an entire world out there and this planet does not revolve around them. They are a piece of God’s amazing story and their lives matter immensely…..but they are not the only characters in that story. Life does not exist for their comfort, conveniences and pleasure. Their lives matter to glorify God. Their lives are meant to be given away for His kingdom and it will get hard and messy but that is God’s best for them. Hence my parenting statement of “life does not revolve around you” that apparently I have successfully beaten into my children’s brains.

Then there is low level suffering. Like hearing no because they need to hear it. Without explanation. Without an apology or a reason. We have a generation of children who are sure that their parents exist to accommodate them. That should never be the case. We are parents put here to raise up adults who can live in a world where they won’t always get what they want.  Who learn that because  they can afford something does not mean they need it. Who value the work of caring for the poor, the elderly and the orphans. Our kids need to feel inconvenienced. That is what will bring forth a generation of adults who love well and live in truth.

Why do we stay away from teaching these lessons to our children? Because we want our children to like us? I have always told mine that they never have to like me but they must respect me. That I am not their friend but I am their parent. We also want to create the perfect environments for our children so they can succeed and ultimately we look good. We want them to be better than we were. We want them to showcase their abilities so we look like we are winning this game of Mom-opoly. Well, I have to preach this lesson to myself….it is not all about me.  When they succeed or they fail,  it is their journey and it is not going to kill my identity. Motherhood is a role. It is not who we are. I can speak from experience- better to figure that out now before they grow up and leave the nest. At that point, if we don’t know who we are we are left empty and alone.

I love, adore and really enjoy my children….but it is my job to prepare them to leave, not make them dependent on me. My husband is constantly encouraging their independence and as much as I have wanted to hold them back for selfish reasons, I can see how much good it has done. Our boys have gotten jobs at 15 years old because they wanted to and I have seen how they have matured because of it.

Let’s love our children well and teach them selflessness and kindness.  This world desperately needs caring, generous adults and we have the opportunity to model this for them.


The Plate, the Healing and the Peace

The home in Willow, NY has been in my paternal family for 5 generations. Five. 5. Yes, five. Since I was a little girl it has been a place of memories, respite, and family connection. I remember throughout my childhood watching my grandmother cooking at the stove wearing her pearl earrings, Lily skirt and apron and thinking I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. She was sophisticated and warm, not conceited and stuffy. I loved her parties and outings and of course her dinners on the warmed Blue Willow plates. The plates from England that proudly displayed the willow tree which symbolized for us the home in Willow, NY.

So many memories….I can go back in time and immediately feel like I am sitting there  eating grapefruit halves with the little spoons with the sharp edges and watching my grandfather section out each piece and eat it with his toast and marmalade jelly.  They were the only ones on my father’s side of the family who made me feel safe. Loved. Protected.When they died I lost a really important connection.  My father and I had never been close and my memories were less than favorable  but I tried to have some kind of a relationship with him over the years.  Kenny (my husband) and I started going to Willow when we were newlyweds and  continued to visit during the the summers.  We enjoyed so many walks along the creek and drives through the Catskill Mountains. Fresh mountain air. A home full of heritage and a place that connected me to my grandparents and those before them.

As our children were growing up, they all made memories in Willow as well. Tubing, catching snakes, playing in the field, planting flowers….it was their favorite place to go every summer. Throughout elementary school our 2 older children wrote essays and papers about Willow any time they could  fit it into a writing prompt. My oldest son wrote a heart filled paper in high school about his summer memories that brought his teacher to tears. To them it was the most amazing place on earth.

My father never really interacted with us on these trips and when he did he was often condescending and lashed out but for the sake of the good memories, I tried to smooth things over and ignore the harshness.

One trip years ago I could no longer overlook how he treated us and there was a painful discussion where he looked at me and said, “I don’t even feel like you are my daughter.”  I fell on the ground into the fetal position and have very few memories of that night except getting up and running down a dark road sobbing while my husband ran behind me.

The next day we left the house where we had put down deep roots and never went back. I fell into a deep depression after that trip and began intensive counseling. I had so much healing to do. So much baggage and brokenness. At times I felt the pain would never go away….that it would fester inside me forever. But with a lot of prayer and counsel,  the darkness began to lift and a slow process of mending began. It finally started to feel less like a life sentence and more like a part of my story that was making me stronger, braver, and more compassionate toward other people.

Fast forward to 3 months ago….. I was at a yard sale and a man was selling the same Blue Willow plates I remembered from all those summers ago. The price was right and I bought them. I put them on a shelf in the garage and glanced at them occasionally and usually was flooded with feelings of heartbreak and loss. I could not even bring them in the house because of the painful reminder of the fractured family tree. Even though I had healed a lot, the wounds had left scars and they had left lingering pain.

A few weeks ago I finally picked one of the plates off the shelf as I was headed to Madison for a Light Breaks Through conference. I decided to use one for a demonstration. I honestly wasn’t entirely sure how I would work it in to my talk but my friend had suggested  that I could make the plates into a mosaic so it had me thinking about the mosaic of our lives. While I was speaking at the conference  about the pain and loss I had experienced, I threw the plate down and watched it shatter into many pieces. There was a kind of freedom watching the plate break- as it represented so much hurt and a letting go of what once was.

…our lives may have shattered pieces but when put together they can make the most beautiful mosaic. The pieces will still be broken and the edges sharp. They can never be made back into the original piece but they can be arranged into something that is uniquely stunning.

So when I got home from the conference I took those broken pieces and made my first mosaic. Pieces of the plate, glass beads and grout and a wonderful friend to guide me through the process.  I could feel God healing me from the inside out. I just prayed that I could make peace with the pieces. Could be ok with the reality.









A few days later I picked up my mosaic from my friend and I was so proud! I sat it in the kitchen and  before I knew it  I had knocked it over and it broke into even more pieces all over the floor. The broken pieces of the mosaic were broken still. WHAT? The look on my husband’s face when it happened was priceless. His eyes widened and he immediately said, “ARE YOU OK?” And I was. God had already been working. The symbolism of the pieces no longer defined me or my emotions. The work had been done in the creating.

A few days after the dropping of the mosaic I was at another yard sale (my total happy place picking through other people’s throw aways) and found a box and on top was a Blue Willow plate made into a clock. Underneath it was an entire set of Willow dishes neatly wrapped one by one. I unveiled the first one and wrapped it back up as quickly as possible and headed to put it in my pile of yard sale goodies. I was so ecstatic and walking so fast the lady stopped me because she thought I was stealing them.

My reaction to the dishes this time was total nostalgia. Great memories of hammocks and fireflies. My kids swimming in the creeks and having my friend Kristen and her family over for hat parties and collecting rocks.  God had done the work. I was becoming more free from the pain and the rejection. The dishes now remind me of freshly snapped green beans and my grandmother’s plates of cookies.







The plates are currently in the dishwasher and heading to my shelves. They will be eaten on until my precious family breaks them all and I find another set at a yard sale.  God is setting me free.  I find joy again- embracing the good memories while I realize how I was changed for the better by the harsh edges of the broken places and the loss and grief I have felt.

There is a bush we have that grows flowers that change colors over 3 days. The first day is brilliant purple and then the next is lavender and finally white.  I went to the back porch to write when I noticed the bush and was amazed by the symbolism.

The original  plate and the pieces of the past.  The brilliant purple of the flowers represents the beginning. The process has started.

The mosaic pieces are the beginning of the healing and the bright purple is fading into lavender.

The new plate and the purifying that God has done. White. Cleansing.

There will be more hurt and disappointment but now I will approach it differently. I will be able to come at it  knowing I am not defined by the rejection and the abandonment.

Only God. Only with loved ones around me supporting me while it took place. Only with a therapist who walked with through my darkest days. Only with a husband who has listened to years of sadness and gallons of tears shed.  Only with children who miss Willow terribly but have come to understand.

Maybe we will get to go back one day. Maybe there will be restoration and relationship. Maybe there will be change. That would be amazing…..but I have to say no matter what… is well with my soul.






2016 had a lot of moments where I felt like this flamingo….like my color had lots its vibrancy and I just needed to stick my head in my feathers and pretend life wasn’t as hard as it actually was.

Having my second born graduate high school, my 16 year old start driving and working, and my youngest become a teenager felt like walls were closing in on me.  No more taco nights, canned biscuits, and my less-than-famous crock pot specialties. Curfews, girlfriends, and the lack of control were a huge shock to this momma. And at times I did not do well with it. I probably could have qualified for some Ricky Lake episodes if there were cameras up in here. I don’t let go easily and change scares me. There were times I wept over the Buzz Lightyear costume and Cooper’s Mr. Truffles stuffed Easter egg because I just wanted one more day to snuggle and answer all those questions that seemed so exhausting when we were in that stage.

As soon as all that started to happen, opportunities to serve in other capacities began to appear before me. It was a great distraction to help other people when my children were becoming so independent. I welcomed the escape from the loneliness of living with children who didn’t need me very often.

In the process of reaching out and loving women, I began to see there was a  distinction between being a “friend” and being a “resource.” I started to find myself being a resource to almost everyone I was with and had very little time to be a friend.  While it was happening, I felt part of me dying….my soul desperately missed connection but it had been so long that I wondered if I had come into a new normal.

The time with “my people” (friends) all but vanished and I found myself very alone. I was still surrounded by people but I had missed the time where I had mutual interactions- give and take friendships that feed my soul.  A few weeks ago it really hit me that I had found myself giving and giving and I was becoming depleted. As soon as I recognized it, it was time for change. I walked away from a lot of the ways I was volunteering. God arrested my heart and the word I kept hearing was “discipleship.” Helping women one on one walk in faith and having those people who pour into my life too. That is what I feel like this new season holds. Being intentional. Present. And steadfast.

After one night of me crying myself to sleep, Kenny must have talked to the kids and the next day my 16 year old came in and said, “I know we don’t act like it, Mom, but we need you around here.”  My spirit was revived to hear these words.

Today I got an annual pass to Busch Gardens to have an activity I can do with my 13 year old. I hate theme parks and especially ones where the safari costs extra?!?!? But nonetheless, it gives me a way to be with my youngest who still thinks I am pretty fun.  As we sat eating a snack, I asked him what kind of girl he thought he would marry. He thought on it….hesitated and said, “Not to be weird or anything but I would like to marry someone who is kinda like you.” My heart soared. Maybe I got some things right as a mom.

I know there are so many ways I don’t get things right. I know I miss God. I just want to be able to see it, be humble and willing to change ME.  Dying to my own pride and need to be needed is a battle. My heart yearns for connection but sometimes it is my last priority. Not this year. I miss my people. But I am back.

46 and the Naked Tree

46 is a weird age.  It is on the side closer to 50 and 40 seems like a while ago. I assume that, like me, everyone over 40 thought that they would have way more figured out by this time in their lives than they actually have. This Christmas I have been really trying to figure out what this stage is all about and I have gotten nowhere so hence…..the blog. Maybe by the end I will have some clarity.

For 18 years we have had our traditional Christmas tree decorating event. It was never a fancy shindig but the you-put-each-and-every-ornament-I-have-bought-you-each-year-of-your-life-and-enjoy-it kind of fiesta. Ok so it was never all that fun with at least 2 precious, sentimental, hand picked soccer balls or clarinets crashing to the ground and me not wanting to become even more crazy during forced family fun. This year? The tree….is naked. Yep. Bins of ornaments in the living room and nothing adorning the tree. And me? Not as crazy as I have been in the past! I  said I would not get the tree out this year but Cooper at 13 thought that was a little too Grinchish.

I have looked at the bin, looked at the tree and said to myself, “Oh well” and not been secretly angry and plotting my next guilt trip that if they loved me they would hang ornaments. My kids are at the ages where they are studying for finals, working extra shifts for Christmas money and preparing for concerts. The moments I do get with them are fleeting these days and I am learning to be ok with that. I have been through the worried mom holy-crap-they-are-driving stage and survived one car being totaled and another mirror knocked completely off the side of the car. By the same son, I might add. I have been the freaked out one when they go on the interstate without me. I have fretted through dating and curfews….and survived to tell about it. dsc_8026 dsc_8028

I have grown ok with no one being home at the same time to eat dinner and have enjoyed that I don’t have to cook all that often. Cooper can cook a mean quesadilla when he gets hungry enough and for the first time fast food and pizza are regular menu items. Evenings that were filled with family dinners, projects and homework have slowly waned and I am finding myself for the first time.

For a week I have been texting my kids to tell them I need to get them together for their Christmas picture. They are thankful I am over the matching plaid shirts and corduroy pants outfits and honestly I don’t even care what they wear anymore but no one is here at the same time. Solution? Separate pictures will make a great collage!

I never thought I could enjoy seeing my children become independent because it seemed like the “good mommies” cry and beg their children to invite them to do things together. The “good mommies” still make their lunches and stay on top of their every move.  Since I have a husband who was independent at a very young age, he has groomed the boys to do the same and at times it was hard but now I could not be more thankful.

As I watch one set his alarm for 6 am to get to work and one play guitar til his fingers are sore, I know we are where we are supposed to be.  The balance of school, work, life, and family is a lot for any teenager and as they figure themselves out I watch with fascination and anticipation for the men they are becoming.

I can choose to resent the life they are establishing for themselves or I can embrace that I have done my job the best I knew how. I can look at them and remember the footie pajamas and Buzz Lightyear costumes and know that those days are long gone and ok….start to cry. I am not going to lie. I miss it at times. The sippy cups and Cheerios seemed like it was a phase that would never end and now I just wish sometimes that we could curl up with One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. ….but as I look up to their handsome faces (literally- they are all taller than my 5’7 self) I am at peace knowing we did what we could with what we had at the time. Certainly not perfect parenting and sometimes probably pretty sucky parenting…..but we did it together and above all- they have always known how much we love them.

So as I enjoy my naked tree and the 2 other themed ones I put up for the first time ever, I am ok with where I am and the fact that no one has noticed the bare branches. If we get to it in between college finals and Chick-fil-A shifts then that is fine and if we take it down the same way we put it up, I will be ok with that too.

Weary from the Battle

Writing has been too difficult lately. How much do I tell? I am a transparent person but lately I have wanted to hide….hide from myself, hard truths, life, and everyone else. Why? Disappointment, shame, depression, fear. Some days the weight has felt unbearable like shackles around my ankles and others it has lifted like the early morning fog. Some days I have gone between the two extremes all day long depending on the circumstances. To say that it has been confusing and exhausting would not begin to define this state of struggle. Even as I write this, I want to quit. Walk away from the computer and yell, “F*** you!” But I need to push through for me and for you. For me to work on healing and for you to know you are not alone.

We have raised our children the best we know how. Mistakes along the way. Never believing that a formula would produce godly children- I think we have been pretty realistic and held our children loosely knowing God’s plan is ultimate…..but deep down we thought our children would be leaders in their faith and stand for righteousness no matter the cost. It has not happened.  Nothing prepared us for the struggles of watching our teenagers waver and fall. Curfews, apps to know where they are, becoming semi-professional investigators, and regular confrontations has left me tired. Tired from the worry. The unknown. And tired from the self-condemnation that I don’t trust God enough to know that each of my children must walk out this journey and find his own faith.

I am a self-blamer every time. Did we make a mistake with their schooling? Their friend choices? Were we too sheltering? Not enough? Did we bombard them with faith so now they resent it? As my mind reels from this self-talk insanity, I just want to go to sleep. And when I put my head on the pillow sleep hardly ever comes. I toss and turn, get up, lay down….the ritual of my nights. And when I sleep I often have those anxiety dreams where I am watching someone’s child and go out to lunch forgetting that he is asleep in the crib. I wake up believing the voice in my head that says I am not a good enough mom to be trusted with someone’s child. Not the brightest way to start the day, I guess,  but it happens.

Every day I get the privilege to take medication to my friend who is dying. She was an addict for 35 years and cannot keep the morphine or anxiety medications in her house so I take them every day to her. Because of her lifestyle, she did not raise any of her children. Living on the streets, doing drugs and prostituting did not make her a suitable mom. Oh- except the one that she had after her father impregnated her when she was 12 years old who was automatically adopted by a relative.  She has never even seen that child. She was sold  for sex to support her parents’  drug habit starting at five years old while they gave her cocaine and heroin to numb her pain. When her parents were having sex with her, she developed multiple personality disorder because the emotional trauma was so intense she had to leave her own body. Today she told me she is just too tired to keep fighting and she knows death is imminent. We cried together and then I went home to unload my groceries. Somehow the sadness does not leave me when I walk out the door. I grieve what was stolen from her by selfish, sick people but I know she has faith in Christ and she knows that she will see Jesus face to face soon. I do take rest in knowing this but I also cry heavy tears for the life she did not have.

Relationships. They are so hard. Family ones, friend ones, ministry ones….none are easy……and not because I am perfect and no one else is. Because I am imperfect and struggle with being a good friend. Lately I have not had much to invest. My hollowness has given me the sense that I don’t have much to give away. Everywhere I look I see parents who are not struggling like I am…people not burdened by the depravity of the world and carrying that weight…..peers who seem to be able to maintain friendships for decades…women who have the best dads while I have none…..and I wonder what is wrong with me. Why is life so hard for me? Am I jealous? No, just confused. Trying to figure out why I can’t turn off my emotions and my heart ache for the world’s suffering. Sometimes I just want to be able to go to the gym for a few hours with my personal trainer, eat at Crispers, go shopping, get a weekly pedicure while someone else cleans my house and picks up my kids…..because it seems to be working for A LOT of people. I wish that shoe fit me.

Churches and nonprofits are full of imperfect people and some of them are desperately broken. I don’t know why this catches me off guard sometimes because I know it is true….but it creeps up on me and it feels like a punch right to the face. Pastors (not mine) who are not fully disclosing of the truth and sit in their private quarters untouched by human brokenness…..ministry leaders who fall, remain unrepentant and take others down with them. Meanwhile, others are left to clean up the big, sloppy mess. Blows my mind.

Loving addicts and strippers is always life changing because I learn so much about myself from people who have overcome so much. But it can also be disappointing, lonely, and heartbreaking.  Having an 18 year old come into our home, we adopt her like a daughter, and months later she returns to the drugs, stripping and abusive relationships that she was escaping when she came to us in the first place.  Other women who have worked so hard to get sober find themselves relapsing and losing their children to the child welfare system forever. The addiction is greater than any other love and I have to see it, accept it, and continue to pray for a breakthrough that can only come from a life of surrender.

Somehow in this huge, sticky, messy life there is hope. Why? Because God is still good and I am still loved by Him. Even when I am untrusting, arrogant, self-dependent, and live like He never existed at all.  Some days there is only a speck of hope in me because I cannot look past my failures, disappointments and the hard road in front of me. In those moments I am trying to turn to prayer and devotion to my Creator instead of giving into the voices in my head screaming, “You are not enough.” I don’t do that most of the time but I have hope that I will get better and that I will once again find that peace that passes understanding that I once knew.

I am praying that Light will break through my hurting heart and my grieving spirit. I know the beauty of God’s light and I talk about it all the time. It just seems lately that the world is darker and my light is dimmer. I am praying for a breakthrough.

Teaching Our Children to Redefine Success

Children have developed a very narrow view of success and we, as parents, are responsible for it. Most of the time our children think if they are the star athlete, the top of the class, and the first chair in the orchestra then they have achieved success……but what if we have sold them short in how we have defined it? What if it is bigger than that? What if our definition is producing kids who don’t know how to celebrate accomplishment when it looks different than theirs? I think this is an epidemic in our society.

As parents, we want to make sure that our kids are at the top, while we neglect to acknowledge the miracles happening all around us. Our kids know it too. They know we expect close to perfection and often pressure them as much for our own sense of accomplishment as theirs.  They are blind to the world around them because pulling off the high standards of achievement takes all the energy they have. This idea has troubled me for a long time.

So….years ago I decided to take action.  I was determined to expose my kids to others whose definition of “success” was different than theirs.

When I was open to the idea, opportunities just started to come. Cooper joined reading buddies at his school and every time his buddy reached an AR goal, we celebrated- Easter egg hunts, lots of cheeseburgers, and the finale- safety patrol for the day with the bonus of donuts. He learned that his buddy’s accomplishments of going from a pink dot AR book to a light blue dot was worthy of a party.


IMG_1928IMG_1678IMG_1769We also started throwing parties for AR goals met in the classes where they did not have an overflow of eager, available homeroom moms. We CELEBRATED! We partied Ellis style with food, games, and balloons (thank you, bestie Shelly Gerber).


See, we get stuck in our little worlds, our little classrooms, our little neighborhoods, and our little families. We see our children and maybe their classmates, carpooling, soccer, and baseball friends. But do we really SEE the rest of the population? How can our children see them if we don’t?  Have we taught our children to celebrate others’ successes or just their own?

These ideas came to a pinnacle the week before school was out this year. The week was crammed with so many events- fifth grade banquet, awards, parties, etc. and honestly, I was growing weary the first day of the week because of all the planning that had already happened. So the second to the last day, I was dragging myself through the parking lot- camera and snacks in tow. I was dealing with the sadness of my youngest leaving elementary school and going to  middle school and I was in the midst of a little pity party as I said good-bye to this sweet school I loved so much.

As I pulled myself together, I ran into a precious friend. She was beaming. Glowing. My mind was reeling. What had happened? What could possibly bring that much excitement?? Then she starts talking, a million miles an hour. She said, “I just left the awards ceremony for Audrey! She got the 50 point club for AR! She got perfect attendance! SHE GOT ALL E’s FOR CITIZENSHIP!!!!” In that moment, my heart celebrated right along with my friend because I knew that her daughter’s successes were HUGE! As I walked away, my spirit was full. My joy was complete. Audrey had succeeded.

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The next day was 5th grade awards and my son and all his STEM friends would inevitably rack up the certificates and trophies. I knew going into it that there would be the 500 AR point club, PE student of the year, and even 2 community college scholarships for deserving students. Amazing awards and proud moments. My son was even to win the principal’s award and give a speech to the class and parents.  This was one glowing mama!

I was taking pictures of all the students and about ten minutes into the ceremony, the guidance counselor said to me, “You might want to get ready for the next one.” Not knowing what she was alluding to, I moved in close for the picture. Little did I know that his moment would make me completely undone.


One of the precious students whose successes we had celebrated for all those years  was getting Most Improved Student of the 5th grade. I could barely hold my camera. I was not just crying, I was weeping.  I saw his teachers beaming with pride, jumping to their feet with applause. I could imagine in this moment my son thinking that this could get embarrassing, as I hooped and hollered like a crazy woman. He was a HERO. MY HERO. HIS TEACHERS’ HERO. The WORLD’S HERO. Why? Because he had overcome the obstacles and won. Simple as that.

What are our children missing when they do not get the opportunity to celebrate with the overcomers of this world?  They are not afforded the privilege to see someone whose success is different than theirs and just as significant. This is how children learn to be givers. This is how they learn to have compassion. They don’t learn it in their gifted classrooms and their all-star sports teams. They learn it in the classrooms where 10 AR points, not 100,  are worth a cheeseburger party and where perfect attendance is worthy of celebrating.

Our children must find their own way….

University Application Form
University Application Form


How do we measure success for our children? Straight A’s? The perfect college application? Star athlete? I think we often miss it…..MOST of us do. And who suffers because of it? Our children do.

High school students today are bombarded with expectations- grades, clubs, sports, service projects, SAT, ACT, PERT, FCAT, and now the new test whose name I have repressed because it boils my blood. Are high school students doing all of this because they love it? Most of the time no-they are doing it to impress colleges. They need to “beef up” their college apps so they attend mission trips, start neighborhood projects, and play sports that they do not even like….and all to look good.

The result? An amount of anxiety and stress in our teenagers that has catastrophic results.  At a time when they are supposed to be finding out who they are, what they love, and where they are headed, many are attending college aimlessly without any clue as to who they really are. They have spent their first 18 years trying to impress the right people and work the right system and they have not even had the time or energy to figure out why they are here and who they were created to be.

I do speak from some experience here. I attended a very reputable college and spent about five years after I graduated interviewing college applicants and sending in reports of my assessment of the students. What I found was shocking and very sad to me. I found myself sitting in front of shells of individuals with not a moment to breathe and not an original idea to share. They had become robots in the college application world. Most of them looked like they just needed a hug, a nap, and a day at the beach. Finally, I looked at one girl in the top of her class in a prestigious high school and said, “How in the world do you have time for all of this?” She looked at me, confused, because she did not know any other way. As it would turn out, she did not get into the college, even though she had the perfect application. Interesting.

One individual I interviewed already had her sorority picked out and her recommendations ready to send to the college. When she found out she did not get in, she suffered from extreme anxiety because everything she and her family had built came crashing down. Sad but true.

Then there was this amazing musician. He was from a modest family, loved his instrument, and was willing to go wherever God called him. There was also the swimmer whose family had sold everything, packed up what was left and spent the year visiting the 50 states. She was spunky and fun and engaging. Both of these students got in to this college. Interesting.

I am going to be vulnerable here. My dad was the poster child of perfection. Choate boarding school, Yale University (like the generations before him), Vanderbilt Law School. Pretty impressive, right? Well, at the age of 30, when I was a little girl, he was tired of being perfect. He took off in his pimped out conversion van (it was the 70’s) and partied like there was no tomorrow. We no longer fit into the imperfect world he created for himself.  He thought that all the high achieving would benefit him in some amazing ways but what he found was he did not even know who he was. The reward did not meet the work it took to get there and to this day he has rebelled against everything conventional, including fatherhood.

And where do we, as parents, fit into this equation? We are usually the reason our children end up with their stomach in knots and their social lives nonexistent. A mom told me yesterday, “I told my son (who is in middle school), now is the time to work, you can play when you are 25!” WOW.

There is a population of parents who NEED their children to attend elite universities in order to obtain a status of acceptance from others. How sad. Where have our dreams for our children gone? To them making decisions to make us look good? How very, very sad.

I picked up a mug in the “graduation” section of a store and it read “DREAM BIG.” I thought a lot about that since then. Have we even allowed our high school students to dream at all?  Or are we too busy fattening up their college applications with activities that they never dreamed of but will impress a panel of strangers?

As I have have watched one of our four sons graduate high school and enlist in the Army and another one who will be  a senior next year, I have reflected a lot on how to be their mom. Here is what I have decided…..

They will each find their way.

We will encourage them,  expect them to work to their potential, and pray for them constantly. If they want to take a year off from high school to go backpacking- great. If they want to go to community college to save themselves and us massive debt- great. If they are accepted into a prestigious school with tons of scholarship money and a passion for it- great.

But what they will always know is that they were allowed to find their way. They will not look back and think we lived their lives for them.

Hopefully, they are spending high school finding out who their Creator has made them to be and what He has called them to do. That will take time- probably a lifetime- but they will know they were given the opportunity when they were with us and that all we ever wanted for them was that they would find THEIR way.

For the Love of Baseball


Growing up, I knew nothing about baseball. I was an athlete but a ball, bat, and glove were not in my bag. My husband, who had tried most sports as a child and teen, never learned “two out rally” and “drop third strike.” Then when our third child was 11 years old, his best friend’s father had pancreatic cancer and our son wanted to play baseball  to spend more time with his friend and his dad. So that is where baseball became an Ellis tradition.  We spent a year sitting alongside the most humble, loving gentleman (who had been a great ball player himself) as we watched our sons play baseball- his son had played for years and our son was just starting. One season our boys were on different teams and Bobby would walk across the complex to see our son bat, adorned with a chemo bag after a long day of treatment. He showed my son integrity, sportsmanship, and commitment to a sport our son was slowly falling in love with. Suddenly we found ourselves at Tigers’ spring training games and I was trying to desperately to keep up with the rules, while Bobby coached me from the sidelines so I could say something that made sense to my boys after the game… “good pick on second.” By the end of that year, Bobby passed away and and left us with memories that were both precious and difficult. Baseball was never the same to us but our son kept playing and our youngest son began to play.



Every season we have prayed that our boys would be on teams that were sportsmanlike and showed integrity. We never asked God for a winning team…..just one that would teach them the life lessons they needed to learn. We knew our children were not destined for the MLB and we never wanted them to feel any pressure to play in high school or college because we knew that their decisions were theirs alone. Playing to please us was never going to be a part of their journey. We had our childhoods to play sports and now it was their turn. They could choose sports, music, etc. but they had to choose academics first because that is what would matter in the end.

So after 4 years and 12 seasons total for both boys combined (my third oldest son has since stopped playing baseball), I reflect back on what I have learned through this sport.  I cannot pitch a ball or catch a pop fly but I have watched from the sides for many games and it has taught me a lot about life.



I have seen behavior from coaches and parents that I wish to forget. Yelling, tantrums, disrespect to umpires, and pure childlike behavior that I would never tolerate from my children, yet they have been exposed to it on the field from people who they should see as examples and authority figures. My heart grieves for these parents and their children because  it is clearly a symptom of a bigger problem.

When our worlds become so small that Little League baseball begins to define us, we have big issues. BIG.

It is a game.

They are children.

They were not born for us to live through them nor are they here to make us look good.

They are on earth to fulfill what God has for them. I have been at games where my children shine and have been at ones where they failed to play well.  I loved them the same on both days because sports do not define them. It is just a hobby and one they enjoy. The day they stop loving it will be the very last day they swing a bat or wear a glove. It is just that simple. We expect our children to give their best whatever they are doing, but that does not always mean great pitching, hitting, and catching. We are okay with that.  Life is bigger than a baseball and tomorrow is a new day.

I have the greatest respect for parents and coaches who are getting it right…..encouraging the player who strikes out every time at bat, apologizing to the player who he sent and gets out at third,  and is also honest when the team needs to improve- and all done with the kids knowing that their coach is FOR THEM noDSC_0224 matter what. I don’t want a coach that allows laziness and sloppy baseball, but I do want a coach who acts like an adult and who leads children by example of character and integrity. I thank God that this season we have been blessed with a coach of outstanding morality and loving kindness. He taught my son the value of honesty and respect. We need people like that around our children…..ones who embody Christlikeness and  basic human dignity.


So where does this leave me and my family? Thankful for umpires on the field doing the very best they can, league officials who sacrifice their time to come to games and monitor them so that there is back up for parents and coaches who are not getting it right, and coaches who want their teams to see baseball as part of a bigger picture of life- one that will shape them and make them men of their generation by learning to win well, lose well, and be an integral part of a team.

It also leaves me with a heart that hurts for those who have lost themselves and sold their souls to a bat, glove, and a ball. Life is so much bigger, richer, and more precious than anything we do as recreation.DSC_0221Nothing is more important than community and relationships and acting foolish destroys all of that. At the end of our lives, we will want to have loved people well, not wish we had won more baseball games.

I am a proud mom of a boy who spends waking hours perfecting his curve ball and hitting my wiffle ball pitches that are less than stellar. I am a proud mom of a team that lost their game well last night with all the sportsmanship that I could have asked for.










Baseball is the all- American sport… you think we can get back to the game it was created to be? In the end, we would drive away from the fields knowing we had lived well and loved others. If that became the way of life, our kids would flourish and community would be built on the field and on the sidelines.