Friday, February 17, 2017

I was a perfectionist. Then I had kids.

Life is messy. Sticky. Goopy.

Some days, I feel I could run a cleaning business. Based on the number of hours spent washing, changing, tidying, scrubbing, folding, and wiping, I often feel that parenting is just one giant exercise in cleaning up.

Before I had kids, my house was fairly clean. My car smelled fairly nice. My schedule was fairly organized. My life was – for the most part – under control.

And control was the key. Control allowed me to manage my responsibilities. Control gave me the power to change my circumstances. I liked control.

Actually, I loved control.

As an ENTJ (the Meyers-Briggs personality assessment is spot on for me), it felt fulfilling to have a sense of control in my life. That’s why parenting was such a major adjustment. I suddenly lost control of so many variables – my time, my space, and even my feelings (Okay, why do Subaru commercials have to be so emotional? I think I cried at every single one of them when I was pregnant).

In the early years of parenting, I honestly felt like I lost myself. I felt that I had to become an entirely new person in order to accommodate the needs of my growing family. And – if we’re being transparent – that’s exactly what I needed.

Being a perfectionist implies a need for control. 

Now, hear me on this: it’s not wrong to be a perfectionist. In fact, perfectionists almost always understand the most efficient and effective way of doing things (seriously though, that is a huge advantage in the workplace).

But, for me, I tried to take perfectionism to the extreme. I wanted my life to be perfect. I disliked messes and inefficiency. Actually, I loathed messes and inefficiency. That’s where the problems crept in: I created a massive, unbridgeable gap between my expectations and real life.

Life is messy. Sticky. Goopy.

And there’s really no way to control that. Accidents happen. Projects fail. Finances take a nose dive. Anniversaries get forgotten. And people aren’t perfect.

Hear that?

People. Aren’t. Perfect.

In the age of social media and photo editing, it’s easy to assume that some people are perfect. But you only see the best images. The best days. The highlight reel.

In reality, we all fail. We all have weaknesses. We all struggle. And we all need forgiveness.

In the process of cleaning up the messes in life, I’m learning one giant lesson: Forgive us, as we forgive.

Jesus’s followers once asked Him how they should pray. His answer was clear:

“This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’” (Matthew 6:9-13)

The truth is this: we are in debt, and we must forgive our debtors. The language doesn’t say “forgive if you feel like it.” Instead, it acknowledges that all are in debt, and that all must forgive.

I’ve made a number of messes in my lifetime. Too many to count. From the earliest days, most of my messes were beyond my ability to clean up. Someone else cleaned it up – undoubtedly my mom and my dad. Life is coming full circle, and now I am cleaning up after my own babies.

Forgive us, as we forgive.

I’ve been hurt. Mistreated. Abandoned. Neglected.

Forgive us, as we forgive.

I realize that I’ve also caused hurt in other’s lives because of my failures.

Forgive us, as we forgive.

We cannot live successfully without accepting the reality of life’s messes, and embodying a willingness to clean them up. To forgive. To move on.

Life is messy. Sticky. Goopy.

And there’s beauty in that. There’s a realness in that. There’s forgiveness in that.

The human experience isn’t about creating the cleanest, fastest, or prettiest track record. It’s about connection, forgiveness, and doing this messy thing called life together.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Letters to Julia: Toasted Bagels with Cream Cheese

September 6, 2015

Dear Julia,

Today was a full day. We went to church this morning, went shopping, attended a birthday party this afternoon, then came home to a messy house with loads of laundry needing to be done. We opted to play outside with bubbles and sidewalk chalk. The laundry can wait.

After bath time, you brushed your teeth while I brushed your long brown curly hair. Although you’re five years old, you haven’t had a haircut yet – maybe because I know those ringlet curls won’t come back after your first haircut.

I kneeled down next to your bed to tuck you in. As I kissed your forehead, I noticed your face wasn’t as happy as usual, so I asked what was wrong. You said, “My tummy hurts.” I asked, “What would help it feel better?”

“Toasted bagels with cream cheese.”

You didn’t even have to think twice about that. You said you were still hungry even though you ate plenty for dinner. Here’s one of those tough choices that moms face: 1.) Should I say that it’s already past bedtime and you need your rest, so we’ll have bagels for breakfast, or 2.) Should I indulge your polite request this once, and share a special time together with my girl who’s growing up far too quickly?

Toasted bagels with cream cheese it is.

I picked you up and carried you downstairs, passing a pile of dirty laundry along the way.

You sat quietly in your chair at the table while I hurriedly put together the ingredients for your snack in the dark kitchen. We didn’t want to wake up Rachel, so we both tried to keep things quiet.

When the toaster popped your bagel up, I smothered it with cream cheese and placed it on your favorite plate – the one that’s pink and shaped like a heart. I sat down next to you to talk with you as you ate your bagel.

“Julia, I want you to know how proud I am of you. You’re doing such a good job in Kindergarten.” You started Kindergarten 2 weeks ago, and have already earned the admiration of your teacher and all your classmates. “I’m so glad that God gave me you as a daughter. I’m honored to be your mommy.”

You had just stuffed a huge piece of bagel in your mouth, so you didn’t want to talk with food in your mouth, but you looked up at me with big grateful eyes. You held up both hands, and placed your thumbs and index fingers together to make the shape of a heart, then you looked through the heart towards me.

My eyes welled up with tears as you swallowed and said, “I love you SO much, Mommy.”

“I love you, too.”

You reached out to hold my hand. We sat there together in the dark quiet dining room holding hands as you finished your bagel. I’m not sure if we’ve ever shared a moment so sweet, and so sincere. And to think I could have passed that up, because there was laundry to do, or because it was already past bedtime. 

The fact of the matter is that stuff will always try to get in the way of the important things in life. Schedules, task lists, routines, and responsibilities will try to distract from the reason why we are placed here on this earth – to love.

When you were done with your bagel, I picked you up and carried you back to your room. You wrapped your arms tightly around my neck as I carried you up the stairs. You smiled as I laid you down in your bed, “My tummy feels all better now.”

I wiped the cream cheese off your chin and whispered, “Good night, Julia. I love you. I’m proud of you. And I’m so glad you’re mine.”

Moments like these are ones I’ll never forget.

I’m truly so honored to be yours,


Friday, February 20, 2015

4 Traits of Highly-Engaging Social Media Posts

Digital media consumption is at an all-time high. Millenials no longer rely on traditional and mainstream media producers for the latest news and information. Social media is literally revolutionizing the way people do research and engage with the world. When consumers are formulating opinions about a brand, they rely on peer-to-peer reviews more than high-budget advertising. And they can go directly to social media to get a feel for a brand's true colors before investing in its products or services.
With so much information competing for attention on social media, how can you develop a keen strategy for reaching consumers with relevant content? Here are 4 tips:
  1. Be succinct. You have exactly 2 seconds to engage your audience. Make your point and make it fast. Save the fine print and flowery details for later.
  2. Use imagery. Social media posts with photos capture more engagement than posts without pictures. Your photos should be relevant to your content, and preferably include people. Although buildings and nature scenes may be pretty, pictures of people interacting will invite higher click-through-rates.
  3. Keep it relevant. Who is your audience? What do they want to know? Keep your content focused on the interests of your readers. You bring value to your audience by meeting their needs for information and insight, specifically about your area of expertise.
  4. Stay positive. Few people are interested in reading about your terrible customer experience with Chinese take-out last night. Opt for inspiration rather than degradation. Savvy social media influencers will consistently produce contagiously bright and encouraging posts.
Above all, be yourself. Don't be afraid to post content with a genuine, down-to-earth feel. Social media is personal, and consumers have become accustomed to interacting with brands through social channels. People want to know that brands care, and that there are real people interacting with them. The human element is what makes it - well - social.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

I want to be a butterfly

December 19, 2014

Dear Julia,

Earlier this week, you and I had a conversation that I’ll never forget. You’re 4-and-a-half (although I feel like I just brought you home from the hospital… I swear I only blinked). You’re so full of life. Your energy and enthusiasm make me smile every day!

We needed groceries. Badly. So we hopped in the car and drove to Sam’s Club. It was one of those evenings when I didn’t have much time after work to make dinner, so we opted for pizza at Sam’s. After ordering a few slices of pepperoni pizza (you may only weigh 31 pounds, but you can put away an entire slice of Sam’s pizza by yourself), I sat down across from you and began cutting your pizza into little bite-size pieces.

You asked me how my day at work went.

By the way, that’s not typical for a preschooler. Most 4-year-olds are only interested in Dora the Explorer. Not you. You like to ask questions. You’re a relationship builder. You care about people’s thoughts and ideas, and you carry on conversations better than many teenagers I know.

So I started talking about my day at work. Advertising, marketing, strategic communications... and you listened politely. Then we talked about careers. We discussed a variety of things that grown-ups do to make a living. We talked about different professions, such as being a teacher, a scientist, a computer engineer, a chef, etc.

I asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up.

I was thinking you might say doctor, lawyer, or President of the United States. But you didn’t. Your answer was profound and perfect.

“I want to be a butterfly.”

I smiled at the honest simplicity of your response. At first, I thought you might be joking, but you were entirely serious. You knew with absolute certainty – and without hesitation – that you were going to be a butterfly when you grew up.

As you finished eating your pizza, I quietly pondered your matter-of-fact response. Tears of joy welled up in my eyes as I thought about what you said.

Butterflies aren’t born as butterflies. They start out as caterpillars. They crawl around slowly, learning about the world around them, growing day by day.

Then they create a chrysalis, cocooning themselves away for a time. Inside that cocoon, a wonderful transformation takes place. They grow wings. They change into a new creature.

As a butterfly emerges from its cocoon, it has to experience incredible pain. As it works to crawl out of the chrysalis, the pressure put on the butterfly’s wings is what enables it to fly. If the cocoon breaks, or someone assists the butterfly in its exit from the cocoon in order to make it easier, the butterfly may not be able to fly because its wings didn’t receive the necessary and life-giving pressure from the chrysalis.

Julia, you will be a beautiful butterfly when you grow up. You may experience times when you feel like you’re only crawling, but that’s an important part of the process. You’re learning about the world around you.

In life, you may encounter pain and pressure. Don’t be alarmed. It is for your benefit. That pressure is building in you the character you’ll need to fly.

Yes, Julia. You’re going to be a butterfly.

A stunningly beautiful butterfly.

And don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

I love you immensely,


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

First World Problems

Matthew 6:25-27, 31-34
 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

Last week I was driving to work, sitting in traffic on US 29, when a lady going 50-60 mph slammed into the back of my car, effectively bending the steel frame and warping the entire body of my Expedition (which is basically a tank). Both vehicles were totaled at the scene of the crash. 

As I screamed and my body was jolted from the impact, this verse instantly flashed through my mind:

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

It didn’t make any sense. Here I sat, stunned from this collision, writhing in pain, and yet God was speaking to my heart: Don’t worry about tomorrow. I will take care of you.

No Lord… I'm not worried about tomorrow. I’m worried about RIGHT NOW! 

My car! My back! My budget! #ouch

I’m a planner. I like to have a plan laid out for things. Budgets, schedules, to-do lists – it’s all organized. And I wasn’t planning to buy a new car this month. 

First world problems.

I tend to get worked up and worried about unforeseen circumstances or expenses. God knows that. He knows my insecurities. And at EXACTLY the right moment – in the midst of a traumatic accident – He encouraged my heart with those words: Don’t worry about tomorrow. I will take care of you.

He is faithful. 

His words are true. Wherever you are today, whatever you're going through - God knows. And you can trust His word:

Philippians 4:19
And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.

Psalm 37:25
I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.

God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10). Every dollar in the world’s economy belongs to Him. And He will provide! 

Whatever giants you're facing  whether it's sickness, a financial need, uncertainty, or just first world problems  God is with you. Even when you can’t see the next step, you can see the hand that’s leading you there, and that’s enough.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Ben Sauer

This story really messed me up. Rarely do I question God’s goodness.

Rarely am I moved to tears by the circumstances of a complete stranger.

But reading the story of Ben Sauer has me completely baffled and broken.

·         How could a loving, compassionate God allow a sweet 5-year-old boy to suffer and die from a cancerous brain tumor?

·         In light of the support from his New York community and media coverage around the world, wouldn’t it have been better for God to miraculously heal this little boy, and show Himself strong on the child’s behalf?

·         How do Ben’s parents find such strength? If my child was battling brain cancer, I’d be a complete basket case. But the Sauer family seems to be a pinnacle of grace.

In February 2014, Ben was diagnosed with a rare, inoperable brain tumor. Its growth would eventually impair his ability to walk, talk, and function as it spread to the areas of his brain that controlled those capabilities. He and his twin brother turned 5 on May 5th, 2014. Ben took his last breath on May 13th, 2014.

I’m not sure why this story hits close to home.

·         Maybe it’s our mutual friends from New York who know the Sauer family.

·         Maybe it’s the fact that my daughter recently had a traumatic hospitalization, but she was healed and will celebrate her 4th birthday next week.

·         Maybe it’s just the familiar sting of pain when we experience loss while expecting a miracle.

Whatever the reason, my heart is heavy for the family of Ben Sauer.

I couldn’t imagine losing a child to cancer. My daughters are so bright and full of life, it just seems backwards to think of that. Why should an innocent child suffer? Isn’t that unfair? Doesn’t God want to bless His children with good things?

The truth is simple: God does bless us with good things. Ben Sauer’s life is a testament of that.

When Ben was born, God gave an undeserved miracle.

Every day that Ben lived, God gave an undeserved miracle.

In the news articles and prayers lifted by millions, God gave an undeserved miracle.

In the final hours of his life and his peaceful transition from this life to the next, God gave an undeserved miracle.

The problem with our human perspective is that we only see one piece of the puzzle. God sees the complete picture. He sees beyond the frailty of our limited understanding, and works all things together for good.

Imagine, for a moment, that you went to a restaurant for dinner. Sitting across the room, there was a white-haired gentleman dining alone. After you ordered and finished your meal, the waitress informed you that the white-haired gentleman paid for your dinner. You approached the man to thank him for his generosity.

“It is so kind of you to pay for my meal, but I really can’t accept it,” you said. However, he insisted, so you thanked him and left.

The next evening, you returned to the same restaurant for dinner. The white-haired gentleman was there again, dining alone. You ordered a meal and ate, and again, the man paid for your meal. Surprised, you expressed your gratitude and left.

You ate at that restaurant every night for 30 days, and every night, the man paid for your meal. After a while, it became routine. You just grew accustomed to the man’s kindness and generosity.

On the 31st day, you went to the restaurant for dinner and the gentleman was there. Only this time, he did not pay for your meal. He paid for another person’s meal.

How would you respond? Would you thank him for all the meals he supplied for you? Or would you hurl insults, blaming him for denying a blessing, questioning his goodness?

I am not entitled to a thing. I didn’t pull myself up by my bootstraps. I am where I am today because of God’s blessing on my life. His unmerited, undeserved favor is the only thing that sustains me.

When the time comes to cross from this life to the next - even in death - God’s goodness is real. We cannot earn His blessing. He blesses because that’s who He is. Goodness and mercy are His unwavering attributes. And His nature is the only thing that we can rely on to faithfully carry us in life and in death.

And if death comes sooner than we might anticipate, rather than question God’s goodness, why not just offer a simple prayer of thanks?

For Ben Sauer’s life, thank you, God.

For Ben Sauer’s new life in heaven, thank you, God.

For working undeserved miracles every day, thank you, God.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Perspective from 40,000 Feet

Was that coffee and breakfast pastry really worth $16.42?

Yes. Yes it was.

With a 5:29 a.m. flight, I needed it. Nevermind the captive-audience airport prices. I’m caffeinated and my blood-sugar is normalized. It was worth every penny.

The roaring hum of the jet engine outside my window creates a soothing ambiance for reflection. The in-flight Wi-Fi doesn’t seem to have enough bandwidth for the planeful of passengers using it, so I’m closing the reports and turning to my creative outlet – writing.

It’s funny how a little altitude can give you such perspective. It’s refreshing to get a birds-eye view of things as you fly over. Cities, rivers, mountains – even the Grand Canyon – seem so small from this height.

Isn’t that just like our lives? Our mountains can seem so big when we’re on the ground – in the midst of our troubles – looking up at the enormous tasks that lie ahead. But when we’re above the clouds, over the mist and the fog, a clear perspective can change everything.

We’ve all been there. We’ve all faced mountains that seem insurmountable. The invoice from the collections agency. The call from the principal’s office. The bad news from the doctor. Troubles that would almost crush us from the pressure.

I would submit that this concept of retreating to the skies should play a major role in our daily living. Our problems take on new meaning when we look at them from 40,000 feet.

Take yourself out of the situation for a moment. Put yourself in another person’s shoes. Think about the big picture. What does it look like from a high level? Where are you really headed?

It’s so easy to get bogged down in the details – or even just the day-to-day monotony. Get up. Get the kids ready for school. Get to work. Perform. Excel. Achieve. Get the kids from school. Get the kids to soccer. Be everything. To everyone. Repeat.

What does it mean in the long run?

You must understand that the little choices you make in your relationships and your daily interactions make a huge impact in the grand scheme of things. You’re touching people’s lives. Every moment. And that’s of eternal significance. Don’t waste it.

Success is determined by your character and relationships. Be faithful in the little things.

Taking time to refocus on your priorities gives a renewed sense of direction and purpose. Step aside for a moment. Pray. Realize that the circumstances in which you find yourself today will not always be the same.

You’ll get through this. 

When all else fails, look up. Because it’s in those moments that you’ll find the strength you need to look forward.