It’s 100 degrees by lunch time every day and firework stands pop up on every available corner, but I can’t help thinking about Christmas. The 4th of July always makes me think about Christmas. Kids from all over town pedal bikes across sweltering pavement to stare at clapboard walls pasted over with firework posters advertising things that ought to be shouted, like “The Avalanche” and “Black Night Explosions” and “Fiery Clouds.” The sweaty kids agonize over what to buy, hand over their sweaty, crumpled dollar bills for Black Cats and firecrackers, then ride off with backpacks full of explosives.

My mom used to be the one selling those explosives; she was the one in a lawn chair with a book to read when things got slow, the one organizing shelves of combustible merchandise, the one running the firework stand for a week every summer. My parents did not lead a simple life. My dad pastored a small Baptist church (very small, more like a large dysfunctional family than a congregation) and owned a remodeling business, while involving himself in countless other endeavors. An entrepreneur to the fullest measure, he is a man of dreams and hypotheticals, a man of longing and heartache. The way I remember my dad in my childhood is the way I feel when I see old pictures of him: Enthralled, distant, equal parts afraid and adoring. There’s my dad at graduate school in 1978, head full of blonde hair and face alight with a slightly smug gap-toothed grin as he cradles his first baby. There’s my dad in 1989, father now to seven children, blonde hair receding rapidly off his head, a half-demolished house in the background, adventure in his eyes. It is completely shocking that my dad even has 7 kids. As a grandfather now, he is the dad I think he would’ve been if life hadn’t squeezed around him like a vice for all those decades of raising us and a church and a company, all at once. He was not an available person. But if you’ll believe it, I don’t resent him. Because while I love my father, and crave his approval even now, it is my mother who holds my childhood in her hands.


My mom likes to say that she tricked my dad and asked for 14 kids so they could “meet in the middle” and have 7. The truth is, many of us were surprise arrivals. Conservative Baptist members might dress up for church, but apparently they have no qualms loosening up in the bedroom. Almost every family we knew had at least 4 children – I don’t have any memories without a pack of kids around me, cousins and friends alike. And at the head of the pack stood my mother, dark hair loose around her face, shoulder pads giving authority to her knit shirts and dress jackets, full of a desperate desire to give her kids the love and safety she didn’t feel in her own childhood.

With her husband working for God (no money) and a fledging remodeling business (fluctuating money), my mom walked the fine line of managing a house full of kids and their constant needs (soccer fees! new shoes! medical bills! dental appointments! groceries! clothes! mission trips! tutoring!) and fighting back her longing to give us everything we wanted. While no child should get everything they want, the truth is, it hurts when you know you can’t do it anyways. As a mother now, I ache when I think of how my mom daydreamed with us about what she would do if money wasn’t a factor. She didn’t tell us about trips she wanted to take or things she wanted for herself; she dreamt of redecorating our bedrooms. Of buying brand new wardrobes for us instead of piecing them together from sales at Shopko and hand-me-downs. Of sending us to every summer camp we wanted to attend. As a little girl I couldn’t understand the yearning behind those conversations, how primal a mother’s desire is to be generous and good to her babies. That bone-deep drive is why our mother stood at a temporary firework shanty in the parking lot between The Wave (a now defunct burger join in west Boise- sorely missed) and the 7-11 gas station (also gone) and hocked sparklers, Family Value Variety Packs, and tiny boxes of snappers for one week every summer. She stood in that parking lot, working for a friend who owned several firework stands, so that 6 months later she could create a Christmas miracle in our living room.

I never knew.

I never ran down the stairs on December 25th, glanced at our piles of gifts, and thanked my mom for selling fireworks and saving the money to buy us beautiful dolls and coveted boom boxes. I didn’t know where our gifts came from, how my parents suddenly had extra cash to fulfill the wishes of seven kids and make dreams come true. I just knew that Christmas morning was my mom’s dream come true. I knew she beamed as we opened each present. I knew she curated each of our gifts to create a perfect, individualized experience of joy. My mother was the goodness of my life, and Christmas morning was her only chance to lavish that goodness on us in tangible, material ways.


The rest of the year she and my dad took care of us, loved us, provided for every need and some of our wants; but Christmas existed on a different plane. On that holy day my mom burst with love and glowed like her fireworks, and that light got into us. Her sacrifice lit something inside each of sons and daughters, and it made us generous. Kind. It made us love our own children in a way I don’t think we could have managed without a mom who led the way, in the scorching heat of a Boise July, in a plywood shack full of roman candles and slow burning fountains of sparks, with a paperback mystery and a cold soda and a resolve that only a mother can hold.

We celebrate the 4th of July to celebrate our freedom, and we eat burgers and light  fireworks in gratitude for the sacrifices that make our democracy possible. But when I watch that twilight sky erupt with color and the smell of sulfur falls around me in a neighborhood full of hollering kids, I think of my mom and her sacrifices. And as a mother of three babies, humbled and tired in ways unimaginable- I am more thankful than ever.

5 things.

I titled the very first post on Horney Mom Tells All “5 Things,” and it documented the 5 things I’d learned in the month since my first child was born.

One month. I’d been a mom for 30 days and already had 5 things to share, which endears me to my past self in a strange, warm way. The “5 things” are a study in punch drunk love, and reading them stirred up that infatuation of new motherhood that completely overtook me when Clara arrived.


But it made me think- If I met that new mom at the park, the one with a 4-week-old Clara in her arms and eyes full of stars as she tiptoed into motherhood, what would I say? Could I hold my tongue, avoid shaking her by the shoulders with a wake-up call about future pain and mistakes? I hope so. I hope I would hug her, smell that newborn baby with every fiber of my being, and tell her these 5 things from 5 years later.

  1. Babies normally survive colds. 

It’s difficult to believe this when your 5 pound infant sneezes for the first time, or when your 5 month old runs a fever, or your 8 month old keeps coughing, but those are not emergencies. Do not go to the emergency room. Use the nose-sucker from the hospital, give her lots of breast milk, buy stock in Children’s Motrin, and honestly, honestly, everything is going to be ok. You’ll never sleep again, for so many reasons, but everyone will survive.

2. You will finish college. It will be hard, and you will cry a lot, but you will do it. 

Don’t get so mad at all the other people who aren’t doing school with a newborn and a husband who’s never home to help. Those kids are selfish idiots, you’re not wrong, but so were you, babe. Remember your freshman year? Cut them some slack. Also, use your time away from home to work harder than you’ve ever worked on anything. Live in that library. Write with abandon. If your sisters tell you the baby is fine and you can take your time to study, take your time to study, dummy. The baby doesn’t miss you. Someday you’re going to hold all your kids on your lap and tell them that college isn’t for everyone, but in this family we finish what we start. You didn’t walk to school uphill in both directions in a snowstorm, but you will graduate from college with a 15 month old baby and 37 weeks pregnant. Someday that will mean something to them. It will pulse with their blood and become part of their story, just like your mom’s survival is so much a part of yours.

3. It’s ok to stay home on weekends.

You will never, ever get this time back. Ever. You don’t have to go out to dinner with friends, you don’t have to get a baby-sitter, you don’t have to apologize for soaking up every single second with your little girl. By next year you will have another baby, college will be over, Sam will work in town, and you will actually crave time to yourself. For now, when you’re not at work or school: Don’t leave her side. Any friendship worth it’s weight will make space for this time in your life, especially if you get better at answering your freaking phone calls and texts. Your friends will survive without you, but your baby will just grow up. You will register her for kindergarten and she will ask you every single day when school will finally start, and it will break you to pieces. Hold your tiny baby. Kiss her soft hands. Sing over her with the sacred, tired tones of motherhood.

4. Write everything. 

That baby book you bought will remain mostly empty, so you need to write everything down. Stories, snippets, jokes, milestones, memories, struggles, successes, good days and really bad ones; write them. For the sake of your children, who will inherit your words as a tilted family history. And for the sake of yourself, write everything else too. Write what interests you, what makes you mad, all of the thoughts you can’t escape- write them down. Just like babies grow up and you’ll never get this time back, unwritten words disappear and you will never remember what you meant to say. Also- it is imperative that your kids see you doing what you’re meant to do, because if they understand your personhood and passions, they will hear your voice more clearly than if you remain a one-dimensional figure. Stay up late. Get up early. Write.

5. Be kind. 

To yourself. To the kids. To Sam. You will all fail. You will hurt each other. Your beautiful baby will disappoint you to the point of actual, physical heartache. You will yell at your beautiful children in a voice that surprises everyone, even you. Sam will be impatient and you will be impatient with his impatience. There will be one million reasons to get frustrated, upset, and angry, and your reactions will not be ideal. But practicing kindness will change everything. Being mean won’t make water stay in cups or kids listen better. It won’t make husbands more thankful. Being mean in your thought life won’t make you run every morning or use Instagram less. Being mean just makes you a mean person. So be kind. Practice every day, and pray for a kindness that comes from Jesus transforming your heart, because kindness will transform your family. You are the mother. And they will all follow you.



Of course, what is the most frightening part of saying anything, writing anything down? How foolish I may look in the future. The fact that 5 more years are currently passing. And then ten. And then twenty. What would I tell myself now, from the future? What am I missing, now, that I will regret?

“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.”
-Joan Didion


We labor for inches, we labor for glory.

The story of creation ends with a woman. God spins out light. Night and day separate. Mountains topple the horizon. Oceans deepen, roll with the movements of the newborn moon. Rain forest canopies awaken and stretch to the sky. Beetles scuttle across untouched desert canyons. Then comes Man, fresh and strong. He rules over the animals, most evolved of all, but still: not quite enough. Something is missing. Dust blows upward and out walks Woman. The pinnacle of all things made, all things lovely, all things good. And from Her will continue all life, forever and always after, life from that goodness, life from that dark unknown womb, the center of the human race. But in the fall from perfection came the mandate for pain; the demand for life to be birthed in harrowing battle. Forever and always after would Woman fight this battle for new life, bear the pain of the future, carry within her the life and continuity of every race and people on earth. Woman labors for her children, labors for her community, labors for the extraordinary and for justice. Woman fights the battles with grace and love, proof and proof again that God saved the best for last. 


10 reasons toddlers are terrorists.
Clara, 19 months

Finally, as of this week, our daughter Clara is potty trained. I say finally because we tried earlier, a few months ago, and it did not go well. In fact, this whole spring has been a trying time with our almost 2 years old daughter. She’s a geyser of emotions, with both a steady outpouring of opinions as well as the occasional and shocking burst of FEELINGS. All the feelings all the time, you know what I mean? Some days have felt dark, dark, dark. I just could not get ahead of her demands, could not find my bearings in her sea of emotional waves. Her screaming, sobbing fights during that first round of toilet training were an apt picture of all the outbursts that peppered our days together. She fought everything so hard, with a ferocity that belied her slight frame. She looks like a baby but emotes like a teenager, and the balance between allowing her space and being consistent in discipline is a delicate one. Especially these last few months. Especially in this move towards toddler hood for my first born.

Clara was born in late August, my hospital room lit with afternoon sun and the dry heat of a high desert summer. She was born as the afternoon shone bright outside, her birth as blinding as the midday sun.

When my Clara was born, I needed noise. Her birth day was loud and violent and exciting. I threw pillows, I bit a couple of people; it was a hectic clamor of anticipation.

The pain of her birth lodged itself directly in my lower back, a piercing that did not stop. Ever. Since it was my first baby I didn’t know any different, but now that I’ve had a “normal” birth with my second born, I can see that back labor is another beast altogether. It doesn’t tune up and down, coming and going like the radio waves of contractions. It just stays and stays and stays and stays.

I needed a full room to birth Clara. My three sisters, my husband, three of my dear friends, and the most amazing nurse gathered around and held me up through those agonizing hours, literally and figuratively. At one point my sister Jamilyn was rolling an ice-cold diet coke up and down my back, while my cousin Jenna let me bite her arm as I writhed around, tilted over hospital bed in desperate cries of prayer.


When it came time to push, I closed my eyes, gripped the bed, and bearing down three times, my body released Clara Noelle into the world. She shrieked, her big eyes dark and furious. Everyone cried with joy, clapping even. The umbilical cord had not yet been cut when I turned to Sam and said, “We gotta do this again.” The next days, weeks, and months were the best of my entire life. “Clara” means clear, bright, famous; and she has been all of those to me. She is a sharp light, her eyes a blue both cold and fierce. She is the sort of kid who gets noticed wherever she goes. She is difficult. She is lovely. She is small and incredibly loud. And that pushing, that insistent grip on my heart and body; it did not stop with her birth.

This is perhaps the part of parenthood that most surprised me. I think, from the outside, I assumed that children sort of roll through phases, transitioning seamlessly from baby to toddler to little kid and then one day they graduate high school and you repaint their bedroom after they move out. This has been anything but true for me and Clara. Some days it feels like I fight for every moment, for manners and obedience and creativity and independence and safety all at once, never one along with the other. The labor process that began on that summer afternoon was just that: a beginning. The genesis of a  process that may have ended in my uterus but has expanded on and on into my fingers and my heart and my home.

The longer I’m in this world of motherhood the more I understand that while some miles come quite easily, there are some inches that will nearly kill us.  And it’s those inches that get me. It’s those days and months when my labor with my children seems too exhausting to bear, those are the ones that leave me wrung out. Wondering why I try at all.

Woman cannot escape her call to labor forth life. Whether she birthed a child or has taken in another woman’s children, or she labors for her valued and worthwhile work, or she engages in the act of art or of business or of friendship: She is the seat of humanity, the thread of peace that holds our world together. I truly believe that. I truly believe in the innate power that lies in my daughter, in my mother, in my sisters, in myself; the power to struggle for what is good and to regard the wonders which our anguish produce.

Woman. We continue to labor long after our children gasp their first breath. We continue to suffer the pains, to ride the waves, to beg for mercy, to fear the unknown, to long for the other side and then wonder why we worried in the first place. We wear the scars of growing hard and fast, the scars of emergency decisions, the scars of a stretched and torn heart, made to expand but not without pain. We labor our children through these times of change, from diapers to toilets, from reading groups to locker rooms, from crushes to broken hearts, through scathing friendships and rumors and our precious childrens’ own breathtaking, horrifying mistakes. We struggle to breathe evenly, we hunker down inside ourselves when the pain overwhelms, we cry out when it’s just too much and the end will never come. And even if we choose not to feel it, to administer some form of delusional epidural, we will feel it all later.

We cannot escape the agony of parenthood.
We cannot escape the habitual act of guiding our children from one world to another.
We cannot escape the strain,

or the glory.

The glory.
The glory that is ours to witness.

For when the birth is over, when the smoke clears and the sweat is wiped off foreheads; there is new life. Glorious, precious, gasping new life. And as ridiculous as you might think I sound, that is how potty training felt this week. That is how my entire spring felt. I labored for Clara. I fought with her and beside her. I will always labor for her; because I am her mother. I will push and breathe deeply and let go when it is time to let go because I am mother.

I stand on the other side of this enduring battle of our long spring months with tears in my eyes because I see the pride in hers. I see the light of accomplishment on her face, sense the steps of maturation that gave her such growing pains. I beam with a love born on a hospital bed and expanded with each beat of my wrecked and humbled heart.

I am Woman. And when these moments of glory arise, when they cut like a welcome spring through a parched land after rainfall; when they appear like that moment when you stare long and hard enough at the night heavens and the stars suddenly multiply into millions; when that glory comes, I will pause. I will stop and sit and say thank you to the heavens for delivering yet another jolt of surprising, iridescent, starry skied glory after a night full of blinding, wondrous labor.


*Originally published July 2014

The Explosion.

4 years ago, I blew up my bathroom. Here’s the story in case you missed it back then.
OK so last night I posted a picture of myself on Instagram, with my car full of babies in the background, and laid out the woeful story about how my week (HOW IS IT ONLY TUESDAY) has been, and the overwhelming response was,

“Yeah, but your hair looks great.”

While this affirmation helped my self-esteem, seeing as I spent the better part of an hour on Sunday evening pulling out gray hairs (how long does this method work before hair dye comes into play? When should that bridge be crossed?) and bemoaning my extreme post-natal hair loss (seriously, it does not stop. I’m sure an entire underworld, complete with a mayor and a bustling city square, has taken up residence in the nest in my shower drain). So my hair situation has been depressing at best, what with the balding and the graying.

And especially because I haven’t had any hair products or hair tools since July 25.
July 25, 2014.
The Day I Blew Up My Bathroom.

This is the story of the Explosion of 2014, and The Terrible Pictures That Followed.  Would you like to know how to take the worst family pictures of all time and eternity? Gather in, I’ll tell you. Listen closely so you know what steps to take.

1. Have your baby get really sick the night before your photo shoot. 
I’m talking waking up screaming at 1:00 am covered in vomit so thick that he can’t open his eyelids, crying for hours on end, a downright miserable kind of sick. This way, he will be pale and limp in the pictures the next day, and you will also be pale and shriveled due to only sleeping for two hours the night before. If you’re looking for pallid, squinting into the blessed light of day pictures, this is a perfect beginning.

2. Plan a 15 hour road trip following your photo shoot. 
We planned ours for a family reunion in Colorado. This created plenty of frenzied packing, stressing, and a general sense of urgency around the day that translated really well into the photos.

3. Have out of town family stay at your house the night before the shoot. 
This way not only will your sick baby leave you tired, cranky, and in a hurry to make that early morning golden hour of light, but you will also feel an unnecessary duty to make coffee and breakfast for your brother and sister in law and their sweet baby. They won’t be expecting it, they’re much better people than that, but you might as well kill yourself to make it happen. It will make sense later, I promise.
Just kidding, it will never make sense and your family pictures will be terrible.

4. Hire a photographer site unseen because you’ve been pregnant and/or nursing for almost three years and after one sip of champagne you’re tipsy and ready to BID THE CRAP out of that silent charity auction. 
It will be three months before we actually manage to take these pictures, but sure, $100 for a photo shoot and an 11×14 print? Here’s my bid number, gents. Just let me know where to pick up my prize. Also, is there a private room where I could use the hand-held breast pump in my purse? Thankssomuch.

5.  Wake up before the rest of the family on your photoshoot day and get ready fast.
Don’t worry, you can do a few touch ups before you leave.

6. Try to get yourself, your husband, a 6 month old and 2 year old out the door dressed in their best and beaming with smiling faces. By 8:20 a.m.
Go ahead.

7. Leave your make-up on the bathroom counter and your flat iron plugged in.
You’ll need a few touch ups right before you head out to the photo shoot that you barely remember paying for.

8. Is everyone almost ready? Go drink some coffee. 
You deserve it. You need it. Put your tired feet up for a quick minute and talk to your sister-in-law about how fun the family reunion is going to be.

9. Startle at the sound of a bomb going off. Wonder what that alarming noise just was. 
A shelf that ripped from a wall? A gun shot? A broken water pipe? Everyone needs to slowly lower their coffee mugs and go find the source of the cracking thunder that came from somewhere inside your house. 

10. Search the house. Then open your bathroom door. Blink at the carnage. 
At first the shrapnel on the floor won’t make sense. Neither will the mist hanging in the hair, choking all of you. It’s ok. You’ll start putting the (literal) pieces together.

That’s part of the flat iron.
And there’s the blow-dryer, cracked in half.
And here’s another piece of the flat iron.
And what’s this?
A slick and lethal piece of metal, blown across the bathroom, etched in gold with the words “Root Booster”.

A tall, thin aerosol can, $50 worth of root boosting magic from my overpriced and snobby salon, BLOWN TO BITS BY THE HEAT FROM MY STRAIGHTENER.

My straightener is strewn into every corner, springs, titanium and cord spread all around my bathroom.
My toiletries bag, packed for our trip to Colorado, packed with at least 5 pounds of shampoo, conditioner, make-up and hygiene products-
has blown over the top of my shower.
Over. The. Top. Of a 6 foot shower door.

Such was the force of this explosion. Weeks later, I would find a tampon on the window sill above my shower. Find scraps of metal plastered to the wall in a film of hair product. Find tiny pieces of make-up brushes and hair spray bottles on the shelf above the towel rack.

So not only was the baby sick and his parents exhausted, not only did our photographer spend two hours calling our son “Sawyer” because we didn’t catch it the first few times and eventually were too embarrassed to correct her, not only did she tell us to let Clara “be Clara” which basically just meant disobey our every command because she knew another grown up was letting her get away with murder, not only did this result in Clara skipping away from us and quite deservedly falling into an ankle deep off-shoot of the Boise river and ruining her dress, NOT ONLY was all of this happening on a Saturday morning right before we drove in a rented car for 15 hours to Montrose, Colorado;

but I was also dealing with a minor case of PTSD.
“That could have killed one our kids,” I sobbed to Sam as we attempted to clean up the mess before we left the house that morning.
“It could have blinded me, or killed one of us, or sliced our necks open!” I could not stop crying, could not stop imagining all the ways my idiotic mistake could have ruined my life. Sam tried to console me (after starting to chastise me before realizing I was doing a fine job of it on my own) and told me to wipe my eyes and get in the car, because we had pictures to take.
Pictures I was forcing him to take, he reminded me.

I haven’t allowed myself to buy any expensive hair product, or replace any of my hair tools since that day, in deep and sincere penance for my stupidity. I used a 4-inch long hotel-sized hair dryer from my guest bathroom. If I needed any heat styling, I stopped by my friends’ or sisters’ houses before I went out, sneaking into their bathrooms to use their straighteners or curlers and hair spray.

I’ve been having a bad hair day since July 25.

Until yesterday. When I finally gave in and bought another flat iron.
Thus, the amazement via internet of what I could actually look like. Thus the approval of the world at large.

And in case you’re wondering, I don’t have any of those family pictures to show you. I can’t blame all of it on the photographer, because most of the blame lies with Sammy being sick and Clara being naughty and Sam being annoyed and me being strung out on fear,
but the pictures were not worth purchasing.
Not even the free one.

So thanks, internet and instagram friends, for the kind words about my hair. Thank you for reminding an irresponsible, graying old lady that with a little bit of heat and product and trapping two kids in a pack n’ play in order to shower and style this head of falling out hair,

I still got it.


Cinco De Sammy

Greetings from my car, parked in my garage, where I type with a stubborn 2 year old asleep in her seat behind me. After listening to Audrey yell from her crib for an hour during nap time, I strapped her in the car, put on my favorite album of the moment (The Burning Edge of Dawn by Andrew Peterson) and drove until she gave it up and fell asleep (approximately 47 seconds into the ride.) We have a big party tonight with all of our friends and I NEED her to survive a late bedtime, so I got myself a coffee, rolled down the windows, and took the two of us on a mini-vacation of a Saturday drive around our neighborhood, and then right back home. She’s snoozing in her carseat while I write behind the steering wheel, and if anyone’s wondering how moms get work done, here’s your answer.
In our cars. In the garage.

Today is Cinco De Mayo which obviously doesn’t matter one bit except for tacos and cold Pacificos (NEITHER OF WHICH I CAN HAVE BECAUSE WHOLE30 HATES FUN, but I’m on day 22, can you believe it?! I’ll write about the whole process soon.) For the Horney family, though, Cinco De Mayo means I get to dress up my son in a (low-key racist) costume and deliver his picture to the internet, which brings me a surprising amount of joy.

Then again, I’m writing this from my garage, so I guess it makes sense that the little things still bring me joy in a way that people with offices and baby-sitters (and paychecks) will never understand.


Samuel Iradell Horney V, our little Cinco, continues to amaze and confound me. He is brave beyond belief when it comes to dangerous tricks on bikes, scooters, and great heights, but he’s too scared to go downstairs by himself in the morning. According to me, he “never listens,” but according to what he spouts back and discusses with me, he listens with frightening accuracy. He is still one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever seen, and I still stare at his face with a clutch in my heart, just like I did when they first laid him on my chest and he looked up at me with newborn wonder. Even as he settles further into himself and becomes who he was always meant to be, there is a secret part of him that I can’t quite reach, a deep, still pool of thought and perspective that flashes in his brown eyes when he’s taking it all in. I ache for the baby I held in my arms, but I delight in the boy who folds himself into my side for a moment and then runs away, all at once completely mine and never mine at all.

Happy Cinco De Horney, friends. Here’s to the boy I never knew I needed, and the son who lights up our life. May your day be as fun as my Sammy.





We Are the Architects.

Don’t laugh, but sometimes people ask me for advice. Only desperate times, I assume, would lead someone my direction for help, but it happens more and more as I get older and as I’m more vocal about my life and struggles, online and in person. It started happening so frequently, in fact, that I scheduled an appointment with a counselor to ask for advice. About giving advice. As in:
How do you counsel someone? Like, how do you know how and when to give counsel? How do you set your opinions aside and speak truth and be a leader but also a servant and do it all with grace and humility? Especially when you have no idea what you’re doing and you fully realize how ill-equipped you are to be advising anyone?

(If I ever try to schedule an appointment with you for anything at all, don’t take it. I probably have a list of impossible questions and I will definitely cry.)

I also asked my brother Robert all of these questions, because he is a pastor and also one of my best friends and I go to him for all of my own advice needs. He said something interesting, a thought that echoed what my counselor said:

People don’t need your advice.

Even when they ask for advice, they’re not really asking for advice.

They need your imagination.

People do not need a prescription for their problems:  They need a new story to tell. And when the story is stuck, we help each other build a way out. 

From the moment we first breathe our mother’s scent, as we learn what love will mean in our lives, for good or for bad; through childhood; as adults; in memory keeping and future dreaming- more than anything else, we are story-tellers. Whether you know it or not, you are constructing a narrative around every relationship, situation, and dilemma you face. It’s how we rationalize bad behavior (and my, how early we learn to spin the facts), it’s how we justify the secrets we keep, it’s how we choose the face we present to the world, it’s in the information we guard or share too freely- our story is all we have to tell, so we learn to adjust the story according to our own comfort and other people’s reaction. We learn to tell it not like it is, but rather, how we’d like it to be perceived. How it makes the most sense to us.

And then when we’re lost, or blinded by our limitations, or afraid to make the wrong move, we ask for advice. We are standing at a crossroads and although we think we’re asking for help making a decision, what we actually need is help understanding our story. We need a new map. We need an architect with a plan, not a wizard with a magic solution.

The difference between giving advice and being an architect lies in the art of curiosity. As Brene Brown puts it, “Choosing to be curious is choosing to be vulnerable because it requires us to surrender to uncertainty.” What makes me so uncomfortable about giving advice is the absoluteness of it: They ask, you answer, and there’s no room for imagining all the possibilities. There’s no room for growth. When I ask my brother for advice he doesn’t give a five-point answer to success- he almost always just asks me his own questions. The maturity of the architect is to say, “I don’t know if I know the answer. But I’d love to puzzle it out with you.” There is a vulnerability that comes with allowing yourself to not be right or definitive, but rather, sitting with someone in their pain or uncertainty, refusing the inclination to shoo it away with cliches or by spouting off your own experiences. An architect does not serve up platitudes or prideful examples of their wisdom; they listen, they ask questions, and they imagine what could come next for the story at hand.

An architect also understands this fundamental truth: We cannot force anyone to do anything. We can cajole, guilt, manipulate, influence, guide, direct- but we cannot write the script for each other. This is the problem with free will, if you believe in such a thing. As a parent, this shocked me most of all about raising young children- there are so many things I cannot force them to do.

-I can’t make them eat.

-I can’t make them sleep.

-I can’t make them learn.

-I can’t make them into different people.

This might sound crazy to you, and maybe I was crazy to think any of that was possible, but it’s a surprising reality check the first time your baby will. Not. Sleep. Short of drugging them, sleep is their choice. So is eating. So is learning. And in the end, while I get the great pleasure of teaching them about the world and being human, they decide who they will be.

It’s horrible.

Well, not horrible. It’s just terrifying. What little control we pretend to have disappears with each step they take towards independence. Which is the whole point, right? I want them to be independent, brave, beautiful people. I can’t make them do any of these things, but I can be their architect. I build a way for them to eat good food, by making good food and eating it with them. I design a way for them get enough sleep by taking them outside every day to play, and putting them to bed early enough each night. I offer a scaffold up to learning by reading aloud to them, exploring with them, by telling them what I’m learning and praying it informs the story they’re telling themselves about education. I can’t write their script, but I can be intentional about mine.

We cannot make each other different people through parenting, advice-giving, guilt-heaping or manipulating. It’s impossible and it’s not our job. We are the architects. As friends, as parents, as spouses and human beings, we stay curious about each other. We explore together. And when someone asks for advice, we don’t lecture or press; we ask our own questions. We invent and dream. We draw blueprints, maps, stories or models, and then we watch each other build and grow.

When I look in the proverbial mirror, it seems outrageous that anyone would want my opinion or advice. The long trail of failures and lost initiatives behind me are a dramatic indicator of my lack of credentials. But when I consider my story, and the power of a vulnerable interaction with a person who trusts me, I reconsider my strengths. Can I listen? Can I humbly ask questions? Can I invest time and energy in someone without demanding a certain loyalty to my way of thinking?

Can I be an architect instead of a sage? I pray it becomes true of me. Along with wisdom and humility, I pray for imagination and curiosity, a heart bent towards better stories and deeper connections instead of the pride of being right.




Someday You’ll Miss That Robe

When I wrote this letter to myself three years ago, I had two objectives every day.

  1. Keep my 1 year old and 3 year old alive and well.
  2. Keep a small piece of myself alive in the shuffle.

I graduated from college when I was 36 weeks pregnant with my second child, and didn’t go back to work after he was born. After working various jobs for 13 years, and then finishing my degree in the chaos of having my first two kids, the dormancy of staying home bewildered me. I felt like I’d jumped through a series of flaming hoops and finished a complex obstacle course of my own design, only to land on the other side of the wall to absolute silence. No applause. No obvious successes. No promises of greatness. Just motherhood, a new obstacle course; one I didn’t design, fully understand, or value.


But I learned. Mothering takes me to the end of myself every single day. But when I manage to surrender to the joy of the process rather than simply bemoaning the pain of the growth, I edge closer to the art of keeping the kids alive and keeping myself intact, too.

IMG_0137I wrote this letter 3 years ago to remember the exhaustion of nights with babies, but also to protect the memory of our deeply interlocked existence in those days, a connection I know will never exist again. It’s already gone. Of course there are new connecting points now, new conversations and jokes, a new relationship with them as a 4 and 5 year old. That relationship allows the shadow of our old life together to fade into our minds like the sweet lullabies we used to sing but, sadly, can no longer recall. Sometimes I ache for those days, and sometimes I barely think about them. But they existed. And they were important. And I’m so glad I wrote this letter to capture  a moment in time that shaped me, and them, through that simple but exhausting obstacle course of early parenthood.


Dear Jessie,

Someday you will miss that robe at the end of your bed.

Someday you will miss that pink robe draped over your bed covers. The one worn thin by round baby cheeks pressed against you in sleep. The one with the left shoulder constantly caked with spit up or animal cracker or drool, that left shoulder where so many nights and early mornings you invited a sleepy head to rest. You wear that robe like a cape some nights, tossing it on as you rush to save a crying baby. You are not even completely awake, but you know the tone of their cries, you know the sound of their breaths, you know something is wrong even through the walls of your house. You are not a hero, but to them? In those long and dark midnight hours of pushing through new teeth, painful winter coughs, or that restless newborn confusion: you are everything they ever wanted. You are mommy. In her pink robe. Warm and quiet and soft, swaying in the ancient dance of motherhood that has rocked civilizations to sleep since Eve held her boys to her breast. You are home, you and that robe.

Someday, I promise, you will miss feeling tiny hands climb over you and into your bed. You will be more rested, I think, when these days pass, but your bed might feel bigger than necessary without those warm, wiggling bodies twisting between their tired parents. You will miss her curls, his chubby feet, their dreaming fingers fluttering in deep slumber.

I know you’re tired. I know you are so, so tired. It’s ok. These are hard nights. It’s hard to be woken up, it’s hard to always be a parent, even in the middle of the night, even when you are exhausted. It’s hard to be kind in the morning after you slept on the couch with a sick baby, or when two-year old molars were coming in all night, or when no one has slept well for a week. It’s hard to wake up and make breakfast and say “Good morning, babies,” and be patient when people are fussing on a really good day, much less on a really tired day. But you’re doing good. Good job for apologizing when you snapped at them for whining. Good job for knowing you needed to take the kids to see their cousins this morning when you couldn’t handle saying “NO” one more time by 9 am. That’s good. You’re not a hero, remember. You wear a pink cape that rests on the edge of your bed and you pray all day long for more of whatever it is that makes God love you and your fussing so much, and that’s great. That’s it, that’s all you need. Because He knows. He sees you. He will bear with you, and teach you to bear with them, and He will show them love through you, at all hours of the day. That’s good.

And remember, ok, remember this when the days seem impossible, or you are almost afraid of how happy you are to be their mom, or you just can’t remember how to be a mom at all: remember that life is meant to be interrupted. Your broken sleep is merely a reflection of this breaking inside you, as your old way of life is interrupted and a new, thick thread weaves it way through your story. You won’t be the same anymore. You aren’t meant to be, after these babies come. This thread is pulling, tugging, changing your tapestry in ways you cannot imagine. It’s gonna hurt sometimes. It’ll feel too tight. It’ll feel wrong, this piercing, tugging thread of motherhood. But it’s just right. These minutes filled with the needs of others, filled with the clatter of disruption and disorder; they are the thread that is hemming in your story and creating the rest of you. 

Because these precious, beloved children of yours? They won’t be here forever. In fact, they’ll leave soon. Someday they will sneak past your bedroom door instead of through it. Someday you will throw on that robe to answer midnight phone calls instead of cries, to whisper advice instead of lullabies. You will still be you, changed by their very heartbeats, and they will still be them, hearts beating outside of your grasp and in a world all their own. Don’t lose yourself in these tired nights. Don’t forget the astonishing joy of being their everything, nor the price you pay to raise someone well, nor the woman beneath the robe who exists beyond the nursery door, in a world all her own. Remember that the thread of motherhood is a part of your story; but not the very end. Remember that these babies and their needs are a gift, and will not last forever. Remember that the love in their eyes is saved for no one else.

Someday you will miss that pink robe on the edge of your bed. You won’t miss being woken up all night, or feeling hung over with exhaustion, or planning your sex life around a nap schedule. You won’t miss being thrown up on or changing wet pants or the onslaught of questions and requests that begins every morning at sunrise. But you will miss this simple kind of tired. The one that means you are doing your job well. The one that goes away with sleep. There will be new kinds of tired, you know? As these babies grow up, and hurt themselves or others, you will not be able to sleep away the pain you share with them. And when those days come; when you feel lost and hurt and wonder how on earth you can ever help them find their way again; remember that a long time ago, you held them tight and loved them well. You kept a robe waiting at the end of your bed so you could hurry to meet their needs, and that kind of love will dig into them. It will grow with them. It will teach them to love others and to love themselves.

These midnight hours matter. These tired days matter.

You and your babies are going to be ok.
Tomorrow morning,
and all the mornings after.


*originally published January 2015