O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

Jeff and the boys are all taking a little nap. I am laying on my bed listening to the church bells play, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and reflecting on this past year. 

It has been a difficult year. A lot of pain and loss. A lot of tears, sadness and even some anger. A lot of questioning of God’s plans for us. But as I lay here I am reminded of how much good this past year has brought us as well. I am thankful to look back and see that no matter how much hurt, pain and confusion there is in our lives sometimes, that we have a God who is always there to listen and give us endless amounts of grace. 

It is easy to allow our minds to be clouded by the hard times. I am learning how the quiet times I allow myself often bring peace and clarity. And along with peace and clarity often comes thankfulness. 

If you can’t say anything nice, talk about something else.

“[…] said we shouldn’t talk to people who are voting for Donald Trump.”

I was taken aback a bit to hear that sentence come out of Carolina’s mouth. She’s 8 and not prone to political statements of any kind, even just repeating those she hears from adults. But – much to my delight – she’s starting to take a slight interest in politics after her Papa’s successful primary re-election campaign, so part of me was a little tickled at the statement, even though I couldn’t have disagreed with her more.

“We shouldn’t talk to people who…”

Finish that sentence. I can think of lots of ways:

…who are rude.

…who are disrespectful.

…who are invading our personal space and making us feel uncomfortable.

None of those things have to do with beliefs. Don’t talk to people who you don’t agree with? Those are exactly the people we should be talking to. Look, I know this election season is acrimonious and angry and angsty. I know this presidential campaign is dividing friends and families. But we have got to keep talking.

I don’t mean arguing. I don’t mean trying to persuade people, through logical arguments or news articles from suspect news sources, to change their beliefs. I truly mean talking.

“Hi.”

“How are you?”

“Are you going to finish your French fries?”

As human beings we need connectivity. We need relationships. We need kindness. We’re seeing precious little of that during this election. I see too many people bragging about the people they’ve deleted on social media, or posting demands to “Delete me now if you believe…” Just yesterday I saw someone talk about a friend they lost over this election and I can’t think of many sillier things over which to lose a friend.

One of my least favorite things about the current political discourse in the United States is the dehumanization of the other. “Liberalism is a form of mental illness.” I actually heard a human being say this the other day. I’ve listened to a local talk radio host declare the members of local government have no morals.

No morals? At all? Yeah?

Maybe it was cute the first time someone said that. But it’s not cute anymore. I see it trickling down from how national political commentators talk about politicians – whom they might be friendly with behind closed doors – to how people talk about their local government and how we talk about each other. It’s not cute.

This election will end, and soon. The finish line is in sight and we’ll all be free of this burden. But your family and friends aren’t going anywhere, so what is your relationship with them going to be like Nov. 9?

Talk to them. Today. If you can have a civil discussion of politics, by all means do it. That’s great. We need all of the intelligent discourse we can get. But if you can’t, that’s OK too. Talk to them about something else. We still need connection. We still need relationships. That won’t change, no matter who lives in the White House or represents you in Washington, D.C.

We need each other. Talk to your family. Talk to your friends. Talk to strangers you pass on the street.

“Hi.”

“How are you?”

“Are you going to finish your French fries?”

desires of the heart

Tonight I was sitting at dinner with my husband and our boys. Life has been busier than normal lately.

On top of the usual – we have five kids and a few jobs – we have had family in town from Ireland and Jeff’s dad is running for re-election as our county assessor. Last week, on top of working and campaigning for my father-in-law, we had eight kids in our house. So, amidst all the chaos, we haven’t had a lot of face time to just talk and connect.

All day today I was excited to just sit across from him and chat – in between feeding babies bites of food and being forced to play peekaboo, of course. We shared our days with each other and he caught me up to speed on campaign stuff. The topic then changed to blogging and what it looks like for us to tell our stories. For the past couple days, I have been trying to figure out what to write about this week. A few different things have been on my mind, but one particular topic hit me hard during our conversation.

In discussing our busyness, I explained that I am always torn. I struggle with a feeling of wanting to DO more and at the same time feeling completely overwhelmed with everything already on my plate.

I want to have an impact on people.

I want to reach people.

I want to be closer to people.

I want to live more intentionally.

I want to cultivate relationships.

I desire community.

These are strong desires, but the reality of it is I barely have time to shower daily as it is.  At the same time, I truly believe that these desires are from God, so I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to make these desires happen. And, in return, I spend a lot of time feeling like a failure who just can’t seem to make these things happen.

Tonight as I was pouring my heart out to my husband, I looked across the table at my boys and God spoke to my heart. And I felt like a fool.

You see, God has given me these desires. But I have had my focus on the wrong people. The desires to cultivate relationships, live more intentionally and have community aren’t as out of my grasp as I have thought.

I looked at my husband and I looked at my boys and I heard God speak softly to my heart, saying, “These are the people I have for you. This man. These boys. Your daughter and new step-daughters. These are the people I have given you these desires for.”

I am used to being busy. But instead of feeling like God is telling me to do more, God is telling me to slow down. To be at home with the incredible family he has so graciously given me and really cultivate these relationships. Blending two families is hard. Really hard. But it is not impossible. Tonight I go to bed thankful for a God who fulfills the desires of my heart.

Where is the “inspirational music”?!

The past year has been hectic for us, to say the least. Fourteen months ago I gave birth to our twin boys and we blended our two families. Eleven months ago my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. We got married 6 months ago and moved into a new house. My dad was put on hospice care 3 months ago and passed away a month later.

There have been many days when I find myself just trying to survive the day…or hour…or moment. There have been moments when I have felt like I am a great mom and there have been moments when I have felt like the world’s worst mom. Moments of trying to take care of my family and moments of trying to find time for myself. Moments when I have felt like I have it all together and moments when I have felt like I was completely falling apart. Moments of triumph and moments of despair. Life has been all about adjustments lately. It has been a whirlwind of a year. Some things planned, others not. But such is life.

As a new mom to twins (it still shocks me when I say that!), I have sought out information and tips from other twin moms. There are so many blogs and groups, some of which have been super helpful and encouraging. I have always been a fan of reading blogs and getting ideas from them (Hello, Pinterest!). I am the world’s biggest procrastinator and least organized person, so I need all the help I can get!

Recently I came across a blog entry titled “14 Steps Toward a Simpler Life.” So naturally, I clicked. Who doesn’t want a simpler life?! Step 1: Create a morning routine. That sounds good. I can always use more routine in my crazy life. I continued to read. The lady who wrote the blog went on to explain her morning routine that makes life so much simpler. She wakes up with her baby one to two hours before the rest of the family. The baby watches her tidy up the house, clean the kitchen and get supper started for that evening. She also takes a walk with the baby, if the weather is nice. She then gets breakfast on the table for the family when they wake up and she enjoys having “inspirational music” playing softly in the background. That was only step ONE to living a simpler life.

Let me walk you through my morning routine. The babies wake up around 4:30 a.m. I fumble around in the dark to get them bottles. They drink and go back to sleep. Never does it cross my mind to wake up and start making meals or cleaning. I go back to sleep, praying the babies will sleep in as late as possible. Around 6:30 I am woken up again, either by babies or our older kids. I immediately wish that everyone would go away so I could sleep for another 10 hours. I ignore everyone as long as they will let me until I eventually drag myself out of bed to feed the starving children. I feed and change babies while instructing the older kids to get ready for school, often times with my patience hanging by a single thread. Our older kids eat breakfast at school so I am off the hook there! I pack up babies and throw on acceptable clothing, usually sweats, to take everyone to school. When I get back home, I try to get some kind of cleaning done while I trip over babies who follow me everywhere I go.

I closed the blog post and felt defeated. There was no way I was going to read the remaining 13 steps when I can’t even get step one down. My thoughts consume me. I’m not doing this right! My kids don’t have breakfast waiting for them on the table when they wake up! The house is a mess! Where is the “inspirational music”?! I am obviously not living a simpler life and am miserably failing this whole mother gig. And then I start to get mad. Why do I do this? Why do WE do this?

As moms, we are constantly measuring ourselves up to each other. Anytime anyone comes into my home, my first words are usually, “Please excuse the mess! Life has been crazy lately,” followed by a nervous laugh. And I know I am not alone in this because my friends say the same thing to me when I walk in to their homes! Or, if I have the time, which I usually don’t, I will clean my house and pretend that it always looks like that…because that is what everyone else’s houses look like all the time, right?!

And don’t even get me started on social media. I love social media. I mean, have you used those SnapChat filters? So fun. But when scrolling through Facebook or Instagram, I can’t help but feel like I’m failing again. I see a friend’s spotless living room as she posts a picture of her new furniture. Another friend posts a picture of a bunch of cutesy crafts she did with her kids. My living room looks like a bomb made of cheerios and toys just went off. I am often times too tired, or lack the patience, for cute craft time.

And everyone’s successful weight loss journeys? I am lucky to have time to brush my teeth. Forget finding time to work out.

Why do I do this to myself? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we feel the need to be perfect? None of us are, yet we all pretend to be. I constantly tell my children that doing their best is what I expect. I do not expect perfection from them. So why do I expect it from myself? Why do I shame myself for “failing” at so many things when I am not failing at all?

I feel a strong need to break this cycle. It is a vicious struggle that I am willing to fight. I do a damned good job.  I wake up every morning and snuggle everyone in my family…well, except for our teenager who would rather die than be snuggled. Our children do not go without a meal. I change diapers. So. Many. Diapers. I help with homework. I go to work to help provide for them. I clean the house. I discipline them when they need it. I pray for them individually and on a daily basis. I strive to be a godly example for my children to follow.

There have been and will be days when I will struggle. There will be days when I feel like I am drowning. But I will always do my best and try my hardest. I will not be perfect and I will stop beating myself up for it. And I will remind myself over and over that I am good enough. You are good enough. Keep on, Mama. You are doing such an incredible job even if it doesn’t feel like it! Do your best and know that it is enough.

Mamas, let’s start giving each other a little slack, okay? Let’s love on each other. Encourage one another. Be real with each other. Enjoy a cup of coffee and great conversation with a friend in your messy kitchen! Perfection is not attainable. So let’s stop striving for it and put our energy into more important things.

If anyone wants to come hang out while I fold the seventeen loads of laundry that I have been avoiding, you know where to find me!

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“…this group must somehow form a family…” – The Brady Bunch

I guess if we are going to have a blog that is primarily about blending our two families, we should introduce our family members. So, here we are…

 

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Jeff aka “Dad,” “Daddy,” “Big Daddy Kess” and “Biscuit.”  (Okay, so those last two nicknames are self-given and the kids refuse to call him either.)

This guy is our ROCK. This family simply wouldn’t function without him. He is the hardest worker, both at his job and at home. He is easily the kindest man I have ever known and everyone loves him. He makes us (or at least me) laugh on a daily basis. He is also the best listener and always knows just what to say to make you feel better. There is no better dad on the planet and these five kids are the luckiest. Our lives are all better because of this man right here.

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Jamie aka “Mama Bear”

The heart of our family. She teaches us all through her daily life about giving, loving, living a life that makes you happy and putting family first, including the friends who become family. Jamie has a heart as big as all outdoors and an unending supply of sass. Mama Bear always has a hug and wise words ready for all of our children and isn’t afraid to give tough love when needed. They just don’t make many mothers like this one.

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Victoria – 15

Victoria is Jeff’s oldest daughter and our rock star big sister. She is incredibly smart and witty. She has a huge heart and is good at everything she does, including singing, writing, dancing and acting. And selfies. This girl also has a crazy amount of patience in dealing with four younger, often wild, siblings.

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Ava – age 9

Ava is Jamie’s only daughter. She is the little mama of the group and loves to take care of her little brothers. She has a servant’s heart and loves fiercely. She can usually be found snuggling her mama or putting together a talent show with Carolina.

 

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Carolina – age 8

Carolina is Jeff’s youngest daughter. Some of her favorite activities include Minecraft, planning talent shows with Ava, and she is our resident bookworm. She is an aspiring YouTuber and is constantly making us all laugh with her random quotes.

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Romey & Finnegan – age 13 months

And last but not least, our family was completed with these baby bears! Romey is the social butterfly, while Finnegan immediately looks for Mommy or Daddy at the first sign of a stranger. Romey loves to clap and Finnegan loves to “Go, go, go!” Both boys love to snuggle and are giddy when they get attention from their big sisters.

 

Thanks for joining us on this journey!

Science needs to be part of the solution to gun violence in the U.S.

I wanted to write about convicted rapist Brock Turner, but before I could get cogent thoughts typed out there was the Pulse massacre. I’m not sure I have cogent thoughts ready to be typed out about that tragedy and the epidemic of gun violence in the United States, but if I wait much longer there will be a new tragedy to write about.

Maybe that’s a bit morbid, but we live in a country now where mass shootings are too common. There isn’t one universally-accepted definition of a mass shooting, but using the metric of four victims – wounded and/or killed – in 2016 we’ve had 191 incidents in the United States as of June 21, 293 people killed, 705 people injured and countless lives forever changed.

And that’s just in 173 days. The U.S. is averaging just over one mass shooting, with 1.7 deaths and 4.1 injuries per day. This is a daily occurrence.

They happen in homes. In schools. In churches. In movie theatres. In nightclubs. They are senseless. They are shocking. They are sickening. But they are not stopping.

Violence could be avoided when I was a kid. I knew what parts of our small, Midwestern town to avoid. I knew which people were bad news. Trouble couldn’t find me, because I knew where to hide. I don’t know where to tell my kids to hide anymore.

My parental instinct is to protect my children. A part of me wants to have them home as much as possible. All the time would be perfect. But that is not living. That is not realistic. Part of me has been waiting for my leaders to fix this, but it’s starting to feel like that is not realistic, either.

Look, mass shootings are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the gun violence problem in America. Lois Beckett, Rich Harris, Nadja Popovic, Jan Diehm and Mona Chalabi, in a piece published June 21, 2016 by The Guardian, detail a much bigger, much more disturbing picture.

  • A firearm death rate of about 10.4 per 100,000 since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control
  • Around 33,500 lives lost each year – one every 15 minutes, about the same number of people as are killed on our roads
  • Only about 4 percent of deaths are categorized by the CDC as being “unintentional”
  • Almost two-thirds of deaths are suicides
  • The rest, around 11,000 per year, are homicides

The Guardian also points out that much of the day-to-day gun violence in America happens in its poorest, most racially-segregated neighborhoods, “places with high rates of unemployment, struggling school systems, and high levels of mistrust between police officers and community members.”

Those mass shootings we’re so upset about? They are a tiny sliver at the bottom of a big, scary graph, one you should look at with your own eyes. It is a problem. A gigantic problem with no simple solution.

Do not tell me that we can solve it with more guns.

Do not tell me we can solve it with fewer guns.

Do not tell me we can solve it by making it easier for people to get guns.

Do not tell me we can solve it by making it harder for people to get guns.

Yes, Australia had a successful solution to mass violence, as detailed by John Oliver on The Daily Show, but do not tell me it would work very simply and very well here in the United States.

I don’t have the answers. Right now, nobody does. It’s time to start actually looking. It’s time to give the CDC the ability to study gun violence, just as it does other non-diseases like motor vehicle safety. We want science when deciding whether or not to vaccinate our children or what medicines to take for ourselves. We want science when deciding what kind of diet is best for our families. We want science when deciding the educational path for our children. Why wouldn’t we want science when deciding how to fix this problem?

There was a time when the CDC was allowed to study “the causes of gun violence,” but Todd C. Frankel wrote in The Washington Post back in 2015 that it stopped in 1996, “when the (National Rifle Association) accused the agency of promoting gun control and Congress threatened to strip the agency’s funding.” Frankel said President Barack Obama reversed the CDC research ban after the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, but the CDC still did not perform gun-violence research because it “still lacked the dedicated funding to pursue it.”

That needs to change. We have the power of the pen and we have the power of the vote. Write or call your senators and representatives and tell them to get the CDC the funding it needs to study gun violence and, hopefully, come up with some solutions. If they don’t want to comply, vote them out.

Things aren’t getting better. We can’t continue to do what we’ve always done. It’s time to go beyond myopic, partisan arguments and look for real solutions.

–jeff

More reading on gun violence in the United States:

The math of mass shootings – The Washington Post

The number of ‘mass shootings’ in the U.S. depends on how you count – The Washington Post

His story.

I don’t believe in love at first sight, so don’t think I’m trying to tell you that’s what this was. What I am trying to tell you is that I knew there was something incredibly special about Jamie from the first moment I saw her face.

Part of the reason I say it like that is because it’s a lot less creepy than what really happened. Let me explain. Jamie and I had many mutual friends before we even met and once, during a late-night Facebook creeping session, I stumbled onto her profile. She had “Liked” or commented on something a mutual friend posted and something made me want to check out her profile. I was entranced by her immediately – mostly her blue eyes. Yes, I thought she was beautiful, but there was something else there. She struck me as someone who had been through, or was going through, some sadness, but doing it with grace and optimism. “I need to know this person,” I muttered to myself.

That proved to be a problem. I was single at the time, enduring a self-imposed dating ban designed to help me figure out what it was I wanted in a partner, but I had no clue about her relationship status. It felt all kinds of wrong to send her a message or friend request without that information, so I closed the browser window. “If we’re supposed to meet, it will happen.”

Sometime later – weeks, maybe months – I decided to give online dating another try. I was having the usual results when I saw her picture. “Hey! I know her! Wait, no I don’t. Do I? Oh snap, it’s her! What’s her name?” Back to Facebook I went, searching the friends list of each of my friends until I found her. I spent nearly an hour crafting the perfect introductory message and told myself, “Don’t blow this.”

I blew it. Sort of. We exchanged a few messages, realized we had a few shared interests, became Facebook friends and then, suddenly, she quit replying. I decided to let go and tried to forget about her. I couldn’t, though, because we ran into each other at a concert one random Monday night. I was with some of our mutual friends and, when she stopped to say hi to them, made sure to introduce myself. It did not go well. She was kind, but awkward, and totally blew me off. Within two weeks she was in a relationship with someone else. I figured that was the end.

That was not the end. Some twist of fate led both of us to the farmers market July 5. I saw her from a distance, greeting guests at a home goods store, and immediately started looking for a loophole in my “No Flirting In Front of the Children” rule. My girls ended up wanting to go browse that store and I decided to just say hi and see what happened from there.

This time it was Jamie who was with a mutual friend and we talked for a few minutes and it went much better. I knew she was single and felt like I was picking up a vibe from her. Later that day she sent me a “Nice to see you…” message on Facebook and I flipped out. I danced, I’m sure. There was probably a Dougie involved. I replied in kind and tried to see if she was interested in me.

But then I quit replying. Work and dad life got busy and I just forgot. I had a free weekend coming up, though, and decided to take a chance and see if she wanted to hang out some time. Fortunately she did. First was a casual evening hanging out with a friend of hers, then was our first official date. I knew right away my first instincts, all those months ago, were right. She was different.

On our second date I knew for sure that this woman checked every box on the list I’d been working on for almost a year. Less than two months after our first date, I told her I was going to marry her someday.

I lived up to that vow and now I am working every day at living up to the vows we exchanged at our January wedding, as we blend our two families into one.