Keep It Simple Stupid

My life motto has been, for quite some time now, KISS or Keep It Simple Stupid. In a world that is full of mixed up complicated advice, I am looking for that one simple instruction that is doable, attainable, simple. I don’t do well with complicated. When I make decisions, you can bet money that one of the top priorities for me is which solution is going to be simple. As I have recently been struggling with a problem and needing some simple advice, I found myself remembering the birth of my last child.

The part about the birth that I remember the most was the very end. Everything had gone in a rush. I had shown up at the labor and delivery floor at 7:30, contractions coming every 2 minutes. The baby was 3 weeks early and so I hadn’t even had time to preregister. I made my way to the nurse’s station and started talking quickly, trying to say as much as I could in between contractions. Hi, I’m Esther Heneise, this is my 10th pregnancy, all natural births, Contractions started at 5 pm……pant breathe pant breathe………..Ok, I have gestational diabetes, I’m taking insulin, the baby is really big……pant breathe pant breathe……..umm. Last ultrasound said the baby was 13 pounds, doctors wanted to induce early, they’re worried about shoulder dystocia……pant breathe pant breathe…………………The doctors suggested a C-section but we want to try natural first……….pant breathe pant breathe…………………..My labors are really fast so you don’t have much time……….

The nurse jumped into action, asking a bunch of questions that I could barely answer. Some important, when did you last take insulin? Others not so important, do you have a working refrigerator and stove at your house? (huh?) There was a flurry of getting into a gown, getting blood work drawn, and in the meantime they were still trying to get an idea of how big the baby was and how important was it for me to get a C-section? They did an ultrasound while I sat on the bed almost delirious with pain. I asked if I could get an epidural and they said, sure, as soon as the blood work comes back. I was doomed. I knew there was no way I would still be in labor by the time the blood work came back. I was already at the end of this process. No one else seemed to understand. They checked me and told me I was dilated to 7. I told them that the baby was going to be born within the next half hour. They all nodded and smiled and patted me reassuringly, don’t worry, as soon as that blood work comes back we’ll get you your epidural. By this time I was in transition and basically retreated from the world, just trying to focus on not dying from the pain.  At one point in time they came up to me and asked if I just wanted to go ahead and get a C-section. All I could think was, If I get a C-section will they knock me out so I don’t feel this any more? At least one logical part of my brain spoke up and said, I’m in so much pain I can’t make any decisions, ask my husband. Andy looked up, startled, but fortunately we had talked about this beforehand and so he gave our agreed upon answer which was that we were going to try natural first. I groaned. I had really hoped that I could just get knocked out. Suddenly, I knew, it was time to push. I started pushing. The nurse looked startled and asked if I was pushing. Yes. Stop pushing! You can’t push till the doctor checks you, it might not be time! I looked at her, felt the urge to push, and pushed again. She shook her head, announced to the room at large that I was no longer listening to her and I had started pushing. Total chaos broke out. The room was suddenly filled with people, the bed was being taken apart and 2 nurses came up and pushed me flat on my back, grabbing my legs. I was in a fog and was not tracking with anything but the pain. Suddenly a man’s voice broke through all the commotion. Ok, breathe! Breathe it out, contraction is coming, get ready,, Ok Push! I turned my focus on him, a big tall guy in scrubs and a mask. I have no idea who he was. He might have been a doctor, a nurse, an aide, or some random observer off the street. All I knew was that finally someone was actually helping me. He became my focal point as he coached me through a couple more pushes and then, without any complications, the baby was there. No problems, only weighing 9 pounds 12 ounces instead of the predicted 13. (pretty much 30 mins after they told me I was dilated to 7!) Everyone was healthy and well.People started leaving the room till I was left with just a couple nurses. I survived my last birth.

Looking back, I don’t know if I can emphasize enough how important the man in the scrubs was in the whole process. I was so caught up in my pain and the confusion that I could no longer help myself. I desperately needed one person to break through and just give me some simple instructions. Something I could handle and latch on to. He was a life saver.

I had this happen another time. When I was pregnant with my fourth child, that summer I had a real struggle with panic attacks and anxiety. I didn’t want to leave my house and I felt like I was barely holding my sanity together. Life was so overwhelming and I hadn’t learned yet some of the basics of self-care. I was pouring everything in to my 3 children, expecting another child, and felt like I wasn’t succeeding at anything.  My husband finally asked if I’d be willing to go and speak to our pastor. I made an appointment and we met and talked. I can’t really remember much of what we said but I do remember that he wrote down on a piece of paper 3 things to do. They were very simple. One was to establish a quiet time every day where all my kids were in their beds either napping or looking at books and I could have an hour to myself. The next one was to make it a priority to have a time to just talk to my husband every day with no interruptions, adult conversation. I can’t remember what the third was, but I do know it was equally as simple. It was a voice speaking through the fog of my anxiety, just giving me a couple basic instructions to help me establish some good practices of self-care. Even though it was simple, it really helped.

Sometimes I’ve had an actual person who shows up to speak some life into my situations. Other times, it’s the Holy Spirit just speaking a simple idea into my mind. I have been dithering around for a couple days now. I want/need to start eating healthier. I’m ready to do it. But how to go about it? I’ve read so many books and heard about so many different methods that now I’m completely stalled out and I don’t know what to do. This plan says no animal products, this other says, mostly only animal products. This plan says no fat, this other plans says all the fat you want, just don’t eat it at the same time as Carbs. This plan says one cup of grain a day, this other plan says all the grain you want as long as you don’t eat fat. ACCKK!!! What do I do? I finally made it a matter of prayer, Ok Lord, I need some guidance here. And an idea came to me. No sugar. Every single plan agrees on that one, no sugar. Just keep it simple. Tackle one bad habit at a time.  A still, small voice breaking through the confusion, giving me some simple advice. It’s exactly what I needed. Just keeping it simple….stupid.

Boredom With a Bit of Yoga Thrown In

“Here’s what I’ve learned about raising boys… if you keep ’em busy, they’re fine. You let ’em get bored, they’ll dismantle your house board by board.”

                                                                                                 Kenny Rogers

I saw this quote the other day. It was timely for the kind of day I was having. Now that all my kids are back in school, I am home alone with my 2 little boys, almost 4 yrs old, and 21 months old. I’m still trying to get us into a good routine, but usually I at least try to keep things moving. We all work together and get chores done in the morning. (Ok, I move around doing chores and they follow me, staying in a 2 foot radius at all times). We go outside and play in the yard. A couple times a week I try to load them up in a stroller and we go for a long walk. We have a couple activities we attend once a week where they get to be in a nursery/preschool setting. It’s not a super-busy schedule but it’s busy enough.

This week I have had a horrible cough/cold. The kind that keeps you up all night coughing and completely drains all your energy. It’s also been raining this week. I cancelled all our activities that we usually attend (not going to share this cold with anyone). It is raining so we can’t go out in the yard, and I do not have the energy to take any long walks. Cue boredom.  I have 2 little boys running around the house, trying to amuse themselves. I sit in a chair with a pile of tissues and try to play referee. We start off in my bedroom:

NO, don’t play on my dresser, put down the jewelry box and climb back down off of there!

No, don’t take all my shoes out of the closet.

DO NOT HIT your brother with the toy phone!

Stop trying to play with my computer!

Why did you just pull all the blankets off my bed?


I get desperate and I find their 2 big rubber balls: Here! Play with these….


No, stop throwing the ball in your brother’s face.

No, DO NOT throw the ball in my face. You will never see the ball again if you throw it in my face!

Stop throwing the balls at the windows, you’re going to break something.

LOOK what you just Did! No more balls.


I decided to relocate. Let’s go play in the living room…


No, we’re not going to put on a tv show, we already watched one.

No, don’t take all the books off the bookshelf, I just organized that bookshelf! All the little kids books are on the bookshelf upstairs, go upstairs and get your books! Do you want me to read you a book?? No? Ok..

Get off the fishtank. We don’t climb on the fishtank…ever..I think I have already told you this..

Here, here’s some matchbox cars! Play with your matchbox cars!

No, wait, we don’t throw matchbox cars. We only throw balls! (my voice fades out as I remember that I just took away the balls).

Look, just roll the cars across the floor..yeah, like that! No, wait, don’t roll the car on me. I’m not a road.. Roll it on the floor!

No wait, the red car is for you, the blue car is for him…. Do not take his car from him!

Do you want to trade cars? No? Well, you can’t have both cars, you have to share…


Ok, time to relocate.

Upstairs to the boy’s bedroom. Full of toys, childproof, there’s a comfy chair up there I can sit in. We get settled in upstairs, boys are enthusiastically playing with their toys and I have this great idea. I’ve been reading this book that teaches a simple yoga-type workout. I want to do these workouts in the morning, but I need to do a practice run so I can figure out what I’m doing first. Why not practice here in the boy’s room while they are happily playing??

Ok. So, I have the book on my kindle app on my phone so I’m holding my phone, squinting at the screen. Breathing. It’s all about breathing. Breathe in through your nose, fill up your tummy with air, breathe out through your nose, push your stomach back to your spine..Got it. (Did I mention I have a bad cold?) Ok. I’m definitely going to need some tissue before I attempt this.. Squint at the screen.. It says to do some practice breathes. I do some practice breathes. They are rather noisy. The little boys look up and stare at me trying to figure out why I’m suddenly pretending to be an elephant. The almost 4 yr old asks uncertainly, “What are you doing?” Just exercising. Leave me alone. Keep playing.

Squint at screen again. Ok. I’m supposed to raise my arms up in the air while I breathe in and then lower them while I breathe out. Got it. (Sounds easy right? Apparently coordination is not my strong point and it takes several attempts before I get it right.) The little boys have stopped playing and have now moved closer to me, staring at me with concern. Squint at screen again. Ok, I’m supposed to bend all the way over and touch the floor and stay in that position while I do 5 breathes. Got it. I bend over. This is definitely not as easy at it looks. I am focusing really hard on trying to get my breathes rights…I feel little hands grab hold of my feet. All the blood has rushed to my head. I turn a little bit and find myself face to face with the 21 month old who now looks like he’s about to cry. Mama?

It’s ok sweetie. I’m just doing yoga. Exercise. Mommy is fine.. Oh wait, I’m breathing, not supposed to be talking. I’m still bent in half but I can’t remember what comes next. Straighten up very slowly, grab phone, squint at phone for next direction. Oh. Ok. Apparently I’m supposed to do some breathing while I straighten up and then go into this new position where my knees are bent in a squat and I’m reaching forward… Right… Ok…(Did I mention my current athletic abilities are at level 0?)  Modify. They said to modify.. Ummm.

Now the 21 month old has wrapped himself around my legs and begun a mantra of mama, mama, mama, mama, mama, mama…you get the point.. Wait sweetie, I’ve got to bend down again and try this again. Squint at phone one more time, set phone down and bend in half again. Oh shoot. I forgot to breathe. Stand back up, breath in (through the nose! I think I need another tissue..) and bend over. I’m now face to face with the baby again. He takes the opportunity to grab hold of my head. I forget to breathe out (stomach pulled into the backbone!) while I yell at the baby to let go of my hair. The 4 yr old decides to join the circus and comes and stands next to me, bends over as well so that we all have our heads at the same level. He looks concerned.  Ok. Forget it. I’m not going to exercise.

I disentangle myself and go sit down in the chair again. Look out the window. It’s still raining. I’m still coughing. Not sure if the house or my sanity will be intact by the end of the day.

A Bit of Parenting Advice For the Day

Today my oldest child turns 18. So here I am, a mother of 10. I have managed to take one child to the age of 18 and she has been launched from the home (first time around anyway) to go to college. I’ve been in the parenting game for 18 years. As I reflect a bit on my parenting journey, one regret stands out. It’s something that caused me a lot of heartache, and I would love for some of you younger parents out there to maybe learn from my mistakes.

So, here it is…


Don’t read parenting books.


The end.


Ok, I guess I can clarify that a bit. I would say there are two types of parenting books. Books that seek to educate you on what it means to be a parent, perhaps explain some of how children’s minds and development work, perhaps offer some encouragement. Those kind are helpful, informative and useful. My aversion to parenting books falls on the other kind. These are the books that set out an exact plan and method for how you should parent. Your child should sleep this much at this age, here’s how to make that happen. Your child should display this level of respect to you at all times, here’s how to make that happen. Your child should be disciplined whenever they do A, B or C, here’s how you should discipline them.. These parenting books prey on the poor parents that are at their wit’s end, they don’t feel like they are doing a good enough job, they are failing on some level, and so they start desperately looking around for help. Or, these books focus on people who are about to have a child appear in their life: birthed, adopted, fostered… and they have no idea what to do, and so they start turning to books for the answers.

In my grand career as a parent I have read 4 different parenting books of this type. I regret reading every single one of them. Each book set up a system, a pattern of thought, a path to follow that would somehow get me from point A to point B with good kids and a happy home. They all failed. In fact, all of them lead me to go against my conscience at some point in time and had me doing things that my inner-self was thinking, “Surely this can’t be right?” but I doubted myself, I was not an authority, and the book said I was supposed to do it this way. My husband finally convinced me that we needed to throw out the books and just rely on our common sense, our own consciences, and our own relationship with God, trusting that he would give us whatever wisdom we needed to raise the kids. I can’t say life got easier after that, but it wasn’t as stressful and I felt a lot more true to myself and my kids than when I was trying to imitate somebody else’s ideas.

Here’s the thing. We are all unique. We’ve each got our own set of DNA, we’ve each got our own histories, our own set of life-circumstances…how on earth can a book be written that will properly address every single family? It can’t be done. (Ok, there is the Bible, which is good for all things, but you will notice that the Bible doesn’t try to specify exactly what to do when your child has a meltdown while getting ready for bed. It teaches you the general concepts and then lets you apply it to your unique life.)(Meltdowns at bedtime: love is patient and kind, long-suffering.)

I am not against seeking advice. Talk to other parents that you know, whom you’ve observed and you like what you see. Talk to trusted counselors. Talk to people who know you and your particular set of circumstances. I have talked to other moms, I have talked to my pastors, I’ve talked to psychologists and pediatricians when we were struggling with some really big issues. It’s good to seek counsel. I’m also not against reading books about people I admire, hearing stories of how they parented. It gives me a lot of good ideas, but in the end I have to sift through all the advice, all the examples that I’ve seen and I have to figure out what’s going to work for me and my kids. Believe it or not, if you ask, God will give you all the wisdom that you need to raise them.

Controlled Chaos AKA Suppertime at the Heneises



Supper at the Heneises is an interesting phenomenon. Every evening we have the whole family sit down for a family meal. With teenagers being occupied in various outside activities, there is often one or two children missing, but the rest of us are always there. I put all the food on a buffet in the dining room and everyone sits down at the table. I serve up the youngest 6 and then let the older kids serve themselves. Then Andy and I serve ourselves. If we have guests, we try to let them go first. It’s a very busy atmosphere. Everyone wants to talk and, unfortunately, the loudest or most forceful usually wins the center of attention. Our meals are not quiet. To put it mildly.

We love to have people over and are used to having unexpected guests show up for a meal. Most people settle right into the chaos, but others, not so much. The other night one of the guys who works for Andy came over to the house to pick up some things and ended up staying for supper. It was a standard meal time. There were the normal complaints from the kids about the menu, me handing out reminders to eat your vegetables, everyone trying to talk at the same time while Andy and I tried to make sure the quieter kids had a chance to talk as well. Of course, inevitably, the 3 year old knocked over his drink all over his plate and so several people jumped up to to mop up the mess and serve him a new plate.

In the middle of all this Andy happened to notice his coworker had stopped eating and was just looking around with wide eyes. Andy asked if there was a problem and he said, “Nah man, Just a lot going on here!” Unfortunately, Andy chose that moment to yell “Ferret!!” as he had spotted one of our pet ferrets who had apparently escaped his pen and was running across the dining room floor. Our guest looked puzzled for a minute, but when he saw children vacating their seats and lunging across the floor after the escaped animal, he spun around and started looking frantically around him. “Ferret??? I thought you were joking!” Needless to say, he didn’t stick around much longer after that. Some people just aren’t cut out for a meal at the Heneises, but hey, if you can handle the chaos, you are always welcome to drop in at supper time and join us a for meal!


The “Homeschool vs Public School” Wars

I homeschooled for 12 years and I have had children in the public school system for 5 years. I have had the privilege to be on both sides of the discussion. My perspective has changed a lot in the 14 years that I have had children in school. These are some thoughts on Homeschool vs Public School.

I have been thinking about why there is so much animosity between parents who homeschool versus those who public school. I mean, obviously, we all love our children and we want our children to get an education. So, why do we get so upset or smug or judgmental towards those parents who choose to go about things differently from us?

I think a big part of it is insecurity. For some reason, when someone makes a decision opposite of ours, it makes us question our judgement. If Sally next door, whose kids attend the same public school as my children, suddenly decides that she’s going to homeschool her kids, it makes me question my own decision for keeping my kids in public school. And if you ask her what her reasons are for homeschooling she might say something like: I want more time with my kids, I want to give my kids a “Christian” education instead of the liberal doctrine being taught at public schools, I don’t think public schools are safe, I feel like I have a God-given mandate to teach my own children, the quality of education is horrible and I can do better… Then you really start questioning yourself. You think, Is she right? And the thing is, you don’t agree with her and the whole process of having your decisions questioned makes you feel unsettled and so you react harshly and judgmentally in return.

It goes the other way too. You and Sally have been homeschooling for years and then she decides to put her kids into public school. You ask her why and she says, I am really struggling to be mom and teacher and I decided our relationship would be better if I am simply mom, I’m finding that I don’t have the self-discipline to keep my kids on track with their school work and we’ve gotten so far behind that I’m realizing I’m not up to this task, I am so overwhelmed with everything I have to do that I feel like I’m drowning and something has to give so I’ve decided to give up homeschooling, I really want my children to have some independence from me and a connection with the kids in our neighborhood, I am tired of having every minute of my day tied up with children and I think it would be mentally healthier for me to have a bit of space from them every day. And you listen to Sally and think, is she right? Is it better to put your kids into public school? And you are quite comfortable homeschooling your kids and don’t want to question the status quo and so it’s upsetting when someone makes you question your own decisions. And so you react harshly and judgmentally.

Another problem is that we think everything is right or wrong. We feel like it has to be one or the other. One side has to be correct and the other side has to be incorrect. We can’t conceive that both sides can be correct at the same time. We can’t understand that something that is right for one family is completely wrong for another family. I believe in absolute truth. I don’t think that we all define our own truth. But I also don’t think that absolute truth extends to the smaller details of how we manage our family. As parents, we are all different, coming from different histories, different strengths and weaknesses, and we all have different children. Why do we feel like there is only one prescribed way of schooling our children? The fact that Sally is homeschooling or public schooling has everything to do with Sally and the needs her family is facing at that particular moment in time. It has nothing to do with me and the decisions I have made for my family. Which means that when Sally tells me she’s decided to homeschool, I should be able to get excited for her and have genuine curiosity about her decision and genuine encouragement for her. Or when my fellow homeschooler Sally decides to put her kids in public school I should be able to be happy for her and be supportive of her decision.

I have heard the rhetoric on both sides of the discussion. If you put your children in public school it means that you are a lazy parent who doesn’t care about the spiritual formation of your child. You have bought into the lie and handed your children over to the government so they can  raise your children for you. You are allowing your children to be brainwashed by the system, You are stunting their personal growth and creativity by institutionalizing them. And then the other side. You are not capable or qualified to teach your children everything they need to know. You are isolating them and making them socially awkward. You are not challenging them enough and so they are lazy. You are brainwashing them into your religion and only allowing them to see your side and perspective on life, you are coddling them and they will never be independent capable adults, you are sheltering them from the world and when they grow up they won’t know how to function.

Does any of this sound familiar? Perhaps we could spend more time focusing on the positives. The public school has a lot of dedicated educators who are skilled in their craft and who genuinely care about their charges. On the other hand, a dedicated mom with a good curriculum or even just a pile of good literature can give their kids a very good education. I’m going to pull from some personal experience here. My oldest daughter was homeschooled kindergarten through 8th grade. She attended public high school and graduated as valedictorian of her class. She came into her high school with a very solid foundation and was ahead of most of her peers from day 1. Yay homeschooling! On the other hand I spent 2 years trying to teach one of my kids how to read with very little success. I put him in public school and they put him with a special intervention teacher who got him reading within a couple months. Yay public school!

There are so many amazing things you can do with homeschooling. I remember when my oldest was 9 and she read about the history of the Marathon. She wrote a play about the first Marathon and then had her little brothers and sisters act it out while she narrated and we videoed the whole thing. She researched clothing from that time and then I gave her a bunch of sheets and she made all the costumes. We got paint and made little signs to put up to help tell the story. She organized the entire thing, I just held the camera. It was an amazing experience. Yay homeschooling!

There are so many amazing opportunities with public school. The middle school in our neighborhood is a Fine Arts magnet school. Every single day the kids attend a fine arts class of their choosing. One of my daughters took a dance class every day while she was there and the other daughter is taking an art class every day. They also offer African Dancing, African Drumming, Band, and a Stem class. Yay public school!

I know that for Christian Homeschoolers, faith is a big deal. I thoroughly enjoyed doing in-depth bible studies with my children, teaching them bible memory songs, and learning about great heroes of the faith. My children are now in Public School. We still do family devotions. I still do bible memory with my children. The amazing thing I have found is learning about application of faith. My children talk to me about struggles they are having with different kids and we talk about how much Jesus loves that particular child and what are ways that we can be loving and kind even when someone else is not acting very lovable. We talk about healthy ways to resolve conflict. We spend time every day praying for the school and the teachers. I do not feel like my children’s faith is being compromised at all.

I could go on for a while, talking about all the positives of both sides. Here’s what I want to suggest though. When you make your decision about how to educate your child, don’t make Fear be the driving force of your decision. I’m afraid of sending my kids out into the world, I’m afraid of having someone else be their teacher, I’m afraid of them being badly influenced. Or, I’m afraid that I don’t have what it takes to teach my child, I’m afraid that I wouldn’t be able to handle that much one-on-one time with my child, I’m afraid that I wouldn’t be able to give them everything they need. Instead just focus on what the needs of your family are at that moment. Right now my child is struggling in a classroom setting and I think having some one-on-one time would really benefit them academically, or our family is in a bad place, maybe taking some time off to reconnect with each other and reset and put some more Bible time in our day would really help us. Maybe we should homeschool. Or maybe you’re homeschooling and you think. Right now I am not at a good place emotionally, maybe I should put my kids in school for a while so I can have some time to renew and restore myself before I have a mental breakdown. Or maybe, my preteen is really having a hard time taking instruction from me right now and our relationship is struggling. Maybe I should put them in school for a while so we can just focus on being parent and child instead of also having the teacher/student thing going on. Maybe we should public school. It is possible to say, I have two choices in front of me, both are good options, but which one meets our needs best?

I want to make one more point. I know that a lot of families feel like God has really led them to homeschool. I think we tend to think that if God has led us in a certain direction, it must be the direction that he wants everyone to go in. I know that I have needed many reminders that just because God led me a certain way does not mean that he’s leading my friend Sally in the same direction. He’s got different jobs for all of us, different areas of influence, different missions, different gifts and talents. We can’t belittle our brothers and sisters simply for following God’s directive for their lives. God asks parents to send their kids to public school too.

In the end my encouragement is to seek God’s will for your family. The Bible says that if we lack wisdom we are to ask him and he will freely give us the wisdom that we need. There are no cookie-cutter methods/plans that work for each family. Ask for wisdom to know which path is right for you and then trust that he will give you all the strength you need to follow that path. And trust that he’s doing the same for your friend Sally.


What Do Leprechauns Eat?

This summer I briefly played around with children’s stories. My goal was to write a story for each of my children about them, at their current age, based on something that they had done. I only wrote stories for the youngest ones though, as I quickly discovered that older children are a lot more complex in their motivations and thought processes and I realized my older children really needed several chapters to capture who they were, and I didn’t feel up to the task. So, that project stalled out, but here is the story I wrote about David. 

David was 3 years old. He lived in a purple house in the city with his 4 brothers, 5 sisters, one mommy, and one daddy, a dog, two ferrets, and three goldfish. David was the 9th child. That didn’t really mean anything to him though. He could only count to 3 and numbers were just fun things to say. He didn’t really know how many brothers and sisters he had either. He just knew that he was always surrounded by people that he loved. Sometimes everyone was there and it was very noisy and there was lots of laughing and talking and wrestling and playing. Sometimes it was just him and his sister Phoebe and his baby brother Noah. Then the laughing and talking and wrestling and playing were a bit quieter. And of course Mommy was almost always there, and if Mommy had to go somewhere then one of his Big Big sisters or his Big Brother would watch over him. He knew that he was always surrounded by people that loved him.

David loved his family but he also loved animals. He loved their dog Todd. Todd was a big dog, a lot bigger than David. David loved to wrap his arms around him and hug him and then Todd would nudge David’s face with his nose and sometimes lick him and that made David laugh. David also loved the ferrets. They belonged to his big brothers, Levi and Judah. The ferrets lived in Levi and Judah’s bedroom. David loved to hold them in his lap and pet them, though they usually tried to squirm out of his arms. David also loved the goldfish. Every day, when Daddy got home from work, Daddy would get out the fish food and feed them. The goldfish would see Daddy coming and they would crowd up into one corner of the fish tank, waiting for their food. Sometimes, Daddy would let David feed the fish. Daddy would let David take a pinch of fish food from the orange bottle that had a picture of a fish on it. Then he would lift David up high so David could reach the top of the fish tank and drop the food into the water. David would then stand with his nose pressed up against the fish tank glass and watch the goldfish quickly eat their food. That was so much fun.

David loved the family pets, but he also loved to watch kid shows about animals on the tv. There was one cartoon where each episode taught you about a new animal. David loved to watch this show and he learned a lot. One day, as the whole family was driving home from a visit to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, David thought about one of the shows he had watched. He thought about one of the new animals he had just learned about yesterday, but he couldn’t remember everything from the show.

“Mama, what do leprechauns eat?” David asked from his carseat.

Mommy turned around in her seat and looked at him in surprise.

“Well! That’s a good question! I don’t know what leprechauns eat, I’ve never thought about that!”

David thought for a minute. That didn’t make sense. Mommy knew everything.

“No Mama, Leprechauns! What do they eat?”

Mommy said, in a confused voice, “You do mean leprechauns, the little green elves, right?”

What was mommy talking about?

“No Mama! Not green elves, leprechauns!”

Mommy was quiet for a minute. “I think when you say leprechauns, you actually mean something else. What does a leprechaun look like?”

Finally, Mommy was making a bit more sense.

“Leprechauns are big and have spots and they can run and they climb up into trees.”

Mommy started laughing. “Leopards! You mean leopards!”

David wasn’t quite sure why Mommy was laughing. “Yes, Leopardchans.”

“No sweetie, not leopardchans…it’s leopards.”

“Yes,” David agreed, “leopardchans.”

Mommy shook her head then said, “Leopards eat other animals.”

David thought about that a minute. “Like bunnies and deer?”

“Yes sweetie, like bunnies and deer.”

David sat in his carseat and imagined that he was a leopardchan. He could see himself running through the jungle chasing after a bunny. Of course, he couldn’t imagine eating a bunny. Bunnies were cuddly and furry and Very Cute! Maybe, if he was a leopardchan he could chase the bunny and then when he caught it, they could play together and be friends. David imagined himself playing with a bunny, and that made him happy.

He turned to his sister Phoebe who was sitting in her carseat right next to him.

“Hey Phoebe! When we get home, let’s play leopardchan! I’ll be the leopardchan and you can be the bunny!”

Phoebe gave that annoying laugh she sometimes did, when she was pretending that She was the mommy and He was the baby.

“No David, not leopardchans, Leopards!”

David was starting to get annoyed, why was everyone trying to correct him?

“No, Leopardchans!”





Mommy interrupted them.

“Phoebe, just drop it. It’s not important. If he wants to call it a leopardchan, it’s ok.”

Phoebe scowled at David but was silent for a minute. Then she leaned over and very quietly whispered into David’s ear,


David did not like Phoebe trying to fix his words.

“NO!!!!” he yelled.

Mommy spun around in her seat and stared at him.

“David, do not yell in the car. Phoebe, leave David alone. Phoebe and David, I don’t want you to talk to each other any more. We’re going to be quiet until we get home.”

Phoebe crossed her arms and sat back in her car seat with a frown.

David made a silly face at Phoebe and then sat back in his carseat. He looked out the window. There were lots of trees outside. The trees reminded him of the jungle. The jungle reminded him of leopardchans. Leopardchans reminded him about bunnies. He closed his eyes and imagined he was a leopardchan, running through the jungle with his friend the bunny. David smiled and was happy.


Pick Your Battles

This morning my 5 yr old daughter came down for breakfast all dressed for school. She was wearing a neon pink skirt, an orange t-shirt (with a picture of a hippopotamus on it), neon yellow socks, and teal tennis shoes. I looked her over and paused. Umm. Yeah. Ok. I hesitated. My general policy is if the clothes aren’t torn, ripped, stained, or just immodest, I don’t say anything. I’m generally just pleased if my children can dress themselves without having to involve me in the process. With my teenagers, I definitely keep my mouth shut, but with the little ones, I still, every once in a while try to intervene.

“Sweetie, that shirt doesn’t match that skirt.”

She looked down in surprise. “Yes it does! They’re both orange!”

“Uh no, actually that skirt would be described as more of a neon pink.”

She stared at her clothing for a minute.

“Oh well, I like it anyway.”

“How about a different skirt?”

“I don’t have any other skirts, this is the only one.”

I thought about it for minute. It was possible this was true. My daughter decided some time this summer that she only wanted to wear skirts. No pants. No shorts. Skirts. With an occasional dress thrown in. Unfortunately, my daughter failed to inform me of this when I was picking out her clothes in the spring and so she has a collection of blue jeans and shorts that sit, unworn, in her drawer. When she wails that she has nothing clean to wear, she doesn’t mean that there aren’t any clean clothes in her drawer. What she means is there are no skirts and dresses left to wear. Of course, this doesn’t stop shorts and pants from regularly appearing in the laundry as my daughter also has a habit of letting clothes fall out of her drawers, onto the floor, and then, when she cleans her room, she puts them straight into the laundry basket. All that to say, she only owns a couple skirts.

I stared at her a minute then told her to eat her breakfast while I went and checked on something. I served up her oatmeal and then ran up the stairs to her bedroom. I dug around in her drawers and, Hurray! I found a nice tan skirt that would match her orange t-shirt (with the hippopotamus) just fine. I grabbed it and ran downstairs.

“Look! I found a skirt that will match, you can change after breakfast!”

Deadpan stare.

“I don’t want to change. I like my outfit. I like THIS skirt.”

“I have a white t-shirt that would match the skirt better. Do you want to change your shirt instead?”

“I like THIS shirt and THIS skirt!”

Decision time. Do I make this a discipline issue where I now insist that she change? Do I endure tears and hurt feelings and send the 5 year old off to school in a really horrible mood? Or do I just let her wear the neon pink skirt? “Pick your Battles.” This parenting advice often runs through my head. Perhaps the Holy Spirit trying to give me advice? I decide to just drop it. Sure, all the teachers are going to think I’m a delinquent parent who doesn’t care about her child enough to dress her nicely. Sure, maybe the other students will tease her about her clothing choices, though probably not, since they’re all 5 year olds and at that age I think they are all color-blind.

No. This is definitely not a battle worth fighting.

We’re heading out the door to the car and the 5 yr old suddenly decides that she is cold and needs a sweater. (It is 70 degrees and muggy). I don’t have any sweaters for her. It’s still, technically, summer. It’s Tennessee. It’s hot. We are running late and now I’m just trying to get everyone out the door. I look on the coat rack by the door and find her little brother’s sweater. It’s gray and covered in pictures of motorcycles. I grab the sweater and throw it at her.

“Here! Put this on!”

Now my daughter is wearing an orange t-shirt (with hippopotamus), neon pink skirt, neon yellow socks (I didn’t even try to address the socks) and teal tennis shoes, with a motorcycle embossed sweater. And I dropped her off at school and told her to have a good day.

Part of being a parent is just holding your head high and refusing to be embarrassed about your children’s quirks.

(Okay, maybe I’m just a little embarrassed.)


On the Edge of the Wilderness


I wrote about the topic of weight loss because it was on my mind. After I wrote it, I had to think really hard about whether I wanted to share this or not. I have decided to do so because it occurs to me that I am not the only one dealing with these issues and perhaps in sharing I offer someone else a chance to not feel so isolated in their struggles.

For years I have attended a weekly meeting of women who gather together to just talk. We have rules.When you are not talking, your job is simply to listen to the others. You may not interrupt or comment. You may not try to fix them. You may not sympathize or try to add on a similar story of your own. Your only job is to just listen. Be a safe place. When it’s your turn to talk you can be sure that everyone is listening to you. Through this group I’ve also done something called “storywork” where we explore stories from our past that have been instrumental in shaping the way we view the world. While exploring our stories we often discover lies that we believe about ourselves or the world and we are offered a chance to start replacing those lies with truth. It has been a life-changing experience for me. If anyone is interested, the website for this ministry is here: Look Inside

Through this ministry I have been learning the art of curiosity. When I do something that is self-destructive or just not very logical, I’ve been learning to stop and be curious about why I just did that. I’ve been learning a lot about myself as I’ve slowly stopped and taken the time to be curious.

So, today I decided to be curious about something. Why is it so hard for me to start a diet/lifechange/healthierlifestyle/etc? I am significantly overweight. Being overweight has started to cause health issues. I don’t like the way I look. I don’t like the way feel. I greatly desire to be back at a normal weight. So why is it so hard to do something about it? I have started so many diets or “lifestyle changes” that I’ve lost track of how many attempts I’ve made. And it’s down right discouraging. I don’t even want to try again because I feel like I’ll just fail…again.

I was thinking about it and what came to mind was the Israelites, leaving Egypt, heading towards the Promised Land…But first they had to go through the Wilderness..And it wasn’t a short journey. Forgive me for using such an historic, important event to describe my weight loss troubles, I mean no disrespect.

Being overweight is definitely a form of slavery. One I sold myself into. Food addictions are real. Emotional eating is real as well. When food becomes your number one way of coping with stress and sadness and anger, it is very difficult to step away from your bad food habits. It’s like you’re in an extremely difficult moment and you no longer have your normal method of coping and you don’t know what to do with yourself. And in the end it just seems better to go eat something rather than launch into a fit of rage, or eat something before your head explodes, cause that what it feels like it’s going to do when you’re so stressed you can physically feel your blood pressure rising. It just seems like a better idea to eat that chocolate bar, or whatever it is you crave. Food makes you feel better for a couple minutes. It’s hard to step away from that. It involves developing an entire new set of skills, new coping mechanisms that are beneficial instead of harmful. Change is hard. And not fun.

On the other side of the Wilderness is the Promised Land. Everything good is waiting. Good weight. Good health. Good body-image. Younger looking. More energy. Cuter clothes. A sense of pride in accomplishing a major goal. It’s all there waiting. It’s what I’m longing for, dreaming of, wishing I could already be there.

But there’s this thing separating me from the Promised Land. I’m over here in slavery, longing to be over there in freedom, but I’ve got to go through this thing called the Wilderness. Hardship. Dryness. Hard work. Repetition. Same boring view. Eating food that is healthy but not particularly exciting. Forcing myself to exercise when I really just want to sit on the couch. Doing it every day. No breaks. Going to parties and saying No to all the party food and then standing in the corner munching on vegetables and fruit while everyone else eats cake and icecream. Going to the movies and watching everyone else eat popcorn and drink soda while I sip on my water bottle and eat the baggie of blueberries I smuggled in my handbag. Trying to establish new habits, new patterns, when the old ones feel so comfortable. And while you’re in the Wilderness you try to encourage yourself…the Promised Land is coming! You weigh yourself regularly, hoping the numbers are going down as proof that you are heading towards your goal. You measure yourself to see if any inches have come off. You keep logs and records of how you feel so that you can prove to yourself that you are getting closer. And then one day you hit a major holiday and everyone else is eating Pumpkin Pie and you are eating your fat-free, sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free faux dessert and you suddenly think, why am I doing this? This Wilderness stinks. Everyone else looks so much happier than me, you forget all about the Promised Land and you say, I’m over it, and you grab a piece of pie. And those chains of slavery that you’ve slowly been shedding, start tightening their hold on you again as you fall prey to the lure of food and how good it makes you feel. Because once you turn your back on that path that’s taking you towards victory, once you get lured back towards that slavery, it’s really hard to break free again and set yourself back in the right direction. This is the place where I always fail and I just slide right back into my slavish habits.

I’m sitting here, longing for my Promised Land but I’m eyeing that Wilderness. And I wonder if I really do have what it takes to make it through. Is it really worth it? Is there even really a path that will get me all the way from here to there? I’m uncertain and so I stop. I stand there in my slavery and I glimpse, over the horizon, the Promised Land waiting for me, but can I make it through the Wilderness? I don’t know.


I have sat and thought about this all day and a couple more thoughts come to mind. First, God was with the Israelites the whole time they were in the Wilderness, guiding their steps, taking care of them, teaching them things they needed to know. Second, I imagine the Promised Land was that much better and appreciated that much more due to the Wilderness experience. Third, none of the whole adventure would have happened without God.  In other words, this whole journey is going to require a measure of faith.


I Might Step on Some Toes Today


I saw this meme today. I laughed at first. I live in Knoxville and I happen to live right off of Magnolia. Magnolia is the main street of my neighborhood. I drive up and down Magnolia every day as I take my kids to school and pick them up every afternoon. When I sit on my front porch I have a clear view of Magnolia. I like to sit and watch the cars go by as I daydream about whatever happens to be on my mind.

So, I laughed because I remember when I first moved into this neighborhood and I was a bit spooked by Magnolia. I always drove cautiously, making sure to not be on the road too late at night.

For those of you who aren’t from Knoxville, Magnolia goes through East Knoxville which is a primarily black neighborhood. It’s a poor neighborhood. It’s the “Hood”. Whatever that means. My kids attend all three levels of public schools here and the poverty rate at these schools is in the ninety-something percentile. These schools are pretty segregated. At the elementary school it is somewhere around 96% black, at the high school level it’s around 90%. My children are often the only white child in their class. (I am delighted that my children get to go to school in a multicultural atmosphere, but I’m still perplexed as to why, in 2018, we are still so segregated in where we choose to live that we have schools that are basically all-white and schools that are basically all-black.)

As I was saying….I used to be spooked by Magnolia until I got to know the people here, then I realized they were just people. Like me. Once you get to know people, it’s hard to maintain irrational fears.

Ok, back to the meme. After laughing, my second thought was, Man, these people are a bunch of wimps. My high-schoolers walk to school on Magnolia every day. I do not think that this is dangerous. The schools and families here must not think it’s too dangerous either as our high school has a large population of students that walk to school because they live too close to get a bus. I also take walks with my children in our neighborhood. I don’t carry a gun. I have no fears of getting mugged or assaulted. I suppose it happens, but I also suppose that stuff can happen anywhere. I would say the rules of being aware of your surroundings apply whether you live in East or West Knoxville.

My next thought after I processed all that was, why are they picking on my neighborhood? Is it because it’s a black neighborhood and the friends who are posting this are white and they’re just afraid of people who look different than them? Is it because they have completely bought in to the idea that if you are poor and not white then you are probably dangerous?

I think about the long line of cars that I join every morning. People dropping off their kids at school. In the afternoon we’re all back, picking up our kids. These are the cars that are driving down Magnolia in the morning and the afternoon. Parents taking care of their kids. Of course there are the school buses full of kids, picking up and dropping off their charges. Those are driving down Magnolia. There are also all the people who are headed to work. Magnolia heads straight downtown and it’s a well-used commuting route.  And of course the city buses run up and down Magnolia and there are people standing at the bus stops, waiting for the bus so they can get to their jobs. I see them every morning as I take my kids to school. People like Ms Charmaine who leaves her shift at McDonalds and then catches the bus to Kroger to work her second job. I see her standing out at the bus stop every day.

We do have homeless people in our neighborhood. I see them walking down the street as well. Trying to find a place to sit and rest. Heading towards the soup kitchen where my daughter works part time. They’re just people. Sometimes I see some beautiful things. Like the time I was stopped on a cold morning at a stoplight and I saw a woman,  dressed for some kind of office job and she had stopped in front of a homeless woman who was barefoot. The office-type lady had taken off her knee-high boots and was removing her socks and handing them to the barefoot homeless woman. People loving people. I see these things in my neighborhood.

We also have the semi-homeless population. People who are living in the cheap hotels. They don’t want to be on the street but can never scrape together enough money to come up with a down payment on an apartment and so they are stuck renting by the week at the hotel. The hotel over-charges them and so all their money goes to just keeping themselves in the hotel room and they can never save up enough to move out. A very vicious cycle. I see them as they stand outside their hotel rooms, weighed down with the burden of poverty. And my middle class white friends post memes that say, How come those stupid poor people don’t just go get a job and fix all their problems? And I silently steam because how is someone who has no schooling and can only get a job at McDonalds supposed to ever break free of the cycle of poverty when they are paid minimum wage. A wage that is impossible to live on. It is a very rare person who can overcome such obstacles. And those that haven’t overcome, they live in my neighborhood. They’re just regular people, trying to get by.  

We also have a large refugee population, mostly from Africa, who live in the apartments that line Magnolia. These are people that have endured great hardship in their home countries and have somehow made their way to Knoxville and they are starting a new life. They’re putting their kids in school, they’re doing their laundry at the laundromats that line Magnolia. They walk down Magnolia for miles to the nearest grocery store and buy their groceries. Those are the people you’ll see walking along Magnolia.

And then there are people like my neighbors. You might see Mr. Willis driving around in his pickup truck, hauling around a trailer that carries all his lawn-care equipment. He’ll take care of your yard for you: good work at a good price. Mr. Willis graduated from the same high school that my kids attend. If you ask him, he’ll tell you all about how there’s a picture by the gym of the Austin East Basketball Team State Champions and yep, he’s right there in that picture. Then there’s Miss Cassandra. She works down at the hair salon. She helped us out that one time my daughter tried to give herself a haircut. We took her next door and Miss Cassandra  fixed her up nice. Lecturing her the whole time about not playing with scissors. Then there’s the Johnsons. They immigrated from Jamaica years ago. Mr. Johnson is a property manager. His mother lives with them and she always plants a small vegetable garden in their yard. And what about Miss Lucy? She’s an elderly woman who has lived in this neighborhood most of her grown up life. She recently lost her significant other of 40 years. She calls my husband when she’s worried about something on her property. She loves cats.

We all bought our houses in this neighborhood because it was what we could afford. We work hard, take care of our properties. Go to work every day. If you drive down Magnolia you might see us going about our business, heading to work or the grocery store. You might see our teenagers as they are learning how to drive and heading off to Youth Group functions or maybe to their part-time jobs.

Yes, we have gang members in this neighborhood. But, in my 13 years of driving up and down Magnolia I have never seen any behavior where I could point at a car and say, yep, those are definitely dangerous gang members. And yes, if you are driving late at night you might see prostitutes. If seeing a prostitute scares you then you need to rethink some of your ideas. When I see a prostitute I see an opportunity to pray for someone who is desperate and is desperately in need of rescue. Honestly, it’s not the prostitutes that scare me, it’s the men who prowl around in fancy trucks and pick them up. But, I’d hazard a guess that those men probably come from your neighborhood, not mine.

I hate the fact that I got offended by something on Facebook. It’s so cliche. Everyone is always getting offended about something. I apologize to my friends who posted this meme. I’m not trying to pick on you. I like your memes, they usually make me laugh. This one in particular was more of the Last Straw. I have heard many comments about my neighborhood from my friends and acquaintances, things like, “Yeah, I drove over that way once and it was like Negrotown!” Or, “I never drive in that area, way too dangerous!” or people recounting the time they accidentally drove into my area and how scared they were and how they worked on getting out of there as fast as they could. It occurs to me though, that a lot of fear is grounded in ignorance. Fear of the unknown. So maybe in telling you a bit about Magnolia and my neighborhood, maybe you won’t feel as scared if your GPS directs you to come drive by my house.