Cultivating an Environment of Excellence

I’ve noticed an unfortunate trend in our household as of late.


My children are content with being simply mediocre. When asked to complete a task, they accomplish the bare minimum, pat themselves on the back, then ask if they can turn on the television.

I’d like to blame this on summertime, but I don’t really think I can do that. This was going on before the lazy days of summer vacation settled upon us. Everything from schoolwork to athletics has fallen under the category of mediocre.

A few weeks ago, we had a heart-to-heart, the kids and I, about this particular issue. I made a reasonable request of them – Clean out the minivan. Sounds simple, right?

Only what you must understand is that our minivan is like a tiny, traveling landfill. I think I’m doing okay in parenting until I step into the back seat of the van, and then I realize I’m just raising cave people.


So, I asked them to clean it out, and they did. Barely. They cleaned out the obvious, easily visible trash, but never bothered to reach under or between the seats. I kind of didn’t blame them, because I wasn’t entirely sure creatures weren’t living in those dark crevices, but COME ON!

That was our first discussion about accomplishing tasks well. Doing things right the first time, and with excellence applies to everything, even cleaning out the minivan.

Of course, I said this after I had gone into the depths of the van after them and actually cleaned it. In the process I found a missing iPod, seven dollars, and a picture of myself from high school, which was a rather curious find.

It may have been the ghost of my past mocking me.


I realized that day that this life skill of doing things with excellence isn’t going to come naturally. I’m not sure this is a problem unique to our family. It’s something that has to be taught, and I’ve not done them justice.

[Tweet “The pursuit of excellence isn’t natural. It has to be taught with vigilance.”]

I’ve avoided the confrontation, and now I’ve got my work cut out for me. Because this spirit of mediocrity has bled over into other areas of life than just their inability to actually clean a room (or van).

My athletic kids are suddenly less concerned with excelling. They want to win, and they long for the accolades that come with their accomplishments, but they aren’t working for them.

Schoolwork is equally challenging. They are content to do the bare minimum in order to cross things off their list. Going above and beyond what was asked of them provokes looks of confusion when suggested.

And while A’s are nice, B’s and C’s aren’t so bad, either.

Truthfully, I have no problem with a B, or with second place, if I know you put your heart into working for it.

But if you just settled for it? Now we have problem, kids.

In college, I spent a semester studying in Kiev, Ukraine. I was enrolled in a Russian language program at The Institute for Foreign Languages, and my teacher, Olga Yurevna, was one of the most terrifying people I’ve ever met.

The first day of class, I joined seven other students in her beginning Russian class. They were all from China, and I was the token blonde-headed, All American girl. That night, she told us to go home and translate and memorize a passage of text that she had written down on the board.

The next day, when we returned, she pointed to a boy in the corner. He had longer hair, and sat slumped down in his chair. He was begging for her wrath.

“Recite line 8 of the passage for me,” she demanded. He shook his head.

“I don’t know it,” he replied.

She didn’t speak to him the rest of the semester. THE SEMESTER!

That was the day that I learned what it means to do something with excellence. Never before had I been in an environment that demanded perfection. It was slightly terrifying, but after four months I was nearly fluent in Russian because of Olga Yurevna’s high expectations.

Now, I know I can’t freeze my kids out for four months if they don’t meet my expectations, but perhaps there’s something to be learned from my experience in Ukraine. I rose to the occasion because I understood the demands, and because it was obvious that falling short was not an option.

We’ve got our work cut out for us around here, and these kids of mine may be in for a few unpleasant months. But I refuse to raise children who grow into adults who are content with mediocrity.

This year, we are in pursuit of excellence.

So, you know…add us to your prayer list. *wink*

How do you cultivate a spirit of excellence in your home?


Like A River Cover - 200X300Have you ordered your copy of Like a River From Its Course yet? I was over on Liz Tulsa’s blog this week sharing more about the inspiration behind the novel. Check out her post here.

If you haven’t ordered your copy yet, do so here. And let me know what you think! I love reviews!

Happy Thursday, everyone! The weekend is almost here!

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Raising Empowered Girls in a “Lemonade” World

Last night, I tucked her in and marveled at the way her body stretched the length of her bed. She wrapped her arms around my neck, and I breathed her in, her freshly washed hair sweet and powdery against my cheek.

It wasn’t long ago she was toddling around the house like her little sister. Now she’s a young lady. She’s compassionate and kind. She’s strong, both in character and physically. She doesn’t get caught up in girly pettiness, but rather walks her own line.

I love that about her.

Raising girls in today’s world is an exercise in faith. There’s a lot of talk on what it means to raise strong men, but there’s even more talk about how we’re supposed to be raising strong girls.

Train them to be dragons, to breath fire in this oppressive world. That’s the most common message I hear today, but what does that strength really look like? How’s a fire-breathing girl supposed to behave in this evolving world of ours?

empowered girls

Unless you live under a rock (and sometimes motherhood feels like just such rock), you’ve probably heard that Beyonce just dropped a new album that’s got the world buzzing.

Now, I’ve heard only bits and pieces of the album. I have not listened to every song because, you know, who has time to listen to Beyonce?!

But I’ve listened to a little bit, and I’ve read several of her lyrics, and here is my first impression. Visually, Beyonce’s new videos to go with her songs are appealing. There’s no denying Beyonce can entertain.

The songs are catchy, too. Not in a Hansen’s “Mmm-Bop!” sort of way. Heaven’s, no. They’re catchy in a stop and listen sort of way, because that’s also Beyonce’s skill. She can deliver music that makes you want to stop and listen.

But the message of the album? Well, I’m not a fan.

Clearly there has been some hurt in Beyonce’s home life. Her lyrics about a cheating spouse are not, I believe, merely fictional. I don’t think Beyonce wrote that album as a creative exercise. It came from a place of experience; it came from a woman who walked through the fire of betrayal, and made it through to the other side.

For her strength, I applaud Beyonce. I’ve watched friends walk through the devastation of infidelity. It is a betrayal unlike any other to have your spouse turn away from you, and the only way to recover is to fight: Fight for your marriage, which I’ve seen people do and make it to the other side. Or fight through divorce, a sometimes heartbreakingly inevitable consequence of infidelity.

In a world that sees marriage as a dispensable commodity, I commend Beyonce for (apparently, based on her lyrics) fighting for hers.


Tidal, the production company that dropped Beyonce’s album, has described it as “a conceptual project based on every woman’s journey of self knowledge and healing.”

Really? EVERY WOMAN? That’s a bold claim.

As women we are bombarded with the message that we are good enough and strong enough, and we don’t need any man to “complete” us.

Well, sure. There’s some truth to that statement. I’m raising my daughters to be strong, independent women because marriage isn’t a guarantee. I’m not looking to raise little Stepfords who can only function in the protective arms of a man. I want my girls to know they don’t need to find their self-worth in men.

But they shouldn’t be looking to find their worth in themselves, either. This is where Beyonce’s message of empowerment is not just wrong – it’s dangerous.

Take the following lyrics, for example: “Who the f*** do you think I is/You ain’t married to no average b**** boy/You can watch my fat a**twist boy/As I bounce to the next d*** boy/And keep your money, I got my own.”

Let’s set aside the terrible language for just a second, as if that wasn’t reason enough to caution girls away from Beyonce’s newest album. Let’s ignore that and simply focus on the meaning behind the words.

Is this really the message we’re applauding today? This is the anthem of strength we want our girls to emulate?!

If this is what raising a fire-breathing dragon looks like, then I’m kindly going to step out of the ring, and I’ll bring my girls with me.

[Tweet “Raising empowered girls in a “Lemonade” world is not so simple.”]

Raising girls who can stand strong in a world that tells them they’re nothing but sex symbols, now there’s the challenge. It’s such an oxymoron to listen to Beyonce sing while also watching her gyrate half-clad through most of her music. The message is conflicting: You’re good enough on your own merits, but your empowerment is entirely dependent upon your sex appeal.

Girls, hear me: You are worth far more than simply well-toned bodies.

It is a great honor and privilege to be a wife and a mother, but those things do not a woman make. Equally as important, however, is the understanding that strength isn’t dependent on your ability to wield and lord power over a man. Using sex as a weapon against your man? This is not a message we should be celebrating!

Strength isn’t elevating yourself above everyone else, particularly not over the men in your life. You want to show strength and beauty of character, young ladies?

Learn to let a man lead.

This is the beauty of womanhood. It is kind and compassionate, gentle and, yes, it is very, very strong. A woman’s worth doesn’t lie in her self-knowledge or her sexuality. Her strength does not reside in her ability to make men bow down at her feet and worship the ground she walks on.

Oh, no. A woman’s worth lies in the fact that she was merely created.

You are women created by God Himself.

You were knit with strength from the Creator of this world – a strength that cannot be explained. It cannot be sung. It cannot be wrapped into lyrical prose.

It can only be lived.

This strength is what will walk you through the hardest times of life. Accepting and believing that your worth lies only in who you were created to be by God is the anthem I want women to sing. It is the anthem I want my daughters to hold high.

Believing that they are worth more than they could ever imagine on their own, that “self-knowledge” is actually a myth, is the song I want to dictate their days.

This is the lemonade in a world full of lemons.

The One Where We Win the Prize

We looked over at each other across the couch last night and offered weary smiles. He held up his glass, and I held up mine, and we lightly clinked them together.

“Well done,” I said with a grin. “You made it to today’s finish line. You win the prize.”

The flurry of activity at the end of each long day is enough to drive one to drinking…if I really thought that drinking would help. By the time we get home from evening practices, get everyone fed and showered, and then go through the rigamarole of getting them all in bed (and getting them to stay there), we’re exhausted.

Glennon Melton likens it to a game of whack-a-mole, and she’s not too far off.

Another drink of water? Whack!

Your stomach feels funny? Whack!

You just remembered you have homework due tomorrow? Whack!

Your toe hurts? Whack!

By the time the dust finally settles and the house quiets down, we are utterly spent. I’d love to tell you that we spend those last quiet hours of our evenings finishing up the day’s work, or reading rich books, but usually we’re so busy trying to recover from the trauma of bedtime that we find ourselves staring numbly at a wall.

Going to bed at night feels like a prize. I climb into my warm, soft sheets, and they greet me with a holy kiss. As I lay my head on my pillow, I hear it whisper, “Well done.”

Last night, Lee and I leaned our heads back on the couch after a particularly long evening (so. much. noise.), and we let loose a collective sigh.

“You think when we’re sixty-five we’ll look back on this and miss it?” he asked.

“Maybe,” I answered. “But probably not.”

Everyone tells you to enjoy it now because you’ll miss it. “You’ll miss the noise and the chaos when they’re all out of the house,” they say, but sometimes I’m not so sure. Maybe I will. But what if I don’t? What if I relish those quiet evening hours when they belong to me again?


Can I share with you one of the things that gets me through the never ending bedtime routines? (I hope you said yes because I fully intend on sharing it.)

I dream of the day when the children are all grown and out of the house.

In those future evenings, Lee and I will sit in our quiet house and perhaps we’ll feel a pang of longing for those bygone, hectic days. Maybe we’ll find ourselves blinking back tears as we remember her wanting to practice her recorder one last time at 8:30 pm, while he asks how to find the surface area of a cube, and the toddler screams in her bed, and the other boy wants to play indoor soccer with a hacky sack.

We’ll be past all of that, and maybe the silence will feel deafening. But then the phone will ring, and it will be one of our adult children, and in the background we’ll hear the screeching sounds of a recorder, and a basketball bouncing against the tile floor. There will be a baby crying, a dog barking, children bickering. All the sounds will greet our ears and we’ll duck our heads, the vestiges of parenting PTSD still lingering.

“This is so hard!” the grown child will tell us. “They won’t go to bed and I’m exhausted.”

We’ll nod and offer a few sympathetic words of encouragement, and then we’ll hang up the phone and look at one another with a smile.

“We did it,” I’ll say to him. “We did our time and paid our dues, and we won the prize.”

Then we’ll laugh maniacally on our couch inside our clean, quiet house.

Sometimes the only thing getting me through the endless bedtime hours is the promise that I won’t have to do this forever.

So it is with full acknowledgement that I come to you and tell you to hang in there. Every time you make it back to your bed, you’ve won the prize. That day’s game is through, and you’re on the other side.

And when it’s all said and done, your chicks having flown from the nest, you’ll sink into your soft, warm bed with the silence of the evening pushing in at you from all sides. Maybe the silence will hurt a little. Maybe it’ll bring a pang of longing, of nostalgia for the days when bustling life spilled through the room.

But it may also bring a pang of relief, and that’s okay, too. Because you made it. And as you lay your head on your pillow it will greet you with a holy kiss and whisper gently in your ear:

“Well done.”

Spring Break ’16 and I Am a Hot Mess

Have you ever had one of those pedicures where you stick your feet in a tank of water and let tiny fish nibble the dead skin off your heels and toes?

I haven’t either, but I watched friends do it and I’ve never quite been the same for it.

I find little appeal in letting small water creatures nibble away at my calloused feet. Can we just agree that that’s gross and call it a day?

Here’s the funny thing, though – sometimes motherhood feels like you’re living inside that tank being nibbled to death by tiny fish.

We’re on day one of spring break, and I’m already exhausted. We chose to stay close to home this year both to save money, but also so that we could host two players from the FC Liverpool team who are visiting the States for a tournament. Sounds fun, right?

Except I basically tortured my children today by forcing them to clean on their spring break. It seems I’ve obliterated my chances for that Mom of the Year title…maybe forever.


They scrubbed toilets, pulled weeds, cleaned gutters, and made a half-hearted attempt to help me get some of the fallen leaves out of the flower bed.


In between these torture sessions chores, I forced them to turn off electronics and move their bodies. You know…interact with the real world. Enjoy the perfect Florida day. Anything that didn’t involve a screen.

By noon we were all basically sick of one another. I was annoyed with their attitudes, and they were devastated at what can only be chalked up to a loss of all their freedoms.

This was when I gave my mom speech. That super motivational tome about all their many privileges, and how disappointing it was to be met with such ungratefulness. A real pep talk. I laid it on thick, then let the words sort of hang in their air for a few minutes until one of them skulked over with a weak “Sorry, Mom.”

The other two followed suit somewhat reluctantly. And Annika went on screaming because it was past her nap time, and she doesn’t give a flying flip about my disappointment.

The rest of the afternoon found the children much sweeter, but it seemed my mom speech backfired somewhat as now all the children wanted to be with me. Like, physically on my person. They wanted to be held and snuggled and played with and SWEET MERCY I HAD THINGS TO DO!

Little by little, though, their “I love you’s,” and “will you play with me’s” wore me down. Like the fish in those tanks, they nibbled away at my frustration until they’d all but smoothed it out. (Well a couple of them, anyway. One of those kids of mine is more like a leech, latching on and sucking the very life out of me most days.)

So all that to say, spring break is off to a great start. This staycation thing was a super idea. Saving money is just so much fun.

My fingers might be dropping a little sarcasm right now.

The rest of the week should prove to be more enjoyable. We have plans – real plans. Actual plans that involve leaving the house!

And so I shall continue to swim in this tank of my life, being slowly nibbled at by all these small people living with me. It’ll either smooth me out completely, leaving me refreshed and renewed…or it’ll kill me.

Jury’s out.

Yay spring!

(Who else is on spring break right now? Are you having fun, or are you choosing to torture your kids like me?)

What I Know Now

When I first became I mother, I knew everything there was to know about mothering. As I lay nestled in my hospital bed with Sloan all bundled tight and hot against my chest, I felt a confident calm. Because I had read all the books, so I knew how this was all going to shake down.

I was going to nail motherhood.

Twelve and a half years later, I’m four kids in, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t have a clue what I’m doing. On any given day, I’m pretty sure I’m winging it.

None of my babies, not even the littlest, like to be wrapped tight and lay against my chest for any period of time anymore. They’re busy, and they take their snuggles on the go.

And also, I now understand just how little I know about this act of mothering.

Oddly enough, I haven’t figured it all out. I started out so confidently, and then that swaddled bundle of mine grew into a little boy – a strong-willed little boy with opinions. And then two more joined the fray, and they had opinions.

And then the fourth one came along, and I’ve decided not to allow her to formulate opinions. I’m sure that’s going to work out well for me.


So now I live in a house full of small people, all of them clamoring to make their opinions known, each one pushing back in their own unique way and, quite frankly, there are some days when I think I might lose my mind.

And there are other days when I’m pretty sure it’s already been gone for some time.

So what’s a mom to do when she’s lost her mind, and the children are crying, and the house is a mess, and her husband is out of town, and the insanity of it all just. won’t. stop?

She can start by taking a few deep breaths. In the middle of typing that last sentence, one of my children spilled an entire bowl of cereal. The milk dumped out onto the baby who was standing underneath the table, and I wanted to cry because all I want is to finish a sentence.

That’s it.

Just a sentence.

But you know that thing about crying over spilled milk? Yeah, there’s something to that. Because it was just an accident. He didn’t spill his cereal as an attack on me. He wasn’t trying to interrupt my train of thought.

He was just trying to give his sister a bite of his cereal and his elbow got in the way.

#triggersbookSo *deep breath* we cleaned it all up and moved on. Because I know now that damaging their little hearts over an accidental spill isn’t worth it. Growing angry over my children’s childish behavior isn’t productive for them or for me.

As I raise these children of mine, I’m growing up, too. Some days I do great. I take deep breaths, and I smile as I mop up spilled milk.

Other days, I have to leave the room for a few minutes to pull it together.

And sometimes I have to apologize.

[Tweet “Motherhood is as much an act of my own personal growth as it is my children’s growth.”]

My friends, Wendy and Amber, have written a wonderful resource for moms to help us as we grow into motherhood. It’s a process, this business of being mom. It’s not innate – not really. Every day is different, every child is different, every life stage is unique, and we have to keep up.

I’m thankful for resources that come along and support my growth as a mom. Using sound biblical guidance, Wendy and Amber have given us tools for dealing with each TRIGGER that might threaten to undo us. We don’t have to do this motherhood gig alone.

If you feel like you’re drowning and you can’t get a handle on the emotions that accompany parenting, I highly recommend this book.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to mop up a sticky floor. And also, the toddler has gotten really quiet. That’s never, ever a good thing.


Purchase your copy of TRIGGERS: Exchanging Parents Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses here.


Growing Up Mom

We sat close to the back of the plane, on a (mercifully) half full flight. Taking turns, Lee and I passed Annika back and forth across the aisle, her indignant wails reverberating off the airplane walls in a cacophony of torture.

We avoided contact with the other passengers as much as possible, but when a furtive glance was accidentally exchanged, we were mostly met with pitying stares. Thank you, kind people of Southwest flight 2150. Your patience was noted and deeply appreciated.

As the plane made it’s descent, she finally collapsed on Lee’s shoulder, gasping and snorting from ALL THE CRYING. With five minutes left in our flight, she fell fast asleep, completely exhausted by toddlerhood. And in the few minutes of silence that followed, I reflected on just how far I’ve come.


I thought back to the time when Lee and I flew with Sloan to California and he, too, had an epic melt down on the plane. I was so stressed, near tears myself, entirely frustrated with my uncontrollable toddler. I was certain his behavior was a reflection of my poor mothering, and I’m pretty sure I vowed on that flight that I would never, ever, in a million years have another child because  MOTHERING IS TOO HARD!

Yesterday, however, as Annika screamed bloody murder, Lee and I simply laughed. We found her screeching wails quite humorous, mostly because the look on her face was so accusatory. I’m pretty sure she cussed us out more than once as we forced her to sit in our laps.

Child abuse…

More than anything, though, I realized that what would have sent me into a fit of frustrated tears and angst a decade ago now only left me mildly amused. I don’t have time to worry about mid-flight temper tantrums anymore. And I also have the experience to know it won’t last forever.

This was one small moment in a very long timeline of events.


I was twenty-five when I had my first baby. I didn’t yet have wrinkles on my forehead, and the weight from that first pregnancy melted away like magic within six months.

I was quite idealistic back then, and even though I tried not to show it, I pretty much thought I had the whole motherhood thing figured out. At least I thought so until that tiny baby grew into a little human with ideas and opinions. Very strong opinions. Very, very strong opinions.

By the time baby number four arrived at thirty-six, I had changed in more ways than one. There are now these pesky lines across my forehead that mock me every time I look in the mirror, and the baby weight hasn’t so much melted away this time around as it’s sort of just shifted around and informed me it doesn’t intend to go without a fight.

I’m no longer idealistic, and I’ve found that motherhood isn’t something you figure out. You only live it, one step and one cup of coffee at a time.

While I would like to have the smooth forehead and wicked fast metabolism of my youth back, I’m not really sure I’d want to relive those days. I’m better now – more comfortable in my skin, more confident with my dreams, and far more open to the kinks that my children like to throw in my otherwise well-planned days.

So bring it on, kids! I’m Mom-ing like a boss these days, so you can come at me with your temper tantrums and your eye-rolling. I may not always handle it perfectly, but I can guarantee I’m more likely to laugh than cry, because I know something now that I didn’t know then:

This is one small moment in a very long timeline of events.

Yesterday has passed.

Today is a new day.

And the baby is now three hours into a nap.

Life is so good.

Has anyone else experienced the hell of a screaming toddler on a plane? Do share. We can commiserate with one another.

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