These days of small things

how to enjoy childhood via @lizzylit

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

We’re at the North Carolina State Fair on a perfect October night. The sky is cloudless, speckled with stars. The air is crisp, cool but not cold. It’s a night for pumpkins and bonfires, sweatshirts and cider. It’s also a Saturday night, which means that the entire population of North Carolina has been inspired by our same not-so-brilliant idea: “Let’s spend two hundred dollars buying deep-fried candy bars wrapped in bacon, and then get on rides that simulate standing inside a blender, and try not to throw up!”

But the October sky will not be ignored, so now here we are, fighting our way through a heaving river of humanity to find the kiddie area. Kevin is muscling our double stroller through gaps in the mass of people, parting the crowd like Moses with the Red Sea, only with more shouting and carnage. I’m right behind him, clutching fistfuls of the two older kids’ sweatshirts in my hands, praying we don’t lose any of our four struggling, goggle-eyed children in the swarm. Over the crowd, Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome and I keep flashing each other this forced, crazy-eyed smile that means something along the lines of: “Maybe if we keep fake-smiling we’ll trick ourselves into believing we’re having fun, even though we’re terrified—and for the love of all that is good and holy how did we talk each other in to spending our kids’ college fund on rigged games and fried candy?—and by the way, we are never doing this again!”

Finally the wave of people dumps us out into the kiddie area—along the way we’ve mowed down twelve love-struck teenagers and one giant stuffed banana wearing dreadlocks, in between dropping sixty bucks on kettle corn, elephant ears, and a Lebanese dish we can’t pronounce but that tasted like glory—and by some miracle, all four kids are still with us, and no one has thrown up (yet).

I convince the three older kids to ride the giant swings with me, and all through the line they do a dance of delighted terror. You’d think they’ve never been on a ride before, the way they’re gaping at the swings, hugging each other and hiding their eyes. I’m worried they might chicken out. But the minute the ride starts and our feet leave the ground, my six-year-old throws both arms in the air and laughs like an experienced roller coaster rider, like she was born for this. (Recalling her habit of flinging her body from terrifying heights in an apparent desire to become BFFs with the local emergency room staff, I suspect she was.) We stumble off two minutes later, giddy and giggling. I’m starting to feel like the fair wasn’t such a terrible idea after all.

And now it’s the two-year-old’s turn to ride something her speed. We ease back into the torrent of people, searching until we spot a merry-go-round of glittery miniature cars. At first we hesitate, hands pressed against our ears, because the ride’s designer, who has clearly never met a child, thought it would be clever to equip the cars with ear-splitting horns, which the happy toddlers are honking as aggressively as their fat fists can manage. But Sawyer’s eyes light up, and we all sigh: She must ride this ride. She must honk a horn. We must sacrifice our hearing for her happiness. As the girls and I get in line, Kevin pantomimes a message over the relentless horns: he and Blake are going to save their eardrums and go pay a fortune to throw weighted darts at unpoppable balloons. I stick my tongue out at them, because they’re totally getting the better end of the arrangement. Besides, they might win a stuffed banana.

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When it’s finally our turn, I stand behind the Parent Fence as my nine-year-old, Cassidy, helps buckle Sawyer in, and then folds her own long legs into their tiny car. Cassidy’s knees are bent almost up to her ears, and she throws me a dimpled, self-deprecating grin—a grin that says nineteen, not nine. Sawyer attacks the horn with gusto. Avery, my six-year-old adrenaline junkie, scrambles into the car in front of them.

Lights flash. Music blares. Horns crescendo. The ride jolts forward, and Sawyer squeals her delight. Cassidy leans in close, showing Sawyer how to turn the steering wheel. For a moment, their twin grins are all I can see, but then I notice Avery. She’s still young enough that she should be swept up in her own ride—spinning her own wheel, honking her own horn—but instead she is twisted backwards, shining brown eyes locked on Sawyer. She is ignoring her own ride so she can watch her baby sister experience hers. Avery beams at Sawyer, a proud, knowing smile. The same maternal smile I feel lighting my own face.

The simple, honest sweetness steals my breath. For a few seconds my ears forget to hurt. I stand there, blinking tears, drinking in the beautiful sight of my three girls, adoring each other in this small moment.

I’m reminded of a scripture I’ve just rediscovered, a new-old favorite, Zechariah 4:10: “Who dares despise the day of small things?” The passage is a celebration of a quiet but significant event in Israel’s history, as God’s people are rebuilding the temple. The temple is still years from completion, but the plumb line—the guiding marker that will assure the building is constructed properly—rests in the designer’s hand. The building has only just begun, but it has begun the right way.

I think to myself, This may seem like a small moment, but it is not small. Not to God, not to me. My girls, here in this fleeting moment, are all that sisters should be. For these few seconds, the older ones care more about their baby sister than about themselves. They may have squabbled a dozen times on the way to the fair today, they may have begged too insistently for cotton candy and cheap stuffed animals, but right here, right now, in these sparkling seconds, they are loving each other, and how lovely it is. This is no small victory, no insignificant thing. It is the promise of things to come, the foundation of all we are trying to build in our family.

I put the night on pause: I will not despise this moment, this small thing. I will not let it pass by unnoticed, unappreciated. I will make it holy, sending a prayer of thanks up into the starry October sky. I will write it down and make it last. Like Mary, I will treasure this memory in my heart, storing it deep inside so I can bring it out and relive it again and again for the rest of my days (Luke 2:51).

And I will look for more moments like this, small blessings I might miss if I’m not paying attention. I will savor these too-short childhood years, this endless stream of simple joys:

Happy shrieks on scary rides, ice cream stains on brand-new shirts.

A night with no tantrums, a day with dry diapers.

A thousand silly but splendid firsts: the first time they whistle a note, tie a shoe, blow a gum-bubble.

I will not despise these chaotic days in my marriage—this stage of sleepless nights and zombie days, of stolen romance and secret smiles—these years that demand so much, yet make us better.

Family is a happy mess, life a hectic whirlwind. One minute is a disaster, the next a delight. But countless gifts glisten, hidden inside each roller-coaster day, if only we’ll pause long enough to notice. To open. To savor. And in noticing and opening and savoring, we sanctify these small wonders, these insignificant things.

Perhaps we find that small things are not so small after all.

That fleeting moments are not fleeting, not momentary, after all.

That simple days of small things are the best days—the biggest things—after all.

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Signs that a Man Is Not a First-Time Dad

signs of an experienced dad

1. He can wrestle a Pack and Play into submission in 5.6 seconds.

2. He doesn’t have to be asked to serve as the baby gear Sherpa when it’s time to leave a friend’s house. He automatically hunts down diaper bags, pacifiers, and all twenty-seven sippy cups, and starts schlepping them out to the minivan.

3. He will gladly hold other people’s babies and not go stiff-armed. He no longer gets that panicked someone-save-me-before-I-break-this-thing expression on his face.

4. He can make any baby laugh at any age. He is not too proud to sing in falsetto, blow raspberries, or play Peek-a-boo.

not a first-time dad

5. When moms start talking baby sleep schedules, he can chime right in and hang with the best of them. If he’s in the mood to show off, he might throw in phrases like “co-sleeping” and “self-soothing” and “Happiest Baby on the Block.” (This makes all the women raise their eyebrows and give him the you’re-in-the-professional-dad-club nod.)

6. All of his jackets have silver streaks on the shoulders, from years of baby snot. He wears them like a badge of honor.

7. He knows how to swaddle.

8. He does not grimace, scream, or run away when a toddler with a loaded diaper-bomb waddles his way. Inside, he is probably still grimacing and screaming, but after so many dirty diapers, he has mastered his Stinky Diapers Don’t Bother Me Expression.

9. However . . . he has also learned to conveniently disappear or get on a “business call” at the first whiff of a suspicious diaper, so that his wife cannot conscript his services. He has also discovered that he can get out of changing dirty diapers if he bribes his wife with twenty kid-free minutes so she can sneak out to go through the Starbucks drive-through alone. (He has not, however, learned that his wife is getting the better end of this deal. Twenty kid-free minutes in a quiet car, sipping non-microwaved coffee, in exchange for changing a stinky diaper? YES.)

10. When his wife discovers lice in a child’s head, and she begins to hyperventilate into a paper bag, he takes over. He grabs the lice comb and goes to work murdering lice. He tells himself that every disgusting moment from his boyhood has prepared him for this.

11. He can walk through a store with multiple children hanging from his legs, having a serious conversation, and never break stride or lose his train of thought.

12. He not only knows how to put on a baby carrier, but he will wear it in public with pride.

13. He can interpret a child’s tickle-screams, and identify the precise moment when a tickle fight turns dangerous. He knows exactly when to stop tickling just in time to prevent a catastrophic pee-pee disaster. (He has learned this the hard way.)

tickle fight

14. If he has to, he can sleep through anything. He can lie down on the couch, turn on golf, and drift off even while children pretend to give him shots and then take turns using his head as a trampoline.

DSC_013215. However, he has learned that if he wants to take a hardcore nap, he shouldn’t announce his intentions. His only chance is to quietly sneak away while his wife is not looking and bury himself in the bed with the bathroom fan blasting to drown out all the kid noise. His wife will probably be irritated when she finds him there later, but he has performed the cost-benefit analysis, and her momentary wrath is worth the forty-five minutes of stolen sleep.

16. He is no longer fazed when his wife’s pregnant or new-mom friends come over and burst into random fits of exhausted tears. He’s like, Welcome to our world. We feel your pain. Here’s a tissue.

17. He not only remembers to put sunscreen on children at the pool; he has a foolproof step-by-step system for sunscreen application: “Arms up, legs wide, eyes shut, turn fifteen degrees to the right, turn again . . .”

18. He knows that ice cream, Band-Aids, and Daddy hugs can heal almost anything.

DSC_028319. He knows the words to every Disney Junior and Nick Junior TV show theme song, and secretly enjoys humming them to himself. (He’ll never admit it, but his favorite is “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse”: “Hot dog, hot dog, hot diggety-dog.”)

20. He can name every Thomas the Train engine and identify most Beanie Boos.

21. He has trained the children well. When Mommy asks, “What did you do with Daddy today?”, they parrot, “What happens with Daddy, stays with Daddy.”


22. He knows that when the phone rings and a little-boy voice says, “Can I speak to your daughter,” it’s time to get a new phone number.

23. He understands that when his just-had-a-baby wife sighs into the mirror and says, “All my clothes look terrible on me,” what she really means is, “I’m struggling with my post-baby body, and I need to know that you still think I’m beautiful.” He knows what to say. (Or at the very least, he knows what not to say.)

24. He knows that you never turn down an invitation to a princess tea party with your daughter, no matter how behind you are on email, because a man only gets invited to so many princess tea parties in his life.

daddy-daughter love

princesses don't last forever


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Gifts My Father Gave Me

Gifts My Father Gave Me

Whenever I speak, I love telling stories about my father, first because I adore him, and second because I am all too aware that a dad like mine is a gift that not everyone gets to enjoy. The relationship we have with our earthly father has a profound effect upon the way we view our heavenly Father. If you are one of my reader-friends who did not have the relationship you wanted and needed with your earthly father—for whatever reason—I pray that reading this gives you comfort by painting a picture of the kind of relationship God the perfect Father offers to you . . . to all of us. I also share these things because I hope they will encourage other dads (and moms!) who read them, that so often it’s the little things—the things you don’t even know you’re doing—that help your kids the most.

He took me to see movies.

On summer nights in high school, Dad would catch my eye with a gleam in his and say, “You wanna go see a movie?” I’d breathe “Yes” (always, yes), sprint up the stairs to grab my shoes, and off we’d go, screeching into the theater parking lot, out of breath and laughing, five minutes late every time.

He loved my mother.

Sometimes he’d get quiet in the middle of dinner and I’d see him sitting there, hands clasped, fingertips pressed against his lips, eyes shining as he gazed at Mom, just . . . watching her talk, enjoying her laugh. And I’d know what was coming. When he found his voice he’d say, “Isn’t she wonderful?” (He still does this even now.) He showed me what forever love looked like. Even as a girl, I knew I wanted what Dad and Mom had. Nothing less would do. I was willing to wait, as long as it took, till I found someone who loved me the way my dad loved my mom.

He didn’t just love me—he liked me.

Weird and quirky and nerdy as I was (am), he enjoyed me somehow. Laughed at my jokes. Thought I was smart. Liked the dumb things I wrote. Paid me compliments I probably didn’t deserve. Saw who I was becoming, instead of who I was. Enjoyed the journey instead of obsessing over the results.

He showed me how to love God.

He didn’t just take me to church, didn’t just tell me about God—he walked with God himself. Every morning I’d watch Dad disappear into the woods behind our house for his daily prayer walk, and come back thoughtful but happy. He prayed with me, with Mom, with the whole family, and made prayer a real and accessible part of our daily life. I’m still seeking to imitate the deep relationship with God that Dad enjoys.

He didn’t think I was crazy.

Even as a kid, there was a lot going on in my little head. Throw in there the complexities of growing up a Preacher’s Kid, trying to find my way in the world and in Christianity, and you’ve got a recipe for a lot of angst. My sainted mother carried 98% of my internal drama, but Dad listened too, especially when Mom got stumped. And he somehow understood the cartwheels my brain and heart were doing, and when we were done talking, I felt understood. Normal. Hopeful. Like I might turn out okay after all.

He helped me be logical.

Mom was the ultimate sympathizer; Dad was sympathetic too, but he also helped me untangle knotted thoughts. He’d walk me through them one at a time, step by step, until things made sense. Weren’t so scary. Weren’t so weird. Were more like manageable strings to examine one by one, instead of the whole daggum king-sized afghan.

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How to Find God—and Joy—When Life Is Hard

He told me about his mistakes.

It was wonderful to know that the father I so admired wasn’t perfect. He told me story after story of his own temptations, disappointments, and failures. He gave me hope that I might turn out okay after all.

He cared about what mattered to me.

When my middle school basketball team got cheated out of a chance to compete for regionals, I was so mad I couldn’t think straight. Dad listened, and understood, and didn’t try to “fix” my feelings. Sometimes you want fixing; other times you just want somebody to show you they get it, and sit there and hurt right alongside you. Only then can you fully hear them and let them help you work through it.

He helped me pursue the things I loved.

When I decided I wanted to run track, Dad designed exercise regimens for me, which the Type A girl in me followed like they were the Ten Commandments. When I decided I wanted to run for class president, he helped me tweak my speech. When I failed miserably at being class president for the first semester, he gave me a talking-to and helped me turn it around. When I got accepted to my dream university and worked myself silly trying to find enough scholarship money to pay for it, but it still wasn’t enough, Dad figured out how to make up the difference for year one and let me go there on faith, figuring that between the four us—God and Mom and Dad and me—somehow we’d find a way to pay for years two, three, and four when we got to years two, three, and four. We found it.

He gave great hugs.

Dad liked to grab us kids as we walked past, and bury us in bear hugs. We always tried to squirm away, but then we’d settle in and absorb the affection. There was something healing about those hugs. Comforting. Pure. Confidence-building. Something that said,  I am so very loved, and right here, in this quiet moment, all is right with my little world.

He wasn’t afraid to cry.

I still remember the first time I saw Dad cry: the day he told me my cat had died. We sat there on the bed and cried our eyes out together. And there were countless other times when Dad let his emotion show—tears of joy, of empathy, of loss, of memory, and—my favorite—tears of laughter.

For all this and so much more, thanks, Dad. Happy Father’s Day. And to all the dads out there, doing the little (big) things for your kids . . . keep it up. You’re getting through. Your kids will thank you one day.

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Don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter! As a welcome gift, you’ll receive a free ebook, plus a free download with 7 two-minute devotions to do around the breakfast table with kids! 


Gifts My Father Gave Me


13 Things I’ve Learned from Senior Citizens

I can’t wait to be an old person. Really. I think senior citizens are the coolest—I could hang out in retirement homes all day and have a blast. (Crystal Waters and I are alike in that way—it’s one of my favorite things about her.) I think that adoring my own grandparents the way I do has taught me to admire and appreciate and just thoroughly be delighted by the generations that have come before us. I could have listed a hundred things I’ve learned from senior citizens, but . . . sigh . . . you only get thirteen.

Things I've learned from senior citizens

My beloved grandmother, holding my beloved daughter

1. Laugh a lot. You’ll live longer.
2. Eat dinner at home. You’ll save money and stay married.
3. Save hotel soaps. You might need them in case of a hurricane or soap shortage. (And bar soap never goes bad, so you can save it for years. Really.)
4. Write letters. Real ones, with pen and paper.
5. Make friends with your neighbors.
6. Good advice is priceless. When you find someone who gives good advice, be quiet and listen.
7. All senior citizens in America are secretly required to attend water aerobics. You will not be arrested if you don’t go, but you will risk total social annihilation. The good news is, your fellow water aerobics participants will become best friends with each other and go out for coffee after class, so really, water aerobics is THE place to be after age seventy-five.
8. When it’s time to get a hearing aid, go for the good ones. The cheap ones just don’t cut it. And you should always, always keep hearing aid batteries on hand, just in case. You don’t want to miss a word your water aerobics friends are saying.
9. You can freeze almost anything.* Really. Even milk, and shredded cheese, and damp laundry that needs ironing, and wax spilled on fabric, and stamps that you want to pull off of envelopes that you didn’t mean to stamp so you can reuse the (unused) stamps later. (*You cannot, however, freeze sour cream.)
10. A little bacon never hurt anybody, but a lot of bacon did.
11. Those chain emails that warn you that you’ll be horribly mangled in a freak accident if you don’t forward the email on in the next five minutes to fifty friends . . . well, they’re probably not true, but you never know, so you should go ahead and forward them, just in case.
12. Cool shoes are overrated, and oftentimes ridiculous—especially uber-high heels. Comfort is where it’s at if you want to be a mall-walker all the way into your nineties. (Which I definitely do. Exercising AND window shopping, all at the same time? I don’t know why the whole world doesn’t exercise this way.) Three cheers for Aerosoles, anyone? I’ve totally bought some before, and they were surprisingly adorable.
13. If you are a single man over the age of seventy-five, and want to find the love of your life, volunteer to drive the church bus on all the adult field trips. You’ll be married in less than a year. (Corollary: If you are a single woman over the age of seventy-five, and want to find a husband, go on field trips with your church. Smile at the bus driver. I must warn you: the competition will be fierce, so bring your A game, and wear a little lipstick.)

Okay, I lied. Here are five more things I’ve learned, but since I’m not numbering them, I consider them bonus lessons, and so this isn’t really a list of eighteen things. Think of it as “read thirteen, get five free.” Like a pre-Black Friday special, only in life lessons disseminated via blog.

—You don’t need new stuff. Old stuff works just fine. And redecorating? Forgeddaboudit.
—If you like having real teeth, you should floss. (Ahem, Mr. “I Have Good Teeth So I Don’t Need to Floss”—nudge, nudge. You know who you are. You have been warned via blog post. If you think flossing is time-consuming, word on the street is, denture care is a beast.)
—Buy cars the size of boats. Sure, they’re hard to park, but everyone else on the road will get out of your way.
—Pay attention to politics, even when it drives you crazy.
—And one of my favorite lessons of all: A good book and a comfy recliner are all you need for a thrilling evening. You can travel the world without ever leaving your living room.

13 Things Every Dad and Daughter Should Do Together

I am painfully aware that not every girl is lucky enough to have a dad in her life, but if you are, it’s a gift not to be squandered. And we all know that most dads are better at doing than saying. With those truths in mind, this List of Thirteen is in honor of Rage and Crystal, and all the dads and daughters who fight to form a relationship, no matter the obstacles.

Thirteen Things Every Dad and Daughter Should Do Together:

1. Ride roller coasters. What girl wouldn’t love seeing her dad scream like—well, a little girl? (Sadly, this is the only one on the list I can’t do with my dad. Just looking at roller coasters turns him a lovely shade of puke green, with an emphasis on the puke part.)

2. Go see a movie at the last minute. This is one of my favorite things my dad and I used to do when I was in high school. We’d be standing around the kitchen after dinner when he’d get a mischievous look in his eye and slowly lift one eyebrow—I already knew what was coming—and he’d say, “You wanna go to the movies?” We’d both tear upstairs to grab our shoes, then speed across town to the theater—five minutes late every time. (P.S. Random Helpful Hint for Dads that you’ll thank me for later: Spring for the tickets and the popcorn, every single time. If you’re a gentleman, your daughter will look for a gentleman in a boyfriend, too. See what I mean? You’re welcome.)

3. Be stupid together. Sure, ladies, it eventually gets embarrassing when your dad tries to be the cool dad who makes all your friends laugh, but deep down, you kind of like it. At least he’s trying (and that’s better than the alternative).

4. Cry together. I’m not saying you have to turn into a Hobbit or anything (Is it just me, or do the Hobbits cry a lot in The Return of the King?), but sometimes, it’s a good thing—the right thing. I still remember the day my beloved cat Puff died, and my dad sat on the bed and cried with me.

5. Dance together. One of my favorite scenes to write in The Thirteenth Summer was the one where rock star Rage, after a lifetime of being an absent, distant father, decides to finally be a dad to Crystal in one of the only ways he knows how: He teaches her to let loose and dance. It’s a bummer that he hasn’t passed on his rhythm to Crystal, but at least he can pass on some of his confidence.

6. Work out together. My dad always helped train me for cross country, and I’ll never forget the simple joy of pounding along the pavement, side by side, not saying a word—just running together, breathing the same air.

7. Have private jokes. There’s nothing like making your dad laugh across the table, and only the two of you know why.

8. Talk about religion. A girl wants to know what her dad really thinks about the big things in life.

9. Arm wrestle. Dad, you don’t even have to let her win, because a girl likes to know her dad’s a stud. When I was three, I told my dad, “Daddy, the Incredible Hulk is big like YOU are!” He has adored me ever since.

10. Do something nice for her mom together (even if Mom and Dad aren’t “together”). It’s good for a girl to see her dad treat her mother well.

11. Talk about books together. My dad and I don’t always read the same kind of books, but he taught me to love words. Clearly, the lesson stuck.

12. Go out to dinner, just the two of you. Definitely get dessert.

13. Be a little dangerous together. My dad took me out on his Harley once—he probably doesn’t realize this, but it was one of the most terrifying moments of my life (and yes, my own fear is reflected in Crystal’s terror when Rage tricks her into riding his bike), but I’m still glad I did it. The point is: There’s nothing like sharing an adventure with the first man in your life to teach you about being brave for the rest of your life.

Ways for dads and teenage daughters to bond

Me and my dad