Keep Dancing

helping children have confidence

Image courtesy of Pixabay

My son—my focused, responsible, deep-thinking son—loves to dance. Like, really, really loves it—but until a month ago, I had no idea.

His school throws dance parties for kids who pass school-wide math tests, and it turns out these parties have become a highlight of his life, after sports and Legos. At home when my girls suggest dance parties, he usually retreats to his man cave (a.k.a. the Lego table)—of course, the girls always go with Disney princess theme music, so maybe that’s the problem. Or maybe he realizes that our third child likes to punctuate her dancing with violent gymnastics, and he’s not a fan of getting kicked in the nose. Whatever the reason, his dancing gifts have remained mostly hidden at home.

But last month at a church party, I got to see my reserved son in all his rhythmic glory. The dj cranked up “Watch Me” (yeah, our church is cool like that). The lyrics demand confidence, command attention: “Watch me whip! Now watch me nae-nae! Watch me, watch me!” Cautious dancers need not apply. You either bring your A-game and your stanky leg, or you sit down. So when my son hit the dance floor, so did my jaw. This was serious business. Work-up-a-sweat business. Leave-your-heart-on-the-dance-floor business.

Dancing has always been a point of sadness for me, a small and stupid loss. When the beat starts, my heart knows what to do, but my body stiffens. If someone says “dance party,” my inner insecure twelve-year-old ducks her head and runs to hide in the bathroom. I’ve decided dancing is kind of like snow skiing—you have to learn how while you’re young enough not to know the dangers, not to fear falling. You have to take advantage of that blessed innocent stage where you think you’re awesome at everything, and assume everyone else agrees with you.

Thank goodness, my son is stanky-legging his way right through that window. Watching him is innocence incarnate. Childhood—no, humanity—at its purest. Unhindered by the feeling of eyes on him, unconcerned about how he looks or whether he’s doing it right, he just lets the music take him. That night at the party, I watched him whip and nae-nae and duff and bop, and right there on the side of the dance floor, I started fighting tears.

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Because I hope he’ll always dance like this: confident, joyful, bold. Right now in his eight-year-old life, he’s cocooned by loving people who keep him safe. Who celebrate and enjoy him. But I know the world, the way it turns on you—one day star-spangled, all wonder and kindness; the next dark-shadowed, all cutting and cruelty. Already his sister, one year older, is coming to know a harsher fourth-grade world, where insecure girls say things like “You’re down there, and we’re up here.” And I fear my son’s day is coming too.

Son, let me tell you something:

One day some sad, self-conscious person may make a sarcastic comment.

Keep dancing.

One day a friend may tease you, joking and provoking the way boys do.

Keep dancing.

One day you might see a group of girls pointing and laughing across the room, and you’ll wonder if they’re laughing at you. The truth is, they’re probably not even thinking about you, but even if they are, you keep dancing.

I’m sorry to tell you there are sad people in the world—lonely people, broken people, hardened by hurts—and they don’t know how to live life the way you live it, the way it’s meant to be lived. When you meet those people, you know what you do? You feel sad for them, but you don’t let them break you too. You pull a Taylor Swift and shake it off, then whip and nae-nae for good measure. If you have to, you go ahead and pull out the stanky leg too.

Keep dancing, son.

Do it for yourself, because it’s who you are and what you love.

And you know what else? Do it just a little bit for me, too. One day I want you to pull me out there on the dance floor with you and help me find the confidence and courage I need, the sauciness it takes to chant, “Watch me, watch me,” then go on dancing like no one’s watching after all.

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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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When Being a Grown-up Means You’re Still Growing Up

life lessons for grown-ups via @lizzylit

My daughter’s chocolate brown eyes are sparkling. “Mommy, I’m going to plant these apple seeds, and they’re going to grow into trees, and then we’re going to save money and eat free apples forever!” Cassidy holds out her hand. A dozen tiny seeds rest in her palm, plucked and saved from apple cores all week long.

“Okay, honey, let’s give it a try,” I say. My heart gives a painful squeeze, because I know she knows I’ve been worried about money, and she’s trying to help.

I know nothing about planting apple seeds—I’ve always thought they wouldn’t grow until they’d passed through a bird’s digestive tract or something gross like that—but I figure, why not?

So we go outside and she pokes her seeds into a planter. For several weeks she waters and watches. I mostly forget about the seeds, but Cassidy doesn’t.

Then one shiny spring afternoon she comes running into the house, shrieking, “My trees are growing, my trees are growing!”

The whole family rushes outside to gather around the planters. Sure enough, nine little sprouts have nudged out of the dirt. Mr. Tall Dark and Handsome and I stand gaping at them as our daughter does a proud happy-dance.

“She did it!” I whisper to Kevin. “I didn’t actually think they’d grow!” His raised eyebrows say he thought the same thing.


life lessons for grown-ups via @lizzylit

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

The little seedlings unfurl and stretch skyward, soon large enough that we have to transplant them into nine medium-sized pots. Some don’t survive the transition, but most do. And within a few months, we’ve got six growing apple trees, each about eight inches tall. My daughter fusses over them like they are her children. We start calling her Little Farmer.

Summer fades, the long luxurious evenings shorter now, and cooler. And something happens to the trees. A dark stain wraps around the base of the green stems, and spreads upward. Within a few days, the stems have turned brown and hard—they look dried out. Barren. Cassidy doesn’t seem worried, and I dread telling her that I think her beloved trees have died.

A few autumn weeks pass. I keep a wary eye on the hard brown sticks poking up out of their pots, wondering when it’s time to give up and throw them away, fill the pots with something else. But then I notice something: the sticks are taller. A few are dotted with tiny golden leaves.

And I realize: the trees weren’t dying—they were growing. They were changing their green stems into tough woody stems, future tree trunks. They were getting ready for winter and hard cold. Shedding their fragile baby shape and forming the tough layers they’d need to survive the winter.

For a minute I let my imagination run free: How did the baby apple trees feel about the transformation? Did they understand what was happening inside, or did they fear the change? Jesus’ words flash through my mind: “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24).

Begrudgingly, I sigh a little prayer. “I hear you, God. I don’t like it, but I hear you.” He’s been trying to teach me something for a while now, and I’ve been fighting him, trying to find a way around it. But now, looking at the little trees, I let myself listen: Sometimes growing is like dying.

Our family has faced some hard things in the past few years, things I couldn’t see past. Problems that felt too overwhelming, too exhausting, too much to bear. Sometimes I felt little pieces of me dying inside, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it through the transition. How often I’ve come back to ponder our little trees. Every time they remind me: sometimes growing is like dying.

My kids are growing up, and it’s my job to help them through it—to give them the perspective and character and tools they’ll need to grow through the countless changes and challenges life will throw at them. Some days I hear myself spouting canned wisdom: “Don’t worry so much about what people think—you can’t make everyone happy. It’s not up to you to make people happy; it’s up to you to do right and make God proud.” I walk away and God makes me eat my own words, take my own advice, re-learn my own “wisdom.”

I never realized how much grown-ups have to keep growing too. I have to keep growing too. Life doesn’t stop being hard or complicated just because you’ve made it past puberty, or through college, or through the early years of marriage, or past the potty-training stage, or into your empty nest years. At every step, there are hard things. Things you aren’t ready for. Things you’ve never faced. Things you think you can’t survive.

And it’s time to grow again, to shed the green baby stem that helped you through a gentler season, and develop a tougher layer that will see you through the long hard winter.

I fight it, that growth. I don’t like it. I’m happy with my cute green baby stem.

But there’s no other choice. Frost is coming, maybe even ice and snow. And if I don’t surrender to growing, as scary as it is, then I might really die.

Sometimes growing looks like dying, but it’s not. Sometimes growing feels like dying, but it’s not. Growing is how we keep living. How we make it through the barren months, the painful times.

And when spring comes with its warm breezes and life-giving rains, that growth—that small near-death we suffered so many cold months earlier—pays off. We uncoil new leaves to the sun, happy to be alive. A little bigger, a little stronger, a little more beautiful. A little closer to bearing the fruit we were meant to bear.

Today, three years after those tiny apple seeds first sprouted underground, six huge pots line my back porch steps: four leafy apple trees and two pear trees, added to our “orchard” later by my Little Farmer (who is not so little anymore). The trees reach past her waist now, and again they need larger pots. Fall is here, with winter hard on its heels. Soon the young trees’ summer leaves will blush and die. All winter long they’ll rest and wait, looking naked and sad. But come spring, they’ll bloom again, stronger than ever. Although these trees have already given our family a lot to chew on, metaphorically speaking, their work is not yet finished. One of these summers, they will have grown big enough and strong enough and mature enough to fulfill the purpose that God intended and a faithful little farmer dared to dream: bearing fruit to feed a growing girl, a growing family, a growing me.

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13 Reasons Moms Never Get Haircuts

Scheduling a haircut is never easy, but once you have a child, getting a haircut takes divine intervention, planetary alignment, and a whopping dose of good luck. Here are thirteen reasons moms hardly ever get their hair cut: 1. First, you have to call ahead. This requires having the wherewithal to think multiple thoughts in a row:Huh. I could probably sweep the floor with my hair. I guess I need a hair cut . . . I should call and make an appointment . . . I should do that today.” (Meanwhile, the baby cries; the potty-trainee tinkles on the floor. All hair-related thoughts fly from your head.)

How Southerners Do Snow Days

How Southerners do snow days

People say Southerners don’t know what to do with snow.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

Maybe we Southerners don’t know how to plow snow or drive on ice, but we do know how to turn even the tiniest snowfall into a lifetime memory. An epic experience. An endless photo stream that leaves all of our blizzard-weary Northern friends scratching their heads and saying, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a measly inch of slush! We get that much snow every single minute.”

No, our Yankee friends don’t always see snow the same way we do. It’s not their fault. When your house is buried up to the eaves in dirty snow all winter long (bless your hearts), snow eventually becomes a messy inconvenience—but for Southerners who see snow only a few magical days a year, it’s different. We have made a pact here in the South, almost as sacred as sweet tea and Sunday suppers: Together we will uphold the Southern Snow Ethic, and teach our children to do the same. What’s the Southern Snow Ethic, you ask?

Not a single snowflake shall be wasted. Not on our watch.

Every flake that falls on Southern soil shall be played in, sledded on, and pounded into service as a slushy snowman. Every flurry-fall, however small, provides an opportunity for skipping school and work. Every sleet pellet shall be used to celebrate with childlike abandon alongside family, friends, and random neighbors we meet while pulling makeshift sleds down the street behind trucks, ATVs, and the occasional family pet.

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Because of the Southern Snow Ethic, we can take two inches of ice and turn them into a glorious four-day extravaganza of sled-crafting, hill-hunting, and casserole-sharing.

With the Southern Snow Ethic, there are no excuses:

Not enough snow to make a full-sized snowman? Sure there is. You either borrow your neighbors’ snow, or you decorate the hood of your pickup with a snow-baby.

No snow boots? No problem. We can transform plastic grocery bags into waterproof snow boots. (And gloves and hats, if absolutely necessary.) We look ridiculous, but we don’t care. Our usual impeccable Southern fashion sense does not apply to Southern Snow Days.

No sleds? Think again. We can make sleds out of anything. And we do mean anything: cardboard, greased cookie sheets, garbage can lids, Styrofoam packaging, laundry baskets, garbage bags, even our beloved tailgate coolers.

No snow tires? Who cares? We don’t need chains on our tires to get us home from work in a snowstorm; we have our own frostbitten feet to walk us home for miles along the gridlocked highway, thank you very much.

sleds made out of cardboard

No sled? No problem! Cardboard boxes work just fine.

Because it comes so rarely, we Southerners have the luxury of celebrating snow as the most beautiful of winter’s gifts. For us, it’s not a mess. Not a delay. Not an inconvenience.

We see snow as the essence of childhood, innocence, and freedom. Something white, pure, and beautiful. Something fun. Something surprising. Something no one—not the weatherman, not the government, not the superintendent—can control. It shows up, it takes over, and we just let it fall where it wills, for as long as it wants.

When it melts, we’ll get back to school, to work, to real life. But today—and maybe tomorrow, if the freeze holds—God himself has declared a Southern snow day, and that means a day off for everyone, no matter how rich or poor, blue collar or white collar or redneck under the collar. So grab your plastic bags and your laundry baskets, and have yourself a Southern snow day.IMG_2614

See? It works!

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Keep Dancing

When Being a Grown-Up Means You’re Still Growing Up

Southern snow days

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