Jul 022014
Our Messy, Beautiful Summer Week 2: Authenticity

A guest post by Lisa Mullen

SunIt was going to be amazing.

I had my children’s childhood all planned out so perfectly.

It wasn’t that it would actually be perfect. It’s just that I knew exactly what they needed to create some amazing memories and a beautiful beginning. There would be slumber parties with cousins and trips to Grandma and Papa’s cottage. There would be lots of playing outside and games with all their neighborhood friends. We would play sports for fun, not competitively. I knew they probably wouldn’t be athletes, as we are not. But they would be on soccer teams and we would go hiking all the time.

There would be Bible camp and church friends, youth group and ski trips. We would definitely teach them that the world did not revolve around them and maybe we would live in the city, just as I had. They would be surrounded by racial and socio-economic diversity and what amazing lessons they would learn. They would get good grades and have at least one or two really good school friends. We wouldn’t let them have any electronics but we would use our money to take them on some fantastic family vacations. We would definitely camp out on the east coast and take a 3-week road trip, exploring out west.

Oh man, It was going to be great.

We would hand them a neatly packaged faith because we had been through it all. We knew they would have questions, but we were here to guide and give the answers. Our faith would continue to grow and evolve into something beautiful and we would have a community of like-minded friends to surround our kids, guiding them through this faith process as well.

Wow, they were going to be happy.

I was not stupid. I knew we would have good days and bad. But we would make cookies and talk. We would watch movies and forget about the cares of a hard week. We would find a refuge in each other if the going got tough. There would always be a soft place to fall in our home. No matter what came our way, we had each other.

So, pretty much, I had planned their childhood to look exactly like mine. I took out all the hard parts, wouldn’t want them to have to sludge through that stuff. I had already done that. I knew how to get around it.

You know where I’m going with this.

I know you do.

While there are most certainly elements of these things in our kid’s lives, it’s really nothing like I planned.

Not at all.

You see, apparently your kids inherit not only the good stuff from you, but the bad. The struggles with sadness, the drive to perfection, the completely uncoordinated body and the struggle to fit in. And not everyone else around you is going in your direction. Only one of our siblings had a child, a child who lives hundreds of miles away and is too young to be a playmate. And while you do have some family near you, it’s not the same as being surrounded by everyone. And truthfully, maybe being surrounded by everyone wasn’t such a good idea in the first place.

The city dream was not the family’s dream. The diversity is here in suburbia, but greatly lacking. There are video games and iPods. There is church, but it isn’t the refuge you hoped it would be. Your faith has changed so much, it is slipping through your hands and you just hope your kids catch something. In fact, faith is nothing like you use to believe.

There are bad days. Followed by more bad days. And when you go to pick up your kids from school and it was another bad day, you just explode and then regret everything you say. Then the tears come and the heart breaks.

It’s not what I planned.

But, there is a single thread that is woven through it all. It’s the thread of Love. It’s not a perfect Love, but it’s a committed Love. It’s a Love that says we are in this together. It’s a Love that reminds our kids that they are valuable, even when it doesn’t feel like it. It’s a Love that says I’m sorry after words you regret. It’s a Love that tries again when you weren’t the soft place to fall. It’s a Love that won’t leave, even when there are long strings of hard days. It’s a Love that says I don’t know when the kids ask the hard questions of faith.

And I know that if we take a closer look at my “perfect” childhood, it would reveal some not perfect times. Many of them. It seems we often try to just scratch those out. But that same thread was woven through my own. That Love was there. It was never a question, there was always Love. It seems that is what brings us through.

Life is messy.

Life is beautiful.

Life is often nothing like we planned.

Wherever your life is today, remember- plans change, but Love remains.

You’re gonna have to roll with it.



Lisa Mullen is a wife and a mom to three crazy kids, ages 12, 10 and 7. Born and raised in Detroit, she now lives in the heart of Amish country- Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. She calls herself an accidental Mennonite with a love for all things contemplative (the silence!)  Running, writing and reading keep her sane. Read more about her on her blog, A City Girl in a Country World and on Facebook and Twitter.

This post is part of Momastery’s Our Messy, Beautiful Summer series.

Our Messy, Beautiful Summer

Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
Join the Momastery on-line community on Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest

Jun 302014
Our Messy, Beautiful Summer Week 2: Authenticity

A guest post by Jennifer Meer

Full ColorWe are at the kitchen table playing with play dough. The children mold and twist, blissfully unaware that with each passing second my anxiety level is rising. When we started, not but 10 minutes ago, there was red and yellow and green and blue and white. And now it is brown. That blah color brown that play dough always turns whenever you take all those bright shiny colors and mush them together to make one amorphous shade.

I can’t figure out what it is that bothers me so much about this process. I want to blame it on raging obsessive compulsive disorder or an unhealthy inclination to want to control uncontrollable and relatively unimportant things. But it definitely irks me, like the way I feel when Dylan wears the Star Wars pajama top with the Ninjago bottoms. Nothing is crisp or unique or whole. Haphazard. Mismatched. Brown.

I’m thinking about this in the dark outside the pharmacy as I unwrap a Creme Egg and savor its sugary sweetness, pouring its faux yolk down my throat. What a disgusting and amazing invention I think to myself and say out loud to really no one at all. I wonder why I only eat Creme Eggs by myself in the car. And it is probably because I spend a good chunk of the day reminding the kids that too many sweets are bad for them and that candy should be reserved for Halloween and special occasions. Except the real me, the one who only makes special appearances in mommy “off” hours, clearly doesn’t believe that.

I turn the car on and turn the radio up to a volume that makes me feel like I can hear the beat of the music in my heart. Whenever I am alone this is the first thing I do. It makes me feel like I am getting away with something. I am not sure with what. A good and put together mother would never listen to music at volume 52. Which is precisely why I do it. I would tell the kids that we listen to music at a reasonable and soft volume because we don’t want to damage our hearing, we don’t want to wake the baby.

I turn the dial up up up. Katy Perry who I don’t even like that much but she is useful when you want to sing stuff at the top of your lungs just because you can. I feel bright. Fiery. Separate from my kids, my husband, my responsibilities, expectations of what I’m supposed to teach them, how I’m supposed to behave. I feel red. Shiny red. New shiny tub of play dough red. Bright, loud, alive.

But I wonder what is wrong with me that I spend the majority of my day with this part of my personality hidden: the part that likes sweets and loud music and doesn’t always follow all the rules. 99% of the time I’m a hodgepodge of devotion to them, hiding the parts of me that are separate and raw and real and distinct until it is late or I am driving or away. As if I’m ashamed of my real instincts, the real me. As if I think it is somehow bad to feel individual feelings and that to mother them means to hide me. So instead I give them brown.

Suddenly, as a mother, as a person, it hits me what a f**d up lesson that is.

I am teaching them to love some fake version of me. That you should keep hidden the parts of you that don’t mesh and blend. That all of the special and distinct stuff that makes up them should be reserved for “off” hours, because it might not fit neatly into what others expect of you. It’s never just be – be you. Love you. You’re a f-ing rock star. You with your wild hair and you too with your missing front teeth and infectious laugh and a smile that could light up a room.

I want them to feel whole and bright and shiny and unique and alive and have that be okay. Do as I do. Or do whatever you do. But do it in the light so that you feel whole. So that you remember that being you, distinctly you, you that likes and wants and lives separate from the people you love, is something to feel proud of, not hidden. I need to be teaching them, and apparently myself that.

I think about our day together tomorrow. There will be the usual: school and tooth brushing. Homework and manners and the good stuff. Maybe there will also be Meatloaf played in the car slightly louder than usual or is appropriate, Creme Eggs for no reason at all other than that they are the greatest food ever invented.

I will be me in full living color. And I will parent by example, loving them enough to share myself authentically with them rather than morph into them. To love myself separately and distinctly in front of them, not behind closed doors. A mother and a woman. Separate co-existing parts: my real colors, sharp, distinct and in full view.


Jennifer Meer lives in New England with a wacky, unruly, loud and loving bunch she is proud to call her family. She is a writer and mother of three adorable redheads who frustrate her, amuse her, challenge her, and continue to teach her something new about life every day. You can keep up with her at My Jenn-eration and also find her on Twitter as @JennMeer.

This post is part of Momastery’s Our Messy, Beautiful Summer series.

Our Messy, Beautiful Summer


Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
Join the Momastery on-line community on Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest

Jun 272014

“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.”

- L.R. Knost

It’s summer now- and there are options galore available to our children. That’s a wonderful thing. Science camps, music lessons, soccer practice and ESPECIALLY FREE TIME are good. It’s important to cultivate and encourage open minds and healthy bodiesAnd it is at least as important to cultivate and encourage tender hearts in our little ones and in ourselves.

I wish that our culture valued tender hearts as much as we value sharp minds and strong bodies. There aren’t many trophies or rewards for the tender-hearted – except, of course, for deeply meaningful and impactful lives. Except for real connection with other beings. Except for that life-giving purpose compassionate folks always have in droves – and for the power that only people who understand their capacity to comfort and heal others hold. So actually- there are those rewards. Those are good. Maybe even as good as a perfect reading score or a  hat trick in hockey.

Let’s help grow our kids’ minds and bodies this summer- let’s go ahead and care about those things. But let’s also remind them and ourselves that hearts can grow too – if they’re stretched and exercised. Let’s  provide opportunities to strengthen our kids’ hearts as well as their minds and bodies. The way you strengthen a heart is to tenderize it. It’s odd, but true.

We can strengthen our kids’ heart in little ways – like this one. The girls and I spent the day with the humane society cats yesterday. As I watched the girls play, I swear I could actually SEE their hearts tenderizing. It was in the way they slowed down, the way their voices softened, the way their bodies curled into the animals. They were gentle. And powerful. Gentle Power is true power. They were making a difference for those animals, and they knew it. Often the best way to help a little one find her power is to introduce her to a few beings even littler than she is.

shelter cat

Afterwards, as we walked towards the car, Amma said, “It’s good that we went, mama. Those cats needed us today. I really think they needed us.”

“Yes,” I said. “And we needed them too, didn’t we?  They need us and we need to be needed. So we helped each other. ”

girls and dog

Tender hearts, connected souls. Our hearts grew three sizes that day, I tell you.

And then when they’re ready- we  can strengthen their hearts in bigger ways. Craig and Chase are in Miami this week, attending what is basically a Compassion Camp. This week Chase has served dinners to the homeless at a Sisters of Charity soup kitchen, painted a halfway house for hurting teens,  jumped rope  at the inner city Boys and Girls Club, and sang to Amanda, a ninety-five year old Alzheimer’s patient, while Craig spoon fed Amanda and wiped her chin after each bite. Craig has slept on the floor of a church with twelve tweens for six long nights. He used up half his annual vacation time and his back hurts and he missed a week of the World Cup. And that was all a part of the lesson for Chase. There are no WORDS we could have said to Chase about the importance of compassion that would have delivered the message as powerfully as Craig dropping everything to go DO compassion with him. I am not sure there are ANY WORDS that would could have  an effect equal to watching your father spoon feed a ninety-five year old stranger. Chase knows now. He knows WHAT REAL POWER IS. Real Power is feeding a stranger who can’t feed herself and knowing how unbelievably lucky you are to be the one holding the spoon.

craig phone

Compassion does not just happen. Pity does- but compassion is not pity. It’s not a feeling. Compassion is a viewpoint, a way of life, a perspective, a habit that becomes a discipline – and more than anything else, compassion is a choice we make that love is more important than comfort or convenience. Craig was Chase’s compassion teacher this week, along with the poor, hurting, addicted, old, and sick. My boys get home today and  LET ME JUST TELL YOU that Craig is getting SO MADE OUT WITH. LIKE MAYBE EVEN TWICE IN ONE WEEK. LIKE THE CEILING CAN’T HOLD US, FRIENDS. Compassion does not  pay off only for the children. Compassion = WIN/WIN/WIN for all.

Our kids need Healthy Bodies, Open Minds, Tender Hearts and Connected Souls.

None of these traits appears by magic. Each is the result of habits.

Habits are learned. And children learn their habits by watching what we DO, not  by listening to what we say. So we have to stop talking and teaching and preaching and just GO DO. Even when we’re scared, we have to walk toward the hurting and say, “I don’t know how to help, but I’m here to try.”

And our little ones will watch us and they will think: Oh. I guess that is what people do.

And so they will do it.

The most important thing on Earth is for all of to us make this sentence true: Compassion is what people do.

Make it true.


P.S. I wrote this on Wednesday morning. On Thursday a Monkee sent me this article. I think we’re on to something.

Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
Join the Momastery on-line community on Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest