Feeling like a hot mess? Come sit by me!

Now that I’ve been a mom for almost ten years, I’ve finally figured out how to spot fellow mamas in the wild. You will know us by the circles under our eyes. Just kidding. Sorta.

Seriously though, on so many days, I feel like I have been sent to earth on a mission from God to help moms feel better about themselves.  

Not so much in a precious and encouraging way (although I would love that) but more of an at-least-I’ve-got-it-together-better-than-that-woman kinda way. Each one of us is a hot mess in our own right. I just tend to be more messy and not at all hot.  

So if you’re a stressed out mom and you’re looking to feel a bit better about yourself, here are a few ways I can help you out with that.    

You are not alone if…

You’ve ever had to do the walk of shame from the very back of Target, carrying a 35-pound three-year-old having a total meltdown because he can’t have the $75 Thomas track set. Now your picture is up as a BOLO in the security office.

Your kids have ever come running up to you from the sandbox to show you the buried treasure they found. Unfortunately, it’s not really, really old Play-Doh. (*cough*cat poop*cough*)

playground surprise blog
They aren’t kidding with that whole cover-the-sandbox suggestion.

Your two-year-old daughter has screamed her head off for 20 miles because it is totally unjust that she is not able to pee out of the open door of the minivan.

You’ve missed an appointment because your kids have played hide-and-seek with your car keys. And they are very, very good at hide-and-seek.

Your date nights have gone from candlelit dinners and romantic moonlit strolls to a turkey potpie with a beer and a Redbox. And you’re so grateful for them!

Sometimes jail seems like it might actually be a vacation. Well. The Martha Stewart kinda jail. Not that Scared Straight jail. Yikes.

You’ve worn yoga pants and running shoes to school drop-off at least three mornings this week but you haven’t stepped foot in a gym in eight months.

For your last birthday, all you really and truly wanted was to sleep past 8 am.

whiskers timeout blog
They were laughing right after this pic so don’t feel too sorry for them. I just love Grace’s face. It’s like she’s trying to send him a message with her eyes. “Just play it cool, man. Play it cool!”

When your kids draw whiskers and stripes all over each other’s faces in semi-permanent marker, you’ve learned how to simultaneously put them in time out and take pictures.

You know that, even after enduring the pain of childbirth, stepping on a Lego can make you want to cuss like a sailor and cry like a baby.

You could happily survive on coffee and wine alone.

You know that no matter how tired, cranky, or stressed out you may be, you wouldn’t trade being their mom for anything in the whole world!

(But you sure wouldn’t turn down a little vacation. Just sayin’.)
whiskers smiles blog

More Than I Can Handle


more than i can handleSo I know this isn’t any kind of newsflash for you, but life is hard.

When we’re growing up, we imagine how our lives might be.  I was one of those realistic kids.  I’d seen my mom, in particular, overcome some tremendous hardships in her life.  I knew that life would have its ups and downs.

I knew that chances were high that we might struggle with jobs or finances or kids or our health.

I guess even with all my realism, I didn’t really expect to struggle with all of them.  At the same time. We are very blessed in many ways.  I know that and I’m very grateful for each and every one. But so many times, even with all our blessings, it can all seem completely overwhelming.

“Oh honey. Bless your heart. Remember God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”

We’ve all heard that, right?

Well guess what?

It’s crap.

God gives us more than we can handle all the time.

One day a few years ago, when both of our cars were falling apart and the bank account was in the red and my RA was flaring and we seemed to run out of everything at once and autism had me out behind the woodshed again and Jake was gone 24/7 for school, I found myself sobbing on the floor in the kitchen.

Overwhelmed.

Broken.

It was more than I could handle.

And I sat on the kitchen floor and I cried out to God for help. For mercy. For comfort. For peace.

And that’s when I (eventually) realized that, of course, this is more than I can handle. I was never meant to handle it alone. It was time for me to humble myself and admit that I couldn’t do this on my own.

I hope you’re not thinking that this story ends here with my admission suddenly causing things to magically fall into place and bring about a sudden reward for having learned my lesson. Maybe it happens that way in the movies. Not in real life.

I begged God for some kind of encouragement or special word that would show me that He heard my desperate appeal.

It didn’t happen that way. Instead? Different Bible verses popped into my head. Scripture that talked about God’s promises of peace, hope and His plan for our lives. But still…Instead of me suddenly feeling all better with the warm fuzzies, it was more like if I repeated them enough, they would eventually take root.

I realized this was one of those times when my faith is shown by choosing to believe it. Even when I don’t necessarily feel it. And I was reminded that one of the reasons I need to study the Word is so those promises and reassurances are somewhere in my stressed-out brain when I find myself overwhelmed and broken.

I love this song by BarlowGirl that says, “I cry out with no reply and I can’t feel you by my side so I’ll hold tight to what I know…You’re here and I’m never alone.”

Faith isn’t always about feelings. It’s about choosing to believe even when (especially when?) those feelings aren’t there.

I don’t have it all figured out. One thing I’ve learned for sure is that we’re never done learning.

“I don’t know how you do it.”

That’s another one that I’ve heard quite a bit. And the truth is that I don’t do it. I couldn’t possibly. Not by myself.

I hope this post hasn’t come across as preachy because that’s not how it’s meant and I’m definitely in no position to preach. I just hope it might possibly be a small encouragement to someone else who might find herself sobbing on the kitchen floor.

If that’s you today, take a few minutes to listen to this song and breathe. Because no matter how strong we are, we’ll never be strong enough to do this whole life thing on our own.  And we don’t have to be.

 

Image courtesy of FrameAngel at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Roller Coaster

Step right up, folks, and I’ll tell you the tale of the biggest (emotional) roller coaster I’ve ever experienced. There are extreme highs and sudden drops, with lots of loops and twists thrown in for fun. You must be this high to ride.

It all started about a month ago with two (highly unexpected) itty bitty pink lines. How unexpected? Well, the last of our baby stuff was hauled away over a year ago. Once we picked our jaws up off the floor, we were thrilled, of course.

I’m somewhat of an oversharer (not exactly a shock, I know) so keeping a secret this big was going to be super hard for me. So I began to journal little blurbs to have an outlet. Here’s a little bit of what I wrote after a week of expecting:
“So many nerves this time around! We’ve had some time to get used to this new idea. I’m excited. Attached. And that makes me so nervous. I’ve had two healthy pregnancies. Statistically speaking, am I due for my share of heartache? It seems that for every happy ending you hear about, there are nine horror stories. It’s not fair for me to be exempt. Praise God for grace. Just have to walk one day at a time, trusting in Him no matter what.”

Then this was written a few days later:
“Dear Baby, Your life is so precious. We thought we were done but God had a different plan. He meant for you to be. Your tiny heart is starting to beat. It beats for the glory of the Lord. Your very existence is such a gift.”

Four days later, as we were getting ready for a dinner party, I began to miscarry. Once my mind registered what was happening, my heart sank to my toes and I began to sob. I knew there couldn’t be any hope. We were advised to go to the ER to rule out an ectopic pregnancy. This is what I wrote that long, horrible night:
“The ceiling tiles needed cleaning. There was a cobweb dangling over me like a crib mobile. The tech apologized for the warmth of the room but I felt like I was frozen through. A tear slipped silently down my cheek and into my ear as they discussed KFC’s latest chicken creation. The ultrasound wand was heavy on my abdomen as if it carried the weight of my fear. It pressed hard against the still, quiet place where you were. Instead of the relief that comes with the sudden rhythmic whirring, there was only the silence. The sound of our hearts breaking.”

Once the official report came from the radiologist, a big tough doctor brought us into this little room where he told us that I had miscarried. They could see the beginnings of a pregnancy but there was no heartbeat. He looked terrified that I would burst into tears on him. I felt like I was already cried out. For now. I was to follow up with my OB in a couple of days to make sure everything was progressing as it should.

This was from my follow-up:
“Sitting in the OB’s waiting room in the furthest corner I can find. The isolation doesn’t protect me from happy, rounded bellies and cheerful ultrasound photos. I wait. Try not to let the tears fall. Try to sink into the floor and disappear. Please call my name. Let me get this over with. Put it behind me. Move on. Can I? I’m still so queasy. Unfair… Dry mouth. Hands shaking. Trying to chug water from bathroom sink. Hands still shaking. Feeling sick… Waiting in the room for the doctor to talk to me. There’s a large painting of a raccoon staring at me… Still waiting. Raccoon is still watching to see if I’ll cry. The ultrasound is next… Nothing has changed. There’s still no heartbeat but I’m leaving with more questions than answers. The OB isn’t ready to call it a lost cause. I have to wait for the phone call tomorrow to tell me what my HCG numbers are doing. I’m afraid to hope. My chalkboard at home is a huge drawing of the word HOPE. I don’t believe in coincidence.”

That night, I had a long drive from my parents house back to my home. It was a rare solo drive and I had the song, Oceans, on repeat. After I sobbed it out, I cried out to the Lord to breathe life into our baby and to help our teeny tiny one grow. I spent the entire drive in prayer. I kept remembering what I had written the week before. “Your heart beats for the glory of the Lord.” I had to come to a hard place of realization that God would be glorified even if baby’s heart never beat. My heart would be broken, but I would still praise my God. A peace came over me that I cannot explain. This child was God’s idea. His gift to us. As hard as it was to let go, I had to mentally release this baby back to God. This little life was in His hands all along.

The next day, the only words I could get onto paper were these:
“Waiting for The Call. For this child I have prayed. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

A nurse called at the very end of that Friday. My numbers had not doubled as they had hoped. But they had increased. If they had decreased, then we would have known it was a loss and we’d be waiting for the next step. But they had gone up. The nurse warned me not to get my hopes up but to come in for another ultrasound on Tuesday.

From Tuesday:
“It’s time for the ultrasound. What will we see? Lori’s kind voice is extra sweet today. She remembers the limbo we were left with the last time I was here. The bed raises until I can almost touch the ceiling. I grip Jake’s hand tighter and try to control my breathing. The screen turns on. Lori gasps and almost giggles, “We have a heartbeat!!!” We turn to the screen. There is a beautiful, glorious flickering. The tears once again stream down my face and into my ear. She allows me the moment I need to totally lose it. We have a heartbeat. Baby’s heart is beating steady and strong. We are speechless. Basking in the grace and mercy of our mighty God who is writing one heck of a story for this little one. Glory be to our God.”

We’re having a baby.

Mommy Groups & Cinderella

When I was a little girl, I was fascinated by the story of Cinderella.

Here was this girl who had a rough go of it but she worked hard and followed all the rules and her life turned out happily ever after. She made it seem so easy.

As a teenager, I assumed if I worked hard and followed all the rules, my life should turn out happily ever after, too.  Makes total sense, right?

(I know, I know. Quit laughing.)

These days, when the dishes and the laundry are piled up and there’s some unidentifiable stain on my clothes and I have to think really hard to remember if I brushed my teeth this morning, I wanna throw something at Cinderella. Seriously. Even during her floor-scrubbing days, she looked perfectly lovely and was always ready to try on new shoes.

I think Mommy Groups can be a lot like Cinderella.

When I first walked into my MOPS group, I was such a mess.  I felt like I was failing at just about every aspect of my life. Just that morning, I had yelled at my kids, snapped at my husband, and the dishes from last night’s fairly unhealthy convenience meal were still in the sink.

The ladies I met that Wednesday morning were very welcoming and sweet, but I honestly considered not going back.  They were all so put together.  They all had real clothes on.  And smelled nice.  It sounded like their families were perfect.  Being there, in the presence of these moms, confronted the idea I’d been clinging to that no mom was perfect and no one had it all together.  Because these women obviously did.

They were just like Cinderella.

I am so glad that I eventually decided to go back.  Within a few meetings, I began to get to know their stories.  These women who seemed so perfect?  They had the same fears I did.  They felt the same sense of failure.  They had overcome hardships, too.  Once our walls came down, the relationships were built up and bonds were formed.

I took another look at Miss Cinderella.

Now, I like to imagine her with mashed carrots stuck in her tiara and the royal diaper genie overflowing. I wonder if her daily mom uniform would be a pair of yoga pants with “Princess” bedazzled across the seat. I’ll even admit to giggling at the idea of that beautiful glass carriage with cheerios smashed into the upholstery.

I bet she might have even felt kind of alone while Prince Charming was off running the kingdom.  She probably only had her two step-sisters around to give her the amazing parenting advice that comes so easily to people without children.

Real life is not a fairy tale. Not even close. Real life is messy. It’s hard. And it can be lonely.

This is what I love about MOPS and why I feel it is so incredibly important in the life of a mom. When we can connect with other women who are experiencing the same unique season of life and are fighting the same battles and asking the same questions, we begin to see we’re not alone in this.  We are given the opportunity to look around the room and see that we have sisters with us in the trenches of motherhood.  Despite my mess, I know we all have our messes, and together, we can support and encourage each other.

A good mommy group will provide a safe place to tear down walls and reveal the vulnerability hidden there, allowing us a chance to say, “Me, too!” and then relationships are built from the ground up. But we have to be willing to go to that sometimes scary place of honest reality.

Mommy groups have the potential to be absolutely life-changing. But whether for the better or for the worse, I learned, is up to me.

Mommy Groups pin

Time For MOPS (with one more Let It Go parody)


Time for MOPSSometimes – okay, maybe a lot of times – motherhood can be very lonely.

A few years ago, I was just on this side of Caleb’s autism diagnosis with Grace in the terrible twos and Jake in nursing school.  Most of my friends had moved away.  I was feeling pretty lonely when a new friend invited me to a meeting of MOPS (mothers of preschoolers).

MOPS International “is a grassroots movement that believes moms are world influencers.” (MOPS.org)  It has been one of the best things I have ever experienced.  I know not all “mommy groups” are actually beneficial to a mom’s sanity.  Sometimes, they can be cliquish and competitive and miserable.  But not this one!  This group of women has been caring, supportive, and fun.

The best way to build relationships is to first tear down the walls we have surrounding our vulnerability.  And the only way to get a group of mamas to do that is to be willing to say, “I’ll go first.”  So last year, I volunteered to coordinate the group with another awesome mom.

It’s been an amazing year.  We wrapped up our theme, “A Beautiful Mess – Embrace Your Story,” and are so excited to get going with plans for next year’s theme, “Be You Bravely.”  If you’re not a part of MOPS, I definitely recommend it!

I recommend it so much that, even though there are a million and one parodies of Let It Go, my friend, Courtney, and I wrote our own version because MOPS needs one, too!  Think of it as a jingle.  =)

****************************************************************

Time for MOPS! (to the tune of Let It Go)

A mess spread wide in the kitchen tonight
Not a helper to be seen.
A kingdom of dirty dishes
And it looks like I’m the queen.

The baby’s howling despite everything I’ve tried.
Can’t keep thoughts straight. My brain is fried.

Where are my keys? My phone is where?
Can’t remember when I washed my hair.
But just hang on – We’re almost there.
We’re almost there!

Time for MOPS. Time for MOPS.
Yoga pants are welcome here.
Grab a chair. Sit right there.
Eat food you don’t have to share!

Coffee flows.
You don’t have to wipe a nose.
You just sit and breathe!
Maybe during crafts, we’ll make a wreath.

It’s funny how these cuties
Can make us feel insane.
But twice a month, we’re reminded –
“Mom” is not my name.

It’s time to see what we can do
(Besides laundry or cleaning poo).
It’s Wednesday morning and I’m free –
To be me!

Time for MOPS. Love this place!
They show me love and grace.
Mentor moms, chats galore.
I’m always learning more.

Here I come
Down Killarney Way!
So glad it’s Wednesday!!!

The laughter’s floating through the air – I love that sound!
My troubles lifted by these sisters I have all around.
Through highs and lows, I know we’ll have each other’s back.
I know who I can call
When my mind’s about to crack!

Time for MOPS. Time for MOPS.
There’s a place for everyone.
Moms Night Out – Give a shout!
They’re always so much fun.

So here I am!
And here I’ll stay!
Let the coffee flow!

I might age out but I’ll never go.

The Talk: Telling Our Son about His Autism

c by the tree ADP

It started like every other night. It could have been any other ordinary day. Any at all. The same instructions had been given. The same teeth-brushing arguments, both pro and con, had been repeated. The blessed melatonin had been given. We sat down and pulled open the devotion book but we never read past the date–April 2nd.

Before I even realized what I was saying, I asked the kids if they knew that it was World Autism Awareness Day. They looked interested and were being exceptionally angelic at the moment. So I took it a little bit further. “You’ve heard the word, ‘autism,’ many times. But do you know what it means?” They shook their heads and wanted to know more.

It was happening. We had anticipated this moment for four years. When would we tell Caleb about his autism? How would we tell him? We decided on the gradual method of slowly, bit by bit and inch by inch, laying down the groundwork. We wanted them to have a firm foundation in knowing that everyone is different and that is a beautiful thing. We wanted them to be solid on the fact that God has created each and every one of us so beautifully and wondrously and intricately and intentionally. We wanted them to have the practice of loving others and seeing past differences to the heart and soul.

Years of anticipating this moment, sometimes eagerly and sometimes anxiously, and it was here. Even in those first few moments, I was unsure if I should shut it down. Jake was still at work. He was missing this milestone. But the ball was rolling and it was rolling down a steep hill. It felt right to allow it to continue on its path. Wherever it led.

We talked about what ASD is and how it can make some things easier and others more challenging. I told them about some common experiences among those who live life on the spectrum. And I simply asked if it sounded like anyone we might know. I could see his wheels turning. I showed them the episode of Arthur (“When Carl Met George”) and within 35 seconds, it happened.

And right there, right smack in the middle of our messy living room with the laundry piled high and the dinner dishes still on the table and the trash waiting to be taken out, with us and the dog all squished together on the couch, it happened. It started with his eyes. They looked brighter. After five or so minutes, his face had changed. He looked older somehow. By the time the video was over, he was eagerly asking, “Mom?  Do I have ASD?”

I took a shaky breath and said confidently–no wait–I said proudly, “Yes, buddy. You do. What do you think about that?”

And he knew.

And just. like. it happened to us when we received his diagnosis, his life began flashing before his eyes. He was seeing it all with a fresh understanding. His filter had changed.

And he understood.

And he told me about how the things, the hard things, he now knows were the challenging parts of his ASD. And we talked about how far he’s come. And how much he’s overcome. And how he has done the hard things and how he can continue to do the hard things.

And he was proud.

Jake came home from work to find his boy had grown. Caleb seemed to stand taller as he told his dad about ASD and how God had made his brain special.

He went to bed that night having diagnosed our dog with autism as well. “She loves her toy like I love trains.” And any loneliness he might have felt dissolved away in the solidarity of puppy kisses.

He woke the next morning, ready to share himself with the world.

So, world? Get ready. You’re about to get a whole lot of awesome.


mom do i have autism ADP

I Once Was Lost

I don’t remember when it happened.

One day, I just realized that I didn’t do it anymore.

I couldn’t remember the last time I had prayed aloud.

Well.  There were the bedtime prayers and meal blessings with the kids.  But other than that?  It just didn’t happen anymore.

I’m not sure why.  With church or small group or Bible study always going on, there were plenty of opportunities.  I would just sit there, though, with the weight of the pause pressing on my shoulders and the heat of the moment burning my cheeks.

It’s not like I thought my friends or church family would jump to their feet, laughing and pointing at me.  Why was I so self-conscious?

ash mountain top

Once upon a time, I was an adventurer.  Once upon a time, I was fearless.  Each day was lived to the fullest.  Carpe diem and viva la vie boheme and all that.

Once upon a time, I climbed mountains and flew across oceans.  I had a passion and I wanted to offer it to the world.  I prayed aloud all the time.  In the arms of my dearest friends and with complete strangers at the next gas pump.

Somewhere along the way, that fire quieted down until only embers were left.

I think I got lost in the haze of day-to-day.  Over the last decade, my adventures have consisted of navigating Walmart without getting our faces on the evening news.  The only mountains I’ve climbed lately are the lofty peaks in the laundry room that I have to step on to get to the dryer.

When I became a mother, I think I hit the pause button and entered some kind of self-imposed hiatus on me.

My life now focused on sleep schedules and potty training, supporting my husband through nursing school, encouraging him in his music ministry, arranging the therapy schedules, and somehow making sure each one felt loved and validated.

Moms.  You get what I’m saying.  It’s in our nature to give and give and give to our families.

And that is part of what makes a mom so fiercely beautiful.  It works until the time comes when we have nothing left of ourselves to give.

That is where I was two weeks ago.  Drained.  Short-tempered.  Exhausted.  Spiritually parched.  Easily frustrated.

I was getting everything in place for me to go to a leadership conference.  I was pretty nervous because no one else from my MOPS group could go with me.  I would be on my own, not knowing a single one of the few thousand other moms that would be there.

And a funny thing happened.

It started slowly with just a glimpse here and there on the flight to Kansas City.  Then the flashes came more frequently until, on the second day of the conference, I caught my reflection in a Starbucks window.

It was me.  Me me.  I saw it in my eyes and heard it in my laugh.

I left home with a heavy cloak of expectations tied tight around my shoulders.  But there at MOMcon, it was a blank canvas.  No one knew me.  They didn’t expect anything of me.  I wasn’t “supposed” to be acting or speaking a certain way to fulfill the roles of Jake’s wife and the kids’ mom.

I was Ashley.  The cloak had been dropped somewhere along the way.

It could have been the result of any one of the amazing speakers (Beth Moore, Jen Hatmaker, Lysa TerKeurst, Kathi Lipp, Elisa Morgan, Alexandra Kuykendall).  It could have something to do with the empowering workshops offered.  It may have been the new friendships forming.

I think it had to be all of that but with the key element of an incredibly rare experience of being totally on my own with no expectations.

I once was lost.  But now I’m found.

I’m Ashley.

And if you see me at the gas station, be prepared.  I’ll be the crazy lady who drops the pump to run over and pray for you.  You might want to avoid eye contact.