Mommy War


My mom, Donna, at work circa 1977.

If you want to talk about a BA (bad ass) mom, look at that lady up there.  Single mom, check.  Raising two kids financially and emotionally solo, check.  This 5 foot nothing, silky bloused woman would walk into a room with three-inch heels and my heart would flutter and my mind would command attention to ANYTHING she had to say.  My mom was an accountant because it put food on the table and paid the rent in a town with a great school district.  These are the things that guided my childhood:  food and good schools; everything else could fall down a sinkhole to hell, but as long as we could eat and go to good schools, we were kicking surviving’s ass.

My mom is a natural mathematician, so taking care of “the books” provided for us.  My momma didn’t LOVE crunching numbers for a living; in fact she really wanted to be a DRIVER’S ED TEACHER!  What the heck, a driver’s ed teacher!!!!!  Hahahaha!  My mom IS a BA driver, and she would have ROCKED at that.  My mom ALWAYS had a stick shift car, and she bravely taught my brother and I how to drive in wide open parking lots in the dead winter on the Robert Moses Causeway.  I’m pretty sure Billy (my older brother) learned to drive at eight years old, if my memory serves me correct.  Needless to say, if we wanted to drive, we HAD to learn on a stick shift, and I’m grateful for it…even the times I stalled out in the middle of a four-way intersection.  No worries, as my 17-year-old self cried in panic in the intersection, she quickly had us switch drivers, waved to the honking cars while screaming “New driver, sorry!” and got me calmed down in the passenger seat.  It wasn’t pretty, but we lived.

I share this with you because I have no recollection of a neat, pretty childhood with home-baked cookies (Actually, I don’t think we EVER made homemade cookies; we bought them or sliced and baked them).  Our life was in no way picture perfect, but we made it, battle wounds both emotionally and physically, memories both good and bad, but here with a story to tell nonetheless.

I witnessed my mom at war with herself.  She would go into a room by herself, lay down, and wrestle emotionally with the dark night of her soul.  I do not know all the questions, the regrets, the wondering, the dreaming, the hoping she wrestled with, but it was real.  She was a woman at war in her heart with wanting to not just provide, but wanting to thrive and probably feeling like there was no hope to accomplish that.  Heavy, heavy stuff.


She instilled a fierce independence in me to the point that I never saw myself as married or as a mom.  I was focused on thriving.  Thriving meant doing what you loved (be that a driver’s ed teacher or a back up dancer for Janet Jackson) and being able to live off of that.  My mom wanted me to have CHOICES, so that meant getting a college education, no matter what the SAT scores said I was capable of.  She knew she raised a girl with grit and that I could do almost anything.

Currently, I’m reading Shonda Rhimes’ book, Year of Yes, and it’s worth the $24.99 just to read the chapter entitled “Yes to Surrender the Mommy War (Or, Jenny McCarthy is My Everything).”  Here’s an excerpt:

Being a mother isn’t a job.  It’s who someone is.  It’s who I am.  You can quit a job.  I can’t quit being a mother.  I’m a mother forever.  Mothers are never off the clock, mothers are never on vacation.  Being a mother redefines us, reinvents us, destroys and rebuilds us.  Being a mother brings us face-to-face with ourselves as children, with our mothers as human beings, with our darkest fears of who we really are.  Being a mother requires us to get it together or risk messing up another person forever.  Being a mother yanks our hearts out of our bodies and attaches them to our tiny humans and sends them out into the world, forever hostages.

When I became pregnant with my oldest, Alex, I inherited the Mommy War.  I remember seeing friends making choices to stay home or work, some out of choice, some out of necessity.  I remember the battle lines drawn between women: those who continued to work outside of the home and those who didn’t.  Everyone one of them had their valid reasons for their choices, me included.  This new journey was challenging enough- sleep deprivation, breastfeeding, body and hormones out of whack, while keeping my human alive and thriving- I became a mom- body and soul.  And now, with student loans to continue to pay, keeping my growing human clothed, fed, diapered, and equipped (strollers, cribs, and car seats, oh my!), I went back to work- to a job I loved, thankfully.

There have been many battles in my personal on going Mommy War, but the one I remember most was the one where a mom who did not work outside of the home told me that I was not serving my child well because I didn’t stay at home when Alex threw a tantrum, when she was a year old.  I mean, what one year old does not throw a tantrum?  And there began the growing seed of guilt, doubt, and emotional torment in my soul.  I wrestled because I have never thought of my teaching career or ministry as a job; they have always been missions, a way for me to be used to change the world- so going back to work brought me joy, and I was blessed with amazing caretakers for Alex. We were doing it.  It was messy and exhausting, but it was happening.

Until that conversation.  That sucked.

What I’ve come to realize in the Mommy War is that we’re all in it internally and externally- always wondering if we’re doing the best for our kids.  Here’s the thing though, every single one of us are doing the best we know how.

Some of us are better moms for not working outside of the home.  Those moms are heroes in their own way-giving your kids gifts that are beautiful and valuable; creating and living in awesome ways.


Some of us are better to do something outside of the home.  We are contributing in a different way, sharing a passion with our young girls to inspire them to make their mark, to contribute to the ongoing conversations of worthwhile change.

No one is better.  Whether we want to or not, as humans, we will wrestle with what is the best yes.  I’ve learned that it’s not the decision that we make that is the most important, it’s paying attention to the person we become on the journey.  I think the better question to wrestle with is: ARE YOU ACTIVELY BECOMING A PERSON THAT IS LEAVING A LEGACY WORTH REMEMBERING?

The paths in which one takes in order to answer this question is going to look different for all of us.  I think the Mommy War is worthy, as long as we are making it about ourselves and how we are called to do it.  The Mommy War is dangerous and damaging when we focus it on other moms.  Put the stones down.

I think about how the click of my mom’s heels on the kitchen linoleum floor was my anchor, my absolute favorite channel to tune in to the world.  Whether you’re walking into the room of your kids’ hearts in flip flops, Birkenstocks, Jimmy Choos, Uggs, Nikes, whatever, our kids are tuning into the emotional conflict, the celebration, the joy, the failures that we wrestle with and navigate.  They are drawn to the battles we choose to face head on, and that is a huge “Oh my gosh.”  Choose well.  Wrestle hard.  Survive and thrive.  Knock down the walls of your heart with your stones, but let’s stop throwing them at one another.

We will pass down our Mommy War; it’s inevitable.  It’s the fate of the world; just know that we are ALL doing it and that battle is happening in each and every one of us.




The Truth about Complaining and Grumbling

5675f9caabdc0f754da51356You know God is talking to you when four out of the five conversations you have about spiritual matters (which is every aspect of my life) circles around to the theme of suffering.  Often, Young Life or Wyld Life friends will ask me why there is so much suffering in the world, someone will bring up the meaning of suffering, or the conversation of how Jesus suffered greatly for us will arise.

There are many Bible verses that talks about suffering.  Here are a few that come to mind:

Romans 5:3-5:  More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

James 1:2-4: Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

2 Corinthians 4:8-10:  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

In all honesty, when I am suffering, my first reaction is to complain and grumble.  If we believe the above verses and the holiness of Christ’s suffering on earth, then it’s important to acknowledge that suffering is a real part of our journey.

And when I say real, I mean messy, oh crap, this sucks, I want to beat somebody up or beat myself up messy.  It comes like a tsunami wave, and my tendency is to try to control this massive force coming at me so I don’t have to deal with it in me.  When I experience or witness injustice, cruelty, insensitivity, fear, I want to wrap it up in a neat box with a bow; I want to package it.

Through reading Brene Brown’s work in Rising Strong, I’ve discovered that I am the ultimate conspiracy theorist.  So, when this tsunami wave of suffering comes my way, I wrap it up in a story; Brene calls it “the story I’m making up…”.  I want it to make sense, so I don’t have to feel and process the full weight of the experience.  What happens is my brain will start to connect dots that may or may not really connect in truth; it’s just the story I make up in my mind to make sense of a situation.  Ultimately, it’s my sinful desire to want to control, to feel like I have a leg up on perspective.  It’s the desire to wrap it up nicely, so I can put it up on a shelf and not have to deal with it.

What I’ve come to realize in this, is that once you know this about yourself, what you’re (I) really doing is using it as a defense mechanism to not feel and allow something, especially something hard and big, to break your heart.  And why do we not want our hearts to break?  Because a) it sucks and b)then we have to change.  The truth is that once our hearts break, it can never go back to being the same, and change is freaking hard and scary.

And now I am processing this…

that suffering is a way God carves our heart to look more like His, and anytime our lives and hearts go through a dramatic change and shaping, it hurts and involves grieving- a time of experiencing a letting go of what we once knew.  When I was teaching, I experienced a few times when I was grieving, and it hurt so bad.  One time was over the letting go of the identity that I had wrapped myself in- I am an educator, hear me roar.  It was a beautiful shaping process where God was using some disappointments in my career to teach me that I am His child first and foremost. I suffered with the lack of control I felt and ultimately the lack of faith I had in what God’s bigger story that was unfolding in my life and the situation.

My first reaction to those situations and others like it was to grumble and create a story of why I thought people and circumstances were playing out the way they were… you know, create a conspiracy theory.  Rather than opening my arms to the massive tsunami wave, I fought it off with grumbling and my own conspiracy theory.  Fortunately, God didn’t allow me to use my defense mechanisms for too long; He ultimately made me feel the pain of letting go the identity that I had wrapped myself in, and let me tell you, it hurt.  I had invested years in creating this identity for myself.  By unwrapping those grave clothes (much like Lazarus coming out of his grave clothes), I had to be vulnerable, be scared, feel grief, and then ultimately feel the sun shining on my face.

I’ve found that if we don’t unwrap those grave clothes of how we think things should be, then we become bitter and dead in our binding.  Oh, what a process.

Interestingly, the Bible is far from silent on the topic of grumbling and using these defense mechanisms.  Here are some examples:

Philippians 2:14-16: Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

James 5:9: Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.

I think back to the stories I’ve spun in my mind rather than rejoice in the suffering.  The beautiful thing about waves is that over time they change the shape of the shore, smooth sharp edges of rocks, and break elements down to create sand.  Putting up walls to hold the waves back will last for only so long; eventually those will fall away too.  His power is large and beautiful and ultimately leaves us different for a greater purpose.

I am learning to recognize when I spin theories to make sense and allow the mystery and power hit me hard and do its best work.  It takes courage and great faith, but I think it’s worth it.

Living a Spirit of Yes: Connie & Mark


Last April, I had the pleasure of meeting two of my favorite people…Connie and Mark Garrett.  They rolled up to the barn, where we do Young Life, in a red convertible top down.  Their daughter, Kathryn, was with them, and they strolled into the barn like the three musketeers.  We were having a garage sale fundraising event, and they were there to check out what we had.  Without saying much, they walked out with a bounce house (for the neighbor kids) and some other things that I’m sure they didn’t need and were willing to do what they could to show support for our ministry.  Next to Kathryn, in the back seat, they stuffed the oversized box with the bounce house that I’m sure they didn’t really need and rolled off into a beautiful Saturday afternoon.  I was intrigued by this trio who stopped by our event that didn’t serve their adult daughter.

This encounter, through their neighbor Nikki (whose kids are too old for the bounce house too), blossomed into a beautiful friendship.  We met for lunch with Ryan and Nikki two months later, and over salad and pizza they asked how they could be a part of our ministry.  I mentioned that we would love a home for our junior high students to meet for Campaigners every other week.  Connie immediately said, “Well, you could do it at my house.”  I was speechless.  I wanted to ask her if she was sure; I mean, how many people INVITE 80 junior high kids into their home every other week, willingly?  (And they don’t have kids in the ministry).  But Connie and Mark were serious and with a spirit of yes, have hosted our Wyld Life Ministry with utter joy every other week.  Connie has candy and cupcakes on holidays, and she’s so excited to share her home so kids can talk about Jesus together.  Mark and Kathryn usually arrive home from work when we are there, and they treat us like family.

Connie and Mark are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary, and it’s an honor to have them and Kathryn a part of our Wyld Life Family.  Their love has overflowed into many blessings for others, and their love is exactly how Jesus intends for us to love- big, abundantly, overflowing, sacrificial, and joyfully.  Happy Anniversary, Connie and Mark.  We are incredibly thankful for you and Kathryn and your sweet pups.  May your love continue to grow for each other, Kathryn, and Jesus.

Here are some messages from our Young Life & Wyld Life Family:

Mark and Connie- Happy Anniversary!  Thank you so much for all of your support of Young Life and Wyld Life in our community.  Your hospitality, generosity, and love is so appreciated.  Thanks for loving kids so well and pointing them to Christ.  I hope you enjoy your special day together.  -Ryan Ahlwardt

Connie and Mark- 25 years of marriage is such an accomplishment!  You two are such an inspiration and living model of doing life God’s way.  Thank you for sharing yourselves and home with us.  May you be blessed with another 25 years of marital happiness.  -Lori Trulock

Connie and Mark- Happy 25th Anniversary!  Thank you for letting us use your house to share Christ in junior high kids’ lives.  Your welcoming spirit every week keeps all of the leaders and kids coming back.  I hope this is the best anniversary yet.          -Anne Kleinrichert

Thank you so much for opening your home to us.  Your willingness to give what you have for God’s glory is so inspiring.  Jesus has truly been working in the leaders’ lives and all the junior high kids’ hearts all in the midst of your home!  This ministry would not be complete without the two of you!  I’m praying that the supernatural presence of the Holy Spirit will be made known throughout your house, marriage, and family.  I know God looks down and celebrates this day with you both, and that reminds Him of why He created mankind and said, “It was good.”  Thank you and Happy Anniversary!  -Chloe Green

Connie and Mark- Oh holy are we thankful for you and your hospitality.  Just a few of my favorite things:  1. We’re always greeted with smiles and hugs.  2. You shine your love for Jesus.  3. Your sacrificial graciousness is beautiful.  4. You treat us like we’ve been friends for 20 years.  5. Even if we accidentally break the bed, you keep welcoming us back.  Thank you so much!           -Sarah Wright

Connie and Mark- Happy Anniversary, guys!  Thank you for all that you have done for Wyld Life!  Most parents wouldn’t trust their house to a bunch of junior high kids, but since you guys do that just makes you 10 times more awesome!         Congratulations again!  -Katy Puzzella

Thank you for opening up your house on Wednesdays to be a place where we can go and do life with our junior high friends.  They home-y atmosphere you allow us to make for those kids is really special.  Thank you for being so generous with sharing your home with us!  -Zach Mutchner

IMG_2357We love you, Connie, Mark, and Kathryn.  Happy 25 years!