“Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

Proverbs 27:17 (NASB)

It’s not like we think.

I’ve had plenty of times when a friend has cared enough to chastise me when I am behaving badly or immaturely. It stings. But, if I’m smart about it, and listen, things go better for me as I course-correct. So then, sharpening seems to be the dream: one where people habitually tell the loving truth, uplifting each other. My mind was wandering over this verse the other day while I was spending time in, well…the bathroom.

Then my children barged in one.


This was not uplifting.

Suddenly I was yelling, clearly defining my boundaries, sharply chastising them. “What are you doing? No! You are not allowed in here right now!” One kid mumbled that she wanted to ask me a question. “No. I will not answer questions here. You can wait outside and I will answer your question when I come out. This is my time to have some privacy to myself. Please go out now.” Answering specifically, I brought into sharp focus what I would, and would not do. Once I had regained my privacy, I took a few deep breaths to allow my body to come down off of the high alert to which it had spooled.

What just happened?

Whether I liked it or not, I was just sharpened by my children.

Perhaps a sharpening is nothing more than an intentionally clarifying result borne out of pain and conflict.

This is not uplifting.  But it is necessary.

As is often the case in life, I was minding my own business when I was invaded by the unexpected. As Jordan B. Peterson would say, “Order unraveled and chaos emerged. The unknown presented itself.” My brain scrambled to make sense of this intrusion.

Clarifying my position to my children, I immediately began establishing order in the situation – a thing that our brains do expertly, both subliminally and overtly – and brought into sharp focus the moral landscape of my boundaries. The oblivion of their self-centered desires vanished, and they opened their eyes to the world around them. They saw my angry face. The reality of their offense quickly registered for them, and they meekly backed out of the bathroom and closed the door. I required them to practice bearing the weight of deferred gratification, to suspend having my attention for a time. They had to wait to talk to me until I came out.

When dealing with our children, it is our job to clarify our own structures of propriety of behavior, both for ourselves and for them. If we do this work – which is akin to that of a land surveyor of the inner man – we can order our structures of relationships to be well-marked, clearly visible, and easy to navigate. We will not resent them for walking all over us, if we mark out where they may, and may not tread. They will not feel like they are navigating the hidden land mines of an angry parent. The emotional environment will not have dragons hiding invisibly in a foreboding fog. They will know the way, and see the path to success, because you have established it, and are helping them navigate it. They will be taught and supported. We, as parents, will protect and fortify ourselves, and hold the space for them to be themselves as well. We will clearly differentiate who our child is from who we are. In this family construct, everyone has their own identities. Everyone makes their own choices. Everyone has their own freedoms, expectations, successes, responsibilities, and consequences. Order is established and maintained. This clarifying, sharpening process creates tremendous relief for all involved.

How can this translate outward? How can this sharpening mechanism be utilized to protect and clarify our own positions in our communities in this current landscape of social unrest? After all, everyone is offending everyone.

We must remember: an offense forces a choice. 

We can use the offense to sharpen the image of ourselves, clarifying our own position in relationship to the offender. We see the riots sparking up on the news, and feel uneasy. We hear people we are friends with on social media decrying things as evil/racist/sexist that we thought were not so bad. Why are we uneasy? What do we really think about the value of memorial statues, the value of black lives, the value of the American project? The important part of this inquiry is that nobody else is allowed to answer for you. You have your own priorities, your own convictions, and your own experiences to guide you. This appears terribly useful in today’s climate of pre-election polarizing frenzy.

Every time we have the opportunity to mold and clarify our position in response to abrasion, we stay in practice. We test our views against other perspectives. We discover what is stout about our worldviews. We discover what is brittle. This practice of sharpening is essentially our search for truth: a truth that will withstand brutal cross-examination. The more self-examination we can bear, the sturdier our own bearing. If we first risk jumping on the bridge we built ourselves, and it does not collapse, it may bear up under the weight of others too.

Perhaps another interpretation of the above verse could read: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man causes another to clarify/specify/bring-sharply-into-focus his boundaries and convictions.”

One man causes another to clarify himself. He causes him to define more specifically who he is, and who he isn’t. What he will accept, and what he won’t. What he will do, and what he will not do. This is a terribly personal process, but it is the bedrock for living happily in society, as it clarifies where I stand in relation to you. This truth-telling is a tremendous relief for all involved. We may live among boorish, myopic, neighbors. If we don’t develop our own characters, we will behave no better. We are raising tiny immature humans who naturally behave as selfish, pushy dictators. With any luck, we will teach them to grow into contributing, conscientious adults, with a keen sense of self-examination, and a capacity for creating clarity. These days people are watching us – especially those of us who claim to belong to Jesus. My hope is that they will see us engaging in the hard work of following Him authentically, practicing wisdom in our own sharpening process, responding with clarity and understanding to muddy situations. We will grow into His likeness as we practice establishing order out of the chaos around us, wherever we are, for His glory.

In a podcast a friend shared with me, Miracle Whips (a prominent roller derby player in Toronto) sparked to life as she discussed the personal philosophies of this growing sport. At one point she asked us through her French-Canadian accent:

“Why did you get into roller derby? And why do you play now?”

The other day I went on an outdoor trail skate with a handful of girls from my roller derby league. Hungry for more, I asked one girl who had been skating for a few years, about her take on the sport. She talked of seeing new skaters coming in, wide-eyed and afraid. She confessed to her own misgivings when she signed up for her first roller derby boot camp. But the conclusions she came to still stick in my mind:

“Roller derby is so unique, because it creates a space for women to be whatever they want to be.”

These encounters fed my hunger for trying to piece together this strange new pursuit I’ve gotten myself into.

It all began with a dare. A dare to myself.

It was a rainy Friday afternoon in January. I was skating with my family at the local roller rink. The music was pulsing, the neon wall decor was aglow, and my children’s cheeks flushed pink with another lap around the rink, waving to us as they passed. My husband and I took turns skating with the girls, while the other watched our toddler in the adjacent arcade area.

Once when it was my turn in the arcade, my tiny boy stood on tip-toe to reach the cue ball on the pool table. While he toyed with this, I decided he was safe enough and began looking around. Hugging my sides, I meandered along the wall, perusing the cork-board shadowboxes showcasing other events and programs held at the rink. Speed skating. The Artistic Club. Birthday parties. I stopped when I came to the glass enclosure holding posters of roller derby. My mind flashed to the few stories I had heard: once a roller derby league hosted a mud-wrestling event at a local bar, only to have one of the girls break her arm and have to go to the hospital. No thanks. Not my scene.

The rest of that winter was unusually rainy, and we found ourselves at the rink week after week, giving the kids (and ourselves) time to exercise indoor and play together as a family. Every week I perused the posters, lingering at the roller derby ones of girls in colored hair and face paint: looking fierce in this shot, laughing at each other in that shot. There was a stack of flyers on the skate rental counter advertising introductory roller derby practices for new skaters. I picked one up: “Fresh Meat Nights,” it read, “Tuesday nights at 8pm.” It sounded like some terrifying double-dare on wheels. I exhaled, looked around, and folded the flyer into my pocket.

But I wondered.

Could I make it as a roller derby girl? Did I have what it takes?

Of course I wasn’t aggressive enough.

Or racy enough.

Or punk enough.

Or goth enough.

I was a conservative Christian writer and stay-at-home-mom. I had no tattoos. I spent my evenings with sinks of dishes and meal-plans. I liked my life. I loved my family. I staked my heart to the Lord and was building a beautiful future together with my husband. This crazy idea wasn’t a life-line to save me. It was a dare. My life was full. I just wanted to see if I could do this too. It was like a great, weird, life experiment. On wheels.

But I wondered. I thought about their low-slung skates as I packed the kids’ lunches. I pictured their shiny helmets as I did my hair in the morning.

I dared to talk it over with my husband.

Then… I showed up to a fresh meat night. Then another one, a few weeks later. Then again the next week.

By the way, do you even know how old I am?!

Miracle Whips asked, “Why did you join roller derby?”

Why did I?

Because I dared myself to.

I felt like an impostor, starting out. But this, I discovered, was part of the learning process.

Fall well, and get back up.

Let me tell you a secret of starting out in roller derby:

The physical part isn’t the hardest. Sure, you fall a million times, and have to learn to skate forward/backward/sideways/upside-down/inside-out, but that’s not the hardest part.

The mental part is the hardest.

Showing up, only to fall down, doesn’t feel inspiring. It hurts the confidence more than the tailbone. I had no point of reference for it. I didn’t picture myself as a “tough derby girl in training.” That wasn’t a concept in my mind. I felt more accurately like an aging, flop-bellied mama cheating her role at home to roll around on wheels for a few hours, like a nine-year-old.

We all have our loud reasons for feeling like inadequate failures-in-waiting.

Carol Dweck, a research professor at Stanford, calls this a “fixed mind-set:” a belief that talent is something innate and natural – something we are just born with…or without. Those who are good at something are “naturals.” Those who are bad at something are “just not made for it.” This fatalistic belief dangerously removes any difference that practice and effort would make. After all, why try? I’m just not good at it.

Conversely, she found that a person who believes they can improve with effort and practice has a “growth mind-set.” Matthew Syed calls it the “mastery-oriented” (growth) vs.“helpless” (fixed) mindset. Everything comes out of this. Entire lifelong beliefs are based on these ideas. Can you guess what their respective results produce?

A growth mindset will try, fall, and get back up. It will see failures not as a death-sentence, but as a learning experience. It understands that sustained practice is the key to mastery in anything, anything we do. Those who are naturals may have an initial leg-up, but it is we who practice, who are persevere and try again, who will gain the understanding, skill, and muscle memory of mastery. We keep trying. We know we will fall. We fall well, and get back up.

Sport vs. Lifestyle

So how does this sport fit into my life? How do I belong here?

Roller derby is an interesting amalgam of a sport and a lifestyle. It is an international sport, with the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) overseeing its rules, regulations, leagues and recognized tournaments. The sport’s current structure was birthed in the early 2000’s in Texas, after lying dormant for over 20 years. It has come a long way from the brutal antics of televised roller derby in the 70’s that smacked of WWF theatrics. The parameters now are global. The skill requirements are standardized worldwide. The players are athletes, logging countless hours training and cross-training.

But even as the sport is standardized, the roller derby lifestyle is completely open to interpretation. As my friend said, “Roller derby creates a space for women to be whatever they want to be.” The leagues still have their fair share of counter-culture feminist vibes that the sport was founded on. Naturally. It is a full-contact women’s sport. Aggresive personalities gravitate here. And, it also attracts more quiet personalities, nerds, gamers, hippies, mommies, working women, and students.

My teammates are teachers, scientists, journalists, nurses, and fellow stay-at-home-moms. Some go out and party. Some stay in. And for the record, I have felt zero pressure to go mud wrestling.

What I’ve found is this: I’m still me. I just like to do this too.

I still love Jesus. And I like to skate too.

I still adore my husband. And I train among other women too.

I still parent and care for my children. And I’m learning hip-check and blocking techniques on the side.

And why do you play now?

Miracle Whips asked, “Why did you get into roller derby? And why do you play now?

It’s been about a year since I’ve dared myself to learn roller derby. The reasons will morph over time, as life changes. But why do I skate right now?

Because it is loads of fun. I am surprised by how much I cannot stop smiling.

Because I get to tap into that brain-body connection I had long ago, as a gymnast and an athlete. I get to feel like I’m a kid again. I get to feel at home in my body again.

Because my teammates are such a joy to skate with, as I get to know them.

But mostly it’s because the resilient themes between derby and life skills run too deep to be ignored. The physical training, the pressing in, the focus, the engaging of the core, the flexibility, the boundaries, the aggression, the playfulness, the laughter, it all has a place in life too. As I become a better skater and teammate, I become a better wife and mother too.

Outside Your Norm. Not Outside Your Priorities.

I have a question for you: Have you ever dared yourself to do something before?

Let me rephrase that question: What would you dare yourself to try, if you had the chance?

Often we don’t dare because it’s not worth it to us. At least not initially. Newness hurts too much. Being a beginner – especially as an adult – is terribly uncomfortable. It feels crazy. What if none of your friends are into it? What if your loved ones don’t get it? How would you fit it into your life? You don’t have the time. Or the bandwidth. I totally understand.

But the fun thing about a dare, is that it’s an opportunity. It’s disorienting. It’s sprung on you. Suddenly you’re considering. You’re integrating the new idea into your pre-existing idea of the way you are and the way things are. You’re evaluating what can be adjusted and what cannot be touched. It’s outside your norm, but is it outside your priorities? How does it fit with your stated goals of who you are and how you want to be?

Think about how you see yourself, or how you want to see yourself. Are you athletic? Creative? Inquisitive? Active in social issues? Generous? Adventurous? Resilient? Would it be against your life-vision to engage in new ways in these areas? No. It would be outside your norm. But not outside your priorities. It might cost you in time and money, both of which must be responsibly budgeted. But if it’s not contrary to your values, then it might possibly be a good dare for you.

If you get to exist in your own life too, what dare would you give yourself, that would be within the boundary lines of your values?

As I’ve begun this journey into skating and derby, I’ve found that I can still be me, and do something entirely new. As a younger pup, I got it into my head that in order to begin a new endeavor, I had to leave at the door that part that made me, me. That was a great way to justify a protectionist posture for life. That was a fixed-mindset. That was a great reason for never doing anything. It was suffocating. My life itself wasn’t suffocating, but my attitude about my life suffocated me. If trying new things threatened who I was at my core, then it was far too dangerous to go there.

But life, God, and my own heart have proven to be so much bigger than I ever imagined! And my dare to myself to try roller derby has helped me learn this valuable lesson.

The Dare

So in light of this, how about a dare?

Try a new thing. And when you’re disoriented with the newness, hold onto yourself. Do not turn against yourself in criticism of your awkward performance. Hold your own hand. Talk it out with your trusted people. Cheer yourself on. Keep trying. Fall well. Pay attention to all you’re learning, both on and off the track. This is your growth-mindset at work.

I didn’t set out to change the world, to revolutionize the sport, or to abandon my family. I simply wanted to try it out. To see if I could hack it. I was 50/50 about whether I could or not. But there came a point a month or so in when I looked around and thought, “Oh, this is it? I have loads to learn still, but these ladies seem just like me. If they can do I, I can too.”

The game of life is much bigger and broader than we think. Jesus still reigns in my heart as I skate in racing circles around the track. People of all beliefs and lifestyles skate alongside me. I’ve discovered we’re all stressed out and self-conscious and sweaty. I can love them just as Jesus commands. We each hold onto ourselves as we practice together, clapping for each fall, and reaching out to help up. The falls are evidence of trying. This is common knowledge among us.

What is your dare to yourself? What if you told somebody about it? What if you researched how to begin? What if you could still hold onto yourself in the disorienting space of a beginner? What if you could hold onto “who you are” while expanding the scope of “what you can do?”

Go on. I dare you to dare yourself.

Photo by Jacqueline Martinez on Unsplash

Photo by hieu vo on Unsplash

What is the light you hold to get you through this dark cold season?

It’s my grand experiment with connection. I feel like a mad scientist toying with something as impossible as time-travel. This has the danger of sounding kind of awesome, a little cool, and fairly evolved.

But let me tell you: it’s not cool. Not by any stretch. Not at first.

It’s trading the reliable drug of hiding and isolation for the cold shower of reality. It’s the panicky deep breathing of feeling vulnerable that forces oxygen deep into my lungs. It’s the rush of my plaintive gaze being met with a steady look of love and acceptance. It’s as unbelievable as that blasted time machine actually popping through history.

As I hold this light of practicing connection, it’s terrible. I feel the familiar drag of hiding, but also see the spark of something long ago familiar, like a conscience, on the other side. From behind there is the greasy tug at my skirts to come away, far far away, to the place where unworthy things go. And there is a trembling flame ahead that barely lights the next step forward into connection. In that place, all I can ever see is the next step. This feels more like a dare, than a step. Like a lumberjack wearing ballet shoes because he lost a bet to his drinking buddies. Hardly graceful.

Let me be clear: in my experience, the next right step always feels more like a stumble.

I come to my husband, holding in my head a herky-jerky script hard won over the years of doing everything wrong. Buzz words like “I feel,” “I need help,” “Please hug me,” ring out. After I gauge his level of safety, it usually all tumbles out something like: “Though I know it’s all baloney, and I’m probably baloney for feeling this way, I’m pretty sure I just mess everything up in our family all the time and I’m feeling like I should just go away and hide, but instead I’m being stupid and telling you all of this like an idiot and I’m sure you agree with me.” My voice gets higher as it goes. And louder.

Then he dazzles me by a blinding tenderness. He coos at me and welcomes me in like I just discovered our secret meeting spot carved from a thicket in the woods. “You found it! I’ve been waiting for you. You said the secret password. Come in! I brought snacks.”

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

Revelations 3:20

Sometimes it’s all in my head. Sometimes it’s not. Sort of. Sometimes I’ve committed legit offenses that we talk through. But always with tenderness. When I come to him naked of soul and feeling utterly stupid, he doesn’t recoil. Though I recoil from myself, he just doesn’t.

And I find myself at the cross of Jesus. I recognize the greasy pull of hiding was the accuser of my soul. I see the spark of conscience was the Holy Spirit in me, drawing me into the light.

And suddenly I’m living the Bible:

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

1 John 1:7

Oh, so THIS is fellowship. It’s pretty terrible: all this shining light revealing my SELF. But I’ve heard to be loved is to be seen: every sagging, wrinkling, suspicious, self-righteous part. I’m learning to step toward the light of connection, and hold on tight. Lord help me. Help us all. And bless those who welcome us out of hiding into the light of godly connection.

God bless our big burly emotional and spiritual midwives.

–Photo by hieu vo on Unsplash

What do you have the muscle memory of? What are you in the habit of doing? Where do your thoughts go when you’re not paying attention? Mine were spiraling into the best-meaning abyss of single-mindedness.

But motherhood was defined by interruption. I’m not talking about mindfulness. I’m talking about obsession. I’m talking about avoidance. I’m talking about holding the posture of “taking from” instead of “giving to” my people. I’m talking about a dangerous road to travel.

But hat if not-writing was just as essential as writing? I’m not even talking about the creative process. I’m talking about life. What if forcing and obsessing over becoming a working writer over-loaded my brain’s kitchen table with too many of the wrong things?

I’ve felt the load. Obeying all the talking heads and podcasts. Cultivating the single-mindedness of a working writer. Feeding my social media like a goldfish. Obsessing like a gold-star winner.

I couldn’t see any more counter space. My eyes blurred out the shapes of the people right in front of me. Everything I did became in relation to writing. Every situation I grabbed onto with the question: how can I milk this moment like a dairy cow: squeezing content into my steaming bucket? My husband and children started avoiding me. They didn’t like how I in turn neglected, then used them for my creative purposes. I found my life littered with too much of my own pursuits that it crowded out any space for them to sit.

They were mad.

I was shocked.

I had to stop.

Which meant: I had to clear the table.

Leaning hard forward, I stretched my arm over the kitchen table of my life and swept everything off with the back of my hand. It makes a terrible crash when all of my priorities clatter onto the tile. Nothing makes sense. For a brief moment, I don’t know who I am, or where I am going. I see nothing but rubble, and hear nothing but the noise of impact.

After the big sweep, I spend time sifting and carefully picking up the items I still want to keep: my marriage. My children. My home. Our one direction together as a family toward the Lord.

Writing is a part of my DNA, but done out of proportion to the rest of my priorities, it can be an insidious excuse to neglect my own life, and the people therein. Writing is built into me. It feels like a steaming pot pie out of the oven. Satisfying. Heartening. The work of my hands. But I had dangerously begun to worship it, instead of the Lord. The center was coming undone. The pile was swelling and teetering.

Take my advice: let the pendulum swing back.

Eat all the crow. Forgive yourself. Lean hard forward with your outstretched arm, and do the sweep and the spare rebuild. Only a few items are allowed back on the table. Writing can have its place, but it must play well with others. When you become wildly successful in your creative pursuit, you want your husband by your side.

Here’s the secret:

I want to be successful. I want to become a working writer: supporting myself with my craft. If I crowd out my priorities – my people and my foundation – then I will crowd out my support system. When fame and money comes, I will fall. My character will be too weak and lonely. I will not be able to hold all that is poured into my lap. I will break.

Wealth and success only magnifies whatever is within a man’s heart. If he is already a generous man, he will become more generous. If he is already prone to medicate his problems, he will become more of an addict. If he has built a strong foundation, he can raise a secure life for himself and his children.

Keep this long-game in mind.

Clear the table often.

Vote for your people with your time and attention.

Create space for Not-Writing, so that when you Do-Write, your words will shine with the wisdom learned off the page. When you become famous, your character will have the muscle memory of your true priorities.

Photo by Fabio C. on Unsplash

There I was, sinking lower in the chair, even as I held an expression of attentive listening.  There was a lady speaking to us from an armchair on the video we were watching at our local MOPS meeting (MOPS: Mothers Of Pre-Schoolers, i.e. a ready-made tribe for ladies in the trenches).  The topic of the day was around gratitude.  She leaned hard on the arm of her chair, and told us funny stories alongside her own real stories of stress and shame.

Then she turned the spotlight on us.

She asked us to do a gratitude challenge.

“Here’s what it is ladies,” she explained. “Text someone every evening for 14 days.  You’re going to text anyways, so it might as well be doing something productive. (cue snickering moms) In the text, list off three things you’re thankful that happened that day.  It has to be sent to the same person, so they can be expecting your text.  That’s it.”

She said that if we did that for 14 days straight, it would raise our overall happiness level for the next six months.  I didn’t catch the science behind this claim.  But, just like flossing or praying, I figured practicing gratitude was never a bad idea.

Of course, I didn’t want to participate in this challenge or anything.  My life had plenty of challenges already.  A trip to Costco with my toddler tests the fabric of space-time and Jesus’s grip on my very soul.  No thanks.

But then the video ended, and the fearless leader of this dear MOPS group stepped up and announced we were going to do this.  We were to write our first name and cell phone number on a piece of scrap paper shaped like a bird, and drop it in a pastel-painted bucket.  We would each draw an anonymous name.  She would then be our “secret sister” for this gratitude challenge.  Most ladies chimed around with pleased sounds.

I was trapped.  Trapped by gratitude.

I dutifully drew a name out of the bucket, and quickly scanned the name tags on shirts I could see from my seat, trying to match a face with the name and number on the bird.  Nothing.

Do you know how hard it is to be flaky to a stranger you are going to see again?

Whoever drew my name may or may not know who I am.  I’m still new here.  So this is basically my first impression to my secret sister: fourteen days straight of unfailing gratitude.  No pressure.

But then something weird happened.

That night, after I sent my text, and set up an alarm for every night to do the same, I felt good.  Like this may not be a trigger for performance anxiety.  Maybe.

The next night, I skipped the text altogether, because my husband and I were out on a rare date.  So I sent my text in the morning.  I got a reply of “Love this!” from my mystery sister.  I was sort of expecting “Where the heck have you been?”  Huh.

The next night I was staring down the sink full of dishes with slumped shoulders, and hearing my daughter cough like she was coming down with something.  DING went my phone.  I slowly grabbed it, and went to send my gratitude text.  My mind was blank.  I kept stealing glances at the sink of dishes: like it was going to sneak off with my wallet or something.

Then I remembered: My toddler had slept in that day.  And I had a Saturday with my husband at home with me.  And he finished installing our new front door that had been years in the making.  I smirked as I sent the text.  Then I turned my back to the dishes and walked into the living room to play on the floor with my kids.

I would never have crawled onto the floor without that text reminder.

That text interrupted my slumped posture at the sink.  Something happened in that moment that I ‘m still trying to figure out.  Those miserable dishes may never get done.

It feels like we are all looking for that moment of change:

From pain to relief.

From tired to energetic.

From timid to brave.

From not-enough, to more-than-enough.

From sad to happy.

The thing that’s the most interesting to me are the moments:  the exact moment when my attitude changes from grumbling to grateful, and the catalyst for the change.

So here’s to catalyst texts.

Here’s to change.

And here’s to practicing gratitude for a happier tomorrow.

I’ll keep you up on my progress!

First, make elaborate plans for them.  Choose them lovingly from the grocery store, imagining the slow drizzles of herb-infused oil over them.  Tell yourself that your children will eat them THIS time, because they’ve never tasted the amazing flavors you’re going to cook into them.

At home, shove them under the lettuce in the bottom of the fridge.  Diligently forget about them for a week.

Remember them on Sunday, when you finish the lettuce and see them underneath.  Feel guilty, because you remember your parents telling you one time about starving children in India.

Realize your guilt may be a bit misguided at the moment.  Decide to retain a little bit, just in case.

Bravely open the bag and sniff them.  They smell as good as… brussels sprouts.  But not rotten brussels sprouts.

At 4:30pm, decide to roast the brussels sprouts.  Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees, because you remember under-cooking them last time, and nobody but the teething baby gnawed on them.

Pile the dirty dishes from one side of the sink to the other.

Rinse and chop-in-half the brussels sprouts while stirring the carnitas meat you’re trying to brown in a giant frying pan.

Grab the $7 spice tin you bought at the harvest fair, and the olive oil.  Suddenly remember that olive oil will smoke at so high a temperature, and substitute it for coconut oil.  Congratulate yourself for making conscientious choices in your life.

Toss the brussels sprouts in the oil and spices, and spread them on a cookie sheet.  Carefully turn each half facing upward, because you saw that somewhere on a cooking show.  Place sheet in the oven.  Set timer for 45 minutes.

Stir the carnitas again.  Smile at the bacony smells drifting up from the frying pan.

Change out the laundry load.  Fold your husbands work pants for tomorrow.

Wring your hands about the kids’ lunches that need to be packed.  Peek into the living room to see all of them playing happily, and decide to let them play a while longer.

Greet your husband as he walks into the kitchen, happily sniffing the air, lauding your Sunday night cooking.

Blush and turn away at his compliment, only to catch sight of the monstrous stack of dishes in the sink.  Start shoving them into the dishwasher like you meant to do that all along.  Because you sort-of did.  At times.  Sort-of.

See your youngest toddle into the kitchen, whining for a snack.  Sit him in his high-chair at the table, and set out a platter of cheese and crackers.  Call the others over to the table for a snack.

Five minutes later, hear the indignant squeals of your daughter protesting that the baby ate all the cheese.  Tell her that if she had come to the table on time, there would be some left for her.

Make a mental note to instill time-management skills into your parenting.

Forget mental note as you hear the carnitas sizzle change into pops.  Frown at them because they look like they’re turning into jerky.

Look to your husband as he chats with you.  Melt into adult conversation.  Follow him onto the couch in the next room over.

Remember to turn off the burners before you follow him.  Congratulate yourself for multi-tasking so well in your domestic life.

Sit down with your husband, and have meaningful, heart-felt conversations.

Hear the oven beep, but decide to give it five more minutes.  You remember hearing that the brussels sprouts are a hearty vegetable and can stand up to the heat.

Get interrupted by children running into the room and tackling both of you.

Stand up to dump them off your lap, and saunter over to the oven.

Squeak open the oven door.

Gasp in horror.

Slam the door shut immediately, and turn the oven off.  Walk over to the sink, uncertain why you’re walking to the sink.

Hear your husband squeak open the oven door behind you,saying, “Whoa.”

Feel your head sinking backwards into tunnel vision.  Suddenly be transported to all the failures you have ever committed.  Feel the weight of it all piling onto your chest.

Swallow and say clearly, “Yeah, I burned the brussels sprouts.”  Walk from the stove to the sink a few times, and open up the fridge, just for good measure.

Avoid eye contact.

Hear the kids shrieking and fighting with each other in the living room.

Feel sudden rage bubble out of you as you shout terribly at them in return.

Feel your husband now close to you.  He asks, “What’s wrong?”

Hold his gaze in one brief moment of suspended disbelief.  Wonder how he could not see that your life was a tightly sealed Ziplock bag of failure?!


Ugly cry.

Grab two oven mitts, and take the blackened brussels sprouts straight out the back door.  Set the tray on the big A/C metal box outside to cool.  Lean on the fence.  Look up at the sky.  Breathe.  Compose yourself.

Then collapse into sobs again.

Cry so hard your husband has to steady you.  Cry about everything that you didn’t realize was bothering you.  Talk, and cry, and blow your nose on a stray piece of laundry.

Again try to deep-breathe composure when your oldest walks over.  Show her the charcoal brussels sprouts as the reason for your tears.  They’re as good a prop as any.

Feel her hug your belly and see kindness in her eyes.  Watch her disappear around the corner of the house.  Feel immense pride in her beautiful heart.

Talk more with your husband. Slowly realize there is more time in your life, and in your family, than you realized.

Hear God’s gentleness in his words.

Eventually see your oldest come back over, reporting that she told her younger sister about what happened, and that she cheered out loud at the death of the brussels sprouts.

Smirk, and find your feet to trudge back into the kitchen.  Let your husband hug you for far longer than you expected.  Chop some carrot sticks, and slice pieces off of a loaf of bread.  Spoon carnitas jerky onto plastic plates.

Discover that neither you, nor your husband are hungry.   Feel surprisingly connected to him in this fact.

Set out plates of this weird dinner for the kids.  Gather everyone to the table, but turn on cartoons to distract them from complaining.

Take a sip from a glass of iced mineral water your husband poured for you.  Feel it trickle down your throat, and sting your nose: a reminder that you are alive.  This hot swollen feeling of shame is not what God meant for you.  He meant you for refreshment: for cool, effervescent relief in Him.  Thank Him for sticking it out through your crazy.

Slow down.

Later that night, under cover of darkness, bring the tray of black lumps back into the kitchen.

Peel off the outer layers to find that the insides were still green, soft, and well-seasoned.  Laugh and cry about this.  Try it.  Find them delicious.  Decide to eat the edible ones all yourself.

Tuck yourself into bed.  Hold your husband’s sleeping hand.  Think about how you burned the brussels sprouts.  How you yelled at the kids.  How you forsook yourself, but your family still took you back.

Squeeze your husband’s hand under the covers.  Decide that God is still good, that your heart survived this near-death experience.  And that you *may* be too hard on yourself sometimes.