Saturday, March 17, 2018

Eleven years

Eleven years ago, I married the man for me. Looking back now, I remember very little about our first few years together, aside from a handful of struggles that no newlywed would ever forget. There are times where I wonder, what was it that we wrestled with in the day-to-day, during that season when life seemed simpler?

It appears the size of our challenges grow as each year passes, doesn’t it? We have more responsibility now, more influence, more resources, more offspring who have joined the party. Suddenly more humans are impacted by each choice we make. For us, it’s these three adorable people that he and I created.

But it isn’t just the struggles that have increased in size. Our hearts have grown too. Hindsight reveals just how little we knew each other when we were first wed. We were just babies in love, with hardly a care in the world when we said, “I do.” Now we’ve covered more ground. We’ve seen more sides to each other. We’ve peaked at the dark nooks and the crannies and have tasted the things we’d once kept hidden. Years together will do that to you, revealing the inevitable that can only be kept concealed in the short term. The more surface area exposed, the more space there is to love and embrace one another for all that each of us are. As our struggles grow and change, so does our love for each other.

I’ve spoken into his life and helped certain areas thrive and he’s done the same for me. Pieces of us have shrunk and others have expanded. We’ve changed shape as a unit. It’s this dance that we do, an extra give here and then some take there. Sometimes we are coordinated and sway in rhythm, but oft times, even with years of experience under our belts, we are clumsy and step on each other’s toes.  

When I first envisioned marriage, I thought there would be a lot more uninterrupted, leisurely conversations and a lot less bickering over half-finished projects, who cleaned the toilets last, and whether it makes logical sense to put an area rug under our dining room table. (What, to sop up the milk spills? I’ll let you take a wild guess who stands where on that one). I pictured a lot more walks on the beach together, more romance, and that we would have the energy to pursue each other well without planning three weeks in advance. I assumed our relationship would deepen without effort, that we would grow closer naturally and not further away. I anticipated weekly date nights over weekly evenings spent in therapy. 

No, this place we find ourselves, it doesn’t look the way we imagined. It never does. But do you know what else I never foresaw? The beauty and affirmation that arrives wrapped within the embrace that follows a moment of raw vulnerability. Or the joy the stems from having a built-in best friend. Or the privilege of being my person’s number one cheerleader. The pride that comes along with having an automatic front row seat as I applaud him in his accomplishments. The immeasurable connection experienced when there is physical intimacy. Or the glow I feel, knowing I am absolutely adored. And finally, the security of commitment, of choosing to love one another, faults, shortcomings, failures and all, every single day.

These are the rich, rich gifts I never knew I would receive in marriage. 

Happy 11 years, Graham. To God be the glory! 

May our love grow evermore. 

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Permission Granted

Hey Girl.

Yes, You, Dear Reader.  I’m talking to You.  I have something that I want to say, a message that has been bubbling from deep within, informed by my own experience and etched upon my soul.  I tried to write about something else, but I couldn’t get You off my mind.

You are tired. So very, very weary and you can no longer keep up with all the things. You have been showing up at the appointed times. You have been checking the boxes.  Life is unfolding around you, yet you feel like you are missing it entirely. Like a spider in a toilet bowl, discarded for disposal, you are flailing frantically, a last-ditch effort to keep your head above the surface.  Any moment now, the waters will come rushing forth, swirling and spinning, and you know you won’t be able to hang on against the force.  It’s only a matter of time before you find yourself washed down, down, down.  Down to who knows where.

“Is this it?  Is this life now?”

These are the words you find yourself whispering as hope and joy feel all but a distant aspiration.  You long to experience life’s pleasures, to be present, maybe to be a little less angry.  You are frustrated by hardship, defeated by exhaustion and you just don’t want to do any of it anymore.

You’ve been showing up to all the things, saying “yes” to all the requests asked of you and now you feel bitter and unseen and overlooked.  Has anyone noticed your efforts?  Has anyone even paid attention to how many things you crossed off your list today?  You are doing-doing-doing and achieving and attempting to please all those around you but have never felt emptier.

You may not recognize it yet, but you have lived your life a prisoner to your mind.  Your mind, which tends to don a jersey in the opposing team’s color, is doing everything in its power to take you down all day long.  Thoughts torment you, telling you all the ways you aren’t measuring up.  They tell you if you don’t earn an “A” grade, you are not worthy of love.  They tell you approval is something you must work for.  They pile guilt upon guilt, eventually miles high, the gasoline that fuels you to keep on trudging ahead and doing the things that leave you bitter and weary.  They say if life isn’t hurting, then you obviously aren’t doing it right.  

I am so blessed, and I really should be thankful for all that I have,” you tell yourself, conjuring up pictures in your mind of orphans in third world countries, just as you’ve been taught.  But these words taste as sharp as acid in your mouth, ingenuine and forced.  Deep down, you are far from grateful and this feels like an unholy ugliness, something you must keep hidden.  How dare you not appreciate all the good in your life?!  And so along with a checklist of other things you “should be” feeling, you swallow your emotions, don a smile and forge on ahead. 

Each time you find yourself with a moment of quiet in your typically-chaotic days, you feel incredibly guilty.

“You really should do something productive,” the voices tell you.

“No one else is getting a break, so why should you?”

“You don’t deserve this,” they say.

Well I’m here to tell you it’s time to SHUT THOSE VOICES DOWN.  

We cannot continue to guilt ourselves out of enjoying the pleasures of life.  Some of us (and you know who you are), in the name of “hard work ethic,” have been ignoring our body’s cues, begging that we slow down and rest.  We wear our stress like badges of honor and are quick to judge those who aren’t over-worked and under-rested.  We see people around us setting boundaries to preserve their well-being and jealousy and envy turn us sour.

“Lazy,” we call them, accusingly, only because it makes us feel better about ourselves and justifies our overtaxed natures.

More recently, God has taken my former mode of operation and turned it on its head.  With outside help, I have begun to recognize that my over-committed, no-margin lifestyle wasn’t doing anyone any favors.  And the girl who once said yes to everything now, on occasion, says no.  The one who believes her measure of worth is directly correlated with her level of productivity is slowly fading.  The one who once viewed rest for the “weak and lazy” is now fighting to create moments of peaceful quiet nearly every day for the sake of her own sanity.  I am working to overcome my feelings of undeservedness because, the more I read scripture, the more I realize that the God I believe in longs for us to enjoy and experience pleasure in his good, good gifts.

Ecclesiastes 3:12-14 says “So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.”

Some of you need to hear this word today. Some of you need to lower the bar for yourself at least seven notches.  Some of you need the permission to STOP.  You’ve been spending every spare moment or all the preschool hours doing and accomplishing, and your weary spirit is barely hanging on.  You’ve lost the ability to feel real joy.  You don’t know what brings you pleasure anymore.  Each time you try and do something “for yourself,” your mind races through all the things you “should” be doing instead and you end up more drained than you were to begin with.

You have permission to stop.  You have permission to pick up a book and read all afternoon long.  You have permission to not accomplish a blessed thing during every single nap time this week.  Heck!  You have permission to be the one taking the nap if sleep is what you need!  You have permission to put your feet up this weekend and let the laundry mountain grow.  Your soul is weary, and you aren’t going to make it at this pace.  It doesn’t matter what everyone else in the culture around you is doing.

You need to do what YOUR soul, mind and body are crying out for. 

And for you, the act of resting, truly resting, takes far more strength than getting anything crossed off on that list ever would.  So, rest, my friend.  Permission granted.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Division of Responsibility

Remember that time, back in your childhood maybe, when you found yourself alone at the table, minutes, maybe hours even after the mealtime had passed, staring a pile of green something-or-other in the face?  Yeah, I think we all do.  The phrase "You may NOT get down from the table until your plate is clean," uttered emphatically by our parents, echoes fresh in our minds like it was just yesterday.  They meant well, really they did, but I think there are better ways to raise up healthy eaters than to engage in battle.

Although I am a nutrition expert by title, let me assure you that I'm right there in the trenches with you, maneuvering the challenges of feeding my own kids.  Feeding children is HARD and I've watched many-a-mealtime go downhill as it morphed into a battle of wills.  My growing passion is to help change the way families approach the table by removing some of the power struggles that can easily develop around food and mealtimes.  Since our kids will not reside under our roofs forever, my goal is to help others empower their kids to make their own good choices.  Are you in?

In our society, there is so much focus on WHAT to feed our kids and so little focus on HOW to feed them.  I'll fess up.  I like to go "under cover" when we go to my kids' well check ups.  Who knows, maybe it's written in giant red letters on the outside of each of their charts "SHE'S A DIETITIAN" but really, I just want to know what doctors are telling parents without a nutrition background about feeding their kids.  My children have an incredible pediatrician and you couldn't pay me money to switch to anyone else.  They have received wonderful medical care throughout the courses of their lives.  But, I must confess I've been a bit surprised by scarcity of how-to feeding guidance that has been provided to me.

So if you're looking for a little more guidance on this big, rather important topic, I can point you to some resources that can help.  Many of my favorites were created created by a fellow dietitian, Ellyn Satter, and I would highly recommend her books "Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense" and "Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family" if you are struggling in any way with feeding your kiddos.  She also has a wonderful website with a lot more information if you are looking for additional resources. 

Before we begin the actual act of feeding our kids, we need to build a foundation and lay some ground rules.  And I think the best way to start this is by introducing you to "The Division of Responsibility," also known as "The Golden Rule of Feeding," which was developed by Ellyn Satter. In it, Satter outlines our responsibilities in feeding as the parents, and our kids' responsibilities as the ones being fed.  I believe having a clear framework that differentiates our jobs and from our kids' jobs is essential for maneuvering the endless eating and feeding obstacles our kids will throw our way. In the same way that establishing a family system of rules regarding how we treat and store our belongings helps keep us from living in constant chaos, operating under the Division of Responsibility in feedings helps us determine when to intervene in a feeding situation and when to let go. 

Okay, so what is this Division of Responsibility? Here goes!

Division of Responsibility

THE PARENT is responsible for...


...foods are offered.

THE CHILD is responsible for...


...they choose to eat.

If I totally just blew your mind, go back and read it again. 

Did you let the words sink in? 

You as the parents get to decide WHAT foods to serve, WHEN to serve those foods and WHERE to serve them (at the table, on a bench at the park etc).  Your child gets to decide HOW MUCH of those foods you served to eat and even WHETHER he or she wants to eat them at all. 

Have you heard of this approach before?  Are you following it?  Or does it sound totally foreign and maybe even foolish?  (Why yes, I just said your kid gets to opt out of eating the food you worked so hard to prepare.  How super annoying is that, right!?)  But don't bail on me and call it all blasphemy.  There is so much more I want to tell you. 

While you may not just yet be able to fathom how this methodology works in practice, I'm guessing it is news to no one that our relationship with food in the United States leaves something to be desired. Obesity is affecting kids at younger and younger ages, eating disorders are rampant and body image issues continue to wreak havoc on kids and adults alike.  I imagine you can rattle off a whole list of personal food and body struggles as easily as you can your own phone number.  Many of us have lost the ability to enjoy eating without guilt, we've lost our hunger and satiety cues after drowning them out for so long, and we don't know how to confidently nourish our bodies.  Let's do our kids a favor and not pass on all our junk, shall we?

When I first learned about the Division of Responsibility, it went against nearly every grain in my body and I didn't think there was any way it could "work."  If I didn't force my daughter to eat her broccoli, "How would she ever eat broccoli?", I wondered.  As a type-A, self-proclaimed control freak, the idea of letting my child decide whether to eat made me feel very uncomfortable. How would I make sure she was getting everything she needed? 

Well, the thing is, I totally DO still have a say in what my kids eat because I am the one who gets to decide what I offer.  Since I am responsible for choosing which foods to prepare, it guarantees me a degree of control, at least when we are eating at home (when they are in others' homes, we are at the mercy of our hosts but I firmly believe that is healthy and ok).  Though my kids can opt to refuse what I serve, if I only serve nutritious options and don't break the Division of Responsibility and allow them to short-order something else for dinner, then what they consume will be healthy.  Are you following?

The truth is, sometimes, OK, a lot of times, actually, my kids don't eat vegetables.  But I don't sweat it (I will get to America's odd obsession with kids and their veggie intake in a later post...)  I don't freak out when my kids turn down vegetables at one or two or even twenty-two meals.  I have studied what is normal developmentally for children of different ages and know that it takes time and practice to learn to eat well. Thankfully, one meal or one week of meals or even one month of meals isn't the be-all end-all.  Our goal should be to aim for a variety of foods and a rainbow of colors over a period of time.  Not every plate will be perfectly balanced and that's OK.

If food fights are commonplace in your home right now and you wouldn't exactly describe your child's diet as "healthy," take heart.  You certainly aren't alone!  You would be amazed at how many battles are instantaneously defused when a child realizes you aren't going to force them to eat.

Feeling overwhelmed and confused?  That's okay.  We are just scratching the surface.  In the days and weeks ahead, I hope to dive into these concept even deeper, providing you with specific feeding "jobs" as parents that will help you wrap your mind around how this all works.  I also plan to flesh out what maintaining the Division of Responsibility looks like in practice with real kids and real situations, because we all know it's one thing to read something on paper and it's a whole different ball of wax to try and apply it to a specific scenario, right?  All right, more soon.

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Friday, February 9, 2018

Freedom From Food Fights - A New Series!

Let me see a show of hands – How many of you have ZERO concerns about how your children are eating? You are experiencing perfectly-smooth mealtimes and feel totally confident that your kids are getting everything they need and that they will grow up to be excellent eaters. Yes?


Gosh, it feels quiet out there.

If I were a betting woman, I would be willing to put my entire “Dream Kitchen Savings Fund” on the line (which is obviously a LOT of money because freelance writing is known for bringing in the bacon - read: I have yet to get paid a penny but I digress…) and venture to guess that no one out there is feeling perfectly secure about how and what their kids are eating. Yeah, me neither. Just because I have the head knowledge does not make me immune to the pressures of our culture and all the mama guilt about “doing things right.” I worry, just like the rest of you, about whether my kids are going to go their entire childhoods never allowing a green vegetable to pass through their lips. I wonder how many sweets are “too many.” I second guess whether it is really okay that my son, despite the plethora of options before him, consumes only milk for dinner 5 out of 7 nights a week. I get it, people. I’m in the trenches with you.

For a lot of us, mealtimes have turned into something approach with fear and trepidation and even dread. Food fights are rampant. We wonder…

“What tricks will my kids try and pull tonight?”

“Will they even taste anything that I prepare?”

Maybe things have grown so difficult around mealtimes your home that you find yourself asking “Is it even worth it to cook anymore?”

Or maybe you aren’t cooking because life is overwhelming, and time is scarce, and cooking isn’t really your thing, yet the guilt is SO HEAVY and you fear you are ruining your kids forever.

You have come to the right place. Pull a chair up to the table. There is room for you here, too.  

Over the course of my career, my passion for feeding kids has evolved. I have struggled personally since becoming a mom and I have watched those close to me struggle and grow frustrated with feeding their kids. I have spent a lot of time studying this subject area and I see a need for a better approach. I’m excited to share some strategies that I have learned from my professional life as a registered dietitian that will help you face the challenges head on with confidence.

If any of these struggles I’ve highlighted are the trenches where you find yourself, welcome. You might feel alone but there are approximately 126.22 million other families feeling just like you (2017 U.S. census data) so join the party and read on!

I’m launching into a series on my blog where I will dive into some of the common feeding challenges parents express to me and how to handle them. I have many posts already written that I will be re-sharing as well as a whole bunch of ideas for new ones, yet to be written. I would love to hear from you if there is a particular struggle that you would like me to address. Feel free to leave a comment on the blog (or any of my social media platforms) or send me an email and I will do my best to dive into some of your specific concerns and challenges.

You might be surprised that in most cases, the answer is much simpler than you think.

Stay tuned.

Friday, January 5, 2018

The thrill of hope

Two thousand seventeen was most definitely a Growth Year (okay fine, and so was 2016). We found ourselves being stretched in unexpected ways. As a family, we were presented with multiple new diagnoses, some expected and others, less so. Although it felt good to have answers, on other days, these diagnoses felt like labels, overwhelming and painful to swallow. We passed a lot of hours at appointments of all kinds, seeking wholeness and wellness mentally, physically and spiritually for all our members. It was trying, and I shed my fair share of tears. The journey is far from over, but I know we are all the better for it. Even though 2017 felt brutal, I hope 2018 is a Growth Year as well. I for one am praying for gentler growth in 2018 (no more growth spurts though, pretty please!), but I do want to continue to be stretched. It’s been amid all this growing that I’ve felt the nearness of my Savior like never before.

Through the encouragement of some wise friends, I have adopted the tradition of choosing a word as my theme for each year. More than anything, the word becomes my prayer over what I hope the year will hold for me. As one year comes to a close, I begin to ponder my word for the year that will follow. Last year, I chose the word “free”

What began as a year of letting go transitioned slowly into a year of releasing and I believe there is an important differentiation between the two. Letting go can occur against one’s will. An object might be torn from one’s grasp or one might fall and be forced to let go of the precipice that previously served as a support. But releasing, it’s an active choice. It involves conscious surrender. The dictionary says it means to allow or enable to escape from confinement; set free. That sounds like a pretty accurate description of 2017 to me. There was a lot of work put toward releasing concern over what people thought of me. Releasing insecurities. Releasing a past version of myself that had threads of shame and guilt woven throughout. Releasing achievable expectations. This leaning in toward freedom even required releasing some of my dreams. Or at least making peace with where I am currently in the process of pursuing them.

Most of the time it felt like “All pain, no gain,” rather than the other way around. I would peer closely, looking for that flickering pilot light of hope, the tiny little flame that told me one day things wouldn’t be this hard. It grew dim on countless occasions. I lost sight of it completely a few times. I didn’t feel much progress and I worried those around me would tire of me asking for their very-necessary support. (Spoiler alert: they didn’t! I have some truly amazing people in my life who have helped carry me).

But praise God for the tremendous ways He has been at work. He continues to meet me in my dark places and remind me of his presence time after time after time. I no longer find myself on knees, flashlight in hand, searching desperately for that pilot light. I know it is there, some days dimmer than others, but there nonetheless. There is much hard work still ahead, but my word for this year is


“….we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, HOPE; and HOPE does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:3-5

This past year was all about loosening my grip on that which I was clinging to. It was all about ripping off the bandaid covering some pretty deep wounds. But 2018? I have HOPE that it will be a year of healing. I find myself profoundly grateful for this hard and crazy journey because it brought me to a place where I can I say and actually mean it “He’s a good, good Father.” His provision is perfect. And at times so totally unexpected in it’s timing and presentation.

So in 2018, I’m holding fast to the one true source of HOPE I have and the promise that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on until completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). I know the days ahead will be wrought with challenges, but I am beginning this new year hemmed in by the nearness of my Savior (Psalm 139:5).     

Happy New Year!