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You know, there’s something glorious about having a playground to yourself.

You can twirl on the swing without anyone complaining. You can run up the slide or pour sand down it, and no one will say a thing. You can holler and sing and pretend you have a gun to shoot bad guys with, without any social pressure to be quieter or play nicer.

Whether you’re a parent or a kid, it is easy to be who you are and do what you want when you’re alone. It’s harder when people are watching.

Maybe that’s a good thing? I suppose it’s important to learn social acceptability. But maybe there’s also value in learning to be brave enough to be willing to be socially less-acceptable once in a while.

This has been the conundrum that has challenged me for my entire parenting career.

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I watch her roll the ball from her hands. She pushes it with all her tiny strength and it leisurely makes its way down the lane, slowly slowly slowly, and my eyes follow the journey.

I understand goodbyes. I understand watching as the vehicle drives away or the casket is lowered. I’ve blown kisses to their backs as they’ve turned and walked away from me. There’s no getting around goodbyes. No shortcut, really.

I find myself watching her now with memorizing eyes. She’s leaving soon and there’s a part of me that is jealous of all her time in other places or with other people. I scramble to hold the hours even as they slip from my hands.

Then my mom gets sick and I have to go, of course.

I’m gone for a week and my husband sends me texts with pictures of them all, and her. Pictures of normal family stuff and he sends updates of their days and I realize it’s good for them to have their time, too. Time without me as the defining cornerstone in their relationships.

She’s different when you aren’t here, he says. And I’m glad they’ve had their chance to hold and spend their own hours, without me.

I’m learning to share the goodbyes.

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I read Matthew all through Lent. Fifty-ish days of Matthew and a little N.T. Wright and some stuff on vulnerability and a fair bit about the Kingdom. Funny how the threads of all these different words have been weaving their ways into some kind of garment I’ve been wearing for a while. Like a loose, flowing summer dress, these words have been sitting on my shoulders and falling across my breasts and belly and floating around my legs as I walk through my days.

This is how I read words now. Wearing them instead of studying them.

I wore them through my mom’s heart attack and bypass surgery, through hard and happy family days, through challenging and exciting life-change days, and through heartbreaking and sweet foster parenting days. I’ve dressed myself morning after morning in their comfort and security and they fit perfectly. They make the hard days less hard. They make me feel beautiful.

The days rush me toward change – as my husband heads west for work and the house gets packed up and the children near the finish line of another year of math – and even as I feel the wind of all the rushing blow through my hair, I wrap the comfort of all the good-fitting words around me and I know I am well-dressed for the weather of this changing life.

If clothes make the woman, then these are the clothes I want to wear.

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I wrote this amazing post the other day. It was really good, you guys. You would have liked it a lot. And then I lost it (don’t talk to me right now about farm internet) and try as I might, I couldn’t remember the way the words had gone together.

They were words about how a random, throw-away comment can sometimes wiggle its way into your head and haunt you for years. It’s happened to me more than once, but the time I’m thinking of was when, years ago, a friend and I were talking (who knows what about?) and she said, I hope I never get fat arms. I hate it when women have jiggly arms.

Now, this was back when my arms were young and skinny, but from then on I was terrified of getting jiggly arms.

Time and children and a few thousand cookies later, I spent a year being Mom to a little girl, which was wonderful and fun but also hard and challenging, and I super-snacked through the struggles of loving her. One day I saw a picture of myself and, horror of horrors, my arms were fat. And the shame of having fat arms, of having let myself go, was overwhelming. I resolved right then to never ever ever wear short-sleeved shirts again. Ever.

I wrote words about all of that in the post I lost the other day, only I wrote them better, and then I ended with a whole thing about how I’ve made a kind of peace with my arms, and the rest of me for that matter, and some more tralala about loving ourselves for who we are on the inside and all that stuff. There are a thousand articles out there telling us the same thing.

Then, boom, I lost it all and I spent the day frustrated and out of sorts because losing words is not fun for me.

Here’s the thing though, because God is awesome and has amazing timing. See, after supper, while the dirty dishes were still scattered across the kitchen table and the children and I were in the living room doing living room things, there was a knock on the door. I walked out to the entryway and found two women there, a friend of mine and a young girl. It took me a second to get my bearings enough to realize the girl was my girl. The girl I’d written the lost words about that very morning. The girl who’d given me fat arms.

Guess what? I didn’t give a fiddlestick about any of that, and my arms worked just fine for holding her in the tightest, squeeziest hug I could manage.

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I gave up Netflix for Lent. It’s been easier than I expected, except when it’s been hard.

It’s been my distraction, you see. It’s been the escape-from-reality and the end-of-the-day reward. And hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little escaping and rewarding. But I know myself, and of all the things I considered fasting from, Netflix was the one that made me kind of sad. And that’s, well, kind of sad.

So I gave up Netflix. It’s my first time to practice Lent, let alone to fast from anything during Lent, and it’s been slow and deep and kind of beautiful in ways I didn’t even know to expect. I had no clue, basically.

I signed up for an N.T. Wright online Lenten devotion, and together he and I and the book of Matthew have been making our way through the season. Slowly and carefully, like picking our way down a pebbled path, looking for wild flowers that might be growing along the edges. It’s really been a lovely walk.

And Netflix? Mostly, Netflix has been replaced with reading or visiting or watching movies with the family. Mostly, it’s been a fairly easy temptation to resist. Easier than I expected.

But the other night, after tossing about for hours and finally relocating to the downstairs sofa, I gave in. I tapped the app button on my phone and looked through the menu options and feasted on three episodes of a show I’d been watching before the whole Lent thing started. I caved, big time.

I’ve been trying to feel guilty about it, but you know what, I really don’t. I’m not sure what that says, exactly. I guess I’ve decided it’s not about perfection. I know I am weak. I’m totally the follower fretting in the storm while Jesus sleeps, or sleeping in the garden while Jesus prays.

This morning, N.T. and Matthew and Jesus and I picked up where we’d left off. And you know what? It’s still beautiful.

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It’s been looming, that corner up ahead that I’ve known I’ll have to turn. But seeing it in my inbox, the email confirming it, trips me up. Knowing something and KNOWING something are two different things.

So here we go, baby girl. A goodbye is coming. I’ve written and deleted a thousand words – painful, mommy-sad words dripping with emotion and hurt – but the truth is, those aren’t the words I want to release. These are, instead…

You know what? I like your mommy, and I am glad she is better. I’m glad she is clean and sober and trying to stay clean and sober. I know she loves you so much, and I know she wants to be the one to raise you and love you and watch you grow up. She should be the one. She’s your mom. I’m sad, but not because she gets to raise you. I’m sad because I have to let you go.

I can be happy for her (and you) and sad for myself, at the same time. This is the way it goes when you love people, you see. You never get to keep them all to yourself.

You have been a gift and a joy and our precious princess, and I can’t quite imagine yet what your leaving will do to my heart. Hearts get beat up a little in this life, that’s for sure.

I wouldn’t trade a minute, though. I’ll take a battered heart over an untouched heart any old day.

I’ll find better words later, maybe. But today, in the freshness of the knowing, I’ll just say this.

Gubba loves you.

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Is it just me, or is there an unrealistic expectation of excitement out there? Like, life should constantly provide me with EXPERIENCES that challenge and motivate and entertain and occupy me. Especially, maybe, among the children, but increasingly among the rest of us. I wonder if it’s because we are losing our ability to navigate boredom well?

Every kid needs to learn how to be successfully bored. Seriously, boredom is an important skill that must be resurrected.

It’s important to understand that “I’m so bored” is actually code for I am feeling an emptiness that I want you to fill for me. Or, I don’t want to do the work of figuring out how to spend my time so I would like you to allow me to watch television or play with my electronics.

Honestly, I’ve tried to not let my kids get away with the whole I’m so bored thing. The very whine of those words makes my skin shiver in almost exactly the same way it does when I hear people filing their fingernails. I adamantly (usually, almost always, when I’m not too tired) refuse to rescue my children from their boredom. In fact, they rarely say it anymore because they know my response will be…

Good. You’ll be motivated to find something to do. Or,

Good. You’ll have time to think about stuff. Or,

Good. I have some things I could use some help with.

Honestly, boredom has led to some of the most imaginative of days around here. Boredom has initiated all kinds of learning, from how to play a musical instrument to how to build a musical instrument to researching all the things there are to know about the musical styles of said instrument.

Boredom has led to entrepreneurial adventures, book-reading or internet-searching adventures, vacation-planning adventures, and all manner of construction adventures. Boredom has been the beginning of so much that would have been lost had the easy distraction-road of entertainment been taken.

(You guys know that sometimes, because we’re an imperfect little family just doing our best, the easy distraction-road of entertainment has indeed been taken from time to time, right? <smile and nod>)

But mainly, being bored is simply not indulged in these parts, because bored kids who never develop the ability to transition from boredom to self-motivation become bored, unsatisfied adults. I mean, I don’t have any scientific studies or anything, but that’s what I think.

Boredom might just be the most important and undervalued source of motivation for personal development and creativity there is. Don’t deny your kids! Let them be bored and then stand back and watch how they grow.

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