Tuesday, April 30, 2013

ETST Sponsor: Nella Designs

Thank you for all the kind comments and e-mails you've sent about Brett.  He's doing okay.  Actually, he looks like he got bit by an alligator and, knowing my husband, that's exactly what he'll tell people when he shows off his scar.  He can pull it off in Florida, you know. 

Speaking of alligators, my house looks like an alligator death-rolled through it.  Hot. Swamp. Mess.

With no further ado, we're welcoming back Nella Designs today who coincidentally shares a name.  Elizabeth Allen is the creator behind Nella and uses her design talents to create a beautiful line of custom prints, jewelry, gifts and her specialty--the silhouette prints.

 photo nella2_zps2fa5e037.jpg

If you're looking for a unique Mother's Day gift, consider sending Ms. Allen a photo to be transformed into a wearable piece of art (available in gold or silver).

 photo nella1_zps03a3cbf7.jpg


And I love the new mugs Elizabeth added to the shop--a little morning shot of happiness.

 photo nella3_zpsb0b27712.jpg


Use Code MOM10 for 10% off your Nella Designs purchase.

Welcome back, Nella Designs!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Enjoying Big & Small

I haven't much to say tonight except that I am feeling deeply grateful for everything right now.  Brett's been dealing with some serious health issues this past week, and after some scary unknowns, we finally received some answers today.  Poor Brett lost his appendix in the process, but tonight we are here.  Here is relief and gratitude and yet not wanting to jump too quickly from the place we've been because in that vulnerability lies hidden truths. Hard truths.  Truths that we sometimes let quickly fade when we find out everything turned out okay.

Everything turned out okay. 

It's easy to breathe a sigh of relief and say "Thank God" and move forward because it's okay.  But I also know that it didn't have to turn out this way and that we'd still move forward and say "Thank God" even if we had different answers.  That's part of life too.   I am remembering that tonight--so grateful for the comforts of life we have right now but also grateful for the things we've learned, both with every hardship we've endured together as well the triumphs. 

 photo print6_zpsf8395bd4.jpg
One of the many cards and posters Lainey made for Daddy's hospital room this week
Parenting was challenging this week.  But rich.  I am sewing up all the unpretty moments from this past week and making a little keepsake collage in my mind so I don't forget. 

 photo print8_zps3364bd72.jpg

 photo print3_zpsee1d21da.jpg

 photo print11_zps869a30f9.jpg

I spent the evening last night in Brett's hospital room.  We sat side by side, watched T.V., passed the baby back and forth and didn't say a whole lot to each other, but the anxiety for today's events was palpable.  Before I left, I felt the need to say something important, so I asked him if he wanted me to pray. 

"I will," he answered. 

We don't really "pray" out loud a lot together other than our holiday meal grace, the first mile safety prayer of our summer road trips and the "thank you" prayer that's whispered on the evening of our babies' births.

But last night's prayer is one I will never forget. 
We huddled together while Brett whispered some simple and honest words that spelled out a love letter for our family. 

I know there will be hardships in life.  Sometimes I think I prepare for them almost too much--like I'm silly and naive if I enjoy the comforts of life without making mental notes about how it could be different.  That's not the definition of gratitude though.  The best way to prepare for those moments when they come--and they will--is to focus on the present.  To love everyone around us as best as we know how. 

 photo print13_zps14896675.jpg

 photo print5_zps16a2f526.jpg

I can see a big ball of sun slowly falling from the window next to me, and there's still time to catch a beach sunset.

Every day is a gift.  I'm so happy to be able to share them with our family...and you friends in this space. 

 photo print2_zpsada80995.jpg

 photo print13_zps14896675.jpg

Enjoying big and small tonight.

 photo print1_zps237bdec7.jpg

Happy Monday.

Our phone dump this week:

 photo etstdump_zpse2a902fb.jpg


And some of the moments you've been enjoying:

 photo etst_zps88d3b638.jpg


Brett will hopefully return home later this week. 

 photo print4_zps4aaa8498.jpg

Much Love.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Tea Collection

Tea Collection is back to sponsor this month and, being that I'm getting into summer vacay planning mode, I thought it would be fun to pick some Tea favorites to pack a suitcase for a summer trip.

With uber soft cotton and fun play styles like one-piece rompers and day dresses, Tea makes dressing for summer leisure days easy. 


For boys, my favorite is the new Coastal Stripe Tee (far right); for girls, the Umuzi Print Romper (far left).

Vacation Faves:

 photo teasummer_zps95115532.jpg

Tea Collection offers favorite summer staples like Saltwater Sandals, Sanuk flip-flops and the best assortment of stripes a kid could ask for. 

Welcome back Tea!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

In the World of Women

Last week, I accompanied Lainey on a field trip, an exciting adventure that involved more firsts—specifically, a school bus ride and a couple hours of her semi ignoring me while she focused on people who were, for the moment, more important—her friends. I watched as my daughter confidently marched several strides in front of me and the other mamas, her arms linked in friendship with the little girls she talks about every afternoon when we pick her up. They sang songs, they laughed, they set up play dates without asking and told us when they were happening. If I squinted my eyes just right, I caught a glimpse of the future—teenagers, hand in hand, textin’ and talkin’.

 photo IMG_1754_zpsdc9dc3dc.jpg


I was careful to make sure every girl felt included in our group—that if two held hands, the other two knew they were welcome to join. I know you’ve got to let little girls work some of these things out on their own, but I like an excuse to bring out my inner Kumbaya. Someone’s crying, my Lord? Oh, hell naw!

That little line-up of girls last week, as young and innocent as it was, was a perfect example of friendship. They shared their Oreos at lunch. They made up silly words to elicit a good laugh. They passed on their ideas. They held hands.

 photo print12_zps8ab425c2.jpg

I hope it stays this way. I mean, I’ve been warned that it gets so much worse with girls. Since Lainey started kindergarten, I’ve heard statements of doom regarding what lies ahead for any girl entering the world of other girls. “Oh, she’s going to school? Get ready for the mean girls,” I’ve been advised. Without even thinking about it, I feel myself reflexively tensing up, ready to protect, anxious to prepare my girls for this world of meanness—to arm them from these so-called “catty bitches.”

Oh, to have a nickel for every time someone’s told me that girls are mean. The thing is, I’m a girl. And I’m tired of this collective statement about girls and women and the cloud of meanness that hangs above them when I know so many women who prove this to be untrue. I’m not a catty bitch. And neither are the women I know and love.

There’s no doubt my girls will encounter mean girls in life, and I’d be fooling myself to think I won’t soon experience the mother-of-daughters rite of passage of consoling a crying girl who felt the sting of hurtful words. We’ve all been there. And perhaps, at some time in life, we've been the one to sting too.  But focusing on this meanness and using it to generalize this powerful world of femininity does nothing to empower my daughters and teach them what I know to be true—that women are amazing. And when they connect to support each other, when they open themselves up to learn from each other, when they take opportunities to celebrate each other’s unique contributions, a powerful force is unleashed—a motivating drive to move forward…together.

I’ve found this to be so true in my own life, specifically lately in the world of writing and blogging and social media which is often (mis)construed as a microcosm of competition—a veritable breeding ground for mean girls, if you will. If that’s what you seek to find, then yes—you’ll find it. But let me tell you about a far more powerful force that dwells within this crazy thing we call the Internet. It’s the force of Empowering Women, and I’ve met them. I’m meeting them. They come with different ideas, they come with respect, they come with passion, creativity and the desire to see each other succeed because they know that if one succeeds, we all succeed. After all, we’re on the same team. And while we don’t necessarily agree on all issues or practice the same politics, parent the same way or write about similar topics, we understand what’s most important—that we belong to each other; that two voices are louder than one. Because of this, the great community of powerful women’s voices (that’s you and you and you) expands. And because of this, I can focus my parenting guidance not in safeguarding my daughters from mean girls but in a far more efficient use of energy—priming them to be supportive, kind women who seek opportunities to connect and relate with each other.

I don’t know exactly how to teach this to my girls, but I do know that the best way to teach anything is to live it. My girls will see me embrace women with love. They will hear me talk about friends with kindness. They will watch me support, applaud, listen and learn; and through these experiences, I know they will inherit the tools they need to embrace women in their own lives. We need each other.

 photo print2_zps5dc5274e.jpg

Middle school might still be several years away for my girls, but there are plenty of opportunities in the meantime to ready them for the world that awaits. I will teach my daughters that the world is full of amazing, supportive women. And if it feels at times that those women are hard to find, I will tell them to look within themselves. Be that girl, always.

 photo print6_zps5f35c6db.jpg

 photo print8_zps90e05204.jpg

She is powerful and she is strong.
We are powerful and we are strong.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

ETST Sponsor: Blue Q

Welcome back to Blue Q, creator of the ultimate something-to-talk-about product.  With nifty little gifts from toiletries and magnets to environmentally friendly bags in every size and style, Blue Q puts their stamp on every product with their edgy prints, hilarious quotes and that unique something extra that has everyone asking "where the heck did you get that?"

 photo blog2_zps649ee267.jpg
How awesome is that Medical Supplies Messenger Bag?
 photo blog1_zps085e273f.jpg
Little Vintage Blue Cross Body Bag, perfect for a couple diapers, wipes and a cell phone.
Like their sassy wet wipes for your purse or car:

 photo print1_zps0e595083.jpg

Their hand sanitizer you'll be eager to share:

 photo print7_zps184da99f.jpg

Or my favorite, their new line of hand creams for the most sophisticated of folks:

 photo print2_zpse7263b13.jpg

Honestly, when things feel a little up tight and far too serious in life, you need to have a little fun. Lighten up. Blue Q knows how to do it right.  And while they are certainly having a lot of fun at work designing and creating products, the folks at Blue Q are serious about important things like giving back.  Blue Q manufactures their products in environmentally responsible ways, supports the Nature Conservancy and employs a work force of disabled and non-disabled individuals working together.  See it happening here.

Having a rough day?  A trip to Blue Q's site and a perusal (oh my God, it's a real word--I thought I made it up for a second) of their product descriptions will be sure to make you smile. 

******

We'll be back tomorrow for a real post.  Family on the mend. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Kelly Brown

Our Monday's not looking so hot.  Brett and Lainey are sick, and my brood needs a lot of me right now, so I'll be back on Wednesday. 

But (and I do love a good but)...

Bringing you a little love today from creativeLIVE--not a sponsor, just an organization doing some awesome work in educating people interested in expanding their creative interests and expertise.  CreativeLIVE gives you the opportunity to be part of live, interactive classes with the world's best professionals in photography, business, productivity, design, film, and more.  And for FREE.  Free, I said.  I know there's a nice handful of mamarazzi out there, so I thought I'd let you know about an upcoming free class for newborn posing with Australian Creative Photographer of the Year, Kelly Brown.

Kelly Brown's creativeLIVE course is FREE to watch online from anywhere in the world - enroll on the course page HERE.

Ever see pictures like this and wonder how on God's green earth a photographer got this baby to lie so perfectly?

 photo kellybrown2_zpscefb6b42.jpg


You will have the opportunity to watch Kelly do what she does live while teaching you all her tips. 

A little more about creativeLIVE and Kelly Brown's work:


I've seen some of your phenomenal baby images and can't help but think "How in the world did that baby stay sleeping?" How much of these images is luck and a sleepy baby and how much is photographer skill and experience?

Thank you. It’s so amazing how different every baby is so it really depends on the baby at the time of the session. You can’t make a baby go to sleep but we can encourage them by creating the perfect environment for the session to so get those beautiful curly sleepy images. Understanding them and their needs and  making sure the parents are nice and comfortable is also very important for a newborn session.

How long does it take to create the scene to get one of these beautiful shots and describe a little bit behind what goes into it.

I have my studio set up and nice and warm before my clients arrive.  Then when I start, it usually takes around 5 – 10 mins for each pose, and generally my sessions last for 2 – 3 hours which includes time for feeding and cuddling when needed. I move the baby slowly so I don’t startle them into the positions that they are most comfortable with. If they are not comfortable with any pose/position, I move on. Being able to read them is really important in having a nice flowing session.

 photo kellybrown3_zps00c42606.jpg

Tell me about creativeLIVE and your involvement with it.

Being asked to teach a live course on CreativeLIVE is really a dream come true! I love everything it stands for with education and how accessible the wealth of knowledge is from amazing artists worldwide. I can’t wait to be there on set and to share as much as possible about newborn photography.

 photo kellybrown1_zpsfbcad025.jpg

5.) Your favorite thing about being a newborn photographer?

I feel so honored being asked to photograph someone's brand new baby. It is such a special and exciting time for parents, they want to remember every little detail about the little person they have just welcomed into the world. Being able to capture all of these precious babies so new and fresh really is so rewarding as I know the images will be cherished forever.

 photo kellybrown5_zps58ab1a09.jpg

If you're interested in being part of Kelly's free online posing class and learning the secrets of the biz, enroll HERE.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Free Hugs: Enjoying the Small Things

It's been a very long day for a lot of people.  I have half a notion to set up a stand in the middle of the street this weekend and give away free hugs.  I think a lot of people could use one.

When I don't know what to say or what to write, I try to go back to what comes natural.  What we do every day.  There is comfort in routine.  In the hope that we keep on keepin' on. 

So, consider this our free hug. 

Your happy little moments this week:

 photo blog21_zpsed74571e.jpg

And ours:

 photo blog20_zps1b6f6ebd.jpg


 photo blog24_zpsb2acca19.jpg

 photo blog14_zps1e4dac4e.jpg

 photo blog12_zpsc4046456.jpg

 photo blog9_zps20918073.jpg

 photo blog13_zps2b01306f.jpg

 photo blog17_zpsce62de1e.jpg

 photo blog16_zps6b078e34.jpg


I wish the Isle of Capri was big enough to hold all the hurting people. 

For Boston, for Texas--good Lord, the week you've had.
For all the tired mamas who feel unrest; for the hurting, the helping and all the in between...love is big.

Good night and good weekend, friends.

Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it. ~Helen Keller

Thursday, April 18, 2013

ETST Sponsor: Dashing Bee

I'm ready to summerfy my kids' wardrobes. Which actually means nothing in Florida, but if I didn't live in Florida, I'd be craving sun suits and sandals. With that said, Dashing Bee is back as an ETST sponsor with over 100 new items in their online consignment shop. Affordable, gently used kids' clothes, and you don't have to leave your house to shop.

My summer faves, currently in the shop:

 photo dashingbeecollage_zps0c52b4c1.jpg


And if you want to clean out your kids' closets this spring, you can make some extra money by checking out Dashing Bee's Consignor program.

Use code DASHING10 for 10% off your Dashing Bee order.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Guest Post: Rebekah Lyons

Today's guest post is by Rebekah Lyons, author of Freefall to Fly: A Breathtaking Journey Toward a Life of Meaning.  Rebekah has become another gift of this crazy little online world--a friend I met through another friend and, coincidentally, a mama to a son with Down syndrome.

 photo lon_zps2cfa94ff.jpg

She lives in New York City with her husband and three children and writes openly of many of the challenges women are facing today.  She serves alongside her husband, Gabe, as cofounder of QIdeas, an organization that helps leaders winsomely engage culture.  Rebekah has been very honest about her struggles with depression and anxiety and, in her memoir, discusses how she has transformed her fears into freedom.  I'm honored to have her poetic voice part of Enjoying the Small Things today.

 photo 1_zps9ac6e816.jpg

Freefall
by Rebekah Lyons

Days unfold as we’re knit in our mothers womb, til the moment we enter the world.

A world of wonder in our youth, our eyes feast with delight on the beauty in our midst.

We are free to dream. Big dreams.

As kids, we know our natural bent, and we live it. No questions asked. These birthright gifts flourish with each endeavor. Victory takes us higher. Our imagination is expanded. We are beautiful and life is celebrated. We are free.

Through the years, things change. We begin to see the world differently. People tell us we can’t do things. It’s not appropriate. We should be responsible. We must resist the urge to imagine, because dreams disappoint. People fail us, and leave. In our distress we take on the expectations of others. These wounds bury us in their wake, and we slowly forget who we truly are.

As we mature, we grow silent. We medicate. We numb. Because the pain is too much to mention, too much to bear. We toil and task through our days with just enough to survive.

But wait. By providence we stumble upon an expanse that points to the way we felt when we were young. It’s hard to focus, but we recognize that glimmer in the distance, beckoning us to join.

So we JUMP.

Out of desperation, in an effort to save ourselves. To find life again. To thrive again. This leap is intoxicating. Dreams of grandeur fill our heads. As we plunge full speed into the depths of this new journey.

But wait, what is happening? We keep falling. Grasping for shoots to slow our descent, we suffer bumps and bruises along the way. Who will catch us? This breathtaking lure is leading to greater despair. It’s not making us stronger, it’s bruising us. We long to return to toiling responsibly far from the ledge. Where life was predictable and safe.

Could it be that this freefall was intended for our brokenness, for our surrender? We will never see a life that’s vast and rich if we escape. We’ll never see a life redeemed.

So we stay in the struggle. As long as it takes. We cry out for deliverance, for rescue. Finally, in a moment, we are caught. We’re being carried. Our balled fists open as the sun peeks shyly around the clouds. We breathe as deep as the day we were born. Into a life more glorious that anything we could have ever imagined. Our search for meaning has led to surrender.

Hope is reborn. A peace not our own, but a product of something greater. We have only to soar and watch what springs forth. We delight as we put our rusty wings to use. Our gifts awaken to new heights. The view is breathtaking and glorious. And we are grateful to suffer this freefall, because for the very first time, we see redemption, beauty and grace.

This freefall has taught us how to fly.

******

Rebekah Lyons is the author of "Freefall to Fly: A Breathtaking Journey Toward a Life of Meaning." She writes on womanhood, purpose and mental health at RebekahLyons.com. Find her on Twitter/IG/FB @rebekahlyons.

 photo Project1_zps3564e0e9.jpg

Check out the three free gifts with her book purchase HERE.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

ETST Behind the Business: Teaplicity

Before I introduce today's sponsor (whose interview answers are worth the read!), I have to say a few things.

First of all, thank you for your responses to yesterday's post.  I have so many e-mails to go through and am still reading your comments on the post and on Facebook, and--just, thank you.  Thank you for being respectful and kind and understanding with a subject that often riles those "but I know I'm right" feelings.  While there were many people who believe differently, of course (yay! we're different! that's okay! halleluiah! high five!), I felt, for the most part, there was great discussion--passion with kindness.  That's how I learn the most.  And different opinions expressed that way--with love?  They look all colorful and beautiful when they're together. 

Also, I was glad the post coincidentally fell on a day that called for love and some of those "Dear Gods."  I said them last night, and I share them with the rest of the world.  For Boston.  For those who are hurting; for those who help the hurting.  You are in our thoughts and prayers, Boston.  Amen.

Today, we looked for love and found it in many places.  We slowed down.  We heard some of Dash's first coos and goos and, my favorite, the "ga-ahhhh!" that he tries so hard to muster so that when it's finally released, it startles him.  Big eyes and that bottom lip. 

Now, Oh Canada!  Google Analytics shows there are a lot of you friends out there.  And since our book club offer was limited to the US, our sponsor today makes up for it a little bit--it's just for Canadians (at least for now--opening to US soon).  And all those other countries?  If you're still reading, we love you too.

Teaplicity is a family-run tea business.  The website itself is an experience-- the flavors, the descriptions, the thought behind every product, every business choice.  If there's one thing for sure, this family knows tea; and it's not just the tea, it's the ritual of tea.  A simple life pleasure.  From fruit, spice and classic teas to creamy blends like buttered rum and white chocolate, Teaplicity offers an impressive range of flavors and types--all premium blends, all natural flavors.  Or shall I say, flavours.  Love that u. 

 photo print46-2_zps70d4accc.jpg

White chocolate (with a little cream and sugar) is my favorite so far.  I tried several of these teas over the weekend, and every one of them was delicious and unique.  Also--happy hour teas.  Enough said.

Teaplicity provides great explanations of every tea to help you choose and, in addition to loose leaf, offers convenient bag tea (finer cut tea leaves) as well as tea products--tea pots, steeping pockets, etc. 

I hope you'll enjoy Nicole's interview--the mama behind Teaplicity--as much as I did.  I loved what she wrote about incorporating her kids into her business to teach them entrepreneurship (saw on Instagram the other day, her ten year old was having fun photographing teas).

 photo behindthebusiness-1.jpg

1.) So I've tasted many of your teas and love them. And your site is a beautiful mecca of tea. So, why tea? What got you started in this business and how have you been inspired to bring good tea to the masses?

I was travelling to urban (read snooty) tea shops to buy my loose leaf tea, and I noticed a lot of customers would timidly try to select a tea through their confusion. I recognized the opportunity to simplify tea for us busy folks/mamas who want to find the perfect tea fit without having to earn a PhD in tea terminology. You will see this simplicity reflected in the layout of my website and in tea descriptions that are simple and sometimes humorous. Spending your hard earned dollars should not be hard – hence the name Teaplicity! Also, tea is one of the little pleasures in life that feels like a big indulgence. Like most mothers, I make the family budget work by taking care of everyone else and holding back for myself. Tea is a great way to feel like I'm getting something special for myself without breaking the bank.


2.) I love that you are a family-run business, and you say it's important that your kids are involved in decisions and business practices. Explain why this is important to you and how you do this.

I had the incredible experience of starting up and running a successful and profitable company when I was twelve years old through a program called Junior Achievement. I credit the program for a lot of my confidence and skills. I wanted my children to experience the same challenges, risks, and rewards of entrepreneurship. Ethan (10) and Tessa (5) were involved in selecting the company name, logo, and product packaging. We talk a lot about ethical business decisions because tea is grown in developing countries (all our teas come from estates certified by the ethical tea partnership, which is similar to fair trade for coffee). Ethan attends business meetings where he is simply introduced as my business partner, and I have yet to see anyone bat an eyelash that I would bring a 10-year-old to discuss business. With guidance and in his best suit and tie, he has learned to confidently shake hands and discuss the Teaplicity concept with others. Ethan is a wonderful promoter of Teaplicity, and I've overheard him talking about 'his' business with his friends. Children are capable of understanding and doing so much more than we give them credit for sometimes, and I value their opinion when making business decisions. It has been enjoyable and memorable for us to spend time building something together.

3.) I love how you express an appreciation not just for tea itself but for the ritual of tea, particularly the beauty of loose leaf tea. (I agree!) Care to elaborate?

I love the ritual of making a hot cup of tea for that rare quiet moment amidst the daily chaos of life with a young family. I love the ritual of catching up with your best girlfriend over a steaming pot of beautiful loose leaf tea. And the ritual of serving a decadent chocolate tea to my family after a holiday dinner. Or enjoying quality steeped tea in my travel mug while watching my daughter's ballet class or my son's hockey game. Tea just enhances life's small moments. And while it’s true that I personally adore the ritual of loose leaf tea, I understand why some women choose to use teabags for reasons of time and convenience. While most (again, snooty) tea shops would never dream of including teabags in their product line, we pride ourselves on providing a huge selection of high-quality teabags for our customers who might just go over the edge by adding even one more thing to their day. I have so been there, my friends, and I am not here to judge you!

4.) So, what's your favorite tea and what does your tea ritual look like in your home?

Preparing tea is a reminder for me to be fully in the moment for a few minutes each day. Being present-of-mind allows me to engage all of my senses. I take in the beauty of the tea leaves as I scoop them from the tin, and I watch as they uncurl and dance in the hot water. I smell the wonderful the aroma. And, oh, the taste of the first sip from every cup - pure bliss! I never feel guilty taking a few moments to myself to enjoy this sensory overload as I know the laundry pile and child pulling at my pant leg will still be there after the last drop. It's so hard to choose a favourite tea! I really enjoy the creamy teas from our vanilla collection, mmmm, and of course the chocolate teas. I’m working on several exclusive new blends right now so I'm trying something different all the time.

*******
Teaplicity often runs giveaways on their Facebook page and has created a nice collection of Mother's Day gifts (something besides slippers! yay!) for you. 

 photo print45-1_zps8bd408a3.jpg

I spent a lot of time going through Teaplicity's site and tasting their teas, and I'm really proud to have them as a sponsor.  So much thought behind this business and such a great example of how one mama's idea and passion can be expanded to teach lessons to a family while helping provide for it.

Welcome, Teaplicity.
And Hellooooooo, Canada! 

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Faith for my Children

Five Children’s Bible Books. That’s what I found tucked away on our overstuffed bookcase this weekend while cleaning and sorting our ever growing stash. I have to admit, I didn’t buy any of them. With the exception of one that came from a sweet group of readers I Skyped with last year, I think grandparents can be accounted for the rest—gifts that carried the subtle plea of Dear-God-please-don’t-let–my-grandchildren-grow-up-heathen.

It’s not that I need the little Bibles to learn the stories in them. I know every single one of them by heart—how Adam and Eve were created on the sixth day, how God sent a rainbow after saving Noah from the flood, how a great big whale swallowed Jonah because he wouldn’t go to Ninevah to preach God’s word. These stories were taught to me from early Children’s Bible days of giggling at pictures of fig leaves covering Adam and Eve’s—ahem, privates— to somewhere in my early twenties when I stopped going to church.

I flipped through the pages of a few of them yesterday and tried to remember the last time I read these to the girls. By Lainey’s age, I not only had been read these stories and sang their tunes (“Who Built the Ark? Noah, Noah!”), but I knew their lessons—yes, that God loved us, but also: Don’t Piss Off God. He might send a flood or turn you into a salt pillar.

The latter lessons are the reason teaching faith to my children is a complex subject, one I stew over quite a bit. I was submerged in church for more than half my life, experiencing both the good—fond memories of flannel graph Sunday school lessons, church potlucks and Nativity plays—as well as the screwed up: fear, fear, judgment, fear. Oh, and we-are-superior-to-those-who-don’t-believe-like-us. The combination makes for a hell of a faith identity crisis. It’s taken me years to reprogram my brain and heart and replace the painful scars of judgment and empty guilt with love; even now, I struggle.

For a long time, I viewed my faith issues much like I view my house when it gets too messy—I stand back, take it all in, conclude the mess is too overwhelming, so I make a cup of coffee and walk away. But then I had babies and babies started growing up. And when babies start growing up, you begin thinking about everything you believe—how it matters, how it transfers, how the responsibility of passing things on suddenly bears weight. For six years, I’ve been asking myself “What do I believe?” Because, honestly…I don’t know. I do know that I believe in God, that God is Love, and that there’s enough truth in that statement to provide everything I need to teach my children about faith.

 photo blog22-2_zpsad9cba5b.jpg

My friends and I have been talking a lot more about these issues as our kids are at the age of asking questions. Last week, Lainey and her friend Aleena were overheard discussing heaven—how when they went there, they’d make sure to take their favorite toys and blankets, as if it was just a summer road trip. Heidi’s daughter pointed out an image in the story of Noah’s Ark in her children’s Bible last week—a picture of a woman standing on a rock, holding a baby while flood waters swirled around her—the “unsaved,” apparently.

“What’s going to happen to that woman and her baby?” Peyton asked her.

“I didn’t know what to say,” Heidi admitted. “So I told her Noah was going to swing the ark back around to pick her up—he was on his way.”

I smiled. “Bravo.”

This is the exact reason why I’m not so sure of what role the Bible—the book that literally guided every decision and thought in my life for years—will play in lessons I teach my children. And my former self would be quivering with fear right now for the blasphemy I just typed. I did that a lot—quivered with fear. Say the word “rapture” and my knees go weak. Among meaningful stories of love and kindness, there are a lot of passages in the Bible that make God out to be He Who Demands and He Who Punishes. And for fun, He Who Tests You to See How Much You Love Him. As a mother who understands a little bit about loving children, these concepts aren’t things that align with the ultimate truth of parenthood (that’s what God is, after all)—Love.

I know that I want my children to know the limitless love of God.

 photo blog2-23_zpsb8c47ad1.jpg

I also know that I want my children to know their worth—worth that doesn’t hinge on things they do or the way they believe.

 photo blog6-17_zpse8bcce17.jpg

Although I believe in God and am confident of his presence in my life, I have a hard time teaching my kids statements like “we are nothing without God” or “you won’t know the answers until you ask God to help you.” Those teachings crippled qualities within me for years and, for a long time, paralyzed me from thinking for myself. I want my children to know that God made us all equal—that we are amazing from the start, that we are equipped with greatness and good decision making capabilities just because we exist. There are plenty of people who don’t, per say, “believe in God” who are living their one wild and precious lives with significance—founding organizations to help those in need, spreading kindness, choosing good, loving, loving, loving every day. They are happy and living a life with purpose. Their God might not be defined by my terms—perhaps they call him a higher power, the Universe, their inner self, what have you. But they are in no way less deserving of what we all are entitled to—love, albeit here on earth or life after death. I will tell my children to learn from these people and listen to them. Sometimes I think I’ve learned more about God and love and kindness from good people who believe differently than me than I ever learned within the establishments intended to teach the world about God.

But I also realized I’ve made the mistake of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, as they say. Because of the pains of my past, for a long time I blacklisted all of it—organized religion, church, Bible studies. I thought I escaped the black hole all these people were tricked into believing, and I realize that’s just the kind of judgment I thought I was better than. Thinking I’ve got the truth, and they don’t. I left one kind of arrogance and replaced it with another.

I’ve since readjusted those beliefs, picking up a lot of the broken pieces of the faith of my past and realizing they’re not all bad. I quite like many of them and look forward to reincorporating lessons and experiences of that old faith into the truest faith I’ve known so far—an evolving one. One of love and kindness and acceptance both for those around us and for our less than perfect selves. I like feeling small compared to something, someone bigger, and I call that bigger thing God. I pray to him every day not so much in “Dear Gods” but in Be kind, How can I help?, Come sit by me, Let’s take a walk, Look at that!, Thank you, I’m sorry and I love you.

 photo blog15-11_zpsd2795db8.jpg
What my Sunday morning looks like:  God is very present.

I am truly learning this year to open myself up and learn from others—to listen; to be curious, not judgmental. In my closest core of friends, I have a few Protestants, a few Catholics, an Atheist, two Agnostics, a Buddhist, a Hindu and several who don’t have names for their faith. I am intrigued by each of their beliefs and learn from all of them. It’s amazing how, when we look at our beliefs with different perspectives, so many of us really do believe in the same important life truths.

So, what to teach my children?

 photo blog7-16_zpsb544e2b8.jpg

Well, just in typing this, I’m feeling confident that my children know God. You know, last year I had this random moment of guilty panic that I wasn’t telling my kids the things about God that I was supposed to teach them—the Sunday school basics, the Children’s Bible stories I wasn’t reading to them. We were driving, and for some reason, I suddenly felt like I had to do something to catch up for all my kids didn’t know—something right now in this car to get it started. We’d begin with creation.

“Lainey, do you know who made the trees?” I asked her. She looked at me like I was crazy. She didn’t answer so I went on.

“God did. God made the trees,” I told her, repeating something I had been taught as a child and consequently sighing a breath of relief for completing the first course of Godly wisdom for children. The grandparents would be so proud.

But there was a rebuttal from the back seat.

“No he didn’t,” Lainey argued. “Someone planted them.” Ah truth, my little Darwinist.

I realized I was being silly. The details of creation, the many stories, whether they be allegory or not—they aren’t as important as the truth we live every day. Love. Love this earth, love each other, love yourself. I am teaching that to my children through terms that literally include God but more so through events that breathe him. We pray “Dear God” when we remember to say the words, but we live “Dear God” when we forget.

And with all the unanswered questions I have right now about faith and my mission to explore them simply by living and learning from others, I’ve never felt closer to God in my life. I am confident my children will know him too.

 photo blog5-18_zpsc8bbf768.jpg

I’ll end this with a story my dad once told me. A woman in a faraway country, who knew nothing of religion or God, had a son who grew very ill. Desperate to save him, she tried everything—village witch doctors, potions, medicine—until finally, she threw her hands into the sky and prayed to a higher being she knew nothing of. “Please,” she pleaded, “if you’re there, save my son and I will serve you my entire life.” The woman’s son became well and, although she knew nothing of this higher being she prayed to and believed saved her son, she did things she knew to be good—things she thought to be of service. She was kind, she helped others, she tried to make good choices, she loved, she practiced selflessness. One day missionaries came to her village and taught the people about their God, how he loved them, how their lives could be changed if they gave their heart in service to him. The woman smiled and patted her heart. “Oh, I’ve been serving him for a long time,” she said. “I just didn’t know his name was God.”

Last night, we said a real “Dear God” prayer before bed. I started with “Thank you for—,” and Lainey filled in the rest. Food, her mommy and daddy, her siblings, her friends, her puppy blanket, hair ties, pink crayons, Dora shampoo. And then we prayed for those who are hurting, for those in need. “Let them feel love,” I said, “and let us find ways to give love.” We talked about what it means to feel and give love. “Like when you color a picture for someone?” Lainey asked.

Yes, that.

Sometimes we make things so much more complex than they need to be.