Life is a Box.

My days, lately, have been swirling with early alarm clocks, half-eaten breakfasts, lost keys, dropped toys on the front porch, coffee in tumblers, hours full of emails, meetings, phone calls, attempts of squeezing long thoughts into short increments of time, spousal communication by way of texts, one precious hour of play and bath time before bedtime, and repeat dinners of pasta and sauce. It's been filled with stacks of junk mail and unpaid bills, watching missed NFL games in fast-forward mode, forgotten birthdays and anniversaries, unreturned messages from friends who miss us, short and incomplete phone conversations with family from afar, habitual sifting through dirty laundry to find something reusable for the next day, and falling dead asleep on the couch next to James before Jon Stewart even begins. (And those are on days when I don't travel).

James and I asked our priest, Becca, how she and her family have been able to manage a life full of dual careers, three sons, significant mission responsibilities and community.

This is what she said:

Life is a box.

The things that fill your life are balloons.

Only so many balloons can fit into the box.

You can have a lot of little balloons. Or a few large balloons.

But the box stays the same size.

So, choose your balloons wisely.


Becca's point is, the box doesn't get bigger.

I thought that our box would be different. That it would have some trap door or special stretchy expansion. But our box is the same as everyone else's.

As James and I rail against the limitation, and as our balloons lodge themselves against one other, we are forced to sort through the good and lasting lessons about what really matters in this season of our lives.

Otherwise, the balloons will pop.

We have put this truth up on our fridge as we consider how to live a sustainable and flourishing life together.

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My prayer is that all of us can find our way to a box with the right balloons (whether through inflation, deflation, or removal), and that those remaining balloons will have the space to float.

May we all choose our balloons wisely.


ps. I wrote about these challenges on a blog called Plywood People. You can read it here.

Have Baby, Will Travel

When Jude was six weeks old, I dressed him in his finest collared outfit and took him to the Walgreens photo department to have his passport photo taken. Here's how it turned out:

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And yes, that's a smiling crab on his shirt. Cutest photo ever.

Until the lady at the counter told us it was unacceptable for the application.

Maybe the crab was too much?

It turns out that my hand behind Jude's head was not discreet enough. Strict rules, folks. Has to be just the baby's head against a white background. So what's one to do if your baby can't hold his head up on his own?

The post office lady showed us the trick. Check it out:2014-06-25 13.17.21

Place a white sheet over the carseat, put the baby back in the carseat, pull the sheet up so it's taut. Dance around the camera to make your baby smile (he's going to have this passport until he's 5 years old, so it better be a good one!).

And voila. An acceptable passport photo for a infant who can't hold his head up.2014-06-25 13.18.17

The actual passport arrived in the mail today, and it's adorable.


What's most exciting, beyond the cute photo, are the blank pages that wait in anticipation to be stamped by countries and places that will teach and shape my son just as they have for me and James. Watch out world, here he comes (eventually - maybe after he can hold his own head up!).


A few lessons in securing a baby passport:

1. Collect the right documents:

  • A completed DS-11 Form (you can also pick it up at your local post office)
  • Birth Certificate (shows evidence of child's US citizenship & evidence of parents' relation to child)
  • Social Security number
  • 2"x 2" photo
  • Photo IDs of both parents/guardians
  • Payment for fees (expect to pay $130)

2. Apply in Person

  • Locate the nearest passport acceptance facility
  • Some places require an appointment
  • Make sure both parents/guardians are present (if not possible, you need a notarized consent form)
  • Child must also be present

3. Get the extras

  • It's cheaper to apply for both the passport book and the passport card - and then you have a secondary form of ID for your child

Confessions of a New Working Mom

2014-06-27 08.09.28 Over the last two weeks of my return to work, I have found a way to somehow nurse, burp, change and play with baby Jude while also showering, dressing, making breakfast, drinking coffee and getting out of the door in time to drop him off at the nanny's with bottles and breast milk and get myself to work with a few minutes to spare. It's amazing how one can feel accomplished so early in the day!

Today, I had a morning meeting that was going to conflict with the time that I needed to pump. I'd been thinking through it all last night and figured I would go ahead and cluster feed the baby - meaning, even though I fed him at 6a, I would feed him one more time at 7:40a right before dropping him off with the nanny. That way, I wouldn't need to pump during my 9a meeting.

With everything ready to go out the door, I nursed Jude for this last-minute feed. I sat on the couch thinking, Man, I've got this!

But don't all perfect plans somehow seem to backfire?

They do.

And for me, it was in the form of baby puke. All over my work outfit, all in my hair, all over the baby, all over the couch. There was no way I could recover from the hazmat disaster and make it to work on time.

So in a matter of crude desperation, I did what I imagine many working moms rushing out the door before me have done: I rubbed it in.

All of it.  I took the burp cloth and wiped the white spit up covering my front, my shoulders and my back, into my black blouse. I rubbed it into my hair, into Jude's clothes, into the couch. It was all I could do.

My baby showed up soaked in mama's milk. My blouse is crusty and I am sticky. My hair looks over-moussed. But we made it out the door and here we are, ready to face the day.

Sometimes, friends, you just have to rub it in.

(And after all of that, my 9a meeting was canceled).

Dinner with a Hero

Scott Hamilton, Melinda Gates & Senator Bill Frist. (Andrea Hallgren, Belmont University) When James and I were invited to a dinner event with Melinda Gates last Monday night, we didn't realize we'd actually be having dinner WITH Melinda Gates. Joining 75 other guests to hear her speak about healthy timing and spacing of pregnancies for girls in the developing world, we were honored to simply be in the room. In a happy accident of some no-shows at her table, James and I were chosen to fill the seats, quickly finding ourselves sitting next to one of the most powerful women in the world.

Had I known that I'd be having dinner with a hero, I probably would have prepared questions and dressed a bit more professionally, and James probably would have abstained from that pre-dinner whiskey that mixed poorly with his jet lag. But despite our shuffled demeanor, our dinner together was, well, lovely.

Melinda Gates has been a hero for me over the years - a wife, a mom, a humanitarian who cares deeply about overlooked people around the world. I have often wondered what sustains her and why she does what she does. And now I had the opportunity to find out.

I learned that her Catholic faith is the source of her motivation to care for the poor. I learned that her favorite part of her vocation is sitting with women in communities around the world and listening to their struggles, their ideas, their hopes. She never really wanted to be the public voice in connection to her philanthropy, but she has learned how crucial it is to share the stories of those whose voices are not being heard. She spoke about how the stories of the poor have moved her and compelled her to have to do something about it. Knowing these women around the world makes it personal for her. She can't ignore those she has met.

She asked us about baby Jude and our thoughts on taking him to Africa with us, offering us stories of what it has been like for her and Bill to bring their three children along with them around the world. She talked about the joy in service and philanthropy - that she and Bill could essentially be doing anything else, but they chose this because they believe in it and it gives them joy.

Though my station in life is quite different from that of Melinda Gates, I found myself wanting to be her when I grow up. She is driven by faith and passion, grounded in her commitments, articulate in her vision for change, intentional with people and generous with her time, her resources, and her leadership.

We all need heroes. Men and women whose lives inspire us to our better selves. I feel so lucky to have spent a special evening with one of mine.

To honor Melinda Gates and give voice to her and her husband's mission, here are some links tied to the issues they are championing:

Faith-Based Coalition for Healthy Mothers & Children Worldwide

A piece that James & I wrote, posted on Gates Foundation's blog

Bill & Melinda Gates' Annual Letter - Dispelling myths about foreign aid

A Must-Needed Prayer for Today

(Reuters/Maxim Zmeyev) With increased violence in the Middle East and a commercial plane shot down in Ukraine, I seek prayers and words to make sense of it all. To add insult to injury, the world lost nearly a hundred men and women on that plane whose life work has been to fight the HIV/AIDS pandemic. As they departed Amsterdam to attend a conference in Melbourne focused on the relentless war against HIV/AIDS, their vessel collided with another kind of war, and we lost so many heroes.

It all feels so senseless. It brings us to our knees in prayer and desperation for a God who is bigger than the tragedies of mankind.

These words from Ann Voskamp spoke deeply to me last night; may they comfort you today.

Lord, there are bombs tonight, wars tonight, 
planes that have fallen from the sky,
tears that have fallen from the shattered hearts of mothers,
and we fall to our knees before the Wounded Healer 
who cups His hands to catch every falling tear & sparrow & heart 
in His palms that have our names engraved right into Him 
far deeper than any of earth's sorrow. 
We pray tonight in the name of Him of who catches everything falling 
so we don't fall apart...so we are held.