Sunday, July 8, 2018

mama wisdom & faithful instruction

This morning I snuck downstairs before any of the darlings were awake. I sat on our living room rug, hot coffee next to me, and my Bible open in front of me. I found my way to Proverbs 31 where verse 26 tells me this proverbial wonder woman "speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue."

Faithful instruction.

I stopped right there and asked God to fill my words with wisdom and faithful instruction. I asked that my words be a blessing to my children, pointing them to Jesus.

So beautiful. So inspiring.

And ten minutes later, those darlings woke up...


Good morning, darlings.
Go use the potty.
Everyone needs to go potty when they wake up.
Yes, you need to wear pants.
Stand still.
Let me help you.
No, you can do it yourself.
Sit down.
Hands to self.
Ask me again in a different way.
Take your plate to the kitchen.
Stop it.
Let's go.
Spit spot.
Put your shoes on.
Grab a coat.
Get in your seat.
Try to buckle yourself.
Quiet down.
Speak up.
I can't hear you, sweetie.
Respect the no.
Hold my hand.
Look both ways.
Walking feet.
Obey quickly, please.
Speak truth and love.
I can see you're feeling frustrated.
Slow down.
Hurry up.
Stop running.
Give him space.
Take off your shoes.
Did you wipe?
And flush?
Wash your hands.
Let's pause to thank God.
Please use your spoon.
Here, eat a carrot.
No, you can't have another treat.
You have enough ketchup.
Don't say "stupid."
Stop provoking your sister.
Yes, you may be excused.
Go play.
Stop bugging me.
Turn that down.
Gentle hands.
Remember, brothers and sisters are for life.
You need to play in separate rooms.
Mommy is feeling frustrated.
Pick that up.
Wipe that up.
Carry that up.
Take that up, too.
Please respond when I ask you something.
Be gentle.
Wait a minute.
Give me a moment.
Oh my darlings.
Look at me.
I'm sorry I yelled.
What is that?
Where did you get that?
Put that back.
Oh good grief.
Keep the worms outside.
Look for a chance to show love.
What do you say when someone gives you something?
Not right now.
Go back outside.
The snow shovel is not a toy.
No, you can't have another snack.
Where'd you get that Popsicle?
Dinner will be ready soon.
Oh look, Dad's home!
Go ask your Dad.
Talk to Dad about it.
Show Dad.
Go find your Dad.
Wash up.
Let's pause to thank God.
Please use your fork.
No, you can't have another treat.
You don't need ketchup.
Head upstairs.
And carry something up.
Put your dirty clothes in the basket.
Pick a book.
No, a shorter book.
Let's pray.
Ok, but this is the last song.
Give me a kiss.
And hug.
I love you, too.
See you in the morning.
Go to sleep, darling.
Stop yelling "mom."
Go back to your own bed.
I mean it.
Get back in your bed.
I love you.


Surely there's some wisdom and faithful instruction in there somewhere.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Edible Is A Requirement: The Mexican Brownie Disaster

Photo courtesy of Her View From Home

Even as a teenage I remember browsing through my mom's cookbooks, marking recipes that peeked my interest, but rarely seeing any through to fruition. In part, this was due to my mother's love-hate relationship with the kitchen. Love because she believed strongly in family dinnertime and was happy to open our home and table to guests. Hate because she didn't actually enjoy cooking and certainly wasn't looking for opportunities to mix, chop, roast, or blend more than absolutely necessary.  Market Day Chicken Stir Fry was a go-to and family favorite.

I, on the other hand, thought it might be exciting to try something new and create something delicious, so 16-year-old Joy eagerly volunteered to bring a dessert to a Fourth of July lake house celebration. I'd torn out this recipe from my mother's Good Housekeeping magazine, and the fact that the brownies were made from more than a box, an egg, water, and oil was already pushing me into uncharted culinary territory. 

The recipe for mocha cinnamon frosting required a foreign ingredient to be brought into my parents' house: coffee. Neither of my parents are coffee drinkers, so we rarely ventured down the coffee aisle in the grocery story. I'm pretty sure the small container of instant coffee we purchased for these brownies in 1999 is still in my mother's cabinet. 

It was with great enthusiasm that I set out to create these brownies, reading and rereading as I meticulously followed each step.  The 9x13 pan of brownies was cooling on the table as I began the frosting - dissolving coffee, melting multiple chocolates, stirring, and whisking.  I was so close.

The last step. 

"Stir in confectioners sugar until well blended and smooth."

I scooped up that cup of sugar, poured it into my mocha goodness and stirred. 

Smooth never came.

My inexperienced baking skills mindlessly skipped over the word confectioners, never even pausing to question what that word might mean. All I saw was sugar, and all I was left with was a grainy, sand-like frosting, filled with granulated sugar.  

In case you know even less about baking than I did and are totally confused at this point, allow me to clarify, lest you replicate by mistake. 

Confectioners sugar=powdered sugar=yummy, smooth frosting=total win 

Granulated sugar=regular sugar=grainy, sand-like frosting=big oops for Joy

Oh, but wait.  It gets better.

I served them. 

To people. 

I poured that gritty frosting onto my cinnamon spiced brownies, packed them in a cooler for the lake house and served them to my friends. 

There is a lesson to be learned here: when it comes to food, perfection is a lofty standard, but edible is a requirement. Many disasters can be stomached and might even turn out surprisingly delicious - see Orange Chocolate Cake. However, you need to know when those imperfections have gone too far, resulting in pity bites and leaving your friends smiling to your face and spitting crunchy brownies out behind your back. 

Know when to call it quits. There can be dignity in dumping a pan of brownies into the trash.

Make it again, make something new, or stop by a bakery, but please don't serve every disaster - even if you spent money on unusual ingredients - even if you spent your entire Saturday afternoon cooking - even if it was going perfectly until the very last step. (Insert heavy sigh.) 

Although my dad and brother will never let me forget the day I served the grainy Mexican Brownies, I have since made these with confectioners sugar multiple times, and they are divine. 

Mexican Brownies
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar (That's the regular sugar!)
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 TB vanilla
Mocha Frosting
  • 1 tsp. instant coffee (I have also used espresso or strong brewed coffee, and both work fine.)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla 
  • 1 bar (3.5 oz) milk chocolate, chopped
  • 1 oz. unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 TB butter
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 TB milk
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar (That's the powdered sugar!)

Prepare Brownies:

Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease a 9x13 baking pan. Line the pan with foil, extending the foil over the rim, and grease the foil.  Yes, I know this is a lot of greasing and lining, but you'll thank me later.

In a medium bowl, mix flour, cocoa, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Remove from heat and stir in granulated sugar. Stir in eggs, one at a time until well blended. Add vanilla.

Slowly add the flour mixture, and stir until well blended.

Spread the batter into your prepared pan.

Bake about 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool brownies completely in the pan on a wire rack.

Make the Frosting:

* Note* This frosting is more of a glaze to pour on the brownies rather than a thick frosting to smear.  
In a small bowl, dissolve the instant coffee in vanilla.  If you are using espresso or strong coffee, just stir in the vanilla.

In a small saucepan, combine the milk chocolate, unsweetened chocolate, butter, cinnamon, and salt.  Heat on medium-low until chocolates are melted. Stir occasionally.

Remove from the heat, and use a whisk to stir in the coffee mixture and milk.

Stir in confectioners powdered sugar until well blended and smooth.

Spread warm frosting over cooled brownies.  Let stand for at least 20 minutes for the frosting to set.

When the frosting has set, use the foil edges to lift the brownies out of the pan. Peel away foil from the sides and cut brownies.

Betcha can't eat just one....

A similar essay was first published on Her View From Home.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

because one day you won't part 3

Milo was born in April, and the transition to three children has been as expected - insane and delightful all at once. At times I can see my knowledge and confidence as a mom coming on strong this time around; other times all three of the darlings are crying at once, and I am cursing Stephen for not working from home more often. The reality that this little guy will be walking and talking (read: running away from me when I call his name and using phrases like "pooper butt") all too soon has made me aware of moments to remember.  Even more so than I did with Charlotte and Andrew, I am slowing down, noticing, and smiling that both childhood and baby life are happening in our home.

"Because one day you won't" is my unapologetic, sappy mom writing. You can read more about it here and here.


Because one day your cheeks won't be so big.

Because one day you won't fit so perfectly in my arms, letting me hold you close and squish your cheeks.

Because one day you won't wake me up throughout the night

And despite my constant exhaustion and occasional complaining, the corner of my heart will miss the sweet stillness of those nighttime moments when it is just you and me.

Charlotte and Andrew,

Because one day you won't walk curiously into my hospital room, eyes wide, ready to meet your baby brother.

Because one day you won't think bathing your little brother makes for the best day ever.

Because one day you won't kiss him so fiercely.

Because one day you won't both fit in the rock & play.

Because one day you won't stare at him over the crib.

Because one day you won't beg to hold him just a few more minutes.

So today I will notice those moments.


Thursday, January 11, 2018

could i have grace instead?

I paced around our small bedroom, bouncing a swaddled infant and singing Jesus Loves Me. We were interrupted by a knock on the door, again. Andrew was only a few weeks old, and his two-year-old big sister had not yet mastered the art of playing quietly in the other room while I put him down for a morning nap. I whipped open the door and knelt down to Charlotte's level. "If you knock on this door again, you will have a time out."

The knocking did not stop, but it did change to a soft tapping, allowing me just enough peace for Andrew to doze off. I laid him in the pack 'n play and moved toward the door, committed to following through with my threat. I didn't care how many times I put her in time out over the next few days, that little girl would learn to be quiet when her brother was napping.

I opened the bedroom door to see her sitting in the hallway surrounded by pretend food. She smiled. So big. So genuine.

Shoot. Stick to your guns, Joy.

"I made you soup," she said, holding out a small plastic pot filled with wooden carrots and peppers.

Oof. Don't cave. Don't you dare be a parent who spits out empty threats. 

"Charlotte, thank you for the soup, but you kept knocking on the door when I said to stop. You have a time out." As expected, the tears began, but it wasn't temper tantrum tears; she was sad, disappointed. She finally had my attention, and I was barreling in with a consequence.

I was flooded with compassion. She'd been a big sister for sixteen days, and I expected her to play quietly in the living room while I snuggled and smooched her brother. I was being unreasonable, and I knew it. She didn't need a lesson in obedience right now; she needed grace.

My next sentences were a jumbled mess. There was something about how she'd made a mistake by not obeying. Something else about not getting what she deserved, and I probably threw in something about Jesus for good measure. It wasn't eloquent and possibly not theologically sound. But if I want my children to grasp the grace of Jesus, I need to fill our home with tiny snippets of grace. This was a first, mediocre attempt.

"So," I concluded,  "Mommy is going to give you grace instead."

I exhaled a sigh of relief, hoping to move past the moment, but Charlotte wasn't done. She looked at me with expectation and held out her hand.

"Grace," she demanded. "I want grace."

Oh rats. My holy moment was coming to an abrupt ending as I realized Charlotte wanted something put in her hand. I told her I was giving her grace, and she was ready to receive. No doubt she imagined grace to resemble a chocolate chip cookie.

"I want grace," she demanded again, now stretching out both hands.

"Well honey," I began, knowing I was already sunk, "grace isn't something I can put in your hand. It's kind of like..." Oh, this ought to be good. "Like...a hug."

A hug? Really, Joy? Grace is like a hug?

It seemed appropriate to lean in for a hug, but she pushed me away in frustration. With her hands outstretched and head flung backwards, she began screaming, "Grace! Grace! I want grace! Give me grace!"

Preach it, sister. We all do.

Would you think less of me if I told you I went and got her the cookie?


A few months ago, the kids and I met some friends at an indoor play place. We played, ate lunch, and played some more. I intentionally held off on dessert knowing it might be just the motivator I would need to gather the darlings when it was time to go. There were a dozen candy machines next to the escalator, and I'd be happy to trade a quarter for a handful of Skittles if it meant a smooth exit to the car.

It was nearing 1:00. I gave the five minute warning.

The one minute warning.

Then the casual, "Time to go," as I swung the diaper bag over my shoulder and turned toward the exit.

No one followed. Shocking.

Eye contact was made, and I mouthed the words, "Let's go," from across the room, complete with a forceful hand gesture and deathly mama glare.

No response.

I walked toward them as they ran even further from me, a sure trigger for my blood to start boiling. I knew it wouldn't be easy to collect the darlings, but I had to keep my composure. After all, there were other moms watching me. I couldn't go all crazy mom, yet.

They began climbing a giant pig structure and I moved in, ready to pull a good, old-fashioned dessert threat out of my back pocket.

"You need to come now, or you will not be able to get a treat." I stood silently and watched them disregard my instructions with glee.

The next ten minutes were a blur, and I can't remember how I wrangled them in, zipped their coats, and tied their shoes. I was frustrated, tired, and ready to enforce my threat. Today I would teach them a lesson, even if it meant screams and tears because by golly, when I say it is time to go, it is time. To. Go.

We approached the escalator and the colorful candy machines locked eyes with my children.

"Can we get a treat, mom? Please, can we get a treat?"

Deep breath. Here we go.

"No. I told you it was time to leave, and you didn't come. Your consequence is no treat today." Boom. Done. Consequence enforced. Lesson learned. Well done, mom.

"But please, can we just get one treat?"

"No. I told you it was time to leave, and you didn't come. Your consequence is no treat today."

Charlotte stopped walking, and I braced myself for the inevitable wailing. She buried her face in her hands and let out a loud frustrated exhale. A moment later she looked up and said, "I'm sorry. Could I have grace instead?"

Insert pin drop.

What just happened?

Did she ask for grace?

Is she allowed to do that?

Am I allowed to do that?

I've made stupid choices recently, some toeing the line of foolish and others that are downright sinful. Either way, they are mistakes deserving of a consequence. I never considered just asking for grace. I've opted for guilt instead, fearfully waiting for a smack down that might finally teach me a lesson.

Guilt is a poisonous beast I rarely see in my children. They mess up all the time but are never slowed down, dragged down, or consumed with guilt. I, on the other hand, talk with the Lord about the same foolish choices for months, continue to apologize, and then dwell some more in the sorrow of my stupidity.

Could it really be that simple? Am I allowed to just ask for grace instead of a deserving consequence? Grace instead of guilt?

In Matthew 18:2, Jesus says that we must "become as little children" in order to enter the kingdom of God. It is from this verse that the church coined the term "childlike faith," a phrase tossed around when Jesus stops making sense in our grown-up lives. Jesus is pretty confusing to me most days, and I am not crazy about this "childlike faith" phrase. Mostly because I don't understand what it means or how it plays out in my day to day.

I suppose on my worst days, when the weight of my decisions and the filth of my sin are overwhelming, childlike faith looks something like a crying toddler, hands outstretched, head flung backwards, screaming, "I want grace! Give me grace!" And on my more dignified yet weary days, it might look more like a girl who just lost 25 cents worth of Mike-N-Ikes but is bold enough to ask for grace instead.


I let her have the candy that afternoon, and on the drive home I started to doubt my decision. Was that a good parenting move? What about obedience? What's my plan if she starts asking for grace all the time?

Asking for grace all the time.

I like that.

So, I followed Charlotte's lead that day and decided to ask.

Lord, discipline is hard, and I don't know what I'm doing. I'm not sure what just happened in that mall and if I made a wise decision. Would you cover this one in your grace? Would you take my feeble efforts, weakest moments, greatest mistakes, and give me grace instead?

Asking for grace all the time. I think I'll start doing that.

This essay was first published by Mothers Always Write.