Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Today I'm 40

It's true. 

Today I'm 40.

It feels significant and crazy and surreal and I daresay, a bit empowering to write that sentence.

I don't feel forty. Sometimes I don't even feel like a grown-up. 

I've been married seventeen years and have three kids, yet part of me still feels like this life of mine is just a long-term babysitting gig and at any moment the real parents will arrive and pay me three dollars an hour for my time. I'll drive my stick-shift VW Rabbit home, sing along to my mix tape, climb into bed, and stare up at my Benetton posters while I drift off to sleep.

I was a teenager, I blinked, and now I'm forty.

I'm a sucker for milestones and all things nostalgic, sentimental, and celebratory. So it's only appropriate that I commemorate this personal milestone with a 40s-themed post. 


Forty Things:

Lessons, Observations, and Resolutions 

 on my 40th Birthday

On Motherhood

1. One of the best gifts I can give my kids is an authentic life. A life in which I mess up and ask their forgiveness. A life in which I inevitably fall short of my own parenting expectations and start again the next day. A life in which I share my own stories {the good, the bad, and the ugly} so that they know realness and redemption is alive and well in their own family.

2. To thine own parenting self be true. Our God-given personalities show up in our parenting. Sometimes this is awesome. Sometimes it is ugly. But trying to parent my kids in the same way someone else parents their kids has been nothing but a train wreck for me. Things go better when I'm honest about who I am and who my kids are and what our life looks like. 

3. All they need is love. And yes, love looks like discipline and it looks like grace and it looks like helping with homework and repentance and picking them up from school. But truly, if my kids know in their core that they are loved beyond measure, not because of who they are or aren't or what they do or don't do but simply because they are mine--well, that's everything.

4. Play is the smartest thing kids can do. It is their work, their education, their brain-power. It's okay to just let them play. {Types the mom who stepped over a train track, a car show, and a line-up of super-heroes to get to my bedroom and finish this post.}

5. There's no formula. Twelve years into motherhood and it's so freeing to realize this. There is the Holy Spirit and the law written on my heart. There is the God-given common sense wired into my brain. All things being equal, there are parenting principles and precepts that may yield great kids. But all things are never equal and our kids will ultimately make their own choices. 

6. Only God can change their hearts. This is liberating and also terrifying, depending on the day. 

7. When I pray for wisdom and I feel like it's not coming as quickly as it "should," I do the best I can and fall back into the hammock of grace, knowing that it will catch me and catch them and cover a multitude of missteps along the way.

On Marriage

8. I love being married and I desperately love the man I'm married to, the man who has known me over half my life. Marriage, however, is challenging. In my humble opinion it is a miracle that any marriages stay together. But here's the beautiful truth that rises up out of that bleak reality: Miracles happen. They really do. I should celebrate every day in light of this miracle. 

9. The only way to extend grace is to first recognize my own fierce need of it. I receive it and pour it out every day, as many times as I need it, as many times as he needs it.

10. Unforgiveness is poison and doesn't do anything but empower a hardening heart toward greater bitterness. 

11. Forgiveness. It is excruciating and beautiful, sacrificial and sacred, ridiculous and revolutionary. It changes everything. 

12. Growing old together may not seem sexy or exciting or the stuff most movies are made of. But every time I think about growing old together, I cry. I just do. See? Just typing this...tears.  

13. Despite what all the marriage seminar people tell you, it's possible to have a lovely marriage without the luxury of a weekly date night. Date nights are amazing and I wish we had more of them, but date nights will not make or break a marriage.

On Myself

14. At 40, I'm bolder in speaking my own mind and not the mind I think others want me to speak. And when I do speak, it feels stronger but more graceful than it once did...a "softer" strength as opposed to my younger, prideful, self-righteous, ax-to-grind mind-speaking.

15. I feel more comfortable in my own skin {even though it's saggier, frecklier, and veinier than it once was.} My mom used to say, You be You. I didn't listen. Besides, I didn't really know who I was. But here I am at 40 and I'm finally getting to know myself, who I am and who I'm not. It's comforting to make peace and friends with both.  

16. I'm more comfortable with the gray and less resolute about the black and whiteness of life. Yes, I believe in absolute truth. No, this isn't a statement on the virtue of relativism. But I hope I die with plenty of unanswered questions. I hope I'll always keep my eyes and ears, mind and heart open to the grace and freedom of life lived outside the box.

17. Honesty trumps pretense every time. Vulnerability invites kindred, wounded souls. Be who you are and not who you think you're supposed to be. God wants you in this world, the real you. And the world needs the real you too. {Listen to my mom's advice on this, okay?}

18. I knew nothing in my 20s {but it was a fun decade.}

19. I began to get a clue in my 30s {but it came through a lot of un-fun experiences.}

20. Though I had a sense of dread about turning 40, I've changed my tune. I've no guarantee that my 40s will be a decade of peace, health, or happiness but here's the thing: my 30s were hard. Yes, they were full of many blessings and two babies and countless lessons. But those lessons were born out of grief and a whole lot of crazy. Why wouldn't I want to see this milestone birthday as a chance to begin a new chapter? It feels good and right to see it this way.

21. I'm happier {albeit wrinklier} as I begin my 40s. I strive less. I receive more grace. I give more love. I'm less judgey. I feel more content. I don't rely on the opinions or approval of others. Certain things I used to value now seem superficial.

22. I'm an introvert, an INFJ to be exact. For years I thought I was an extrovert. Eventually I realized that I "needed" to be around people simply because I got my worth from others. I'm so glad that's no longer the case. A lot of people are surprised that I'm an "I" and not an "E." I can chat it up and be outgoing but only in limited doses.

23. At 40, I can admire and appreciate others' strengths and gifts without feeling envious or less than. This is so freeing.

24. Overachieving is overrated and usually comes at a cost. That's why mediocrity is looking better every day.

25. I don't regret the things I thought I would. I've learned that certain failures don't define me like I once believed. Yes, immature decisions and momentary recklessness can sometimes have significant consequences. But memories that use to dredge up shame now dredge up acceptance. I was human. I am human. I acted {and still act} out of my humanness and its many passions and weaknesses. It's covered by grace.

26. I don't regret being a PhD dropout. Not for one second. You know, I thought I might regret this one. At the time, it was the biggest, most grueling decision of my life. But sometimes our gut is totally right. {And so are the people around us who tell us it's okay to take a break or just quit altogether.}

27. I regret the stuff I thought I wouldn't. I wish I'd skipped youth group or church or even school every now and then when my teenage / college schedule was overbooked and I was overtired. Downtime, reflection, and rest would have done my weary self a lot of good. I also wish I'd been more serious about writing in my younger years. As I wrote in this letter to my teenage self
Write in your diary as much as you can. It may seem like a waste of time but for you, writing down your insides has a way of calming you on the outside.

On Rest

28. Fruitfulness and productivity are not the same thing.

29. Sometimes rest, the "art of doing nothing," is the most fruitful thing I can do for myself and for those I love most. I've quit comparing my life, schedule, and responsibilities to that of others. 

30. Every "yes" is also a "no." The concept of "opportunity cost" influences almost every decision we make as a family and as individuals. Our time, resources, and energy are finite. I wish I'd learned this years ago.

On Beauty & Aging

31. One day I'll wonder why I ever begrudged the "flaws" I currently fret over. In the same way I once wished I could change certain features on my 20-year-old-self {such insanity}, my 60-year-old future self is probably having a fit that I'm fretting over anything at 40. I've resolved to celebrate and appreciate what is. Stretch marks and laugh lines mean that life and laughter are etched into my very being like sacred tattoos.   

32. Perfection is off-putting and alienating

33. Real beauty truly does come from the inside. It's absolutely true. The most beautiful people in my life are the grace-givers and the grace-livers and the unconditional lovers. Their outsides don't matter to me. Actually, their outsides are beautiful to me because of their insides. 

34.  I obsess about the external far less than I did in my younger years. Thank God. Yes, I still desire loveliness but more and more I see it as a waste of time, money, and worry. 

35. Despite what I just wrote in the last four points, here's the ironic thing: I still care. I kind of wish I didn't. And even though I know that real beauty is the inside stuff, I have six tubes of chapstick, lip gloss, or lip stick in my purse at this very moment. Why? Because I have always been girly, a lover of pretty clothes and sparkly baubles and lip gloss. It's okay. This is who I am. {Please, when I die, do not bury me in old-lady shoes or let a bumbling mortician with man-hands and cakey cosmetics do my make-up. I beg you.}

On Grace and Other Stuff 

36. Greatness is not what I once thought is was. God destines some for public greatness. But I'm seeing that most of the greatness in this world happens behind closed doors, beside hospital beds, alongside a sick child in the middle of the night, stirring soup on the stove, enfolded in the tightly-gripped hands of one wounded healer whispering her broken story to another. Grace-infused humility and a life lived out of the spotlight may not go down in the history books or gain the most followers, but it has great and glorious eternal value. {Not to mention the value in the here and now, whether it's appreciated or not.}

37. At 40, I've just stumbled upon this amazing "secret" that's revolutionizing my relationships. See others as Jesus sees them: flawed but forgivable, struggling but savable, broken but beautiful. No, I'll never be able to love them just like He loves them but simply seeing others the way He sees them--it's a big step down the road toward loving better.

38. I'm wondering if grace is what makes the world go round and when the world's going 'round in a wonky, sand-in-the-gears sort of way, perhaps it's due to an absence of grace: war, famine, oppression, abuse, schisms, self-righteousness, fractured relationships. One day all will be made right but in the meantime, a heavy downpour of grace could fix so much. What are we waiting for? 

39. As Winston Churchill once said: Success is not final; failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts. Courage doesn't lead most of us into battle or inside a burning building or onto a campaign platform. As I mentioned recently in The Upside of Failure, courage in the everyday is simply this: falling down and getting back up. 

40. And finally, 40 feels like permission. Permission to take all that I'm learning and actually do something with it. Permission to tap into some of God-given loves even if I don't have the training or degrees or clout. Because y'all, forty is legit. I'm a bona fide grown-up now, old enough to have some credibility, experienced enough to have some stories, tired enough to have some needful restraint, and brave enough to say yes to new paths.

Or, in the immortal words of "Towanda" from Fried Green Tomatoes after she rear-ends that red convertible {six times} driven by brazen twenty-somethings: 

Face it girls, I'm older and I have more insurance. {One of the best movie moments ever.} 

Yes, forty feels like permission indeed. 

And it also feels like you better not take my minivan's parking spot with your convertible.                                  


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Home Updates: How My Mistreated Windows Grew Up

So. This is the last post of the unofficial "Home Updates Series." 

If you'd like to catch up, here are the other posts:

Today I'd like to show you how my adolescent, mistreated-but-just-fine-windows got a makeover. 

My poor windows sat naked for years. Window treatments can be spendy, especially when you have five of them in one room. And I'm sort of a perfectionist. So I simply did nothing while my sad windows sat victimized by my frugality and perfectionism.

When I first started reading The Nester about six years ago, she inspired me with her many ways one could "mistreat" a window

So, armed with my glue gun and Wal-Mart fabric, I decided that something was better than naked. I spent $20 on fabric and a little bit more on ring clips and upholstery tacks. 

I figured it would be temporary fix but those make-do mistreatments remained tacked to the walls for four and a half years.

After we painted and spruced up our great room, I knew it was time for my windows to grow up. A few months ago I found 8 sheery panels at a local antique shop. I risked $25 for them, not knowing if they'd work and not knowing when I'd ever get around to putting them up.

I'd also been holding on to a lovely vintage curtain rod with crystal finials I'd scored years ago at a thrift store, but I only had one. I was determined to use it so I told myself that all the curtain rods "don't have to match, they just have to go." {Channeling the sage advice of Clinton and Stacy.}

I found some in a similar finish at {gulp} Big Lots. As it turned out, they look just fine in the same room with their different but fancier sister who lives just further down the wall. 

Want to see what a difference sheery panels with real curtain rods make in this room?




{This tiny child is in middle school now. What?!?}


I know. It may be my favorite change to this space. I love how they still let in the light but they add a softness and finished-ness to the space. In my husband's words, the room looks more "sophisticated." {I didn't even know he had decorating adjectives in his vocabulary. He has so been holding out on me.} 

Thanks for letting me show and tell all of these fun changes to our main living space. 

I'm a house junkie and a homebody and I think about our home's spaces a lot. But...I've realized that I do not really love to write about my home. I like it, but I don't love it. It feels like work, especially posting all of the photos. {I don't know how all of you home bloggers do it.} 

While it's fun for me to do a house post here and there, I am so very ready to get back to the writing I love most. 

So stay tuned. I already have one scripted for tomorrow. It's kind of a special day. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Home Updates: Bookcase Bling

Last week I made a quick stop at Lowe's. Several employees asked if they could help me find what I was looking for and I replied with fake, cheerful, confidence: "No thanks. I'm fine." 

I marched the aisles like I knew exactly what I needed even though I had no clue and was too embarrassed to ask where the tiny, pretty, brassy, corner thingys were. 

How could I tell the savvy home-improvement gurus that I was looking for jewelry? For my bookcase.

Months ago I found a humble wooden bookcase at an antique store for $25. It was the perfect size for our foyer. 

When you are living large in a small space, everything has to do double duty. I can't waste space on a lovely occasional table that holds lamps and picture frames and candles. Form and function rule the roost around here. It's just the way it is.  

That means my entryway is the library / art gallery / foyer. My "occasional table" is a hardworking holder of books. Lots of books. 

{Crazy Jetta photo-bombing my blog photos. Seriously could not get this dog to move.}

There's a bit of a shelf shortage in our home. 

I have books stashed in the hutch:

And on our nightstands. 

Amid the Playmobil police station and cowboy boots.

Next to the boys' bunkbeds.

And there's still a box or four in my attic from my old office. Believe it or not, I've actually gotten rid of a lot of books in recent years. Still, it's just sort of bookish around here. I hope it always will be. 

I dream of this:

Books + eclectic mix

And this:

leamonaco:    stylish shelves.

And this:


And this:

And this:

loft library

Let's face it. I really just want to live here.

The Abbey Bookshop in Paris

{My heart skips a beat. The Abbey Bookshop, Paris.}

But in the meantime, I'm content with my $25 slimline shelves. And while she's practical...she's a bit plain. 

Back to my story. I remembered seeing some brassy hardware recently as I strolled the aisles of Lowe's and it hit me: "Those hardware thingys would sure look pretty on my Plain Jane foyer bookcase." 

Here's what I bought. 

$1.96 a package.

Here's the before BEFORE. {She was originally brown and I painted her some shade of aqua.}

Here's the most recent BEFORE. {She fell prey to the great white-out, same as all my shelves and frames.}

And here she is AFTER a bit of brassy embellishment.

It's a small change but I think it makes her a little more legit, especially since she sits in the foyer all welcomey and important. 

A word to the wise: Remove your lovely succulents sitting precariously on the top of the bookcase before you hammer away at your shelves. 

Next post: The Hazards of Home Improvement. 


{Other Recent Home Update Posts}

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Homes Updates: Anatomy of a Gallery Wall

I am not really a home blogger. But I am a bona fide home hacker and I do love to be inspired by the beauty of my surroundings. And I just happen to have a blog which means that sometimes I see fit to interrupt my irregularly scheduled posts about kids and failure and making friends with mess to show you my most recent home hacks.

Enter this post on "gallery walls."

Oh how I love them! I always have. My first gallery wall was way back in 2002. I'd traveled abroad by then and I desperately wanted to display photos and art from my travels. When we moved into our current home 7 1/2 years ago, I replicated much of what was in our old house and for the most part, it has remained unchanged since then. 

I may be a compulsive rearranger but when I get my walls a certain way and love it, I do not change a thing.

But new paint inspired some much-needed change. {See the earlier post this week on new paint and our dresser-turned-entertainment-center.} I painted all the shelves and some of my frames white. I mixed in new photos and art. And it just. kept. growing. My gallery wall is now so expansive that I'm thinking about charging admission.

Here's the great room gallery wall BEFORE:

{Oh and here it is after I had to move the settee to make room for our homeschool desks a few years ago.}

And here's the great room gallery wall AFTER:

I know, that's a lot of stuff on the wall. Maybe too much. But it makes me smile and it's terribly sentimental and I really, really love it. 

{Now that I'm no longer homeschooling, that long desk had become a landing strip for clutter and laundry so I removed half of her. I'll show you where the other half went in another post.}

So this post is all about what I've learned after assembling a few gallery walls over the years. I know, a "bullet point post" is not my usual fare. Nonetheless, I'll share with you some tips that may be useful if you want to create a gallery wall of your own. I'm anything but an expert. Take or leave whatever you like.

1. Make it personal. There's nothing wrong with buying cute, mass-produced art from Hobby Lobby. Truly there's not. I've gotten a few things like that over the years but recently realized that I've given all of it away or sold it in yard sales. In the end, I guess I prefer what's "real" or sentimental or crafted by an actual artist, even if that artist is my amateur kid painter. 

I have four pieces of kid art on this wall. And I'm just crazy about all of them. 

Two pieces of art are watercolors by street artists in Prague, given to me by my sister who visited there during the year she lived in Munich. They are beautiful, miniature works of art and I have always adored watercolors. I've had these for years and love them just as much as I always have. 

I have three "artifacts" that are super special. One of them is a teapot that belonged to my husband's grandmother, gifted to me by his grandfather. Both of them are in Heaven now and gifts like the teapot are sweet reminders of them. 

Another is a gorgeous Anthropologie teapot gifted to me by Lily for my birthday a few years ago. The last is a hanging piece of pottery crafted by a local South Carolina artisan and given to me by my dear sister last year. 

I also copied, pasted, and printed out this "Prayer for the Home" that I saw on Edie's blog, Life in Grace, a really long time ago. It's so beautiful. 

I thought it was perfect and wanted to have it in our place too. I wrapped some scrapbook paper around a matte and put it in a clear frame. 

2. Choose your favorite photos. I have ten photos on this wall. That's quite a lot but they're a sweet, eclectic representation of our family. Having fewer but larger photos would also work beautifully. I'd love to have several larger canvas pieces around the house at some point but with an open floor plan, there's a shortage of walls and therefore a shortage of gallery space. 

Photos are such an easy, inexpensive way to change things up. Take 20 minutes to upload and print several of your favorite photos that are sitting in obscurity on your hard-drive. Then grab some cheap, chunky frames from a discount store {or from your attic} and you're good to go. 

I don't know why I put simple things off like that. I'm amazed at how easy and quick it is to add photo updates to our space; I always wish I'd done it sooner. 

3. Mix art and photos and "artifacts." It just works. Too many like things can feel matchy-matchy. Mixing is up is fun and interesting. That's all there is too it. 

4. Add architectural elements. Shelves and cubes and giant chunky frames add substance and dimension. 

5. Group tiny things inside larger frames or on shelves. Scale is important. Our house is small but this room is huge. It comprises two-thirds of our house. Small picture frames and tchotchkes sitting on end tables or tacked to the wall with nothing around them end up adding to the clutter and getting swallowed up by the space. But let's face it, most of us have lovely things we want to display that are smaller than an 11 x 14 frame.  

For this wall, I found that grouping my smaller frames inside one giant frame feels cohesive instead of cluttered. 

6. Crop. This is something I've just discovered. My daughter has gobs of art and because she's a perfectionist, she hates most of it. Thankfully, I have salvaged some precious pieces from the trash. This monarch butterfly, one of her "earlier works," was painted on a much larger piece of paper. I cut out just the butterfly and framed it. Made all the difference. 

This waterlily painting was a half-hearted attempt at Monet. It was her first draft and she tried to trash it. The paint ran and the colors mixed too much and she thought it was a wreck. But I thought the colors were beautiful and I told her it was simply an impressionist version of impressionism. Once again, I cut out a small piece of it and showcased it in a thrift-store frame. She still doesn't love it...but I do. 

7. Copy. Inspiration is everywhere. Grab your old magazines, get on Pinterest, do a search for "gallery walls." See something in a friend's home a snap a picture. You don't have to replicate it identically but you can use similar sizes, shapes, combinations, layouts and colors. 

lifeingrace BHG photo shoot/gallery wall

#art #wall

cork walls


Here's a great post on artwork wall groupings that is full of all sorts of beautiful and vastly different gallery walls. 

There is no need to reinvent the wheel, people. Remember, you don't have to be inventive to still be creative

Find something you like and make it your own. You'll feel like a creative genius when you're done. 

Years ago I had a friend who sent her husband to take a picture of our gallery wall and replicated it with her own pieces at home. It totally worked and she loved it. "Imitation is the finest form of flattery."

8. Don't over-think it. Just experiment. 

The "bones" of this wall {the shelves, some of the larger pieces} stayed the same. I held stuff up and moved things around and put countless tiny nail holes in my wall. 

My friend came over to look at and said, "I love it. It's balanced even though it's not symmetrical. And it's interesting. There's so much you want to look at!" That was exactly the vibe I was going for. This same friend is doing a gallery wall of her own. She cut out paper shapes of frames and such and tacked them to the wall. She's moved them around and played with the design until she finds what she likes. That works too and is probably the "right" way of doing a project like this.

Unfortunately I am ten shades of impatient and tend to just use what I have, eyeball things, and grab the hammer. 

9. Pick one to three frame finishes and stick with those. This isn't a "rule." There are no rules. 

Actually I've seen gallery walls with all sorts of different frames and finishes and it works. But because I'm an amateur, I've found that sticking with one to three of the same color frames brings it together a bit. In my case, I used black, white, and a bit of faded, splotchy gold. 

Here's my other, smaller gallery wall as you leave the living room and walk down the hallway. Everything is white. I love this too and if you want a less eclectic, more traditional look, go with all the same finish on your shelves and frames. 

{Here's that same wall with the old wall color and black frames. Ugh. Why do wall colors photograph so strangely?}

10. Enlist help. I know what some of you are thinking: "I'm just no good at this sort of thing." In the words of Tim Gunn, you feel like you just can't "make it work."

I hear you. And let's face it, some people just see the world through a more creative, free-spirited lens. They can put things together in ways others would never imagine. Chances are you have one of those friends. Ask him or her to help you. 

I'm no professional but I love beauty and home. I love to lend a hand and help a friend make her space beautiful too. I've also been known to enlist my own artistic friends when I feel stuck. 

Tell your artsy friend that you'll watch her kids or buy her a frappuccino while she hacks up your wall. Win, win. 

And just to keep it real. Here is how the gallery wall has evolved just while I've been sitting her typing out this post.

Apparently I have a tiny creative genius of my own, which brings me to tip number....

11. A fort is the perfect addition to any space. 


So there you have it. What do you think, are you a fan of the gallery wall trend? Any tips of the trade you can share with the rest of us? Should we have a gallery wall linky party?

{Other Recent Home Update Posts}


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