Comfort food

There is just something so very special about sharing a meal with loved ones. Today is my mom’s birthday so we had my parents over for dinner to celebrate! My husband made his famous meatloaf accompanied by mashed potatoes and sweet skillet corn. That meal was a staple from my childhood. Sitting with my parents and listening to my daddy bless our food was pure comfort.

My parents spent the last month in Canada visiting my baby sister and her family. We have not seen them in nearly two years and we miss them terribly. As much as I worried about my parents making the 28 hour car trip, I know that it was good for all of them to be reunited. And even though I don’t see my parents nearly as often as I would like, I missed them. They were too far away. When they phoned to let me know they were safe at home, I was so relieved and happy. It made me smile to think that I used to have to call them to let them know that I was home safe…and now I was on the other end of that phone call.

As we broke bread around the kitchen table I was filled with comfort and peace. They shared stories of their time with my sister, brother-in-law and their grand-babies. We giggled as we listened to my daddy’s stories of his thick Kentucky accent causing some serious confusion on the French-speaking island that my sister calls home. They tried to make light of getting lost in Rhode Island for the better part of two hours (pretty sure you could see the whole state in two hours), and not being able to find a gas station that sold paper maps.

I count it as a blessing to still have my parents here on Earth to share birthdays, partake in family meals, attempt to pose for selfies and to hug around the neck. I am so thankful for these sweet hours spent together, for the comfort my parents bring with their presence, and for each and every memory we are able to create each time we come together.

Love is Sweet

This past weekend was one that I have planned for and looked forward too for a long time! On Saturday, I hosted a shower for my soon to be daughter-in-law, Katie. Katie is a lovely, endearing young woman whose sense of style is amazing. She is beautiful inside and out, and my son is head over heels in love with her. We are so very excited to welcome her into our family.

I planned for months for this special day. I wanted to celebrate Katie in the special way she deserved to be celebrated. I will not lie – there were times that I felt very stressed about all of the details, but it was all truly a labor of love. My biggest concern was that I was able to be able to be present in the moment and enjoy the day with all of our family and friends. Thankfully, on the morning of the shower, my closest friend, my girls (including Katie and Cai), and my husband came together to help me bring my vision to reality. When the time came, I was able to enjoy each moment of the shower. I loved meeting Katie’s extended family, spending this special time with my own family, and watching Katie glow as we showered her!

Twenty-three years ago when I had my son, I began praying for his future. I prayed for him to grow in love and to find love. I asked God to bring a woman into his life who would love him in just the way he needed to be loved. All of his life I have prayed for Katie! I was honored to be able to love on her this past weekend. I am so excited for the upcoming wedding this fall, but I am even more excited for the life that Katie and Zach have ahead of them.

His Love

While mindlessly scrolling through Facebook today, I saw a saying about God’s unconditional love. It was one of those pretty pictures will a sunrise and a fancy script saying. I honestly don’t remember what the whole thing said because I couldn’t get past unconditional love. It’s been on my mind all day. Unconditional love. Without conditions. Without strings. Without hesitation. I think that I take that saying “unconditional love” for granted. I have heard it all my life about the way God loves His children. I almost think it’s one of those churchy phrases that I have listened to so many times that it has lost its power almost. But today, it hit me right in my heart house.

As mere humans, we truly can’t fathom that kind of love. Our society tosses around the word love so very flippantly and loosely that the word is almost tarnished. “Ooohhh, I LOVE your shoes!” Or how many times do we proclaim our love for an actor whom we have never met. And I promise that I have used that word when talking about ice cream (just last night as a matter of fact). But y’all, that unconditional love that comes from our Father is unmatched by anything we know here on Earth. Yes, we love our kids like our Father loves us – that is the closest we could ever come to understanding His love for us. But even then, it’s not exactly the same.

So why did it hit me today like it did? I’m not sure that I know, but I’m fairly certain that God slowed my scroll and stilled my mind long enough to get my attention. This morning I woke up still fighting my annual spring cold, feeling unrested and moderately grumpy. I did not want to get up and go to school. I even said to myself as I slovenly rolled out of bed “I don’t want to adult today. I just can’t.” I was sure that I did not have the energy needed to show up for a room full of 9 year olds. Basically, my attitude sucked. I truly didn’t think I could make it through the day, and I was mad at myself for my attitude. Maybe this is why God needed to get my attention.

His love for me – even with my ugly, early-morning grumblings – doesn’t waiver. When I’m not at my best He loves me – just as much as He does when I’m at my best. When I’m not as loving as I should be, He still loves me. When I stumble and lose my way, His love remains steadfast and strong. Why? How could He possibly STILL love me after all of my shortcomings and grumblings and doubts and fears. Because He can…Because HE IS LOVE.

There are so many worship songs that attempt to describe this love in many different ways. His love is extravagant, overwhelming, never-ending, reckless. His love never fails. It is unending. His love awakens. He loves me, this I know. And all of these songs are beautiful proclamations of our Father’s love. But I’m not sure that His unconditional love can fully be described and understood by us until we truly believe in our hearts that love is who God is. And we are His beloved. What if tomorrow we take carry that title “beloved” with us all day? How would that change the way we love others? How would our self-talk change if we started it with the name “Beloved”?

I’m so thankful for a God who listens to my heart when I don’t even know the words for what I need. I’m so thankful for His nudges (and at times, smack upside my head) to slow down and find Him at my center. Most of all, I am so thankful for His unconditional love.

My teacher heart

I have said from the very start of this school year that our students are going to remember it for the rest of their lives, so let’s make those memories amazing! Well this past week, my students did just that for me. I teach fourth grade. In all I have 60 students between the three homerooms. We have asked so much of these babies this year and they have risen to the occasion better than some (many) adults I know. They came back to a classroom setting that looked very different than any they had experienced in their short academic career. They came back after the trauma of missing the last part of the prior year and essentially living in a lockdown during a global pandemic. When they walked through our doors they couldn’t see our smiles and we couldn’t see theirs. They were not seated next to an elbow buddy or at a group table, but rather on their own little island that was at least 3 feet away from all classmates. Yet through all of that we have built a classroom community like none other I have ever had. They are kind to each other. They feel safe in our little room. They are caring and sweet and so very funny.

This past week my students had to spend two days taking our state standardized tests. Yet nothing about this year has been anywhere close to standard. The state felt it was the right thing to do to add just a little more pressure on these little minds by having them sit for tests that they may not be prepared for. It seems the state must have forgotten that these babies missed an entire quarter of the prior year and while we worked so hard to “close the gap” (I would be fine if I never heard this tag line ever again) we need more time. We didn’t need more testing. I don’t need test data to tell me what my kiddos need. I can tell you that from having spent every day with them since August.

Obviously, I did not let my students feel my disgust over them having to be tested. We chose to call it a “Celebration of Learning” – our chance to show next year’s teachers how hard we had worked all year. I was absolutely blown away by how my kids showed up and worked so hard. They made this teacher so proud. As I babbled and gushed about how proud I was to them when they were finished, one of them asked “Mrs. Taylor, is your teacher heart happy?”

Yes…this teacher heart is so very happy. I cannot express how much I love this group of kids. They make every day brighter in an all too dark world. And while I still completely disagree with the state’s decision to test them, I am celebrating with them for all that they have learned. And all that they have taught me.

Bloom

Tonight I am going to dinner and then to a Women’s Conference at a local church with some ladies from my church. I have only met a couple of these ladies out of the group that is going. I have been at my home church for almost 5 years and I have not met a lot of people (that’s all on me!), so I am excited to get plugged in and make some new, like-minded friends. I am excited, but I am also nervous and my anxiety is taking over. Since we are meeting for dinner before the conference I will be going straight from school. This morning I was in the closet trying to figure out what to wear and it truly was like a typical “I have nothing to wear” scene from a movie. Outfits flying everywhere. My train of frustration gaining momentum by the second. The all too familiar battle cry “I have NO clothes” ringing through the house. But why? Of course, I want to look good, and feel good about myself – those are completely normal things. But as I sit here sipping my coffee trying to regain my composure and prep for an ALL DAY FUN DAY with twenty 9 and 10 year olds, I know that there is more to it. We as women are way too hard on ourselves to look a certain way. And it’s because we are so conditioned by the fact that we will be judged by each other. Sadly, we often make it into a competition. Just being real. We want to look as good as everyone around us – and by “as good” I mean better. We want other women to “approve” of us. We want to be “good enough.” (I’m saying we – but I guess I should say I).

Here’s the thing…I am attending a Bible conference with a group of amazing Christian women. I am certain that this group of women is full of love and grace and will be all welcoming to every single woman there. I truly do believe that. I’m sad that society has jaded me into worrying so much about my outer appearance, when I really have a whole lot of work to do on the inside.

Ladies, let’s stop competing and start building each other up. Let’s celebrate each other’s gifts and beauty rather than silently judging them against our own. Let’s look in the mirror and see ourselves as daughters of the ONE true King – made in His image. Let’s raise our daughters to understand that each flower blooms in its own perfect way and that they are all beautiful.

I am thankful for the opportunity to meet new friends tonight. And I am thankful that through the simple struggle of trying to find something to wear, God stopped me in my tracks to remind me of this lesson this morning.

How Sweet It Is To Be Loved

I write a lot about my kids and my students. I write about school and life and many other ramblings. I rarely, though, take the time to write about my husband. But, if anyone in the world deserves his very own blog post, it is Chris. Chris is one of the most amazing men I have ever met. He is the perfect mix of smart, funny and caring. Chris’s intellect blows me away, and most of the time I have to ask him to “dumb down” some of our conversations. Chris reads so much about so many topics. He is that guy who reads the owners manual of the new product before he uses it! Chris is a thinker. I can tell when he is really in deep thought by his gaze off into space and the way his mouth twitches with each idea.

Besides being so smart, Chris is incredibly loving and patient. He rarely raises his voice or loses his temper. In a house full of teen and tween girls, he has mastered the ability to not react to endless eye rolls and attitude in abundance. He is in charge of bedtime each night. And even with the older girls, he still goes into each room and prays with each girl. One of my favorite moments each and every night is listening to he and Kelsie sing “You are my sunshine.” It chokes me up every dang time.

One of the many things about Chris that drew me to him (besides those blue eyes) was his sense of adventure. He loves to try new things and see new sights. When we were dating we would head downtown (on a school night!) to try and new restaurant in OTR. When we went to Italy for our honeymoon, Chris had planned every single detail of our trip and we moved about the country with ease! We ate in the best restaurants, stayed in unique places, drank ALL the wine. It was like living a dream.

I could go on and on about my amazing husband – like his ability to build me anything I ask for, or his work ethic that is unmatched, or his knack for cooking the most elaborate recipes. But, the thing that I absolutely adore most about my partner for life is the way he loves. Chris gets it. He loves selflessly. He gives all of himself. He surrounds me with feelings of safety and security. He has the ability to make me feel like the only other person in the world when we are together. I should have issued a **SAP** warning at the beginning of this post, but I just can’t help but gush about the man I married.

I hope that someday he will understand my devotion to and adoration of him. I feel so blessed to get to live this life with him. Things are not champagne and rose petals every day….that is not reality, but even when things get rocky and rough, I cling to him because I know that he is our firm foundation and that with him everything will be okay.

Ladies, find you a man who makes you feel this way. It’s the greatest feeling in the world to be loved like this. And if you are lucky enough to have a man like this in your life, tell him often how special he is. Be thankful for your once in a lifetime love. I know that I am.

**Edit*** Sitting here in my office listening to Chris and the girls watching a Disney movie reminded me of one of his most endearing traits…Chris belly laughs at movies, whether he has never seen it or he has seen it ten times. He does not hold back his loud, hearty laugh. I usually laugh more at him laughing than l do at whatever it is we are watching. I can’t believe I forgot that in my original post!

Small group – Big love

I have always been a bit of a loner. Don’t get me wrong, I love people. I love relationships. I love friendships. But I have never been one to have a lot of close friends throughout life. There have been seasons when this has really troubled me. I would wonder if there was something wrong with me…and that’s why people didn’t really want to be my friend. I would question myself and think that maybe I was a burden to people – that I took more than I gave. The older I get as I look back, I have begun to realize that I have been the “problem” all along. I have been the reason that I have not let a lot of people in.

I have a lot of “stuff” that I have carried around with me for a very long time. I don’t share it with many people for fear that they will not like me, or I will scare them off. I think that I have been afraid that if people really knew the real me – deep down – the me with all the fears and worries. With all the needs and emotions. With all the sadness and mess, that they just wouldn’t feel like the return on the investment of a friendship with me would be enough. I guess I just thought that it was too much to let people see that I’m just a mess.

Here’s the thing though, I have found a group of like-minded, amazing people who haven’t run away just yet! What started as a group of strangers coming togethers as a Small Group from church, has turned into something so much more to me. We came together – most of us having never met – and began to share life. We shared our ups and downs. We shared our highs and lows. We prayed for great things and through losses. We have studied and laughed and cried. And now I call this group of people friends. We may not talk every day (or snapchat) but I know that we are in each other’s thoughts and prayers. I know that we are friends. I have opened myself up to them and I have shared my mess – and they stuck around!

I am so thankful for the model of community that God has provided for us in His word. I am beyond thankful for a community of believers who talk and listen and pray. I am so very grateful to have a circle of people who know me and love me still. I am so excited to continue on this journey with our small group and to continue to grow closer to them as we all grow closer to God.

Just Jesus

I feel like I need to say something. Writing is how I process the world around me – and wow do I need to do some serious processing. I have sat down at my computer at least 8 times in the last 24 hours to share and express my feelings. And each time I completely deleted the nonsense that I had typed. I just can’t even come close to finding any words to make sense of what is happening. Can anyone make sense of any of it?

This is no way meant to be any type of political post. I am not one to share my viewpoints on politics – not because I don’t have any…but because quite often I can’t aptly express my viewpoints. (And because I hate confrontation and arguing and it seems that for many adults these days, that’s all they know. Gone are the days of healthy, productive debates.)

No, this post is not about me trying to decipher where we have ended up as a country – as human beings. This is about me just processing all that is going on inside of my head and heart. Y’all I am heartbroken. I am sad for our country and I am sad for our citizens. I am sad that I have to look into the eyes of a room full of 9 year olds and try to explain why grown adults behave in such horrid ways. I am sad that my adult children are completely disillusioned by our world, when they should be beyond excited and full of promise for the lives they are beginning.

I look at pictures (I did NOT watch the news broadcasts at all – I just couldn’t) – images of hate and anger between human beings – between fellow Americans, and I am sad. I know that I keep repeating that word, but I cannot find another way to share my heart. I hurt for all of the hate in the world.

Y’all – we need Jesus. Just Jesus. We need to love like he loved. We need to be His hands and feet in the midst of all the brokenness. We should be sharing His good news with people who are in such desperate need. And here’s the thing… we need to stop seeing SIDES – this group, that group, them, us, red, blue, black, white – and start seeing people. Jesus died for us ALL. He loves us all. Those climbing the walls and breaking the glass. Those defending building from intruders. Those inside conducting the business of the country. And yes, those spewing evil and hate in the crowds. HE LOVES US ALL.

We need to learn to love like Him.

Put on Love

Anybody else struggle each morning deciding what to wear? Standing in the closet and staring at the same clothes has become part of my morning ritual. Not sure if I think the choices will be different from one morning to the next….like some magical closet fairy will come in and replace my old boring choices with new, exciting ones overnight! Making a decision about what to put on in the morning is just one of thousands of choices we have to make in any given day. One of the most important ones, though, is the choice to love.

We have five children. Our oldest is engaged to be married in a few months – and while we still guide him and coach him through life, he is out living his life and making his own choices. Our oldest daughter will be 20 soon, and is pretty much in the same boat. She goes to school full time and works, and the way that we parent her has shifted to more of a guiding role. Our youngest three – all girls – are still very much in the need-to-be-parented stage. Two of the three are teenagers. And let me just say that they are very good at it. Some mornings, I get an eye roll before I have even spoken. We love all of our children unfailingly and unconditionally. But some days…well some days, they are hard to like. Some days their words can hurt. Some days their lack of words can hurt. These are the days that require us to put on love.

“Above all, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” Colossians 3: 14. Paul doesn’t simply tell us to love. He knows that sometimes loving others must be an active, conscious choice that we make. And sometimes, that choice is hard. Sometimes that choice feels impossible. This is why he instructs us to put love on. To make the decision to love another – even when the alternative choice might be easier. God has been working on my heart in a big way when it comes to this kind of love. Specifically when it comes to raising our teenage girls. Putting on love means that I don’t always have to “win” the argument. I don’t always have to have the last word in a situation. For me it means that I humble myself and put on love – even when I am hurt. God is showing me how to love them through all of the spats and hormones and moods – to make the choice to love even when it feels so hard.

Here’s the thing, I cannot love like this on my own. This ability to put on love, in spite of what I might be feeling in the moment, comes from above. Jesus was the perfect example of this kind of love. He is my pattern and He is my strength when I just can’t do it on my own. The choice is mine, but the love comes from Him.

Zach

77251012_1068918693440446_4906038921999155200_nThe oldest of my five kids is Zach. He is finishing out his senior year at Otterbein University in Columbus, Ohio. I am quite certain this is not how he envisioned his final chapter of school going. Zach played football for the Cardinals, so during the fall I got to see him every single weekend – and it made my momma heart happy. Since we have all been under a stay at home order, I have not been able to see him. Many days I wished more than anything that he was here with the rest of us – to share in all of our family time. I know that he is with his own little family – his amazing girlfriend, Katie (superhero nurse), and their dog (my granddog) Archie. I know they are safe and happy – but I sure wish they were all here with us!

I wrote a poem about Zach when he was 12 years old. While so much has changed about my “little man” in the last decade, so much still remains the same. Here are those words from his childhood.

Zach

They call him
Mr. Intensity
On the field

But it fits
Him
In every way

He is passionate
And intense
Emotional and loyal

The kind of personality
That draws a crowd
And then entertains them

He is tender
And caring when
No one is looking

He will have his
Heart broken
Many times

But it will not
Change his intense
Caring nature

He is my
Little man
Zach

Zach is now a grown man who has not lost his intense, caring nature. He has survived a few heart breaks, and has found his forever love. He set goals and accomplished them. I know in the big picture, everything will be okay. But it’s hard to know he’s missing out on the end of college the way he had it pictured – saying goodbye to friends, parties, graduation, etc. But I also know that he is going to continue to do amazing things with the life he is building. And through it all, he will always be my Zach!