Category: Gratitude

Create Your Own Sunshine

 

 
 
SHADOW GIRL
One day the sun will kiss your face
One day your body will not ache,
A day you won’t need to run away,
Yes, there will be a day.
A day you stand in the light,
A day you will chase the sun,
A day when all will be made right,
A day we’ll stand in the light of the son.

I met my close mom friend for coffee. My two-year-old daughter was in tow, and her eighteen-month-old son was her debonair date. We rioted the local hipster coffee shop, our toddlers climbing on the benches and shouting, as we collected skeptical glances from the Chapman University students with their laptops, sipping macchiatos and balancing oversized spectacles on their baby faces. The entire cafe let out an exhale as we got our coffee to-go, herding our rambunctious kids outside along with our oversized strollers. It was a cloudy morning, which meant I could actually enjoy a casual stroll outside—like a normal mom and her normal little girl.

My daughter has a condition that means she cannot be in direct sunlight. Even with the cover of clouds, we have to protect her from too much UV exposure. We use hats, UV clothes, sunscreen, and parasols, but when she is having a flare up—even all of those precautions don’t always prevent her from getting a painful rash on her face, elbows, hands, and knees.

But this Fall day, we felt normal, walking beneath the protection of clouds, we felt free from the burden of hiding. My friend and I talked freely. The kids chased each other. Smiles were contagious and laughter came easily.

A couple hours later the sun peaked out, reminding us our precious morning was ending. I put my daughter in her car seat, and decided to drive around the down town area so that she’d fall asleep. As I began our drive, my daughter complained that her fingers were hurting. Our morning outside was having its effect. As my daughter quieted down and gently gave in to sleep, I let my mind wander to the sad thoughts I usually avoid. My daughter would never feel the warmth of the sun on her face, without it hurting her. The realization stung more than usual. Tears blurred my vision, and I blinked to let them roll boldly down my cheeks.

I paused my car at a stop sign, and looked up to see a white church sign with big block letters. “CREATE YOUR OWN SUNSHINE,” it read. The intersection was empty, so I grabbed my phone and snapped a picture. I knew it was a photo I would treasure, a story I would tell my daughter about one day.

In life we will all face limitations. Whether its the form of disabilities or disease, mental illness, grief, or the eventual effects of age—life eventually presents struggle—seen and unseen, that influence our every day lives. Sometimes we are born with our limitations, sometimes they show up and surprise us one day in a diagnosis. Whether its something we’ve lived with for a lifetime, or a new normal, there will be days when the loss will surprise us with a sharp new pain. As we live day by day, hour by hour, our limitations present themselves in new challenges that we don’t always anticipate. Sometimes its the same old challenges that suddenly wear a hole in our hearts like the toe of an old sock.

Our greatest fears and vulnerability loom beneath the surface of our imagination like a monster under the bed, making us want to run and hide—or hang our head in shame.

But when we face the limitations forced on us by a world we can’t control, we can stop, and look up and see the challenge of each new day: “CREATE YOUR OWN SUNSHINE.”

Pain and suffering leave gaping holes in our hearts and lives. Our limitations will taunt, accuse, and challenge us to believe that we aren’t whole. But maybe those holes can be the place where God plants the seeds of sunshine.

The sun rises each new day. The son rose after three days of darkness. When this life weighs down on us with its demands and limitations, when we feel like we have to hide in the shadows, or feel too weary to get out of bed, we can look up and see the Son.

The Son takes our weakness and shame and makes us whole—the Son shines hope into this dark world. We hold out His grace in our tired hands, like the shining sun that lights us up, from the inside out; and in his hope and promises, we can “CREATE OUR OWN SUNSHINE.” A little light that promises hope in hurt, a grace shaped love that keeps our hearts beating for more.

 

 

Finding Your Way

(the verse above was written and given to me in a collection of verses from the teachers at St. John’s)

FINDING YOUR WAY

If you don’t know which way is up or is down,
When emotions are whirly twirly around
and you can’t choose your left or your right.
Let love be your compass
Let love be your light.

Take a deep breath,
You don’t have to hurry,
Just think loving thoughts,
It untangles the worries.

People will fill up your ears with bad news
Sometimes they’ll tell you that life is a bother,
They’ll try to convince you that your way’s not right,
But fill up your chest with a breath and a sigh,
And talk to God, Let Him lead, not your pride.

God made you to be who he made you to be,
Not Cooper, or Eva, not Hannah, not me,
Your heart knows the way, cuz God’s voice is inside,
Keep moving forward, one step at a time.

Do the next right thing, and the next, and the next,
When you go bit by bit, you don’t have to be vexed.

Your heart knows the way,
You’re never alone,
Close your eyes tight, and pray ,
Let love guide you home.

Get Back Home

We are living in an apartment as our house gets remade. But as the walls are rebuilt in our home, its within the four walls of this small apartment that I’m learning how to live again. You see I’ve been so concerned about what I want to do with my life that I’d forgotten the importance of who I already am. Sometimes we have to relearn the basics. 

As I curl up on an unfamiliar couch in an apartment full of borrowed furniture, my words curl around me like a blanket as I reread an old manuscript I had tucked away and forgotten about. I read the things that had first helped me to find my writing voice. Things about how to be a mom and still find myself at the same time. Words that somehow gave voice to the constant stone at the pit of my stomach, and the little question marks that constantly buzz like unfinished thoughts in the back of my brain.

I had discarded these stories as postcards of my past, as I fixed my eyes on bigger goals. But life’s unplanned challenges have humbled me. Like wiping away the layers of makeup before a mirror, I’m remembering what I really look like.

In the background the lyrics of an old song hums a familiar tune,

“Once, there was a way to get back homeward
Once, there was a way to get back home
Sleep, pretty darling, do not cry
And I will sing a lullaby”

As ironic tears line my cheeks, I realize I’ve taken a long, hard journey home. I’ve circled back to me- to that unmasked face in the mirror. A face that is creased with a few more crinkles in the corners of my eyes, but those same green eyes and freckles look back at me honestly. I wish I could explain to my teenage self how the soul doesn’t droop and sag like skin. Although my skin betrays me to be 33, my soul still feels smooth and bright, like an unweathered stone.

As I read the words from a girl who didn’t know the pain that I know now- its easy to think I knew little. I was naive and optimistic like an eighteen year old that doesn’t think the sun will leave a lasting mark. But in a season when I’m jaded and lost, these words from my past are as green as the grass I lain in to tell stories from the clouds. Green like the crab apples we’d pick from the mushroom shaped trees in Apple Hill. Green like the sweet peas I pureed to create my first homemade baby food.

As the landscape of my life shifts, cracks, and droops I remember that my soul is still planted in the same small hole. Each word I write, read, pray, and speak are like buds of life that spring forth from that same unmovable place.

When Bree was two, she would put her shoes on the right feet. I watched proudly thinking somehow she’d learned her right from her left. At four years old though, its a guarantee that her foot will find the wrong shoe, even when I  set them in front of her the right way. Today, I just watched my 21 month old, Elyse fit her little feet in the proper shoes, while Bree waddled out the door again like a duck, toes pointing in opposite directions. I realized that sometimes the right thing comes naturally.

As I assert my own knowledge and independence, I go through a season of getting things backwards too.

I dream that someday I will be a writer and speaker, but the truth is that the important tending needs to happen in the little circle of soil that holds my soul. From that small, sacred place, God can bring forth life that can bear fruit and shade. But its in the dark hole where He does the work that matters most.

Curled in the dark, like a womb, a waiting place, I wait for God to do His good work in my heart. I pray that He will grow me into a tree that stands tall, but more important, that I have solid roots like fingers always reaching back home.
“The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.” Isaiah 40:8

Loved over Perfect

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I want to walk the fine line of perfection.
I want to be one way- until I lean too far in one direction, and then I overcorrect, leaving me dizzy with indecision and insecurity.

They call it happy medium, like there’s a measurement that amounts to that, but I’m realizing that its a constant balancing act. The moment I think I’ve got it down, my illusions comes crashing down as I face my false reality.

I think this is a dance we do as parents, as spouses, as kids, and at work, with our friends and even with people we don’t really like. Pretty much, as humans, we can try to walk life’s fine lines.

As I look at the scattered pieces of false realities and loose ends, I’m challenged to look at the fragmented beauty right in front of me.

Shakespeare writes in As You Like It, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” He asserts with bold certainty that life is scripted and predictable, as we continue to go through the same lines and choreographed movements like a carefully directed play.

But God gave us free will. He gave us the ability to move and speak and choose as we wish. When we choose the right thing purely, its beautiful and organic, and right. When the right thing is forced it rings false,
like a dripping sweet compliment or a forced apology. And that is why God made us people that are freed by his love, that freely choose to love.

Love isn’t a carefully marked path, but a stumbling journey of trying, and failing, and keeping on moving, even if you don’t know if you’re going in the right direction. The life that God calls us to isn’t a pin straight line of truth, but blind steps of trust and obedience. Never as a mere pawn or player in a prewritten play, but gentle steps that unfold our own stories.

These stories aren’t measured by their perfection or our performance. No, these aren’t stories reviewed by critics or competing to be on a bestseller list. Each story is God’s love story to us. As we fall, and get back up, as we doubt, and trust, and hide and seek, and find, our stories unravel into a picture of forgiveness, of redemption, and of imperfect progress.

I will never walk the tight rope of perfection as a mom, as a wife, a friend, or any person. So instead of training my steps to fall in perfect line with who I think I should be, I land in the soft place of grace, where I am restored and reshaped. Instead of placing impossible expectations on myself, I can live loved. Loved by God, loving myself, so I can pour love into the world around me. Because when I’m loved, being perfect doesn’t seem so important.

“Come, Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy, never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it
Mount of Thy unchanging love”

How to Be Content

BE

“Dove,” she crooned in her sweet baby voice.

“What? Dove? No, what did you say?”

“Dove, dove, dove,” she insisted, pointing at the mantel above the fireplace.

I thought my 18 month old daughter was pointing to the small wooden bird standing there beside the carved books, shaped in the letters “B,” and “E,” for each of my daughters. But, was it possible? I don’t remember even showing her a picture of a dove, and for goodness sake, wouldn’t she just say bird?

She was getting frustrated now, gesturing wildly, and saying the word again and again, gaining more and more confidence, “Dove, mommy. Mommy! Dove!” 

I stood and picked her up, carting over to the direction her chubby finger pointed. I left some distance from the bird, to see if she chose it herself. She lunged with open hands toward it, and so I plucked it from the shelf and handed it to her. She cradled it and gazed at it lovingly “:Dove.”

I could have missed it. This gorgeous moment with my daughter as she dazzled me with who God is creating her to be. I could haver hushed my baby’s persistent babbles, and swept her up to rush her to bed, and misplaced this moment like a doll’s lost shoe. For some reason, tonight, I lingered, and witnessed a fragile miracle.

Earlier as I sprayed and wiped my counters as my girls busied themselves with preparing a meal in their play kitchen, I prayed out loud, “God show me where you want me to be. There are so many things I love and long to do, but I want to be present with what you’re asking me to do right now. If its being the best mother and wife I can be, then help me to find joy and fulfillment in that.”

You see friends, I’ve been falling into the trap of gazing at other people’s grass. I want to do something impactful with my life. You know, something with a flash and a bang. Lately I’ve been thinking if I didn’t have the responsibilities before me, then I would have time to do something, more significant. Cringe. It sounds worse on a page before me, but sometimes I need to face my ugly truths to be delivered from them.

We all long for significance. To be known. And often in our culture of mega blogs, self publishing, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, we think the way to prove our worth is to be known by a thousand of our closest friends. We have platforms, and events, we want more likes, and shares, and followers. Church ministries count the number of heads to measure impact. We want to be fabulous, popular, right, knowledgable, and valued instead of simple, humble, open, seeking, and small. But when we look to be known in the way our world packages it, we can miss being known by the person right in front of us.

Life on life, hand in hand, sip by sip, we find that the heart of what we really crave is in the sweet moments wrapped in friendship, and motherhood, lost in moments we rush by looking for the next best thing.

This afternoon I met a friend for coffee and told her secrets. We watched our kids dig in the dirt and plant imaginary seeds.

I came home and danced with my girls. Watching Elyse learn to move again is a tiny wonder. Bree copied my goofy dance moves and helped me make waffles for dinner. 

And each moment was significant. It was beautiful, and small, real, and meaningful.

I long to be known, but then, time and time again I hear the dull thump of a hollow dream as God reminds me that nothing else but Him will fill me. 

The dove is in the story of Noah’s ark. It returns to Noah with an olive branch to show him that there is dry land. The dove represents peace to show God’s reconciliation with man after the flood. The dove is also the form the Holy Spirit takes over Jesus during his baptism in the Jordan. A dove could be another bird, but in the Christian faith, it isn’t. Its because of faith, that we see something more- we believe in more.

Elyse could have seen a bird but she didn’t. In a simple wooden bird, she saw a dove. I could chalk this up to a weird coincidence, but I don’t. I see my baby girl reminding me that I am already known, and I see God using a simple moment, to remind me that He is in our midst- among clumsy ballerinas, golden brown waffles, and a carved blue and red dove- perched beside the word “BE.”

Just This Once

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Just this once,

We’ll lie here nose to nose,
Until thoughts give way to dreams,
And your rhythmic purr hums like a lullaby.

Just this once,
We’ll ignore the light that peeps through the cracked curtain,
Our bodies curved in a sleepy smile,
As daytime waits for us to stretch and yawn.

Just this once,
We’ll trade our plans for thick batter and crackling eggs,
Your bare tiptoe feet pattering against the tiled floor like clumsy ballerinas,
As dirty dishes pile contentedly beside the growing stack of hot pancakes.

Just this once,
We’ll wear our messy hair and crumpled pajamas,
Dressed perfectly for the warm glow of dusk,

As day succumbs to night for another lazy slumber,
When long days pass quickly through tiny childlike fingers.

Just this once,
You’ll be this small,
So we’ll treasure these small moments,
before they slip away.

Giving up on Success

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Today I look around my house at the endless list of things I could do. In this sacred solitude, I feel a magnetic guilt that pulls my mind to the undone tasks. It takes a resolute decision to take a precious moment to fix myself a bialetti coffee, poured in my gold stamped, “blogging day” mug, and position my fingers to dance over my keyboard.

I wonder if it is the plan of the enemy to persuade us that doing things we enjoy is frivolous, rather than a necessary art. After all, what better way to render us useless than to keep us from dancing, relishing, and celebrating life? When our lives become about duties, tasks and responsibilities we become like the machines we create; designed to respond to programming rather than human emotion. But when we feel, react, and challenge, thats when we go from crowd pleasing to head turning.

Machines don’t start movements, write poetry, embrace for sheer pleasure, create out of enjoyment, stand still just to feel the wind on their face; and machines certainly don’t dance. Dancing is far too frivolous for the serious business of a machine.

I’ve been in a season of asking a lot of questions. Questions put us on uncertain ground, but yet, nothing is more certain than an answer. An answer is a challenged truth. A truth that has been tested, evaluated, and proven true.

Recently I keep asking myself why I do what I do? Why do I blog or write a book? Why do I read? Why do I lead Bible Study or moms group? Because, none of these things are within my realm of responsibility. They aren’t my job and they don’t fall under my duties as a wife, or mother, daughter, sister, or friend, so why do them? And once more, does my doing them really matter?

When people ask me “what do you do?” I feel like I’m supposed to only include the things I do to make money, but honestly, those aren’t really the things that make my fingers buzz with joy.

I think that in this age we have confused careers with callings.

I don’t make money writing about God. I aspire to become a Christian author, but if a wild haired man climbed out of a shiny metallic time machine from the future and told me, “You will never make a dime as a Christian writer,” I think I would keep it up anyway. Why? Because human hearts aren’t programmed to produce- God made us in His image to create.

When we define success by popularity, paychecks, and position, in order to live in bigger houses, to do more work, and please more people, we will always come up short, or at least, the satisfaction is fleeting.  

T.S. Eliot was quoted as saying about the radio, “it is a medium of entertainment which permits millions of people to listen to the same joke at the same time, and yet remain lonesome.”

Maybe success is the medium by which we all try to listen to the same joke. We all pretend to smile, and laugh, and get it, but deep down, we’re all aching for something more; never really feeling like we’re hearing the same joke as everyone else, or maybe everyone else just has a betters sense of humor.

Success tells me I haven’t arrived, but when I create, I’m there in that moment, living my calling. I think if each of us took a little more time making less money and enjoying what we’re really good at, doing that thing that makes our bellies feel warm and our feet tingle, well I think we would all feel more human, in a really good way.

The day that I write in order to achieve, more than to create, is the day I should stop. Because there is nothing I can achieve in this world that has more value than my Creator. And by His Spirit, I pray that these humble words I type don’t just achieve human success, but touch human hearts.

 

Wasn’t I Made for More than Dirty Dishes?

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“We were made for more than just ordinary lives. Its time for us to more than just survive. We were made to Thrive.” Casting Crowns

Today I have felt itchy. 

Not the kind of itch thats relieved with the good scratch of untrimmed finger nails, but an itch that feels like a buzz under my skin. A holy discontentment that I can’t summarize with words.

For part time work I write ad copy. My job is to make things appealing and relatable with words. So while doing my real life job as a stay at home mom, I keep my creative mind busy turning over words and ideas, to craft something new and unexpected that convinces you life is better with (fill in the blank). Sometimes I get so wrapped up in my work that I begin to believe I need to do more, or be more to have a better life.

January has been a slow month for work, and my mind feels restless. Like a bored cat pounces at a bright ball of yarn, my unoccupied brain takes my fears captive, pulling out threads of worry and insecurity.  

When I don’t have an assignment to write, my time is freed up to blog, or write that book I’ve been dreaming about. I’m without excuse….And now…I find myself without words.

When I haven’t written something in a while I begin to wonder if my fingers still know what they are doing. Will I be able to sit before the bright blue tiles and string together a story, or poem, a blog post, that summarizes all of the joy and love; all the uncertainty, doubt and fear that twists and pulls and tugs in a confused jumble of bright emotions in my heart? Will my words still be enough? Will someone be able to really see the real me so that I can be known? I begin to believe the lie that who I am is what I do. Its what I write, its the money I make, its what I look like, or the kind of mom I am.

In my itchy, wordless, weary place I read His word:

“His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his delight in the legs of the warrior;
11 the Lord delights in those who fear him,
who put their hope in his unfailing love.” Psalm 147
“1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcomea it.” John 1:1-5
“14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

As a writer I wrap my identity up in the words that I write. But then God Himself is the Word.  My own words are just a mirror to catch and reflect His light. God doesn’t want my pretty package of words, He delights in my reverence. His word reminds me that my identity can’t be written with my own two hands– no, I was made for more than anything I can create. 

If I try to follow the script the world writes, then I will never be enough. Even if I sacrifice my life to being enough, there will always be more to do, accomplish, earn, and achieve, like the incessant stream of social media updates that hunger for attention.  My worth is reduced to the next best thing. 

But then God delights in those who put their hope in His unfailing love; a well that never runs dry. A horse and a warrior will cripple with age. My words will get lost like the hundreds of unread books that sit on my shelf. But the Word who is God and spoke this spinning ball of an Earth into existence; yes the word of God that made darkness, light, and life, breathes life into my lungs, His Word reveals my purpose and Who He created me to be.

When I get itchy under my skin I think its my soul feeling how ill fitting this flesh really is. Its my heart longing to just sit at His feet and weep and laugh and rest. I get so tired of being the daughter of the one true king, deeply loved and divinely called, and yet burdened with dirty dishes and hungry mouths, with unpaid bills and unmowed lawns. I want to shout to the world about God’s love. I want to see hearts healed and lives transformed, I want to usher in God’s redemption and grace and embolden other women to let their blood burn in their veins for Him too.

Then I remember that Jesus took on burdensome flesh too.

Divine God took on human inconveniences like eating, washing, and sleeping. Jesus, Son of God, God Himself, made His dwelling among us so that He could know the discomforts of human flesh.

He came to bring us a hope that burns brighter than this pale human world- He came to be among us, and remind us, that we’re not of this world. So that we can remember that who we are isn’t wrapped up in human flesh. Its not wrapped up in the things we do in this world. We were made for more. We are clothed in Christ, Word made flesh, who exhaled, “It is finished.”

God, who submitted Himself to us, so that we could be His once and for all.

Christmas Blues

 

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My daughter was playing with the felt heart on our advent calendar. She held it up, closing one eye to inspect it in the ray of sun filtering through the window.

“Look mommy, this heart means love.”

“Yes, because love came down at Christmas time.”

“Where is love Mom?”

“In Jesus”

“But how can I see love?”

“Hmmm…I see love in the Christmas tree we put up together. I see love in the pictures of us on the wall. I see love when I look at you. Can you find love in this room?”

“I see love in the water in that cup on the table.”

“Why is that?”

“Because we need to drink water to live…right mom?”

“Absolutely.”

The conversation I had with my three year old reminds me that I’ve been going through the motions of Christmas, but I’ve been forgetting the most important part, the love. 

As a busy mom, I can go half the morning without downing anything but black coffee. My body eventually reminds me it is desperate for water, with a foggy brain and pulsing pain at my temples.

I’m terrible at drinking quickly. If I was ever challenged to a chugging contest, I would forfeit, because, my body doesn’t even know how.  Chugging hurts my throat and makes me feel suffocated. So, when it comes to water, I’m forced to drink it slowly, sip by sip. 

Love slows me down too. When I live in love, I sip up each moment with relish. I don’t realize how desperately I needed it until I start to take it in.

Its easy to go through the motions of Christmas without the feelings. Sometimes we hope that the feelings will catch up somehow. We can feel dried up and numb of emotion, or flooded with unexpected melancholy and sadness. Its not always easy to teach our heart to feel the right emotions- it can misbehave like an unruly child. But love is patient with us. It sits there and waits like a glass of water on a table, ready to be picked up and sipped in.

Jesus didn’t wait for ready hearts to come onto the scene. He certainly didn’t wait for a room twinkling with candles and strung up with garland and lights. The stars and stable were enough. Announcements didn’t go out, Bethlehem was busy and bustling with a census. No, shepherds and livestock would do as an adoring audience. He surrendered himself to the care of a scared new mom who cried out in pain and felt the sharp sting of love mixed with uncertainty and fear, pure awe and wonder. Jesus came down as love that first learned to breathe, and suckle, to eat, and toddle, walk and talk and live as our flesh.

So easily, I simplify love as the warm fuzzy feelings. I want to wrap Christmas in tinsel and tradition, and happy thoughts, but the truth is Christmas is about a Savior who patiently endured pain and struggle to be among us. True love is enduring the good and bad, and the tedious to be with someone. Love is waiting and walking alongside someone. 

I can find love in decorating a Christmas tree, or the happy snapshots of memories as a family. But my daughter reminds me that its in everything. Its in shedding tears as you say goodbye to your brother, or dad, and hold out the hope that one day you will share a table with them again. Its in watching those you love grow older, its in forgiving, and washing dishes, in sitting with the pain of loss and still getting up to make breakfast for the family. Love is quenching our thirst, our need for more than what this world can offer. Love waits for us patiently. It puts on our flesh and learns to walk with us. Yes, love comes down in an infant, is lifted up on a cross and buried in the earth. Love rises again, to draw us home. Love sustains, it fills us up, it overflows and it quenches our thirsty souls. Love makes everything complete.

 

 

Gratitude is a lot Like Raspberries

 

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I hesitate to take the thin plastic container from the fridge. I bought them for eating, but then there’s the matter of rinsing them clean. They’re not always the easiest fruit to snack on either. Somehow my kids find a way to spread the pink juice on their fingers and around the corners of their mouth. My grown up toddler smashes them on her tray and then runs her sleeves in it.

Raspberries. They’re even spelled differently to emphasize their explosive nature. They look like innocent pink clumps, but under a bit of pressure they burst. Eating them is a sensory overload of texture and taste. Tart, sweet, crunchy, juicy, messy…yes…raspberries.

This morning as my kids popped them in their mouths, pleasure spreads like gratitude, all over their hands and faces…

Finish reading this post over at Fresh Hope for Mental Health!