Solidarity, Moms: Less Is More

Every April I can smell it.

Summer.

It’s coming and we are always ready and waiting.

Honestly, we are pathetic these last months of school. We’ve carefully counted up our missed days and tardies and we are barely gonna make without a truancy officer at our door. We stopped our second grade reading log weeks ago (she sadly discovered the Diary of a Wimpy Kids series and although I hang my head in shame, she’s reading like a champ!)

I’m longing for pool baths (you know what I’m talking about, good moms bring shampoo to the pool, moms like me let the chlorine do its magic), sleeping in until after the sun comes up and swapping the Netflix password for reading time from my kids (insert wicked laugh).

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I don’t know about you, but some days I feel the pressure to never let my kids down, to parent “the whole child” with excellence, to always be fair, and provide for their every want and pack up summer with All The Fun. Our culture has been sucked into perfect parenting deception. And every Spring, I sort of panic and evaluate how I’m doing.

I’m pretty sure I already told you guys that when my youngest discovered the secret stash of baby books, it didn’t take long to realize hers was 1/16 of her siblings. I had been tucking pictures and cards into the book for years thinking I’d get to them some day. She’s 8 and “someday” never came. She seemed pretty disappointed, especially that the “first haircut” envelope in her baby book was empty. So one day while she was at school, I did a manic scrapbooking session and glued like a wild woman. I guessed at weights and heights and dates on all the first. I mean, it was correct, but I was there, so there’s that. It was hardly creative memories-worthy, but it would work. I had it all figured out except for the haircut thing. So, while my school-aged kid slept, I snuck in her room and snipped a lock of hair and put it in her book and acted like I found it in my secret hiding space.

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It turns out I’m quite convincing. If that doesn’t make you feel better about your mothering today, I don’t know what will.

At the risk of sounding like a really bad mom, more and more I want to give my kids less in life. Because in a lot of ways, it is giving them more:

1. Less structured play and scheduled time: Last week, my younger two used a hammer, some string, a rubber band and nail to make an instrument in our Mercy House building after they tired of helping me paint. It was a night of imagination and it was awesome. Even later on, when my second grader’s said “instrument”  left a small gash in her head. It was fun after the bleeding stopped. Just ask her. Of course, some fun leads to lessons about swinging sharp objects . I love summer because it lends itself to more unstructured time. My kids thrive on free time and it seems so limited the rest of the year. Let’s choose to resist the pressure to fill All The Hours with things to do. Some of my favorite moments are when I can’t find my kids in the house. They are sprawled on a chair reading or tinkering in the garage. Or you know, finding their imagination.

2. Less focus on themselves and more on others: I want serving others to be so ingrained in my kids lives, they don’t even know they are serving (or mind it). Putting others before ourselves isn’t hard when it’s a way of life. But it is more challenging to complain about all you don’t have when you’re face-to-face with someone with a lot less. I believe every North American needs a regular dose of perspective. The best way to be thankful for what we have–is by serving someone with less.

3. Less of me making everything all right: I packed my second grader’s lunchbox a couple of weeks ago without a lunch in it. Her teacher called me from school. I felt terrible about my absent-minded mistake. It probably wouldn’t have been that big a deal, but I also forgot to wait on the porch when the bus dropped her off a couple of days before (she’s working through some fear issues about us not being there, even though I was just inside). It was a good reminder that mom isn’t perfect and that even though she doesn’t mean to, she occasionally lets people down. We can’t always make everything perfect for our kids. Some days life happens. When we fail our kids (and we all will), it’s a great time to remind them of One who will never let them down.

4. Less of me fixing their problems: There’s this overwhelming temptation to protect my kids from failure. There are things I could “fix” that would reduce their disappointment and defeat in school, sports and well, life. But often we learn the most through natural consequences, losing and falling flat on our face. I remind them of forgotten lunches and notebooks for a season, but sometimes letting our children face the consequences is helping them more in the long run. We can’t always keep our kids from failure, but we can help them overcome it.

And so I say solidarity now, moms.  We are imperfect, messy people with dirty floors and two-day old pony tails. We don’t have it all together, but we love our kids and most days, that’s more than enough. We are doing just fine. And if we can remember to throw in one or two of these things, we might just make it to summer.

The Beauty of Giving Away What We’ve Been Given

A couple of weeks ago the GPS led us to end of the road.

To a sea of white sand and rolling turquoise ocean.

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We were a few sandy steps away from a beautiful home, ours for the week.

As we explored every corner of the ocean oasis, I was overwhelmed at what we’d been given.

The way the sun hit the pale yellow walls and beckoned us to relax.

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I can’t remember ever needing rest more, craving stillness.

Quiet.

I thought of the generous family who gave two weeks away -one to raise money for Mercy House and one to our family. “It is all for Him.  We are just stewards of His great grace, mercy, and provision-  so thankful,” and with these gracious words, she handed us the keys.

The guest book written with notes of thanks indicated they give away what they’ve been given. Often.

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I think it’s where heaven and earth meet-the crossroads of giving away what we’ve been given. Blessing others with our blessings. When we do this, we glorify God. When we give away what He’s given to us, we bless the Giver.

As I sat in solitude and listened to the waves hit the rocks, I wondered at what I’d been given.

So much. 

And I asked the hard question: Am I giving it away?

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Yeah, money and stuff but more than that- gifts that God gives us. Gifts He wants us to share.

Hospitality because we love having people in our home. Dinner for neighbors because we love cooking. A home for a child because we have more love to give. Encouraging others because we can. Serving someone in need. Giving our time, our money, ourself away…

Look at your hands. What has God placed in them? 

What are you holding today?

We might not all have beach houses to give away.

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But we have something.

And it’s beautiful when we share it with others.

Getaway To Austin, Texas: Part One

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Groupon Getaways for IZEA. All opinions are 100% mine.

We picked up our kids straight from school at 3pm and hit the road for our local Groupon getaway.

It’s a little less than a 3 hour drive to Austin and our son was shooting the Texas Indoor Archery Championship at University of Texas at 6pm.

That’s how we roll.

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We  sat in the collegiate range for a couple of hours and he shot his personal best! A couple of people down from Olympian Vick Wunderlee. It was awesome.

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While the boys shot day 2 of the tournament, the girls and I explored this beauty in Austin. The Omni Barton Resort we found on the Groupon Getaway site is a sight to behold:

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We explored the vast and spacious property, ate delicious breakfast burritos and drank cappuccinos in the quaint on-property coffee shop. It was the perfect leisure morning.

When the guys returned by noon, we were ready to explore more of Austin. We found a food truck park and everyone split up and tried something new. I had spicy thai noodles, Terrell and Madi ate different versions of tacos, our youngest had a hamburger and the archer ate his fill of wieners. It was a breezy day and perfect outside eating weather.

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We spent the rest of the day exploring local thrift stores. There are dozens in the city and they definitely add to the funky feel of the city. We were hunting for some small fixtures for our new Mercy House warehouse and found a couple of good deals. But the antique chicken coop wouldn’t fit in our car. But we tried.

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We also visited the cool Tom’s store on the main drag and got a lot of great display ideas, including this huge chalkboard wall map. We spent a lot of time on South Congress, one of the main roads in Austin. One of our favorite stores was Ten Thousand Villages, which offers fair trade product from all over the world…right up my alley. We also enjoyed Uncommon Objects. Talk about weird.

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We ended the night eating at a local hotspot and ate fancy. It was a restaurant featured on the Food Network. We always check the app in whatever city we’re in and try to discover delicious unique food.

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We might have even cropped our kids out of the picture and pretended we were on a date. Don’t all moms and dads do that on Groupon Getaways?

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And The Destinations Are . . .

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Groupon Getaways for IZEA. All opinions are 100% mine.

 

After dinner one night, our family did something spontaneous. We made a list of all the places we wanted to travel to before our kids leave home.

That was four years ago.

We debated and narrowed down and the final list was amazing and crazy. It was audacious. We didn’t talk about how our family would travel to Paris, Hawaii, Colorado, New York City, Washington DC, the Grand Canyon and other amazing places.

But that didn’t stop us from dreaming. Since we started Mercy House in 2010, we’ve had the opportunity to travel to Africa periodically and we fell in love with traveling and exploring together.

One by one, we are marking destinations off the list. We won’t see them all, but we will see a few. (One way we save? We label empty water bottles with destinations and tuck every extra (and unexpected) dollar we can spare into the bottles. It’s taken years for some trips, but it’s slowly working).

When Groupon asked if we wanted to take a local and an out-of-state getaway, we jumped at the chance.

For our local getaway, we scoured the Groupon Getaways choices and tried to narrow down them down. Texas is not only huge, there’s so much to see and do. We’ve spent time in Galveston and we love the hills of San Antonio and the plains of West Texas.  Sometimes the most beautiful places are right under our noses. We just have to get in the car and go find them.

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We ended up picking Austin, Texas. There’s so much to see and do there and we’ve never taken the time to fully explore it, even though it’s only three hours from us. We also wanted to do our part to help keep it weird.

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Our son had a chance to compete in the Texas Archery Championship at University of Texas, so we thought it would be a great family getaway. On our list for the weekend: hunting down great thrift shopping and eating at out-of-the-way local restaurants.

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Plus, food trucks.

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Groupon makes it super easy to book a getaway with just a few clicks. You can just add your location and dates of travel and search dozens of destinations. The easy-to-understand layout of the pages allows users to easily clock on calendar dates for the vacation that you want. Plus, Groupon’s discounts can’t be beat.

For our out-of-state trip, the choice (and debate) was extensive. Our kids saw snow last year for the first time (yes, poor Texas children) and a restful snowy mountain getaway sounded appealing. But we also wanted the chance to see, explore and learn about a new city.

Our second grader has been studying US history and she said, “I need to see this.”

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Washington DC won!

Besides getting as close to the White House as possible, we can’t wait to explore the Smithsonian, all the government buildings and Eastern Market. We’ve also heard there are some amazing places to eat and trying new places is always an adventure.

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I can’t wait tell you more about our trips for #MyGrouponGetaway!

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That Thing You Can’t Let Go Of

Four years ago, we sat in a warehouse-turned-coffee shop and had a heart to heart. Terrell and I were visiting one of our favorite Texas towns and we stumbled upon the quaint shop. The walls had pallets hanging on them, holding fair trade product from around the world. I bought a few Christmas gifts and we sat down to enjoy a cup of coffee.

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This is what I want to do, he said.

I looked at my husband like he was crazy. Mercy House was only a year old, he was working 50+ hours a week as a sales rep and I was juggling family, writing and the new non-profit. We were overwhelmed.

Even with all these reasons, I heard something in his voice I will never forget: It was the sound of a dream being spoken aloud. And I know how much courage that takes.

Yeah, it was a cool place, but it was more than a global marketplace and a great cup of coffee. It was hope and opportunity for the countless women it empowered.

Fast forward a couple of years.

I was having a hard to sleeping. Again. What is it God? I whispered in the middle of the night. That was the first night I was burdened to create jobs for impoverished women. It didn’t make sense-this tangible intangible, this whisper in the night. I argued How am I supposed to provide jobs for women? I’m in over my head with my yes already. But I held onto the words.

Because I couldn’t let them go.

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You may know the rest of the story. A few months later, I visited an apartment complex in the heart of my city and started helping refugee women make product. I didn’t really relate it to creating jobs for women at the time. It just felt like obedience. But then Fair Trade Friday was born out of our vision for Mercy House and now with over 1200 members a month, we are providing jobs for many, many impoverished women all over the globe.

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The tiny building on our backyard that has housed Mercy House product and an office quickly filled and we added more shelves and volunteers actually had to move boxes into my yard just to fill orders. Product began to fill our garage and dining room. For months we carried thousands of fair trade items to my church every month for volunteers to pack monthly boxes because we needed the space.

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On the way home from my parents house one night a few weeks ago, I was feeling a little discouraged about our space problem and I passed a sign for a building lease. I picked up my phone and called the number. It was a Sunday night and the owner answered. He just happened to have a warehouse space for a rental rate so low I had to have him repeat it a couple of times. The building isn’t fancy (at all), but it has enough room for us to pack our boxes, house volunteers, have an office or two and a retail space.

Sometimes signs really are a sign from God.

As we scrubbed and painted and prepped our warehouse last week, Terrell stopped and pulled me close.

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This is what I saw all those years ago.

I hadn’t thought of that little coffee shop in the middle of  Texas in years. But I knew immediately what he was referring to. I nodded my head yes.

It was this place.

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I don’t know what you can’t let go of today. But can I encourage you to hold onto it?

God speaks in the dark of the night. He whispers a word, maybe two. He gives us a glimpse. He plants hope in our heart. And it may take months or years or a lifetime, but when God speaks, he will make a way. We might not know when or how or who, but He is faithful.

Don’t let go.

 

[If you’re local to North Houston and want to come  volunteer or help pack our monthly boxes, we’d love to have you! You can learn more here. Or if you’re just in the neighborhood and want to come shop, we’d love that too!]

 

What They Don’t Tell You About Raising Kids

I spent five long years trying to become a mother.

And I’ve spent the last fifteen trying to be a good one.

Raising kids is probably the most important thing I will ever do. But I didn’t get educated in a classroom or with a how-to manual; I learned on the job and mostly by making mistakes. When they wheeled me and my new baby girl out of the hospital to join my husband who was pulling up the car, I remember hesitating and looking at the nurse nervously. She patted my back and whispered, “You will do fine.”

For our first hour at home as a family, we sat across the room and stared at her, while she slept in her carseat.

We were terrified she would wake up.

We were terrified she wouldn’t.

That sort of sums up my parenting experience so far–What if they do? What if they don’t? Will they? Should they?

I have second-guessed and been given second chances. I have marveled at all I didn’t know and been amazed at what I learn every day.

They didn’t tell me the sleepless nights of pregnancy were a foreshadowing of the next 18 years.

They didn’t tell me the deep-breathing was for more than birth.

They didn’t tell me about the first set of stitches or the second. Or that I would get woozy every time.

They didn’t tell me that I would want to give my kids everything, but that I mustn’t.

They didn’t tell me how hard it would be to say no, but I must.

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They didn’t tell me I would watch my heart get on a school bus.

They didn’t tell me I would long for school to start as much as I long for it to end.

They didn’t tell me there would be math. Lots of math.

They didn’t tell me about the first time my child would hurt my feelings.

Or how angry I would feel when someone hurt my child’s.

They didn’t tell me how I would ache to fix their problems.

They didn’t tell me I would fall into bed physically exhausted when they were little and emotionally drained when they were older.

They didn’t tell me I would give up something I love, so they could figure out something to love.

They didn’t tell me I would yell.

They didn’t tell me I would laugh until my sides ache.

They didn’t tell me I would cry myself to sleep because of something they said or worse, because of something I said.

They didn’t tell me my son would call me in the middle of school today and ask to go home early because he is grieving his beloved archery coach’s terminal diagnosis.

They didn’t tell me I couldn’t make some things better. Or how badly I would hurt when my children do.

They didn’t tell me how hard some days would be.

They didn’t tell me how fast it would go…

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They didm’ tell me how much I would love being their mom.

They didn’t tell me all these milestone and phases for one reason:

There is joy in discovering motherhood –the beautiful and broken days– for ourselves.

One day at a time.

For the Days (And Weeks) When Everything’s A Mess (Including You)

How is everything? 

It was a sincere question from a dear friend.

We stood in the small Mercy House building that sits in my backyard and there was barely room to turn around, as we unpacked product from around the world.

I immediately thought about my filthy floors just a few steps away in my kitchen begging to be swept.

And the laundry in various stages throughout the house and the dirty dishes in the sink and the clean ones in the dishwasher.

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I thought about the bills that needed to be paid and the taxes that needed to be filed and my cluttered closets and the boxes of stuff still waiting to be donated. I needed to go the grocery store, I thought, before I tackle the rest. But we have after school practice and Fair Trade Friday packing and . . . I don’t even want to think about upstairs. My mental To Do list grew by the second and I took a deep breath.

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I assumed she was really asking about the crazy-busy week I was living, but all I could think about was the chaos and my first world problems.

I tugged on the headband covering my graying roots and I said, “Everything is a mess.”

She smiled, relieved to hear honesty, I think.

“Yeah, everything is a mess,” I continued. “My house, my car, my pantry, my garage, my hair, my life.  Do you ever feel that way? Like some days you’re on top of the ball and other days you’re under it?” I asked.

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She nodded her head, “Yes! I totally get it. I have entire weeks like that”

I immediately felt better. Honesty will do that for you. So will community.

And then she added, “How can I help you?”

Oh, friends.

When we let down our guard, we can let others in.

When we let people into our mess, they don’t point and judge at our disorganization or dissatisfaction, they help us clean it up.

We talked awhile about what I could to catch up and mostly rest.

Because it wasn’t so much my surroundings that were messy (although they were), it was the mess in me. The unsettled I can’t do everything, but I need to do everything vortex I get sucked into.

When I got home, I didn’t tackle one thing on my list. Instead I went and got a massage.

And I let my friend do my dishes.

I thought about my time, how to best use it, what was sucking it. I shared my thoughts with my husband later and we formed a plan to tackle some of the chaos.

But mostly, the messes are still here and there. (The sink does looks better and I made a hair appointment).

What really changed was me.

I realized all the other things in our home and life piled up because we were focusing on what really mattered more: people. 

Because really all those untidy places are just proof that we are living.

So, I’m determined to tackle a pile when I can, but I won’t hate the mess. I’ll try to look for the beauty in it.

I Want My Daughters To Know What A Real Woman Looks Like

I waited until she came into my bathroom like she does most mornings before school.

“Here honey, let me help you,” I offered as I handed her a hair brush. “Hey, so I heard you were on a diet,” I said in a light-hearted teasing tone and I waited for a response. My friend had told me about our daughters’ conversation about dieting at school the day before. They are both second graders.

“Oh, I was just kidding, Mom,” she assured me.

I figured as much, but I pressed in, “You don’t need to be on a diet. You know that, right?” Lately, at 8 years old, I’ve noticed she cares a little more about her hair and what she’s wearing for the day.

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“I know. But I do need to eat healthy. You tell us that all the time,” she had me there.

I thought of all the eating out we’d done on our weekend getaway and the Valentine’s candy and her sweet tooth and those same words that had come out of my mouth. “Yes, but healthy eating isn’t dieting.”

We talked more about good food choices and about all our favorite desserts. It wasn’t an hour later when I read that girls as young as 5 years old are concerned about body image. And why wouldn’t they be with only perfect bodies, long thick hair, and clear complexions gracing every magazine cover at the grocery store? “I think there’s a lot of talk about teens and body image, and many parents become aware of that when kids hit puberty, but kids as young as 5 are already expressing a desire for a body that is thinner than their current self or future self,” said Seeta Pai, vice president of research for Common Sense Media and author of the report.

I thought about what I’d seen the day before at the Honor Roll Breakfast at the high school my daughter attends. Terrell leaned over and said, “No wonder our daughter changes clothes so many times before school. Look at how these girls are dressed.” He was right, it was like a fashion show. And with it comes pressure to fit in.

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“It’s crazy how we’re so inundated with these images of perfection and … we’re teaching young girls that that’s normal. So people are growing up now with these ideas of how they should look,” said Juliana Lyons, “It’s setting us up to fail because we’re not perfect. We’re not Photoshopped in real life.” Juliana is a teenager who has recently gained a lot of media attention for a song she wrote called Beautifully Flawed saying just that.

I think that’s why I gasped and clapped my hands out loud when I saw the image last week of supermodel Cindy Crawford looking well, imperfect. The viral photo was controversial because some said it was leaked while others said it was intentional. Either way, it wasn’t photoshopped. It was the body of a real woman- a mom whose body bares the marks of pregnancy and change. It wasn’t perfect and that’s what made it so beautiful.

Instantly, when I saw it, I felt better about my own soft rolls and thick middle. There’s something powerful about showing what untouched photos of real women look like and it’s exactly what our daughters need to see.

Odds are they won’t see it in their favorite movie or on the cover of the popular magazines. That’s why we have to show our daughters what a real woman’s body looks like and be okay with it. That’s not to say we shouldn’t try to improve our health, but accepting and loving who we are and what we look like is a great start to improving our health.

There is a real temptation to hide our imperfections, to cover our ample areas, to talk negatively about what we don’t like in the mirror.  But when we are unhappy with our bodies and verbalize it, our little girls pick up on it. “Five- to 8-year-olds who think their moms are unhappy with their bodies are more likely to feel dissatisfied with their own, according to Common Sense Media’s report.

In our culture, it’s hard for them to decipher what is real and what is computer-perfect.

I usually duck when someone tries to take my picture and my tendency is to avoid public swimming and I like to have everything “fixed” before I leave the house. My daughters pick up on all of these things and I’m determined to do better.

My husband’s favorite picture of me–it’s on his phone and computer screen saver and he’s always referring to it, is one of me in Africa with wrinkled clothes and skin, without makeup, very dirty hair, sitting in one of the poorest homes I’ve ever been in. He says it’s real beauty, the kind that goes far deeper than what I’m wearing or how I feel about what I’m wearing.

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We need to rock that swim skirt like a champ and go ahead and feel good in our skin. Our daughters need to see our imperfections and our insecurities. They need to know that real women have blemishes and bloating and that real beauty comes from within.

Because a real woman doesn’t always have the perfect spring wardrobe or all the good hair days.

She doesn’t always cook gourmet meals or pass the white glove test.

She can’t always hide the crows feet or chipped toenail polish.

Sometimes she laughs loud and cries often.

She is imperfectly beautiful.

If you ask a small child who the most beautiful woman in the world is, they will often say, “Mommy!” Their perception of perfection hasn’t been jaded by media or culture. They are looking past the tired eyes, yoga pants and three day hair-in-a-bun. They see beauty in the small acts of service-the hug, the extra cookie, the bedtime story.

We should, too.

It’s a great way to show our daughters what real women look like.