Category Archives: Spirituality Slice of Life

I Never Noticed


I recently drove by the prettiest tree with green leaves and purple flowers. Then, I saw the same type of tree everywhere – in my neighborhood and in the landscaping in the parking lots at Alex’s karate studio, Target, and office buildings. I’m sure the blooms won’t last long, and the trees will simply be green for the rest of the summer, but for the time being, they’re gorgeous. This is our seventeenth summer in North Texas, and we’ve lived in the same house and city the entire time. It’s not like the trees are new because they are tall and mature. And yet I’ve never noticed this type of tree before now, but once I saw them, I couldn’t unsee them. 

At first, it bothered me that I’d been so unobservant. I couldn’t understand how I’d missed them. Was I so distracted I didn’t see beauty in front of me? Was I so busy or stressed about other things that I was unable to “stop and smell the roses” so to speak? But then, I reframed the situation. Maybe if after all these years, I could find something previously unnoticed that now brings me joy, then I might discover other opportunities to notice things that I haven’t yet identified in nature, in my community, and in the people I know.  

During the Covid lockdown in the spring of 2020, we obviously spent a lot of time together as a family with Ben working at home and the kids Zooming in for school. During that time, I realized that my son Clay, who was 10 at the time, was much more laid back than the rest of us. I’d assumed that we were all high strung and anxiety prone as that was my frame of reference, but because we were together as a family 24/7 for months, I saw his personality in stark contrast to his siblings, Ben, and I. Clay had an innate ability to let things roll off his back. He didn’t get as upset or worried as the rest of us. He didn’t have strong opinions on what we ate or what movie we watched. I felt like a bad parent because I hadn’t truly grasped his easy-going traits before then, but once I saw and understood his way of being, I couldn’t unsee it. Instead, over the past three years, I’ve been highly cognizant of his personality and have made sure we press him for his opinions at times so that he feels seen and heard. 

While I’ve felt some distress for not noticing things that perhaps should’ve been more obvious to me, I’ve decided to focus on the beauty inherent when I notice things for the first time. If we remain open to learning new things and willing to let go of our assumptions about situations or people, we may find our hearts and minds expand. We can better appreciate the true essence and authentic nature of the people who fill our lives with meaning if we allow them to show us who they are.

I’ve taken a bunch of pictures of all the purple flowered trees I’ve seen in the past couple of weeks. In part to capture their beauty, but also to remind me to be open to the beauty that can catch us by surprise and teach us how to see with new eyes.   

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?


Earlier this year, we were leaving my son’s high school basketball game after a loss when someone ran into the back of my van. Of course, I was immediately mad, threw the car into park, stepped out in the dark, and slammed my driver’s side door behind me with quite a bit of force. I started to walk to the back of the van to confront the person who’d hit me when I heard a voice say, “It’s me.” I recognized the person who’d hit me as one of our fellow basketball parents and a friend of ours. Instantly, the anger left me. “Are you okay?” I asked, now worried about my friend. Thankfully, we were all fine. I told my friend, “I hate that this happened, but since it did, I’m glad it was you.” I trusted him and knew he would make sure my car was fixed.  

This semester, I took two back-to-back classes in which we studied the Biblical prophets. Some of the prophetic readings were tough and disturbing, but the themes that arose most prominently for me were that God wants us to care for the oppressed, needy, and poor. God wants us to seek social justice. God does not want us to worship wealth and power. Jesus also followed the prophetic tradition in his teachings about how to treat people and his actions toward others, especially those who were marginalized. At one point, Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment. “Jesus answered, ‘The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.’” (Mark 12:29-31).

Love God. Love your neighbor. Sounds easy. But I’ve been thinking about my reaction to the rear-end car incident. I was so angry and ready to give a piece of mind to the other person until I recognized that person was my friend. My reaction in that situation was not my best. I think I may engage in that type of behavior more than I care to admit. I don’t always recognize people as my neighbors right off the bat. When I encounter people whose beliefs diverge from mine or who live different lives than mine, I may see them as “other” instead of my neighbor. And I may keep them at arm’s length so that I don’t have to accept them as my neighbors. 

I think our human nature is to distance ourselves from anyone who differs from us. Fear and self-preservation may cause us to act defensively. When we don’t move beyond our initial assessment that another is different from us, we most likely will never consider them our neighbor. We won’t consider them part of our community. We won’t see them as God’s beloved children. And when we don’t see others as our neighbors, we may fail to help them in their times of need or when they are denied their rights leading to oppression. By denying them as our neighbors, we fail to do what God asks of us. 

My neighbors aren’t just those who are already my friends. I need to remember that everyone is my neighbor even though that may be difficult at times. God expects as much. 

To Celebrate or Not?


The day of his fifth-grade Celebration of Learning, aka “graduation,” Alex was emotionally tied in knots before school. First, I didn’t have his usual breakfast food available. I don’t know how I messed up the grocery run that week, but I didn’t have either of the options he normally wants. Then, while I was trying to talk him into eating something, he insisted that he needed to put on his nice clothes before I thought he should. I didn’t want him to get food (not that he wanted to eat what I’d offered) or toothpaste on his clothes. He kept saying, “I can’t be late!” Ben and I reminded him that he’d never been late for school. I said, “This is supposed to be fun. It’s a celebration.” Then he exclaimed, “Not all celebrations are fun!” And I felt that in my bones. 

When we prepare to attend a big event, I often feel anxious because of the logistics, like what to wear and how to get there, including directions, traffic, parking. The anxiety that accompanies the anticipation of the event can make it much harder to enjoy the occasion once I arrive. I need to really settle in and calm myself to be present for the performance, game, or ceremony. Of course, that assumes that the people around me won’t talk through the event if they’re supposed to be quiet, won’t stand in front of me the entire time, or launch their phones high in the air blocking my view. And those are the times we are just going to something that someone else has planned. 

When I plan or host a gathering, the stress can be almost overwhelming. If it’s at our house, we must clean and declutter. The areas of the house that need improvement become glaringly obvious. I have friends who are wonderful hostesses, they can pull off a dinner party with a beautiful homemade meal without breaking a sweat. That is certainly not my gift, and I admire those who make it look easy. 

While Alex’s comment that not all celebrations are fun resonated with me, it also made me reflect a little deeper. Do I allow my anxiety to deplete my joy? Do I focus too much on the negative so that I leave little room to celebrate? The answer to those questions is a resounding yes. But as demonstrated by Alex, there’s both nature and nurture involved in this situation. He and I have a bit of a genetic predisposition to worry. Okay, more than a bit. Let’s just say, Alex comes by it honestly.

So, what are we to do? Instead of just giving up and giving in to our natural tendencies, I realized that I could work on the nurture part of this dilemma for Alex and I. When we have an event to attend, I need to be more aware of how I approach it. I can pause before I get worked up in anticipatory anxiety. And if I can do that better, maybe Alex can also feel better about upcoming events. Perhaps I should focus on the reason for the celebration instead of the issues that might arise. If I can keep the happiness of the occasion in the front of my mind, maybe the logistics and my concerns will take a lesser position on the anxiety spectrum.

Celebrations are supposed to be inherently happy. Marking an important or special occasion may not ever be completely stress-free for me, but I’ve decided to try and concentrate on the joy for myself and for Alex. By the way, we both enjoyed his graduation – after we got through the anxiety hurdles. Hopefully next time we can move toward the fun with fewer obstacles, especially the ones we create for ourselves.   

Enjoying the Ride


Last summer, I felt nervous about my daughter Riley leaving for college after her high school graduation. The anticipatory anxiety was overwhelming at times. A year later, she’s completed her first year with flying colors, and the guys and I had a great year at home. Even though I was consumed with worry before she left, everything worked out just fine. I am proud of how all of us adjusted and thrived. Then, the other day at church, while I was holding my son Jed’s hand in a prayer circle for the 2023 seniors, tears started to prick my eyes. Jed is going to be a senior in the coming year. Because we’d made it through Riley’s senior year and freshman year of college, I lulled myself into thinking it would be a breeze next time. And while it may be easier because I have survived one child leaving the nest, I now realize that I will still ride an emotional roller coaster with Jed as a senior. 

Life is like that sometimes. We think we’ve got it all figured out because we’ve been through something similar previously. But then what worked with one child completely backfires with a different child. We think we’ve anticipated all the things that can go wrong and have prepared for all contingencies but are thrown for a loop of epic proportions. We believe we’ve worked through an emotional situation, only to have a song or memory fell us with a flood of tears. 

When I was helping Riley move out of her dorm recently, her best college friend Julia and I were talking when she said her high school volleyball coach used to tell them that progress was not linear. Athletes may enjoy a good streak and then have a terrible game. That didn’t mean all their training and advancement were lost. It simply meant they had a bad game. 

In our lives, we may be on an uphill trajectory but then take a dip before we again proceed upward. Of course, trusting that a step backward is merely part of the process and not a devastating failure is easier said than done. I find that I both overanalyze my negative emotions and try to avoid them at all costs. I also tend to blow them out of proportion as opposed to giving them their proper place. Making a mountain out of an emotional mole hill is my expertise. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I need to practice allowing and accepting my emotions as they occur. Then, after I’ve permitted myself to experience those emotions, I can decide if I need to give them more time and attention or chalk them up to a temporary downturn.    

So, as I face the start of Jed’s senior year, I’m going to try and hang on as we ride the nonlinear roller coaster with its scary parts and exhilarating portions knowing we will make it through it all. I can’t avoid the tears, but I will attempt to enjoy the ride.

P.S. Right before I posted this, Jed came in from his last day of school and said, “Well Mom, I’m a senior in high school. Only one year left.” And I burst into tears.  

Dear Corbell Elementary,


In August of 2009, my oldest child started kindergarten at Corbell Elementary, and since then, a Carter kid has been at Corbell every single year. Riley just finished her first year in college, Jed is completing his junior year of high school, Clay eighth grade, and Alex fifth grade. Alex will move to middle school next year, which means that our time at Corbell is coming to a close. I hadn’t thought much about it until I went to parent open house this spring and it came up over and over. I found myself getting teary. Fourteen years at one school is a long time. I’m pretty sure that next week at fifth grade “graduation” those tears will fall, so during this teacher appreciation week, I’ll say thank you to the people that have made this place so special for our family. 

My children learned so much in elementary school. That seems obvious, but the day-to-day work teachers put into helping my kids and all the other kids learn is monumental. When one of mine couldn’t quite grasp reading, we were worried. His teacher whom we’d had for another of his siblings identified this issue as well and got him the help he needed. Two years of daily dyslexia lessons later, he can read and read well.  I thank God that we attend a school with the personnel and the resources who saved him from years of tortured learning and the low self-esteem that would’ve resulted. This is just one example of the immeasurable support and encouragement this community has given my family. 

One of the greatest features of Corbell is staff consistency. We’ve known some of the teachers and staff for years.  A couple of the Specials teachers have probably seen a Carter kid once a week, every week for the entire time we’ve been there. When I see teachers that the kids have had in the past, they always ask how the kids are doing. They are always amazed at how tall the kids have gotten and are proud of all they’ve accomplished. The love the teachers pour into their students does not end when those kids leave their classrooms but follows them throughout their lives. 

During the last fourteen years, teachers have had to take on burdens we couldn’t have anticipated. The sheer number of school shootings has made active shooter drills a part of their daily existence. I’m glad my children know what to do and where to hide at their schools but am deeply grieved that this knowledge is necessary. We journeyed through Covid together when we left school for spring break and didn’t return that school year. The teachers had to pivot to teach via Zoom and create online assignments. My appreciation for them deepened as this experiment in homeschooling went on for months. I don’t know how or why only three years later, teachers have become political targets for doing their jobs and trying to do them well. I trust the teachers who are educated on how to educate children. I stand with them. But I hate that the pressures on teachers and school staff have increased dramatically in our years in elementary school. I want them to know we see them and that we know they should be paid more and given more praise at the very least. 

I could go on and on about the wonderful attributes of the people who make up the heart and soul of Corbell. They have blessed us more than they’ll ever know. Over the years, I hope we’ve shown them a small modicum of how much we love them. Because we do – we love you, Corbell. And we always will. 

Seeking Reassurance


My thirteen-year-old son Clay is the most laid-back member of our immediate family – by a mile. But the one thing that really bothers him is the thought of eating expired food. I don’t think he’s ever had food poisoning or even eaten anything that tasted bad because it was past its prime. Maybe the root of his concern comes from watching me check the dates on items at the store before I buy them. For whatever reason though, Clay consistently checks expiration dates on food before he eats them. In his quest to make sure he only eats unexpired food, he pulls a snack out of the pantry and then asks one of us if the date listed on the package has passed. On most occasions, Ben or I usually respond sarcastically saying something like, “Of course not, it’s May, and the expiration date is not until June. Don’t you know the months of the year?” This went on for a while until one day Clay said, “Can’t you just tell me yes or no without riding me about it?” 

At first, I thought, no, I’m your mother and need to make sure you know the days and months of the year! Then I realized, he’s thirteen and a straight A student, he knows how to use a calendar. He doesn’t need a time calculation tutorial. Instead, he wants reassurance. He wants to know that we prioritize his safety and protection. That we won’t let him eat something hazardous or do anything harmful. And that in seeking that reassurance, he won’t be shamed or harassed. I felt bad for having made a big deal out of a simple question.

After that realization, I endeavored to listen to those around me with a different perspective. When my ten-year-old Alex told me that a boy purposely hit him in the head with a ball at school, I asked if he told a teacher. He said no, and then asked, “are you mad at me?” No, I replied, but my face must have looked otherwise because he asked, “Are you sure you’re not mad at me?” Part of me wanted to say, why would I be mad at you when someone else hit you? But I reframed my exasperation with his question because he needed reassurance. I replied, “No, I’m not mad at you. He shouldn’t do that to you.” He needed to know that he was not in the wrong. That it was not okay for someone to mistreat him.

We all need a little reassurance from time to time. We need to know someone cares about our well-being. We deserve to feel worthy. We need to trust that if we reach out for help, we will be met with love and protection. And since we all need that type of reassurance, we need to keep that in mind when another asks us for that same care and love. We may have to answer questions that seem obvious to us: of course, I love you; of course, I’ll help you; of course, I’ll come when you need me. A small answer can be big to those seeking reassurance.  

Now when Clay asks if the food is expired based on the date on the package, I don’t harangue him anymore. I simply answer yes or no. It’s an easy way to give him the reassurance that we all need.  

A Simple Prayer


My ten-year-old son Alex and I waited for the show to start. The whole family had traveled to see my daughter Riley dance in her end-of-the-year college recital. She was cast in three pieces, including a solo, which was a huge honor for a freshman. I confessed to Alex that I was nervous for her because it was such a big deal. He told me he was nervous too and that he’d said a prayer. Loving that he’d said a prayer for his sister, I told him that I too had said a prayer. Then Alex said, “I prayed that Riley kicks ass.” I nodded and tried not to laugh. “Good prayer,” I said. After Riley completed her solo, dancing beautifully, Alex held up his hands in the dark for a double high five. Now we could breathe easier and enjoy the last fun and upbeat number of Riley’s dances.

I realize some people might be taken aback by Alex’s prayer – keep in mind he is the youngest of four siblings – but I thought his prayer was awesome. He felt comfortable enough in his relationship to God to just say what he was thinking and feeling. He wanted his sister to do well and be strong and confident. He didn’t edit himself or try to make his prayer sound pretty or ostentatious. Simple and direct, that’s what he expressed. He invited God into the situation and asked for help for another. In doing so, he also calmed himself because he was sharing his anxiety with God. 

As adults, sometimes we get tripped up making prayer complicated because we believe it should be time-consuming and high-minded. We fail to pray because we think we don’t know how to pray. We choose not to pray because we are mad at God about our circumstances and think we shouldn’t express those feelings. We don’t think God is willing or able to be involved in our lives in the present, so we don’t bother. 

I have a friend who is going through some tough stuff right now. She said she thinks her mother is upset with God. I totally got that because as a mama bear myself, I’d rather go through the fire than watch one of my children suffer. And I know that will continue far into their adulthood, just like her mom. My response to her: God can handle it – all of it. The seeking, the pleading, the rage, the desperation. God is present even when we choose to ignore him. Even when we are so tied in knots, and we cannot express ourselves at all. It’s okay to pray in short bursts, through tears, or in screams. We don’t need to censor our emotions. Honesty is important in relationships and that’s no less true in our relationship with God. The old adage “give it all to God” is true in my opinion – give it ALL to God, every single thought, word, emotion. Period.

My friend has a long road ahead of her. We’ve already started praying, and we will continue to do so. But I think I might just adopt Alex’s prayer for her too. Irreverent – perhaps – but she and I have that kind of relationship. And I know God understands what I mean when I pray, “God please help her kick ass.”    

Turn the Lights On


We have a complicated relationship with the lighting in our home. There always seems to be a light fixture that doesn’t work somewhere. I think if we called the electrician out to fix a light every time one broke, they would constantly be at our house. So, our strategy is to wait until we cannot stand it anymore and then call someone to come help. My husband Ben reached that breaking point recently after our garage light and the lights in both of our closets had been out for months. The electrician came, changed out the old fixtures, and voila, we had light. But I found myself going into the garage and still walking in the dark to the refrigerator where we keep our sodas. Instead of turning on the light, I automatically fell into the habit of fumbling my way to the fridge. The new light made the old patterns obsolete. But I was so accustomed to being in darkness, I didn’t take advantage of the new opportunity to light the path in front of me. 

Sometimes, I do this to myself in life as well. I’ll make progress on a problem or situation that’s been bothering me, but instead of embracing the relief from anxiety, I continue to worry and obsess. I wander around in the darkness because it’s comfortable and familiar. It’s easy to fall back into the way things have been instead of fully plunging into the way things could be. Or my brain starts looking for another source of concern to replace the old darkness.

Recently, I read a book titled, “Relationship OCD” by Sheva Rajaee, MFT. She noted that anxiety does not just go away after we begin implementing recommended strategies that help us deal with anxiety. When we’ve become better at handling our regular sources of anxiety, “anxiety is left to search and scan, looking for something, anything at all, to rile them up, no matter how redundant or ridiculous it may be.” She named this the “lighthouse effect” for the “searching and endless seeking beneath the stories our anxiety tells us.” 

When “lighthousing,” the brain spins and when it does not locate a familiar source of anxiety, we might have the “urge to attach a story, any story to the feeling of anxiety and the threat it produces.” It sounds backwards, and maybe it is, but the author stated as we become more conscious of this phenomenon, “you’ll begin to notice that not all anxiety has a reason to be there; not every feeling means there is an actual threat.” She also explained that as you learn to cope with anxiety, “you don’t need to demolish your lighthouse; you only need to recognize when its frantic searching captures your attention or tries on some new, shiny piece of content, and then gently disengage.” 

When I feel my chest tighten – my body’s signal that anxiety is on the rise – I revert to old stories or find new sources to explain the anxiety I’m feeling. Instead of a lighthouse, for me, it’s like I’m out in the dark garage with a flashlight looking for the next subject to analyze and fixate on in order to explain my anxiety. Through therapy and medication and this latest book, I continue to make efforts to detach from my anxiety. Instead of staying in the dark garage where anxiety can grow and thrive, I can try my hardest to turn on the lights and live a little easier. 

“You Go, Girl!”


I was watching my favorite morning show when a woman came on to discuss useful products that the viewer could get for discounted prices. The skinny, well dressed, tan woman then said, “I’m a mother of four, and every Sunday, I cook all day for the week ahead.” And I said, “oh, shut up.” Out loud and to myself because I was the only one home. I thought something like, well, I’m a mom of four and go to church every Sunday, lead youth group every other week, and also take a nap when I can. The disdain I felt for this woman I didn’t know was rapid and intense. The level of dislike I felt kind of startled me. 

But then I realized I’d encountered a similar issue recently. My husband Ben was an early follower of Iowa point guard Caitlin Clark. He’s watched her for three years now, not like the new fans she found in the recent NCAA Women’s March Madness. I, on the other hand, have not really been a fan of Clark’s. Intellectually, I know Ben loves great basketball, and he admires her skills.  It’s not like she’s a supermodel posting bikini pics on TikTok. She’s just really talented and brings intensity and passion to the game.

 During the NCAA tournament, though, I realized I was jealous. Jealous of a 21-year-old young woman in another state who can play basketball. Jealous of the tv lady because she seemed so organized with her family and career. And then I felt guilty. I pride myself on being a supporter of women. I’m supposed to champion women’s successes, especially when they break into male dominated fields. My 17-year-old son Jed even suggested that women’s sports are not as popular because women don’t want to watch women play. He might be right. Because it’s hard to watch and cheer when you feel that spark of jealousy flare. 

I can support all women in theory, but in reality, I struggle with it. I have all sorts of signs and quotes that I’ve collected extolling the virtues of women’s empowerment. “Her success doesn’t lessen yours.” “Women support women.” I talk a good game but my follow through is less than perfect. 

I’ve tried to teach my children that we can’t necessarily control our initial thoughts about a situation, but we can manage and improve our reactions after the first one passes. So, I need to work on what I do after my jealousy shows up. Instead of feeding the jealous thoughts, I can step back and remember that my goal is to encourage women, not tear them down. And thankfully, I have a husband and sons who will call me out when I’m not being kind to other women. Feminism is alive and well at my home. I just need a reminder sometimes. 

The Unworthy


Easter kind of snuck up on me this year. I didn’t have Easter baskets ready or a plan for our Easter meal. I had a dress but realized I needed a pedicure. All first world problems I know and trivial in the grand scheme of things. Not really in keeping with the true spirit of Easter – cue the same lament that Christmas usually brings. But the pedicure got me thinking about Jesus choosing to wash the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper. 

As a reminder, Jesus gathered with his twelve disciples for the Passover meal. By this point in the narrative, Jesus knew that the authorities were seeking to silence him and that his death was the most likely result. Later that night, he would be arrested, tried, and sentenced to death. Before the meal though, he filled a basin with water and got on his knees to wash and dry his friends’ feet, a task usually reserved for the slaves of the household because people’s feet were filthy from the dust and lack of foot coverings. In so doing, he demonstrated once and for all servant leadership. When Jesus attempted to wash Peter’s feet, Peter refused saying the Lord would never wash his feet. Jesus replied, “If I don’t wash you, you can’t be part of what I’m doing.”  

Peter, never one for nuance, responded, “Not only my feet, then. Wash my hands! Wash my head!”

Jesus said, “If you’ve had a bath in the morning, you only need your feet washed now and you’re clean from head to toe. My concern, you understand, is holiness, not hygiene…” Jesus continued, “So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do.” (John 13:1- 17 (MSG)).

Peter argued with Jesus about washing his feet because Jesus was his Lord, and he didn’t want Jesus stooping to such a low position. Peter didn’t feel worthy. And he wasn’t. Peter didn’t deserve to have Jesus wash his feet, none of the disciples did. But I wonder if part of Peter’s protest was rooted in his experience with Jesus. If Jesus performed an act, he was probably going to turn around and tell his followers to do the same. He’d previously commissioned the twelve to preach and heal people. Maybe Peter was thinking “not again.”

Because if Jesus took the position of a servant that meant Peter would have to act as a servant to others who didn’t deserve it. Jesus commanded servant leadership for Peter and for us too. And that is not what we usually want to do. We can be judgmental in determining who we believe does or does not deserve our help or mercy. We pick and choose. But I’m confident Jesus was telling us that the choice is not ours to make. 

It’s easy to skip straight from Palm Sunday’s celebration when Jesus entered Jerusalem to Easter morning when Jesus was resurrected. We don’t like to linger in the tragedy of Holy Week or Jesus’ gruesome execution by the authorities. But when we spend time with Jesus and his followers in the days leading up to the crucifixion, we see that one of Jesus’ last acts was serving those who were unworthy. We are unworthy as well, just like Peter. We don’t deserve the grace Jesus freely gives to us. But Jesus showed us how to love by serving others, deserving or not. Jesus wants us to extend grace to others because he extended his grace to us first. When we find ourselves sitting in judgment of others, may we remember Jesus on his knees with our dirty feet in his hands.