Monday, December 12, 2011

Meet Our New Arrival: Joshua David!

It’s a long story, I know– but it was a long labor!

I began having contractions that were timeable and real (not random Braxton Hicks) on Friday, December 2. By Friday evening, they were averaging 4-5 minutes apart and 45-60 seconds long. And then… they pretty much stopped. I had a few here and there during the night and the next morning, and by Saturday afternoon they were becoming more frequent again. But again, they faded by the evening. Saturday night I slept soundly, and if I had any contractions through most of the night, I didn’t notice them.

On Sunday morning, I woke with contractions. “Here we go again,” I thought, wondering just how many days of prelabor I’d end up having. But a trip to the bathroom led me to believe that I might be losing my mucous plug– only it was greenish in color. This was something I hadn’t seen before. Contractions continued, and they were getting slightly stronger, but they were probably 10-15 minutes apart. Still, the color of the mucous plug concerned me a bit, so I went ahead and called Debi, my midwife. She reassured me that it was within the realm of normal, and she offered to come out to my house. I thought that sounded like a good idea. I also called my mom. I didn’t know if it was the real thing or not, but I knew I wanted her with me. Within an hour, she and my dad arrived; his job was to entertain Elijah and Isaac.

Debi arrived and checked me around 9:30. I was 4-5 centimeters dilated and nearly 100% effaced. She began unloading her supplies and equipment from her car, and it hit me that this really was happening. I was actually in labor. It was December 4, the due date. As my best friend said, that’s a little conventional for me. ;)

Things continued moving along very slowly. Contractions remained at least 15 minutes apart, and sometimes they came even less frequently than that. Throughout the morning and afternoon, I took a couple naps, walked around the neighborhood twice, sat and talked with everyone for a while, did hip circles on the yoga ball… and waited. My dad took the boys out to lunch and I hoped things would pick up while they were gone, but no such luck.

We made arrangements for the boys to spend the night with Clark’s dad and stepmom. After they left, probably around 6:00 or so, I began to sense a shift in my mood. I didn’t feel very talkative anymore, didn’t want many people around, and I felt the need to retreat within myself through contractions– which were becoming noticeably stronger and slightly closer together.

By this time I was feeling awfully discouraged.  I’d had a long, slow labor with Isaac, and I had really hoped this one would go quickly.  I began thinking that maybe contractions would stop yet again, just as they had on Friday and Saturday.  Perhaps I wouldn’t have a due date baby after all.
Debi checked me again around 8:30 and I was at 6 centimeters.  I felt so discouraged.  All those hours and I’d only progressed 1-2 centimeters?  She encouraged me to shower, to relax, and maybe get some rest.

I went to the bathroom to shower.  Looking back, I think I was rapidly hurtling into transition, but at the time I just felt miserable.  I cried in the shower and silently wished for pitocin to speed things up and an epidural so I wouldn’t have to deal with feeling any more contractions.  They were coming harder and faster; I had four of them during the time I was in the shower.

After the shower, I tried to rest, but a contraction soon brought me right back out of the bed.  I couldn’t sit or lie down; I had to be on my feet to get through them.  At this point, contractions became much more frequent and much, much stronger.  I leaned against Clark, swaying from side to side, breathing and groaning my way through each one.  Debi filled the birth pool, and I got in the water around 10:30.

At first it felt amazing.  The constant ache in my lower back was immediately relieved.  But then another contraction hit and I found  myself scrambling to find a comfortable position.  Between contractions, I was fine with leaning back against the side of the pool, but once a contraction began, I couldn’t stand to stay there.   I sat up straighter, supporting my weight with my arms, and swayed back and  forth.  Keeping my hips moving brought some relief from the stronger and stronger contractions.

They were coming quickly now.  After I’d had just a few contractions in the water, I noticed that my vocalizations were moving from groans to something a little more fierce and growly, and I began to feel like pushing.  I got out of the pool to go to the bathroom at Debi’s suggestion.  Once I was on the toilet, I very stubbornly refused to move for about three contractions.   I did not want to return to the pool where I’d had those last few miserable contractions, or even to the bedroom where much of this long labor had played out.  I was afraid of being told it wasn’t actually time to push yet, but I was pushing a bit anyway and it was such a relief.  So I just wanted to stay put.  Clark asked if I felt like pushing and I cried.  “I don’t know, I don’t know, I AM pushing some, it feels good to push.  I just want this to END.”

He pretty much made me get out of the bathroom and we returned to the bedroom.  I didn’t want the pool, so we got on the bed.  Another contraction, a little pushing, 9 centimeters but so very close to 10.  Another contraction or two, and I heard those beautiful words: push, give it all that you’ve got.  And I did.  The contractions were awful and I was so ready to push back, to get my baby out, to finally bring this labor to a close.  While I was relatively quiet with Isaac’s birth, I was not quiet with this one.  I let it all out; I moaned and groaned and growled and yelled this baby down and out.  At one point, in all my exhaustion and gripped by the start of another contraction, I yelled, “I HAAAAAATTTTTTE THIS!!”  I could feel the baby moving down low, and I felt stretched beyond reason.  Debi said she could see the baby’s hair.  And then his head was out.  And then, he was out.  “Oh, thank God!” I exclaimed.  Within moments, he was in my arms and I was telling him how happy I was to see him.

We have no idea when my water broke; this is a real mystery to me.  I never had a gush of water during labor, but Debi told me that when she’d checked me at 6 cm, it felt like my water had broken already.  That would definitely explain why the contractions were so much more difficult than the ones I’d had with Isaac!

After all that, he was indeed born on Sunday, just barely– at 11:48 PM.  I had gone from 6 centimeters to birth in about three and a half hours.  He weighed 9 pounds 8 ounces and was 21 inches long.  A big baby!  And a nameless one; he didn’t have a name until Tuesday afternoon, at
 which point we finally settled on Joshua David.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Letting Go of Fear

Near the end of pregnancy, I find myself working through a lot of anxiety. I have realized that I’ve been fearful of labor and birth because I’ve been thinking of it as something that will happen to me rather than something I will do. Perhaps it sounds like a subtle distinction, but it makes a huge difference in my thought process. Labor is not something foreign that will invade my body; it is my body.

The sensations of labor and contractions are not to be feared; they are simply muscles in my body working hard and doing precisely what they were designed to do. Even transition, that last bit of labor that so many women dread, is not something I need to fear; a transition is nothing more than a change, a shift from labor to birth. During that time, yes, the contractions become more intense, but that is because the muscles involved are working at their maximum capacity, getting that last bit of work done to open the way for the baby to be born.

Even though I have birthed two babies already, I needed this reminder. Labor and birth are natural, normal processes. Labor is hard work, and at times it is intense, but it is not something to fear or dread. And I do not need to fear that I am weak. The truth is, if my body is capable of doing something so strong and powerful, how can I possibly think of myself as weak? I remember very well the feeling of accomplishment when all is said and done, when I am holding my baby in my arms and feeling so strong. Birth is truly an amazing, transforming, powerful thing.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


I’m generally the type of person who prefers to have a rock-solid plan in place for everything. I like making lists and schedules; I like knowing precisely what to expect. I like feeling as though I have control over things.

But in the final weeks of pregnancy, I have noticed that I must learn to let go. The truth is, there really is very little that I can control. I cannot nail down a plan that gives me an exact date and time, and I have no way of knowing precisely what my labor will be like. You would think that I would feel very anxious when I realize how little is actually within my control, but the opposite turns out to be true. It actually brings me a sense of peace. I can let go. I don’t need to worry about making plans for every little thing. It’s okay if I don’t have the house perfectly clean and organized, or if I don’t have a bunch of meals prepared and frozen in advance, or if I don’t have every little detail all planned out. All those details that seem like such a big deal to my OCD self are really not that major after all, and becoming overly focused on them distracts me from the preparations that are most important–preparing my mind, body, and soul for the hard work and life-changing experience that is ahead of me.

If every square inch of my house is scrubbed and spotless… if I have enough meals stored up for several weeks… if I have a plan in place for every little logistical detail… but my mind and body have not been given adequate time to pause, relax, prepare, and find a place of peace, then I still haven’t accomplished what I need most.

And so I breathe. I pray. I identify my worries and fears, and I work through them. I focus on the beauty and significance of what is about to happen, of bringing a new life into the world, a new person to my family. I lay a hand on my belly and feel little feet pushing back, and I am awestruck by the realization that this new and unique little person will be in my arms soon.

The work of labor will be hard, no doubt. They do call it “labor” for a reason. ;) And while I cannot precisely plan how my labor will go, I can prepare my mind and body for it. I can breathe and relax, two major things that will help my body do what it needs to do most efficiently once labor begins. I remind myself that the sensations of labor, while strong and intense at times, are nothing more than a specific set of muscles in my body doing exactly what they were designed to do in order to birth a baby, and that my job is simply to relax and breathe in order to better equip my body to do its job. I work on releasing fear and tension because I know those things will make labor more difficult than it has to be. And I remind myself that when labor becomes hardest, that is a sign that it is coming to a close and that soon, so soon, I will be holding my baby.

But even when this pregnancy is over, I want to remember these lessons I’m learning about letting go. I want to live my life with less stress and tension over anxiously planning every little detail. I want to find a place of peace in my life where I am better equipped to focus on the things that really are important without getting dragged down by things that are often not within my control in the first place. I’ve been through several situations this year that have reminded me that I can’t control everything, and even though I’ve battled feelings of anxiety and depression as I’ve struggled through them, I get the feeling that I am coming out on the other side with a better understanding of patience, trust, and peace.

Monday, November 14, 2011


Every year, by the time September arrives, I am so ready for fall. Summer seems to have gone on forever, and I am desperate to feel the cooler air, see the colors in the trees, and hear the leaves crunching under my feet when I walk. I become impatient; the calendar tells me it’s time for fall, but it’s still so hot out that I eventually begin to wonder if fall will ever arrive at all. Every now and then, there’s a step forward, a sign that fall really is approaching– a few cooler days, perhaps– then we are back to summer-like weather. But gradually, so gradually that the distinction is hardly noticeable, the temperature begins to drop. Leaves here and there begin changing colors. Suddenly I need a sweater in the cool of the morning. And eventually, I find myself fully surrounded by autumn. After weeks of signs and gradual changes, summer is truly over.

That is how the final weeks of pregnancy feel to me, too. I am nearing the end; the calendar reminds me that the due date is approaching. Yet I am so very pregnant that it’s hard to believe birth will ever happen. I’ll see signs here and there, reminders that my body is preparing for labor, but, like the random cooler days that turn back to summer-like weather, none of it is labor yet.

But gradually, the signs will increase. Contractions will grow more frequent, closer together, stronger. The baby will settle into a perfect position for birth. Some of the changes may happen so gradually that I do not notice them at the time; others will be unmistakable. But eventually, I will find myself in labor, fully surrounded by the experiences and sensations of bringing a new person into the world. After weeks of signs and gradual changes, pregnancy will truly come to a close, and my baby will be in my arms.

As summer winds down, you never really know for sure how long it will take to truly settle into fall. And the same is true of the end of pregnancy. I know it is coming to an end, but from where I am now, I cannot know how much longer it will be. All I can do is relax, be aware of the little signs and changes, and rest in the knowledge that, just as surely as summer gives way to fall, pregnancy will give way to birth.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Where's the P-Ness?

In order to move forward in life, sometimes you have to be willing to loosen your tight grip on control and stop trying to plan everything out perfectly. Actually, I won’t speak for you, partially because I can only speak from my own experience and partially because it’s really irritating to try to write like that. So I’ll say it this way: I’m realizing that I need to stop trying to control and plan so many things.

I love personality tests. According to the Myers-Briggs test, I’m an INFJ. In case you’re unfamiliar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, this breaks it down pretty succinctly:

Introversion or Extroversion
Sensing or Intuition
Thinking or Feeling
Judging or Perceiving

While personality is what it is, I do think that at certain times in life, one’s personality traits can make things feel a lot harder (or easier). And right now, the J part of my personality is making things harder for me. I am at a point in my life where it would really be beneficial for me to be a more laid-back person. I have found myself hindered in so many ways by my desire to always have a specific plan laid out. And now I am struggling with the reality that there is a time to let go and see where life takes me.

The past few months have been a flurry of change, and so many more potential changes loom on the horizon. And the “must have a plan” part of me slips deeper and deeper into anxiety as I try to plan for everything, then depression as I realize I simply cannot make a plan for everything. So much of it is just “wait and see.”

I don’t think I can change who I am deep inside– but I do think there’s something to be said for the ability/willingness to adapt to the demands of life’s seasons. And right now, in order to move forward with less anxiety, I need to be able to let go a little bit and accept the fact that I can’t control all the things I desperately want to control.

So while I am quite sure I’ll always be an INFJ, I need some P-ness in my life. (I’ll give you a moment to say that out loud and appreciate the humor.) The J part of me can plan to be more flexible and less insistent upon control. It’s not authentic P-ness, but hopefully it’ll do. Fake P-ness is better than no P-ness at all, right? ;)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Third Trimester Thoughts

It seems that I’ve taken an unintentional break from blogging. I had a lot to say for a while, and then… I just ran out of things I felt like sharing with other people.

This is my third pregnancy, so at this point I can definitely see similar patterns in each of my pregnancies. It seems that I become very introverted during the third trimester. You see, I am already an introvert under normal circumstances, but it’s generally a nice, reasonable amount of introversion. What happens to me during my third trimester is something like extreme introversion. I become very guarded about who I share my thoughts with and what I choose to share. As much as I love the people in my life, too much interaction becomes utterly exhausting– and during the last few months of pregnancy, it honestly doesn’t take much interaction at all before I feel like shutting myself up in my house and being quiet for a few days.

Unfortunately, this means I don’t have the energy I would normally have for spending time with other people, or apparently even for blogging. I just want to be quiet and sort through things in my own head. At the same time, I dearly appreciate the handful of people in my life who have continued to communicate with me and ask how I’m doing. For people to care about me and think of me even at times when I simply do not have the energy to reach out and invest in relationships the way I usually do… that is love.

I am 31 weeks pregnant now, so I guess I’m about to wrap up the seventh month. In some ways, this pregnancy has been quite a bit different from the others. I’ve been a lot more tired this time around, and I’ve had several aches and pains that I didn’t experience with past pregnancies. Thankfully, I have been very healthy and everything is going well with the baby.

I’m officially in what I call “pre-nesting” mode, where I’m making all sorts of lists and plans in hopes of having everything in order by the time the baby is born. I’m planning meals to freeze for the first couple of weeks postpartum, birthday presents for my soon-to-be three year old (his birthday is just a couple weeks before the baby’s due date), Christmas presents (which will hopefully be pretty much taken care of by the end of this month), and of course I have a list of things I want to clean and organize. Soon enough I’m sure I’ll be nesting in earnest: scrubbing and organizing and cooking and shopping to my heart’s content. ;)

The boys are convinced that this baby is a girl, and they both want a sister so badly they can hardly stand it. I told my two year old that the baby could be a boy like him and his brother, and he emphatically stated, “No, it NOT!” So we shall see.

Anyway, those are my thoughts for now. I can’t promise that you’ll see many posts from me over the next few months (although I may surprise myself, you never know!), but I will definitely make an effort to update about the pregnancy from time to time. And, of course, I will update about the baby when the time comes. :)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Beyond Broken

Broken. We hear this word a lot in Christian circles (and I have certainly used it many times myself) to describe the general state of humanity. But as I was thinking about this word recently, I wondered if perhaps it is too mild. It almost feels as though it has become a cutesy Christianese way of saying, “Yeah, we all have a few flaws.” And the truth is, the state of our souls without Christ is far beyond having a flaw or two. There are parts within us that are completely shattered, pieces of us that are in an unrecognizable state of disrepair.

And we so often try to put ourselves back together, perhaps because we don’t realize the depth of brokenness we are dealing with– or, conversely, perhaps because we do realize and we desperately want to hide it or fix it. But we can’t do it, and I think many times we end up turning to addiction, coping mechanisms, and self-medication in an attempt to repair with our own hands something that is far beyond our ability to repair.

And through it all, God loves us. At church we sing a song that says, “You see the depths of my heart and you love me the same.” God sees so clearly the shattered, broken, ugly mess– and he loves us. He wants us to give it all to him, and he wants us to see his mark on our hearts and souls, to see that we are his beloved. He may not repair us the way we hope he will. Faith in God is not merely a means of self-improvement or another coping mechanism. Some of us will always struggle with those messed-up parts of ourselves. The difference is, we are not defined by them. We are new creations, defined by God and the love and grace he gives us. We are redeemed.

I have been praying that other people will see God reflected in me. And yet the most interesting thing has been happening– I’ve noticed that I am seeing God reflected in others. When I look at a person, even their most shattered parts, I see someone who is precious in God’s sight, someone he created, someone he loves and cherishes. He sees the depths of their hearts too, and he loves them the same. It’s a lot harder to react to people with judgment and negativity when I realize that.

I feel as though God is giving me a new sense of compassion for people, allowing me to get a glimpse of others through his eyes. In fact, I wonder if this is a necessary prerequisite to people seeing God’s love and grace reflected in me. After all, how accurately can I show the love and grace of God to others if I do not first see them through the compassionate eyes with which God sees them?
We are all made out of shipwrecks, every single board
Washed and bound like crooked teeth on these rocky shores.
So come on and let’s wash each other with tears of joy and tears of grief,
And fold our lives like crashing waves and run up on this beach,
Come on and sew us together.

-Listener, “Wooden Heart”

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


In the past few years, it seems that so many more Christians have been talking about grace.  And that is wonderful and beautiful.  Yet my heart breaks when I see how little we treat others with that same grace we have been given.  The attitudes toward people we disagree with– sometimes mockery and derision, and sometimes even outright disgust and cruelty.  The way we talk about people behind their backs– or even to their faces, while patting ourselves on the back for being willing to “tell it like it is.”  The way we respond when our children act like children, immature and in need of guidance.

So little grace seasons our everyday interactions.  So little patience, so little kindness, so little understanding.  I imagine it must break God’s heart that the very people who should most understand and live out grace often fail to reflect grace in our daily lives.

Please don’t think I’m sitting around pointing fingers.  I see these very same tendencies and failures in myself, and it bothers me deeply.  I want so much to be more consistently Christlike in my responses.  I want God’s grace and patience to be reflected in me.

I wonder sometimes, if we (myself included!) habitually– even proudly– live our lives interacting with others in ways that do not reflect God’s grace… do we truly understand and embrace the grace of God and its significance?

My prayer is that grace will take hold in Christians’ hearts– and in my own heart– in such a way that we cannot withhold it from others.  I pray that we would recognize the times we are not reflecting God’s grace and that we will be humble and repentant.  I pray that God will awaken something within us all that makes us deeply desire to be more like him.  I pray that God will give us the eyes to see others the way he sees them, and that grace will pour forth.

I pray that the words of Saint Patrick will ring true in my own life, and in the lives of others who have been changed by God’s grace:
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

Monday, August 15, 2011


Recently, my attention has been called again and again to the fact that I struggle with discontentment.  In fact, discontentment is at the root of so many of the battles I fight repeatedly.  In one way or another, I regularly find myself thinking, “If I could just have that/do that/get to that place in my life… then things would be better and I would be happier.”

Don’t misunderstand me; it’s not that I’m miserable.  I am just… discontent with wherever I am at any given time.  It may be good enough, but I am always looking for the next thing, for something more, for something that will complete me.

I’ve believed the lie that so many people believe, that where I am in life right now isn’t enough.  The message is all over the place in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.  Figure out what you want next, figure out what’s going to make you happy, and then make it happen.  Your contentment lies in your hands.
I am beginning to believe that isn’t quite true, at least not in the way I have been tempted to believe.  My contentment may indeed lie in my hands– to the point that I am willing to surrender my own chasing after contentment and instead give it to God.

I asked myself this question: Would I really be more content deep down if I had more money, nicer stuff, a bigger house, my dream job, if I could go back to school, if my kids would outgrow whatever developmental stages they’re in and the challenges that come with them?  And my answer was, no, probably not.  Because I’d still be looking to external factors for my sense of contentment.  Life is unpredictable.  Money and jobs can be lost, houses and possessions can be destroyed, circumstances can change with little to no warning, and new frustrations come with each of a child’s developmental stages.  The grass really isn’t greener on the other side.  (I read a quote once that said the grass looks greener on the other side because there’s a lot of manure there.)  Looking to external circumstances for my sense of contentment is unwise.

Paul talks about learning to be content in every situation– but how?  I know it has to do with finding your contentment in God, but that seems to be much easier said than done.  When we are struggling to make ends meet, when the air conditioning is broken during a hot summer, when we’re about to be a family of five in a two-bedroom house, when my dreams of going back to school and developing a career seem so very far away, when my oldest is moody and argumentative, when my youngest climbs everything in sight and has emotional meltdowns over being given the “wrong” cup… how do I ensure that my contentment stays secure because it rests in God?

It’s easy to say that I should base my contentment in God alone, but in the midst of the stress and struggles of everyday life, it seems very difficult.  How do you do this?  How do you get to the place where you can truly say you are content in every situation?

Friday, August 12, 2011


In my last post, I said that I realized I have placed a higher value on serving and ministering to others than on serving and ministering to the little children God has put directly in my care.  But why have I done this?  Why have I so strongly resisted the idea that mothering is an actual long-term calling for me?  Here are four reasons that I’ve identified.

A Feeling of Inadequacy

For one thing, I feel terribly inadequate.  I’ve assumed that when God calls me to do something, everything will just fall into place.  The right doors will open, the wrong ones will close, and it will all come very naturally to me.  If mothering is truly what I am called to do for the foreseeable future, then I have to question these assumptions a little.  Certainly the right doors have opened and the wrong ones have closed– but most of the time, I don’t feel like mothering comes naturally to me.  I often lack patience and self-discipline, and I am definitely not the picture of the “stereotypical” stay-at-home mom.  But suppose God is using my role as a parent to help me grow into the person he wants me to be and to accept myself for the unique person he has created me to be?

It Doesn’t “Complete” Me

I’ve also assumed that when I am called to do something, then even on the challenging days, the joy and fulfillment I get from it will keep me going.  But I’ve found that I don’t feel as enamored with motherhood as I’ve assumed I “should” if it’s indeed my calling.  To be completely honest, generally mothering does not bring me the personal fulfillment or sense of completion that I thought it would.  That isn’t why I’m doing it.  I do it out of a self-sacrificing kind of love, a love that says, “This is incredibly difficult and exhausting sometimes, but it is worth it.“  And I ask myself, suppose self-sacrificing love is a better reason for me to do something than simply getting joy and fulfillment from it?

Identity Crisis

I have worried that accepting a role of full-time mothering will result in me becoming consumed by it.  And I do not want my identity to be wrapped up in parenting, partially because I fear becoming uninteresting and irrelevant to many of the people in my life.  But the truth is, I shouldn’t find my identity in parenting, a career, or any other role– my identity should be rooted in God alone.  I am reminded of Paul.  He did some pretty amazing things and reached so many people– yet he did not find his identity or sense of joy in anything but God.  So often I find myself looking to everything but God for a sense of identity, purpose, joy, and fulfillment.  The truth is, I know myself well enough to know that even if I achieved my wildest dreams, they still wouldn’t give me what I’ve been looking for; only God can do that.  If he is truly my source for those things, then I will not end up becoming defined by one particular aspect of my life.

It Isn’t Glamorous 

This article also helped me understand myself a little better.  I do tend to think that the more “normal” the task I’ve been given, the less “spiritual” it must be. And so I elevate other things that sound more radical or glamorous above the importance of what I have been called to do day in and day out– because let’s face it, sometimes the “mundane and ordinary” don’t feel “holy and beautiful.” But that doesn’t mean they aren’t.

Have you ever resisted something that you feel called to do?  Why?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Value of Mothering

Have you ever noticed that our modern society tends to undervalue mothering?  Culture often overlooks the value of choosing to stay home with one’s children.  In fact, discussing the value of mothering is wandering into dangerous territory; even if words are chosen very, very carefully, the mere suggestion that full-time mothering is valuable and important can be misunderstood as being judgmental toward women who’ve made different choices.

Even in Christian culture, mothering is undervalued at times.  For example, we applaud those who make sacrifices to minister overseas, work with orphans or the impoverished, or other outreach/ministry.  And those things are indeed wonderful, admirable, and Christlike!  But, generally speaking, I have seen much less appreciation for women who make sacrifices in order to raise their children on a full-time basis– yet this is also admirable and Christlike.

I, too, have struggled to value my own role as a mother.  But the truth is, I have an opportunity to minister to my children.  As a parent, I am called to teach them about God and to love, comfort, guide, and disciple them in a way that reflects God’s heart toward us all.  That is a truly amazing thing– yet I have realized that I have valued it so little.  Even in the menial, repetitive tasks (doing laundry, washing dishes, sweeping floors, changing diapers), I am being given an opportunity to serve my family.  And yet I’ve found myself feeling as though that kind of ministry and service isn’t “good enough.”

I’ve spent so much time thinking that once the kids are in school, I can move on to my “real” calling, helping other people.  I hope to encourage people in their relationships with God, their children, and others.  This has been really important to me, and that isn’t a bad thing.  But suppose the only people I ever impact in a major way are my three children.  Would that be enough for me?  That is a “real” calling, too.

And I’ve recently realized a sobering truth: I have often valued loving, serving, and ministering to other people above loving, serving, and ministering to the little children God has put directly in my care.


Monday, August 8, 2011

What's So New About The New Plan?

On the surface, the “new plan” probably doesn’t look new at all.  Actually, to the casual observer, it looks pretty much identical to what I’ve been doing for about six years now: being a stay-at-home mom.  But on the inside, it feels very different because it’s not just about my external choices; it’s about a shift in the internal processes and decisions that are leading to those choices.

Committing myself to the idea of being a full-time mom for the foreseeable future is scary in a lot of ways.  You see, for several years now, I have put a lot of time and emotional energy into planning my next steps.  I’ve been focused on what I perceive as being the next “big thing” in my life.  And when my plans get interrupted, I may decide to shelve them for a year or so, but I always know I’m coming back to them soon enough.

But this is different.  Now I am feeling strongly led to let these plans go for the foreseeable future and to invest my time and emotional energy into what I feel I’m being called to do right now.
On one hand, this does take away some of the pressure I’ve put on myself– no more worrying about starting school before my GRE scores expire, getting applications in, or figuring out how to juggle young children and a master’s degree.

On the other hand, to be perfectly honest, I feel disappointed and lost.  I love school; in fact, school is one of the few things in life that I feel comes naturally to me.  I’ve really looked forward to sitting in classrooms, listening to lectures, taking notes, reading, and learning new things.  It sounds a little like heaven to me.  And that’s one of the biggest reasons I’ve told myself that surely going back to school must be part of God’s plan for me; after all, doesn’t God use the things we are good at and love doing?  Plus, it was part of his plan for me when I was a teen parent, so why wouldn’t it be now?

And this shift in my perspective leaves a gaping hole where obsessively planning my future once was.  I feel directionless.  Parenthood has a much less clearly defined path than graduate school!

Besides that, I worry about becoming irrelevant.  The truth is, if I don’t make it back to school in the next few years (while my husband is finishing his pre-med degree), it is likely that I won’t be going back until he’s finished with medical school.  That could change, but right now, I feel very strongly that while he is in medical school, I need to be focused on our family.  But when I did the math, I realized that if this is indeed the case, my bachelor’s degree could be fifteen to twenty years old by the time I go back to school, and I’ll have no work experience.  That is kind of terrifying.  Meanwhile, so many people around me are getting their master’s degrees, working on their doctorates, or building their careers.  I feel as though my relevancy is slipping away, and I worry that my view of myself as an intelligent and educated person may slip away with it.  While the people around me move ahead with their educations and careers, I am pregnant, nursing babies, changing diapers, and cleaning up messes.

And this all makes me realize just how little I have valued my role as a mother.  I have the head knowledge that it’s valuable, but my heart is struggling to catch up.  Or maybe it’s the other way around.  Either way, somewhere along the way, I’ve become blinded to the value of what I do.  And that is what I will talk about in my next post– the value of motherhood that I have so often overlooked.

Friday, August 5, 2011

God Keeps Changing My Plans

Let’s continue with my story. After graduating from college in 2005, I became a full-time stay-at-home mom. But in early 2008, my oldest son was a few months away from beginning kindergarten, and I was getting restless. I knew I wanted to go back to school for a master’s degree, so I took the GRE and applied to two programs that interested me– one in counseling and the other in social work. I was accepted into both programs. But during the time between applying and being accepted, something happened to change my plans: I found out I was pregnant with our second child.

We hadn’t been planning to have more children. Our oldest had experienced some special needs, and we were afraid of having the same challenges with any future children. But in March of 2008, there I was with another life-altering positive pregnancy test– and not just one test this time, but three. I wanted to be absolutely sure!

Upon discovering I was pregnant, I knew I would not be going back to school just yet. As much as I wanted to pursue my education, I felt sure that what I was supposed to do at that point was continue being a full-time mom. So my back-to-school plans were put on hold.

Let’s skip ahead to January of this year. My younger son had recently turned two, and I was becoming restless again. As I began dreaming about finally starting a master’s program this fall, my plans came to an abrupt halt– this time in the form of a few lightly positive pregnancy tests followed by what appears to have been a very early miscarriage.* By my calculations, I was only around 5 weeks pregnant. It rocked my world; my focus shifted away from my education plans as I came to terms with the unexpected pregnancy and loss. After that, I decided to change my birth control methods in hopes of never having to experience something like that again. I began faithfully taking a birth control pill and we started serious discussions about more permanent measures. And again I began dreaming of school, only by then it was too late to apply for the fall, so I set my sights on the spring of 2012.

You already know what’s coming, I’m sure. A positive pregnancy test– and on April Fools Day, of all days! I just had to laugh at that point. It seemed to be clear that my path for the time being was supposed to involve mothering. Once again, my other plans were put on hold. (You may wonder why I wouldn’t just go ahead with my education plans while also welcoming a new baby into our lives; after all, I did it when I was eighteen. Why not do it again? I’ll get to that, but in a later post.)

It’s easy to understand why God would have changed my plans when I was seventeen. The things I wanted to do then were clearly not what I should have been doing. But time and time again, it feels as though he’s changed my much more innocuous plans as well. The truth is, I have had a dream since I became a mother at the age of eighteen, a desire I truly believe was placed there by God– to work with young and/or new moms, educating them about things like pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, child development, and so on. And the graduate programs that have gotten my attention are ones that would help prepare me for that very thing. Yet each time I move in that direction, God very clearly says, “No, not right now,” and reaffirms my current role as a mom. Many times I have wondered if perhaps working with young moms is something I am called to do later in my life, but right now I am simply called to motherhood.

I have a lot of conflicting feelings about this idea that perhaps my calling for right now is to be “just” a mom. And that is what I’ll talk about next time.

* For clarification, no, I am absolutely not saying that I think God “caused” my miscarriage. I don’t think that at all. Some things just happen. It is part of my story, however, so I included it here.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Seventeen and Pregnant

In my last post, I talked a bit about feeling that God is calling me to do something that isn’t quite what I have been expecting or planning. I have a lot to say about this– so much, in fact, that it will probably take me several posts to address it all. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. I think an important place to start is to share a bit of my story. So let’s go back to about ten years ago.

When I was seventeen years old, I was full of pride and rebellion. I had just begun my final year of high school, I was succeeding in things that were important to me, and I felt overly confident in myself. At the same time, I was planning my great escape from everything that had been my life up to this point; my faith was dwindling away, and I couldn’t wait to graduate, move out of my parents’ house, start college, and embark on a whole new life– a life that would include experimenting with some of the temptations I had so far resisted.

A few months later, the positive pregnancy test I held in my shaky hands changed everything.

By Christmas break, I had moved out of my parents’ house under very different circumstances than those I had planned; I was pregnant, newly married, and not quite eighteen years old yet. As I began the second half of my senior year, my attitude was quite different from the one I’d had just a few months prior. The pride and rebellion were gone. I just wanted to go unnoticed, under the radar, keep my head down, and get done with school without attracting too much attention to myself.

My lifelong dreams of going to college now seemed nearly impossible. How would I pay for college? Would I even be able to succeed as a student while also being a parent? I saw no way of making it happen. And then I happened to hear another student talking about re-taking his ACT in hopes of getting a high enough score to get a full-tuition scholarship. Further investigation revealed that this was in fact a possibility… at the school I had sworn I would never attend: the local Christian university. Still, it was my only glimmer of hope, and my ACT scores so far were only one point away from being high enough for the scholarship. So I arranged to take the ACT one last time– this time, pregnant, sick, exhausted, and knowing that my dreams rode on this test.

Weeks later, my results arrived in the mail. I’d gotten the extra point I needed. I could get the full-tuition scholarship for my first year; additionally, as long as my GPA remained above a 3.7, I would continue receiving the scholarship throughout my time in college.

I graduated from high school 7 months pregnant, and my son was born in early August. And I began school that fall under entirely different circumstances than I had expected: married, a new mother, and going to a Christian university.

Fast forward to today: my oldest son is turning nine this week, in December my husband and I will welcome our third child and celebrate our ten-year anniversary, and my faith is stronger and more authentic than I ever would have thought possible.

Sometimes it’s easy to see how (and why) God changes your ill-conceived plans. I have no doubt that the path my life ended up taking ten years ago was part of God’s plan for me (and a much better plan than the one I’d had for myself).

But sometimes it’s harder to understand why God puts a stop to certain plans, ones that seem good and worthwhile. That is something I’ve been contemplating a lot lately as some of my plans have come to a halt over and over during the past few years. But that is for the next post…

Monday, August 1, 2011


Right now, I honestly don’t know what to say. I’m grappling with all sorts of thoughts and realizations– good things, I think, but ideas that are going to require me to examine and question some of my assumptions and priorities.

Four people from scripture keep coming to my mind as I think through all these things.

David, who was anointed king and then remained “just” a shepherd for some time afterward.
Jonah, who so deeply did not want to do what God called him to do that he literally ran in the opposite direction.

Peter, who was told by Jesus what his path would look like, and all he could say was, “But what about John? What is he supposed to do?”

Paul, who found his sense of joy, identity, and purpose not in his day-to-day life or even his calling, but in God alone.

I’m full of thoughts about what I think God may be calling me to do right now. Like David, what I am called to do in the future may not be the thing I am meant to chase after now. Like Jonah, I am so often tempted to run in the other direction. Like Peter, rather than staying focused on my own path, I am all too likely to look at and wonder about other people’s paths. And unlike Paul, too often I look for joy, identity, and satisfaction everywhere but God.

That is all I have for now. There is more– so much more– beneath the surface, but I simply cannot get to it all in one day.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Listen To The Right Voices

If I could give one piece of parenting advice ever, this would be it: Don’t listen so much to other people’s opinions and methods. If you listen to God, your child, and your own heart, they will tell you what you need. Too often, other people can give you all kinds of messages that get in the way of what God, your child, and your heart are telling you.

That may sound like I’m writing off other people or books about parenting, but that isn’t exactly the case. In fact, other people are necessary for support and encouragement, and books can be excellent resources if used wisely. The problem comes when the opinions presented by other people or books become a parent’s primary way of deciding what to do. First and foremost, listen to God, your own child, and your heart. Putting other voices ahead of these can sometimes lead you down a path that God never intended for you to go, a path that may not actually be the best for your unique child/family, or a path that veers away from what your heart and parental instinct are telling you.

The truth is, no matter what you do (or don’t do), someone is going to say you’re wrong, mock you, or think you’re weird. And no matter what you do (or don’t do), you will probably be able to find someone who thinks it’s great. The opinions of other people vary wildly and are therefore faulty indicators of whether your choices really are the right ones for you and your child. Unfortunately, because so many people are driven by approval, at least to an extent, it is often all too easy to give other people’s opinions a more influential place in our lives than they deserve.

Shutting out the other voices that try to tell us what we “should” do is not always easy. There are so many of those voices that sometimes we mistake them for God or our own heart. Similarly, if enough of the voices are saying the same thing, it’s tempting to allow them to override what we feel our hearts telling us.

Take a deep breath, and momentarily close your eyes and ears to everything but these three things: God, your child, and your heart/parental instincts. Listen to them carefully, and then follow the path that is right for your family and your children. This may look different in some ways, or even in many ways, from what other people around you are doing, but that’s okay. Parenting is not a one-size-fits-all journey; it is a unique and individual journey. Along the way you will come across people, books, and other resources that encourage you, and that’s great! Just don’t allow them to start dictating your path for you.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What a Terrible Mom!

On a hot summer day, I arrived at the McDonald’s indoor playground. All week, it had been too hot out for this pregnant momma and her two kids, so I decided lunch and indoor playtime was in order. So off to McDonald’s we went.

As we ate and the kids went to play, I noticed the other people in the room.

Nearby was the mom whose daughter wasn’t allowed to have a happy meal or a soft drink. A few tables down was the mom with at least five kids, and from the looks of it, perhaps more. Sitting with her was the woman whose baby lay in an infant carseat while drinking its bottle. And there was also the mom whose two year old was allowed to drink a sweet tea. (That last one was me.)

So, according to the hierarchy of mommy judgment, where do we all rank? I thought it over and decided I would probably rank myself somewhere below “no happy meal” mom because of what I was letting my kids eat and drink. I also decided I’d probably land below “mom of 5+ kids” because I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have the energy or patience to bring five children to a McDonald’s playplace. Or perhaps anywhere. ;)

But I do breastfeed my babies and carry them instead of bringing them inside in carseats, so does that mean I rank above the “bottle and carseat” mom? Some people might say yes. (I don’t think that, for the record!)

Then again, we were all sitting in a McDonald’s playplace, so that kind of puts us all at the bottom of the list compared to the all-organic non-consumerism types who would never step foot in McDonald’s, right?

Of course, this whole ranking system is completely ridiculous. The truth is, none of us rank above or below anyone else. And yet, as parents, at some point each and every one of us have been been judged or have judged others. We find ourselves self-consciously looking around the room, trying to figure out exactly how we stack up and whether we’re doing okay.

Interestingly, as the time at McDonald’s went on, I discovered that the “mom of 5+ kids” and the “bottle and carseat” woman were there together and were babysitters. Some of the children may have indeed been theirs, but many were not.

And that’s a perfect example of why it’s unwise to judge someone based on a snippet of their life that you just happened to glimpse. You just don’t know other people’s situations. Here are some real-life examples for you: Maybe you’re a breastfeeder and the woman you’re judging is bottlefeeding her adopted baby. Maybe you’re a babywearer and the mom you’re judging for bringing her baby inside in its carseat is battling depression and it was a major accomplishment for her to get out the door that day and come out in public. Maybe the mom being harsh in the store has had a very stressful day– perhaps she’s going through a divorce or there’s been a death in the family, or she’s just tired and at her wit’s end that day. For that matter, maybe the kid who’s throwing a tantrum in the store isn’t a spoiled brat with permissive parents; perhaps he’s overtired, has sensory issues, or is hungry. Maybe the couple who doesn’t have children is dealing with infertility or repeat miscarriages. Maybe the couple with more kids than you would ever personally want to have is absolutely in love with their family and wants to continue adding to it.

And maybe not. But you don’t know. And you aren’t entitled to know, either. You are not entitled to know someone’s story in order to decide whether or not to judge them. 

What good does it do to judge people anyway (whether silently or aloud)? What good does it do to glare, roll your eyes, or shake your head in disapproval? (Non-verbal judgment, loud and clear!)
Instead, why not offer a smile or a kind comment, or even take time to strike up a friendly conversation? Love for others is sometimes that simple. As Mother Teresa once said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”

So forget about this parenting hierarchy junk. Quit making snap judgments. Stop comparing yourself to others and trying to figure out where you, and they, rank on some imaginary chart. We all have our own stories, struggles, motives, and choices. And we all could use a little more love and a little less judgment.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Life With a Little One: Bedtime Routine Chart

I read about this in The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers, and I thought it was a really great idea. Obviously, having a bedtime routine is a good idea; kids like the predictability of knowing what’s coming next, and it’s helpful for parents to have a routine to follow too.

But the idea here goes beyond simply having a bedtime routine. With the bedtime routine chart, it’s written down in a place where your child can see it and illustrated with pictures so they can understand it (especially helpful if your child can’t read yet). The book suggests either cutting out pictures from magazines to correspond with each bedtime routine activity or using pictures of your own child.

I decided to use pictures of our 2 year old because I think it personalizes things a bit for him to see himself and his familiar environment on our chart.

It was very easy to do. First we had to come up with a routine that works for us (something we hadn’t been doing very well up to this point). Then I just took pictures, got some poster board, cut the pictures down so they were all about the same size, and glued them to the poster board in the right order. Beside each picture is a brief description of what we do. I love that having this visual will also help with understanding numbers and sequencing (pre-math and pre-reading skills). Learning experiences are cool. ;)

Here’s the finished product:

Bedtime Routine Chart

We’ve had the chart for a week now, and our 2 year old loves it. Within a couple days, he was “reading” the chart to us by pointing at each picture and telling us what was happening. If I ask him what 1 is, he says “bath.” Pretty neat!

By the way, The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers is full of awesome ideas. Creating a bedtime routine, gently helping children learn to fall asleep on their own, teaching kids to stay in their own beds at night, and solving all kinds of other common sleep problems for kids ages 1-5… it’s all in this book. It’s an invaluable resource for parents of toddlers and preschoolers, in my opinion. There is also a version for babies under the age of 1, called The No-Cry Sleep Solution. :)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Some Things Are Personal

People love to speculate about what the apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” may have been. We see someone as influential as Paul and we cannot help but wonder what weakness or temptation he regularly struggled with. I think perhaps it makes us feel a little more “okay” to know that someone like Paul struggled just as much as we do. It means we’re all human.

I have wondered why Paul never specified what his struggle was. But as I reflected on my own experiences, it began to make a bit more sense to me. There are plenty of things that I’ve struggled with that I am very open about. I certainly never want to give the impression that I’ve got it all figured out. And as I read Paul’s writings, it seems that there were some things in his life that he was very open about as well.

But there was that one thing, the “thorn in the flesh,” that was not shared openly other than to say that it was there. And I can definitely understand that. You see, there is something in my life that I’ve struggled with for quite some time now, something that only my husband and three very close friends have ever heard me speak of in a specific, detailed way. Why? Because it’s personal. Because I’m ashamed of it. Because I’m afraid of what people would say if they knew. Because I’m afraid I would lose friends. Because it’s not always wise to share the details of your biggest struggle with anyone and everyone.

Paul’s struggle may not have been similar to mine (or who knows, maybe it was!). Perhaps, like me, he had a close friend or two who knew what his “thorn” was. But he did not have to share it publicly if he didn’t feel like he had a very good reason to do so. Some things are just personal, and it’s okay to keep them that way.

So that’s my theory on why Paul never specified his struggle in his writings. Can you think of any other possible reasons for this?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Impostor

Sometimes I have conversations with myself in my head. Weird? Perhaps. But hopefully slightly less weird than having them aloud. In public.

Anyway, I had one of those conversations recently. I was telling myself that I feel like such a hypocrite sometimes. I can’t understand how I can have the heartfelt conversations I have about God, and truly believe the things I say I believe, and yet simultaneously struggle with some of the things I struggle with. I feel like the darker side is the real me, and the faithful side is an impostor and a liar. And one of these days, everyone is going to realize it and I’ll be exposed for the hypocrite I am.

And then I answered my own complaint in a way I had never considered before.

“The side of you that you don’t like, that you’re ashamed of, that struggles with temptation and sin– that is the part of you that is an impostor. That part is the liar. The faithful part– that part is the authentic you.”

How can that possibly be true? I wondered. And another answer came. “The old has gone. The new has come. You have been made new; you have been redeemed.”

My soul is clean. I have been made new. Yes, there is a sinful part of me, a dark side. But it is not the authentic me; it is not who I was created to be. It is the impostor and liar, and it is not what I should ever allow to control me. I should not let it stop me from sharing my faith and worshiping God.
I read a quote recently that went along beautifully with these thoughts of mine, so I just want to close with it:
As a former seminary professor of mine once reflected, “Anyone who articulates the gospel articulates it as a hypocrite, someone who is trying to live it out but failing.” Except for Christ.

Monday, July 18, 2011

This Is Grace

I tossed and turned in bed, feeling discouraged. It seemed that I was always fighting this battle. Sometimes I thought I had finally won, only to have the struggles creep back in just when I thought everything was going well. And that night, frustrated, I told God that I don’t want to fight this battle again. I’m exhausted and weary.

And I felt this answer: “Stop fighting on your own. Let me fight it for you. This is grace.

Grace. Unmerited favor. God sees that we cannot possibly meet his standards on our own, and rather than leaving us to fight it out, strive to do better, and fail over and over… he has offered a way for the standard to be met through him. All the striving and trying to be perfect is out the window; we are free to have a relationship with him based on his love and grace, not our own ability and performance.

I can’t fight the battles on my own. And the amazing thing is, God doesn’t expect me to.

This is grace.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Guilt and Shame

In current Christian culture, I have observed quite a bit of guilt and shame used to attempt to motivate people to do more. We are constantly reminded of how blessed we are in America and how we should be doing more and giving more to help others. And that may be true, but wrapping up the truth in a package of shame is not an effective way to move toward long-term change on a heart level. Guilt and shame may temporarily motivate people to outward action, but they are not pathways to long-term inner change.

All too often, Christian culture will tell you that unless you’re giving up everything and dedicating your life to going overseas and ministering to people, you aren’t doing enough. There is this misconception that anything less than that is selfish.

For example, there are some who will criticize the act of giving money to organizations that help people. They would say that by doing something so small and “sterile,” you are really just refusing to actually get your hands dirty and help people in a hands-on way. In other words, you can walk away feeling good about yourself for “helping” without actually having to help. This attitude really bothers me. Giving financially to an organization absolutely does require real sacrifices for many people. And for some people, going to help in a more hands-on way may not be feasible, for a variety of legitimate reasons.

Unfortunately, even those who are able to help people in a more hands-on way are not immune to the guilt and shame critics will heap upon them. Short-term missions trips get their fair share of criticism. I have heard it said that people just go out of the country for a week or two to satisfy their selfish desires and to travel, and then they can come home and pat themselves on the back for all the good they’ve done. Meanwhile, the people they helped are still suffering and just have people revolving in and out with no permanency.

How is it encouraging to say that it is not enough to make sacrifices in order to give money or to help others in a hands-on way? Certainly if a person is being called to something more and is attempting to ignore it or satisfy the calling with a little money or a two-week trip, then yes, for them that is wrong. For them, it’s not enough because it’s not what they are actually being called by God to do. But to generalize that to everyone who gives money or goes on short-term trips is also wrong. It is not our place to tell others what God is calling them personally to do.

The church can encourage generosity and love without heaping pressure and shame on people. Sometimes I wonder if we start thinking that God isn’t doing a good enough job of changing people’s hearts and so we jump in and try to do that for him. Unfortunately, we often mess it up when we start trying to do that. Instead of making people feel as though they aren’t doing enough by giving money or going on short-term trips, let’s encourage people to listen to God and do whatever he is telling them to do.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Too often, when I hear stories that break my heart, I let the brokenness fade without ever doing anything about it. While it is tempting to chalk it up to pure selfishness, I honestly think there is so much more to it than that. I’ve been able to identify a few different reasons that I do this, and I’d like to explore some of them here.

As I become more aware of the needs and suffering in the world, it is very easy for me to become emotionally overwhelmed. I mentioned in my last post that I’m a fixer and an empathizer; when I am aware of a need, I tend to feel it deeply and desperately want to fix it. And because there are so many needs in the world, it is impossible for anyone to fix them on their own. For that matter, on my own, I may not be able to completely fix even one thing. I am only one person who is already stretched in many different directions.

A feeling of helplessness follows closely behind feeling overwhelmed. Too much is broken; there are too many people suffering all over the world. And I begin to feel as though anything I can do still isn’t enough. It feels like a tiny drop in a vast ocean of need, and I wonder if the small contributions I could make will actually be able to help anyone in any way. Unfortunately, I have learned that this doubt is all too often reinforced by Christian culture, ironically in an attempt to motivate people to do more. I have a lot to say about this, but I’ll save it for the next post. I don’t want this one to get too long. ;)

Have you ever insulated yourself from the suffering of others because you felt overwhelmed or helpless?

Monday, July 11, 2011


As I listened to Amanda’s words, one heartbreaking story after another, something inside me silently cried out, “Please stop. Don’t say any more. This is too much. It hurts too much.” But her words kept coming, just as they should. She sat in front of the group gathered at church, showing pictures and telling stories of the time she spent in Uganda ministering to children. And as heartbreaking as some of the stories were, they need to be told. People need to be aware.

I realized that for me, at least, it is far too easy to insulate myself from the things that are happening in other places in the world. When I come across stories online or on the news, I may pause for a moment and think about how sad a particular situation is, but it is so hard to wrap my mind around. It seems so far away, and so far removed from my daily reality, that it is sometimes hard to imagine that it’s actually real.

But these stories weren’t coming from an online article or a news broadcast. They were coming from someone in my own little world, someone I see on a regular basis, someone who has recently gone to Uganda and has seen these things firsthand. She has held the hands of children whose situations I cannot even begin to comprehend.

And I feel so broken, so shattered inside. What can I do? Can I even do anything that is actually helpful? Will I? Or will I, once again, let it all fade as my attention returns to my normal daily life?
I am the type of person who desperately wants to fix every need I see. I am empathetic and very much a feeler, and stories like the ones I heard absolutely wreck me emotionally. I want to fix things, and I feel so overwhelmed and helpless. It doesn’t help that I have seen a lot of guilt and shame perpetuated within Christian circles when it comes to situations like this, often in well-meaning attempts to get people to do more.

I have a lot of thoughts about feeling helpless and about guilt and shame that I’d like to explore further, but they don’t really belong in this post. I do think they’re strongly related to my tendency to insulate myself so it doesn’t hurt so much, though, which is why I bring them up here. I hope to explore these topics in my next couple of posts.

Until then, I will leave you with this question: When you hear stories that break your heart, do you let the brokenness fade? Why?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Love and Grace are Not Permissive

In my last post, I talked about reflecting God’s love and grace in parenting. That all sounds very good, and I think it is very good; after all, how can treating our children the way God treats us be a bad thing? But it also raises questions– questions that I think are legitimate.

Most parents know that permissiveness is not something to strive for. And when someone starts talking about the role of love and grace in parenting, it can cause people to freak out a little bit. “Love and grace? That sounds permissive. What about setting limits and enforcing consequences?”

Here’s the thing. If you read my last couple of posts, you know that I’m coming from the perspective of reflecting God’s love and grace in our relationships with everyone we encounter, and I certainly think this should include our children. So let me ask you this: is God is a permissive God?

My answer is no, of course not! The fact that he is a God of love and grace certainly does not mean that he isn’t firm or that he doesn’t set limits or that he doesn’t enforce consequences. If parents fail to set limits, are not firm when the situation calls for it, and never allow their children to experience consequences, that isn’t parenting with the love and grace of God.

But let’s be honest: it can be really, really difficult to figure out how to be firm, set limits, and enforce consequences in a way that reflects love and grace. I know that is a challenge for me! I am too quick to become punitive sometimes; at other times, it is easy to err on the side of permissiveness. I’ve talked to many parents, and I think this is something a lot of people struggle with– sometimes we end up swinging back and forth from permissive to punitive in our attempt to find the right balance of firm but gentle parenting.

I guess this is the part of the post where I’m supposed to give you my answers. I’m supposed to tell you how to determine how to disciple children with love, grace, limits, and firmness, without ever becoming too permissive or too punitive. Right?

The only answers I can give you are the ones I keep coming back to in my own life. Personally, I am trying to get to know God better, draw closer to him, and reflect on how he disciples me. I’ve spent a lot of time in prayer, asking him to help me see my children the way he sees them and to help me show them his love and grace. I’ve been asking God to help me lead my children in a way that reflects him, and to teach them patiently. I also try to know each of them individually and parent them as the unique people they are. And I have been learning more about positive parenting; there are several excellent books with ideas for parenting in a way that is both firm and positive. Let me know if you’d like any recommendations. And, for me, it has been huge to remember that I am not going to get it right all the time because I am human too and I’m still learning. Thankfully, God has patience and grace for my screw-ups, and he continues to lead me gently on this journey (which has been a beautiful parenting lesson in itself for me).

I am so thankful that God disciples me with love and grace. And I think you can rest assured that endeavoring to show God’s love and grace in the way you parent is not permissive. :)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Love and Grace in Parenting

In my last post, I talked about the transforming love of God. As a follower of Christ, I am called to show God’s love to others in how I interact with them. And because “other people” also include my children, this causes me to evaluate how I parent them.

Recently I was reminded of something very important: my children are not “mine;” they are God’s, and he has entrusted them to me. What an awesome, and very serious, responsibility. It is not something to be taken lightly. I am to guide them and to show them who God is. And if it’s true that people see God through our love, certainly that must also apply when the people in question are the children God has given me!

I take my role as a parent seriously. As God disciples me, so I want to disciple my children. I don’t want to rely on fear-based motivation to get my children to do what I think is right, because this is not how God disciples me. I want to introduce them to the love of God, the only power that can actually transform them from the inside.

The interesting thing to me about this is that it is not within my power as a human being to transform the heart of anyone else– and that includes the hearts of my children. (And, actually, Christians can get ourselves into some dangerous territory really fast if we start thinking it is our responsibility, or even within our power, to change people’s hearts.) I can, however, show them God’s love and grace in how I treat them, and I believe God will use his love to transform them as he sees fit. Therefore, my role as a parent is about so much more than shaping outward behavior; I am responsible for treating my children in a Godly way, reflecting God’s love and grace in my interactions with them. In fact, that is the responsibility of all Christ-followers in our interactions with other people, whether they are adults or children.

And so I attempt to treat other people, including my children, the way God treats me– with love and grace. Do I slip up sometimes? Yes, of course. More often than I’d like. I’m human. I am incapable of showing perfect love (defined in 1 Corinthians using words like “patient” and “kind”) because I am not perfect. And the beauty of it all is this– when I mess up, when I do the very things God would not want me to do, when I fail to love as he loves me… God continues to disciple me in love and grace!  Even this is a beautiful reminder of how I am being called to treat my children when they mess up.

The love of God transforms people’s hearts in a way that fear never can. Fear may shape people’s outward behavior, but it cannot change their hearts. Only love– only God– can do that. This is something so important to me in my role as a parent.

You may be thinking, “This ‘parenting with love and grace’ stuff sounds good– but doesn’t it really turn out to be nothing but permissive parenting?” The short answer is no; showing the love and grace of God has nothing to do with being permissive. I’ll address this topic further in my next post. :)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Love Transforms

At church on Sunday, we talked about God, fear, and love. James pointed out that fear certainly motivates people– it motivates us to strive and do everything in our power to get things right. But love transforms. Love is what makes it possible for real change to happen on the inside. One of my favorite scriptures was used; it is part of a beautiful passage in 1 John about the love of God. 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”

For probably all of human history, people have used fear to motivate others, and I’m sure we have all been motivated by fear ourselves. But fear is a horrible basis for a relationship with God, or with anyone else, for that matter. God disciples us and transforms us with his love, not with the fear of punishment. Read that passage again: There is no fear in love… for fear has to do with punishment. 
It seems to me that when scripture tells us such things about God, his character, and how he disciples us, we should sit up and take note. Because just as God treats us, so are we to treat others. 1 John also says, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us.” When we allow our treatment of others to reflect the love God has shown us, people see God through us.

This is a great reminder of how to relate to the people we encounter and/or have relationships with throughout life. Love others. Reflect the love that God has shown us. Relate to people through love, rather than trying to motivate or influence them through fear. In a way, it reminds me of the parable Jesus told of the man whose enormous debts were forgiven, yet this man who was forgiven so much went out and demanded smaller debts from others. He did not treat others with the same amazing forgiveness and mercy he himself had been given. If God has given us mercy, forgiveness, grace, and love, how can we justify treating others with anything less?

As Christians, our responsibility is not to try to change other people’s hearts through fear; it is to draw close to God, to show the love of God to others, and to allow the fruit of the Spirit to be reflected in our words and actions.

When scripture talks about how followers of Christ are to treat others, I always consider what this means for me as a parent in my relationship with my children. In my next post, I’ll talk more about my thoughts on the transforming love of God and how that relates to my role as a parent.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Held Back By Fear

“What in the world makes you think that you’re even remotely qualified to help encourage and educate other parents? Have you noticed how much you screw up on a regular basis? Have you noticed how often you end up doing the very things you said you wouldn’t, or not doing the very things you know you should? Who in their right mind would ever listen to you? Are you really so conceited as to think that you should be trying to help anyone else?”

That is what is being whispered– sometimes shouted– in the back of my mind. I can’t help but wonder what gives me the right to think that I’m qualified to help equip anyone to be the best parent they can be. Sometimes I get angry. I yell. I slam doors. I say unkind or sarcastic things. I have even, much to my dismay, gotten frustrated enough to smack my 2 year old’s leg– yet physical punishment is something I am very much against. I have messed things up so many times during this parenting journey, sometimes in ways I am ashamed to recall.

I fear that as soon as I start trying to provide encouragement and information, people will call me a phony. They’ll see right through me. They’ll see that I’m not perfect, that I don’t get this stuff right all the time, that I’m just as messed up as anyone else.

But then I wonder if my imperfections and weaknesses may actually be necessary. Is it better to offer encouragement and information from a place of humility and recognition of one’s own struggles, or from a place of pride and a carefully manufactured appearance of perfection? Do people feel more encouraged by someone who recognizes her own faults, or by someone who puts on a front of having it all figured out? I can’t speak for everyone, but personally I’ve always been much more encouraged by people who seem to be as human as I am.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that I should never try to work on my own struggles as a parent. Absolutely, I should. But I should also be willing to admit that I have them, and I should never fool myself into thinking that I am better than anyone else. I know I’m not.

But still, this is one of my fears. What fears hold you back from pursuing your dreams?

Friday, June 24, 2011

My Dream

When I started this blog, I was particularly keen to avoid the topic of parenting. I was trying to disconnect myself from the idea that I am nothing other than a mom, in part because I sometimes get the feeling that people think that’s all I ever write and/or think about. And that is just not true. ;) My goal was to use this site for thoughts about God and spirituality. Yes, it may be my personal website where I can post anything I please, but posts about other interests or happenings were not going to be posted here.

But my answer to a recent question has changed my focus a bit. The question, asked by author Jon Acuff, was this: “What passion or dream would you pursue if you had all the time in the world?” My answer surprised me a bit. The truth is, I have many interests. God and spirituality are certainly on the list, and so are authentic relationships within communities. I have also been considering going back to school to become a high school guidance counselor.

Yet, when I asked myself what dream I would pursue if I had all the time in the world…

When I asked myself what was the one thing I would go for if I wasn’t hindered by things like time and money…

I said that I wanted to counsel pregnant teens, young moms, and even new parents in general. I want to encourage them to be the best parents they can be and help them obtain the tools and information they need to do that.

It is still true that being a parent is not the totality of my identity. It’s not all I do, it’s not all I think about, and it’s not all I care about. And parenting my own children is not the only thing I want to do in life. But I do want very much to encourage other parents, especially young and/or new parents. And I have a personal interest in encouraging and educating young moms. I was a teen parent myself; I became pregnant with my oldest child at the age of 17, and I was 18 when he was born.

In light of all of this, it seems foolish to insist that this site should have nothing to do with parenting. Is it all I’m going to write about? No, probably not. But I do think this dream of mine is something worth writing about on my blog. And I also think it is something worth pursuing. I have a lot of ideas pertaining to this dream, and I will probably write about those ideas here too. And while I cannot make everything happen right now, I do think there are steps I can take to at least start moving in that direction. I want to write about that too.

So there you go. Perhaps I will post more now that I’ve given myself permission to post whatever is on my mind instead of limiting myself to just one topic. ;) I hope you’ll stick with me and join the conversation that I’d like to get started here.

Speaking of conversation, I have a question for you: If you are a parent, in what ways were you encouraged and helped by others when you were starting on your parenting journey? In what ways do you wish you had been encouraged or helped, but weren’t?

Monday, May 23, 2011


The following was inspired by Romans 7:15-25 and 2 Corinthians 12:1-10.  It is part of Paul’s story, but it is also part of mine.  Perhaps it is part of yours also?

I have a secret. There is something that keeps coming back to haunt me. I struggle with this thing over and over. Try as I might, I cannot seem to permanently disentangle myself from it. When the temptation arises, I fight against it, but eventually I grow weary and I start giving in. I know what I should do, but I find myself doing the very thing I hate.

The struggle is exhausting and painful. Sometimes it feels like I am pierced through my flesh and all the way down to my spirit. And when I look at this recurring battle, in all its ugliness and pain, I can clearly see just how broken I really am. In that moment, I cannot be prideful. I cannot fool myself into thinking I have it all together. I cannot pretend to everyone else that all is well. On my own, I am nothing. Although I have the desire to do what is right, I do not have the ability to carry it out.

And so I cry out to God in frustration. I ask him to take this thing away from me. His answer stuns me; he says no. But why would he let me keep struggling through this when he could just make it all better? I plead with him to take it away. It is too much. I cannot bear this own my own. And then the answer comes more clearly than ever.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

His power shines through in our weaknesses. We all have things that we struggle with, some publicly, some privately. Humanity as a whole is broken, far from the way God intended us to be in the beginning, and I am no exception. I am humbled by my own humanity, by my own weaknesses and failures and temptations. I realize that I cannot do this on my own. I cannot be perfect. I have no business being prideful.

And, in fact, if I were able to do just fine on my own, I would never be able to experience the amazing grace of God. There would be no need for it. The truth is, I don’t deserve this grace at all. Yet there it is, offered to me by a God who is able to use even my biggest screw-ups to remind me of his power and love.

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! His grace is sufficient for me. His power is made perfect in my weakness.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Beautiful Things

When I was sixteen years old, I was preparing to attend my junior prom with my boyfriend (who is now my husband). I had tried on several dresses and had found one that I thought might be “the” dress. I begged my parents to come to the mall so I could try it on for them. They were helping pay for it, plus I wanted their feedback. But deep down, I knew (even though I never would have admitted it aloud) what I really wanted was for my father to tell me I was beautiful. I don’t know why it was so important to me, but in that moment, I  desperately wanted the man who raised me to look at me all dressed up and see that I was a beautiful young woman– not just outwardly, but inwardly. I was hungry to hear those words from this person who meant so much to me. Beautiful. You are so beautiful.

Recently I have been reflecting on that feeling and I’ve realized that for a long time, I have wanted so much to be told that I am beautiful. And again, it is not really about outward beauty (although I wouldn’t argue with having some of that!). It’s about my desire for the people I care about to look at me and see something special inside, something beautiful.

The problem is that I have spent so much time chasing after all sorts of things in hopes of making people see me as special and beautiful– and, for that matter, to try to see myself as special and beautiful. I have looked for my value and worth in numerous things, from achievements to physical attractiveness to my role as a mother. And yet, no matter how hard I’ve tried, it’s never been quite what I’m looking for. Underneath it all, I still have not felt beautiful or special. I have felt as though I’m whoring myself out in search of affirmation, and any affirmation I do get is short-lived and provides limited satisfaction.

What absolutely blows my mind is that I am beautiful, not because of anything I have done, but because God says so. I am created in his image, and he is the one who defines my worth and value. Anything I do on my own will be empty. When I am trying to show people how intelligent or insightful (or whatever else) I am, it is an attempt to take matters into my own hands in hopes that they will admire and validate me. But if I will step back and allow God to shine through me, people will certainly see something beautiful and special– but they won’t just be seeing me. They will be seeing him– and that is the beauty I want to reflect.

You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of the dust.
You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of us.
-Gungor- Beautiful Things

Monday, April 11, 2011

Faith and Obedience

Many times I have heard the phrase, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
But I am not convinced that this is actually an accurate statement. If I could handle everything that comes my way, I would have significantly fewer opportunities to put my faith in God.  After all, if I’ll never get more than I can handle, then it would be pretty easy to put my faith in myself.  No worries, God, I’ve got this one!

No, I absolutely believe that we are given more than we can handle ourselves. There comes a point when all you can do is give it to God and trust him.  And to be honest, when I look back at the things I have tried to handle on my own in the past, I am quite happy to admit that there are some things that God is better off handling because, well, he’s God and I’m not.

I am in one of those places in my life right now. With finances very tight, a house that is barely big enough for our family as it is, and a poor housing market, we have recently found out that we are expecting another child. And I am realizing that while, yes, there are some things we can do, we are going to have to trust God in a major way. Financially, long-term, this is a situation that is beyond our control. It is more than we can handle on our own.

Normally the realization that I cannot make it happen for myself would stress me out. But now I am seeing the beauty in surrendering to God and having faith in him to work in our situation in the way he sees fit. I know he will come through. Perhaps our house will sell, perhaps we will have just enough to get by, perhaps we will have more than enough, or perhaps God will give us the patience and fortitude we need to get through a challenging time. In what particular way he will come through, I do not know, but I know that he is faithful, he knows what we need better than I do, and I trust him.

Along with this faith and trust, though, is the willingness to listen and obey. Faith and trust are not passivity and laziness cloaked in clever spiritual-sounding terms. I must spend time in prayer, not only talking, but also listening. Is there something God wants me to do? Something he wants me to give up? Something he wants me to change? Then I must hear him and obey.

I cannot handle everything that comes my way, not on my own. But by experiencing situations that are beyond what I can handle, I am learning to put more faith in God, to listen more closely to his voice and to trust him to guide me. And, because I believe he is a good shepherd, I believe he will do what he knows is best for me, even if that doesn’t look the way I expected it to look.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Shepherd

In Luke 15, Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep. A shepherd goes out searching for his sheep when he realizes one is lost, and once he finds it, he rejoices. He lifts it onto his shoulders and carries it to safety. John wrote that Jesus called himself the good shepherd. And most of us know the beginning of Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd.” 

But in modern American culture, we are limited in our understanding of sheep and shepherds. However, I recently had an experience that I think helps me understand the analogy a little better. While I was in another room of the house, making preparations for a family trip, I heard the front door open and close. Immediately I went to the living room to see what was going on, and I quickly realized my two year old son was missing. I looked out the front door, and to my horror, saw him gallivanting across the street with nothing on but a diaper and a pair of mismatched socks. My heart dropped, my mama bear instinct kicked in (or perhaps I should say my shepherd instinct!) and I ran out the door, calling his name. When I reached him at the other side of the street, I scooped him up in my arms, held him to me so closely and so tightly, and thanked God he was okay. Like the shepherd who found his lost sheep, I rejoiced and carried him to safety. 

It is worth noting that sheep, just like my toddler that afternoon, are not really aware that they’re putting themselves in potentially dangerous situations. They do not realize what could happen to them. This is why they need a shepherd to protect and guide them. The shepherd used his rod and staff to fight off predators and lead the sheep in the direction they should go. Psalm 23 references this as well: “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” These items were a comfort to the sheep, an assurance that the good shepherd would do everything in his power to protect them and lead them. Likewise, as a parent, I will do everything in my power to lead and protect my children. I will go out searching for them if they are missing, and I will fight anyone and anything that gets in my way. I am their shepherd, gently leading them and fiercely protecting them. 

Later, as I reflected on it, I felt as though God was reminding me that this is his heart toward me, toward all of us. God is my good shepherd, the one I can trust to guide and protect me. Notice that the shepherd in the parable does not become angry and punish the sheep once he finds it. Not even close. He rejoices! Many times in my life, I have wandered in the wrong direction and put myself in harm’s way. And God has never punished me for it or decided not to look for me. He has found me, he has protected me, and he has returned me to safety. He loves me– like the good shepherd loves his sheep, like parents love their children.