Freeing myself from picture perfect motherhood

I was going through some notes on my phone today and found what I think was the title of something I wanted to write about but never did. The note was created on March 26, 2017 and was titled, “Freeing Myself from Picture Perfect Motherhood.” 

I clicked on the note, only to find it completely empty, and it made me smile. 

Undoubtedly, in that moment when I was trying to express something, I had been interrupted by someone. Thus proving what I am sure I was trying to explain in my thesis to be true. 

Motherhood isn’t picture perfect, no matter how beautiful it may be framed. 

It can be easy, no matter how hard we try not to, to get this idea in our heads that motherhood should somehow be picture perfect. I think that is partly because God has put in our hearts the desire for a perfect world. One that is unstained by our sin, our children’s sin, and the suffering that comes from a world broken by it. 

Genesis 3 is clear that a curse has come upon mankind ~ and that curse affects both the man and the woman’s spheres of life. 

Man will have thorns in his work and the woman will experience pain in childbirth. This stigma from the beginning of time, overflows today into every area of our lives, doesn’t it? 

And even as women who put our hope in God and know these things to be true from Scripture, find it so easy to forget, don’t we? 

For around us and through social media, we see a world of picture perfect motherhood, and we wonder why our own little domain isn’t quite like that.

We wake up in the morning expecting our world to look something like that, and when it isn’t, we may find ourselves spiraling into a dark place. Of course, we probably wouldn’t put it into those terms exactly, but deep down I know so many days that’s been true for me. I’ve woken up and faced the day believing my children will naturally want to obey, that the kitchen floor won’t suffer a ridiculous spill of chocolate milk, or that my energy or sanity will be like a gurgling and endless fresh water spring, constantly meeting my own needs and the little people around me. 

I don’t know what I was planning to write on March 26, 2017, but I know what I want to say today, on October 16, 2019. Motherhood isn’t picture perfect for me, and I want to be set free from any expectations from myself or others that it will be or that it could be.  

But while all my moments aren’t frame worthy by some standards, they are one of the most important things in this life to me. If I could look back on the past few months and point to something the Lord has been teaching me, it would be the understanding that most of my days will not go as I plan them. In Galatians 5, Paul says that there is a battle going on between the flesh and the spirit. That if we know the Lord, if we belong to Him, there will often be a struggle in our hearts between living by the flesh or living by the spirit. He calls it, “the works of the flesh” and the “fruit of the spirit.” Every day, there will be temptations and there are battles to be fought in the home ~ both in my heart and in the lives of my children. If they know the Lord, I can begin to explain this to them. That the Holy Spirit is a helper in their hearts to help them obey, but that their flesh and sinful desires will often not want help. I love though, that the works of the spirit are described not as works at all, but as fruit. Good and delightful things growing right there in the midst of the battle, in the midst of my heart and the hearts of my children as we seek to obey Him. 

My best days of motherhood aren’t the ones where I think or expect them to be perfect,  but the days when I am set free from that idea all together. The days when I know there will be battles and messes happening, both in my heart and in the hearts of my children, but that I don’t have to face them alone. That through the power of the Holy Spirit at work through me and God’s Word, there is hope, beauty, joy and fruit growing. 

That my motherhood story is beautiful, it is of incredible value, it is a time I cannot ever get back, and it is not picture perfect because it is so much more than could ever be captured in a staged snapshot. Battles aren’t beautiful, but when the enemy loses and victory is won, they are places of triumph and remembrance. Life is altered and made there. Lives are forever changed there. Little hearts are formed there. 

As a mother, I don’t ever want to believe that one bad moment has  ruined our day, no, it’s shown us where we need to look today. It’s shows us that a victory is in the making and even when a battle is loss, forgiveness is calling. 

Today may be hard, really hard, we may have breakdowns at the laundry pile, squabbling at the kitchen table, and I may even find myself regrouping behind a locked bathroom door. But those days, those days that are hard and I look up, those are my best days. For on those days, I am set free from picture perfect motherhood and I find the story of motherhood God is writing for me. It cannot be captured with a lens, for while that is how man sees, it’s not how God sees. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart, and in that, I am gloriously set free. 

treasuring motherhood when I fail

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I don’t know what it is, maybe it’s that cool of the morning that comes with the beginning of fall,  maybe it’s my middle turning five years old, or maybe it’s the reality of knowing how quickly this life passes, that has me contemplating once again my mothering.

It’s so easy, isn’t it, to try to “judge” ourselves. To ask, “How am I doing?” “Am I treasuring all the moments?” “Am I a good mom?”

I think these questions are good and definitely have a place, but I have also recognized the danger of evaluating myself too much. Because when I do, I feel dreadfully sad.

Surely there were moments I missed, surely there were times I failed, and even when I did it all just right, it’s still going by oh so fast.

I want to figure this out. How do I treasure yesterday, enjoy today, and smile at tomorrow?

I don’t know if I ever will, but I do know this ~ The best way for me to do a better job at anything is not to look too long at myself. Because I will either think too highly of myself or I will plummet by the sheer reality of my own inadequacies.

The apostle Paul, a man of great godliness and boldness evaluated himself like this in 1 Corinthians 4:3-4~

But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.

In our society today, we are often told:

Believe in yourself.

It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, just what you think of yourself.

Encouragement is important and I do think our inner thoughts are so vital. But Paul just says something so radically different here. And it has helped me immensely as a mom.

Paul essentialy says, that at the end of the day,

It doesn’t matter what you think of me. And

It doesn’t matter what I think of myself.

Paul knows that his own opinion of himself can be flawed. He could be thinking he’s doing it all right, but his heart is in the wrong place. Or he could be thinking that he’s failing, but God sees something different (1 Sam 16:7).

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetPaul doesn’t look for his stamp of approval from another person or even from himself. He doesn’t value his own opinion. The only opinion of himself that truly matters is God’s.

This is such a transformational truth and one that I want to grab onto with all my heart.

There are so many standards set for us as women and as mothers. We can barely meet our own high standards, much less someone else’s. I’m not saying don’t set them, do! But the moment I think that meeting a standard makes me a good mom, I’ve made motherhood all about me. I’ve declared that my identity is wrapped up in my achievements. And I’ve created a giant obstacle that has my name written all over it.

For in that moment I try to be some perfect mom, I miss out.

I’m not thinking about my kids. I’m not enjoying just knowing them. I’m worried about that thing I didn’t do.

Instead of staying up late to snuggle for a few minutes, I’m worried about that book that says not to do that.

Instead of sending that little cookie in her lunchbox, I’m wondering if another mom will judge me if I do.

Instead of being confident about what I’ve decided to do, I’m second guessing my every move.

Instead of looking up, I’m desperately looking within, and missing what’s right in front of me.

Instead of soaking up all the goodness of everyday moments, I’m letting myself get in the way.

I’m missing the way the breeze is blowing her hair just that way. I’m not thanking God for grubby fingers to scrub. I’m not laying on the floor reading two more chapters of Nancy Drew. I’m not skipping down the sidewalk. I’m not kissing my husband when he walks in the door and treasuring how he spins my little ones in the air in his daddy way. I’m not thanking God that he’s even there to do it.

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetIf I spend my days putting checks in my own boxes, I will miss just knowing my children. I will miss right now.

And if I strive in motherhood for that moment when I feel like I’m a “good” mom, I  will never reach it.

I must believe this. I am not in the courtroom. My mothering is not on trial. Yes, I want to recognize failings, not brush over them, but learn.

But I want to remember, as a mom who has been redeemed by Christ, Jesus went on trial for me. He is my substitute for my ugly failings and He loves me unconditionally.

My identity isn’t wrapped up in being the best mom, whatever that is. It’s not wrapped up in how I lived yesterday or in what I think of myself today.

My identity isn’t even found in motherhood at all. It was declared in a heavenly courtroom by a God who says, “You are my beloved child, in whom I am well pleased.”

I want to value how God has uniquely gifted me and my friends as mothers, and then I want to forget myself, and run to Him. The One who gave me yesterday, holds my tomorrow, and wants me to find joy today.

.

.

. Tim Keller’s The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness was extremely helpful to me in unpacking 1 Corinthians 4 

satisfaction for the thirsty soul

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetLast week, Grant and I moved halfway across the country from Kentucky to Texas. It’s a move we’ve been planning for the past few months, but still, no matter how much you prepare, there is nothing like actually moving ~ saying goodbye to the places you’ve known and starting fresh all over again. One of the things I have been praying about is how the move would affect our three children. I have wondered if they would miss their old home and friends, if they would cry like I did when I was four and a half and moved from Texas to South Carolina.

 

I was telling a friend this morning just how surprised I’ve been by their stability through the move. Besides having some breakdowns from exhaustion, they’ve been eager and excited for our new home in Texas. AudreyKate even hugged me and said, “Mom, my home is wherever you and Daddy are.”

 

While I was watching the kids play in the pool yesterday I remembered that quiet security I also enjoyed as a child. Home was the little brick house on Bond Street, the rental in Catherine Court, or our home in Seabrook. My soul was satisfied and content in that reality and it was enough.

 

Not everyone experiences that kind of security as a child. And even the most secure children grow up and leave home. But in Scripture we see over and over again that God wants His children to have that kind of security.

 

In Psalm 17, the Psalmist gives a statement of satisfaction that I have been reflecting on the past couple of days. He says this:

 

Men of the world, whose portion is in this life,

Whose belly you fill with your treasure;

They are satisfied with children,

And leave their abundance to babes.

As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;

I will be satisfied with your likeness when I awake.

 

This passage is pretty straightforward. Those who don’t know the Lord, they find their satisfaction here. Four walls, a roof, a good job, and material success. Providing for their children is enough for them.

 

But the righteous longs for something much, much, more.

 

They know that this world is broken. That life is a vapor. That what our souls need most isn’t food or job security, but more of the Lord.

 

As a mom in the middle of a move, this passage hit home for me in a couple ways.

 

First, I am reminded of the joy I receive from mothering my children. I just love being my kids’ mom. No matter where we are I often just treasure the gift of being with them.

 

But secondly, we also have hard days and moments. My kids aren’t perfect and neither am I. My children bring me great satisfaction but it is not enough. I need something more. My heart needs more. I often find myself tired and at the end of myself.

 

I need a satisfaction that doesn’t depend on my children’s obedience or my feelings. I need a stability and a security like a little child moving across the country but knowing mom and dad are still there.

 

And that’s what God wants to be for me. That’s what He wants to be for those who know Him. The joy of His presence and the knowledge of our security in Him is something He wants us to delight in wherever we are and whatever we are walking through. He whispers it to us through His Word ~ that He’s not just there in the green pastures, but in the dry places too.

 

Isaian 58:11 says

 

And the Lord will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.

 

I never want the things in this life to be enough for me. And that’s why it is okay to not be okay because whatever God has given you in this life isn’ supposed to be enough for you, only He is enough for you. 

 

You can take joy and delight in your children because your satisfaction doesn’t begin or end in them. Your home is the walls and roof and God has given you but your true home in Him, your Father, and He will never ever leave you.

 

There is only one well, and his name is Jesus. And when I run to Him as my river of delights, I find that like I child I am satisfied and at home wherever I am because my Father is there.

 

For He has satisfied the thirsty soul, and the hungry soul He has filled with what is good.

 

Castleberry Hearts are Texas Bound!

IMG_0126.JPGWhat can I say except we are so thankful for this journey of seminary the Lord brought us on! Five years ago we put our home in S.C. on the market, sold half of our belongings, and moved to The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for Grant to embark on his M.Div.

AudreyKate was just barely a toddler, and I was seven months pregnant with Evangeline. What we didn’t know is that the MDiv would lead to a PhD and that our three years at Southern would expand to five. We have seen God’s faithfulness over and over again these past five years. We have made lifelong friendships we will treasure forever and we feel indebted to the encouragement, support, and spiritual education that Southern has imparted to us. We are just one of many families who has had the privilege of coming in and going out the doors of this seminary into ministry. We are grateful beyond words for those of you who have prayed for us and encouraged us in this journey.

Now that Grant is finished with his residential coursework for his PhD (he still has more studying left) it is with great excitement that we share that he will be joining the pastoral staff at Providence Church in Frisco, Texas! Grant gives the details of our move in his resignation letter to CBMW.

I wanted to share the news here with you – to those who read my blog and have encouraged me through your comments and messages. I plan to keep on sharing what the Lord is teaching me and I am grateful for each one of you.

From my heart,

GraceAnna

worth all the crumbs

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset“There are crumbs everywhere!” I texted my friend Amy one morning last week. We had been texting and sharing our current Bible study routines: what we are reading, what God is teaching us, and how we are fitting it in to our lives.

That morning I hadn’t gotten up as early as I would have liked, so I gave my kids a couple packets of breakfast crackers to eat in their room while they “read” books. It’s normally not my practice to allow snacks in the bedrooms, but I needed a few more minutes alone to pray and let God’s Word speak to my heart.

I don’t just want that time each day in God’s Word. I need that time.  I need His strength and His Word. His Word is so deep I always feel like I am barely scratching the surface and yet I know Him better through it. It helps me see my sin and brings me back to His grace over and over again. I want to make His Word more of a priority in my life than I do and I wish I could say that I always chose time with Him above other things.

I texted Amy a picture of my Bible with a quote from Charles Spurgeon that said, “Where there is heaven in the heart there will be heaven in the house.” I had been reading Psalm 37 and studying Spurgeon’s commentary on the Psalm.

As I was closing my Bible and beginning to fix the kids a real breakfast my phone dinged again, “I love that quote. WORTH ALL THE CRUMBS!” she texted back.

FullSizeRender-4I smiled and thought, she is so right. I hadn’t thought about that quote in relation to my home. But it’s so true, God’s word is always worth it. It’s worth washing the sheets later or hauling the vacuum in. It’s worth missing a workout or getting dinner on the table a few minutes later. It’s worth getting up extra early or staying up a little later.

God’s Word is always worth it because your heart is worth it.

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.”

As moms we are often encouraged to have our “me” time, our alone time, our “pamper” time. Or sometimes it’s the expectations we put on ourselves. We want to have it together. We want to do things well, as we should.

But we should never quit guarding our hearts. The Bible says that the heart is like a storehouse (Luke 6:45). It treasures things up. It’s the place the mouth speaks from.

For every person, the heart must be guarded. And as mothers, we care for our children out of our hearts, or what’s left of it. Maybe we are mothering from a weary and anxious heart, a broken heart, or an angry heart. Or maybe we feel like our heart is failing us completely like the Psalmist says in Psalm 73:26.

That is why we must run to Him every single day with our whole heart. Not because we are just trying to “make God a priority,” but because we desperately need Him. Because it’s worth it. And because as Christian mothers we know that our hearts are what set the tone for our homes more than anything else.

Tidy rooms, well-dressed children, dinner on the table right on time, those are all well and good but what are they compared to your heart?

God values it so much He told Martha “only one thing is necessary” (Luke 10:42).

 

God does not ask us to do it all but He does ask us one thing, “Give me your heart, my daughter, and let your eyes delight in my ways.”

I promise you, it’s worth all the crumbs.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

*Proverbs 23:26, daughter added

 

freeing yourself from picture perfect motherhood in an Instagram world

I love being a mom. I love it. I love seeing my friends post on Instagram their joys of motherhood: The baby snuggles, the matching outfits, the days at the zoo, the budget friendly design spaces, and even the messes too. All the little moments they deem “Instagram worthy”.

As much as I enjoy it, there have been times when I have taken a step back from social media for various reasons. At times because I thought it was distracting me, overwhelming me, or I was just too busy.

But through my own journey in this digital age, I have never wanted to be quick to condemn social media just because it sometimes brings out something in me that I don’t like.

I never ever want to miss that there is something to be celebrated about what can sometimes appear to be picture perfect motherhood.

For there is an element of God’s common grace in joyful social media posts.

That mothers around the world find facets of enjoyment in being a mother is a beautiful thing.  Whether it is in a silly face, the first day of school, figuring out how to double French braid or sharing that special thing she did with her kids – that is something to rejoice in.

James 1:17 says:

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

It is the mark of an others focused person to affirm and embrace not only the fullness of motherhood that God has given you, but the fullness He has also given other mothers.

But there is an emptiness we can feel in motherhood too. I know I have felt it at times. Especially in this digital age where pictures are often staged and perceptions can be skewed. And there is just no way around how images or posts can often make us feel. Because while motherhood is full, it can also be empty.

When all you see is picture perfect, and you are struggling with something, sometimes the easiest thing is to try to bury those feelings or harbor bitterness towards those who have what you don’t.

But what if instead of wallowing in our own emptiness or begrudging others for the good gifts God has given them, what if we stared our emptiness in the face?

What is your emptiness? What is the thing that hurts?

Maybe it’s seeing the mom snuggling her baby which only reminds you of the babies you have lost. Maybe it’s the home you will never have or the toys or baby gear you cannot afford. Or maybe it’s the family vacations that “get you,” or the household orderliness. Or maybe it’s all the things you feel you cannot be. You don’t want to feel this way, but you do. So what do you do?

Do you run away? Do you lash out? Do you stuff it down? Do you miss out on rejoicing with someone else?

As mothers in Christ we must do one thing. We must face it. We must face our empty. We must face the darkness in us.

For it is in our weakness – our emptiness – our nothingness – that God changes us so that He can use us for His purposes.

It is in the moments of the “have nots” that we rediscover all that we have in Him.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.” – 2 Cor 12:19

But how can we find the strength to do this? And this is what I have found to be so very helpful: We can embrace the darkness because Christ already did it for us. He suffered for us. He went to the cross for us.

And because of that, we are children of light who do not have to dwell in the darkness. We don’t have to be slaves to our selfish desires or our feelings.

Galatians 5:1 says that Christ has set us free.

While we still struggle with our sinful nature, we do not have to be enslaved to it because our darkness is overshadowed by His glory. We are “being transformed into the same image from glory to glory.” As we focus on Christ and His Word instead of ourselves, He does a work in our hearts, making us more like Him. He sheds His light in the dark parts of us and gives us a joy in Him and a genuine love for others.

Sometimes I wonder how Mary was able to stand at the cross. How was she able to stare the darkness in the face as she watched her Son die? Maybe because she knew He was going to conquer it. Maybe because she remembered what the angel Gabriel had spoken and what the prophets had said. Maybe she believed in the darkness that He was going to make it all better.

And so we stand as mothers who are in Christ. We thank God for our joys in light of His grace and we face our darkness knowing God is molding us and shaping us in the light of His glory. For now we see dimly, but soon we shall see face to face.

“For You light my lamp; The Lord my God illumines my darkness.” Psalm 18:28

Because it is there He wants to meet us. It is that place He is touching and wants to heal. It is His strength He is offering. There in the darkness, we find Him, where we never thought we would. And we realize that social media, or whatever it is, is just another tool God is using to change us. For we are far from picture perfect mothers and we should never try to fit that label. For Christ has set us free, and we are free indeed.

The Gift in the Goodbye


I lay awake in bed last night thinking about how my oldest just lost her first tooth. I was thinking about it because I hadn’t been thinking about it. I’d barely given it a passing thought when it started wiggling a few weeks back. Things had been busy. I was excited for her though and thought, “How is she old enough for this?” That was all.

But then yesterday, I enjoyed the toothless grin of my five-year-old going on (ever so quickly) six-years-old. And when I lay down to sleep, I thought about that little tooth.

She had been so cranky when it was cutting through when she was just a few months old. But the thing was, I was new at mothering and had no idea that was what was going on. She was fussy. Constantly. I tried everything. One day I put her in the sling and walked four miles in the neighborhood just to keep her from crying. It worked for her but failed to stop my own tears. Then, at just four months, she woke up with a tooth.

Oh. Well that makes sense. My newborn was now an infant. A new stage. And we had made it there together.

Each new stage of motherhood is like that, isn’t it? Sometimes it’s a struggle and yet it arrives either way. And each new stage is a bidding of farewell to something else. In this is both the sorrow and the joy. But each new stage is a gift that couldn’t be received without saying goodbye.

As sentimental as motherhood can be, our children need us to cherish them as they are now as much as we did with their chubby baby cheeks.

And we must not believe that we’ve truly lost something in this. For the love we poured into them then has brought them to this place today.

That happy toothless grin was wrought by both our tears.

But we also must not try to stuff down the pangs of sadness that come with the passing of each stage. There is a deep pain that comes with motherhood that no matter how hard we try we cannot get around. It is part of it. And the embracing of it allows us to experience a deep joy and believe that God is doing something.

Rachel must have felt sorrow as she was slipping out of this life just as her little boy Benjamin was born. We know Jochebed must have felt it when she pushed Moses out into the bulrushes. Out of her control. Out of her hands. Hannah felt it when she let go of her little boy’s hand as she gave him to Eli the priest. Or Mary, we know how that sword pierced her heart from the very beginning unto the end.

Even though our lives differ greatly from these women, surely God gave their stories to help us.

This world. Oh this broken world where we are not even promised tomorrow with our children.

And then the tiny pangs as we watch them grow up right before our eyes. Their babyhood slipping away. So many goodbyes.

But in order for God to use us and them, we must seek the joy in the sorrow. They are intricately interwoven. But joy must win. And it can win because the God we trust made all things right when He let His own Son go. He gave us the most precious Gift in the greatest of all goodbyes. We cannot even identify with the pain the Father felt in turning His back on his Son. But Mary, she was a mother. We can close our eyes and imagine her pain even if we cannot know its fullness.

And we remember how God took care of Rachel’s boys ~ Joseph and Benjamin. God never left them alone. When Jochebed trusted God with her baby in the basket, a nation was brought out of slavery. God used Samuel to bring great repentance to His people and victory over enemies. But what if they hadn’t let go? And that is just the amazing thing. We don’t have to just let go. For Rachel, Jochebed, Hannah, and Mary, they didn’t just let go, they gave them to God in their letting go.

And that is what we must do. As we say goodbye and we feel the pangs of years slipping away, we give our children to God. We give our tears to Him. We are holding on as we let go. We trust the One who created us and our children in the first place.

As mothers who have put their hope in Christ we have a joy in each passing season because we have a Savior.

We don’t know how God will use our children. They may live a quiet life. They may lead a hard life. They may be in the shadows. They may be in the spotlight.

But one thing for sure, we can trust that all the tiny goodbyes along the way are preparing our children for the life God has for them. God uses our tears and trust to build their futures. I don’t know how it all works but that is the amazing thing about God.

The God who spoke the world into existence knows the number of our days. He is growing us up just as He grows them. And He is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory where there are no goodbyes. No more sorrow. No more death. And that is what makes the joy so very great ~ our hope is in Him. And He is the One who can enable us to cherish the gift in every goodbye.

~

Ephesians 3:14-21 

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen