Bible Reading for the Whole Family

As we begin the new year, I wanted to share a few resources our family is using to read through the Bible.

Of course, there is no greater resource in the world than God’s Word! Having a plan is just a tool we use to help keep us on track. Years ago, I wrote a post about reading God’s Word with little ones. It was basically an explanation of my own discovery that as a mother my time in God’s Word will not always be “quiet”. I don’t need quiet to read God’s Word (though of course it’s nice!). I just need God’s Word!

I posted on my instagram that I am heading into the new year asking the Lord to help me put Him continually before me (Psalm 16:8). The main way I am doing this is setting God’s Word before me each and every day.

That being said, I want to quickly break down what plans we are using to read God’s Word.

MYSELF ~

A couple years ago I started reading through the Bible during the school year (September~May). It’s helpful for me to not start from scratch in January. This also gives me the chance to do something different in the summer. Last year I used Robert Murray M’Cheyne’s Bible reading plan. I kept it in my Bible and used it as a checklist. This year I am using the To The Word Bible reading plan. My favorite aspect of this plan is that it is connected to the Youversion Bible app. On days when I don’t have enough time to sit down and read six chapters, I will play the audio version. I’m also reading with a friend, and we hold eachother accountable by commenting through the app every day!

GRANT ~

Grant loves the M’Cheyne plan. He cuts out the linked printout and tapes it on opposite sides of the front pages of His bible. He always starts it sometime in the fall too. He likes getting a jumpstart so he won’t get behind if he misses a day. He never listens to it on audio and no matter how late at night it is, if he hasn’t done his reading, I will find him in his chair reading God’s Word. This is also a great compilation of some excellent reading plans.

THE KIDS ~

Our oldest two children are able to read God’s Word on their own now. This year they are using Tune My Heart’s 5 day narrative Bible reading plan. With this plan, the kids will read through all the major narratives of Scripture plus Psalms and Proverbs in a year. They use this Bible. This one also looks GREAT and is one we may buy next.

Grant printed and taped it in the front of the girls’ Bibles so they can check it off as they go along. We alternate reading with our eight-year-old to help her with challenging words and navigate to the right passage (our nine-year-old reads first thing in the morning on her own). This is not only special time with our eight-year-old, but we are sneaking in a little homeschool time too (her reading has come leaps and bounds already!). There is also a daily devotional guide for this plan which is great for older children.

We put the third page in the back cover pages

BIBLE and FAMILY DEVOTIONAL

I have absolutely loved the Bible curriculum we are using for the kids this year. I do Bible with all the kids together 2-3 times per week. If you are looking for a no-fluff resource that helps children understand the entire Bible this is it! I have even learned so much! We do not memorize the catechism questions, but just by reviewing it consistently, the kids know all the answers. It’s helped them understand God’s promises and the fight of good against evil from the very beginning of time.

Lastly, Grant reads to the kids often from different children’s Bibles before bed. The kids are currently loving The Action Bible as well as Catherine Vos’ The Child’s Story Bible.

I know that many of you already have a Bible reading strategy for 2021, but since I had been asked several times what we were doing, I wanted to compile this for you. May we all say with the Psalmist, “I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word” (Ps 119:16).

How God Uses Hard Things

I never even saw the car coming. It was around 7am on a Saturday and I had jumped in my minivan to drive five minutes down the road to pick up Starbucks coffee. 

I never even saw the car coming. It was around 7am on a Saturday and I had jumped in my minivan to drive five minutes down the road to pick up Starbucks coffee.

Grant had a grueling schedule that year. He was juggling seminary classes and two jobs, I wanted to surprise him with hot coffee and breakfast. 

“Mom can I come with you?” my oldest begged before I left the house. 


“No, stay here with Daddy” I whispered. “I promise I will be right back.” 


“Mama!”, my other toddler came out of her room wanting me. I picked her up to snuggle her and immediately realized she had wet the bed. 


I sighed. Again?! I had just put fresh sheets on the night before and now I would have to do it all again. And had I put the waterproof mattress cover back on yesterday? No I hadn’t. It would need a good mattress scrubbing and airing out too. 


“Go snuggle with Daddy, I will be right back” I told her.


My girls ran into the bedroom to snuggle their dad and I slipped out the door. 


I connected my cell phone to the speaker system after I got in and cranked up the heat. A song I had been listening to last time came on, MY GOD, MY FATHER, BLISSFUL NAME. Whate’er Thy sacred will ordains, O give me strength to bear; And let me know my Father reigns, And trust His tender care.”

I sang the words as I approached the red light and sat for a few moments, praying and singing in my heart. It was cold out. It was beautiful out. The light went green and my singing heart didn’t check both ways before I pulled out into the intersection. 

Next thing I knew my world was swirling. All I could see was brown spinning. What was happening? Lord am I dying? After a moment I opened my eyes.

Where was I? Things began to come together as my mind raced into clarity. My van was in the middle of the intersection. Someone was at my door banging on the glass.

“Ma’am! Are you OK?” Someone else was screaming. “She ran the red light! That woman was on her phone and she ran the red light.”

I saw a woman in another vehicle get out of her car. People were yelling at her. I felt a tingling sensation and reached up and touched my hair and felt blood but no pain.

Then I realized what had happened. Someone had run the red light and hit me. I looked behind me to see my car had been tossed. Tears streamed down my face, God thank you I left the kids at home. It hurt so much to imagine my three little ones in the back seat. But they weren’t in the backseat.

Someone was standing at the car trying to ask me something, “Miss, are you okay? I see blood. Miss?!”

In that moment I couldn’t speak or answer. I only had one thought, “God please let me go home and change my little girl’s sheets.” 

Those sheets. Those precious wet sheets. How had I ever scorned them? How had I ever dreaded changing them? I would do anything to be there right now. God please give me more years to change wet sheets!

With the help of a paramedic I managed to get out of my van and call Grant as I got into the ambulance. “I’m OK,” I said as I tried weakly to describe what had happened. “I’m going to the hospital but I’m OK.”

And I was OK. Three staples to the head later (ouch), and a mild concussion, but no permanent physical damage. Just permanent heart change. 

I realized that day in the intersection that I hadn’t been grateful for the mundane tasks of mothering. I was taking the joy of having little ones to care for for granted. 

I wish I could say that day washed away all my pride and that I never dreaded a mundane task again, but I can tell you it was a good start. 

That incredibly hard moment forever changed my perspective of the mundane. 
And that’s how God works so often doesn’t He? 

He uses the hard things to change our perspective. To grow us. To show us our sin and help us realize His blessings. The hard things are what soften us when we are willing to let Him work and accept what He is doing in our lives. 


2020 has been a hard year for so many. But the amazing thing for the Christian is that we know that God uses the hard things to do great things. He uses hard truths to soften our hard hearts. He uses difficulty to smack us on the head and wake us up and help us realize that He hasn’t given up on us, He is changing us.

I don’t have to pretend the hard things aren’t hard, but what I want to do is allow God to change me through them. To soften my heart like never before. To help me see in a way I never have before. To serve in a way I never have before. To love in a way I never have before. And most days, that begins with the mundane.


For isn’t that what Christmas is all about? Our God made low, to lift us up. Emmanuel God with us.

The God of No Limits

Months ago, back when the pandemic was just beginning, we visited my parents (a few days before states shut down! Remember that?!).

After a full day, one of my kids was struggling. Struggling with attitude and tears and everything just seemed difficult. My mom pulled her into her lap and told her that everything was OK. “We all have limits,” she told my girl. “God is the only one who doesn’t. And it’s important for us to understand that. And,” she added, “things always seem more difficult when you’re tired.”

I’ve thought about that little conversation so often as we have faced the months since and the pandemic swept our country. God has used those words from my mom to my child to remind me of an ever important truth that continues to sustain me.

The God of No Limits

“The God of no limits” is a phrase I’ve repeated to myself often these past six months. I’ve reminded myself of it when I’m folding laundry or when my children all need something different from me and I’m not sure exactly what to give. I’ve reminded myself of it when I read the news or feel the weight of how different things have seemed this year.

And here is the honest truth: I am a woman of limits.

I get weary. I stumble. I run dry.

But the amazing truth is that I don’t have to conjure up the answers. I don’t have to escape reality or constantly remind myself of how self sufficient I am or believe in myself to get through.

I have a Savior. A heavenly Father who has no limits. He never has a bad day or even a bad moment!

Psalm 121 says:

I will lift my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps Israel will not slumber or sleep.

Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber or sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;

The Lord is your shade on you right hand.

This world may be tumultuous, but the Christian has a Keeper.

Jesus slept on a boat in the midst of the storm because He knew the world was upheld by His Father.

I can sleep, because I have a God who doesn’t. I can trust because I have a God has ordained every event. I can come to Him empty and He fills me up.

When I acknowledge my limits, I am in good company, for this is how the saints of old gained their strength.

They lifted their eyes to the mountains. To the One who formed the heavens and the earth with a word. Like a weary child they knew just where to turn ~ they lifted their eyes to the God of no limits.

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power.

Rare but Real

It has been way too long since I posted here! I’ve had so many things I’ve wanted to write about, but they haven’t gotten from my head to paper!

But I have been wanting to share a conference that my sisters-in-law and I had the privilege of speaking at in September.

The conference is entitled, “Rare but Real” and in these days, I can’t think of many things more important than being a woman of the Word (which is rare) and being real (walking humbly and openly before the Lord).

I share about what being a rare but real woman looks like in everyday life. My sister-in-law, Maureen, shares what it looks like to walk through the most heartbreaking trials of life. My sister-in-law Chesed shares on walking joyfully right where God has you! We ended the evening with a Q & A time with my mom!

I would love to hear how God is working in your life this year and I hope these talks encourage you!

The Lord’s Day: A Delight For Our Children

IMG_0018When I was a little girl, my favorite day of the week was Sunday. This was for several reasons that I remember in my childhood mind. For one thing, Saturday was a day full of chores. I can remember many a Saturday, cleaning away the bathrooms, while wistfully looking forward to the next day when my parents never expected me to do any chores.

Sunday was also a day free of schoolwork. I didn’t have to write in my journal that same phrase I wrote daily, “I can’t wait to finish school so I can play outside.” But then there was also the fun of putting on my best clothes, going to church, and usually eating a delicious lunch, typically a nicer one than we had any other day of the week. The afternoon was filled with being in the outdoors, sometimes watching a family movie, or playing with special activities reserved just for Sundays.

 

Now, as my own family is quarantined at home, I have found myself thinking deeper about what sets the Lord’s Day apart for us. For now, gone is the aspect of getting dressed and going to church to worship with God’s people. And because of that void in our lives, it’s causing me to think of other ways our family sets the Lord’s Day apart. I want to think hard now, so that when this quarantine time is over, I will be selective about the routines we add back into our lives and continue ones we started.

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When my children are grown and look back on the Lord’s Day in our home, I want them to have the best memories. I don’t want them to remember it as a boring day, but a day they looked forward to all week long. And even now, at their young ages, I would love for them to say that the Lord’s Day is their favorite day of the week.

Grant and I are seeking to teach our children that The Lord’s Day is special—not only because it’s the day that the church gathers in worship and adoration of God— but it’s a day to be treasured because Christ is our treasure. Not only is it a day to worship and rest, but a day to be reminded that God loves and delights in us, His children.

I will never forget a couple years ago when our children were younger and Grant and I were talking with some friends after the church service. Our children started running and playing tag in the foyer. I quickly pulled our kids aside and began correcting them for running inside. Grant came up and whispered in my ear, “GraceAnna, this is a happy place and I want them always to remember that church is a happy place. Let them run since the church is basically empty now.

A happy place. A happy day. A day to be treasured and be reminded of God’s love. A day to rest. One day out of seven that is different. Worship, as Grant has been teaching the kids this week, is Coram Deo, “before the face of God.” It’s living a godward life and seeking to honor the Lord in all that we do. Sunday is a day to reset in our worship. And rest is a change in our occupation. A pause on what we normally do, our usual labors

As I seek to set rhythms in our home, those principles for the Lord’s Day are my guide: joyful worship and rest. I want my children to have special memories of the day as we focus our hearts on the Lord and experience His goodness.

I want to encourage you to think about the rhythms of your own home and seek to make the Lord’s Day the most special day of the week for your family.

The Lord’s Day shouldn’t be filled with drudgery, it is a gift! Grant and I came up with the following ideas for our own family, and I would love to hear some of your ideas too!

 

  • More chores on Saturday. I’m sure our kids won’t appreciate this one much, but we want Saturday to be a day where we do extra so that the Lord’s Day truly can be one of rest. If you have young children, you know how difficult it can be to keep a house picked up! Training our children to join in the responsibility is not only helpful to us as parents, but teaches them the value of hard work. If Saturday is a day of play all day, then it may end up being their favorite day of the week and Sunday afternoon may end up being filled with leftover chores that didn’t get completed before the start of school on Monday. We want our children to associate the joy of Sunday with a rest from their usual chores just as God set the example for us by resting on the seventh day.

 

  • Cocoa pebbles and Captain Crunch for breakfast on Sundays. Okay, this may seem like a funny one! But the Castleberry kids love some sugar cereal! They would eat them 7 days a week. But for now, we’ve reserved these special ones for breakfast for the Lord’s Day. They can’t wait for Sunday to eat their cocoa pebbles! I also heard of another family in our church who had “Sunday Sundaes” as a family when their children were young.

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  • A Sunday box/treasure chest. Grant and I are just beginning this tradition. This is one my parents did for a period of time when my brothers and I were younger and comes from H. Clay Trumbull’s book, Hints on Child Training(Trumbull was Elisabeth Elliot’s great grandfather. You can purchase the book from several retailers but there is also a free PDF version).  On Easter, Grant and I began the Lord’s Day treasure box.  It’s filled with special toys and activities that our children can play with just on Sundays. We want them to look forward to playing with this all week. We are slowly building this collection, but we hope this will be a tradition they always remember. These are special activities only for the Lord’s Day. When Sunday is over, the toys are put back in the “Sunday box.” For some families, this may mean cutting back on indulgences they give their kids during the week. Maybe instead of gifting their child a special toy on a Wednesday, they reserve it for the Sunday box. I will share a peek into our current treasure box, but I think what this looks like will differ depending on the ages of your children/your budget, etc. I am trying to slowly build our box with new items as well as put some forgotten toys inside and family games.

 

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  • No chores for mom and dad on Sunday. For me, housework is what I do 6 days a week, so besides a little general upkeep on Sunday, I want to be available to play with my kids freely or sit on the porch and talk with Grant. Rest looks different for everyone. Maybe mowing the grass brings you great joy and rest on a Sunday. But I think the point is setting rhythms of rest and activities that help your heart worship the Lord.

 

  • Family walks ~ this is something we try to do a lot anyway, but the freed up time on Sunday gives us more time to do this!

 

The Lord’s Day is to be treasured because Christ is our treasure. Therefore, we should teach our children to treasure it.

 

I will leave you with a quote from C.H. Trumball’s book on the sabbath ~

 

“Where the [Pg 153] Lord’s day is counted a dismal one by the children, it is obvious that the parents have failed to train their children to hallow that day, as the day which is peculiarly sacred to the love of their loving Father in heaven. Whether at home, or at Sunday-school or any other church service, the children should be helped to realize that the day is a day of brightness and of cheer; that while differing in its occupations and enjoyments from all other days, it is the best of them all. When a little boy, out of a home thus ordered, heard one of his companions express, on Sunday, a wish that it was already Monday, the little fellow said, with evident heartiness, “Why! don’t you like Sunday? I like it best of all the days.” And so it ought to be in the case of every boy and girl in a Christian home.”

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mothering is discipleship

I snapped this photo a couple weeks ago at the end of a busy day. In that moment my heart was weary from the mothering tasks of the day. When I came around the corner to this scene, my heart was so refreshed.

I stood at the corner and listened as Grant read to the kids, explaining to them about the Tower of Babel. He was asking them questions and telling them about the sin of those people, wanting a life lived for their own glory.

He was discipling our children.

In that moment, the weariness of the day seemed to wash away and I realized I had gotten caught up in the doing and lost sight of my true calling.

It can be easy for me at times to do that. To get caught up in the tasks I need to complete. And when I do that, I often find my heart weary because I have reduced my role as a mother to just caring for the physical needs of my children.

I don’t downplay that role at all. I consider it a great privilege and incredible honor that I get to be home with them and fold their laundry and fix their meals and help them get dressed and keep our home… I love that role! It’s my favorite in the world! I love growing in it and that my love for my family and for God is lived out in daily tasks.

But when I reduce motherhood to just that, I find myself worn down and not enjoying my days. Because that is not the fullness of what God has called me to as a mother.

And often, when the world looks in at motherhood, I think that is all they see. They see just the physical tasks that comes with mothering. Isn’t that tiring? All the unbuckling and buckling and the sweeping and the repetitious mundane? Couldn’t anyone do that for the kids?

And I think it’s good to even ask myself that question, why me? Why is my role so important?

Because godly motherhood (and fatherhood too) is so much more than caring for the physical needs of my children. I am not my children’s babysitter. I’m not the hired help. My role cannot be delegated. I am called to so much more than that.

I am called to disciple my children and to pass on my faith to them. To help my children understand the world and their place in it. To share the otherness and greatness of God with them. To listen to their questions in ways that others won’t and don’t have time for and answer the best that I can or try to find out the answers. To stop in our daily moments in the car and explain why bad things happen, what it looks like to trust God, and how faith in Christ changes everything.

That can’t be done in 15 min before bedtime or just on Sunday mornings. It’s a daily calling. It’s a lifelong calling. It’s a high calling. And it’s done in the everyday moments. And somehow the physical and the spiritual are intertwined (Duet 6:7).

When Paul commends his disciple Timothy for his faith in in 2 Timothy 1:5, he commends him for his “sincere faith” which first dwelt in his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice.

Two things strike me to the heart about this passage. First, it was that Timothy’s faith was sincere. It was genuine. Real. Not just words. Not pretending. A real love for God. In a world of multicolored filters and flashy entertainment, how desperate is our world for something that is real.

It reminds me of the faith that Jesus commends one of his first disciples Nathanial for, “Behold an Israelite in whom there is no guile!” (John 1:47).  Nathanial’s heart was laid bare before the Lord. A simple and believing faith. Not hiding anything. Just believing.

And the second thing that hits me from this passage is of course the women who passed on this faith ~ his grandmother and mother. This was a faith lived out. A gritty faith. A true faith “which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice…”

These two women who raised Timothy weren’t commended for caring for the physical needs of Timothy, though assuredly that is of vital importance. But I think that is just assumed. No, the commendation came for something more, a genuine faith.

One day, when it’s all said and done, I cannot imagine hearing greater words spoken of my children and in regards to my mothering than what Paul said to Timothy about his faith. That my children had a “genuine faith.” A faith that first dwelt in me and now dwells in them. A faith passed on. A faith lived out.

My children will not find a perfect faith in me, that is for sure. But I pray they will find a real one. A laid bare one. A genuine one. A faith that points not to how hard I am holding on, but Who is holding on to me.

So today, I’m going to care for the physical needs of my home and children, but I’m going to remember that many tasks can be left undone if they get in the way of my greatest task.

I’m not here today to just keep the house tidy.  I am called to disciple my children. It’s not a complicated task, but I can often let myself get in the way of it and it takes time.

It’s not a task that follows a certain formula, but is one that is lived genuinely and dependently. 

It won’t be seen in shiny floors or folded laundry today, and it for sure can’t be captured in a filtered square. It’a found on my knees and in humble dependence. It’s found in time with my children…laying on a blanket and looking up at the clouds and talking about the creator, going for an undistracted walk and holding their hand, laying down with them at night, cleaning the kitchen together, or picking up sticks in the yard. The physical and spiritual intertwined.

So I pray today, you won’t let any voice whisper in your ear that you are not important or this day is not important or that your role isn’t important. Because it SO is. It’s a high calling. Don’t let yourself believe that you’re just a housekeeper or a sandwich maker or a bedmaker, though I pray you value those things.

NO, by God’s grace, you are a disciple maker.

You are a mother.

And one day, may the greatest thing be said of your mothering, was that you passed on a genuine faith. Pass it on with all your heart and let God do the rest.

 

Proverbs 1:8~9

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.

mothering in the deep

IMG_2481Lately I have been thinking of a phrase Grant mentioned in his sermon a few weeks ago, God for God. Last summer, God brought us our son, Patrick.  This little boy’s presence in our home has brought such joy. I cannot contain myself from documenting and enjoying and thanking God for all the moments with him!

But I don’t want to just love God for the blessings He brings, I want God for God. It can be easy to talk about God as a means to an end ~ wanting God so I can be a better wife, a more loving mom, or have more well behaved children. So much of this conversation focuses on what God does for me.

This is a shallow faith. A faith that focuses on the external and the temporal. A faith that can easily put Jesus in a tag line, as if He is the same as other loves.

I want something more than that kind of faith. I want something deeper. I want something deeper for my children.

For in the deep is where our children learn about God. It’s where they learn that they are small and God is big. In the deep they learn that there is a great Creator who made all things and holds their very life and breath.

Motherhood is not about playing in the shallow end. Godly motherhood is about going deep.

But how do we do that?

I think the only way to go deep with our children and disciple them the way we ought, is by going deep ourselves.

By loving God for God.

Because here’s the thing, we can’t take our children places we’ve never been.

Here is what I am realizing about myself: I am prone to a life of superficial shallowness and it takes intentionality for me to go deep with my children. It takes commitment and a discipline to use ordinary moments to take them deep.IMG_2307

And to do that, I have to be willing to go deep with God myself. But realistically, how do I do that in the chaos? How do I make that happen when there are little ones to feed, interruptions, and messes? How do I go deep with God in the mundane day-to-day?

First, and absolutely the most important thing is to be in a church where the Bible is taught every week and Christ is at the center. The church is where Christ ministers to you. It’s where you encounter the Word of God outside of yourself. It’s where you encounter Christ’s body. If you aren’t in a church like this, share with your husband your desire to be in a Christ exalting, Bible believing church. If you aren’t faithful to be in a body of believers where the Word is taught, you will dry up spiritually. A great place to start is right here. I look forward to Sunday all week. Some weeks I feel like it’s Sunday that sustains my Monday through Saturday.

Secondly, be in God’s Word daily. There’s no other way to hear from God than through His Word. This is God speaking to you. So to go deep with God, you must hear His voice. I think too often as women we let this slide because there are so many needs around us to attend to. But this is something we cannot live without. Just like you need physical food to power through your day, so you need God’s Word. I’ve had to let go of my expectations of how this time will look for me. Sometimes, I’m reading with children on my lap. Sometimes I’m reading with kids running around the house. Sometimes I’m reading in the car or listening to the Bible on audio while I get ready for the day. But whether it’s fast food or a sit down and enjoyable dinner, God has shown me how desperately I need His Word. If you don’t know where to start, this is the plan I use. I use it like a checklist and worry less about the date, and more about the fact that I am moving forward in His Word, and I am being nourished.

IMG_4850Third, I listen to sermons and podcasts during the week. Paul instructs us in Philippians 4:8 to set our minds on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, and excellent. He also says in Colossions 3:2, “Set your minds on things above.”  I do my best to grab pockets of time when my children are working on an assignment, having rest time, or I’m folding laundry. My favorite thing to do is listen to a pastor expound a text that I just read in my morning Bible reading. There is so much I read that I don’t understand. I have been amazed by how the Holy Spirit has grown me through this practice! I also love listening to old Elisabeth Elliot’s broadcasts or listening to hymns to feed my soul on doctrinal truth.

Fourth, reach out to godly women for help. This is why Titus 2 is so important for us as women and as mothers. We can’t do it on our own. We desperately need older women to teach us what it looks like to swim the depths of life. We need women we can pick up the phone and call when we feel like we are drowning. We need to see what it looks like to be ALL IN with our kids in whatever season we are in. We need women in our lives who aren’t content to sit on the sidelines, but have spent years diving into the depths of God.

Fifth, prayer. Prayer is more than me making my requests known to God. Prayer is communion with God. Prayer is intimacy with God. Prayer is knowing God. To strive to be a woman of depth, but fail to be a woman of prayer, is to fail all together. The deep women of God, pray. As I grow in my walk with the Lord, prayer has become easier. I notice that I’m using more Scripture in my prayers. That when I pray, I mean it. A couple weeks ago I read the book of Jonah. Before I knew it I had prayed with my kids, “Lord, just like you caused that great fish to vomit out Jonah, will you answer this prayer?” (my kids thought that was pretty funny too). But wherever I am and whatever I am doing, there is an opportunity to go deep in my prayer life with the Lord. That the God of the universe, maker of heaven and earth would heard my prayers is truly amazing.

I want to go deep with God and I want my children to go deep with God. I want to go to places I’ve never been in my relationship with Him, and I don’t want to leave my children in the shallows. I want to take them with me. I want God for God.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! Romans 11:33

 

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PS ~ trying to post here more, but you can find me the most on instagram, @castleberryhearts

 

 

The things I am not waiting for

I will never forget that ultrasound. In the second trimester of my pregnancy , the quietness from the ultrasound technician was deafening.

 

“No, no, no…” I heard myself say audibly as I watched her face fill with sadness, “Please tell me ‘no.'”

 

Then the words I had heard once before were spoken, “GraceAnna, I’m so sorry. There is no heartbeat.”

 

The days that followed were difficult and oh so painful. My husband and I drove to the hospital the next morning and I delivered a perfect little girl, we named her Rose. She was tiny in Grant’s hands and we loved her so. We buried her in a cemetery not far from his childhood home in Dallas.

 

I’ve always gotten so sick in each of my pregnancies. I have four beautiful children  now and have felt the waves of sickness that pregnancy brings with seven little ones. It is really hard. But when I got pregnant with our little boy, Patrick, my perspective was different.

 

It’s not that it wasn’t hard, it’s just that after holding and burying Rose, I viewed it all differently. I was sick, but I didn’t care like I had before, I just wanted him.

 

Rose, along with the other two children who went to be with the Lord in my womb, taught me that pregnancy might be the only time I ever got with this boy.

 

As my perspective shifted with my view of this time, my words changed too. I no longer said, “I just can’t wait for…” anymore. I didn’t feel guaranteed the “next phase” even though I longed to hold him in my arms one day.

 

It was a season of waiting, for sure, but it was also an ever important season of being the mother to the little boy in my womb right then. Rushing it away, could be rushing away the only time God had given me with Patrick in this life.

 

I think in mothering little ones, there is often a temptation to hurry things along. I know because I’ve been there. We are ready for that little one to be born. We are ready for them to sleep through the night. We are ready for them to quit teething. We are ready for them to walk and not crawl. We are ready for them to distinguish between edible and inedible objects. We are ready for them to transition out of diapers. We are ready for nap time or bedtime or the next stage, whatever is. We are just so ready.

 

Maybe we wonder why God is making us wait. It is interesting though, to think about all of these stages that God created. Nine months in the womb, the newborn stage, teething, sitting up at six months, learning to walk around twelve months. He created an order of events.  Maybe He knew we would want to rush things. That we would want to hurry when this is what He wants us to focus on, the right now.

 

Because so often what we think is just “waiting,” is exactly where we need to be.

 

When I was pregnant with each of my children, I wasn’t waiting to mother him or her, I was mothering them in my womb. Protecting them, praying for them, and nourishing them, right then.

 

And now that their voices fill our home, I’m not waiting to one day be useful with my life , I am being useful right now. I’m not waiting have a ministry, I have a ministry right now ~ the most important ministry I will ever have. I’m not waiting to enjoy my life when things are more orderly, more quiet, less stressful, I am enjoying it right now.

 

I can choose to view every stage of my life as something to get through, but if I am always viewing my moments as a waiting game, I will soon discover that I will be waiting my whole life. For the seasons of life always involve waiting. It is how God designed it and He is calling me above all not to wait for the next season, but to wait for HIM. Wait for His presence, wait for His deliverance, and yes, even pray for some seasons to pass in His timing, but most of all that I would find Him in my waiting.

 

For ultimately, we are waiting for eternity where God will one day make all things right.

 

Instead of just waiting for the next thing, I want to be investing right now. Lord, help me invest right here in this moment where you have so clearly put me! How does one invest over  a lifetime? It’s not by hurrying each day by until nap time, the weekend, or waiting for the next stage of life or our children’s lives.

 

It’s not by encouraging one another by saying, “Just wait, when this phase passes, it will be so much easier.” And who knows, maybe it will be way easier, and maybe we will enjoy it more, but it won’t be any less important. It’s not guaranteed either.

 

I want to stop believing the lie that tomorrow is more important than today or that something is better because it’s easier. I want to invest right now. How can I dig in to this really hard moment and give God glory? In this moment of chaos and hard, God hasn’t forgotten or left me, this is the moment He knows I need.

 

I want to embrace all the hours with my children and realize how important they really are. Sure, I’m going to get tired and worn out, but what can I teach them about trusting God in the midst of that? What can I share with them about my relationship with God and how I am growing? How can I pour myself completely into right now and not just wish for it to be over?

 

Maybe I can grab my kids and read to them on the couch when I have a million other things to do. Maybe I can teach them to roller blade or build a lego tower (or maybe he will teach me). Maybe I can fold the laundry with my girls and really listen to their questions. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a world right here in front of me that doesn’t need to be hurried through, but just needs me.

 

Because the next phase will come. When Christmas is over, believe me, I am ready to get that tree out. It’s time. The season has passed and I’m not usually sad about it.

 

And I want to embrace all the next phases with my children without regret. I know too well I fail, I will make mistakes, but I want to know that I didn’t spend the time hurrying it by. But that I invested in the midst of it. That I learned everything I could about how to teach my children to obey, to love the Lord, to grow. And that during these years, I grew right alongside with them.

 

Right now, I am teaching my children the hymn Take My Life And Let It Be. The first verse says this,

 

Take my life and let is be consecrated Lord to Thee.

Take my moments and my days;

Let them flow in ceaseless praise, let them flow in ceaseless praise.

 

So, let’s encourage each other to fully be right here, which is where we need to be today. Let’s not hurry by what He has ordained, but wait for His presence in it. Let’s trust Him to grow something beautiful today, that one day we will enjoy because we knew His faithfulness in all the moments leading up to it.

 

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” – Galations 6:9

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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