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

 

 

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 

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.

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*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

the lady in the green dress and me

I don’t remember exactly how old I was. Maybe nine or ten years old. It was the night of our Christmas musical at church. One of my favorite times of the year.

I was giddy with nervous excitement and as my friends and I gathered in the hall before going on stage to perform, our voices must have gotten a little too boisterous.

Then, SHE came around the corner, clad in a vibrant green dress, her eyes and face as stern as can be.

She got right in my face and let me know just how loud I was being and how much I needed to close my mouth.

Then she was gone.

The tears welled up. I had been so excited. I hadn’t meant to be loud. It had just happened.

I swallowed the tears and in that moment I made a vow. One day when I was grown up, I would never, never, forget what it was like to be a child.

I would never be like that.

It’s been years now since that night in the hallway. Truth be told, I had forgotten all about it.

I grew up. Matured. At least I like to think so.

I have three little hearts under my care now. Day in and day out.

“Use inside voices.” “Don’t run too fast.” “Watch your step.” “Listen to mommy.”

My world is filled with words and phrases of admonition, caution, and instruction.

We were in Chickfila last week and I was wrangling my own crew and I heard her voice again.

No, not the lady in the green dress.

But that same harsh voice, “Get back here, NOW!”

I think the whole restaurant turned to stare at this moment going down with the little disobedient child in tow.

I looked away and my heart shuttered. No, not in condemnation of her, but of myself. That tone, I recognized it. Not just with the lady in the green dress. But me. Not just in a way I may have used before but the echoes of my heart I have heard far too often.

Those moments when as a mother I have been pushed beyond my own capacity and patience.

Those instances when I thought I was handling the situation just right, but oh boy, was I making it worse.

As I watched that little girl in Chickfila, I remembered. I remembered that defeated little girl in the hallway so many years before.

That little girl who vowed to never forget what it was like to see the world as a child. To mess up quite by accident or to willfully disobey. 

There’s no denying it, being a mother is hard. It rattles my self-sufficiency. It exposes my self-centeredness. It takes all of me and then some more.

But I never want to forget that the work I do is much more significant than I usually think it is.

I work with little hearts every day. Precious hearts. Sinful hearts. Sensitive and immature hearts.

My voice resonates. It means something. At least it should.

I am called to speak with authority. To demand obedience (Proverbs 19:18). To teach and train. But I also am called to not provoke to anger (Col 3:21). To set an example, as an overseer shepherds his flock (1 Peter 5:3).

It doesn’t mean I will be perfect or that my children’s spiritual state depends on me. Or that I should speak in a sing-song or baby voice.

But I am nurturing souls. And I don’t want to forget that. My words echo beyond the confines of the kitchen, or the nursery, to the chambers of tiny hearts and minds.

I have been studying the books of Matthew and Mark this fall and I am amazed at how Jesus deals with his disciples.

So often, they just didn’t get it.

But He had compassion on them. He used parables to explain things. He went beyond the external circumstances straight to their hearts. He didn’t ignore sin (quite the opposite) or sugarcoat the truth, but He loved and cared for their souls.

And when I think of how the Lord has dealt with me, I am overwhelmed. I can say Isaiah 40:11 has been true in my own life.

He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.

I know I will have hard days with my kids in the future as their sin natures get tangled up in mine.

But I have something that they yet do not have. His tender grace met me. He sought me, His voice of grace came to me through His Word when I was going the other way.

I pray, that as I interact with my children, that, THAT, is what I will never forget. Because the lady in the green dress is not the problem. I am. And I will fail. But His grace is sufficient and it is greater.  

And I pray that God will give me the grace to use my voice to build up and not tear down. To speak with wisdom and kindness. To call out sin and be stern when I need to be. But to always remember His grace in all my moments of my failing as well as theirs. And that one day, they will hear His voice louder than all the rest.

the moments we make time for

IMG_1323.JPGThis summer has been somewhat of a whirlwind for our little family. Ever since Grant has been in graduate school, it seems we do a very good job of packing our summers as full as we can with family visits, work conferences, and  borderline insane travel itineraries for three children five and under.

The past few days we have been winding down and experiencing some normalcy at home. I have been tackling organization projects and trying to catch up on laundry and ironing and unpacking the mound of clothes in the girls’ room.

Tonight as Grant finished up a little work, I put the girls to bed and I was feeling the exhaustion from how hard I had been pushing all day. “Can you read us a Bible story?” the girls chimed in together when I was ready to turn out the light.

Now THAT’s a difficult one to say “no” to. Fairy tales, no problem. Stories of when I was little, also easier. But a BIBLE STORY, well that’s problematic.

“Girls, Mommy is SO very tired and it is WAY past your bedtime. Let’s do a story in the morning.”

“Mommy???” AudreyKate sweetly and cleverly countered, “How about we tell YOU a Bible story?”

I teetered on the edge for a moment, in my head saying “no,” but instead out came something like a “Yes.”

“Well,” AudreyKate began, “Once upon a time there was a man named Noah. And the people were very bad and didn’t love God. So God told him to build a boat and he did.”

Her face lit up as she began to recall the details of Noah’s construction of the ark, the flood, and the forty days and forty nights they were all on the boat.

“First, he sent out a black bird and it just kept flying and flying. Then,” her hand gesturing the bird’s flight, “He sent out a dove and it kept flying. Then he sent out another dove and it brought back a tiny piece of leaf, and then he sent out one more dove and it never came back and Noah knew there was dry land.”

As I listened, I couldn’t believe with what accuracy she relayed Noah sending out the fowl.

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I even went and fact-checked it in Genesis 8. Surely she had added an extra bird in there.

I kissed her face, which was now satisfactorily delighted by her apt audience (of two). I felt no less tired, but my spirit was lifted somehow.

As I closed the door I thought to myself, “I’m SO glad I made time for that.”

I never feel like there are enough hours in the day to complete the tasks I want to accomplish. And I don’t even consider myself a very busy person. I’m not solving the world’s problems. But I am thankful when God gives me the grace to make time.

Taking a few moments to stop and pray for a friend. Jotting down a Bible verse to meditate on throughout the day. Writing a quick thank-you note or a text to let someone know I’m thinking of them. Packing Grant a lunch or sitting down and listening to my little girl tell me a Bible story.

Sometimes I think that I must be refreshed and my schedule must be clear to have time, but if I wait for that, I will most likely never have time.

I don’t always know what the right things are to make time for with my kids (I do believe it is good for them to hear no). But I do know this, I will probably never be less busy or my schedule more laid-back (if I am doing what God has called me to). I will just be busy with different things. Less diapering, more of something else.

Of course, in my busy moments of taking care of a home and little ones, I often think about how busy Jesus was in his earthly ministry.

The cares of the world. So many needs around him. No time. And I don’t say these things lightly.

He was on his way to die (on the road to Jericho), when blind Bartimaeus cried out to him, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many told Bartimaeus to be silent.

But then those next words, Jesus stopped.

So many people. A cross to bear. A world to die for.

He must have been under intense stress. I can’t even imagine it. He was going to suffer and die by the hands of evil men.

And yet He stopped.

This wasn’t the only time He did this. It is one of the hallmarks of Jesus’ ministry – making time for individuals.

So busy and yet all these moments. He didn’t heal everyone. But He made time for so many.

And because Jesus stopped that day, Bartimaeus regained his sight. There was such a big thing to do, and yet the little thing mattered. And it was no little thing to Bartimaeus.

But I so often think that just the big things matter. All I see are my goals or the “next thing” that I just need to do.

But the little things on the way to the big things matter too. And sometimes those little things are life-changing and soul uplifting!

And they can make the world of difference in the life of a child.

IMG_0982.JPG“Remember when you used to wrap me in towel and swing me in the air?”

“I love it when you sing the toothbrush song.”

“Remember when I used to fall asleep laying on your chest?”

“Mommy, this is the best day ever.”

The big things matter. The work matters. But so do the little things along the way.

Because He stopped.

And everything is changed.