What Makes a Home


Earlier this week, I shared at a women’s event on what home means to me. This is an excerpt from that night. 

I loved home as a child. Home was a happy place for me and I loved being there. I say these things with gratefulness knowing that for many home was not such a place.

My home was not perfect, but if I were to pick just one thing to explain why I loved home it would be this one thing –  because the gospel was present.

1). The Gospel Makes a Home

From my earliest memories, my parents were sharing the gospel with me. I have so many memories of this. Early memories.

Riding in my Dad’s green Volkswagen as a five year old and listening intently as he explained that my heart was terribly sinful.

That is not something you’ll often hear that you should tell your child. But even as a child I knew I was.

And it was understanding my own heart problem that I felt the gravity of Christ’s death on the cross.

It wasn’t  just a story. I needed His forgiveness.

I also remember the warm summer evening when I prayed to receive Christ on the front porch swing with my mom and dad on either side of me.

While I have many fun memories of home, they all pale in comparison to these memories.

Now was a parent myself, I recognize that even though I try to shield my children as much as possible, they are still confronted with the hard realities of a fallen world just as I was as a child.

Even the happiest of homes cannot erase the realities of sickness, disease, death, and sin. And the home is the first place these questions are either answered or left unanswered.

I was reading a blog not too long ago where a young mom wrote that she didn’t know how to explain to her young child the concept of death.

Her son had said he didn’t want to grow up because then his parents would die and he would die. She didn’t know what to say. And she asked the question to her blog readers what she should tell her child.

My heart grieved for her because without the Gospel there is no good answer to those questions.

This is where the Gospel transforms our homes. Home becomes a place of comfort in the cross.

Home isn’t a good place because it’s a perfect place. Home is a good place because it’s a forgiven place.

A place where God’s forgiveness is taught and forgiveness is modeled to one another.

Any mom can keep a tidy house, or even make her home her domain, but if the Gospel isn’t there, the home is lacking the most important foundation.

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” – Matthew 7:24



2).  The Word Makes a Home

It is God’s Word that bring joy and order to a home. We know from Duet 6 and Ephesians 5 that children are to be brought up in the admonition and instruction of the Lord.

It is God’s Word which keeps children from falling with wayward women and wicked men as the Proverbs talk about.

Growing up, we were always encouraged to be in God’s Word. When my dad gave me my first Bible inscribed in the front he wrote, “This book will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from this Book.”

God’s word is a lamp unto our feet and a light to our path.

It brings light to the home as we meditate on it, memorize it, pray it, and study it. And as we teach our children the Word we build a foundation for our children to know and love God’s life giving Word.

I am thankful for the many verses I memorized as a child. Even though I didn’t fully understand what many of them meant, God used them to impress His truth on my heart then and as I grew in my knowledge of Him.

The Word brings light and life to even the simplest of homes. A home with the Word is one everyone wants to be because they are welcomed and loved in such a home.

Lastly, and what we’ve talked about so much tonight.

3). A Godly Woman Makes a Home

You have heard tonight on the importance of a mother’s role in the home, so that is the aspect I am going to focus on next.

It is such an important role, and that is why I love the first two points so much. Because without the gospel and the Word, where would any of us be as mothers?

Keeping the gospel and God’s Word as our foundation for mothering is so vital because when you’re actually in the busyness of it, sometimes it can be difficult to see.

In the cyclical days of mothering, I often cannot see how everything is coming together in my children’s lives.

I am folding laundry, I am picking princess dresses off the floor for the umpteenth time, I’m cleaning the kitchen again, I’m reading books on the couch, I’m brushing teeth, I’m dealing with a discipline issue, I’m making someone eat their supper, I’m grabbing a few moments in the Word,  I’m being woken up again, I’m oversleeping again, I’m interrupted again, I’m frustrated, I’m memorizing a Bible verse, I’m catching lightning bugs, I’m holding their hands, and we all go round again.

Sometimes, it feels a bit like a carousel, with both cheery and fretful songs in an alternating pattern. And I wonder if we are going somewhere. Oh I know we are, I really do, but I can’t quite see ahead and I feel like I’ve seen this scenery before.

Last week, I was reading in the book of John and came across these words from Jesus:

“My food, is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work.”

His food.

His sustainment.

His nourishment.

It came from doing God’s will.

Sometimes I think I will find the rest I need by kicking my feet up on the couch in complete silence.

I also find a certain satisfaction from a tidy house and a home cooked meal, or a cleaned out junk drawer.

But here is the truth, those things cannot sustain any woman.  Any wife. Or goodness knows, any mother.

Even though that is the message we are often told (and often tell ourselves). That all these other things will satisfy our hearts.

I’ve  found joy in knowing that I am actually sustained as I do what God has called me to do. Because I find strength in His strength.

And I don’t have to finish all the work, because Jesus did it for me.

The mother makes a home. Not just because of all the things that she does to provide for her family, but because of the God she rests in. That brings a light and a joy and a happiness to even the messiest abodes.

I love Psalm 90:1″O Lord you have been our dwelling place in all generations.”

The Gospel makes a home, the Word makes a home, a mother makes a home, but it is the Lord who is our dwelling place and makes our earthly homes – whether simple or grandeur – mirror our one day heavenly home.

Count It Pure Joy: a generation returning to motherhood

  A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to share at the CBMW T4G pre-conference. I talked about motherhood. Of course if you read this blog, you could have probably guessed that. It’s my life right now, so it is the place I am learning my biggest lessons. This talk really won’t be anything new to those of you who have followed along here for a while, but it’s so much of my heart behind my writing so I wanted to share:

Count It Pure Joy: A Generation Returning To Motherhood

If you are looking for another talk on motherhood, check out Pastor Kevin Deyoung’s talk. There are so many great ones on the site, so I encourage you to check them out. I always love listening to sermons and podcasts while I’m doing housework or at the gym. 

Two of my current favorites are the Read Aloud Revival podcast(so fun!) and Dr. Mohler’s line-by-line series on Exodus (found on his app, Albert Mohler). 

Hope you have a wonderful Tuesday! 

Love from my home to yours,

GraceAnna

Just For Them

  I lay still, Evangeline nestled in the crook of my arm and AudreyKate on the bed above me, holding my hand. 

This is our routine. I lay down with one of them, and then my hand dangles down to the trundle or up beside the spindles on their twin bed. 

I don’t always lay down with them. But I do a lot. Not every night, but more than every other. 

I’ve read this could mess them up. Just like a bunch of other things I might be doing could mess them up. But here I am, laying here, as the soft glow of lamplight from the living room cascades across my girls’ faces as they drift to sleep. 

 I know exactly what Grant is doing in the other room. He’s either reading his Bible or deep in a theology book from one of his never-ending stacks all over the house. One day we will buy real bookshelves. Until then, I keep sending boxes to his office and yet the books keep creeping back in bags and stacks and satchels. 

And that’s how we’ve agreed to make it work. For three years living in 900 square feet with two children, and now in 1275 square feet with three. The great book exchange.

“You can lay down with them,” he always tells me (and some nights he does too). “I’ll read and then we can talk when you’re done.” And that’s what we do. Sometimes his music from the other room causes even me to doze off for a few minutes.  

I used to think I was doing the laying down part for them. That is still my genuine intention. 

They long for connection with me. They need connection with me. They will remember this. 

The stories. The songs. The hugs. I know it will shape them just as it did when my mom did it with me and Grant’s mom with him.

So I manage to find a place around the two Madeline dolls, the six bunnies, and the blankies, and I am finally still after a typical full day. 

I’m doing it for them. But just in the past few months, I’ve realized how much it is for me too. 

I can’t explain it really, but there, nestled in the quiet, I can think. 

Scripture comes to my mind. Prayer. I think about the day and all the moments. I remember where I’ve been and how God keeps showing Himself to be faithful. 

I think about the missionary story we read this morning about Helen Roseveare and the verse God used to stir my heart:

Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. Isaiah 65:24

He answers before we even pray. That’s what kind of God He is.

I think of how it sometimes seems preposterous to me to claim a Psalm. How could I believe that God would walk with me just as He did David? Or Jesus for that matter?

And then I remember I am now in union with Christ. He has given me every spiritual blessing and because He became poor, I am rich. That changes everything. 

My girls are asleep now and they’ve been so for longer than I realize. I get up to go spend some time with Grant, hear his thoughts on whatever passage of Scripture he’s studying or listen to one of his funny stories. That’s one of my favorite parts of the day, when he makes me laugh. It will be quiet now. Just us. 

I pause, glancing back at my girls’arms and legs sprawled across the blankets, sleeping free as only little children do. 

This was for them. It really was. Just like it was last night and several night before that. 

But as I keep on learning in this journey of motherhood, when I’m confident it is just for them, I discover it is also for me. 


the best stories {and a patched bunny}

etsybunny“Will you tell us a story when you were a little girl?”

I knew the question was coming. At least I should know it is always coming as I (or Grant ) tuck our girls in bed after a typical busy day.

It never fails, I am always tired by the time I turn out their light, although I always want to keep my own burning for a couple more hours.

“A story that’s long and different?” AudreyKate made sure not to forget her classic qualifying sentence.

Because we all know good stories are the ones that keep us hanging for a while and we can’t quite guess what will happen at the end.

I often say no to their requests. Usually because my tired mind just can’t think of a story long and different and we’ve read and told stories and played all day.

And many nights, they just need to go to sleep and not delay bedtime one minute longer.

But tonight, I settled down on the edge of Evangeline’s trundle bed, making room by moving all the bunnies that were crowding us all up, trying to think of a story.

“When I was a little girl, I used to have a bunny. Not an alive bunny, but still she was my special bunny. In fact, I picked her out from the store all by myself.”

“What did she look like, Mama? Did she look like our bunnies?”

I picked up one of their adorable Jellycat bunnies.

“No, not quite like this bunny. See, my bunny wasn’t as lovely as your bunnies. Well at least not to other people. But she was to me.

She had a blue velvet nose, though most of the velvet was worn off. And I loved her so much she became covered in patches where my Mommy had mended all her torn places.”

I then preceded to make my story “long” by telling them about the time I left Bunny at a hotel while on vacation (her name was Bunny). I told them how I cried in the backseat of our red Dodge caravan when I realized Bunny had been forgotten. And even though we were much too far away already, my dad turned around and drove all the way back to get her.

“Mama,” AudreyKate said as I stood up to tuck them in after my long and different story had come to an end, “I want a bunny to love with patches all over it. How can I have a bunny like that?”

“But AudreyKate you do have a bunny like that. Look at all your bunnies.”

“But not a special bunny like your Bunny.”

“AudreyKate, what makes a bunny special is that you choose to love it. That was why Bunny was special even though she became worn, and faded, and covered in patches.”

I watched as she picked out a pale pink bunny and held her close.

“Good night, AudreyKate. Good night, Evangeline.”

As I closed the door, I wondered at how that answer had just come like that.

I guess that’s the thing about motherhood. You just find the words somehow.

A bunny is special because you choose to love it.

This morning, I found myself in the book of 1 Corinthians. I imagined that bustling and socially advanced Greco-Roman culture and what it might have looked like in Paul’s day. A lot of people with a lot of gifting. Many vying voices.

But God says to His people (through the Apostle Paul),

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world…”

And then a little later in the chapter, “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus.”

Because of Him.

Not because of me.

In a world bursting with the eloquence and efficiency of others, isn’t it freeing to remember that’s not why our lives matter?

It’s not why he chose to love us.

My life isn’t special because I was the cutest bunny on the shelf, but just because of Him. That is where it begins and ends.

And in the end, the best stories don’t have to be long and different, they just have to be true.

The story of Christ’s redemptive love for His people is just that.

It’s true.

Which should make every person smile – faded, worn or patched.

Simple Winter Days

“Children tie the feet,” is an old Tamil saying that the missionary Amy Carmichael quoted.

Amy wasn’t a physical mother (she never married), but she was “Amma” (which means mother) to hundreds of little boys and girls at her home for children (Dohnavur) near the southern tip of India. Her work for those children not only changed countless lives in her lifetime, but who can measure the impact she made to generations as the children she raised grew up?

The biographer Iain Murray, wrote of Amy, “She would not have let her feet be so tied had she not been convinced that God meant her to be the full-time ‘mother’ of ‘the family’ now gathered.”

Most of the children Amy took care and taught were former temple children, entrapped in a dark life of temple prostitution and sexual slavery.

Amy sacrificed everything so that those little ones could experience not just physical freedom, but ultimately spiritual freedom. Her highest calling was to teach each child God’s love for them.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote lately and the implications in my own life.

Isn’t it the things that seem to”bind us” that often have the most significance?

But just like Amy, I must be convinced to the very core of my being that the work God has given me has lasting value, otherwise it will seem to be a hinderance. Mere tethers to some sort of better thing.

My simple mornings, afternoons, and evenings at home lose their greatest meaning.

I could reflect more on that this morning, but I’m sure there is much for you to take away from Amy’s words in whatever season of life you may find yourself.

Speaking of being “tied,” we spend much time at home these days since it’s winter (I think maybe I’m starting to get used to a real winter?) and because three little ones who I do not always want to drag around in the cold (though we do fit in some fun outings).

These ordinary moments at home I have really come to treasure so much.

From my home to yours,

GraceAnna

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Being Theirs: squiggly lines and all

  I sat across from my four-year-old at the kitchen table. She had her bundle of brightly colored markers and I had my pen and paper, jotting down items I needed to pick up at the grocery store later that day. 

My preschooler loves to draw. And I am the mom who has a difficult time throwing away any of her masterpieces. I can be ferocious when it comes to cleaning out a junk drawer or my closet for that matter, but the scraps of paper I find all over the house with “mamama” written on them, those are here to stay.

Today though, I heard sighs as my AudreyKate attempted to draw Santa and his sleigh. I had turned on a step-by-step art instructional video when she told me her desire to draw Santa. I felt some extra help was needed. 

And usually she loves following the directions geared just for her age. 

“Mama, mine doesn’t look like his.” She finally exclaimed, disappointment in her voice. 

“It doesn’t look like it’s supposed to look. It doesn’t look perfect.” 

I compared her squiggly lines to the instructor’s smooth and clean ones, and I loved her interpretation all the more.

Santa’s sleigh had character and his bag of gifts was much too big for a sled of that size to haul. Just magical enough. 

And I loved the sweetness of her little hands drawing it just so. 

I turned off the  video and looked into her eyes.

“AudreyKate, I love it! But listen to Mama, the more you practice, the better you will become. But you also need to know that I love what YOU draw. I don’t want what that man drew, I want you! I want your perspective and the way you do it. Just look around the kitchen.” 

Her eyes scanned the room where I had her art taped up all over the sliding glass window and the fridge. 

“See? What would I do without all my AudreyKate drawings? Our house just wouldn’t feel the same.” 

As I spoke words of affirmation into her heart, I was immediately struck with the truth of my own words.

How often do I think, I just wish could do things better.

Keep my house cleaner or more organized. Plan better. Get up even earlier. Eat healthier. Read more. Be more creative, thrifty, and articulate.  

If I could just have it more together like her.

If I could just do it perfectly.

If my lines could be a little less squiggly and a little more smooth.

But as I sat across the table from my almost five-year-old, I realized she doesn’t want that person.

She wants me. 

She likes the way I do things. The way I give hugs. The way I read to her. My smell.  The way we wash dishes or fold laundry together. 

She never once has told me I need to just do things a little more perfectly. 

And neither has my husband.

He loves my cooking.

He tells me I’m “so gifted” and “I love your style,” even though I think he would say that no matter what. 

He likes the routines I’ve developed at home, my efforts at teaching and training our children, and the dates out for the two of us that I randomly schedule. 

“You’re doing great. I love the way you do things,” he says.

I know I have areas where I need to grow, much to strive and reach for, but my family doesn’t see all that, they see ME.

Titus 2:4 says “urge the younger women to love THEIR husbands and children” (emphasis mine).

Not someone else’s.

 Because they don’t want anyone else. 

 They want YOU.

At the end of the day, your husband doesn’t want someone else’s perpective, he wants yours. 

He doesn’t want someone else’s touch, he wants yours. 

He doesn’t care how so-and-so blogger does it, he loves how you do it.

And your children don’t want adventure mom, minimalist mom, vintage mom, fixer-upper mom, clean-eats mom, running mom, trendy mom, or scholar mom. 

They want THEIR mom.

Whether you’re all of those things or none. 

Because the song of your heart is more beautiful to them than the perfection of any symphony. 

Just like drawings taped to the refrigerator door, your talents are what they long for because they love you. 

So as you start a new week, remember that God has called you to the best sort of task – being THEIRS. 

Squiggly lines and all. 

The Dior Woman and True Freedom

Many people would look at my life (with a husband and three children) and say that I have no freedom. Today I share my heart on these things at CBMW

  I usually do not give much notice to commercials (fast forwarding whenever possible), but recently an advertisement for the perfume, Miss Dior, did exactly what the producer intended – it caught my full attention.

In the film, Natalie Portman stars as a runaway bride. The wedding venue and dress exude absolute perfection. But the film is strangely black and white.

Read the rest here 

December: What We’ve Been Loving

IMG_3776.jpgThe holiday season is so much fun with kids. It really is.

I recently read a blogpost that contained tips on how to color coordinate your Christmas decorations for the perfectly styled tree.

Nope, that’s not us.

Our tree is decorated with an increasing number of handmade ornaments which the girls are ever so proud of. We also have snowflakes, texas stars, a&m and clemson globes, and a menagerie of Grant’s childhood ornaments.

Ah yes, the tree is just right. Perfectly styled. All colors represented. Even if the bottom of the tree is sparsely decorated … because Charles.

Along with the girls enjoying our tree this year, here are a few other things we’ve been loving in the Castleberry home.

FullSizeRender-2The Snowman. Have you read this book? Or I guess I shouldn’t say “read” since there aren’t any words. Grant’s Aunt gave this book to us a couple Christmases ago and it is so sweet. The girls also LOVE the movie which is just like the book. It’s also wordless and is a wonderfully imaginative film.

Christmas Carols for a Kid’s Heart. Love this series and the Christmas Carols one is no exception (thanks to my sis-in-law who gifted it to us this year)! It comes with a CD that we put in the van and listen to when we drive around and look at Christmas lights.

The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung {how the snake crusher brings us back to the garden}. Grant picked this up at a conference a few weeks ago and it has been an evening tradition. I also saw a copy at the public library!

IMG_4183.jpgCall me a granny but nothing says  winter vacation quite like a puzzle.  I would never take the time to put together a puzzle in regular life when I have laundry, and cleaning, and life to be living. But I have a little girl who LOVES puzzles and so our mother/daughter Christmas project is putting together Santa’s Workshop. Costco has 100, 500, and 1,000 piece Christmas puzzles right now for $7.99. The same ones retail on Amazon for close to $20.

Prepare Him Room. I mentioned this CD last year and I am loving it again this year. We also have the accompanying advent book though the girls are still a little young for it.

I’ve also been enjoying baking Christmas cookies with the girls to gift, talking about Jesus’ birth, Christmas movies and books (many we checked out from the library), and playing with our Fisher Price nativity set.

I would love to hear what you are enjoying with your family this December!

 

 

On Treasuring The Trundle


The past few years since the explosion of the iPhone camera, I have taken copious pictures of my girls and now little boy. I have tried to the best of my ability to soak up these little years with them.

 
I’ve heard many people say things will get easier as my children become more independent. These comments have come more often now that I have three children instead of just two. And in many ways I am glad to hear it because I wouldn’t want my children to stay ever dependent on me.

 

Who knew a search for a matching shoe in a hurry or pouring everyone’s milk in a non-favorite color sippy cup all while teaching them the world does not revolve around their little lives could be such a challenge?

 

And while I am joyous about each coming stage of my children’s lives, I never want to wish today away.

 

Years from now, I will look back on the pictures I took today and yesterday, and I will want to travel back in time for just a moment and hug and kiss their baby and toddler faces. The eager eyes, the dramatic expressions, the way they say “mama” and “will you lay down with me?” And “you’re the best mama ever!”

 
I am smiling at the future, but I don’t want to miss today. I don’t want the dirty dishes and crumbs and daily training to ever get the better of me.

 

 

Moms of little ones, let’s ignore the voices who tell us to long for an easier time. Let’s not allow longing for tomorrow rob us of the goodness of today (Psalm 118:24). Let’s hold on to what we can never get back.

 
We have been given a precious gift this Christmas – hearts who need us. Of the many lessons of the incarnation, may we never forget that a mother caring for a needy babe has cataclysmic significance.

 

Tomorrow will come soon enough, for now let’s treasure the crib and the toddler bed and the trundle. And let’s pray for the young men and women who will one day need them no longer.

 

 

Woman, how divine your mission,

Here upon our natal sod;

Keep—oh, keep the young heart open

Always to the breath of God!

All true trophies of the ages

Are from mother-love impearled,

For the hand that rocks the cradle

Is the hand that rules the world.

-William Ross Wallace (born in Lexington, KY)

Praise, Pray, and Peg Away

  
I really want to be a good mom. I want to be generous in love and consistent in discipline. I want to dig in, not merely get through the day or a stage. 
And the honest truth is, I love this task I’ve been called to. I really do. 
I love the newborn and baby stage. I love the toddler age. 

I know there are many events and opportunities I’ve “missed” these past four and a half years, but I don’t even care. The moments spent with my children have been worth any experience I could have had otherwise. 

But with that being said, this job is hard. Really hard. And there are two realities that annoyingly get in the way:

1). I am a sinner. 2). My kids are sinners. 

And some days, we seem to be a little more sinful than on others. 

I was recently having such a day and I expressed my frustration to Grant saying, “I don’t know if it’s me or if it’s them.” 

He replied, “Both.” 

“Thanks, Grant.”

This week, we have been in Wheaton, IL while Grant is conducting PhD research in the Billy Graham Archives. 

Today, while he was going through documents, he thoughtfully pulled an article he knew I would like. It is a little piece published in June of 1957 on Ruth Graham, highlighting her role as wife and mother. 

I haven’t read much on Mrs. Graham’s life, but the article mentioned that she had a motto she put into practice, “Praise and Pray and Peg away.” 

Mrs. Graham was often mothering alone (5 kids) while her famous husband was away preaching. 

She did not have it easy. 

As moms, at times we may be tempted to think that our lives are particularly difficult. 

Our child is more strong willed than someone else’s. Or our husband travels more. Or you name it. I know I’ve been down that road. 

While this may be true in some situations, I’ve humbly come to realize that for the most part it is probably not. Everyone has their struggles.

The biggest punch in the gut comparison is more accurately how we handle it.

Mrs. Graham, for example, lived by a little motto. 

Praise. Pray. Peg away. 

I love that. 

Praise God when the first inclination is to complain. Praise Him that He is doing something good even when it feels like He is not. Thank Him for His innumerable blessings. Praise Him for His ever available grace.   

Pray. Get on your knees and cry out to God for help. The bed wetting situation? Pray. The picky eater? Pray. The obedience problem? Pray. 

He didn’t just promise to listen when you are in the pew. He is always listening! 

“For you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.” Psalm 9:10

Peg away. Keep moving. Do the next thing. Wash the next dish. Wipe the tears. Make dinner. Trust God to work in great ways. 

I don’t know what tomorrow will hold, but thank you Mrs. Graham for living by a motto that aligns my heart in the good way. 

That’s better than any “pick me up,” “me time,” or “break.” 

Because being a good mother means quite simply walking in the good way. 

So tomorrow I want praise more, pray more, and keep pegging away. And as the insightful Anne Shirley said, “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”