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,


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,


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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?” 

On Motherhood And Blurry Days

“It’s all a blur” I hear a young mom say from across the playground as she chats with another mom about the memories and milestones of her little one.

Her words resonate with me as I think back on the first few months of each of my children’s lives. Late nights, middle of the night feedings, early mornings.

Coffee in the AM.

Coffee in the PM.

Swaying, rocking, snuggling.

I remember everything, and yet I don’t. There is so much that runs together.

As I swing my son back and forth and listen to his little laugh, her words also bring a twinge of sadness and I am convinced of one thing: I don’t want it all to be a blur.

Motherhood means more to me than that.

I don’t want it to turn to mush in my mind.

While I know many of these vibrant moments will fade, I want more than a string of bleary days to commemorate this work I’m doing.

I know I won’t remember it all, but when it’s all over, I want something to say.

I Want To Be Your Mom

For me, the hardest days of mothering are when I am either tired or distracted. In one sense, both of these things are inevitable.

Being tired is a stake a mom drives in the ground the moment her child is born (and the weeks leading up to birth or adoption). It comes with the territory and it really is some sort of rite of passage.

Distraction, on the other hand, is something I can somewhat control. With a husband working full-time and in school full-time (PhD), there are many tasks outside of the realm of motherhood which call my name.

Helping my husband, making time to be in the Word, managing our home, and taking care of as many tasks as I can to free Grant up are very important to me.

But I’ve also learned (and am learning) to let go of a lot of things that in this season of my life, prove to be distractions.

There is a lot of pressure these days for young moms to be and do so much. A lot of distractions.

And yet being a wife and a mom are so much more than mere bullet points on a list of other things.

Nothing, nothing, will ever compare to the love between my husband and me and this work of raising our children.

It’s just not even on the same playing field as anything else.

It is hard, all encompassing, and ever rewarding.

I’m figuring out how to say no, how to take advantage of blocks of alone time, get a sitter when I need time with just my husband, but most of all keep perspective so that I can lay on the floor with my kids and put together a puzzle or we can all climb into my overstuffed rocking chair and sing song after song of their choosing.

Because they just love that.

And at the end of the day, they don’t want a million things I can give to them. They just want me.

I never want my children to look back and remember a mom who was always distracted. A mom who always had something else to do that was more important than them.

I want them to know in the core of their beings that I always wanted to be their mom. Even when they were little and even when I did indeed have many things to do.

I want to remind them often, “I just love being your mom” and then show them because that is how they understand.

But if I want them to see that clearly, I must.

As I pour that second cup of coffee, I remind myself that I don’t need to be anywhere else and that no work is more important than this work.

No people are more important than these people.

And when I do, the blurriness seems to fade and it’s true, I don’t feel as tired.

Teach Me To Count

We are living in scary days, aren’t we? I’ve been spending time meditating in the Psalms the past couple months and have been thinking a lot about what David says in Psalm 39, “O LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!”

I don’t know how long I have here on this earth.

And while I don’t think the point of this Psalm is to spend every waking moment wondering when I will die (that wouldn’t be healthy), it is a call to living life with perspective.

I have this one life. I don’t know how long it will be. How will I spend it? What truly matters?

I don’t want to spend it investing in things that won’t last, but in people who will.

These little people matter.

So stop beating yourself up for not doing a million of other things that are outside of this work.

You are only one woman. Focus on the things that matter. The things God has called you to do.

This work we are doing as moms, it is not mushy work. It is not temporal.

It is not something to check off on my “to-do” list.

It is lasting. 

It’s not hay, straw, or stubble. At least it doesn’t have to be.

It may not hold up well on a resume, but it can stand the fire if done for the glory of God.

There will be bleary days, there just will.

But it doesn’t all have to be that way.

Mothering is lasting treasure after all, even on blurry days.