Freeing myself from picture perfect motherhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 

Castleberry Hearts are Texas Bound!

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

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

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

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

From my heart,

GraceAnna

homeschooling little ones from the kitchen table

This blog is a place where I mainly love to just write. 

But as I am homeschooling this year, I thought it also might be a great place to share some of what we are doing from time to time.

I’ve received some emails recently asking me what curriculum I chose for the girls this year, if I am involved in any homeschool groups, and what I am doing with little Charles while I teach my girls.

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CURRICULUM:

While my children are young, I want to keep things as simple as possible. The day will come too soon when they will have lots of formal instruction every day. But I want to keep kindergarten at home as fun as it can be. My focus has been on two main things: getting a good start in math and teaching AudreyKate (who is in kindergarten) to read.

I am using Saxon Math this year. I like it for a couple reasons. It is mainly what my mom used with us growing up so I’m familiar with it and it is very straightforward. I also chose it because the daily calendar is incorporated in to each lesson when you use Saxon’s Meeting Book.

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We live in a 1200 sq foot house, and I homeschool from our kitchen table (or the backyard), so I don’t have a lot of room for posters or a morning meeting corner. Everything I use, I need to be able to put away when school is over. The meeting book covers all the basics I would teach if I were teaching in a classroom (date, days of the week, counting, weather, etc), without all the cuteness. But I do have this cute old fashioned slider calendar I like to use with the girls to keep track of the date.

The other main curriculum I am using this year is Logic of English. I did a lot of research before I ordered this series (I watched almost all these videos!) because I wanted to make sure it would really work for us. At the end of the day, I went with it because I love the phonogram approach. I think a lot of this is due to the fact that I struggled to learn to read as a child. Among other things, when my mom began teaching me phonograms, I think that really helped things click for this literal learner.  I went from not being able to read at all, to reading Little House in the Big Woods!

This curriculum has been a lot of fun for us and I really like the instruction for teaching cursive writing. I am teaching AudreyKate cursive first because a). I really want her to be able write in cursive for the rest of her life, and b). because cursive requires less fine motor control than print.

IMG_2573.JPGThis year, I am also teaching a little phonogram/handwriting class at my home with one of AudreyKate’s friends. I pack a lot into our two hours of class each week, but it is such a fun time and the girls do a lot of games and multi-sensory activities as they focus on their phonograms and cursive writing.

In terms of Evangeline, I am using a lot of preschool books I have had for a while and used off and on with the girls (I will link some at the bottom). My amazing mother-in-law also does preschool once a week with Evangeline over FaceTime. They work on her letters and read lots of books. I just love that Lulu makes time to do this with Evie and it helps me immensely as I always use this time to work with AudreyKate.

Grant does Bible with the kids every evening. I know I could do this first thing in the morning, but between unloading the dishwasher and getting everyone breakfast, I usually want to get started on AK’s seat work first thing. But I love that no matter how late or tired Grant is, he always reads to them and explains the Bible lesson so well. Right now he is going through The New Children’s Bible by Anne DeVries. 

EXTRACURRICULAR

IMG_2282.JPGOne of the recurring questions I’ve been asked is if we are doing Classical Conversations this year. I ALMOST did, but in the end I decided not to for a couple reasons.

{I will say that everyone I know who does CC loves it (you know who you are ~ Amy Grimme and Mel Reedus to name a couple!) and the program seems amazing!}

However for this school year, I wanted to have the complete flexibility homeschooling provides. The nature of Grant’s schedule and PhD work means that sometimes we travel during the school year ~ so I didn’t want a Friday morning commitment each week (our CC is on Fridays). And I only do school 4 days a week right now ~ so Friday is our off day that I use to play catch-up, do housework, or do something fun with the kids.

IMG_4290.JPGAudreyKate is taking an art class this year at a local art studio run by two artists. This is one morning each week. I love this because it gives AK time to learn and do something she absolutely loves (with an incredibly talented artist) and it gives me focused time with the younger two.

We also have the girls in ballet this fall. They both really look forward to it each week, especially Evangeline!

And lastly, we have our Bible program at our church every Wednesday night, so all those things fill  up their little preschool/kindergarten week very quickly!

CHARLES

IMG_4291.JPGOkay, lastly, I received a couple questions asking what I do with Charles when I’m trying to do school with the girls.

I know I could probably do school in the afternoons while he is napping, but I really am one of those people that likes to get it done in the morning. The girls still have a rest time every afternoon and I use that time for a lot of different things and I typically don’t like to cut into that.

Little brother often plays in his room (we have a baby gate so he stays put with all baby safe things). Many mornings Evangeline will play with him and I can hear everything going on from right outside his door.

Charles also has his “reading time” most mornings in his crib. Some of his favorite books are Cowboy Small ( we ABSOLUTELY adore this book), The Little Train (another favorite by Lois Lenski), Dada (this one is just fun), Mighty Dads (a new favorite for us), and The Magic Bunny (my mom gave this to us when Charles was born and it is the sweetest). Those are just a few of his favorites right now but maybe I will share some more soon.

And Charles will often just join us while we are working on school. I bring some of his toys and he is typically content to mosey around with a train in hand, watching us work.

FINAL THOUGHTS

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I think one of the biggest things that has helped me this year is keeping things SIMPLE curriculum wise so that I have plenty of margin to read to my girls and make sure they have time to create and play (along with the things I want to do for my own  spiritual growth). I want to have lots of time for discovery in the backyard, trips to the library, and snuggling on the couch. And also because everyone is so little, I need to be able to get all of our “seat work” done in a doable amount of time. If preschool and kindergarten are overwhelming, than I figure I am probably trying to do too much.

I’ve gotten a lot of great book ideas from The Read Aloud Revival podcast as well as from literature lists from my student teaching days (I have more resources than I know what to do with). I also just ordered this book and am excited to get started on it.

There are so many great resources available for homeschooling, this is just how we are going about it this year. When AudreyKate started reading Dick & Jane to me a few weeks ago (on her own initiative!), I felt really encouraged that at least some of what we are doing is working.

I am going to link some of the other resources I use below and I would LOVE to hear any suggestion you have and please let me know if you’d like to see more posts like this now and again.

from my heart to yours,

GraceAnna

 

Preschool

Usborne Wipe-Clean 1,2,3

Usborne Wipe-Clean First Letters

Preschool practice

Kindergarten

What Your Kindergartener Needs to Know (we read this on the couch right after lunch, before rest time)

Cursive Practice

Doodling Dragons (part of our Logic of English curriculum. I also use this for my phonogram class)

Student Whiteboard (I use this for EVERYTHING!)

Pointers (these are great for guided reading) I also use these lighted pointers but they have button batteries so I keep them out of reach except when I am using them with the girls.

This is my home, this is my school

As many of you know, my brothers and I were homeschooled our entire growing up years. There’s so much I love about schooling at home ~ not just the memories I have of discovery and learning through the world as our schoolroom, but the ways in which I feel like it cultivated a love of learning in my own heart.

My husband, Grant was in public education his whole life and yet the home was still the center of education. His mom (and dad) were involved in his education every step of the way and were wholly invested in not only helping him learn, but raising him to be a young man of character.

My love for learning, led me to study Early Childhood Education at Clemson. And there is much I love about teaching my own children as we embark on our own education journey.

I have received some emails asking me what we are doing this year for education with our children. I thought it would be easy to compile some of those questions and answer them from here.

But before I do that, I wanted to share the sweetest book my mom gave me when I was home in S.C. last week. I have a special place in my heart for children’s books. I think this is in part to my own journey as a student, and then a teacher. It takes a unique talent to create a story which engages children while also speaking to the hearts of adults.

Children are future adults! So if a children’s book doesn’t stir my heart as I read it to my kids, it never makes it on my favorites list.

But in my opinion, this book does everything a good children’s book should!

For those of you who belong to the early pioneering days of homeschooling, my guess is you will really identify with this book. And of course, for all the current homeschooling mothers, if you’re anything like me, you will for sure wonder if someone took sketches of your own life and plastered them on the pages.

But I think all those who strive to make the home the center of education in the life of their children will love it as well.

The pages of this gem (written by a now grown-up homeschooler, Jonathan Bean), rang true to my memories of homeschooling. Whether it was my dad drilling multiplication facts into my head or my mom somehow managing to run our home and educate us at the same time.

And it also speaks to me now ~ as this year I attempt teaching my little ones at home at our kitchen table and backyard.

Here are some of my favorite pages of the book. I could have shared every one, but I promise I didn’t! I snapped these pics on a gloomy day, so they are a little dark, but I have a feeling you may not be able to resist getting your own copy.

This Is My Home, This Is My School

 

I hope this made you smile this morning, as you get started on your day with little ones! And I look forward to sharing what we are doing in homeschooling this year in my next post!

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.

 

 

The Dock

I love the memories I have of growing up in the Lowcountry. There are so many special things about this area. I wrote a piece for Eat Sleep Play Beaufort on one of the reasons why I enjoyed growing up here.

My friend, Mrs. Gaye Spann, recently put her love for the Lowcountry best, “There’s just so much sky and nature here. I just can’t get enough of the sky.”

Here’s the link!