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.

A father’s love

Lunch w/Daddy @ PII was interrupted from my thoughts by the ring of my cellphone. 

“Hey, Grant!” I cheerily answered my husband’s call. The time alone driving in the car had been good for my soul. He was watching all three kids for the evening.

“Hey” was all he said back to me but it was enough to hear the tension in his voice and know something was not right.

“What’s wrong? What happened?”

“First let me just tell you that everyone is okay.” 

This of course is never a great way to begin a conversation but it is also a necessary and comforting way for any mother who has temporarily stepped out of the house.

“GRANT WHAT HAPPENED?”

“Well, Charles crawled into the bathroom and his big (yet still little) sister thought it would be fun to play hide and seek. She closed and locked the door before I could get him so that I could ‘go find him.’ GraceAnna, I got so panicked, imagining him getting in to the toilet head first that I couldn’t figure out how that little key works to the door. I just could not get it to turn and unlock. I just didn’t know what to do and with each moment I grew more afraid.”

“Grant! What did you do?!”

“I just, well, I just punched through the door.” 

“What?!”

“Yea, I just did the only thing I knew to do in the moment. I was just so worried he was drowning. So I just punched through it and unlocked the door and opened it.” 

“You ‘just’ punched through it? Oh Grant, was Charles crying? Was he hurt?” 

“No, he was just sitting there in the dark, staring at me. He wasn’t hurt and the toilet lid was closed. But the door, well, I’m sorry. It’s just a mess.”

“Of course I don’t care about the door (well not much). I’m just so glad he’s okay and you’re okay and everyone is okay!” 

At this point, I was both relieved and astounded, and just grateful to the Lord for His protection. I imagined the hole right above the door knob, the size of Grant’s fist. 

When I arrived home later that evening, the first thing I did was investigate the door. 

“Oh GRANT!” 

I could not believe. my. eyes. The door did not have a round hole as I had pictured, the entire top half of the door was shredded. Jagged pieces of wood and particle board were everywhere. 

It literally looked like Jaws had made a visit to our bathroom. 

Oh Grant

I wasn’t angry. My heart flooded with compassion for him.

All I could think of was the desperation he must have felt in that moment. His trapped son on the other side of this door. Imagining the worst. 

He would do whatever it took.

Over the past couple of weeks I have had a lot of time to replay the door incident. Turns out it takes quite a while for a new door to ship to our hardware store. 

I have been constantly greeted by our destroyed door and have had to explain to every visitor to our home that no, my husband does not have a violent anger problem.

I really am telling the truth!

Of course, I have been reflecting much on the Father’s love for us – stopping at nothing to save His helpless children. If an earthly father can love his son like that, how much more our Heavenly Father?!

But every time I look at those jagged pieces of wood, I am also somewhat taken aback by the violence of it.

And I think, this is how we can often be tempted to see God isn’t it?

All jagged. All wrath. Powerful and disappointed in us.

Have you read the God of the Old Testament? they say. 

He’s all violence and judgment.

All jagged. No love. 

They see the laws. Unclean. Unclean. Unclean.

But then they miss Jesus there, with the sick people crowding all around him.

I miss Jesus there. 

Not retreating from the smells and presence of sickness and death. 

The perfectly clean One who doesn’t separate himself from us. He came to us. His hands touching ours, making us new.

And when we embrace the fullness of who He is, not molding him into our own characterization or rejecting Him all together, we see Him.

We are unexplicably touched by Him.

We come to a deeper understanding that He takes on the wrath we deserve because of His love. 

So much wrath and so. much. love.

If we do not encounter the harshness of it all we miss the wonder of it all. 

The nails. The cross. The thorns.

The love. The forgiveness. The glory.

It humbles us. It astounds us. It drives us to our knees. 

We once were lost but now we are found. 

Because He loves us. 

Oh how He loves us. 

And that is something we cannot always so easily explain but we just know it. He’s knocked the door down, and we see that He loves us. Because that’s what good fathers do. 

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. ~ Romans 5:8


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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!