confessions graphic FINAL

There’s a post I tried to write to publish today, but it’s not going to happen if I want to get some sleep. And I want to get some sleep. Instead here are a few of my favourite parenting articles. Enjoy.

The Habit of a Mother Who Changes the World 

No, a mother duck plucks each feather out from the heart of her bosom.

She lines the nest with bits of herself — the best of herself.  

A mother cups her brood not with leftovers — but with her own sacrifice.

When You Can’t Figure Out What the Answer Should Be

This is the year of yes, to look in the mirror and say, “Yes, He made you this way and it is very good! Yes, you can try! Yes, be creative! Yes, laugh and yes, give it a whirl, and yes, it’s really okay, don’t be afraid!”

This is the year of yes, to kneel down and peer into eager faces and say, “Yes, you can, yes, that’s an ingenious idea, yes, make that, yes, yes, yes!”

Of Linen and Grace

We have great plans, grand ideas of mothering and care-taking and preparing a child for life, and at the end of many days we just feel like we’ve left it in pieces. What’s here for them to take is not near enough, we say. And we cry because we wish we had done it better.

We wish our fingers always zipped and buttoned the completed gown instead of staring at the remainders of our dreams for them.

Why You Never Stop Being Needed

Yes, boys – right to my end, I will be your witness.

God as my witness, I will be your witness, and you can climb and you can take risks and you can go east and you can go west and distance never stopped love from being a witness.

Go ahead, sign me up to witness the launchings and the beginnings, witness the dares you take, the challenges you rise to, the heartbreak you don’t want anyone else to see and the crazy you wish you could hide. The Lord looked down, from heaven He viewed the earth in all it’s crazy and God sees it all – and He sees to it all – and He doesn’t turn awayGod is your witness: You are seen and known.

——–

Thanks to all of you who have followed this 31 Days series. I’ll conclude tomorrow and announce the giveaway winner.

This post is Day 30 of 31 Days of blogging in October. I am writing this month about my first season of motherhood, sharing stories and lessons that stayed with me from that time.

(New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.)

confessions graphic FINALdesperate

I‘ve mentioned before that it’s difficult for me to find my place in the evangelical Christian world of parenting resources because I disagree with so many of the extremes. In every stage of my life whether it was university, working days, dating, engagement, marriage and now parenting, I’ve had to discard the “truth” I was taught for a new way (note: not discard everything, just some things). More often than not I find myself charting a path in between ideas, ideologies, systems and beliefs. It was once a place of insecurity for me, but I know now that this is how it is – I do not fit in the evangelical bubble, and I will not force my marriage and family into this small space for which it was not intended.

I discovered Sally Clarkson’s writing about parenting through links Ann Voskamp posted to her site. Ann’s writing about a variety of topics significantly impacted the way I think about my life and parenting, so I was curious about Sally’s thoughts. That was over a year ago, Sally’s blog is now one of my must-reads, and it has been a particularly encouraging place when it comes to the topic of mothering. I have left encouraged, challenged, comforted and inspired, and I’ve often left with new ideas. What I love most is that she does not prescribe specific actions or fall into the “do this and you will get perfect kids,” instead I am thankful for the stories of her own family life and the traditions and ways that underpin their home life.

I knew Sally had written a book, but did not buy it until my friend Kara wrote about how the book was impacting her life, and then I knew I needed it.

I started reading it in the days after Baby was born. My mother-in-law was with us to help with Little Boy, so I spent my days in bed, resting, sleeping and reading. This is one of the first paragraphs of the book:

I stared at the wall, then fell back down into my bed. I pulled my knees to my chest and the blanket over my head as tears came down and these words tumbled out to my God: “I can’t be a mother today, Lord, I’m just too tired.”

– Sarah Mae & Sally Clarkson, Desperate, (p XV)

Well, I was in tears and the book had not even begun. I can’t be a mother today, those are words I have uttered time and time again to Husband in the early hours of the morning when little people were awake too early, and I was exhausted.

The book is written by two women, Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson, Sarah is younger with three small kids and Sally is older with four grown children. Both perspectives are represented in the book almost like a conversation between the two.

I devoured this book chapter after chapter, answering questions at the end, taking ideas to heart until I had to take a break because of the packing and moving process. I’ve been reading it again now, but slower, to savour and take in the thoughts and ideas, and also so that I can take time to think about what I want to do differently and what I am already doing well.

This is a wonderful, life-and-freedom-giving book. You will put it down chapter after chapter, encouraged and inspired to be the mother you want to be.

If you’re a mom with small kids especially and you need some empathy, comfort and support, this book is for you. Promise. It will not condemn or give you a one-size-fits-all plan (or promise to make your kids come out in a certain way), but on every page I heard the words of women who live and have lived the life that I’m living today, and it was a nice feeling to be understood and then also to be given new tools, encouragement and ideas.

desperate 2

Here are some of the main ideas I’ve taken away from the book:

  • Create the community I want to have – instead of waiting for other people to initiate friendship, connecting points, catch ups, I can be the one to create a place for women, kids and families to connect (chapter 2)
  • Think about what legacy I want to leave with my kids, what things I want them to take away from their years at home, and begin making those things happen through daily, weekly, monthly and yearly traditions (chapter 3)
  • Speak hope to my kids, cast a vision for them of the kind of people they can become, give them strategies for how to win (chapter 4)
  • Be yourself. This point – echoing throughout the book – has brought so much freedom to my life and my parenting.

God gave me a personality. I am one who loves adventure and travel. I’m a social person who loves friends. I am a reader, thinker and have an artist sort of soul. God does not admonish us to sacrifice our personalities in order to please Him. Instead He calls us to uphold His ideals and designs. He wanted me to grow fully into the person He created me to be, in order to give to my children what they needed. The more I have learned to cultivate a life that is interesting to me, the more interesting my home has become to my children.

There are so many voices and opinions about motherhood and parenting today. You can become neurotic if you try to follow every bit of advice. It will kill your heart for motherhood if you compare yourself to everyone else’s ideals. You have to be yourself and live within the limitations of your personality and needs as a woman.

– Sarah Mae & Sally Clarkson, Desperate, (p87)

The main point I took away from page after page of the book is that the more free I am to be myself as I parent, the better is it for my family. I have mom friends who think of creative crafts for their kids, others play lots of sports together and others turn their homes into kid clubs and meeting spaces. Instead of doing what other moms do, I now live within my zone, I look at what I care about, what I’m good at, and I try to do those things as much as possible in our home. The more I do this, the more joy fills my heart, and more than anything, I want my sons to grow up in a home that is full of joy, not a home that is full of trying to be something or someone else.

If you would like a copy, I would love to give one away to you this week. Just leave a comment with your name and something you love about who you. That’s it. I’ll pick a winner on Thursday.

This post is Day 29 of 31 Days of blogging in October. I am writing this month about my first season of motherhood, sharing stories and lessons that stayed with me from that time. 

(New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.)

31 days 2013 logo with note

 

confessions graphic FINAL

This final guest post is from my friend Myra. I worked with her and her family in Kiev, Ukraine right before I went from single to not-single-anymore, and they quickly became like family to me in that time. She is a lovely woman who appreciates beauty, art and words, a deep thinker with an equally deep, soulful laugh. We shared many mochas together in Kiev, and I treasure our conversations and her words closely in my heart. 

Myra is a writer, thinker, church worker and speaker, she’s married to Mike, and they have two grown daughters, Abigail and Rebecca. She spent the majority of her time after marriage in Ukraine but now lives in Tennessee. Myra blogs at Encouraging Thoughts, and here are her encouraging thoughts for us new mums today.

If I have any sage advice to offer young mothers, I will have to travel back five international moves ago and try to remember what life was like when I was a new mother. When you have a baby, not only does your world rock cataclysmically, but also your body has just been inhabited, used as a rocket launcher to usher new life into the world, and become exhausted in the process. No experience in life is remotely similar. But shouldn’t the heralding of a new life into the world be, well, intense? The passion that let up to it was also probably intense.

As amazing and transformational as it is, the mundane settles in quickly and your world suddenly shrinks to the existence of two people: you and your baby, with an occasional, tired nod to your husband. While you are trying to navigate new waters, the doting grandmothers and others are sure to offer their help and advice. Usually you welcome it, but sometimes you realize differing views have formed from poring over pages and pages of books while pregnant. You are not a know it all, but you do want it recognized that you have done your homework. You experience unsurpassed, holy moments as you hold your adorable baby and witness many “firsts”. But you also experience the uncharted territory of emotions brought on by sleepless nights, a body that doesn’t seem to bounce back quickly enough to your pre-pregnancy figure and perkiness, and a sense that you have lost your freedom.

When you watch your husband tenderly love your child, you discover new facets of him that cause you to love him more. And when your child is sick or in danger, your heart stops as you experience a greater degree of unselfish love than you have ever known before. In this way, you catch a greater glimpse of the love God has for us.

But before I offer advice, let me address the idea of “normal”. Normal is derived from a frame of reference and many women are facing unprecedented new normals such as parenting alone, becoming a mother later in life, trying to balance motherhood with one or more jobs, or finding themselves jobless when they need to work. Some go through depression. Some experience long-term fatigue. Still, God’s grace penetrating our individual worlds is the primary and lasting answer. My normal was mothering our two girls as babies and toddlers while living in Ukraine during its chaotic infancy after it became independent from the Soviet Union. I was stretched beyond my own strength many times. Far from extended family, our little family unit bonded closely while we forged community with people there through doing life together, serving God together and walking through hardship together. My greatest adventures did not end with motherhood, they had only just begun.

Here is my advice.

Give yourself and your marriage grace

Adjusting to this new stage in life takes time. Don’t place unrealistic expectations on yourself or your husband. You may have to pare down your schedule and say no to things. Only a few things are really essential and important. As you settle into a routine, hopefully before your child is five years old, you do have to make time for your marriage. We had a date night every week when our girls were young. When we lived in Ukraine, our dates were very romantic since we could afford ballets and our favorite café’s with live music. At other times, we carved out a date at home, which could be just as nice.

Embrace the season, it passes quickly. I know this sounds cliché, but it does.

This stage in life is only a season. I often look back on the years when my children were young and remember how precious and fleeting those years were. This may not help when you are tired or overwhelmed, but you may have younger or older friends who are in a different season that can offer help and encouragement. The multi-generational family of God helps us gain perspective when we are losing it. And we all do sometimes.

Even though you are new a mom, be yourself and don’t feel guilty about it.

You probably go through more changes during your twenties than any other time in life. For many modern young women, you pursue your dreams in college, find your soul mate, marry and become pregnant over a relatively brief period of time. This was my experience. I became a mother at twenty four. I remember worrying that I would have to morph into a domestic diva. Even though I cook, enjoy hosting people, and can decorate my home nicely, when I spend time with friends I don’t want to talk about those things. I want to talk about books, the news, or some aspect of faith. I had to learn not to feel guilty about this and to find friends who will connect with me over these things. This became easier as a missionary living overseas. I asked one of my favorite people, Nadia, a Ukrainian who is my mother’s age how she stays so vibrant. She said she doesn’t care what people think. She doesn’t bother with comparisons. I also know she pursues her passion as an artist and serves people through her ministry to the poor in the Carpathian Mountains.

Express gratitude and appreciation daily

I cherished the moments I spent with God in the mornings when my children were young. Sometimes those times were pushed into the evening when my husband was home and available to help, but God was and is the anchor for my soul. Sometimes I would go to a park bench in Lviv, Ukraine near our flat to read, pray and take in the beauty of my surroundings. The simple truths, wonder of life, and the daily adventure I was on with God gave me joy. And many joys came through the uninhibited wonder and discovery I witnessed in my girls.

Lastly, no matter what you accomplish in life, you will never regret the time you spend with your children. Because of it, your children can be some of your greatest joys throughout life.

This post is Day 28 of 31 Days of blogging in October. I am writing this month about my first season of motherhood, sharing stories and lessons that stayed with me from that time. 

(New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.)

confessions graphic FINAL

My university years were rich, developing, healing years, and I thank God for the many wonderful friends I made in that time. Most of them are crazy gifted as well, and Hannah is one those. We lived on the same hall our freshman year, majored in the same department and worked on our campus newspaper together. She is a wise, compassionate, thoughtful, kind woman, and one of my dear friends. I think her words today will be timely ones for many of us as we remember our first months with a newborn. I hope that these are words of healing, hope and freedom for you as they were for me.

Hannah Hall loves roller coasters, sushi, sunshine on her face and writing with a really good ink pen. She and her husband, Josh, have three kiddos- ages 1, 3 and 5- and live in Arkansas where, sadly, roller coasters and good sushi are hard to come by. Her first book God Bless You and Good Night was published by Thomas Nelson in September. 
  

Mommy and Edy

Dear Hannah,

Oh, darling, you were a wreck, weren’t you?

It was hard. Honest-to-goodness hard. Those first weeks (and months) can be ruthless. No mom who’s being truthful would say otherwise.

But you still thought it would be easier, didn’t you? That it would come more naturally. Instead you struggled through every day and dreaded every night. The feedings were especially hard then, when J casually snoozed through your quiet sobs and had no idea that you were drowning.

Why am I not better at this? This is supposed to be natural.

Your mind viciously wandered back to a conversation you had with a friend some months before your first babe was born. She was talking about another friend, someone you didn’t even know, but you will never forget what she said.

“Being a mom doesn’t really come naturally to her, you know?”

You had nodded your head in mock agreement, completely ignorant yourself of what “being a mom” entailed but unwilling to admit it, lest she turn her wagging tongue on you.

But her words settled heavy. Festered. Grew. Suffocated.

They gnawed at you in that moment of nasty, juicy gossip but then, once she was born, you wept over their brutal honesty.

God created women to be mothers. But look how you struggle! Your mom was a natural. Why aren’t you? Look! You didn’t even get your first motherly instinct right.

And it was true.

You and J had decided not to learn the sex of the baby beforehand. You wanted the surprise. The “It’s a boy!” moment at the hospital. And that’s what you expected: “It’s a boy!” Every single person you encountered during your pregnancy took one look at your growing belly and declared with absolute confidence, “Oh honey, you are having a boy.”

And then there you were, in the hospital, holding your lovely, perfectly pink and healthy baby girl and all you could think was “you were supposed to be a boy.”

Was it a defunct motherly instinct that expected a boy or just an impressionable naivety clouded by the opinions of others? Either way, you already weren’t a natural and she was only moments old.

And so it set the tone of those first few days and weeks. Nursing, napping, swaddling- all of it was difficult. You loved her desperately, but, goodness, how could something so small have turned your life so upside down?

You put on a happy face. You smiled appropriately but sobbed later when well-meaning visitors gushed over how wonderful it was to be a new mother. And you were drowning.

You were not a natural.

But you are three kids in now. You survived that first and find yourself in awe that she will soon start Kindergarten. You look back on who you were five years ago and can remember the pain so fresh. But you have grown and changed and learned.

And now you can say with honesty and grace for yourself, “No it didn’t come naturally. Dying to yourself never does.”

Because that’s what having a baby is. It is teeny, tiny bundle of lessons on how to die to yourself. How to give up what your self wants for the sake of someone else. And the self never wants to give up, to die.

You forgo rest for countless nights to feed a demanding human being while the flesh screams, “Sleep!” But you don’t sleep. You feed.

Not natural.

Re-route your entire life to accommodate their sleep schedule. The self cries, “Not fair!” But you do it anyway.

Not natural.

Listen to her cry at night and cry harder than she is because you know she must learn to sleep no matter how awful the learning is, and the flesh begs, “Don’t do it!” You hold fast and she learns.

But it’s not natural.

While birthing a child may be a completely natural process biologically, to do the deed of a being a mother requires the most un-natural giving up of one’s self. It is learned and trained and struggled through and prayed over.

And it will always be hard. But you do it anyway because it’s worth it. Because there is something greater than you going on here. Because Little Lives are watching, and they see it all.

They see how you loved and nursed and prayed and made mistakes and asked forgiveness. They see how you died to yourself for their needs day after day.

And you know what they will say? One day, when they’re grown, they’ll say the same thing you said about your mom.

She was a good mom. She loved me. She sacrificed for me. “

She was a natural.

Love,
Hannah

This post is Day 25 of 31 Days of blogging in October. I am writing this month about my first season of motherhood, sharing stories and lessons that stayed with me from that time. 

(New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.)