Insight for Girls

Illuminating Wisdom, Inspiring Change

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Michelle Warner

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Last month, I had the privilege to attend the IF:Gathering in Austin, Texas. I was struck by how many different speakers were represented at the conference and how contrasting their skill sets were, and yet when each of them used their gifts like they were created to, it felt like we witnessed a beautiful symphony. Jennie Allen spoke with charisma and passion, Rebekah Lyons shared with depth and sensitivity, Lauren Chandler taught with insight, Bianca Olthoff preached with humor and boldness, Angie Smith shared honestly, Jen Hatmaker spoke with conviction…the list goes on. As I watched them use their gifts well, I couldn’t help but be encouraged to want to do the same with how God is leading me.

I came to the conference with many thoughts swirling in my mind about how I feel God wants me to use my gifts in this season of life. It was rejuvenating for me to have the time to think, pray and dream uninterrupted from my sweet girls so I could take the opportunities to really listen and ponder.  I soaked in all of the insights each speaker shared and wrestled with how this played out in my every day life once I returned home.

After two days of refreshment, it was time to board the plane back to reality. Little did I know how true that statement was! Before my plane even took off from Austin, I found out that my family had been hit with the stomach bug. I returned home to putting new sheets on the beds and diligently applying essential oils to everyone’s feet to nurse them back to health. Being right back in Mom Mode left me little time to reflect on the lessons learned in Austin.

That night as I collapsed into bed exhausted with taking care of everyone, I realized the reason I don’t dream as often as I’d like about how to use my gifts or follow my passions is because as a mom of young kids, I am basically just trying to survive the day. If you’ve read this blog for the past three years, you have watched me grapple with these realizations of wanting to use my gifts well but unsure how to juggle them while meeting the needs of my one and three-year-old as well as my hard-working husband.

Many of these thoughts came to the surface at the beginning of January when Jared and I took a few days to get away together and reflect on 2015 and plan for 2016. It was much needed because the last time we tried to get away for our babymoon, you may remember our plans were hijacked by a hurricane.

While away, I did a lot of thinking about my life with two girls, a husband with a very busy work schedule, and a yearning to do more with my gifts but not sure what that looked like during these full days. In between the introspection and conversations with Jared about all of this, I soaked up the opportunity to read an entire book (gasp!). I picked up Jen Hatmaker’s new book For the Love, and was struck just a few pages in when she wrote about an example of a balance beam and how that related to the age-old question to moms, “How do you balance work and family and community?”

Jen writes,

“I’m not doing it all. Who could? I can’t. I decided what tricks belonged on my beam and dropped the rest or figured out a way to delegate…

Cooking and sit-down dinners? Live-giving for me. On the beam.

Coffee with everyone who wants to ‘pick my brain’? I simply can’t. Off the beam.

After hours with our best friends on the patio? Must. On the beam.

Classroom Mom? I don’t have the skill set. Off the beam.

You get to do this too. You have permission to examine the tricks and decide what should stay. What parts do you love? What are you good at? What brings you life?…

When I see another woman fighting for her balance beam, I am inspired because if she has permission, then I do too. Wise women know what to hold onto and what to release, and how to walk confidently in their choices—no regrets, no apologies, no guilt” (6,7-9).

The part that particularly connected with me: “Frame your choices through this lens: season. If your kids are under five, you cannot possibly include the things I can with middle and high schoolers. You are ruled by a tiny army you created yourself. This is just what it is right now.”

Yes. She said exactly what I have been thinking and what I needed to hear. It corresponded effortlessly with the quote I then read in the MOPS Magazine, Hello Darling, “The practical application of my gifts depends on my choice, my talents and my stage of life” (Alyssa Alexander, “This is Who I Am”).

Over the past year as I’ve prayed and pondered how to use my gifts in this season, I have felt a resounding confirmation to continue to write. I have missed that part of me and though I know that there are things I have to give up as a mom, I am realizing I need to find a way to make writing happen because it’s really good for my soul. Writing needs to stay on my beam.

So I have committed in 2016 to waking up at least two mornings a week before my girls to write. For this non-morning person, this is a big commitment, but I’ve realized that if I feel led to write, I have to do so when it’s quiet and that is about the only “guaranteed” quiet time in our house during my day.  I have also had to let go of these long stretches of uninterrupted writing blocks and accept little pockets of writing time (as well as cute interruptions like Olivia currently sitting next to me chatting away because she woke up early from her nap).

One of the things falling off the beam these days is spending as much time as I did previously browsing social media. It makes common sense but if I’m going to get out of bed when the alarm dings, I’ve got to get to sleep at a reasonable hour and that means putting the phone down—which takes some discipline for this people-loving-night-owl. This doesn’t mean I don’t ever check Instagram or Facebook but I am learning to place limits on myself; usually for me this means setting a time limit for how long I will browse and then putting my phone down and moving on. Let’s just say there are some days I add extra minutes onto my browsing but overall, it’s been a really wise tradeoff for me.

Another thing off the beam is deep-cleaning my house. I feel silly admitting that we’ve hired a cleaning lady because isn’t it a stay-at-home-mom’s job to clean her house? But after talking it through with Jared, we realize that my “me” time is very limited right now and if I want to be using the time I do have to write, then getting a cleaning lady is worth the investment right now.

There are other things staying on the beam as well. Serving on the MOPS Leadership Team allows me to meet with women, engage in conversation about faith and motherhood, and connect with moms. Teaching professional development inservices to teachers with the Ohio Writing Project uses my gifts of teaching and writing. Meeting with my Supper Club each month gives me an opportunity to get to know friends on a deeper level. All high priorities that are on the beam.

This is not to say I have all of my priorities totally figured out.  Spending more of my “me” time writing means I haven’t been as on top of other things (you should have see the pile of dishes in the sink as I write this!) but it’s worth it as I tap into my gifts and seek to nurture my whole self as a woman. (Shout out to my very tidy husband who has put up with lots of piles on the counters and laundry on the couch as I figure out this balance and then lets me say it’s worth it!)

As I examine what makes my heart beat fast and what gifts God has given me, one question from Lysa Terkerst’s The Best Yes has helped frame this even more: “What’s that soul-thing for you, that God-honoring thing that keeps slipping away because there’s been no time to set aside to actually start?” (27).

In wrestling with God about this answer, I know “that soul-thing for [me]” is writing. My prayer is this year I continue to learn how to say yes to things that feel life-giving–like writing, teaching, meeting with fellow moms, and even party planning (a blog post more about that coming soon!)—and no to the things that leave me feeling depleted (though somehow folding the laundry and cleaning the dishes are still on the list—ha.).

As I was finishing this blog post, I took Olivia to gymnastics and as I stood there watching her hold her arms out and point her toes as she walked across the beam, it clicked. The most important part about gracefully walking on the beam? Looking straight ahead rather than down at my toes. As I watched Olivia put one foot in front of the other, it reminded me that’s all I need to do too in this mission to use my gifts well in motherhood. Take one wobbly step at a time, keeping my eyes firmly planted on the One who created me with my gifts and passions in the first place. Then I can focus on what tricks belong on my beam instead of trying to balance everything perfectly in this season of motherhood.

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Keep Me Abiding

Posted on September 9th, 2015

wednesdaywisdom

I have loved the song “Full Attention” ever since I  heard it sung at church. It is based off of the passage in John 15 comparing our relationship with God to bearing fruit on a tree. I love verse 5 in the Message version- “I [God] am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing.”

When we had Addilyn dedicated a couple of months ago, they sang this song at the dedication service. They asked us to change the words to reflect a prayer for our babies. As you’ll see in the lyrics below, we sang, “Keep HER abiding that SHE may bear fruit.” I just loved keeping that focus and making that our prayer. When I get a moment (ha!), I want to frame those lyrics and hang them on Addilyn’s wall.

Without further ado, here is the song I am loving and singing right now:

“Full Attention” by Jeremy Riddle

May Your voice be louder
May Your voice be clearer
Than all the others
Than all the others

May Your face be dearer
May Your words be sweeter
Than all the others
Than all the others in my life

Please keep my eyes
Fixed on You
Please root my heart
So deep in You
Keep me abiding
Keep me abiding
Keep me abiding
That I would bear fruit

May Your presence be truer
May Your presence be nearer
Than all the others
Than all the others

May Your light shine brighter
May Your love move deeper
Than all the others
Than all the others in my life

 

Confessions of a Tired Mom

Posted on August 12th, 2015

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I almost feel like I need to introduce myself again. It has been so long since I’ve had time to sit down and write out my thoughts and process what I am learning here on my blog. Mostly because I am just plain tired. I am in a season where I am waking up very early with Addilyn and staying up too late at night to get everything done that didn’t happen during the day (not to mention Olivia isn’t falling asleep until 10:30pm every night and last night I went into her room six times for potty breaks, drinks of water, and reassurance).

I keep thinking back to the blog post I wrote before Addilyn was born about my fears of how I would handle two children. People keep asking how it’s been with two and I smile and say, “Well, just about as hard or harder than what I thought.” I think people may be a little taken aback that I respond more than, “Great. We’re loving it” but instead give a transparent answer about our adjustment.

I’ve actually learned an insightful lesson as I’ve walked through this as-challenging-and-tiring-as-I-thought season: I can do hard things. I can do hard things with a grateful heart running on little sleep and patience. I can do hard things as God equips me with the strength to endure. Even when what I feared actually happens, God gives me the grace to keep putting one foot in front of the other. (And this is so much truer when I walked through cancer–that even when my greatest fear happened, God gave me the grace to walk through what I didn’t think I could. Amen and amen.)

As Jared and I process the challenges of life with young kids and a busy career, I keep stopping us when we say this is HARD (like I just did above). Yes, there have been some hard moments as we find our groove but our life is actually beautifully wonderful right now. We have two sweet, healthy darlings, a stable job and income, parents who love and support us, healthy bodies, and so many other gracious gifts from God.

HARD was when I sat in a hospital bed for five days in a row feeling nauseous with no hair on my head. HARD was waiting to get pregnant and wonder if we ever could. HARD are the tragedies that many others are enduring right now. So as much as I am trying to transparently embrace this crazy season, I am also trying to do so with a grateful heart of how GOOD life really is in this current window of time. Beautifully wonderful and yet insanely tiring juggling a fussy baby and a determined toddler.

Late last night as I checked on Olivia in her bed and then walked to Addilyn’s room and checked on her, I had such an overwhelming feeling of gratefulness and tender love toward my two sweet answers to prayers. I read somewhere that moms should always watch their kids sleep because they look like such angels and it erases the memories of the hard parts of the day. I have to admit, that is so true. As I walked out of their rooms, I thanked God for the immense privilege I get to be their mom.

But boy, am I tired. Have I mentioned that?

And more than tired, I feel a bit conflicted in my mom-soul. That is probably why I haven’t written much here. Beyond the tiredness and the lack of a consistent nap-time window to write or energy to put words to thoughts at the end of a long day, I honestly haven’t known how to express my thinking. I love being a mom but it is waaaaaay more difficult than I was expecting. The whole sacrificial-love thing and continual-putting-others’-needs-before-your-own thing hasn’t been easy. I love being a wife but it is waaaay harder to choose gratefulness over resentment when life is full and tasks don’t always feel split evenly. I love teaching about writing but I’ve struggled with juggling work life and home life, and always feeling like someone is coming up short. So all of these thoughts have been bumping up against each other in my brain like a pin ball in a game machine. And I haven’t known how to blog about them without coming across as ungrateful about the challenges of these immense gifts in my life.

However, my goal is to try to do more of what I’ve done this morning: just sit down and write even if the word choice isn’t spot-on or the flow isn’t particularly smooth. Because what I do know is even if this post speaks to no one, it is cathartic for me to spill these thoughts onto a computer screen. And I leave feeling lighter and freer even if I haven’t solved a thing.

What I really planned to do this morning in this entry was introduce a post I read a couple of days ago on the blog Gracelaced. I have found her work and writing so insightful as she mothers and follows her passions. I felt particularly encouraged as I read what she wrote below and I wanted to include an excerpt from it. I felt like in so many ways she wrote what I have been processing with the exception that part of my full plate right now is just how it is going to be with two young girls. I’m still working through how to accept that reality while also following my passions, being disciplined in writing, taking care of myself, spending good time with the Lord, and building into my marriage.

All I know to do is embrace the joys and challenges of this season, let go of the idealistic plan of how my teenage-brain pictured life as a wife and mom, extend a lot of grace to myself and those in my life, and depend wholeheartedly  on God for strength, wisdom, and perseverance.

Here’s to that. And maybe a little sleep along the way.

***

Excerpt from Gracelaced by Ruth Simons:

HERE ARE JUST 3 REASONS WHY I’VE HAD WRITER’S BLOCK IN THIS SEASON:

1) You can’t do it all. When I added my paintbrushes, my tools of language shifted in a way. Not permanently or even for the better. It just has, for this season. Running a thriving business with my art has definitely cut into my time to write. There are only 24 hours of the day. How we choose to use them often reveals what we feel we can’t live without. Sometimes the mediums we use to express ourselves change from season to season…I’m learning not to be surprised when I can’t use every medium, all the time.

2) Some say: IG (and social media apps) ate the blog. I love Instagram and find my groove there. But with all the daily practice, I now think in shorter sentences, I read shorter thoughts, and my attention is captured more quickly by the accessibility of relationships formed in the ever-changing world of micro-blogging that is Instagram. It still works for me…but I think we’ve lost something. 

3) And, perhaps this is the most poignant for me in my current season, and relates to the former:

A FULL PLATE OFTEN ROBS ME OF THE APPETITE FOR READING, LEARNING, AND MEDITATION ON THOSE VERY THOUGHTS AND MORSELS OF TRUTH THAT MAKES FOR GOOD WRITING…WELL THOUGHT OUT WORDS…INTENTIONAL STORYTELLING. 

There’s very little to flesh out at length when what you take in is only skin deep. There’s so much vying for our attention that we skim read, catch headlines, and entertain ourselves by simply scrolling. But those are only temporary boosts of information…like a cup of coffee that gives a surge of energy and alertness to what’s around. But there’s no shortcuts in the art of chewing, lingering, processing, rejecting, and receiving what’s worthy of reading. There’s simply no Cliff Notes to soulful thinking and richly digested content.

There is no creative freedom or flowing of the pen when the soul suffocates in the tyranny of busyness. 

So to all my fellow bloggers, writers, thinkers, and creatives who wonder what’s happened to their voice, their storytelling, their ability to think a thought worth wrapping 350 words around:

PERHAPS YOU HAVE LITTLE TO SAY BECAUSE YOU’VE NO SPACE TO THINK. PERHAPS YOU HAVE NO SPACE TO THINK BECAUSE YOU’RE TOO BUSY DIGESTING BEFORE YOU’VE TASTED AND SAVORED. A LACK OF EXPRESSION IN WRITING HAS LESS TO DO WITH HOW MANY TOOLS WE HAVE AND MORE WITH HOW LONG WE SIT AT THE TABLE….TO DINE. 

And so I leave you with the familiar words of our friend, Jack:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

— C.S. Lewis

Rather than reading to stay up on the latest…rather than posting to satisfy a schedule…rather than creating to simply be heard…

…I’m convicted and committed to SAVORING MORE and letting what is written here overflow from a life well-watered and well-fed. I’m overcoming writer’s block with a greater appetite.

What Not to Miss at Kiawah Island

Posted on June 22nd, 2015

mondaymorsel

I think there is a research/journalist part of me that has been latent all these years. It comes out without fail in three situations: 1) after I watch a movie based on true events and I want to find out all the back story, 2) when I want to research a health food or situation (hence many of my past posts), and 3) when I go on vacation and I want to find all the fun places to visit. I can spend hours looking up blogs and reviews to find the best places to go because I hate feeling like I am missing out on any hidden gems.

Jared and I have talked about how fun it would be to start a blog where after a vacation we review the restaurants we ate at and the places we visited in hopes to cut people’s vacation-research-hours by doing the work for them. But alas, that has gotten sidelined due to being young parents with not much extra time. Maybe some day.

However, after our recent trip to Kiawah Island in South Carolina (near Charleston), we had such a fun time visiting different places around the island, that I thought again about how fun it would be to write a vacation review. Obviously this one would be through the lens of young parents, but I suspect there are several in our shoes who want to visit the beach and find kid-friendly things to do like we did.

We visited Kiawah on our honeymoon but didn’t leave the confines of the resort so this trip was technically our first trip to really explore the island. I am sure there are those of who have visited the island for years and have many more suggestions so please share places and things that I have overlooked! Without further ado, here are some fun things we did with our time while visiting Kiawah Island and I would definitely recommend if you are looking for a fun place to visit with your family:

Dining:

  • walked to West Village for breakfast at the Southern Kitchen. There is a place to sit outside if you have active kids like we do. (If you are going to walk there via the beach–which I wish I could do every morning!–make sure you look for beach access #5 because there are no signs for the Straw Market (where the Southern Kitchen is located).
  • ate ice cream at the Sanctuary’s Beaches and Cream, Freshfield’s Marble Slab, and Bohicket’s Marina (by Seabrook Island). We definitely recommend visiting the Marina around sunset because there are amazing views.

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  • ate at La Tela Pizzeria at Freshfields. It had wonderful pizza and salads and was loud enough that our toddler and baby were not a disruption.
  • ate at Fidlder’s Pub at the Ocean Course. Jared and I were able to eat there by ourselves because the grandparents watched the girls but it is a decent place to bring children because you can sit outside and they can wander a bit. The views of the golf course and sunset are wonderful.

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  • drank coffee on the Sanctuary’s patio. We happened to be in town on Mother’s Day so we visited the Sanctuary and then sat out on their wonderful veranda and drank coffee and soaked in the rays. They have a large green space there so it’s a perfect area for kids to play [quietly] in a pretty setting.

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[this was 7 years ago on our honeymoon - on the same lawn!]

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[this was 7 years ago on our honeymoon - on the same lawn!]

  • We cooked most of our food in our condo because with two little ones, it just felt the most manageable. But we were surprised how many kid-friendly places there were if you didn’t stay in. We will have to go back and explore more places next time. :) (On a related note, the Harris Teeter at Freshfields is a wonderful grocery store. If we would have known it was so stocked and reasonably priced, we wouldn’t have brought so much food with us and would have bought it when we arrived at the island.)

Activities:

  • played at the beach. I love beaches like Kiawah (and Fripp, where I grew up going) because they are expansive and quiet. Olivia loved jumping the waves and making sand castles for hours. And I could walk the beach for hours! :)

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  • shopped at Freshfields. As I mentioned, their Harris Teeter has everything you need (including a Starbucks) and the Toy Store also welcomes kids to play with many of their toys, including their shopping cart and lemonade stand, a perfect excuse to go shopping for a bit. :) (Freshfields is about 10 minutes from Kiawah’s welcome gate.)

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  • visited the Nature Center in Night Heron Park. There are alligators, snakes, turtles, and other creatures. Definitely worth a trip when needing a change of scenery or a break from the sun.
  • played at the park at Night Heron Park. It’s not amazing but it does the job when the kids don’t want to play in the ocean.
  • walked to Beachwalker Park. This is a state park and costs $7 to park your car. However, it is just the extension of the beach so if you park at West Village and are up for a 2+ mile walk out there on the beach, you can forgo the cost. This was the best place to go at low tide because there are some sanddollars and shells as well as dolphins. This is one of the only places in the country where dolphins “strand feed”. I had never heard of this before but we caught a glimpse of it for a few seconds and definitely whetted our appetite to see them do this again!

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  • drove to beach access #41 (off of Ocean Marsh Road on Osprey Beach) and walked to the beach. You can see the Ocean Course Clubhouse and a little of the course from this section of beach. It was a beautiful walk at sunset with hardly saw anyone. We had hoped to find shells but really didn’t have much luck. The serenity of the quiet beach made up for it though!IMG_2191

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  • searched for alligators. We visited one a couple of times off the 18th tee station at Turtle Point. There are also apparently many at Osprey Point’s retention pond behind the clubhouse but we never saw any. Obviously, we didn’t approach them too closely but it was a fun activity when needing a diversion.

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  • drove around looking for deer. We did not go looking for bobcats but maybe you would be lucky. (I would not feel very lucky if I saw one!)
  • visited horses at Seabrook island. Apparently you can ride them on the beach but we didn’t try this with our two-year-old. :)
  • got a massage at the Sanctuary. For my Mother’s Day gift, I got a massage and the best part is they have a Solarium where you can go before and/or afterwards and read and drink tea with the sound of a trickling waterfall. It’s a wonderful slice of calm and peace if you can swing it. (They also have a sauna and steam room you can use before or after you treatment as well, which made for a wonderful couple of hours away.)
  • golfed. My husband, dad, and father-in-law golfed and had wonderful things to say about their experience, including the beautiful views.
  • We did not rent bikes since we had a three-month-old but they have bike paths everywhere and we definitely would love to do this on a future trip because there is so much more to see and would be easier on a bike. They have bike rental companies there.
  • We also did not have access to a pool. If you rent through the resort, you have access to their wonderful kid pools. It may be more expensive to do this, but may be worth the next time because I can imagine the pools would have provided endless hours of fun. (And the kid pool at Night Heron Park looked amazing!)
  • They also have kayaks to rent and we heard the dolphin boat trips were amazing.

If you are going to Kiawah or know someone who is, I hope this is a helpful list for you! Listing these activities and looking at the pictures makes me want to go back and do these activities all over again. :)

Nurturing Your Soul as a Mom

Posted on April 15th, 2015

wednesdaywisdom

I have the app “Time Hop” on my iPhone which shows you all of the things you’ve posted to Facebook and Instagram over the previous years on that date. It alerted me today that two years ago I wrote the blog posted below. I decided to reread it to remind myself of what I was learning a few months into being a mom. And WOW. Don’t you find it funny when you reread something you wrote earlier and it speaks to you in new ways? I totally needed to read this today and so I thought I would repost it in case you need the encouragement too.

This morning I had a couple of hours to myself at Panera while my wonderful babysitter watched Olivia and Addilyn. I knew I needed some time to write some thoughts in my journal and spend time listening to my heart and the Lord. One of the things I was writing down was under the heading: what I enjoy doing. I’ve found that now over two years into motherhood, if I am not intentionally spending time with God, nurturing my soul, and giving myself room to do the things I enjoy, it is just not going to happen.

Typing those words makes me squirm a bit because I don’t want to sound selfish. I think as moms it’s easy for us to take care of everyone else first before ourselves and by the end of the day, there is nothing left for us. And over time, we realize that we hardly even know what we want or what we need because we haven’t tapped into it in so long.

Well, I’ll stop using “we” because I don’t know if that’s how you feel but I know that’s how I feel. And I know that God is wanting me to readdress it in my life. My church is beginning a six-week study on the word brave (and my MOPS group has just spent the year with the theme centered on brave), and I’ve been asking God, “what does my brave look like?”. I feel He is asking me to be brave enough to evaluate how motherhood is going and the effect it has had on me. To recenter my identity on Him, not dependent on the actions of my girls or my husband. To do things that a feed my soul and remind myself what I enjoy doing.

As I write this, I am also aware that I am in a special season of life–one with two little girls two–years-old and under. Time to write, or grab coffee with a friend, or sew, or read, or walk around Target uninterrupted isn’t going to be very plentiful. Part of me is still accepting this. But part of me also realizes that in order to nurture my soul, I must be intentional about ways I can do things that bring life to my soul.

I don’t have any major insights today, just more reflecting on this wonderful yet challenging thing called motherhood. I know the first thing is taking intentional time to hear from God and show me what this looks like. I hope to share more thoughts soon…

…but until then, I must go because I just got Addilyn finally to sleep and now Olivia is waking up. :)

 

 ***

 April 15, 2013

About two months ago when Olivia was about two months old, I read a quote that has been percolating in this new mom’s mind ever since: “A child isn’t an interruption from the important work; A child is the important work.” (I wish I knew where I read it, but “mommy brain” has clouded my mind and for the life of me, I can’t remember!)

In my heart I deeply agreed with those words. After all, I had dreamed of becoming a mom for as long as I could remember. At first, reading this wisdom brought great freedom from the guilt of not tackling the laundry or promptly returning emails. Life was different now, and my sole responsibility was to nurture my newborn instead of checking things off my to-do list. If anything else got accomplished besides nursing, changing diapers, and bouncing Olivia that day, it was icing on the cake.

But I’ll admit, even though I loved being a mom, I still struggled with adjusting to my new way of life and as I settled into my new role, that quote stirred up a slight panic in me. I didn’t realize how much I had grown accustomed to my pre-baby lifestyle. I loved having time to meet with women and chat over coffee, write for an uninterrupted block of time, read my Bible and journal my thoughts, cook dinner and entertain friends at our house, exercise when I pleased, and browse through Target at a leisurely pace. Not to mention, I looked forward to my weekly date night with Jared and enjoyed downloading about our days over dinner on the nights in between.

And then one day, we brought a sweet baby home from the hospital and our lives have never been the same. We fell deeply in love with our long-awaited bundle but we also experienced our fair share of difficult moments.

One of those challenging days was over a month ago now. It took me a while to figure out what was bothering me, but I felt very anxious. All day. I couldn’t shake the cloud that loomed over me. And of course on that particular day, Livi wanted to exercise her vocal cords. All day. It seemed everything I tried throughout that day didn’t appease her. And honestly, I was exasperated. At one point when she was screaming and I was trying to calm her down, I said to her, “I know, sweetie, it’s okay to cry. Mommy wants to cry too!”

I finally calmed her enough to rock her in the glider in her room. As my body swayed with the movement of the rocker, my mind raced with all of the things I still had to do. Cook dinner. Clean the hardwood floors. Empty the dishwasher. Finish thank you notes. Respond to emails.

Yet, instead of accomplishing anything on my list, I was sitting upstairs in a dark room holding my baby because she had finally dozed off to sleep. As I rested my head on the cushion and asked God to speak to me, I felt Him say, “Stay.” And I knew exactly what He meant. Don’t try to tiptoe to her crib, lay her down and then scurry out the door to accomplish a few things in those glorious moments of silence. Instead, I knew He wanted me to sit and hold my sweet daughter and allow God to calm me in the stillness as well.

I sat in that chair for over an hour as I held my sleeping girl and talked with God. I asked Him to enter into my frustrated thoughts and point me to truth. Slowly as I quieted my heart, He revealed some freeing insights to me.

One of the insights He showed me surprised me. I realized that I was carrying around some shame over not enjoying each and every moment of motherhood. I felt so guilty that I had prayed so fervently for a baby and then when she arrived, there were moments that I felt overwhelmed and even wondered if I was cut out to be a mom. Every time I talked with someone who exclaimed, “Aren’t you just loving every minute?” I felt a sandbag of guilt pile on top of me. Was it okay to admit that although, yes, I loved my daughter to pieces, no, I wasn’t loving every single second? In all honesty, I was shell-shocked with how much our lives had changed and I was emotionally and physically exhausted. And although I couldn’t believe I was saying it, I missed parts of my before-baby life. Sleep. Quiet. Reflection. Connectedness.

As I continued to rock Olivia, a quote came to my mind that kept popping up in conversations and in my reading: “Wherever you are be all there.” I have noticed whenever there is a theme I need to tune my ear to what God may be saying to me, and so I’ve been thinking a lot about these words.  (I wrote a few of my thoughts about being present here.) It is definitely the desire of my heart for Olivia to know that she isn’t just a distraction to what I really want to be doing; she is my primary focus and I want to be “all there” when I am mothering her.

However, if I could be honest in my brief experience of motherhood thus far, I am realizing that in order to be all there for her, I have to have some moments to recharge. I’ve struggled with the guilt I have felt for needing a break from wearing a mommy hat. Was it okay that I needed a respite? And was it okay to admit that even though I loved Olivia there were parts of being a mom that were really challenging and even discouraging?

Yes and yes, I have found that it is okay. It’s taken me a while to realize that part of my anxiety was due to the fact that I wasn’t living up to the elusive “perfect mother” image that whispered to me in my not-so-great hours, “Every other mom cherishes these moments; what is wrong with you?” Thankfully after several discussions with dear friends, I am realizing that many moms have felt this way too but they’ve been afraid to admit it. One of the most guilt-lifting realizations was that it’s not that I don’t want to be a mom.

Quite the contrary, I want to be a great mom, and I am learning part of the way for me to be that is to not only take care of my daughter and husband but take some moments for myself to replenish and especially have moments with God so that when I am mothering Olivia, I can be “all there.”

However, as we all know, having these realizations and integrating them into our reality can be the challenging part. As I look back over the last four months, finding time for me has hardly happened since Olivia was born—and not because my husband hasn’t been supportive or our parents haven’t been willing to babysit. It’s just that there’s so much to do and my rejuvenating time can easily be pushed out by piles of laundry, a full inbox, and a long list of errands.

I now can totally comprehend how motherhood becomes all encompassing and before you know it, you don’t even know who you are anymore apart from being a mom. Part of this is good; my life has great purpose in caring and nurturing for a little life. But part of this, I am realizing, can be so dangerous if I am not careful to nurture who I was before becoming a mom and who I want to be as a woman.

And so I am learning, as much as mothering can be very satisfying, it is not my sole identity. I am also a writer, a teacher, a friend, a daughter, a sister, a wife, and most of all, a follower of Christ. When my identity rests here and I nurture all parts of me, I can view my new life and my new role with such greater perspective and I can also enjoy my mommy moments so much more.

Just like spring is hopefully arriving here, I’ve come to view life in seasons. It occurred to me as I’ve been processing all of these thoughts about being a mom that this little block of time with a young baby (or insert whatever stage you are in) is a season. It won’t last forever and I can understand a bit more why people who have lived through a particular season look back with a glimmer in their eye and say, “Cherish every moment.” When you look back on a season, it is a lot easier to skip over the extra hard days and just remember the sweet moments (like my college days!).

Which reminds me of a situation I experienced recently with Jared’s lovely ninety-two-year-old grandmother. While we were visiting, she kept saying over and over, “the years go by so quickly,” and “enjoy every one of these moments” and “hold her as much as you can because she’ll be too big really soon.” I didn’t seem to mind her comments as much because I am sure when you’re in that situation where you are looking at your great granddaughter, the scenes from all of your life seem to flash before you and it feels like yesterday when you were cradling your own.  I also didn’t mind because she prays for us constantly, loves us well, and her heart is so kind.

Later on during our visit, Olivia became very fussy and started uncontrollably crying. I was bouncing her back and forth through the living room trying to calm her down to no avail. After a good while, Grandma Warner looked at me and with such sweet sincerity in her voice she said, “That was good for me to see and remember that there are hard moments too.” I can’t tell you how validated I felt. I have thought of that moment so many times since and have tried to take to heart her advice of holding Olivia more as well as remembering that some moments as a mom are just plain hard.

After two months of reflecting, I am realizing that yes, raising a child is very important work. But the most valuable endeavor is what Beth Moore reminded me in her teaching series on Deuteronomy when she said, “To be a successful mother in God’s eyes, love the Lord with everything you have got.” The overflow of loving and seeking God will bring the energy, joy, and perspective needed to be the mother and woman God has created me to be. Now, that’s important work.

Addilyn Elizabeth

Posted on February 15th, 2015

We are so overjoyed to announce that sweet Addilyn Elizabeth entered the world two weeks ago, February 2, at 9:02am. She weighed 8 pounds even and was 21 inches long. Everything about her is perfect and we feel so incredibly blessed! We were also thrilled that the oncologist gave me a great report after attending the c-section. Thank you for all of your prayers. We are over the moon and thanking God for His goodness to us!

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Becoming a Brave Mom: Attack Anxiety

Posted on January 30th, 2015

Welcome back MOPS Moms!

If you missed the first two posts, catch them here and here.

I sat in my kitchen today while Olivia napped and chatted with a friend about fear. We both have felt the weight of suffocating anxiety. As we talked and shared the different ways we cope, I thought about the strategies I have learned over the years. It reminded me of this blog post I wrote almost four years ago about the ways I have found to help manage my anxiety.

I would now add a few more strategies to the list:

 

  • Replace the anxious thoughts with true thoughts. Aside from examining the underlying emotion and inviting God into the anxious thoughts that I shared in my post mentioned above, I have learned the value of surrounding myself with true thoughts. For me that means keeping myself plugged into Scripture and listening to music that reinforces those truths. (I’ve shared many of my favorite songs in the Wednesday Wisdom Well posts but one I love to play in my anxious moments is Cast My Cares by Tim Timmons).

I also have mentioned before that I have post-it notes on my mirrors and verses on my kitchen chalkboard to constantly bring myself back to what’s true. One of my most favorite verses is Isaiah 26:3, “You will keep in perfect peace, him whose mind is steadfast because he trusts in You” and when I am in a scary situation, I repeat it over and over.

When I was going through chemo, I used a spiral-bound note card book and wrote verses that God was using to comfort and encourage me. I would take those with me to my appointments and read them over and over when I felt the panic rising.

  • Take time out for myself–whether that be taking a nap (and let me just say, I totally agree with that quote I heard somewhere that, “Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap.”), going for a walk, reading a book, journaling my thoughts, or doing a little shopping. I’ve learned giving myself some time to think, pray and clear my head is really important to help lessen my anxiety. (Now to figure out how to do this with two children!)

 

  • Share my fears with others. Sometimes it’s just me being honest about my fears with my husband but more times than not recently I have sensed God encourage me to open up with others about the various anxieties that are plaguing me. In doing so, it not only reminds others they are not alone in their struggles but it draws me closer to those who want to live authentically and bravely too.

 

  • Lessen caffeine. Practically speaking, I’ve noticed when I get super anxious, caffeine really aids in making me more stressed out and giving me physical symptoms (heart racing, tension headaches, etc.). In those situations, I try to drink green tea instead because it still has some caffeine but also is known to help relax you too. (And I’ve also found lavender essential oil helps counteract the anxiety.)

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In Sherry Surratt’s book Brave Mom, she also listed some “go-to strategies to deal with fears and worries before they [get] out of control” (see pages 140-144).  I wanted to list a few that stood out to me.

 

  • “Do a laundry sort…Sort your fear into two piles: things I have control over and things I don’t.” If you don’t have any control, “tell God what you are nervous about, acknowledge you don’t have control and ask God to give your heart peace…If it is a fear you can do something about…take action. Then tell yourself, okay, I’ve done all I can do.”

 

  • Frisk your thoughts at the door…I can’t control every scary thing but I can control whether or not these things strike fear in my heart.”

 

One specific way I have been doing this is when I hear a really traumatic story on Facebook or in the news, my immediate thought is, “Oh my gosh, what if that happened to me?” and then I start to feel the panic rising.

A few months ago I had just blogged about how I made it to the five year mark of being cancer-free.  While I was elated, I also get nervous when I post things like that in writing because you never know what’s in store for the future, and though I don’t believe in jinxing myself, I always feel a little more on edge when I put myself out there. (I guess that’s just part of being brave and sharing more of myself even when I can’t control the outcome.)

So anyway, I felt a little emotional about the whole thing and a day or two later I received an email that asked if I would reach out to a young mom whose ovarian cancer had just returned. Immediately, I felt great fear and worried about that happening to me. After a few hours of ruminating off and on about this fear, I felt God remind me, “That is not your story right now. Stay in your story and where I have you.” I tell myself that all the time now. (It’s part of the “replacing the anxious thoughts with true thoughts.” I’ve become quite the self-talker!)

When I read a heartbreaking story that begins to stir up fear of “What if that happened to me?”, I literally tell myself, “That is not your story. That is their story and God is going to meet them in it.” As the quote says above, I have to frisk my thoughts and not let myself go down the imaginary road because it doesn’t do me any good! (And this is not to say we don’t empathize and reach out to those who are going through tragedies, but I am learning that I have to mentally remind myself the difference between their story and my story and not to take on what is not mine.)

 

  • Choose Gratitude…Fear makes us feel small and hopeless.  What makes us feel the opposite?…A thankful heart.”

 

The best thing I’ve done as I’ve written this blog entry is look back at my past posts and read about how God has been so incredibly faithful to me, which stirs inside of me a thankful heart. I almost think the best cure for anxiety is to look at the ways God has shown up in the past and remind myself He will show up again because that is just who He is! 

Writing this blog post has been very cathartic for me as I prepare my heart for our lives to change as we meet our next baby girl. Though transitions can frightens me, I am learning that fear and courage can exist at the same time. So instead of shutting down, batting away my fears, or letting them consume me, I am learning to come to God honestly, acknowledge what is scaring me, and take on the bravery He gives me. After all, as Sherry says, “Courage doesn’t mean we are not afraid anymore; it just means our actions aren’t controlled by our fears” (105).

Becoming a Brave Mom: Face the Fear

Posted on January 30th, 2015

Welcome back MOPS Moms!

(If you’re just joining us, I encourage you to read yesterday’s post here.)

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Have you ever picked up a book and wondered if it were written just for you? That is how I have felt as I’ve read Sherry Surratt’s Brave Mom: Facing and Overcoming Your Real Mom Fears.  I want to be brave and courageously embrace the what-ifs that come with being a mama, but so many times I don’t know how to tangibly do that. Sherry’s book has helped give me some practical ideas as well as encouraged me to reflect on my fears and my bravery.

As I read the chapter on “Facing Your Emotional Monsters,” I realized the truths were the exact reminders I needed to put my fears about my baby #2’s arrival into perspective.

Maybe, like me, you’re about to head into the next stage of your family. Or a current situation is causing fear to creep up, or the daily what-ifs are winning out. If so, here are a few insights from the book that encouraged me.

Sherry lists three truths about fear (see pages 140-144):

 

  • Fear will come knocking and will want to come in….We pretend around [fear] and swat it away like an annoying fly, but until we deal with it directly, it’s going to come back.”

 

Reading this quote motivated me to take some time to uncover what was below the surface that was recently causing me anxiety. A couple of weeks ago, I took advantage of an extra kid-free hour after an OB appointment and headed to a coffee shop with my journal. I would have loved to have sat there all day reading and writing but I was grateful for the hour I had. Writing down my fears (listed on the what-if list in the previous post) and asking God to speak truth to me about them brought peace and freedom that I needed.

I faced (and am continuing to face and work through) the fear that yes, although there are no signs that the cancer has returned, it is a legitimate fear that the oncologist could find something during the c-section. Acknowledging that I am scared about that has helped me give that specific prayer request to God.

And on a less serious note, I have realized that some of the what-ifs I wrote about (like no sleep or toddler tantrums) will most likely happen at some point. It’s just the reality of all of us adjusting to life as a family of four. But writing those fears down has been helpful for me to frame where the anxiety is coming from and also to acknowledge that it may be hard for a while, and that’s okay. (And it’s also super encouraging to remind myself of how many brave moms have gone before me, survived, and moved into a new season–even with fond memories!)

 

  • While fear is very real, it doesn’t have to paralyze you…Just because a scary thought hits me, it doesn’t mean I have to ruminate on it, letting my emotions get carried away with every possible scenario.”

 

This is definitely a lesson I have learned over the last five years. As 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, I have to “take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ.” Not just because it says so in Scripture but because taking these thoughts captive brings such greater peace to my life than if I let my fears run ahead of me and freak me out.

In a blog entry I posted almost exactly four years ago, I wrote about this very thing after working myself up in a tizzy while waiting for some cancer scan results.

 

“After what felt like forever, my doctor entered the room and told us that everything on my ultrasound looked fine. As I breathed a huge sigh of relief, I was reminded all over again why God tells me in His Word to keep my mind steadfast and “take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). When I engross myself in God’s truth and promises instead of scaring myself silly with fearful thoughts, God’s peace “guards my heart and mind” (Philippians 4:8). Fixating on all of the what-ifs is not only a waste of time but it steals my peace and energy. Beth Moore says it this way, “Many of our mammoth captors began as seeds in the thought life, but we watered and cultivated them by continued meditation until they grew the size of the Sequoias!” (203).

 

Taking thoughts captive and working through my fears has been a theme throughout my blog. As I was writing this entry I pulled up many of the posts I’ve written; reading some of the quotes I shared from other authors, recalling the stories of how God met me in my distress, and reminding myself of verses God has shown me brought such encouragement to me. (I will share more practical tips about what I’ve learned tomorrow but if this topic is resonating with you, a few other posts I have written about fear can be found here, here, here, and here.)

 

  • The goal is not to eliminate fear but to manage it…Trying to avoid every scary situation as a mom isn’t in the realm of possibility, nor is it healthy to try. But it is possible to be the best brave mom you can be, who has go-to strategies that come naturally to you when you face tough situations.”

 

When I first read this insight from Sherry, I wasn’t sure if I agreed because I do think the ultimate goal is to eliminate the fear all together. I do believe when we ask God to take our fear away, sometimes He completely does that and I believe in asking Him to do so. But I also know that oftentimes God uses the fear to draw us more to Himself and uses it to teach us to trust Him as a loving and good Father. I know that has certainly been true through my cancer journey as well as my journey in becoming a mom.

A memorable mom-fear moment comes to mind that helped teach me that I could trust God as my loving Father. I was planting flowers the day before my 20-week ultrasound with Olivia, my firstborn, and thinking through what the next day entailed. Because of all that we’d gone through with my health, as the appointment approached, I began freaking out about all that could go wrong with the baby inside of me.  I knelt in the hot sun that day digging holes and watering flowers and telling God every one of my fears. He didn’t necessarily take away my fear, but He reminded me that He was good and that I could trust Him. And though I wanted Him to wave a magic wand and tell me all was going to be okay, instead He reminded me to trust Him with my fears and trust His character. That truth calmed my heart as I entered the appointment (and thankfully found out all was fine).

Wouldn’t you know, as I was sitting here typing these very thoughts, I realized that I hadn’t felt Baby Girl move in a while. Having known a couple of people who have lost their babies at the very end of their pregnancy, it is a real fear of mine that this could happen. I tried to ignore the nagging fear as I wrote but I could feel silent panic rising inside of me. I stopped typing and prayed, asking God to reassure me things were okay, but most of all to trust Him and not let my mind take off down a worry path. Then I took a drink of water, shifted my body to the left side, and kept writing. Thankfully she moved in a couple of minutes and I smiled because I had put into action the three steps Sherry suggested: acknowledged the fear directly (what if there is something wrong with the baby), took my thoughts captive (prayed and told myself not to go to the worst-case scenario), and managed the fear (took a drink and shifted to left side and kept my mind occupied).

I’ll share more tomorrow about the strategies I’ve learned to manage my fear and anxiety. Until then, what are your go-to strategies?

 

Becoming a Brave Mom: Let It Out, Let It Go

Posted on January 30th, 2015


Welcome MOPS Moms! Thanks for stopping by!

In just a couple of days, Jared and I will be in the hospital preparing to meet our second daughter. Just typing those words brings a whole slew of emotions to the forefront of my mind.

First, utter gratefulness. Five years ago right around now, Jared and I were trying to decide if we should do precautionary fertility treatments before my ten weeks of chemo started.  (For those of you new around here, five years ago, I was diagnosed with a very rare ovarian tumor at age 29. Though the cancer was not aggressive, due to one cell outside my ovary, I had to go through chemo. Read more about the details here and here.)

The doctors could not guarantee that I would be able to have children after the powerful cancer drugs infiltrated my body. Knowing how much I have always wanted to be a mom, I couldn’t bank on percentages that “most likely” I would be able to bear children. We decided to go forward with treatments to preserve my fertility but that came to a screeching halt when a stubborn (but thankfully harmless) cyst on my other ovary would not go away. My oncologist felt we shouldn’t wait any longer and encouraged us to move forward with chemo without any fertility treatments. (I wrote more about it here.)

I won’t ever forget that moment because it was a time of true surrender when I had to let go of my desires to be a mom and trust that God would handle it—whatever that looked like.  When the tears came during my chemo treatments, they were often wrapped up in this desire, which would manifest itself at times through fear: I so badly want to carry a baby, but what if I can’t?

This brings me to the second emotion I’ve been feeling as the arrival of baby #2 approaches: anxiety. I struggle with not letting my anxious thoughts control my life. God has done a major work in my heart since walking through cancer but that doesn’t mean I no longer struggle with fear. It creeps up at random times—sometimes legitimate and other times totally unfounded.

Over the past month, I’ve had a lot of what-ifs pop up in my mind about our next baby’s arrival. But instead of keeping them inside and letting them eat at my joy, I am learning to bravely acknowledge them.  To get them out in the open and name them. So at the risk of sounding a little crazy, I thought I’d take a brave step and list out some of the real what-ifs that have popped up in my mind recently.

  • What if something goes wrong with the c-section, for me or baby? (I don’t take even routine procedures for granted anymore.)
  • What if the oncologist (who will be present for the c-section) finds something suspicious on my remaining ovary?  (It gives us such reassurance to know he is able to do a quick check after they’ve delivered the baby but the fear of what they could find still nags at me…)
  • What if I get just as sick after the last c-section and am completely out of it for the next 24 hours like I was with Olivia? (That really was miserable.)
  • What if they find a health issue with the baby?
  • What if nursing doesn’t work this time around?
  • What if Olivia flips out with all of the new dynamics? (Knowing her fiery little personality, this is most likely to happen!)
  • What if I don’t get any sleep between taking care of a newborn and a two-year-old? (I really am a better person when I get sleep! Ha.)
  • What if Olivia throws lots of tantrums in the adjustment period of realizing this show isn’t all about her anymore?
  • What if I can’t manage an active toddler and a newborn?
  • What if I burst into tears in the middle of Target trying to keep Olivia in the cart and a newborn content? (This is quite probable, so if you see me in the Target aisle, please be kind!)
  • What if adding more responsibility and less sleep affects our marriage or my friendships?
  • What if I have even less time for myself and less time growing parts of me that are not “just a mom?”

 

Ah, that feels better already. I have learned over the last five years if I can acknowledge what is causing anxiety, I am much more able to invite God into my situation. As I let it all out, He meets me and helps me let it go.

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Over the last couple of months I have been reading a book written by the MOPS CEO, Sherry Surratt, entitled Brave Mom: Facing and Overcoming Your Real Mom Fears. I love that as I’ve been working through the fears mentioned above, God gave me this incredible resource to tangibly help me. In my next post I will share some of the insights from her book that have encouraged my heart during this time as well as have given me practical strategies to truly let the fears go and trust God.

It reminds me of a bracelet I bought recently that sums up these thoughts as well as totally signifies this pregnancy journey for me:

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“Let it Go.
Begin today.
Surrender your fear.
Nurture your soul.”

 

Or another way to say it:

“Do not be anxious about anything,
but in every situation,
by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving,
present your requests to God.
And the peace of God,
which transcends all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4:6-7

Slowing Down in the Christmas Frenzy

Posted on December 15th, 2014

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So far for us, this Christmas season has felt chock-full of many to-dos.

I don’t know if it’s because Olivia’s birthday is at the end of November and being my mother’s daughter, I can’t let a birthday go by without a big celebration (a post with pictures to come at some point soon!), and so I was too consumed with her birthday to prepare for Christmas until it was over.

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Or I don’t know if it’s because Thanksgiving was later this year so once we returned home, it was practically December, and we were off to the races with all we had to do.

Or if it’s because I am pregnant and so instead of wrapping presents and decorating the house, I mostly just want to collapse on the couch when Olivia is napping.

Or if it’s because Jared had LASIK surgery this past weekend so we traveled to Indy (for his brother, an eye doctor, to be a part of his care), which meant more packing and scheduling (but fun cousin bonding time too!).

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Or if it’s because December just feels very full of lots of expectations, parties, Christmas shopping, Christmas card-writing, and Christmas decorating, and it’s easy to get overtaken and miss the whole point all together.

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Whatever the reason, I’ve been trying to keep my heart tuned into God through all the busyness, but it definitely is not easy, as I am sure you can attest. I desire our Christmas season to be one that’s meaningful and not one that’s so full we don’t have time to look for and reflect on the meaning.

We are beginning to think about Christmas traditions and how we want to foster reflection in this busy time of year. Because as fun as all the Christmas activities are, the main point is slowing down enough to remember why we have Christmas in the first place. I’ve found that if we don’t actively slow down our minds, Christmas can come and go without us ever taking time to savor what God has done in our lives throughout the year.

Along with that, if I don’t take time to stop and look for Jesus in the midst of the Christmas excitement, I can easily fall into the trap of more, more, more–including more expectations for how magical the season will be. And before I know it without continual reminders back to Jesus, Christmas comes and goes, and leaves me with a big sack of disappointment with how “real” it felt instead of how magical I hoped it to be. Yes, there are moments that may feel magical, and I sure do love and treasure those, but when my perspective is where it should be, those are just icing on the cake  of a special season rather than needed events to complete the holiday for me.

A few things have come to mind that we are trying to do to capture “the reason for the season” and so I thought I would write them down in hopes that they would encourage you as well as that you would share ways you have found to slow down at Christmastime as well. I am all ears!

  • Quieting my own heart

Probably by far one of the biggest things I am learning as a new mom is how crucial it is make sure I am not neglecting myself. It is so easy to become consumed with our kids’ lives that thinking about ourselves as moms gets placed totally on the back burner. Now don’t get me wrong, I am also learning how motherhood is a lot about sacrifice and letting go of some of the luxuries I used to enjoy, but I don’t think it helps anyone if I don’t nurture my own self in this journey of being a mom. And then add on the pressures and expectations of Christmas, and I can see how moms get to the New Year and they’re barely keeping it together because they have given, given, given all season (and year). So, one thing I am trying to do for myself is to quiet my own heart to meet with God and stay in tune with how He is leading and speaking to me. (And this also helps keep my expectations in check too!)

*Advent Reading

Last year for Olivia’s birthday, my mother-in-law gave her The Jesus Storybook Bible. Not long afterwards, I read something on Pinterest about reading through advent with The Jesus Storybook Bible. Since my brain felt pretty fuzzy being a mom of a one-year-old, I decided that sounded like a good place to start to prepare my heart for Christmas.

Let me just say that it was such a refreshing read! If you have not read The Jesus Storybook Bible, I highly recommend it and not just for kids. It’s a fresh way to read the truth we find in Scripture and it’s communicated in a new way. I found the advent reading schedule here, although I am sure there are many reading plans out there.

This season I have been reading through Ann Voskamp’s new advent book called Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas. I didn’t really know much about it, but anything Ann Voskamp has written has caused me to think, so I decided I wanted to see what it was about. I have not been disappointed. This too is written with children in mind and is meant to be read as a family, though this year I am just reading it by myself. I love the questions at the end of each day to discuss together and then the action step to do as a family. Ann also created ornaments to go with each day but since I am just reading it by myself this year, I haven’t done that part (but look forward to someday!).

Ann also wrote a book last year called The Greatest Gift: An Advent Devotional that is geared more toward adults. I read it last year but honestly I need to reread it because I think my brain couldn’t handle too much depth at one time. (Oh, the life of a new mom!)

I am hoping we can read through the Christmas season next year as a family when Olivia is more able to grasp what is going on. (So far I am just trying to convince her that on Christmas it’s Jesus’ birthday instead of Livi’s birthday. For some reason she thinks every occasion now is a cause to celebrate her big day. Ha!)

*Christmas music

One more note, Jared and I have found that another helpful way to quiet our hearts and reflect on the season is through music. My most favorite Christmas album these days is Chris Tomlin’s Glory in the Highest but of course Christmas isn’t complete without listening to all of Amy Grant’s Christmas albums too! We also are enjoying Michael W. Smith’s new album with many country artists. I am in love with his song with Carrie Underwood, All is Well.

  • Making time for our marriage

In the almost seven years that we have been married, if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s the importance of being intentional to set aside time to nurture our relationship. It just doesn’t happen otherwise. We are realizing that at Christmastime this is so key as well–otherwise we will get through the whole season and miss out on connecting at all.

*Christmas concert

We’ve started a tradition of going to a Christmas concert every year, though I am the first to admit it hasn’t happened every year and most likely isn’t happening this year (a good test for me to put into action what I’ve been writing–that if I need those magical moments to complete my Christmas season, I will be sorely disappointed!). Last year we saw Amy Grant and Vince Gill, and it was such a nice break to get away together for dinner and then time to listen to good music and take in the season together.

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*Ornament giving

We also started a tradition early on in our marriage where we gave each other an ornament that represented the year. This is by far one of my favorite traditions for two reasons: one, it causes me to stop and reflect on what ornament represents Jared for that particular year. When we were working through our views of money and budget in our first year of marriage, I gave him a Starbucks coffee ornament to symbolize our many discussions; when we were writing more together, I found a pencil ornament to symbolize the project we worked on as a couple. And two, it reminds us of how faithful God’s been to us that year.

As I was writing this, I looked up at the tree and smiled as I saw ones that represented our times together as a couple. It’s especially been meaningful now that we’ve gone through some difficult times because Jared gave me some sentimental ones during my cancer road that I will always treasure.

We write the date on bottom of the ornament so that we don’t forget what was happening. Speaking of not forgetting, writing this post is reminding me I need to still get him an ornament for this year. :) (And just to keep it real- we have definitely had a couple of years in the past where we were shopping for our ornaments after Christmas!)

*12 Days of Christmas

Something I started last year that I am doing again this year in a new way is the 12 Days of Christmas for Jared. Last year, I found this idea on Pinterest (apparently last year I spent my down-time surfing Pinterest!) and found these great printables that made the whole idea pretty simple. Since Jared and I both are not really gift people, I decided to just think of things he needed (socks, chapsticks, collar stays, a snow brush, etc) and then weave it into the 12 days. And since I am a words person, I wrote a note with each one about how that represented something I loved about him.

IMG_4747It was surprising to me how much Jared appreciated this and he looked forward to what his new little gift was going to be each day. It was a reminder to me that we all love to be told the reasons we are loved, even for my non-words-husband!

So this year, I decided to tweak the idea a bit because more than little gifts, we need time together. Again, I saw this idea on Pinterest and knew one of my friends had tried it last year, so I decided to go for it. This year I am giving him 12 Pre-Planned Date Nights, and most of them are dates at home like a movie night, game night, reading night etc. I used these free printables, but really you could use just notecards. I haven’t done much beside writing out the date idea for each month and giving him a new one each day. It’s not much, but I think it communicates what I am trying to say–let’s make time to connect in 2015. With a new baby on the way, I think it’s going to be that much harder, so I am hoping these dates will help make our time a priority.

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Thanks to pregnancy, I woke up super early this morning and have written this entire blog before Olivia is awake. That is a feat in and of itself but I better sign off because she will be stirring any moment. I would love for you to share in the comments if you have a tradition that either you enjoy individually, as a couple, or as a family to help capture the meaning of Christmas. And it doesn’t have to be super deep, I’d love to hear your favorite tradition because sometimes the most simple are the most meaningful (and a lot of times they don’t come with a lot of expectation weighing on the event–another big plus in my opinion!).

I’ll end with a quote that stuck out to me during my reading this morning from Unwrapping the Greatest Gift because it totally captured what God has been speaking to me about this season:

“Christmas cannot be bought in a store. Christmas cannot be created in the kitchen. Christmas cannot be made by hand, lit up, set out, dreamed up. Christmas can only be found–right there in the manger” (86).