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Michelle Warner

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Launching Out

Posted on October 24th, 2016

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I have been silent on here for quite some time. Partly because I have had a challenging time finding quiet space in my mind and schedule to write out my thoughts while chasing my girls. And mostly because in the past ten months I have been working on a new writing project that God has put in my heart.

Back in January, Jared and I got away for a few days by ourselves and it was then that I felt God nudge me to begin working toward a new blog for moms. I sent an email to some writer friends and began dreaming about what this could look like.

A month later, I traveled to Austin to attend the IF:Gathering, an amazing women’s conference featuring some brave, honest women sharing their stories. After hearing many inspiring stories of women following God’s calling on their lives, I felt a confirmation to continue to move forward with the project.

The only thing is, as much as I felt that confirmation, I also felt trepidation.

Revisiting Old Fear

One morning at the conference while listening to the song, “Good, Good Father,” I burst into tears. I asked God, where are these tears coming from? He answered by helping me see a vulnerable place in my heart that needed some healing.

If you’ve followed this blog since the beginning, you know that right after I launched this blog, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. What I didn’t realize is that I have carried a misconception in a deep place of my heart since that diagnosis. With the desire to launch this new blog, it bubbled to the surface in a prayer to God:

Last time I took a step of faith and started a blog, I found out I had cancer. If I start a new blog and follow what I believe You put in my heart, what will you allow to happen to me this time?

Wow. I didn’t know that deep-rooted fear had lodged its way in my heart and it’s interesting how it can reside there for quite some time until a circumstance will arise and force that fear to the surface.

All weekend I grappled with this fear. Are You a good Father? Do You really have my good in mind? If I take a step of faith here, will something else happen to me?

It felt like all of the questions I had grappled with during my diagnosis had risen to the surface again. As I boarded a plane back to Cincinnati, I didn’t necessarily feel like I had great resolution to all of those questions, but I felt a renewed confidence that I could trust God with all that hung in the balance. I also felt continued confirmation to move forward with the new blog even if it felt a bit frightening.

 Getting the Blog Ready

For the next several months, I pressed on toward the goal of getting this new blog up and running. I found a wonderful web designer in Nashville, formed and met many times with my lovely writing team, and spent many of my early mornings, late nights, and nap times writing.

It hasn’t been smooth sailing; we’ve hit several roadblocks along the way. There have been moments when I’ve questioned if putting so much effort into this blog was really what I felt led to do. There have been moments when I’ve wondered if I was nuts spending precious time I didn’t have writing. There have been moments when I’ve doubted if I had what it takes to lead this team and keep it together at home as well. But each time God has reconfirmed this is where He wants me and to keep pressing on.

It’s been really exciting to see everything come together. We are so close to our launch date and have been busy working on the last details.

 And then…

Fearing the Worst

What I had feared all those months ago came bubbling to the surface when I started bleeding unexpectedly. You may remember that my original symptom when they found my ovarian tumor was bleeding, and so every alarm bell sounded in my head when this happened.

I would love to say I handled this scare gracefully but I will be the first to admit I freaked out. All of those memories of enduring chemo and dealing with the realities seven years ago came rushing right back to the forefront of my mind. I tried to not “go there” and stay focused on what was true in my present day, but to be honest the memories haunted me.

As the spotting continued, my fears intensified as I had to wait through the weekend before getting any answers. I knew if I was going to make it in one piece to Monday I needed to be honest with God about all that I was feeling.

I kept saying, I can’t believe this is happening again. It’s just like old times. I get ready to launch a blog and the bleeding starts again. God, why would You allow this?

I knew His heart toward me was good, but these circumstances felt confusing, like lifting a scab off an old wound.

Digging Deeper

The next morning I woke up with my mind racing. I decided I needed to get my journal and Bible and talk with God about all of these fears. As I sat down with my coffee, a verse popped into my mind that I had heard at the MOPS conference a week before. I looked it up:

“He will protect His flock like a shepherd, He will gather the lambs in His arms,

He will carry them in His bosom,

He will gently and carefully lead those nursing their young.” Isaiah 40:11

I sat on my couch with all of these feelings and thoughts, trying to process what God was up to. Why would He be bringing me right up to my fear again? And why now in the midst of launching this new blog, just like last time?

Then a quote came to me from a Beth Moore study I had read in the past. I don’t remember it exactly, but the point is – God cares more about us meeting the Healer than He does about our healing. For whatever reason, that unlocked a truth I needed to hear in that moment:

Regardless of the outcome, God wanted me to know Him in a deeper way.

And it seemed He wanted me to press into this concept of God not just being my Father but being a gentle Shepherd—something I haven’t thought too much about beyond the words in Psalm 23.

I asked God, What do you want me to understand about You being my Shepherd? Where do I need that truth in my life?

I realized in my perception of God, I don’t have a problem knowing that He has the “whole world in His hands” and is fully in control of the big things of life. But I do struggle with knowing that God tenderly loves me—not just as a Holy Father but as Someone who pulls me close and gently reassures me. Through this scare I felt God wanted me to press in a little tighter to the tender side of Him.

Speaking of perceptions of God, I have to add a disclaimer here because as I was doing a little looking on the internet about this concept of the Shepherd, I kept seeing photos like these:

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Who is that?? I don’t think that is really an accurate picture of the Jesus I know because it makes me feel like he’s a softy. And maybe a bit weird. :) Jesus being a Shepherd to me means Someone who is  fierce enough to fight off anything that harms me (think: bears attacking His beloved sheep), but tender enough to reassure me of His love.

Breathing Out

I’m so relieved to share that after two exams by my oncologist and gynecologist and an ultrasound, they found nothing alarming and chalked the bleeding up to an off month. I breathed a deep sigh of relief for the rest of the day.

But then the next morning the bleeding began again.

I felt like in that moment I had to choose to trust the doctors but most importantly, my Shepherd. I surrendered how I felt things should go with shaky hands and asked God to “gather me in His arms” just like the verse said.  I knew the alternative was freaking out and it didn’t get me anywhere but stressed. I knew I needed Him to fill me with peace rather than me try to muster it up on my own.

Thinking back to the quote about God being most concerned about my healing, I realized God brought healing to my heart through this scare because in that moment when my situation wasn’t instantly resolved, I wasn’t overly stressed. Yes, I still was concerned but I felt a peace that My Shepherd’s love for me was not only unconditional and powerful but tender and gentle. I could trust Him to give me what I needed even if it wasn’t what I envisioned.

Thankfully in a day all seemed back to normal but these last few weeks have definitely deepened me. Not only in knowing God in a fuller way, but in being vulnerable with those close to me, facing my fears, and giving grace to myself when I fall apart.

It’s funny to consider it now in hindsight because all of those things are what this new blog is all about. Maybe I just needed a reminder of how important those virtues are in my life and how much mamas like me need this message.

Launching the Blog

I couldn’t be more thrilled that our blog launch date is almost here. We are finishing up some last minute design details but we plan to have it officially up in the next two weeks.

And in case you’re wondering, our blog is called TextingTheTruth: Real Moms, Real Grace. The name is born out of the idea that a group of moms text the truth to each other about our lives and we receive Biblical Truth and grace back about our situations. It is created to celebrate, empower, and encourage moms by using the format of a text message conversation between friends to bring light, perspective, and truth to the realities of motherhood. We are very excited about launching it and would love to have you hop on over and check us out very soon!

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We’d love for you to follow us:

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TextingtheTruth/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/TextingtheTruth/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/TextingTruth

 

“The Lord is my strength and my shield;

   in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;

my heart exults,

   and with my song I give thanks to him.

The Lord is the strength of his people;

   he is the saving refuge of his anointed.

Oh, save your people and bless your heritage!

   Be their shepherd and carry them forever.” Psalm 28:7-9

What Not to Miss at Kiawah Island

Posted on June 22nd, 2015

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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. :)

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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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).

 

 

 

You Make Me Brave

Posted on October 5th, 2014

This weekend I had the privilege of attending the annual MOPS conference (“MomCon”) with several of the girls on my MOPS Steering Team. The theme this year was “Be You, Bravely,” and what a powerful theme to hear women such as Jennie Allen, Lisa Chan, Shauna Niequist, and Angie Smith share such truths.

I especially loved the worship led by Meredith Andrews. She often led worship at a church we liked to visit in Chicago, so it was especially meaningful to worship with her again. She introduce me to the song, “You Make Me Brave,” and I have been playing it nonstop today since returning home. It was originally recorded by Bethel Music and I wanted to share it with you below.

I hope to write another blog post in the future about more of the thoughts on my mind from the conference, but I will leave you with this powerful song and the question – what does your brave look like? One of the best insights that one of the speakers shared was considering that being brave doesn’t have to be a monumental shift but maybe just a brave step. Is God leading you to take a brave step in your life?

You Make Me Brave
by Bethel Music

VERSE 1:
I stand before You now
The greatness of your renown
I have heard of the majesty and wonder of you
King of Heaven, in humility, I bow

CHORUS:
As Your love, in wave after wave
Crashes over me, crashes over me
For You are for us
You are not against us
Champion of Heaven
You made a way for all to enter in

VERSE 2:
I have heard You calling my name
I have heard the song of love that You sing
So I will let You draw me out beyond the shore
Into Your grace
Into Your grace

BRIDGE:
You make me brave
You make me brave
You call me out beyond the shore into the waves
You make me brave
You make me brave
No fear can hinder now the love that made a way

You make me brave
You make me brave
You call me out beyond the shore into the waves
You make me brave
You make me brave
No fear can hinder now the promises you m

 

Here’s to taking a brave step!

Jessica’s Book-Themed Baby Shower

Posted on August 31st, 2014

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I had the wonderful opportunity to host a baby shower for my sister-in-law, Jessica, a couple of weeks ago. I have known her since she was a freshman in college and we have experienced many seasons of life together so it was very special to celebrate this new season of her becoming a mother (and my brother becoming a father!).

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As I was praying through the shower and all of the details, I felt led that I wanted to share some thoughts at the shower about being a new mom. I have actually wanted to write a blog entry for a long time about this subject and so I was thankful for the opportunity to take some time to reflect on motherhood.

So without further ado, below is the devotional I shared, followed up with some photos of the special day.

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Jessica,

As you can see from all of the books around, you will read your fair share of children’s books once your baby arrives. One of my favorites is I Love You Through and Through by Bernadette Rossetti-Shustak. I thought I’d read it to you in case you haven’t read it.

I love you through and through.

I love your top side. I love your bottom side. I love your inside and outside.

I love your happy side, your sad side, your silly side, your mad side.

I love your fingers and toes, your ears and nose. I love your hair and eyes, your giggles and cries.

I love you running and walking, silent and talking.

I love you through and through… yesterday, today and tomorrow too.”

In the past almost-two years of becoming a mom, a deep love for Olivia has grown inside my heart. My heart just swells over the cute things she does. And since she is entering the twos, she can look at me and blatantly disobey me but it’s amazing the love I still feel for her, even if she frustrates me to no end!

I’ve been continually struck as I grow in my love and experience in motherhood that as deep as this love is for Olivia, God’s love is so much more perfect and deeper than my love. And as I’ve been on this journey, I have felt like God has been inviting me to grow in my understanding of Him and His love, which is what I wanted to talk about today.

Before I begin I want to say that there are many amazing women in this room who have been mothers for thirty or forty more years than me and who could probably give this devotional with many more insights and experiences to share. But as a new mom, I wanted to share a few of the things I’ve felt God has been teaching me about His love as I’ve begun my journey.

The first thing God has reminded me as a new mom:

God’s love is not earned. You don’t have to perform to earn His love.

Jessica, you and I are wired similarly when it comes to being productive and getting things done. And if anyone ever doubted if you and Eric are productive people, all they have to do is hear about all that you’ve accomplished since moving into your house two months ago! You guys amaze me with how productive you’ve been.

I will tell you that one of the biggest adjustments for me as a new mom was how LITTLE I accomplished throughout the day. What a shift to go from checking so many things off my to-do list before baby to being excited if I actually took shower in a day!

Through processing all of this and shedding a few tears, God opened my eyes to see that part of me felt really good when I was productive and I had something to show for the day. And though I have been growing for years in realizing that God doesn’t love me more or less for what I do or don’t do, having a baby and having my life totally change has taught me this lesson in a whole new way.

I learned that it’s more than okay if you can’t do it all. That you don’t have to have the laundry washed, folded, and put away all before the baby awakes—and that is AFTER you’ve been up three times in the night. It’s more than okay if everything doesn’t get done.

It took me a while to realize that when you feel like you are accomplishing nothing—like responding to emails, taking a shower, actually reading a book—take heart, because you actually are accomplishing everything when you take care of your little boy. Because when it all boils down to it, the time you spend with him is building trust and intimacy that no amount of productivity can match.

As your baby arrives, you will have love in his sheer existence (okay, and maybe exhaustion too!). He doesn’t have to do anything for you to love him more or less. (And please rest assured that there is nothing wrong with you if you don’t have this magical “love at first sight” for your baby. Many moms will attest that their love for their baby grew and grew as they got to know their baby more and more.) But as you spend time with your baby, you’ll find he doesn’t have to flip to his tummy or even smile for you to love him more, you love him just for being him. I am learning more and more as I am a mom that God loves you and me the same way and in an even deeper, more perfect sense. You don’t have to perform for him to love you more or less. He is utterly over the moon for you and loves you for who you are, not what you do.

The second thing God has reminded me as a new mom:

God’s love is wrapped in grace. He invites us to accept His grace-filled love.

It’s so easy to say, “accept grace” but much harder to really internalize these words and allow it to change our lives. I’m learning that in motherhood and life there are a lot of expectations—and most of them unspoken. They come from society, people in your life, other moms, and even yourself. And so as moms we seem to internalize expectations more than grace.

As you probably remember, in the first couple of weeks of Olivia’s life we had a difficult time figuring out nursing. We had multiple appointments with doctors and lactation consultants. After one such meeting, I left in tears and as I drove home trying to uncover why I was so upset, I realized it was because I felt like I was failing as a mom. And I was only two weeks in! I had expectations for myself that I wasn’t meeting, and I felt like a failure.

God has been teaching me throughout this journey that He has no expectations for me to be the perfect mom and to perfectly handle the transition into motherhood flawlessly. You don’t have to—and probably won’t—perfectly balance working outside the home, spending time with Eric, taking care of your house, and keeping up with all of your friendships, and spending time with God. It will not look like it used to look. God has been reminding me that, like I said above, He desires just to be with us. That’s it. And he’s extending His grace to us over and over as we grow into our new roles as moms.

Back to the expectations that we feel as moms: I’ve had a crash course over these last two years in realizing that I also need to accept God’s grace as we see other moms who may appear to be balancing it all perfectly. Or moms who have a hot meal prepared every evening for their families. Or moms who are dressed in an outfit not consisting of yoga pants and actually have make-up on! Or babies who sleep through the night at two weeks. Or who are awesome nappers. The list goes on and on.

I’ve had to learn to stay tuned into God and hear His voice the loudest rather than the expectations all around me. And ultimately to accept God’s grace to not try to be and do it all.

The third thing God has reminded me as a new mom:

God’s love compels Him to provide for our needs. Your loving Father knows what you need.

Your new role, especially at the beginning with a newborn, is to take care of baby Toy’s needs. You’ll feed him, change him, hold him, bathe him because you are the parent and you know—more or less—what he needs. And if you don’t know, you’ll figure it out eventually! (I can attest to the whole baptism by fire thing!)

This role as a mom has given me a new perspective on how God sees me. When I come to Him with concerns or requests, He is not annoyed. He loves that I came to Him with my needs, just as I feel with Olivia. One of the cute things Olivia says these days is, “I need help,” and I can’t resist helping when she asks in her sweet voice. In the same way, God loves when we come to Him for help and He loves providing for our needs.

This was never truer to me than early on when I was trying to get Olivia to take a nap. As you know, she has never been a great napper; she just didn’t want to miss all the excitement. So I was up in her room rocking her, bouncing her, doing everything I could to convince her to sleep. I remember saying out loud, “Olivia, you’re so tired and you need some sleep. Mommy is right here holding you, just go to sleep.“ At that moment, it clicked with me that God often does the same with me. I may be kicking and screaming over a certain circumstance in my life, but He is lovingly saying, “Sweet Michelle, I know what you need. I know you may not like it, but trust me as your loving Father to give you what you need.”

And particularly how it relates as a mom, when you’re up at all hours of the night, trust Him to give you the strength you need to make it through the day. When you feel like all you do is nurse all hours of the day, trust Him to give you the time to get done what needs to be accomplished. When you go back to work and don’t know how you’ll do it all, trust Him to provide the big and small things you’ll need.

Spoken from experience, there will be moments when you literally don’t know how you can do this motherhood thing, but God has used motherhood to draw me closer to Him and refine areas in my life that have needed refined. And He knows as a loving Father that I needed that, even if it hasn’t always been easy.

These are just a few of the lessons that I have learned on this motherhood journey. To close, I asked a few people in both of our lives to share what they have learned about God through motherhood.

  • “Being reminded of His patience with me. It’s so hard to have patience with my daughter at times because you tell her the same thing over and over day in and day out, but she still will do it. But it’s the same way with me…And that God has a sense of humor!”
  • “I think that God has taught me that schedules, expectations met, and perfect decisions, are not the mark of a healthy family…our hearts toward God are. I’ve learned that everything changes post baby (priorities, commitments, social life, my body, my relationship with my husband), but it’s okay because God hasn’t changed and never will change. His steadfast love never ceases, and I can always bank on that…even when I feel like I don’t know myself or my life anymore. I can trust that he’s doing what he’s always done in my life – working something new and beautiful. “
  • “God does care about the mundane details of life…and the first 3 months sure are full of the mundane! Eat, play, diaper change, sleep, and over and over. There’s purpose to the daily tasks we have to complete. Doing those well allows for a kid who’s growing, learning, and thriving, and slowly builds the trust relationship between baby and parent!”
  • God’s love has no limit. His mercy runs deep. Very deep! That motherhood is a precious gift not only to the mother, but to the spouse, the marriage, of course the children, but also to the world b/c the family is they very foundation on which society is built. As it goes with the family, thus goes the world. We have been entrusted with a huge task as mothers, but thankfully, have not been call to walk this path without His aid.”
  • “I have learned the importance if truly abiding and testing in him. My personality is such a type-A and I feel guilty when I feel like I’m unproductive or when I take time to rest when I could be doing something to help around the house. But He has taught me that I need to rest. Work is good…but I need time to rest so that I can do the work and be a good mom. My quiet times with God became that much more important whether it be a walk, a work out, or sitting in my room just listening to worship music. The house work or whatever needs doing will always be there. I find that if I start with just resting in Him and keeping his peace with me throughout my day I am more patient and ready for the mommy moments that sneak up.”
  • “God will use motherhood to shape you and mold you into the woman He wants you to be so you can be the best mom for your son. It will be easy to look around at other moms and start to compare “If only I had her patience” and “If only I had her creativity” or “If only I had her energy.” But God chose YOU to be his mom and no one else. Take it one day at a time (because there will be glorious days and there will be hard days) and know that He is using those good and bad days to change you and mold you into the woman He wants you to be.”
  • “For a person who could easily feel that she had to earn God’s love through good behavior and performance-based criteria, through motherhood I began to understand the Father’s love for me with new clarity. I began to understand that my very existence filled His heart with love for me.  And how nothing could separate me from the love of God. I also began to understand why His love meant that He needed to set boundaries for me for my own provision and protection. When I ignored those boundaries, I began to understand how it grieved Him and how much He yearned for me to make a course correction.  There is nothing like parenting to give you a fresh revelation of God.”
  • “I think when I finally just let go and play and enjoy my son a little bit without thinking of all the things on my to do list, the whole time I’m playing with him I feel like God says, “See, it’s okay. I want you to just be with me like this.”
  • “Seek wise counsel from other parents but try to not get too caught up in everyone’s opinions. Be confident in your choices and try not to compare to others.”
  • “That grace is bigger than just a pretty idea or my daughter’s middle name or something to throw around loosely in our circles when we’re talking. Grace is a capital “G”, a man, Someone who died on a cross for me, so that even when I mess up, lose my patience, scream too loud one too many times, thank the good sweet Lord I am covered by this thing called Grace and that it keeps me on my knees looking to Him and able to even tell my kids, “I’m sorry, Momma messed up.” Parenting is a big old dose of humble pie. But I’d delighted to eat it every day with the gift of being a mother as the exchange.”
  • “How crazy God can be about me even when I am so messed up and have so much to learn. Also how it grieves Him to watch me fail and yet He loves me too much to not allow the opportunity to learn. Also how my value can only come from Him, often I want to be the perfect mom and am always disappointed there.” 

***

I loved throwing Jessica’s shower with her sister-in-law on her side, Sarah, and Melissa, my twin brother’s wife (though sadly Melissa wasn’t able to come to Cincinnati for the shower since her daughter was just beginning kindergarten). But we worked as a good team; Melissa was in charge of the invitations and print work, Sarah was in charge of the food, and I was in charge of the decorations.

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The pinwheel wreath made out of book pages hung on the front door, greeting the guests, and introducing the theme of pinwheels and books.

A closer look of the pinwheel wreath.

A closer look of the pinwheel wreath.

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Right after the guests entered the door there was a Giving Tree where they could write encouraging notes to Jessica for her to read in the middle of the night when she’s up with baby. :)

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The favors were also sitting on the table: bookmarks and bookworms made by Jessica’s friends, Christin and Jenna.

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I made the book banner out of an old Dr. Seuss book.

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Of course I had to write a few book quotes on the chalkboard!

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We also had a place for the guests to sign a book for Baby Boy Toy.

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“Wait! Stop here you see, And write a very special message to me! A WELCOME wish to just say hi, To your favorite, newest little guy. On the front, the back, or any page, It’s something I will treasure all my ages.”

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We also showcased Eric and Jessica’s favorite childhood books.

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The centerpieces at one of the tables.

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The centerpieces from another angle.

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Not the best picture due to the sunlight but here is a photo of the centerpieces at the other table.

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Jessica’s college friends sitting at the table.

***

Now onto the exciting part, the food!

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A photo of Sarah, Jessica, and me before we plated the food and finished the last details.

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Melissa printed out food tags to match the font from the invitations. Of course I had to embellish them with a few pinwheels. :)

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I wrapped the silverware with a red napkin to keep with the color scheme and then added a book page napkin ring.

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My vision was to add a book page pinwheel to each napkin but when I factored in the time it would take, I decided it wasn’t worth it since it would just be something that was thrown away. :)

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Sarah did a wonderful job planning out the food items and corresponding them to the appropriate books.

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For Green Eggs and Ham, we made four different quiches as well as avocado deviled eggs.

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Sarah made a three-pea chicken salad to correspond with the book Peas and Thank You.

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We used Strega Nona to go with the yummy pasta salad Sarah’s mom made.

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We found a way to add veggies in by using The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

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To the left of Peter Rabbit, we served yogurt parfaits in little mason jars to go along with the book Jamberry.

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Of course we had to include some caterpillar skewers to represent The Hungry Caterpillar.

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I know I already included this photo, but I wanted to show it again to highlight the two other food items. Sarah made cream cheese muffins to go with the book If You Give a Moose a Muffin and we made Monkey Bread to go with Curious George.

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On the counter, we included the desserts and snacks. We had Oatmeal Coconut Bars to correspond with Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and we had an assortment of cookies for If You Give A Mouse A Cookie. We also had herb-flavored popcorn (that Sarah made on the stove which was so yummy!) to go along with If You Take A Mouse to the Movies.

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My mom must have taken this photo without me knowing  when we were getting ready, but I wanted to use it to show the drinks counter (in the background) because we unfortunately didn’t get a photo of it head on. We didn’t worry about matching the drinks with books but included fruit-infused water, sparkling lemonade, Izzes, and sparkling water.

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We also served coffee since it was a brunch.

We also served coffee since it was a brunch.

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I didn’t get a better picture of the “Welcome Baby” pennant so this action shot will work. :)

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Isn’t Jessica’s belly so cute? :)

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After we ate we tested our knowledge about childhood storybooks and took a little quiz. I was not prepared for the fact that so many would get all 10 correct (so they got pats on the backs instead of prizes. Whoops!).
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An action shot of meeting reading I Love You Through and Through before giving the devotional.

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The happy couple at the end of the shower. :)

Olivia’s Milestones and Memories at Age 1

Posted on January 28th, 2014

If you follow my blog, I don’t need to point out that there haven’t been many new posts this year. I have had many thoughts swirling around in my head, but I have two blocks of time that I could write: nap time and night time. The problems with writing during nap time are that Olivia often doesn’t nap consistently and when she does nap, I feel like I have so many things on my list like doing the laundry or taking a shower that by the time I finish my needed tasks, my energetic little one is crying in her crib ready to play. And the problem with writing at night time is that my brain is complete mush by 8:00 and all hope of bringing organization to the thoughts in my brain seems way too daunting.

I do have a list of a several blog posts that I look forward to writing in the future but for now, I have decided that I also want to write about my real life, and much of that right now revolves around my darling Olivia. So without further ado, I thought I would document some of the milestones and memories that mark Olivia’s life right now at age 1…

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LIKES:

  • eating bananas, blueberries, quinoa, grapes, pasta, bread, yogurt, cheese
  • reading books and handing them to us to read (many times over)
  • riding on anything that moves (her car, Daddy’s office chair, the laundry basket)
  • swinging and going down the slide
  • playing with animals on her train, farm, and bus and with her picnic basket toy
  • holding up anything that resembles a phone to her ear and talking on it, laughing (apparently I laugh when I talk on the phone?!), and then saying “bye”
  • holding the remotes (which often results in changing the channels!)
  • dancing to music
  • pointing out when people wear hats
  • making animal noises, especially a lamb (she says “baaa” with such gusto!)
  • playing with Olivia the pig jack-n-the-box and saying “bye” after it pops up, and then repeating over and over
  • hugging everything (even her pants when I change her diaper) and then holding them up for us to hug (never before have I wanted to hug a pair of pants but I do it willingly when a little girl holds them up to me in all seriousness!)
  • playing peek-a-boo constantly and loves putting a blanket over her head, my head, or anything else and then loves pulling it off and finding the person/item
  • sitting in chairs her own size
  • singing, especially the B-I-B-L-E or Old McDonald (e-i-e-i-o)
  • taking a bath and splashing in the water
  • eating veggie straws (especially when we’re shopping – we walk in a store and she says “straw!”)
  • clapping
  • pulling all of the hats and purses down from the shelves in my closet and then bringing my shoes to me (especially a pink pair) and wanting me to put them on my feet
  • laughing when we laugh
  • climbing up the stairs
  • clasping her hands together and saying “p” and wanting us to pray (and then laughs when we say “amen”)
  • playing with necklaces around people’s necks
  • climbing in and sitting in small boxes or baskets

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DISLIKES:

  • drinking milk out of her sippy cup (although she is warming up with each day)
  • eating most vegetables
  • taking naps
  • being redirected when she’s into something she shouldn’t be (when she gets caught or mad, she throws her body on the floor and throws her head back!)
  • getting her diaper changed
  • saying goodbye if she is not ready for you to leave
  • being energetic when she first wakes up

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MILESTONES:

  • walking as of 12/26
  • starting to walk longer distances and getting stronger in her steps
  • nursing only before bed
  • signing with her hands “all done” and “more”
  • loving her Kindermusik class and crawls over to sit on her teacher’s lap
  • goes into the church nursery without much problem as well as stays with babysitters at our house without much crying (except maybe right when we leave!)

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SAYS:

  • “t t” = thank you (when she gives us something – still working on her saying it when we give her something!)
  • “peas” = please
  • “boos” = boots
  • “buba” = banana
  • “cheese” = cheese
  • “biper” = diaper
  • “Bobba” = Grandma
  • “Papa” = Grandpa
  • “ba” = up
  • “pe” = grapes
  • “p” = pray (not to be confused with grapes!)
  • “be” = bread
  • “pu” = push
  • “straw” = veggie straws
  • “wawa” = water
  • “side” = slide
  • choo-choo” = train
  • “rock, rock”= when she sits and rocks in a rocking chair

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DEFINING PHYSICAL ATTRIBUTES AT AGE 1:

  • no hair except a little on top (hence, why she always has a bow in her hair because when she doesn’t, people have called her a boy!)
  • bright, blue eyes
  • petite with a little tummy sticking out
  • sweet dimple on her cheek
  • only four teeth!

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I DON’T WANT TO FORGET ABOUT OLIVIA AT AGE 1:

  • how much she wants me to hold her or can be found clinging to my legs especially when I am making dinner
  • how much she wants my attention or me playing with her at all times (and holds up a toy and says “uh, uh” until I play with it)
  • how many things cover the floor because she’s pulled things out or down (and how long it takes me to put things aways when she goes to bed!)
  • how she puts the ribbon of her tag blanket in between her fingers while I read her a story before nap or bedtime
  • her sweet voice as she sings in the back seat of the car
  • how she shrieks when she sees a real dog or picture of a dog
  • when she looks at a stranger in the store, smiles and says “hi!”
  • her adorable belly laugh when we tickle her
  • how she babbles in long sentences
  • how she lets me rock her when she’s tired and rests her head on my arm

IMG_4459We love you, sweet Livi girl!

 

Party Planning Priorities

Posted on November 25th, 2013

mondaymorsel

I have always thought that mothers who go overboard for their children’s first birthdays were a little…um…crazy. Why spend so much time decorating and planning when the baby won’t even remember it?

Well, similar to many topics about parenting where I made definitive statements before actually experiencing them, I am eating my words. I don’t know what happened to me, but once I started thinking about Olivia’s first birthday, I just couldn’t reign in the crafting side of me when it came to planning her party.

Actually, I have thought about this a little bit. I think there are two reasons I found myself engrossed in party planning. The first is simply because it was fun to put my creative juices toward a project–especially when sometimes being a stay-at-home mom of a baby doesn’t lend itself to much creativity. (Glue, glitter, and scissors don’t work too well with that age group!)

Secondly, I never realized before how much of an accomplishment it feels to make it to the first birthday with a little one.  At least I’ll speak for Jared and me: Olivia gave us a run for our money in her first few months and has continued to completely alter our lives. For all of those reasons and more, it was cathartic for me to spend some energy planning an event to celebrate such a big milestone in our lives. She truly is an answer to prayer and I wanted to celebrate her.

When I began brainstorming her party, I quickly found myself perusing the ultimate party planning and crafting website: Pinterest. And not surprisingly, after a few minutes of browsing, I couldn’t help but feel a bit overwhelmed. I mean, you should see what some of these moms create for their kids’ birthdays! And the money they drop may be more than we spent on our wedding!

At first, I could feel the anxiety rising as I was internally keeping track of all of the touches I needed to do to make Olivia’s party unforgettable. But thankfully I have learned that when I sense the anxiety, it’s time to look inside and analyze the origin.

Not shockingly, my priorities had shifted from “planning a special time to celebrate Olivia’s first year” to “making this party the most amazing event of the year.” And as you can easily see, the focus had moved from Olivia and onto me.

I’ve only just begun my soiree as a mother, but I am already realizing that this “minor” detail makes up much of parenting. When I am more concerned about my image over Olivia’s needs, I have lost focus on what really matters. Now that I have tuned into how easily the focus can shift, I have already noticed how it plays out in other areas of parenting. Just the other day I was at the grocery store and Olivia started exerting her opinion rather loudly (to put it nicely). And there again I was faced with a similar decision; would I focus on what she needed (a nap) or what I needed (to finish my list) or my image (to look like a put-together mom). I am just beginning to understand how critical it is to stay focused not only on Olivia’s needs but ultimately on what God desires. (As I write, I realize how many layers pertain to this topic. I know that as parents we can focus too much on our kids and as a result they can lose out on learning important character qualities like patience and we can lose out on taking care of our own selves. As with all topics, I again see how critical it is to stay tuned in first to the Holy Spirit so He can help me discern what Olivia needs and what I need as well.)

Back to party planning. With these truths at the forefront of my mind, I asked God for wisdom about how to party plan in a balanced way. I still wanted to creatively plan Olivia’s party, but I knew the key was to do each task with the correct mindset. And in order to do that I tried to constantly check my focus and my motivation. Was I doing this to make myself look good or to celebrate Olivia’s first year?

I’ll be honest that some party tasks did not fit into the category of “For Olivia.” For instance, making a cheese owl

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or owl rice krispie pops

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or a pineapple owl

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were definitely more for my enjoyment than hers. But as I worked on each task, I kept checking my heart: Are you doing this so others will focus their attention on you and “your” party?  If I sensed I was struggling with others’ perceptions, I took time off of party planning to realign my motives.

I found myself praying about my motives and the party as a whole quite a bit. I confessed that I could feel the desire to be accepted by others creep up into my motivations as I browsed Pinterest or worked on owl decorations. But I could also feel God working in my heart and preparing me for the party. My prayer was that God would be glorified through Olivia’s party, that it would not be my show but a celebration for her, and that I would be able to be present at the party and available to Olivia and the guests rather than focused on details.

Right before everyone arrived for the party, I had a few minutes to quiet my heart and pray. Normally this would not happen in the frenzy of last minute details but because I needed to nurse Olivia after her nap, I sat in the glider in her room and prayed. I asked God to be present in all of the moments and that He would help me to stay present and focused on what really matters.

Looking back, I am so thankful for those quiet moments because they helped prepare me for what would transpire. I was feeling really good about how everything had worked out up until that point. I had accomplished most everything on my list (with the help of my wonderful husband and both sets of parents!) except the healthy cake I was going to bake Olivia. I had been praying for weeks about Olivia’s sleep because if you know her, you know that napping is not one of her specialties and I knew if she was well-rested, she would be in such a better mood. As I sat in her glider praying, I thanked God that she had slept well during the night as well as her morning nap. Things were setting themselves up for an enjoyable party.

Let’s just say, in the moments that followed I was reminded of the all-important parenting lesson: keep your hands open and your expectations grounded when dealing with children. As prepared as I felt both in party details and mindset, I was completely unprepared for how Olivia would respond next.

After I dressed Olivia in her owl dress that I found in Florida, we walked down the stairs as the guests were arriving. Grandma Toy took Olivia while I greeted guests and finished the last details. When I glanced over at Olivia, I could see she was about to fall apart. The unfamiliar faces and volume in her house overwhelmed her. We quickly tried to sit her in her highchair with grapes and blueberries to distract her.

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That lasted all of two minutes. All she wanted was for us to hold her close. As I picked her up, her tears fell harder and I realized that even though all our friends were ready to celebrate with the guest of honor, I needed to take her upstairs to calm her down. Even when she was in the familiarity of her room with her mama, she still sobbed.

As I sang to her and stroked her back, I kept thinking, “Wow, I was not prepared for this.” I had prepared for most every other detail but had not anticipated Olivia would respond this way–especially since she loves people and always waves to strangers when we run our errands. I reflected back to the lesson I had been learning about her needs vs. my needs. God was giving me an opportunity to let go of caring about my image or others’ opinions and instead focus on loving my daughter well and giving her what she needed. And that meant letting go of all of the expectations I had about the rest of the party. After all, I had to remind myself I was living real life and not in a make-believe magazine with staged photographs.

After Jared and I calmed her down, we embarked back downstairs, this time heading to the play room since children always seem to intrigue Olivia. Though she didn’t relax into the carefree girl we know her to be, she at least stopped crying. After a while, Jared and I decided we would try singing Happy Birthday to Olivia and give her the much-awaited cupcake.

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Although she loves singing, our little girl remained pretty sad and she certainly didn’t cheer up when we placed her in her high chair.

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So we improvised and Olivia sat on my knee while we broke off tiny bits of cupcake for her to taste.

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After several bites, she realized the cupcake was worth getting her hands dirty.

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Although Olivia’s birthday party transpired much differently than I expected, I still cherish the memories and feel so grateful we had the opportunity to celebrate her first year. And we did manage to capture a smile toward the end of the party:

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Olivia is blessed with two amazing set of grandparents.

When I look back on Olivia’s party, what I will remember most is another lesson I learned in letting go of my expectations and tuning into what Olivia needs and how to love her best. God truly did answer my prayer about the party and helped me focus on what really mattered: the gift that is my precious one-year-old little girl.

***

In case you wanted to see any of the other party details, I thought I would post them as well.

Chinese Lanterns decorated as owls

[Chinese Lanterns decorated as owls hung from the banisters.]

The "Happy Birthday Olivia" canvas was painted by my sister-in-law and the "Grow Wise Little Owl" feather tree greeted the guests as they entered.

[The "Happy Birthday Olivia" canvas (on the left) was painted by my sister-in-law and the "Grow Wise Little Owl" feather tree (on the right) greeted the guests as they entered.]

"Grow Wise Little Owl"

[I asked the guests as they arrived to write a wise word for Olivia and hang it on a feather on the "Grow Wise Little Owl" tree.]

My mom caught me right before I was headed upstairs to nurse Olivia before the party. I am standing in front of the "book station" where guests were to sign Olivia Owl book and grab their goody bags.

[My mom caught me right before I was headed upstairs to nurse Olivia before the party. I am standing in front of the "book station" where guests were to sign the Olivia Owl book and grab their goody bags.]

An up close view of the book.

[I found an idea on Pinterest (where I found practically all of these ideas!) that uses a book that goes with the party theme as the guest book. I love that Olivia has a record of the people who celebrated her special day.]

"Thanks for making my party a hoot" goody bags and owl change purses.

["Thanks for making my party a hoot" bags and owl change purses were in the goody bags.]

The drink station. (The straws say "Whoo's Thirsty?"

[The drink station. (The straws say "Whoo's Thirsty?" though you can't really make them out from the photo.)]

A list of Olivia's favorites on the chalkboard (that was originally a mirror that I found at a garage sale and painted over with chalkboard paint).

[A list of Olivia's favorites on the chalkboard in our kitchen (that was originally a mirror that I found at a garage sale and painted over with chalkboard paint).]

The photo bunting with pictures of each month.

[A section of the photo bunting with pictures of each month that I hung on the windows in the kitchen.]

Some of the table decorations

[Some of the owl table decorations and two wonderful helpers before the party started.]

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The food counter

[The food counter]

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For some reason I can't seem to find my original photo of these cupcakes so have to use an instragram photo but wanted to make sure I included them because they were adorable!

[For some reason I can't seem to find my original photo of these cupcakes (so I have to use an Instagram photo) but wanted to make sure I included them because they were adorable and made by a former student of mine.]

My good friend Amy's two children working on owl crafts. A shout out to Amy because she helped me brainstorm the owl theme and allowed me to use many of her owl decorations. Thanks, Amy!!

[My good friend Amy's two children working on owl crafts during the party. A shout out to her because she helped me brainstorm the owl theme and allowed me to use many of her owl decorations. Thanks, Amy!!]

 

My Baby is ONE!

Posted on November 21st, 2013

It doesn’t really feel possible that one year ago right now as I type this, I was holding my newborn little girl in my arms. Although this year has had its fair share of challenges and adjustments, I feel so sentimental that my baby turned one today. I totally resonate with the quote I shared in an earlier post, “The days are slow but the years are fast.” I only have one year under my belt but in some ways I do feel like I blinked and here we are. This isn’t to sweep under the rug all of those really difficult days, especially in the early months. I still vividly remember the moments when Olivia screamed so loud that I burst into tears too. And I remember the exhausting nights waking up multiple times to soothe her back to sleep. And the five o’clock witching hour when I couldn’t wait for Jared to come home from work. But I also don’t want to forget the wonderfully sweet moments like sitting in the glider in her room holding her as she nursed. Or seeing her smile. Or watching her learn how to sit up for the first time. Or picking her up from the church nursery when she would lunge for me and make me feel like the most special mama in the world. Or tickling her under her chin and watching her giggle and belly-laugh. Or watching her joy when she noticed dogs or danced to music. Such sweet and difficult moments all wrapped up into one year. My heart overflows with gratitude (and if I’m honest my eyes droop with exhaustion!).

I thought I’d take a trip down memory lane…

Just born!

Just born!

One Week!

One Week!

Two Weeks! (A totally captures how things were going at that point! ha!)

Two Weeks!
(And totally captures how things were going at that point! ha!)

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Three Weeks!
(She is dressed in an outfit I wore when I was a baby.)

One Month!

One Month!

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Two months!

Three Months!

Three Months!

Four Months!

Four Months!

Five Months!

Five Months!

Six Months!

Six Months!

Seven Months!

Seven Months!

Eight Months!

Eight Months!

Nine Months!

10 Months in Hawaii!  (I brought the sticker but couldn't find it once we got there. Oh well, the sand picture is much more authentic!)

10 Months in Hawaii!
(I brought the sticker but couldn’t find it once we got there. Oh well, the sand picture is much more authentic!)

11 Months!

11 Months!

12 months (Much more difficult to capture a good picture!)

12 months
(Much more difficult to capture a good picture!)

Birthday Girl!

Birthday Girl!

We have SO much to be grateful for this Thanksgiving! Happy first birthday, sweet Livi girl! We love you!

***

(PS I am working on a blog post recapping her first birthday party. I hope to post that soon!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vulnerable Thoughts, Valuable Truth

Posted on April 15th, 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.