To Many Mothers

Without a doubt, the most formative mother in my life was my own. She taught me to read and learn, filled my imagination with stories, calmly disciplined me, and poured into my spiritual and emotional life, discipling me to love God and live as a woman who followed Him, not only through the books we read and conversations we had, but by her own example. As I take classes at a seminary, I am realizing how much grounding I have in scripture, theology, reading, and writing has come from her and my father.
As I hear other women talk about their mothers and the ways their mothers’ examples influenced them, I am even more thankful than ever for my mother. She is industrious, even-tempered, and has always demonstrated moderation in food and exercise and a healthy perspective on looks and body image.

I’ve also thought a lot in the last year about all of the other mothers that have greatly influenced my life, both as a person and as a mother.
Nine in particular stand out to me: four that let me come into their homes to help with their children or just hang out with them and see the “real thing” of life with young kids, and four whose children are my age and who “mothered” me when my own mother was far away or when I needed the input of more mentors.

A.W., L.W., S.M. and M.Y. – thank you for welcoming me into “real” spaces without a facade, answering my curious questions, trusting me with your children, and being open and honest about the daily struggles of sibling rivalry, discipline, baby sleep, homeschooling, time management, etc. and the hope and strength found in Christ. There have been many times I have thought “oh, so that’s what she meant by…” or “This is like when…” – the things I watched and partook of as a young adult shaped me in ways I didn’t even know then.
And the fifth of these is my very own sister, Cait, who I have learned so much from by example and conversation, in the realities of her life and in her hopes and dreams for her mothering.

Mrs. M, Mrs. C, Mrs. R, and Mama Dunn – thank you for taking care of my physical and spiritual well-being, letting me ask you hard questions, being willing to ask hard questions of me, and pointing me to God and His Word before all else. With all the moves we’ve had in the last few years, it’s reassuring to know that even when we are new somewhere, I have constant mentors I can turn to as we settle in to new places.

Motherhood is overwhelming and confusing enough even with the input of all of these women, and I am so thankful I have their wisdom to apply in my daily life with S & Ellie. Mothering them is truly a formative and worthy life, and a privilege I often can’t believe I’ve been given.

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Word for 2018: Discipline

I wasn’t going to pick a word for 2018, despite it being the thing to do right now. But two weeks in to 2018, I realized I needed to be more disciplined – self-controlled – in a lot of areas, so picked it as “my word” for 2018. It encompasses a lot of what I have been thinking and reading about in Galatians, and continues on from “faith” as one of last year’s words.

Discipline:
with food
social media
focus on projects/reading
waking girls up and going to bed on time
putting aside my lists for others
my tone of voice
fidgeting/nail biting habits
consistent, loving correction to the girls*
memorization
not letting my mood be determined by circumstances**
slowing down to ruminate and process.

Discipline, to let Christ be the Master of my appetites, submitting them to Him, offering them to Him, being satisfied in Him instead of fleshly cravings.

Self-control comes not from saying “no” over and over again… then it wouldn’t need to be a fruit of the Spirit. It would be a distortion of the gospel, thinking I could save myself from my sins by my own will power.
Self-control comes from changing desires: crucifying the desires of the flesh, looking to Christ in faith that He is better.
I’ve posted this quote before, but it’s fitting to share it again:
“As faithful eyes perceive the unseen glories of God and reborn hearts embrace them, all the visible glories of God in the world seem to thicken in substance. The more eagerly we embrace God, the more gratitude we express for His created gifts for us, the more clearly we begin to discern the sinful distortions and the hollow promises of sin.” – Tony Reinke.

*This quote by Paul Tripp is on my mind a lot: “If your eyes ever see and your ears ever hear the sin, weakness, and failure of your children, it is never a hassle, never an interruption, never an accident, it is always grace. God loves your children and has put them in a family of faith, and He will reveal the need of their hearts to you so that you can be His tool of rescue and transformation.”
**How much S obeys me, how much I get done, not even how disciplined I’m being! Even that is a subtle way of thinking something other than Christ saves me!

Words for 2017

As I look back on the last twelve months, three words seem to summarize the year for me – how I grew, what I learned, what characterized the year, how I will remember 2017. Much of the year I felt overwhelmed (in a good way) by things I was learning and ways I was growing, but most of that really does boil down to these three things.

HEALING.
2016 ended with us in transit and fighting PPD. I knew there was a lot that needed to change – so much that I didn’t want to put any sort of time frame on it, so I never said “2017 will be a year of healing” because I knew that it could be much longer than a year before I felt whole again.
But God not only healed the PPD but also so much more as He worked in me as a wife and mother, and brought to light sin that needed to be worked through and emotions from the last four years that I had swept aside instead of processing – mostly to do with all of our moves and the sadness of saying goodbye to so many people and communities in such a short time.
A lot of this healing came through prayer, the Psalms, and replacing lies with the Truth.

REST.
This started as rest connected with healing – clearing the schedule to simplify life and leave breathing room for lack of stress and to spend more time together now that Ezra’s schedule gives him more time off.  I had to learn first that having nothing to do is OK – I often found myself puttering around trying to find things to do instead of picking up a book or playing with the girls because having more to do than I was able had become so habitual after Ellie was born.
At the same time, I’m now a lot better about sensing that there is too much on my to-do list and being willing to drop things or let them take longer – loving my children is more important than being on time or getting everything done, and better a late dinner in love than on time with biting words. I realized a lot of ideals from myself or society that I was focusing on instead of what my job as wife and mommy are according to God.

But it was also realizing that rest isn’t the same as an empty schedule, but is relinquishing control and letting God be God – resting from worrying about things, over-planning, micro-managing, etc.  – and so there can be rest even when the calendar is full.
This came up again and again in books I was reading – mostly Humble Roots and None Like Him, but also Teaching From Rest and Parenting (Tripp) – resting not in the successes or abilities of me or my children but in the One who sent me, admitting how often I try to be God despite not being omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, etc, not worrying about how things will work out in the future but trusting God and being faithful now.

FAITH.
“Looking to Jesus” has been on my mind since before Ellie was born, but it came up again and again as I was memorizing Hebrews 12, doing the Behold  Your God study, and reading various books and kept connecting what I was struggling with to a solution of looking to God for satisfaction.
But before that could happen God had to work in my heart to bring me to trust Him again after a season of depression where it often seemed like He was turning away from my cries. Joni’s story helped much with that – faith not in my ability to accept PPD but to embrace Christ because of my problems – and a quote from Tripp’s Parenting book: “Biblical faith never asks you to deny reality, it calls you to look at your realities through the lens of the awesome glory and grace of your Redeemer.”

Then I was able to begin to learn what it talks about in 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You:
“As faithful eyes perceive the unseen glories of God and reborn hearts embrace them, all the visible glories of God in the world seem to thicken in substance. The more eagerly we embrace God, the more gratitude we express for His created gifts for us and the more clearly we begin to discern the sinful distortions and the hollow promises of free sin.”
– Tony Reinke (page 140)

Faith, looking not at the seen of social media’s pull, daily trials, fears of future PPD, but instead looking to Jesus, my Savior.

I suppose in the end all 3 things come down to letting God be God and not trying to do His job myself, but rejoice and rest in His care and power.

Saying those words characterized 2017 doesn’t mean that I have those things down, far from it! I expect 2018 will be a continuation of those three things and growth in many other areas as well.

On a more practical note, 2017 introduced me to crafting with felt, transformed my bread-baking (Thanks Laurel’s Kitchen and Peter Reinhart), and included 11 Ferling etudes and doing music for church twice a month.

12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You

“As faithful eyes perceive the unseen glories of God and reborn hearts embrace them, all the visible glories of God in the world seem to thicken in substance. The more eagerly we embrace God, the more gratitude we express for His created gifts for us and the more clearly we begin to discern the sinful distortions and the hollow promises of free sin.”
– Tony Reinke, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You (page 140).

This idea of the life of faith being about “comprehending the whole when we can see only a fraction” (pg 141), being satisfied with Christ instead of what is seen and temporary – and that transforming our desires, has come up a number of times for me recently in books I have been reading. That tied in with the realization that in order to change phone and food habits saying “no” wasn’t what was needed – changing those desires was.

In looking to God for ultimate, lasting satisfaction –
…I let go of my kids and trust God with them.
…I enjoy my piece of cake without expecting it to be everything I dreamed it would be
…I say no to another piece of cake because I know it’s not going to satisfy me
…I put down my phone, close out of Facebook, don’t open Instagram because He, not social media, is my refuge. He, not likes and comments, is going to feed my soul.

I am still processing Reinke’s book 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, but I cannot recommend it highly enough. I think it will be required reading for our kids in the first months of allowing them to have social media (whatever that looks like in 10+ years!).
Reinke looks at ways our phones (really social media) changes our relationships with others, and most of all, with God. Even chapters that from the title seemed like ones I could skip ended up being really convicting. I read it slowly over a few months, trying to apply at least something after each chapter. Paging through after finishing it and re-reading my highlights was overwhelming, even before I thought “now that I’ve read this I’m going to be held accountable by God for my phone use even more!”
There are so many “little” comments and challenges in the book, but there is an overarching big picture. This book is about seeking satisfaction in God, and not in social media, phones, the approval of others, etc. And while there are so many rules I could set up or questions I could make myself ask before getting online, I think in the end it boils down to two questions for me:
– Why am I getting on my phone right now?
– Have I had soul-feeding solitude before God yet today?

I am also taking Sundays and vacations off of social media.

The first question often sparks many others, like am I master of these appetites? Do my phone habits show how glorious He is? Am I using my phone as a refuge from today’s trials? Is it helping or hindering my spiritual goals? Am I getting on to boast in myself? Is it keeping me from fully enjoying the moment? Am I turning to my phone to be wowed and amazed? Am I dimming or reflecting His glory with my scrolling, comments, and postings? Am I turning myself and my kids into actors on the social media stage?

Reinke asks these and many other probing questions, while always pointing towards ultimate satisfaction in Christ (yes, he works for DesiringGod) and seeing phones and social media as technology that can be a God-honoring tool, a time-sucking idol, or a place to hide sin and propagate evil. His goal is to help Christians assess their phone habits to use them to glorify God and show the world how satisfying He is.

Fitness, Pinterest, & Postpartum Body Image

After S, I lost all the baby weight and then some by about 4 months postpartum, mostly thanks to her food sensitivities. But then I gained some of it back and my weight would fluctuate up and down until I got pregnant with Ellie.
Almost the same thing has happened this time, but it’s been more of a struggle for me this time than last time, both to lose the weight and in how I think about myself.
In addition, other healing has been slower this time around, mostly with diastasis recti. After S I had a teeny one that resolved itself just by being careful for a few months. This time, my midwife said I had a small one, so I checked it myself and it was about 2 fingers and weak but not too deep. By the time we moved it seemed more normal, so I stopped being very careful, which was a horrible idea 2.5 months postpartum while carrying and wearing a baby, a toddler, and lots of stuff, and either I hadn’t been measuring it well or it re-opened to about 3 fingers. It was hard to come to terms with that, both it reopening and being there in the first place, since I had been so careful while I was pregnant. I am still glad I was careful while pregnant because not only could it have been worse, but I was still fairly connected to my core and pelvic floor so that has made it all a little easier.

I’ve slowly been working on closing it again and building strength for more intense exercise with Fit2B (in large part thanks to my sister Cait in a number of ways!), and while my gap isn’t totally closed again I still wanted to write some about it because it has been SO good for me, not just physically, but in how I view my body. I didn’t realize some of the struggles I was having until I started Fit2B and kept hearing Beth talk about being thankful for what my body has done (not bashing it in my thoughts while trying to “get it back”) and how it has been made and used for its purpose. For me that’s also been paired with being surrounded by more older women than I have been for a long time, and I have been challenged just by watching them to not be so concerned with clothes and fitness and all the latest social media fads (things that I never would have thought I was swayed by until I was surrounded by people who aren’t!). And last year I heard a lot of women talk about poor examples their mothers set for them with food and exercise and body image and am so thankful for my mother’s GOOD example of health and moderation, something I pray I will pass on to my girls even as it takes so much self-discipline for me – to eat healthily but not over analyze, to exercise but not obsess, to heal my core but not make it about looking a certain way, to dress in a way that honors God and is respectful to others (right now I don’t love a lot of my clothes, but they’re just that: clothes. If they fit, if they’re cotton, if they’re modest… right now, they stay. I could buy others, but I feel like with the world the way it is that money should go elsewhere, instead of me having a shirt that’s a little more flattering than the old one).

I still have a long way to go, physically (my gap is still about 1.5-2 fingers and deeper than it should be, and I would like to run again but want to gain some more core strength first), but even more to renew my mind to be content with my body the way it is (how it looks & what it can do), eating simple food (read: staying off Pinterest), making do with what we have (not the latest mama/baby gadget), not being so concerned with how so and so disciplines their kids and what they think of me – just generally not being so self-conscious and focused on things that will pass away.
Because as long as the days are right now and as much of a struggle as it is to say no to cravings, this season of littles is going to pass away, this body is going to just deteriorate more, and what’s left is their souls and my soul and that’s where my energy should be going.
Pray for me to be growing in that!

A couple links that have been helpful to me:
Dear Postpartum Mama, You are Beautiful
129 Times to Turn on your Transverse Abs
10 Times to Align
Bare Naked Gratitude
5 Mom Posture Tips
a few more DR links here
This recent podcast from Risen Motherhood has some good thoughts on who you hang out with!

Camping for Mother’s Day

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We went camping “for” Mother’s Day: I wanted a few days away from the pull of chores, computer, dishes, etc. to really enjoy just being together. Ever since Ellie was born I have felt a lot of tension in those areas, especially with giving both girls enough attention, and have found myself really struggling with what exactly discipline with S looks like as we move into her starting to be able to teach her what’s going on in her heart (but without her fully understanding it yet), and throw in the internet and the tension was even greater.

So we camped, unplugged, with nothing on the agenda except a hike a day and hanging out and eating, and we did a lot of that and it was nice (we also did a lot of hiding in the tent or under the tarp in the biggest downpour we’ve had since moving here).

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But even without those distractions I still struggled to give my attention to the girls and love on them in their way (ie, Corduroy AGAIN). Yes, lack of sleep and the cold made me really cranky but it wasn’t an excuse. I kept thinking of something I had read earlier in the week about not sabotaging your own mother’s day by what you expected, and here I was sabotaging my own while trying to prevent that from happening by trying not to make it about me… when it still was.

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Because truly loving the girls means showing them love even when I don’t love how they make me feel, even when she’s asking the same question again and again and again. But in the end it isn’t even about saying “no” to myself and “yes” to S, but saying “no” to self and “Yes” to God’s commands to live in peace with everyone and to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit.

If I am the center of my mothering, then I get angry, irritated, and upset when my kids don’t make me happy or act how I want them to – and then that says to them that I am god and God is not enough.

If my kids are the center of my mothering, I become irritated and exhausted trying to meet their every need and keep them happy.

If, however, God is the center of my mothering, my concern is glorifying and obeying Him, raising them in the ways of God (which do include them learning love & self control but even more in putting Him forth as a glorious Savior), and in humility considering them as more important than myself because I see my true place in Him and am satisfied in Him.

Only in that frame of mind can I see clearly, love truly, be compassionate, and direct them on the paths they (we!) should go.

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we found the “perfect” campsite – secluded but not too far from bathrooms, water, and trailheads, big but not more expensive, and opening onto the woods and not other campsites, which made it feel even bigger and meant S could explore while we cooked.

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I should have known from when we went to the cabin when S was 8 months old, but 8 months is a tough time for camping. Ellie was worn or held a lot because all she wanted to do was eat pinecones.

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So much gorgeous handiwork by our Creator.

Motherhood Lately

{a mish-mash of thoughts I’ve had over the last few months – some things I’ve been learning, some things I wish I’d known with #1, some things about some of the things we say to moms… published near my #1’s 2.5th birthday}

Some things I’ve been learning
– Learning about all of life being worship – even the putting me aside to read a story for the tenth time. “Worship is viewing the worth of God in His word and responding to that worth in every area of our lives.” (paraphrase from Behold Your God) – and when He, not I, is the center of my universe then I can joyfully choose to do things I don’t want to do… even read Pinkerton dramatically AGAIN.
– Learning to sift through my feelings, their fussing, and social media to find their (and my) REAL needs – not how I or they or pinterest or other moms perceive them, but what they really need – which is the same as what I really need – to be brought to God. Learning to ask “how can I glorify God in this situation? What is His will (not my list) for me today?”
– Learning to respect my kids and see them as whole persons with their own fears and loves – being compassionate towards them and making sure I connect with them as much as possible.
– Remembering I am parenting little people with eternal souls who are lovers & worshipers.
– Being content being “just” a mom – finding my plate full with just daily life and not having as much time for writing and music anymore left me trying to juggle everything for a while which often ended up in everyone upset after I played oboe for a few minutes. So learning to not be defined by hobbies or feeling like I need to keep up with them! I still enjoy writing (but it’s pretty much just this blog and emails!) and music (but it’s 15 minutes maybe 3x a week, though I am playing at church again which is wonderful!). That combined with a year in Japan where we could go anywhere any time because of public transport to having one car, and months of craziness for the move leading to me always having something to do so if I have time to play with the girls I often feel like I’m forgetting something and need to be doing something else. But it has been so freeing to learn to just sit and play or read or tramp around the yard.
– Feeling “myself” again – I am feeling more myself after PPD but at the same time coming to realize that my identity shouldn’t be in certain personality traits or likes and dislikes but in Christ, and that who I am changes!

Some things I wish I’d known with #1
– Your child’s sleep is not a measure of good or bad parenting (This seems so obvious now but I really did often feel like I was either failing or doing well based on how S slept).
– Pray FIRST. Root your mothering in dependence on God and His word… not googling what the best schedule is. There are times that can be helpful, but I really benefited from a while of being internetless because I realized how much I tried to find fixes for problems that were really in my heart.
– What’s “best” is what works for YOU and your family.
– Your baby is not annoying you on purpose. Life is new to them and they’re trying to figure it out as much as you are.
– Set timers and reminders! This makes such a difference for me in remembering to take vitamins, and it makes such a difference for S when I say we can do something “when the timer goes off” instead of “in five minutes,” plus it keeps ME accountable to follow through!
– Don’t suffer in silence. If you’re really burdened by something, especially if you feel like you’re the only one, talk to other moms. Everyone’s situation is unique but you may be really encouraged by sharing what you’re struggling with and finding others have been there and have wisdom to share or can at least pray!

Some of the best advice I’ve received
– Worry (or be concerned) about what you can change… do something about that and leave the rest to God.
– it gets easier if you let God get bigger
– trust in the Lord… not your own understanding of a situation.

Some things about things we say to moms
– “You’re all belly/you’re not showing at all/you don’t look pregnant” – I know people mean it as a compliment but my gut reaction to that was “so I normally look like this?” since I could tell I’d gained weight and it was obvious to me that it wasn’t just in my belly (especially when I wasn’t showing yet!).
Let’s compliment or comment on things OTHER than the size of pregnant women!

– “The first 6 weeks are the hardest.” This drove me INSANE after S was born… because the first 6 weeks WEREN’T the hardest. The first 10 days she slept all the time. The rest of the first 6 weeks she slept during the day. The second 6 weeks it was a nightmare to try to get her to sleep during the day, she was sleeping on us at night because of reflux, and I wanted to yell at anyone that told me the first 6 weeks were the hardest.
With Ellie it seemed to be more true, but even still I don’t tell anyone that.
Instead, let’s remind one another that our hope isn’t in the end of a phase but in Christ.

– “It gets easier.” Well, kind of. Nursing does become second-nature. They do sleep longer and become more independent. Their wake time will be more than just nursing them and you’ll be able to do things while they’re awake, and then it gets easier again when they are awake long enough that you can run errands during their awake time. But as all those things happen there are also a lot of things that get harder. So when S was 3 months old and it didn’t feel any easier I again wanted to yell at anyone that said that. And once more, I can feel it getting easier more this time, but I think a lot of that is that I know the light at the end of the tunnel by experience… but even still, I think instead we should say what my sister told me: “It doesn’t always get easier, just different.” There will always be hard things but they change. And I think it’s also true to say “it doesn’t get easier, just better.” They smile, and laugh, and play, and talk, and sing, and bring you flowers, and tell you stories.

– “Oh, don’t worry, you’ll love them immediately.” Or anything else that just brushes off a pregnant mama’s fear. You may have been worried about that and ended up being immediately smitten, but she may not be (I wasn’t). So instead how about we share our experience and offer encouragement in case it’s not that way for them? “You might not feel that way at first, and you might even struggle with any thought of ever being at peace with welcoming the other child in… but you will find your way, you will make new special memories with all of you.”

What are you learning about motherhood? What do you wish you had known? What are ways you like to encourage new moms?
(Noel Piper and some others share some of their thoughts in this video!)

P.S. for some of our favorite practical pregnancy and baby stuff, click the links!