When Life is Heavy

This week was hard. Yes, hard in the sense that I’m an American, middle class, white girl who gets to stay home with her babies kinda hard; certainly there are plenty of people who have it harder. I know that, but still. No matter who or where you are in life, we all have days and weeks that are “sanctifying”—this was one of those weeks for me.

Before I go any further, let me say that I’m not sharing this to complain, get pity, or create drama. There’s redemption in the end and that’s the part I’d like to get to but truuust me when I tell you there were a lot of high fevers, crying babies, sleepless nights, poo (I am now referring to Monday as “poo-pocalypse”), long road trips that fell at the worst time, concerns I didn’t anticipate raised by the doctor, and the most humbling trip I’ve ever made to Target that ended with a shopping cart full of groceries abandoned while I did a walk of shame from one end of the store to the other with a baby on my hip and toddler in tow.

It was not a stellar week.

And none of this accounts for the hard conversations about life with friends and family that go far beyond just one hard week.IMG_20180413_194821_948.jpg

If I could sum life up in one word right now it would be heavy. My heart is heavy. My mind is heavy. My body is heavy beneath the weight of it. And I’m weary. I’d like to say that’s all and drop the mic before I give up and walk away. But again, this story doesn’t end that way…and for that I’m so thankful.

I’m learning something right now, especially about how I pray and ask God’s help and blessing over my life. I used to pray, “please let this day go okay” or “please help me get through.” I was seeking immediate relief from immediate circumstances that felt hard and overwhelming. The only “right” answer then would be a day that went smoothly, enough sleep to manage, or not feeling overwhelmed.

But the thing I’m learning is this: Truly growing and putting down deeper roots in my faith means not just praying for a good day but rather praying for the right heart attitude, grace sufficient, and God’s work to progress no matter the circumstances.

20180512_104421.pngImage from @desiringgod

Yes, I would like the days to go smoothly too. But the key is how I respond when everything goes awry. How do I react when, even after I’ve prayed and asked for help, the days are still exhausting and hard? What do I do when I’m frustrated by circumstances out of my control or humbling moments of motherhood that make me question if I’m doing anything right at all?

Whether or not the days go smoothly says almost nothing in comparison to how I react in my heart, mind, and attitude regardless of the circumstances. Growing in my faith means trusting in the heart of God even when life feels like a brick wall on every side. Is God a magic genie I conjure up when I want to wish something away or is he someone I love and trust even when I’m asked to walk through deep waters in order to know him better?IMG_20180510_114445_195.jpg

It’s easy to walk through life thinking everything will be okay on the other side of_____you feel in the blank. Life will be easier once my kids are in school. Life will be easier once my baby sleeps through the night. Life would be so much better if we could just move or if I could just land that certain job.

I find myself doing this in a million smaller ways day-to-day, too. I seek comfort and reprieve in an iced coffee, online shopping or getting five uninterrupted minutes to myself. I tell myself, “I deserve this” or “I just need to get through this day and start over tomorrow.”

But the truth is, no change in circumstances, no temporary pleasure or comfort is actually going to fix anything if I’m not already surrendered in my heart and present situation. Troubles will resolve, one season will change into another, what feels impossible today will nearly be forgotten tomorrow. But where one weed is pulled out in this life to make room for flowers, so more weeds will continue to pop up.IMG_20180503_211214_754.jpg

The truth of my heart and nature is this: The more comfortable I am, the easier it is to drift away from God. Knowing I need God every waking moment also draws me closer to his heart. So while I’m thankful for the simple pleasures that dot this life—the iced coffees and spring flowers—I’m learning to be thankful too for all the hard things that draw me nearer to my true hope and help.

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day, which makes me laugh a little considering how this week has gone. In truth, all I want from the day is Chinese takeout and maybe a nap. But regardless of how the day actually goes, I hope I will remember where my hope rests and carry that truth with me into a new week—regardless of the circumstances.

 

Labor Pain

It snowed again today. A friend of mine lives in Canada and told me once that waiting for spring feels like a woman waiting for the birth of a child. You wait and anticipate and have a date in mind when you think the journey should be done and that baby in your arms. You go into labor, or so you think, only to have everything stop…and you wait some more.DSC_1369

Spring, like babies, comes when it good and well pleases and not a moment before. But the waiting, the hoping, the thinking you’re almost there to have everything stop and start again—

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. Proverbs 13:12 (ESV)

Life lately has felt a little like labor pains. I know there are good things on the other side. I know the wait will be worth it. But sometimes it’s hard to keep believing in all I can’t yet see—spring, answers, new life in dead places, fruit for the labor that right now only blisters my fingers and leaves me weary in hoping for a someday harvest.DSC_0732

Like a woman waiting for a baby, I know false labor doesn’t mean the baby’s not coming—it just means the baby’s not coming right now. I’ve felt those false pains before and can assure you that all the promises in the world that your baby will still come and soon—just not today—don’t make you feel any better in the moment. False labor hurts just like real labor and the waiting hurts even more.

But this is where we live this side of heaven—in the now but not yet. We carry eternity with us every single day but cannot yet enter into it. We taste it, get glimpses of what is and what’s to come—but the satisfaction of true fulfillment is not yet in our grasp. We are always waiting for something east of Eden.IMG_20170501_164343_623

Questions unanswered. Problems unsolved. Planting seeds for the promise of life and growth tomorrow in exchange for sore backs and weary hearts today. We can get around a lot of things in this life but we can’t get around time. We can’t make it move faster or slower. We can’t hold onto it or demand it leave us alone. We are made for eternity and a different kind of time but are bound here in mortality for a little while and must learn to submit to the seasons of this life—both in nature and our sojourning hearts.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9 (ESV)

Today, I wait for spring. I wait for the fruit of my labor. I know I will get answers and someday I will see all of this waiting from the other side. Just like I hold my babies and think a million times over how they were worth the waiting and the labor (both false and real). So someday I will look back on a weary season of sore backs and blistered hands and know the harvest at my feet was worth the labor and the waiting.

We journey on. Let us not grow weary, friends.dsc_1324

A Piece of the Puzzle

I’ve written a lot about how I’ve struggled as a mom—with my temper, with depression, with regret. I knew motherhood would be hard, I just never imagined how it would be hard or how I would struggle.

But along with all I’ve said about the tough times and the learning curb, I don’t want to fail in sharing the good stuff and the victories too.

Eight months ago today, our daughter was born. Eight months. How do the nine months of pregnancy feel like a small eternity while the first year runs like water through your hands? It’s not fair but here we are with a baby who is trying to give up her morning nap, crawl, pop two teeth through, and laughs at everything her brother does.IMG_20180308_145354_700.jpg

We, all of us, adore her; but that doesn’t mean the last eight months have been easy. If we struggled with our son before our daughter was born, we just about sank after. Bringing our daughter home took every last gain we’d made with our son two steps back and it was discouraging, frustrating and downright heartbreaking at times.

And yet, like so many times before, it was here that I met with God. God is seen in all the beauty and goodness He offers, for sure. But no doubt about it, God is felt and known in the midnight hour when our souls are cracked open and raw with hurt and want.

These last eight months I have needed God in a way I simply didn’t before. And while I fought and wrestled against Him at first, for a while to be honest, I have found God to be waiting with open arms on the other side of the struggle. Mostly, I just needed to realize how much I need Him and to taste and see how willing He is to meet me with hope and answers in the struggle.

Have you ever prayed a prayer and known without question that God answered you—that there was simply no other explanation beyond Him moving and working on your behalf? I had a moment like that a few weeks ago.

I have long prayed for wisdom about how to reach my son’s heart and how to build a relationship with him. I reached out for help and read lots of books and tried to be open to advice when given. But still, everything seemed to fall flat and end in more frustration and heartache. But still I prayed. What else could I do? I knew I desperately needed wisdom and help only God could give so I asked Him for it and hoped, someday, I would find an answer.

One night we sat at dinner, struggling to get through the meal as we often do with lots of, “I don’t like this food” and “sit down and take a bite.” Without ever thinking about it before, honestly, until the words were coming out of my mouth, I told Roman he should hurry up and eat because after dinner and getting his sister in bed, we could stay up and have a special time together eating popcorn and ice cream and watching a show.

I’ve never seen a kid change his speed so fast. He might not want to eat his dinner but he fo sho wanted to stay up with us watching shows. After I said it, I wasn’t even sure if we had ice cream or popcorn or if Darren would be up for him staying up late. I put his sister to bed and came downstairs to find Roman all set up in the living room with his snacks, show picked out, and telling his dad that they couldn’t start the show until I was in there too. I thought I would tidy the kitchen quickly while they started but he insisted I be in there to begin :] So we piled on the couch together and had a super fun night spending some time focused on just our boy.

It seems like such an obvious thing, spending some special one-on-one time with just him while his sister sleeps but somehow it had honestly never occurred to me how we could make that work before this moment. But here we are, a few weeks later and every single night, as soon as I start prepping dinner, Roman starts telling me about how after dinner and baths and jammies and once sissy is in bed, we’re going to stay up together watching a show and eating ice cream and popcorn—and we do. And he is such a different kid from the little guy we were struggling so hard with just a few weeks ago.IMG_20180320_122227_888.jpg

Is everything perfect and easy now? No, not at all. After all, he’s still just 3 years old and we’re all still sinners. But I can’t even explain what a difference it has made in our relationship with him, his relationship with his sister, or the overall vibe of our family. It’s a “God did this” thing for sure and an undeniable answer to my prayer for wisdom.

God knows each of us, made each of us. God knows the workings and makeup of this 3 1/2 year old who so mystifies me at times. And in that, God knew what his little heart needed— t i m e.  And that is perhaps what has moved me the most—not just that God saw and heard me and my heart but that he also saw the hurts and needs of a little boy and met even him, a little child, in his need for time and attention.

When you are parenting a small child, you are the face of God. I don’t mean that irreverently but it’s true. A child does not know or understand much about God and in fact a lot of what you tell your children about God they will believe simply because you said it. If I tell my son God loves him, as I do, and then fail to show him the love of God in my attitudes and actions toward him, what have I now shown him about this God of mine? It’s a sobering, humbling thought—that my life, for a time at least, speaks God (the true God or lies about that God) into my children’s hearts.

But God is good and gracious. He answered me in one small way for now at least. And in doing so, He is showing His heart and love to both my boy and his needy momma ❤IMG_20180321_130404_078.jpg

It’s Supposed to Be Hard

I’ve been wrestling with God lately—pushing hard against him as he pushes right back. I’ve asked him why things have to be so hard. Why, if I’m doing what I believe to be right and best, am I struggling so much? Being where you think God wants you to be and doing what you believe he’s asked you to do is supposed to bring peace and joy, right? Well, yes and no.

I didn’t recognize the answer to this wrestling until I said it out loud in a conversation with my husband. We were talking about parenting—about all the well-intentioned advice we get and all the books we’ve read looking for answers. So much information is available saying, “Do A, Get B.” Only none of those formulas work on our son and we’re starting to wonder if we’ll ever figure any of this parenting stuff out or if we should just start saving bail money now (I’m kidding…sort of 😉 ).

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I told Darren I knew parenting would be exhausting and a ton of hard work—and I can handle that part of it. It’s all the not knowing what we’re doing and fearing that we’ll never reach our son’s heart that really scares me.

And that’s when it hit me—I can handle the hard work and exhaustion—so God gave me a little more than just that to remind me of my need for Him—to draw me close to his heart as I turn to him for the help I’ll find nowhere else. I need wisdom that’s beyond me and the advice others offer. I need strength beyond my physical ability and fortitude. I need hope and encouragement beyond the easy answers and quick fixes people offer to make me feel better. I need Jesus and struggling with my son reminds me of that every single day.

There was a time in my life, before I was a mother, when I very clearly remember thinking, “I can do this without consciously needing the Lord’s help.” I didn’t mean it to be an affront to God; I was simply in a place in life where I could ride the waves and do my job and everything went pretty smoothly whether or not I chose to include the Lord in my day-to-day. After I thought, “I can do this on my own right now,” I also thought, “but God’s not going to let that last forever.” I knew my comfortable status quo would change and I would likely come into a place of need that I didn’t really want to experience.

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Enter motherhood.

From his incredibly difficult birth right up until today, my son is God’s hand of change in my life. Every single day I’m made aware of my failings, weaknesses, and need. Every day I fight to start at the feet of Jesus because I know how much I need his help to get through each hour before me.

So why does it have to be so hard? Probably because I’m stubborn and self-sufficient and can handle a lot of pain. Probably because God knew this level of frustration and insufficiency is the only thing that would get my attention and draw my heart close to his.

So its not punishment or God mocking my efforts as I have sometimes felt. It’s mercy, it’s grace, it’s God reaching into my life, grabbing me by the shoulders and saying, “I’ll help you every step of the way but first, you need to know you need me.”

As I’ve wrestled through these thoughts, I’ve pictured myself not so very different from my son. Struggling against God as my son struggles against me. Twisting and fighting and demanding my own way. I see God’s arms around me as constraining and confining—just as my son sees me. But God is not constraining me; he’s fighting to hold me close. Not crushing my will or spirit but leading me to surrender willingly out of trust and obedience. All the same things I try so hard to communicate to my son only to have him fight back in anger—yes, how very much we’re alike and how profoundly patient is my God.

I see his Father’s heart now and finally, I think I’m learning to be at rest in his arms—not twisting and fighting his power but seeing his good plan for me; his love and care in not giving me my own way. My need is my greatest asset because it opens my heart to the all-powerful, all-sufficient God who loves me and desires good things for my life. Just like I want to give good things to my son if only he will listen and trust me, so God desires the same and so much more for me. So my prayer remains, “Lord, help me trust when I can’t see. Help me hold on when I don’t understand. Help my unbelief”

Mercy for Today

As I stand at the beginning of another week, I want to remind myself and anyone else reading this of one thing: If you are saved, you are covered, redeemed, and set free. Yes, we will sin this week. I will stagger and fail. I will struggle with my thoughts and attitude. I will war against apathy and discouragement as I start each new day facing many of the same battles as the day before and the day before that. I will get tired and in my exhaustion, it will be hard to be patient and kind even to the people I love most.

But…

But I am covered, redeemed, set free.

Christ has already done the work on my behalf and reached down into my darkness with the light only He gives. There is hope, grace, and mercy already in place to catch me when I fall. pexels-photo-250609.jpegA couple of days ago Darren and I had a moment with our son where we were trying to follow through consistently on something we had said. In the end, we messed up. We handled the situation poorly and wished we had done things differently. I felt bad. But even in my regret, I felt relief—relief that though I will mess up as a person, wife, and mom—I am covered by God’s grace and his work continues in me day by day. Yes, I wish I could hit rewind and do things differently at times. But even in those moments, I need not sink in self-loathing or a sense of total failure because how well I perform in any given arena is not ultimately what determines my standing or success. Who I am in Christ and the work he has done and continues to do on my behalf is what matters.

Sometimes, when I’m struggling against dark thoughts of failure and discouragement, the words to this song wash over my mind bringing sweet relief of my standing in Christ:

 Before the throne of God above
I have a strong, a perfect plea,
a great High Priest, whose name is Love
who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands,
my name is written on His heart;
I know that while in heaven He stands
no tongue can bid me thence depart.

 When Satan tempts me to despair
and tells me of the guilt within,
upward I look, and see Him there
who made an end of all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died,
my sinful soul is counted free,
for God the just is satisfied
to look on Him and pardon me.

 Behold Him there! the risen Lamb!
my perfect, spotless righteousness,
the great unchangeable I AM”
the King of glory and of grace!
One with Himself, I cannot die;
my soul is purchased by His blood;
my life is hid with Christ on high,
with Christ my Savior and my God.

Before the Throne of God Above by Charitie Lees Bancroft

Keep your eyes today not just on who you are but whose you are. We are covered, redeemed, set free—that is our hope and mercy for today.

Unraveled

After a night of winter rain, I watch the dawn break in pink clouds and sunshine. The morning sky deepens into cobalt blue set off by gray clouds moving fast to the east. I’m thankful for the sunshine; for the hope of a bright, clear day to contrast the dead winter palette.

All day I watch the sky shift moodily from crisp blue to heavy gray clouds. The changing light plays games in my living room, dancing across the floor where my children play. It feels like life—sunshine and rain, sunshine and rain.IMG_20180131_223914_609.jpg

I’m an orderly person. I like to see everything in terms of black and white—manageable, predictable. The good times purely good. The bad times purely bad. The two never mingling together to confuse or interrupt the other.

Only life is not at all that way. People are not at all that way.

Winter is a hard season. The cold, the gray, being cooped up in the house with restless, unhappy little ones. Everyone I’m close to is busy with work and school and I’m doing my best to pass the long days and short nights with heart and mind intact. I feel frayed, unraveling—like my hands are full of beads falling all over the place and I’m unable to gather them back up before they roll away.

I don’t want to wish this season away—the days when both my kids mostly just want to be in my arms and half the battle is figuring out how to meet all the needs for attention and affection. The days when my three-year-old climbs on everything and walks around with his toy moose ever tucked under his arm, feet dragging on the ground. I don’t want to forget the stories he tells or the way his big brown eyes look so wild and intent as he does. He sits beside me as I type these words, intermittently trying to push buttons and asking a million questions about the words I’m writing and why.IMG_20180207_203806_458.jpgWhy? Because these days are hard and I’m tired and these words are scribbled in a fog that settles over my mind after one relentless night after another of almost no sleep. But still I want to remember. I want to record these words and this gray season so I might look back and remember these days gone by and the lessons I learned and the ways I changed when I thought I might never be myself again.IMG_20180122_190739_449.jpg

Motherhood is the hardest, most humbling thing I’ve ever done. Sunshine and rain. Never could I love more. Never could I be more discouraged, unsure, or afraid. I want to read a book and know the right answers but instead I find a million times over that the answer remains: Watch, wait, and try again tomorrow. I will get some things right; I’ll always get some things wrong too. I don’t know anymore if there is a right answer or if the answer is simply to trust and pray and grow through all the hardness of these years.IMG_20180125_161516_767.jpgPerhaps the best lesson I can teach my children after all is simply obedience one step at a time, day by day, doing the next right thing. Maybe this lesson will teach them more than having all the right answers packaged up and tied with a tidy black and white bow. They will see me struggle; they will see me fail. But I hope in all of it they will see God’s relentless mercy and grace. I hope they will see me get back up and learn to do the same.

That’s all I can offer for today in this hard season of gray.

God Made Me: Permission to Be—A Guest Post by Lydia Vogt

Today I’m excited to introduce you to my long-time friend and fellow writer, Lydia. Lydia is someone I’ve always felt thinks deeply through an issue rather than simply taking someone else’s word for it—and I can see that’s exactly what she did with this post. I hope you enjoy this glimpse into her beautiful heart and words ❤

thought-catalog-214785Hello, there! I’ve known Kari since the age of hide-and-seek in summer cornfields. She is my younger sister’s lifelong best friend, but Kari and I have always had the writing itch in common. It’s my privilege to meet you here, in that refreshing Outside Air.

I have to confess, though, that when Kari suggested I write about how I “maintain personal interests and pursue ‘things’ outside mommyhood,” I literally laughed out loud; the kind of incredulous laugh I imagine 90-year-old Sarah belted when she first heard the promise that she would give birth to a son.

I can’t write about THAT! Seriously, I don’t have the foggiest idea how to do that well! I need to read that miracle blog post, not WRITE it. Sheesh. Come back to me in 10 years.

But Kari kindly insisted that maybe I do a better job than I think I do (generous soul), and I also decided that if I truly don’t have anything to contribute on the subject, then maybe I should spend some solid QT with the question.

And I did. But I wasn’t really prepared for the web of nuanced beliefs, shame, fear, and hope it would uncover.

So I did what I usually do when something feels too big: I tabled it. I kept jotting notes, but the more jotting I did, the more complex the issue became in my heart, and internal door after door seemed to fly open, begging an attentive walk-through.

That is how this little blog post became a beginning place for me, a sort of baseline premise bolstering my personhood during this very demanding chapter of mothering.

I sincerely hope these thoughts are a useful springboard for you too, as you make space for yourself, His beautiful creation:

WHY DID GOD MAKE ME? (CLUE: IT WASN’T FOR YOUR UTERUS)tanaphong-toochinda-267381

Did you notice the subtle shift? It starts in pregnancy when people begin to swap your given name with “mommy” before the baby even arrives; when people completely bypass you to get at your bundles of cuteness as quickly as possible; when casual conversation completely revolves around the welfare of your husband and children; when people start sharing comments suggesting that your life actually began with motherhood: “Now, now you know what life and love is all about.”

Can I just stand up to all this well-intended nonsense?

Being a mother is wonderful, but it doesn’t make you more human than you were before. Hear me: it doesn’t make you more capable of love than you were before. Because love comes from God, and that means every one of his children (mother or not) has equal access to both experience and extend God’s love. That’s because God designed you to be a life-receiver before you ever became a life-giver. He cares about who you are becoming, not just who your children are becoming. If you slip away from conscious connection to His love for you as His bride, daughter, and friend, mothering becomes overwhelming, dull, and discouraging really quick (I know).

The love we have for our kids is the fiercest kind of natural affection. But true love is SUPERnatural; we need true love to empower our affection, otherwise we become the source of our affection battery, and our mom affection batteries do fritz — don’t they — but we can’t afford for them to fritz, right? So what do we do? We start sucking the life out of our relational attachments to try and get more juice back in our natural affection batteries, so we can pour it back into our relationships, but the cycle never leads back to life and true love. It leads to disappointment and desperate dissatisfaction (again, I know all about it.)

So what does all that boil down to?

How are you receiving life?

How are you welcoming the love God and others have for you?

If your answer is “I don’t know,” well, what a beautiful invitation to open! Start looking for little moments of life and love coming your way, and nourish them the same way you nourish life and love in your children. And if you feel life and love aren’t coming your way, take just a teeny step toward Him, and you’re facing life and love itself.

WHAT IS HAPPENING? BEWARE THE DEATH DECOY!

If you also happened to grow up in a circle that elevates motherhood to sainthood, in an effort to offset its devaluation elsewhere, you’ll hopefully understand what I’m about to say.

Sainthood is usually accompanied by martyrdom, literal or figurative. If your motherhood feels like relentless martyrdom, the wrong parts of you are dying.

While there is plenty of death-TO-self in motherhood, don’t confuse it with death-OF-self. To make a distinction we have to know what we mean by self, right? We always have two selves in play: flesh (false self) and spirit (true self).

God the Father made you in His image, and although sin corrupts, it could not destroy His own image in you. You are hard-wired for abundant life, and that’s exactly what Jesus is bringing you. There is plenty of sin to come to light, but your imagination, and creativity, and gifts and abilities, are not sin and are not useless. They are very good, because you are good in God. And God gives you great permissions to practice and share with Him and others all of who you are.

True death of false self (flesh), always results in more life in our true selves (spirit). 

God does not intend for your spirit to be crushed alongside sin, so if “death to self” in your mothering is leaving you fearful instead of free, and paralysed instead of purposeful, it’s man-made religion whispering in your ear, not the true Lord Jesus.

 TEMP PLACEMENT: PREPARE FOR THE END AT THE BEGINNINGjenna-norman-292397

We are eternal beings on temporary assignment with eternal beings.

Erich Fromm says it well, I think:

“The mother-child relationship is paradoxical and, in a sense, tragic. It requires the most intense love on the mother’s side, yet this very love must help the child grow away from the mother, and to become fully independent.”

Motherhood is not a permanent place for me, even though part of me refuses to even “go there” emotionally. My boys are already taking baby steps further away from me, as quick as they can. Because living always means growing, doesn’t it?

They will always be my heart beating outside my body, but I will not always be their everything.

You know what comforts me with that pending heartbreak looming in the distance and keeps me from making them the perfect little love gods of my mama heart?

God doesn’t love children more than adults.  

Wait, what?! What in the world? How does that have anything to do with anything?

Well, we love puppies more than dogs, and kittens more than cats, don’t we? At least I do! Babies are precious and trusting, children are filled with light and wonder. We can still trace innocence and generosity in them, before the broken world and cursed sin-seeds begin to really entangle them, mandating bloody redemption and restoration.

Do you think God loves children more than mothers? I did. I didn’t know I did. Until I did. Do you think he sacrifices you, for them? He sacrificed Himself for you.  

To accept my motherly responsibilities as a temporary investment with eternal dividends, I need to believe God will love my boys as young men just as much as He loves them now. And to believe that, I first must accept that He didn’t stop loving me, or withdraw from me, or resent me for growing up broken.

The crux is this: we can only pursue things outside mothering when we know our children are safe. And we can only know that when we trust that they are safe in Him. We can only incrementally release them from a place of freedom. And we can only give freedom that we’ve first received.

What does it look like to walk in that freedom? It’s beginning to look like me living out of my true self while engaging my little lovelies. To be honest, I don’t know exactly what will begin to form and take shape as I continue to pursue personal growth and joy opportunities in my life, but I am learning that I have so much more internal space and permission to be me and a mom, than I ever knew.

So let’s be mothers and babes growing up together in love, shall we?


lydia_vogt_200pxLydia Vogt is a Kansas City native living in Northern Virginia with her husband and two little boys. She is a Jesus-loving former HR professional who has been writing for the joy of it since she could hold a pencil. Lydia is a Compassionate Entrepreneur with Trades of Hope, a self-professed second-hand interior decorator, and a sorry-not-sorry Pinterest party planner. You can find her arranging words about life and love on her blog: BeforeTheAfterBlog

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This Was Not the Plan

My life in many ways looks exactly like I hoped it never would. I had a different plan in mind. I was going to be important. I was going to do big things for God. Early on, I had my eyes set on full-time ministry— serving overseas as a missionary and turning the world upside down for Jesus.

Only it wasn’t really for Jesus. It was for me and Jesus was just my ride to impact and fulfillment. I remember very clearly in college, when trying to decide if I should marry Darren, saying, “I wasn’t just going to end up sitting in a pew somewhere.” My motivation wasn’t all bad. What I meant was I didn’t want to be complacent, apathetic, or uninvolved in what God wanted to do in the world. I didn’t want to show up to church on Sunday, do nothing but take, and head back into another week on Monday completely unchanged. That’s all good.

The problem was I viewed anything other than full-time, frontline ministry as inferior. I didn’t understand depth, foundations, roots, or the long road we must sometimes take to grow into a person God can actually use. I didn’t understand patience or humility or self-control. I saw the world through a very self-centered lens where ultimately, I and not God, was at the center of my story. All the things I wanted to do “for God,” were really for me and my own pride.dsc_1313When it became clear I wasn’t going to be in the ministry as I had hoped, I consoled myself in believing I would still do big things if I could just find the right job. I had a degree in counseling and thought I knew quite a lot about helping other people with their big problems at the ripe age of 22.

Once Darren and I settled in Massachusetts, I started applying everywhere for work as a counselor. I started with the glitzy positions and slowly lowered my expectations as I waited for call-backs and interviews that never came.

My first job was working in retail at the mall. I hated exactly every minute of it. I hate sales. I hate being sold to and hate even more trying to sale to others. I didn’t want to tell people what I did; when I had to, I was quick to point out that I was the Assistant Manager and not just a sales girl—it was all the same in the end.

Eventually, I quite that job. If there was one thing worse than sales, it was explaining to people that I had no job at all. I lived in a tiny apartment and had no kids so there was no explanation as to why I would be unemployed. Meanwhile, Darren was rising in his career, having started at an aerospace company and quickly being promoted. I felt like a dud. All my big plans and preparation had come to naught. IMG_20171217_132251_180.jpgAfter a couple more dead-end jobs on my end, Darren started at a new company and got me a position as well. I liked telling people I worked in aerospace; it made me sound smart and successful. Truth be told, I was sitting at a desk filling out routine paperwork and running to the office supply store to keep things stocked. Glamorous it was not.

We had been married five years now and five years had equally passed since I walked that stage, diploma in hand, ready to change the world. But I wasn’t discouraged because I knew my “highest calling” was just around the bend.

Though I had no deep maternal desires for a baby, we decided it was time to start trying for a family. I believed having a baby would at last give me that sense of purpose and fulfillment I was longing for. I wouldn’t have said those words to you at the time but looking back I realize that’s how I felt.

So we had a baby. I left that job I liked telling people about and stayed home to raise a family…and got knocked right on my butt as you might imagine. That first year of motherhood was hard for a lot of reasons but my expectations about finally finding “my thing” and feeling important certainly didn’t help.

We have another baby now and I no longer hold onto any glowing ideals of motherhood. Raising children is the hardest, most humbling thing I’ve ever done. My son is not good at making me look good at all. He’s the kind of kid people stare at in the grocery store and I’m the exhausted, stressed-out kind of mom I used to judge.

No, this is not how I saw my life. I didn’t plan for the days being so long or the nights so short. I didn’t prepare for the dishes or the diapers or the epic temper tantrums. I sit in that pew on Sunday, if I’m lucky, but just as often I’m home with a sick little one or working in nursery. For the girl who said she’d never warm a pew, there are few things now that seem like a greater privilege or luxury on a Sunday morning. IMG_20171217_132251_179.jpgMotherhood is not what I thought it would be. My life is not what I thought it would be. And I’ve been grappling with God about these very things of late.

Why, God? Why did I go to college if you knew I’d never use my degree? Why did you once move me to do big things for you only to tuck me away in a dusty corner of life? Why did you give me this burning desire to write if my words will never be read? Why give me a love for creativity if you never intended to use me in that way?

My frustration is only magnified by watching the world around me. I might comfort myself by saying, “Well, it’s just a season; things will be different when I’m not so busy with little ones.” But I see plenty of moms with littles, a hundred times busier than I am, already doing all those big things I once dreamt of.

I feel with God that I’m up against a wall. I try to take a step forward and he pushes me back two. I try to use the giftings he’s given me only to see my efforts fall flat. I want to quit. I want to tell God, “Fine. If you don’t want to use me then I won’t be used. I’ll stay out of your way. I’ll do the grunt work and forget about anything of substance.”

I’ve prayed these hard prayers to God lately and asked him to show me what he wants. I keep thinking he doesn’t hear me and he’s not going to answer but twice now in the last two weeks of these prayers, he’s surprised me.

First, I was reading through Lamentations and just when I thought the story couldn’t be any more heartbreaking or bleak, God gives a glimmer of hope in chapter three:

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young. Lamentations 3:21-27 (NIV)

I have quoted and rehearsed that one line to myself many times over the last year, “His mercies are new every morning.” But I had never read or understood them in their proper context until last week—which is exactly when I needed that understanding the most.

Again today, I was doubting God and his work in me. Maybe he doesn’t like me. Maybe I’m an extra he doesn’t really need. I ate my lunch with one hand and spooned baby food into my daughter’s mouth with the other. I decided to listen to a podcast featuring one of my favorite Christian authors, Ruth Chou Simons. Her words caught me off-guard and once again reminded me that God does, in fact, see and hear me when I question him.

You can listen to the podcast yourself by clicking on the link above, and I really hope you will, but her story and words were exactly the reminder I needed today that though I feel silent and invisible, I’m actually right where I need to be.

What I’m learning is this: I may or may not ever get to do “big things” for God. It doesn’t really matter either way. What matters is that I be faithful. Right here, today, with my children, in that church pew I never wanted to sit in—this is where God’s asking me to grow deep roots and wait quietly for him. The point is not what I accomplish for God but how well I get to know and how deeply I love God and people along the way.

Yes, I’d like to be good at something. I’d like to be useful and successful. But before I can really be anything, I must be God’s. I must be humbled, submitted, and deeply rooted. I’m learning to be faithful when I see no growth or blossoms, when I see only another long day, week, or year ahead of me that looks so very much the same.

I get tired and discouraged. I struggle to see the point. But I sense God asking me to hold on. To believe in what I can’t see, because that’s the essence of faith after all—until our faith is sight.

I needed Ruth’s words today. And most of all, I needed to be reminded yet again, that God hears my most honest prayers and loves me through them. I choose to believe God will complete the work he’s begun in me and that’s really all I can offer here today.

A Legacy of Love

I’m at the stage of life where you drink all the coffees and read all the parenting books. Parenting books are great except they all say different stuff.

Lately, instead of reading all the books, I’ve been watching all the parents. Again, every family is different but I’ve noticed something: The families I admire the most and see the most hope and happiness in are the ones brimming with love. They may have different rules, live in different cultures, go to different types of churches, educate their children differently—on and on. But they have love in common.

So what is love, exactly, beyond a feeling or a nice word?

I opened my Bible to the “love chapter”— 1 Corinthians 13 — and read through the detailed description for a better idea. After explaining how you can do everything else right and have all the ability in the world but if you don’t have love, it will count for nothing, Paul goes on to detail what love is action by action.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends.

As for prophesies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love (italics mine). 1 Cor. 13

Just about every word in this passage convicts me. When I look at our home and my mothering in particular, I see how poorly I live out the actions of love in our family. This is not meant to heap on mom guilt when it’s already so easy to feel like we’re failing and can’t keep up with all that’s required of us. But it does give me pause to think over how often I’m patient or kind with the people I’m with the most.

20626962_10154761931351517_5291673004939242159_oAfter praying over this passage and asking God to specifically help me live out love in my home, I noticed all the more how often love is the last place I go with my husband and children.

When love asks me to be patient, I am so often impatient with the dawdling and explanations of my three-year old.

When love asks me to be kind, I catch myself being sharp in moments of frustration and fatigue.

When love says not to envy or boast, I find myself scrolling through social media wondering why everyone else is doing a better job and having more success than me.

When love is not rude, I’m biting with my words and attitude toward my husband and kids after a long or disappointing day.

Love doesn’t insist on its own way but how often do I, either openly or overtly through quiet manipulation?

Love bears, believes, hopes, endures and never ends. It’s as if Paul is saying, if you just do first what love requires of you, you will later see the fruit in that love never ending in your heart and home.

All of this challenged me, as I said. But what really caught my attention was the latter part of the passage where Paul talks about all these other impressive things eventually passing away—the knowledge and wisdom of the day (uh parenting books for instance 😉 )—these things are only limited, partial knowledge that will eventually fade in light of the full knowledge of eternity. They’re helpful, but they’re not necessarily the most important thing.

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What will last though, is love—the greatest of all these things. Greater than knowledge, greater than ability, love will be the lasting legacy.

I want to be careful not to rip the passage out of context and away from Paul’s intended purpose but I thought what he said about thinking like a child was so helpful too because I forget sometimes that my three-year old is just that, three years old—like he’s been alive for only three years and sometimes I expect so much of him. Perfect, immediate obedience. A level of calm and self-control that probably no three-year old boy has ever had. Understanding of big concepts and words that are still quite new to him—respect, responsibility, consequences.

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Yes, these are things he needs to know and learn but he’s a child—he speaks, thinks, reasons, and acts like a child because he is one. Eventually, like Paul, he’ll become a man and give up childish ways. But until then, what he needs is love coupled with truth and correction

So what does this look like? It’s patience with a little boy’s energy and learning curb, it’s kindness and gentleness when I’m prone to lose my temper and ere on severity. It’s words that build up and instruct when I’m tempted to be sarcastic and rude. It’s being steady and self-controlled when I’m prone to react in the moment and let my emotion and frustration rule. It’s bearing, believing, hoping, and enduring whatever life may bring to our home and family because if we do—love never fails. Love wins. Love brings the child in his childish ways into the man who puts childish ways behind him. All the rules and frustration in the world can’t produce that and all the other knowledge I might gain along the way is partial and fleeting in light of love and the eternal imprint love leaves on a heart, home, and family.

The greatest of these is love. I see it in the families and people I look up to and I see it laid out so clearly in Scripture—love—above all method and knowledge, let our homes be built on love for this is the one thing that will not fail in the hearts of our children and families.

Because He Loves Us

IMG_20170917_151032_292.jpgI look at my daughter and I’m reminded anew that God really does love me. She’s an answer to prayer, right down to her mop of black hair. I’ve always wanted a dark-haired baby girl. The dark hair didn’t really matter, I knew that, but I thought it would be so cute.

When I found out with my first pregnancy that I was expecting a boy, I had a really hard time with it. God changed my heart after I held my son and I wouldn’t trade him for any other child in the world. He’s my buddy and I’m so thankful for the unexpected gift he has been to me. But still, when I found out I was pregnant again, I so wanted a daughter. I grew up with all boys and have always hoped for a bit of girly fun in having a daughter of my own.

When we went for the ultrasound to find out the gender of our second baby, I waited with nervous excitement telling myself it would be fine either way and willing myself not to be disappointed if we did, in fact, get another son. All through the ultrasound, the technician used gender-neutral terms, “it,” “the baby.” But just once she slipped up and said, “his foot.”

His foot. My heart sank. So it was another boy after all. I was glad she had slipped up, actually—that gave me a minute to get my head around it and move past the initial disappointment before she made the big announcement.

Soon, the lead technician came in and asked if we were ready to hear the gender. Yes. Tell me it’s a boy, I thought. But instead she said, “it’s a girl!” and Darren and I both practically yelled at the poor girl, “it is?!?!?”

My heart was so full. I went from being frustrated trying to talk myself into the idea of another boy to being so grateful and excited that I was getting my girl after all.

My girl.IMG_20171022_221449_326.jpgFast forward to her birth several months later…it felt like about 14 months later with her being so late 😉 I was induced and sat there nervously waiting to do the hard work of bringing my little baby into the world. Roman’s birth had been so hard and left me so uncertain about ever delivering again. But there’s no going back, only knowing what you must do to hold that precious baby in your arms.

I put my earbuds in and fixed my mind on Ed Sheeran’s smooth voice in my ears. Soon though, even Ed couldn’t talk me off the ledge of that pain and I knew it was time to bring my daughter into the world.

I pushed for 7 minutes, I think, and then this screaming, dark-haired baby girl was placed in my arms and she had so  m u c h  hair!

IMG_20171003_121438_849.jpgEvery time I run my hand through that head of hair or dress her in another girly little outfit, I’m reminded of the very specific gift she is. In giving her to me, dark hair and all, I’m reminded how God delights to answer both our very specific prayers and the deep desires of our heart.

Does this mean God gives us everything we want right when we want it? No, of course not. I had to wait for her and God’s timing. And there are other desires and prayers that haven’t yet been granted and may never be.

I want to be careful because I have dear friends who are trying for babies or praying for a spouse or working through other difficult circumstances and I by no means intend to say that if God just loves you enough or in a special sort of way, then he’ll grant all the desires of your heart right now. This side of heaven, our hearts will always be broken to some degree about something.

God is complex, as is each of our individual relationships with him. And we often learn as much or more in the waiting and the “no’s” as we do in the ‘yes'” and the gifts. So while it’s good to stop and consider his blessings and the ways he chooses to show love to each of us personally and individually, it’s also important to remember his love in the no’s and the waiting. Both are from God and both are able to draw us to him if we allow it.

Today, I’ll kiss my daughter’s chubby little cheeks and thank God for her yet again. I hope you too, will take the opportunity to consider how God is showing his very personal love to you. And if you’re discouraged in the waiting, take that to him as well. Tell him your hurts and see what he will do even in the aching, broken parts of your story ❤