Progress Over Perfection + Some House Pics

If you know me or have read my blog for very long you probably know we’ve been remodeling an 1860s farmhouse for the last five years. Five years in and we’re still not done but we’ve made tons of progress and feel like we’ll be totally finished in the next year or so. Hallelujah.

I’ve thought often of sharing pictures of our home and the work we’ve done along the way but always hesitate and delete any drafts with these projects. Yesterday I was thinking again about sharing some before and after photos and finally put my finger on why I always back out: Intimidation.

The world is so stinking visual these days. Which is awesome and I love all the beauty we’re surrounded with as much as anyone. But when it comes to actually sharing your own imperfect home and life in an equally imperfect photo, it’s easy to chicken out and hide behind the more talented faces and photographers out there.

But I’ve decided that’s silly and I’m over it. My photos and projects aren’t going to compare to a lot of what you see on Instagram or Pinterest but I think I’m finally okay with that. I’ll do the best I can and hopefully learn some things along the way too. IMG_20180218_081555_117.jpg

I have this photo of our home when we first bought it hanging in our living room; it reminds me of where we started, where we’ve been, and how far we’ve come. It’s a good reminder on the days when I get frustrated with unfinished projects and all the messiness and imperfection that will always be a part of this life. I need to remember sometimes that we’ve learned a lot and accomplished a lot these last five years and I’m excited to finally start sharing some of that with you too. After all, there was a time when our house looked like this so things are definitely looking up (and I’m not kidding when I say fixer upper!).

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I’m starting with something small, the mudroom/entryway because, apart from our daughter’s nursery, it’s one of the few rooms that’s actually almost 100% done (there’s always that almost 😉 )

When we first moved in, this place was not at all done. It was kinda a hot mess. In our hurry and also being super broke by that point, a lot of stuff was finished as quickly and cheaply as possible even if it wasn’t what we were really dreaming of when we started. We were also both pretty burnt out by that point and just wanted to get stuff done and behind us.

Now that we’ve lived here for almost three years, we’ve started to put our finger on what we love and what we’d still like to change. The mudroom/entryway was one of the first things we completely redid. The picture of Darren with Roman in his coat (lol) shows what the entryway looked like for the first year in our house. We painted it a beige-like yellow, put a white shelf up and hung a metal bar for coats and that was that. It was pretty ugly and not that functional but I didn’t really have an ideas for improvement at the time. FB_IMG_1518980035424.jpg

Then we spent a few days at a rental in Quebec a couple of years ago and the entryway there totally inspired me. It was so simple but perfectly functional too—a pallet wall, hooks for coats, and a bench for seating and storage. Before we left I started planning with Darren how we could make our own mudroom look like the one there.

We researched pallet walls on Pinterest and Darren used rough-cut boards to lay it out. He stained the wood all different shades to get the look we wanted then nailed the boards to the wall. We added black hooks for coats and bags and a bench to sit on and store stuff in. We chose a blue/gray paint—the darker color is a lot easier to keep looking clean in a high-traffic area and I love how it contrasts with the white trim. The area is really small but it still works perfectly for our needs: A place to sit and put on shoes, hang bags and coats on our way in and out, and storage for shoes and hats and such in bins under the bench. There’s also a place for keys and mail in the wire rack on the wall. It’s never this clean unless I’m taking a picture and usually has the carseat and stroller jammed in the corner, just so you know 🙂

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Across from the mudroom is the entrance into the garage. We used a piece of wood leftover from the original 1860s house for the shelf and just added the brackets underneath to hang it. The mirror reflecting the light from the window makes the small space look bigger and brighter and I love these curtains for that same reason—they give a little privacy but also allow for a ton of sunlight.

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Even though these are just small nooks used mostly for coming and going, it’s also the first thing you see when you walk into the house so I’ve really enjoyed having it cleaned up and decorated in a way I love and that helps keep this drop area a little more organized than before.

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Anyway, I’m curious to know if you’d like to see more posts like this sharing our remodel and projects? I’m thinking of doing one a month if you’re interested so tell me what you think!

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

A Quick Question…

I’m trying to find that sweet spot between sharing more than you’re interested in or have time to read and being MIA. Would you help me out by answering the poll below? Thanks, friends! :]

I’ll Be Outside

It was 70 here Tuesday and Wednesday—70 degrees and a warm breeze in February is pure magic if there is any such thing in the world. The kids and I spent almost all of both days outdoors—Roman in the mud, Aletheia on a blanket with the wind curling her soft baby hair, and I chasing the sunshine around the porch and yard and breathing so, so deeply for the first time in months; I felt almost like myself for a minute.

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After we got the kids in bed Wednesday, I stood in front of the mirror and stared at my reflection for a moment; “I know that girl,” I thought. My hair, normally pulled up tight (to keep my daughter’s hands out of it) was a tad windswept with a couple shorter locks in the front framing my face. There was dirt on my flowy white shirt from playing with my son—a bit wild and untame—like the landscape, like the weather.

IMG_20180221_162934_494.jpgI spent a good bit of time Wednesday surveying our yard and dreaming up plans to clean things up and landscape it into something really beautiful this spring. Five years ago when we bought this place, both the house and yard were in complete disarray. While we’ve made huge gains on both, the yard and wooded tree line have certainly lagged behind.

Darren spent the fall building a rock wall out of fieldstone that will wrap around a patio area by the backporch. Right now that whole area is a mud pit (Roman’s favorite place….he will be so sad when we clean it up). We plan to finish the wall and patio this spring, add a fence around the backyard to keep the kids in sight and away from the road and dream of nights with friends around a campfire under the stars, grilling out, letting the kids play in a green grassy yard, and swinging on the porch swing in the sunshine.IMG_20180222_142957_295.jpgLast summer, while my family was here waiting for our daughter’s birth, my dad worked tirelessly on our tree line—removing brush, trimming trees, and opening the area up into a beautiful park-like look instead of an overrun jungle. Roman still talks about helping papa with the trees and I still love looking out my kitchen window at the area he cleared. But there’s still so much to do and I’m chomping at the bit waiting for warm weather so I can get outside and start working.IMG_20180222_143314_684.jpgI have plans for a small vegetable garden, a clothesline to let our laundry dry in the sun, and a sandbox for Roman to replace the mud he loves. We will be finishing and screening in our backporch so I’m watching for just the right pieces to turn it into a cozy little boho, plant-loving, Persian-rugs-everywhere corner where we can sit and soak up the breeze and sunshine (and hide from the bugs—I forgot about the bugs until they woke back up with the warm weather).

IMG_20180222_143114_009.jpg{Baby feet and chubby thighs forever please}

It snowed yesterday and today and we are back to the white winter landscape we know to expect this time of year in New England. Darren is home today and I came downstairs this morning to a fire in the fireplace and a baby asleep in his arms. As I write these words and sip my hot coffee, I’m reminded that everything will be okay, will keep moving forward, changing and growing—me, the weather, my kids, even the yard. None of us are done yet and that’s okay.

20180221_170753.jpg {On our walk to the lake Wednesday}

I know this isn’t my normal kind of post. But the truth is, I wasn’t planning on sharing anything today. I’ve felt so weary and dreaded the thought of writing yet again about struggles and learning. I know the challenges of this particular season of motherhood will pass. I know winter too will pass, and sooner than it feels right now. But while I’m in the thick of it, it’s hard especially in my writing which tends to be so honest, to pretend all is right and well. So rather than complain and turn this space into something dark and dreary, I’m tempted not to write at all until this period of baby blues and winter weather is a memory.

But for today, I’ll meditate on the goodness—the warm breeze in February, the dreams enlivening my sometimes weary heart, and the hope for tomorrow. Things will get better; I know they will. And until they do, I’ll be over here pulling weeds both in my heart and in my backyard, dreaming of sunshine, and looking for a reflection I recognize in the mirror.

 

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.

Not a Word Wasted

20180118_151546.jpgOne of the great things about technology and social media is the freedom and opportunity it gives everyone to write, share, and communicate with others. But on the other side is the overwhelming amount of words and information we must then sift through to find the “good stuff.”

The more I interact with social media, the more I feel these words rise up in my heart: Not a word wasted. Meaning, I don’t want anything I put here on my blog or anywhere else to be noise, fluff, or attention grabbing nonsense. I want what I say and the space I take up to be filled with purposeful, meaningful substance.

I feel this pull back and forth in wanting to be an actual “real” writer—between just being myself and doing my thing and feeling that there are things I should be doing and giving my time to in order to succeed. I need to build a social media presence and “brand” myself and share a certain amount of pictures and words in just the right space and way as to draw in followers and likes. I need to sale myself and what I’m doing or I’ll get lost in the myriad of others who are likewise writing and sharing and wanting to be heard.

Only, none of this social media stuff has ever sat very well with me. I like it when I like it but then I want to put my phone down and feel no pressure to post or share anything unless I’m independently moved to do so by the beauty I capture in a photo or the words I jot down after I’ve come to a realization I want to share with others.

It seems to have gotten turned around—we capture a photo for Instagram to build an audience and garner attention when really the photos we share would be better to come from such beauty and enthusiasm that we can’t help but share. The landscape so stunning, our heart so broken or full that we can’t help but overflow into the hearts and lives of others with our words and pictures. Better indeed than the turned-around situation we find ourselves in where we take a picture or scribble some words and practically bang down the door on other people’s hearts and lives in order to have our own hearts and lives seen and heard.

Lately, I’ve been writing and sharing here very consistently. It’s good practice for staying in the habit of writing and I find the more I write, the more I have to write about. It’s as if one thought leads to another and my heart opens up more and more to all the beauty and lessons around me that might be captured and shared.

But I haven’t gotten there yet with say, Instagram or Facebook. It just feels like too much work trying to keep up with it all. After all, my real, everyday life is only so sharable and interesting to others—especially when it must be summed up in an eye-popping photo complete with a succinct and engaging description (I’m looking at you, Instagram).

I don’t mean to sound like a hater. Like I said, I do like social media. I get to share and connect with lots of beautiful people only because such tools exist. It’s a really cool time to be alive and such an amazing thing to be a part of. I just don’t want to get carried away by it. I don’t want to become, as Thoreau said so far before his time, “a tool of my tools.”*

Not a word wasted.

So if you hear from me at all, I hope you hear something worth your time and attention. I hope I present to you only my authentic self and only when I’m ready and inspired to do so. Never because I felt compelled by self-centered motivation or the need to merely compete for attention with all the other voices around me. Sometimes I give a lot, sometimes hardly at all. At the end of the day, I have not deluded myself into believing you notice either way.

And if you do, perhaps you, like me at times, need to look up and away from the lives of others and invest a little more into your own. When I start to feel jealous or less-than in the world of social media, it’s typically not anyone else’s fault—it’s me, looking in all the wrong places for attention and fulfillment. And in those moments I’m reminded to keep my eyes on my own road and story. To be who I am and do what I do regardless of who notices or “follows” along. People and crowds and audiences come and go but I must live with myself forever—so there’s that.

If you have something to say worth hearing, people will probably notice and pay attention anyway. And if not, don’t sacrifice the quality of your life and words merely for the attention you might gain in doing something less than your very best in an inauthentic way.

I’m speaking to myself as much as anyone else and asking every time I go to Instagram or Facebook, “Why?” Why are you here? Why are you saying that or sharing that image? Would you do the same if absolutely no one noticed or cared? Or are you living to be seen and putting on a show for a hoped-for audience? Questions I must grapple with every single time indeed.


*The actual quote is, “Men have become tools of their tools.” Henry David Thoreau

 

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.