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

Follow along on Instagram and Facebook to see more.

Why Inspiration Matters

IMG_20171022_221813_524.jpgOnce a week, Darren takes the kids out of the house so I can sit and write. It’s magic and I’m so thankful for his help. Occasionally though, this doesn’t work out and if I want to write, I find myself doing so in all the moments I can find in between—like right now.

The house is quiet for a few more minutes before my son wakes and starts his day like a hurricane. He’s equal parts motion and noise so any activity requiring concentration or quiet must be done during the precious early morning hours before he wakes or while he naps in the afternoon (both assuming his sister is cooperating at the same time 😉 ).

Sometimes though, when the house is quiet and I have these valuable minutes to get things done, I feel a little guilty using the time to write a blog. I could be doing many other things, like pulling my life together for instance.

Is this a waste? Am I being selfish? Avoiding more pressing responsibilities? All of these are questions I’ve grappled with while hiding away with the laptop to tap out words. Words I write mostly for myself and will share with only a handful of people. Certainly I’m not changing the world over here so am I right to use my time in this way?

The answer and release of guilt I needed came for me after a few weeks of that evening alone I mentioned. I found that having a few hours to myself to do something I love refreshed me and filled my heart and mind with new inspiration. I’ve found too that being refreshed and inspired helps me be a better wife, mom, and homemaker.

Why?

Because burnout is no joke and can happen fast when all day every day you’re busy meeting the needs of other people (be it as a mother, teacher, doctor—whatever your vocation and calling may be). While our lives certainly shouldn’t be lived fully and exclusively unto ourselves—we are called to service and sacrifice without question. We also shouldn’t be so busy taking care of everyone else that we completely minimize the need for reasonable self-care.

I think we all know this, really. But I’m here to argue that finding and doing whatever it is that sets your heart on fire and fills your mind with energy and excitement for the next thing is a worthwhile endeavor and not a selfish waste of time.

I shared the picture of my daughter asleep in my lap, computer open, because this is often what writing looks like for me in this season. I write in the scrappy moments in between all the living and doing. And every word I tap out here gives me a little fresh energy and excitement to invest back into my family. My people are my top priority but I’m a better person for them when I take care of myself as well.

For me, this looks like getting up early so I can start my day slowly and quietly with a cup of coffee and my Bible. This gives me a minute to collect myself and prepare my heart before the day is underway. I get dressed in real clothes and put some mascara on because as tempting as yoga pants all day may be, they really don’t help my self-esteem ;). And as I said before, I try once a week to have a few uninterrupted hours to write and create.

Creativity is really so instrumental in raising children and running a home. Have you ever considered how often you, as a wife and mom in particular, use creativity day-to-day with your kids and in your home? In the meals you serve, the way you decorate, how you dress yourself and your family, the projects you do around the yard, house and with your kids—all of these are creative expressions of yourself—of what inspires you and makes you tick. So how worthy an investment then is the time you steal away to nurture your own heart, mind, and creativity? You’re helping yourself for sure but the dividends get invested right back into your home and family too.

Trust me, your family enjoys a happy, healthy wife and momma a whole lot more than a depleted one—I should know because I’ve been both and the difference I see in my family is staggering.

So if you’re struggling with guilt over making time for yourself, feel creative pursuits are a waste when there’s so much else to do, or just feel burnt-out and depleted in general, I hope you will give yourself permission to pursue something you love. This will look different for everyone—for me it’s this little corner of the internet where I can tap my heart onto the page once a week and connect with like-minds. What is it for you?

I can tell you for sure that sitting here writing and having some time alone to think is the fuel that powers so many of my other creative outlets. Typically by the time Darren leaves with the kids, I have made several threats about never having any more children and burning the house down. By the time he gets back, I’m ready to try again with the whole wife and momma things for another week at least 😉

Go do it. Get a cup of coffee. Give your babies to someone else for a minute and find that inner whatever that sets your heart on fire ❤

On Jesus and Motherhood

I open the dining room curtains to a pink dawn and crisp pre-fall morning. Espresso simmers on the stove top—admittedly the only thing that gets me out of bed some mornings. Laptop and coffee in hand, I slip away into the guest room hoping to eek out a few minutes of writing before my babies wake up.

I think about Jesus, His twelve disciples, motherhood, and social media—a mixed bag of old and new, of timeless truths, and human nature.

The world we live in today begs for attention and thrives on the affirmation of virtual likes, comments, and shares. Likely, people have always looked for this sort of approval in one medium or another regardless of the day in which they lived. But this need for notice and approval seems so very quantifiable today with actual numbers of “followers” and thumbs up to tell you just how popular (or unpopular) and noticed (or unnoticed) you really are. IMG_20170716_093307_819I follow a lot of moms on Instagram and read many a word written by moms of littles just like me. But they aren’t really like me at all, are they? Most of them run their own creative business on the side, are publishing books, homeschool half a dozen children or more, pull the weight of a public ministry, or simply rock life as a domestic diva with a perfectly curated home and gourmet meals on the table. That’s not exactly where I’m at, no not really.

These women challenge and encourage me with their lives and words—that’s why I follow them. But who am I kidding if I don’t admit how small I feel in comparison as I just keep my head above water and am thrilled if I post a few words here each week.

The numbers tell me I’m not like them, that I’m not seen or heard, that in a world screaming for attention, I am silent and invisible, unseen and unheard.IMG_20170808_222639_248 This is where Jesus comes in.

I get stuck in my own head sometimes. Stuck filling my heart with lies instead of truth. I go to social media and try to quantify my purpose and meaning with little thumbs up and numbers of followers. But then I’m reminded, Jesus only had twelve. Twelve “followers”—the small group of men he invested in deeply with his time and words and the few he would send out to further the story he had to tell. Just twelve men.

I look at my life, my home, my husband and two children. It doesn’t seem like much sometimes, my impact in this life and world. What difference can I make when all I can do is keep four people (including myself) alive each day? If I were just one of those women who does it all and is followed by many, then I could make an impact and do something lasting. Then the numbers would tell me I have purpose and influence. The numbers would tell me I matter.

But Jesus…

He invested for a short time in a few, not many. He had twelve followers and that was enough for him. Jesus saw the impact deep investment in a few could make on many. Those twelve men went on to turn the world upside down and spread the gospel message to numbers unquantifiable. My world is small but my people matter immensely. I’m learning to look beyond numbers and to invest deeply and completely in the people and work before me. This isn’t easy, feeling small and unseen in a world shouting for attention. But who I am and what I’m worth is defined by Christ and not my sphere of influence on social media. Social media is fine. Having tons of followers is fine. But numbers are only helpful when they point us to Christ and his work rather than our own fame and glory.

So help me, God, to see you in the people and work before me however small and invisible my life may sometimes feel.

Soli Dio gloria.

What My Children Will Remember

A newborn asleep in my arms. A three-year-old playing at my feet and talking, talking, talking endlessly as he does. I love my children but they aren’t always the best company. I crave conversation and connection—real words with actual grownups.

I feed my daughter with one hand and scroll ad infinitum through my phone with the other. Though I’m endlessly busy at home, I’m bored at the same time. My hands are busy but my heart and mind aren’t engaged in the tasks at hand—changing diapers, cleaning bottles, filling sippy cups, and stacking blocks. My phone becomes an outlet as my heart and mind seek connection with adults and stories beyond the day to day routine of raising a family.IMG_20170822_104305_617But already, little as they are, my children notice my distraction and lack of engagement with their own words and activities. I look away from my phone to find my daughter’s eyes locked on me and I wonder what I’ve missed during this first month of her life while my eyes lingered a little too long and longingly at pretty pictures on Instagram. My son asks a million questions and eventually gets frustrated at my obviously not listening grunts and mmm hmms to his words and stories. He wants me to look up at him. He wants me to get down on the floor and play. He wants me to see him and not just what’s happening on my phone.IMG_20170717_145445_984It’s hard, this busy boredom. This always having more to do and needs to meet than I can possibly manage and yet being lonely and mentally stagnant all the while my hands are full and my feet are moving.

Sometimes I wonder what my children will remember about me when they think back to childhood. What will stand out in their mind from our days together here at home? Will they remember me loving on them and the games we played? Will they hold onto climbing into my lap with a book and reading a story together or the sunny days outside playing in the yard and dirt? Or will they mostly remember me on my phone, looking down and muttering delayed and distracted responses to their words and questions?IMG_20170717_092642_395I think about the things I want my children to love—being outside, reading, exploring, imagining and telling stories. And then I wonder how well they’re learning such things from my living example. How often do I go outside or pick up a book instead of my phone? How often do I explore or tell them a story rather than turning on Netflix for some easy entertainment?

I hate the answer. I’m embarrassed by the truth.

My children are watching, learning, and becoming and there’s no going back on the time already spent. I know I can (and must) do better so I started setting my phone down and picking a book up instead. How I’ve forgotten the pleasure of reading. The words of C.S Lewis pour off the page and I’m mesmerized by his words. My son sees me reading and wants to know what the words say so I read out loud. He brings me story books and we sit and read together.IMG_20170717_145652_951Outside on the porch, I feel the breeze swirling around me, baby snuggled against my chest. My son digs in the dirt, still talking endlessly. I can hear the birds, feel the warmth of sunshine on my skin. Since when was my own backyard so magical, peaceful, and quiet? I’d forgotten how quiet life actually is when you turn off the noise—the phone notifications, the TV, the endless searching for entertainment.

It’s hard sometimes, spending most of my time with little people who can barely communicate when I long for meaningful conversation and connection. But I think I’m starting to realize my children long for those things too—the conversation and connection—and they long for it with me. My son has stories to tell, boy does he. My daughter studies my face, eyes locked on me regardless of whether my gaze is on her or my phone.

These are the days they’ll remember and how they remember them is very much up to me and the example I set.

Starting Over

IMG_20170605_132750_502{He’s pretty sure he still fits in the infant car seat}

In a few weeks we welcome our daughter and transition from a family of three to four. A double stroller sits in the box waiting to be assembled and loaded into the SUV we bought to make room for two car seats instead of one.

Life already seems busy and full and I try to imagine what it will be like adding a newborn to the mix.

I’m excited. And I’m scared.

But I’m not scared about the right things —well, at least not the things I expected to be. I’m not afraid of labor —I know it will hurt and it will be a rough day but it’ll end with holding my baby on the other side.

I’m not afraid of sleepless nights —they’re still rather sleepless as it is and I know the bleary eyed haze of the first few months won’t last forever.

IMG_20170605_133102_598What I’m afraid of is being left behind.

I’m afraid of starting over with a newborn while most of my friends move forward with older kids.

This has been a consistent problem throughout my adult life —this being at a different stage at a different time than most of the people I’m closest to. Right now I stand in the middle with half my friends not having children and the other half with children already in school and decidedly out of the baby/toddler days.

Many of the women around me, even the ones who previously stayed at home, are going back to work as their children are more independent and spend their days at school or other activities rather than constantly at their side.

I like seeing these women find themselves again outside of their children and watching them pursue work and interests they’re excited about beyond the home.

IMG_20170605_132924_571But I’d be lying if I didn’t say it stings a little to watch everyone around me move onto the next step in life while I’m still years away from much beyond newborns and toddler tantrums.

Now I know this is a choice —I choose to stay home with my babies and even being able to make that choice is certainly a privilege. I could find someone to watch my kids while I go back to work but it’s important to me to be home with them for these first few years and we have the freedom to make that choice so that is what I do.

IMG_20170605_133234_951{Just the three of us a little longer}

But just because you believe something is right or best for your family doesn’t make it easy. Nor does it make it any easier to set aside your other hopes and dreams for a time while you focus on something else instead.

I know the day will come, and probably much sooner than it feels like right now, when my babies are taking off to school rather than crying at my ankles about something r.i.d.i.c.u.l.o.u.s. while I try to make dinner. This is but a chapter in the journey and a chapter I will probably often look back at and long for after it’s closed and done.

But today, today just weeks before I begin all over again with a brand new baby, I’m learning the importance of speaking truth to my heart and mind when the temptation is to dwell on fear or being left out while everyone around me moves on.

IMG_20170605_133412_231I need the truth that I’m doing what I’m doing for a reason —this whole making babies and staying home thing —it matters and it matters enough to put other opportunities on hold for a time.

I need the truth that God sees and cares about the life he’s given me and the work I do even if it feels silent and invisible.

I need the truth that babies and children are important —soulful and eternal —and it’s my privilege to influence and shape their tiny souls for a time on their journey back to God and all he desires for them.

I need the truth that life is made up of seasons and this chapter of babies and toddlers is just that —a chapter in the full story I will tell with this life I’ve been given.

I need the truth that God is walking beside me —when I’m tired, discouraged, feeling left out or left behind —God is there and will give me strength and love for each new day until all my days melt into his eternity.

I need the truth that my identity is found in Christ and who he says that I am —not what other people think of me, not what the world thinks of me and the work I do but in Christ and Christ alone. He is enough and I am enough in him.

I need the truth.

I need to daily strengthen my heart and mind with true thoughts to guard against the temptation to believe all the lies swirling around me that would pull me down and leave me defeated.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

It’s Good to Be Home

Life has been a little cray around here lately—and by lately, I mean for months. I spent most of last fall and this winter either not feeling good or trying to catch naps whenever possible thanks to pregnancy. I’m excited to be expecting again so it’s fine and definitely worth it but it also feels like a chunk of my life is missing from those hazy months.

IMG_20170509_103347_440Spring rolled around and we got busy with travel, lots of company coming to visit, and all kinds of miscellaneous crazy. It’s been a fun couple of months packed full of people and places I love—but oh my word, I’m ready for some down time with my boys.

Sunday, my parents packed up and headed home after a two-week visit. We had a great time with them (and everyone else who’s come to visit over the last couple of months). But when Monday rolled around and I sat alone in my quiet house (as quiet and alone as things ever are with a two-year old running around 😉 ), I have to admit, it felt nice to watch the dust settle on my life for a bit. IMG_20170508_204442_403I sat down with my day planner to figure out what’s next and it was really nice to see that nothing major is on the agenda for the next few weeks. I even cancelled a couple things I had planned on doing just to free up the weekends and spend a little extra time enjoying my boys before the next wave of activity hits. IMG_20170509_094322_351These next three (hopefully) quiet weeks feel sacred and I’m doing my best not to add anything unnecessary to our days.

This week its felt nice just to catch up on laundry, go grocery shopping, cook a meal in my kitchen, and sit around the table with my little family. Sometimes I get tired of the routine that comes with being a wife and stay-at-home momma—the endless cycle of laundry, dishes, meals, errands, and diapers. IMG_20170508_204110_747He’s a cute little imp but trust me when I tell you, he’s a holy terror to grocery shop with 😀

But the exhaustion and busyness of the last few months have shown me how valuable and peaceful these little routines can be. When we’re frantically moving from one thing to the next, just trying to keep our heads above water, it’s easier to recognize and crave the value of quiet days at home with the people who matter most.

IMG_20170508_204252_318So for the next few weeks, I’m savoring the quiet and the routine. I’m enjoying the time with my boys and preparing for my baby girl. Life will change tremendously in a couple months when our daughter is born. So until then, I’m holding onto and enjoying life as it is—and not allowing guilt or the American obsession with busyness to distract and pull at me.

Our days are numbered and short. Our people are precious. These are the things I’m keeping in mind and wrapping my heart around today ❤

Winter Bloom

 

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“You don’t have to be blooming to be growing.”

Ruth Chou Simons (@gracelaced.com)

I read these words on instragam recently and have been turning them over in my heart and mind ever since: “You don’t have to be blooming to be growing.”

If there is a single recurring theme in what I write about it’s this: Seasons–both the seasons in nature changing slowly one into the other and the seasons of life doing the same.

img_20161123_100605.jpgI have felt lately that I’m in a rather wintry season of life–one in which there is little color or life on the surface though I know in my heart there is much going on in the roots and soul and parts of life mostly unseen. img_20161017_073043949.jpgI am a momma and a homemaker and my days are spent mostly at home doing work I know matters but presently have little to show for. Someday I will look back and see these days with better clarity and deeper appreciation; I know that.

But today I see the years stretching out before me and I know I have a long time to wait before there are blooms in the work I now do.

dsc_1356Like winter, life and growth are there, quietly beneath the surface in the roots and leaves working away silently until new life and color are revealed in spring.

dsc_1265Someday I will see the fruit of my labor; I believe that. I believe when my grown children stand around me and take off for life on their own I will be proud of how they’ve grown and blossomed and I will not regret the years spent quietly working away on blooms not yet seen.

But these are long days even if the years are short.

dsc_1368dsc_1367Winter sprinkled across our little New England home last week in frost and snow glittering in the morning light. I wrapped Roman in every layer of winter clothes a two-year old can reasonably move in and together we trekked outside to chase the light and magic at our door.

dsc_1354Winter is not my favorite but this frosty magic pulls me out into the cold every time. I couldn’t help but notice how completely nature then reflected what has been growing in my heart–this lesson about life beneath the surface when no blooms are seen.

img_20161115_151323.jpgimg_20161209_111947.jpgThe world looks dead and done but a touch of frost and morning light sets the world on fire and for a fleeting moment we see glimpses of the new life that is to come.

Winter will pass and melt away as any dark season of life does and on the other side we will see what has been happening beneath the surface all along–all the work and waiting will open into long-awaited blooms at last.

dsc_1284dsc_1272dsc_1274But for today, during winter, I have to take heart and remember this is but a season–both in life and nature.

Winter will pass and these long days of motherhood will grow and add up to something bright and blooming too. There is growth and life even if hidden quietly in the heart and soul and not yet seen in the fruit of our hands.

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The Bigger Picture

Today I woke with the morning light spreading across a canvas of crisp blue winter sky. The one advantage of waking early with a little one is watching the sun wake up bright and ready for a new day too. The world looks full of hope first thing in the morning, with new light and new possibilities spreading before us.

For months now Darren has been building the chimney on our house. Day after day, brick after brick he worked away until we were finally able to sit in front of a crackling fire and smell the house filled with that wonderful wood and smoke aroma I love so much in winter.

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I learned something watching him lay brick, watching that same repetitive task done over and over again until something lasting finally took shape:

Life and all we hope to build unfolds slowly, brick by brick, day by day.

When I think about marriage or motherhood or staying home to raise a family, I often get mucked up in a romantic idea of how this big plan of mine is supposed to look. I forget though, that in the moment, day to day, things aren’t likely to look romantic or ideal at all.

I have to remind myself often, more so now in motherhood than ever before, that there is a bigger picture at hand. What I see and often get lost in day to day–the chores and messes and repetitive instruction of a little one–these are but bricks, small pieces of a much grander whole.

When I wash clothes and cook meals and sweep floors, I’m doing more than housework–I’m building a home and making this shell of a house feel like a home. When I kiss, and carry, discipline, and teach my little one–I’m more than babysitting; I’m raising a child who will become an adult who already carries with him an eternal soul. And so this daily work becomes a matter of eternal importance–forever, always, unending importance.

Darren bought a little plant for me at the store the other day. We were choosing paint for the cabinets when I saw a display of brand new succulents–I oohed and ahhd over them until we left with one :]

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I put the little plant on a window sill to sunbathe his way through winter. Today I noticed him sitting there in the morning light and thought what a pretty picture it would be–if it weren’t for the unfinished window trim messing everything up.

I took the picture anyway because it reminded me of this very thing I’m talking about–about the bigger picture and seeing beauty in the mess and unfinished work of life.

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So today I’m trying to stay focused on the long term and reminding myself over and over again that all these small things we do a million times over add up to a whole lifetime in the end.

The point is not so much what I’m doing today in and of itself but what today is helping me build for tomorrow. Bit by bit, brick by brick, I hope I can start to see the value and purpose in the tasks before me today so I may build something lasting and eternal for tomorrow.

Setting the Tone at Home

Roman in windowcrop

The other day I lay on the couch with my baby boy asleep on my chest. I have watched the seasons change and the world go by my living room window holding Roman there while he naps. The hot, sticky summer yielded to fall. Fall shed her gold and red robe of leaves and bowed to winter. Winter yields to no one. Spring is in hiding and I’m afraid, may never have the courage to stand in winter’s stubborn way.
Winter can be beautiful too, occasionally. That day the wind was blowing hard and the clouds were light and billowy and rolling end over end on their way out of town. The sky was deep-sea blue and the sun broke through. But still the snow fell—fell out of nowhere, fell in the sunshine and looked like glittering rain flitting through the light. It was magical, the sunlight and snow and fluffy fast clouds.

That day I drank my coffee hot and foamy instead of cold and dense. I sat and read and jotted some thoughts down on paper. I looked at my son and noticed his one-toothed smile and perfect little giggle.
I tell you all this because I’ve realized something lately: I’m usually too busy and distracted to notice the beauty all around me. Often, I have the living room blinds closed to keep the glare of the sun off the TV and I sit on the couch looking in at Netflix and housework instead of out at nature.

But that day was different. That day I decided to be still and quiet. I turned the TV off and put my phone down. I held my boy and lay there consciously watching the snow and clouds dance outside my window. I realized that I, more than anyone or anything else, set the tone in my home. I stay home full-time which means all day every day I am the one who determines how much TV, media, and noise is allowed in our house. And with that decision, I determine what my son is exposed to in the way of noise and distractions.

Already I’m an example to him and when I sit holding him with the TV on in the background while I scroll through endless feeds on my phone, I’m teaching him the art of distraction rather than of mindful concentration. I’m teaching him to fill his life with noise and motion rather than stillness and silence. What I do now is what I’m teaching him to do later.

If I want him to know how to sit still and play quietly, I need to show him by my actions how those things are done. If I want him to read and love stories, I need to read books myself and read to him. If I want him to love nature and spending more time playing outside than in, then I need to take him outside and show him what a beautifully intriguing world we live in. Just like I can’t eat junk food in front of him all day and expect him to love healthy food, so I can’t fill his environment with noise and distractions and expect him to want anything else.

10967813_10152645679501517_1705059145_n{Reading Anne of Green Gables together}

Sometimes the quiet drives me crazy when I’m home alone all day but I’m learning to be careful about my own need for noise and accidentally instilling that same need in my son. As a mom it’s my responsibility to teach and lead by example and that often means working on my own bad habits and growing myself into the same kind of person I would like my children to be; I can’t have expectations for them that I don’t live up to myself.

This is not just for my baby either; it’s benefited me as well. I’m enjoying the quiet and the peaceful feel our home has when it’s not filled with all the flashing lights and sounds of TV. I’m enjoying the things I notice and can concentrate on when I look away from my phone and at the world and people around me instead. I by no means think all TV and social media are bad, I’m just starting to recognize the ways I’m abusing good things and setting a bad example in the process. I’m learning to love the quiet and to live in that quiet rather than automatically drowning out my thoughts with background noise.

Good living takes discipline. It takes discipline and forethought to eat healthy meals. It takes discipline to sit down and read or to tap out words. It takes discipline to build strong, happy, healthy relationships. And I’m learning too that it takes discipline to manage the noise and distractions that come with our modern way of life, with cell phones and social media.

Every day I have a choice and an opportunity with the way I live, the home I build, the example I set. Each day is a new chance and building block but eventually those blocks add up from a foundation to a structure—so I must ask, what am I building today with this block? What will this house look like and how will I build and grow the people in it? It’s up to me, every day, one day at a time…and every single day and block counts towards the final structure.