The books on the docket for spring are the four of the Torah that I have not yet read. My goal is to thoughtfully consider these four books before June 22nd.
A MOTHER’S DAY DIY AND SERVING LIKE JESUS
The definition of a mother is “one who nurtures life.” There are likely many people in your life who don’t fit the traditional definition of mother, but who work hard to nurture life (super aunts, moms of furry babies, and gardeners). These mothers deserve some recognition on Mother’s Day as well.
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with His love,
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Almost nine years ago, I was walking in the woods behind my house in Tallahassee. The afternoon sun was waning and my infant son was sleeping in his wrap against my chest.
I was walking with Him, too—praying, listening. Suddenly, I felt a presence to my right. With my hand on my baby’s head, I turned my glance and there, in the grey, lifeless setting of the still-wintery woods was one solitary cardinal with his remarkable red feathers standing in stark contrast to the sullen branches that surrounded him.
Before I explain the significance of that cardinal, I need to first describe the many dark weeks that led up to that moment.
A THORNY START TO MOTHERHOOD
In my first pregnancy, I wanted to get everything right—perhaps obsessively so. I read everything I could get my hands on. I went to childbirth classes. I scrutinized every baby item that came into the nursery for appropriate toxicity levels. I felt fully responsible for this baby’s wellness, and I was not going to be caught off guard.
Little Henry was placed on my chest at 1:00 in the morning in a dark hospital room with just one lamp near the delivery table and a small handful of people. He remained in the same spot on my bare chest, precisely where the midwife placed him, for what seemed like twenty minutes. He seemed impossibly delicate, so I hesitated to maneuver his tiny form. In fact, I had to ask my husband to tell me what his little face looked like since I was not ready to move him. All I could do was nervously kiss the top of his gauzy, warm head.
The Lord had sewn a seed in my life—the seed of motherhood. But like the parable of sower who sows the truth of God’s word, Jesus warns us that if the seed is sewn among thorns, what he calls “the cares of this world,” the thorns “choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Mark 4: 18-19, ESV).
As someone prone to anxiety, I found myself wrought with fears as I held this fresh life in my hands and was being trusted with it; these fears were the thorns threatening to choke out a blooming, thriving motherhood.
FIGHTING MY OWN WAY OUT
In those early weeks at home, there were times that I felt safe and calm in my role as a mother, particularly when my baby and I were lying together in bed as he nursed.
But for a good portion of the day, intrusive thoughts about my baby getting hurt would flood my mind. I would try to fight these thoughts with all of my own reasoning and logic, but the darkness would whisper back still, it could happen.
As a result, I began putting irrational behaviors in place. For instance, we lived in a house with a fair amount of ceramic tile, and I would do my best to avoid carrying him over the tile. On walks, I would take his stroller the long way around our local lake instead of crossing over the wooden bridge. And at church, I avoided taking him up to the second balcony of our church, opting for the ground level.
Writing about these behaviors, nine years removed, the irrationality of these fears and behaviors are painfully clear to me. Unfortunately, when powerful fear is paired with the shifting chemicals in the brain after birth, it can be difficult to look at things rationally.
All the while, I felt so downhearted— this was not what my first weeks of motherhood were supposed to look like. God had put the desire for motherhood in my heart and here I was, blessed with the gift of a baby, unable to enjoy any of his newborn days due to the dark fears swarming my mind. Inevitably, I blamed myself for this brokenness: I concluded that I must not be worthy of a peaceful motherhood.
During this time, the extent of my prayer life was a series of laments and desperate demands: Why, God? Why is this happening? Make it stop.
THE FAÇADE OF PEACE
I struggled through probably three full months in this unbearable state while presenting a façade of being well-adjusted to friends and family. But as everyone knows, pretending has a threshold—one can only do it for so long before truth begins to crack its pristine exterior.
Pretending has a threshold
I began to open up to my loved ones about the fears that had overtaken my mind, and I reached out to my doula for a referral to a mental health specialist. She knew of a well-reputed Christian counselor.
I made the appointment. I showed up. I sat waiting in the counselor’s office which was situated underground beneath the public health clinic. I remember being fidgety—scared of what she would say when I told her of my obsessive thoughts about my baby being harmed. Would she find me unfit to be his mother? Would she take him away from me?
Regardless of these concerns, I knew something had to change, so I went into the meeting ready to tell her everything in the hopes of a solution.
The first activity she guided me to complete was to take a piece of paper and in several free-floating circles, I was to write out all of the fears that were consuming me. Shakily, I wrote each one out, even “I’m afraid of my baby being harmed and that it will be my fault.” I held the breath in my chest as her eyes scanned my answers. I braced for her response.
“All of this…” she traced my written fears with her forefinger, “all of these are good.”
Good? Did she not read them closely? How could thoughts like these be good?
“All of these are good because you are a human having human thoughts.”
I wish I could adequately express in words what it feels like for months of utter anguish to dissolve—in the mind, in the body, in the soul. She spoke these words to me: I was still good even if dark and scary thoughts broke through. Suddenly, I felt worthy of healing.
Of course, you and I know that we are always worthy. From the instance God creates us to our final breath, we are worthy because we are His.
We are worthy because we are His
Why had I forgotten that? How had I gotten so off-course? Why had I allowed the evil one destroy the beautiful gift God had given me?
I left that appointment feeling a bit like the invalid near Bethseda before Jesus heals him. Jesus finds the man bemoaning his condition, and asks him a simple question, “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5: 6, ESV). I never actually asked for healing. I complained. I blamed. I demanded it stopped. I took matters into my own hands. But I never trusted He who created me to heal me.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF PRAYER
Newly reminded of my worth as His child, I began to open up a true dialogue with God again. I abandoned the bitter, desperate laments I had previously been hurling at God, and replaced them with space to listen for his guidance.
I stopped asking Why, Lord? And began asking, What now? What do I do next?
He led me to acupuncture and a supplement plan. He led me to journaling and long prayer walks in the woods behind our house.
With my son wrapped tightly against me, I would walk into those woods with my boots pressing onto fallen leaves and my heart pressing into Him. I would ask Him questions and listen for answers.
THE AFTERNOON HE MET ME
This brings us to the cardinal.
I don’t think I can adequately describe the feeling that overcame me when I saw that cardinal looking directly my way in the barren woods.
It stood with such stillness—such steadfastness—and yet such presence, and I knew it was sent for me. I felt God in that moment. It was as if the cardinal was sent to remind me of the nearness and constancy of our God even when our surroundings appear bleak. The message I got was that He had always been with me and that He would always be with me. Don’t forget me in your trials, He seemed to say; I am here. I always will be near you.
Eyes full of tears—absolutely overwhelmed by this visceral message, I kissed my sleeping son’s head just like when I first met him, except this type of kiss was not as a frantic substitute in the midst of fear. The kisses on that afternoon meant we’re going to be okay.
ROOM TO BLOOM
The thorny fears that I had been unintentionally feeding began to dry up and fall away. The seed of motherhood that God had planted finally had room to bloom.
I began seeing cardinals everywhere: several in the trees that arched above my head while I pushed the stroller down our street; one perched on the wooden cross that stood outside of our neighborhood church; and one—as unlikely as it sounds–on the cover of the bible study packet that I gripped in disbelief when I joined a local young parents’ group.
Each scarlet-clothed visitor acted as a reminder to let the fears pass through and to hold fast to His promise that He was by my side. His plans are to give me “a future and a hope…not for evil” (Jeremiah 29:11, ESV).
I always loved my son, but now I was able to enjoy him and embrace motherhood in the way God intended.
A SEASON REDEEMED
It did not take long for God to use my incredibly difficult season to bear fruit for others. Having gone through such a difficult transition into motherhood myself, I began to notice the signs of new mothers who were quietly struggling. One of the telltale signs is when an active participant on social media suddenly drops off her handle in radio silence. True, new mothers are busy and tired. But I knew from experience that one who finds herself pretending is often too exhausted for online presence.
In those cases, I would send the new mother a message—not a prying message, but one of confession: “I know the newborn days can be tough and I had some dark ones. Want to talk on the phone?” I would detail the hardest parts of that season, and inevitably, the mother in question would respond that yes, she was struggling, too.
My season of suffering suddenly had purpose.
God was able to use me and my broken experience to begin the healing of other moms in distress. I remember hearing their sobs of confusion, which rang so familiar, and would stay on the phone with each one until she found her way to the moment of relief–it’s not only me. And I will get through it.
I now have three sons whom I am able to love without shaky hands or nervous kisses. All of the new mothers with whom I shared my confession now have multiple children of their own and are thriving in their roles.
And the greatest outcome of all? I learned to turn my face toward Him in difficult times. I still have seasons of anxiety, but I listen to His directions, and He guides me out.
In 1 Peter, we learn that the testing of our faith is like gold being refined in fire— the act itself is not pleasant, but we emerge shiny, new entities—ones that reflect the image of our Refiner all the more.
Whenever I fly back to Florida and visit those woods, I walk through its quiet paths and feel its sacredness as a place of rebirth for me. There He met me and has sustained me since.
with His love,
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P.S. I never really do this, but I am going to share a slew of photos of Henry (and me) over the years. In them is proof that God truly redeems even the darkest of seasons.
In poem 28 of her “Nature” collection, Emily Dickinson writes this of autumn:
The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown;
The berry’s cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town.
The maple wears a gayer scarf,
The field a scarlet gown.
Lest I be old fashioned,
I’ll put a trinket on.
I’ve always loved this poem. Perhaps I love it because Emily and I share one key thing here: a desire to delight in the bold colors of the autumn season by dressing in equally festive attire.
The temperatures are finally starting to drop here, and fall clothing lines are hitting the stores. While many probably don’t think much about clothing lines in autumnal colors, I have had to plan for this occasion so as to maintain the self-control Paul refers to in Galatians 5.23.
Let me back up. For me, clothes have always served more than utility; for me, clothes are a creative expression.
While some people are strongly affected by musical sounds, and others by scent, I have always been incredibly color-driven.
Expressing myself through color sometimes takes the form of paint and brush, sometimes takes the form of decorating my window box, but most often, it takes the form of curating a wardrobe that reflects the colors that are speaking to me.
There is nothing inherently wrong with creative expression. We desire to create because we were made in the image of the One who created all things.
There is nothing inherently wrong with creative expression.
Where a love for clothing can go wrong, however, is in a few different ways:
When certain brands of clothing are worn as an indication of wealth and status in hopes of inciting envy or jealousy
When money that should be tithed or spent in a charitable way is used to purchase unnecessary clothing
When clothing has become an idol in terms of sheer amount amassed
When extended amounts of time that could be spent in communion with God is spent thinking about and desiring more clothing
Though I can’t say I struggle much with the first one, I have definitely had to take a hard look at my own love of clothing in terms of the other three.
So, over the years, I have put a few measures in place to keep my love of clothing in check.
PROBLEM: WHEN MONEYTHATSHOULD BE TITHED OR SPENT IN A CHARITABLE WAY IS USED TO PURCHASEUNNECESSARYCLOTHING
Budgeting is all about choosing how money is spent. If more money is spent on X, there is less for Y. Impulse buying is one of the fastest ways to upset a budget. If too much impulse buying occurs, and it’s time to give charitably to disaster relief—or buy a meal for someone struggling—these fruitful acts are sacrificed for the dress already hanging in the closet.
Making my fall wardrobe feel new can curb shopping for fun
I’ve noticed that I impulse-buy the most when seasons change. As I mentioned earlier, when the new fall line drops in all those autumnal colors, my will gets weak.
One strategy that helps is to segment my wardrobe into fall/winter and spring/summer. When the weather moves from one to the other, I take my out-of-season clothes and tuck them away underneath the bed in a rolling tub.
Pulling out the clothes for the new season can be as exciting as a shopping trip which helps me substitute it as such.
Be sparing and mindful about “trendy” items
My rule-of-thumb when it comes to purchasing clothes is to spend very little on trendy pieces; instead, I try to invest in classic, well-made pieces that will last for many years.
But trends can be fun, so I don’t rule them out entirely. I just have to be judicious about trendy items.
This fall, I want to see if I can turn some pants I found secondhand into some trendy wide-leg crop pants (stay tuned).
And speaking of secondhand…
Shop secondhand so not to compromise the budget
The first 10% of my paycheck goes straight to God. He has given me everything I have, and it’s all His anyway.
Once the bills are paid, and we cover food and gas, there is not always a lot left in the checking account for clothes. But I have found that I can find great items when I buy secondhand.
This fall, I decided to invest in a pair of high-waist flare jeans as a staple for the fall and winter months (and, ideally, for years to come).
I did some casual looking online and found a pair of Anthropologie jeans on Poshmark for $40 (retail $128).
Poshmark is an online secondhand store that is individually based: anyone with an account can list an item of clothing for sale, and the buyer completes the transaction when the item arrives as described.
On the other hand, ThredUp is a different model, but another great online secondhand shop that I have used for years. ThredUp takes mail-in bags of clothes from sellers and lists them, consignment-style, on the website. ThredUp does accept returns, and offer a rewards program for frequent shoppers. Buyers can even filter the search for “new with tags” in hopes to score some good deals (these items are probably retail overflow).
Keep in mind that money not spent on clothes may find a more fruitful avenue
In the parable of the rich young man in Matthew 19, Jesus tells him that in order to gain eternal life, he must keep the commandments. And when the young man presses further, Jesus adds that to be perfect, the man should sell all of his earthly items and give them to the poor and set out to follow Jesus. And though we don’t know what the young man in the parable ultimately chose (we infer that he doesn’t sell his riches because he goes away from Jesus sorrowfully), we can heed the message: rather than living in riches, we should use the equity of such to help those who have less than us.
Maybe that means donating the baby’s crib to a family in need instead of saving it for sentimental purposes.
Maybe that means asking for a smaller Christmas gift for oneself in order to sponsor a family who won’t have any Christmas gifts.
I’m likely preaching to myself more than to my readers, here, but I believe maintaining perspective with our money is a powerful, holy tool.
PROBLEM: WHENCLOTHING HAS BECOME AN IDOL IN TERMS OF SHEER AMOUNTS AMASSED
Clothing is truly something we need, to a certain extent. Learning to parse out what we coulduse for the upcoming season versus what we are tempted to accumulate is an important practice.
Creating a purchase plan as a measure of self-control
Paul tells us that one of the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit is self-control: the ability to resist temptations and desires (Galatians 5.23, ESV).
If I go into the fall retail season without a plan, I can find myself not even realizing how much shopping I am doing—casually grabbing an item of clothing every time I go to Target, for instance.
A more mindful, self-controlled approach is to pull out my fall/winter items as the season is beginning, and write down a careful shopping list for the seasons.
Here is my shopping list for this fall:
High waisted flair jeans (purchased—the ones I snagged secondhand and mentioned earlier)
1 hair scarf in fall colors
A belt bag or mules using my Madewell gift card from last Christmas (self control!)
Allowance for an inexpensive “fun” purchase
And here is what I am planning for winter:
Two plain long-sleeved tees
One hair scarf in Christmas plaid
Allowance for an inexpensive “fun” purchase
I like to add that last one to each list because, occasionally—albeit rarely—I will stumble upon an item I hadn’t planned for that seems tailor-made for me. I don’t want to be so legalistic that I don’t ever get to enjoy sound purchases.
But having a list and practicing self-control means I am buying wisely and making sure I am not using more of my family’s budget than allotted.
Do not store up; let unused items go
Jesus directs us explicitly in the matter of collecting fine things:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, or where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven… For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also
Matthew 6.19-21, ESV
First off, right there in Jesus’ command is a logical reason against hoarding textiles: the most expensive, most coveted garment can be taken down by a single moth. Why place our value on something so easily destroyed? It makes no logical sense.
But more importantly, Jesus tells us that the state of our hearts is reflected in what we pour our attention and funds into.
PROBLEM: WHENEXTENDEDAMOUNTS OF TIME THAT COULD BE SPENT IN COMMUNION WITH GOD IS SPENT THINKING ABOUT AND DESIRING MORE CLOTHING
Though the tips I have mentioned definitely help curb impulse-buying and hoarding, there comes a point in which the time spent hunting for clothes should be considered.
Yes, I am a bargain-hunter, but at what point does the bargain-hunting take up too much time?
Time for a shopping fast?
For Lent this year, my friend Michelle (you may have caught her Sips & Scripts chat in July) and I decided to refrain from purchasing any items of clothing. For some of you, this all sounds silly— 40 days without purchasing clothes? Easy.
But Michelle and I made that decision for a reason. Clothing has a draw and an appeal to me that I do find hard to resist. If I ever feel that draw starting to get out of control, it’s time to pull back and prove to God that I don’t need to strive for more earthly items. He is all I need.
I don’t need to strive for more earthly items. He is all I need.
Flex creativity in the styling, not in the purchasing.
There are so many ways to give an existing item of clothing a fresh look. I’m reminding myself to take some of my warm weather pieces and re-mix them for the cool weather:
If I hadn’t had a 6-year-old photographer for these pics, you might have been able to see my fall outfit with booties. But what can I say? He works for hugs and cookies.
When we keep our gaze off “new” and “more,” we find contentment in what we already have.
And perhaps the most important strategy of all:
Stay in the Word to keep the gaze on heaven, not on earth
As I round out Paul’s letters and move toward Hebrews, so many of his words speak to just this topic. Just this morning, I read these words:
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.
1 Timothy 6.6-7, ESV
We will leave the world with naked palms unfurled and empty. Our belongings will be sold at an estate sale, or perhaps passed on to those who will ultimately pass them on as well.
Let us use our earthly items with gratitude, but let us not grasp them tightly.
A tight grasp is intended for the right hand of God.
I was tagged by my new friend, Barb, from My Life in our Father’s World, to share 10 things that make me happy. Here they are in no particular order:
1. Crepe Myrtle Blossoms in Hot July
It’s always a little melancholy to see a green, lush spring front yard die with the summer heat. But every late June/early July, our crepe myrtle trees come alive with these pink blossoms. It’s one of my favorite places to pray.
2. Community rock projects
Whether it is the hide-and-find community game or a rock garden like the one pictured above, the boys and I had fun painting and delivering rocks. It’s something to do when so many places are closed to the public.
3. Meeting Christian Women through this platform
We all know social media has its drawbacks, but one of my favorite perks is that I am able to meet other Christian women from around the nation (or globe!) who are in different walks of life from me. Kindness can still be felt through our screens, and connection can still be made.
4. Coffee with my cousin
The first Sips & Scripts featured my cousin, Kim, who has been the blog’s biggest supporter from the first day it launched. She and I have gotten into the habit of letting the five kids run around my house while we enjoy an iced coffee together. These visits are recharging for the mamas and the kiddos alike.
5. Hair scarves
I don’t seem to have a good picture of me with a hair scarf, so I pulled these from my stories. Ever since containment started, I’ve quit straightening my hair so much and let it air dry; the curls have really sprung up. I like tying a hair scarf with my updo for summer.
6. Story time with Papa
My parents live in Florida, and my brother and his family live in Georgia— it’s rough having them so far away. My dad (the boys’ Papa) has been reading to his grandkids from Treasure Island twice a week. It’s nice to hear his voice and see the sweet faces of my niece and nephew. And yes, Papa is wearing a pirate bandana.
7. My Supportive Work Environment
I am an educator who spent many years in the college classroom teaching rhetoric and composition; but since having my last son, I have opted for a different role with less of a demand on my time. I work with a team of five other coordinators who run a support service for the college. We get to work alongside incredible college students, and our center has fostered a wonderful culture of support and encouragement. I love being a part of it.
8. Swimming with family
Anyone who knows me knows that fall has been my favorite season even since I was young. But I must say, having kids has really made summer move up on my list. The long evenings, grandma’s homemade vanilla ice cream, and the squeals of my kids as they play in the pool have given me new appreciation for what is our most difficult season in terms of weather (we exceed 110 degrees each summer and sometimes 115). My husband loves being in the water, and we are excited for our above-ground pool to be installed next week!
9. The Pup with the Cookies ‘N Cream Paws
I pulled into our cul-de-sac one afternoon as I was driving my oldest son home from a birthday party, and there in the driveway was a tiny black pup, whose head entirely covered by the baseball cap my middle son had just put on her. She had been brought home without my knowledge. I spent a whole two minutes being exasperated with my husband, but once she was in my arms, it was over. She’s been a part of the family ever since. She does well with our 12-year-old dog, Lady, who has slowed down quite a bit this year. But she truly delights in having young boys to play with—she found the right home.
10. Morning snuggles with my youngest
My last-born is my calmest child in terms of energy. While the other two pop off the pillow more quickly, this one takes his time waking up and is content being held for 20…30 minutes when he wakes up. Since I don’t have to rush out the door to work anymore, I can to indulge him (and me, let’s be frank) in long morning snuggles. He will never be this little again. I take it all in, letting my hands and my heart make carbon copies of his tiny-ness and his sweetness.
It would be a great failure on my part to accept this happiness without offering thanks to the source. God, every one of these things has come from your hand, and I am so grateful.
with His love,
PS. I tag these new friends to post about 10 things: