Redemptive Motherhood

The Futility of Making Plans

A photo a week throughout 2019: our family, just as we are. 4/52

I’m returning to the Write 31 Days series I started, but never finished, in 2017. Redemptive Motherhood: How My Children Have Changed Me is pretty much a chronological exploration of how we welcomed child after child into our family, and it is a personal goal and longing for me to write down and preserve the rest of these stories. You’re welcome to read the first half of the series, or jump in right where I’m at, beginning with this story of discovering I was pregnant with our third child.


He was a chunky little fellow with rolls upon rolls filling out his limbs, and a resting stern-face which was pretty funny for a kid of his age. He was just under a year, and his older sister was two and a half years of spunk and wonder, never without her eyes wide open and a few stray curls sticking out in odd directions; a perfect reflection of her wild imagination and quirky personality. It was an especially simple and beautiful time—our young family camped out in a two-bedroom apartment on the third floor of graduate family housing complex while Daddy was living the grad school life. The kids and I lived our own version of it, spending long hours just the three of us trying to pass the time Daddy was at the University without losing our minds. Or maybe that was just me. 

I hadn’t quite figured out how to be out and about with both kids regularly. Logistics were not in my favor. Our front door could only be accessed by stairs, and getting little people, any bags with supplies or groceries, and my tired mama-self up and down those three flights was no small task. We kept a small stroller in the trunk of our little tiny sedan in the distant parking area because we couldn’t store or move a larger stroller between the apartment and the car, and it was in that season that grocery shopping became a family affair because I simply couldn’t do it—with the kids—by myself. I hadn’t yet figured out how to pack a reasonable-size bag of toddler supplies and snacks that could just live in the car, or easily sling over my shoulder, so we mostly stayed home. 

I have sweet memories of those days, but I also remember being bored out of my mind, longing for connection, intellectual stimulation, or any small escape from the mind-numbing mom-of-toddlers-stuck-on-the-third-floor thing I had going on. 

Everything felt hard. 

Life on a graduate school stipend in an expensive city is not exactly a recipe for financial success.

We were thrifty and economical, spending exactly zero unnecessary dollars, mostly because we didn’t have any. We had food, and our cozy little home, each other…and not much else. 

We had every intention of waiting a few years before trying to have another baby. We had one boy, one girl, and it was the first time of many we would have an even boy-girl split, the picture-perfect family and according to some, many sensible reasons to not have any more children. Given the length of the grad program we were there for, we discussed savoring life with our two fun little people, finishing school, and then—maybe later down the road—we might have one or two more kids. once we were settled and on a profitable career path. It’s funny to think about it now. 

I would say, I was generally happy with how things were going. It felt stressful to navigate the needs of a blossoming family, but we had a plan, and at the time, I put a lot of hope in that plan.

Somewhere in mid-February 2009, I slipped into a funk. I was exhausted, feeling kind of blue, and unable to shake a stewing, brewing, smoldering frustration with life. I shared with a friend that I was really struggling to find motivation to even move.

“Are you pregnant?” she asked. 

“No way,” I said without hesitation. Pregnancy was the last thing on my radar, and we had been very actively and carefully avoiding it since my cycle had returned.

“Are you sure?” she repeated, and I am pretty sure I looked at her like she had two heads. 

I was really sure—until I saw the pink lines that proved otherwise.

I could not believe it. I didn’t want to believe it. I was seized with fear about how we would survive, as we were already spread as thin as I could imagine. I questioned why God would allow such a preposterous thing to happen at this juncture of our lives. Didn’t He know we were at our max for the season? Didn’t He know we had a really great plan to do this…later?

For several months, I wrestled with the reality of having a third child well before we planned to. I was eager to welcome and love the child, but not too happy about the timing, and not too sure how on earth we would manage.

As I look back on that season, I can see exactly what God was up to. 

He was giving us the very best surprise of our lives. That child remains a delight and a gift in the greater dynamics of our family, and that pregnancy tipped off a number of dominos that led us to wrap up grad school early, move back to the Pacific Northwest, and so many other details that have unfolded beautifully in our lives since that time. 

“The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.”
~Proverbs 16:9

I still like to make plans. Having a plan helps me sort out a sense of vision for where I’m headed, and a sense of peace in knowing that when decisions fall in my lap, I’ll know how to navigate them according to plan. But I am much more comfortable than I once was with the reality that many things are out of my control. As I’ve seen blessing after blessing unfold in our lives, I have become convinced that control is overrated…sometimes the ride, the surprise, and the unexpected bring about better things than I could have imagined. 


1491. generous wise input on a shift in direction, 1492. a lemon gift, 1493. (multiple) rooms full of sweet friendships, 1494. collaborative brainstorming, 1495. dental cleaning, 1496. hand-me-down baby boy clothes, 1497. outsourcing chores, 1498. clarity, 1499. homeschool planning, 1500. the abundance of comfort in Christ

A Servant’s Heart

Day 14 ~ A Servant’s Heart

I look at disheveled spaces within my house and feel instantly (and repeatedly) overwhelmed. The jobs are mine, but I don’t want to do them. A surge of resistance wells up, followed by a momentary feeling of panic that I might not be able to beat the mess. For me, clutter feels like an actual monster that swallows my willpower in one gulp. I’ve never been especially good at keeping things tidy, which I blame on the fact that I seem to be missing the natural ability to put physical things in order. Nearly all of my energy pours into kids and creative spaces instead. It is energy well-used, but for certain, at the expense of a peaceful, well-ordered home.

Some people seem to have a knack for it. They have no emotional response to tidying keeping them from whipping items from one location to a more appropriate space. Without even thinking, they clear down a mess with methodical intention and astounding efficiency. My oldest son is one of these people. Every day I find him in a new corner of the house, intent on setting order to a small space thriving on the satisfaction of a job done well. The child is a gift to me; a rescue even. Without his help, I would be drowning even more than I already am.

He’s not a flawless person, by any stretch, but he is a servant, and I’ve learned many things from him about serving well. He is able to do work that needs to be done (with only minimal whining about the fact that no one else in the house can match his efficiency and focus). He is not deterred by challenges, not derailed by other pursuits, and not one to let others get out of their responsibilities without speaking up about it. He’s a leader in training.

He does have personality traits that clash with mine sometimes, but most often that clash results in sharpening for both of us. I see good in it.

Some observations I’ve made and stored away in my mama-heart about leadership and service while watching him work:

Leadership is important, but service is the lynchpin of influence. Leaders who do not serve and only spout orders do not command the same respect as leaders who join in a task and encourage along the way. Leaders who act like they are too good to do a job (and I’m even talking about parents here) miss the opportunity to bolster their own authority in the eyes of their constituents. When you get in the game as a servant, you gain a level of influence that is not otherwise available. It builds trust, grows confidence, strengthens bonds and forges respect.

Servant leaders put their energy into work done well alongside others instead of wasting energy on trying to look good (or trying to comparatively look better than others).

And finally, I’ve been pondering the distinction between helping and serving. They may seem like the same thing, but I assure you, they are different.

The satisfaction in helping hinges on the response of the person you’ve helped. Just think, if you help someone and they criticize something about what you’ve done, it most often sticks in a resentful space of the heart.

However, if you’re serving someone, which in-action might look exactly the same as helping, except it doesn’t come with the same strings. You offer yourself without expectation of what you might get out of it (even that satisfying feeling of helping), and you are also free of the burden to manage how the other party feels about you. Serving is about selflessness and honoring those who you serve without expecting something in return.

As I think about how this applies to my life as a mom, and while I could explore this idea for hours, at the bottom line, I think it helps me to see myself as a servant and embrace the reality that I am not too good for the humble tasks of my home. It is my honor to sacrifice and serve these little ones around me, and I need not waste my energy worrying about achieving an A+ for my housekeeping, only that I faithfully keep at doing what I can to make our house a home. I still do the jobs, and I still struggle through them, but with a helper and a few good tunes to liven the mood, there isn’t much that can keep me from showing my kids the way to servant leadership–by example.

1421. successful escape from the sugar monster + new (healthier) cravings, 1422. slippers from christmas, 1423. my new self-care corner, 1424. seating for all in our living room, 1425. successful series on KM, 1426. some earlier bedtimes and early productive mornings, 1427. sweet exchanges with my love, 1428. positive visit to a new church, 1429. grieving seasons as they change, 1430. new nail polish (thanks natalie)

Look at Your Brother

Day 13 ~ Look At Your Brother

If you ask me, the pecking order of siblings, the constant bickering and squabbling over tiny things is a torturous way to sort out your place in the world. Or maybe it just tortures mothers. At any rate, I have two sons that are adept at finding the one thing that will make the other squeal in protest at the injustice committed against them, and this exchange happens multiple times a day, most days at our house.

For many years now, I have been conflicted about how to handle this scenario with them. It drives me bonkers, so most of the time simply letting them sort it out isn’t an option. After all, we have mama’s sanity to think about. I’ve disciplined with time-outs, assigning chores, loss of privileges, and many other things but nothing seems to get us to a point where they will actually regard each other with respect. It wears on me, patience-wise, but it also saddens me to see my boys–who are surrounded by a loving family–push, shove, and jostle their way to receive what they think they’re entitled to or attempt to have power over each other.

I try to think about what is going on under the surface, asking myself why their immature minds always seem convinced that, “if I want to be top dog, I have to step on the face of the other guy.” I know that some of what is going on is normal–and maybe even good for them as they learn how to navigate giving and taking, sharing and setting boundaries under the watchful eyes of parents who care–but earlier this year, they went through a stretch of brother-bickering that had my patience rolled so thin, I was ready to snap.

Both boys come to me, crying–one holding his arm around the bicep, the other with a hand tucked under his arm to shield some kind of minor injury on his trunk. They are at an impasse that has turned physical, and they are each squawking their cases to me about who did what and why their own actions were justified.

I’ve heard it so many times. I take in a deep breath instead of letting my sharply-risen anger out. I ask God for help because I’m so over this recurring issue cropping up day-in and day-out. I can discipline to modify behavior all day (and often do), but I’ve clearly not been reaching their hearts. Help. What to do?

I’d love to call it a stroke of brilliance, but it is more likely to be attributed to God’s swift answer to my prayer.

“Look at your brother,” I say to both of them sharply. “Turn and look at each other’s faces.”

They shuffle a bit, standing face-to-face about 2 feet apart, each still holding his wound and sporting a low-hanging head and eyes barely lifted to obey my command.

I let an awkward pause hang in the air. One tries to look away.

“Look at your brother,” I repeat. “Look in his eyes. Do you know what an incredible person you are looking at? Do you know what a special thing it is to have a brother?”

They are both reluctant to look, but they oblige me. Stubborn is out to play and we share a few tense moments where I am trying to proceed slowly–looking for a way to their hearts–and they are each trying to decide whether they are going to hold their offenses or set them down.

“Do you see what you have done to your brother?” I ask gently. “Do you know that you guys could be an awesome team that encourages and supports each other instead of fighting all the time?”

More silence. More internal debates worked out on their faces.

“Look at your brother’s goofy smile.”

They both crack and smile and drop their offenses against each other, following with repentance and forgiveness. I explain that each one of them is responsible for their own actions and what they do affects other people, whether or not they think it does.

I will say, I don’t necessarily think this method fixes everything–as evidenced by our still-present brother squabbles–but I do think having to face one’s brother and look him in the eye makes it more difficult to justify one’s own poor behavior. Acknowledging a person’s humanity–and ultimately a person’s value–begins with looking them in the eye.


1411. being done with christmas shopping well before christmas, 1412. mild seattle winter days, 1413. kids making clay crafts, 1414. big baby snuggles, 1415. a night out with my guy, 1416. many voxer friends, 1417. a quiet month of not too many activities, 1418. writing day with a friend, 1419. seeing the generosity of others, 1420. crock pot dinner freedom

Digging Up the Weeds

Day 12 ~ Digging Up the Weeds

I’m at my wit’s end. For weeks, I have been holding back tears (sometimes unsuccessfully) over the whining voices, the incessant squabbles, the ungrateful attitudes, and the back-talk.

All the kids are doing it, but one, in particular, leads the way—agitating the others, catalyzing the conflicts, and generally trying to run the house at 9 years old.

He’s got all the makings of a great leader, but the expression of that within our family system is often challenging. He contests my authority daily, tries to negotiate his way through any circumstance where negotiation is possible (re: all the time), attempts to manage and monitor his siblings, and lacks empathy and kindness in his interactions with them most of the time.

All of this behavior is relatively unseen by anyone outside our family. In public, he is often complimented for his helpful and attentive behavior toward others, but in private, it’s not always quite as rosy.

I know he has the potential for true greatness (which I have pegged as leadership with a servant’s heart) and glimpses of a future that surely involves success of some variety.

I also imagine the terrifying prospect of his obvious leadership ability being nefariously misdirected as he grows. Right now, the stakes are not quite as high as they will be in a few years.

There are so many times I feel lost about how to parent this boy. It is a conundrum. I love him for who he is, and in the same breath, I can’t let him run our home at the expense of the other seven people who live here. Some days it takes every ounce of my attention, love, discipline, and patience to keep him moving in a positive direction. Some days, my boiling-over frustration comes out in the form of yelling and emphatic, incensed speech.

We have slogged through a particularly challenging summer full of sibling animosity (largely at the bidding of this one child), and I’m starting to feel desperate for a change, or even a marginal improvement of the constant bickering. I have employed every trick I can think of to stave off the fighting. I’m worn down to the point of staring blankly when yet another sibling squabble erupts in front of me, started by the aforementioned child. Behind my irritated expression, I stew a furious mess of emotions that I keep to myself, for the moment. He complains about his brother without taking any responsibility for his own actions. According to him, it’s always someone else’s fault. Of course, it is. 

I close my eyes, draw in a slow breath, and long for an easy way out of this stretch of parenting because I’m not sure I have it in me to be patient or calm.  Help me, Jesus. 

I have to do something to help us change course, but I don’t know what. I feel like I’ve tried everything, and nothing has worked. My eyes dart around the house in search of some way to ensure a small reprieve from the bickering. Work gloves. Weeds. Outside.

I snap up the gloves with determination to help my son start in a new direction with a little time outside in the yard. I have no idea what we’re going to do out there (I’m not a yard person) but I have to try something. I can’t continue this daily pattern of discord. Fortunately, my husband is home and I can leave the other kids in his care.

We arrive at the dandelion haven outside our front door. An eager crew of children has spread the dandelion seeds across the lawn on many “wish-blowing” occasions, and those seeds have now sprouted up. As we have sown, so we are reaping. The bright yellow, feathery blossoms brushing against my legs, and even though I’ve passed by this stretch of our property dozens of times this week, I see for the first time just how many dandelions there are. It’s been a month since the last mow, and these weeds have vigorously taken over the yard.

Who knew that if you let weeds grow where they land, they multiply at an alarming rate?

We find a dense patch and sit down. At first, I think I’m going to watch him do the task. I’m still wound up from weeks of the challenging behavior he’s displayed, and what I really want is an instant change without any fuss. It’s just not reality. Within a few minutes, I realize my son needs me to set my annoyance aside and yank out the weeds alongside him.

He needs my instruction and my example. He needs my encouragement and my help staying focused. As we sort out the mess of this yard, I realize our hearts–his and mine–are both full of things that need to be dealt with. We are both in need of God’s transformative work in us.

He is bright, interesting, and delightful–and he is also selfishness, prideful, and occasionally mean-spirited. Me? I’m a good mom: attentive, caring, and committed. I am also irritable, short-tempered, and sometimes impatient. In the fabric of every person’s character, there are flaws mixed in with all the good; flaws that hinder relationship if not addressed honestly. We each have to account for our own actions and choose a different route.

Children are individuals, and the fabric of their personhood deserves respect and care. I recognize my children will also become who I influence them to be. I can’t afford to ignore the ways they require my love and leadership, even when it feels inconvenient or frustrating. They need me to be in the dirt with them, present and patient through the ups and downs. If I am too distant or distracted, I can’t help them recognize or reach their potential. If I raise too high a standard, and I’m not there to help them reach it, they will lose heart and quit trying.

So this is my resolve: I will be close. I will be present and engaged. I will instruct, encourage, and lead by example. This is the work of an intentional mama—digging up the weeds.

For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” Galatians 6:8

Strength and Resolve

Day 11 ~ Strength and Resolve

Outside, sheets of rain pelt the ground, the extra runoff from the roof transforming our eaves into urban waterfalls.

Inside, we are at an impasse. It is me: worn down mama, my husband: still in damp clothes from his wet journey home after work, and my son: lionhearted boy that he is—screaming at the top four-year-oldear old lungs.

All day, we have been locked in conflict. I give directions, he immediately contests my authority or attempts to negotiate the situation to his advantage, every time. There is no easygoing compliance like I’m accustomed to from his older sister. In fact, there is no easy-anything if I have “poked the bear” as they say.

The more I discipline, the more he resists. So here we are, me in tears, my four year old screaming at me with fire in his eyes, and my husband trying to sort out what to do next since he just walked in on this mess.

I am exhausted, frustrated, and tears are spilling out of me because I am convinced I am a total boy-mom failure, and I imagine my child one day being in prison, or standing at a podium giving impassioned speeches as the tyrant dictator of a small country. You know; all the worst-case scenarios a worried mom constructs in her mind when things aren’t going well.

He is a brazen, demanding child who seems to be against me at every turn, stirring up my anger in a serious way.

When this behavior started to escalate at age 3 (upon the discovery of a small measure of personal independence), our power struggles began. In his eyes, everything in our home should be done his way.

Unfortunately for him, that is not how I see it. I have tried everything under the sun to change his behavior, but it hasn’t turned out as I hoped. Many of our days are strong-willed-child-meets-authoritatively-frustrated-mama.

Now, I am one stubborn chick myself, so there isn’t any railroading this mom, but I’ll tell you what, not many things will tear at the tender part of your heart as when your young child says something so hurtful, you can’t keep your poker face. On this particular day, he says:


It’s a power grab, but a hurtful one, and he finds the button that puts me over the edge. I lose track of my brave face and cave on the inside.

Upon hearing his demands, my husband swings the front door open and retorts in his most serious dad-voice, “If that’s what you want, son, go find one.”

The rain is still sheeting down along with my own tears, and the boy’s face has fallen in disbelief that his dad is now (seemingly) taking his threat seriously.


This scene is on the extreme side of what I experienced on a semi-regular basis with my first son through his preschool years. From the beginning, he has been a leader, and his presence is probably the most influential in the family, as much as I would wish differently sometimes. If he is having a great day, we’re all having a great day. If he’s on a power trip, we’re all on the miserable ride. It is such an interesting phenomenon to me, because as far as I can tell—from years of observation and experimentation—there is no way to change this dynamic.

I have tried and tried to discipline him into compliance, and I will say, the vast majority of disciplinary techniques have not achieved the desired or intended result. If I discipline on the hard line, he positions himself against me, digs in his heels, and will not budge. When I have tried to extract respect and obedience from him by bending him to my will in an an authoritative manner, I always come up short of what I really want, which is ultimately his heart.

The very greatest gift to me is when my children respond to me with an attentive, teachable heart, and authoritarianism is not the way to get there. For a long time, I saw his behavior as a personal attack on me. I mean, it’s hard not to when a kid tells you they want a new mom after you’ve given it your best, but over time, I have learned that it is not my son’s foremost intention to disrespect me (even though it looks that way).

I have learned that although he is highly intelligent, he is not easily able to identify or talk about his feelings—a personality trait he inherited from his father. It takes a gentle approach and thoughtful questions to draw out what is really going on inside him, and more often than not, he is looking for a measure of autonomy that allows him to flex and work his leadership muscles as they develop. Sometimes his outbursts are his way of asking for an opportunity to show me how capable he is. He does really well when I give him responsibilities and challenges that meet him at his level, as long as I take a few steps back and give him the room to tackle things his own way.

Even though it hasn’t been easy to weather the rough patches, the truth is he has been a sharpening force in my life. We have needed each other. He has needed me to set and enforce consistent boundaries without being hyper-emotional. I have learned some powerful lessons about what it looks like to rise to a challenge. In the past when I’ve encountered difficult things, I have begged God to bring me relief, or to supernaturally make things easier on me because it was all just so hard. I wanted a way to escape the struggle and get to a smooth stretch of the road, but I now see that God doesn’t usually deliver me from trouble like that. Instead, He refines and grows my character, giving me opportunities to cultivate patience and perseverance, so I might become a capable, resourceful, lion-hearted mama with a gentle spirit toward my children.

Since those trying preschool days, my son has become a responsible, focused, tenacious, and fairly teachable boy that is a true gift to me. We still have friction here and there, and he continues to test out his leadership muscles on me, but I love the kid with all my heart, and although I would love to have a brief reprieve from his strong-will from time to time, I have grown to respect and admire the strength and resolve in him.

“In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures. This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” James 1:18-20

The Hidden Gifts of Humility

Day 10 ~ The Hidden Gifts of Humility

I wanted adventure, intrigue, importance, and excitement. I was younger then, and a bit more foolish. If I could have chosen the words that I never wanted to describe my life, I would have picked words like humble, ordinary, simple, and faithful. These are not things I wanted.

I had stars in my eyes and plans for “big” things, and a plan for how I could show the entire world what a brilliant, valuable, successful, important person I was. Really, I was begging for someone to validate me, and I thought that could only come through my great efforts to prove it. I do see life in a radically different way now than I did at that time, but it took me some years to see the beauty of a humble life and the treasures found within it.

Sometime during college, I was talking to a far-away friend on the phone who was a few years ahead of me: married, with two young kids, living on a piece of property just outside the small town where I grew up. I was in college at the time and had no plans to be married with kids anytime soon. We were catching up after some years of time apart, and she talked to me about the simple rhythms of their lives, the home projects they were doing and daily-life things. As she shared with me, I felt myself internally recoiling. I could not imagine having her life, and I was convinced that I never wanted anything like it.

I’m almost ashamed to say it, but it sounded boring to me. I mean, I was glad that she was happy, but I couldn’t understand how she was. What are your dreams? I thought. What are your plans?  I was somehow convinced that she must have had something percolating within her that had to do with being more than “just a mom”.

Ah, that phrase; “just a mom”. That one will get you in trouble right there. I put that phrase in quotations because it is one that has revisited me many times over the years. Personally, I have had a range of experiences with the idea encapsulated within that statement, each that has led me to draw very different conclusions.

It started with my ignorance of motherhood, and my inability to see that marriage and the building a life together process as one that could be full of beauty. I associated both of those things with dashed hopes and broken dreams, and I wanted no more of that. I had set my course for success—at least my understanding of it at the time. I didn’t want humble, I wanted whatever was going to make me feel validated, strong, and secure.

I never said anything out loud, but in the quiet of my heart, I unknowingly reduced the value of her experience to something less than it really is. In my own defense, I didn’t know any better. I was not yet a mom (or even married at the time), and there are some things you only discover once you jump into the pool. Now I am that same mom who is learning how to see that being a mom as different than being “just a mom”.

I have learned that there are no mothers who are “just a mom,” even if they don’t do any other professional work besides keeping a home and raising children. Every one of us is multifaceted, layered, and interesting in our own unique ways. It is also true that mothers have the most important job in the entire world: shaping and nurturing the next generation. This job cannot be done in the cracks of a jet-setting life, between all the other “important” things that must be done in the world.

I confess, I myself belittled motherhood, simplicity, and the prospect of cultivating a humble life in earlier years.

There is a line in a song by Audrey Assad (I Shall Not Want) with a line that has re-arranged me.

“From the fear of humility, deliver me O God”

That is the thing right there. I was afraid that if I let go of my big, important dreams and embraced motherhood and the service that comes with it, I would cease to be worthy of anyone’s attention.

The thing about humility is it requires me to lay myself down, to take the path of selflessness, to be diligent in unseen places where no one is cheering, validating, or marveling at my skills.

Humility brings me close with the cries of my heart I didn’t know were there. It takes the wall of pride I construct to insulate myself–I think it is protecting me from harm, but really, that wall keeps me from the most precious gifts.

A few years ago, I visited a new church for the first time with my family, and the female pastor opened her message with these words, “I always knew that I wanted to be more than just a mom.”

I winced. Having once been guilty of belittling the incredible, courageous, and selfless role of mothers, I understand where it comes from, but I also know too much now about the truth of motherhood.

The truth of motherhood is that strength, stability, wisdom, perseverance, patience, selflessness, resourcefulness, gentleness, and so many other things are forged in the fire of my humble life of service to my family when I recognized the thing I was afraid of (being just a mom) is the very thing that would bring about my liberation, my deeply cherished purpose, and my restored heart.

These are the hidden gifts that come with humility and surrender to God.

“Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” James 4:10


Praise and Pain in the Same Space

Day 9 ~ Praise and Pain in the Same Space

I was holding my breath. Everything difficult held in, everything beautiful kept out. I was frozen, avoiding any movement because everything hurt. Everything stung. I let out little bursts of air that caught in the back of my throat because the pain picked and picked and picked. The only way to cope was to pant it out. There was never complete relief, but occasionally there was a little, momentary suspension in time that reminded me that there is something to feel other than pain.

Then came the babies. One and then two. Girl and then boy. I heaved in a breath, filled my lungs deeply, and realized I was not dead. I was not lost. I was anchored in a little family with a man who pledged his life to my happiness, and who to this day keeps his promises to me.

The girl splashed colors on my black and white world, and the boy…The boy brought about discoveries of important things that must be searched out; treasures hidden in quiet and unexpected places.

Before his birth, my life was most significantly marked by sorrow. I was a serious, heavy-hearted girl that found myself a mother a little before I felt ready. My first baby brought a bright streak of joy into my life, but in many ways, I still felt more like an observer of joy than a partaker. I thought in order to be joyful, I would somehow have to say goodbye to sadness, which was never going to happen, not with this over-sensitive heart. Sadness was, and is, here to stay.

At age twenty-five, in my home with two little ones, I discovered a truth that has pushed open a door to healing in me that still mystifies me.

Did you know that praise and pain occupy the same space?

Praise and pain are intertwined together, as are the joy and sorrow of our earthly experiences. They cannot be separated into separate, tidy spaces. Praise is an act of faith in the midst of our sorrow and suffering; a declaration that God is good in spite of the wounds that would lie to us and try to convince us otherwise. God is good. God loves. God heals and restores and transforms, but He does so only for those who give Him permission to work in His way, on His timeline.

That sure does strike a blow in the whole “must control everything” or “must be the captain of my own ship” thing.

We are free to say yes, and we are free to say no.

Does it not follow that God’s enemy (whom He tells us prowls around looking for someone to devour – 1 Peter 5:8) would do everything within his power to keep you from saying yes?

It happens right under our noses. The liar, the accuser tries to put every obstacle between us and God.

My son, named Judah (which means Praise) tore his way into the world to bring me a message that I cling to now more than ever.

My praise in the midst of my pain is what frees me from fear.  

It’s not a destination—I have not arrived at a fear-free juncture, but the power fear has over me is no longer crippling. It is no longer the defining, pervasive part of my story.

Praise in the midst of pain is the long, but certain path to freedom, peace, and joy.

I don’t mean to make it sound easy, because it surely isn’t. Simple, but not easy. It requires the excavation of our lives, digging up the dead bones and hard things, and surrendering them up to God. The work of redemption and restoration isn’t a switch to flip or a microwaveable solution.

It is a daily choice to acknowledge God, give thanks to Him for the good in our lives, and invite Him in to renew us from within. It is a constant conversation, building trust and watering seeds of faith as they sprout. It is to intentionally apprehend true things and digest them slowly.

I used to think that if God was good, He would prove it by fixing all the wrong things in the world. I mean, can’t He see what a mess this is?

The thing is, one day, He will fix all the wrong things.

He says, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4

We’re just not there yet.

We’re still in the “former things” stretch, and in this stretch, He leaves it up to us whether we want to discover the fullness of His love, and see His transformative work in our lives.

He dignifies us by giving us complete freedom to choose Him….or not.

The thing is, it’s not a passive choice. We choose to make our lives according to what seems best to us (being wise in our own estimation, leaning on our own finite strength), or we choose to make our lives according to what God says is best for us…a mysterious and confounding journey that unfolds as we step forward in faith and often requires that we see things differently than when we looked at the world with eyes that do not yet know the revolutionary love of God.

If there is a ‘yes’ and a ‘want to’ in the heart, there is a way forward even if the darkness feels thick all around.

For me, seeing differently started with the traumatic precipitous birth that brought my son earthside. It was wild. It was a deeply painful experience—both literally and spiritually. I’ve left out some of the details of that, but on the near side of the birth, I had my little praise-baby. My shout to the Lord that even though I was low, still hurting, and still battling fears on several levels, that I believe He is good to me. I believe that He will uphold me. “For I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.” 2 Timothy 1:12 

Before, I thought a survivor survived by muscling through. I thought faith grew from seeds of proof and predictability. I thought praise was something to be offered when the weather was fair.  I never imagined that God’s world would ask me to look at everything upside-down. A survivor heals through surrender to God. Faith grows from praise and thanks offered, even from a humble station…maybe especially from a humble station. God sees us acknowledging Him, inviting Him in, and He shows up.

If we wait to praise God until the pain is over, we will be waiting and waiting, and the deep and miraculous healing we long for will remain out of reach.

“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:6-10


Fast & Furious: A Repeat Precipitous Birth

Day 8 ~ Fast and Furious: A Repeat Precipitous Birth

I am pregnant with my second child, a son, at the ripe age of 25. After the unexpectedly quick birth of my daughter, I know there was a very real possibility that my next birth could be a repeat precipitous labor. As my due date approaches, I watch and wait for any nuanced indication that labor might begin so that I might not be caught in a compromising birth situation, as I imagine I will be in dream after dream for months in advance. This time, I opted for midwife care, and when I share with the midwives my quick-labor history, they casually dismiss me. Birth pro’s: listen to your mamas.

We live in Los Angeles, far away from family, so my mama flies down to help with our not-quite-two year old. I spend many hours with her when she arrives, anxiously walking around my apartment complex, trying to put myself into labor. There is a random, unimpressive contraction here or there, but nothing to indicate any real action on the horizon.

I go to bed around 10pm, disappointed that nothing is happening, but wake with significant contractions around 2am. I time a couple of them, and they seem to be seven minutes apart. I call labor & delivery, reminding them of my history, they tell me that seven minutes apart is still a little too early to come in.

“Wait it out,” they say. “When your contractions get to five minutes apart, just come in. You don’t have to call us again.”

My mom wakes and sits with me on the couch while I breathe through hard contractions. My husband is fast asleep in the other room (I told him to sleep as much as possible in advance), and the toddler is also in her bed, surrounded by stuffed animals.

Mama times my contractions and we keep track of how many minutes are between them.






“You have got to get out of here!” she exclaims, both of us knowing that the time has arrived.

I rouse my delirious husband, and we stumble down three flights of stairs, stopping on the bottom floor because I’m breathing very hard through a contraction.

It is so intense, I can’t move during it, not even a little bit. Husband urges me on.

“Wait,” I say. “I. (pause) Can’t. (pause) Move. (double pause.) Yet.”

I wince and breathe and will my legs to move forward through the courtyard to where our car is parked. I have to stop two more times before we reach it.

I climb in and sit on the towel-covered seat (I strategically layered up a few several weeks ago just in case we had another spontaneous rupture), and my husband screams out of the parking area in our little sedan, brazenly hitting every pothole up Westwood Blvd on our way to the hospital. I want to yell at him for the dips and jarring bounces, but I can’t talk because I’m hunched over in the passenger seat, eyes tightly shut, white knuckles on the door handle with my contractions intensifying.

It’s after 3am and there is no one on the road, thankfully.

We zoom up to the old UCLA hospital building (our third child, story forthcoming, was born in the new one), which has no easy after-hours entrance for laboring women unless you enter through the emergency room, which is (of course) on the opposite side of the building as labor & delivery. We opt to park in the garage a little closer to the not-so-easy after-hours entrance, which requires that I walk through the garage, into an elevator, up a few stairs, across a courtyard, and through the hospital doors in order to reach a security checkpoint. We stop literally every 30 seconds because I cannot walk through the furious contractions. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, pause….

At the security checkpoint, I think I might push the baby out at the security guard’s feet. He won’t let us through until he receives confirmation that L&D is expecting me. A call is made.

“You can go through,” he says.

I shuffle forward as best as I can, stopping every 20 feet because of another unbearable contraction. A man asks if we want a wheelchair.

Darling husband says, “Do we want a wheelchair?”

I answer with a heavy breath, hand up on a brick wall to stabilize myself with my head down with intense focus on the pain I’m in.

“We want a wheelchair,” he says for me.

The man disappears to find one, but I say, “We can’t wait for him,” and we keep inching our way toward the elevator.

My husband is quite aware that this is about to become a dire situation. We are within 2 feet of the elevator and I stop, unable to move. He pleads with me to just step on it, but no. You must wait, kind sir. No can do. 

I’m in the elevator. “What floor?” he asks. Bless him.

“Four,” I blurt out, fully pulling a random number out of thin air. He mashes button number four.

We go up and the doors open to two employees behind a desk with very wide eyes. It is a dark and quiet floor, most definitely not where babies are born. One employee whips a wheelchair around and sits me in it to navigate us to our desired location within a few minutes.

The next thing I know, we are in a tiny, fluorescent-bright triage room. A bubble-gum nurse hands me a gown with a huge, perfect smile and asks me to put it on in a sweet voice. I can’t do it, not by myself. I am resisting the urge to punch her for her perfect sweetness. They help me with the gown.

“Please lay down on the exam table, mam.”

I can’t do it. I can’t stand. I can’t sit. I can’t lay. They move my body for me. She checks and exclaims, “Oh my! She’s complete!”

At that second, I grunt and involuntarily bear down with a guttural moan that scares me. The bed starts moving out the triage door and down the hall to a delivery room. Twenty people appear from nowhere.

“Don’t push yet,” she instructs, and I’m trying but I can’t help it.

I wave off forms that have been shoved in my face. The on-call midwife is bolting through the door with no gloves on yet. There is only one person ready to catch a baby, and it is an observing resident who springs forward to catch him as I wail, scream, heave, and expel my son in two pushes.

That’s it. He’s out. Except I am hysterical, sobbing, shaking, moaning, and babbling myself through the trauma of it. I don’t remember the choice words my husband swears I used at that point. It is 4:05am.

I can’t calm down for a long time. Because I am shaking, they cover my upper body with blankets even though I’m still delivering the placenta down below.

I cry and cry uncontrollably. I can’t stop. My wrapped up son is in my husband’s arms. Fifteen minutes after the delivery, he offers the baby to me, but I’m still hyperventilating, and I tell him I can’t, I’m not ready yet. It takes me a full half hour before I can hold him.

I write this with tears in my eyes nine years later, that is how profoundly the birth scarred me; my first unmedicated, precipitous birth.

A dear friend of mine who had a similar type of birth a few years after mine said to me of her experience, “What happened to me was not ok.” I nodded, knowing well the terror and fury of the experience.

If you ever hear a woman tell of her unmedicated, precipitous labor, please, whatever you do, do not exclaim, “Wow! It must be nice to have such easy labors!”

There is nothing easy about it.

“For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’” Isaiah 41: 13


Holding Space for a Free Spirit

Day 7 ~ Holding Space for a Free Spirit

Wonder can be lost, and confidence buried. The vibrant spirit can be weighed down and freedom can be taken. Truth can be obscured, strength can be impersonated, and the fear of failure can be deeply tucked away in the caverns of the heart where we barely recognize how it motivates every decision and colors the lens through which we see everything around us.

Ask me how I know.

At 4 years old, I knew nothing of the undercurrent of the crumbled and complicated lives of adults. I spent my time sitting by the wildflowers my dad and I planted in our backyard, singing songs to myself while I picked haphazard bouquets of flowers until my heart was content. I was carefree, imaginative, and weightless in the world of wonder I shared with my two year old kid-brother.

By the time I was seven and my second brother was a year old, things were a different story. Some of the trouble in our home kicked up, my eyes narrowed, and I traded the magic of childhood for an oversized helping of worry for the next eight years, until the depression years began and further compounded the burdens I carried forward from there.

That means that sometime between age four and age seven, I lost some things that I never did see again until my oldest daughter was born. I have spent the last eleven years learning things about her and rediscovering things about myself. I can’t say I’ve liked everything that has bubbled up, but I have found that simply seeing what is there in the recesses of my heart has made me a better mom and a more courageous woman. A child is a mirror for the parent who is willing to see it.

While I’ve always been hyper-aware of social norms (so I can make sure I expertly fit into them), she is unaware or unconcerned with what people think (I can’t tell which it is), and I love that she is not bound to the need for approval, as I have been. She is creative, unafraid to try new things, always busy with a new artistic discipline or technique, always enthusiastic about learning and growing, even when it feels uncomfortable. In short, she is one of the most resilient, intentional people I know.

I recognized early on that she had her own brand of brilliance—the free spirit kind—and because I am acutely aware that free-spiritedness can be easily edged out by worry, I have gone out of my way to fiercely protect that childlike part of her, to hold space for her untamed heart. I see my mama role as one where I can best shape the identity of my children by giving them whitespace—beating back the sea of noise and voices that want to tell them who they are and what they must do to be enough—so they might discover for themselves what it is they have been created for. Let me tell you this: They were not created to stand in a line, to look like all the others, or to be timid, passive players in life.

For this reason, I have oriented my life around how to afford each of my kids the opportunity to explore the wonders and mysteries of the world, both outside and within themselves, by homeschooling them. Before this fair one, full of courage and creativity, turned five, I had zero intention of homeschooling her. I was not myself homeschooled. I actually looked at homeschool as a fairly weird or undesirable choice for my family, knowing that most homeschooled students I personally knew were on the quirky side, and that simply wouldn’t jive with my social norms paradigm.

It wasn’t until we were on the cusp of kindergarten enrollment that I started waffling. Our neighborhood school (the physical space) seemed cold and overwhelming. It was a secondary school building converted into an elementary and did not have the warmth and design that would make a young child feel at home. I also happened to meet a mom with multiple children who sent her oldest daughter there a year before, and she relayed to me how she watched her vivacious, creative daughter closed in, struggled with challenging interpersonal issues (with other five-year-olds), and how and the end of that year, she decided she couldn’t continue watching her daughter flounder through the system. She pulled her out to homeschool. This conversation happened a few weeks before I would have enrolled my bright girl in this same school, and it was a critical conversation for me. I had never before considered that might shining girl could be stripped of her outside-the-box thinking and unique personality in a kindergarten classroom. Of course, I have no way of knowing whether that is what would have happened or not, but it set me on a new course.

With a desire to protect her active imagination, capable hands that figured out how things work, and intrinsic desire to learn, we started homeschooling that fall, mostly as an experiment. I didn’t have a lot of faith in myself and reasoned that if it was a total failure, she could start kindergarten again at 6 in a school situation. We ended up having the time of our lives, learning, discovering many things about ourselves (myself most of all), and that one choice is something I feel has given her the room she needs to tend all her marvelous interests. She started sewing at 6 years old and pieced together 3D stuffed animals without a pattern not long after that. She picks up creative skills like a boss, all of her own interest and motivation, and the many benefits we have experienced as a family cannot be overstated. She is curious, tenacious, and always is planning out the next mess, I mean project she is going to make.

I continue to guard the space around her because I believe it to be the best gift I can give her in these years before she launches into her adult life.

I don’t want her to spend her time trying to become desirable or praiseworthy in the eyes of others. I don’t want her to shrink to fit in the boxes that other people have constructed. I don’t want her to carry heavy things before she has the strength and maturity to do so. I don’t want her to lose the wonder, confidence, strength or freedom I see growing in her, and so I deliberately put her in spaces where these things are well-tended.

I want her to be concerned with being her most brilliant, fearless, and authentic self; unashamed, undeterred by limitations, and aware that she is loved for who she is, random quirkiness and all.

As I have intentionally held space for her free spirit, I have realized there has also been space for me to rediscover mine. My whole perspective on learning has changed. My approach to life has changed. My experience of freedom and delight in the small things is largely because of her insatiable desire to enjoy everything. It’s true when they say, “A child shall lead them.”

“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1


Colors through the Gray

Day 6 ~ Colors through the Gray

Before I had a twirling wonder of a child, my world was gray. I was mostly-sunk, like a tired swimmer treading water with the waves pulling me under, my upturned face the only thing still above water to gulp in enough air to stay alive. At that time, everything I did was chosen entirely for its function, not for beauty, and even now, I struggle to truly delight and savor things because the muscle memory of trauma skips joy for the substance of whatever is feels certain. I hold to things that feel permanent, even if the thing itself is of no value or consequence, because of the comfort that comes with things not changing.

I locked out joy, and could see only what was necessary for the next breath or the next terrifying step toward healing which often involved learning to trust, learning to love, or letting go of stuff, none of which are particularly easy for a sensitive, wounded soul.

In the seven-year period I regard as my depression years (age 15-22), I never did see a counselor or therapist to work through my issues. (Please note this is not my recommendation, just my reality). At the time, I honestly didn’t know that counseling was available or that it might be able to help someone like me. I feel dumb acknowledging that now because it sounds so silly that I would struggle and struggle for years without help, but on this side of it, I know that this happens far more than people realize. I wonder if my healing journey might not have been quite as drawn out, or quite as painful as it was if I had more proactively sought out help. It has only been in the past few years have I read about symptoms of depression and realize, that was me for so many years. Those are the years I lamented, cried, became numb, robotic, developed a serious co-dependency problem that I’m still recovering from, and found it incredibly difficult to find anything at all to smile about. Every ounce of my energy was put toward staying on the rails and not falling apart.

Never really landed in a singular friend group during high school or college because I was preoccupied trying to not die of sorrow and didn’t have it in me to do the fun things all my friends and acquaintances did. It sounds dramatic, but I’m not exaggerating. My cares weighed heavy on me for so long, I forgot how to enjoy anything, I forgot how to notice, or dance or twirl. I forgot how to let my lungs be deeply filled and let out a satisfied sigh. I couldn’t see anything past the fog in my face.

This child twirled her way through the gray and brought with her bright colors I had long forgotten. When she was still in utero, my mother-in-law offered to make some things for the nursery, a crib skirt, and blanket, with my choice of fabric. I didn’t think about it long before I chose bright, bold, nearly neon colors. I can’t say why they especially appealed to me (other than I am truly no decorator), but I think something in me was desperate to cut through the gray of my life with the promise of this sweet girl coming. The first year of her life was something akin to a black and white world that slowly turned into color whenever she touched something.

From her earliest days, she wanted to experience the fullness of everything. If we visited a friend’s house with a new playroom full of toys, instead of finding something interesting to play with for a while, she would search out every bin/drawer/basket that could be moved, and would dump out the entire contents of each one, and look over, touch, feel, and love every last thing in them, without exception.

With her there are no barriers, there is no moderation, there is no dainty or cautious or waiting for permission to love or enjoy something. There is only chocolate smeared across her two, seven, and eleven-year-old face—still the messiest eater in the family to this day because of her delight in the food she consumes. There is a constant smile of possibility on her face when she’s come up with an idea of something she wants to make or something she has imagined to be. There is an undying commitment to stop, smell every flower, and savor its heavenly greeting in the form of a satisfied smile. There is close-the-eyes and spill-the-music-from-her-bones in untrained, unrestrained motion along with the sounds from our speakers. There is, “Twirl with me, mama. Let’s dance,” and I let her lead me on the ever-continuing journey to discover beauty and cherish the small things that make life sweet.

For years, life was all gray for me. Then she burst in—all rainbow sun-shiny and wide-eyed—determined to squeeze the very best out of life from her earliest years forward, and determined to help me do the same. When she was three, a friend asked her to come and join in on a complimentary dance class, and we leaped at the chance because, at the time, we didn’t have the means to enroll her in an ongoing dance program. We borrowed some little dance shoes and slipped a leotard and tutu on her, and she joined a dozen little girls in a fairly small studio for a half hour of bliss. She followed exactly zero directions from the teacher but she loved the music and the opportunity to twirl around, chubby hands and awkward toddler body with no grace or form, but all the joy in the world. Pure delight.

She has changed me in ways that are hard to describe because I’m still not able to find all the words to tell our private mother-daughter story in all its layers. It has been a slow, beautiful process of learning from my sweet daughter that soul survival is not primarily about guarding against pain, but wholeheartedly inviting beauty into the gray places to do the healing.

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” Isaiah 61:1-3