Good Soil

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(Since I wrote this to be read aloud for my sister's baby shower, I wanted to share it read aloud with you all. So if you prefer listening to reading, jump over to youtube with THIS LINK.)

 

If I could write two simple sentences to sum up motherhood, they would be this:

Mothers lay down. And mothers raise up.

 

Mothers lay down their bodies—

You create space within and assume a waddle walk around that space. You lay down your fully functioning bladder, your smooth skin, and your perky body parts. You take on a varied assortment of seemingly unrelated side effects; from the utter repulsion of peanut butter and Chinese food, to frequent bathroom visits and a desperate need for frozen yogurt at ten o’clock at night.

Mother’s raise up life—

You feel the butterfly flutters of life from the inside.  You bulge and swell—both your body and your spirit. You are the one holding a miracle, carrying great expectations. Scientists can argue all they like about where and when life begins but mothers know—it begins in us—in our hearts and in our dreams and in our bodies.

No matter what you see when you stand before your mirror, see the one who’s carrying a miracle. Inside of you is the place where heaven touched earth. You might be stretched out, but you are softening up somehow.

 

Mother’s lay down their expectations—

You come up with a birth plan, feather your nest, hold tiny baby clothes right up to your chest. You might even go all hog-wild painting a room, hot-gluing flower chandeliers, and buying up all the things that make you say “AWE!”

You try to imagine it, what it all will be like. You might have a million questions running through your mind: Will I even know when it’s time? Will I poop?—please say I won’t do that! What if I forget how to hold a baby?

If you didn’t get the hint during your life thus far about how much control you really can hold, you will get it during delivery: this baby will come when it is good and ready in the way it wants with its very own personality and sleep schedule and you will have very little say in any of these matters.

Mother’s raise up hope—

You will show up at that hospital trembling with a mix of excitement and uncertainty.  You are only certain it’s the day your life will change forever. You will face the thousand medical terms for everything that could go wrong from gestational diabetes to emergency c-sections. You will learn the limitations of your pain tolerance and reach that specific moment where you swear you cannot do this—you might even grab your husband by his shirt and scream your conviction into his stricken face: “I CANNOT do this anymore!”

But you are a woman, and you will walk to the same rhythm of all the women becoming mothers: the only way through is through.

And, sister? You will make it through.

You will be the one who has carried an impossible hope and seen it laid out naked, wet, and squalling on your chest—your very own heart pushed out alive outside your body.

 

Mother’s lay down their sleep—

You will live somewhere teetering between joy and exhaustion—the buzz of new life humming through your body. You will fathom the origins of every body part—to whom belong those almond eyes, that downy dark hair, those dainty feet? You will wake all hours of the night and answer every baby cry.

You are a mother, and mothers pluck from their own selves the feathers that soften their nests. You will give and give, and sometimes you will even feel stripped and raw and desperate for basic things like showers and a mere four hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Mother’s raise up their courage—

Your life will change, and, while your body will swell for nine months, your heart will never stop stretching. You will feel tired, like all you do in life is sit underneath a baby and produce milk, like you are desperate for time all your own, like you want to whisper to your spouse when you slump down tired at night “Oh, dear God, please not tonight.” But when you catch those first smiles mirrored in the twinkle of your husband’s eyes, when you behold full-hearted love and trust staring back at you from a squishy-cheeked face that looks a bit like you, love will pull you through.

You will be the courageous one, the keep-showing-up one, the face-all-the-changes-of-the-seasons one, the I-love-you-just-the-way-you-are one. No matter your shortcomings or your level of exhaustion, love will pull you through.

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I know a woman in the Bible—Ruth. Who had a previous love and a previous loss. She entered a new season with her mother-in-law and meager finances at the backdrop of the barley harvest. One night she laid everything on the line—her hopes, her livelihood, and her reputation. It was small, but it was all she had. She went and prostrated herself at the feet of her husband’s kinsman in the midnight hour on the threshing floor. And Boaz—her redeemer—he raised her up.

She laid down. But she was raised up.

 

It might feel like your whole life is changing—like motherhood demands far more than you have to give. It might feel like you are scraping the bottom of your soul like it was the bottom of your ice cream bowl—and there’s isn’t a morsel left. Not for the still-crying babe or the toddler attitude you can’t figure how to tame. Not for your neglected chipped-polish toes or the husband who still needs more sex than your tired body can fathom.

Listen: The place where you end is the exact place God begins.

Where you end, His grace begins.

When you feel yourself buried, remember motherhood is good soil.

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Farmers know that what goes down small and meager comes up big and strong and glowing green in the sunshine. These early days of motherhood are for sowing. They are for surrendering. And sister, when you lay yourself down—your uncertain dreams, your too-quick temper and all your little failures—Your Redeemer raises you up.

Mother’s lay down. And He raises up.

 

The most beautiful sight in the whole world is the one that makes you ache the deepest: your own flesh and blood miracle smiling in the sunshine—chasing butterflies and dreams and unfolding "like a golden-hearted rose slipping from its green sheath."*

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If you could only pass on one thing you've learned about motherhood thus far, what would it be?

 

By Grace,

Amanda Conquers

 

 

*from L.M Montgomery's Anne of Avonlea

Last Picture by Katie Fewell Photography

After 30 Days Without Social Media

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If you caught my last post, you know I was struggling with phone addiction and all the social media noise.

This isn’t the first time I’ve taken a break, but it is the first time I laid it all down as though I might not pick it back up again.  I was willing to leave it all if that's what was best for my family, myself, and my relationship with Jesus Christ.

I wanted to give you an update since it seemed to strike a chord with so many of you.

My biggest takeaway from this past month is simple: There is so much more joy in being a mom and a wife when you are fully present.

It's not that I didn't enjoy being a wife or mom before. It's that when you set aside distractions and allow one thing to take up all the space in your two hands, when you hold it, look at it, feel the weight of it--you see the gift it's been all along.

I’m not sure I can put into words how sweet our homeschool time has been this past month. I don’t want to turn this into a homeschooling post, but guys, we now start our days with a hymn, a catechism, a short devotion, scripture memory, family prayer, a historical document to memorize, nursery rhymes, poetry, a picture book, a chapter book, and narrations. We then rotate between our science curriculum, nature study, or time with a classic artist and composer before we start on our core subjects. We start our days dwelling on truth and beauty for a solid hour and a half. I didn’t know I could enjoy homeschooling this much or that the sum of so many little things strung together could change me from the inside out. I believe it's impacting my kids. I know it's impacting me.

I don’t mean this as a brag. My entire point is that if you told me last year it was possible to have a homeschool day start like this I would have laughed and thought, Good for that over-achiever mom. That’s simply a dream that sounds great in theory and impossible in execution—at least for me.

Turns out, when you put your distractions down, it’s actually possible to be the kind of mom you want to be.

 

It seems like we can pull against the demands of motherhood and marriage. It’s how we end up locking ourselves in our bathroom for a mere five minutes of peace and a little time scrolling Instagram. (Not that there is anything wrong with this. Please don't read that. I am a firm believer in timeouts—we all need a chance to regroup and take a deep breath, amen.) But we can end up living in a way where we are constantly wanting to escape and only living half-present. It’s survival mode, really. Survival mode certainly has a time and a place, but it’s not where we are meant to live our whole life.

Something happens when you surrender yourself to the season you are living in, giving yourself to it, instead of trying to escape it. It’s a seed buried in good soil—not sitting shallow amongst the rocks where it can easily be picked off. By the grace of God, that seed buried in good soil is going to thrive.

“The one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit” (Matt 13:23)

I can't help but question myself: how often do I try to lean on my own understanding? How often do I try to do what I want, when I want, and how I want instead of simple whole-heart, full-trust obedience to God, His Word, and His timing?

 

Before starting this detox, I had shared my struggles with a friend. She shared the wisdom her own pastor had once shared with her: The right thing at the wrong time is still the wrong thing.

That applies to pursuing the good dreams in your heart in the wrong season. It also applies to flipping through your phone when the time of day calls for something different. 

When we give ourselves fully to whatever God has purposed for us in the season we are living (not the season we wish we were in), we find His joy.

That said, I know I am meant to write. Not a lot. But some. Out of the overflow. Honest to goodness, I am a better wife and mother and overall human being when I get the chance to write stuff down and edit it a few times a month. Truly, for me, it’s worship, obedience, and leaning on the Lord. It’s right and good for us to spend time in the things that bring us joy. It’s right and good for a mother—even (especially?) a homeschooling mother—to have a thing outside her husband and kids she can give herself to and that pours right back into her.

 

So in trying to move forward and learn from my mistakes, here’s where I am drawing my boundaries:

(I share this not because I think my boundaries should be your boundaries, but because this topic seemed to really resonate with some of you, some even asking where to draw the line. Maybe this could start a good and needed conversation? I share this for accountability, transparency, and because it might help you think through where you need to draw your own boundaries.)

 

  1. Everything is staying off my phone. I personally really struggle here and found myself still picking up my phone and scrolling through it, checking the news (from the search bar I left on my phone) or the weather instead of just being present.  
  2. I will be keeping up with my Facebook page during set hours. This will be early morning after my devotions if there’s still time before the start of my homeschool day and then a few afternoons a week. On my husband’s days off, he’ll get my afternoons and evenings unless he gives me time to work and write. I am excited to have a place to connect with you all where so many of you seem to be. I think there is a way to turn off one’s newsfeed, so hopefully it will mean less mindless scrolling, less noise for this easily over-stimulated HSP, and more time spent intentionally connecting. (Edited to add: You can turn off your Facebook newsfeed with a Chrome extension called Kill Your Newsfeed.)
  3. I will be staying away from Instagram for the time being. Instagram is my favorite because of its simple and visual layout, but you can’t post on Instagram without using your phone. I don’t feel so strong at things like self-control and discipline right now. I will revisit this after the first of the year, but for now I still need to work on developing the habit of not picking up my phone (well, unless it’s ringing.)
  4. On a more personal note, I am keeping all games off my phone for the time being. I am adding back voxer with boundaries. I am apart of a writing/blogging group that meets there and those girls are such dear friends and I miss them. I will be turning off voxer's notifications and checking in only once or twice a week. And if I find it creeping into my whole day, I will simply have to step away for good.

  

Do you need boundaries for social media and phone usage? Where do you think those boundaries need to be for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

By Grace,

Amanda Conquers

Why I Might Need to Say Goodbye to Social Media

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Guys, can we talk about something?

If you’ve read here for any length of time, it’s not a secret that I struggle with anxiety. I am a highly sensitive person, an empath. I care for each one of my friends and everything they go through—whether they are real life friends or my friends in the computer.

We all have the capacity to carry only so many burdens before the Lord on a given day. A few close friends, a few big concerns, a husband and a family—that right there is a full plate of prayer. Add the complaints, the political rants, the heartaches, and the crises of everyone on a Facebook friend list? Guys. That's a lot of burdens.

Whenever I post on social media, I compulsively check who’s read it, who’s responded to it, who’s liked it. Sometimes I find myself checking my accounts every minute after I post. I want to know that I haven’t offended anyone. I want to know that it was understood--that it was liked. I don’t know how to turn that off. It’s like my people-pleaser tendencies have been exacerbated by the social media system of likes and comments and stats.

I’ve been on my phone way too much. I’ve gotten so used to keeping my mind occupied that any spare moment in my day I am pulling out my phone and running through my accounts. I’ve forgotten how to be quiet.

Guys, honest. I think I’m sick.

 

Last week, all this social media angst came to a point. Our family had just gotten back from vacation. Mike had a heavy case load—lots of domestic violence calls and someone on his team had one of those cases—pure evil involving a child victim—the kind of case that burdens you and haunts you.

Last week, I also started back up with homeschool. I was knee-deep in child-rearing and educating and, while it was a good week, it was exhausting. I was frazzled and spent by the end of my days.

Between all that exhaustion, Mike and I had a fight. We each wondered why the other couldn’t help out more.

Mike emailed our pastor in confidence. He forgot that our phones are synced, and so if I check all my email boxes at once as I often do, Mike’s emails are mixed in there too. Honest-to-goodness, I didn’t realize whose email that was when I started reading it.

Meant for confidence or not, once you see something, you can’t unsee it.

Mike was voicing his concern over the toll social media was playing on me and how much he sees me on my phone. He talked about how talented he thinks I am at writing and believes in my potential (bless him), but how maybe I wouldn’t be so spent if I didn’t spend time or energy on social media and in so many other peoples’ concerns and lives. How we have so many friends’ whose marriages are in crisis right now, and he didn’t want to see us there too. He didn't want to ask me to stop writing, but surely we couldn't keep this up?

{Insert all the emotions from that heaping portion of conviction with a small side of embarrassment.}

Maybe I wasn’t meant to read that email, but it surely has led to some really good talks, some hard decisions, and a whole lot of prayer.

It’s not that I don’t see the positives of social media. It’s that the negatives have been really hard for me to navigate. I don’t know where to go from here. I’m scared if I’m honest. Can I even be a writer if I’m not on social media?

I am more scared of what happens if I don’t make the hard decisions.

When I think of my kids growing up and looking back on their mom and their childhood, God help me if what they remember is their mom always on her phone. Maybe I think it’s only in the pauses, but all those pauses add up to hours—really, those pauses add up to my life, my choices, and my actions showing my kids what matters.

Homeschooling takes an enormous amount of energy. If I am saying yes to homeschool then I have to say no somewhere else. Because I have been spending energy on social media too, when my husband gets home at the end of the day, he’s gets my no. I don’t want to give it. I just don’t have anything left. Cops carry such heavy burdens. He needs me to have space left to share his burdens. He needs my yes—and besides that, I gave my yes on our wedding day. And it’s not the kind of yes that you say one time, it’s a commitment you make to say yes every single day.

I felt like I needed to share this with you all. This isn’t me saying social media is evil and everyone’s marriages are going to fall apart because of it. This is me sharing how I’ve been struggling. How the enemy has been using social media against me and my marriage. And the hard stand I need to take against it. (Also. I probably need accountability.)

If you see nothing else here, see this: I might struggle. You might too. Our struggles might be the same. Our struggles might be different. Either way, we overcome by being willing to lay everything on the altar. We overcome--we conquer--when we live like Christ is the strength of our life and the most important thing. Because He is.

If this pricks at your heart too, pray about it. Maybe there’s value in social media. Maybe you can let your light shine there. But I can tell you it isn’t meant to go before God, your marriage, your family, or your real-life community.

You only get one life, and you get to choose how you spend your time. Spend it well.

What all this means for me:

  1. I’ve taken everything off my phone except for phone and text (and facebook messenger—it’s how I keep in touch with my sister who has wi-fi but no cell service where she lives. Honestly, I don’t care for messenger so it’s not where I struggle.)
  2. I will be completely off all social media and the blog for a full month. I need to detox. After 30 days, I will prayerfully draw boundaries. I only know it can't look the same. Maybe I will have set business hours… maybe I will stay off for a longer season… maybe I will never come back? I’m really not sure.
  3. In praying about it, I’m not going to stop writing. Writing isn’t the problem, and I’ve been able to consistently do it out of the overflow of my life and within boundaries. It fills my soul—the few hours a month I might get to leave home and sit in nature or at a Panera and write. I could take up regular journaling, but there is something valuable for me in preparing something for publication—it is how I wrestle, and it is where God meets me. But at least for the time being I am going to refrain from sharing what I write here so I can take the time to pray about blogging and writing and where the boundaries need to be drawn in between the writing and the social media. (I will still be keeping my other writing commitments since I am not in charge of the sharing.)
  4. I have taken email off my phone too, but I will still be checking my emails. If you have a question, comment, concern--please email me. (you can use the contact page on my blog). It would so bless me if you felt compelled to check in on me. (I still need friends and sisters in Christ. I just need it where there's less noise. This makes sense, right?)

While part of me is worried I am committing occupational suicide, another part of me is curious to see what the Lord would do with this hard obedience. Not that I have a set expectation, it’s just that I believe in (and have seen) God’s faithfulness and His resurrection power. What we lay down, He raises up—multiplied, bearing fruit.

And even if I never see the fruit multiplied? He is still good. He is the prize. He is the reason.

 

May I always live like it.

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I’m curious. What is your relationship with social media like? What boundaries do you have in place?

 

By Grace,

Amanda Conquers

Recovering from Church {the conversation we need to have}

(I am stepping away from my usual blog topics and usual blog lengths to talk about something that’s been on my heart for a while. Honestly, I hope this blog isn’t for everyone, but I am sharing it on the chance it might be for someone. And if that someone is you… sister [or brother] I’m standing here with you.)

 

My husband and I have been in counseling.

It started a couple months back when we had a fight. The same fight we’ve had for the past four years.

It would only come up every few months, so we looked like a healthy couple. But it never actually got resolved. So this last time we decided we’d had our fill of this argument, and, since we’d been thus far unable to resolve it ourselves, we probably needed a counselor. I emailed our pastor the next day asking for recommendations. He offered to meet with us himself.

Here’s what I want you to know: we’d been fighting over church. When to go, how often to go, how big of a priority being a part of a church is, and how we wanted to present Christ and the church to our kids. Spiritually, my husband and I had been living on two different pages for a very long time.

I’d chocked up the issue to Mike’s job in law enforcement and tried to give my husband space to work out his faith with God. While the job might have had something to do with it, here’s what I discovered in counseling: we were both traumatized by church.

I mean, I knew we’d faced hurts, I just didn’t realize how long it can take to recover. I didn’t realize how deep pain can penetrate. I didn’t realize all the ways it can affect your life.

Because of what my husband’s experienced in church, without even realizing it, he was trying to protect his family by not prioritizing church. And because of what I’ve experienced, I desperately needed him to be the strong one that wanted to be a part of church so I didn’t have to be.

At our first meeting, our pastor gave us an assignment: write a sort of pros and cons list to our past church experience—all the positives and all the things we needed to forgive.

It was great advice. We started with the pros, and we felt warm and fuzzy inside remembering the good stuff our former pastors had poured into us. We almost wondered why we were having issues with church in the first place. Then we started listing the things we needed to forgive. Once we got going, it just poured out of us. Wrong, after wrong, after wrong. Pages were filling up with hurts—some long buried and almost completely forgotten. We dredged them all up. We left stirred up and angry.

The past couple months, revisiting the trauma, have been hard. I wish moving forward looked like taking the whole lot of it, pushing it under a rug and never looking at it again.

Forgiveness doesn’t look like that though. And that lump sitting underneath the rug? Well, we’ve been tripping over it for a really long time.

I felt like I needed to share this with you. It’s messy, right? This whole church thing?

What my husband and I have experienced is spiritual abuse. Spiritual abuse is “when a leader with spiritual authority uses that authority to coerce, control or exploit a follower, thus causing spiritual wounds” (Ken Blue, Healing Spiritual Abuse). It’s hard for me to find that line between what we allowed and what was perpetrated—I’ve tried to figure out who is more at fault. Is it the one who misused his/her spiritual authority or the one who misplaced man’s authority above God’s? I’m not sure, I’m just ready to shake off the shame. I’m ready for healing.

I think the modern church might be pretty good at telling us how to connect, but it’s terrible at telling us how to recover. It’s like the church is afraid to talk about the real mess of living out our salvation alongside our brothers and sisters.

I wish someone had sat down with me a few years ago and validated the pain and frustration I felt. Maybe it’s the shame culture that surrounds abuse that keeps us quiet, I don’t know. But I know the enemy hangs out in the dark, so I am going to bring this into the light. I am going to start the conversation I wish someone would have started with me years ago. I haven’t arrived, friends, but I learned some things along the way.

Five Ways Forward after Spiritual Abuse:

Forgiveness.

I love that Jesus told Peter to forgive 490 times (seventy times seven). (Matt. 18:22) Not that Jesus was being literal about the number, but I think He was making a point. We forgive in layers, the deeper the hurt the more layers you have to get through. Forgiveness is a form of surrender—a letting go. Sometimes it takes laying something down 490 times before we stop picking it back up again.

Real forgiveness first recognizes what it needs to forgive—it can name the wrong. It’s sort of like a nasty splinter, you have to first recognize that there is a splinter in your skin and that it needs to come out. You can ignore it, sure, but it will make itself known. It will fester and ooze. It will come out in ugly words and anger, and you might not even realize the true source. In my case, it got my husband and me at odds with each other even though the pain didn’t come from either one of us. Satan is sneaky like that.

For years I kept excusing and rationalizing the behavior of those who were misusing their spiritual authority, as if it would be easier to forgive if I could produce their reasons for them. But really, all I was doing was denying the real pain I felt and the real forgiveness I needed to offer. No matter how you color it, rationalizing and excusing other’s wrongs is classic co-dependent behavior. Their reasons are between them and God. What we have to deal with is the real wound left behind. It means saying, “They were wrong”—and sticking a period at the end of that sentence. When you do that, it’s then that you can finally get a tweezer-tight-grip on the splinter and pull.

You also have to forgive yourself. Forgive what you allowed. Forgive where you didn’t speak up. Forgive where you got caught up fearing a person more than you feared God. We serve a God who can take ashes and make them beautiful. Who can work all things—even our own failings—together for our good. Whose lovingkindness and mercies are new every day. (Amen!)

Counseling.

Imagine someone you love was in an abusive relationship. Maybe it never got physical, but, verbally and emotionally, they were abused. Years after that relationship dissolved, this loved one has no idea how to move forward or how to be close to someone again. What would you tell her? You might recommend counseling, right? It’s the same with church. If you have been spiritually abused by church leadership and cannot move forward, get counseling. Listen: your spiritual-self is your eternal-self—and it’s at least as important (I would argue more important) as your physical and emotional self. Invest in it.

Rest.

Have you heard the parable of the Good Samaritan? I had become that guy on the side of the road in the story: beat up and hollowed out by the anxiety and depression that came with the performancism I lived under. The ones who should have cared passed by me. But just like in the Bible Parable, my story has a Good Samaritan—Jesus Himself—who bandaged my wounds, who cared for me, and who paid the full-price for my recovery. (Luke 10:25-37).

It wasn’t that I disconnected from church, it was that I needed to disconnect from all the unhealthiness that had gone along with church. I had to recover away from my abusers.

God had me sort of cocooned for almost 2 years. Imagine someone who’s recovering from an illness—weak, fragile, in need of care. I still went to church on Sundays (finding different churches we could hide out in). I felt the call of raising my kids in church and knowing the importance of faithfulness, but I couldn’t get involved. I was healing. Being connected to the body of Christ looked different in that season. It was my dear mom’s group. It was the counsel of an older wiser woman of God. It was phone calls to my mom. It was a small facebook group of praying police officer wives. Sometimes, it was even the smiling faces of strangers on a Sunday morning.

When you are in recovery, Satan would like nothing better than to use your pride to get you to do one of two things. He will either try to get you separated and on your own where he can devour you. Or he will get you to skip the recovery process so that, while you are still weak and in the thick of things, he can easily trample you. Injured people need care. And injured people need to take the time to recover.

The Body of Christ.

Sometime last year, I knew it was time to go about the hard work of being vulnerable again. When trauma hits your life, you now live amongst those keenly aware that it can happen, that it did happen, and that it can happen again. You feel like you have a target on you.  But you can start allowing fear to govern your life. Because God is all about restoration, it is often the very thing that hurt you that God uses to heal you. If you have decided that church is wherever you are and you don’t need a building or an institution, could it be that you have real wounds caused by church?—that you are like the abused partner who determines to never be in a relationship again? When I read my Bible cover to cover and look at the whole picture and specific Bible passages, connecting to the body of Christ isn’t optional. It isn’t subject to the state of the western church. It doesn’t look only like walks in nature or conversations with friends. In Paul’s letters to the different churches, I see a vibrant and diverse community, a regularly gathering community, and a sometimes messy community.

Listen to this: A life spent following Christ is never safe. And sometimes the scariest and most vulnerable thing you can do is follow Him straight into the midst of broken people and offer your gifts.

The True Cornerstone.

One of the hardest parts of all this is having to take a hard look at myself and realize I had tried way too hard to please people. The weight I placed on measuring up, on mattering, and on the opinions of others was idolatry. It’s hard to admit that. But it was. So while we are meant to be fitted together as one body of Christ, each with our own function, Christ is our cornerstone. He’s the giant stabilizing brick that gets laid down first. He has to go first, before ministry and ministers and everything else. And He’s the one we all lean upon. Peter puts it like this: “As you come to Him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house…  For it stands in Scripture: ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame’” (1 Peter 2:4-7).

We’re meant to get cozy right up next to our fellow stones—our brothers and sisters in Christ—and be fitted together into one spiritual house. But Christ is our cornerstone.

As I have been trying to move forward, scared that this is all church is—hurt and pain and betrayal and mess— and that it could happen again. God whispers quietly: “But you aren’t the same woman, Amanda. I’ve used that pain, and produced in you a steadfastness rooted in Me. You’ve learned to lean on me and to fear Me.”

I am moving forward, slowly, with fear and trembling, leaning on my Cornerstone. He is enough. He’s always been enough. I don’t know how Jesus can take messes and ashes and what the enemy meant for our demise and make all of it into something beautiful, but He can. He does. He has.

 

I’d love to have your voice in this conversation. How do we recover from pain caused by the ones meant to help us?

 

By Grace,

Amanda Conquers

 

PS If you would like to read more on spiritual abuse, I came across this article while preparing this one. Mary DeMuth outlines what spiritual abuse is, how to spot it, and offers wisdom on how to deal with it.

When Mothering Has You Feeling Uprooted and Threadbare

This year I planted a veggie garden.

I’d been dreaming of one of my own since I was little girl sneaking sweet peas and green beans off the vines in my daddy’s garden. I was the pickiest eater alive and cringed and fussed and gagged over everything green on my dinner plate. But during clean-up, when all the food I’d protested was swept off my plate, I’d head out into the backyard with my dad. He’d water, and I’d snack on raw vegetables. Cool evenings and conversations with my dad sprinkled some kind of magic over green healthy stuff: they were the secret ingredients to a delicious memory.

So, this year, when my dad made me a raised planter for my birthday, I dreamed big green dreams. I planned out the layout, picked the veggies, mixed the soil, and brought my kids into all of it—just as my daddy had with me. I showed them how to gently extract a plant from its container and where and how to place it. We spent hours working in the sun.

When it was all done, I stood back and admired the labor. The raw potential held within my backyard. Wouldn’t life look more romantic with veggies carried inside in a basket? The way the light would filter through feathery dill leaves onto shiny waxy pepper skins. There would be poky cucumbers and smooth tomatoes and little hands sneaking strawberries away.

The next morning, I went out to water and discovered my entire garden unearthed.

Chives were buried, an almost-onion uprooted, a pea plant was lying haphazardly, every single one of the borage I’d planted to keep the tomato bugs away was out of the soil and on their side, and my pepper plant had been practically plucked naked.

All courtesy of one lightning-fast almost-two year old.

I cried.

And, guys, while I worked to salvage my garden, Sam went straight to the food storage drawer, pulled out a new roll of foil, and unraveled it all over the house.

I was frustrated. I was disappointed. Maybe it was a silly dream—who dreams of baskets of vegetables anyways?  Maybe I was just a failure—a terrible gardener and a mom who stops to blink? My work felt futile, all of it. Messes on top of messes and why couldn’t I be good enough to protect my garden and my foil rolls? It all whispered of failure.

Messy. Uprooted. And buried. Like my plants.

I can’t help but think that maybe mothering little ones feels a bit like this. Like you are constantly being pulled out and apart at your very core: the tension between the pull of your great love against all your shortcomings and selfish longings. The way you feel buried, suffocating even, under the mundane tasks and the weight of the little souls you are nurturing: the string of errands that govern your day, the endless stacks of dishes and laundry, and the ever evolving needs of your kids that always seem to leave you stumped. The way your dreams look laid aside. The way your work feels useless. The yelling you thought you’d never do. The way you never seem to be able to do it all or do it as well as you think you should.

Motherhood touches right up against the cracks in our own souls.

 

It’s been a few weeks now since I (re)planted that garden. My plants limped for a few days in the recovery, but the water did its work and righted their posture. The practically-naked pepper plant grew a few more limbs so it’s looking a little less pathetic now—there’s even the bulbous swelling of future buds.

I’m struck by it. The resilience of plants. The way they were made to bear fruit. The way even in the uprooting and replanting, growth has still happened somehow. Sure, it's required extra care, and I certainly couldn't leave it all uprooted. But it's growing. I don't quite understand it. Maybe it's all a little less fragile than it seems.

The same is true for Sam and I.

We are still growing.

We were made to bear fruit.

And maybe we are a little more resilient and far less fragile than we feel.

 

I think of that often quoted verse in James:

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4, NKJV).

The Greek word for patience here is hypomone. It’s more than a content waiting though. It means steadfast, constant, and full of endurance. It’s an active, immovable, clinging-to-the-Lord stance. Jesus gives a picture of that word, hypomone, when he teaches the parable of the sower and his seeds. If you remember in the parable, a man went out to plant, and his seeds fell on different types of soil, each with different results. Here’s what Jesus says about the seed on the good soil: “But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15, NKJV). Bear fruit with patience. With steadfastness. With endurance. With hypomone.

It’s the slow patient enduring that keeps us rooted in good soil and leads to that perfect and complete work.

And I’m just saying, dear heart, no matter how you feel—how exhausted or inadequate or overwhelmed or even uprooted and laid bare—God is doing a work in your soul. He is suring you up, growing you in steadfastness. Maybe you’d like some kind of magic formula to get you through these small years. Like maybe there would be this one technique to parenting that once implemented would cause your child to immediately know how to behave. But it’s in the quiet enduring—the small faithfulness of daily watering, replanting if necessary, and a faith set deep in your heart that God loves you and His grace is sufficient for you. It’s the cleaning and recleaning, the never ending laundry cycle, and all the things for which it seems there is no end in sight. It’s the slow work, the steady work, the do-my-best-and-hope-it-all-works-out work. It’s failing and trying again. It’s knowing your need for a Savior and binding {and rebinding} your ever-wandering heart to Him.

It’s recognizing that while you do the tending and the watering, it is God who does the growing and the producing.

He made you to bear fruit. And you shall.

 

What sort of messy parenting moment have you stumbled through this week? How is parenting through these summer months going? Share in the comments? I’d love to hear from you.

 

By Grace,

Amanda Conquers

What Does It Mean to Be a Mother? {And Maybe What All the Women Struggling with Mother's Day Need to Know}

I counted the Mother’s Day when I was 7 months pregnant as my first Mother’s Day. I spent extra time in the bathroom that morning, readying myself for church. It felt like I had waited a lifetime to join the mass of women standing up to receive their flower at church. Mike walked in while I stood drawing lines above my eyelashes.

I waited for him to say something. His focus was on getting ready, so I thought I’d help him out.

“It’s my first Mother’s Day,” I said, my words coated with excited expectancy.

He paused. Lowered his voice to a meek confessional tone. “Oh, I didn’t think this counted yet. Wait, this counts?” He looked at my growing belly.

I turned around, facing him. “What do you mean, does it count? Puking for months, losing sleep over hiccups and having to pee, waddling everywhere, fat ankles, a swollen face—I can’t even wear my wedding ring. All that doesn’t count as being a mom yet?”

“Oh.” He looked at the floor. “Yeah. I’m sorry, Amanda. I guess I didn’t think about that. I thought you had to have the baby already in your arms to be a mom.

I cocked my head sideways and looked at him, deciding if I should be mad about it or if, perhaps, I was being too sentimental. I took the black eyeliner I held in my hand and drew a kohl-black frowny face on the middle of his forehead instead.

{I know. I’m always a model of maturity and grace.}


What is it that makes a mother?

It is a baby growing in a belly? A baby in one’s arms? A shared DNA?

Is it the sacrifices a mother makes—the always laying down? The staying home, the working hard, the laundry never quite done?

What of the women in waiting? The women aching? The women poking themselves with needles, the women praying hard, the women excavating a little more hope out of themselves each month?

What of the women who have heard “not viable” pronounced over the hope they carried, who have cramped and bled and felt hollowed out? How they began making room—in their heart and their body and their home—and how that room became a black-hole void.

What of the women who have heard the silence—the grunting groans of hard contractions and hard pushes replaced by the resounding stillness of a babe whose cry would never fill any rooms here on earth?

What of the women who have been mothers, who feel like mothers, who have loved like mothers, but no longer have a child to mother?

What of the super aunties, the step-moms, and the step-in-and-be-a-moms? What of the teachers, the neighbors, the kind strangers?

What is it that makes a mother?

Can it be measured by sleepless nights?

In stretch marks? Or adoption paperwork?

By kisses or silly songs or how many stories you've read?

Can it be measured by mini-vans or car seats? By the number of cheerios that have been swept off floors? By plastic rainbow-colored IKEA plates stacked up tall in your cupboards? By the magic erasers that have scrubbed crayons and markers and grubby hand prints off of walls?


My mother-in-law once looked at me chasing my little ones and told me she wasn’t very motherly. Not like you, she said. I didn’t come with that natural mothering thing.

I stopped and turned towards her, head tilted, like the leaning would help with the comprehending. Mom, I told her, that’s not true. My husband is a fine man. Maybe we are all just different kinds of mothers.

Maybe we are all just different kinds of mothers.

Maybe we are all care-takers. Helping out and raising up—offering all we know—wrestling with all we don’t know.

Maybe we are the ones who notice and celebrate the unique shape of the ones around us—who create space inside our bodies and inside our hearts and inside our homes.

Maybe we are the ones who have saved back a little for ourselves and ended up giving that too because someone needed it. Maybe we are the ones longing for an ice cream cone unlicked by anyone else, a secret drawer of fine dark chocolate.

Maybe we are the ones who have scraped the bottom of our energy reserve, the bottom of our possessions, the bottoms of our souls.

Maybe we are the hopeful ones, the believe-the-best ones, the you-are-beautiful-just-how-you-are ones. Maybe we are the safe space, the I’m-always-here-for-you place.

Maybe we are the ones with banged up knees and an iceberg faith—behind closed doors and in our cars lifting up the ones we love by laying ourselves down—Always believing and hoping for life in the unseen places in our hearts.

Maybe we all feel that grim not-measuring up. What we wished we had. What we no longer have. What we wish we were doing better. Like somewhere there’s this woman in a gingham apron making funny shapes out of pancakes and mothering is easy and natural and everyone loves her. Meanwhile our life is messy and we are just winging it. We think we are failing somehow.


I am sitting here thinking of Hagar—flung into motherhood as the handmaiden of her mistress, Sarah. Hagar, the half-hope. Hagar, the despised. She flees to the wilderness to escape Sarah’s cruelty. An angel of the Lord appears to her there and tells her she will have a son who will “be a wild donkey of man” and “whose hand will be against everyone.” Then he tells her to return. (Genesis 16). I ponder this—these hard promises, these hard requests.

Hagar gives God a name there—El-Roi—the God who sees me. Because this life—it isn’t always easy. And mothering is sometimes the least natural thing—in the way it hasn’t happened or in the way it hasn’t looked a thing like you thought it would or in the way you’ve been asked to do what you didn’t sign up for.

But there is a God who sees you. Who sees beneath the surface, all the unseen longings, the silent prayers, the places you think you are failing, the well of your soul you wish was deeper so you wouldn’t keep scraping against the bottom. My pastor says it like this: what God requires, He provides. What He has asked of you, He is the answer to.

What He has asked of you, He is the answer too.

And, dear heart, He sees you.

He sees you Mother. Lover. Caretaker. Bottom-of-your-soul scraper.

He sees you grandma, step-mom, not-yet-a-mom, empty-armed mom. He sees you even if you don’t want to be a mom. He sees you, woman. And He loves you.

This weekend. I have no idea if there is anyone thinking of you, but, dear heart, I want you to know I am.

Here’s to you, woman, the one God sees.

 

By Grace,

Amanda Conquers

Raising a Strong-Willed Child is HARD, And Why That's a Good Thing

Hope For The Hard

A few weeks back, I took Jed with me to my small group. I set him up in the adjacent room with a coloring book, a handful of plastic reptiles, and his teddy bear.

In the middle of our small-group discussion time, the leader’s dog started barking from her kennel. Our leader shushed the dog twice to no avail. There was a lull in the conversation while we all waited for our leader to either get up and tend to the dog or ignore the dog and keep going.

In that moment of quiet indecision, my son’s voice rang out.

“Be quiet now!”

Loud. Full of authority. A touch of impediment lingering on a few of his sounds (he is five).

And the dog stopped.

Jed must have thought nothing of it, because he immediately returned to his play. Meanwhile, a living-room full of grown-ups sat puzzled at the man-child who could speak with such authority.

It took my breath away, so unlike his mother, but so completely Jed.

He is growing. He has grown.

God Chooses Imperfect Moms

I was there when he—iron-willed—rocked his crib till it fell.

I was there when he screamed and kicked his legs aiming for me from his shopping cart throne, the loud tyrant of the Walmart.

I was there when he threw every toy he could get his hands on, defiant to the last that he would never lay down on his own bed—not now, not ever.

I’ve been there for every relentless spew of his repetitive line of questioning, “Mom, can I…, Mom? Mom? Mom? MOM!”

That moment at my small group Bible study, it was like a gleaming light illuminating the God-given purpose of Jed’s form. All along, buried in the rocky soil of his unplowed will, were strengths. These years have been trying, but I blinked and before me is this man-child with a God-given authority. I may not know what he will grow up and do or be, but I know God delights in him. I know that iron-will is there on purpose.

His iron-will is a gift, and not a curse.

It’s not that we’ve arrived (oh. Gosh. No. We have not arrived.) If I am honest, three years ago my gratitude to the Lord for letting me be Jed’s momma was at times a desperate hope of one day. It’s not that it was all bad (please don’t think that). It’s that it was HARD. It felt impossible and inconvenient for all the times I had to leave the grocery shopping half-completed or stand bewildered at the tantrum before me or wait and wait and wait for his will to finally give and accept basic things like green vegetables and sleep. Most days, I felt like I didn’t come with enough patience or perseverance (and the truth is I didn’t).

I can't even tell you how many times I felt clueless, like I was winging it, going forward on a hope and a prayer that I wasn't royally screwing up.

But already, I can look back at how far we’ve both come and thank the Lord that I get to be this boy’s momma. It’s always been grace.

Overwhelming. Undeserved. Grace.

I tuck him into bed mostly willing now and argue over who loves who more. He’s sounding out letters and counting up to 100. It’s been hard work tilling up rocky soil, but oh the joy of seeing the first sprouts, the first fruit. I know what it’s taken to get here. I know when and where it looked impossible. I know the refinement we’ve received. And in all that I rejoice. My cup is running over with gratitude.

That I should get to be the one he calls mom. That I should get to see God's unfolding plan for my boy.

Yes. God's Grace has held us all along.

And by Grace, He'll carry us all the way home.

 

8 Ways You Can Help Your Child and 3 Truths You Need to Know Today

Can I whisper a few a gentle encouragements to all the moms in the thick of it? Raising a strong-willed child sometimes feels a bit like hacking through a dense jungle at night, doesn’t it? I’m not a parenting expert, but my hope and prayer is that these scraps of what I have learned thus far might help you see the way through.

(By the way, I used the pronoun “he” just to be clear, but that’s not me making an assumption that only boys have strong wills.)

  1. If he could obey, he would. He doesn't know how. He doesn't know how to control his emotions yet. Your high calling as mom is to show him (and this might take so much longer and be so much harder than you realized when you first imagined being a mom).
  2. Does your child seem a bit like a one-track freight train about whatever his heart is set on? Then imagine he actually is like that freight train. He can’t make sharp turns or sudden stops. It’s not that you should allow his will to run over you (you shouldn’t), it’s that you should understand your role is to gently teach him how to slow down and change directions. Just like with a train, this takes a long time. So much as is in your power, try to foresee those changes and prepare him for them.
  3. Pep-talk everything. When you arrive at the park, tell him how long you will be there. Before you let him play, quiz him on what he should say when you say it’s time to go. This goes back to #2 and I can't tell you how much this one thing has helped us.
  4. Anytime he asks for something, pause and think through your answer. Once you give your yes or your no, you commit to it and don’t change it. (Or next time, he will know that if he presses long enough and hard enough you can be changed).
  5. Praise and rejoice over the small victories. Notice them. Celebrate them. Make him feel all mushy-gushy good inside when he makes a good choice.
  6. Read Dobson’s The Strong-Willed Child.
  7. Choose your threats wisely and follow through.
  8. If you get it wrong, don’t be afraid to apologize. Use your own life as an example for him to follow.
  9. The only way out is through. I wish there was an easy-button. I haven't found it yet. I do know that the refinement comes in the thick of things, in you and that precious child. One day you will look back and testify of the all-sustaining goodness of the Lord. 
  10. God's Grace is sufficient. And for all the ways you might feel like you are failing miserably, like you are overwhelmed, like you are ill-equipped for this; know that the gifts and callings of God are without repentance (Rom. 11:29). God has never once regretted placing this child in your care. Lean on Him, momma. He is enough. 
  11. How your preschool-aged child behaves is not a reflection on your abilities. Though he is half your DNA, he was made in the image of God. He is fearfully and wonderfully made. He is a reflection of the Most High God and the uniquely designed individual God intended him to be. And he's a work in progress, as are you.

 

Do you have anything to add to this list? Tell us in the comments!

Are you in the thick of it right now? I'd love to pray for you. Let me know in the comments, shoot me an email at amandaconquers at gmail dot com, or hit the reply button if you are an email subscriber.

 

By Grace,

Amanda Conquers

 

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