The Art of Creating

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Two weeks ago, I sat in a beautiful sanctuary over a century old. Stained glass splashed color on each missionary-white wall. I looked upward and huge carved beams like hulking man arms stretched from wall to wall across the vaulted sanctuary’s center. From the pews to the altar to the sculptures of Christ’s march to the cross, I was surrounded by craftsmanship—worship, really—made by saints who had long gone before me.

I was just back from a writer’s conference, and if I am going to be honest, I was still nursing the burns of rejection. As I marveled at the artistic talents of those who had long gone before me, I wondered why the world would possibly need my art. Everything here had stood time’s test. It was still sacred and beautiful and pointed us all to Christ.

I thought of how we have millennia of art, of raw honesty made beautiful, of creatives reflecting the Ultimate Creative. What would the point be to add mine, especially as puny as it seems in comparison?

Have you ever felt this way? Have you ever looked at yourself and your abilities, and felt beyond ordinary and not quite good enough? Have you ever thought it wasn’t worth the effort it would take—that you weren’t worth the effort? Like you were just a small girl with grass-stained knees staring up at the stained glass windows in the cross-section tower? And it took your breath away how they hung there like pear-shaped jewels across the neck of a regal queen giant—so high, so perfect, so up-there?

See, I had tried to sculpt words. I had sat at my modern day typewriter and done as Hemingway so famously said of writing—I bled. And then I went to the writer’s conference carrying my [he]art, and, well, it got a bit beat up. I didn’t know I had empty hallways in my soul, but the words of the critics are still echoing, still bouncing around, trying to knock off the candlesticks that light the way. I think those little lights are hope. I think those words would snuff out all the lights if I’d let them.

Before I left to pitch my project at that conference, I had knelt in prayer and took my manuscript and held it up. It felt vulnerable and tears watered my whole face. It was my drummer boy moment: “My gift I bring to you, bah-rum-bah-bum-bum.” It’s not much, but it’s all I have. I’ve poured my whole heart into it just for You. Will you take it? Can it honor You?

Art is scary. Giving of yourself is scary.

But as I sat in that old church building lifting my hands and my voice with the congregation, I remembered this truth about what happens when we give. We open our hands, we fill our hands with what we have, and we lift it up. It’s in the release that our hands are open to receive, it’s in the emptying that we have nothing but room to be filled.

The only way we become more like Him is by making more room for Him.

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Creating for God is really the same thing as creating with Him. It is the delicious leisure He has afforded the redeemed: to give our best, to give our favorites, to give our all. He, the Father—we, the daughters—and how He longs to apprentice us into His work. To spend time creating with us. He doesn’t want a sacrifice; He wants a relationship.

And He already made the ultimate sacrifice to have that relationship with us.

We ask ourselves the question, “Who am I?,” like we want someone to answer back with all the reasons we belong, reasons we aren’t imposters or posers, and tell us how wonderful and worthy of the task we are. We want to be great, or at least a little bit great. We want assurances we won’t face rejection or let anyone down. We are terrified someone's going to laugh in our face and say, "Really? Why would you think you could do this? You just wasted all our time." But the real question isn’t who am I? Dear heart, it’s not about your talent. It isn’t about your hopes and dreams. It isn’t about how good enough you are. The real question—the only question—is who is HE?

Could there ever be enough worship, enough of our fragrant offerings, enough of our bests to quantify His greatness, to encompass His magnitude?

A million times no.

Is the God who spoke through donkeys, who parted waves, who used men and women like Rahab, Gideon, and David able to use even you?

A million times yes.

And the best part is that this mighty magnificent God whose height we could never obtain not even on our tippiest tippy toes, whose breadth we could never get our arms around no matter how we stretch, that Great God sent His Son to be Immanuel—God with us. Because with has always been the point.

It’s not about what you—singular—can do.

It’s about what He—the Great Creator—longing to be known by you—can do. Really, it’s about what He already did.

Anything and everything we do can only reflect what He has already done. From Creation to Redemption, He is our muse; He is our source.

In case you weren’t clued in, this is my own pep-talk. And maybe you need it too? Dust off the words of rejection, the words of misunderstanding. Grab the hand of your Savior and go on and create. Reach in and pull out your all that He might fill you more. Let His words be the only ones that matter—for by His Word only was everything made.

Could there ever be enough praise of our Good God? Dear heart, of course, there’s room for you.

 

How do you create? (Photography, food, writing, painting, helping others feel beautiful, teaching—your trade, your hobby, your passion…?)

And now, what I really want to know: have you ever had your work rejected? Have you ever wanted to quit? What kept you going?

 

By Grace,

Amanda Conquers

Top Reads of 2017

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2017 will go down as the year I learned how to use my library’s reserve system. No really. It’s changed my life. It's also gotten me on a first-name basis with my librarians. I have read over thirty-five books this year just for me, of which less than ten were bought for my Kindle or personal library. My husband and our budget appreciate this. 

So, because I thoroughly appreciate good book recommendations, I thought I would share my favorite reads from the year. I am including my top non-fiction, fiction, and, since we do a lot of reading as a family, children's picture books and chapter books too.

 

Top Non-Fiction Reads:

I Am by Michelle Cushatt. I am terrible with devotionals. I prefer good old fashioned Bible reading and the occasional study with friends. But I loved this devotional. It was just the right length (a solid 5 minutes--about blog post length), it wasn't watered-down, and I highlighted many of the pages. 

 

The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron, Ph.D. If you suspect that you or someone you love is highly sensitive or easily over-stimulated, this book might be a game-changer.  I am still working through this one, but I feel both understood and better equipped to live as the woman God created me to be.

 

Mere Motherhood by Cindy Rollins. I read this book and loved it so much that I turned around and read it again. Cindy Rollins had me laughing on one page with her honesty about motherhood and homeschooling, and then crying on the next page (also with her honesty about motherhood and homeschooling). It's a great book for any mother or anyone who wants to be a mother... but I think it's a must-read for any homeschooling mother. It gave me a beautiful (but gracious) vision of what homeschool could be for this family. 

Why Motherhood Matters by September McCarthy. Have you have wanted to sit down with a seasoned mom/woman of faith, hear her stories, and be allowed to ask all the questions from the practical to the deep? This book is like that. September is that warm and wise mentor mom you wish you had. It is probably the best and most comprehensive book on biblical motherhood I have ever read.

 

Honorable mentions:

  • Peace in the Process by Kristin Taylor (My dear friend tells her story about infertility, adoption, and how God has been the author of her story. It's warm and encouraging and easy to read. Whether adoption is where God is leading you or not, this book will surely build your faith.)
  • On Writing by Stephen King (I have been slowly working my way through this. Some language. But a really enjoyable read on writing. For anyone who calls him/herself a writer--whether you like Stephen King novels or not.)
  • What is Reformed Theology? by RC Sproul (I am VERY slowly working my way through this one. Very solid reasons-why reformed theology book.)

 

Top Fiction Reads:

Beartown by Fredrik Backman. This was hands-down my favorite read of the year. It's about the hopes and dreams of a tiny hockey town, a star player who abuses the coaches daughter and when and how to take a stand. Part small-town life, part family dynamics, part teen drama and so many great one-liners on life and humanity. I am contemplating buying this book so I can read it again and highlight all over it.

The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson. This was my second favorite read of the year. It's a humorous read with profound insights on life, sisterhood, and race. In the background of the story is a mystery that keeps you turning the pages. I imagine the author being the sort of person who is fluent in sarcastic humor, secretly loves romantic comedies, and wears a "I love Jesus but I cuss a little" T-shirt. This book made me laugh, burn dinner (because I could not set it down), and has kept me thinking about what Jackson called "The Second South." It's so good, guys. (PS I'd rate it PG-13 for some language and adult themes).

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum. I didn't think I could like YA... until my friends recommended I try this book. It's warm and fuzzy, reminded me of what love felt like when I was seventeen, and it's an honest look at grief. (And there's no teen-sex in it. I clearly don't only read Christian fiction--but books with teen sex in it--I just can't even.)

 

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. This one reads like a modern day To Kill a Mockingbird. It's good writing on a relevant topic told inside a great story.

 

 

 

Honorable mentions:

  • The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah (A beautiful story about two sisters set in WW2).
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (This one got a little preachy for me, and it was hard to read as a cop's wife. But looking at police brutality and race from another point of view was so valuable--a necessary uncomfortable.)
  • The Goldfinch by Donna Tart (a beautiful and moving story, but also painful at times with the raw language and glimpse into drug addiction. I both loved it and hated it.)
  • I Found You by Lisa Jewell (a twisty-turny fast-paced mystery that I read in one day. Decidedly adult language and themes.).
  • The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton (I "discovered" this author at the end of last year and had read all five of her books by the beginning of this year. If you like historical mysteries with a great twist, she is an author I strongly recommend. The Secret Keeper was my favorite of the five.).

 

Read-Aloud Picture Books:

The Raft by Jim LaMarche. If you have a nature loving child, this book is pure magic. I didn't know it was possible to low-key obsess over a children's illustrator, but, guys, Jim LaMarche's pictures are moving. Somehow they capture the wild-and-free spirit of childhood and the wonder of nature. This book was my kids' favorite of his that he both wrote and illustrated, but seriously, if Jim LaMarche has illustrated it, check it out. I'm almost embarrassed to admit this, but I think I have been brought to tears by every single one of his books.

We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Helen Oxenbury and Michael Rosen. This year was our first time reading this book. Now every time we take a family hike, we sing that song, often making up our own lines. That book is now apart of some of my favorite memories from the year.

The Book with No Pictures by B J Novak. My kids laughed themselves to tears when I read this book. If you have a 4-10 year old, you simply have to get this book and read it out loud. 

 

Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems. Honest moment, I almost didn't check out this book solely based on the illustrations. I am so glad I did anyways. From my two year old to my nine year old, we loved this book. Turns out the black and white photographs with overlaid illustrations worked for my kids. There are two other books in the series, Knuffle Bunny Too and Knuffle Bunny Free, and guys, by the last book I was crying over Trixie growing up. (I cry a lot, clearly).

Honorable Mentions:

  • An Egg is Quiet by Diana Hutts Aston (and all these books in this series. Beautiful illustrations and my nature-loving kids loved what they learned).
  • Wet Cement by Bob Raczka (A fun book of concrete poems).
  • Mother Goose's Nursery Rhymes (I had almost forgotten the pleasure of simple rhymes in little one's ears. All three of my kids loved these.)
  • Little Pookie by Sandra Boyton (This whole series is my two year old's favorite. In fact, he now insists on being called Pookie).
  • How Do Dinosaurs Go to Sleep by Jane Yolen (This is another series my two year old adores.)

 

Read-Aloud Chapter Books:

Lost and Found by Andrew Clements. A story about two identical twin sixth graders who, thanks to an administrative error, find a way to be one person at school so one twin can skip school at a time. The story is hilarious and the lessons the boys and the grownups learn in the process are invaluable. My kids love listening to Andrew Clements' stories on audio book in the car. His pace is just right for car rides. (Other favorites of his are Frindle, A Week in the WoodsLunch Money and Benjamin Pratt and the Keepers of the School series). Ideal for ages 8-11.

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. My kids love everything by Roald Dahl and have listened to every one of his audio books at least 5 times through. His work is amazing for read-aloud. (Other favorites include The Enormous Crocodile and Matilda). Ideal for ages 5-11

 

Captain Nobody by Dean Pitchford. Easily my kid's favorite chapter book that I've read aloud this year. It's funny, and it has a regular, everyday kid doing superhero deeds. We read this around Halloween and used the premise of the book to come up with our own Halloween costumes. One of my favorite memories from the year. Ideal for ages 7-11.

 

The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald. This story moved way too slow for the two year old and he often jumped all over us while we were trying to read/listen. But my older kids and I were nevertheless swept away into a land with castles and goblins and magic rings. It moves slow, but the rewards are great for those who stick through to the end. Ideal for ages 9-14

 

Honorable Mentions:

  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (We got caught up in the wild magic of this story, but I've got to tell you that I found the audio book version where the L'Engle reads it to be painful on my ears. Worth it, but wish I had just read it myself).
  • The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill (Set in rural Alaska. A quick and enjoyable read about the love of learning, life in Alaska, and growing up. The short chapters make it a great first-time, get-your-feet-wet, chapter-book read-aloud.)
  • Geronimo Stilton Series by Geronimo Stilton (both of my older kids love these books. No joke, I think they've collectively read over 30 in the series). 
  • The Cooper Kids Series by Frank Peretti (I got these for my daughter hoping she'd love them as much as I did when I was her age. She does! Adventure. Mystery. Bravery. Although I will say it's been a little difficult to get her to set these books down when it's time to sleep...)

 

Okay. Now I need to know, what are the best books you read in 2017? Did we read any of the same things? Share with me in the comments!

 

Happy New Year!!

 

By Grace,

Amanda Conquers

 

Disclosure: This post includes affiliate links, which means that at no cost to you, should you buy the book through the link, I receive a small commission.

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