Joy Invincible {A Birth Story}



A little over a month ago, I gave birth to my daughter.

(Guys. Here she is. Juniper Joy. Isn’t she precious?!)

(Guys. Here she is. Juniper Joy. Isn’t she precious?!)

(Trigger warning: I share some of the traumatic events after my delivery. If you are sensitive to this or are expecting and already anxious, please be warned. I don’t give a ton of details, but still want you to be aware. xo)

This time, my labor was short and intense. Three hours from start to finish. I had no time for pain relief, and I struggled to stay on top of the contractions.

When it was time to push, this fourth-timer remembered the rush when the baby leaves your body and is laid on your chest for the first time. I focused everything on that moment and had her out in two pushes.

For the first three hours of Junie’s life, we might as well have been bathed in a golden glow. She latched well. She cooed. She nuzzled right onto our chests and let out precious sighs while drifting off to sleep.

We fell in love.

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It was glorious… until it wasn’t.

I mentioned to Mike that I felt like I was bleeding more than usual. “Isn’t bleeding normal after you have a baby?” he asked.

“Yeah, it is. This just seems like a lot.”

We shrugged it off.

When the nurse came to check on me, she was concerned. My blood loss was weighed, tests were called for, and a catheter was inserted along with medicine in IV’s.

The bleeding only got worse.

Four hours post-delivery, my room was full of hospital staff, and I started to feel the world go gray. I heard the doctor call out, “We have to get her to the OR now. She cannot wait. Right now.”

I looked back as they wheeled me away—the gravity of the situation starting to register. My baby was sleeping peaceful in her bassinet. My husband was looking at me—concern etched into the lines of his face. I whispered, “I love you.”

I wondered if those three words were my last and if they were enough to cover my life and the ones I’ve loved with every breath of it.

As they hurried me thru the halls to the operating room, I called out, voice-weak, for Jesus. Jesus over and over again.

And guys? He was there.

Peace hovered around me, tangible enough that though I was too weak to reach out and grab it, it touched me. I didn’t know what would happen, but I knew I was with Jesus. Wherever He was going, whatever He had in mind, I was with Him.

The bright lights and the medical terminology bouncing around the white walls of the OR made me feel like I was in a different world, one I wasn’t quite apart of. So I sang.

Great is Thy Faithfulness. O God my Father/ There is no shadow of turning with Thee/ Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not/ As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

I sang till the mask was placed over my face and the white room went dark.


I hemorrhaged more than three-fifths the blood in my body because of what is called uterine atony (basically, the top part of my uterus contracted like it should meanwhile the middle part was too stretched out—ie 4 kids and a really fast labor—to contract. Instead it filled with blood.)

The recovery was rough because my legs filled up with gallons of fluid. I couldn’t walk and my nerves were shot from the trauma of the whole thing. They kept me four days and three nights.

Three days after I got home, I didn’t feel quite right, and my lungs were burning. So I made an appointment for that day at a clinic. When I got to the clinic, they sent me straight to the emergency room and urged me to travel by ambulance because my blood pressure was so high I was in danger of seizing. I spent another two nights in the hospital getting a 24-hour line of magnesium for post partum pre-eclampsia.

When my discharge papers were signed, my blood pressure was low again so they didn’t send me home with medicine. But right before I left, I could feel it going back up. I asked the nurse to take my blood pressure again. It was in fact up, but not high enough to be dangerous. So they sent me home anyways.

It was dangerous by the time I got home.

I had to go straight back to the ER. (I cried. Then I laughed. Then I cried again.) Fortunately, this time they gave me blood pressure medicine, monitored me for a few hours, and then sent me home.

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I’m still unpacking all that happened in the first few weeks of Juniper’s life. Some of it, I still can’t touch. It’s too raw. But here’s why I am telling you this story now:

Because God is faithful.

It’s not the story I would have asked for. Ever. It was awful and painful and terrifying. I certainly didn’t feel strong enough to face the recovery of it. Post-traumatic stress is not fun. And I am tired of anxiety.

But God is faithful.

So, while I continue to heal and recover, let me tell you what God did in the midst of all of this. Because, guys, while parts of this are hard, these parts are good. And I will tell them over and over again.

God is good. Even in the middle of your hardest, darkest night—He is still good.

  •  The doctor who worked to save me told me she had never seen blood results come back like mine after losing so much blood. She was baffled and had no explanation because my numbers were as though I had never even lost blood. (I do have an explanation: Jesus.)

  • My nurse told me that the day before my delivery they had done scenario training for my exact condition. I laughed it off at the time and said “You’re welcome for providing you with the real-life experience.” And then it hit me: If there was a best hospital to be at, a good day to bleed out, it was there, and it was then. I wasn’t even planning on delivering at that hospital—I switched last minute because it was closer and I had a feeling the baby was going to come fast.

Truly, I don’t understand how God works. But I do know He provided. Like Psalm 139 says, “He hemmed me in behind and before.” He sees all my days. He knows the ones appointed for me to live. And He has provided for each one of those days.

The revelation that God is in control is a paradox. It comes with both a terror and a peace. On the one hand, I am not in control. But on the other hand, He is.

  • I had the best labor and delivery nurse come on shift right before I delivered. She was older, a mother of nine, and a traveling nurse. She coached me, breathed with me, reminded me to relax and lift my eyebrows, and held my hand when the pain was unbearable. When she heard I was in the OR, she left her post so she could be there to hold my hand when I went under and when I woke up. I can’t tell you how much it meant to have a familiar face with me.

Nurse Diane. She also popped over to the post-partum side just to check on me each shift she had while I was there. She’s probably the closest I’ve come to encountering an angel.

Nurse Diane. She also popped over to the post-partum side just to check on me each shift she had while I was there. She’s probably the closest I’ve come to encountering an angel.

  • Juniper means evergreen—and let me tell you, we might have faced a bleak winter, but still she’s thrived. She’s been a source of joy and calm when it felt everything was crumbling. I can’t put into words the heart-busting love.

    We mamas, we lay down our lives for our children, wrestle in a place where life and death can both feel so close—but I look at Junie’s sweet face and I begrudge her nothing. She was worth it, her life so precious.

    This last Sunday when I received communion and the deacons said the words “This is Christ’s body broken for you. This is Christ’s blood shed for you,” I wept. I now know more fully what that kind of sacrifice means.

    My own body broke; my own blood shed. I love my kids knowing exactly how far I’d go for them because I almost went there—and yet, guys, Christ went even further for me. (For you too.)

  • Each day, I’d look at what recovery I still needed to get to and felt overwhelmed. And somehow, each day, God would meet the needs for that day, and by the next day I was crossing another milestone in recovery—the one that seemed impossible the day before. I will forever remember pushing the bassinet cart into the hallway, weak and short of breath, lifting my heavy legs one at a time, slower than I ever thought would feel miraculous. But I raised my arm and declared, “I am an overcomer!” And everyone in the nursing station cheered.

  • The song, “Great is Thy Faithfulness” has been an anchor for me. I sang it to my belly as I learned to trust God and fall in love with the surprise He gave me. I sang it through the last weeks of pregnancy when I was miserable with pre-labor symptoms. I sang it through the hardest contractions, when the low notes and the words helped loosen and relax. I sang it in the OR, wondering if this was the end for me, feeling such a peace over me that it could only be Jesus—Immanuel—God with me. I sang it in the ambulance when my blood pressure soared. And I’m still singing it when I look upon the face of my Junie-girl.

  • Sometimes it takes going through something hard to see the community you have around you. I have been overwhelmed in the best way by the number of people who prayed over us—who were like the friends in the Bible story lowering their suffering friend down through the ceiling to put right in front of Jesus. I have friends and saints in my life who carried me by their prayers when I was too unwell to get there myself. I am so grateful. Our kids were well-loved while we were in the hospital. We had 3 weeks’ worth of meals delivered—and what a blessing they were. Seeing our tangible needs met by our community has been humbling but also makes me feel so very rich.

His blessings all mine, with 10,000 beside.



Last week, Mike and I were listening to the new Switchfoot album. (Native Tongue—It’s super good, y’all.) One of the songs is called, “Joy Invincible.” The lyrics talked about hospitals and hard news. It just seemed like an appropriate way to end this post.

If only life didn’t need us to be this brave/ But we don’t live in a world of if only’s/ Stretched tight in between our birth and our graves/ Hallelujah nevertheless, was the song pain couldn’t destroy/ Hallelujah nevertheless, You’re my joy invincible.

As it turns out, we can face the darkest night and find God still there. Our lives can feel like they are crumbling, yet there is a joy invincible that cannot be demolished.

These are not Christian platitudes. This isn’t me making less of hardship. This is me making much of God. Because He really can be our strength. Our peace. Our joy. Our present help in times of trouble.

Amen.

(And some more pictures because I know you all are eager for some baby spam. Okay, maybe not. But this mama needs to share, because, I mean… Gah!! So much cute!)

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I’d love to hear from you: have you had a traumatic experience? How did you see God’s faithfulness through it? (Share with me in the comments.)


By Grace,

Amanda Conquers

Photo Credit: The 1st picture of Juniper and the last 4 pictures were taken by Katie Fewell Photography and are used with permission.

When You Are Waiting for the Bottom to Fall Out (And an Announcement)

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A couple Sundays back, I had just gotten back to my seat after partaking in communion. The song shifted to a favorite of mine, “King of my Heart.” I stood and sang along. Then we got to the bridge. Now, our church sings it differently. Our former worship pastor added extra lines to the bridge so that right next to the part where we sing about how God will never let us down, we then sing about how Jesus is our solid ground, and how we are held secure within His hold.

That combination of lyrics of God not letting us down and being safe within His hold… well, let’s just say the tear ducts sprang a leak.

I’ve felt let down before. I’ve felt the bottom fall out before.

What if it does again?

Maybe you know my complicated story. In one year, while actively preventing pregnancy, I got pregnant three times, all ending in miscarriage. Each time, I remember looking at that second line on the pee stick, a little shocked that somehow God was going to bring another baby.

I learned that year no matter how you react to your surprise pregnancy (be it fear, dread, or glee), it only takes a mother a second to fall in love. And that is the tragedy of miscarriage and abortion, because we fall in love whether we realize it or not, and then we have to go on living with holes in our hearts where a baby started taking up residence the very instant we knew of its existence.

I once read about how at conception, as soon as the winning sperm enters the egg, zinc is released that makes a visible spark of light when put in the right settings. Perhaps, the zinc release serves some biological function.  But perhaps, in this elaborate microscopic orchestra the real Conductor of Life reveals Himself. My point: In the beginning, God…  He is there. Psalm 139 echoes this, “You formed my inward parts; you wove me together in my mother’s womb…Your eyes have seen my unformed substance…” (v. 13, 16)

You know when a baby starts to take form? It’s early, six weeks and you can make out a head, body, and arm and leg buds. By ten weeks, it looks like a baby—albeit big-headed and thick-necked in just over an inch body. Yet God was there before there was a form.

It means even if you lost your baby days after you found out, you can grieve a loss. It took me a long time to come to grips with this.

It means that, perhaps even more difficult, if God was there in the beginning, He has always been there. He was there when you found out, and He was there when you bled out.


That Sunday morning, I was forced to take to my seat as the tears kept coming and the legs got shaky. Because there was the question resurfacing some four years later, “Do you believe God is good to you? Do you think He will abandon you?” I found that I have been holding my breath for two long months waiting for the worst because I’ve had surprises before.

Funny, as I sat trying to calm down and remember what I know to be true, the sweet college student standing next to me handed me a very-needed tissue and hug. She said nothing, but it was that gentle reminder from the Lord, “I see you, Amanda. I’ll never abandon you.”

You’re never gonna let, never gonna let me down.

I don’t know what kind of set-back, loss, or disappointment you’ve faced. But here’s what I remembered on Sunday: It might feel like the bottom fell out. It might feel like the bottom will fall out of whatever good news you receive. But the truth is, the bottom can’t actually fall out when the whole time God is holding you. (And if miscarriage is your story, let me tell you, yeah, you grieve what you never got to hold, but never once did that formed or unformed baby leave the hands of God. Not once.)

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, but even in that we recognize nothing leaves His hands.

Our earthly future will always be uncertain. It’s just that sometimes we are more keenly aware of it.

The strange beauty of those moments when your life is turning out nothing like you thought it would, before you stands the proof that God is in control. God is holding you. God is working His perfect will.

You wouldn’t choose this or pursue this, so it stands to reason, Someone is in control. And it isn’t you.

The question is, Will you trust Him?

So here I am, four years later, almost to the day of the last and hardest surprise I lost, looking at another surprise growing within me. I got to see it squirming and kicking—all 4 cm and 164 heartbeats per minute of him or her. Life is such an amazing miracle. I am choosing to rejoice in the miracle, in the surprise of it all. Because, come what may, it’s God. And He’s good. And by golly, I shall learn to trust Him yet.


So yeah, this heavy revy post is also an announcement.

Lord-willing, our family is growing by one more this January.

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I am still getting used to the idea, adjusting all my expectations for what I thought my year would look like, and holding firm to the hope that the moment will come when I stare up in wonder for all the ways God knows so much better than I do.

Our kids are over the moon, and my husband, who was most adamant about us being done, has been the most supportive and loving partner one could ask for. I am looking forward to sweet snuggles, squishy cheeks, and the end of morning sickness (amen). I am not looking forward to childbirth (at all), but the moment after… oh, I get to fall madly in love all over again.

Funny aside for those of you who read here regularly. Remember that post where I wrote about turning 35? Truth be told, that was my way of coming to terms with leaving my baby-bearing years behind. It was my step towards trusting God, towards letting go, though I assumed it meant I was done because my husband wasn’t budging and new opportunities had presented themselves. After that post, I even started giving away the baby stuff. Well, 3 weeks later, it occurred to me after losing my appetite at dinner that this highly regular woman was late. Yep.

I just about got technically pregnant the day I decided to trust God and step out into this idea of “doneness.”

And that, dear friends, has got to be the Providence (aka the sense of humor) of God.

 

Extra bonus aside: the day I got the pregnancy test, wide-eyed and scared of how everything was about to change, the only other thing I needed at the store was the movie my kids had decided on for a family movie night. The title: Brave. The irony was not lost on me, friends.

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4 kids. Yes. I will need a whole lot of Brave.

 

Here’s a question for you to think on: When you get good news or some kind of surprise, do you act like you are waiting for the bottom to fall out? Or do you take it and rejoice in it unreservedly??

 

By Grace and chock full of hormones,

Amanda Conquers

The Pace at Which a Mother Pursues Her Dreams

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I read these words last summer, and they have long haunted me since:

“Being a parent makes you feel like a blanket that is always too small. No matter how hard you try to cover everyone, there’s always someone who’s freezing” (Beartown, Fredrik Backman).

Being a mom feels like this, doesn’t like? Like you are trying to cover everything and everyone—leave no one in need—and yet constantly finding yourself coming up short.

  • the event you forgot
  • the car keys you lost (and later discovered in the fridge)
  • wondering if constantly sending your child out in mismatched socks is going to give him a complex
  • slumping into bed after a long day and your husband gives you that hopeful look and you just don’t even know where the energy or desire for anything other than sleep is supposed to come from

My daughter and I have a journal just for passing notes to each other. It’s fluorescent purple and written across the front in black sharpie are the words “Top Secret.”

A few months back my daughter wrote me a note that said, “I really hope you have a good [writing] conference next month, but why do they take kids away from their moms?”

Reading that question felt like a punch to the solar plexus. It offered up a thousand pounds of blunt guilt-force, and my bare flesh was exposed to receive it.

It reminded me of Fredrik Backman and the too-small blanket, for there in that notebook was the proof I had rolled towards writing for one weekend and left my daughter out in the cold.

Funny though, as I thought of how to respond to my daughter, I imagined her grown up one day, buried in her own family’s laundry and her own guilt for all the imagined ways she might be failing. Instead of shame, something resembling a mama bear rose up within me. Shame would not win this one, because if it could win me, it would win her one day.

I picked up my pen and began scribbling my daughter a note in response to her question because I wanted her to know something about being a woman.

“...Dear daughter, I hope that as you grow up and, Lord willing, become a wife and a mother that you will know that you are never just that or only that. There are so many wonderful things to you, and it’s okay to pursue those things too. It just means more adventure for your family. Moms have to be willing to put their kids before their dreams, but being a mom doesn’t mean you stop dreaming.


A few years back, I met with a mentor. I made some comment about raising kids, and she looked at me and said, “This is the season for sowing.”

It’s stuck with me, that image. The rocky soil, the tilling, the laying down and waiting for something green and fruit-bearing to spring up from the ground.

These years where we are fighting for our right to po----tty (alone!) matter so much. We are instilling manners, values, obedience, patience, and how to overcome. We pray over boo-boos and bless our food in hopes that Jesus will always be the first place our kids turn. Sure, it’s easy to get a little lost in bottom wiping and bathroom reminding (so that at some point you turn to your husband and ask him “Do you need to put pee-pee in the potty before we leave?”). But these little years matter in the light of the long haul… in the light of eternity. We are the mothers who don’t just lay down seeds, we lay down our very own lives.

I wrote a post a long time ago about how children tie the feet of the mother—how we aren’t just tied up, we are wrapped up in grace. And it’s true. I’ve learned that, at least for now, dreams can rarely be ran after. Maybe we just walk really slowly. Maybe those little ones that tie us up are really tethering us to the will of God.

It’s the thing we want to know though, right? As moms? Is it okay to pursue our dreams? When is it okay? At what age can we begin to have a life again? What is the pace we are meant to move at?

The one thing I know about planting seeds, we hold them loosely. We are always ready to lay them down. When we look back on our decisions and the way we lived our lives through the young years of parenting (and probably the older years too), it will be where we lived with our hands open that will come with the fewest regrets. Where we groped through the dark. Where we waited for God’s voice. Where we declared to the heavens “If You want this, God, You can have it!” It’ll be where we took tiny baby steps and giant leaps of faith. Where we slowed down, leaned in, and trusted Him.

Maybe the real question isn't what is the pace at which we pursue our dreams, but what is the pace at which we pursue our God? 

Because it's Him. It's always always Him.

Yeah. In your own strength you are rather like the too-small blanket over the great many needs you try to cover. You won’t ever be able to do it all. But, dear heart, that only means you have left room for God’s grace.

“Doing it all” has never been the point of our lives. We aren’t meant to walk about fully covered in the blankets of our self-sufficiency. The point, our point, is to wear His glory.

I can’t tell you exactly what you are meant to do in this season of your life. All I can tell you is to slow down, lean in, and trust Him. Hold your dreams loosely. And know you— banged-up, far-from-perfect, can’t-do-it-all YOU—was meant to shine forth His glory and point a freezing world to The Only One whose grace is big enough and warm enough to cover us all.

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How do you balance pursuing dreams and raising babies? I'd love to hear from you!

 

by Grace,

Amanda Conquers

Everything I Thought I'd Know by 35

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At 25, I told my husband that I didn’t want to have kids after 35. Maybe it was how the gynecologists make you feel like your ovaries suddenly shrivel up and sprout chin hairs on your 35th birthday. {Just the terms elderly primigravida or geriatric pregnancy are enough to age into your eighties, amiright?}

Maybe it was how in my logical mind, I did the math and arrived at 35 as a reasonable age by which to have all kids if I wanted to ensure they'd be out of the house by my retirement age.

Maybe it was how my mom had my baby brother at 39, and I was determined to do it differently.

Probably, it was all of the above.

When I was 25, I remember having a conversation with my friends where I confessed how it made me sad when women rush out and get their tubes tied at a young age, when how could you possibly know what you will want 10 years into the future? No, 35 would be a much more reasonable age to make a family-size decision permanent. Surely by 35, I would confidently know the size my family should be. Surely by 35, I would be ready to leave the diapers and sleepless nights behind. Surely by 35, I would have a grasp on life and all kinds of wisdom.

I turn 35 this week.

I still vacillate between wanting another baby and remembering how good sleep feels. My husband is less wavering, much more sure we are done. But me? Make a permanent decision? At 35? Am I even old enough to make permanent decisions? How did I arrive at this age?

When did this happen?

Add all these 35 Year Old Feelings to the scene last week where I am helping my daughter clean out her room. A pile is growing on the middle of her floor of all the things we will take to the thrift store—toys and dolls and too-small clothes. She pulls this oversized My Little Pony stuffed animal out of the closet and throws it thoughtlessly into the pile.

I pick up the discarded pony, and my mind flashes to 5-year-old Addy buckling in her brand new birthday-money present in the seat beside her. “Princess Buttercup needs to be safe too, Mom.” She had known exactly what she wanted: a pink-maned pony the same size as her own self.

Princess Buttercup—tucked in beside her for countless nights, the guest of honor at countless tea parties—and here she is, smudged and smooshed, and looking so much smaller than the day we brought her home.

I hadn’t realized the day we got her that we were at the crest of dress-up and tea parties—and how I would basically blink and Addy would outgrow the frilly casings of her girlhood. How she’d push against them and try to shake them off. Too pink, Mom. Too babyish. I’m too old.

I don’t regret the way I spent Addy’s earlier years. I stopped, I tea-partied, I let her put gaudy strings of beads around my neck. I tickled and laughed and looked at her full-on in the face. But all that, and it still flew by. I’m still wishing for one more tea party.

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Do you ever wonder where the time has gone? Do you struggle with getting older too?

It’s not the number that bothers me. It’s not even the extra gray hairs. I think it’s a grief of what has passed, of what is no more. Every year, my birthday comes, and I know I should celebrate, but, gosh, if every year I don’t get depressed first.

I think it’s okay to grieve the passing of time. Clearly, I have much to learn, but one thing I can claim knowing after 35 years alive, there is no way around grief. If grief is there, the only way past it is through it.

I’ve been searching Scripture, looking for ways to be okay with the way time passes like wind through fingers. How it can’t be held. How no matter how much diem you carpe, how many moments you savor, time breezes onward.

I actually googled “Scriptures for Struggling with the Passing of Time.” A well-known passage came up:

"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted…[God] has made everything beautiful in its time..." Ecclesiastes 3:1-2,11 [ESV].

Here is the part that grabbed me:

"I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before Him. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away." Ecclesiastes 3:14-15

I couldn’t wrap my brain around that last bit, so upon consulting other translations and looking it up in the Strong’s, I arrived at this: God is in control. And those things I have so delighted in, that I am watching fade into the next season, God so delights in those things too—so much so He keeps bringing things around full circle.

The seasons change. But they come around again too.

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Here’s the real bottom line: Our trust doesn’t belong in changing seasons. That isn’t where we are meant to put our grip down. Our trust belongs in the One who orders the seasons.

I think our proper stance is the one my Addy-girl would take. Three years old, buckled in, and demanding we roll down the windows so she could put her hands into the breeze. She would squeal, “Whoo-hoo, it’s a hang day!” and ask me to share in the merriment. On the count of three, Momma. One... two… three… Whoo-hoo! It’s a hang day!

We were firmly buckled in, running our fingers through the gift of each passing day. Not even trying to hold it, but fully assured that we were held secure through it.

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We are held secure.

I don’t have to know if I am done having babies. I don’t have to cling tightly to my kids’ childhoods, like the goodness of it all is going to run out. Change, yes. Deplete, I don't think so. The older I get, the more I suspect maturity has less to do with knowing things and more to do with accepting all I don't know. I have only to rest secured in my Father’s arms and allow Him to take me where He’s leading.

God's been good. I'm growing into the sure belief He will continue to be.

So on this 35th birthday, I am reminding myself to keep living--to lean in, buckle up, and throw an open hand into the breeze of this glorious day. {And eat chocolate cake and banana ice cream. Today, after all, calls for it.}

 

Okay, you have to tell me, how are you about birthdays and cleaning out kids' closets?? Do you get all melancholy too?

 

By Grace (and more than a few gray hairs),

Amanda Conquers

 

Photo 3 is by KatieFewellPhotography.com and is used with permission.

Photo 2: ten million blog years ago this site was housed at the-cadence.com. It's my photo. Promise. I just misplaced the original so I'm stuck with the old watermark ;)

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