I’m so much like her.

I’m sitting here rocking my almost nine month old daughter.

We are both crying.

She’s fighting sleep, as usual. And I’m fighting constant exhaustion.

I just came back in to hold her after leaving her in her crib for a few minutes. She cried and I cried. I knew it would happen as soon as I laid her down.

But I had to step away. Just for a moment. Just long enough to step in the other room and fall to my knees and cry out to my Jesus. Tears flowed and I prayed. She cried and I cried.

And as I came back in to hold her, all I could think was how alike we are. This little one needs me every moment and depends on me for everything. She’s helpless on her own. She can’t fall asleep without help. So when she is tired, I can comfort her to rest.

There are times I have to let her cry, but that doesn’t mean I’m not crying with her.

There are times I walk into the other room, but that doesn’t mean I have left her.

There are times I don’t let her do things, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love her.

She doesn’t always see me and definitely doesn’t always understand what’s going on, but she is never alone and my intentions are always for her good. She needs me, and it is a need that echoes the deep human need for a Savior.

There are times I cry, but I know my God sees every tear that falls.

There are times I feel alone, but I know my God never leaves me nor forsakes me.

There are times I just don’t understand what or why or when or how, but I know my God works everything out for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

I am nothing without my Savior. And I am so thankful for the picture this morning that just as I hold my little one in my arms, my Savior holds me. Knows me. Loves me. When I am worn out and exhausted in so many ways, my Savior whispers for me to come to Him and find rest in Him.

To My Sweet Katherine:

You have made me a mother. And so on this Mother’s Day, I celebrate you, sweet girl.

You are nearing being 7 months old. And I am constantly amazed at how much you have grown, developed, and learned. You already make us so proud. Katherine Elizabeth Connatser, we are completely in love with you (and your precious baby chunkiness only adds to our love).

You are so active and when you’re lying down you just roll all around. You have always loved standing up and scurrying so fast around the house in your walker. Bath time and reading time you definitely have come to enjoy. You always love hearing music. You especially love being outside and going on walks. You haven’t slept through the night yet; you wake up every couple hours and just don’t know how to get your little self back to sleep. But one day you will learn and we both will thoroughly enjoy the rest that comes from a good night’s sleep. But for now, I will continue to love you through these exhausting nights. But even without solid sleeps, you are still so happy, content, and healthy. You have loved everything I’ve made for you so far and excitedly eaten lots (cereal, bananas, spinach, green beans, mangoes, avocados, carrots, peas, apples, pears, sweet potatoes, smoothies, and I’m probably forgetting something), and you get quite excited about a cup of water too. Your smile is constant; your giggles completely warm our hearts; we can tell that you love being around people. Your daddy and I have already watched your sweet and fun personality start to show. And your personality lights up our life.

Life in this family will most certainly be full of adventures. I cannot be certain of where the adventures will take us or what they will look like.

But the one thing I do know is that you will be so loved on this journey. At times you may not understand our love for you.

When we have to discipline you, know it is because we love you enough to lead you to the Truth.

When we make decisions for you that you don’t understand, know it is because we love you enough to pass our wisdom along to you.

Sweet girl, you have brought us an abundance of joy. Your short life has already strengthened our faith and made us better disciples of our Lord. The past year and a half of you being in our life has been filled with the highest mountains and some of the lowest valleys. We have soared through levels of love and goodness that we hadn’t known before you; we’ve trekked through some harsh valleys. And combined they have enabled us to be better parents for you, dear one.

I will gladly tell you about the valleys someday. I want you to know of God’s faithfulness through them. But I never want you to think that they were your fault. You may have been a surprise to your daddy and I, carrying you was far from easy, your birth was so very hard, and those first weeks with you were quite trying, but you, my dear one, were so worth it all. So very worth it. And I would gladly do it all over again so we could have you in our life. The Lord is faithful to redeem our hardships and pain, not to let us forget them, but to exchange them for the sweetest of joys; I pray that is something you quickly hold fast to.

Your smile melts us; your cries make our hearts ache.

Your abilities astound us; your strength amazes us.

Your past strengthens us; your future excites us.

Your independence is so mature; your attachment to us is so sweet.

My sweet Katherine, the Lord has used your precious life to teach me and grow me. He’s revealed my selfishness so that I may learn to selflessly serve you and your daddy. He’s taught me patience so that I may be more content. He’s forced me to rest and lay aside my striving for perfection so that I may more fully cherish the days we have together. He has reminded me that I can trust Him and His timing. He has taught me to open my eyes to miracles, because pregnancy and birth has shown me how completely miraculous life is. He has directed my heart to pray for those who so desperately want children and for whatever reason it hasn’t happened and those who have had to say goodbye to their precious babies. He has shown me the foolishness of my insecurities, as I look at you and only see beauty.

Sweet girl, the Lord is already using you in so many ways. And your daddy and I pray that you will trust and love Jesus, follow Him all the days of your life, know Him intimately and make Him known.

Dear one, you are our beloved daughter, and we pray you will one day be our sister.

We hope you will always know you are loved and you are prayed for and you are beautiful.

Thank you for making me a momma. But you have not only made me a momma, but a better wife and disciple of Christ. I love you, sweet girl. Thank you for being you. I celebrate you today and always.

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To My Fellow New Moms*

Since entering motherhood last year, I’ve already gained a wealth of experience that no books or advice could have prepared me for. And I’ve witnessed how eager the vast majority of people are to quickly share with a new parent their tricks, tips, and woes. Add those words to things discussed in classes and mounds of books on the subjects of pregnancy, birth, and parenthood and one can find herself quite overwhelmed. All the advice, even from the experts, conflicts. I think it’s a bit of what added to those very hard initial weeks for me with my little one.

So, I’ve compiled a list of what I’ve found to actually matter. And it’s what I will stick to next time around. I’m not trying to add to the advice jumble, but more so trying to just encourage you in your own parenthood journey.

10- If you are nursing, just stick with it and know it will get easier. This is probably the only one on this list that won’t apply to adoptive moms, but I thought it was important to add. I went to a breastfeeding class that the hospital offered, read a few books, and listened to the lactation consultant that visited our room after Katherine was born. None of them told me that everything could be going just fine and it would still be painful. They said if it was painful, something is wrong. But that wasn’t the case. My body just had to get used to it. And those first two weeks were awful. I admit it. So many women talk about how beautiful it is, but I struggled. I cried lots. And if you say the words “milk coming in” I will probably burst out in tears just thinking about that pain. But I knew the nutrients my little one was getting made it worth it. So I continued with it. And it did in fact get easier and better. The pain eventually stopped. So if you are struggling, keep with it. (And side note: Be sure to drink lots of water. And eat lots throughout the day. I didn’t do that at first and that also added to my crazy emotions.)

9- Allow people to make meals for your family. Between people from church, friends, and family we had dinners covered for the first two months. And that was by far the most helpful thing in the beginning. Whether it’s freezer meals, warm home cooked meals, take out, or gift cards, humbly ask and gladly accept. People want to help. And already having an answer to the, “What can we do for you?” question can definitely be a good thing. (Another side note: If you could care less about people providing meals for you, just find whatever would help you most and ask for help in that area.)

8-Start a schedule/routine early on. I didn’t start a schedule with my little one at the very beginning because I heard and read several things that said they were too young to be on a schedule at first. I don’t buy it now. She and I would have greatly benefited from a schedule from day one. Once we got into the first month I definitely stuck with a three hour feeding schedule. And since then we’ve been on a eat, wake, sleep schedule. But I’ve also been flexible with it. Plenty of people will say to demand feed your baby and others will say to stick with a strict schedule and not part from it. I say a schedule, with flexibility, is very good. Your baby needs it. You need it. If you’re nursing, your body needs it. You will quickly learn what your baby needs when you are used to a routine. Also, have some sort of bedtime routine. Our bedtime routine with Katherine includes bath time, reading from the Jesus Storybook Bible, and singing worship songs. Then we lay her down in her crib. It is a sweet time we all have gotten used to and look forward to.

7- It is so okay to admit that it is hard. In fact, please do so. Be real. Be honest. Be vulnerable. Find someone to connect to and be honest about the struggles with. The more I talk to women about how hard those first two months were for me, the more I hear from them that welcoming in the first child is always hard, a very tough transition, and more people need to be honest about it. It is hard. And that’s quite alright. It is actually good that it is difficult. Beautiful growth comes from the harsh struggles we walk through. Joy blossoms from the struggle. And just know it gets better. It does get sweeter. So much sweeter.

6- Don’t fall into the retailers’ traps. Don’t be fooled into thinking you need all the latest and greatest things to be a successful parent. The majority of things you find on the registry lists you don’t need. You absolutely don’t have to spend a lot of money. It would be easy to think you need the newest baby inventions, a closet full, a matching set of furniture, and everything monogrammed. But the truth is your baby needs very little when it comes to things. You’ll find yourself having a few go to outfits, something to help you be hands free for awhile (swing, bouncy seat, sling…something like that), being grateful for a carseat that goes from the car to the house to the stroller, and going through lots of diapers and wipes. Obviously there are a couple of other things you need like a bath and crib and bottles and baby toiletries. But otherwise, retailers will make you think you need to spend a lot more money than you actually need to. Don’t fall for it. Your baby needs you. Not all the stuff. It’ll all be outgrown before you know it anyway.

5- Put down the phone. Just do it. No matter what stage of life you are in, it’s time to learn to put the phone down. We are all so glued to the most recent tweets, posts on Instagram, stories shared on Facebook, newest addicting games that we aren’t fully living the life that is right in front of us. Your baby knows if you are distracted or if you are fully engaged with her. And the quicker we learn to put down the phone, the more we will be used to not being so attached to it as our little ones get older. And the quicker we learn to put down the phone, the less we will feel the need to be on social media and make comparisons. There won’t ever be a time when you wished you had been staring at a screen more. So let’s all start the habit now. And maybe it will help our children learn to grow up to read books, respect authority, be engaged in conversation, and play outside.

4- Trust yourself. Turn off the computer. Put down the pregnancy and parenting books. Tune out the crazy advice you hear from strangers in the grocery store. And just trust your instincts. Know one else knows your baby like you do. You will know when she’s hungry or tired. (And you will learn that so quickly if you are on a schedule.) You will get to know her quicker than you can imagine. And you will know what’s best for her. If you need help, seek it out from someone you trust. But know that every baby is different. And you know your baby and her needs like no one else can. If you don’t do what someone else did or you do what some author said not to do, it’s okay. It’s more than okay. It’s what’s supposed to happen because you and your baby are unique. Do what works for you and your little one. And know that you are doing a great job.

3- Be thankful. Always. Yes this journey is hard. And the beginning of it might be insanely rough. But that isn’t liberty to complain. We are called to be thankful in all circumstances. And when you take the time, even in the midst of exhaustion and tears and questions, to find things to be grateful for, you will begin to taste joy. And the more you are thankful throughout each day, the happier you will be. I’m not saying don’t be real about the struggles and hardships. But there is a way to be honest about struggles without complaining. And just know that there is someone out there who wishes she could deal with all those things that are driving you crazy. There is someone who aches to have long nights and exhausting days. There is someone out there who longs to hear a baby’s cry in her home. So learn to be thankful, because there is always something to be thankful for. If we learn to be thankful in the hard times, how much more will we radiate joy in the good times? God is good and faithful. Always. Let’s lean into that with everything our weary souls and bodies have.

2- Have grace with yourself. We will make mistakes. We will question things we did or didn’t do. It is so easy to drive yourself crazy thinking you could have done something better or should have done something differently. Learn to have grace with yourself. Ask forgiveness when you need to. Learn from what happened. Stop comparing. Move on. Your baby loves you and needs you. And you are enough. Rest assured that His mercies are new every morning. His faithfulness is beyond measure.

1- Make time to be in the Word. And make time to be with your husband. Motherhood is impossible to try to tackle alone. Life as a parent is crazy. You must find time to sit with the Lord for a few moments and be in the Word. It’s necessary. It was necessary before kids and it is necessary after kids. Your soul needs to be refreshed, renewed, recharged. The energy and strength you need to get through the day is not going to come from that cup of coffee or few extra minutes of sleep. Make the Word a priority in your chaotic daily life. And be sure to make time with your husband. Don’t let your husband fall to the back of the line. Parenthood doesn’t replace marriage. Motherhood doesn’t replace being a wife. Marriage should come first. Then together you can love, nurture, care, discipline your children. With the Lord and with your husband, you can do this.

*And if you are pregnant, then you are a mom. Motherhood doesn’t begin after labor. It begins at conception. Pregnancy ushers in parenthood. You begin to learn a whole new level of selflessness and love before you even meet your child. Whatever happens during your pregnancy reflects the gospel and can make an impact on His Kingdom. Much of these can be applied to motherhood during pregnancy. It is where many of these points began to be formed in my head.

Planning Peace

Reading through some of Proverbs this morning, I came across a verse that really struck me. Proverbs 12:20 “Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, but those who plan peace have joy.”

I often associate joy with suffering. One is a product of the other (if you allow it). James 1:2-4 and Romans 5:1-5 have been verses I have clung to throughout my life. When suffering comes alongside you, as a believer you have the opportunity to truly know joy and have the ability to rejoice in any circumstance.

But this verse in Proverbs enlightened my heart to another way the Lord provides joy to His people:  through planning peace.

I use the ESV, but other versions say those who promote peace, and those who are counselors of peace. But the basic idea is still the same:  being a peacemaker, desiring to fill your life and others with peace and not strife.

So what exactly does that look like? How can I plan or promote peace?

I will be the first to say I don’t have all the answers. But what I do know is that right now my main ministry is to my family. So, as a wife and a mother I need to plan peace in my heart and home.

1. Be still with the Lord. That means setting aside a few moments each morning to just sit, be still, and read the Word. It might not always be quiet, especially if my little girl is crying through her nap. But I do my best to orchestrate a pleasant environment to commune with my sweet Savior. I know it’s hard to be still, to leave the phone in the other room, to stay away from social media, but it’s necessary for the heart for so many reasons. Completely necessary.

2. Keep the house clean and organized. For me, planning peace also means not allowing the dishes, laundry, and dust to overflow. That means taking a little time each day to do simple chores so that my house is in good order. If the house is clean and in good order, stress doesn’t begin to creep in. If the barriers are put up between stress and I, then I can be happier and more content and in turn be a more encouraging, loving, and fun wife and mother. When I do little things each day, I have more time to spend devoted to my family. They get all my attention. They get all of me.

3. Seek forgiveness and forgive. Being a planner, or promoter, of peace also means dealing with sin. I need to be able to look inside my heart, at my actions, thoughts, words from the day before, and seek forgiveness from my Heavenly Father and then from my husband. That gives me the opportunity to learn from my sinful ways, grow in grace and truth, and in turn be the wife and mother I’m called to be. And when I examine myself, I have more of a pure heart to gladly forgive others. And when you walk in forgiveness, you don’t allow bitterness and strife to develop.

4. Live a healthy lifestyle. That can mean so many different things to different people. But for us, that means meal planning, taking Juice Plus+ and eating as much whole food plant based nutrition as we can, and being active. That might sound silly for what this post is talking about. But hear me out. When I plan meals I know what is coming for the evening. I already know what it is going to take to prepare the meal and can try to have it ready for my husband when he gets home. When meals are planned I don’t have to rush to the grocery store last minute or try to throw something together or be tempted to eat out. And when I’m doing all I can to be healthy, I am giving my best self to my family. I can’t serve my family to the best of my ability when I’m sick. So I need to do all I can to present to them the healthiest version of me, not only for the present time, but the future.

5. Have a budget and save money. Money can easily rip apart any peace that exists between you and your spouse. Establishing a budget lets you both know financial expectations and where the money is going. If you don’t have a handle on your money, it can cause an awful amount of discord. And if you save money, even if it is just a little at a time, whenever something comes up that you didn’t expect, you are ready for it. Preparation can take a lot of the stress out of stressful circumstances.

Some of those might appear silly to you. And you might have other categories to add. But for me, those are what I can do to be at peace and promote peace in my family. My family deserves the best me that I can give them. When I am disciplined enough to take a few moments each day to do these things, contentment and peace, happiness and joy will radiate from me to my family. And they are so worth it.

It seems natural that when my heart and home are peaceful, joy will follow.

Take time to plan peace.

And I have a suspicion that more than joy might just come along.

 

Just Keep Walking: Lessons from Isaiah

My heart inclines towards certain passages of Scripture. It just needs to cherish those trusty truths and dwell on the past faithfulness of God in order to be strengthened for the current day’s struggles, temptations, and troubles.

Sometimes the Lord will refresh my heart with a new insight to a passage. But other times He directs me to a place we have tarried before. He invites me to sit with Him and remember the way He comforted and sustained, gave peace and strength in previous days. 

As I’ve traveled into motherhood, the Lord has continually brought to mind a few verses in Isaiah. They have been a source of refreshment and encouragement through several trials and uncertainties.

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:28-31

Do you notice how the last part doesn’t make the progression from walking to running to soaring, but rather the opposite? I will forever remember the teaching I heard on this in an Old Testament class at Union by one of my favorite professors, Dr. Kelvin Moore. There is an intentional reason for this order of things. The author describes different stages in life: mounting up with wings like eagles, running, and walking. He goes from what is least common to what is most common.

There are moments in this Christian journey when we feel like we are soaring. Happiness, joy, peace, excitement fill our hearts. Our yearning for the Lord and His Kingdom cannot be contained. These mountaintop experiences give us such renewed energy for the faith and set our hearts on fire for our great God. Praise God for moments like that. But, most of life is not lived on the mountaintop.

Most of life is not spent soaring like eagles.

Most of life is not even spent running.

Most of life is spent walking.

Usually fainting is not a consequence of merely walking. But the author declares that our God will renew our strength and give us the ability to walk and not faint. Why? It’s the everyday walking that wears us down. The dirty floors, piles of dishes, stressful jobs, financial hardships, endless laundry to do, continuous meals to prepare. The feelings of loneliness, inadequacy, weakness. The subtle temptations and the giant reminders from the enemy of past sin. Thinking about daily struggles is enough to make you want to faint.

But this is a call to remember that the Lord provides what His people need.

Some days it takes everything you have to simply breathe. So just keep breathing. And know that Lord is holding you and calming your weary soul.

Some days will be painful. And on those days know our God comforts, heals, restores. And just know He will give you the strength to keep going.

Some days won’t necessarily be hard, but will just feel mundane. And so when you feel stuck, know the Lord is sustaining you and growing you even in the routine.

And everyday, know the Lord is preparing you for something greater. That greater thing may come in this life, but if it doesn’t it will most certainly come in the next.

So keep walking, my friend. It’s in the walking that we learn to truly trust our Savior and depend on Him for our every need.

Share Your Story

There is empowering freedom that comes from authenticity.

This age of social media has us isolated. We have never been so connected and yet so lonely. In a world of perfect Pinterest pins and only the most beautiful moments shared on Instagram, it is easy to start comparing your life to others and think you are alone in your daily struggles of the mundane chaos.

But, I have been reminded quite a few times recently that when you open up about real life, others are willing to share their stories with you.

They aren’t just willing to share. They want to share; they need to share; they need someone to understand, to listen.

I know full well it is not easy to open up to people. It has taken me years to overcome my natural instinct of suppressing thoughts and feelings, emotions and struggles. I continue to fight that battle daily.

But we are not meant to struggle alone. And as hard as it may be, we need to be vulnerable in community. Vulnerability breeds authentic relationship. May you be encouraged to know you do not have to fight alone. You do not have to suffer alone. Your struggles, stories, sorrows can breathe encouragement, strength, refreshment into another. And when you allow yourself to open up to someone else, that person in turn can encourage, strengthen, refresh your soul as well.

Your story needs to be told.

Your story matters.

You matter.

And you aren’t alone.

Why it’s ok to be alone on Valentine’s Day

My husband and I are in separate beds tonight.

Don’t worry. It’s probably not what you think.

He is leading a trip to Quebec with some of his students. International borders separate us on this Valentine’s Day. And that’s ok.

Don’t get me wrong, of course I miss him. But not because of the day it is, but because of the man he is.

 

While Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are quickly filling up with sweet, romantic gestures, I have had to remind myself that what happens, or doesn’t happen, on this day does not define me.

This day doesn’t define how loved you are.

Your value is not measured by the flowers you get, fancy dinner you eat, or sweet cards you receive.

 

If you went through today without an instagrammable moment, it is more than ok; you are not alone!  (If you happened to have beautiful moments captured on your iPhone…that’s wonderful!  Continue to share them and let people celebrate the lovely times with you!  But the rest of us that didn’t might need a little reminder that we aren’t the only ones.)

My day consisted of:
-sending my husband off to the airport at 1:00 am
-being awake with a little girl who didn’t want to sleep from 2:30 to 4:00 this morning
-a drive to Nashville with a crying baby and overly excited dog to stay with my parents while Spencer is away
-wearing sweats all day and having spit up on me for the majority of it
-chasing the dogs down the street in the rain after they got out of the fence
-spending a few minutes here and there trying to help unpack boxes (my parents moved last weekend)
-being alone with Katherine and 3 dogs while everyone works tonight
-a dog peeing on the couch beside me
-a dinner of an apple, Special K bar, and some thin mints (because I couldn’t put a certain fussy little girl down long enough to make something)
-and ending the day sleeping alone on a futon

I’m not complaining. Just being honest, being real. Not so romantic, eh? Social media has a way of isolating people by its masquerade. It has a way of making you feel like you’re not good enough, like you’re missing out, or like you must be doing something wrong.

 

But it is not what happens on this one, certain, overly commercialized day, it’s what happens on the ordinary days that matter.

It’s what happens in the ordinary that lasts, thats truly significant.  

Because it’s on those days when things aren’t going perfectly and you receive an encouraging word from a friend that makes all the difference.  It’s on those days when you feel overwhelmed by the laundry, meals to cook, and house to clean and the Lord speaks His truth through the Scriptures directly to your tired heart that lets you know that you are enough.  It’s on those days that you feel like you are looking like a hot mess and your husband comes home from work and tells you that you’re beautiful and your heart melts and tears form in your eyes and you know you are treasured and loved.

It’s the little acts of kindness, the simple encouraging word, the pieces of Daily Bread you take in, the lovely smiles and sweet hugs, the tender moments found amongst the chaos of mundane routine that are scattered throughout the year that add up to so very much.

 

So, if you feel tempted to go to bed discouraged, sad, or forgotten, dwell on those slices of sweet love given to you throughout the year, on the ordinary days. Dive into the Word and be reminded of where your identity truly lies. Be encouraged and uplifted by the love shown to you throughout the year from your family and friends and God.

And just know that you are loved.  You are valued.  You are enough.