Ordinary Motherhood

For as long as I can remember, I have always dreamed of being a mom. And not because that is all I was told I could be. My mom always encouraged me to be a do whatever I wanted. Motherhood was something that always called to me.

Labor day week in 2011 my dreams had finally become a reality. I remember going to buy the pregnancy test and excitedly showing Brandon that we were, in fact, going to be parents. To say I was on “cloud 9” is an understatement. The next 9 months were bliss. With every week that passed and every appointment we went to, the idea of being the most EXTRAORDINARY mom overtook me. I dreamed of all the amazing things I would do with our son. All the activities and crafts that awaited me in the years to come. I actually still have the Pinterest board saved with all of the things I planned to do. I did all the things I was supposed to do during pregnancy. I ate right, I read “What to Expect” and we attended baby safety classes. I had turned our office into the most amazing baby room. All set and ready for the arrival of our sweet baby boy.

On May 8, 2012 at 2:08PM, Jude Michael Yates made his grand appearance! I will never forget the exact moment the doctors placed him in my arms. The amount of love I felt completely overwhelmed me in a way I never expected. To be able to love someone I have never even met the way that I loved Jude still amazes me to this day. When our eyes met for the first time and I whispered to him, “I am your mommy and I love you so much”. Even now as I write this I am sobbing. Thinking about the rollercoaster of emotions I felt all in an instant that changed my life forever.

In the next 6 years I was blessed to experience the same joy and excitement 2 more times with the arrivals of my sweet girls. Charlotte Grace on July 8, 2014 and Olivia Rae on April 28, 2018. With every birth I could feel my heart grow with more love for each one of our babies. Each moment, whispering to each one of them, “I am you mommy and I love you”. All three the greatest moments of my entire life.

But, if I am being completely honest, along with being the most amazing part of my life, becoming a mother has also been the most challenging part as well. And not just in the aspect of raising these kids but also in my own personal struggles. And this awful word called COMPARISON. Let me tell you, I never in a million years would have imagined the impact this word would have on my life until I became a mom. Sadly, I think so many other moms have fallen into the same trap. Looking at how another mom makes those cute little cutout sandwiches and sends their kids to school with sweet notes in their lunches and I am struggling to even put a simple lunch together that would be deemed “healthy”. Or maybe its seeing the mom in the grocery store with her 5 kids all nicely following her in a quiet line while I can’t even manage to calm my one 18 month old down while she screams through every isle because I have buckled her into the seat. Yes, I have been there and I could share so many other times where I have allowed comparison to shame me into believing I was anything less that a good mom. Believing that in some way or another I was ruining my kid’s lives with my lack of ability to make the perfect snacks for class parties and my absent desire to be the “room mom”. All the images I had created in my mind of what makes an extraordinary mom were eating me alive. And that Pinterest board I mentioned earlier, well that only served as my reminder that yet again, I failed my children.

I allowed those lies to chip away at my true identity. Day after day I could feel myself losing sight of who I was. It didn’t just affect me. It started to come out in how I parented and in my relationship with my husband. I could see this angry person start to react out of the pain I felt deep down inside.

Usually, this would be the part where I would tell you how I have let go of comparison and the 3 steps I took to get there but really, I am still a work in progress. What I can tell you is how I am working through it. How setting myself up daily with reminders that my identity is not found in me being a “good mom” or even being a mom at all. Daily reminding myself that my identity is found in Christ. In who He is and who He says I am. That I am loved by God (John 3:16), that God has a great plan for my life (Jeremiah 29:11). Knowing that God has not given me a spirit of fear but of power, love and self control (2 Timothy 1:7) and that He shows me that in His presence I can find JOY (Psalm 16:11). It’s in these daily reminders that I have begun to see a shift in how view myself. Even in my imperfection, God is faithful to love me no matter what. That love for me is not based on me being a good mom. His love for me is an unconditional love that began before I was even a thought. It’s a love that He already had for me even before He spoke light into existence. That He sees me as His own and there is nothing that will ever change that. When I begin to build my daily foundation on these truths, I am able to truly be who God made me to be. I am able to be the best mom, wife and friend. Not because I have the best parties or can make the best snacks, but because I know I am truly loved. It’s out of this understanding that I am able to overflow with that same love and love others well (most importantly, my family). It’s in this that I can be an extraordinary mom.

The affects of comparison is not something that goes away overnight. There are still days I struggle to remember who I am but with every day I find that my foundation gets stronger and stronger. And when those little lies try to come and rob me of the joy of raising my children, I remember to go back to His word and who He has created me to be.

Whether you are a stay-at-home mom or a mom who works out of the house, my hope is that you know you are loved. That you are doing an amazing job. And that every thing you do for your children will echo into eternity.

Finding Peace in Pain

On Monday, January 30th, we found out that I was pregnant with our 3rd baby.  To say we were excited would be an understatement.  But the excitement turned to fear 5 days later.  On Friday, February 3, I woke up with cramping only to discover I was bleeding.  I am not a medical professional but I knew enough to know it wasn’t a good sign.  I immediately called my husband who came racing home.  Through tears and sobbing, I left a message for a nurse to call me back.  The time it took for them to return my call felt like an eternity but we sat and waited and prayed.  The call finally came but it only brought more despair.  All they could tell me was that they were very sorry but I was losing the baby.  My heart sank as Brandon held me.

As I sat in our room all I could do was cry.  In the midst of the tears I kept hearing lyrics to a song that I have heard before.  It was a worship song by Bryan and Katie Torwalt “God With Us”. The main chorus kept running through my mind:

God with us, God for us, Nothing could come against, No-one could stand between us

In that moment of pain I know God was with me.  He was there grieving with me.  Crying with me.  He was comforting me, reminding me of His faithful love.

Pain is inevitable.  We live in a fallen world and there is pain all around us.  What I have learned is not how to keep pain away but instead how to handle pain when it does come.  There was a time in my life when I ran from God during hard times.  I would seclude myself because it felt easier to be alone.  I never wanted to bring others into the mess that I was dealing with.  The issue with that was it gave room for the enemy to speak lies in places he has no authority speaking into.  It’s in those times that he wants to make you believe you are alone and that no one cares, especially God.  It’s in seclusion that the enemy tries to leverage our vulnerability to make us run from God.  But it’s in our moments of pain that it is so important to press closer into God.  To allow him to bring peace and comfort to ease our suffering.  It is only in God that we can find true comfort.  Just like the lyrics to the song.  God is always with us.  God is always for us.  There is nothing and no one that can separate us from the love He has for us.  He sees the pain and He always hears the cries even when you don’t think He does.

It was in pursuing Him that I found peace to pursue.  I can’t explain why what happened did, and I am not going to try and figure it out.  What I will do is stand firm on what I do know. The truth that God is a good god.  That He gives good gift to his children.  That he doesn’t bring pain but peace.  That no matter what, He is always there with comfort, hope, joy and peace.  I will hold tightly to these truths and as I do, I know I can trust God to be faithful to always be there.

I don’t know what life may look like for you right now.  Maybe you are experiencing the loss of a child or maybe you are dealing with another area of hurt.  I would encourage you today to lean into God.  I promise He is not far off.  I would also encourage you to seek community.  I had so many people around me, texting me, calling me and praying for our family as we processed everything.  Allow others to come along side you and let them in to the messy areas of life.  Hold tight to the truth that is only found in Him and true peace with come.

I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart.  And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give.  So don’t be troubled or afraid.  – John 16:27

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From the moment I found out I was pregnant with Jude my greatest desire was not that I would raise obedient children. Actually, if I am being truly honest, it has never been that they would be good christians.  My greatest desire for my children is that they would grow to love God and to live their lives loving others with compassion, mercy and justice.

This afternoon Brandon and I had a parent-teacher conference with Jude’s teacher.  She spent some time telling how smart our son is, and of course we were so glad to hear he is developing academically.  It was what she told us next that brought me the greatest joy I have had since becoming a mom.  Jude’s teach went on to tell us how extremely kind Jude is.  She told us that Jude is always looking out for others and is always the one to run to another child’s side when he sees they are in need.  He shows true compassion for others and it has never been prompted by his teacher or another adult.  It genuinely comes from his heart.  She told us he has shown himself to be a leader to his classmates and sets and example not by his words but his actions.  She told us that he has been such a leader that she even created  a new class role called “Leader of the Day”.  This person gets to help lead the class and is given responsibilities to do so.  As she continued to tell us more tears began to well up in my eyes.  Proud doesn’t even begin to describe the how I felt in that moment.    As he has grown I have watched his love for God grow and his heart for other be demonstrated in everything he does.  Even at the age of 4 he stands for justice and loves so unconditionally.

As a parent we are to raise our children and teach them but I have honestly learned more from him that I could have ever taught him.  I have learned that loving God isn’t about rules that must be followed but instead loving God is a great adventure. Jude has shown me that love doesn’t see status or race and doesn’t seek repayment.

I am so greatly blessed to be a mom to my children.  It still completely blows my mind that God would allow me this privilege.  I pray each day God would give me wisdom to steward this blessing well.  To speak life into my children and to empower them to become everything He says they are.  Today was just a glimpse into who Jude is and I know I will experience many more moments like today.

“Children born to a young man are like arrows in a warriors hands” Psalm 127:4

Live Loved

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“Live Loved”  This is quote that I heard a while back and I honestly can’t even remember when or where I originally heard it.  I do remember that there was something about it that just resonated with me.  In our house I have a giant chalkboard that I have used to write inspiring quotes or scripture and this quote is one that has been up the longest.  It’s right at the top of our stairs and I walk by it at least 50 times a day (not an exaggeration).

Just the other day I was reading a devotional I’ve had for years and this verse stuck right our to me.

Jeremiah 31:3 God told them, “I’ve never quit loving you and never will.  Expect love, love and more love!”

There is something about this idea of living loved.  What does that truly mean?  In Jeremiah, God tells His people He has never stopped loving them and He never will.  Even in our moments of disobedience, even when we walk away.  His love for us is never changing.  He goes on to say that we should “expect love” and “more love”. This is the part that got me.  In my teen years I dealt with a lot of abandonment.  My parents separated when I was 10 and my dad was absent in my life.  I remember feeling confused, hurt and most of all unloved. Now let me just say, my mom never made me feel that way.  She always stood by me and she truly loved me through some of the hardest seasons in my teen years.  I know I was so hard to deal with and I remember a specific time when I actually told her I hated her.  I had allowed the hurt in my life to take control and it turned into anger and rebellion to the one person who did nothing wrong.  I think back on those days and cringe at how awful I was to her. Though it all my mom loved me unconditionally.  Even when I was at my worst she always saw the best.  She spoke truth over me when all I could see were the lies.  Through it all I knew deep down that no matter what I did, she was always going to love me.  Nothing is did was ever going to make my mom love me any less.  I knew I could always EXPECT love from her.

This is the same with God.  From the very beginning, even before He spoke light into existence, God has loved us.  As we read through the Bible we see stories of the ups and downs in humanities relationship with God and through is all, God has always worked to bring His children back to Him.  That was His goal from the beginning and it hasn’t changed.  He created the garden in Genesis to be close to his creation and through our own sin we were separated from our Father.  We see the death of Jesus, God’s only son.  It’s in this act that true love is demonstrated.  That Jesus laid down his life so we could live for all eternity with our Father.

Fast forward to today.  God’s love hasn’t changed for us.  He still loves us as much today as he did at the creation of Earth.  He is always pursuing us always calling us back to Him.

So what does it mean to live love?  To me it means to live in freedom.  To know that my life is not based on performance but instead it’s to be loved by a God who has love me since before the beginning of time.  I walk in that love and know that nothing else matters.  Understanding just how much God loves me makes all else seem worthless.  I no longer search for my identity because I know who God says I am.  I am his beloved daughter.  I no longer perform for the approval us other because God sees me and he is the only audience I care about.  I live to love God and to share that love with the world.

 

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“I don’t think the way you think.  The way you work isn’t the way I work.” God’s Decree.

“For as the sky soars high above earth, so the way I work surpasses the way you work, and the way I think is beyond the way you think.”  – Isaiah 55:8-9 (MSG)

 

A few weeks ago, I took Jude and Charlotte to my nieces 8th birthday party at a local roller skating rink.  Neither of my children had ever been skating so it was really fun for me to take them.

Being there actually brought back a lot of memories from my younger pre-teen years.  In 5th grade, it was the cool thing to have your parents drop you off at the skating rink.  Really, we were too young for anything else and it was the only place our parents would let us go.  I remember getting ready to go and putting on my JNCOs (yes I wore JNCOs).  I remember hanging out with groups of friends and the music blasting.  Through all of the memories, what I remember most is “couple skate”.  Not because of all the times I was asked, but the opposite.  When the music got slower and the DJ would announce couple skate time, I would skate to the outside of the skating area and watch from the sidelines as my friends would skate with their special someone.  I remember feeling brokenhearted.  The sadness that overtook my heart was painful in the moment.  I would pretend it didn’t bother me but really it hurt.  It was then the thoughts would begin to take over.  Why was I never asked to skate?  What was wrong with me that I was undesirable to any boy my age?  In the moment it was the worst thing that could ever happen.

As I skated with my son a few weeks ago, I was reminded of those painful moments.  The sadness I felt in the season, but as we skated hand-in-hand, I looked down at Jude as he looked at me with a huge smile.  The joy on his face was priceless.  In that moment, I laughed at my younger self.  At how insignificant those couple skates were.  What had seemed so important to me then didn’t even compare to the moment I had with my son.

There are so many times in our lives that we are so caught in the moment, we can’t see what God is really doing.  We have ideas in our hearts and forget that God’s plans are so much greater.  Today I look back at those sad moments in my life and can’t help but think, God was watching over me.  God knew the great plans he had for my life.  He saw the greater picture and knew what I really needed in the moment.  Maybe, just maybe, God was protecting my heart all those lonely Friday nights.  He was preparing me for a greater joy.  Even when things in my  life happened that, I do not believe, were part of His plan, He still took those times and helped me grow.  He still walked beside me and even carried me when the pain was too much.  As I look back on various moments in my life, I thank God for the unanswered prayers.  For the times He didn’t give me what I thought I wanted in the moment.  I am thankful today that His plan is greater and that He knows the bigger picture. All I have to do is trust in Him to light up each step as I take it.

When it was time for Elizabeth’s baby to be born, she gave birth to a son.  And when her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had been very merciful to her, everyone rejoiced with her. – Luke 1:57-58 (NLT)

Community has been something that I have been learning a lot about in the last year.  Brandon and I have always been involved in our local churches since we were young.  We both learned to serve and take part in helping when needed.  Brandon is more of an outgoing personality, so community has come natural to him.  I am the complete opposite. I am an introvert by nature and really connecting with people has not been a strong suit of mine. Don’t get me wrong.  I love people and I love the local church but I have always kept people at a distance.  When I get close to others I tend to keep the relationship at a distance so they don’t get too close.  Over the years I have been content with my version of “community” but in the last year, I have found that to not be enough.  What I was defining as authentic relationships was actually just superficial acquaintances.  There was no real depth.  I actually found that I would have an inner struggle with this.  I wanted to get close but I was afraid of what others would think.  Would they actually be able to love me for me?  Could I actually trust someone with my true inner self?

This morning as I read this verse, something spoke to me.  There was something inside me that prompted me to look deeper into this verse.  At first glance, it really is a wonderful verse.  While Elizabeth was about to give birth to John the Baptist, her community rejoiced with her.  That in itself is beautiful.  The idea that as a community we are to rejoice with others in their times of joy.  To not envy their blessings but to give thanks to God for provision for them.  But as I read this verse again I felt like there was something more.  As I began to research more I discovered that in this time period it was customary for a community to rally around a woman as she labored. The cool thing is they didn’t just come for moral support, oh no!  They would come with musical instruments, food and they would prepare a huge party!  How cool is that!  Thinking back to the births of my two littles, I don’t know that I would have wanted my whole community around but as I let this idea sink in, I began to see how beautiful that picture really was.  Community to them was so much more than what we have turned it into.  It wasn’t just waving to your neighbors as you drove by or saying “Hey” when you saw each other at the mailbox.  Community meant family.  Think about the kind of authentic bond they had to all surround a woman in her (what I believe) most vulnerable state and celebrate the life that she was bringing forth.  Maybe it’s just me, but I was brought to tears as I imagined this scene.

There are maybe three people in my life that I would have even considered inviting to the hospital when  I was having my kids and only one of those was not Brandon or my mom.  I’m not saying we need to start inviting everyone in our contacts to the births of our children.  I am challenging you, just as I was challenged, to look at your relationships.  Do you have a true community?  Are you surrounding yourself with the “birthing room” friends or are you keeping others at a distance?

As I looked at my relationships I began to realize that I kept others at a distance out of fear.  Fear of what they would think and fear of getting hurt.  I truly believe this is true for so many others. We don’t want to let other in out of fear.  It’s fear that cripples us and keeps us from enjoying the community that God has for us.  It’s fear that tells us to not let them in when God says to love them.  To experience true authentic community, we must silence the lies of fear in our lives and stand on the truths of God.  The truth is that were created for community with God and with others.  And we don’t have to be afraid if others accept us because He does and He will provide the right community.  We just have to be willing to take a step and start cultivating those relationships.

My challenge to you is this.  Take a look at those who God has surrounded you with.  If you don’t have anyone, then I would encourage you to get involved in some sort of group.  Trust that God will bring the right people around you who are going to support you.  People who are willing to do life with you.  To rejoice with you in your blessings and grieve with you in pain.  Take a step and ask God to open your eyes to see who they are and He will show you.

Unspoken Faith

“What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?  Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, ‘Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well.’ – but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing.  What good does that do?” – James 2:14-17

This past week I had the opportunity of attending “Momcon 2015”.  This is a MOPS conference they hold every year.  It was a fun getaway with some of my mom friends.  Our time together was a blast!

As I look back at our trip, it wasn’t the messages or the worship that sticks out the most.  What truly touched my heart were the selfless acts of a couple ladies on our trip.

On our last day, a group of us went to the food court at the mall for lunch.  On our way into the mall, my friend Ashley noticed a woman sitting on the corner with a sign.  While others may have ignored this woman, Ashley felt prompted and took a step of faith to stop and talk with the woman.  As I watched Ashley love on this woman it brought me to tears.  She shared with this woman that there was so much more for her life.  That God had greater plans for her.  She began to speak life to a destiny hidden within this stranger’s life.  When they had finished we went to eat lunch.  As we ordered, Ashley made sure to order her new friend a meal and walked it out to her before we went back to the conference.

On our plane ride home that same night I was able to witness yet another selfless act.  There was a mom flying alone with her son who looked to be about 2 or 3.  Halfway through our flight that sweet boy got sick and threw up all over his mom.  Without even giving it a second thought, my friend Heather jumped into action.  She ran to get the mom some towels and assisted her in getting her bag, which thankfully contained extra clothes for her and her son.  While others watched in disgust of the vomit, Heather showed love that day to that sweet mother.

Thinking back to our last day, the verses in James 2:14-17 come to mind.  That faith without good deeds is worthless.  I don’t think James is saying good deeds is all you need but instead, that we must live a life of faith that moves us to action.

So many times as Christians we are so eager to vocalize our faith but we forget about what that means.  To be the hands and feet of Jesus.  We get excited about the idea of living a life a faith but when our opportunities come we miss them because we are so preoccupied with our life that we can’t see them.  We get caught up in the religion and forget about compassion.

God wants us to live a life that is a true example of the faith we are so eager to talk about.  Helping those in need not with what we say but through authentic action.  James 1:27 says, “Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.” (MSG) We are called to action.  To serve those in need.  In this way we will be a living example of the faith we have in Jesus Christ.

That day, Ashley and Heather showed Jesus to those women without having to speak a word.  My 3 year-old son always tells us, “I have the keys to the kingdom to bring Heaven to earth”.  We all have the key.  The authority to bring Heaven down to earth. To shine the light of truth and love to a dark and hopeless world.  The question is how will you use those keys?  Will you step out to stand for those who can’t?  Will you open your eyes to the needs of those around you?  Will you live in a way that is “pure and genuine in the sight of God”?  Will you walk in an unspoken faith?

“When people meet me, I want them to meet Heaven.” – Bob Goff