The greatest crisis moms are facing today

I still remember the feeling I had when I walked through the doors of my first newspaper job, a fresh college graduate. 

As I took my seat in the lobby, waiting for my editor to lead me to my desk, I wasn’t nervous or intimidated or uncertain. I was bursting with excitement, eager to jump in and get started, ready to face the challenge of racing against a looming deadline with the goal of producing a published work.

For as long as I could remember, I had been preparing for this moment.

Seriously though. As a third-grader, I had created and published my own newspaper, “The Old-Fashioned Press,” which was then printed and distributed in my public elementary school. 

Yes. I was THAT kid.

From that point, my career path was extremely focused–and I worked very hard to make my dream a reality, from entering writing competitions in high school to serving as yearbook editor my senior year. I never hesitated when it came to deciding my major; it was always going to be journalism. In college, I had three media internships before graduation and during my final semester, I was the editor-in-chief of the school paper. 

So before my first byline as a full-time staffer ever hit newsprint, I was as prepared as I could possibly be.

It seems a bit crazy, right? All those years of work to lead up to this role?

But I soon found why this meticulous–and at times arduous–preparation was worthwhile. When breaking news happened minutes from deadline, tearing up the front page to write and edit fresh copy with notonesecondtobreathe was no problem. When the two top editors of one of the magazines in my group quit within days of each other, only to find barely any work had been done on the next issue due that week, no worries. When I found myself accepting a publisher role I never saw coming, it was OK. 

I just looked at the challenge square in the face and quickly got to work because I knew what to do. I had been trained for this. 

And no momentary setback was going to stand in my way.

That, my friends, was then.

Years later, I was now in a new role. My most important one yet. 

Mom.

And as I stared into my toddler’s tiny face screaming so loud I couldn’t even think, I had NO IDEA what to do. I didn’t know how to deal with my white-hot reactions triggered by some of her tantrums. I had no clue how to cope with what can be a mind-numbing monotony brought on by a repeating loop of diapers, dishes, and discipline.

Bumps in my parenting road sent me on detours full of isolation, frustration, and discontentment. I was sidelined by the obstacles. I lost sight of the end goal.

baby and mom

I wasn’t prepared for how exhausting these little lives can be.

It wasn’t till earlier this year while reading the book Desperate, written by Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson, that a lightbulb went on.

I had spent nearly all of my 30 pre-parenting years focused on doing well in MY life, and yet, I had invested comparatively very little of my time on how to guide and mold a future generation.

After listening to other women over the past few years–even those whose only desire was to one day be a mom–I know I am not alone. 

You want to know what I think may be the greatest feminist crisis of our generation? I don’t think it has anything to do with politics or the current president and his policies. 

The crisis we are facing is this: Increasingly, we as women are not adequately prepared to be moms. 

I’m not talking about developing a birth plan or pinning the perfect nursery to your board or reading baby books or even reviews about what products to buy (though I was pretty clueless about those things as well). 

I am talking about preparing our hearts and minds for the long haul. About forming a foundation to do the work of eternity. About being ready for the soul-shaping job that doesn’t get deterred by the crisis of the day, brought to you only as little ones know how to do best, in a way that keeps your eyes fixed on 18 years down the line and addresses the challenges you know you will face–not with annoyance or anger but calmly and confidently and with Christ.

sick baby and mom

The cries of sickness and sighs of sleepless nights are not as challenging when viewed through an eternal lens.


I think anyone would agree that parenting is a job of utmost significance. So why are we not better prepared for it?

Because, as Sally writes, we are not looking at it that way.

“Unfortunately, many moms have entered the battlefield of motherhood and are totally unprepared, untrained, and ill-equipped for the job. I know I was. And many have not understood that the home is a battlefield where sin and selfishness must be overcome, and that the taming, subduing, and civilizing of a home will be to a woman’s honor,” Sally writes. “I believe that if moms understood how strategic their roles were in this battle for the hearts and minds of the next generation, they would grow in excitement about this great job God created them to fulfill …”

She continues: “For me, it changed my whole perspective to understand that this was a job for which I was designed before the fall, and that I played a key part in God’s plan of redeeming this world back to Himself … Had I captured earlier the great call to train godly children, who would live righteously and invest in God’s kingdom work, I would have been much more prepared and excited to face the challenges along the way.”

Her words pricked my heart.

In every other job I can think of, it would be incredulous, and foolish even, if you took it on unprepared. Imagine a reporter entering a newsroom without first learning how to write an article. Or a nurse treating a patient without knowing how to administer medicine. A teacher standing before a class without ever forming a lesson plan.

Then why would it be ok to enter into parenting without much more than a box of diapers and some onesies? With the thought that we would merely figure it out along the way?

Why aren’t we treating the preparation for this job with the urgency and importance it deserves?

Maybe you have always loved babies and with your eagerness to cuddle a squishy bundle, you thought child-rearing would come naturally. Or you focused solely on the fun parts of playing in parks and having someone to love and love you back.

squishy baby

There’s much more to being a mom than just a desire for a squishy baby to hold.


Or, like me if I were to be completely honest, you viewed parenting as secondary to something else in your life, whether it is a career or talent you possess. That it was an asterisk to who you are, not quite as worthy to spend as much time developing it.

I’ll agree, at times, being a mom isn’t always as thrilling as chasing a big story. Its inherent selflessness may not be as rewarding as holding a finished product in my hands.

But with these little fingers laced in mine, I am holding an eternal product-in-the-making in my hands.

Before I was a journalist–before I was a thought in my own mother’s mind–I was designed by God to be a mom.

Moms, we were purposed for this work.

So what can we do to get ready to face our roles with the proper focus? Particularly if you lacked examples of biblical parenting in your own childhood?

I think we as the body of Christ could be doing a better job in helping other Christ followers along in this area, through both pulpit instruction and discipleship. The authors of Desperate encourage moms of young kids to find an older, godly mentor–someone who has faced the same struggles and can provide Scriptural solutions and support. I think this is a great idea and have been praying about finding such a mentor myself. Or if you as a mom are past the stage of raising littles, maybe you can seek out a new mom in your church and offer to help guide her from God’s Word and advise (not tell) her about how to do a Christ-honoring job.

Personally, since I have been striving to view my daily functions in light of the greater work taking place in my children’s hearts and minds, many of the challenges haven’t seemed so … well, challenging.

So when they disobey, or whine, or scream “No!”, with the long-term view in mind, I’m better equipped to step back and take a deep breath and say to myself, “this is part of the process–you knew this would happen–this is why you’re here.” And then ask the Lord to help me with my response.

Now I still have much to learn, and I fail more than I would like, but with this focus, I can gratefully say God is allowing my work to become more satisfying. He is expanding my view to show me how important it is what I am doing. And it is my prayerful goal that through my actions I can in turn raise my daughters with the knowledge and experience that if God also has this role for them, it can be the most fulfilling work they will ever have–even better than seeing your name in print.

girl and dad at sunset

baby reaching at sunset

My treasures–my greatest work.

Because my newspaper clips will continue to yellow and fade. But my most exciting work … well, they are growing a little bigger each day.

“Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.” (Ephesians‬ ‭6:11-13‬)

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How to tackle Whole30 and other life changes for the struggling mom

I was desperate.

For more than six months, I had been clawing my way to the end of each day, fighting the pain of throbbing headaches, stumbling through brain fog, and pushing against a brick wall of fatigue. I had bounced from specialist to specialist, who ran test after test, trying to figure out why I felt this awful. I had some answers, but no relief yet from my list of symptoms.

So when my naturopathic doctor became the third medical professional to recommend a radical elimination diet, I threw up my hands, defeated. Fine. It was worth a shot.

I really didn’t want to do it. I was so overwhelmed, barely treading in the deep end of daily living, that the thought of changing what I eat–even for a limited period of time–seemed like it would be the anchor that would pull me under. I didn’t think it would solve my health problems. I thought I already ate pretty well. And I really, really didn’t want to give up brownies and ice cream after the kids were in bed. That just sounded like pure torture. Needless pain and sorrow. Agony upon agony.

But I was already suffering, and the medical professionals thought that though changing what I ate was unlikely to completely resolve my issues, it could potentially treat or reduce some symptoms, particularly the aches, fatigue, irritability, and brain fog. And it wouldn’t hurt to try.

As my doctor went over the list of food groups that she wanted me to eliminate, I realized it was very similar to a plan I had recently read about in a college friend’s tumblr post.

“You mean like a Whole30?” I asked.

“Yep, this is very similar to that,” she said. “In fact, doing a Whole30 is a great way to go, because there are so many resources out there on how to do that.”

I left the appointment with orders that she wanted me to complete it before my next follow-up visit. Since we had a vacation coming up in about six weeks where I didn’t want to be finicky with my food choices, I decided if I was going to do it, the time was now. Or most likely never.

So what exactly is the Whole30 program? For 30 days, participants cannot eat any dairy, grain (wheat, oats, corn, rice), soy, or legumes (peanuts, beans). No added sugar. No alcohol. And you must avoid certain preservatives, including MSG and sulfites. (You can read more about the program specifics here.)

At first, I thought giving up sugar would be the hardest part. I mean, a couple Dove dark chocolates or Ghiradelli squares were an essential pairing with my afternoon coffee during the kids’ naptime. But as I started assessing my eating habits to see what I would need to change, I realized I ate a lot of dairy. Like, a lot. Greek yogurt first thing in the morning. Cheese several times a day. Milk in my scrambled eggs and as an ingredient in many recipes. And grains. So many grains. Bagel or English muffin almost daily. Oatmeal. Sandwiches or quesadillas for lunch. Pasta for dinner. Ugh. Sugar now seemed like an easy loss.

So I decided to focus on what I could eat instead of what I couldn’t. Mainly think of it as protein + veggies + fruit. Thankfully, I love food, so I knew I wouldn’t hate what I was eating … I just hoped I wouldn’t harm someone I loved if a craving for something on the naughty list took over.

Bottom line: It wasn’t that hard to do, I learned tons about food and cooking, and I found doing a Whole30 had many benefits. Here are my tips for making it a simple, worthwhile, and dare I say enjoyable experiment … even for the struggling mom.

Planning to succeed was way easier than I thought. One of my biggest hang-ups about starting a Whole30 was that I was in such a state I barely had the energy to put together a grocery list for my husband to take to the store. Meal plan and prep? That seemed impossible. As I mentioned before, there’s tons of info out there on how to do a Whole30, from books and blogs to Pinterest boards and podcasts, but even that was overwhelming. 

Somehow, I found Mel Joulwan’s Well Fed blog, and that was my saving grace. She has meal plans, straightforward explanations of how to prep, and even better, shopping lists with everything you need on them to eat the entire week, down to the spices. Like, I could just print off her grocery list and head to the store. I didn’t even have to think. (BONUS.)

I spent the majority of my planning time reading her methods and covering the basics on the Whole30 website. I’ve been asked a lot if you have to read one of the best-selling Whole30 books by the Hartwigs before starting. My answer is no, I did not find it necessary. There is TONS of free info–step-by-steps, recipes, FAQs about ingredients–on the site. I did end up buying The Whole30, but I didn’t reference it that much. Instead, I do recommend buying all three of Mel Joulwan’s Well Fed cookbooks, including her just-released Well Fed Weeknights: Complete Paleo Meals in 45 Minutes or Less. However, I don’t think you have to run out and buy her books before you start, because she has plenty of free recipes on her blog and more than enough resources to help you navigate the process. But I think it’s a good investment, because I (and my pretty picky hubs) have grown to love her recipes and style, and I use those cookbooks as pretty much my main source of cooking now.

full fridge

What my fridge looked like after my first stock up: packed full of produce for the week.

After I reviewed the first week’s meal plan and downloaded the shopping list, I headed off to stock up on specialty items I would need. For me, I found Trader Joe’s to be the best and most economical spot, though unfortunately, the closest one to our home is about 30 minutes away. But if I planned it right, I found I only needed to go once every two weeks. Nearly everything else I purchased at my local Meijer or Kroger. So if you have a Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods or another market that specializes in natural ingredients in your neighborhood, lucky you.

Also, it is helpful to carve out one bigger block of time at the start of your week for prep. The more cooking you can get done at one time, the easier it is to resist temptation, because you have compliant foods already prepared and are less likely to get yourself in a hangry situation. I modified Mel’s cook-up plans to work for my lifestyle (stay-at-home-mom in poor health) so I didn’t spend an entire afternoon or evening prepping, because that’s just not realistic. (Hello. Kids.) I broke it up into two or three cook-ups a week, making several meals at once, mostly taking 1-2 hours after the kids were in bed.

Before you think that still sounds like too much time, I found I actually spent LESS time in the kitchen overall during the week. I mean, I regularly took more than an hour a day making even quick meals for the family. Instead, in about 2 hours, I was making almost all meals for several days. When it came time to eat, you just pull your prepped stuff out of the fridge, reheat, saute your fresh veggies, and that’s it. Any mom who’s dealt with the “witching hour” before dinner can appreciate cutting that trying stretch of meal-making down to mere minutes. Plus, I found I was not as stressed and frazzled when we sat down to the table, because I wasn’t fighting off kids while trying to not burn food for the last 45 minutes. There are some meals I made without prior prep, but those mostly involved grilling and roasting, so still very little hands-on time before they are cooking.

I ate lots of coconut. And eggs. And cauliflower. And guac. I found that coconut is a staple in the Paleo/Whole30 kitchen. Coconut oil. Coconut cooking spray. Coconut milk. Coconut aminos. Coconut creamer. And so on. Also, I easily blew through a dozen-and-a-half eggs in a week, so I learned to buy 3 dozen at a time just to be safe. (I would often hard-boil a half-dozen at a time and have them ready in the fridge for a protein-fueled snack.) I used cauliflower frequently too, both fresh and frozen, for “rice” substitutes (Trader Joe’s actually makes a pre-riced cauliflower that is amazing) or “mashed potatoes” or in soups. And guacamole was great as a topper on breakfasts or salads. Or by itself. Because it’s guac.

Other ingredients or foods I found helpful:

  • Larabars (there are several compliant flavors) for snacks on-the-go.
  • Aidells or Trader Joe’s chicken sausages–high in protein, ready in minutes.
  • Cashew butter (Trader Joe’s is my favorite, but Kroger’s Simple Truth version is pretty good too)–I found I like cashew butter better than its counterpart of almond butter as a peanut butter replacement. And it is great as a fruit dip for a little “treat.”
  • Boneless, skinless chicken thighs–I would roast or grill 2 dozen a week. Done in 30 minutes when roasting and then you have a base protein ready-made for lunches or many dinner recipes.
  • Tessemae’s compliant dressings–their balsamic is great on salads or as a quick marinade.
  • Coconut aminos–this replaces soy sauce and is used in many of Mel’s recipes, and I went through a few bottles. ALERT: this was my hardest-to-locate ingredient, but they do sell it on Amazon if you can’t find it elsewhere.
  • Trader Joe’s dried fruits, especially their mangoes–just enough to satisfy a sweet craving.
  • Trader Joe’s frozen Chile Lime chicken burgers–these are so, SO good. Meal in a flash.
  • Frozen salmon fillets or shrimp–more protein in a pinch.

But besides these specific, simple foods, I followed Mel’s “stock up” methods pretty closely for buying and preparing my weekly protein and veggies.

chicken salad

Simple, delicious lunches were easy to throw together once I knew what I was doing and had plenty of healthy ingredients on-hand.

I spiced up my cooking habits. I realized somewhere in the second week of Whole30 that I didn’t really know how to cook before starting the program. I mean, I could plod my way through a recipe decently enough, but I never really knew how to season meats or veggies without following a plan. In fact, I had to buy many spices, because I rarely ventured outside of salt, pepper, and garlic. Suddenly, foods seemed to come alive in ways I didn’t know possible. David decided foods he had previously turned up his nose to (brussel sprouts especially) were actually quite tasty with the right seasonings. And I now was equipped with what to quickly do with that chicken instead of having to consult Mr. Google. (Salt + pepper + garlic + paprika, throw in oven.)

One of the biggest take-aways was Mel’s steam-saute method for veggies. David has declared he never wants me to make broccoli or green beans any other way. It is so simple and flavorful. I could eat piles of veggies prepared this way.

I also learned making foods from scratch really wasn’t that difficult or time-consuming nor is it only for crunchy or CrossFit people (no offense if you fall into either of those categories, but it’s just not me). Make my own mayo? No problem. Cut and roast a spaghetti squash? Piece of cake. Special spice combinations? I try to keep four whipped up in my pantry that I can sprinkle on a variety of foods. (My favorite for breakfasts is Mel’s Sunrise Spice.) I found myself regularly pulling out my Ninja without fear. (A couple tools that I didn’t have at the time that would be useful are an immersion/stick blender, which I got for Christmas, and a noodle spiralizer or Kitchen-Aid mixer attachment.)

meatza pizza

Meatza instead of pizza? It’s actually really good.



Overall, Whole30 changed me. While I set out on the program for health purposes, I found many other reasons why it was a beneficial experience. It taught me to read labels more closely. (I had no idea how often sugar is hidden in prepared foods!) My skin improved. I lost 5 pounds. I learned to make wiser choices with what I put in my mouth and that I could indeed make healthy yet convenient meals. I noticeably had more energy.

It wasn’t all puppies and rainbows though. It didn’t solve my underlying health problems, and I continued to have headaches during it. (In fact, on Day 3, I was sick as a dog, most likely from detox, so be prepared for this if you try the program.) I did have to fight back cravings, but it wasn’t impossible. It can be more expensive than your normal food-buying habits, but you don’t have to buy organic and grass-fed everything if your budget doesn’t allow. (Just focus on the most natural ingredients you can get for the price.)

But it fundamentally altered the way I have eaten moving forward, because I found it was easy to implement. Instead of cereal or some other grain for breakfast, I usually make quick omelettes and scrambles full of veggies (my favorite go-to is three scrambled eggs mixed with half a diced pre-roasted sweet potato, reheated in coconut oil and seasoned with a teaspoon or so of Sunshine Spice). Rather than a sandwich with the kids for lunch, I make tuna or chicken salad or eat leftovers. I no longer fix my coffee with half a packet of Splenda and a pour of Coffeemate; I now drink it without sweetener and only a splash of coconut creamer or black. Almost all of our dinners are now Paleo or Whole30 (though I am not strict Paleo right now by any means–I still love Friday night pizza). And for the first time since I was diagnosed with hypoglycemia after a glucose tolerance test confirmed it in college, my blood sugar was stable. I no longer regularly felt periods of shakiness throughout the day, which I used to experience despite eating frequent, small, protein-filled meals. 

Along with the Whole30, I made other life changes. I began taking a daily probiotic and a couple other supplements recommended by my doctors. During the toughest period, I said “no” to anything that was non-essential to caring for my kids. I purposed to get outside every day that I could. I slept at every opportunity. I said “yes” to help from my husband, family, and friends. I listened to worship music. And though Whole30 by itself didn’t cure me of my health struggles, about a month after I finished it, God allowed my daily waking headaches to stop. I started feeling normal again.

Many of you have prayed and asked about my health. We are overjoyed that I have felt as well as I have for the past few months after I struggled for much of 2016. This month, I plan to have another MRI to follow up on my cyst, but I do not expect any negative change, based on my symptoms. And after the … er, decadence of the holidays, I am ready for a fresh start and plan to do another Whole30 again.

It most certainly can’t hurt.

Or at least it is temporary pain. Because a lifetime of lacking a little afternoon treat with my coffee is just not a sacrifice I am willing to permanently make. I have toddlers, after all.


“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭10:31‬)

When this year wasn’t what you hoped for

This wasn’t the New Year’s Eve I had planned.

When I thought about the start of another year, and the days leading up to it, a visit to our family from The Most Dreadful Stomach Flu Ever just wasn’t on my agenda.

We had things to do. Projects to accomplish. My husband had specifically taken vacation days during this time with the hopes to tackle them.

But at 6:15 a.m. the day after Christmas, my alarm clock jolting me awake was a sudden urge to run to the bathroom and stay there for quite some time. Oh, the sickness.

On top of the nausea and stomach cramps, a strange, pressing, hot pain started creeping into my chest, rising under my ribs, filling the space in a consuming way. The pain grew so bad that by the afternoon, I couldn’t take it any longer. I couldn’t escape it no matter how I tried. It got harder to breathe. Something seemed really wrong. I told David we need to go to the hospital. I felt like I was going out of my mind from the pain.

At the ER, the medical team found my heart was beating far too quickly, and I was dehydrated. After some IV fluids, along with nausea and pain meds, my heart rate started to come down and the worst was over.

I spent the next couple days recovering in bed, sapped of energy and my intestines still in torment, though the meds kept everything in check. By Friday though, the bug had spread to my youngest daughter and then David, who also got a fever and back pain to go with it. This was not your average stomach flu. This was the Grand-daddy of All Stomach Flus. (It also dropped in on many other Scally family members, making love and joy not the only things we shared on Christmas.)

I have to admit, besides feeling sick and in pain, I was frustrated as the days dragged on, and disappointed–and truthfully, a little bit angry–when we had to cancel our annual New Year’s Eve plans. This was not how this week was supposed to go.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. I mean, this wasn’t how this year was supposed to go. As was the case for many people I know (some with far more significant reasons), for us, 2016 left a lot to be desired. I was ready to ring in 2017, with its unmarred calendar and a starry-eyed optimism that this was going to be The Year that we take on our list of goals with gusto and get things done. This year couldn’t possibly be as lousy as the last.

Yet here we are, ringing it in with Gatorade and chicken soup, the four of us quarantined by ourselves within these four walls.

Wah. Wah. Wah.

Then, that still, small voice whispers powerfully in my head, “When are you going to realize that your plans may not be MY plans.”

sick babe

A closer look at my full hands reveals a full heart.


Sigh.

This seems to be the lesson of my life that I struggle so desperately to grasp.

I mean, let’s take a look at my list of what I hope to accomplish in 2017. It tends to be full of temporary things. Organize the office. Finish the basement. Clean out the garage. Decorate the great room. Pick up more work. Write more. Read more. Travel.

But what if His plan for this year has nothing to do with my well-meaning checklist? What if it is, in 2017, to simply grow closer to Him, however that may be achieved? To be a godlier wife. To be a more Christlike mom. A more humble servant and a more proficient sharer of the Gospel.

Why is it so easy to get so short-sighted?

(I’m blaming the nausea. Kidding! Sort of.)

A few days ago, a post on Facebook caught my eye, about how to remember the blessings of the new year by writing down something you enjoyed or were grateful for on a slip of paper and put it in a jar at the end of each day. And then next New Year’s Eve, open the jar and be overcome by the joys experienced.

It’s a great idea I realized I don’t need to wait till tomorrow to start. As I look back on 2016, though kind of blah at first glance, it’s actually filled with ways My Lord met us in the darkness, took care of our needs, and continued leading us by His light.

With nearly nine months of health challenges for myself, we have never worried about paying one single medical bill. And that’s saying something, considering we lost nearly all my income due to not being able to work during those struggles, and MRIs, CT scans, ER visits, blood tests, and specialists aren’t cheap.

Though currently dirty, unorganized, and unfinished, we live in our dream home.

Though we get on each other’s nerves at times, I am married to my dream man.

And though they have added more gray to my head than I would’ve ever imagined I would have at 33, I am privileged to parent the daughters of my dreams.

Still, there’s more:

We have been honored to find new ways to serve at our church.

We are surrounded by family and friends, who have held us together with prayers and sustained us with support.

And one of the most notable as 2016 closes out for sure: since August, for whatever reason, I have not woke with daily, debilitating headaches.

I take that “whatever” back. He is the reason.

Suddenly, 2016 is not seeming so bad. Instead, I am feeling so blessed.

Christmas tree

May your reflection on the beauty of another year find more blessings than you can count.


He has met our every need. And He knew exactly what we needed and when we needed it to draw us closer to Him. I can say this with confidence even if my health hadn’t improved or if my year had been marked by even harder, more painful circumstances, because I know from His Word (and He has proven it repeatedly) that He is for me.

Bring on 2017. Count down the clocks and drop that ball. As long as my main goal this year is to pursue Him, nothing can go wrong.

And that’s truly something to celebrate.

“I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” (Jeremiah‬ ‭29:10-11‬ ‭from The Message‬‬)

I have loved my younger child differently

This year has been a whirlwind. 

When I say whirlwind, I mean there is still a box of maternity clothes sitting on my bedroom floor that I haven’t managed to find enough time to put away. (And if I’m going to be totally honest, there may be some pregnancy apparel still hiding in my dresser drawers, too.)

Whirlwind as in there are even some newborn clothes hanging in my own closet from those early weeks when the baby needed changing often, and I couldn’t yet climb the stairs following my c-section. 

Whirlwind as in when I stop to let my mind focus on the fact that today that baby has lived on this Earth for one full year, I feel I need to catch my breath.

We have been racing through this year. Sprinting towards survival. Carried along by the busyness of each day, filled with all the things it takes to enable more than one tiny human entrusted to your care to make it successfully until the next sleep. Diaper changes. Outfit changes. Meal prep. Instruction. (More instruction.) Discipline. (More discipline.) 

Then the forceful current of our daily routine pushed us through time even faster as we dealt with my own health issues for many of those months. Each day’s cherished prize: our heads hitting the pillows.

I cannot believe that last night, I put to bed a baby, and today, in this house, another toddler wakes.

first birthday

And just like that, a year has flown past.


I hadn’t stopped to really let myself think about it until last night. (You know, with the racing through life, and all.) The end of summer blurred into my eldest’s daughter’s birthday and its preparations, suddenly dropping us off to this day. But last night, it hit me. (Trust me, my husband will tell you.) It’s something about laying a child down to sleep, knowing they will have crossed that milestone the next morn of passing through another year that makes the floodgates open. And even more so that first year. I’ve come to realize–having been through two–that first birthdays are more of a celebration for the parents than the child, because you are rejoicing in the fact that you’ve successfully kept alive another soul for an entire 12 months. 

Not only have you cared for that little person for all those days and weeks and months in ways that stretched your abilities, you have learned to love another  in a way you didn’t know you were capable. An unstoppable, breathing, beating love that flows through your heart and mind, coursing through your veins and out to your actions. A love that everyone tells you will happen, but until you experience it, you can’t completely comprehend. 

And after your first child, you wonder how it would be possible to be filled up with the same love again, because you are already pretty convinced your heart in its current state is at capacity. 

Now that a year has passed after the birth of my second, let me tell you a secret. The truth is, for me, it hasn’t been the same.

My love for my younger child is different.

Before you think I am a terrible parent, publicly proclaiming my favoring of one child over the other, allow me to explain. 

I have already told the story how in the hours before my youngest’s birth, I was an emotional mess, sobbing in triage as my bewildered husband looked on. Not wanting to go through what I was about to experience because I was scared out of my mind. Scared not because of the pain of impending surgery and recovery, but because I knew the depths of what was to come. 

This time, I knew about the impossible love. And it was overwhelming.

reaching child

With this child, I already knew how far my love would reach.


Earlier this week, grandchild number 13 on my husband’s side joined our family. After he had a short NICU stay, my sister-in-law asked how I was able to stand being separated from my first daughter after her birth, since she also took a turn in the NICU. My answer was partially that I was so drugged, after a long labor followed by emergency c-section, I barely knew what was going on. But mostly the reason was that I had no frame of reference of what to expect as a mother and for me, hadn’t yet experienced that bond between parent and child. Now on the other side of that, knowing what it’s like to hold what you held inside you for 40 weeks, it would be much more challenging to go through something like that again.

And why is that? Well, you know how when you’ve done something once or you’ve been training to do something for a long time, and that moment comes to perform, your body kind of just takes over? That it acts on impulse, moving faster and more confidently than previously thought possible? Similarly, I have learned that once you’ve experienced the love of a child, the next time around, your heart responds accordingly. It knows what to do. It’s been here before. 

And because your heart knows what to expect at each new stage, it’s like it fills to overflowing before milestones are even reached. Gone are many of the uncertainties about what’s ahead, replaced by confidence that you know every new development is better than the last. You think newborns are great? Nah, wait till you see them smile. Love those 6-month-old giggles? Wait till a toddler whispers, “I love you, Mommy.”

I felt this love differently because it ran over what are now well-worn paths in this Momma’s heart, deepening the marks left by my first, pushing the boundaries to make room for more. Prayerfully cutting off the selfishness that clogged it before. Helping me better grasp just how My Father loves me and how far He’d go to reach my soul. How He’d send His Son in exchange for it.

Last night, my toddler helped me put the baby to bed. She recited our traditional nighttime story and then asked if she could pray. As I listened to her words and watched as my baby pushed her arm through the slats, spreading her fingers to touch her sister, I could feel the familiar tug as my heart stretched again.

Because now I know the miracle of a child is not only about new life. 

It’s about how it transforms yours.

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.” (John 3:16, The Message)

Recovery is not what this mom needs right now

Confession time: I have squandered the majority of this year.

Not in the mom-guilt, I-should’ve-done-more-with-my-kids sort of way (though there have been plenty of internal battles about that, I assure you). 

I look back at the last several months, filled with some of my most challenging times as a mother thus far, and realize now what I wasted was my perspective.

It’s taken a long time to write about what’s been going on lately, but not for lack of trying. I have started and stopped dozens of attempts in my head. Truth is, I couldn’t write. I didn’t have it in me, mentally or physically. Which only added to my personal frustrations. A writer who can’t write is like a caged animal, repressed and tortured.

It was back in December when the first signs surfaced that something was wrong. By January, things had gotten so bad that I picked up the phone to make an appointment with my doctor.

I wasn’t myself. I woke each day with pressure headaches, some so severe that I couldn’t leave my bed all day, and my migraine medicine wouldn’t touch them. I was shaky despite constantly eating. My arms ached as if I had moved heavy boxes for hours. I had no energy. At times, I was nauseous and dizzy. I struggled to think clearly, and I was irritationally irritable (and irritable is a kind way of putting it). 

Since I was only about four months postpartum, I thought it was most likely something askew with my hormones. My primary doctor initially agreed and thought I may start feeling better the further out I got from my pregnancy. Nevertheless, he ordered a full panel of blood tests, acknowledging that my symptoms were not normal. 

Those results were the start of my seemingly endless quest for answers. Soon, my calendar filled with appointments, tests, and specialist visits. By this point, it was April, and I was not feeling any better. In fact, I was worse. I’ve had migraines since I was 12, and these were not anything like my “normal” migraines–nothing seemed to help them, and they felt very different. My doctor sent me to the ER for one headache that lasted over two days, where I received the generic diagnosis of “complex migraine” and heavy painkillers to get through the worst of it. He also ordered an MRI. 

He called with results the day after I had it to tell me that it showed what was thought to be a cyst about the size of a penny, deep in the middle of my brain, and due to its size in that area, it could be the source of my headaches. After a disappointing visit to a neurologist who clearly didn’t know much about them, he referred me to one of the top neurosurgeons in our area.

It felt a bit ominous walking down a long, dark corridor in what must be one of the oldest sections of the hospital to the office of a man who cuts into people’s brains for a living. David and I listened as he explained that the MRI I had did not show enough views of the area, and he couldn’t say with certainty if the mass was solid or cystic. I tried my best to follow along as he shared how if additional imaging showed solid portions, I would need to have a lumbar puncture to see if it was secreting any hormonal markers to better tell what type of tumor it was and that radiation was usually the first course of treatment for tumors in this difficult-to-reach location. Surgery, he warned, would bring many risks due to its “delicate” location, as he put it–but he said sometimes surgery is necessary. 

My new MRI was set for 9:30 p.m. the Wednesday before the long Fourth of July weekend. I asked the tech to stream my favorite Pandora station, and I breathed in deeply as comforting words of Truth filled the tube as the machine began its work.

“Be still, my soul, The Lord is on thy side …”

The hours between the MRI and the call from my doctor seemed to infinitely suspend in time. I think waiting to hear important news you know is coming, especially related to health, is one of the hardest things for the human mind to process. You try not to think about it–yet then you only think about it more. I can honestly say I did not fear the outcome, but that did not stop the screams of “I JUST WANT TO KNOW!” pounding inside my head.

The radiologist and neurosurgeon agreed: the lesion inside my head was fluid-filled. 

Exhale.

However, the neurosurgeon went on to say, this could still be the source of my headaches, and there are times when even a cyst of this size and in this location can pose life-threatening symptoms, and sometimes surgery is still required. So he told me what to watch for, and he ordered a new MRI in six months to check for any changes. 

brain MRI cyst

The “friend” inside my head, as David calls it.


So now, I return to waiting. 

And it’s in this twisted journey of waiting wrapped in pain where I recently realized all that I’ve wasted over the past nine months.

Yes, I’ve not been my normal self. 

Yes, I’ve not been able to do as much as I would like. 

It dawned on me though that during this time, my singular focus has been on “when this is over, then I can …” and “when I feel better, then I will …” and nothing else. The light at the end of the tunnel. The sure diagnosis. The treatment that will eliminate the pain. The capability to pick life back up where I left it. 

But what if the “when this is over” never comes? 

Then what?

And how will I account for my time spent?

I have been waiting for my “life” to start again, but, I realized, I am living my life right now.

A few weeks ago, I downloaded a copy of a book written by my college friend, an award-winning journalist turned pastor, released earlier this year. “I Am Strong: Finding God’s Peace and Strength in Life’s Darkest Moments,” by John S. Dickerson, answers the questions of “why does God allow bad things to happen?” and “where is God during my pain?” by chronicling the journey of the apostle Paul and his “thorn in the flesh,” and through John’s own discovery of Truth as he deals with debilitating, stroke-like migraines.

Though Scripture never tells us what exactly the “thorn” was that afflicted Paul, a missionary dedicated to telling people about Christ despite many obstacles, we know it was awful enough that he begged God to take it away three separate times. And the answer God gave this man who poured his whole life into serving Him was “No.”

“No,” it is My will that you function with this pain.

“No,” it is My will that you serve Me with this pain.

“No,” it is My will that I have more good for you than you can imagine with this pain.

It was not with cruelty that God gave this answer; it was with a loving care that an all-knowing Power provides. It doesn’t make sense to us, but He sees how He could use His infinite strength to do more with our weakness than we could ever do without it, if we allow Him.

As I digested this Truth, I realized God’s will for my life doesn’t pick back up again with a yet-to-be-determined start date in the future that is free from pain. God’s will is to use my surrendered pain to complete His perfect work in me.

And when surrendered, I will accomplish more for eternal good through Him. 

Over the months of pain, especially on the days when I had no ability to get out of bed, I had been so consumed by the thoughts of how I wasn’t doing enough with my girls, how I had nothing left for my husband, how I couldn’t serve at my church the way I wanted to, and how I was prevented from fulfilling my personal hopes and dreams. And I was missing it. 

It wasn’t recovery I needed to be able to be fulfilled and joyful and satisfied again. 
It was a deeper, more intimate relationship with Christ. It was a surrendering of self to trust that God knows better than I do. That it is part of my journey, not something to get past.

It was the realization that, as John writes, my “greatest contribution in life may result from [my] greatest pain or weakness, surrendered.”

Mind. Blown.

I was telling a friend recently how I know through experience and God’s promises in His Word that He uses the challenges and trials in my life for His good. I have seen it, time and time again. And yet, for some reason, I still find myself kicking and screaming when pushed down a painful path. When I could be allowing myself to be picked up and carried by Him. 

This morning–a “good” day health-wise–my eldest daughter and I were dancing and running around to music, and my younger daughter was crawling around as fast as she could, desperately trying to keep up. I noticed her frantic attempts to join in on our fun, so I reached down and scooped her up. She squealed as I bounced her on my hip, a smile stretched across her face as we zoomed through the house. In my arms, she found abundant joy.

It wasn’t that all of a sudden she was physically able to fly past her own limits. It was that, in my arms, she could. 

In our Father’s arms, whatever our pain, we can too. His strength can lift us up. 

baby in Daddy's arms

Life is always better when held in a father’s arms. I am learning to let my Heavenly Father carry me.


I don’t know how many reminders it will take for me to keep my focus fixed on Him when the days here on Earth get tough, instead of when the painful part of this journey will end. Because I know I have hope and assurance that it WILL indeed end, dropping me off in the arms of my loving Savior. And it should be my goal to spend this ever-so-brief time in the dark pursuing Him in a way that when I see Him, and He pulls me tightly in to His secure embrace, He whispers gently in my ear, “Well done.”


“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians‬ ‭12:9-10‬)

Stop, busy moms and dads: The best moments of your day are the ordinary ones

My niece turns 5 years old today.

If I think about it long enough, I will break down and sob … so I can only imagine how her parents feel.

She is not the first in our family to cross this threshold from the baby and toddler days into official childhood–I have three nephews who are older–but she is the oldest girl. As the mom of two younger daughters, I’ve been watching her, as she has always been a step ahead of my own.

My oldest is now 2.5, the age my niece was when she was born. And that was just yesterday.

Wasn’t it??

Because I certainly remember my sweet, curly-haired niece tenderly and cautiously getting her first peek at her “Baby Olivia” in the hospital, just like no time has passed at all.

niece meets daughter

My oldest daughter is now the same age as my niece was when she met her in the hospital.

And yet it has. My daughter now wears the hand-me-downs that my niece wore when that baby girl was cradled in my arms.

And I realize I will blink again, and my daughter will be celebrating the same milestone my niece is today.

Time, I beg you, please stop.

But since I know it won’t (sigh), I need to.

It is so easy in the never-ending list of things-that-must-get-done-right-this-second to say “not now,” “in a minute,” or “just after this” … or dream for and long for the things I want to do but can’t … and miss out on the best parts of this time with our littles. These ordinary moments that are shaping an extraordinary life that we get to watch, if we allow ourselves to do so, unfold.

 

baby smiles

Today, I am stopping to soak up this sweet baby’s smiles.

 
So today, I am pledging to not get frustrated when things don’t go according to “plan.” I am not going to focus on the “what ifs” and the “wish I coulds.” I will stop and savor moments like:

  • The smile that instantly brightens my 6-month-old’s face when I get her from the crib
  • The way my toddler throws her arms around my neck with a fierce grip as I guide her legs into her pants
  • Running the brush through my daughter’s long, “luscious” (as my husband likes to call them) waves to get her morning “tanglies” out
  • Her small voice calling out, “Mommy, help you please?” when she can’t quite do a task herself
  • Dancing in the great room
  • Baby giggles
  • Crawling under the tent we just made to eat a snack and read her Bible stories
  • The slow, rhythmic breaths of concentration as my toddler studies something new
  • The lullabies of a proud big sister softly sung to her little sis as she prepares for nap
  • The way my baby looks while she sleeps

Everyday moments that are wondrous and awe-inspiring when strung together.

snacks and tents

Today, I am stopping for a snack under the “big tent” we made.

This morning, my toddler paused at the top of the steps and said, “Mommy, can you hold my hand?”

I was already at the bottom. I turned and climbed again to the top and held my hand out. I felt it fill with hers, and we started down.

She took two steps and looked up at me. She spoke in a voice just above a whisper.

“Mommy, thank you for holding my hand.”

I swallowed the rock in my throat.

In that moment, nothing else I “had” to do mattered. In that moment, there was nothing better.

I hope I always stop and reach for her hand when extended. 

For I know I will miss it–oh, how I will miss it–when it’s gone.

“I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart …” (‭Psalms‬ ‭138‬:‭1‬)

From one mom to the presidential candidates: I wouldn’t let my kids act this way

I’m one of those weirdos who’s always been fairly interested in the political process. Probably has something to do with my love of U.S. history and the fact that I am a (recovering) journalist by trade.

So it should be no surprise to those who know me that this weirdo oddly looked forward to watching the Detroit GOP debate Thursday night. The kids were in bed. Sweats were on. I sat down in front of the TV, with a pile of laundry to fold and a slice of Achatz 4-berry pie topped with a scoop of ice cream (because everything is better with pie).

As I flipped on Fox News, I thought I was done parenting for the night.

But then, it started.

The name-calling. The shouting. The taunting. The interrupting. The dishonesty. The blame-shifting. The disrespect.

Not from my kids, though, or any others. From those vying to hold the highest office in the land. And I quickly felt my inner-momma coming out.

You know that feeling you get when your toddler melts down in public? As I felt my embarrassment and blood pressure rising while the behavior on stage fell to new lows, I wanted to throw up my hands and shout “That’s it! We’re done here!” and march all these candidates straight out to the car.

In this election cycle, we’ve seen some of the most childish, confounding, unacceptable–and in some cases, perhaps even criminal–behavior I have ever witnessed. From people (in both parties) who want to lead this nation. Heaven help us.

If my 2-year-old did any of the above, she knows exactly what would happen next.

So candidates, come here. Put your listening ears on. Look right into my eyes.

This mom has had it.

Since you’re acting like children, I’m going to treat you like one of mine. Apparently, you all need to be taught a lesson.

Speak sweetly. Seriously, guys, this is pretty basic. I am beyond appalled at the tone of the discourse I have heard. The insults. The sophomoric jabs. In our house, we have a favorite phrase that we are constantly repeating after our toddler whines, complains, demands, or shouts: “Excuse me, how would you say that sweetly?” If it’s not spoken sweetly, we don’t respond to it. And if it’s not something you can say sweetly (as in, “Little Marco,” “His ears are big,” “He sweats too much,” “His face is orange,” “His hands are small,”), don’t say it at all.

Wait your turn. If you hear that someone is speaking, don’t interrupt. If you are upset, don’t immediately react. We follow the Daniel Tiger adage around here: “If you feel so mad that you want to roar, take a deep breath and count to four.” (I was wondering Thursday if the Cruz family was also partial to the popular PBS program when the senator kept telling a certain billionaire to “just breathe” …)

Tell the truth. I realize this may be one of the hardest things to do if you’re running for political office. It seems like under-handed tactics and deceitful campaign ads are just part of the game. Or lying or cheating (or breaking the law) to benefit yourself. But we want to make an informed decision, so give us the facts. Like the kid with crumbs all over his face who claims he hasn’t eaten a cookie, we can see right through most of your poor cover-up attempts anyway.

Show respect. How can you say you’re running on behalf of all Americans if you can’t even treat your peers well? Or if you target and degrade certain groups of people? The office of the presidency, no matter who fills it, deserves honor and dignity. At various points during this campaign, I’ve felt like I could be watching a casting call for the latest reality show. It seems like the candidates have confused humility with performances that are humiliating.

Own your actions. If you’ve changed positions, tell us why. If you regret a decision or legislation you supported, explain what changed and how you would do it differently now. Don’t deflect (“but he’s much worse”) and point fingers (“well, he did it first”). Take responsibility, share what you’ve learned, and move on.

Life’s not fair, so stop pouting about it.  My daughter knows that she doesn’t get every toy in Target just because they’re there. That’s not how it works. Sometimes (but most definitely not in all circumstances), her right choices bring rewards. Other times there are disappointments–and we are teaching her that she has control of her reactions to those and even those trying times can bring blessings.

Follow Christ. Several of the candidates claim they are Christians, yet, sadly, many of their actions are antithetical to the truths taught about Him in God’s Word. The fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self-control, etc.) are scarce. I pray all the candidates would open their Bibles and seek Him–our Creator, our Savior, and our Lord–first and foremost. Because without Christ, even our righteous actions are filth in God’s eyes and our good works are meaningless; but through Him, He provides redemption for all.

We’re often told that the president of the United States is the leader of the free world. So grow up, guys. Lead. Be an example.

There will be consequences if you don’t.

 

“Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored.” (Proverbs 13:18)