7 Years a Mama

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I wrote this last night in anticipation of my Big Girl’s seventh birthday. It is an honor to be her mother and to have her in my life. God answered a big prayer the day he gave her to me.

She was the gift that showed me my purpose as a wife and a mother. Before  I had her, I went through some serious personal struggles and they all fell aside and were unimportant after she arrived. I have a very special relationship with my own mother and it wasn’t until l had this incredible girl that I understood the value of that relationship.

I actually used to joke that I didn’t want a daughter. I thought they were too much drama. But I was wrong. This daughter is my lifelong friend in training. She is the sunshine in my darkest days. She is a servant who teaches me how to serve better. She changed me into a better person. I’m so thankful God made me her mama. Here’s a little bit of what I learned in my seven years as a mama. 

On September 30, 2008, I had a scheduled birthdate for my first daughter. She kept trying to come on her own and then she’d stop. I didn’t know this would be a precursor to her big personality or her infuriating “just a minute” response to “Let’s go!”

I didn’t sleep much the night before. I was so wound up with fear, excitement, expectation and joy. I just knew life was going to change into a beautiful, messy, busy season. But I was ready.

I knew everything I needed to know to be the best.mom.ever. After all, I’d been a second mom to nine siblings, two dogs and two cats.

Being a mom was a piece of cake. At least at first glance. I had the mechanics down, but I wasn’t familiar with the finer details of a little person completely dependent on me for all her needs. In fact, I wasn’t ready at all.

Here are a few things I learned from this beautiful mess hubby and I made.

Mamas get to see the real person after everyone else leaves.

She was so sweet. That’s what he said the first time he held her. In his eyes, she was perfect. He was enthralled with her.

She had his number from her first breath. She was sweet. And perfectly herself.

I remember how she slept and grunted and stretched as everyone came around to adore her.

Then, when the final guests left, I fed her. I swaddled her and placed her in her little hospital bassinet. You’ve never seen eyes pop open so fast.

She had played the part. She was the perfect baby and now she needed to tell me about it. Those big blue eyes said, “Hey, Mama. Let’s talk about this life thing we started.”

She still does that to this day. She wants me to hold her and talk about life at 10 after 10 or later. It’s like she bottles it up for me.

Even if I’m crankier than I should be, I try to make this time for her. It’s when I really get to see who she is. I get to see her dreams, the things that make her smile and what’s really in that beautiful mind.

That’s my privilege. No one tells you this profound secret before you become a mama. And I’m so thankful to God I get to soak up all of her joy, sadness, fear and love as she rattles on.

Mamas get the joy of waiting on…

Words, walking, wonder, wails, writing…and just about everything else. We also get the joy of the other meaning of waiting. We serve two breakfasts, three snacks, lunch, dinner, dessert and a million cups of milk, apple juice and water.

These daily tasks of waiting and waiting on kids to…get ready, walk down the steps, work out their differences with their siblings, etc. We wait on prayers for situations with our kids to be answered.

We get waitlisted for tea parties at the library. We spend countless hours waiting on them at dance, soccer, scouts and choir to take them home to wait for them to get tired enough to go to bed.

All this waiting seems so long in the meantime. But that waiting is building our faith in Him. It’s building our strongholds of patience and joy. You see, there’s a reward for all this waiting.

We get to see the outcomes of our works in progress – first steps, first words, first books read aloud without help, first heartbreaks, first fears, first failures.

We get to see a baby become a toddler and then a little girl and then a big girl and then a young lady and then a woman. We plant seeds of trust and faith and love when we do all this waiting.

We get to see our kids grow, blossom and wither. But we get to see it all.

We wait and SEE.

Mamas get the joy of watching love move.

Love is a fluid thing. It’s a glimmer when we first find out we are going to be a mama. It’s a labor through nearly a year of protecting a life that’s part of you. It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do to get that tiny love into this world.

Love starts off shy and becomes the belle of the ball when it enters a child’s understanding. She takes it and runs with a million hugs, notes of declaration and devotion and to the line when one of her own is in danger or under attack.

Mama watches love sprout leaves after the baby wakes up and realizes she is her own person. She wraps a vine around Daddy, her brother, her sister, her grandparents, her friends and even strangers. She sees this tiny love reach out for her creator and his people.

I’ve seen seven years of love crawling, curling and curtsying.

I can’t wait to watch it keep moving forward.

Why Taking a Leap of Faith Is So Hard

leap of faithOnce upon a time, there was this writer girl who had a great job. She loved her company.

They let her work a flexible schedule so that she could feel a little more connected to her daughter. They let her have free snacks. They even gave her free lunch once a week.

She even got to pick the order in which she worked on projects. It was about as close to working on your own as you can and still get insurance, paid time off and a steady paycheck.

But she wasn’t totally happy. She watched three other people leave the company to follow their dreams as their own boss.

She was jealous. Not in a bad way. Jealous that they were getting what they wanted right now.

She knew God was working for her good (always), but she’s an overachiever and very impatient person.

So it was a test of faith that she had to sit in her very comfy cubicle and watch others head out into the great unknown.

She had this vague prayer that passed through her lips on a regular basis, “Lord, I want to be a freelance writer and home with my children by the time I’m 30. Can you make that happen?”

Sounds like she was wishing in a well, right? She was treating God like a genie in a lamp. Of course the God who made the universe could make that happen.

But He does things according to His plan and His timing.

She wasn’t always considering that.

She quite often thought he wasn’t working for her good because she wasn’t faithful enough, mature enough, good enough or just enough. But as usual, he showed up and showed out. But more on that in a minute.

Her husband was struggling through some big stuff. He was already one of those people she secretly (ok, obviously at least once a week) envied.

She didn’t know was that all of the rails needed to be laid for her to drive her own train.

She was so caught up in escaping and her dream that she didn’t see the big picture.

It was like a house going up. It’s a big mess when things are almost complete.

It’s hard to focus on a piece of the picture because all you see is debris, mud and unfinished rooms. It’s frustrating to the ready-to-be-done eye.

But if you slow down and step a little closer, you’ll see the handiwork of a brick facade or the beauty in crown corners coming together.

The mess gets cleaned up at the end of the project. The grass is planted. The floors are uncovered. The mud is pressure washed away.

Then, on move in day, you smell the newness. The wonder of a new life unfolding in a new home.

And that happened for this writer girl. She was about to turn 30 years old. The day before she turned 30, she received a call from an editor friend. She needed someone 20-30 hours a week to help with projects for the foreseable future.

She got to quit her job on her birthday.

It was an exciting time. But the leap of faith was really just beginning.

Her husband would start to struggle more. Her workload would be so big that she didn’t have the time she thought she would for her daughter.

The pile of debt she and hubby had piled up would start to become a really big burden.

She and hubby would nearly lose everything material that they loved.

They would get pregnant unexpectedly and then lose the baby.

They would face an $11,000 surgery that she had to have.

They would become distanced from each other by pain.

And then she finally reached the end of herself. She couldn’t fix her husband. She couldn’t drag more work through the door. She couldn’t ignore the loss she’d just suffered.

She couldn’t do it on her own.

So, she prayed some big prayers.

She handed her husband over to God.

She handed her pain over to Him.

She handed the mess of stuff and bills over to Him.

She looked at her beautiful 2-year-old daughter and said, “I can’t live for just me anymore. I asked for this beautiful little blessing. He gave it to me. Now, I need to show up every day and be the best of me for her.”

And you know what? This story hasn’t ended. But when she got to this point, God filled in all the broken places with beautiful promises.

He gave her husband a purpose.

He blessed the family with a hospital bill that amounted to $1,000 instead of $11,000.

He showed her there was light after loss.

He showed up when she shut down.

And this writer girl wouldn’t change any of that struggle, sadness, anger, despair or make it any less hard to take a leap of faith.

When you take that leap, you have to trust someone. And it’s not yourself. It’s Him.

We can’t do it alone. We can’t do it without His grace.

I know three things from taking this leap of faith. God loves us more than we can ever imagine. He always works for our good even when we don’t see it. His mercies are new every morning and if we look for them, they are there.

For the person struggling with a leap of faith, there’s always help. Always hope. Always God.

Some of the Scriptures that got me through this leap:

  • Romans 5:1-11
  • Romans 8:28
  • Romans 8:38-39
  • Hebrews 13:6
  • Philippians 2:1-4
  • Philippians 4:6-7

And my life verse, Romans 8:31-32 “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

I hope the ones who need it find some help in these words. Praying for you, sweet friends.

When I Feel Taken For Granted

thank youSo, I took a day off yesterday. Cleaning, cooking, making decisions and basically everything other than feeding the kids and changing their diapers.

Little One decided it was a good day for extra diapers. She must of sniffed something amiss with the mommy vibe.

The result of that day off? A grumpy mom. A grumpy wife. A grumpy me this morning.

Hubby had to go to work. I saw this as an intrusion on our weekend. His presence isn’t necessary, but I like for Saturday to be our day. But sometimes work calls.

And I wasn’t very nice about it.

So, I thought about it and it seems even though I took a day off, I didn’t do much for clearing the mind. I just didn’t do anything I needed to do. And that’s ok. We all need to do lazy days.

But we can’t let the piles of clutter (literal and mental) become a wedge between us and our people.

I was flipping through my devotional early this morning and trying to pick which woman of the Bible I wanted to read about today.

I chose Rachel first. But I didn’t remember all the details of her marriage to Jacob, so I went back to Leah to get the back story.

Now, I’ve read these two accounts several times. I have always been on Team Rachel. I used to think Leah was just a complainer who was jealous of her little sister. Then, I read the story again.

She was put in the situation by her dad. She was kind of forced into marriage and then had to watch her husband love her sister. Quite a condition to bear.

But then the Lord gave her three sons. She thought this would make her husband love her. And on the fourth son, she said she was naming him Judah because she was praising the Lord.

Not because she was counting on a person to make her happy.

I now know why I got Leah’s story this morning. I wasn’t feeling very loved this morning. But it wasn’t my family’s fault. It was my own.

I felt taken for granted. Much like Leah. I was frustrated and depending on my family to magically read my mind.

But I forgot a little truth that Leah didn’t have.

I have a husband all my own. Thank God, I don’t have to share him.

I have a husband who didn’t want to go to work, but he pulls up those boot straps and does it. Gladly. He does it because it’s how he loves us.

I have a bunch of kids who love me so much they don’t even let me eat a bowl of cereal without it going soggy. (Ok, so kids do take us for granted. It’s a reality we have to remember. They are still learning. But it’s often very frustrating. I’m going to have to try sticking my head in the freezer like Orange Rhino suggests.)

I have examples like Leah to guide me in being grateful for my blessings. I can remember that praise and thankfulness cancel out the selfishness and the taken-for-grantedness.

I have a father who loves me and never takes me for granted.

So, there’s a lot to be thankful for if we just look for it, especially when we feel taken for granted.

Thoughts on Original

originalA few days ago, I was trying to study the same devotion for the second day in a row. It just wasn’t easy to get into it.

Until something happened in my procrastination that kind of trampled on my original idea of what I want to be when I grow up.

I was scrolling through Instagram. All these really cool writers and designers of Bible studies, Scripture cards, etc. put up pretty pictures of their Bibles. They put up coffee mugs and quotes from their bestsellers. And Bible verses with pretty backgrounds.

I’m a former marketer, so I should know these things are there to push their platforms.

It’s not a bad thing. They aren’t coming from a bad place. They love the Lord. They share His truth with thousands of women every day.

But I felt a little miffed when one of them put a quote that comes close to the name of this blog.

The book I’m stirring up inside my head while I wash dishes or try a baking experiment to get the Man Cub to touch a vegetable is still just an idea. But it’s the thing I want to do when I grow up.

I want to be a writer just like this writer who unintentionally stole my grand idea. She’s actually the writer who inspired me to quit my business as a freelance business journalist to pursue my own writing.

You see, I want to do what she does when I grow up.

But I have to grow up first.

So, I let myself be a selfish kid for about three seconds. “It was my original idea. But now I can’t use it because of her quote on Instagram.”

When I write the statement I was thinking down, it looks silly. Really stupid, actually.

Then I do what I always do when I get a bug in my ear about writing this book. I start thinking about where to start. It’s on a water stained piece of yellow paper that I carry around with me.

Here’s my start. a work of god It’s so inspiring, right?

I carry this thing around like a picture of my kids in my wallet. It’s my pet. It’s the thing I want to do, but can’t seem to get past “go.”

And you know what’s behind the hesitation other than three small kids, a husband, a home, homeschool and a cat that wants to eat me? The same lie that I want to write about. That we aren’t good enough.

I know I’m capable of writing a book. Heck, I’ve probably written three or four as a ghostwriter.

I’ve written enough articles to fill an encyclopedia. I’ve even written a book on skateboarding, but you won’t catch me at the skate park trying out tricks with weird names like ollie and nollie.

But something keeps stealing my time and zeal to get started.

It’s that lie that I almost believed yesterday.

It’s the thought that I must be completely original in my writing.

I must have an idea that no one else has.

Of course, I shouldn’t just head out there and rehash another writer’s work. But ideas aren’t simple. Just like C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity, “Real things have the appearance of simplicity, but nothing is truly simple…”

Ideas are complex. Their made up of veins that can go in a thousand different directions.

But I was hiding from this. I was falling into the “not good enough” boat before even starting something great. Because it was the simple thing to do.

When I saw that image on Instagram, I could’ve given up a dream. A dream that I don’t believe came from me.

I could’ve decided to believe the lie that I’m not original. That I’m just regular (which isn’t even a synonym of original). Like the tube sock you’d find seven matches for in a sock basket of unmatched pairs. You know, the ones you really don’t like to wear. You can always find those.

(Please tell me I’m not the only one with an orphanage of great socks with no mates.) But I digress.

I wanted to believe that lie. But something stopped me.

I stared the lie in the face and said, “You’re actually not that original. You’ve crossed my path before.”

And I did something different.

First, I finished up that devotional I was stalling on. Guess who it was about?

Eve. The original woman. She didn’t know what this big lie was until she thought she heard a plan she that sounded better than the original one created just for her. Hmm…That’s thought provoking.

Then, I went and finished the book I’ve been reading by the same writer I was miffed at. And it was inspiring.

Especially when she got to this point:

“My ministry didn’t take off like I expected it to because I’m not smart enough, or schooled enough, or business minded enough.

I try so hard. I give it all I’ve got. Then it all just falls apart. And it all just seems incredibly out of whack.”

Excerpt from The Best Yes by Lysa Terkeurst

Her advice for when life gets like this?

She says to “do the next right thing that’s in front of you.”

So without knowing it, I did it. I decided that I could wade in the “not good enough” pool where I really like to hang out. Or I could go a little deeper and see where this lie is planted and pluck it out by the roots.

It’s all in that place we don’t like to go. That place of insecurity and distrust.

We don’t have to open that door. We have a choice to let our inner dialogue hang out with the comfortable friends insecurity, distrust and maybe not.

Or we can speak truth to ourselves. We can look for the light. We can look for the real truth.

So, I did that yesterday. It was uncomfortable and it felt odd.

But I started back at the verse of truth that led me to this idea, my original idea.

But before I share that verse, I’d like to share what I forgot about original. It has more than one meaning.

According to Wordnik.com, its first meaning is “first.” Its second meaning is “not derived from something else.” Its third meaning is “showing a marked departure from previous practice.”

And when I reread the truth that led me to the name of this blog and my potential book, all three of these meanings showed up:

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—when I awake, I am still with you.

Psalm 139: 13-15

The originator thought me up. He created me different from every other person that ever walked or will walk the earth. He gave me a purpose unlike no one else’s.

That’s where going back to the original source will never lead you astray.

I and you are an original work of God. And to Him be the glory.

10 Years a Wife – Defining Moments

weddingpicIt’s May 28, 2015. Ten years later. I’ve been married for a decade. No matter which way I write it, that statement has the gravity of joy, pain, love and life wrapped up in a future I didn’t expect.

I’ve said many times that I didn’t marry the guy I expected to marry. He’s not anything I dreamed of, but he’s exactly what I needed.

I know he was hand picked to be my husband. I know he was the answer to the vague prayer I poured out to God so many times in the six months before I met my best friend.

Ten years sounded like a lifetime when I was 24 and about to march down that aisle without the pedicure I wanted. It’s what actors get paid millions to complain about in C-rated romantic comedies.

But it happened just like that – 10 years a wife.

I’ve got a few complaints (the hanger on the bed, ahem), but these are honestly the best and worst 10 years of my life. But what’s important is that we did these 10 years together. Side-by-side. Through pain. Through bliss.

Through it all. 

We have way more than we can imagine ahead, but going through life with this man for the past decade has taught me a lot about who I am and who I want to be. In celebration of being Mrs. J. Warren Brandon for 10 years, I’d like to share what I think are 10 defining moments of our life together.

Happy Anniversary, Curly! I love you more than cookie dough ice cream with chocolate syrup sprinkled with salt.

1. You can’t just go home after you get married. 

I remember walking back through the door to our little dump of a house after our honeymoon in North Carolina and thinking, “This is it. I can’t get mad and leave. This is permanent.”

I was overwhelmed with joy to be his wife. But I was scared as hell at the finality of marriage. I knew divorce was an option, but as I learned in the next defining moment…

2. Divorce is not something you threaten. 

I think it was our second year or so, and I got mad. Really mad. I think it was our first really big married fight. I let those dangerous words slip, “Fine. Then I want a divorce.”

He looked at me with a look that could’ve burned a hole in the wall and said, “Don’t say it unless you mean it.”

Ahem. Empty threats don’t work on this guy. Noted.

The hurt in his voice at those careless words etched my heart and taught me a valuable lesson in loving someone. My words matter.

3. You never really know someone until you see them lose. 

Oh, I wanted to gather him up in my arms and just cry together. But our sweet little nephew needed someone to watch over him as he and his family said goodbye.

Warren lost his dad in our third year of marriage. It was sudden and completely unexpected.

And his handling of it was completely unexpected on my part.

I experienced the pain of death at a very young age. It was like an ax on my life. It hardened me. It made me want to run and hide.

But not this guy. He made his peace with it that day. He said goodbye and celebrated. Really celebrated his dad.

He also gave his dad’s eulogy. And in that magnetic way he has, he brought the house down.

He doesn’t remember a word of it, but everyone in that room remembers seeing his heart for the man who taught him to be a man shine brightly that day.

Warren shines in adversity. I want to be more like him when I grow up.

4. We don’t always get what we want first.

I became a praying wife after Warren lost his dad. I’d always prayed when things got hard or when I was in a good place spiritually. But I wasn’t dedicated to praying for my marriage.

Those next two years were big for us. We developed real plans for our lives together. Yes, we have one life together, but Warren and I work because we have separate lives. We are very different people and it took me a long time to realize how different we are.

It took takes a lot of prayer to keep me focused on the needs of two very different people choosing to share a lifetime.

The biggest lesson God taught me in our first five years was that His plan for us is better than my plan for us. He also taught me how much of a planner I actually am. I like to know what’s next. But I like to dream.

And my big dream was to be a writer at home raising kids.

However, our finances didn’t add up to writer at home with kids just then. It added up to Warren getting his chance to fail and succeed first.

Warren and I both don’t do well in the boundaries of a job or an institution. We’re capable of following the rules and working really hard to be successful in our jobs. But we don’t like the confines of working in an office or a van.

We both caught the allure of self-employment early in our lives. We both wanted to build something great. But Warren needed to go first.

He needed refining. He needed to decide what he wanted to be when he grew up. And my role was to pray for him and support him through it.

This was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Giving up my pride and letting him walk before me humbled me and gave me a glimpse at my greater purpose in this life.

I was to be his prayer warrior. That’s a huge honor. And a role I’m so happy to play.

5. I now like surprises. 

One question Warren asks me on a regular basis is, “Does that surprise you?” It’s usually in response to my comments on a situation. I like to talk through my interactions with others. And he’s a good sounding board.

The answer to his question is almost always, “No.”

But he’s always surprising me with his patience and with his perspective.

I don’t really like not knowing what’s going on, but I’ll take the surprise of not knowing how he’s going to react. It’s refreshing to share life with someone and still be surprised 10 years later.

6. There is no joy that describes becoming three.

We planned our first baby. But nothing. And I mean nothing went according to plan with this girl from the moment she arrived. She rocked my world and took her daddy’s heart hostage. She’s intense and beautiful and one of a kind.

Seeing him belly laugh at some of her antics makes me fall in love with him all over again.

Seeing him weep as she arrived in that hospital room was the most profound moment of love I’ve had with this guy. He was beside himself with joy. And it was beautiful.

7. Nothing matters except us. 

I’m using a loose chronology here, but in our fifth year, things got really tough. We were both on our own. My business was still very new. His was fading fast.

We were barely putting food on the table and gas in the car. We lost a baby. We had to pay for a big surgery. We were at rock bottom.

And through all the fear and tears, he always saw it. Nothing matters except for us. No one could take that away. It was the three of us and as long as we’re together, we’ll make it.

8. Ashes really do lead to beauty. 

When things got so tough, I started reading the book of Philippians. Chapter 2 has a very short prayer that I started praying over my marriage:

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Not long after I started praying this through the storm, an old man asked me if Warren did roofs. He’s been roofing and remodeling ever since. And I’ve never seen him happier.

I also got my dream – to be a mommy. I get to teach our kids. I get to go see my friends. I get to spend hours in the kitchen. I get to do what I want because we are like-minded and focused on loving each other where we both fit.

That beauty rose from the ashes of us giving ourselves completely over to His plan.

9. It’s a boy with curls.

Oh, sweet Logan Douglas. We thought we were the best parents in the universe.

Then, we met Man Cub.

This kid is so opposite of what we know and so peculiar.

He’s obsessed with closure. He’s incredibly stubborn. He’s incredibly tough. And he’s incredibly perfect in our little family.

I once told Warren that I only married him because I wanted a little boy with curls.

I can’t leave because it often takes the two of us to handle this tiny handful.

10. Another one!

There was no way I could be pregnant. Well, I was wrong. I was shocked. And we got the best little surprise of our lives. Anna Cat is nearly 10 months old and the chunkiest, happiest baby. She’s a perfect addition to a decade of love.

And maybe one day she’ll like her daddy.

Until then, I think he’ll do just fine for me.