What the skin of my belly knows

As I look down at my ever expanding belly—at the marks which stretch across my skin like red lightning bolts, joining with the other silver marks from earlier growing seasons with other children—I can’t help but think about how love is always expanding us. 

I think when I was younger, I was afraid that if I loved with all my heart any one person, there wouldn’t be anything left. There wouldn’t be any of me left to give. And of course there is wisdom in knowing limits and setting boundaries; but this does not apply to those I have been given to tend, to love, to grow. 

It changes based on the season. Before I had kids, I was a young married college student with a Mother’s heart—and God told me I didn’t have to wait to be a mom to nurture and nourish those in my life. 

So I began inviting people for dinner, and cups of peppermint tea. I carried Ibuprofen in my backpack in case my headache prone friend from Pilates class forgot hers at home. I began seeing people more clearly—because the truest heart of a Mother is one who sees and understands the child better than anyone else. She is first and foremost a student of those for whom she is given to care. 

***

Yesterday my daughter was out of sorts. She had been short with her brother’s all of breakfast, she was getting annoyed about the tangles in her hair and was convinced that she didn’t have anything to wear. (She’s 7.) And in a moment of wisdom that I wish was more common than rare, I asked her to sit by me and tell me what was really bothering her. I boiled the water and made her a cup of black cherry tea, and I tried to listen to the heart in front of me instead of only seeing the irritating struggle and unpleasant behavior. 

It turns out, she was under the weight of grief. For some reason that morning she was worrying about the day she would someday move out and leave home. She was telling me that she didn’t want to leave me, that she was afraid to go out into the world on her own. I told her, I thought that when the time came she would be more than ready, but that I would never make her go. 

“You can live with me as long as you want,” I said. “You can go to college from home, you can live here into your twenties when you have a job—you can stay as long as you want. It’s not my job to kick you out—as your Mom, my job is to let you go when you are ready.” And there were tears in my eyes of course as I told my highly independent daughter that the day she moves out will probably be one of the hardest days of my life. This seemed to comfort her, as a love strong enough to break a heart always does. 

As I find myself thinking more and more about the Mother Love of God lately, I think about moments like these. Moments of wisdom and tenderness; the reassurance that comes from being heard and your heart held. I think about how God has already been preparing me to do the hard work of letting go. 

My mother’s heart attaches easily to those it cares for. My college-pre-kid days are no different than now. The people I let into my deepest heart’s circle, the place I reserve for those for whom I truly and deeply care, have had to leave me often. Be it a job change across country, a drifting apart that neither of us can seem to control, or perhaps a more painful rift that has broken between us—I sometimes feel like a woman who has lost too much. It makes me want to close down. To shut the door. To stop letting the love and the loss pour in and out like the tide.

But I’m learning that whatever the season, perhaps it is my job to love without constraints, no matter the pain. To dish the soup and pour the tea. To cut the sandwiches in triangle halves and pick out any less than perfect grapes—and still be the one standing on the porch waving with a smile, and tears in my eyes saying, “Come back anytime. You can come back anytime.” 

***

These loves don’t make me less me. These losses hurt, but they don’t take away from who I am. Because true love expands. Love grows us and stretches us beyond what we could hold before. And yes it leaves us scarred—but not in the way you think. It leaves us larger as we remember that we too are the child being fed and held; the soul God loves and listens to with patience and attention. We are the ones coming and going, our Father & Mother God on the front porch waving with a smile and tears in his eyes saying, “Come back anytime. You can come back anytime.”  

The skin of my belly knows, there is power in a love that is strong enough to break you—like flashes of lighting cutting through gathering clouds in the hot and humid summer sky. 

Photo c/o Arteida MjESHTRI on Unsplash

What love looks like

“I love the way you salt things,” he says to me as I stand over the heat of the cast iron pan at the kitchen stove. “It’s so cute. You’re like a chef.” He gives my shoulder a rub and passes by me on his way to settle a sibling dispute.

Later, he rubs my sore lower back while we watch an old sitcom in bed and says, “I love you pregnant. You’re so round and beautiful.”

I look over my shoulder at him, rubbing a hand over the two hearts and two sets of fluttering feet in my twin belly and say “Really? You really think I’m beautiful like this?” He smiles and nods and I say, “Well good. You’d better keep thinking that though, I’m not sure my body will ever be the same after this.”

He laughs and says “I will.”

“Do you promise?” I say with mock sternness, but real hormonal tears budding in my eyes.

“I promise,” he says without humor in his blue eyes, and the kindness in his smile reaches the new lines by his beloved eyes. And for once, I think I may actually believe him.

This is what love in year eleven of our marriage looks like. When we married, we were kids who had begun to grow up together, like two small trees reaching towards the great blue sky, not knowing how high it really was, not knowing where they’d end up, but letting our roots weave together deep in the earth—inseparable and intertwined, for better or worse.

We’ve seen both; better and worse. We’ve broken our promises and made them anew. We’ve hurt each other and failed to love well when push came to shove. We’ve pulled away and numbed, when we should have pulled together. These years have not been without their pain or struggles; in fact, they’ve been chalk full of them sometimes—so full we didn’t know how we’d ever be able to carry it.

I am not the girl my blonde haired blue-eyed husband married eleven years ago. The darkening of his hair and the growing of his beard is not the only change in this man I married eleven years ago. But our love has grown and changed and healed us in ways that have brought us closer to Jesus, as well as to each other. This is the grace I’m seeing now—when I look at a photo from us nine years ago still in our newlywed years and think; I loved him so much then. But it’s nothing compared to how I feel about him now. Even though there were times over these past eleven years, when I wondered if we really loved each other at all.

Now our love looks like me telling my husband that all his open tabs on our shared laptop stress me out, because I’m not sure which ones he’s okay with me closing and too many tabs makes my mind swirl with anxiety—and a few days later I open my computer to see a tab at the top: “Willy’s Tabs 🙂 ” under which are hidden from my easily overwhelmed eyes, the plentiful research he has been doing to know how to replace my mini-van’s busted alternator.

Our love looks like my husband buying me a new hose attachment to make watering my flower beds easier on my pregnant back. It looks like me picking up a six pack of a favorite beer from the store for him to enjoy with the first game of the NHL playoffs. It looks like me cooking dinner, and he doing the dishes. It looks like being the one to volunteer to clean up the toddler’s pee puddle off the living room floor. It looks like my husband reading pages and pages of health insurance legalese to see if we can afford to have one of my midwives attend what is now going to be a very expensive hospital birth. It looks like me reading the bedtime story, and him telling me not to climb into the boy’s bunk beds anymore because he’s worried I’ll hurt myself.

It looks like a few moments of quiet conversation over steaming cups of coffee before the day begins. It looks like emoji hearts sent in the middle of a hectic work day, just so I know he’s thinking of me. It looks like a simple text: “I wish we could meet for a lunch date today.” Even (and maybe especially) when we can’t.

This love doesn’t look a thing like a thought it would when we started out, young and in love and not yet seventeen. But it’s better. It’s not loud or boisterous or even overly romantic. It a love that folds laundry late at night. It’s a love that builds a life together; with threads of deeply earned and honored trust. It’s a love that holds us steady, when it feels like everything else might be crashing down around us. It’s a love that lets us dream of the future days, even as we seek to be present in these intensely beautiful days we are living in now.

It’s a love that plans a garden; that’s not afraid to get its hands dirty. It’s a love that plants seeds together, watching and waiting for them to grow in their time.

It’s a contented love, peaceful with itself. Okay with not being flashy or showy. It’s the kind of love that lets us get away for a weekend before welcoming two babies at once to our family, and we know if all we do is talk and sleep and eat together in blissful silence; it will be enough to give us a breath before this next, very intense plunge of our lives.

It’s a love that chooses every day small actions, instead of big ostentatious airport displays of affection. It’s a love that sticks with it—that rearranges the furniture as many times as it takes to make the room work.

It’s a love that makes room, in our home and our hearts for what’s next—whatever that looks like.

It’s a love that trusts that the good God that has brought us this far, will bring us through whatever challenges lie ahead: by His grace and for His glory.

(Photo clearly taken pre-twin pregnancy)

Habits of Work: Are they working for you?

Habits that Work for You

Your day is full of working habits. From that first time you push snooze, to the time you get up, brush your teeth, and put on your clothes. To where you find your keys, wallet and phone just before heading out the door. As I spoke about in my last post, Let the Daily be Deliberate, these seemingly trivial and insignificant moments add up to so much of our lives. So my question for you today, Dear Reader, is are your habits working for you, or against you?

When your habits of work are working for you, they can turn the daily grind into a rhythm and a routine that brings with it the comfort of the expected and the normal. They can bring you to a dailiness that helps you feel as prepared as possible for what lies ahead. By contrast, when they are working against you, you will feel habitually behind and unprepared for what your day holds, always scrambling to keep on pace with the demands placed upon you by your actual work, whatever that may be.

Morning Habits, that make our Routines

Let’s zero in for a moment on those pesky morning routine habits. The Lazy Genius, Kendra Hennessy, has an entire podcast episode where she talks about the power of a morning routine and how everyone has one, even if that routine means having no routine. (Click here to listen.) If that is your daily life, then that is your routine. This is where you can think back to my previous blog where I talked about how habits are basically just pre-made decisions; some of which we have fallen into because we haven’t been intentional in those decisions.

I know we all come from different personality types, from hyper structured/organized Type-A person, to the super creative/spontaneous left brained person; but allow me to argue that a little routine is good for everyone. If you are the less structured type, but find yourself constantly waking up in a sweat, with no time for breakfast, rushing around to find your phone and your keys…allow me to submit to you that you are starting your day in a sweat of anxiety that will likely bleed into the rest of your activities whether you think it will or not.

And to the Type A person who is tempted to write this whole “live intentionally by creating fruitful habits” thing off because you already have a structured schedule, let me ask you this: When was the last time you really thought about the habits you are making and keeping, and whether or not they are yielding the fruit that you want to be cultivating in your life? You could be super organized, with a routine for everything, and still not be cultivating fruitful habits. Your life might look like a very clean trap of legalism and safety.  Dear Reader, whichever camp you think you find yourself in, I urge you to examine this! Your life may be full of untapped potential that could be awoken by something as simple as starting to make your bed every morning.

My husband, who is not at all a morning person, has finally found the value of giving himself enough time in the morning to get his cup of coffee, a decent breakfast, and a little quiet time with the Lord.  His work is extremely demanding and often exhausting, not to mention we have two (almost three!) small children at home. But for him, this morning routine before heading into the office, though hard to start at first, is now far worth the price of getting out of bed when his alarm goes off. We have realized that this is especially significant for him because he is an introvert, who works a demanding job and also has little kids and an extroverted wife to attend to whenever he gets home. Until this change, he basically got NO ALONE TIME EVER. It’s been really cool to see how even just a little time alone in the mornings is serving him better, and helping him to perform better in all the various roles that he is asked to fill throughout the day.

Habits of Homemaking

I’ve always been a morning person, so getting up with the sun in the summer isn’t much of a change for me. But when the Lord began to demolish my perfectionism 5 years ago, and I needed a new motivation to clean, habits of homemaking became the first life giving habits that my family and I benefited from.

Good home keeping habits have not only allowed me to spend less time working in my home, but they have also freed me up to spend less mental energy even thinking about what needs cleaning. This all adds up to more time enjoying the family that is sheltered by the walls of my home, even if those walls do occasionally contain a rogue smudge of peanut butter.

Some people enjoy the routine of having one day a week set aside for cleaning, for others (like me) I know that with little people constantly needing things from me, that one day puts way too much on my plate. So for me, a cleaning routine looks like having certain tasks that I do on certain days of the week (usually). This gives me the freedom to not stress about when the bathrooms are getting cleaned, because I know I cleaned them last Wednesday, and I’m going to clean them again on Wednesday. I see hand prints on the windows and I know that I can leave it until Thursday, which frees me up to just live in the middle of the everyday messy with my little people, instead of constantly fretting over mess. I give myself two days for our regular laundry, and one separate day to wash linens. I do this because I know that some weeks there is going to be more than others, and almost every week I end up leaving at least one load in the dryer for a day longer than I should, or I end up leaving clean clothes folded in the basket at the end of the day instead of getting them put away.  This is just part of knowing yourself and what is realistic for your life, as well as what actually works for you. The key is to be flexible. If I have something going on, like a sick child, that doesn’t allow me to get to a certain task the day I normally would, I have “buffer days” that give me the needed time to catch up and at least hit the high spots on the things I missed. This keeps my routine from being stifling and legalistic, and instead keeps it doing what routines and habits should be doing best; working for me not against me. Not scheduling something to clean every single day of the week gives me the freedom I need to rearrange when my life requires it.

The practical application of these ideas will always differ person to person, from capacities, to stage of life, to work schedule, to personality type. If you are in a season of life where one day of cleaning makes more sense, by all means GO FOR IT. The important thing is to realize that your routines and habits can either be working for you or against you, and that it is up to you to set your intention and create the habits that will best serve the life style of your family, as well as their physical needs.

Get Started

You can’t makeover all your life’s habits in one day. Say it aloud with me. YOU CAN’T MAKEOVER ALL YOUR LIFE’S HABITS IN ONE DAY. And that’s OK.

But you can make one new fruitful habit today. That’s why I created this short worksheet, 5 Steps to Cultivating One (new) Fruitful Habit.  It’s not super fancy or complicated, but if you are hankering to try making a new habit today, why don’t you give it a look and see where it takes you. Maybe you start with your morning routine, or maybe it’s your evening routine. Maybe you reevaluate the way you are cleaning (or not cleaning) your house right now and add one step that makes things just a little bit better. Maybe you examine the way you structure meal planning (or don’t). Let it be an area of high impact for you. Click here to start making little changes today! 

Dear Reader, I pray you aren’t too daunted as you think about your habits of work and whether or not they are working for you. My prayer is that instead you would see that even some of the most seemingly insignificant changes can make a world of a difference for you, for your family, for your life.

And if you have something to share, or a question to ask, please reach out! You can find me on Instagram @gracieishomesteady, shoot me an email at gracekelleywrites@gmail.com or just leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

May we realize that we have more potential for growth and change than we every thought possible, and may this spur us on to love and good deeds by the grace of God, for the glory of God.

 

Let the Daily be Deliberate

Sometimes as a stay-at-home Mama, it feels like I’m drowning in the daily. Like the little tasks I do again, and again and again may smother me inside their static ordinariness. The littleness of the days can threaten to swallow you in insignificance. If you’re staring into the washer this morning, wondering whether the clothes are clean or dirty, if like me you’ve been fluffing the same load in the dryer for three consecutive days,  then you know what I’m talking about. Or maybe you feel stuck in a lifeless career that doesn’t exactly make you want to jump out of bed in the morning. Maybe some days you feel like little more than a button pusher, doing the same mindless task over and over again. Or maybe it’s just the opposite. Maybe you work really hard to achieve and come up with creative solutions in your work, but no one ever seems to notice. That’s when the temptation to quit speaks up the loudest; “quit and then they’ll notice you! They’ll notice all the work you have done just by the fact that it’s all NOT getting done right now!”

Whichever deadening dailiness you may find yourself in, can I let you in on a little secret? Every moment of your life matters.

Just think about that for one hot second. Every moment of your life matters. That means every mundane chore, every thought that you have while walking down the hall at work, every casual word or casual glance, every little, seemingly insignificant, choice that you make matters.

And because we are creatures of habit, even if we don’t think we are, so many of these choices are in some way “pre-made”. Sometimes the pre-making of the decision happens by default, as in, we decide we can’t decide and so we do nothing. Others of them are made with intention. And still there are others that probably fall somewhere in between. When you boil it all down to this it may feel overwhelming. But I’m not asking you to think about and analyze every choice and non-choice  you make right now; I’m just asking you to be aware of the fact that you have made/are making these choices.

So what’s the big deal? Well, since our lives are built of these moments, these choices, these habits; that means that if we want to Cultivate a Fruitful Life we need to start by cultivating the building blocks of a fruitful life. The good and the bad news is that we need to start small, by cultivating fruitful habits. By letting the daily, be deliberate. 

Realizing that the choices we make and don’t make every day are not only meaningful, but important and crucially significant, may seem overwhelming. Don’t let it. This is our opportunity. We get to cultivate a little more fruitfulness in our lives every day, and sometimes all it takes is breaking or making one small habit. (If you haven’t read it yet don’t miss my last post “Break this Habit First.“)

Don’t be afraid to start small. As my garden teaches me; seeds hold in them the unimaginable potential for amazing fruit. Jesus isn’t intimidated by our small beginnings. 

Letting the daily be deliberate can feel like putting a whole lot of pressure on a situation, but don’t let it. Look around you today. What choices are you making in habit? What choices do you wish it was easier to change? What do you wish you had more time for? What do you want to do less of? How does your attitude change and shift throughout the day? Are there ways that you need to change your perspective in order to cultivate a more fruitful outlook?

We’re going to get into all this friends; because I care about you. Because God has taught me so much about the power of habits of work, and habits of rest. Because I no longer believe that fruitfulness is about what I can manufacture, but about what God does in and through me as I obey his commands to be faithful with what I have been given. I can’t wait to share with you.

If you are interested, I’d love to hear from you about the daily habits you currently have and whether or not you feel like they are leading to fruit in your life. Where do you find yourself struggling most in the daily? Where do you think you are succeeding by God’s grace? I’d love to hear from you!

As always, thank you for reading and thank you for sharing.

Praying for you, that God would use my words here in this space to help you cultivate a little more fruitfulness, by God’s grace and for His glory.