Join an (in)courage community group!

Registration for (in)courage community
groups begins Monday!

This session, there will be 70+ groups with 160 amazing leaders. So ladies, I'm pretty sure that is a spot for you!

I am excited to be co-leading the (in)couraging working new moms group for its third session this Fall, along with my friend Lisa! Even though I'm a leader, this group has given so much back to me. I haven't always loved being a working mom, but getting to know other moms who understand the joys and struggles of this busy life has helped me to embrace this calling. God has worked through our group to form friendships, spread joy, and show us how deeply He cares for us.

Here's some more information:

What is an (in)courage community group?
Community groups connect and build up like-minded women. Groups are formed around a specific interest or phase of life (e.g. motherhood, artists, empty nesters), and "meet" in closed Facebook groups.

What do community groups do?
Community groups will talk about topics of interest, pray together, and share encouragement.

Why should I join?
If you're longing for a place to belong, if you could use a cheerleader to help you through the hard days, if you want to find "your people" online, if you love cupcakes (or even if you don't), this is the place for you! :)

How do I sign up?
Go to www.incourage.me/community and look through the list of groups. On Monday, choose a group and click Add Your Link toward the bottom of the page. Add your name, email address, and website (if you have one). Within a day or two, your group leader will email you a link to join your group on Facebook!

Lisa and I also have a special surprise for working moms coming up in a couple of weeks, so stay tuned!!

Have a great weekend, friends!


An invitation to join me in Kenya

I was a young mom. The hubby and I got married at 20, got pregnant at 21, and we were overjoyed but scared. How would we pay the bills and afford daycare? What if my temporary job didn't get extended? How would I figure out how to be a great mom, with zero friends who had kids? But my worries were small compared to those of young women living in the slums of Kenya. 

Three years ago, an ordinary mom and blogger named Kristen Welch traveled to Kenya with Compassion and witnessed the living conditions of pregnant girls living in the slums. Many of of those young women were raped, or forced to have sex in exchange for food. After coming home, she learned about the dangerous backstreet abortions that occurred in those same slums, and she did something about it. She founded Mercy House.

The mission of Mercy House is to: 
 "provide alternative options for pregnant girls living in the streets of Kenya. The Mercy House will aid them in education, nutrition, housing, prenatal care, Bible study, counseling and job skills for sustainable living."
Today, (in)courage is celebrating its 4th birthday by kicking off five projects to benefit Mercy House!

Sometimes it's easy to feel removed from the evil that happens around the world. It's easier to harden my heart, to put on blinders, to pretend like I can't do anything. But God has not called us to apathy. He has called us to act justly, show mercy, and walk humbly with Him. 

I am no better than the residents of Mercy House, but for some reason only God knows, I've been given a much easier life and a job that pays more than enough to meet my family's needs. And I know that part of the reason is so that I can be His hands and feet to the poor, so that I can sacrifice a little of my comfort to comfort another. 

Photo credit: http://bessbrownlee.com/

I'm honored to be a part of promoting project #4 -- a computer lab to provide job skills for the high school girls (more about that later!). I invite you to donate to any and all of these projects, because even a few dollars will make such a difference in the lives of 12 mamas, 12 babies, and the future residents of Mercy House. We can do something, together.

Learn more about Mercy House through this 6-minute video:

If you feel led, donate to a Mercy House project here:


When you're feeling dry

It's almost time for the third (in)couragers session to start. My stress is extremely high, and I'm feeling bone dry.

There is so much awesome that we are planning for this session, and yet all I'm feeling is fear. That I won't have enough joy for sharing, that I can barely handle working motherhood and how in the world can I cheer other moms through it? And yet I recognize that this fear is not from God. I know He will use my weakness as His strength. 

I know that He is my adequacy, even on days when I forget I need to drop off the kids at daycare and miss the bus and get to work 2 hours late. Even when my husband and I fight and I go to bed angry. Even when my kids cry that they miss me. Even when I have nothing of my own to offer, He is my life-source, my living well, my bread and wine. Jesus is my victory. 

So if you are feeling dry and overwhelmed too, I hope you will come to Him with me. If you're feeling weak too, let's let Him be strong for us. 

Because these empty times are when He fills, when He shows up in power to shower us with refreshing rain and bear fruit in us. These are the times when He brings dry bones rattling to life, putting on sinew and muscle and flesh. When He breathes his spirit, puts on his hands and says Walk. Move forward in faith. Do not fear. 

He's got this. 


10 tips for the (Christian) college freshmen

They were giggly, silly sixth graders when I interned for our church's youth group. We went to Valleyfair and the water park, went sledding and baked cookies. Somewhere along the way, those giggly girls turned into wise young women, who needed boy advice and help with loving their friends through hard times. And this month they start college -- two of them at my alma mater. :) I've been thinking about what I can pass along to them -- the lessons I learned the hard way that might make their next 4-5 years a little more fun and life-giving. 

So, to my old small group girls and everyone else who needs it, here are my top ten tips for starting out at college:

1. Be real. Those first few weeks will be nerve-wracking as everyone tries to adjust to a new home and a new community. Be real with the people you meet -- let them know you're nervous, let them get to know your weird side. 

2. Plan your time wisely. Yes, there is that little detail about going to class. And doing homework. So it's important to find a way to schedule your time well, to make sure your priorities are being lived out. Make a list of the things that you need/want to do each week, and assign them a priority. Then schedule a time to do those things! If you have a smart phone, use your Reminders or Calendar app to help you stay on track. It doesn't sound very fun or glamorous, but planning your time will help you to manage stress and make time for work and fun. 

3. Be open. Your college friends might be completely different than anyone you hung out with in high school - and that's okay. Be open to meeting new people. Open your dorm room door; invite people in for snacks or a movie night. Especially in the beginning, everyone is looking for a place to belong, and you can help to make people feel at home. And again, be open about who you are and what you're feeling. 
Luau fun with my hall in 2005

4. Say yes. I know some of those orientation activities probably sound awful and awkward. But just say yes, just go. When new friends invite you to go to the football game, just say yes, even if you'd prefer some quiet time. Those first activities are often where people form their friend groups, and you don't want to miss out! 

5. Talk to your professors. Ask questions if you don't understand an assignment. Let them know if your group for a project isn't working out. I had one (new) professor who cut out about half of our assignments because one person was willing to speak up and tell him (respectfully) that it was way too much to expect from us. 

6. Join something. Find an on-campus group that fits your interests! Whether it's a sports team or a drama team, a Bible study or service group, find something to plug into. And if there isn't anything that you're interested in, don't be afraid to start something! 

7. Be free. I've noticed that at Christian college, everyone wanted to pretend that they were perfect. There seemed to be a lot of hidden shame, even though we were all free in Christ. Don't be ashamed of your sin -- confess it, receive God's forgiveness, and move forward in freedom. And don't be afraid to confess your sins to close friends, because chances are some of them struggle with the same things. 

8. Really get to know people. You don't have to stay at surface-level just because you're only going to be in college for a limited number of years. Invest in people, truly get to know them, even if you have to say goodbye someday. These friends may become life-long or they may be there for a season. Either way, it is worth loving them well! 

9. Live on campus. I know it can be expensive, but if at all possible, live on campus. My second year of college I lived back at home, and it was cheap but lonely. I loved having my parents nearby again and eating homemade food -- but I missed out on developing a lot of friendships. 

10. Plug into a church. Even if you go to a Christian college and feel like you're already at church all day every day -- find a church and serve there. Find a place off campus that has people of all ages, because you'll miss seeing kids and grandparents! Get to know people, ask for a mentor, and you will grow so much more than you would've while sleeping in. ;) 

And to my girls -- know that I'm praying for you as you go off on your own. You are smart, wise, kind, and beautiful. Dream big, work hard, and love well. God is going to do great things in and through you! I love you so much.

For those who've been there -- what advice would you add? 


On Rightness and Love, Food and Faith

After my first baby was born I became a food Pharisee. At 21, I was the first of my friends to get married and have a child -- and I was just a little concerned about proving I could do it all right. I turned up my nose at white flour and sugar, becoming almost obsessed with "real food". I worried over what to buy, cook, and eat more than almost anything because I wanted to feed my family right.

This summer I've been reading Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist with the Bloom book club, and her words have inspired me to think differently about food, nourishment, and hospitality. She says, "You can decide that every time you open your door, it's an act of love... every time people gather around your table, your goal is nourishment, not neurotic proving." Ouch. Neurotic proving? I know that has been my hidden motive too often.

I want the goal of my cooking, my hospitality, to be love. And love is not so concerned about it's own "rightness" as it is with what others want and need.
I'm learning that sometimes nourishment is having pancakes, made with white flour and chocolate chips and feeling the comfort of childhood memories. And sometimes nourishment is having friends bring their own meat to grill and getting bags of salad and chips, because I'd rather celebrate life together than give excuses that I don't have time to cook. Sometimes it's preparing homemade chicken broth for chicken noodle soup when my whole family is sick with a cold. It's a balance of nutrition, practicality, and heart, and knowing when to favor one over the other.

Sometimes, my faith has also been more concerned with proving something than about love. I went to Bible college, solidified my views on biblical interpretation and theology, and was convinced I had it all right. But I hadn't done much about actually loving people, actually living it out.

I've been slowly learning that faith in Jesus isn't about me proving that I know the Right Way to Think or the Right Way to Act. It's abiding with Him, being nourished by the Bread and Wine and Water of life. It's receiving from God and pouring out into the world.

This walk of faith is not about me and my right-ness. Romans 3:25-26 says, "God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness." (MSG) Friends, may we live in His rightness, trusting in His saving power, and be delivered from pride and proving.

Grace & Peace,


On fitting the puzzle together

She gave me a piece of a Power-Puff Girls puzzle, inscribed with "You, Amanda, are a priceless piece of my master plan. You see but a glimpse. I see the big picture. Trust me. -eph. 2:10-"

Anna was my Bible camp counselor the summer before my senior year of high school, nine years ago. My two best friends and I were assigned to her cabin, along with a girl we didn't know very well, who had some special needs. (I'll call her M.) At the beginning of the week, we privately groaned that we had to share the cabin with someone so weird (awful, I know).

By the end of the week, we had witnessed Anna love on M in so many ways, helping her with her most basic needs. We started to treat M like the beautiful person she was. One night, Anna washed our feet, and I saw Jesus' sacrificial love shining through her sweet heart. And when M threw up on the bus ride home, I guided her to the restroom and cleaned her up.

After knowing Anna, I loved more like Jesus. I loved even when there was nothing in it for me.

This week, she wrote at (in)courage.me about all that God has done in us since then. About how we reconnected at last year's inRL event, which she co-hosted. (To think I almost chickened out because I would hardly know anybody!) Afterwards, we became dear friends -- took our boys to the park together, celebrated New Years' morning together.

When God put it on both of our hearts to encourage working moms, we dove head-first into serving together. We hosted this year's inRL event, our story coming full circle. And now, she's the (in)courage community groups communication coordinator! All because God chose to fit a few pieces of the puzzle together, all because we chose to say "yes".

Since I dedicated my life to follow Christ in middle school, I've struggled with the concept of doing "His Will". It seemed like this grand puzzle that I had to put together, without even being able to see some of the pieces.

But this story of Anna and I is helping me to see that doing His Will is just a matter of obedience. It's offering up my one little piece of the puzzle, reflecting the pieces of Him that He made me to be.

It's saying "yes" when my heart feels His Spirit's gentle nudge, saying "okay," even when I don't know if I can do it.

It's trusting that He knows what I need, and what the world needs.

It's trusting that He is good, even when He is disciplining me, stretching me, growing me.

It's trusting that He knows the big picture, that He holds it all together, so I don't have to figure it all out or do it all.

I just need to do take the next step He puts before me, and fit myself in with the pieces of the Body that surround me. And He will make us into the most beautiful masterpiece ever created, these broken, burned, messy pieces, all redeemed and made new.


On Spring Purging

It all started innocently enough, with hand-me-downs to help start out married life in a one-bedroom apartment: a green comfy chair, a gray bookcase, a dorm room lamp with adjustable "arms".

And then we had our first baby, and the stuff started coming in waves. When our baby turned into a toddler, the clothes, toys, books, and papers already threatened to overwhelm. Now that we have two little boys, I feel like I'm drowning in all of the stuff! I'm constantly stepping on or around toys, picking up, organizing. It's just too much.

It's kind of a strange problem to have, really, this need to deal with all of the stuff. In many parts of the world, an entire village could live off of the contents of our home. I thank God for the abundance we have been given, and I also recognize the need to be a better steward of it.

My favorite organizer (who is like a second mom to me!) says that disorganization is a result of delayed decisions. So I'm starting to make small decisions each day, to bring more order and peace to our home, to take control of our posessions so we can focus on more important things.

We're still in the early stages of de-cluttering and purging, but I'm already feeling like it's easier to breathe, like there is more freedom and peace in my heart.

Toy/book purging!

Here are a few tips I've learned so far:

1. Think in terms of numbers, and "need" vs. "want". We have four chairs in my office. I only need one or two, and I only want two, so two of them need to go. Our kids had about eighty little cars in a bin. They really don't need 80, especially since S loves dumping all. the. things. So now the cars have been pared down to about 30 of their favorites. Thinking through this logically helps me to separate my emotional attachment to things.

2. Think in terms of usefulness and happiness. Does that shirt get a lot of use? Has it been worn in the last year? Does it make you feel happy? If not, get rid of it!

3. Think in terms of beauty. Do your knick-knacks bring beauty to your home? Or are they just gathering dust and adding to clutter? Do your decorations contribute to the mood you want your home to have? Or would something else bring more joy?

4. Think about prevention. How can you keep extra "stuff" from coming in to your house? Can you say no while shopping? Keep a wish list to prevent spontaneous purchases? Ask for specific types of gifts for kids' birthdays or Christmas?

5. Think about whether someone else would enjoy the items more. Do you have friends who are just starting out in a new place? Is there a homeless shelter that could use your extra jackets, hats, boots, or mittens?

Have you gone through a season of "purging" your things? How did it impact your heart?


An ode to spring joy

Not even three weeks ago, snow piled high on roadsides and ice covered lakes.

But last weekend, my big boy fished between his daddy and papa, 

And collected worms in a red Solo cup.

He rolled down a soft grassy hill and came up with his first wood tick,

Burrowed under that thick blonde hair.

My baby boy threw rocks and dandelions into the lake, hiked with a tiny walking stick.

He napped hard and woke in the night to find mommy and warm milky snuggles.

We woke (too) early, watched the fog on the lake, drank (too much) coffee.

We watched movies and raced Hot Wheels as rain fell and gutters overflowed.

We talked to bluejays and laughed at orioles bickering over grape jelly.

We lazed on the deck, reading, snacking on apple slices and Cheez-its, waving at boats driving by.

I held my hubby's hand and laid across his lap like when we were dating.

He drove through a torrential downpour as our big boy slept

And our baby boy chattered above the thunder.

And my heart thawed out from the long, dark winter,

Opening up to the fullness of joy.

And even this week, even when tornados kill and destroy,

And rain comes and sadness dwells --

I know my God is good; I know He continues to bring life out of cold, dead places.

"You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever." Psalm 16:11


On the joy of inRL

Last Saturday, 6000+ women worldwide watched (in)courage's webcasts during inRL (in Real Life). They watched on their own, or in small groups of close friends, or large groups of strangers. Anna and I hosted forty women at her church; about half from the congregation, half from the Twin Cities, even a few from hours away. 

Many of us find it easier to interact on Facebook, Twitter, or blog comment boxes. Real life is more complicated; harder; messier. Real life asks more of us.

But we serve a God who didn't just speak His commands down from the mountain. He came to be with us. And so we came to be with each other.

And in the midst of our real, hard lives -- God showed up.

 He challenged us to share our brokenness. As we watched the videos and discussed the challenges of staying in community, we saw our stories reflected in each other. We realized that maybe Jesus could use those walled-off places of our hearts to encourage others. And we went through plenty of tissues.

He inspired us to offer friendship and mentorship. Even during our pre-party on Twitter, these women were encouraging each other and planning hugs! I'm sure there were awkward moments on Saturday, but I was amazed at how quickly the conversation began to flow. By Monday morning, two of the women set up a Facebook group to continue our conversations and set up future events. Only God could bring such bravery and boldness to His daughters!

He lit flames of joy in our weary hearts. It's been a long, cold winter and spring in Minnesota. Many of us have been dealing with grief, depression, and other struggles. And we shared plenty of tears. But by the time we ended the day with worship, I could tell that God had multiplied our joy as he bound our hearts together.

"How good and pleasant it is when God’s
people live together in unity! ...
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore."
Psalm 133:1, 3b

I can't wait to see what God continues to do through these beautiful women and the connections they made at inRL! Curious? Read more posts from the Minnesota ladies here, here and here.

How has God blessed you through staying in real-life community?


On Sunday night remembrance

I sat in our comfy black leather recliner, munching on my fourth Oreo and watching The Walking Dead, wondering where the three-day weekend had gone. Thinking to myself, "did I put in that last load of laundry? Maybe I'll put away the clothes before bed. I should pack up my breakfast and the bottles. I should take a shower. I should've swept those floors. I should stop eating Oreos."

I'd remember all of the things I had (not) done during the weekend. I'd remember all of the things waiting for me at work the next morning. And I'd think of how much I'd miss my boys.

Sunday nights can be torture for working moms, if we let those worries and emotions take over. 

But God reminds us dwell on the good, pure, lovely things. He wants us to remember His faithfulness where we couldn't do, or be, enough. To know that our work is good, whether it's training our kids' hearts and playing outside, or writing words, or cleaning houses, because He made us to do good.

He wants to remind us how loved we are, aside from any unchecked to-do's or unfinished laundry (and aside from how many Oreos we put away ;)).

And so tonight I'm taking time to dwell on the snowman-making, the dance parties, and dinner with a good friend. I'm remembering lazy Sunday afternoons with the in-laws, and smelling my newborn nephew's head. I'm remembering to the point of tears that all my striving can't earn God's love, and that all of my anger, laziness, and selfishness have been covered and paid for by the blood of Jesus.

Weekend fun: making the most of snow in mid-April

Maybe it's time to redeem Sunday nights, to make them into a time to remember all that God has done -- not all that I haven't. Will you remember with me?

How has God shown Himself faithful to you this week?

{This post is part of a series for (in)couraging working new moms.}


A God who sees, a people who see, & being "in"

Bible college clouded my idealistic vision of Christian community. At a campus by the lake, surrounded by amazing brothers and sisters in Christ, I was left feeling "less than". I was struggling with my sinfulness like never before. With few friends other than my boyfriend (who attended a different school), I felt invisible.

Now, I blame myself for not joining in or inviting -- but then, in the middle of my shame and inadequacy, it seemed hopeless. It seemed too risky to open up. And being invisible in the midst of my brothers and sisters made my heart shrink and my chest hurt.

One of my deepest fears is to be unseen. It's this fear that nobody notices my everyday. Nobody sees my heart cries, my longings, my pain. Nobody sees the victories, the sweet joys. Maybe your heart hurts at those thoughts, too?

In this iPhone, Facebooking, Instagramming culture it's becoming our default to be an observer of our lives. It's becoming even easier to feel invisible. We have more opportunities than ever to "share" things with the world, and more opportunities to feel unseen.

But our God is a God who sees (Gen. 16:13). He, the creator of the galaxies, the one who has been and will be forever, sees us. And he longs for us to be in community with each other and with Him. Jesus prayed that we would "all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us."

Do you hear that? As we become one as followers of Jesus, we are allowed "in" to God. My mind can't even begin to understand what that means, but I know I want in.

My favorite example of that "oneness" lately is the (in)courager group I'm honored to be a part of. We're 60 or so women who lead groups of hundreds of other women, almost entirely online. We meet over common themes like working motherhood, marriage, singleness, social justice, writing, and art. But really, we meet over, and in, Jesus. God has used this group to help make my heart big again.

{Check out the video intro to the (in)couragers over here. Tune in next week for the full story.}

It's so hard to describe this "sisterhood" adequately, because it has come to mean so much to me. I get to be a part of the (in)courager group, where we pray, share, and build each other up in our ministries of encouragement. And I get to co-lead the working mom's group along with Anna, who has become a dear friend. Our group started out somewhat small and quiet, and has grown to 60 women who connect regularly. We share what God is teaching us through our calling, and the struggles we're facing. We pray often and ask for advice. We share pictures of our messes and of our Easter best. We see each other -- even if it's not in the physical sense.

I love how the internet is being used to grow community. And as I see the beauty of community online, I'm reminded of how joyful it can also be off-line. I'm reminded to do the inviting, even when it means cleaning my toddler's "leftovers" off the kitchen floor. I'm learning to see the people around me and engage with them. Even though inviting and seeing means risking rejection, it is a small risk when you consider the rewards. Our God is so good to let us "in" when we simply open up to what He is doing.
Speaking of inviting in-real-life... have you heard about the inRL conference? I'd love to meet you at the Twin Cities event in just a couple of weeks!

What is God teaching you through community?

{I'm linking up today with (in)courage to share what God is teaching me through community -- come on over and join the party!}


You are valiant, beautiful one.

Dear mamas (and women in general),
Can we agree to stop beating ourselves up? You are a wonder -- a God-made, image-bearing, holy wonder. The way you sacrifice so others can live? Breathtaking. The way you bear the cross of Jesus with such strength? Incredible.

I know you hear it, too; the accusing voice that comes straight from hell:

You said that all wrong -- they're going to hate you.
You look awful today -- why didn't you shower last night?
This floor is disgusting -- why can't you keep this house clean?
Your kids are so whiny -- why don't you speak more grace to them?
You eat too much sugar -- you're going to get cancer someday.
You should really have your career figured out by now.
You should really have this parenting thing down by now.
You should really be a better wife by now.

And each accusation is like a lash to your beautiful soul. Each lie beats down your joy and your dreams until you're just tired. Fight back, valiant one. This is not a battle you will lose.

"But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain."
1 Cor. 15:57 (emphasis mine)
The lies sometimes just tell you to give up, that your efforts are worthless, that the chaos and dirt and whining will win. And your Father tells you -- stand firm. None of this hard work is in vain.
It's not glamorous, because it's a battle -- a bloody, teary, sweaty battle, for evil and chaos to be cast down and for Jesus to reign. And no matter what your part in the Kingdom might be, you are needed. No job is too menial, no task too mundane, when it is done for the King who died the death you deserve. So when the enemy throws insults at you, turn to your King and receive grace. 
"Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire." Heb. 12:28-29

Thank you, Jesus, for winning the battle for our hearts. Thank you for the hope that you will come again and consume everything evil and ugly to make this world new and alive again. Thank you for using our smallest efforts in some way to win the Kingdom. Strengthen your daughters for the fight today, Jesus. Amen.
This post is part of a series for (in)couraging working new moms. I'm so grateful for the ladies who do battle alongside me and teach me so much!


On re-learning how to dream

I used to dream of teaching my children all of the wonders of God and His world.

I used to dream of being a loving wife, never nagging or cranky (ha!).
I used to dream of being a great friend, a listening ear in hard times.

I used to dream of a job I'd be passionate about waking up to.

And then life got in the way. I got tired and anxious and depressed. I resisted help and advice, tried to be strong on my own, was stuck in survival mode for too long. I focused more on what I couldn't do than on what I COULD.

As I've journeyed with dozens of other working moms through the (in)couraging working new moms group, I'm learning that I can still dream. For too many years, I believed the lie that working meant that I couldn't be the mom and wife I dreamed of being. And now, I'm seeing that there are amazing working moms out there who love their jobs AND their kids (::cough::Girl With Blog::cough::).

God is showing me that my dreams are still valid and good, even if they might not look the way I expected, or happen in the timing I would like.

Maybe our family won't homeschool, but we will teach our kids about God in so many ways. We'll be involved in their schooling, and will make sure they're learning everything they need to be happy, productive, and hopefully God-following adults.

And even though marriage is way harder than I ever expected, even though I need so much grace from my husband each day (and need to show him grace too), we can still have an awesome marriage. We can connect and re-connect and each day is a new chance to grow our love and forgive.

Even when friendships ebb and flow, even when I'm overwhelmed and wish I could do so much more... I can still send an encouraging text or card. I can still pray and show up when I'm able.

And when work is challenging, or stressful, or tedious, I'll remember how grateful I am for flexibility and kind co-workers. I'll take the next step toward using my skills and passions. I'll dream of the future.

What are your dreams, my friend? What's one way you can move toward your them this week?


Working moms -- let's find some peace.

Between sixteen hours of Business Analyst training this week and the meal-planning  discussions on our (in)couraging working moms page, I've been thinking a lot about efficiency. I'm not normally very orderly or organized, and usually I think in circles much more than linearly. But after dealing with anxiety for over a year, while working out of the home and managing a household, I'm realizing that I need to find a way to live with more order. Maybe you can sympathize?

Disorder and peace are contrasted in 1 Cor. 14:33 -- "For God is not a God of disorder but of peace." Order creates peace, and God sure knows I need more peace. :) I'm realizing that part of my postpartum struggle happened because I stayed in survival mode too long. I was dealing with life as it was thrown at me instead of being proactive. I kept doing the same things expecting better results, but lacked the motivation, energy, and clarity to think about finding a better way.

In my BA training, we've focused on "mapping" the flow of processes, breaking them down to their smallest part in order to see the gaps, raise questions, and create a common understanding within a group. As we practiced mapping, I kept thinking of how useful this concept could be in analyzing my own life processes -- from getting ready in the morning, to the flow of my work day, to making dinner in the evening. Where is there redundancy? Confusion? Unnecessary steps?

Of course, I don't have the patience to draw out every single process of my life. But I have started to shift my mindset. When I get frustrated, I try to ask myself "Why?" (a BA's favorite question). Is there something in this process that could be changed to be easier next time? Could I feed the kids a snack while making dinner, instead of getting frustrated that they're hungry and begging for attention? Even small changes can create so much more peace.

The other phrase that stuck with me from BA training was "sticking to the happy path". When a Business Analyst studies a process, they focus on the main tasks that need to happen, not on every exception that could derail the process. In my life, am I focusing on the main tasks, or getting derailed by worrying about "what if's"?

Here are a few tips that may help, if you're in need of a little more structure too:

1. Scheduling (home & work) - free planner from The Mom Writes
2. Meal planning - Pepperplate (free app)
3. Cleaning - I use a basic list of reminders for each day, and try to pick up as I go, nothing fancy. :)

I'd love to hear any tips or tools you have for working toward a more orderly life! Are you in need of some peace, too?

This post is part of a series for (in)couraging working new moms. I'm so grateful for the ladies who do battle alongside me and teach me so much!


Talking about God with kids

We sat around the dinner table, talking about Heaven. My tender four-year-old, J, put his head down into his arms, face crumpled. "I'm a mean boy," he cried.

Everything in me wanted to tell him he was wrong, but the truth is, he was pretty mean that day. For the past few weeks he's been angry and disobedient more than usual. I had prayed with him a week before, that God would help him to obey. I've been praying for God to convict his heart, to give him a heart of flesh instead of stone. Even at this young age, I know God can do this.

And so I said, "Does it make you sad when you're mean?" He nodded. "Does it sometimes feel like you have to be mean, like you can't be good?" He nodded again. "You know we love you even when you are mean, even when you're naughty, right?" Another nod. "Did you know that God can help you obey? That when you ask Him to help you, He will give you His Spirit and help you obey?"

"What's Spirit?" he questioned. I fumbled for a response. "I mean, what's His name?" he asked.

"Ah, the Holy Spirit," I replied. "The Holy Spirit is God, and He can live with you always."

"Do you think my Mama Tiger can go to Heaven?" he replied, changing the subject to something more tangible.

These conversations make my heart sing. It is a little terrifying to talk to my children about God, a little scary that I won't know how to explain things, or won't know the answers. But it's incredible to watch J's heart soften, to hear how much he remembers from our previous conversations.

More than anything, my husband and I long for our children to know God as their Redeemer, Savior, Father, and Friend. We long for them to boldly obey Him and share His love and truth with the world.

We've spent the past couple of mealtimes dreaming of Heaven. We want our kids to know that Heaven is a beautiful, perfect place, filled with all things good. We don't want them to be scared of it. And so we dream of the wonders we'll see and do there.

"I'll ride on a tiger, and Daddy will ride on a lion. What do you want to ride on, mommy?" J asks. In Heaven, all things are possible, all things are good. So why shouldn't we ride on lions and tigers and bears together? Why shouldn't Mama Tiger come to life and be J's best friend still? I love these conversations, because they encourage us to hope in God, to focus on His goodness to us. Not to mention, growing our imagination and creativity. :)

Father, help us to use our words to guide our children into Your truth. Open their hearts to hear who You are, and to know You as their Savior and Friend. Give us boldness to ask the right questions, to tell stories of how You have worked in the world and in our lives. Amen.

"Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates." Deuteronomy 6: 6-7 MSG
Can you remember a favorite conversation about faith with your parents when you were young, or with your kids? I'd love to hear it!


On wide open spaces

The world throws so many to-do's at me. From Facebook to Pinterest to commercials, I'm surrounded by ways the world wants me to be prettier, more organized, more holy. And even though I say I believe my salvation is by faith, I try to earn it. I try to live up, to be the best, and all my striving wears me out. It's the American way, to pull myself up by my bootstraps -- but it sure is exhausting and never seems to get me very far.

And over time my dreams have become narrow, my heart small, because all of this striving is too much. And no matter how clean the house may get on Saturday, on Sunday it's dirty again. No matter how much quality time I spend with my kids, or friends, or husband... they eventually let me down and eventually need more of me, maybe more than I have to give. And being defined by the things I DO eventually turns into being defined by the things I can't do, the ways I failed.

Jesus made a better way. He made a way for me to be good, without my doing. A way for me to be whole, alive, renewed, redeemed, apart from my doing. He died so I don't have to be burdened by my failure. He died so I don't have to be punished for the things I do wrong every day. He died so I don't have to beat myself up over all of the ways I fall short.

"So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death." Romans 8:1-2 (emphasis mine)

This free way of living is so foreign to me still; I barely know what it looks like. Now I see through a dim mirror, but someday I will see and experience that freedom fully.

I do know this -- belonging to Christ, living by the Spirit, looks like life and peace.

"So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace." Romans 8:6

It looks like giving up control.

"But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.)" Romans 8:9

It looks like resurrection.

"The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you." Romans 8:11

It looks like belonging to a perfect Father, who guides and provides and cares for me.

"For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God." Romans 8:14

Flickr: Kristin Schmit

So I'm giving in. I'm refusing to be led by my old self, to be led by the pressures of this world. I'm opening up to life in the wide open spaces, twirling with my arms spread, my heart ready to be moved by Him alone.

Is there an image that represents freedom to you? Are you living in the wide open spaces, or feeling the pressure? xoxo


On buying shoes and mommy guilt

My mother-in-law is watching the boys this afternoon. Five whole hours to myself, and a million things I could do. And so I go shoe-shopping alone for the first time in years, and pick out my first pair of black pumps ever, and my first pair of Converse All-Stars ever. I meander Target with a venti white chocolate mocha in hand. And when the sales lady at the shoe store asks me if I feel guilty shopping without my kids -- I say "no; just relieved".

For some reason it seems that moms feel the burden of guilt more heavily than most. We are relied on so greatly, with responsibilities and pressure all around, that when we take a break it sometimes feels wrong. We're so used to running the show that sitting in the audience and enjoying it feels like slacking.

Take a deep breath, lovely. It's okay to give up control.

When you have that lump in your throat, that tightening of your chest, and the guilt starts to pull you down -- think. Ask yourself why. Is your guilt deserved, or imagined? Is it self-imposed, or is it true conviction from God?

Our expectations are so high, when we compare ourselves to everyone else's version of "perfect". We see the clean homes at parties, and the adorable crafts on Pinterest, and we think we must not measure up. Ask yourself -- whose "perfect" are you living up to? Is it your husband's expectations (or the ones you think he has)? Is it your kids' version of perfect? (A movie and popcorn might do.) Or is it God's perfection?

Don't you know? He already sees you whole. He already sees you righteous. And even though he sees every one of your dust bunnies and bitter thoughts, he loves you. He cares way more about you than about anything you strive to do.

In all of your rushing, get wisdom. In all of your striving, get understanding. In all of your worrying, give thanks. In all of your grasping, lay it down. And then? When your to-do list is led by the gust of wind that is God's Spirit? Then you will be free.

And if you need an afternoon off to buy shoes? If God's Spirit tells you it's okay to feel pretty? Do it. ;)


Working moms -- you're not alone

Welcome! Today is the launch of (in)courage's second session of (in)courager groups, and I'm excited to share the story of the working new moms group. To join, see instructions at the end!

Motherhood can be a lonely thing. Even if you have a sweet, understanding, helpful spouse, and the best friends in the world, it can be lonely. Sometimes only another mom can truly get the exhaustion, emotions, and challenges you face.

And sometimes, being a working mom can feel even lonelier. You may not have time for play dates, MOPS groups, or early childhood classes. You may only see other moms in passing, while picking up your child from day care, or church childcare. You may mostly hear other moms' stories on Facebook, and you may only hear the edited part of the story. Maybe you mostly see other moms in the pictures they post on their blogs or Instagram, and only see the filtered part of the story. You may feel like nobody understands your story.

Sweet working mom, you are not alone.

Oh, mamas -- I know. When I joined the forces of working moms, I was 21 and just over one year into marriage. Most of my friends were in college, dating, and had no way of understanding that part of my life. I'm grateful that they tried, that they stuck with me while I posted thousands of pictures of my boy on Facebook, while I talked about breastfeeding and cloth diapers and exhaustion. But it was still lonely. I'm grateful for the help and advice my mom and mother-in-law gave. But it was still lonely.

You are loved. You belong.

So on my lunch breaks and pumping breaks, I turned to mommy blogs. I found a place for my heart to be understood at O My Family, Passionate Homemaking, Keeper of the Home, and later on, at The Gypsy Mama and Girl with Blog. I found moms who were going through the same joys and pains, who had the same questions about how to diaper and feed our babies. I found grace and mercy.

Enter: (in)courage.
I started reading (in)courage a couple of years ago, and fell in love with their heart for encouraging women to become who Jesus wants them to be. When they invited women to start their own (in)courager groups and I saw working moms on the list, I felt butterflies in my heart and I knew -- other working moms also needed a space to belong. And my friend Anna knew too.

Our group for (in)couraging working new moms started in the Fall, as a Facebook group where moms could come to be understood. It became a group of friends; a group of women who pray, support, counsel, and love each other. Anna and I write blog posts weekly just for "our girls", and check in throughout the week to pray, encourage, and share with each other. More important than the activities we do -- I truly believe God is using this group to change our hearts; to help us embrace our calling as working moms.

This group is for those of you who wake before the sun, carry too many bags to work, and spend your break times pumping or dreaming of your baby. It's for you, strong mama - the one who is up to her ears in laundry and dishes, who doesn't know how in the world dinner is supposed to get made. It's for you, exhausted mom, for the days when you need a whole pot of coffee. We're here for you.

You are invited!

The second (in)courager session starts today, which means our group is open for YOU to join. Come on in, kick your shoes off and grab some ice cream. We're waiting with big hugs and lots of prayers for you!

If you're not a working mom, check out (in)courage's other groups -- there are ones for single gals, writers, military wives, ministry wives, married women, empty nesters, and many more! The formats vary by group, although many of the groups convene on Facebook.