How to Balance Motherhood and Writing

I’ve been a professional writer for the last decade, and for the last half of that decade, I’ve also been a mom. I deeply love being a writer, and I deeply love being a mom…but the two passions don’t always line up smoothly. Writing requires a certain amount of focus and quiet and time–three things that are often difficult (if not impossible!) to find as a mom. Kids don’t seem to appreciate the fine art of offering their parents uninterrupted blocks of quiet, focused time…

Still, I don’t think that writing and motherhood are mutually exclusive. In fact, I’ve found that the two can jive really well together–with some creativity and help. Over the years, I’ve talked with so many fellow moms who are struggling with how to stay connected to their passion as a writer while simultaneously holding down the fort at home (and also sometimes at work). And that’s why I’ve created The Writing Mom Course.

How to Balance Writing and Motherhood at The Writing Mom. www.thewritingmomcourse.com

This course covers the big questions and practical insights that women are looking for as they pursue writing in the season of motherhood, and I am SO EXCITED about it. We talk about issues of time, balance, writing voice, platform, and others–the list goes on! I’ve poured what I’ve learned as a writing mom into these six classes and worksheets, and I’d love for you to visit the new site, watch the video, and learn about how I want to encourage and equip you on your writing journey!

Also, this week only, I’ve knocked the price down to $39.95…which is cheaper than a family of four going out to eat! I’m hopeful that this can be a resource for you as you pursue your passion of writing as a mom!

Join me here, at The Writing Mom!

The Writing Mom Course at www.thewritingmomcourse.com

Writing for Christ’s Glory

Writing for Christ's glory.

Image via Deeply Rooted Magazine

This is the start of my newest article for Deeply Rooted Magazine.
Read the full article here!

For those of us who are word lovers, who enjoy the feeling of pens in our hands and keys clacking under our fingertips, writing often feels like second nature, like coming home. We love the ways that words help us make sense of our lives and help us encounter God.

This, I believe, is a good and holy thing.

After all, God spoke the universe into existence with a word. The first five verses of the book of John remind us of the beautiful and timeless declaration that Jesus is, himself, the Word—and so we see that who God is and how he is are bound up in the power of words.

To be those who love and use words is a high and sacred calling—and not one that we can take lightly. This is because words hold great power; they name us, shape us, and ultimately point us (and our readers) to the Truth of Christ or to lies and death.

Words hold great power; they name us, shape us, and point us to truth--or lies. Click To Tweet

But how do we seek to be women who are writing for Christ’s glory? While there’s no one definitive answer, my own journey as a writer has shown me several ways that we can focus our hearts and our words on Jesus in this work of writing.

First, I believe that writing for Christ’s glory means that we lay down our right to renown. In the world’s eyes, a writer garners praise for her byline, for her status, for her fame. But to write in the Kingdom may mean something else entirely. It means that our heart’s aim is not to secure our own fame, but the fame of our King. If we have opportunities to write that further his Kingdom and his work in the world, then we can pursue those without concern for our own name.

Read the rest of the article here, at Deeply Rooted!

And if you’re a writer, head over to Writing with Grace to learn about the six week writing course that I teach. Registration is open now, but only for a little while longer!

The Unhappiest Year of My Life: The High and Holy Calling of Motherhood

This is one of my articles for Today’s Christian Woman.

Everything about having a baby is touted as happy: the rounding belly, the cute maternity clothes, the baby showers, the adorable tiny clothes.

Yes, pregnancy can be difficult for some women (for me it was very hard), but the overarching sentiment is that having a baby is an amazing, wonderful thing. And it truly is. The miracle of life, the gift of a child, the hope of a growing family—these are all amazing, wonderful things. Beautiful things. Happy things, even. But for me, the first year of my daughter’s life wasn’t very happy.

Actually, it was the unhappiest year of my life.

I knew that having a child would change things; many of my friends had already become parents, and I had watched them go from women with time for coffee dates and professional lives to moms who were worn out and frazzled. I didn’t expect the transition to parenthood to be easy. I didn’t expect that I would sleep much or that I would have a lot of extra time.

Still, I did expect to be happy. I thought that having a baby—a baby that we’d hoped and prayed for—would bring happiness in the midst of sleep deprivation and the transition into life as parents.

How to Make it When Motherhood is Hard. www.annswindell.com

But I wasn’t happy; at least not for a good while. Don’t get me wrong—I was thankful. Ella and I were both healthy, I loved her immensely, and seeing my husband as a father was incredible. But the combination of exhaustion, the lack of time for myself, the shift in my identity to becoming a mother, the change in our marriage relationship, and the depth of responsibility I felt for my daughter, all combined with those powerful postpartum hormones, left me feeling very, very unhappy.

As a new mom, I missed my old life. Would I ever be happy again? #motherhood Click To Tweet

I missed my old life. It’s not that I didn’t want to be Ella’s mom; I loved her more than I thought was possible. But I missed the freedom and rest that I realized I would never get back. I missed being able to put myself first, something that felt increasingly impossible. I missed who I was, and I had the realization that I was never going to be that woman again.

A Shared Experience

Women don’t always talk about it, but many are unhappy—to some degree—during that first year of motherhood. The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany, recently reported that the “drop in happiness experienced by parents after the birth of first child was larger than the experience of unemployment, divorce or the death of a partner” (Source). Similarly, an earlier study published in Great Britain noted that “parents often report statistically significantly lower levels of happiness, life satisfaction, marital satisfaction and mental well-being compared with non-parents” (Source).

Here’s what some other moms told me about their first year of motherhood:

“I wanted adult conversation. Because I was doing same routine everyday, I felt my intelligence and self esteem diminishing.”

“Having no time to myself and being utterly sleep deprived brought out bitter anger that I’d never dealt with before and was without tools to deal with.”

“I was terribly caught off guard by how my relationship with my husband changed. I suddenly had experiences and a life he couldn’t relate to.”

“I lost any desire for sex because of the fatigue and the physical and hormonal changes.”

Additionally, for many new moms, the shift in their spiritual life—on top of and because of all of the other changes—can cause a great deal of unhappiness, too. One mom remembers that she “found it completely impossible to pray because my mind simply would not stop buzzing with so many things.” Time for a devotional life dwindles down to nothing, or emotional and hormonal changes send us into a dark spiral of depression.

So: the drop in happiness, the loss of identity and adult interaction, the lack of sleep and energy, the change in our marriages and even our relationship with God—these are high costs that most mothers pay time and time again in the early years of child-rearing. So why have children? Are mothers giving themselves over to a life of exhaustion and self-loss?

The Cost of Motherhood

In some ways, the answer is yes. Yes, every intentional mother (and father, albeit in different ways), is giving herself over to a life of exhaustion and self-loss. The cost is very real, and, at times, very painful. And still, we have a model who taught us about the surprising gift we can receive through exhaustion and self-loss: Jesus.

Jesus was, undoubtedly, exhausted at times by his ministry on earth (Mark 4:37-39), and all of his life was aimed at the supreme act of self-loss for the sake of those he loved through his death on the cross. Does that mean that as mothers, we are called to give up everything, too?

No, not in the same way Jesus did. We are not the savior of our children—Christ is. We are not supposed to find our identity or value in our children—that is found only in Christ. We are not asked to find our value in our role as moms—our value is in who Jesus says we are, not in what we do. But the way of Christ is the call to pick up our cross and lay down our life (Matt. 16-24-26), and for many of us, mothering will reveal the depths of that call like nothing else. We will be asked to lay aside our immediate desires for the sake of our children’s wellbeing and growth. We will be asked to consider one little life—or many little lives—as more important than our own (Phil. 2:3-4). And we will feel the loss of self in new and, often, painful ways—sometimes in ways that make us very unhappy.

We are not the savior of our children—Christ is. #motherhood Click To Tweet

The Gift in the Struggle

Yet, there is a deeper joy that goes beyond the cost of our unhappiness—the gift of sufficiency in Christ. For Christ himself tells us that “…whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). In our weakness and our pain and our sorrow, we are offered the gift of Christ’s strength: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). In the places where, as mothers, it often feels most like we are losing our own lives—losing our freedom, our time, our sleep, our energy—we have the opportunity to find our lives through the sufficiency of Christ as we rely on him for everything. One mom puts it this way: “Being a mom drove me to my knees in helplessness before God, which in the long run did a great deal of good in me.”

So while having a child may make us “unhappier,” perhaps that is not a bad thing.[1] Perhaps the gift of getting to experience Christ’s strength in our weakness, perhaps letting the struggle of motherhood reveal our reliance upon Him—perhaps these are the very things that will lead us into joy that runs deeper than fleeting happiness. I know it has for me. I don’t always feel thrilled about the responsibilities that I carry as a mother, and I don’t usually feel happy about being exhausted. Still, I’ve never felt more joyful than when I’m holding my daughter in my arms, aware that my loving Heavenly Father—who sees me, cares for me, and knows my needs—is holding me, too.

 

[1] If you are struggling with deep sadness that persists or anxiety that won’t go away, you may have post-partum depression. Please seek professional help and start the journey to healing—in Christ, healing is possible.

 

Still Waiting is available now! www.stillwaitingbook.com

The Scars We Carry: Women as Warriors

 

The Scars We Carry: Women as Warriors

I shuffled into the locker room at our local gym a few days ago, searching for an open locker to dump my bags in before heading upstairs to a treadmill. There’s no shortage of women changing in the locker room, and as I found a pod of lockers that were mostly unused, I walked past an older woman who was bending over to change. Without intending to, I saw down her shirt. And what I saw surprised me.

She was missing her right breast. Even at a glance, I could see the scar; there was a shell of padding filling that side of her bra. And I knew, in half of a second, that this woman had undergone breast cancer and had needed a mastectomy to remove cancerous tissue. My grandmother underwent a mastectomy; I remember hearing her talk about her expensive bra that was filled on one side with padding rather than her own flesh.

And in that locker room, I realized that this woman changing next to me had walked through the pain and the fear of cancer. She had needed her flesh cut off and sewn up. She had been delivered news that brought nothing but hardship and had been given a diagnosis that could have ended in death. And she had not only survived, but she was here at the gym, using her miraculous body that lived through that cancer to swim and move and work.

This courageous, strong, wrinkled woman next to me was a warrior.

She had lived. She had won. And nobody else knew that under that padded bra was a woman with more fortitude than fear.

Before I left the locker room, another woman stood in front of the mirror and began blow-drying her hair. She was wearing a bra, but no shirt, and underwear, but no pants. Unselfconsciously, she stood and dried her hair as other women walked in and out. And I noticed a long, thin scar on her lower abdomen. I know that scar; I bear one myself. My daughter was pulled through that cut in my stomach when she would not come out otherwise. Whether this woman with the blow dryer had one child or many pulled out of her, I do not know. But she will carry that scar forever.

This confident, mighty, toned woman next to me was a warrior.

She was a mother. She had birthed life, made room in herself for another. And nobody else knew that under her shirt was a woman who, like all mothers, has made sacrifices too numerous to count.

I sat down on a bench, suddenly overwhelmed by the power and beauty of the women around me. These were survivors I was walking among—saints, heroes, lovers. Women who share in this sisterhood of scar-bearing.

We all bear scars. Mine is 6 inches across, snow white, a thin line of remembrance an inch below my hip bone. But I have others, scars less visable. Scars where pain has been seared over by love, or by time, or by prayer.

Several days a week, I stand in that locker room and don’t think about the other women around me. I see them peripherally, changing their clothes and doing their hair. They probably see me in the same way. But here, in this locker room, I had been given a glimpse of the scars that each of us carry. Whether from breast cancer or c-sections, whether from broken hearts or anxious minds—we bear the scars of being women, and of living in a shattered world. Most of us can hide them under bras and shirts and acceptable words. But we are, all of us, warriors.

Those who have survived. Those who are living. Those who are mothers, sisters, wives, and friends.

Those scars do not define us. They have marked us, yes. But they can remind us that we have more fortitude than fear, and that we can make room in our bodies and our hearts for life to be birthed. In fact, we can be proud of our scars: being a scar-bearer points us to the truth that scars can be signs of life—even of love.

How to Thrive as a New Mom

My newest piece is up at Darling Magazine: “Thriving with a Newborn.” I’ve written about it before, but the transition into motherhood wasn’t the easiest for me. Through this article, I’m hoping that my distilled experience can offer the equivalent of a warm hug to some of you as new moms (or as soon-to-be new moms). Be encouraged; there is grace in the challenging seasons, and hope is always around the corner!

How to Thrive as a New Mom: it's possible and I wish someone would have told me these things sooner!

Four weeks after my daughter was born, I had never known a love as fierce and all-consuming as the love I had for her. But I was also exhausted, and feeling unsteady. Those early days — full of the lack of sleep and the crazy hormones — had me running on empty.

How to Thrive as a New Mom: give yourself lots of grace and set low expectations...#mom Click To Tweet

Although the newborn stage is short in the grand scheme of life, it can feel unending when you’re living in it. The constant needs of a newborn, the wacky sleep schedule, the high emotions — they are intense, intense things. Thankfully, I made it through, and I would say that I was even able to thrive during those early days with Ella, although it felt different than I thought it would.

So, while I’m not a perfect parent by any stretch of the imagination, or even a long-time parent, here are my four how-tos for thriving in those first weeks and months of motherhood.

1. Set attainable goals.
Prior to having a child, I had been used to accomplishing lots of things every day. I achieved at work, I developed friendships, I cooked meals and washed clothes and bought groceries. But now, I had two goals: keep Ella alive, and keep myself alive. Ella’s needs, although high, were straightforward: milk, sleep, touch. For me to stay alive was very different. I needed food, yes, and I desperately needed sleep. Friends brought meals and family watched Ella while I napped. But I also needed hope — which leads to my second goal.

New moms: don't beat yourself up because you aren't getting much done. You're protecting and… Click To Tweet

2. Take a few minutes for yourself everyday.
Even if it’s short, even if it doesn’t look like it used to. My emotional lifeline in those early weeks was dependent upon me getting a few moments to think, reflect, and pray every day. Some days, even getting fifteen minutes alone felt like a battle, and then I would sit and read and journal my prayers through tears or drooping eyelids. Sometimes I just turned on music; sometimes I read. But I needed several moments every day where I wasn’t responsible for this new person in order to internally re-charge.  Take that time for yourself; it isn’t selfish, it’s necessary.

Read about the other two points here, over at Darling’s site!

 

3 Ways to Start the Year off Right

3 Ways to Start the year off right (1)

I tend to love the beginnings of things. This year ahead is fresh and new, and I have learned that if I don’t intentionally pursue the things that refresh my soul, those things won’t happen. We have to take meaningful steps toward renewing our hearts and minds in Christ, and there may not be a better time to do that than right now, when our calendars are full of more white space than they will be for awhile.

Here are some ways that we can look at how we are living at the start of this new year and invite God to lead us into better ways of living.

Make Time for Solitude and Silence

When I was in college, I had a professor that took a day off every month to retreat from the world and re-center his life by spending a day with God. He would spend the entire day at a retreat center, speaking with no one and spending long stretches of time in solitude and silence. The silence, he said, gave him time to reflect on the deep places in his life that constant noise and stimuli kept him from ever reaching internally.

In our media-drenched culture, colors, lights, advertisements, and technology surround us. There is always another thing to buy that promises happiness, or something to look at to amuse or entertain us. What happens when we get away from all of these things? What happens when we are alone, without anything to distract us? Often, the deep longings of our heart begin to surface when they have the time and space to bubble up in our minds. The things we really hope for and care about become prominent in our thoughts. Our true heart has the space to come out.

It is hard to get to this place. When I spend time alone, in silence, I am often bombarded by thoughts of things that need to get done, of projects that are unfinished. If I followed every rabbit-trail that came into my head, I would never reach actual silence, because the noise inside of me can become so loud. I have found that tangibly writing down the “to do” list that pops up in my mind helps release me from having to listen to those thoughts anymore. With the ideas written down, I can set them aside and focus on reflecting on life.

Pray

Prayer is the best way to truly refresh, because it connects us with the One who knows us best—God. By spending time to ask God about our thoughts and our lives, we can connect with our Creator in meaningful ways that will truly give our spirit life. I have found that taking chunks of time to read the Bible and pray has significantly changed my life. If you find that it’s hard to concentrate for extended periods of time, try taking a walk while you talk with God, or journal your thoughts by writing them down. Sometimes I even enjoy singing my prayers, making up the tune as I go along. There are many ways to pray, and as long as our hearts are in the right place—seeking to connect with the One who made us—it will be time well-spent. Time spent with God is never wasted.

Take Time Away

Getting away from the schedules that we have carved out for ourselves is sometimes the most challenging thing to do. It doesn’t seem possible that the world we’re in will run smoothly if we step out of it for a few days, or even a day, or even for a few hours. Will our households, businesses, and families survive if we leave?

The answer is yes. And the reality is that if you make the time to step out of the regular schedule of life to reevaluate and refresh, you will come back to “regular” life with better and more insightful thoughts, as well as with more energy to offer to your family, your friends, and your co-workers.

Taking time away will look different for everyone. You may only feel that you can responsibly take a couple of hours away from your duties at home or at work, or you may figure out a way to step away from your responsibilities for a full day or two. Whatever the amount of time that you can set aside to get away, it can be meaningful.

And that is the key focus for getting away. While it might sound nice to go on a mini-vacation and unwind by watching a movie or sleeping the day away, the focus for this time should be centered on purposefully looking at your current life—what you love about your life, what you long for, what you want to grow in, and what you need to cut out. While a nap is not a bad idea, consider removing any and all kinds of media for your time away. A ringing cell phone is almost certain to keep you focused on the minutiae of life, rather than help you think about the life you are seeking to live.

Blessings on you, friends, as you start this new year. What do you want this year to be?