Families With Grace

Helping Christian moms create homes filled with grace, love & faith

Beyond the vows: To have and to hold

“Beyond the vows” is a series about what marriage relationships actually look like once the wedding is over and life happens. Learn more about the series and how you can share your own story here!

My husband and I began dating in high school. In fact, it was on my 15th birthday that he asked me to be his girlfriend. The next day, on his 17th birthday, he kissed me for the first time.

While I could have told you then that he was the man God had for me to marry, nobody would have believed me. But I just knew. I knew that we fit together. In just a short amount of time, I couldn’t imagine a future without him in it.

As we grew, we faced a fair amount of challenges. He went to college while I still had two years left of high school. While he was still in the same city as me, we were still limited in the time we could spend together. He had the freedom of a college student. I had the restraints of a high school student, especially one with strict parents. Much of our early relationship grew through long phone calls. We got to really know each other.

Of course, as any two young people who are in love, we liked to cuddle and kiss. We liked to hold hands. But we also had convictions of waiting until marriage for more intimate physical connections. I learned early on, though, how good it felt to be embraced by my husband. He was a safe place for me to land.

So when we got married five years after our relationship began, I had no hesitation about vowing to have and hold my husband. In fact, it was all I wanted to do! I loved being close to him and looked forward to the added closeness of a marriage relationship as well. I didn’t give “to have and to hold” much thought.

Now we are nearly 20 years into our marriage. Next weekend is our birthdays and it will be 25 years since he asked me to be his girlfriend. We have learned so very much in those years.

I still love snuggling with him and having him in my life. I still can’t imagine a future without him in it. But I have all sorts of memories of having and holding him now. He’s held me when I cried in frustration in my early 20s when my bladder condition came back with a vengeance and shifted my plans. We’ve held each other when he came home having been downsized from his job. We’ve sought comfort in each other’s arms as we’ve said final good-byes to so many loved ones. His arms have been the ones around me helping me after numerous surgeries.

We have also hugged in celebration. In January of 2009, we hugged each other in stunned silence after getting a positive pregnancy test only two months into trying. My husband is the one who held me and helped me when that baby girl was born nine months later and again just over three years later when her brother was born. I’ve felt my heart swell as I watched him hold our babies when they were new and now that they are older.

To have and to hold means so much more than snuggling together on the couch watching a favorite television show. To have and to hold means so much more than sharing a marital bed. Those things are awesome and a great part of marriage!

But to have and to hold really, truly means to be there always for one another. To have and to hold means that when either of us needs a safe place to fall, the other one will be there. To have and to hold means that when the world is falling apart, we can fall on each other. To have and to hold means that when we are on top of the world, we celebrate together.

To have and to hold means that I don’t have to go through this journey of life on my own. I have someone who has vowed to have me all the time, even when I’m unlovable or gross. I have someone who has vowed to hold me through good times and bad. And I will have and hold him just the same.

To have and to hold means that when I am struggling to hold on, I have someone who will help keep me tethered. To have and to hold means that when he is betrayed by someone else, that he will always have me. We are truly in this life together as a team.

I know our journey isn’t complete. We will have other times of great joy and great sorrow ahead. And we will have and hold each other through all of them.

Encouragement for moms

A collection of posts to refresh and inspire your mama heart

Being a mom is awesome — and hard! Some days we are nailing it and have found the right balance of fun and caring for our families. And other days we fall flat on our faces. We question whether we’ve made the right choices and criticize ourselves. We wonder how prepared our children are going to be for adulthood. We imagine what they’ll tell their therapists about us in 20 years.

We fall short. We get frustrated. We are exhausted. We are overwhelmed. Sometimes more than anything we could use some encouragement. A few kind words can go a long way. Knowing we aren’t alone can go a long way.

With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of links for you to find encouragement for your mama heart today. Some are from Families with Grace and some are from fellow bloggers. All of them will leave you feeling refreshed, encouraged and ready to get back to the business of motherhood!

For mamas who need a reminder of God’s presence

Photo provided by Living With Margins

God’s promise of gentle leading for moms
Sometimes we can feel like nobody understands and we’re all alone. But, we’re not! God promises to never leave us. And within that, He also has a promise specifically for moms with young children! 

Are we there yet?
Just like our kids ask on long trips, sometimes we wonder if our long, arduous journey will ever get easier. God, are we there, yet?

Young mom — “Some days are just like that”
Hard days come in motherhood, but we were made for more than just survival! Even on hard days (or hard weeks, months or years!) God provides for us.

For mamas who are struggling with contentment

Compare or be content
Not only will mental health experts tell you that comparing yourself to others is just asking for trouble, the Bible also has plenty of advice about it as well.

For mamas overwhelmed by chores

How I stopped being angry at my family
Nobody ever talks about the anger we moms feel sometimes when we get overwhelmed with our tasks and realize that nobody notices or cares what we’re doing. It’s a miserable state in which to live.

Mom brain overload
Part of motherhood exhaustion is being overwhelmed by the mental amount of information in our heads.

Being a Mary and a Martha kind of mom
While getting chores and other tasks finished is important, we also need to remember to take time to just be with our children and enjoy them. Two sisters in the Bible are a great reminder of this!

For mamas whose strength is running low

Feather like faith to a brick wall resolve
Some days take all of our patience and then some. And we need more than our own strength to get through them while being the mom our children need us to be!

For mamas who are feeling the bittersweetness of growing children

The time of my life? I’m living it now!
Life isn’t perfect and motherhood can be hard, but there are sweet moments that remind us how much we love and are loved. It’s sometimes the small moments that make the best memories!

Seeing the past, present and future in my 9-year-old
Our children are growing way faster than we want them to. That’s true no matter how old they are! It can be such a bittersweet journey.

For mamas who are feeling disappointment in their motherhood journey

Letting go of the expectations of motherhood and embracing the unexpected
Life doesn’t usually turn out how we expect, including motherhood. We have to feel the loss of our expectations and then continue moving forward. And sometimes we can find the unexpected is even better!

Just walk one more day
We can feel the hurt of disappointment sometimes and throw spiritual tantrums just like a child who doesn’t get her way. But, God is ever and always faithful!

For all mamas!

A parent’s prayer — FREE printable!
This parent’s prayer is a great reminder of our job and responsibility as moms. What better way to work on the mom we want to be than by approaching parenthood with God?

It’s OK to let go and ask for help!

Asking for help is hard. It goes against our human pride and desire to be independent and strong. We don’t want to ever admit that we can’t do it all or are weak. We like to take the weight of the world on our shoulders and plaster on a smile as we stumble around under its crushing load.

There is definitely a spiritual lesson in this about how God didn’t design us to carry that weight but to let Him. And another one about how admitting we are weak makes Him all that much stronger. But there is also a literal lesson. Sometimes we just plain need help.

Asking for help in the past

About six years ago, my mom and mother-in-law came to my house daily while I was recovering from surgery. I had a 3-year-old and 8-month-old. I couldn’t lift the baby for six weeks post-op. That same baby caused me to be on modified bedrest for my final trimester. And the months in between his birth and my surgery were so incredibly hard physically that I spent 3 months “sleeping” in a recliner, got shingles, had two bouts of the stomach flu and strep throat.

Cleaning my house during all of that was impossible. Sure once the baby was born, I was able to do a few things, but my head was barely above water. While my mom and mother-in-law came to help with the kids on different days after my surgery, they also saw my drowning need for help at my house.

I remember them each doing tasks like scrubbing my bathroom and my kitchen. I remember the great amount of relief and gratitude I felt that such seemingly simple tasks were getting done for me, in spite of the reality that I couldn’t do them myself. While my body wasn’t cooperating, my eyes were still able to see all that was undone.

I mentioned this to a group of mom friends online. One of the first comments I got was one saying she could never imagine letting someone else clean her bathroom. Ouch! That hurt my feelings. She didn’t seem to understand that I literally had no other choice. I couldn’t do it. My husband was struggling to keep all of us going plus work full-time in another city. He couldn’t do it. My preschooler and baby certainly couldn’t do it.

This wasn’t my first time feeling shame over housework. I realized very early on in our marriage that I felt the most responsible for housework and how our home appeared to others. I saw it as a personal failure when things were in disarray — and they were more often than not! Adding in my health issues and later two kids didn’t help a bit.

I had to learn to let go of my pride and ask for help. Many, many times I asked my husband for help with a task I wasn’t able to do. Other times, my parents or in-laws helped us with large tasks.

Asking for help in the present

That brings us to the present. This month marks our one-year anniversary in our new home. We had the house built and moved in to a clean, sparkling new everything. While I’ve kept up better on housework in this home than in any other I’ve ever had before thanks to some cleaning lessons I’ve learned along the way combined with better health, I also still have physical limitations. I saw all the deep cleaning work needed around here from scrubbing the bathtubs to mopping the floors to cleaning the windows to wiping down baseboards and knew I couldn’t do it.

With fibromyalgia, my back, hands and arms (and everything else!) have limited use each day. I have to work in small spurts to avoid sending myself into a total flare. I knew that I could start all the spring cleaning tasks and take until fall to complete them, even with help from my husband and kiddos. So, I asked for help.

As I’m typing this, I can hear the vacuum cleaning going upstairs. I can smell the cleaning products used in my kitchen. And I’ve done none of that. Yes, I decluttered. I cleared out spaces, but I hired help to do the actual deep cleaning.

I have been hesitant to share this information with anyone for a few reasons. First, the day I called and had someone come give me an estimate for cleaning is the same day I had such a bad day at physical therapy I cried the whole way home. Adding insult to injury was realizing that while I was thankful to have funds to pay someone to help me clean I didn’t have a choice in the matter. I couldn’t do it otherwise. That’s a hard pill to swallow.

Second, I still am not a fan of judgment about who is cleaning my house. Third, I don’t want to give anyone the impression that I have lots of disposable income to hire out regular household tasks. That most certainly isn’t the case.

Fourth, I don’t want anyone to think that this is my norm. The tips I share on here are my everyday cleaning tips that I do all the time! I definitely don’t have a regular housekeeper or assistant in any way. It’s the hard-core scrubbing that is a physical challenge for me.

While having my house cleaned is a complete relief to me on one level mentally, it’s also a bit shameful on another level. I don’t want to ask for help — whether it’s free or paid help. I want to be able to do it all. But, the reality is I can’t.

I have shared a few posts about cleaning and maintaining my home. I want to also make sure that I am being transparent to tell you that deep cleaning isn’t something I can do right now. Maybe one day I’ll be able to do that again. And maybe I won’t. Chronic pain and illness is so unpredictable.

Yes, I work hard to stay on top of tasks at my home on a regular basis. I keep up with small tasks as I go. I follow the ABC rule to Always Be Cleaning so it doesn’t build up too much or else I wouldn’t be able to ever get on top of it. Those things I will continue to do, especially because right now I can. I do have days where I can’t keep up, but right now those days are rare, and I’m thankful because that hasn’t always been the case.

Continuing to learn to accept help

However, I also still need help. I cannot do everything. I feel weird to have someone cleaning my house. Of course, I would rather be able to do it myself. It’s hard on my pride to have to have help. But I’ve learned that I can either ask for help, hurt myself trying to do it all or just leave it undone and be upset about it.

I choose to be proactive. I choose to ask for help so things don’t get to be more than I can handle. I choose to not be ashamed because I can’t do it all. I choose to let go the things I can’t do and be thankful for the things I can do.

You may not be in the same situation as me. You may be able to clean your house and enjoy cleaning your house. That’s fine, but I’d bet there is something somewhere in your life that you could use help with for whatever reason. That’s OK. You don’t have to do it all. It’s OK to ask for help sometimes. You don’t have to be ashamed. Anyone who makes you feel otherwise is just plain wrong (and I’d daresay not a good friend to you anyway!).

Sometimes you just have to let go and ask for help. It doesn’t mean you are weak; it just means you are human. And that is not only OK but beautiful. What do you need to ask for help with? Do it today!

Being a Mary and a Martha kind of mom

What the story of two sisters in the Bible taught me about motherhood

This post first ran back on Feb. 5, 2015 on my former blog. While some things have changed — like the age and some of the needs of my children — everything else remains quite the same. In fact, God brought this post to my mind earlier this week as a reminder to not be so busy in doing things for my family that I forget to just be with my family.

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard sermons or Bible studies or read devotions on the Mary and Martha story in the Bible. Probably more than I can count. But as God is known to do, sometimes He knocks me over the head about something in a new way and that happened last week. 

I read a devotion about Mary and Martha — you know, the story in Luke 10:38-42 where Jesus goes to visit the two sisters and Mary sits at His feet listening to Him talk while Martha stays busy getting everything in the house ready. When Martha asks Him to reprimand her sister for not helping, Jesus lovingly turns the tables on her and gently reminds her that Mary is doing the right thing. What He wanted and what she needed was to just listen to Him.

This passage has long reminded me to not be so busy doing things that I miss out on just being with and listening to God. But for the first time last week, it spoke directly to my mother’s heart. Zing! Right where I needed to hear it. 

I am the kind of person who thrives on a to-do list. Thrives! I feel most accomplished when I can look back at my day and see how I marked off item after item. On down times, I get antsy if I don’t get things done. I like a mix of being productive and resting when it comes to my downtime. I have a to-do list for every day. And, of course, with two small children there is always lots to be done: cleaning, cooking, laundering, bathing, diapering and on and on the list goes.

I have been feeling quite proud of myself lately for all I’ve been doing. As my son has gotten older and less clingy and more happy and able to play with his big sister, I have gotten a chance to get things done again. I have also felt well enough these last few weeks to do things. 

So I was feeling proud that I’ve been organizing my house in pockets here and there and marking things off my to-do list and keeping up with laundry and making healthy food for my family and on I could go. But you may also know what the Bible also says about pride going before a fall.

Just like that God smacked me over the head and pointed out to me that I needed to make sure I wasn’t only being a Martha to my children (doing all the tasks that surround caring for them), but that I was also being a Mary to my children (stopping to listen to and play with them). Ouch! It’s not that doing my kids’ laundry or making their lunch or cleaning our house are bad or wrong in any way. Certainly those things need to be done. If I don’t do them things get crazy! 

However, God reminded me that I need to stop doing sometimes and just be with my kiddos. Of course I play with them. Of course I interact with them, but how often do I just sit down with them one-on-one and say, “Let’s do whatever you want to do for the next half hour?” Not all that often. 

More often than I’d like to admit, when I play with them I feel antsy to be able to move on to my next task or I think about all that isn’t getting done or I even just think how much I wish I could be doing something else for myself. And many times, I’m half playing and half keeping an eye on the time so that we don’t get off our precious schedule.

The games a preschooler and toddler come up with aren’t always intriguing and fun to me. How many times can I make a Ninja Turtle on a motorcycle run into Batman on a motorcycle before I start to want to pull out my hair?  But isn’t God patient with us? Aren’t I supposed to model my life after Him? He sees me wandering around making a mess of things or doing the same tedious, ridiculous things over and over. 

Fortunately He doesn’t think like I sometimes do and get impatient with my childish ways. Sometimes I think He finds delight in the little things that delight me. Because when I really just let myself and my agenda go and am present in playing with my children with my mind and body, then I am happy to make a Ninja Turtle on a motorcycle crash into Batman on a motorcycle over and over again because I see the joy it brings my son. He is delighted, so I am delighted.

Today I will make progress on my to-do list. I will get laundry done. I will make dinner. I will make sure that the big kid gets to and from preschool on time. I will be a Martha managing my household and family. But I will also work to be a Mary and make sure that I stop to just sit and play with my children. 

I have learned this in my spiritual life (though I am FAR from perfect!). I make time to stop and hang out with God in the mornings (unless my kids are sick and up all hours then I find Him in other ways throughout the day). I need that time with my Father. My kids need that time with their mother. 

I will work to find the best balance I can between Martha and Mary. Some days I may be more one than the other in the natural ebb and flow of life, but I will plod forward doing my best.

The one cleaning secret that has helped me be more on top of things at home

No matter how much I clean and organize around my house, my efforts can seem to be in vain. I get the dishwasher unloaded and turn around to find dishes stacked in the sink. I finish putting away clean laundry and turn around to find the hamper already had dirty clothes in it again. Staying on top of household chores is a challenge!

Some people love to clean. I am not one of those people. Some people can’t stand one single thing out of place. I am not one of those people either. I’m somewhere in the middle these days where sometimes things get out of place and it can drive me crazy, but my house at least doesn’t look like it could featured on a documentary about packrats. (There have been times when my kids were younger that wasn’t always the case!)

I wish I would have inherited my mom’s love for cleaning. She enjoys it and she’s good at it. In spite of my tendency to be a slob, I learned some cleaning lessons from her while we were staying with my parents for a few months. I still apply those lessons, but I’ve also learned one secret to cleaning and household management that has helped me to stay on top of things.

I conquer small cleaning chores when they arise rather than put them off. I know. It doesn’t sound all that life-changing, but let me explain. I realized there are many times throughout my day that I encounter cleaning chores around my house that need dealt with and instead of just doing them, I put them off. Then they pile up and get out of hand.

I heard a similar tip somewhere and started paying attention to how long cleaning chores take. For example, in the 30 seconds while I’m swishing my mouthwash around, I can wipe down my bathroom sink and counter with a bleach wipe. In the 2-3 minutes while my frozen meal is heating up in the microwave, I can unload the dishwasher.

By itself, it doesn’t sound super life-changing, but just working on small cleaning chores as they come up and not putting them off has really made a difference for me. I realized how many small cleaning chores can easily pile up and become big issues that are overwhelming. (Hhmmm. Seems like there is an emotional/mental parallel there, too. But that’s for another day!)

Changing my habits to ask myself whether a cleaning chore can be done in two minutes or less has helped me stay on top of things. My house is far from perfect. There’s still some clutter. I’ll never get caught up on laundry or dishes, because that’s impossible. But my attitude shift is also helping me not let little cleaning chores get the best of me.

This morning, for example, I unloaded the dishwasher in the 2 minutes it took to heat up pancakes to go in my kids’ lunchboxes. I put away towels I had folded last night on my way to the office and only took maybe a minute to do so. I put away a few small items of clutter in my bedroom while I was swishing my mouthwash.

One small cleaning chore at a time is really so much more manageable. So what is going at your house right now that you can take care of in 2 minutes or less? Do it! You will feel better about it for having made the progress and feel motivated to find other small cleaning chores as you go!

What physical therapy taught me about the determination of moms

About a month ago, I shared with you about my experiences with anxiety and depression on spring break. One of the things I mentioned in that post was seeing a new doctor for my fibromyalgia who prescribed physical therapy for me, including aquatic therapy.

While I’ve done physical therapy many times throughout my adult life for a variety of body parts (that should have been my first clue to fibromyalgia!), I hadn’t done aquatic therapy before. I felt anxious going to the pool the first day for a few reasons.

First, being in your bathing suit in front of strangers is just not fun. Bathing suits feel so very exposed.

Second, I was nervous about how my bladder would handle the chlorine. Chlorine tends to flare my interstitial cystitis bladder symptoms.

Third, I didn’t really know what to expect. Any time I don’t know what to expect, I get anxious. I like to be prepared.

I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. The physical therapist I was assigned to was great. He had a positive attitude and put me at ease from the very beginning for which I’m thankful.

The chlorine did bother my bladder but only a minimal amount. The hardest times were when I went more than once a week. But it was manageable.

By the second day in the pool, I was being led through the paces by the student physical therapist. She also did a good job. As we started chatting through my various appointments, I learned that she is a mom and has three little ones. Her oldest two are close in age to my two. Her youngest is a preschooler.

As she opened up more with me, I learned that she works 40 hours doing her training for physical therapy and then works her regular job for an income on the weekend. On the weekend, she puts in another full 40 hours. Yeah. I’m exhausted just hearing that. Seriously.

I was struck by the two of us side-by-side in the water. We were both there for the same reason as moms: we are determined to make a better life for our families. She wants to have training for a job that will eventually mean she can work better hours for more money. I want to do whatever I can to help my body be able to move easier so I can do more with my family. We are doing different things, but our motivation and determination are the same.

I remember thinking the first day with her that she had a lower energy than the other physical therapist. She was totally fine, engaging and helpful but just a bit less energetic. I figured it was just her personality difference. Once I learned her story, I am just impressed that she is upright. Seriously. Being a mom and working 80 hours, seven days a week is tough! I couldn’t do it. But then again that’s part of why I was there. There are quite a few things I can’t do. My body won’t cooperate.

I don’t know if physical therapy will actually help me. I’m finished with the aquatic sessions. I’m going to keep doing some stretches, but I’ve been discouraged this last week with it. I’m feeling worse rather than better, which is frustrating. However, I’m trying. I’m working at it and doing my best.

Physical therapy may not help me feel better, but that doesn’t mean I won’t keep trying. Because I want better for my family and for myself. I want to not have to worry about how far we are walking somewhere or whether I can both fold laundry and go grocery shopping in the same day. I want to not have as many days that I have to say no to my son when he asks me to push him on the swing after school because my arms or back hurt too much.

And the student physical therapist I worked with is looking forward to graduation in a couple of weeks. She’s excited to earn a better income, work only Monday through Friday and have more time with her kids. Her job won’t be perfect, because nothing is, but she’s moving forward, which is the goal we both have.

Just like pretty much every other mom you know, we are working hard to be the best we can be for our families. Moms are determined to keep going even when it’s challenging because we love our families too much to do it any other way!

Beyond the vows: To love and to cherish

“Beyond the vows” is a new series about what marriage relationships actually look like once the wedding is over and life happens. Learn more about the series and how you can share your own story here!

Taylor Lee, from Accomplished Family, is sharing her story of learning what it means to love and to cherish her husband for the “Beyond the vows” series. You’re going to be blessed by her story!

I had found the man I was supposed to marry at an early age, even though it took me a few years to realize that. He was kind, sweet and had the best sense of humor. I was broken, full-of self-doubt and lost.

Every time I broke up with him, he was always right there when I decided to run back into his arms. He was crazy about me, and I was forever scared to put all my eggs into one basket.

He wasn’t perfect. Each time I would find a flaw I would distance myself from him and tell myself he was not the guy. I let him go again and again.

I would find temporary boyfriends. Once I realized that they weren’t the match for me, I would find myself reaching back out to my favorite guy.

Despite all the times that I would break up with him, he was always there for me when I needed a friend. I finally got smart and asked him to take one more chance with me. I knew as well as he did that it was a gamble.

I might’ve been finicky, but I absolutely loved him. Always had!

Love wasn’t the problem.

In time I figured out how to show that love. Things were good.


It took me years to figure out the importance of cherishing him. Love simply isn’t enough when getting into a marriage.

Love isn’t going to keep the fire going.

Understanding that you care about the person you married isn’t enough either.

Love isn’t going to get you through the hard times.

Cherishing your significant other is the key to making your marriage last.

We found this out the hard way.

Although we cared for each other, we didn’t work at it. We simply said the words, but there was a heavy lack of action behind the love. There was no push on either end for us to communicate with each other; our marriage suffered because of it.

They say that the first year is hard. They are right!

In a few short months we were ready to call it quits. We seemed to be two totally different people, and a divorce sounded like a better solution.

Ultimately, it took him moving out for both of us to realize that we needed each other. It wasn’t enough that we loved each other.

You can love but if you don’t put in the time to take care of someone, they start to understand that they aren’t worth your time.

Although it took some time for both of us to realize, we are now stronger than ever before.

We take time to talk to each other, and we work to strengthen our relationship.

We flirt with each other — even between the work, school and two children. We always make time for each other, even though our dinner and movie have now switched gears to our living room rather than a night out.

Sometimes you don’t realize how much you need to grow until things happen, and you must make a change to make it work.

If you love him, you must work on that love all the time.

Knowing that you love him is only half of it. You must work on showing him through your actions that you love him, and you must love yourself enough to expect him to do the same for you.

Things aren’t always going to be blue skies and rainbows, but if you work at it, it will continue to flourish. Love each other through and through.

Think of everything that he does for you, what you do for him and how you can spend time together to make it a great life.

Take time as often as you can to spend time together. Don’t just sit on your phones in the same room. Actually put the phones down, look into each other’s eyes and communicate.

Share your dreams and aspirations with each other. This will help you to grow together instead of just trying to make it through the day, day after day, year after year, and then, when the kids are grown wondering, “Who are you?”

If you take the time, you will feel the love. It’s been five years for us, and I sincerely look forward to everyday with him. Be thankful for the man you married. Love him. Cherish him. He’s worth putting the phone down for.

Learn more about the “Beyond the vows” series and how you can share your own story here!

Find other articles from the series:

Families with Grace’s Little Blessings Challenge

One of my son’s recent favorite songs is Rend Collective’s “Counting Every Blessing.” It’s a good song that talks about counting every blessing from God even when we cannot see.

Last fall, we were on our way home from my uncle’s funeral and my son requested this song in the car. We had an hour and a half in the car to get home, so my husband was taking the kids’ requests. When my son asked for this song, I nearly rolled my eyes. It wasn’t a day that I felt like counting a single blessing — not one. I was grieving and hurt. That day, I certainly “could not see” as the song lyrics say.

As the song played, though, tears came to my eyes (I was surprised to find I had any left that day). It ministered to me deep in my soul and reminded me that while this was a hard, heart-breaking day, there were still blessings to be found. My sweet little ones in the backseat were blessings. Having them both request Christian songs to listen to was a blessing. Having a husband who would drive us home and let me rest was a blessing.

I have fought battles at different points in my life to see God’s blessings — so much so that I started praying for God to open my eyes to His goodness in my life. I knew in my head it was there, I think, but I didn’t feel that way for a while. As a Christian for so many years, you’d think I wouldn’t struggle with that. God didn’t create me to struggle with that. God didn’t send his Son so that I could struggle like that. Yet, in my humanity I do. And God shows up. He opens my eyes and reminds me, like He did last fall, that even in the midst of great pain blessings are still there.

Around the same time I started praying that God would open my eyes to His goodness in my life, I also started a gratitude journal. Each evening I would write down three things I was thankful for and challenge myself to find things specific to that day and not just repeat the same easy answers every evening. Before I knew it, my attitude was shifting for the better. It was helping me see what God was doing in my life. It was helping me remember my blessings even when going through a difficult season of life.

I am thankful — and blessed! — that I no longer have to keep a gratitude journal in order to recognize the good in my life. I also know, though, that I can focus so much on the negative that I have be on guard about it. I need to make sure that I continue to keep my focus on God and His goodness. Some days that’s easier than others.

As I look around me and scroll through social media, I see so many hurting people. I see people who are defeated. I see people who are suffering through terrible life situations. I see people who are broken and hurt. I see people who are close to giving up. And I get you. I may not have been in each specific situation, but I know many of those feelings and how hard they are to overcome. They are hard to get through.

But one step in the right direction is counting even the smallest blessings. I know it sounds trite; however, I can tell you from experience that it helps. And maybe you aren’t having a hard time right now. It’s still encouraging to remember how we are blessed and thank the One who gave us those blessings.

With all of that in mind, I’m asking you to join me on a social media challenge to share one little blessing each day for one week (or longer if you feel so inclined!). Just post one positive thing each day that you are thankful for. Simple. I did this a few years ago on my personal Facebook page and was blessed to have a few other people follow suit. Attitudes spread. Negative attitudes make us feel a bit worse. Positive attitudes encourage us. This world desperately needs encouragement. People need to hear positive things!

Here’s the other thing: you don’t have to do this at the exact same time as everyone else. I am starting my little blessing posts today (April 8, 2019), but this is a challenge that can be done ANY time. There is never a wrong time to count our little blessings. There is never a wrong time to spread encouragement. There is never a wrong time to thank God for His blessings.

And while I encourage you to take stock of your life as you start thinking about your blessings, get personal and dig deep, I also am telling you that you don’t have to share that on social media if you don’t want to. Instead, share even very small things you are thankful for and count as a little blessing. Hot showers. Warm clothes. Chocolate. A hug. Sparkly nail polish. Getting to sleep in.

I’d love for you to tag Families with Grace in your post. You can always find my social media links on the blog, but I’m sharing them below as well. You can even #FamiliesWithGrace and #LittleBlessingsChallenge.

Let’s spread some encouragement together! Who’s with me?!

Facebook: www.facebook.com/FamiliesWithGrace
Twitter: www.twitter.com/sashannon
Instagram: www.instagram.com/FamiliesWithGrace

35 Gift ideas for new moms

Ideas for how to love on a new mama in your life

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The birth of a baby is so exciting, overwhelming and exhausting. Whether she’s welcoming her first baby or her fifth, a new mom needs love and support. Often folks think to bring a gift for the new baby or even a meal, but what about the mom? I can think of no other time in my life that I thought less about myself than when I had newborns. But likewise, I can also think of no other time in my life when I appreciated thoughtful gestures.

With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of gift ideas for new moms. Even better, they’re from Amazon so you can have them shipped straight to her if you want to give her space as she is getting acclimated to her new baby or if you live away from each other. Of course, you can also ship it to you and use it as an excuse to stop by for baby snuggles while mama rests!

Stainless steel tumbler
I LOVE these to the moon and back! I wish I had known about them when I had babies. But my son was a toddler before I discovered their joy. However, when a friend had a new baby shortly thereafter, I had to get her one. Keeping water (or even soda!) cold makes it easier to stay hydrated, which is incredibly important for new mamas, especially if they’re nursing.

I first got this Mossy Oak 30-ounce tumbler for my husband. We liked it so much that I later got one for myself as well. The lid has a swivel so that it closes, which is always a good plan. It’s not totally spill proof, but even with a straw in it, you can mostly close it which helps keep spills to a minimum. Plus it’s only $11!

If you want to spend a few dollars more, you can spring for this Pandaria stainless tumbler that comes in a variety of patterns and designs to brighten up the new mama’s day.

Another option is this Contigo Autoseal Travel Mug. Not only is it a double-insulated stainless steel tumbler that will keep beverages hot or cold, it is also spill and leak proof, which is a great idea for a mom who wants to toss it into her diaper bag or has a toddler prone to knocking over her cup. It comes in 16-, 20- and 24-ounce sizes.

Mom jewelry
I love jewelry and have since I was a toddler (according to my mom). I was incredibly excited to get jewelry celebrating becoming a mother. While you can certainly get expensive motherhood jewelry, there are some inexpensive options that I love and make for a great friend gift! I have this Mama Bear bar necklace that I got after my son was born and really love. It comes in silver or rose gold for only $11 or $12 depending on what you pick. For $14, you can opt for other mama bear jewelry. There is a round pendant as well as bracelets and bear cut-outs in the bar style.

For only $8, this mama bird necklace is another great option for mother jewelry. So cute!

If bracelets are more her style, these Infinity Collection motherhood bracelets have a charm that says “A Mother’s Love is Forever” and come in versions for both boys and girls.

Baby girl
Baby boy

Coffee mug
Whether or not your new mom friend drinks coffee, mom coffee mugs are always fun. I love them and I don’t drink coffee! They can work for coffee, tea, hot chocolate (my favorite!) or even just to hold pens or change. I love this simple coffee mug for first-time moms commemorating the year she was established as a mom.

If you’re friend isn’t a new mom, this adorable mama bear mug is a great option.

This #momlife mug is another cute mug that any mama would love.

Then, of course, what new mom couldn’t use a giggle? This mug makes an awesome and fun gift proclaiming: “I grew a tiny human and all I got was this lousy mug!”

And if you decide to gift a mug, you could pair it with your friend’s warm beverage of choice like specialty coffee, fun tea flavors or, my personal favorite, dark hot chocolate!

Photo frames
Moms adore their babies and having nice picture frames reminds them to actually print some of the thousands of photos they take with their phones and cameras. One of my favorite things I got for my children was matching baby frames. Another favorite gift I got for my baby shower was a multi-photo tabletop frame that I continue to use until this day!

This frame with a spot for each month of baby’s first year is a great option to help mom remember to actually keep track of photos each month. It’s so fun to look back and see how much your little one changes in that first year.

I also love this animal frame for only $16.99. Considering I did my daughter’s nursery in animals, I may have an affinity for animal-related baby decor!

Then there are frames with sentimental sayings that make excellent gifts. This wooden frame says “First we had each other. Then we had you. Now we have everything.” Um, that melts my heart — and my babies are 6 and 9!

I also love this leather picture frame for a boy or girl with a quote from Winnie the Pooh: “Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.”

Easy-to-use hygiene products
New moms are short on time and energy, so sometimes just doing a basic self-care task can make you feel so much better. There’s not time or energy for a spa day, but just being able to shave your legs can perk you up. It was just after my first baby that I tried the Schick Intuition razor, and I still use it! It takes me maybe two minutes in the shower to shave and is so easy.

I also LOVE these make-up removing facial wipes from Target’s Up & Up brand. I know what you’re thinking: what new mom wears makeup? I’m a makeup lover all the time, but even I didn’t deal with makeup much (if at all) in those first couple of weeks. But, these wipes also just make cleaning your face easy. You don’t even have to be in the bathroom to swipe your face down and go. They’d make a nice addition to a gift bag of “take care of you” gifts for a new mom.

Gift cards
This one is probably kind of obvious, but gift cards work well for new moms. Think of things easy for them like a pizza place that delivers or an online photo service where they can print photos of their new little one.

Amazon gift cards are also a great idea, because the new mama can shop without leaving her house and have things she needs show up at her door. She can get anything from clothes for the baby (or herself) or even diapers and wipes. While you can send a gift card digitally, you can also send this cute card for a new baby with a gift card included.

And what mom wouldn’t love a Target gift card? I loved Target’s Up & Up brand diapers for my babies!

Comfy slippers
After my daughter was born, my feet were swollen for about two weeks. I remember squeezing into my husband’s Crocs to go to doctor’s appointments. Wearing socks wasn’t comfortable. Nothing worked well. When my son was born in January, I knew I needed a plan to keep my feet warm. I love comfy slippers because they can keep the new mama’s feet warm but she can also kick them off when she starts to get hot, because hormones do some crazy things to body temperature even after the baby has arrived!

As an added bonus over socks, slippers provide traction for walking on tile or vinyl flooring, which is important for mamas who are sleep deprived and carrying their precious little one.

These fun animal slippers from TeeHee come with a matching eye mask, which isn’t a bad idea for a mom who needs to sleep whenever she can — even if it’s the middle of the day!

These sparkly sequin-covered slippers from Alotta Knits are another fun option that come in five different colors.

If you want something a little more sedate, these Vifuur memory foam slippers come in eight different colors.

An easy and quick devotion book
New babies turn your schedule completely upside down, including a chance for quiet time with God. It’s hard to have time or energy to do anything more than just survive, so having a devotion book that you can pick up when you get a chance and read through in five minutes or less is ideal for a new mom.

One of my very favorite ones is Jen Hatmaker’s “Out of the Spin Cycle.” I used to take it along with me when I went to pick up my daughter from preschool while her baby brother was asleep in the backseat. I could easily read through the devotions. I read through this book twice, which isn’t something I often do. It just really spoke to and ministered to my exhausted mama heart.

Sarah Arthur’s “Mommy Time: 90 Devotions for New Moms” looks like another good option that draws on the author’s own experiences as a mom who has been there, done that.

The Hugs series of books are also always a good option. Just like with the other two devotion books, this “Hugs for New Moms” includes inspiration and stories from real moms and aren’t written for any particular day, so if days get missed in the busyness of life with a newborn, it won’t require playing catch-up.

For something a little more Scripture-driven, yet also concise for new mama’s who lack time and energy for concentrating, “Mom’s Daily Bread,” which releases April 16, 2019, offers an encouraging verse for each day of the year.

Quiet activities for big siblings
If this isn’t the first baby for your friend, consider also bring something along for the big sibling. Yes, this post is focusing on taking care of and supporting the mama, but helping keep her other kiddos quietly entertained while she is dealing with the new baby’s needs is supportive!

Kids love stickers. Even better, Melissa & Doug reuseable stickers can be played with over and over again and don’t require constant parental supervision of toddlers to make sure stickers don’t get stuck anywhere they shouldn’t be.

For preschoolers and early elementary siblings, this set of make-a-sticker sheets is awesome! They can create animal faces by choice and you get 60 sheets for only $11.99!

Along those same lines, these Magnetic Fun scenes would work well for big brothers or sisters who need quiet activities. They come in a nice tin, so they’d also be easy to toss in the diaper bag to have for waiting for doctor’s appointments or running errands.

One of my kids’ favorite things in the preschool days were the Melissa and Doug Water Wow sets. They’re nice because the kids are getting the experience of painting without the mess. And this pack includes not only ones to reveal color but also connect-the-dots. You can buy a pack of three or individually.

Lacing sets are another favorite of little ones. My 6-year-old really just got out one of our sets of lacing cards a few weeks ago, in fact! This Lauri Lacing & Tracing Noah’s Ark set is incredibly cute.

God’s presence in the dark

Finding God when life is scary

A few months back, I shared this on Facebook. I decided to share it on the blog as well thanks to the overwhelming response I got from it.

Last night, my 8-year-old daughter came into my room at 2 a.m. I knew something was afoot, because she is my good sleeper. She had had a bad dream and needed some comfort. Of course, I obliged. We chatted and snuggled a bit. I prayed for her silently and eventually sent her back to bed.

Within 10 minutes, she was back and needed me to be in her room with her. Previously I’ve sat on her bed and put my hand on her back to soothe her, but now she has a loft bed and that’s not possible. So instead, I pulled her desk chair to the middle of the room and took a seat. I prayed for her again and told her about it this time. We talked very briefly about how to stop thinking about her dream. Within 15 minutes, she was settled in enough to fall back asleep. My presence in her room made her relax and let her worry go.

As I sat there quietly, trying to stay awake, I thought about what a demonstration it was. What she didn’t know was that in between her visits to my room, my prayers continued for her and for her 5-year-old brother. Earlier that day, her brother got into water over his head and was unable to keep his head above water. Thanks to some quick action from my dad and husband, he was saved, but I’ve read about secondary drowning. And I was anxious. He had absolutely no sign of it. And he was totally fine for hours. This had happened before lunchtime even. But still, I worried. It’s what we moms do. However, as I prayed I gave my worry to God. I felt peace that He was in charge, so I could rest.

That’s exactly what my daughter needed. She needed to know someone was in charge, someone was right there for her so that she could rest. Oh how many times I need that! And my Heavenly Father is always there if I only think to talk to Him. Because sometimes I just worry on my own. Sometimes I don’t think to talk to Him about it. Sometimes I battle my anxiety on my own. It never goes well.

I headed back to bed (after double-checking that both kids were sound asleep — and my son was breathing) and fell fast asleep after once again giving my worry to God. The thing is with the way my daughter’s bed is raised and where I was able to sit, there was no way she could see me, but she knew I was there and just my presence was enough. I can’t see God, but I can feel Him. And His presence is always enough if I just open myself up to Him.

Whatever you have going on right now, know that God is there. He will sit up all night in your bedroom in a small desk chair because He loves you so completely and fully. He will take your worries and fears and give you His peace. He may not fix everything the way you want, but He will be there through it all and is willing to hold you close if only you cling to Him. I can think of no greater love and no greater reassurance.