Families With Grace

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

5 ways moms can find downtime

Why you need to rest and ideas on how to make it happen!

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” Exodus 20:8

Talk to any mom of little kids about finding time to rest — let alone take a whole day of rest — and she is most likely going to laugh in your face and roll her eyes. I remember the days of being in the thick of it with babies and toddlers who need something nearly every single minute of the day. It was utterly exhausting. While my kiddos are a bit older now, I still struggle to find time to rest. 

There are always so many things we moms juggle. Clothes always need washed. Dishes multiple by the hour. Food needs to be prepared. Groceries need bought. Toilets need scrubbed. Trash needs to be taken out. On and on and on the list goes.

However, we weren’t designed to work all the time. That isn’t how God made us. He has commanded us to have a Sabbath Day and keep it holy. In fact, the word “Sabbath” is used 145 times in the NIV Bible. That tells me God was serious about it, and we should be, too. And that also tells me that God wouldn’t command us to do something impossible.

Finding ways to rest, no matter what phase of life you’re in, is crucial and can be done with a bit of creativity and change of mindset.

1. Define what rest is to you – right now.

In my head, rest means sitting in my recliner with my feet up reading a book and taking naps with no one bothering me. (I should also mention that I’m an introvert, and the best way for me to recharge my batteries is through alone time.) 

While that scenario isn’t unholy or wrong, it also isn’t very feasible. I remember days when I was young and could spend a whole day lazing around reading a book. Nowadays that could be a possibility maybe once every two years. 

So, I need to redefine rest. Think about what rest looks like in this phase of your life. For me, sometimes rest looks like ordering pizza or making frozen food and sitting in my living room for dinner and a movie with my husband and kids. Other times it has meant locking myself in the bathroom for five minutes to regroup!

2. Define your time to rest.

Most of us don’t have an entire day to devote to complete rest, but we do have five minutes here and there. Maybe even an hour or two. Looking at smaller chunks of time as rest time can be helpful. While most of us can’t usually manage to have a whole day free of all responsibility, we can find small pockets of time to refuel and regroup. We can be intentional about what we do with our downtime.

For example, I’ve found that if I have an extra 10 minutes alone in the car while I’m waiting to pick up my kids, I feel more refreshed and refueled if I spend that time reading a book or an article instead of mindlessly perusing social media, which can sometimes make me feel more drained.

3. Prioritize rest.

My to-do list never ends. Right now, I can easily spout off 10 things that I need to do without even pausing. However, sometimes chores and to-do lists just need to wait, so we can rest instead. I know. It’s sort of earth-shattering to realize this. I’ve been aided in this thought by having chronic health issues that force me to rest, but even with that, I still have to prioritize my day.

Today, for example, we have activities in the evening, which means I need to have energy left after dinnertime. To make that happen, I will take 30 minutes before I pick up my kids from school to sit and read or watch a favorite television show. And that’s OK. Yes, I have work I could do. Yes, I have laundry I could fold. Yes, I have bathrooms I could clean. Yes, I have a list of 100 other things that could use my attention, but rest has to be a priority as well.

Give yourself grace to let things go sometimes so that you can rest, just like God commanded you to!

4. Find a way to do something just because you want to.

Sometimes rest is also about just being able to relax and enjoy something. Mamas tend to put everyone and everything else first. That’s OK. It’s noble. It’s necessary. But, sometimes we need to do something just for ourselves to rest and rejuvenate our brains.

Maybe it’s spending 15 minutes after your kids are in bed painting your toenails bright red. Maybe it’s stopping by Starbucks for your favorite drink. Maybe it’s sitting on your front porch listening watching the sun set. Whatever it is, find ways to do something just because you want to and take a respite from obligations.

5. Pray about it.

I can’t tell you how many times I have wanted to make a change and start with my own ideas. Usually once I realize my ideas aren’t working, I sigh, roll my eyes and wonder why in the world I didn’t start out with prayer. Because, seriously, shouldn’t we start everything with prayer? And if we are trying to follow a command God has given us, we can trust Him that He will help us follow it.

God can open our eyes to habits we have that are interfering with our rest and downtime. He doesn’t want us to struggle against how we were created. God didn’t command everyone to take a Sabbath except for mothers. His command has no exceptions, which tells us He will help us find rest if we are just willing to go to Him and keep an open heart and mind to His leading.

How do you find your Sabbath?

10 ways to make your summer break easier

With just a bit of planning, summer break can be fun for you and your kids!

Somehow summer is suddenly upon us. Though the first day of summer is still about a month away as I type this, summer starts for me today. Today is my kiddos’ last day of school. At 3 p.m. today we are officially on summer break!

While I’m excited to have my kids home for summer break, I am also a bit overwhelmed by that somewhat. That’s especially true this summer when I am back to working from home more than I have been any other summer since becoming a mom. And that’s one reason I am working to be very intentional about our summer planning.

Once I had a kiddo in school full-time four years ago, I realized how quickly summer breaks go by. I realized how easy it was to have ideas of things we’d do in my head and never get around to doing them. And, in having a daughter who is 9, I also realize that this summer is literally the halfway point of her childhood summers. I don’t want to waste a minute or be busy wishing it away and missing out on the joy of summer with my children.

With all of that in mind, we are heading into summer with plans as usual. Here is what I’ve found works best for my family when it comes to summer planning.

1. Decide how many activities your kids can do for the summer.

We are intentional during the school year about how many activities our kids are allowed to participate in. Right now that number is one for them. If non-regular activities come up, then we talk about it and usually can work it in. There is usually a week my daughter does cheer camp after school with the high school cheerleaders. This school year there were also a couple of months of play practice for the school K-12 production.

Summer is very similar. I don’t limit them to one activity for summer break because most summer activities don’t last as long, but I do limit them. For example, both of the them wanted to attend art camp at school this summer. It’s only for four days in the week following the end of school. I agreed to that.

In addition to that weeklong art camp, they both get one more big activity for the summer. They’ve both picked swim lessons two nights a week in July.

And that will be more than enough. My kids are 6 and 9 this summer. They have the whole rest of their lives to be busy. We do our very best to keep our summers low-key.

2. Make a list of goals.

I am a list maker through and through. I love me a good list! So each year, we sit down as a family and make some lists for the summer. One of them is a list of goals. What things do we want to accomplish or learn over summer break?

For example, this year my daughter wants to learn how to cook more. My son wants to learn how to tie shoes. My daughter and husband want to learn more Spanish. My son wants to learn how to ride without training wheels. I want to get some more organizing done around home.

We type them up and put them on the side of the fridge. Another bonus to having goals for the summer is that when the kids are bored or looking for things to do, we can always point them to their goals and give them suggestions to work on them.

3. Make a list of people to visit.

Part of summer fun is getting to have more time with friends and family, which includes extended family. While we are blessed to have both my parents and my husband’s parents living within 10 minutes of us, we still are intentional about grandparent time in the summer. The kids loving spending the night with grandparents whenever they can.

A few summers ago, my in-laws started a summer break tradition where they take each child individually for 5 days and then have them both together for 5 days.

My kids LOVE this tradition. They get one-on-one time with their Nana and Papaw and one-on-one time with their dad and me while their sibling is with Nana and Papaw. It works out so well. We usually plan a fun outing for whichever kid we have like pottery painting or a visit to Chuck E. Cheese’s.

Then when both kids are at Nana and Papaw’s, my husband and I get a chance to do home projects and such.

In addition to grandparent time, we make a list of friends we want to try and connect with over the summer. It helps me know who my kids are wanting to get together with and prioritize that. Honestly, it helps remind me to plan time with friends because I’m not always so great at doing so otherwise!

4. Make a list of fun activities to do.

Our final summer list that gets printed and put on the fridge is a list of fun activities we want to do. Some of them are simple like having one-on-one play time with each parent. (We divide and each spend 30 minutes or an hour playing with each child and then switch. It is hands-down the most requested activity our kids have every single break.) Some are more involved like going tent camping.

This year we even talked about making a list of movies we want to watch since we were talking about books we’ve recently read that have movies to go along with them like “Tuck Everlasting” and “Charlotte’s Web.”

Having a list of fun activities helps me make sure I’m prioritizing what my kids think is fun for summer break and gives me a go-to when I need an idea for something for us to do.

5. Find all sorts of free activities.

Summertime brings so many free activities that my kids love. Every Friday our city has free brown bag lunch concerts outside. There are innumerable fun summer reading programs we can attend. (Check out my list of more than 100 book ideas for summer reading!)

While we LOVE the library and summer reading program, the actual programs offered throughout the summer don’t require you to be registered and are usually good. Our library has an animal show each summer that we really enjoy.

And, of course, there are also parks for fun. There is something fun about packing a lunch and eating at a picnic table then playing at the park. Even I think peanut butter and jelly sandwiches taste better that way! Look for free splash pads as well for hot summer days.

6. Have an electronics plan.

I don’t want my kids to spend all summer on a screen. And, thankfully, they aren’t interested in that either. While you can have very detailed plans for electronics, we tend to have a laidback plan. But, we do have a plan or else it would be easy to send them off with their tablets any time I needed to get something done without being interrupted!

My kids don’t have to complete certain tasks or chores in order to get screen time — most days. But they do have to ask permission from either my husband or me in order to have screen time. Some days they may get more screen time if it’s crazy hot or raining. Or some days they may get no screen time because we have plans or they just need to find something else to do.

The only exception is that most summer mornings, I don’t mind for them to each watch a 20-minute approved show on the television while eating breakfast. It is nice to have laidback mornings in the summer!

7. Keep fun supplies handy.

Kids often forget about things that are out of sight. So, I make sure the things they want to play with often are easy to get to or where they’ll use it. Their bikes are in an easy location for them in the garage with their helmets on the handlebars. Sidewalk chalk is near the back door they most often use. Markers, coloring pages and crayons are in a drawer they can easily get to. Those ideas at least give me (and them!) starting points for what to suggest when they are bored, which inevitably comes up over summer break.

8. Have easy snacks ready.

Though they only eat three meals and maybe one snack during school days, summer break tends to make them want to graze. And since my kids are usually more active in summer, I get it. They’re old enough now that they can usually fix their own snack if I keep things on hand for them. So, I keep things around that I can say yes to most of the time like Gogurt (frozen is super great for the summer!), boxes of raisins, 4-pack peanut butter crackers, Goldfish, pretzels, easy fruit I can prep ahead (grapes, blueberries, bananas, etc.), applesauce pouches, fruit cups and granola bars.

Just like with screen time, my kiddos have to ask before they get a snack. And usually it has to meet mom’s approval. They know what snacks I will say yes to and what I will usually say no to. Sometimes, of course, I say yes to fun treats because it’s just fun for all of us! I have some 90-calorie mini ice-cream sandwiches that have made for some fun treats recently.

9. Let them know what to expect each day.

Thanks to having chronic health issues, I learned pretty early on not to tell my kids about big plans for a day until I knew for sure it was going to happen. I’ve had times where I couldn’t even predict whether I’d be up for a trip to the park until the day of. They were much happier to have a surprise than to have a disappointment. (Duh!)

I also learned pretty early on that my kids do best when they know what to expect. While we do maintain our routine somewhat over the summer, it is definitely more laidback and less scheduled. Every morning, I try to go over with the kids a brief outline of what’s happening that day. It can be as simple as, “We’re going to the grocery store this afternoon.” Their favorite tends to be: “We don’t have anywhere to go today!”

No matter what, they like knowing what the day holds and I do, too. Of course plans change sometimes, but setting their expectations for the day helps. That’s especially true when I do have an errand or chore that needs done and I can tell them that but also tell them something fun going on that day, too, even if it’s just they’ll be home to play for 4 hours straight or we’ll watch a movie in the evening.

10. Keep your priorities in check.

I’ve got to end with this one. We only have about 18 summers with our children — and even fewer than that with them when they are old enough to do things but not old enough to have their own schedules and agendas. Summertime with my kids is limited and precious!

When I keep that in mind, I can better prioritize the things we can do to make memories as a family. My kids love big things. We went to Disney World and Universal Studios Orlando over spring break and they had a great time. But a lot of smaller, little moments are what really make the best memories. So sometimes I let housework slide. Sometimes I get up at 6 a.m. to get some work done before they are up for the day. And I try to just enjoy my moments with my kids over the summer.

We have peanut butter sandwiches for dinner then go to our favorite fro-yo place. We spend an afternoon swimming. We take off and go to the movies in the middle of a weekday. We snuggle together and read. We play games. We play with toys. We just have time together.

I know that I will never regret the time I spent with my children but I might regret doing other things instead. So, I do my very best to carve out time over summer break that is just for fun for us.

Looking for more summer family fun ideas? Check out these posts:

To the mom who is overwhelmed

Encouragement for when life gets hectic

It’s the end of the school year for many of us. Whether you have little ones or big ones finishing out the school year or school isn’t even on your radar right now as you change one diaper after another, I’m guessing you know what overwhelmed feels like.

Being a mom is so incredibly awesome, but it’s also draining and hard. And sometimes we are just plain overwhelmed. Currently I wish I had one more day each week and a couple of extra hours each day. Then maybe I could get closer to conquering everything I have to do. Know the feeling?

Today I’m sharing an open letter to all of us moms who feel overwhelmed, no matter which phase of child-rearing you’re in right now.

Dear Overwhelmed Mom,

First, I want to thank you for taking time to even read this letter. I know how hard it is to find a spare second in your day. I’m guessing you’re reading this while hiding out in the bathroom or while flopping on the couch after the kids are finally in bed before you have the energy to actually put your own self to bed as well.

Second, I want you to know that what you do every day, every minute matters. It really, truly does. Your children will be better because you loved them. They will survive because you fed them, bathed them, taught them and disciplined them even while they fought you the entire way. They may not say thank you now (or ever), but you are not invisible or unappreciated. Know that your heavenly Father sees your daily struggle and honors you as a servant to the least of these.

Third, I want to remind you that are more than a mother. Don’t glaze over this point. Don’t skip ahead. Read it again: You are more than a mother. While being a mother is the most noble job you could have and what you do in motherhood matters, you are still a person separate from that.

You are a woman. You are a wife, perhaps. You are a daughter. You are a friend. You are YOU. You are still in there, underneath the exhaustion, underneath the yoga pants, underneath the fear that you’re screwing it all up. You are still in there. One day, you’ll come back more full-time, but for now, don’t forget yourself.  

Find little ways to let you out. Listen to music from a time in your life when you felt free and alive. Take 10 minutes after bedtime to paint your fingernails. Get a babysitter and do something just for you. Order pizza for dinner and take the night off from cooking. Turn the kids over to your husband and spend that cooking time reading your favorite blog, magazine or a book. Hide in the bathroom for a few extra minutes. Whatever it takes, do something to connect with who you are outside of motherhood and responsibilities.

Fourth, know that this will pass. This is twofold. Know that it will pass so that you can survive this really difficult phase where the baby tries to eat everything and yells when you deflect him from pouring out the dog’s water bowl while the preschooler is asking how to spell 20 random words for something she’s working on and lunch is burning in the toaster oven.

Know that it will pass so that you can survive this really difficult phase where one kid has a practice in one place, the other in another and they both have homework that has to be done — not to mention dinner that needs to be made.

Know that it will pass so that you can survive this really difficult phase where your teenager rolls his eyes at everything you say and barely speaks a word for two days.

It will get better. No parenting phase lasts forever. But, because it will pass and it will pass so very quickly, take time to appreciate the small moments of greatness. Stop to smile and remember the way the baby toddles around with a grin; stop to smile and take in the preschoolers’ look of determination as she practices writing.

Stop to really cheer on your kid as they’re playing a sport instead of listing the things you have to do on your phone. Stop to notice the way your teenager’s hair still curls slightly on his forehead just like it did when he was a baby. It will all pass.

Fifth, know that you aren’t alone. Scores of other mothers are struggling daily to somehow survive and still find some semblance of who they are at the end of the day. Generations of other mothers have somehow survived this daily fray and lived to tell about it. You aren’t alone.

Seek out support. Talk to God about it; He’s always present. Talk to your husband, your mom and your friends. E-mail them if you can’t actually talk freely without being overheard by the children and need to vent.

I say it again, you are not alone. You are not alone even when you feel so very lonely and like not only have you slowly slipped away and morphed into a whole other person but that no one has even noticed. You are not alone. If your support system is broken, do what it takes to fix it. You need it. No one should go through motherhood alone.

Sixth, don’t make apologies for taking time for yourself. So many of us have been brainwashed into thinking that we must do it all, all the time with a smile and an appreciative heart. It’s not possible. Take care of your family, but know that part of taking care of your family means taking care of yourself.  

Find a babysitter. Use the time to nap, read a book, see a movie or just plain regroup. Chores can wait. They’ll still be there tomorrow. Take time for you so you can take care of them. It’s OK. It’s normal. It’s necessary. If you don’t do this, you will become Grumpy Mom. Nobody likes her, not even you. Make it a priority.

Seventh, give yourself some grace. You’re doing the best you can. None of us can do it all. It’s just not possible. There are too many roles. There are too many internal pressures. You’re doing the best you can and that IS good enough.  

Stop comparing yourself to other moms or to some unobtainable ideal of the perfect mom you want to be. Yes, work to improve yourself. But, don’t beat yourself up. You’re doing the best you can. Some things may be slipping today. Other things will be slipping tomorrow. It’s just the nature of life. And it’s OK. Your children, husband and house will survive. Your extended family and work will survive. The world isn’t going to implode. You are doing just fine. Stop telling yourself otherwise.

Motherhood is a hard gig. It’s a gig we signed up for. It’s a gig we couldn’t fully understand until we were in the thick of it and it was too late to turn back. And it does have good rewards. It has great payoffs.  

But, the hard days are incredibly hard. The challenging phases are challenging to the core. It’s OK to recognize that. It’s OK to not always be happy about that. Just don’t get stuck there.

Recognize how you’re feeling right now. Recognize the overwhelming sense of failure and look at whether you can change something. Then pull up your boot straps and keep on keeping on.  

You are doing a great job. You are surviving. You are noticed. I see you. More importantly, God sees you. You will survive and come out of this on the other side stronger. You will come out of this with little people grown big who love you and who have been shaped into wonderful people because of your dedication to them. You are a strong, amazing woman! Never, ever forget that!


More than 100 children’s books worth reading

Books for toddlers through tweens that both you and your kids will enjoy!

Affiliate links are used in this post, if you make a qualifying purchase via my link, I receive a small percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products and services I use and love. It helps support my blog, so thank you for your support! Read my full disclosure here.

A list of great book options for toddlers through tweens that both you and your kids will love! It's the list you need to save to use over and over! #books #reading #childrensbooks #kidsbooks #summerreading #bedtimereading

When I was a couple of days old, my mom started reading to me as she was reading to my older brother. Evidently it stuck because I’ve loved to read my entire literate life. One summer my mom and I literally read through all the books of interest to us at a local library branch and had to switch to a different branch.

I wanted to instill that love of reading in my own children as well. We started reading to my oldest every night from the time she was an infant and followed right along with that when our son was born just over three years later. I have children’s books memorized from reading them time and time again. We read at bedtime and any time throughout the day our littles wanted to. Even now that our daughter is 9 and son is 6, we still read a book together at bedtime.

For almost a decade now, I’ve gotten to know children’s books inside and out. We’ve found some favorite ones — books I will hang onto even as my children outgrow them. They’ve been such a part of our life.

I wanted to compile a list of our favorites. When I mentioned this to my daughter, she couldn’t wait to weigh in and gave me a whole list of books she has loved and currently loves. I’ve got something for all ages from itty-bitties up through 5th grade!

Toddler favorites

I Love you Through and Through

(For only a couple of dollars more, you can get this book with an adorable plush bear!)

Each Peach Pear Plum (This book is neat because the kids love the rhyming words when they are really small and then are able to find the hidden characters as they get a bit older.)

Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed

Coco books by Sloane Tannen — Our favorite one, “C is for Coco,” is best bought used these days. We also recommend “Where is Coco Going,” “Coco All Year Round” and “Coco Counts.”

All the Hippos Go Berserk

Preschool favorites

Fancy Nancy series — We can’t pick a favorite one of this series. We enjoyed all the ones we read — probably because my daughter had the same red curls as Fancy Nancy and really loved seeing a character that looked like her. And this series gets bonus points for effortlessly introducing new vocabulary words and French words!)

Pinkalicious series — We loved all of these as well, especially the first one, titled “Pinkalicious” and also “Tickled Pink.” (And my son enjoyed these as much as my daughter did!)

Dinotrux series


Dr. Seuss books

Go, Dog. Go! — Similar to Dr. Seuss books, “Go, Dog. Go!” is great fun for younger ages and then works well for early readers, too, which is nice.

The Jesus Storybook Bible — I put this one in preschool because that’s the age we started reading it to our kids, but we still love it now. I’d say it definitely goes through at least early elementary. I can tell you that this so well done that nearly every time I read a story from it to my kiddos, I get something out of it, too! I can’t recommend “The Jesus Storybook Bible” enough!

Llama Llama Red Pajama series

Harry the Dirty Dog

Early elementary favorites

A list of great book options for toddlers through tweens that both you and your kids will love! It's the list you need to save to use over and over! #books #reading #childrensbooks #kidsbooks #summerreading #bedtimereading

Many of our favorites in this age range are series of books. While they are series and usually have the same characters in them, the story lines do not continue from one book to the next. They don’t have to be read in order.

Stella Batts series — especially “Broken Birthday”

A to Z Mystery series — especially “Haunted Hotel” and “Kidnapped King”

Owl Diaries series — especially “Eva See a Ghost” and “Eva and Baby Mo”

Ella Diaries series — especially “Ballet Backflip”

Nancy Clancy series — This is the same Nancy from the “Fancy Nancy” series, just a bit older. My daughter liked having more Nancy books to read as she got older!

Mr. Putter and Tabby series — We love the adventures of the elderly Mr. Putter and his cat, Tabby! One of our favorites is “Mr. Putter and Tabby Take the Train.”

Fudge — I love these books and Judy Blume!

If you want just one, go for Superfudge.

Monstrous Maud series

Geronimo Stilton series — There are so many different series within this series even, covering different time periods. There are so many books we haven’t read them all, but we’ve really enjoyed the ones we have read, especially “The Mouse Island Marathon.”

Upper elementary favorites

A list of great book options for toddlers through tweens that both you and your kids will love! It's the list you need to save to use over and over! #books #reading #childrensbooks #kidsbooks #summerreading #bedtimereading

The majority of these are chapter books. Some of the storylines do continue from one book to the next and are best read in order. If that is the case, I have noted it. Otherwise, they don’t have to be read in a certain order.

American Girl: Grace (needs to be read in order) — Each year the doll-maker releases fiction books about its Girl of the Year. We haven’t read all of them, but we’ve really enjoyed the ones we have read. The Grace series was such a family favorite that we bought the DVD as well!

American Girl: Innerstar University series — especially “A Girl’s Best Friend”

Goddess Girls series — especially “Pallas the Pal”

Pheobe and her Unicorn series

American Girl Smart Girl’s Guides (nonfiction) — American Girl has a series of nonfiction books that cover all sorts of topics. “The Care and Keeping of You, 1” is great for younger girls to cover information growing girls need about their bodies. There is a second version for older girls. Since my daughter is 9, we haven’t read it, yet, but I plan to when she is older because the first one was so terrific. There’s a slew of other books as well addressing topics like worry, friendships, drama, boys, money, manners and even cooking in an age-appropriate and effective way. (NOTE: I would recommend reading these books together the first time through to answer questions and have great conversations.)

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz series (needs to be read in order)

Or just start with the book that begins it all and upon which the movie is based:

Harry Potter series (needs to be read in order) — The Harry Potter books are actually free as part of subscribing to Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited Membership Plans. (I’ve been member for two years and love it!)

“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” is the first one.

Dear Dumb Diary series (suggested to be read in order but not necessary)

“Let’s Pretend this Never Happened” is the first one.

Anne of Green Gables series (needs to be read in order)

“Anne of Green Gables” is the first one.

A Wrinkle in Time quintet (needs to be read in order) — I love these books!

Because of Winn Dixie

Number the Stars

10 Lessons learned from having chronic illnesses

My health journey has taught me many lessons

I was 3 when my bladder issues first started. Though they waxed and waned through different parts of my childhood, they came back with a vengeance when I was 23 and have stuck around ever since. A few years ago, they added their friend fibromyalgia into the mix.

I am a different patient today than I was 17 years ago. I’ve learned lesson after lesson throughout all the different journeys my health has taken me on.

1. I have to be my own advocate.

The two health issues I have, interstitial cystitis and fibromyalgia, aren’t always well known, even in the medical community. In fact, there are still doctors who don’t believe either condition exists. I learned early on that sometimes I have to push for what I need. I have to be the proverbial squeaky wheel to get some grease. At the end of the day, the receptionist, nurse or physician isn’t the one who is going home and living with the pain and issues that I have. As a quiet person, this was something that I struggled with in the beginning, especially because when I’m not feeling well or in pain I get even quieter. I have learned to speak up for myself, respectfully, and push to get the help I need.

Part of that also includes doing my own research. I have brought in research to my doctor before and asked to try different medications or treatments. I have found research for self-help strategies that really have made a difference in my pain, like figuring out all of my dietary triggers for IC. (I highly recommend Confident Choices for IC diet help!)

2. Doctors don’t know everything.

Doctors are in a position of authority. And they are usually smart folks who know more about health issues than the average person. But they don’t know everything. I have seen good doctors, great doctors and awful doctors. In being my own advocate, I learned that if a doctor didn’t have good enough answers for me that it was OK to move on to someone else. I have done so.

A couple of years ago, I was having increased pain in my pelvis. My local gynecologist determined the problem, but he was too afraid to help me because of my vast pelvic history. He sent me to a specialist an hour away. It was one of the worst doctor’s appointments I’ve ever been to — and that’s saying a lot. He insisted it was quite impossible for me to be feeling pain and if I was then I should just go to a pain clinic because I have chronic pain conditions. I knew something was wrong and needed fixed.

I reached out to a doctor I’d seen a couple of years before who is a leading IC expert for a recommendation. He suggested I see his colleague. It was a four-hour drive that was well worth it. He operated, and I’ve spent the last year and a half since feeling much better. I certainly have no regrets for getting an additional opinion.

3. If you have an insurance coverage question, get the procedure code before calling.

Part of managing a chronic illness and advocating for yourself is dealing with health insurance. I have learned to call for major procedures and double-check my coverage, even when a doctor’s staff told me they had checked. The best way to get the most accurate coverage information is to get the procedure code from the doctor’s office. Once I didn’t do that and what I thought was going to be a $25 co-pay ended up being $500! Since then, I always ask the doctor’s office for the code when I need to call the insurance and check on my coverage. When in doubt, check it out!

4. Don’t rely on doctors to have your files or send them to other doctors.

Usually having a chronic illness means you are seeing a couple of different doctors. In addition to my general practitioner, I see some specialists. I have found it’s a good idea to get copies of my records when I really need another doctor to have them because the records don’t always end up where they are supposed to be, especially if it is a quick turnaround time.

This is especially important if you are seeing a doctor away from the city where you live. My most recent surgery was with the specialist that is four hours away from me. While I stayed up in the area a couple of days post-op, I made sure to have copies of my surgery notes with me when we left to drive back home in case I had a complication and needed to see a doctor locally.

5. Keep a list of medications and surgeries.

I have been through phases where my list of medications changed almost monthly. Keeping my list up to date is important so if I have another appointment or a medical emergency, I can list what I’m taking and how much. I keep it in a Word document on my computer that I update as needed.

I found that keeping a list of surgeries and their dates (and even doctors and location) is also helpful. Any time you go to a new doctor for any reason, you have to list all of that information, so having it handy in a document that you can update is just helpful. If you keep copies of your medical records (I do for my pelvic history since I’ve had a few surgeries, all by different doctors), you could easily print out your med and surgery list to keep with them. Then everything is in one handy location.

6. Other patients can be so helpful along the way.

I am not sure I can fully put into words what connecting with other patients has meant to me. I have made some very good friends this way. I have connected with people with whom my path would never have crossed otherwise, and I am thankful for that. When I was going through a rough time of dealing with my bladder issues as a 13-year-old, I didn’t know anyone else who had the same struggle. A decade later, the Internet was around, and I found a patient group online that was eye-opening to me. Things I thought were just different about me turned out to be common in other IC patients. The IC Network has an incredibly helpful and moderated patient forum. That forum has given me so much encouragement and self-help ideas for which I’m beyond grateful.

And all that said, you do have to be cautious in patient groups when it comes to medical advice. People who are dealing with pain are often grasping at anything to help them feel better but not all advice from other patients is good or even helpful. Definitely do your own research!

7. God is always faithful, even when He doesn’t heal you.

As a Christian, healing has come up for me. I have battled with it. I have wrestled with it. I have prayed for it. I have had others pray for it. Once I went into remission, which I took as an answer to prayer for healing. I was shaken when my symptoms came screaming back into my life a few years later as a young woman.

While this really, truly could be a whole other post and one day will be, I can tell you that I have found God to be faithful and good every single step of the way even when I didn’t understand why I hurt. He has been faithful to me even though I am not healed. I can tell you that after I wrestled with this for a few years, I felt God telling me that I will be healed in heaven. And then I began to pray for healing from my need to be healed. God was faithful to help me with that need.

I would love to be healed — don’t get me wrong — but it doesn’t define me or run obsessively through my mind. I have learned that no matter how hard the mountain gets to climb that God is always there, carrying me up the mountain. He’s never left me on my own. There were times I put my hope in doctors and in treatments until the day God reminded me He is my only hope. So while I may wish that a treatment would work and try different things, I have learned that whether the treatment works or fails, God is always there and will be with me.

8. Don’t be angry with people who don’t understand.

No matter what your struggle is in life, it’s hard for people to understand it precisely because they haven’t lived it. I’ve had people try to be helpful and tell me about the latest treatment idea they’ve come across. Not once has that actually been helpful. In fact, usually the very suggestions being made would actually make me feel worse instead of better. I have learned to instead just change the topic.

The fact of the matter is, most people aren’t going to understand your life and your struggles — no matter what kind of struggles you have. Even now in my life being open about my health struggles, my husband is the only person who comes closest to knowing what I really deal with on a daily basis. If you see me in person, chances are I won’t even tell you about my health struggles or daily battles I fight. So I really can’t get angry when someone doesn’t understand.

9. I am more than my health condition.

Living with a chronic health condition is a daily issue. There are no vacations or breaks. There is no escaping it. There may be good days or weeks. But it’s always there lurking. However, I am so much more than interstitial cystitis and fibromyalgia. I am a mom, a wife, a daughter, a journalist, a friend and more. I have more to talk about and think about than my health.

If I let it, my health issues can consume my thoughts. That’s not healthy in any way. When I feel myself slipping into that, I pray for help and I work to focus on what I have. Because my health issues haven’t taken everything from me. I have way more blessings than I do health issues. And that’s what I have to remember on the hard days.

10. I have to let other people be sick, too.

This sounds so silly. I know it does, but it’s something I’ve worked on. I still work on it a bit, to be honest with you. I hear people talking about an acute pain or sickness and I want to roll my eyes sometimes. I want to say, “Imagine living like that every day! Imagine if you felt like you had the flu, five pulled muscles and a UTI all at the same time every single day. Then talk to me about it!”

Fortunately, I bite my tongue. Because my suffering doesn’t make their suffering any less. They are still suffering. God has worked on me to help me become more sympathetic and empathetic. I can often spot someone in pain before anyone else. I know the signs of living like a “normal person” with pain. I can have compassion when someone is hurt because I know what pain feels like. I may have more of it, but I also know how debilitating and disheartening it can be to live with pain, whether acute or chronic. I know what I want people to say to me. The truth is, none of us wants to hear about anyone else’s difficulties when we are struggling. So I keep those to myself and offer encouragement and prayer instead.

The blessing of grandparents

Why grandparents are important and why parents don’t need to be jealous of that relationship

Science tells us that grandparents being involved in the life of their grandkids is good not only for the children but also for the grandparents themselves.

For example, a study released in June of 2016 from Boston College found that the rates of depression were less for grandparents AND grandchildren who had close relationships.

The unbreakable bond

I grew up with three loving and devoted grandparents who lived nearby. While my paternal grandpa died a month after I was born, my other three grandparents were a big part of my life. They lived just two houses apart from each other and were within five minutes of our house.

I was blessed to grow up with all three of them. My first grandparent loss didn’t happen until the beginning of my sophomore year in college. My last grandparent loss was two years ago. I miss them all so very much.

But my experience with grandparents is not over. Now I get to see my parents and my in-laws as grandparents. We have chosen to remain in the same city with both sets of grandparents even though it means that my husband has to drive a ways when he needs to go into the office.

On any given day, my children would have a 95% chance of choosing to be with my parents or in-laws over my husband and me! And I’m OK with that. (They don’t get to stay with them indefinitely, but they do get to see their grandparents usually at least once a week during the school year and often more during the summer.)

The love of parents

I will always be their mom. Nothing can ever change that or the love I have for them. Our relationship is our own and has nothing to do with their relationship with their grandparents.

I was close with all of my grandparents and loved them fiercely, but my mom and dad were still my mom and dad. Loving my grandparents didn’t mean I had less love for my parents. I just had all that much more love, and the same is true for my kiddos.

I am so very thankful that my children have grandparents who are investing in them. My husband and I were married for 10 years before we had children. As a result, all of our parents were retired by the time we started a family. And our parents were head-over-heels from day one.

An additional support system

My parents and in-laws are all a huge part of our kids’ lives. These grandparents show up for school performances and birthday parties. They love having the kids over to spend the night. They love spoiling the kids and buying toys they don’t need and offering extra sweets. These people are not the same people who raised my husband and me — and I love that!

I could be jealous of their relationship. I could resent the time my children spend with their grandparents. I’ve had a few times where my kids experienced something for the first time with their grandparents instead of with my husband and me. Honestly, it smarted a time or two.

However, long ago I learned to just be thankful. I’m glad that my parents and in-laws get a chance to experience some firsts with our kids, too. Because in the end, all they have in mind is our kids’ happiness.

As their mom, I love my children so completely and so fully. I would willingly lay down my life for them. I do my best to meet all of their needs and look out for their best interests. Aside from my husband and me, our parents are the people who most love our children and would do whatever the kids need, no matter what.

That’s a tremendous blessing. The relationship between a grandchild and grandparent is a precious one. I learned that as a grandchild. I see that now as a mom. One of these days in the future, I may learn that as a grandparent as well. I have been well taught what makes a good grandparent through all of my experiences. I’m thankful to be able to pass those lessons along to my children as they grow up close to their grandparents.

How grandparents are different

What I love about relationships between grandparents and grandchildren is that they are unique. Grandparents love their grandkids just as much as their parents do, but they have a different perspective and a different purpose.

While my husband and I are tasked with the job of raising our kids to be good people and discipline and do the nitty gritty work, our parents have the freedom to just love on them and have fun with them. Of course the kids love that and need that!

Grandparents are different in that they are able to just be present with their grandkids. Of course they have chores and tasks to be done, but many times those can wait until after the grandkids have gone home. I don’t get that luxury as often because in the midst of spending time with my kids, I also have to make sure our household is running smoothly and they have lunches packed, homework done, clothes washed, baths taken and on the list goes!

Grandparents are also different in that they have more patience. Nobody has raised kids and not understood how much patience it takes. It starts right from the beginning when they depend on you for every single thing, every single moment. I’m not sure it ever stops. While my husband and I can run short on patience in the midst of family life, our parents seldom do. They have patience in abundance for their grandchildren, which is something my kids thrive on.

Grandparents get to show up and cheer their grandkids on with pride. Parents totally do this, too. I enjoy going to the kids’ school programs and such. But while I can get busy and even stressed with the logistics of it all, my parents and in-laws show up with big smiles and are happy to cheer on our kids and brag about them whenever they get a chance. What kid doesn’t love that?!

Grandparents get to be the fun ones. I have seen both my parents and in-laws stop what they were doing and just play with our kids in ways I don’t even think they did with us. They have more freedom to be fun and have fun with the kids, which is a huge blessing for my children.

It really does take a village

Finally, grandparents also get to be an example to their grandkids. We are blessed that both my parents and my husband’s parents are incredibly great examples for our children. They all live Godly lives and model love, grace and faith to our children. I was blessed to have the examples of my own grandparents. All of that pours into my children. My children have a legacy of love and faith behind them, and I am incredibly grateful for that.

Raising children is a lot of responsibility and a lot of pressure. Keeping them safe is more challenging than ever before. Keeping them connected with the real world and grounded in faith can be a struggle. Having people come alongside my husband and me as we raise our children is a blessing beyond words. I will never be jealous of the relationship my kids have with any of their grandparents. I will just be grateful that they have so many good adults willing to love them and invest in them and help us as we raise them.

40 Life lessons learned by age 40

Funny and poignant life lessons

In a couple of days, I will leave my 30s behind and turn 40. I’ve been pondering this decade shift for the last couple of months. I’ve concluded that I don’t mind the new number. And I’ve also concluded that I’ve learned a lot in my four decades of life from the serious to the silly.

1. Age is just a number.

It really is just a number. Once you are fully into adulthood, that number doesn’t matter so much. In fact, sometimes I have had to stop and really think (or do dreaded math) to remember my actual age. This year of turning 40 will be one of my easiest years to remember it, I think!

2. Pimples don’t care how old you are.

One of the biggest lies I ever believed were that pimples were only for teenagers. How fair is it to be dealing with both white hair AND blemishes? Not very!

3. Birthdays get less fun as you get older.

This has nothing to do with actually aging and more to do with missing people who are no longer around. Add in that your real wish list is filled with items that can’t be bought and birthdays lose some fun.

4. Nobody cares what I’m doing.

That sounds depressing, but what I mean is I don’t need to worry about what other people think of what I’m doing. They don’t care. They aren’t paying attention. They are too worried about what other people think of what they’re doing to care what I’m doing. So if I want to bring a book and sit and read while I let my son play on the playground after school instead of making small talk with other moms, it is OK. They’re not standing across the playground talking about the audacity I have to be reading.

5. God is always there.

While that’s something I’ve always known, it’s something I’ve learned even more. I’ve been through stuff now. I’ve seen Him at work. I have learned that even when He seems quiet, He is still there and still working. I have so many stories I could tell you!

6. I’m an introvert and that doesn’t make me weird.

When I was growing up, nobody talked about being an introvert or extrovert like they do now. I felt happiest in my own space doing my own thing and had no desire to go to big parties or surround myself with loads of friends. I didn’t know that wasn’t weird then, but I do now. It’s how I’m wired. And I’m not the only one who feels that way!

7. Everybody you talk to isn’t your friend.

I’ve also learned that extroverts like to talk and they’ll talk with anyone who is around them. Oftentimes they’ll open up about personal topics even though we aren’t all that close. That doesn’t mean we are becoming friends. It just means I was conveniently located to them for a chat. (And I have to add that sometimes they do become your friend.)

8. You never get too old for sparkles.

My 9-year-old daughter and I joke that one of our favorite colors is sparkle. It’s OK. I’ve embraced it. I’m typing this while wearing a sparkly watch, having nails painted with purple sparkly polish and drinking from a bright purple cup covered in glitter. Sparkles are just as fun for some of us at 40 as they were at 4!

9. You can not see a true friend for a while and catch back up right where you left off.

Adulthood is busy, especially with kids in the mix. Nobody has time to constantly be talking or meeting up. But your true friends are easy to catch right back up with even if you only see them every three or four months — and that’s OK!

10. The world keeps turning even when yours stops, but yours will start again, too.

Sometimes life hits you with something so hard that it stops your world from turning. You can barely breathe or even imagine how people around you are going on with life like normal. Yet, the world keeps turning. And no matter what happens or how long it takes, eventually your world will start turning again, too, even when it feels like it never will.

11. Find the right people to trust.

Not everybody has your best interests at heart. Not everybody who acts like a friend really is a friend. Be cautious. But find the right balance of caution so that you aren’t always closed off. I take a while to open up to people. I have lost a chance at making friends because I held back too long until I was comfortable to share, but that’s OK, too. Not everybody in your life is meant to be trusted.

12. Give grace and second chances.

Nobody is perfect. Everybody messes up. And sometimes people need grace and second chances more than anything else. Choosing to give them those things doesn’t make you weak. It makes you more like Jesus, which is the goal. I am so glad He gives me unlimited grace and second chances!

13. Give yourself grace.

I am still working on learning this lesson. I struggle with being a jerk to myself when I mess up. But I’ve made some progress on giving myself grace and recognizing when I’m doing the best I can versus when I need to get my act together!

14. Start getting ready to leave the house before you really need to in order to be on time.

If you have young kids, start five minutes before you think you need to start getting ready to go. If you have toddler or babies, start 15 minutes before you think you need to start getting ready to go. No matter what, something will happen to delay you almost every single time.

15. Sometimes you just need to eat the doughnut and shut up about it.

Maybe this is on my mind more right now because I’m working on eating healthier, but sometimes you just need a treat for yourself. Have your treat and shut up about it both out loud and in your head. Just enjoy it!

16. Never take your snow brush out of your car if you live in areas that get cold.

You’ll not remember to put it back in and find yourself trying to clean snow off your windshield in a parking lot with your gloves. Trust me.

17. Write it down or you’ll forget it.

If I have something I need to do, I write it down or set a reminder in my phone. Otherwise, it often gets lost in the jumble of everything else I am keeping track of in my head. I don’t believe the lie any longer that I’ll remember something.

18. Don’t get so caught up in big moments that you miss the little ones.

Some of the best memories I’ve made in my entire life have been in the small moments. The big moments are great, and I’m thankful for them. I’ve also had big moments go horribly awry. But I can’t even begin to count the small moments that have made my heart swell.

19. No matter how much time you get with a loved one, it’s never enough.

I haven’t lost a loved one, yet, who I thought I had had enough time with. I don’t think it’s possible. And that makes me want to spend time with my loved ones even more, because I have learned how fleeting life can be.

20. Dogs and children are good for your soul.

Some of my worst moments were made better by the love and companionship of a furry friend and/or my children. They have brought me joy and made me smile when I didn’t think it was possible.

21. Take photos and videos of everyday moments.

I love having a chance to go back and watch my kids as babies or see photos of good times in the past. Sometimes they are bittersweet with loved ones who have passed away, but that makes me all the more thankful for the photo or video.

22. Music makes a difference in my attitude.

I kind of harp on this, but it’s so true for me. I have loved music my whole life. I play three instruments and competed with two of them throughout high school and a bit in college. I have performed countless times, but the real story of music for me is the daily one. If I’m listening to the right kind of music, I keep my focus where it needs to be. The power of Christian music is strong.

23. Change can be hard, but you have to embrace it.

I don’t like change all that much, whether it’s positive, negative or neutral. But, it’s a normal part of life and I’ve found I’ll make myself miserable if I cling too hard to the way things used to be – even when that means embracing a new normal that I don’t want or ask for.

24. If you need to make small talk, ask people about themselves.

Early in my career as a journalist, I learned that people like to talk about themselves. And they like when someone really listens to them. I applied these lessons to making small talk and have made good connections with others that way. I’ve also just survived social situations that had me feeling awkward that way!

25. Everybody has a story – and a struggle.

In my youth, when I was going through something difficult, I’d think nobody understood or people around me weren’t struggling with anything. It didn’t take me long to realize how wrong that is. Everybody has a story and a struggle. And that goes back to number 12 about giving other people grace.

26. The best way to get through something hard is to get out of yourself.

During some of my most challenging days, I’ve been able to feel better (even momentarily) by doing something for someone else. Sometimes we need that reminder that other people have needs too, so we can stop wallowing in self-pity. But…

27. Sometimes you just have to feel all the feels.

I can be pretty good at denial. Shove those emotions down. Ignore the ache. It will go away. That’s never how it works. So sometimes I just have to feel the feels, so the speak. I’ve learned that feeling those feelings are all a part of healing.

28. Chocolate may not be a cure for everything, but it’s pretty close.

I don’t think I can add anything to that statement!

29. Life is filled with unexpected stuff.

We don’t expect some of the challenges we face. Yet, they happen. We get other surprises as well. I expected that both of my kids would have dark hair like my husband and me and dark eyes like me. Those are dominant features. My first child has red hair and blue eyes. I always say that her looks were unexpected, but we love them. And it’s true! Now if only I could always embrace unexpected stuff with that attitude.

30. Like what you like because you like it. Don’t worry about what other people think.

I totally geek out over certain things like new Drizzt novels, Marvel movies and anything related to “Beauty and the Beast” or “Wicked.” I have a canvas painting of Drizzt hanging in my living room. I don’t really care if it isn’t anyone else’s cup of tea. I love it and so does my husband. You do you when it comes to fandom!

31. Everybody is as clueless about adulthood as I am.

This year I have had moments of telling myself, “You are almost 40 years old. Why are you still acting so insecure?” Fair point. However, I’ve also learned that we are all just kind of faking our way through adulthood. Nobody really knows what they’re doing or feels confident about it.

32. Puns and corny jokes make me laugh.

I just saw a meme about white boards saying they are remarkable. That stuff gets me every time!

33. Having kids has taught me more about God’s love than I ever expected.

First, I can’t imagine how He could love us more than I love my children. It seems quite impossible. And second, I see how they mess up and make mistakes and know that doesn’t change how much I love them one bit, just like God does with us. Third, I fully understand that discipline is necessary to help them learn how to be better people, just like God disciplines and teaches us.

34. Having kids has also taught me how much more I need to appreciate my parents.

I’ve always appreciated my parents and had a good relationship with them. But, having kids has taught me how much they handled behind the scenes or how much they did that I didn’t even think of from making my food to doing my laundry to dealing with finances.

35. Carry a smaller purse. It’s OK.

Maybe this isn’t true for everyone, but I’ve learned that I don’t need to carry everything and the kitchen sink with me when I leave the house. Part of that is necessity because my shoulders and back protest a lot these days. But, I have pared down what I carry and diminished my purse size, and I’m not going back!

36. Contrary to popular belief, you can be a good mom without wine or coffee.

I’ve never had either and won’t. And I think I’m doing OK at this mom business. So far, I’ve kept my kids alive for 6 and 9-1/2 years. Neither one of these substances make you a good mom. That’s all you — and God!

37. When you’ve figured a budget for vacation, add an extra $100 or so onto what you think you need.

It just disappears. And if you come home with extra money, save it for the next trip!

38. Nobody is better than anybody else.

This has two sides to it. First, don’t ever think you’re better than someone else, because you’re not. I look at the world around me and see people messing up. And all I can think is there but for the grace of God go I. Second, don’t ever think someone is better than you. Like my dad always says, everybody puts on their pants one leg at a time. At the end of the day, we’re all human and that’s what matters most. Don’t judge people based solely on their worst moment – or their best!

39. Put down your phone and/or social media and just be.

Electronic distractions are everywhere. My favorite gas station has screens on each pump blaring information at me. I am not against electronics at all. I’m married to a technophile. But I also know I need to set limits so that I’m not always on a screen. I don’t want to miss moments because I’m busy being “connected.”

40. Practice gratitude.

This is perhaps the biggest lesson of all. Gratitude. If you focus on being grateful for what you have instead of resentful for what you don’t, you will be so much happier. It really does take practice! The times I get in the biggest funks are usually when I’m thinking more about what I can’t do or don’t have. Being grateful leads to being content which leads to being happier.