Merry Christmas!



Wishing you and yours a wonderful and warm, bright and beautiful, precious and perfect holiday this year. I'll be back at the beginning of the New Year with new posts. In the meantime, I hope each of you are able to enjoy it and feel the love of the Lord through all the hustle and bustle, cookies and cakes. Merry Christmas!

P.S. I have been loving reading this board book to Claire lately: Jesus, Me, and My Christmas Tree. Of course she is too young to understand it, but I love the way it intertwines all the traditional decorations of the Christmas tree (lights, ornaments, presents underneath, etc.) and links each one back to Jesus and the significance they have to him. It will definitely be a staple in our Christmas and Advent preparations for the next couple of years to come!

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My Favorite Cloth Diaper For a Perfect Fit (And a Chance to Win Your Own!)



One of the most difficult elements of cloth diapering is getting your diapers to a perfect fit. So many of them are created to pull double- and triple-duty by fitting a baby at various stages of growth so that you only have to buy minimal diapers. With most diapers, you change the diaper's size by moving the snaps along the legs or waist to make them smaller or larger. While this is great for cost-savings, inevitably, a child will fall somewhere between the snaps and for a time, the diaper will be too small or too large, while you're waiting for her to grow into the next size.

Which is why when I found out about SoftBums diapers, I was really excited! They have gotten rid of using snaps to size the diaper leg openings. Instead, they offer a "Slide²Size" feature that allows you to get a perfect fit around your baby's legs (where most leaks occur). Plus, this will accommodate babies  from 5lbs up to 35lbs! The "Slide²Size" feature is basically an elastic ribbon that runs along the legs (see photo below). You can reach inside the diaper and there's a tiny drawstring toggle that you can loosen or tighten to get the perfect fit. Tuck the toggle back inside the diaper out of baby's reach, and you're good to go.



The ability to get the best fit possible is an incredible feature to me, because when you do, you experience significantly fewer leaks with a properly fitting cloth diaper than you do with disposables. I love that!

They sent me one of the SoftBums Omni diapers to review to try this feature out for myself. Here's what it looks like on Claire:



It did take me a bit of trial-and-error to get the slides in the correct position so that the elastic around the legs were tight enough to keep in leaks but loose enough to be comfortable on her without leaving red marks. (I did find that to have the diaper tight enough to keep leaks in, she did have some pressure marks around her thighs, but they don't seem to bother her.) The diaper comes with suggested lengths for how long the elastic should be, depending on the size of your baby's legs, to ease this process, though.

One of the other features I like about the Omni diaper, in particular, is that it offers you more flexibility with how you use it: You can put it on over a prefold (which is the typical way I cloth diaper). Or, you can purchase SoftBum's "pod system" which are basically microfiber pads that snap into the diaper so that they stay in place. There's a pocket in the back of the diaper that you can stuff the pod into, making it a pocket diaper. You can also just lay the pods (or folded prefolds) on top of the diaper lining so that you can reuse the cover again until it's soiled. (Find out more about the Omni System from SoftBums here.)

I love all the options! It really allows you to experiment and figure out what system works best for you. Do you want to prefold and use it as a diaper cover or stuff and use it as a pocket diaper?

Plus, the interior is nice and soft against baby's skin. I am loving the microfiber terry that lines it and that the pods are made of, which help wick moisture away. (That is why SoftBums diapers protect against rash, and according to their website, prevent up to 80% less rash than disposables!) I found that the microfiber worked so well that sometimes I couldn't even tell if she'd wet her diaper or not. I love that effectiveness and can only imagine how much more comfortable it is for her sensitive skin!

All in all, I loved the versatility of the SoftBums Omni diaper and would wholeheartedly recommend it to others who are interested in cloth diapering. Fortunately, SoftBums is offering one Life Blessons reader the chance to receive an Omni diaper of their own. Simply leave a comment on this post telling me which SoftBums diaper you would choose, and I'll select a winner on Saturday, December 28. Find out more about SoftBums diapers and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.
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My First Time Trying an All-In-One Cloth Diaper (And a Chance to Win Your Own!)

When it comes to deciding how you're going to cloth-diapering, there are lots of factors to take into account, but usually it will come down to one of two: Cost, or Convenience? For my foray into the cloth diapering world, I chose to go by cost, which is why I ended up choosing prefolds and diaper covers.

But if you really want to make cloth-diapering as convenient as possible, then you're probably going to go a different route and select all-in-one diapers. These are about as close to the ease of using disposables as you're going to get: You just put take a clean cloth diaper and put it on your baby, and when it's soiled, you peel it off, drop it in your wet bag until laundry day. There's no tying or wrapping or scraping or pulling apart. You really do just put it on and take it off and then throw it in the wash.

That makes it so easy (which is part of why I clung to disposables for so long), so I was always intrigued by them and wondered if I should have forked out more money to get some all-in-ones for my stash. Thirsties is one of the top cloth diapering companies (also the company that makes the diaper covers that I used with my prefolds), and they offered to send me one of their Thirsties Duo All-in-One diapers to try out.



One of my favorite things about Thirsties diapers is that they come in a variety of adorable colors and prints, so for my review diaper, I chose this tree-adorned print, which looks pretty cute on Claire, if I do say so myself:


The interior of the diaper is really soft and made of microfiber terry cloth, which is so absorbent that I've had a hard time telling if it's even wet. I like this because this shows it's wicking moisture away from Claire's bottom, which should keep her more comfortable and has helped keep diaper rash away, without having to resort to rash creams. (Which is good, because you can only use cloth diaper-friendly rash creams when you're using cloth diapers, otherwise you can risk voiding your warranty.)

Like Claire's other diapers from Thirsties, these come in two sizes; one for when babies are smaller and this larger size from when they reach 18lbs, which Claire has just graduated into. Since she is at the small end of this diaper range, it still is a bit bulky on her and getting the snaps configured so that they aren't too tight but still tight enough to eliminate leaks has been a bit of trial-and-error. We had leaks while I tried to figure that combo out; oftentimes the diaper would look like it was tight enough but once she wet, we discovered it wasn't!

Once we finally figured that combo out, the diapers have worked quite well. Another feature I have always liked about Thirsties is that they have a double leg gusset, which provides another barrier for eliminating leaks and I think is one of the key reasons why so many people stick with Thirsties and why I've experienced so few leaks when I used their diaper covers with prefolds.

The only other disadvantage I've found is that these take longer to dry, since you're encouraged to let them air dry rather than put them through the dryer. (Compared to the ease of routinely throwing my prefolds into the dryer since there aren't any fancy parts on them.) This is something to consider when you're factoring in how many diapers you'll need to last you between loads and to account for the longer drying times.

Surprisingly, they aren't that much more expensive than the diaper covers. If you're willing to do laundry more frequently so as to buy fewer diapers, the cost difference can get pretty close, which honestly surprised me, as I'd always expected all-in-ones to be quite expensive. These are $16.50 each, compared to my diaper covers that cost $12.75 a piece. (Find Thirsties Duo All-in-One cloth diapers on Amazon.)

All in all, I thought these all-in-one diapers are great for convenience, especially now that Claire is getting squirmier and squirmier on the changing table. The faster the better is our mantra these days, and these really do speed up the cloth-diapering process! I also loved the microfiber terry interior that wicks moisture away; I think that's my absolute favorite element of this diaper because it seems so good for her skin, which is one of the main reasons I have continued to cloth diaper. (Read more about the Duo All-in-One Cloth Diapers from Thirsties here.)

As I build up my stash for Claire as she continues to outgrow her smaller cloth diapers, I would love to continue adding all-in-ones like these! And, fortunately for you, Thirsties has offered to give one of these all-in-one diapers away to one Life Blessons reader. To enter to win, please leave a comment on this post sharing which Thirsties diaper you would choose. I will choose a winner on December 28. (And if you don't win here, make sure to check out their blog, where they offer giveaways every Thursday!) You can also keep up to date on the latest with Thirsties by visiting their website or following them on Facebook and Twitter.
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My Cloth Diaper Essentials

This week, I'm talking about my experience cloth diapering my daughter from birth.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I made the decision when I was pregnant to start off my cloth-diapering journey using prefolds and diaper covers. This is the most economical way to cloth diaper because you can buy high-quality prefolds at less than $2 a pre-fold and you only need a couple of diaper covers, which cost about $13 a piece. (For me, I ended up not having to pay anything out of pocket for almost all of this entire cloth-diaper arsenal, which you can read more about in my post: How I Got My Cloth Diapers for Free.)

These are the items that I've been using and that have made the process easier on me. So far (after nine months of off-and-on cloth diapering), I'm happy with all these purchases!



Cloth Wipes: If you remember, I shared about these before Claire was born and was impressed even then at how soft they were. Now that I've had the chance to use them (over and over again), they are one of my favorite diaper essentials, whether I'm cloth diapering or not. I keep a spray bottle of water at hand and will spritz Claire or the wipe to moisten, and it typically only takes one wipe usually to clean her off. I like that there are no chemicals, which is especially important when we're fighting diaper rashes!

Prefold Diapers: I purchased 24 of these prefolds, but now think that I could have gotten away with 18 because I don’t like letting Claire sit in a dirty diaper for long and I have always used disposables overnight. Depending on how often you’re willing to do laundry, I bet even 12 would suffice. One of my favorite things about using prefolds is that they can withstand so much abuse. With the other kinds of cloth diapers, you have to be careful about using bleach and diaper creams because they can corrupt the diaper’s waterproof liner. But these provide a thick barrier (and I only used bleach when I was doing a load of just prefolds) to protect against that. I also rarely had a leak. Now that Claire is getting bigger, I don't have to always pin them against her, but can just fold them into thirds and lay them in her diaper. Soon, I will need to buy some of the next size up, though. I'm saving up my Swagbucks for then!

Diaper Covers: You layer these over prefolds, and they provide a waterproof barrier. The great part about these is that you only really need to wash them once they’ve gotten dirty. Because my prefolds were so thick, that rarely happened, so I could use a single cover all day (longer, even, if I got lucky) before it got soiled. You simply wipe it down after each cleaning and put it on over the prefold. You can also select different closures, and while the Velcro aplix was easier to position, I did find that it started to give away after just a few uses. The snaps are now my preferred closure. These diaper covers come in two sizes; one that should last baby's first year, and the second for when she's bigger. While this makes getting a tight fit easier, it still can be elusive and take some trial and error to get the fit just right.

Snappi Cloth Diaper Fasteners: These are the easiest way to fasten prefolds. I've never had to use a diaper pin, thanks to these! (They have teeth that help them hold on to the prefold, kind of like an ace bandage. While they might mess up lower quailty prefolds, they haven't done any harm to mine.)

Wet Bag: You have to have somewhere to put the dirty diapers until you wash them, and that's where the wet bag comes in. It's waterproof, so you can put the soiled diapers in and not worry about them dripping anywhere. I like this one because I just hang it on the side of her changing table and when it's time to launder, just unsnap it and dump the contents directly into the washer.

Cloth-Diaper Friendly Laundry Detergent: It's important when you're cloth diapering that you choose your detergent wisely, because it can void your diapers' warranty. This was recommended by the brand I chose (Thirsties) as well as on an independent cloth-diaper site that ranks nearly every kind of detergent. I only use it when I wash her diaper covers so it has lasted a long time. (For her prefolds, I just use some regular homemade laundry detergent, another reason I love prefolds!)
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Getting Back on the Cloth Diaper Wagon



When I was pregnant with Claire, I fully intended to cloth diaper. I was cloth diapered, and I watched my mom cloth diaper my siblings. It was normal to me. I looked at the bags of dirty disposables and the Reduce-Reuse-Recycle mantra I’d learned as a kid cringed within me. I looked at the bags and saw money literally get thrown into the trash.

So I planned to cloth diaper.

If you’ve ever considered cloth diapering and looked into it very much, you know that there are tons of options—so many that it can feel overwhelming. I spent a couple of days researching all of them, reading reviews, figuring out the differences between prefolds and covers, all-in-ones, and pocket diapers. Some people swear by this brand while others found it utterly failed on their baby.

I was at a loss about what to pick, especially as my daughter was still in utero and had yet to make her preferences or even her squirmy, long and lanky body-type known.

So I went with the option that proved most economical and practical given the chance that I was taking a bit of a risk picking a system without having a clue what would work for my baby. I ended up deciding to start off with pre-folds and diaper covers, which are the cheapest route to go. (Even cheaper if you are able to get your cloth diapers for free like I was, which you can read about here!) I picked some high-quality diapers (you can see them specifically on my baby registry) and prepped them (which means you have to wash them multiple times, or boil them on the stovetop as I did, so that they’ll readily soak everything up). I folded them and had them at the ready for when she was born.

It was then that we met this little girl of ours, and on top of all the crying and clinging and not sleeping that came with her, cloth diapering flew out the window. Disposables are just so easy! Considering my husband was already doing all the household duties including cooking and cleaning, I couldn’t really justify heaping another one on him, in addition to his full-time job.

But after a couple of weeks, that pile of prefolds and the brightly-colored covers beckoned me back. Reminding me that there is more to motherhood than ease and convenience. And it is something I do truly believe in. So I regrouped and made it my goal to have her wear them at least as often as she was wearing disposables—so half-and-half. It was a good way to ease back into things.

Around this time was when we boarded a plane and came back to Ohio for extra help. Again, cloth diapering flew out the window because we were away from home. Then when I came back, she got a yeast diaper rash that would not go away, so I halted all cloth diapering until it was clear. That took a month. And then soon after that, we moved up to Ohio, permanently.

So you see, there have been many excuses and only a half-hearted attempt at cloth diapering. Still, in spite of all the hiccups, I still believe in it. I still think it’s financially wise and good stewardship of our resources. I think it’s good for my daughter’s skin to avoid the chemicals that are in even the most “natural” of disposables. And like I said before, it’s what is normal to me. Cloth diapering just “fits” my personality, my parenting so well.

Which is why I’m climbing back on the cloth diapering wagon, and I’ll be sharing more about that in a few different posts this week.

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"Lift Your Hands to the Lord for the Lives of Your Children"



It was the middle of the night, when Claire awoke screaming.

When she was first born, everyone said I’d learn what her cries meant. I never was able to discern a “hungry” cry from a “wet” one from a “sleepy”one, but there was no mistaking this one: It was a cry that signaled distress, fear, terror. Shrill and clear, I knew it was a nightmare.

So I put my hand on her back, hoping that might comfort her. Still she cried. I sang a lullaby over her and rubbed her back. The cries did not stop. I whispered, “Shh, it’s okay,” in her ear. Still she cried. I picked her up and rocked her, hoping that would break the nighttime spell. But still she cried.

Having run out of my tried-and-true motherly tricks, I began to pray out loud over her, “Dear Lord, please…” As soon as those words fell from my lips, her cries ceased.

I held her in awe as she quietly nestled back against me.

The Lord didn’t even make me finish my prayer, which was going to be, “please heal her.” All he required was that I think to pray and begin to do it for my daughter. He wanted to heal her, to comfort her even more than I did. Even though it was something she wouldn’t remember when she awoke, even though there wasn’t really anything wrong with her. It still mattered to him.

But, it seems, that what mattered even more was my reaction. How would I respond? He wanted me to bring this to him. To watch him love my daughter.

I was recently reading in Parenting from the Overflow and she shared this verse that spoke so clearly of this encounter:

Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord.
Lift your hands to Him for the lives of your children.
- Lamentations 2:19

I wish I would have thought to pray for her first, before going through all the other motions. But seeing how clearly nothing worked until I prayed, it amazed me even more. That love, that fatherly love for this small, spunky nine month old in a world filled with nine month olds. He stoops down to each one and comforts their little hearts, showing us all that Jesus really does love the little children of the world.
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Dear Claire: 9 Month Update



(I've been writing monthly updates to my daughter, Claire, documenting all the changes that come with the passing weeks. You can catch up on past letters here.)

Dear Claire,

Oh, Claire. That little girl that we once referred to as “spirited” has given way to one who is full of spunk—and I love it. You are so much fun right now! You have the biggest, goofiest grin that lights up your whole face. You babble and blow bubbles and raspberries. You click your tongue and pop your lips. You are just pure joy to watch as you marvel at the world. Pure, pure joy.

Still no walking, yet, but you are perfecting your standing up. You regularly let go and stand up all on your own, usually because you want to multitask—holding a toy in one hand and suck the thumb on your other hand. It’s hilarious and adorable all at once. Your Mimi timed you once and you stood all on your own for more than thirty seconds! I can only imagine walking will be here before we know it.

This month you went through a phase where you started to show off a more introverted side: When a stranger would make eyes with you, you often would bury your head against me and bashfully divert your gaze. Though you’ve been in the nursery since you were six months old, you started to protest about 45 minutes into service when you realized we weren’t around. So for a couple of weeks, I’d come in and join you and once you knew I really was nearby, you’d go back to independent play and the other kids would come running to take advantage of the new storytime reader. Fortunately, last week you made it through the whole service without a peep.

If you asked your Mimi about yourself, one of the things she would say is that she’s never met a child with such a good appetite as you have. You were never a picky eater, gobbling up carrots or pureed corn, avocados or acorn squash. Here recently, though, you have started protesting fruit purees though. I feed you a spoonful and you squash up your little face, purse those lips and cough like it’s sour grapes I’m feeding you. Time and again, I’ll taste them myself to make sure, and they are always yummy. I think maybe you’re at the stage where you want real food, not just purees, so I’ve started sitting you in your high chair with finger foods for the picking: Cheerios, steamed carrots, pieces of toast, banana chunks. You seem to enjoy that, although you’re still not eating as much as it seemed you once were. (You still love, love, love rice cereal though. I think you’d eat that all the time if I let you.)

You still will not keep socks or shoes on your feet. We are constantly pulling your pants up because your waist is so tiny and your legs so long that you’re always stepping and crawling out of them. I am wholly anti-onesies now, thanks to the fact that you are such a squirmy-wormy. Trying to fasten even a trio of snaps after a full diaper change is like wrestling a fish. Not worth it. Consequently, you often wear the same outfit for a couple of days sometimes just so I don’t have to take on the task of wrangling you into a new one.

You love to tear up phone books. (I kept a miniature one just for this purpose. You still find the big one and prefer it.) You love clearing your GP’s shelf of DVDs and VHS tapes, throwing them all to the floor. You get a sparkle in your eyes when you survey the next thing you want to take on—the cat walks into the room, a remote sits on a low table, I leave my iPod unattended. You are stealthy and undaunted by height or distance, constantly amazing us at when you end up uncovering. Which is why we have to be more and more careful what falls to the floor because you inevitably find it. The other day it was a rubberband. Then it was an insect in the car. (And the only reason I know that is because there was a wing stuck to the side of your mouth afterward when I realized it. Gross.)

In essence, you keep us on our toes with your vivaciousness and zest for life. And I love it. I adore this spunky side of yours. I adore the joy and exuberance with which you approach the world. Even when you wake up from a nap, there’s no downtime. You’re ready to go, bouncing up and down, squealing with delight. I love it. And I love you.

Love,
Mom
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Redeeming Motherhood: Elizabeth's Story


Redeeming Motherhood is a series of posts where women open up about some of the struggles they've faced as mothers and how the Lord has redeemed those situations and brought beauty from them. Check out all the posts in the Redeeming Motherhood series here. (And if you want to share your own story of hope and healing, please check out the bottom of the post for instructions!)

Many thanks to Elizabeth of E, Myself, and I for sharing her insights in today's Q&A! Someone recommended her blog to me when I was pregnant and I've been an avid reader ever since. Especially when I combed through her archives and found out that her son (now two years old!) wasn't the easiest baby either. Hearing her experience helped me breathe a sigh of relief during that time when everything with Claire was so, so hard. And so here she is, sharing more about the struggle of comparing our child to other children.

Describe one of the hardships you’ve faced as a mother. What made this time so difficult?

When Sam was about 14 months old, he wasn't talking (or showing any signs of language development) at all.  I think I knew, logically, that this wasn't really a big deal.  He had had a number of ear infections and it was "normal" for little boys to be a little delayed in their speech.  However, for some reason, I let this relatively small thing turn in to a very BIG concern for me.  I spent WAY too much time on the internet and the rest of my time worrying and looking for "signs" of a larger problem in my boy. 


Instead of enjoying little milestones (like his first steps, etc.), I made lists of things he did and didn't do.  I checked off "warning signs" and called the pediatrician regularly.  Even things that were meant to be "fun" like play dates and our weekly music classes became opportunities for me to obsess over the ways Sam was "behind" or "different" from his peers.

What were some of the emotions you were feeling during this time?
It honestly all feels a little silly and dramatic to me now (it has been more than a year and Sam seems to have "caught up" in pretty much every area since then); but, at the time, I was SO afraid.  I worried ALL the time and carried around a heavy load of anxiety and stress.  In some ways, I was totally consumed by my fears that something was "wrong."  I could.not. let go and focus on all the wonderful, perfect things about Sam.  Everything felt like a test.

As they tend to do, my old insecurities of not being "good enough" snuck back into my heart and mind.  This time, they reminded me of the medicines I took when I was pregnant and the the emergency c-section I had, they whispered to me that I didn't spend enough time reading to him, or praying for him, and, somehow, they convinced me that if I had just done this or not done this, things might be different now.

I was ashamed that I didn't think my son was "perfect," and that I wasn't enjoying this season of his life. I felt alone; and, if I'm really being truthful, I felt like God was playing a game with me - like He didn't take my worries and fears seriously; and, almost, as if He was enjoying watching the control-freak in me squirm a little.



On the outside, I told myself (and others) that God was in charge; but, on the inside, it was still all about ME.  I found little bits of hope in telling myself that I could handle whatever came my way; but, I wasn't willing to completely let go and give my worries over to God.

How did the Lord speak to you during this time? How did he bring redemption or healing to you?
For whatever reason, this whole period of worry and fear came to a peak over a three day period in September.  I really don't remember now what triggered this ultimate "breakdown" for me; but, I spent two FULL days in a dark place.  I cried and cried out to God for help and strength.  Finally, I was beginning to realize that I was NOT strong enough to deal with the unknown on my own.

At the end of the second day, I took a walk with Sam in the stroller and talked to one of my best friends on the phone for a long time.  She is a pediatric physician's assistant, so my initial call to her was mostly to talk "medical" and get her "professional opinion" on whether or not my fears seemed legitimate.  She listened patiently to me as I cried and read off my laundry list of worries, and then she said... "Elizabeth, I think God just wants you to surrender.  He has brought you to this crossroads where you have to choose to trust Him even when you don't know the outcome.  The outcome doesn't matter."

Up until that point, my prayers (however desperate they were) to the Lord had been to make Sam OK.  To make whatever my fears were unfounded.  But something clicked in that conversation, and I began to give up a little bit.  I knew that my prayer couldn't be "I trust that You can fix this;" but, "I trust that You are bigger than this.  That You are still good no matter what."

Is there a Bible verse that you think speaks poignantly to this experience? It can be one you clung to during that time or that, looking back, seems particularly fitting.
The next morning, which was the third day, I decided to turn to the Word (which I hadn't done in a while).  I had the YouVersion app on my iPhone, so I just opened that and went to the spot where I had left off several weeks (months maybe?) before.  I was in Hosea, which I remember thinking was a very weird place to start, but I went with it.  This was the first verse I read...

“He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.  After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us; that we may live in his presence.” (Hosea 6:1&2)

Again, in the grand scheme of life, my worries were NOT that big of a deal.  But, God used even them to heal and redeem me. Through this experience, He reminded me once again what it means to live in His PRESENCE - not just vaguely aware that He is there - and to trust Him with all the unknowns of my life.
Sam didn't start talking for almost another ten months; but, my worry stopped that day. It wasn't that the same "signs" didn't exist; but, I didn't care anymore.  At least in this one area of my life, I had finally learned to surrender and trust that God was in control regardless of the circumstances or the outcome, and I didn't have to be.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Elizabeth is wife to her high school sweetheart Jeff, momma to two-year-old Sam, and English teacher to 75 ninth, tenth, and eleventh graders.  In her "free time" she moonlights as a blogger at E, Myself, and I where she chronicles her journey into adulthood and her attempts at salvaging a tiny bit of her former “Type A” self. She writes about being a working mom, teaching, organizing, decorating, party planning, and The Bachelor, and she’s not afraid to laugh at herself when necessary. Elizabeth is passionate about connecting women and helping them find freedom in living their real lives with honesty, humor, and a strong cup of coffee.

If you are interested in contributing to the Redeeming Motherhood series, contact me with your responses to the questions in this post. Include a short bio and a photograph, if you like. It's not necessary to have your own blog, just a heart and a story to share!


{ photo source }
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Growing Up and Celebrating the Multitude of "Firsts" in this First Year

It is incredible how quickly this year of Claire’s has flown by, and how many milestones she’s already bulldozed past. So many of those “firsts” are still so fresh to me. Her first bath, the first time I found her rolled over in her crib. The first time she laughed (while watching me brush my teeth when I spit into the sink, no less). The first time she had solid food. Taking her to to the swings at the playground for the first time. Her first airplane ride, her first trip to church, her first tooth.

The list of her “firsts” continues to grow longer and longer; right now we are on the verge between being able to stand up on her own and take a real first step. (In this photo, she's letting go of the cabinets, standing on her own, and then going back to the ground to finish crawling over to me. Does that count as a step?)

As each "first" passes, it is proof that she is growing by leaps and bounds before my very eyes. It is a humbling realization, to be able to look back and see how far we’ve come. And then to realize we have so much ahead of us, so many exciting changes that I really am excited about! I cannot wait to hear her talk, to know what she’s thinking and dreaming about and interested in. I cannot wait to snuggle with her on the couch and watch a good PBS movie with her or sit around the dining room table and make crafts.

There is so much to look forward to in this process of watching her bloom and come into her own. I think that’s what makes each of these “firsts” of hers so exciting: They are the next steps in that lifelong process. And so, I endeavor to savor each one. To not gloss over it in favor of looking to the future, nor yearn for those that have come and gone. But to try to appreciate each one, to appreciate this current stage of life and the beauty inherent in it.

To help me do that, Pampers Swaddlers sent along a package full of products designed to celebrate some of these "firsts" in a baby's life: a walking toy that helps (and entertains) Claire as she learns to wobble along on her own, little trinket boxes for memorializing a lock of hair from her first hair cut and losing her first tooth, a book to record her first words, some of which you can see in the photo below:



That's because right now, Pampers Swaddlers is celebrating a first of their own: the Swaddler diaper is now available in sizes 4 & 5. In celebration, Pampers is hosting 30 days of giveaways, with a grand prize of free Swaddler diapers and wipes for a year. Enter for daily prizes on the Pampers Facebook page here. They are also hosting a #SwaddlersFirsts Twitter Party on Thursday, December 5th at 9pm EST, where you can win great prizes (including those outlined below), so RSVP and join in here, as well. Keep up to date with Pampers by following them on Twitter and Facebook.

Plus, they are also offering one Life Blessons reader the chance to win their own prize pack like the one I received for Claire, which includes:
• Baby’s First Friend Plush Doll
• Baby’s First Tooth and First Curl Treasure Box
• Baby’s First Words Book
• Baby’s First Steps Push Toy
• Pampers Swaddlers diapers

To enter, please leave a comment below by Tuesday, Dec. 10, along with a way to contact you, if it isn’t visible in your profile. This review was made possible by Double Duty Divas and Pampers. I was provided the featured product free of charge to facilitate my review, but all opinions are 100% mine.
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"God Gives Gifts and I Give Thanks and I Unwrap the Gift Given: Joy"



In celebration of Thanksgiving, I have been thinking about those things for which I’m most grateful from this past year. In many ways, it has been a tough year for me. Perhaps a better word is “challenging.” I had a difficult pregnancy that landed me in the hospital unexpectedly, and then a labor that felt like it was never going to end. I had a baby who cried and didn't sleep for what felt like weeks on end. I felt alone caring for her. So, we moved across the country to find our "village," and for the past couple of months, my husband has been out of town during the week at training, only home on the weekends.

It has not been easy, but even in spite of those challenges, I have been careful to not lose sight that there is much for me to appreciate. Even in our suffering, there are things to be grateful for. I think that is a lesson I definitely learned this year. For even that, I am grateful.

Ann Voskamp in One Thousand Gifts posits that a life of joy and of a filling salvation comes when we learn to live a lifestyle of being grateful and thankful for every single thing God has gifted to us. Good, bad, big, little. We rejoice in it all.

Upon reading Philippians 4:11-12, where Paul writes, “I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation…”, Voskamp points readers to the fact that Paul had to learn these things. She realized that we must learn to live a life utterly thankful for all that God doles out. It does not come naturally.

So she decided to keep a list, to hone that sense of gratitude for the live that God has given. I love that idea, and while my efforts to keep my own running list have never made it more than a day or two, I still want to make an effort to see the beauty in this life of mine, the small acts of kindness God shows me, the redemption he brings to each and every one of those challenges.

“Gratitude for the seemingly insignificant—a seed—this plants the giant miracle," she writes. "The miracle of eucharisteo, like the Last Supper, is in the eating of crumbs, the swallowing down one mouthful. Do not disdain the small. The whole of the life—even the hard—is made up of the minute parts, and I miss the infinitesimals, I miss the whole. These are new language lessons, and I live them out.”

Learning to seek out an attitude of gratefulness in even the smallest of things matters. Because there are always small things for me to be thankful for, and I think that is one of the things that helped me through that season, that buoyed me and kept me afloat when it felt I was sinking. We need not wait for the big things to give thanks.

Today, I look at my life and, in contrast to where I've been, it seems so full. No, it is not ideal. But it is good, it is vibrant, it is beautiful. To me, at least. Even in its smallest places, even in the midst of the struggles.

So grateful, I am.

Joy is always given, never grasped.
God gives gifts and I give thanks and I unwrap the gift given: joy.
— Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts

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Save On Your Shopping this Holiday Season: 3 of My Favorite Online Resources



I've shared a few tips before of little and easy ways I've found to save money, without having to make any real sacrifices. Today I wanted to introduce another tactic that you can use whenever you do any online shopping to get cash back for your purchases (which is especially timely if you prefer to do most of your Christmas shopping online like I do!).

Get cash back for online shopping
One of my favorite sites is Mr. Rebates, a completely free site that links to various online merchants that you'd normally shop at. When you are going to buy something online, log into Mr. Rebates first and see if they have any affiliations with the site you'll be shopping at. Then, all you have to do is click on the link from their site to the merchant of your choice and continue your purchase as usual. By clicking from their site to the merchant site, you'll actually get a percentage of your purchase back as a rebate. 
For example, if you were going to buy something from CafePress, they recently were running a special where you could get 22% of your purchase price back if you clicked through the Mr. Rebates link to the store and made your purchase. The thing I like especially with Mr. Rebates (as opposed to other cash-back shopping sites), is that the percentages they reward are often higher than those at other sites. Then, once you accumulate at least $10 in rebates, you can get the rebates sent to you via check or PayPal.

I've been using Mr. Rebates for a couple years now, and have cashed my rebates out (via PayPal) every couple of months, resulting in receiving more than $200 back over the lifetime of my account. And that's just with minimal shopping! Plus, if you sign up for Mr. Rebates, you'll get a $5 credit in your account to begin with.

Find the best deals on Amazon
Another of my favorite shopping sites is Amazon.com. You can find almost anything there, and usually their prices are lower than what you'll find elsewhere. The thing is, though, that the prices often fluctuate. That's why I like the site CamelCamelCamel.com, which tracks Amazon prices and will let you know what the historical high and low prices are for an item and can alert you when a product hits any threshold you've set.

I've used this multiple times to make sure I'm getting the best deal possible. (And then, of course, I always make sure to pay my purchases with the Amazon gift codes I earn for free from Swagbucks, a search engine where you can earn points for the searches you do or for completing other tasks. Click here to learn more about Swagbucks and how to get started earning free gift cards from them.)

Plus, if you're going to do any shopping at Amazon, click through my affiliate link and Life Blessons will earn a small referral percentage back from any purchases you make--free for you, but it helps support everything that goes on here!

Use online coupons and free-shipping codes
Finally, another favorite shopping site in my online arsenal is RetailMeNot.com. It is like a search engine for coupon codes. You simply type in the store or website you want to shop at, and it will see if there are any available codes (for percent or dollars off your purchase or free shipping codes, which you sometimes can stack together in one purchase).

I like that you don't have to worry about signing up for store emails or anything to get the codes; they're all collected in one place (and they've collected codes for a ton of sites) so it really is a one-stop shopping. Combined with Mr. Rebates and any gift cards earned from Swagbucks, and your savings from online Christmas shopping this season will really add up!

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Redeeming Motherhood: Jordy's Story


Redeeming Motherhood is a series of posts where women open up about some of the struggles they've faced as mothers and how the Lord has redeemed those situations and brought beauty from them. Check out all the posts in the Redeeming Motherhood series here. (And if you want to share your own story of hope and healing, please check out the bottom of the post for instructions!)

Many thanks to Jordy of Jordy Liz Blogs for sharing her insights in today's Q&A! (And check out her son, who's the same age as Claire!)

Describe one of the hardships you’ve faced as a mother. What made this time so difficult?
One of the hardships I noticed right off the bat was the shift of priorities and losing myself.

The early days were long and monotonous, and the lack of sleep left me feeling blue. We had our round of visitors over the first few weeks, but after that time, it all slowed down. Around 4 to 6 weeks post-delivery, I was starting to feel like myself again and was so desperate to get out of the house with friends. But unfortunately, no one was calling. No one was checking in. No one was inviting me places. I realized that I had officially entered this new stage and friends thought I was too busy to get out. Busy, yes, but desperate for girl time, even moreso.

I started back at work about three months after Liam was born, and the overwhelming feelings came to a head. I realized I officially couldn't do it all. With working full-time, keeping up with housework, handling dinner, taking care of Liam, balancing appointments and schedules, I have had many moments of feeling shut down. And unfortunately, I get put on the backburner. I didn't have time for myself, my friendships or just the minute tasks on my to do list. The wants and needs I had kept building until I realized that it wasn't going to change itself.

What were some of the emotions you were feeling during this time?
Besides lonely, I felt abandoned and overwhelmed by this new stage of life. I was longing for acceptance again with my friends; I was longing for them to see that just because I was a new mom didn't mean I couldn't leave the house or get together like we used to; I was longing for an hour to do something I enjoyed - a hobby, a pedicure, anything.

How did the Lord speak to you during this time? How did he bring redemption or healing to you?
God is continuing to show me to how to rely on Him and be more intentional with myself and my relationships. I can't just sit back and expect people to come to me; I also need to let them know how much I need their friendship and time together.

He also showed me who I am in Him, and not necessarily as a wife, mother or employee. If I focus on who He created me to be, I still am myself.

Is there a Bible verse that you think speaks poignantly to this experience? It can be one you clung to during that time or that, looking back, seems particularly fitting.
There is a sign I have on the wall that quotes Psalm 46:10: "Be still and know that I am God." As simple as this is, it just reminded me to stay in the moment, to be still in God, and to trust His plan and will for my life.

ABOUT THE WRITER: Jordy is a born-and-raised Texan living in the desert of Arizona. She blogs about marriage, faith and life as a new mother over at Jordy Liz Blogs.

If you are interested in contributing to the Redeeming Motherhood series, contact me with your responses to the questions in this post. Include a short bio and a photograph, if you like. It's not necessary to have your own blog, just a heart and a story to share!
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Making This Thing Work: 5 Minutes of Motherhood



Right now, my daughter is sitting outside in her walker, watching her uncle blow the golden-hued leaves that have collected on the grass into a giant pile. The blower is whizzing loudly and she is watching in awe as the leaves flip and fly and tumble and fall down into place. She is squealing and playing happily by her lonesome.

And I have brought my laptop and sit perched on the edge of the driveway so that, while she’s entertained (and contained), I can get things done. It is one of the secrets I’ve developed already to make multitasking work.

I’m not sure there’s anything particularly deep or memorable about this moment, except that we are learning to make this parenting process work, with tricks up our sleeve and moments stolen here and there so that we’re all happy and healthy at the end of the day.

She throws her head back with a yip as she watches the leaves dance. I smile back at her and type a little more.

These days of motherhood are consuming and taking the time to blog can easily get lost in the hustle and bustle of it all. But these days of motherhood are also fleeting and I don’t want to let them slip by. And so this series of posts, Five Minutes of Motherhood, are my attempts to capture some of these moments—whether poignant or not—in the short spurts of time available to me these days: a time-limit of five minutes. That way the moment gets memorialized and then I can get back to life—back to motherhood. Click here to read all the posts in the Five Minutes of Motherhood series.
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Redeeming Motherhood: Tamara's Story


Redeeming Motherhood is a series of posts where women open up about some of the struggles they've faced as mothers and how the Lord has redeemed those situations and brought beauty from them. Check out all the posts in the Redeeming Motherhood series here. (And if you want to share your own story of hope and healing, please check out the bottom of the post for instructions!)

Many thanks to Tamara of Southern Grade for today's Q&A. She had her son, Wells, a couple of months after I had Claire. I thought I had a long labor at 37 hours, but I literally gasped out loud when I read in her birth story that her labor was 68 hours long. Oh my. Here she is to share more about that rough introduction to motherhood and how God is redeeming it...

Describe one of the hardships you’ve faced as a mother. What made this time so difficult?
My husband and I became parents after 68 hours of labor, 3 hours of pushing, and the hardest decision that started our journey as parents. We prepared for months for bringing our son into the world naturally. And after 71 hours, we decided it was time for a C-section. This was scary and beyond difficult for the both of us.

I couldn't wrap my brain around why God would lead us throughout the whole process and not be able to delivery vaginally. (You can read my birth story on my blog here.)

'Healthy momma and healthy baby' is what most people say, but to me it wasn't enough. To be honest, I was embarrassed I had to transfer from the birth center to the hospital to begin with. I lost control of all my emotions when I was being wheeled into the OR and even doubted God.

Days later I was still broken. My recovery went well physically but not emotionally.

What were some of the emotions you were feeling during this time?
I felt like I had failed natural birth. I wanted it and believed in it so much. My pride was ripping me apart. I was embarrassed to share my story before the Lord met me.

How did the Lord speak to you during this time? How did he bring redemption or healing to you?
The Lord really showed me that He was with us the whole labor and delivery. He lead us graciously through every decision. Once I acknowledged this, it made the world of difference. I was thankful for my long labor. The Lord met me and Ted not only in labor but the early weeks of parenthood. He met me. He showed me my sinful heart. Being the natural momma advocate, I had judged others for getting various interventions during labor. I was naive and judgmental. I repented. I saw a grace come over me that was so refreshing.

Is there a Bible verse that you think speaks poignantly to this experience? It can be one you clung to during that time or that, looking back, seems particularly fitting.
I held Psalm 42 close to my heart during the early weeks of parenthood especially as my questions lingered and I cried out to God. God is faithful and met me.

"As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, 'Where is your God?' These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng. Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God." - Psalm 42:1-5

ABOUT THE WRITER: Tamara started blogging at Southern Grade a few years go after marrying her best friend in New Orleans, Louisiana. Southern Grade is where she tucks away stories about being a wife, new mom, and the little things that make life so rich. Follow along at southerngrade.blogspot.com or on instagram: @tohman.

If you are interested in contributing to the Redeeming Motherhood series, contact me with your responses to the questions in this post. Include a short bio and a photograph, if you like. It's not necessary to have your own blog, just a heart and a story to share!

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Preparing Your Quiet Time Space (with a Giveaway!)

I’m a firm believer in positive reinforcement. I am in the throes of this right now with Claire, making an effort to praise her and encourage her when she does what I want (stay still on the changing table, obey me when I tell her to leave something alone, etc.). But I also do this with myself, as well.

Like when it comes to doing my own quiet times, I try to make them special. Usually that means curling up in a favorite spot where sunlight drenches in. It means bringing a treat with me, whether it’s hot chocolate or bowl of trail mix (with plenty of chocolate chips!). And a pretty notebook and nice pen help, too. (You can check out this post about how I made my own devotion journal for more inspiration, too.)

While all those things are not essential to a fruitful devotion time, I think they help make it into something I look forward to a little more, they make it feel special and not just a task on a to-do list but something enjoyable, something a bit luxurious.

Which is why I was excited when the folks at Treat (which is owned by Shutterfly) contacted me to try out one of their customize-your-own mugs and stationery. Some of my favorites from their collection that I think would be perfect for perking up your quiet time include:



Plus, they are offering a giveaway for one mug and one set of personal stationery to one Life Blessons reader, perfect for cheering up your quiet-time routine or for holiday gift-giving! To enter, please visit Treat’s holiday cards page and leave a comment here with your favorite card. Entries must be received by November 20. (Open to US addresses only.)

(Of course, you can always order your holiday cards through Treat, as well. You can even personalize them to each recipient through their one-to-one holiday card collection, and most of the cards also come with a digital option. There are also plenty of gift options available at Treat, as well. To find out more, join the #TreatCheer Twitter party on November 18 at 2PM ET with @ResourcefulMom.)
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Learning to Be Flexible: 5 Minutes of Motherhood



My mother has always said that God gives us the child we need. She says that I taught her patience. In the midst of my so-loud-they-thought-someone-would-call-child-protective-services cries, she learned patience. When I only wanted her, she held me; as she vacuumed, as she scrubbed floors, as she lived her life, it was intimately intertwined with my own. Through it, she says she learned patience.

As I look back on these first few months of life with Claire, I am beginning to see what God is teaching me. I am beginning to see where he is stripping me through this little girl's needs. For me, it is flexibility. He is teaching me to let loose my grip. To be nimble. To be willing to change my plans. To let go of what I want and do what someone else needs. To be selfless for someone else's sake.

I see it as I look back on all of my well-intentioned plans that flew out the window quickly. I wanted her to sleep in her crib in her own room from the beginning. But she wanted to be held. Flexibility was forced on me, so I held her. She snuggled with me. I learned to give her what she needed.

I see it now, as nap schedules and predictability still elude us. I have given up fighting to make her sleep when she's "supposed" to. Instead, I let her play until she's reached her fill and her own body tells her it's ready to rest. I schedule my errands and dates with friends loosely because I never know where we'll be when it comes to naptimes.

I see it in so many other decisions, from what and how she eats (she's had cake and Cheerios, popcorn and pretzels) to letting her play with magazines (I call her my little shredder). Everything I once thought was sacred in the realm of raising a child has now been pruned and preened by this little lesson of mine.

I see how, through it all, the Lord has softened my heart. How he has pried my grip from my love of routine and rigidity and is teaching me the value of flexibility, not only toward her but toward life and toward him.. He is teaching me the value of being laid-back, of letting life happen sometimes rather than always feel the need to force it into my own expectations. I am learning to trust that I won't mess everything up by going with the flow. He is teaching me to learn to trust someone other than myself, to trust that perhaps my daughter knows what might be best for her, just as He knows what is best for me. I am learning to trust him to fill in the gaps where I fail.

And so, I am learning to be grateful for this lesson he has seen fit to teach me. I am learning to open my hands and receive it with gladness, this lesson of learning flexibility. Someday I will tell Claire, "God gives us the child we need. And I needed you to teach me to be flexible."

These days of motherhood are consuming and taking the time to blog can easily get lost in the hustle and bustle of it all. But these days of motherhood are also fleeting and I don’t want to let them slip by. And so this series of posts, Five Minutes of Motherhood, are my attempts to capture some of these moments—whether poignant or not—in the short spurts of time available to me these days: a time-limit of five minutes. That way the moment gets memorialized and then I can get back to life—back to motherhood. Click here to read all the posts in the Five Minutes of Motherhood series.
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Redeeming Motherhood: Amanda's Story

 
Redeeming Motherhood is a series of posts where women open up about some of the struggles they've faced as mothers and how the Lord has redeemed those situations and brought beauty from them. Check out all the posts in the Redeeming Motherhood series here. (And if you want to share your own story of hope and healing, please check out the bottom of the post for instructions!)

Many thanks to Amanda of Our Trek and Core Spring Design for today's Q&A. She had her son, Evan, just a couple months before I had Claire, so I always enjoyed reading her insights and where they were in the process. Here she shares more about a big decision she struggled to make as a new mom and God's graciousness through it...

Describe one of the hardships you’ve faced as a mother. What made this time so difficult?
My biggest struggle so far in my nine months of motherhood has been wrestling with the decision of whether or not to continue working full time after my son was born. I know for some women, working after having a baby is a definite yes or no, a black and white decision, but that wasn’t the case for me. Although my husband and I knew it would be possible for us to make it with just his income, our plan was for me to keep working until the end of 2013, after which time we would be completely debt free with a substantial emergency fund. Our son Evan would be less than a year old and wouldn’t remember being in daycare. Getting a financial jump seemed like it would be the best thing for my family, but it just didn’t feel right to me.

I ended up going back to work when Evan was 9 weeks old. I wanted to at least try being a working mom before I decided it wasn’t for me. The week Evan started daycare, he ended up going through a growth spurt. By the time I arrived at the daycare at noon to nurse Evan, he’d already taken all three bottles and was hungry for more. Unable to feed him, the daycare workers had left him crying on the floor. It was undeniable at this point that the best place for my son was with me.

What were some of the emotions you were feeling during this time?
During my maternity leave, the thought of going back to work just made me depressed and pretty much sick. I took an extra three weeks of unpaid maternity leave rather than going back after six weeks, but during those last weeks I felt even worse. I was just avoiding the inevitable and I wanted to get it over with. The time I should have spent enjoying my baby was spent dreading returning to work. Once I was back at work, I felt emotionally and physically drained. I wasn’t giving the best of myself to my husband, to my son, or to my job. I didn’t want to keep working, but it still wasn’t easy to walk away from the job I’d had nearly four years and the benefits and security it gave our family. I spent a lot of time agonizing over pros and cons and making calculations.

How did the Lord speak to you during this time? How did he bring redemption or healing to you?
To be honest, continuing to work outside the home felt like I was disobeying God. I even told my husband at one point that I felt like Jonah. This is not because I think it’s unbiblical for women to work but because I really didn’t feel it was God’s plan for me. While I was still pregnant, I remember sitting in church and feeling very convicted that I needed to quit my job and stay home when Evan was born. But instead, I basically told God, “Well, you’re probably right, but just in case, let me try this anyway.” I don’t recommend ever trying to disobey God’s calling.

Just four weeks after returning from maternity leave, I finally felt at peace about leaving my job and gave my two week notice. A lot of it came down to this: At the end of my life, what will I regret? Will I be more likely to regret having less money during this time in our lives and being in debt a little longer, or missing out on the first year of Evan’s life? There’s a lot more to life than money, and I needed to be at home with my son.

Is there a Bible verse that you think speaks poignantly to this experience? It can be one you clung to during that time or that, looking back, seems particularly fitting.
Matthew 6:31 says “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” I know staying home isn’t the right choice for every mother, but if it’s possible for you to do and that’s the direction God is leading you, just do it. He’ll take care of you. Although my husband and I were prepared to live on just his income, God had other plans for us. Without doing much to promote my freelance graphic design business, I’ve already had more work than I expected to have this year. Rather than saying “But how, God?” I should have just let him show me how.

ABOUT THE WRITER: Amanda is a wife and new mom to a baby boy. She spends naptime running a freelance graphic design business, Core Spring Design, and blogging about her family's journey at Our Trek.

If you are interested in contributing to the Redeeming Motherhood series, contact me with your responses to the questions in this post. Include a short bio and a photograph, if you like. It's not necessary to have your own blog, just a heart and a story to share!
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Dear Claire: 8 Month Update



(I've been writing monthly updates to my daughter, Claire, documenting all the changes that come with the passing weeks. You can catch up on past letters here.)

Dear Claire,


Another month has passed, making you eight months old now!

Right now you:
- LOVE sucking your thumb; anything that crinkles (especially bags and wrappers); shoes (to chew on, of course); crawling into anything that's cave-like; opening and closing things (like the shower door) or turning things on and off (like the kitchen faucet); pulling up and standing on anything that can remotely support your weight (a trashcan will do in a pinch); brushing your teeth (we even have a song I made up to go along with it)
- HATE being restrained, whether it's getting dressed or buckled into your carseat; feeling like you've been left alone or don't have someone within your eyesight

As far as milestones go, this past one wasn't near as exciting as turning six and seven months, when you were learning new skills left and right. This month was more of honing and perfecting those skills. You're still working on the balance thing and bonking your head a few times a day, but we're making progress. I'm also waiting for you to learn more about gravity and edges; you have no fear of falling and so we're constantly on alert, whether it's while you're on the changing table or sitting on the couch.

Regardless of that, you do seem to have a little bit of daredevil in you, which is fun for me. You love to be thrown in the air, twirled around, pulled super fast along the floor, whizzing around. It gives you such a thrill. I can see you now, begging to go on the upside-down rollercoasters someday. And I can't wait to have a rollercoaster buddy!

I am pretty sure that you now are learning that your name is Claire. If I call it out, (about half the time) you will stop and look to me (almost always with a smile!). This has also made it a little easier for me to keep you from getting into things that you aren't supposed to. And I think you've also started to learn my name now, too! I swear you crawl up to me and say, "mama mama ma," when you really need something (food or sleep, usually).

Along with that, you're experimenting more and more with learning how to talk yourself. You've always been vocal (and loud!) but lately you've been playing with how to make lots of other sounds. You can roll your "R"s and "B"s and have been playing with how to make your lips making popping sounds. You love to be bounced and vibrated so that you can hear your voice trill; the other week we had a lunch at church and the pastor was holding you when he discovered this and subsequently was showing your impressive "party trick" off to everyone. If you end up beatboxing someday, I'll know where you got your start!

But you're a real delight and fun to play with. Your daddy can get you to laugh like nothing else. You're my little extrovert, loving to be out and about, making friends, earning smiles left and right. I try to take you out somewhere once a day, because I think you love the change of scenery and all the new sights and sounds fascinate you. Like your name stands for, you really do brighten up our lives. You love being with people and your enthusiasm brings such happiness. As an introvert, that is truly a beautiful trait to me. It's such a simple thing, really, but this world needs more of it. Which is why God made you. And I'm glad he did, and that he gave you to me to get to raise. Here's to another month of that!

Love,
Mom
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Redeeming Motherhood: Andrea's Story


Redeeming Motherhood is a series of posts where women open up about some of the struggles they've faced as mothers and how the Lord has redeemed those situations and brought beauty from them. Check out all the posts in the Redeeming Motherhood series here. (And if you want to share your own story of hope and healing, please check out the bottom of the post for instructions!)

Many thanks to Andrea Cooley of Ever After Blueprint for sharing her experiences in today's Q&A! (And, boy, does her story resonate with me. Particularly the impulse to beat yourself up over a baby not cooperating with schedules and napping and all that stuff that is such a rude awakening to motherhood!)

Describe one of the hardships you've faced as a mother. What made this time so difficult?
Andrea and Emerson
Everyone talks about being tired the first year and to sleep while you can. And that is true, but for me harder than losing sleep and not going back to work was managing my expectations. I am a first-born girl who likes to be in control. I have always considered my type-A personality to be a blessing. I set a plan, make a goal, and get things done. So imagine my surprise when my sweet and cuddly baby boy Emerson had other things in mind. Maybe he has a bit of my persistence in him!

Without even realizing it, I had high expectations of what his schedule would be. I figured we would have lots of play dates during the week and the weekends would be time to relax and play with dad home from work. In reality, there were several months (that also happened to be in the middle of winter) when it felt like every day was a never-ending battle with naps. There was such a small window of time each day when he was awake and happy that it was nearly impossible to ever get out of the house.

What were some of the emotions you were feeling during this time?
I spent a lot of time feeling discouraged and generally sorry for myself. Why wasn’t my baby like everyone else’s? Why didn’t he sleep better? Was it too much to ask to have a full night’s sleep?

Looking back, there were several weeks where I wish I could tell myself to stop worrying and obsessing over his schedule and feeling like it was impossible to get out of the house. One thing I’ve learned time and time again this year is that everything is a phase. Whether it’s a good phase or a bad phase, nothing lasts forever!

How did the Lord speak to you during this time? How did he bring redemption or healing to you?
Even before being a mom, I have always been highly critical of myself. I have high expectations for myself and even if they are unrealistic, I feel the need to meet them. When I feel like I have failed, I tend to beat up on myself. I know that the Lord loves and accepts me right where I am and isn’t keeping track of my achievements or failures, but it’s something I struggle to believe in my heart. So as I begin to lower or change my expectations as a mom, I am also learning that it is OK to do this with myself, too.

Is there a Bible verse that you think speaks poignantly to this experience?
At the end of a day of fighting naps following a night where more time was spent rocking and singing and feeding and shushing than sleeping, one of the truths I held on to was Lamentations 3:22-23:

“Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.”

Even when I could only hope for more than two consecutive hours of a sleep and an uninterrupted shower was a distant memory, I clung to the knowledge that every day was a new beginning. And not only was it a new chance to work on naps and nursing and laundry and tummy time, more importantly, it was a new day full of the Lord’s love and blessings. I learned to count the blessings of baby coos and giggles, and thanked God that I had a healthy baby, even if he didn’t sleep when I thought he should and sometimes made getting out of the house harder than it was worth.

Slowly, the days got easier, the nights got quieter, and instead of counting down the days and weeks until this phase was over, I started giving myself (and Emerson) grace. We were both figuring out this mommy/baby thing together. Some days are still hard, I’m not gonna lie! There are days when number of outfits we go through before 9am is more than I used to go through in a week. And we have both shed our fair share of tears, but as any mom knows, it is so worth it!

ABOUT ANDREA: In a few short weeks our firstborn son, Emerson, will be one year old. I’ve learned a lot this year and while there were some weeks that I thought would never end, looking back, it’s been an amazing year. So even though I’ve lost track of how many times I put away the dishes that he pulls out of the cupboard and how many Cheerios I’ve picked up off the kitchen floor, I can’t imagine life without his sweet smiles and little giggles! You can read more from Andrea at Ever After Blueprint.

If you are interested in contributing to the Redeeming Motherhood series, contact me with your responses to the questions in this post. Include a short bio and a photograph, if you like. It's not necessary to have your own blog, just a heart and a story to share!
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My Coffee Turns Cold: 5 Minutes of Motherhood

 

I take my mug and put it in the microwave, heat it for a minute and a half. I heat it because it has gotten cold. Cold as I change a diaper. Cold as I mix up a bowl of cereal. Cold as I dress her warm. Cold as I redirect her from playing with cords to play with a more appropriate toy.

I pick up, I put down. I tell her it's okay when she bumps her head. I take her with me when it's time for me to get dressed. I blow bubbles on her tummy and make her laugh. I show her her reflection in the mirror and watch her grin with delight. I listen and lean and lift and love.

And in the meantime, as my love warms us both, my coffee turns cold. But that's okay. Because when it comes to coffee, a microwave will do. 

These days of motherhood are consuming and taking the time to blog can easily get lost in the hustle and bustle of it all. But these days of motherhood are also fleeting and I don’t want to let them slip by. And so this series of posts, Five Minutes of Motherhood, are my attempts to capture some of these moments—whether poignant or not—in the short spurts of time available to me these days: a time-limit of five minutes. That way the moment gets memorialized and then I can get back to life—back to motherhood. Click here to read all the posts in the Five Minutes of Motherhood series.
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Redeeming Motherhood: Iradis' Story


Redeeming Motherhood is a series of posts where women open up about some of the struggles they've faced as mothers and how the Lord has redeemed those situations and brought beauty from them. Check out all the posts in the Redeeming Motherhood series here. (And if you want to share your own story of hope and healing, please check out the bottom of the post for instructions!)

Many thanks to Iradis of Live Faithfully for kicking off the series and sharing her experience in today's Q&A. (And boy do I know all too well what she means when she says she has a "spirited baby." Mine was one of those, too!) 
Iradis and her son at 5 months old,
now "a fairly happy baby" ;)

Describe one of the hardships you've faced as a mother. What made this time so difficult?
As a new mom, I had a few preconceived notions about how our baby would be, from his temperament to how he would look physically. We were blessed with a very spirited baby, who from the very beginning made his presence known loud and clear. One hardship I faced as a new mom was in the first 4 months of our baby's life. Having a newborn who cried inconsolably most of the time during his awake times was difficult. It made me feel like somehow I had failed as a mom.

What were some of the emotions you were feeling during this time?
I felt an overwhelming sense of insecurity. I had absolutely no idea what to do to get our baby to stop screaming. I felt frustration, failure and helplessness. Yes, there were times I even felt anger and resentment.

How did the Lord speak to you during this time? How did he bring redemption or healing to you?
Amid all the noise (literally), it seemed like God's voice was distant even though now I know it wasn't. I knew He was working in my heart to have more patience with the situation. God used my husband and a friend (also a new mom) to speak truth into my life, hard as it was. At one point, I knew that only God could cover me with his peace, as our baby screamed for hours at a time. Honestly, I feel like I am still healing and trying to find redemption for those first few months. It's an ongoing process but I am thankful for God's grace with me.

Is there a Bible verse that you think speaks poignantly to this experience?
During those first months, Philippians 4:4-13 is a passage that I would read over and over again. I was clinging to the knowledge that God would somehow bring peace and contentment through it all and that it would never be more than I could handle. If I made the choice to rejoice, even when I didn't feel like it, God would strengthen me to get through this experience.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. - Philippians 4:4-13

ABOUT THE WRITER: My name is Iradis, aka Urban Wife and I've been married to Red Beard since 2008. In May of this year, we welcomed our first baby boy into our lives. We are excited to see what God has in store for our little family and are forever in awe of His mercy & grace. Feel free to stop by my blog Live Faithfully or Instagram @urbanwife to follow along on our journey.

If you are interested in contributing to the Redeeming Motherhood series, contact me with your responses to the questions in this post. Include a short bio and a photograph, if you like. It's not necessary to have your own blog, just a heart and a story to share!
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A World of Wonder



It’s incredible to try to look at the world from my daughter’s perspective. It’s nearly impossible, really. How she explores things that we take for granted—cause and effect, gravity, object permanence—and finds delight in them. Not just mere interest but squeal-with-joy delight.

It makes me look at this world of mine with a bit more wonder, a bit more awe at how the Lord made it work, how he made it work so well. I look at how he made her body, so soft and malleable to tolerate her tumbles and falls without ever getting a bruise. I look at how he gave her a thumb, which she found the other month and hasn’t stopped sucking since, and how that is a gift to her because it brings her such calm and comfort. He gave that to her. I look at how he made her personality and how she wears it so beautifully. He gave that to me.

It’s these little things that make me stop and realize the gravity of it all, whisper prayers of thanks in response.

I recently read a book that does much the same. A beautifully written little book whose premise is to do just that: Open your eyes to the world around you, show you how to look at it—in all its brokenness and heartbreak, even—and awe. Because there’s more to this world than what we see on the surface. When we take the time to look deeper, we see the one who made it so wonderful, the Creator behind every leaf and laugh and life.

From Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl by N.D. Wilson:

“This world is beautiful but badly broken. St. Paul said that it groans, but I love it even in its groaning. I love this round stage where we act out the tragedies and the comedies of history. I love it with all its villains and petty liars and self-righteous pompers. I love the ants and the laughter of wide-eyed children encountering their first butterfly. I love it as it is, because it is a story, and isn’t stuck in one place. It is full of conflict and darkness like every good story. And like every good story, there will be an ending. I love the world as it is, because I love what it will be.”

Let us not forget that last part. This world is a wonderful place. And, in time, it will only become even more wonderful.

Find Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl by N.D. Wilson on Amazon. (I received a copy of this book from Booksneeze to review.)

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