Choosing Your Absence from Something You Love: 5 Things I’m Learning

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Five posts into writing a blog series I loved in early 2018, “The Sacred Art of Receiving Your Right-Now Life,” I found myself drowning in a sea of very normal roles and responsibilities. I’ve been living out the message of that series in real time instead of writing it down and hitting the “publish” button like I’d planned.

There was nothing crisis-like or dramatic about any of it, only that all the things conspired against my writing all at the same time. Or at least that’s how it felt.

  • Married with three children
  • I have a job, but it’s not full time.
  • And because it’s not full-time, a year ago I also took on a couple of freelance jobs that became triple the work of what I expected. (Lesson learned.)
  • My kids were doing all of their kid things. Two of them are teenagers, which means there’s no end to the shenanigans (and maternal angst.)
  • From February until the end of school, I lived in constant stress. Then summer and working from home with kids. Bless it.
  • After nearly 20 years of teaching Economics to college students, my husband began a brand new career last August. We’re grateful and excited; it’s such a good fit for him. But it’s meant long hours, working on Saturdays, and yours truly filling in the gaps. It won’t always be like this, but building a business requires a great deal of heart and hustle (and uncertainty.)
  • Also? Our girl graduates from high school in less than 8 weeks, and this year has stretched each of us in ways we couldn’t have known ahead of time.

 

Guys, I’m tired.

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But do you see what I mean? These are normal things, good things. Every role and responsibility I have means that I’ve been entrusted with gifts and people and opportunities to nurture and steward. But good things still come with hardship.

Which brings me to the first thing I’m learning during a season of living my stories instead of writing them down:

1. Too many good things at the same time are still too many things.

Sometimes we can’t help it. Sometimes we really are at the mercy of season and circumstance. But sometimes we let too many things in during a season that’s already sagging under the weight of all the good things.

Like a generous host throwing a grand party, we leave the door open and the lovely guests keep filing in, champagne glasses held high in celebration. Next thing you know, the floor has collapsed under the weight of this fine party. Here’s the part where I chuckle because this exact thing literally happened last year in the town where I live. It’s fine. No one was seriously injured. It’s a metaphor that works, is what I’m saying.

2. Life right now is much more about managing my energy than managing my time.

I’ve only fully realized this over the last several months and guys, it’s a game-changer. Busy as I am, I have actual time on my hands. We all do if we’re brutally honest. What I don’t have leftover is energy. And the things I really miss (like regular writing) require a mental and emotional energy that’s currently taken up by other required roles and responsibilities.

Once I realized this, I was able to let go of some of the guilt and striving, and replace it with grace and acceptance. I’m still sad about it. But all of my brain power and emotional reserves are currently spoken for. (See #4 if you want to know where it’s going.)

3. Structure is my friend.

A lot of us struggle with doing tasks that we don’t feel like doing. We procrastinate, distract ourselves, and make excuses. I have a friend who’s currently writing a book. As in, she’s under contract to write a book. One morning she texted me, “Haven’t gotten one word down on paper this morning but my hair and make-up look exceptionally good.” I laughed so hard because THIS IS WHAT WE DO.

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And some of us struggle more than others. (Ahem, it’s me.) Add to this equation that I work mostly from home, which means it’s easy for work tasks and mom / wife / home / life tasks to bleed together into an existence where I always feel “on” and never “off.” My brain is in a constant state of whiplash from switching back and forth between vastly different roles and tasks.

“Enough,” I said to myself in January. “You are a grown-up and you can do this differently.”

Now I try to have three days a week when I work full-time and two days a week that are for my other “job,” the one where I plan the meals, get the groceries, run the errands, fill out the paperwork, email the teachers and coaches, decipher FAFSA forms, do the laundry, (take a nap,) etc.

We’re all different but my brain works better when it has a long runway in the same direction. I’m more efficient with the work I do for my job when my brain gets in that zone and can just stay there for hours. The same is true for domestic life. It only makes sense to structure life in accordance with how my brain works. It’s required all sorts of rearranging and it will never be a perfect system, but it’s given me a renewed sense of hope that I can get through this season with a measure of wholeness and stability.

I can’t stress enough that this doesn’t always work perfectly. The last few weeks my rhythms have been off and I’ve had to accept it. But each week I begin again and ask for grace. Always, I try to hold it loosely.

(If you’d like to learn more about this, I highly recommend this podcast episode by Emily P. Freeman: Design a Rhythm of Work — Theme Days!)

4. If you’re living in a pivotal life season, even one that’s not a crisis, it will take up more space in your head and heart than you realize.

No one can tell you what it’s like during the last year before your child becomes, in theory, an adult.

And just like that, the tears start flowing. (I was doing fine until now.)

I recently told a friend that I feel a low-grade sadness all the time. I miss this girl of mine already and she hasn’t even gone anywhere yet.

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I think it’s because of this. When you hold that baby in your arms, 18 years feels like a very long time. It’s overwhelming, how long 18 years seems when you’re on the front end. But here we are. Though I hope and pray that our relationship will be always be close, that I’ll always be a trusted voice in her life, I know that most of the formative work is done. It is sobering beyond words, partly because I see all that I did wrong, all that I omitted, all that I didn’t know and now I do.

It’s also this. Senior year means we’re all living in the tension between a child still being under our roof and soon not being under our roof. Giving as much freedom as possible within boundaries is messy. It looks different for every child and it may exhaust you like nobody’s business.

Back in October, I drew up a “Senior Syllabus,” something we could all refer to throughout the twists and turns of this year. Sure, it’s been somewhat helpful but the truth is, there’s no real guidebook for this. We’re all simply making our way one day at a time. I pray a lot and I process it with a couple of trusted people in my life. I probably need to have a good cry or ten but I’m afraid that if I give myself permission to do that, I won’t crawl out of the corner for days.

5. Sometimes you have to choose your absence from the thing you love most.

Because there are people you love more.

For me, that thing has been my own writing. Again, it’s not that I don’t have leftover time. Monday I spent six hours of my day writing and editing content for my job. By 8 pm, I had no mental energy left, even though I didn’t go to bed for another two and a half hours. Sure, I could have come downstairs to my desk for personal writing time, but with what brain-power? (See point #2.)

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Five-ish years ago I read a little book called Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung. He said many wise and timely things but here’s the phrase that’s stayed with me.

We must choose our absence, our inability, and our ignorance – and choose wisely. The sooner we embrace this finitude, the sooner we can be free.

In the last year, I’ve said no to speaking engagements that would have brought much personal joy and fulfillment. I said no to teaching a periodic  class, even though I miss teaching and would have loved it. I turned down additional freelance work even though the money was good.

And I’ve said no to regular writing and publishing my own words, for now, because it requires energy and intention I need to save for other things. Yes, it’s life-giving and makes me feel most like myself. And yes, this joy has a way of spilling over into my everyday life. But I tend to run after this joy, this work of my heart, with too much gusto, leaving my people in the wake. Though I desperately want to learn how to curb my own ambition and enthusiasm, I’m not there yet. And this high-stakes season is simply too precious and fragile to risk.

Even though I have so much to share with you.

I’ve been storing up posts and ideas in very organized and professional ways–scattered Word docs on my computer, iPhone notes, even an entire book I’ve outlined in a spiral notebook. I started it two years ago and I keep scribbling in it. I also want to write about teenagers–about daughters and about sons. I want to write about acceptance, doubt, everyday faith, and how the life of Christ has everything to teach us about receiving our right-now lives, even as we wait with hope.

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If you’re in a similar season of working, of waiting, of wondering if “your time” will ever come around, know that you’re in good company. And that company isn’t just me. It’s Jesus.

One of the things I’ve learned from studying his life is that God’s timing for our work is perfect, and that Christ himself is with us as we labor–whether it’s scrubbing the dishes (what I’m doing after I finish this,) helping with an overwhelming research paper on Macroeconomics and The Great Recession (what I’m doing after I finish the dishes #LordBeNear,) or being diligent in the work you’ve been paid to do (what I’m doing after I finish those other two things.)

As I labor in everyday ways, I invite Jesus, the one who filled the nets of his weary working friends with fish, helped them cook it up for breakfast, and then offered them a feast on the beach. This is his heart for us. He meets us as we struggle with discouragement, fatigue, and lack. He cares about all of our work, and delights to show up alongside us with compassion, grace, and sometimes a feast. (John 21:1-14)

Whatever season you’re in, I pray you will experience Christ’s presence with you, and know his heart of abundance for you.

Thanks for being here. (And for reading all the words. I sure know how to make up for lost time.)

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I do post on Instagram pretty regularly @marianvischer. It’s a little bit of personal life (think college visits + laughable school projects + how I redid my kitchen backsplash with stickers,) a little bit of writing, a little bit of everyday beauty. In the last year I’ve enjoyed writing a couple of series there.

10 Things to Tell You Series last September, hosted by Laura Tremaine. Here’s a link to the first post in that series. 

12-Day Series with Hopewriters in January. Here’s a link to the first post in that series. 

When I do publish here, or if you’d like to stay in the loop with news I only share with subscribers, sign up in the email box and you’ll be the first to know all the things. : )

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10 Ways to Receive Your Summer Life with Less Envy and More Gratitude

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Last summer I wrote a post called “How to Receive Your Own Summer Life.” I bared my struggling summer soul, which has a way of overflowing with envy and discontentment during the season that’s supposed to be the happiest, most easygoing time of the year.

I’d love to report that I have matured a year later. Alas, I’m fighting for acceptance and gratitude all over again.

In the midst of this struggle, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it looks like at street level to receive my own summer life instead of pining for opportunities and experiences that aren’t mine to have. This post could be an instructive piece about the evils of envy and how we should instead be grateful and realize how #blessed we are.

And this is true. Envy is bad. Gratitude is where it’s at.

But if the truth doesn’t travel to my heart and make a home there, it’s all just knowledge. I need truth to link arms with me in everyday ways so that what’s in my head can sync with my heart and overflow with love into my real life.

Thus these 10 tactics or suggestions or considerations or whatever you want to call them. They’re helping me in my quest to receive a summer life that does not include an Airstream, a fancy vacation, super lazy days, or even our annual July trip to Michigan.

If your summer feels ordinary or less-than, if you’re fighting to receive your summer life too, I hope these truths set you free to embrace the summer you have, even if it’s not the summer you want to have.

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1. Don’t compare your sink full of dirty dishes with someone else’s summer highlight reel.

Imagine this moment: The day has just begun. You wake up to a headache, last night’s dishes, and children fighting over the iPod charger. You pour a cup of coffee and open Instagram or Facebook, only to see friends on an anniversary trip, skipping through the blue waters of Tahiti. They are so #blessed.

Suddenly your life is the worst.

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You do not appreciate your home, your night of sleep, the food in your pantry, or the fighting children. Because Tahiti.

But real life is not lived in highlight reel moments. When we receive those moments, they are worthy of celebrating. But the mundane moments matter too. And to begrudge them because everyone else seems to be living their best summer life now, well, it makes a mockery of our beautiful, ordinary lives.

 

2. Disconnect if it helps you stay present.

I know, I know. Being “present” is such a buzz word right now. But guess what? We’re still not doing it.

From time to time I simply have to go off social media and the internet. My emotional responses while scrolling through Instagram are almost always a barometer for the state of my soul. Judgmentalism? Envy? Eye-rolling? Anxiety? When those familiar companions show up, it’s time for me to walk away for a while.

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Whether it’s the envied experiences of others or an attention-grabbing post we just have to read, the truth is — we don’t have the capacity to handle all the input that’s catapulted at us day in and day out.

Last Saturday I left my phone on the kitchen counter and went for a walk in the hottest part of the day. I didn’t care; I just knew I needed the space to disconnect. As I walked and sweated and prayed, my head cleared and my soul breathed. An hour later I returned with peace and perspective, feeling more at home in my own life.

We’re the only ones who can put up boundaries and choose what we let in. Each one of us has different thresholds, but here are some things I’ve noticed about myself:

  • When I walk away from the online world, I’m more attentive to the little world that’s right in front of me.
  • I notice the gifts of my own life and feel content to tuck them away in my heart, just for me. 
  • I pay attention to the people who matter most. 
  • I’m more engaged and focused.
  • My mind feels less cluttered. 

I’m not hating on the internet or on social media. I became a writer because I started a blog ten years ago. I earn a living creating online content. I love Instagram. Some of my dearest friends are those I met through the blogosphere. But I’m learning when and how to draw boundaries that help me receive my own summer life instead of feeling like it doesn’t quite measure up.

 

3. Fight back with gratitude.

Apparently Ann Voskamp was on to something when she started that one thousand gifts thing. Here’s a little story from a few weeks ago:

I was in a beautiful place with people I love. But for two days, all of it was shrouded in gloom because I wasn’t getting my way about a few things. There were experiences I wanted to have and none of them were working out. For a while I clung to my resentment, miserable though I was, because there’s a sick sort of satisfaction we get from entitlement. Thankfully I got fed up with myself.

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“Fine!” I said to no one in particular. “I’ll start counting the gifts.”

By the time I’d named even a few things I was grateful for, the entitlement began to melt away and thankfulness took up residence in its place. Self-pity and  resentment are powerful emotions. But here’s the good news: gratitude is a powerful emotion too. It’s like Ann says, “Fight emotion with emotion.”

It works.

 

4. Remember that selfishness never takes a vacation.

It’s why families still fight at Disneyworld, the happiest place on earth.

This ever-present brokenness is something it’s taken us years to remember and to plan for. But summer, with its more relaxed schedule, special travel plans, and happy expectations, is one of those seasons when I subconsciusly expect all sunshine and no rain. Ironically, some of our worst marital conflicts have actually been on vacation. And some of our kids’ ugliest moments have also been on vacation.

Also, these lazy days of summer seem to bring out the worst sibling squabbles. IMG_4531

Knowing that brokenness travels with us wherever we go and accompanies our families in each and every season — it’s strangely helpful. When family togetherness goes off the rails, we don’t fall into a shock-induced despair. We know that we’re messy people living in a messy world. We look to God to fill us up with grace for ourselves and for our people.

Which is the perfect segue to my next point.

 

5. Lower your expectations.

I have an honorary doctorate in high expectations. This applies to myself and to those around me. Bless us all.

But when I allow for my life and my people to be messy, for things to not go as planned, we’re a much happier lot. I call it “expectational margin.” This point about low expectations may sound dismal and lazy, but I like to think of it as grace.

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I will forever love this photo of my niece. Is she depressed that she’s swimming in a rubbermaid container on Aunt Marian’s driveway and not at a beach resort? She is not. Tiny Tabitha has delightfully low expectations and is just happy to be here. #blessed

 

6. Know that every day doesn’t have to be a memory maker.

Raise your hand if it feels like there’s a lot of pressure to make all the summer days special-ish. We live in a Pinteresty, Instragrammy culture of bucket lists, of moments we can hashtag, of documenting every adorable experience. And while that can be fun, the cumulative effect is that it makes our everyday moments feel like they’re not measuring up.

My kids tend to remember summer not for all the special things we’ve done but for the break from school, the later bedtimes, the relaxed schedule, and watching TV together as a family. That’s how I remember the summers of my childhood too.

Summer is its own stand-alone kind of special. This reminds me that the pressure’s off.

 

7. Remember that the free stuff is often what we remember most and best.

My boys found a bunch of wiffle balls at the park and it was like Christmas.

My youngest son is watching dog training videos on YouTube.

My daughter and I are partaking in the glorious Ministry of Netflix again this summer.

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I was reflecting this week on what I loved most about summer as a kid:

  • Playing with kids at the church softball field and how the water fountain leaked enough for us to make mud pies in the red Carolina dirt
  • Riding my bike down to the creek and the freedom I felt
  • Watching the Sunday night ABC family movie
  • Having picnics in the living room
  • Catching fireflies

 

Childhood is its own sort of vacation.

 

8. Celebrate summertime with story time.

Novels, audiobooks, read-alouds, movies. Summer begs us to slow down and get lost in good stories.

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Even if I’m staying at home all summer, a good book or evening movie feel like ridiculous luxuries. Especially if there’s ice cream in the house.

 

9. Consider each summer season’s pros and cons.

Every season of parenthood has its summertime pros and cons. When my kids were little, taking them to the pool felt like an Olympic sport. {Guess what I don’t miss? Swim diapers.} But then those exhausting cherubs came home exhausted. They took naps and I had time to also take a nap or read a book or paint furniture or write. Bonus: They went to bed earlier and we enjoyed kid-free evenings.

These days they can get dressed and take showers and fix food ALL BY THEMSELVES. It’s glorious. But I’ve been crazy stressed because summer hasn’t felt relaxed. I’ve been driving people to and from places. A lot. And it’s a challenge to find long stretches of time during the day to get my work done.

It’s a busier summer because the people who live here are older and have more scheduled lives.

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They no longer go to bed early. (Boo!)  But we can all stay up late watching movies together that aren’t animated. (Yay!)

Each season has its own gifts and its own burdens. Being mindful of this reality helps me receive this current summer season with more grace and optimism.

 

10. Take time to nourish yourself.

I did an Instagram post a couple of weeks ago about how fixing myself a proper breakfast mid-morning changed the emotional trajectory of my day. I had been up half the night for no particular reason. Which meant I slept through my alarm. By the time I woke up, the kids were fighting and resistant to responsibility. I’d lost precious early-morning work hours, and I commenced to stressing and hollering.

My default is to grab coffee and race downstairs to crank out some work. But I went against my instinct. I slowed down. I cooked an actual meal for myself. I read for a few minutes. This 30 minute time-out nourished my body and my soul. It’s hard to be kind to others when you haven’t been kind to yourself.

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I really do love summer, but each year it’s an adjustment. This introvert mom has frayed nerves by the end of the day. Because I work from home but my kids are also at home, it gets a little cuckoo around here. Nourishing myself in small ways, like a real breakfast {or that ombre pink drink from Starbucks}, feels like kindness.

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I’d love to know how you receive your summer life. You can share in the comments, shoot me an e-mail, or leave your thoughts on social media.

Happy ordinary summering, everyone!


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For All the Defeated Moms {You’re Actually in a Good Place}

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It’s Mother’s Day weekend and that conjures up a million different feels depending on your relationship with your mother, your kids, or motherhood in general. Despite Consumerism’s conspiracy to convince us it’s all flowers and diamond heart necklaces designed by celebrities and fancy chocolates, we all know the truth. Mothers and kids and and mothering — it’s all downright complicated.

I have such mixed feelings about Mother’s Day {even though I love celebrating my own mom who is a saint for surviving the moodiest teenager in the history of the world.}

For me, my Mother’s Day ambivalence boils down to two things: 1.) I don’t deserve the hoopla, what with the yelling at kids and falling so short of my own standards. And 2.) I absolutely deserve ALL THE HOOPLA because motherhood is hard for this introvert mom who doesn’t love being needed and I am doing all the things for all the people and want some freaking credit. And also cake. {Which is a problem because I’m one week into Whole30, something I swore I’d never do. Give me all the sugar.}

So now even Mother’s Day lunch has become a metaphor for my ironic angst about all things motherhood.

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Anyway, you may or may not have noticed that the blog has been quiet. There’s no drama or scandal. This season of life simply isn’t accommodating to the writing life. I will weep if I write any more words about that so let’s move on.

Because I desperately miss this place and I miss all of you and I don’t want my blog to die from neglect, here’s an edited repost from the archives, just in time for Mother’s Day. It’s one of my favorites and, no surprise, I needed these words all over again. It’s as if I never wrote them. But I’m so glad I did and I think you need them too.

May you get all the hoopla and an extra-large piece of cake this Mother’s Day! You’ve earned it, despite what your ambivalent mom-self tells you. : )

Love, Marian

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When Motherhood Has You in the Valley of Defeat (a favorite post from the archives)

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Lately, I’ve been dropping my kids off at school in the morning, breathing a deep sigh of relief, and audibly saying “thank you” as I drive away in my dusty minivan. Is public school a means of grace? For me, right now, yes.

It’s safe to say that these are trying days in the parenting department. Not in an extreme, “I just bailed this one out of jail” sort of way but more of an “I’m absolutely clueless / I have no business being a mom / Everyone go away / Let me lie down” sort of way.

I never said I wore I supermom cape.

Last week I absolutely came to the end of myself with this whole mothering gig and it was really the most needful thing.

I sat at my desk, weary and overwhelmed. I prayed and cried and asked Jesus Himself to please show up with a miracle, to help me love in a way that transcends reason and rebellion and my own severe limitations.

And He did, gifting me to love in a way I’d never experienced. I had glimpses of wisdom that came out of nowhere. Compassion and real empathy sprung from a supernatural well. By Saturday I was like, “Yes! I can do this! We. Are. WINNING.”

Then Sunday showed up with more battles and stress and willfulness than I knew what to do with — theirs and mine. Just like that, I relapsed into the familiar comforts of preachiness and anger and entitlement and why is this sooooo hard?

Dealing with behavior is one thing. Caring for sick souls is quite another.

While I don’t feel I know much as a mother, I am 100% convinced that moralism and charts and systems may get the desired results on the outside, but they won’t begin to touch the inside. In fact, good behavior may be so convincing to both kids and parents that everyone ignores the heart altogether. But a sick heart will kill a person, even one that looks perfectly healthy on the outside. Ask me how I know.

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And so our home lately has felt like a triage unit with gurneys of wounded people and splayed-open hearts — theirs and mine.

On days of victory and progress, I feel like I’ll never taste defeat again. But then I do and such defeat makes me want to throw in the towel and tell everyone to please raise themselves from now on. I’ll provide groceries and find them a good therapist. I’ll even keep driving them around. But I cannot maintain a surgery ward.

Winning is a distant memory.

It’s in these valleys of defeat that I remember what carried me to the mountaintop of short-lived victory to begin with: being in a prior valley of defeat.

I face the uncomfortable truth that the Christian life is not about sustained winning. It is about sustained dependance.

When will I learn?

So I once again sink into the ground of humility and throw myself at the feet of mercy. I ask for power that I don’t have and am too tired to muster anyway. I ask for grace that is laughable. {Because true grace always is.}

I ask for the courage, companionship, and example that is Christ Himself — a gloriously scandalous God who knows that undeserved love, not lists and lectures, motivates a person to love — be it parent, child, or spouse. We love because we were first loved in such a way that it still makes us our heads spin. {Please God, let it make our heads spin.}

Always, we can shake off defeat and begin again because of the love-drenched grace and compassion we ourselves have been shown.

Dear defeated mom, motivate with love as you are motivated by love. Because love begets love. And isn’t real obedience simply an expression of real love?

At the end of a long week that followed an even longer week, I realize that being a mother is simply being a wounded healer, ministering to and interceding for sick souls with the presence and power of a loving Jesus.

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You may also enjoy these favorite posts

How a 92-year-old woman taught me the value of my right-now work

For the Overwhelmed Mom of Little Kids: 8 Things I Wish I’d Known

The Ministry of Netflix

For the Mom Who Needs a Simpler Way

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