Call it slowing down, chalk it up to my emotionally charged hormones, or explain it as a being in a contemplative state of mind...Whatever you want to label it, these last few weeks are bringing out the writer in me as my mind fills with thoughts and ponderings, constantly. My body needs rest and craves it, but my mind doesn't always get the memo. Sometimes I think I know just how Mary (as in Mary, the mother of Jesus) felt when scripture says "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." (Luke 1:19) There is something about the end of a pregnancy, something about the beginning of new chapter, something about the sanctity of new life that causes so many feelings where words fail. It's as if our Mommy hearts know we are standing and walking on Holy ground through this miracle of birth and where we cannot articulate the magnitude of all that is happening, we command our souls to at the very least, remember this. To cherish it. To not forget what this was like.
I've been storing up so many thoughts and thinking back on each time that I was at the end, about to welcome a new child into my arms. I've realized, now that I'm embarking on the third time around the block, I've got a few things to share. I hesitate to say it's wisdom I've gained, knowing I have SO much to learn and the scope of my parenting abilities only stretches to 5 years of on the job training. What I do have is experience and a heart that longs to walk with other Moms-to-be, with an arm of encouragement wrapped around tired shoulders and words that give life and comfort in a season where guilt and second-guessing oneself and identity crises often take over. I'm looking back today at a Mom to be, before one child, and then two, and now three changed her world. If I could rewind the tape and tell her then what I know today, this is a little of what I'd say...
Dear First time Mom to be,
As you near the end of this unbelievable pregnancy, hang on to that hat you are wearing on your head! You've watched this body of yours grow and stretch and adapt in crazy ways for the last 9 months and with each week you've celebrated the developments of this little girl you've yet to meet. All of those kicks and flips and flutters will soon be a distant memory, but her presence in your heart and life has only just begun. If I could encourage you, I would tell you to be confident in the way God has made YOU to mother HER. He chose YOU for HER and you do have instincts and nurturing abilities that He gave you to meet her needs. Don't worry so much about how you'll do it or if you're doing it like everyone else. Be confident in your own skin and more importantly, in the strength and the wisdom that the Lord will give you. And know that He will give that to you! Ask Him daily for advice. When you are overwhelmed, and you will be frequently, tell Him about it first. Let Him be your savior and don't look to your husband to make everything better or to know how you feel. He can't and He doesn't. But God can and God does. Trust Him. Invite Him into this parenting journey and marvel at the ways He continually meets YOUR needs too.
You've read the books, you've bought all the gear, you've arranged everything to be "just so" but get ready for all of that planning to go right out the window! Nothing prepares you for life with YOUR child like living life with your child. Everything you did was good, but it won't last in its' ordered state forever! The control you thought you once had? Be prepared to realize that it's fleeting and you never really had it anyway. From this point on your life will not feel so much like YOUR life anymore. This one little person, so tiny and so sweet, will change everything about you. Who you are, who you want to become, what is important to you, what your purpose is...motherhood doesn't define all of those questions with answers, but it sure stirs them up in you. Embrace the changing of you. Some of the physical changes are hard to swallow for awhile...yes, eventually you'll wear "normal" clothes again and feel like a part of the human race once more. But as time takes over and has her way, let the Lord use this new role He's given you to make some changes that need to be made. If marriage is your first round of raw sanctification, parenting is the tidal wave of reality about how selfish you really are and how desperately you need Jesus!
And this little girl that you are waiting to hold and kiss and embrace? She is a thousand times more JOY than you could ever imagine. She is your whole heart, wrapped up in a soft pink blanket, and given to you to raise. She will thrill you, delight you, invigorate you, frustrate you, challenge you, and adore you. No one will have eyes for her like you and your husband and no gift you've ever been given by another person will come close to the gift God gave you when he created her. She will fill your home with so much pink, with laughter and pretend play, make-believe, every disney princess ever created, and all things GIRL. And you will love it like you never thought you could! So relax, take a deep breath...you will survive labor and delivery and in a few short days, you'll even forget the pain because one look at her tiny face will do you in and make you want to do this all over again someday. Praise the Lord on the days that you can't believe you get to do this and praise Him again on the days you want to crawl under a rock and escape. He allows both for a reason and He wants to do a greater work in you as you long to see Him do a great work in HER too. You've never known joy like this and you've never experienced the Fatherhood of God like this, until you become a parent.
SOAK. IT. UP. Take pictures. Get out the video camera. Write down things you want to remember. Don't wish for her to rush from one milestone to the next, it just goes so fast...faster than you can possibly imagine. Enjoy the good and forget the bad. Be patient with your spouse and don't forget him in the new struggle to meet this little girls' needs. Spend your days caring for her and loving her well, but don't give her all of you so that when he comes home there is nothing left for him too. He needs you and you need him. This will become a new challenge and a new struggle in your marriage. Work on it. Address it. Apply the grace of the gospel all over it. And schedule date nights often! Like seriously, make that a BIG priority.
You never could have imagined the intensity of THIS, right???
God is SO good.
Dear Second time Mom to be...
Yes you, the one in active labor trying to force a smile in between horrific contractions...get ready sister. You might want to drink a strong coffee before you get to the hospital. Or a cold coke. Or anything else that might give you a boost. You are definitely going to need it! The first time at this was magical, this time will be character producing. It will not kill you, but you will feel that way until you finally get to see that little face.
Things are already a little bit different this time around, aren't they? For one thing you are leaving her in the care of someone else for a few days while you bring another little person into the world. Both of those things are major changes for you and it's ok to cry on the way to the hospital. Blame it on the pain, because that will be worth crying over too, but while your heart feels so torn in two just remember that God will see you through this. Both the feelings AND the pain, and while I'm being blunt, all the hard days to come.
The thought of baby #2 joining your little family has been dreamy but as your dear friend, let me provide a little dose of reality...this is going to be hard. Like really, really hard. Two kids 18 months apart is not for wimps. You will have many moments to come that feel extremely overwhelming and that's because they are. You are about to be in the most intense season of your life when you are essentially raising two babies who need you to do almost everything for them. The demands are high, the exhaustion level is crazy and you really never get a break. BUT... The rewards are many and there enough glimpses of sweetness to carry you from hour to hour. You thought you were depending on the Lord before, but now you will understand the need for greater dependence on Him like never before! Everything will be difficult for awhile, it's just the nature of having a newborn and a toddler. But there will be light at the end of the tunnel soon enough. That's the thing with this parenthood deal, it just keeps changing and these kids just keep growing. And both are a good thing! And remember the advice I gave you about time with your husband after your first was born? Well intensify that advice and work even harder at that than before.
Be patient with your spouse and don't forget him in the new struggle to meet TWO little people's needs. Spend your days caring for them and loving them well, but don't give them all of you so that when he comes home there is nothing left for him too. He needs you and you need him. This has become a consistent challenge now and a growing struggle in your marriage. Work on it. Address it. Apply the grace of the gospel all over it. If you don't get a grip on the priority of your marriage now, it will hurt you and your children later. So schedule date nights often! Get creative, learn how to stretch every dollar and do what you can to take advantage of family and friends who offer to watch the kids. Without a solid foundation at home, things will be harder than you could imagine. Give each other more grace than you extend to anyone else. Forgive, forgive, and forgive some more. Sleep deprivation and stress do not help a marriage thrive, but Jesus can meet you in the midst of the madness and work miracles to knit your hearts together. Let Him in and trust Him to hold the two of you together.
And now that there is a little boy in the house? Embrace blue!! And green, and brown and all things BOY in the process. Like trucks, balls, and noise. SO MUCH NOISE!!! Enjoy the rainbow loads of laundry you get to do now, loads of pinks and purples will be balanced by loads of greens and blues. This is an incredible privilege to care for a family. It's hard to keep a clean house, don't worry about that so much. You are basically in survival mode for at least the first year of having two kiddos. Be smart about what you can handle and let go of all the rest. Don't say "yes" to everything you used to do or even want to do yet. In time you'll be able to add things back into your schedule but for now the greatest gift you can give yourself is an open schedule and few commitments. This will give you the time you need to care for your husband and children, which will truly consume the majority of days. Naptimes will be precious blocks of time. Rest. Enjoy them. Do what you want to do and embrace the chance for a break. Don't kill yourself to be productive. You will always have things to do around the house and the years of being productive are not right now. However, the craziest thing begins to happen in the midst of all the chaos...
...suddenly as you are going about your day, sticking to a well-oiled schedule, you realize that things are getting just a little bit easier! The kids are growing up, handling more, and gaining independence. What once was crazy exhausting and super tiring is all of the sudden not so bad. Baby ways start to disappear and big kid stuff replaces them. You were grounded for awhile with two, not able to just be out and about for fear of naps being missed or someone melting down. But in time all of that changes too. Activities start coming your way and choices about preschool and school creep up. And you realize just how fleeting this childhood thing is, how long the days are but how quickly the years go by. It will not be easy with two, there is double the work and double the stress but to see your kids learn to love one another and to enjoy your days as a little family unit...that all brings double the JOY and double the LOVE with it too!
Hang on for the ride and praise the Lord through the good times and the bad. If nothing else gets done except time with Jesus and needs being met, that is the mark of a great day! A productive day! Multiple kids mean multiple pulls on you all day long. You will so often feel like everyone needs you for everything and your tank will border on empty most of the time if you aren't careful to fill it up daily. You can't do this filling on your own or apart from the Lord though. He can and will give you all that you need when you come to Him and ask. So do that. Don't get hindered by rules or legalism in what that looks like. Just come as you are, dirty hair and stretched out body. Seek Him and He will be found by you every minute of the day. And that's how you survive motherhood!
One day and one minute at a time.
Be intentional to make memories, lots of them, and stay unified with your husband as the kids grow and wear you both down! He is your partner in this and your kids need to see you respecting him and admiring him for all he does too. They will benefit for life from the influence of a Godly Daddy in their life, do whatever you can to support him and encourage this relationship. Celebrate the ways their Daddy is different than you are, realize that he brings something to their life that you can't and that they desperately need. God designed him for your kids benefit too, don't criticize his way of doing things. This might kill you when you see him prepare their food or forget to dress them in something they might need. Bite your tongue when you can and just let him be free to be their Daddy, in the ways that he knows how. Your way isn't always perfect, although it will always seem that way to you! He's got some great ideas and wisdom too, let him lead your family and see how the Lord blesses all of you for it.
The time just goes so fast. Enjoy it as much as possible! Soon these days will be a memory too...
God is SO good.
Dear Third time Mom to be,
Well, just when life seemed to be "do-able" once more, here we go again! This time I can't speak from experience, the road ahead is all brand new and just waiting for lessons to be learned and memories to be made. I can't share much except apply what I know to be true. Motherhood is a high calling and parenthood, a privilege. Children are a gift from God. These childbearing years won't last forever, there will be an end to this season too. Because only God knows what lies ahead, make the most of this chance to love another little person. Don't let the long days and short nights go by without thanking God for their presence once again. Hold that baby a lot, let your kids love on him like crazy and store up all that you can in your heart.
Prepare as best as you can but know that you'll never be totally ready! Thankfully this pregnancy has already helped you let go of so much that normally bogs you down...don't be a slave to the house, let the messes happen if it means that you get a nap and your kids have a great day. Make Jesus a part of their days too, invite him into the day and into your home always. Keep impressing His truth on their hearts and know that more than any lesson or activity they could participate in, that investment will reap rewards that last into Eternity. And PRAY. PRAY. PRAY. More than ever before, when your hands are tied and your body is weary, spend your time at the feet of Jesus and talk to him about everything. Your greatest gift to these kids will not be homemade meals or fun vacations, but a Mom who prays daily and often for her kids. Their lives will be different and God will bless them for your faithfulness. Make that your greatest priority. Faithfulness to your Savior.
Look for ways to build in family time and help your kids foster good relationships with each other. They will likely have those sibling relationships long after you have left this earth. Teach them to honor one another, to be kind, to use words that build each other up, to forgive, to be patient and a million other things too. You are their first teacher and you and your husband's voices speak louder than any others into their lives. Use your influence wisely.
Have fun in your house! Be silly! Be a safe place for them to be themselves and to be as quirky as God made them to be. Let home be their haven, but let it also be a place where the doors open to others and where they learn to welcome in other people. Don't be so busy in your own lives that you forget to see other people who need to know Jesus or need to be loved too. And speaking of love, make that the hallmark of your family life. Love, grace, forgiveness, and patience. Those are qualities the Lord loves and they are things that will set your home apart from the cut-throat nature of this world. Don't withhold love, ever. You've been loved much so that you can love much. Spend yourself wildly in this area.
Everything about these last 5 years has been incredible. Just amazing!!! There were hard years when you wondered if the Lord was saying no to the dream of children and a family...
...but look at what He has done!! Your once empty arms now overflow with little ones. What a blessing!!
This family He has given you is such a gift!
As you wait for the days to end before your next bundle of blue joins the pack, you would be a fool to doubt that the Lord won't also bless the coming years as the 5 of you grow together. He promises to never abandon you or forsake you, so don't let fear of the unknown rob you of a minute of the peace He gives. He is all to you and will always be the greatest piece of this puzzle.
Remember and thank God often that you have been given a man who is kind, trustworthy, patient, fun, wise and Godly. Adding another baby to the mix will require more of both of you, but God will equip each of you and will give you the grace you need to love each other deeply through it all. You know by now there will be moments of tension and lots of sleep deprived reactions that will need to be confessed and forgiven. Do that quickly and generously. Life is just too short to hold grudges and be angry, especially with your spouse. Link arms and be loyal to one another...the kids are about to outnumber you!!
Stay strong and united together :) Someday it will be just the two of you again and those days will be much more welcomed with years of love and forgiveness between you.
For now, Walker is unknown to you in size and appearance, but he's already claimed a piece of your hearts and made his way into your family. Get ready. Life is about to change forever, nothing about this chapter will be the same. But as you already know, that is a good thing too! The month of June will always be the month that God gave you Walker Cole Armstrong and the month he turned a little girl into the Oldest sister, a little boy into a Big brother, and a baby into the littlest Armstrong.
Miracle upon miracle.
If you remember nothing of all this experience and advice, remember this and it will make your future very secure and full of hope:
God is SO, SO good!!!!