Boy or Girl-You’re Perfect for Us

It’s Thanksgiving Day. The smell of comfort foods permeates the kitchen. In an effort to distract myself from my violently growling stomach, I decide to occupy the unpredictable period of waiting time before my aunt will beckon us to wash up and pray. I sway rhythmically around the kitchen with my cousin’s two month old baby girl nestled comfortably against my chest. It’s her first Thanksgiving and my first time meeting her. One room over, I catch a glimpse of my five month old baby boy being passed around jovially and showered with love, baby talk and adoration from family members. It’s his first Thanksgiving, too. 

OOhs and Aahs echo throughout the house in response to every baby coo. As our family basks in the joy of new babies to be held and new memories to be made, a relative approaches me. I continue to sway, eyes partially closed, inhaling a refreshing whiff of the baby head resting on my bosom. The unnamed relative looks at the baby girl in my arms then back at me with inquiring eyes. 

“Aww, look at that- so sweet. Do you like your boy? Or do you wish you had a girl, instead?” She touches my shoulder and waits for an answer. 

The new baby smell immediately dissipates. My swaying body freezes into a statue-like stance. A combination of shock and annoyance delays my reaction. 

Did I hear her correctly? 

I take a deep breath and refrain from responding with sass and choice words. 

“My boy is perfect and I love him. I can’t imagine him being anyone else. Also- that’s an inappropriate question that you probably shouldn’t ask anyone else.” I force a smile and dance my way into another room. 

Perhaps her question was meant as a genuine expression of curiosity. For me, however, it opens the door for ruminating over several similar comments that I have been hearing for months. 

***

As soon as  I found out I was expecting, the redundant question from friends, family members, and strangers in checkout lines, began to arise–“Do you want a boy or a girl?”

“I want whatever God gives us. I want a healthy baby.” 

This cliche response became a rehearsed answer to every person who inquired about the gender of my unborn baby. Repeating it monotonously like a script, I’d answer through clenched teeth and a forced, half smile–partly peeved and partly confused as to why it seemed to matter so much. Deep down, my heart longed for whichever gender would be easiest the first time around. I know how to do pageants, princesses and ponytails. I am an expert at curtsies, curated tea parties, and cute clothes. Feminine is familiar- my comfort zone. Could the familiar thing be the “easier” thing?

***

I sprawl out on the bed of the exam room, my tiny baby bump barely noticeable. This pregnancy remains a secret to most people beyond our inner circle. My swelling stomach is in the awkward stage that leaves inquiring minds wondering whether I’m growing a baby or just carrying the weight of a bloated belly after too much holiday indulging. It is a few weeks too soon for an anatomy scan with my regular physician. Eager for a Christmas gender reveal, my older sister gifted us with an early, 3D scan to find out the sex of our baby. 

The ultrasound technician places gel on my stomach and gently begins dispersing it, waiting for its contents to help unlock the mystery inside of me.

“Ready to find out what you’re having?” The crescendo in the technician’s voice communicates that she sees something we don’t. 

Meanwhile, the foreign figure on the screen that she tells us is a baby, presents to us as an indiscernible blob. Slowly, she zooms in and a clearer picture begins to form. I make out what appears to be two sticks with a tiny bean in the center. In that moment, the click of the cursor makes a circle around the bean and confirms what I know- it’s a penis. 

“It’s a boy!” The technician claps in excitement as she announces the news to us. 

A boy. We are officially going to have a son.

With a feeling of relief that the guessing is over, I turn to my husband. He is smiling, but the depths of his pupils reveal an element of surprise. Walking into this appointment, he was one of the 90% of people who predicted that our firstborn would be a girl. The thought of daddy’s little princess melted his heart. I look at him and wonder if the news of our growing boy has melted any of his expectations for entering into fatherhood. 

“Are you disappointed, babe? You seem kind of quiet”, I inquire defensively.

“No- not at all- just surprised. But I’m really excited! I just have to change my mindset and prepare myself for a boy now,” he reassures me. 

***

I leisurely peruse the baby aisles at Target. It’s my ideal cardio. During my stroll, I am hyper aware of the contrasting messages being communicated on one side of the clothing section in comparison to the other. 

Princess, Diva, and Cutie Pie onesies fill the girl’s side.  Troublemaker, Messmaker, and Little Monster onesies fill the boy’s side.  

I scrunch up my eyebrows and keep walking and thinking. 

Don’t little boys and little girls BOTH parade around in poopy diapers with smudges of food stuck to their faces? Don’t they BOTH destroy tidy rooms and disturb the peace? Aren’t they ALL in some way or another “troublemakers”, “messmakers”, and “little monsters”?  Is society assigning my baby boy these less appealing descriptions before he even enters the world? And does this mean that raising a boy will be the harder thing?

***

It’s gender reveal day for an in law who is due a few months before me. She and her pregnant belly take their place in line next to her husband and their two daughters. The rest of our family members form a semicircle that covers half of the circumference of the back yard. With confetti poppers in hand, we count down in unison like it’s New Years Eve…

Three, two, one………Pop! 

Confetti bursts into the autumn air and rains down gleefully, landing on the grass and creating a sea of hot pink. 

It’s a girl! 

In the midst of the excited reactions and chatter, I glance over at the expecting mom and dad. Their expressions are communicating happiness, surprise, and longing simultaneously. After two girls, they were hoping their last baby would be a boy.

“Well I guess it’s up to you guys to have the baby boy this year!” they say.

I begin thinking of the diverse families among our circle of loved ones. Families with packs of all boys who are growing into best friends, entertaining (sometimes aggressive) playmates, and their brother’s keeper. Families with all girls–sisters  (sometimes frenemies)– who are building girl power and sisterhood. Families who have at least one of both genders– balancing an eclectic blend of trucks and dolls, Elsa and Superman, ninja trucks and easy bake ovens. I picture my friends with longing hearts, barren wombs, and failed adoptions, praying desperately for a baby to call their own, regardless of the gender. 

They are equal blessings, these little boys and little girls. Knit together in the womb by the hands of the same, intentional God with no superiority tied to their sex. He knows who and what they will be long before an anatomy scan or their first, long anticipated breath. And while they each come tied up in different packages with different aspects to enjoy– they are all a gift. One of them is not easier, more fun or more significant than the other. 

And we are equal mamas. Some of us wear the banner of boy mom or girl mom, seeking comradery with other women who understand our specific family dynamic. We assign ourselves other labels–breastfeeding moms, pumping moms, stay-at-home moms, working moms–all in an attempt to feel known and understood. But comradery is truly found with any woman who knows the highs and lows that accompany being called “mom”. Regardless of our differences, we trudge through the trenches of motherhood with a collective combination of joy and sorrow. We are all simultaneously innovative and ill equipped, masters and lifelong learners, exhausted and empowered in our attempts at raising our children into decent human beings. 

***

Another baby has taken residence in my womb. As I slowly announce to friends and loved ones, I hear the same question that they asked me with the last baby. 

“Do you want a boy or a girl?”

This time, more people are vocal about wishing for the opposite sex.

“I’m really hoping for a girl for you guys this time!”

***

I glance down at my belly, protruding more evidently by the day. 

“Who are you, in there?” I whisper, as I press a curious hand to my stomach.

I daydream about who both children will become and what that means for me. Will I spend my days with a voice going hoarse as I yell from the bleachers of organized sports games? Will I laugh, clap and overload my camera roll with pictures and videos as I sit in the audience of dance recitals? Will I spend their teenage years drowning in piles of mud stained laundry or dealing with sassy attitudes? Will I cry watching daughters say “yes” to the perfect wedding dress and tiptoe tearfully down the aisle towards their spouses? Or will I watch my boys share the hearts that once beat in my stomach with another woman and cry on their shoulders during a mother-son dance? Will these children of mine even fit into the stereotypical categories of who boys and girls should be? 

I touch my stomach again and smile. 

“I don’t care if you’re a boy or a girl, I whisper. You are ours– perfect for us, God ordained, and just who we need.”

Personal Pandemic

My first, full blown panic attack happened when I was 16. 

This memory is planted in my mind, like a seed buried deeply into the earth with layers of dirt and grime attempting to cover it entirely. 

The memory starts like this: It is an otherwise normal Sunday morning. As I roll out of bed with intentions of getting dressed for church, I am met with trembling legs and a queasy stomach. Things escalate quickly. In the span of ten minutes, I throw up the liquid contents of my empty stomach and find myself laid out on the cold, bathroom tiles, desperately holding on to my racing heart. I call out to my mother, who immediately shows up at the bathroom door to assist me. Her face goes pale; her state of distress almost matching mine. With makeup brushes strewn across the bathroom counter and my frail body strewn across the floor, she decides to call 911. 

One of the perks of growing up in a small town is the speed of emergency responders. Out of fear that I might be going into cardiac arrest, the police are the first to arrive, equipped with defibrillators to help me catch my breath. Minutes later, the ambulance pull frantically into our front yard and carry me onto their truck to assess the situation. After taking my vitals and running a few simple tests, it is determined that I don’t need to be taken to the hospital.

There is no diagnosis made; no explanation attached to what is going on inside of me. This is only the beginning of my personal pandemic. This new, unnamed ailment spreads rapidly throughout my body. I feel it starting in my brain, extending through my limbs, and infecting every fiber of my being. I want it to stop. 

***

For months, I have appointments with multiple medical professionals- pediatricians, cardiologists, neurologists. And one trip to the ER, where I end up having a mini seizure on the tiny bed of one of the triage rooms. During these months, my body is hooked up to countless EKGs and my brain is scanned by countless imaging machines. The body and mind that I’ve known for 16 years has become foreign- an enigma both to me and my loved ones. 

One doctor’s visit results in the discovery of what appears to be another unknown issue. The neurologist sits me down with an expression of regret, showing me the abnormal MRA results, and the tiny spot they are concerned about. 

“It looks like a pseudoaneurysm,” he says. Then proceeds to inform my teenage self of the potential health implications, including losing all motor capabilities on the right side of my body.

The doctors conduct an emergency procedure while my family offers up emergency prayers to God. The procedure reveals a miracle- no pseudoaneurysm in sight, after a closer look. I say a prayer of thanksgiving- grateful that this exam shows I am healthy, but frustrated that I still don’t feel like myself. 

“What is wrong with me? And if all of these different doctors say that everything looks normal now, why do I feel so abnormal?” The lack of an explanation plagues me and perplexes me.

***

Suddenly, I’m confined to my bed. This body that all the doctors confirm to be “healthy and okay” is failing me. It can’t sleep more than a few hours at night, but unwillingly sleeps throughout the day. My diet consists of Special K cereal bars and Cran-grape juice, but rejects my mom’s home cooked meals. I’m unable to get up for school. This stranger I’ve become is not interested in cheerleading practice, theater, or my other long list of extracurricular activities. The few times that I try to get myself to my high school and make it through a full day, I end up desperately calling my mom to sign me out, before lunch. After each escape from school, I return home to my bed-my safe space.

The next few months find me homebound; accepting visits from friends and family who aren’t exactly sure what is wrong with me or how they can be helpful when I’m like this. This sickness is contagious. As it brings me low, it brings everyone else low. I see it in their faces when they come near me- hopeless looks of sympathy and confusion.

Leaving the house for anything just feels too daunting and dangerous. On most Sundays, at least I make it to church. But I sit on the pew, clinging like a toddler to my mother-barely able to breathe between the lines of the hymns that we sing. 

God I know you’re in control, so please take this feeling away from me. I want a new mind and body-a normal, teenage mind and body-fixated on lighter, silly concerns. I don’t want to feel like I’m suffocating everyday. Make me new. Help me breathe.

***

After being misdiagnosed and referred to all the wrong doctors, I finally find myself where I needed to be all along. Therapy. This debilitating, personal pandemic that is spreading wildly through my veins and obliterating every aspect of my life is finally given a name- Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

How did they miss it? Why did it take so long to diagnose? Better late than never.

Each session that lands me on the blue couch of the therapist’s office, feels lighter. From the seat of that couch, I unload the stories of my past, the struggles of my present and the paralyzing fears of my future. The therapist listens carefully and explains her understanding of how all of my life experiences lead me to her office to seek help and fight for my sanity. 

I show up weekly. I do the therapeutic homework assignments. And in the time between my appointments, I pray fervently for strength. I am prescribed tiny pills that I swallow daily, in hopes of feeling brand new. Slowly, I feel myself healing.

Renewal. 

I can feel it in my bones- the reparation of the parts of me that anxiety disintegrated. The remainder of high school regains some normalcy and a shot at rediscovering myself. Things are getting better, so by my freshman year of college, I feel confident about weaning myself off of the tiny, white pills. With no more meds in the picture, less honorable seasons sometimes force me to self medicate with unhealthy coping mechanisms. And when the partying and fun leave me empty, I resort to prayer. 

***

Four years pass before I feel the deep pangs of anxiety again. It doesn’t evolve quietly. This time, the personal pandemic attacks like an ambush- knocking me down before I can see what is coming. 

The memory is vivid: It’s another Sunday morning and it’s ten days before Christmas. I drop my college boyfriend off at his apartment, not knowing we are parting ways for eternity. 

The months leading up to his death were filled with his own battles with mental and emotional turmoil. From being attacked by a mob of guys to the despair of unemployment, I stood beside him, watching him go through an out of body experience. Suddenly, I knew how my family and friends felt as they watched me suffer through mental illness; hopeful that things would go back to normal and helpless in the waiting.

After we part ways on what will be the final Sunday of his life, I call and text him multiple times. No answer. Growing increasingly anxious, I call his mom, who thinks that maybe he just needs some space. She might be right. But something still feels ominous. When the early winter sun begins to set and my phone still has no response, I drive over to his apartment. Back and forth up the stairs I go. Knocking,repeatedly, without an answer.

Eventually, I call the police and his mother, while I wait outside. I feel the anxiety welling in my throat, as the police show up and break into the apartment. From the parking lot, my heart races faster than my thoughts. My stomach churns.

Like many traumatic experiences, the events seemed to occur in the blink of an eye and simultaneously, last forever. But I remember the morbid details. The blank looks on the police’s faces as they slowly made their way down the apartment steps. The lights of the emergency vehicles. The yellow tape wrapped around the scene. The confirmation of his suicide. And worst of all, the blood curdling scream from his mother as I delivered the news via phone, barely able to form my words. 

***

The days that follow are dark. I find myself back at my mother’s house, back in my bed, spending my days in a fetal position. I cry uncontrollably in the same sheets that absorbed my tears four years ago. The personal pandemic strikes again. My body is unable to sleep or eat or be interested in the things that once brought me joy. Despair penetrates my bones, leaking into the marrow. Not even the thought of Christmas arriving sparks joy in my spirit. It is a daily routine- soaking my pillow and my bible with tears, as I cry out to God for help.  

Paralyzed by a personal pandemic, again. 

About a month into grieving, I start a blog. Writing is therapeutic in ways that I can’t explain. All of the pain stored up in my body releases itself in the form of words. Other people begin responding to my words, sharing that they feel healed when reading my thoughts. As they experience freedom, so do I. 

Renewal. 

New hope and mercies somehow find me again. I move to a new city. I begin my graduate studies in counseling at a prestigious university. I meet beautiful new souls along the way. 

***

It’s been six years since my new start in North Carolina. Life has unfolded rapidly, as I’ve gained the roles of counselor, wife and mother. But a new location and a new start, doesn’t necessarily obliterate old patterns of thinking.

Anxiety is the rain cloud that moves in to block the sunshine of my bright days. It finds the light and slowly covers it, always preparing for a storm. For me, this dark cloud appears in the happiest of times, leading me to believe that the sunshine is always temporary. And it shows up in the darkest of times to convince me that the storm will last forever. My psyche defaults to the idea that the rain, lightning and thunder are always imminent. The trauma from my past sticks to my story like hot glue that has hardened on a surface. It leads to anxious thoughts, convincing me that the next tragedy awaits me. Together, they whisper a morbid warning: Be on guard. Look for the danger to come. 

I felt the imminent danger, when I found out we were expecting. The threat of postpartum anxiety and depression hung over my head. The dark thoughts whispered: You’re definitely going to be a part of this statistic, because you’ve struggled before.

I feel the imminent danger in this new season of COVID-19 sweeping across our world. My past battles with health anxiety magnify the threat of it all. The dark thought whispers: This virus is bound to touch you or the people you love. The danger is at your front door. 

My old patterns of thinking still present as a stumbling block at times. But when they creep in, I fight for renewal, because I know I’ve been redeemed.

Seasons of personal pandemic have forced me to seek a consistent hope. My faith has been the vaccine- not historically my first resort, but consistently my best one.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

A relationship with the God who makes all things new means that anxiety does not have to carry shame, even when it creeps back up in the times of pressure and uncertainty. 

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” 2 Corinthians 4:16

It’s a constant refining process, this internal renewal. This truth that I am being renewed, daily, alleviates the despair that comes when anxiety returns to steal my joy. It gently encourages the door of my soul to remain open, so that God can usher in the new mercies that he offers us each morning. 

Jesus is not surprised by my anxiety and my struggles make me no less honorable in his sight. He is the patient father who reminds me that when I am weak, he is strong. He is the grace giver who nudges me to be still and know that he is Lord of my life and I am not. He has seen every ugly, broken part of my past and he holds my future- the broken and the beautiful. Like my mom’s house, his presence is the safe place I return to for refuge when I hit rock bottom.

In an actual pandemic or what feels like a personal one, I will do what I’ve always done.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Phillipians 4:8

“do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:6-7

I focus on the things in my control: praying, praising, humbling myself to ask for God’s help, and laying the weight of my worries at his feet. 

Complete freedom and renewal will come one day. Perhaps, not on this side of heaven. So I’ll cling to Christ and grasp his daily renewal, in the waiting. 

When winter frost forces trees to bid their leaves farewell, they don’t hide away in mourning. They stand confident that with the first sign of spring, God will revive and bring forth new life, just as he always does. I want to stand firm with such confidence- braving cold seasons with hope and the assurance of revival.

Whether I find myself desperately panicking on a bathroom floor again (I hope I don’t) or basking in a moment of perfect peace, I will raise a hallelujah. In the pit and at the peak, he is the same, faithful God. The one who makes all things new.

“I waited patiently for the Lord;

    he inclined to me and heard my cry.

He drew me up from the pit of destruction,

    out of the miry bog,

and set my feet upon a rock,

    making my steps secure.

He put a new song in my mouth,

    a song of praise to our God.

Many will see and fear,

    and put their trust in the Lord.” Psalm 40: 1-3

Remain hopeful. Stay anchored. Refuse to sink.

Sincerely,

Simone G.

This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series “All Things New.”

A Daily Death

I storm through the kitchen, on the verge of tears. It is day four out of six of solo parenting, while my husband is away on a business trip. This is the second, week-long trip he has had in the past month and the exhaustion has finally caught up to me. All day long, I’ve responded to the needs of others – parents, teachers and students at work, a few minor tasks for church, and the end of the day finds me with an irrationally fussy eight month old who has recently been drowning in the pangs of separation anxiety.

“Baby- I don’t know what you need. I have fed you, I’ve changed you, I’ve held you and you’re still hysterical. Mama needs to eat.” 

I plop the baby down into the play gym and he throws his head back and flails his arms in rebuttal. The screams grow louder. I send a quick video to his daddy via text. “This is what I am dealing with. He is so upset and only wants to be held. Freaks out every time I put him down.” 

“Alexa- play Mozart!”

I cue the calming music, partly in an attempt to order peace into the atmosphere, partly in an attempt to drown out the crying so that I can eat my reheated Bojangles. The grand plans of meal prepping healthy dinners for the week have been obliterated by these long days and nights that have left me depleted.

With one hand on my head and the other on my buttery biscuit, I close my eyes and hum with the melody, ignoring the chaos that engulfs me. I look over my shoulder and the baby makes eye contact with me, sending him into a bigger fit. He is red in face, a waterfall of snot is cascading down his nose and colliding with the tears that are trickling down his cheeks. 

Mid biscuit bite- the mom guilt ensues. I toss my food into the box, pull my baby out of the play gym and hug him tightly. He melts into my chest, transferring bodily fluids from his face onto my work clothes, but I don’t mind. 

The truth is, this attitude I have is about more than the baby’s discontentment. It’s about me missing my husband and missing another set of hands to help and take turns. It’s about me being tired from so many needs on the job. It’s about me longing for the long gone days of quiet dinners. It’s about my feelings of inadequacy in balancing everything this week. 

“Jesus- please. Help me. I need you.”

I utter this prayer out loud- this prayer that I find myself repeating more often than not. It is the cry of my heart, the melody that accompanies my weakness. 

Am I selfish for wanting to meet my own needs? Is it too much to ask to feed my hungry body with free hands and a little peace and quiet? Or to wish that I was able to pack up and go on a trip? Or to long to attend concerts or conferences, on a whim, like I used to, before the baby was born? I grieve the loss of selfish spontaneity while being deeply grateful for this new life as a mother. There is a tension that creates undeniable friction between the two. 

In steps Jesus. My rescuer- my mediator between what is, what was, and what will be. 

Each time I cry out to Jesus and present him with my honest thoughts, he meets me and molds me. 

But he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

He gently convicts my heart of selfish desires, without shaming me for my human nature to desire these things. Instead of pointing me to feelings of condemnation, he points me to the face of Christ.

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

In this season, we prepare to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As I stand in awe of the fact that he has risen, I find hope in the ways he is resurrecting dead places in my life and making them new. With resurrection comes refining- constant removal of impurities and unwanted elements. 

Motherhood is one battlefield for this refining process- the war between the desire for convenience and the constant need to serve our children. It’s a daily death. Our natural, self-serving desires are experiencing a daily crucifiction.

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

On this side of heaven, we will never “arrive.” We will never find the secret formula that equates to being a perfect mother. But although our motherhood will not be perfected on earth, what a joy that our faith and sanctification will be perfected in eternity.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philipians 1:6). 

This truth frees us. When motherhood doesn’t allow us to operate from a place of physical freedom from demanding schedules, we can walk in the spiritual freedom of melting into our Father’s arms when we are weak and overwhelmed. 

So, rise mamas. 

Walk in his resurrection power.

Embrace the refining work he desires to do in our hearts.

Seek daily renewal as he breaks the chains of imperfection and resentment and pieces them back together with grace and mercy.

“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:18-19).

Every day is new.

New lessons.

New mercies.

Accessible and free to us all- a gift that overflows from the blood that he graciously shed.

Remain hopeful. Stay anchored. Refuse to sink.

Sincerely,

Simone

Earthly Problems and Eternal Promises

The new decade arrived with violent turbulence and waves of suffering,
sweeping across our world. Uncontainable wildfires breathe destruction in
Australia. Unexpected earthquakes shake the ground and shake the hope of the people in an already devastated Puerto Rico. Coronavirus lurks ominously in bodies, with the threat of spreading. Unfathomable grief surrounds a helicopter crash that claimed the lives of Kobe Bryant, his 13 year old daughter, and the other seven, valuable people who anticipated returning home to their families. 

Perhaps the beginning of this year has caused you to witness turbulent waves crashing on the shore a bit closer to home. A loved one passing away. The
dreadful phone call from a friend or relative confirming that the cancer diagnosis is positive. A stack of bills that is growing larger, while funds to pay them seem to be growing smaller. The declining health of yourself or of someone in your household. 

Painful news is near and far and our world is hurting deeply. Humans, animals, trees, and all of creation are groaning in unison- releasing a desperate cry for help and hope.  

“Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing; heal me, O Lord, for my
bones are troubled. My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O Lord—how long?”(Psalm 6:2-3).

In the midst of bleak circumstances, I am cultivating the practice of finding
the lesson in everything. There may not always be beauty in the bleak, but there is always a lesson. 2020 is revealing the lesson that earthly problems are inevitable. But for every earthly problem, there is an eternal promise.

Here are three eternal promises that we can lean on when earthly problems
appear to be drowning us:

[1] The problem: Uncontrollable suffering is happening all around us.
The promise: Control can be surrendered to the one who is equipped to
handle it. 

“For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and
invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things
were created through him and for him. And he is before all things,
and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17).

We did not place the sun in the sky, nor did we hang the moon. We did not
breathe life into the lungs of the human race. We do not order day and night
to fall at their appointed times. We cannot create the brilliant hues of a sunset
or the rhythmic pattern of rainfall. We cannot will a person into existence
or will ourselves to exist on this earth forever.

Creation belongs to him. It obeys his orders, answers his calls, and yields to 
his eternal timeline. How can we try to control systems that we did not
create? We were designed to loosen our grips in surrender and pass the
weight of the world into the hands of the one who holds the world in
his palms. Release a sigh of relief as you consider that the functionality
of the world does not depend on us. God doesn’t need our help. Each
story of suffering illuminates the reality that God is God and we are not.
He sits on the throne- sovereign and all knowing. We journey on the earth
– little people with limited perspective. 

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,    neither are your ways my ways,
declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

[2] The problem: Pain is a part of the human experience of every person born
into this world.
The promise: God will provide comfort, as we draw near to him with
broken hearts. 
When pain pierces our hearts, we can’t help but feel as if it is unfair. Forgetting
that we live in a fallen world leads us to a sense of entitlement, believing  that
we all deserve to live a life that is void of deep pain or discomfort. This attitude is contrary to what we observe in scriptures. God’s word reveals that pain is a promised part of our human experience. 

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world
you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world”
(John 16:33).

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test
you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar
as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when
his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13).

In these scriptures, the bad news (promise of pain) is followed by the good
news about why we can have hope (promise of Jesus). God whispers the
reminder that we will have trouble, but he has overcome.God whispers the
reminder that we should not be surprised when we are tested by trials, 
but glory awaits us. 

Relatable stories of loss and pain fill the pages of the Bible -loss of
possessions, people, physical abilities, expectations, faith, and hope. These
stories were not included in the Bible by chance. Our God is an intentional
God who made sure that these stories of hardship would be beautifully and strategically woven into the text. The God who formed our very bodies knows that we gain encouragement through the testimonies of ordinary brothers and sisters who experienced deep pain and received extraordinary comfort, through it all.

“…he comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are
comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:4).

The life of the Believer is not distinguished by lack of pain, but rather,
the assurance of comfort.

It is knowing that God’s light and love overshadow life’s letdowns. It is
knowing God’s promises overshadow life’s problems. It is knowing that God’s blessings overshadow life’s burdens.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? No, in all these
things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure
that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor
things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all
creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus
our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).

[3] The problem: Life on this earth is unpredictable.
The promise: This world is not our home. Heaven awaits us. 
It is in unexpected moments that we begin to ponder the meaning of life. Is the pain and suffering worth it? Does it have meaning? And if it does, why is it so hard to find? If our earthly lives were altogether lovely, we would never long for our eternal lives. 

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into
man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

If we could place complete hope in earthly things or people, would we
willingly choose to place hope in God? If people never hurt us or never passed away, we would cling to our loved ones for eternal hope. If possessions could never be destroyed, we would cling to our things for eternal hope. If pleasures were not temporary, we would cling to fun moments and memories for eternal hope. If we could be altogether “good” and void of fault or sin, we would cling to ourselves for eternal hope. The very realization that earthly things cannot fully satisfy is what leads us to crave a taste of something eternal that can.

“And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the
will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17).

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin
destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures
in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break
in and steal” (Matthew 6:19-20).

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the
Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).

My friend, I am not diminishing your pain and suffering. I know that it cuts
deep down to the core. I’ve been there. I want to give you a big hug, grab your hands tightly, and pray with you. I am here to remind you, as the old hymn says, to “build your hope on things eternal and hold to God’s unchanging hand.” Because in a world plagued by earthly problems, we can fight the good fight of faith and grab hold of eternal promises. These promises will be the fuel that keeps us moving forward when we feel like we are stalling out. These truths will remain, when all else has been lost. 

“The grass withers, the flower fades,    but the word of our God will stand
forever” (Isaiah 40:8).

Every bit of this earthly life is directing our gaze upward, so that we can lift our eyes to the glory of the eternal one. 

Remain hopeful. Stay anchored. Refuse to sink.

Sincerely,

Simone G.          

A New Thing

The Christmas decor has come down, but the joy of Christ will remain vibrant in our home. Along with decor, we got rid of baby things we have outgrown, returned things borrowed from other folks that are no longer of use, and created space for a new season. I say this pretty often- that purging junk in your home and purging junk in your soul can go hand in hand. 

As the reds and greens, silvers and golds come down to be stored away, what things in your life need to be set aside until another season? As the faces of loved ones on holiday greeting cards are tucked away and the physical faces fade from around the celebration table, are there new people you need to invite in, make space for? Where can you create a little space or margin to help you set your gaze on the things that are most important with joy and intentionality? Might it look like saying no to more things? Letting go of people or ideas that have been contributing more stagnation than growth? Or simply being more present?

We are entering a new decade. Some of us are tiptoeing into it, hesitantly, finding it hard to leave memories behind. Some of us are skipping into it with anticipation and thankful for a fresh start and hopeful about things to come. None of us are entirely the same as we were when we entered this decade. We have learned, loved, lost, and learned again. Regardless of where we find ourselves, we have the opportunity to discover the new things that God is doing in our lives, acknowledge the ways he is working, and turn to the paths he is making clear. Will we be open to it all?

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have laid hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus.” Philipians 3:12-15

Don’t Miss Your Ministry

It sounded good in theory- squeezing in time, before work, to write a blog post to encourage women.

I drive to work early, on a mission. The words for the blog are written on my heart and ready to be transferred to the computer. This task is written neatly and intentionally in my planner – ripe and ready for execution- like the rest of my “to do’s”. Then, I get word that it is one of our teachers’ first day back from maternity leave. With excitement, I hurry down the hall to her classroom door to greet her and discuss how we can add her to the rotation for the lactation room. She is exiting a meeting. I can see it on her face- she needs a hug. I share a few words of encouragement, in hopes that a smile will return to her face. “Even though it is my third child and third time doing this, saying goodbye never gets easier,” she confesses. We part ways and I head down to tidy up the lactation room. With a piece of printer paper borrowed from the copy machine and a sharpie, I quickly hand write a “Welcome Back” sign and tape it in a noticeable area of the room. It’s not life changing, but it is a small gesture to let her know she is seen, known, and her plight is understood. The potential for me writing the blog post has faded and I’m okay with that. These minutes of detoured plans are not wasted. These minutes are ministry. 

You see, sisters, every minute is ministry. You don’t need a platform, a microphone, a book, a blog, a podcast, or a title to minister to someone’s heart. Those things are great, but God’s love is greater. Maybe instead of writing a blog for women, your mission for today is to hug and affirm the woman who is stressed in the office next door, the woman who has her hands full with kids having meltdowns in Target, or the overwhelmed woman sitting alone in the coffee shop with her face buried in her hands. Maybe instead of speaking on a stage with a fancy message for an audience, your mission for today is to speak life to the people closest to you. Maybe instead of writing another chapter of your book, your mission for today is to write up an encouraging text to a friend who is in a difficult season. Maybe instead of dreaming up another podcast episode topic, your mission for today is to start an in-person conversation with a stranger. Maybe instead of marketing yourself, your mission for today is to market how great God is. God gives us the gift of one another to spread his love here on the Earth- not to point to ourselves and our good works, but to point back to His goodness. When we adopt this perspective, every minute is ministry. God is not impressed by our platforms, but rather, how we serve well in the spaces where He has placed us. These spaces are seen. These moments matter. May we be careful not to miss the ministry that is in our midst. May each minute of our lives preach loudly and rightly proclaim the hope we have in Him. 

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace..” (1 Peter 4:10).

Remain hopeful. Stay anchored. Refuse to sink.

Sincerely,

Simone G.

Love Grows Here

We kiss our children goodbye each morning to show up for our students – the children we didn’t carry in our wombs, but occupy a special place in our hearts, nonetheless. We reach out with helping hands, stretching ourselves thin into spaces of immeasurable service and love.

In every youthful face, we see our own children. There is something in the depths of their eyes that makes these children similar to our own – undefiled souls with endless possibilities and untainted hope, discovering both the beauty and sorrow of the world, with each passing day. We hope to be a page in the chapters that make their stories beautiful.

Those of us who have never been called “mom” or “dad” by a child of our own, still play the role of a parent from the moment the doors swing open for morning arrival through the final bell at dismissal – wiping tears and bottoms, giving hugs and advice, building knowledge and character, singing praises and shouting redirections. Our hearts are overjoyed when a child exceeds our expectations and obliterated when a child misses the mark of their full potential. 

The young, childless educator serves loyally, acknowledging that one day, they hope their future children will benefit from the selflessness of caring adults in their school family. 

The seasoned, childless educator smiles in retrospect as they count the hundreds of kids that they’ve embraced as their own, throughout their career trajectory. 

At the center of many of these children’s universes, our faces can be found – faces they look to for security, reassurance, direction, encouragement, approval and love.

When our coffee mugs become empty, our love still overflows. When our pay stubs look unpromising, we still keep our promises. When our calendars become full, we miraculously create a slot in our schedule to love one more child, meet with one more parent, address one more concern, and meet one more demand.

As the school year winds down and summer approaches, our energy is depleted and we wonder if we can endure and survive another year of pouring out an abundance of love with scarcity of gratitude and compensation.

Yet, somehow, as each new school year begins, our renewed hearts create space to love again..and again…and again. Welcome to the heart of an educator. Love grows here.

Remain hopeful. Stay anchored. Refuse to sink.

Sincerely,

SimoneG

A Cafeteria Conviction

I stand at my cafeteria post, dressed in gloves and a smile – ready to serve my 30 minutes of lunch duty. The second graders slowly begin to trickle in- some with hungry eyes directing them straight towards the lunch line, anxious to see what the menu holds. Others plop down in a seat and quickly unzip their lunchboxes, eager to begin tearing into what their parents prepared. 

Today is different, I notice. Some parents are present for a special event. I see some greeting their children at the cafeteria doors, as their classes arrive. A few others move their way into the crowded chaos- holding bags of Panera, McDonalds, and Chickfila- scanning the tables until their eyes spot their children. 

The kids’ requests are fewer today, perhaps because so many adults are present to help with the mundane tasks that they normally raise their hands to request assistance with – opening sauce packets and milk cartons, a peer conflict (tattling), or the occasional request to leave the table for water or (yet another) trip to the bathroom. 

Instead of hands rising into the air for help, their hands are occupied with digging into their snacks and tapping the visiting parents on the shoulder, in hopes of engaging them in conversation. The presence of a grownup at the table demands attention.

One boy waits hopefully for his father. He tags along with a friend whose parents have already showed up. “I don’t know where he is,” I hear him tell his friend’s parents, with a voice of discouragement. His friend’s mother reassures him. “Don’t worry. I’m sure he will be here soon.” 

Ten minutes have passed and some kids are already finishing up their lunches. The waiting boy continues to wait, eyes fixed on the door in anticipation of his father’s arrival. I observe from afar and remain hopeful on his behalf. 

A few minutes later, I see him dash to the door. Before his father can make his way through the double doors, he jumps up on him and embraces him tightly around the neck. Although lunch was more than halfway over, his father’s presence made his joy complete. 

My heart is convicted. Our Heavenly Father has promised us that He will be there for us. But how often do we sit in discouragement as we wait for Him to show up? How often do we feel alone as we look around the room and feel that everyone else has already received the promise that we are waiting for? 

Let us consider the times of waiting, in the past- the times in which we falsely assumed that our Father’s delay meant denial of our request, altogether. And then He showed up, fulfilling the promise that He said He would- the promise that we are not forsaken and that He is never far off. Let us wait well, knowing that He is on the way. And His very presence deserves a warm embrace. For His presence makes our joy complete. 

“Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.” Psalm 33:20-22

“But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Romans 8:25

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9

Mindless Meals for Time Maximization

It’s fall, ya’ll! This seasonal shift comes with a full to-do list, each year. Fall is inevitability one of the busiest seasons for me. Work obligations, holiday promotions for my small business ventures, plus the general, rapidly approaching “holiday buzz” as I prepare my mind for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and everything in between! This year’s full to-do list is compounded by a new baby in the Griffin household. We have always been fans of meal prepping. In this season of life, we have an even greater appreciation of quick, guilt-free nourishing foods that fuel our bodies, give us comfort in unison with the chill in the air, and -(here is the most important part)- DON’T REQUIRE 10,000 dishes! With so much going on, a sink full of dishes robs time that can be used for family activities, relaxation, exercise, or sleep. In this post, I will share a few favorite recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack!

Breakfast – Aun’t Linda’s Sausage & Cream Cheese Croissants

Ingredients:
1. Jimmy Dean’s Hot Breakfast Sausage 2. Pillsbury Crescent Rolls (2 packs) 3. 8 oz Cream Cheese

Directions:

Brown sausage on the stove top. When it has cooked thoroughly, drain the meat. While it is draining, I like to use a few paper towels to soak up the grease and also break the sausage down into tinier pieces.
Next, return the sausage to the stove top and add in your 8 oz. of cream cheese. Melt the cheese into the sausage over medium heat.
After you have a thorough mix, pull out your croissant dough. (It is important to keep it refrigerated up until this point, because it will get too soft if you leave it out during the previous steps). Roll out your first croissant sheet onto a big baking pan.
Now you can begin to transfer your sausage and cream cheese mixture onto the croissant rolls. Evenly spread the mixture onto the croissant sheet. Once the sausage and cream cheese blend has been evenly distributed, top it with your second croissant roll sheet. (Press the edges of the croissant sheets together for a more polished final result).
Cook in an oven, preheated at 375 degrees. Some ovens cook faster or slower, so stay close by. You just want to slightly brown the croissants. If you find that they could use a little extra time (which happens), turn the oven setting to broil and pop them back in for a few minutes.
Last step: Allow to cool, cut into sections, and enjoy the yummy goodness!

Lunch – BLT Spinach Wrap

Highlight of this meal– It is protein packed! The spinach wrap, alone, has 6 g of protein! This meal is also versatile. You can customize it to your liking, by adding or taking away ingredients.

Ingredients:

  1. Chicken 2.Bacon 3. Veggies of Choice (Greens, Onions, Peppers) 4. Spinach Wrap 5. Avacado (optional) 6. Dressing (Chipoltle ranch is great for this recipe)! 7. Seasonings of choice for chicken (I use paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, and pepper). 8. Shredded cheese (optional)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. On a baking sheet, spread well-seasoned chicken and bacon strips evenly across the pan. Cook for 15 minutes (or until meat reaches desired crispiness).
  3. Cut up vegetables and set aside.
  4. After removing meat from oven (and draining any excess grease), assemble the meat and veggies on the spinach wrap.
  5. Top with sliced avocado, shredded cheese of choice, and dressing of choice. (optional)
  6. Fold wrap into a burrito shape, making sure that all ingredients are securely placed inside of the wrap.
  7. Additional step (optional): Lightly brush melted butter or olive oil onto outside of the wrap. Allow each side of the wrap to simmer on medium-low heat on the stove top, until desired brownness.

Dinner- Olive Garden Zuppa Toscana Soup

Highlight of this meal – You can use ONE pot for this delicious, copy-cat, comfort recipe! If you have more time, the crock-pot is a wonderful option. However, this recipe only takes 40 minutes, stove-top, if you need dinner ready sooner!

Ingredients:

1. Meats- Italian Sausage (ground spicy), Bacon (bacon bits are an easy substitute that give the same effect) 2. Produce – Minced Garlic, Kale (or spinach), One pack of Simply Potatoes diced potatoes with onions 3. Canned goods- 32 oz Chicken Stock 4. Baking/Spices flour, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes 5. Dairy- one cup of heavy cream 5. Shredded Parmesean cheese (optional topping)

Directions:

  1. Brown the Italian sausage over medium heat, seasoning with salt, pepper and 1 tsp red pepper flakes. Drain well.
  2. In the same pot, saute garlic. Once garlic begins to brown, add 1 tbsp of flour to the pan and continue to sautee’ until well blended. (This flour will help thicken the texture of the soup, later).
  3. Add the full bag of diced potatoes. Pour the chicken broth over the potatoes. If the broth does not fully cover the potatoes, add a little water until potatoes are covered. Stir and bring to a boil. **Allow the potatoes to boil until they are tender enough to pierce with a fork. Keep an eye on them to ensure that they don’t become too mushy.
  4. Reduce heat. Pour the cooked, crumbled Italian sausage into the pan.
  5. Add heavy cream, stirring in lightly.
  6. Throw in a couple of handfuls of kale or spinach and allow the greens to wilt. Simmer on low heat for 5-10 minutes.
  7. Top with parmesean cheese and bacon bits.

Enjoy! *Pro tip- alter the texture of the soup, as needed. If the soup is too thin for your liking, begin adding flour by the teaspoon until it thickens. If the soup is too thick, add water -stirring until the texture transforms into your preference.

Snack- Pumpkin Spice Energy Bites

Highlights of this snack: You can adjust the ingredients to fit your preference, seasonally. For fellow nursing mamas, throwing in some brewer’s yeast can turn this into a lactation snack. However, this is a great, on the go snack for all ages and stages! It kicks your sweet tooth and it is guilt-free, if you indulge in more than one! Long before having a baby, I ate these as pre/post workout snacks!

Ingredients:

  1. Oats (1 1/2 cups 2. Pumpkin puree (1/2 cup) 3.Honey (1/4 cup) 4. Almond Butter (1/2 cup) 5. Flaxseed 6. Semisweet chocolate chips (1/2 cup) 7. Vanilla extract (1 tsp) 8. Seasoning Blend: Cinnamon (1/2 tsp) , Brown Sugar (1/2 tsp), Pumpkin Pie Spice (1/2 tsp)

Directions:

  1. Use a large spoon to combine all ingredients (except chocolate chips) in a large, mixing bowl. Once the mixture is well blended and moist, slowly fold in chocolate chips.
  2. Scoop large spoon fulls into your hand and roll into balls. Transfer to a plate. Refrigerate for 30 min- 1 hr. (These are safe in the fridge for up to a week and safe in the freezer for months)!

***Pro tip: Prior to making the mixture, spray all surfaces (mixing bowl, spoon, your hands) with baking spray for easier clean up and a less messy process!

I hope you all enjoy these quick, painless eats! Ditch the tedious, time-consuming meals that obliterate your energy and use that extra time for quality time for yourself or with your family!

Sincerely,

Simone G.

Seasonal Decor for the Soul

Before the first red leaf audaciously upstaged its green leaf neighbors, before the first chill was present in the air, before the first fall drink made its seasonal debut on coffee shop menus, I was welcoming fall. The calendar had barely struck September 1, but I was eager for the seasonal shift. 

Slowly, I began transforming my home into a sort of autumn paradise- switching out greens for burnt colored florals and placing pumpkins in indiscreet little nooks. I braved the cobwebs in our storage unit, determined to recover the box labeled “Seasonal Decor”- buried beneath several other boxes. What a joy to open the box and be reacquainted with the fall decor from years past. 

As I admired the decorations, it dawned on me that I wait for fall with great anticipation, each year. But as much as I consider fall to be the most vibrant and wonderful season that exists, there is something that I find beautiful in all of the other seasons, too. 

When fall begins to transform into winter, I dread the unbearably cold days, but I cherish the coziness that arrives with them. I reluctantly trade my light cardigans for heavy jackets, but I treasure pulling out the hot chocolate, Christmas decor, and hearty, comfort foods. As winter melts into spring, I mourn the passing of holiday cheer, but I  welcome new beginnings, bright blooms and the resurrection of things that were dead. As spring grows its way into summer, I dread the thought of temperatures that creep towards 100, but appreciate being able to take a relieving dip in cool waters. And just like that- the clock strikes “autumn” again. 

What if we approached life’s “seasons” in this way? Our hearts are naturally inclined to long for the seasons that are vibrant and flourishing. But what if while we waited for our “best” season to arrive or return, we found joy in the in-betweens? What if we shifted our focus from what we are losing in one season, to what we are gaining in the next one? 

Perhaps we would brave the cobwebs in our heart and dig deep enough to rediscover the beautiful things. Perhaps we would adorn our hearts with gratitude for the lessons and loveliness that each season offers in it’s own, distinct way. Perhaps we would ask God to grant us clarity and a renewed mind that is able to find the good- in seasons of drought and seasons of abundance, alike. 

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

a time to tear, and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak and

a time to love, and a time to hate;

a time for war, and a time for peace.” Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8