Mere Motherhood

“[Parenting] is a walk of joy that often includes the tearing off of the old dragon skin one painful layer at a time, made all the worse because you didn’t even know you were wearing dragon skin. No one ever does.”

How I loved this book! It’s an odd little book–sort of a memoir and sort of a parenting book and sort of a manifesto. It’s short, and yet jam-packed with striking observations and insights. It rambles, but in the best possible way. As I read, I really felt like I was having a conversation with the author. You know those wonderful talks where no one is being superficial and you move effortlessly from topic to topic soaking up ideas and connection? This book is like that. Cindy is a reader and a thinker and a mom of lots of boys (and one girl), who are now mostly grown up. I don’t know about you, but I need that perspective right about now. Cindy has such an arresting way of putting things, and a much-needed style that both embraces the depths of motherhood and pushes back on the idea that it’s the be-all-end-all.

Mere Motherhood inspired and perplexed me, and made me cry. Twice. Highly recommended.


Note: Mere Motherhood is not available on Amazon, although the Circe website notes that it’s coming soon to Kindle. For now, you can get it from Circe (not an affiliate link), but shipping is high and makes the book really pricey. I happily found it at my library, and would love to own it, should it ever be offered for a lower shipping cost. 

Toward flourishing

I find my core callings deeply contradictory. Faith, marriage, motherhood, homeschooling, writing, and my paid work are not easy for me in every respect. I am fascinated but exhausted, comforted but confused, fulfilled but frustrated. The things I value most are, by and large, difficult. I say that the past year has been hard and it has. But even in the best of times I tend to do life in a fairly intense fashion.

Some of my intense life is circumstantial, but much of it is choice. So I don’t want to waste my story in rush and resentment. I want to savor hard days and difficult phases and flourish in the midst of it all. Over the years, I’ve learned that if I want to live deeply and joyfully instead of getting mired in discouragement and burnout, I need to keep my vision refreshed.

I have a feeling sleep might also help, but I will have to get back to you on that once I don’t have a baby and chronic insomnia.

irrational seasonCertain writers are my go-to mentors when I need to reconnect with the bigger picture. Madeleine L’Engle is one. I recently read The Irrational Season and was once again inspired by L’Engle’s refreshing viewpoints on faith, creativity, love, and motherhood–this time in the context of her thinking through the seasons of the liturgical year. Weaving in thoughts on language and mystery and memory, L’Engle writes with simplicity and profound insight about the way that the rhythm of temporal time enhances our understanding of depth, truth, and the unknowable greatness of God.

I don’t always agree with L’Engle, but I never fail to find food for thought and encouragement to think, write, and live with more clarity and honesty. I’d recommend all of her non-fiction, but I’ve addedThe Irrational Season to my favorites along with Walking on Water and A Circle of Quiet.

mission motherhoodSally Clarkson more recently joined my shelf of visionaries. In the past I think I misunderstood her platform and thought she was in the motherhood-is-woman’s-only-calling camp so I didn’t really connect with her. However, what I have found after several months of reading Sally’s books and listening to her podcasts is more of a vision for wholehearted living–of being all in as a mother even if you also do other things (she started and ran a business, wrote books, and homeschooled, for example). I love Sally’s vision for flourishing even in trying circumstances, and her encouragement toward excellence without making an idol out of motherhood.  There is a way to be wholehearted in parenting while also nourishing your soul and mind and creativity and I think Sally’s books The Mission of Motherhood and The Ministry of Motherhood are excellent resources.

ministry motherhoodIn both books, I appreciated Sally’s ability to cast a thoughtful vision and give practical ideas while acknowledging that families and children and life stages are different and so methods may differ even as principles stay the same.

All three of these books are the sort I wind up purchasing so I can re-read them–and I fill them with sticky tabs and take reams of notes (I got nine single-spaced typed pages of notes fromThe Mission of Motherhood alone!). I have intense kids, I homeschool, and I work and write in the margins. If you have naturally calm kids and send them to a brick-and-mortar school and work full-time as a chemical engineer your take-aways may be different than mine. However, no matter what your circumstances, if you’re the sort of person who leans in to your life and longs to flourish in the midst of it, I don’t think you could go too far wrong with any of these volumes.

What books have most refreshed and inspired you lately?


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.



Kids, Cake, and Easter Dolphins

A while ago someone asked for a family update.  So, since I’m in the middle of five books at once but haven’t finished any of them, I thought I’d do a random picture post.

Eliza turned one yesterday! She really likes cake.  It has been such a joy to have a little baby around again!  The big kids love her and she melts us all with her big hugs and grins.

Finding coordinating Easter outfits for four variously sized children is not as simple as one might expect. So when I found three outfits all smocked with the same dolphin pattern on eBay, I went with it. After all, as my husband says, “Nothing says Easter like dolphins.”

Believe it or not, I didn’t plan the egg hunt coordination. I dressed Eliza, then Hannah and Sarah chose pink and green, and Jack took one look at the girls and went off to collect this polo shirt. He spent all of last summer refusing to touch the shirt with a ten foot pole because it contains pink. This year, however, he philosophically observed that “Grandad has a pink shirt, and it does match better with what the girls have on.”

Hannah and Jack are each learning to cook.  Most weeks they each handle one dinner (with lots of oversight and supervision, naturally).

Sarah’s main thing is creative costuming.  Unless we’re going somewhere, and often even if we are going somewhere, I just let her pick out her own outfits.  It often involves wild color combinations, hairbows attached to random edges, and a cape.  She certainly has flair.

We still don’t have a good family picture of the six of us, but I can assure you that Josh and I do exist.  As proof, I offer the above picture of Josh and upside-down Eliza.

And here I am with Jack, who was being silly.

A couple of months ago I asked the kids to describe our family.  “We’re problem solvers,” Jack said.  “We like to read,” Hannah said.  “We’re the kind of family that does a lot of silly stuff!” said Sarah.  I think that kind of sums us up.

Have a lovely weekend!

“Abundance, Mayhem, and the Joys of Motherhood”

Last year I recommended Rachel Jankovic’s Loving the Little Years for its insightful perspective on taking joy in having small children.  If you’ve got kids over the toddler/preschool age, I’d also recommend Jankovic’s follow-up book Fit to Burst : Abundance, Mayhem, and the Joys of Motherhood.

It’s not that you wouldn’t get anything out of Fit to Burst  if you don’t have older kids, but you’ll get more out of it if you do.  I remember reading parenting books when my kids were really small and nodding agreement, but not really getting it.  I’m sure there are points about raising teenagers that are going over my head now too.

But I think the reason this book resonated with me so strongly is that I have elementary aged kids now (my oldest is a year younger than the author’s).  The issues that hit me the hardest now are how to communicate with my kids and how to manage them, how to balance their fledgling independence with our need for household harmony, and how on earth to wrestle character issues that are way, way bigger now than they were in the toddler stage.  Jankovic addressed the issues of parenting elementary aged kids with a depth and insight that I haven’t seen elsewhere.

As I read I found myself first of all surprised by how directly the author seemed to address my issues (it’s a relief to know that other parents must deal with these things too), second of all deeply convicted, and third encouraged to find peace, calm, and joy in the “abundance and mayhem” of motherhood in this stage.

I appreciated humility of the personal accounts in the book–Jankovic says at the beginning that she is writing for herself as well as her readers–as well as the frank willingness to apply hard words in a loving way.  This is not an “oh gee, being a mom is soo hard” sort of book, but it’s also not a cold textbook or pie-in-the-sky prescription for parenting.  Rather, Fit to Burst will challenge you and make you think in new ways about your parenting, but also leave you feeling refreshed and newly equipped to handle difficulties.

I’d recommend Fit to Burst for any parents, but particularly if your children are in the 4-11 age range.  


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May Was Busy: Seven Quick Takes on the Understatement of the Year


1. Eliza was born on May 1.

Only two weeks late, but who was counting.  Since birth stories are not for everyone, I will sum up to say that I was induced by having my water broken, then nothing happened for three hours while I alternated between walking around and reading a book while being monitored.  I had a contraction at 11:45, continued walking and reading (Yes, I read a book while having a baby.  Surprised?), had the easiest active labor and transition ever, and then the worst most awful pushing stage ever.  But all’s well that end’s well and Eliza was born at 3:40 after only a little less than four hours of labor, and only the last half hour was terrible.  Plus no drugs and no stitches, so it’s a win.  Best of all, Eliza’s heart issues seem to have resolved once she started breathing air.  After spending months on bedrest and other restrictions, and thinking she would be a preemie for so long, it was nice to see her arrive totally healthy at nearly nine pounds!

2. Josh was born on May 4….35 years ago.

Since I had just come home from the hospital, all I gave him was Eliza.  I was so wiped I didn’t even remember to post on his Facebook wall.  I know.  It was so egregious I had to forfeit my Wife of the Year trophy and everything.  All the poor man wanted was pizza and a cheesecake. I will make it up to him some day.

3. We moved out of the Little House on What Used to be the Prairie.

For the record, packing up a house and moving two weeks after you have your fourth baby is not conducive to childbirth recovery.  Did you know it’s possible to have THREE cases of mastitis in the first month of nursing a baby?  Neither did I, but I think there might be a stress correlation in there somewhere.

4.  We moved to a Littler House Closer to the Prairie.

But only temporarily.  Our new house closing was in jeopardy due to the bank’s reluctance to issue us a mortgage on the strength of my contract income (when I pointed out that I made enough in contract earnings they said, helpfully, “OK, but what if you never work again?” Gee, thanks, because I wasn’t stressed out before.), so we moved to a cute little rental cottage for the interim.  It’s cozy and makes me feel like I’m playing house.  The kids think it’s like camping because their mattresses are on the floor and there are wet towels everywhere (only one small bathroom!).  Josh and I note that there is air conditioning, a washer and dryer, and a fully equipped kitchen.  Enjoy it, kiddos, this is just about as close to camping as Gillespies get!

5.  Josh got a job!  And his new office has a pretty sweet view (see above).

After almost five months of being without a job, Josh got a great offer and started work the last week in May.  I’m grateful that God provided enough work for me while Josh was looking for a job, and that the job Josh got is such a good fit for him.  And now that one of us has a regular paycheck, we can get a mortgage for the new house.  We’re thankful.

6. The kids enjoyed maternity leave from school, and then we started Summer Term.

I didn’t technically take maternity leave (no rest for the self-employed!) but I did have about a week and a half without any client work to turn in, I scheduled a month of blog posts in advance, and I took a few weeks off of homeschooling.  Since we do school year ’round we can take breaks when we need them, and boy did we ever need one in May!  After we got through moving, we started our summer term, which I will describe in more detail next week.  So far it’s going great.  I think it’s good for us to have some structure in the mornings and still have afternoons free for bike riding and summer play time.

7.  Jack turned SIX on May 30.

It’s such a cliche, but where does the time go?  Jack is a funny, sensitive, cuddly kid who likes to ride his bike like a wild man and builds extraordinary things out of Legos.  He is a great reader and surprises me by how well he gets math sometimes.  Although he loathes writing things down, he enjoys making really messy crafts involving copious amounts of tape and toilet paper rolls.  And yes, Jack still has awesome curly hair and rocks a bow tie like nobody’s business.  He assures me that he will always be my best bud and he plans to live with us until he’s an old man so he won’t have to be without me.  It’s simultaneously sweet and terrifying.  Which is kind of how Jack rolls.

So that’s my month in a nutshell.  If the nutshell were really, really big.  Like the kind of nutshell that would score it’s own special roadside museum somewhere between here and Colorado, but after you stopped and paid your $12, you’d find out it was really only a model of a huge nutshell, made of paper mache.

Anyway, how did May go for you?

Seven Quick Takes is hosted by Conversion Diary.  Check out the blog for more or to link up your own post.

Parenting With Scripture – Review and Giveaway!

When a publisher contacted me about reviewing Parenting with Scripture: A Topical Guide for Teachable Moments, I gave a resounding yes.  It sounded like a very helpful resource, and it is.  It also sounded very familiar as I read it, and it was.  I saw a picture of an older edition on Amazon and realized that I had read the book five years ago.  Right!  Well, it’s still good!

Parenting with Scripture is a helpful topical guide full of scripture references for specific issues, ranging from character traits like kindness to issues like sadness.

As a parent, I want to help my children learn to navigate life not just because I said so (although sometimes obedience is the point to emphasize) but because God says so.  Having a reference like this book that topically organizes relevant scriptures is really handy.

The book is more than a topical verse list, however.  For every topic, you’ll find a definition, relevant verses and passages of scripture, a discussion guide, and suggestions for application.  If you wanted to, you could use the book as a springboard for discussions, as a Biblestudy guide for your kids, a scripture memory reference, or an idea of how to pray scripture for your child.

I enjoyed the book five years ago, when I had a two year old and a baby, but now that I have kids aged 7, 5 1/2, and 4, I appreciate its value even more.  Having a book like this around is handy in so many ways, and could really help your children to see how the Bible applies to their real world problems and struggles.


The publisher graciously offered to send a copy of Parenting with Scripture to one A Spirited Mind reader.  The giveaway will be open from now until 8:00 pm EST March 26, 2013.  If you’d like to enter, please leave a comment and let us know how you use scripture in parenting, or how you think this book could help you.


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.  The publisher sent me a free review copy, but the opinions in this review are my own.

How to Talk so Kids Will Listen

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk is not so much a parenting book, although it will help your parenting, but more a communication book.  And it’s ridiculously effective.  You will not believe how much of a difference some seemingly tiny changes to how you speak to your children will make.

The book has been popular since it came out in the 1980s, and Gretchen Rubin raves about it, but I didn’t think it would be all that life-changing.  I figured it would be mostly psychobabble, self-esteem stuff.  I’m glad I gave it a shot anyway, since it isn’t those things.

Even as I read, I didn’t believe the ideas could make much of a difference.  I mean, what difference does it make how I ask my kids a question?  How can a simple change in wording or a tiny suggestion stop a tantrum or change a habit?

I decided to try it.  As I read, I tried out the techniques.  Whoa.  They worked.  Not just a little bit worked, but amazingly, incredibly, astoundingly worked.  They worked for issues I didn’t even realize were related to how I was communicating!  I gave Josh some examples of how I had done it.  Some of the situations are common and long-standing so he knew how they usually go.  I reported what I said.  He looked at me, incredulous.  That worked?  That’s all it took?  Yes.  He was shocked.  He may actually read my book notes from this book and try it himself (I hope he will).

I think different parts of the book would be helpful to different family situations, but overall the ideas can be used with kids of all ages, from the smallest babies to teenagers.

If you ever feel like you’re talking but not getting through to your kids, like you’re yelling when you don’t want to, like your children are stuck in a habit and getting labeled, like you can’t get them to do their homework, or any number of other communication issues, you need to read this book.

The book is easy to read.  Each section walks through a common way of communicating, why it’s not effective (you’ll find yourself nodding and feeling better that you’re not the only one who experiences this–although the book is from the ’80s, I was surprised at how apt the descriptions were.  I guess things haven’t changed that much since I was a kid), and suggests an alternative.  Then there are cartoon representations of how to implement it (which were also very helpful), followed by reports of how real life parents put it in to practice and the results they found.  I got a lot out of the real parent reports, because it’s helpful to see how other people handle issues.

I also read a follow-up book by the same authors, Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too.  Although it covers many of the same ideas and isn’t as comprehensive as How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, the siblings book does have some very helpful insights into things like how to help kids learn to work through arguments, when to let them handle a fight and when to intervene (and how to do so effectively), and more information about how to avoid giving kids labels (like mean, destructive, rude) that they then live down to and help siblings not label each other either.

As with the first book, Siblings doesn’t take an unrealistically rosy view–kids disagree and have to learn to get along over time, and some brothers and sisters just won’t be great friends until they get older.  But we can give them tools to get along better and give ourselves tools to handle inevitable disagreements.  I appreciated that the first page of the book is a quote from Psalms: “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together in unity.”  I make my kids sing the song version of that Psalm frequently.  🙂

As I mentioned above, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk is not really a parenting book, and neither is Siblings Without Rivalry.  You won’t find much about time out or sleep schedules or whatnot, but you’ll find communication strategies that will work no matter what your parenting philosophy.  If you’re a parent or teacher or work with children in some way, I highly recommend these helpful books!


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Plenty: 31 Sips of Encouragement for Mothers

It seems like recently I’ve had more discussions in person and read more blog posts from mothers who are at that stage of wiped out where you can barely see straight and keeping perspective seems like a pie-in-the-sky concept.  I get that, because I feel that way too.  It might be the third trimester talking, or the anemia, but I’ve had a hard time lately feeling encouraged in my work as a mother.

If you’re in a similar place, or just need a reminder of the joy and opportunity in parenting, I would highly recommend Plenty: 31 Sips of Joy for Moms Everywhere.  As the title suggests, the book contains 31 short chapters that each relate an incident and then make application of Scripture, ending with a challenge to apply the Scripture to your own situation.  I found the chapters a perfect length to read in those very short pockets of time I might otherwise just mindlessly scroll through something online.  Each chapter was insightful, honest, and encouraging.  I loved the way that the author saw parallels between the way her small children act and the way she acts toward God.  That is something I find true of parenting as well, and the book gave me even more impetus to look for those connections.

Most of all I am impressed with how well the author struck a balance between lovingly challenging mothers to be more thoughtful, intentional, and godly, while also maintaining a tone of encouragement rather than making the reader feel loaded down with yet more items for the To Be list.

Although the book is short, I took a lot of notes and would really recommend it to you.  It’s an inexpensive Kindle download (you can easily read it on the free Kindle app if you don’t have a Kindle) and is actually FREE for Prime members.  I hope you find it as helpful as I did!



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Together: A Must-Read for Parents and Other Caregivers

If you find yourself in the busy throes of parenting or nannying or otherwise interact with children on a daily basis, I heartily urge you to read Together: Growing Appetites for God.  It’s easy to read and not very long, but could potentially have an incredible impact on you and on your children.

The book is a memoir of an “everyday mama” who became convicted by her inability to find time to read the Bible consistently.  She was in the stage of “full days and late nights” with three kids under four, and just didn’t get to it.  She felt bad about that, and then began to think about the possibility of reading the Bible with her young children.  The book follows the ups and downs of her decision to read a chapter of the Bible aloud to her kids every morning at breakfast, and what a blessing it turned out to be in their lives.

The author mentions a lot that she’s not supermom or specially equipped for this idea.  She had never read the Bible through before until she finished reading it to her kids (five years after they started!).  I was struck by the stories of how God used her faithfulness in the life of her family, as well as encouraged by her honesty and suggestions.

Having read about this concept before I got my hands on this book (thank you to Sheila for loaning it to me!) I purposed at the beginning of this month to start reading the New Testament to the kids at breakfast.  We often do Bible or other school reading at meals, so it wasn’t a new thing to my kids for me to read while they ate, but I have been surprised at how much they have paid attention and really interacted with me and with the text as we read.  We’ve read passages of Scripture together and piecemeal chapters, but attempting to read all the way through seemed daunting at first.  I chose to begin in the New Testament since we read a lot of Old Testament last semester while we were studying the ancient world and I thought they might not have heard as much of the New Testament directly (versus just the stories covered in children’s Bibles and Sunday School lessons).

Now that I’ve read Together I feel even more encouraged in this plan of daily reading.  I also found a lot more helpful advice and application in reading it, and I really do recommend it to anyone who takes care of kids regularly, even if they are very young.  As the author notes, Isaiah 55:11 assures us that God’s Word “will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire.”  The testimony of how reading together impacted this one normal family (the author’s kids are teens now and they have read through the Bible several more times since that first foray) is awesome to hear and I’m excited to see how God will use this Bible reading plan in my family as well.

Do you have a plan for reading the Bible through with your kids, or have you tried that in the past?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

A Thought-Provoking Take on Parenting

I have read a lot of parenting books.  I remember as a new parent I really wanted books that gave me a five step program for achieving whatever result I was looking for.  If the five steps were backed up by Bible verses, so much the better.  I still like practical applications when it comes to parenting, but as my kids get older I find that the problems are so much more complex, and so much more demanding than I ever expected, and really y’all, I need vision way, WAY more than I need yet another method.

In spite of what I thought when I was a preteen uberbabysitter, I’m actually not naturally good at this whole parenting thing.  Frankly, I’m not naturally good at much of anything requiring patience, sacrifice, and perseverance.  But that’s where Jesus comes in.  If nothing else, parenting has brought home to me time and again how much I need a savior and how much work God has left to do in my life.

That’s why Michelle Anthony’s book Spiritual Parenting: An Awakening for Today’s Families hit me so hard.  In reading about the vision we should have for our kids and our role in casting and modeling that vision, I felt challenged at numerous points that God wants to change ME and MY character and behavior, and that if I don’t accept that conviction, I’ll have a hard time showing my kids how to do so.

The book is packed with thought-provoking vision leavened with just enough practical application that you understand it and are inspired, without feeling bound to do things in one specific way.  A couple of the points stuck out to me particularly:

  • The importance of showing our kids that they are part of a larger story–God’s story.  I recently had a talk with a friend who does not have this worldview, and I left the conversation feeling so grateful that I have a perspective wider than my own story.  As Anthony writes, this frees us to worship God and not ourselves.  I was challenged to think of ways to convey this to my kids–it’s one of the main inspirations for how I homeschool (although I wouldn’t have thought to articulate it this way) but I am thinking of ways to more explicitly ground the way my kids understand the world as being God’s story, not theirs.
  • Not allowing my words to define my children in negative ways.  As Anthony says, “Spiritual parenting tells our children, ‘Yes, this time you did not choose truth, but this does not define you.  This is not who you are.  You still belong to God.’…We must remind them of their true identity because guilt and shame are debilitating demons.”  I’ve started using this idea to change the way I pray over the kids at night, praying very specific blessings and asking God to make them kind, strong, and things like that.  Even in the few days I’ve done so, it has been interesting to see how their own prayers have changed.  I hope that over time their view of themselves will also change to incorporate more positive things.
  • Teaching children to have a heart for service.  I was convicted to examine my own attitudes toward how I serve my family and others, and was inspired to try to cultivate and atmosphere of serving in our home.  Anthony describes how her family uses the phrase “What needs to be done?” to remind them to have a heart for service in every situation, circumstance, and relationship.  I loved the emphasis Anthony put on service as an act of worship–that we offer a spiritual service to God when we serve others.  What a terrific viewpoint to have.  It’s one I am praying to see increased in myself as well as in my family.
  • The importance of responsibility.  Anthony writes, “To be responsible for someone or something makes us accountable.  And if I live in an environment where I am not responsible for anything or anyone, I become self-centered, selfish, and myopic in my perspective.”  I had not really given much thought to what underlies responsibility or how to foster it, and I appreciated the chapter on how children (and adults) can train themselves to take responsibility, especially for others–even just looking for someone who needs kindness or encouragement–and how that helps us to tune in to what God is doing all around us.  Anthony also makes an interesting and helpful connection between responsibility and generosity, which makes sense given the other-centered focus of both traits, and offers lots of helpful ideas for how to foster those qualities.
  • Teaching children respect–and respecting them.  Anthony’s thoughts on showing children respect in little things like just looking them in the eye and listening generously were very helpful and I thought her observations about how children model the respect they have observed in their parents were sound.

There were tons of other points in the book and I’m sure different ones would impact you, but ultimately I think the strength of the book is the idea that God is working on parents as much as He is working on children, and that we can have hope and be encouraged because of that.  At one point Anthony writes, “I desperately want to teach my children to be sacrificial and other-centered, to have eyes to see the needs around them, and then to take responsibility for what God is asking them to do.  So this is why so much of being a spiritual parent is about the work that God wants to do in each of us–first.”

I finished the book with dozens upon dozens of tabs marking things I wanted to remember, but rather than feeling weighed down by yet another to-do list, I felt uplifted by Anthony’s statement that as a parent I must “recognize the enormity of my responsibility and then faithfully seek God for the wisdom and power I need but don’t possess.”  Amen!

Spiritual Parenting is a really amazing book, and I would highly, highly recommend it to all parents.  If you really only have time to read one or two parenting books, this is one I might recommend for one of the spots.  It’s that good.  If you read it, please let me know what you think!


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.