A Messy, Beautiful, Grateful Mama

Our family is in the midst of a month-long camping trip. In a tent. The seven of us loaded up our car with camping gear and set off for some of the most beautiful national parks in the country. Some called us cool. Others {the ones who have done it before} called us insane. I think we are a bit of both.

The pictures on Instagram paint a beautiful picture of a family enjoying God’s scenery and each other. And we have. And we are. But it only tells the pretty bits of the story. Because who wants to take pictures of fights over “my space” in the backseat or the potty accident that threatens to push mama over the edge?

Real moments with real people aren’t Pinterest-worthy or Instagramable. The real story, the full story, is that life is messy. We are messy.

I am a messy mama.

The more sinners you pile in a car or a tent, the more opportunity  for sin to spill and get all over everybody.

Ugly words when he bumps her while climbing into the back seat.
Patience wears thin when she takes forever to brush her teeth and boys hop back and forth on feet waiting and watching their
breath in the wind.
 Harsh criticism leaps from lips when sleeping bags are accidently stolen in the middle of a frostbitten night.
Sinful words escape when he wants to check and recheck the tie-downs and she just wants to get going already.

Life together and being a mom is just so darn messy. My sin, staring me in the face is uncomfortable and mothering is incredibly humbling. Can I get an AMEN?!

I am a messy, beautiful, grateful mama and am going to find the beautiful in this mess.

I am going to embrace the awkwardness of the mess.

When I fail, lose my temper, I am going to press in. Ask for forgiveness. Get grace. Start again. And use my failings to point to the Gospel.  As Jerry Bridges said, “We truly appreciate the gospel when we become desperate for it.”  And desperate I am.

When our perspective of this life is nearsighted, we come to believe that what is in front of us is all there is. We resist doing the awkward things entailed in walking in love. We despise the hard work it takes to run the race.” -Gloria FurmanGlimpses of Grace

I am going to look up and see True Beauty.

We become what we gaze upon. And so I am going to look on His glory, His love, His beauty, and find myself changed when I do. “But we all with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18

I am going to be grateful.

Grateful for these messy beautiful moments, because I will never get them back. Because they are growing as fast as I can blink. And in a few short years, I will be thinking back wistfully to these moments, wishing to live them again. I am going to grab the moments that take my breath away, and hold them in my heart forever. 

Sometimes the messiest moments in our lives turn out to be the most beautiful, the most breathtaking, the most cherished.

And the messiest mamas can be the most beautiful as they point to The Most Beautiful One of all.  

So here’s to us, you and me.

Messy, Beautiful, Grateful Mamas.

What is Your Question About Marriage?

These are my parents. Aren’t they cute? They have been married for 41 years and have been on the Family Life Weekend to Remember Speaker Team since I was in high school {that’s a looonnng time!}. My dad is a full-time pastor, and they speak for Family Life several weekends a year.

My wonderful mom is joining me here at Grace Full Mama on Mondays in February, and we are going to do a series on marriage together! I am so excited! I don’t promise we will get it all right, but we are working hard to bring you some godly wisdom and encouragement for your marriage!

So, here is my question to you:  What is your question about marriage? What is the one question you would like to ask an older woman on the topic of marriage? Or what one topic would you like to hear about?  Let us know in the comments!

Don’t forget to subscribe to get your free copy of my ebook, Cultivating a Heart for Motherhood!

Choosing the Engine {Guest Post}

Today I am so pleased to welcome my dear friend, Carrie {Carrie’s Busy Nothings}, here today.  She has wonderful encouragement for us today.  Here she is:

I recently found myself in a discussion with “Lily”, a friend who felt like she was in a dead end marriage. Her husband was always gone, she was no longer sure that having kids was such a good idea, and she was afraid to pray for the Lord to fix it because she honestly just wanted it all to end.

How’s your spiritual life?” I asked, pretty sure I knew what the answer would be.

Non-existent. With handling the kids by myself, I just don’t have time.

Really? No time? Let’s think about that for a second. Every single day we make choices that will either encourage us to be more like Christ, or steer us in the direction of the world. Lest you think I am pointing fingers, let it be known that I am as guilty of this as anyone else.

Five minutes reading and meditating on a Psalmor popping on Facebook? {Guilty}

Two minutes talking to my Heavenly Fatheror checking Twitter to see what’s new? {Guilty}

Half an hour of Bible studyor cruising around Pinterest? {Seriously Guilty}

“Lily” went on to share that she no longer felt love for her husband. In fact, her feelings, she said, were gone. Feelings – they are such an interesting way to run your life. Let me tell you a story about a little girl, a little train, a very wise mama, and a lifelong lesson.

Once upon a time, when I was a very little girl, my mother sat me down in front of a flannel graph board. On it, she had a little flannel train, with an engine, a coal car, and a caboose.

The engine, she said, represented FACTS – GOD’S WORD, which is what should drive the train (representing LIFE) – it is Truth.

The coal car is FAITH, it’s what feeds the engine. Faith in God’s Word (the Truth) keeps you on track.

The final little red caboose represented FEELINGS. “Yes,” Mom would say, “feelings are a natural part of human nature, but they only work if they are kept in check behind the truth of GOD’S  WORD, and your FAITH in it.” Mom would then take the caboose from the back of the flannel train, and attach it to the front of the engine.

“What happens,” she would ask, “when the caboose tries to run the train?”

It runs amuck. It deviates from the track and causes all kinds of chaos. “Do you want to run your life by the caboose, or by the Engine, Carrie?

The Engine, Mama. The Engine.

When I was sixteen, I listened to a tape by a funny little Indian man named Ravi Zacharias. You may have heard of him, he’s a famous apologist and one of my favorite speakers, but at the time, I didn’t have a clue who he was. Ravi shared the story of his brother’s arranged marriage, and of his own disbelief that anyone could marry someone they didn’t love. “Ravi”, said his brother, “don’t you know that love is as much an act of the will as it is an emotion? And if you will to love someone, you can.

Those words set my life on a path that I never expected. Two years later, Joy’s husband was standing next to us as my husband and I pledged our lives to each other. Over the years, there have been times when the feelings ebb and flow, but each day, I have a choice. 

I can choose to trust (and obey) God’s Word, or I can let the caboose carry me away. When I choose to love my husband when he is being unlovable (which doesn’t happen often, but he is still human!), the feelings always follow, just as the caboose will always follow the engine, as long as they are kept in the correct order.

I don’t know what track “Lily” will take. I don’t know what choices you or I will make this week, but I pray that each of us will choose wisely how we spend our time and Who is driving the train.

Thank you so much, Carrie! Thanks, too, for that wonderful pregnant picture of me….ahem. Make sure to visit Carrie at her blog, Carrie’s Busy Nothings!!

6 Ways To Build Up Your Husband {Guest Post}

*Please welcome my friend, Darlene, from Time Warp Wife, today as she shares some great ideas on how to build up your husband!*

Last night I noticed a little water on the kitchen floor by the sink, which is par for the course considering that most days Nathaniel spills far more than he drinks. But when I noticed a bulging box of Cascade under the sink this afternoon and another puddle of water beneath my feet I knew we had a leak somewhere that had to be fixed.

It wasn’t too serious, but enough of a drip that I stood on towels to wash dishes and changed my socks once or twice.

The sound of Michael tinkering in the kitchen after dinner was music to my ears. I wondered if he might be too tired or too busy to get to it this evening, but since we both know that water can cause permanent damage if it’s left to soak, he wanted to get it repaired right away.

Looking at the scriptures I’m reminded of yet another damaging drip–a contentious woman.

A continual dripping on a very rainy day,And a contentious woman are alike; ~ Proverbs 27:15

 Contention appears in a number of ways including opposing, nagging, arguing, challenging, belittling, and competing. And why do we do it? Because somehow we think that by nagging him we’re encouraging our husbands to be a better person.

It seems to makes sense at the time, but the truth is that many of our husbands–and many wives for that matter–have fragile egos that should be handled with care and respect.

In the same way that a leaky faucet can cause permanent damage, our words if left unchecked can damage our relationships and cause cause resentment to grow. I can’t imagine what the state of my kitchen would be if we let that faucet leak for 10 years, but in some marriages that’s what’s happening. Sometimes the damage appears surmountable. Giving up–they walk away.

If this problem is going on in our marriage, we need to get in there and immediately start to make changes that work to build up our husbands rather than tearing them down. Certainly it takes the work of two people to form a strong marriage bond, butmy advice to you is that we concentrate on our share of the work and leave them to do theirs.

Here are six ways we can start building up our husbands today:

  1. Listen to what he has to say so that you will recognize what’s on his heart.
  2. Make an effort to be as cheerful as you were when you were engaged to be married.
  3. Ignore his faults and focus on his strong points by taking note of them.
  4. Compliment him for the way that he looks and the good things that he does like working hard for the family.
  5. See him for who he is, not who you want him to be.
  6. Be slow to anger. Relay your frustration with love, respect, and a cool head.
You are loved by an almighty God,
Thank you Darlene! Here is a little more about Darlene:

Darlene is an ordinary mom, living an extraordinary life, because of who she is through Jesus Christ. As help-meet to her husband Michael, she guides and nurtures their four children, leading them toward a deeper walk of faith.  She is a New York Times best-selling author through the book she co-authored with actress Candace Cameron Bure titled, Reshaping it All: Motivation for Physical and Spiritual Fitness.  You can find her blogging at Time-Warp Wife where she empowers wives to joyfully serve and on twitter.

20 Things I Want To Tell Engaged And Newlywed Women {Really All Married Women}

advice for christian engaged and newlywed women

 1. Marriage is made up of two good forgivers. Because every marriage is made up of two sinners. (Romans 3:23)

2. At some point, you will have to learn that life isn’t all about you. (Philippians 2:3)

3. Don’t listen to women that tell you that passion fades…it doesn’t have to! (um…all of Song of Solomon)

4. Don’t give up. Love never fails. (1 Cor. 13)

5. He wants a kind wife, not a maid or another mother. Be nice. (Galatians 5:22-23)

6. Give your husband the gift of your respect.  He needs it more than you know. (Ephesians 5:33)

7. Be mindful of your expectations.

8. Honor the Lord above all things. Colossians 3: 17

9. Find your worth and security in the Lord, and don’t look to your husband to meet all of your needs.

10. Be very careful about reading romance novels, they set you up for an unrealistic view of romance.

11. Real romance is finding that one spot in the crook of his arm to snuggle into, that shared look over the dinner table when the kids are acting crazy, and the way he fixes the leaky sink when he is dog-tired after work.

12. Love is about relationship.  The more I love my husband, and seek a relationship with him, the less critical and duty-bound I become.  It is similar to my relationship with God.

13. Be thankful for the husband you have. Accept him as he is, not for what you want him to be.

14. Don’t compare!! Don’t buy into the game of comparing him with anyone else’s husband.

15.The Biblically “normal” marriage is filled with joy, connection, laughter, and peace.  It’s not free of hurt feelings and conflict, but they know how to process their pain with one another so that they live more often in a meadow than at the scene of a train wreck.  This is not the average marriage, but it normal – -because it is a visible display of Jesus’ relationship with His bride (Ephesians 5:22-33).

16. Your marriage is a testimony!The #1 evangelistic tool in America (the world) today is a successful marriage, because it’s a living miracle!” – Dr. Joe Aldrich, former president of Multnomah Bible College.

17. Pray for your marriage. Pray hard.

18.I’ve heard that is gets better with age.  I have to say in my short {13 year} experience, that is so true.

19. Where there is God, there is always hope. Even for the most broken marriages. “With God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

20.Marriage is commitment and sacrifice. But it’s also the best, most wild ride you will ever have with your best friend.

What would you add to this list?

Thanks for visiting! I invite you to subscribe to Grace Full Mama here.

A special thank you to my parents, Alan and Theda Hlavka, for help with this list.  As a couple that speaks for Family Life Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences and with 41 years of marriage under their belt, they know what they are talking about!

Photo credit: Tripp Flythe, Linking up with The Better Mom and Women Living Well

A Kind Wife

About a year ago, I sent my husband a list of things that I thought that he might like to see me do around the house.  I asked him to put the list according to priority, from greatest to least.

Here is the exact list that I sent to him:

 -clean, ironed laundry
-yummy meals including lunches
-fresh, homemade bread for your sandwiches
-keeping up with emails
-thank you notes
- outreach in the community
-hospitality/ having people over
- making sure there are cookies or something yummy for you when you get home (including tea)
-a clean, picked up house

 And, this was his exact response:

Thanks, but I would rather have you put aside anything/everything you have to do in order to start each day with the assumption that I LOVE YOU, and therefore anything I do or say is given the benefit of the doubt that I LOVE YOU.

 Get enough rest and say no to enough activities so that you have the energy to be NICE TO ME (and the kids) when I’m home.

 Honestly, I appreciate the rest of it, but don’t really care that much if it comes at the expense of the first two things up at the top of the list.  Maybe you think that I think you’re a bad wife or mom if you don’t do this stuff. If so, that is wrong. I would much rather have a messy house, make my own lunches from white, store-bought bread, have no snacks, etc. etc., but have a nice, happy wife who likes me, than the other way around.

 So, to sum it all up, showing me you love me has more to do with WHO you are than what you do!  It’s my best friend I fell in love with and want to hang out with, not my maid!”

You see, I was so busy doing things for my husband, trying to be the perfect wife, that I was getting it all wrong.  I was so tired and stressed that I was snappy, unkind, and impatient.  And the only thing my dear husband wanted was a girlfriend!  Am I saying that it’s wrong to do things for your husband or family? Of course not!  But I am saying to think about keeping being kind as the TOP priority.

 I have learned my lesson.  I have stepped back in many areas in my life in order to have margin and rest, so that I am not over-stressed and my husband {mostly} has a kind, gentle, loving wife.

How about you?  Do you struggle with the stress of getting everything done?  Can I challenge you to put aside some things that might be good in order that you might be able to ensure that you are a kind, fun, loving wife?

My challenge for you today is to put down the duties and be kind! 

Thanks for visiting! I invite you to subscribe by entering your email address here:


I originally published this article at Time Warp Wife, but wanted to share it here as well! Photo credit: Tripp Flythe Linking up with Women Living Well and The Better Mom

Marriage: Taking It On Side By Side

Monday night is date night. Oh, how I love it.  We tune out the rest of the world, and carve out time for the two of us. It begins with an evening walk together, then dinner at home alone, while the kids watch a movie.

We strap on our walking shoes {and awesome bomber helmets!} and hop on our bike and head off to walk together.

As our feet pound on the uneven dirt and pavement, we pound out difficult decisions, future plans, disagreements, frustrations, and hurts. He talks sense into my overreacting mind {and endures all of my tears}, and I listen to the stress of his day.

We walk side by side up the big hills.

 We pass the stinky chicken farm and the smell lingers long.

 We dodge enormous yellow dump trucks as we weave our way through the crater-like pot holes.

We cross to the other side as we come upon a pile of decaying trash.

 Yet, all the struggle is worth it for the moment we get to the top and see the sunset and the beautiful view of the jungle.

In our marriage and life together we have had some big potholes, some really icky garbage, and some nasty smelling junk.  Our marriage isn’t all pretty, and some of it is downright ugly, it always is when you are two selfish sinners, isn’t it? And us, especially so, I am so hard headed and difficult {poor Dave}.

But when we reach the top, all the hard work will be worth it to see the beautiful view of what God has taken, two sinners, and made something beautiful from our efforts to honor Him with our marriage.

Marriage isn’t easy, but it is so worth it. To see God’s fingerprints and sanctifying work and how he has changed us over the last 13 years is amazing and humbling.  I can’t imagine what the next 13 years will hold.  ”Marriage is a major vehicle for the gospel’s remaking of your heart from the inside out and your life from the ground up.”-Tim Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

And in the end of our life together, I want this to be true of us, “Well done, good and faithful servants. Over the years, you have lifted one another up to me.  You sacrificed for one another. You held one another up with prayer and with thanksgiving.  You confronted each other.  You rebuked each other.  You hugged and you loved each other and continually pushed each other toward Me. And now look at you.  You’re radiant.” -Tim Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

 I’m ready to tackle the next big hill, and I’m so glad we are taking it on side by side.

 Thanks for visiting! I invite you to subscribe to Grace Full Mama here.

A Great Guide for Good Girls!

Ok, this good girl is blushing right now, but I’m hitting publish anyway!!  

I am thrilled to welcome Sheila Wray Gregoire here today.  She is a Christian speaker, columnist, and author.  She loves speaking about marriage, parenting, and keeping our eyes on Jesus. She lives in Ontario, Canada, with her husband of 20 years and her two daughters, whom she homeschools.  You can find her blogging at To Love, Honor, and Vacuum.

She has written 5 books and has just released her latest title, The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex!!

I love the way that Sheila is able to delve into a sensitive topic and speak with frankness, biblical wisdom, and grace.  Thank you, Sheila, for laying it all out there for us!!

This is a great go to book if you need any ideas or advice on the topic of sex!

I was able to ask Sheila some questions on some of the topics covered in her book.  Here is our interview:

Joy: What are you best quick tips to help a woman get in the mood?

Sheila: We women need to realize that sex is primarily in our brains. We don’t work like men. Men are aroused before they make love; we women aren’t usually aroused until we start. So if you’re waiting to start panting in order to make love, your sex life will become awfully rare!

But because sex is primarily in our brains, we can then take a bit of control. Make sure you can concentrate! If you have a ton of stuff going on in your brain, bouncing around like a pinball machine, get it out before you start to make love. Talk. Go for a walk with your husband. Tell him, “I don’t need you to solve anything; I just need to get all this out so that I can be fully there with you later.” That will get his attention!

Then, do the things that make you feel close to your husband throughout the day. Text him. Phone him. When you’re together at dinner time, kiss him. Often we stop kissing because we don’t want to promise something we may not want to do later, but then we lose something that makes us feel close to our husbands.

Finally, just think about sex in a positive way. We women can often think of reasons not to have sex–I’m tired, I’m grumpy, he’s been distant, the kids will be up early–but let’s put as much energy into thinking of reasons to have sex! How about: sex helps you sleep. If you’re exhausted, make love, because you’ll fall asleep faster and sleep deeper. It makes you feel closer to your husband. It makes you feel more intimate. It can be relaxing. All of those things are great

Joy: What is your best advice to the woman who wants to enjoy sex with her husband, but has issues from her past that keep her from doing so?

Sheila: This is such a common problem. Whether it’s past abuse or past relationships, we can bring a lot of baggage into marriage. And when I conducted my surveys for The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, I found that one of the biggest sources of baggage was having sex with the man you did marry before the wedding. It isn’t just past partners that can haunt you; it’s sex with the man who is now your husband. You feel guilty about it. Sometimes it was too quick and you didn’t feel any pleasure, and now you doubt you can. All kinds of things can hinder our ability to truly enjoy sex now.

In the book I talk quite a bit about how to walk through this, but I think the main healing comes from recognizing again that sex is not primarily a physical thing. It is an emotional and spiritual connection. And if you can work on that true intimate connection while you make love, sex can take on new meaning. It isn’t something degrading, or disgusting, or shameful, or even just mildly unpleasant. It can be something truly beautiful.

So spend some time just touching each other while you’re naked together. Don’t worry about actually making love; just spend fifteen minutes when you touch each other when you’re not allowed to do anything else. Feel how intimate it is, and how your body can start to respond just from feeling love.

And then pray about it. It sounds really corny to pray before sex, but God does know what you’re doing, and He made it to be wonderful for you. So pray first. The more connected we feel spiritually, the more sexually drawn to each other we will be. Even read a Psalm together every night before you go to bed. As you begin to let God into this part of your relationship, you’ll feel more how much it is blessed and how much it actually is sacred. And that’s the key to actually being able to enjoy it on all levels.

Thank you SO much Sheila for sharing with us today! I pray that this information will help all of us in our marriages today!  If you want lots more great advice from Sheila on this topic, go get her book, The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex!!

Thoughts to share?

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