Reviving Motherhood

Learning on the Journey

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If you need a good dose of encouragement, check out Ann Voskamp’s beautiful blog, Holy Experience.  Ann is gifted…her blog is filled with amazing photography and deep, gentle, words of encouragement.  She wrote just what I needed to hear today…brought tears to my eyes.  I hope you find her words encouraging too.

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Renovation of the Heart

renovation of the heart

I know it’s important for me to grow spiritually, but being a mom drives that point home continuously.  There’s nothing like children to squeeze out a parents’ true character and reveal our greatest flaws.  Being a mom keeps me on my knees, not only for my children, but for myself.

We know that spiritual growth occurs when we stay close to God, praying and reading His Word, the Bible.  But sometimes it’s hard to know just how to appropriate the truths of God’s Word to bring transformation to our lives.  Today I’m reviewing a book that’s been very helpful to me in my spiritual growth, especially in the area of heart/life change.

Several years ago I read Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard. It’s one of the top 10 books I’ve ever read, right up there with Mere Christianity and other great classics of the faith. (Billy said once that this book has impacted him more than any other book he’s read except the Bible.) This was for several reasons. One, it spoke to issues dear to my heart: namely Christian growth into Christlikeness and our ability to change because of Christ. I’ve always used the Christianese term “victorious Christian living” and others have referred to it as “tearing down strongholds”–but Dr. Willard uses the accurate term “spiritual formation”. Our souls are all spiritually formed, the question is, by what? Are we formed into Christlikeness? Can we change? How?

Other things I love about this book are that Dr. Willard speaks with authority yet humility, and that he writes without falling into the tired old “Christian insider” language that so many writers, speakers, and ordinary Christians do (and I include myself here). Dr. Willard is respected across the spectrum of Christianity from those who’d consider themselves fairly liberal to the very conservative. It’s not an easy read. I’m a fast reader, and it took me a couple months to wade through and digest it. But it was well worth all the effort.

Central to Dr. Willard’s philosophy of Christian spiritual formation is the acronym VIM: Vision, Intention, and Means.  I have already given my life to Christ.  From there, in order to become properly spiritually formed, I first must have a vision for where I want to go, a mental picture of what life will look like when I am conformed to Christ’s image. Then I must make up my mind to do it, no matter what kind of hard work I must engage in to get there. I must set myself on a path of growth by the grace of God. I must intend to do it. And finally, I must recognize and exercise the means by which this change and growth will take place. This will be somewhat different for each person, but it might include certain spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, solitude, fasting, and journaling; reading biographies of great Christians who lived in ways that characterize the Christian graces I lack; time spent in the presence of Christ-followers who are farther down the road of formation than I am; spiritual retreat; and a host of other possibilities. Ultimately, spiritual formation happens when we raise the white flag of surrender over our lives. In fact, the white flag is on the cover of Renovation of the Heart. Commitment, Dr. Willard says, leaves us in control. Surrender acknowledges that we are giving control to a power higher than ourselves.

dallas willard

Dr. Willard, who teaches philosophy at USC as a missionary to the academic community, has been called today’s C.S. Lewis. Billy had the privilege of interviewing him a couple of years ago when we went to California. Billy said that far more than just the information Dr. Willard shared with him, he learned from his presence. He was impressed especially by the genuine aura of Christian grace in Dr. Willard’s life. It’s a presence that can’t be faked, but must come from true apprenticeship to Jesus. Knowing that Dr. Willard’s message is personally evident in his life, rather than just being so much information in black and white, gives even more credence to this great work.

There’s also a video curriculum for Renovation of the Heart, which is excellent too. Sometimes it’s helpful to participate in the video study first to get on overview of the principles of spiritual formation, and then read the book later if you desire to dig deeper. Unless you’re one who loves to read and finds philosophical and theological works fun, it would be easy to get bogged down by the book at first glance. I know, personally, that I benefited from re-reading the book once I had that overview. There is also a simplified version of Renovation available called Reformation of Character, as well as a Renovation of the Heart for students. (I’m not usually a fan of “for teen” editions but in this case it was probably prudent.)

I said all that to encourage anyone to explore the idea of spiritual formation, and especially to check into the book, study, or other resources that have stemmed from Renovation of the Heart. These works have been and continue to be amazing tools in my spiritual growth. I’m happy to recommend them without reservation.


How Long Should I Breastfeed? Part 2

Jenny Silliman, age 50

My Titus 2 mentors aren’t celebrities.  Most of them are moms in the trenches just like me, godly ladies who are farther down the mothering road than I am.  I’ve written before about my friend Jenny.  She’s a mom of 8 children, some of whom are nearly as old as I am.  When I got pregnant with Elizabeth she called me just to congratulate and encourage me.  What a surprise!  Until that point I had mainly thought of her as my mom’s friend, but that phone call changed my life and cemented our friendship.

Her advice particularly impacted my mothering style.  Before that I had some vague notions about mothering but I didn’t have a lot of concrete goals, especially for the infant stage.  Jenny talked to me about preparing for birth, nutrition, responding to and nurturing my baby, and breastfeeding.  Her advice to try to breastfeed for two years took me a little by surprise.  “Baby’s brain is growing so fast until age two,” she explained.  “And breast milk is the perfect brain food!”  Until then I hadn’t given much thought to how long I would nurse my babies.  A year?  Eighteen months?  I had no idea.  This made sense and gave me a goal to shoot for.

I have to admit that I was the odd girl out among my friends.  Most of them didn’t breastfeed at all, let alone for longer than a year.  And that was fine.  I certainly didn’t (and don’t) judge or criticize them for that, but I was definitely alone in the breastfeeding department.

All the same, I am so glad that I took my wise friend’s advice and aimed for that two-year mark!  I soon learned that many experts agree, breastfeeding past one year is fine for baby and may even confer great benefits.  I found it interesting that Jenny’s rule of thumb was being backed up by medical professionals.  (There are a plethora of studies that have discovered the many benefits of breastfeeding to both baby and mom.)

Personally, I can say that breastfeeding longer than average has benefited my children enormously, especially in the area of immunity.  Elizabeth caught her first virus just weeks after I weaned her.  Our one-time pediatrician (himself a father of eight) concurred that in his observation, it made all the difference in the strength of a small child’s immune system.

Breastfeeding until a certain age is certainly not an issue of right or wrong.  When you choose to wean is not something I’d criticize anyone for. I believe God leads each of us differently in our mothering, and the important thing is to be sensitive to Him, even in something as basic as how to feed our children.

I just share my Jenny story just to encourage you: If you have considered breastfeeding past age 1, it’s OK.  Go right ahead.  Not only will it not hurt anything (even the AAP explicitly states so) but it will probably be beneficial to your little one.  It’s fine to nurse for both nutrition and comfort.  In the Bible, Isaiah 66:10-13 makes reference to a mother nursing her child for comfort: “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice greatly with her, all you who mourn over her.  For you will nurse and be satisfied at her comforting breasts; you will drink deeply and delight in her overflowing abundance.”  For this is what the LORD says: “I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream; you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees.  As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.”

It might cause a raised eyebrow or two, but remember that whether you are able to breastfeed for just a little while or whether you choose to go for longer than your friends, what’s important is that you are doing what you believe is best for your baby.  Nourish with confidence!

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Boosting Your Immune System

nurse bedside

I don’t normally post on Wednesdays, but there is sooooooo much sickness going around that I thought I’d pop in to offer a roundup of thoughts on avoiding sickness, and flu in particular.  Obviously this isn’t to be taken as medical advice; I’m just sharing a few things I’ve found helpful to me.  Do your own research and act accordingly.

In The Vaccine Book, Dr. Robert Sears gives this list of tips for boosting your child’s immune system:

1. Breastfeed

2. Minimize sugar and junk food

3. Minimize other chemical exposures (especially in foods)

4. Use omega-3 oil supplements

5. Give your child a probiotic supplement

6. Fruits and vegetables

7. Vitamin A

8. Vitamin C

Here are some other helpful posts and articles:

10 Tips for Building Your Immune System

Canada Looks at Vitamin D for Swine Flu Protection

More Evidence That Vitamin D Beats the Flu

Which is interesting, considering this CNN report that 70% of American children are vitamin D deficient.


How Long Should I Breastfeed? Part 1

mother baby

Note:  This isn’t a diatribe against people who can’t/don’t breastfeed or those  who don’t breastfeed for a full  year.  No judgment here! It’s directed toward moms who haven’t decided how long to breastfeed or who have committed to do so at least till the one-year mark and wonder what comes next.

Recently a first-time-mom friend asked me about how long to breastfeed.  Interesting, because I had just been thinking about writing something along those lines.

The main question some moms seem to have is that they plan to wean at one year, but their babies still seems very attached.  They wonder: Is it OK to breastfeed past the first birthday?

The short answer is yes.  Not only is it OK, it’s probably quite beneficial to baby.  Many babies just aren’t ready to wean at 12 months.  In its most recent breastfeeding guidelines, the American Association of Pediatrics says:

“Increased duration of breastfeeding confers significant health and developmental benefits for the child and the mother, especially in delaying return of fertility (thereby promoting optimal intervals between births).

There is no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychologic or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer.”

Here’s what the World Health Organization recommends:

“Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.”

In The Vaccine Book, Dr. Robert Sears (of the well-respected Sears family of pediatricians) says:

“If you are breastfeeding, plan to do so for a minimum of one year.  Two years is better.  Not only will your baby catch fewer illnesses, but her immune system may be better equipped to handle vaccines.”

So if you’ve ever wondered, experts agree that breastfeeding longer than one year is just fine, even to be encouraged.  If you choose to wean at 12 months, good for you for making it to that point!  But if you choose to continue, go for it!

Look for part 2, the story of my mom mentor Jenny who gave me wonderful breastfeeding advice!