Category Archives: mothering

Word-Paint: The Inside-Outside Conundrum {A Featured Story by Amber Cadenas}

I am so pleased to announce that we’ve chosen a story to be featured, a beautiful word-painting by Amber Cadenas. Kelli introduces her friend (and my *new* friend) below::

Amber Cadenas is a fellow sojourner with a penchant for all things creative, gentle, and transcendent. She calls her blog Beautiful Rubbish with a subtitle that could not fit any better: the everyday art of learning to see. Her writing is luminous and often reflects the bite of starlight in which it was conceived. Please welcome her voice as the final contribution to this series: The Conundrums of Christian Writing and Blogging. ~Kelli Woodford

                                 photo credit 



“Can you be inside and outside at the same time?
I think this is where I live.
I think this is where most women live.
I think this is where writers live.
Inside to write. Outside to glean.”
~ Terry Tempest Williams*
Paint me a picture, I say to myself, of this tension of inside-outside living. So my pen becomes a paintbrush and I dip it in the colors of memory, splashing across a canvas of blank white page.
I am inside and outside, a woman on both sides of the looking glass.
* * * * *
I call myself a writer, most of the time, with varying degrees of confident assurance. I have a blog, where I air my words and my heart, one to three times a week. I surround myself with good books that inspire me in the craft. I have a group of writer friends who make me believe, at times I can soar on the wings of their prose, and maybe even on the wings of my own.
I am inside.
I hold my tongue, refuse to say this is who I am, because I am just not convinced. Maybe I got it all wrong. Maybe this is the last remaining, tattered shred of youthful idealism I’m clinging to and I need to let it go. How could I ever think I’m a writer?
I am outside.
* * * * *
I am inside the church where we worship on Sundays. Where we stand, sit, kneel, sing, speak, listen and hold the silence of liturgy. I am surrounded by people, many whom I don’t know, some whom I call “community.” We feast together at the table of communion, we share the same creeds of faith. We love the same Jesus.
I am inside.
I look up at the landscape of the front of the church sanctuary. Men leading us in worship through instruments and song. Men serving the bread and the wine. Men praying the prayers. Men preaching the sacred word. I feel silenced, disappearing in the pew.
I am outside.
* * * * *
I wear a wedding band, possess a certificate of marriage. We share the same address, the same car, the same bed, the same last name. We’re gradually crossing over for each other without losing sight of ourselves. He’s immersed in my culture and I in his.
I am inside.
We coexist, side by side. We give affection and we withhold. We sleep with a wall of fear, of silence, of weariness, of distant longing between us. I inhabit a place of hope deferred.
I am outside.
* * * * * 
I wrap arms around her and she buries tears in my shoulder. Our hearts are locked together in the ache of sorrow. She has walked through valleys of loss with me, and now, I set out with her. I would do anything to take this pain away.
I am inside.
I am not a mother. I’ve never conceived life, never waited through months of expectancy, nor delivered life into this world. I’ve never seen my body stretch to make room for another. I’ve never grieved a womb that was inhabited, now empty. I do not know this agony.
I am outside.
* * * * * 
I am breathing in rain-soaked air, heavy with cherry blossom fragrance. I am walking, running, standing still, listening to the songs of birds and the symphony of life that arises in my silent wonder. I am drinking in sunsets. I am inhabiting moments of beauty, moments of bravery, moments of failure, moments of being known, moments of loneliness.
I am outside.
I come inside, close the door, and set my hand to write, transferring words from head to hand, my paint across the canvas.

* * * * * 

Amber Cadenas is a people-loving introvert, who pulls espresso shots by day and writes the trail of glory-crumbs that is her story on her blog, Beautiful Rubbish. She is wild about nature, creatures of all kinds, books and spicy foods, and considers herself Mexican at heart, thanks to her husband. Her biggest ambition in life is to know Jesus and become someone who loves well.  



linking with friends, MichelleHolleyEmilyJennifer 

**This here is the final wrap-up of a series on writing–the last week! Let’s all gather around the table in the comments and discuss and show Amber some love! I will still be writing about once a week (hopefully) about the issues we face as writers, and I’ll be encouraging you to be brave in your writing journey!

Other posts in this series below  

In Which I Invite Us All to the Table –Nacole Simmons

A Hand In Your Own — a guest post from Kelli Woodford


A Divided Loyalty and the Stinging Truth –a guest post from Michelle DeRusha   

Rooted In A Tangible Grace — Kelli Woodford   

On Prostitution: Cheap Grace and One Word: Enough –Nacole Simmons

In The End, Three Things Remain –a guest post from Holly Grantham

What I Want You to Know About Mental Illness, Social Media, and Community –Nacole Simmons

On Vulnerability and Boundaries –a guest post from Diana Trautwein 

Walking With Christ Online :: thoughts on faith, calling, and diversity –a guest post from Lisha Epperson

Brokenness, A Grace-Bathed Thread — by Kelli Woodford and Nacole Simmons

Dream With Audaciousness, Daughter {An Abstraction on Hands}



Driving on the interstate in the dark, we’re speeding toward the huge bookstore chain in our little clunker of a van, better known as my husband’s work van. I would prefer a small, local bookstore, but they’re the only ones open late at night for a spontaneous, must-have-this-book-tomorrow trip. I’ve got a hankerin’ for some coffee shop goodies; this little expedition needs to be worth it.

She is small in the passenger seat next to me, her face hidden in the shadows as we bumble along, the old van making strange noises I just ignore.

We pull into the parking space, and I throw on some lip gloss. She explains, with a little laugh, when I look at her, I’m sorry, but I look horrible, as she quickly dabs on mascara.

I wonder where she heard that? I watch her with a smile, thinking how quickly she’s grown, and did I do everything right, and should she really be wearing mascara at this age, and oh my god, she’s so beautiful. 

We walk into the store, and they don’t even have the book we drove the twenty minutes for, and sometimes I feel like an idiot of a mother who gets everything wrong, and sometimes I have my shining moments of glory, because tonight I get to be her hero.

Earlier back at the house, I’d called her, and she’d slowly come toward me, letting out a deep sigh and an umph, and I gently corrected her because I could tell she was in a bad mood. But the gentle correction pulled out the real problem. Her lips crumpled, and with tears in her eyes, she told me she had just realized we had forgotten to get the literature book she had to have for school the next day.

Tears running down her face, I told her I would take her to get what she needed. I heaved myself up off the couch, shuffled into the kitchen in my slippers to let husband know, and after sliding back into the same clothes and pulling on the riding boots I’d just taken off after returning home from town moments before, we were off. Just us women becoming.

In the bookstore, the smell of coffee is strong, and the warmth of the books all around, feeling like friends, they envelop me. We don’t get to walk out with the book, but all is not lost, because we sit down at a tiny round table by the window to dip grasshopper mint biscotti into a chocolate caramel de-caff latte, and then pick up a Harry Potter movie to watch together on the way out, and we climb into the van with talk of ordering that book on Amazon.

On the way home, spiraling there in this chaotic sort of way, weary to get into bed, it must have been Nelson Mendela’s book she’d asked about in the store that got her thinking. She says to me hey Mama, what about that letter I got about the summer trip to Europe, the one where we go and get experience and help people–am I still doing that? 

Because I think I’d like to be a missionary. And I think it’d be good for me to get the experience. It’s good life-experience, you know?

The world seems to just stop spinning, and the old wheels of the van’s still turning at lightening speeds, but my heart stands still and my breath catches.

I reach over, slide my hand into hers, hold on tight, and tell her Wow, those are some amazing thoughts you’re having. I breathe shallow, wait a few beats, then– and I totally respect that, so very much, Lorna. I wish I could see her face, shrouded by the blackness of night. I can feel her smile.

She goes on in her hurried talk as if she’s blurting it out before she loses her nerve. I want to marry a man with money, so that we can build a business, and go to Africa. 

A rich man, huh? I look at her out of the corner of my eye, a sly grin playing on the edge of my mouth, and she glances at me, the smile jumping over and dancing on her profile in the dark. I wish for light, but it’s almost better this way, whispering secrets of our hearts to one another in the velvety-black of sky and stars whizzing by. I think it makes her braver.


I will build a hospital, she says, and give each family all the medicine and help they need to be healthy. I want to travel from town to town on the whole continent of Africa, building houses, hospitals, schools, and wells for the people so they’ll have clean water. 

I grin from ear to ear and in spite of life’s hardships that make me forget how to laugh, and remembering too often my failings as a mother, not sure if I’m getting it right, my heart fills with such hope at her words.

Those words make me know that just maybe I haven’t messed up as badly as I think.

There is nothing better on this earth than a child. Purity. Innocence. Beauty. Wildness. Courage and bravery. Audaciousness. Unconditional love. Curiosity and appreciation for the world around them.

In that moment, holding her hand in the grey van, as it squeals its way toward home, I feel God’s glory. Yes, He is right here with  me, in the form of a child. I see Him in her face, in her brave words, in her giving heart, in her fierce care for others to have clean water, strangers to her, living on the other side of the world.

She makes me see how we’re all holding hands, how God looks down and sees us all at once, and seas and distance and race and time and prestige and position and money and power and good deeds mean nothing to Him. He sees all of us, his children. He could scoop us all up with his mighty hand. We are much closer to one another than we think, much more connected than we believe.

We slide out of our seats once we’ve pulled up in the driveway, and I start up the steps, only noticing the footsteps right in front of me. But my daughter, she’s looking all around her, and says Woah, Mama, the stars! I can see all of them, so beautiful!  

I look up, really seeing for the first time. This is what she does for me. Glory. They burst, and glow at me, saying something. We’re all connected across the miles. I can see the big dipper! she points it out.

And those in Africa tonight, so can they. So can they, dear child. Dream with audaciousness, and with all courage God’s given, daughter.

His Kingdom has come, here on earth.

What this link-up is about: We “write out spirit” by practicing writing about the invisible using concrete words. In case you are going “what in the world is a concrete word?!“–this just means (using the prompt to inspire) write out what’s around us–concrete words make the senses come alive, gives place. In every story, there is always an above and beneath, a beside, something tucked away, aromas in the air, something calling in the trees or from the street, notes in our pocket, rocks in our shoes, sand between our toes. Go here to see Amber Haine’s take on this. It was very helpful to me–I think it will be beneficial for you, too.


A few simple guidelines:       1. Be sure you link up the URL to your Concrete Words
                                             post and not just your blog home page URL.
                                         2. Put a link to this post on your blog so that others
                                             can find their way back here.
                                         3. Try to visit one or two others and encourage their efforts
                                         4. Please write along with us, using concrete words–
                                             and the prompt–Please no entries with how-to’s, advertising,
                                             or sponsored posts
                                         5. We connect on twitter with the hashtag #concretewords–
                                               please share so others can join!

Today’s prompt is HandsGO!


**{This link up will run until Sunday, the 2nd, 11:59 pm, giving you plenty of time to write and link-up before the next concrete words is posted. I will read your stories and highlight one of them from this link-up on social media. On Monday, Feb. 3rd, the prompt will be *Dirt*.}


In the Trenches {& 15 Best Links of the Week & A Fun Weekend Challenge}

I stay up too late, trying to catch some quiet, relished moments, and then need extra sleep in the morning because my body can’t function on little rest.

When I walk in and face the children, it feels like they have one over on me, like I just can’t keep up.

Always running to keep up and I’m so weary. Chronic illness for three and a half years, and the battle is getting harder, just when I thought I could see the top of the mountain, hoping I could start climbing down the other side. It was only a thick cloud hiding the ever-towering mountain from my weary eyes.

I don’t feel very brave. But some say being brave is about getting in the fight, and not sitting on the sidelines. Some say it’s not brave unless you’re afraid.

And I’m very afraid. I think of their precious faces, and I pray will all my heart that He would heal this illness so that I can wake each morning feeling like a conqueror.

I heard someone say recently, that if we felt like conquerors, if there were no battle to keep us in the trenches, we would never learn humility.

I guess the bravest of us really are in the trenches, learning the ropes that are ever-changing, climbing high with all our might, just to get to the top and realize there is a long way to go.

And with God, He sees all that lies ahead, and He keeps us going when we feel like giving up the race, and falling to the sidelines, becoming a spectator.

I feel His thrumming in my chest, when I lie awake, when all the house is quiet, and He says, stay in it, child. Don’t give up, beloved. There is work to be done yet. Until then, rest. But don’t ever give up or give in.

Keep going, put one foot in front of the other and do the next good thing.

**On Fridays I join Lisa-Jo and the #FiveMinuteFriday Community. We write for five minutes flat, with no extreme editing, no worrying about perfect grammar, no worrying if our words sound just right. “Unscripted. Unedited. Real.”–Lisa-Jo Baker

The one-word prompt this week: BRAVE.

 Five Minute Friday

Now for #concretewords highlight of the week! The writer I’m highlighting this week for #concretewords is:

Janel Andrews for Piano #1–in Poetic Form —I absolutely loved reading this. Gorgeous. Janel is totally new to Concrete Words–let’s encourage her!

*********
Some lovely reading, some creativity, some beauty for the weekend?

All the best links for me this week: {And stay tuned or scroll down for your weekend challenge!! FUN!}

This story–only Amber Haines can say the words caddywhompus, webbernets, and talk about flowers and Kingdom come in a way that makes me want to know God like a child again all in one post. This girl is amazing. 
This post by Lisa-Jo. Seriously. If you’re a mother, you need this one. This weekend. Read this and breathe. 
THIS by Seth Haines–if you read one thing on this list–this. I believe in God the Father, Almighty maker of heaven, maker of earth. Beautiful video at the end of Rich Mullins. 
This one by Deidra Riggs–yes, yes, yes.  
This video based on one of Lisa-Jo’s post. All of us mothers need to watch this a couple times, y’all. At least. 
This post by Ann Voskamp— this blessed me, got down under my skin in all the right ways… for the days when life is unbearably moving too fast, and you aren’t sure how to hold on…. just remember a sheen of grace covers everything…
This post by my friend, Holly, at A Lifetime of Days— absolutely glorious. For when you need a change, and things are stale. 
Some beauty to capture and open the brain to possibility…beautiful places all over the world 
Some creativity for the weekend–a wall that happily heralds summer… I will definitely be doing this… I’ll get some white frames on the cheap… This is so easy–just some leaves and spray-paint!
This video on making tiny gardens is interesting and may inspire a hobby this summer? I would recycle things around the house for my own tiny garden–broken clay pots & pieces, stones & rocks to make paths, marbles for garden globes….

For the Writers:
This post from Margaret Feinberg :things we all need to know, whether we write on a blog, or writing a book
Laura Boggess writes an informative post to help us avoid the snags of bad style
Mary Demuth’s 25 Very Best Blog Practices–this helped me. Some of it I already knew–but it’s good to have it re-confirmed. My guess is it will be beneficial to you, too. 
Your weekend challenge from Moi: Go out into your swampy, snowy, icicle-y yard {whichever applies to your region} and find some beauty–take your camera with you and snap something. I’m doing this, too! Just for kicks: Link pics in comments here all weekend.  The rest of your challenge is below…. Happy weekend, friends! 
Tell me in the comments: What were your favorite links this week? How do you struggle to be brave? 

True Revival: The Long-Lasting Kind {And A Call to Concrete Words}



So last year I wrote this, and I’ve been thinking hard on it, how I’ve failed at lent this year, how it’s been non-existent for me, how a diagnosis back in the fall, a diagnosis no one wants to receive, has taken over my life like some dark cloud, a dark, foreboding heavy cloak that weighs me down, seeming like a foreshadowing of what is to come. This illness, it seems to have sapped all the strength right out of me.

It lays on us thick, making the dredging through everyday feel like it’s impossible to force laughter to gurgle up and out. I sit in the cold stillness, sweater wrapped round my body, lambswool blanket my comforting security, and I watch them play, watch them laugh, and some days when they seem tired and docile, I worry about them.

Sometimes it seems like my long-legged girl has forgotten how to smile, and I wonder if she mirrors me.

My tall Lorna has such a strong heart, and there has been a few mornings she has woke her Mama up and brought hot tea. When she does these things for me, I see such a nurturing mother in her, already at almost twelve, and I feel confident and sure for all the future children tucked away quiet in her womb.

Their schooling seems to fall through my hands like too many grains of sand, and I feel the weight of what I cannot carry in this frail body I despise. I tell myself tomorrow will be different, and tomorrow comes and I struggle and they struggle sometimes too and the days blur, and every homeschooling mama knows this hardship.

It’s been three and a half years now, and this illness in my body feels like a mountain I can find no way around, no way over, no way through.

The doctor tells me we will send Lorna to Jackson University to a neurologist for the sudden passing out and seizures that’s happened twice, and I’m glad to have some answers soon, at the same time overwhelmed at all the work that lays before me with long trips to the doctor.

I talk to Husband about possibly putting them back in public school, because I am not handling the weight well, and my heart is in my throat as I say the words. We talk about it, in low tones, and it seems impossible, because one daughter learns differently and needs to be at home, and all the reasons that we decided to homeschool in the first place are what make this decision so hard. Homeschooling is a whole other, strange, wonderful, miraculous animal, and if you believe in it’s principles, then it’s painstaking to think of your child thrown back into the system, labeled “behind”, simply because they learn differently.

Once in a while at night, I drink more than one glass of wine, and I feel heavy, relaxed, and some crazy days it’s the only thing that calms the raging storm inside. Husband lays back on the couch and watches a movie with me, red deliciousness in hand, kids all finally quiet and sleepy for the day, until we hear squeals and screaming and fighting, and we yell “Don’t make me come in there!”

I kiss heads, feel the softness of my lips against their cool, sweet cheeks, and tell them goodnight, feeling the tug to do more, wanting to read with them, but knowing my body can’t handle anymore that day.

Ivy looks at me with questioning eyes as I lean on the counter, “You know Mama, you could just go lay down and take a nap…”

But my heart aches, and I stare at her thinking, and I blink it back, Oh, child, I don’t want you to worry about me. 

The words are stuck inside, a silent scream that I can’t get out: “If only God had not given me this bitter cup to drink!”

My friend tells me that maybe I need to take some time off, some time away from everything, if that’s what it takes to get better, whatever I need to do for myself and for my family.

I swallow down the bitter taste of truth coming from my friend. It’s a painful lump lodged there in my throat. I shake my head and shake it off. Leave them? I couldn’t do that. Sometimes a mother doesn’t know how to do what’s best for her, because all the synapses of her soul only know how to fire off and execute what’s best for her children.

I call Husband and tell him I’m not feeling well, and to bring me some Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk, my favorite, or Chocolate Fudge Brownie. He brings the brownie kind. Seriously, Ben & Jerry’s when I’m supposed to be on a detox. And Lent? I honestly have hardly thought about it. I feel like a failure as I swallow down the cold, chocolaty goodness. But the chocolate sludge feels so good going down and makes me forget for a moment the trudging.

And so what more can I tell you, now that I’ve spilled my guts, let you see my soul?

We find the grace in the little triumphs and we find joy in sun-warmed afternoons. I try to remember how to laugh. I try to be brave.

I try to keep smiling when I see my girls looking at me, so intuitively, their eyes questioning, watching me.

We washed dishes today, my eleven-year old and I, and we sang loud to Journey (well, I did–she just stared at me like I was nuts), and we danced and I tickled her with soapy hands until she fell on the ground in a laughing heap.

The girls come to me now, all red-cheeked clamor, “Mama!! Lilly just said ‘Let me go’! I was holding her upside down and she said it! She said it, Mama! A whole sentence!” And it’s better than a foot-stomping, hand-clapping, revival church service.

We cheer for her, clap our hands, and we have a little church right here in our own hearts, in our own home, for these words were a long time coming from my little Lilly. It’s a broken hallelujah reverberating in my heart.

And it feels a little like real Victory, and the bitter cup, a way to learn what truest healing is.

It feels a little like true Revival, the long-lasting kind, the kind that lasts longer than a three hour church service in the altar, it’s the kind that gives children joy even while watching their Mama struggle with illness, the kind that makes Mamas stand up with the strength to continue in the face of adversity.

My friend wrote this at her place, and she asked “Where are the messy, gritty, stories of the still-lost?” I wrote some messy stories, stories that were very hard to publish, here, and here, and here, stories that show a grateful-for-grace-me.

And I will keep writing them, even though my temptation is to write helpful things, to give you 10 steps to a better you–I’m not going to do that. I just want to share my stories, and help you find yourself in them. I want to help you and I, and all of us find ourselves in need of grace.

“We need the blistered cry of honest voices laughing together with tears in our eyes (a desperate prayer, yes?) at how the Light always sneaks up behind us, even when the black is at its inkiest. We need to learn to trace grace’s fingerprint on the horizon, while still walking in the dark.”–Kelli Woodford

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Let’s not cast any stone. Let’s help walk one another home. (adapted from my friend, Tara’s favorite quote: “We’re all just walking each other home”–Ram Dass)

**Please read: Friends, because of this illness, we have some decisions facing us concerning the girls’ education, where we should live {I need to be closer to family who can help, and the girls need more options for their education}, and we are also considering getting someone to help me at home during the week. Please pray as I battle this and as we make these prayerful, very serious decisions for our family?

Friends, on Monday, blushing fire-red cheeks and all, I will be taking Amber Haines’ Concrete Words, and running with it–well, she’s asked me to, probably only ’cause I was the only one who jumped at it. And I’m so honored! She is no longer doing it–at least for now. We will gather here, every Monday, at my place. Since this will be my first week hosting #concretewords, I am using Amber’s words to describe what we do in this community. We “write out spirit” by practicing writing about the invisible using concrete words. I have had fun with this, and I hope you will join in and write your own, or drop by to read! Please help spread {since I’m not near as big as Amber ;)} the word via twitter and facebook, and don’t forget to use the hashtag, #concretewords.

Because of what I shared hereI cannot always answer comments and visit very many blogs–although I would love for you to feel a sense of community when you are here, and I hope you do feel right at home–I just think–though we all search for so much interaction and approval from others, that sometimes, maybe in some seasons, sometimes very long seasons, just a quiet place is what we truly need. Just a place to reflect, pray, dream. 

I cherish your words, and the beautiful soul God made you. I am nodding my head, teary-eyed, as I read your hearts here. I’d like you to know that when I see you here, my heart just leaps out of my chest to connect with you–to let you know I hear you! Oh friend, I’m so glad you understand, and thank you for so much grace!  And while you leave such sweet words here, I am probably somewhere cleaning a precious 3-year-old baby girls’ messes, listening to an eleven year old playwrite’s brave words, or teaching my crew. If you are here, know you are loved, and you’re the seasonin’ in my soup. 

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