Dear Ava: I Don't Have to Have It All Together. And Happy Birthday.

Happy Birthday, sweet Ava Girl.

I can't believe you're six years old today.

I remember waking up while it was still dark in the early morning, during those first weeks of your life, to nurse you. And I'd hear the birds chirping so LOUDLY. I'd sit with you in the rocking chair, and I whisper, 'Hear the birds, Ava? They're coming to the window to see you, to get a glimpse of the new-born-baby. They're chirping just for you.' 

When I think about those first days, weeks, and months, it's such a bittersweet feel. In fact, looking back on all the years of mothering you is bittersweet. Did you know that the biggest obstacle I've come up against in the process has been the debilitating thought that 'I'm not cut out for this, for mothering. I'm just not 'mother-material.'' 

I remember the first time I came up against that wall. I think we were a few days into the parenting thing. Yes. Days. My hormones were plummeting at an alarming rate that I didn't know was even possible...and someone sent me this forward in my email. It was something like 'Don't you just love motherhood so much that you can;t even sleep- you just want to watch your baby all the time?!?' And I almost DIED in that moment. I almost dissolved into a hysterical puddle of sobbing. Because I didn't want to watch you sleep. I wanted to sleep. And you cried a lot, and I didn't know what to do with you. These things made me feel like there was something deeply wrong with me. I told Daddy, "I just don't think I can do this. I don't think I was made to be a mother. I don't have it in me."

But you know what, Ava? 

I needed you.

I SO needed.

And I still need you.

There's been nothing like your life, and Bethie's life, that's stretched me. That's broken me down, that's challenged me, and molded me into a completely NEW PERSON. 

I am not who I once was 6 years ago.

I sat this morning at 6:20am on our couch before you woke up and I looked the Shutterfly books I make for you girls every year. I was reminiscing...remembering what you looked like as a baby, smiling at the silly things you did as a one year old. But I also noticed me. And I noticed that I was such a baby myself when you were born. 

Not that I should have been stronger. Not that I was even weak. I was exactly who I should have been. Who I needed to be then.

But you've grown me, Ava.

Nothing like being a mom has caused me to come to the very end of myself...and so very often.

Even this morning, I ended my time of looking at your pictures with my hands over my face, crying out to God, "I cannot do this, God. I literally do not have it in me to mother these girls well."

But the way that I meant that cry now, broken down by 6 years of motherhood, and the conclusions I draw out of it, are completely different than the way I meant it when I first told your Daddy I didn't think I could be a mom.

Today, when I cried that out to God, I told Him,


Sometimes in parenting I feel like I'm pushing through in my own strength.

Like I'm just trying to power through on the 'pure joy' of having children.

But that I've lost that joy, God. It isn't enough anymore to carry me through.

And I don't have what it takes to do this job:

I myself don't even have the boundaries that my girls so desperately need me to teach them.

They need me to teach them authority but it's such a foreign concept to me. I so often don't even realize it when Im letting them run all over me and be completely in charge.

They're pushing me to my limit.

I don't have the quickness to combat their constant bickering and complaints.

I'm so easily annoyed.

Too quickly annoyed.

I forget to enjoy them.

I don't have what it takes to do this job well.


But I've found that this is just the place that You want me to be. Because now I can fall into Your strength, now that my weakness is out on the table.

Oh, God.

Oh, God, I need You.

I need You for every moment of this day. Not just the big moments. The little moments.

I don't have the strength inside of me to be good, to be a good mom. What's inside of me is more just like an inclination to disengage, to be annoyed at their needs, to want to 'done for the day,' to escape from responsibility.

But You can give me EVERYTHING I NEED for today.

So I'm leaning in to You today."

Don't you see, Ava? I was never really meant to be strong, to have it all together, to 'be cut out' for this mommy thing. I was just confused about what that all meant 6 years ago.

6 years ago I thought that that meant maybe I shouldn't be a mom. I thought maybe I should cover myself with a blanket of shame. But today I realize that I can just fall into the arms of Grace and be who I am: weak, unable, and messed up. And I can call out for help. Every moment.

It's like I was terrified that my inability to be good enough, do good enough as a mom would disqualify me to be one, but I'm finding that my inability to be good enough is actually the best place to be the best mom I can be...because then I'm a mom who is connected to Jesus, who is calling out for His help, needing Him to show up in her parenting moments.

It's kind of like this. I'll leave you with this picture that made sense to me last night. Your cousin Caeli recently told me her favorite books were Percy Jackson, and you know Momma loves to read. So, of course, I read the first. Then Daddy and I watched the movie last night.

I'm not recommending the whole movie, but there was this one part, Aviator, that spoke right to my heart about these Mommy issues. The main character, Percy Jackson, is finding out that he's the son of a Greek god, Poseidon, the god of the sea. And at the end of the movie, some stupid enemy taunts him, saying, "I guess you're not really the son of Poseidon!" So Percy harnesses the water around him and even creates a trident to vanquish his enemy by sending him into the sea (yes, yes, I know it's sounding all very cheesy, but stick with me), and he ends it all with saying, "I guess I really am the son of Poseidon after all."

I love that visual picture of doubt being cast over someone's identity, but him remembering that, because of who his father is, he has special privileges, special help, special power, that is available to him naturally. He just has to tap into what is already existing and offered for him. That's like me. I have a good, good Father. And He's got what I need to do this parenting thing, when I tap into His help, His strength, His wisdom, His resources...I just have to acknowledge my weakness, my inability, my mess, my need. 

I read this devotional thought by Paul Tripp this morning that said pretty much the same thing. And I end my letter by sharing it with you. He was talking about the Biblical story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17...and how the Israelite army was being taunted by the big giant Goliath every single day, and they were cowering in fear, but the little boy David came and fight Goliath, because he remembered that he had GOD with him.

"David showed up to deliver a lunch to his brothers. He wondered why this philistine was permitted to taunt God's army. He shockingly said that he would go; he would answer this man's challenge. Was he arrogant? Was David delusional? No, he knew who he was. He understood what it means to be a child of the living God. David drew the right spiritual conclusion. It was not little him against this huge warrior. No, it was this puny Philistine warrior against almighty God...David walked into that valley because he has his identity clear and won a victory because he knew what he had been given.
"What identity will you assign to yourself today? Will you deal with life based on what you asses you bring to the table or based on who you now are as a child of the King of kings and Lord of lords-- the Savior who is always with you in power and grace?"

(New Morning Mercies - January 31)

I love you so much, Ava Grace Howard. May you find in these next coming years of your life that your Momma is less and less and less crippled by her inability, but more and more and more learning to be set free by that same inability to be a more Spirit-filled, discerning, happy and powerful mommy. 

happy birthday.

love, momma