Sunday, June 10, 2018

Unconditional Love

Unconditional Love

After a long day of work, Wes came home in the evening. I had just gotten Bonnie to sleep and Henry had been patiently waiting for some snuggles. When Wes came through the door Henry had just gotten into my lap for said snuggles.

“Hey buddy! I missed you today! Can I have a snuggle for a bit?”
“No. I want mommy snuggles.”
“Okay. Can I tell you all the things I love about you? I love that you are kind, I love that you are strong ---”
“Daddy. I don’t love you today. I’ll love you later.”

This could have made Wes sad. Or frustrated. He could have said “Don’t say that, that hurts me.” He could have said “That’s not nice.” He could have just grabbed Henry anyway and made him snuggle. But he didn’t. Do you know what he said?

“Okay. I’ll be here.”

I’ll be here.

No judgement. No shame. No fear. Just love with waiting arms.

Henry was able to sit in that unconditional love. Unafraid. Resting within the air of peace. Knowing that nothing would take away that love. Nothing he could do will make his daddy love him less.

Within a few minutes, if that, he got a big smile on his face.

“Family snuggle?”

He and I ran over to Wes and gave the squeeziest squeeze hugs and smiled and laughed and loved each other.

As the spouse of a pastor I have often been asked if there were any Bible passages that inform or inspire my gentle parenting approach. I honestly hadn’t been able to answer other than overarching biblical themes. But tonight, this one comes to mind.

1 John 4:10, 16-19

“This is real love—not that we loved God, but that God loved us. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face God with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first.”

Perfect love expels all fear. Our children should not fear us. We won’t be perfect (we aren’t - trust me), but our love should be one that does not shame, does not hurt, does not isolate. Our love should be a deep breath in. And a slow breath out. It should be rest, peace, and without the condition of reciprocity. We love them just because and with abundant overflowing joy.

May we all find this kind of love. May we feel it given to us and may we give it freely away. May we love our children as God loves us.

Friday, January 12, 2018

One Word 2018: Laugh

For several years I have participated in a new years practice of picking one word to orient my life towards for that year. Words in the past have been “Rhythm” “Moments” and “Generous”. Honestly, this year I feel like so many words are needed. Words like :


I need them. I need all of them. I need to remind myself do these things. But the one that I need the most, the one that I choose to orient my life towards this year is “Laugh”.

I need to loosen up this year. I need to go with the flow. I have been quick to anger, I have been overwhelmed and stretched thin, and it is showing. I don’t like who I am when I don’t take care of myself. I don’t like the way I react to my children who are just doing the best they can with what they have to give. I want to smile more. I want to laugh more. I want to see my children laugh and join with them.

These years of infectious untamed joy in my children are so special and feel like I am missing them. I need to relax. Let go of some of my expectations. Take time to see the little things. Give myself more time. See the good in my children and name that as often as I can. And do the same for myself.

My son Henry is 4 years old now. He is young, but he is growing so quickly. I remember my sweet boy’s first smile. I remember the first days of his goofy laugh that jiggled his big chunky cheeks. Those giggles filled my heart. They gave me life. There is no greater joy than joining a delirious toddler in a laughing fit over god even knows what. It feels so good to laugh. And the best kind of laughter is the kind you do with others. It brings us together. You can chuckle at something funny when you are alone, but do you remember the kind of laughs that come from deep in your belly? The kind that make you cry. The kind that make your cheeks hurt. The kind that make you almost pee your pants? Those are the ones you do with others. Those are the ones I want to have more of with my family this year.

I don’t expect it to be easy. I know I will fail. But I know it’s what I want, and I will work hard to practice it every day until maybe someday it might come a little easier than it did the day before.



1) Practice mindful breathing in those moments I want to react. Remember to pick my battles and connect before I correct.
2) Spend more one on one time with each of my kids. Try a goal of once a week, alternating kids each week. Nothing elaborate, just joining them in something they love.
3) Spend regular time for myself to recharge. I cannot take care of my family if I am not taking care of myself.
4) Create a few new “Family time” traditions or rituals that create space for bonding and laughter.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Why I'm ditching the word "threenager"

My son Henry is three now. Three years is simultaneously one of the hardest and best ages. I can't deny it is hard. Everyone talks about two year olds as the worst but three has been by far the hardest for us. It isn't easy! Three is full of independence, self sufficiency, expression of complex emotions and learning social skills. These are not easy for child and caregiver to navigate. It is exhausting and frustrating. One moment they act like a "big kid" and the next they seem like a baby. They are in transition.

There's this phrase people use to talk about three years olds. Have you heard it before? "Threenager". "My kid is being such a threenager today!" This phrase has become quite popular in parenting circles and I hear it all the time.

I think the reason using the "threenager" phase is so popular is because people can see so many similarities. The problem is that we use this phrase for three year olds so negatively and consequently so negatively for teenagers. Teenagers are changing and growing in their independence, there can be a lot of high emotions and they are focused on their social circles. Teenagers are also deepening their sense of love and commitment in relationships, finding their passions and taking on new responsibilities. One moment they act like an adult and the next they seem like a child. They are in transition.

I have worked with both preschoolers and teenagers at the same time for most of my adult life as a preschool teacher and a youth worker. They do feel very similar some times (Like that time I finger painted with middle school kids at youth group and it was the best thing of their life). Three year olds and teenagers have much to teach us if we listen. If only we could just slow down with them enough to find the root of the issue they are having and lead with empathy. You are an example when your child is three years old and 13 years old. You are the adult. The way that you solve problems, communicate with family and friends and manage your emotions are the example they will see and emulate.

And I know you're probably going to call me a killjoy. "Gosh Amanda, it's just funny.  It's just a way for me to get out the frustration of dealing with them." And you can and should find healthy ways to release that frustration in a very difficult time of development. But I would challenge you to see the ways in which using this phrase could be coloring the lenses with which you see your child. What if we started calling three's the "transparent three's" the "thoughtful three's" or the "tender three's." How would these change the way we see them? Maybe it won't. But maybe, just maybe, it could predispose you to see the wonder, excitement, imagination and creativity of three (and teen).


Going forward:

1) Spend some time thinking about your child and list three things you admire about their personality. Post them in a place you will regularly see them.

2) Try to find space for yourself to recharge once a week. One moment of filling your own cup can extend the longevity of pouring from it and giving of yourself. Even if you only have 10 minutes, do something that is just for you.

3) Try to make connection a regular part of your routine with your child. Go out one on one and spend time doing something they enjoy and enjoy them! Schedules get busy, I know. Set a goal that works for your family. Once a week? Once a month? You will know.

Sunday, January 8, 2017


Every year I try to pick one word to guide me.  One year my word was “Generous” another year was the word “Moments”. This year my word is:


I feel so busy all of the time. Being a pastor’s wife, a mother of two children ages 3 and 3 months…not to mention cooking and cleaning and play dates and music class. My 3 year old Henry is feisty and fierce and kind and loving and I love him so much but the days are hard sometimes. 3 year olds need so much connection and communication. They need a calm presence to get through big emotions. They take a lot of patience and intentionality. 

My 3 month old Bonnie is, well, 3 months old. She nurses all day, and although such a patient baby who loves to play alone on her play mat, sometimes she is just so very particular, like, “Hold me, but not while you sit, you have to stand. Don’t move either when you are holding me, just stand riiiight here. Oh you think you can sit down since I don’t want you to move? I SAID STAND, WOMAN!” And honestly my 3 year old wakes more often at night than my tiny baby and then everyone wakes at 6 am. 

I try making weekly date nights with my husband but that never works out. We're too tired and too overwhelmed. I know it's an important relationship to maintain but at the end of the night he wants to watch a movie and I want to watch youtube videos and so we do these things in the same space but we are not together. 

I am so happy in this messy life, I really am. But I am also tired and I often feel like I’m just barely keeping my head above the water, and I have to keep treading and treading or else I’ll drown. I have no time. I want to give my kids time. I want to give my husband time. I want to give myself time.

I don’t want to be a slave to time and routine either though. I don’t want to be strict and limited. I just want some healthy rhythms. 

I want to say that every day I will give myself space to do something just for me. 

I want to spend every dinner together at the table and talk to each other. 

I want a moment to spend outside every day with my kids (even if I really, REALLY don’t want to…it’s too cold!)

I want time with just Henry.

I want time with just Bonnie.

I want time with Just Wes. 

I don’t want a schedule. I don’t want a routine. 

I just want a rhythm. 

How can I create the best conditions for these rhythms to happen naturally? These are my ideas that I think will work for me:

  1. No social media while my children are awake. 
  2. Wake up just a bit before the kids do.
  3. Spend a little time right after they go to bed doing a quick tidy up.
  4. Reserve the evening for one on one reconnecting. 

Will I always do these every day? Probably not. But it’s a posture. It is a direction I want to go. It is not one more thing I need to do. It is a rhythm. A rhythm, I pray, that lifts me out of the overwhelming waters, and instead lets me splash and play in the waves.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Bonnie - Our Birth Story

My sweet Bonnie, this is the story of your birth. On the night I went into labor we were watching a movie called "The Little Prince". It is a beautiful story. We were almost finished watching it at 10:30pm when my water broke - which was quite surprising for me! I wanted you to come early, and most of the pregnancy I felt you would, but I had given up that idea because nothing in this pregnancy had gone the way I thought, and you were quite cozy and content in there. I had no signs that you were coming. I called my midwife and let her know what had happened. And she trusted me to come in when I felt ready.

When I got off the phone, I couldn't stop smiling. My baby was coming. I felt my heart fill with peace - something that wasn't always present during this pregnancy. You see, this pregnancy was rough. Not only was I physically sick for more than half of the pregnancy but I was also emotionally and mentally unstable for almost all of it. I was diagnosed with prenatal depression and anxiety. I did not have it before getting pregnant, but from 8 weeks - 8 months I had what often felt like debilitating depression and anxiety. My doctors, midwives and counselor all thought it might be hormone related due to the extra estrogen my body was producing (I think they were right as it almost completely disappeared as soon as you were born). I was also diagnosed with thrombocytopenia - a condition that can happen in 5-7% of pregnancies that causes low platelet levels in the blood. Low platelet levels can cause issues with the blood being able to clot properly. Levels under 100 get refereed to a hematologist. Levels under 90 cannot get an epidural. Levels under 70 are often treated with steroids, and at 50 is where they really worry about the blood not being able to clot. My levels went all the way down to 66. I was so nervous about this, even though it is well managed when the medical team knows the numbers are low. And to add even more onto my stress I was gbs positive which meant I had to get to the hospital earlier than I had wanted in order to receive antibiotics every 4 hours that I was in labor.

But in all this, I had peace and joy.

My contractions started an hour later and we decided to head to the hospital once they were consistent.

On our drive to the hospital I listened to George Winston, my favorite pianist, and continued to listen to his beautiful music throughout. We arrived at 1:00am and by 2:00am I got my first dose of antibiotics and was told I was 4 cm dilated. Since it was the middle of the night I told Wes to sleep. I didn't see anyone else for the next 4 hours until my next dose of antibiotics at 6:00am. Those 4 hours I sat on the hospital bed in the butterfly yoga pose with the lights off. I didn't want to move into any other position. My contractions were getting pretty intense but were never closer together than 8 minutes a part - with many being 12 minutes a part. Although Wes slept, I held his hand and he talked me through the contractions when they were too much for me to get through on my own. The contractions were painful, yes, but they are a beautiful pain. Because each one brings me closer to you.

At 6:00am I was given the dose of antibiotics and was checked again. I was 6 cm and so disappointed to hear that. If things progessed in the same timing as the rest of the labor I didn't know how I could go another 4+ hours with the pain. Oh, and I hadn't even see my midwife yet. She was planning on waiting until the nurses called her when my contractions were closer together or just come in at her regular scheduled arrival time to the hospital at 7:00am.

At 6:45am - 45 minutes after being told I was 6 cm - I had a very intense contraction and my body pushed. At 7:00am my midwife Patty arrived. Did I mention I had not met Patty before? Half way into my pregnancy I switched care because of our move, to a group of 3 midwives and Patty was the last one I needed to meet but just hadn't yet. She was a wonderful and kind spirit as soon as she walked into the room. I promptly told her that at the last contraction I had to push. "Alright! Let me go put my things down and get some stuff together and we can see how things are going."

When she left I had another contraction and could not stop myself from pushing again. My baby, I felt you move down into the birth canal. Patty came back in and I said "I'm so sorry. I pushed again!" She laughed and said "That's ok! Let's check you." When she did, she confirmed what I knew - I was 10 cm and you were there and I was ready to push. "We're going to have this baby now." She said as she looked into my eyes. This woman exuded compassion and wisdom and connection. "When you push I want you to look at me and keep looking at me. I will help guide you in your pushes. You can push whenever your body tells you to."

I pushed two times. On that last push, at 7:34am, you were born. As I pushed I reached down and pulled you out and brought you to my chest. You were so peaceful. You didn't cry, you just stared at me. My heart grew a million times bigger in those first moments with you. Every thing else faded away. Daddy kept trying to get my to pick your name (since we went into the birth with 3 names) but I didn't want to think about anything. I just wanted to look at you. You nursed right away and perfectly and we got to spend an hour of skin to skin with you before they weighted you. 7lbs 4 oz, 20 inches long. Your daddy was instantly in love with you, and of course let you stay on my chest for awhile, but he could not wait to hold you and talk to you.

Bonnie Irene Ellis, you are so special. You are 2 weeks old now and I feel like you've been with me my whole life. We love you so much and we have loved you before we even knew you. My pregnancy was hard. So very hard. It was awful. But you, my sweet, are good. You are peace. And you are love.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Bonnie Irene - How You Chose Your Name

Naming this baby was anything but easy! When we were pregnant with Henry we picked his name about half way through the pregnancy and even announced his name to the world before he was born. With Henry, it wasn't really that we both just "knew" his name - it's just that we do not agree at all on boy names. We went through so SO many names that each one of us would immediately veto. Once we found one we both liked, Henry was named!

But with girl names we are the exact opposite. We BOTH liked the same 20 names on a list we made. 20 names!!! Eventually we got down to 6 names and stayed there for many, many months. I just couldn't decide. Every time I would take a name off the list, I would miss it and add it back. I really liked them all, and no one name jumped out at me as hers. They were all special to me and meant something particular. We eventually decided to take 3 names into the birth with us and hope that seeing her helped.

One of these names was Bonnie Irene.

Bonnie was on the list very early on. Both Wes and I loved the sweetness and simplicity of the name. We loved that it was a name people were familiar with but that wasn't used often. We loved the nickname Bo. It went nicely with the style of Henry's name. We even interviewed a friend named Bonnie on her name and how she liked it! It was one of the names that Wes favored the most from the very beginning.

I will elaborate in our birth story just how difficult this pregnancy had been, but it was not easy. A few months before she was born I was writing in a journal about how awful things had been emotionally and physically for me "But my daughter," I wrote "she is good."

Bonnie means "Good."

For a while I thought that maybe the way she was born might help narrow down her name. My birth with her turned out to be quick, uncomplicated, beautiful and calm. When I grabbed her and pulled her to my chest she just stared at me. She didn't cry. She just looked into my eyes. She was so peaceful.

Irene means "Peace."

Irene is also, more importantly, my wonderful Aunt Debi's middle name (and my great grandma's middle name as well). There is no one more perfect as my daughters name sake. Anyone who knows her can tell you how sweet, loving, caring and very silly my Aunt Debi is. She is someone I have always felt loved by. I have always felt I could trust. She has lifted me up when my depression and anxiety seemed to take over my life, and she has lifted me with joy as we have shared countless memories of laughter. She is someone I want my daughter to have as a quietly powerful woman to look up to. To remind her that love is not aggressive or manipulative but patient and kind. I love my Aunt Debi more than I can say, and I know how much my daughter will love her too.

I took about an hour after she was born to officially name her, but I knew right when I saw her. Together one interpretation of her first and middle name is "Beautiful Peace" or "Good Peace" and really, she named herself.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Birth Body

I'm coming to terms with my post birth body. We were at odds for a bit.

After I had Henry, the first time I got up in the hospital to walk, I knew this body was different now. And as weeks went on and I healed, I still noticed that this body isn't the one I knew before. All my bones and joints felt different. My hips felt literally stretched out. I even walked differently! It took so long to get use to the one I had before (Yes, "skinny girls" wish they had different bodies too. We all want what we don't have! I wanted those curves, girl!), and now I had to get to know this one too.

Most women have scars and stretch marks after birth. But some how they are still "shameful". People are terrified they will get them, and are mortified when they show up. BUT IT'S NORMAL!

I read this article and WOW. I began to see my body differently. I hated my post birth body. My stretch marks are mostly on my breasts, and one in particular. They aren't pretty. The marks on my left breast cover the sides and all underneath and will peek through if I wear anything low cut. There go the days of bikinis on the beach! I know I am blessed in the weight department. All the weight I gained was the baby and as soon as he was out, so was the weight. Cool I suppose. Everyone comments on it. "You don't look like you had a baby!" But I do underneath what you can't see. I bear the marks of a baby who lived inside of me. I have a small section on my side that has stretch marks from where I kept him safe and warm inside my body which doesn't bother me at all, and the majority of the scars on my breasts after he came into this world as I fed him with this body that God made.

A couple of months after my baby was born, and I was still down every time I looked at my body, I asked my husband to take pictures of my stretch marks as a way for me to heal and process them. And it was healing for me. I didn't just want to take pictures of the scars, but I wanted to take pictures of them with my baby next to them, as a reminder of the breathe taking creation they came from.


So why do I feel like I need to share these publicly? I could just have them for myself for my own personal healing. But I guess I just want others to know it's okay. My body is perfect. Your body is perfect. I want to be another voice to eradicate the media's ideal of a perfect body. All bodies are beautiful. Especially when I think that these particular scars are directly tied to the birth and life of my son.

You may have more or less scars than I do. You may have a lot more. But this is my story. No one is more or less fortunate in their post birth bodies. They just are. And they are beautiful because they carried LIFE.

Look, I don't LIKE them. But they are mine. These scars are a part of my story. They will stay with me. They remind me of the journey we took as a family, growing and preparing for this baby to join us. They tell me I am strong. They tell me I am patient. They tell me I am loving. They tell me I am mom.


I wrote the above post 2 years ago. I have written many versions of it but I wasn't quite ready to share it. But I am now. And when I look at these pictures 2 years later and see that gorgeous start of a smile on my sons face, the scars fade away. And just as a reassurance to some, all those scars faded away. You can still feel them, but you can't see them anymore. The ones on my side are special to me as they are so close to where I carried my child. When my hand accidentally brushes up against them I am reminded of those days when I pondered if I could ever love him as much outside the womb as I did inside. Well of course I love him more outside but it's still a very special thing, those months with your baby so very close, just you and them, growing together. Our bodies are weird. And strong. And precious. And bad-A. Be kind to that body. Learn to love that body. It is yours. It is not perfect. But it IS perfect.