Bitter Brewing {Chara Donahue for #wholemama}


by Chara Donahue


“Would you like some coffee with that creamer?” My husband asks with a teasing tone I have come to love.

I have always had a sweet tooth, and all my coffee creamer choices confirm that reality.

Coffee had always been too bitter for me, and I never saw the need for it. Then three months into our third baby’s arrival, I became determined to figure out how to sweeten the increasingly necessary caffeine delivery system. I preferred the acrid drink to the zombie-like version of myself that too-often lurked through my home, attempting to entertain toddlers and nurse a newborn.

Now as the mother of four, I’ve become a coffee creamer connoisseur. Sadly though—I feel like more of the bitterness of life (not just coffee) is beginning to make its way into my house. My children’s bodies are changing, and so are their attitudes, and I am left wondering “How do I bring back the innocence, the wide-eyed joy?” How do I bring back the sweet?

Now I’m becoming determined to fight to keep my kids from the poison of bitterness; unlike the coffee bean that can be ground, soaked, and seasoned to offer energy and enjoyment, a harsh bitter heart offers nothing.

But how can I teach my children to fight off the bitterness that’s always waiting to brew, as they encounter disappointment in life? I have no delusions that I will be able to protect them from all the evils that our world boasts. And now, right now, before more substantial wounds hit, I must teach them what we do as people seeking to honor God, when we are tempted to let bitterness build walls of false protection around our hurting hearts. The best I can do is point them to God and everything he has equipped me with. Once again I feel the call to model well, disciple, and train my littles, pulling at my apron strings yoga pants. So what must be overflowing from my cup, beyond the espresso found in my hand each morning?


I have heard that coffee is actually healthy for you, but it is nowhere close to providing the kinds of health benefits that forgiving those who have wronged you has. Kids happen to be quite proficient at letting go and offering something close to grace, but this doesn’t mean this will continue as they grow and learn the damaging skill of holding grudges. I figure now is the time to teach them about the poison of unforgiveness, and the fierceness with which we must purge it from our systems.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. ~ Ephesians 4:32 ESV

Be Thankful

A thankful attitude will warm hearts better than any little bean. It helps us to see the gifts surrounding us, whether the circumstances are mundane or magnificent. The most content people I know are those who have the wisdom to see what they truly have. They also have learned to multiply their joy by expressing their gratitude in praise to the giver of all good gifts.

 Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:18


Life doesn’t always go as planned. Some mornings java juicers refuse to brew, people we counted on let us down, and the circumstance of life presses tightly. We search for understanding, scramble for control, and craft extraordinary plans, and they all fail us at some point but…but…we are loved by a God who never fails. Even when we cannot see a path, we can trust in His goodness to provide one. It is one of my deepest hopes, and most earnest prayers that my children learn to trust the greatest love ever known, for it is in that they will find the supernatural strength available to ward off the caustic distortions of truth that lead us into despair when they collide with sorrow.

And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you. ~Psalm 9:10

I thank God that he lets coffee grow, and that He watches over my little ones as they do the same. If I could smear them with a saccharine salve to guarantee the sweetness would stay, I would; but it isn’t a honeyed infusion they need, it’s a Savior. One who forgives. One who gives good gifts. The One who is a trustworthy sovereign. Jesus.


Chara Donahue is a wife, stay at home mom of four, and a teacher/counselor at her church in Oregon. She holds a MSEd from Corban University and is passionate about seeing people set free through God’s truths. She can often be found with her nose in a book and coffee in hand, but enjoys freelance writing and speaking to women when the kids are out playing with dad. You can find more from Chara at Anchored Voices or on Twitter @CharaDonahue.

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The Lifegiving Home by Sally and Sarah Clarkson {book review}


“Home is not merely a dwelling. It’s not merely a state of existence. It’s a story, a narrative spun out day by day, a story molded by the walls and hours and tasks and feasts with which we fill our time, reflecting the reality of the God whose love animates every aspect of our being.”

The Lifegiving Home by Sally and Sarah Clarkson, p.20


First off let me say I loved this book. This mother daughter team with their beautiful writing inspired me to rethink my home and how we use it. It was too much to take in to read quickly so I read a few pages here and there in the moments I had. Each time I put the book down I expected it to be hard to start again, but the story and ideas for lovely home practices made it easy to pick back up again and continue being inspired. Perfect for life with three munchkins, actually. A few different times I had to run for a pen and paper to keep a list of things to incorporate and ideas revisit later. I read it in the middle of winter – that after christmas portion when homes tend to feel a little bleak – and I daydreamed flowers, gatherings, and new ideas for our home.

“When I see my home as a source of life to be extended to all who enter, I will be committed to the well-being of all those who enter. A home that says welcome opens hearts to real relationships.” p26

The Clarksons have a somewhat romanticized view of home that is at the same time both helpful and unhelpful.

for example:

  • Unhelpful: “We cannot change the world if we cannot incarnate God’s love in our most ordinary spaces and hours.” p38 <—To me this puts too much pressure on our homes. To be sure we are more likely to be good stewards in other areas if we are good stewards in our homes, but to me they are not so tightly locked at the knee.
  • Helpful: “To cultivate beauty is to act in keeping with my faith in God’s goodness rather than my doubt.” p83 <— I loved this. I so easily fall into places where I am sure what I’m doing doesn’t matter, but to place that hope in God instead of in myself is oh so right.

Sally Clarkson has put in much time and effort (and I’m certain: money) into making their home idyllic (- and who doesn’t dream of that) and it can feel disheartening when you think about how chaotic your own home is or how impossible house-to-home-making seems when taken on such a grand scale, but we all start somewhere and remembering that can be helpful while reading this book. The many tips and tools in each chapter are great jumping off points for thinking about our own homes in a more purposeful way. The narrative in the book can seem prescriptive in a “my way or the highway” kind of way, but we are free to make our homes however they work best for us. And the encouragement to consider home in a higher way can be inspiring.

I will definitely be revisiting this book (and the study guide) as I continue to explore, change, and shape our own home culture to reflect our family’s needs and values. I especially loved the chapter on books and giving your children memories of heroic stories to fuel and inspire their real-life adventures. Because I am a book nerd and these are the things I remember about my childhood too.

“We were children who went to bed with Narnian heroes in our dreams, woke to picture books before breakfast, and had biographies assigned for the afternoon. Our imaginations were crammed with beauty of story, landscapes, characters, and quests, constantly expanding our concept of what was good and beautiful and possible. Every book we read, every hero encountered came with my parents’ challenge for us to dream of who we might become, who we might help or save, and what we might create.” p153

And this idea about celebration leads to a deeper understanding of what may, at times, seem like plain frivolity:

“We need celebration because we need to remember the eternal. Adults as well as children need an occasional space in which to vividly picture and embody as much delight and laughter as they can because those lived realities allow them hope in what they cannot yet imagine, in the new heavens and new earth.” p232

I was given a copy of this book and the companion study-book as part of the Tyndale blog tour. These are my own opinions and I was not compensated in any way for this post.


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Last week was a doozy.

Sometime over the weekend we all got colds. And then one kid got an ear infection on Monday and another got one on Thursday. All with the necessary trips to the doctor and pharmacy as we saw fit on the corresponding days. With cranky sick kids and one beneficent baby (because praise the Lord for small – well, 18.5 lb – mercies) in tow.

So most of the week was spent cancelling outings with friends and trying to keep the kids hydrated and everyone sane.

And then it rained over the weekend resulting in much indoor time.

Church is not exactly a refreshing experience with all these little kids and various attitudes.

But I think everyone survived ok.

The kids are feeling mostly better.

We are halfway through their rounds of antibiotics.

I did manage to run just as much as the week before.

We’ve been getting out for dinner without any children once a week (hurray for sisters who are expert baby wranglers!)

I rearranged the living room and the baby’s room to better suit our needs and feel less cluttered. Happy spots are good to have.

The sun is shining today.

Everyone is finally sleeping.

And I am here trying to get some words out so I can feel like I actually got to do something worthwhile/refreshing during this maybe 45 minutes of free time. hurray. :)

Because sometimes when everything is feeling undone it’s good to just do something.

Put some words on a page.

Get rid of a box of stuff.

Fold the laundry.


So here are some words. Maybe more will follow, maybe not. But I have to start somewhere.

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Humility {#wholemama}


I’ve been learning these past few years, about doubt, opinions, faith. I used to be entrenched in my own opinions or the opinions of those around me. I was pretty solidly sure I knew enough about the important stuff and had the “right” opinions in my Christian faith.

And then suddenly I wasn’t.

I didn’t know, couldn’t really be sure, and wasn’t certain anyone did. Of course it was really a whole series of a events and many thoughts that led to this, not one moment.

But I began to see all the grays in a world that used to be black and white in my favor.

I saw the differences with more grace than before.

But even after this change,  I thought this world of grays, plus black and white, was where the answer was. I began to define “right” differently, but judged anyone who seemed to see no grays. My opinions had flipped: black and white was bad while gray was good.

I’m still learning.

These days I feel like even my doubts have doubts. I’ve begun to see the colors within the grays of black and white. Shades of meaning on a whole different scale then the one I used. Nuance that springs awake like a bed of springtime bulbs, no longer all the same, all on a different schedule, all beautiful, all together, a whole of incongruous and spectacular colors and shapes.

This evolving faith of mine has me tripping over my own uncertainty and diving headlong into an inner turmoil I’m not sure even matters. I’m uncertain of certainty and uncertain in my own uncertainty. I vacillate in seemingly meaningless angst.

Does it even matter what I think?

I want to accept that I cannot know it all or even very much of it, and that the answers don’t belong to me even if I want them to or feel like they do.

Therein lies the humility. I don’t want humility.

I want to know.

But I can’t.

I miss my certainty a little.

I’d rather know.

But what happens if I live whole right here? What happens if I simply rest in the now of it and my intentions instead of trying to know everything down to a heartbeat?

Right in this uncertainty where the answers are multifaceted and really just depend on where the light is coming from. Right in the middle of my own life as it shapes the world a little bit. Right here for now. Not trying to know all the answers.

Maybe I just continue with hands out to catch the sparkling beauty shining though the many faces of faithful obscurity. Seeking out that Source instead of the answers and resting in promises right alongside the ceaseless questions.


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The Kidlets: 4, 2.5, and 6 months

Ranger turned 4 last month! I can hardly believe it. image
He is definitely a kid instead of a toddler at this point. It was so much fun to watch his enthusiasm for the ocean, fish at the aquarium and all his cousins while we were at the Oregon Coast over spring break.
At this point he recognizes all his letter and will read them off right to left. As I found out when he said: “Mom the building says, “s d o o f o c n i w” :)

And a plethora of other little kid things, that are slipping my mind right now, because life.

But he is a sweet kid. :)



I probably won’t ever stop being amazed by my wild Ali. She is spunky and brave (and fearless, related but different). We have found that she loves heights and is getting particularly careful when climbing (thankfully, *sigh of relief*).

She sits still happily when she has some sort of artwork in front of her. Lately we have been using lots of glue, pompoms, foam shapes, waterpaint, crayons, construction paper, and Color Wonder. I love all of her creations so much. I have not really thrown any away. yet. I may have to. She is quite prolific.

She quite enjoyed the never-ending adventure of the beach and new places. Her favorite was probably when we stayed at a little guest house on a few acres where she could just run free, visit the sheep, play on a play set, and run in and out in the lovely weather just exactly as she wished.




Meg was so brave when we went to the coast with my family. She went to everyone and never really got too overwhelmed. It was fun seeing everyone love on her and having her return the loves so freely. :) Above you can see pics of her with her grandad (my dad) and her aunt Liddy. Below are pic of her with cousin, Saffy, who just turned one and was having fun being the bigger baby, sharing toys, giving hugs/kisses, and flattening meg ever so lovingly during floor play ;) It was very sweet.

She learned to sit up, has two teeth, weighs 18.5 lbs and is eating all sorts of food with hardly any trouble.


And Israel and I. We celebrated 5 years of marriedness…so we had to have few selfie-moments.


In all our normalcy.

That’s my peeps.

Adventure {#wholemama}

Sometimes in the middle of my everyday I find myself longing for adventure.

You know the type where you fly off and only have yourself to entertain. Then, preferably, you are surrounded by a foreign language and off to explore new places and see beautiful things.

That is my favorite type of adventure.

However thinking of that type of adventure can leave me feeling shortchanged and longingful. Not bad, just dreaming of a different life from now.

Life these days is filled with mini-adventures. The time for foreign countries will come again (hopefully sooner than I expect), but now is the time for yearly trips to the ocean, outside days at the park, visits with friends, new projects, and other types of mini-adventures that are more easily accommodating to the small things.

Somehow we have managed to fill our time quite full these last few weeks (such that I’ve had very little time for writing), but still stay close to home in our adventurings.

Besides our trip to the ocean, of course. :)

So instead of meandering on about adventures not had and had, I am simply sharing an adventure mini-series from our last few weeks.

-The ocean and a delightfully pretty river-valley!

  • Planting new things, enjoying other’s blooms, and discovering worms.


  • Many adventures at the park, walking to the park, and all things in between.


  • Learning to play with our delightful baby.


  • Watching said delightful baby try to eat new things.


And everything in between.

I’m sure more grand adventures are in our future, but I like appreciating these mini-adventures along the way.

Here’s to landscaping, eating, playing, and walking as adventures all their own!


What big and small adventures are in your future?


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Not Fearless {#Wholemama}

(I used to write in this half-poetical manner a bit more,but have lapsed in favor of full sentences. But this is where today took me and I hope you’ll bear with my formatting and fragmentation, because poetry. And experimentation. And art.)



Fear repeats fear

and never a word more.








of uncertainty

blending the edges of what is

with what could be.


I can’t see the difference.

The echoes of dread and expectation linger and mute into a dull roar

everything feels the same.

aching persistent tremor of unrest.





the moment subsides into the next.

fear rubbing shoulders with normalcy

until time moves on.

Stolen peace,

worries waiting dormant

under the surface of words.

Days continue.


Life waits and confronts like the tide on the sand,

standing back and then rushing forward in dashes of expectation or meandering.

Hope lingers thoughtfully in the foam

un-blurring the edges of reality and possibility

gradually anchoring self back into self agency.

where patterns fall back into familiar shapes.





and life goes on.

as it is.

as it might be.

but also as I make it.

Not fearless, but overcoming and continuing.



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Presence {Amelia Richardson Dress for #wholemama}

By Amelia Richardson Dress

“Let your presence be your gift.”
The words were embossed in gold on a creamy wedding invitation. I let them swirl around on my tongue and relished their silky feel. The play on words was luxurious and elegant compared to the functional “no gifts, please.” To the 10-year-old me, this phrase seemed like the height of eloquence.

Of course, being present is harder than simply showing up. You can, after all, attend to much of your life without really being there at all. While running errands, we talk on our phones. While washing dishes, we listen to a podcast. While playing with our kids, we mentally prepare for work the next day. We have mastered the art of being in two places at once, our bodies in one place and our heads in another.

It’ll come as no surprise to the #wholemama crowd that learning to be present to our day-to-day lives is the key to health and happiness. We are wearing ourselves out with our Tinkerbell minds, flitting from one thing to another. We are so consumed with doing everything that we are experiencing nothing.

Last summer, I had the immense privilege of hearing Richard Rohr at Aspen Chapel. He’s a smart guy, way smarter than I’ll ever be. He can take about theology and faith and social issues in a way that will bring you to your knees. But what actually made this day so amazing wasn’t Richard’s intellect, it was his presence. I’ve never shared space with anyone else who made me feel so at peace and welcomed—in a room full of people.

There is a quality in people who are there—actually there—that is palpable. It’s not something you just observe, it’s something that actually changes you. My heart slowed down, my smile widened, I was happy just to be sharing space with him.

In ministry and in counselling, there is an idea called “the non-anxious presence.” It’s exactly what it sounds like: when you encounter people in crisis, your job is to not be in crisis. Your job isn’t to do, or say or help but just be.

Parents, here’s a profound truth. This is easier to do in the emergency room of hospital than it is with a tantruming child. No joke. Any idiot can pull themselves together to be calm and loving in the midst of an emergency, especially when it’s their job to do so. It takes real perseverance to do it day after day, in a sea of never ending “emergencies” ranging from “I want waffles for breakfast” to “I was teased at school today.” As a colleague of mine said in her blog, “Parents are tired because parenting is tiring.” Long past the time when it’s physically tiring, past the time when the babies sleep at night and can entertain themselves for long stretches in the day, parenting is still tiring. It’s tiring because of the constant demand to be “on.” Not just “there” physically, but “there” mentally, emotionally and even spiritually.

“Let your presence be your gift.”

I have been playing with this phrase again lately, wondering what it would be like if I embraced it as a way of living rather than a directive on party invitations. What would it be like to approach new situations as though my presence, my actual being there, was a gift? Not just a gift for me–some new age path to fulfillment—but a gift to others. What if all that really matters is that we are there, really and truly present to the people, challenges and joys we find ourselves in?

To some extent, our ability to answer this question depends on whether we believe God is truly present in all the people, challenges and joys of day to day life. If we really saw our daily interactions and mundane tasks as opportunities to experience God, how could we not embrace them with focus, attention and joy?

One of the gifts of old spiritual practices, like those of Celtic Christianity, is the power to see everyday living through a spiritual lens. Prayers exist for milking cows, making beds, doing laundry, cooking. I suspect that since there was no television to distract from the boredom of washing dishing, these tasks took on the same quality of any spiritual practice: quiet, repetitive movements that centered the mind and heart.

Now that Lent is over and we’re all eating chocolate, drinking coffee and resuming whatever we gave up, I’d like to suggest that we use the Easter season to focus on what we proclaim: God is here, remaking this earth, this very life. God is present to us in everything we do. Being present to ourselves and others isn’t simply a gift we give them—it’s a gift that we are given. And maybe that’s the secret of this Easter life.



Amelia Richardson Dress lives in Colorado where she enjoys snow days, belly laughs and good books. She writes on parenting and education for magazines like Parents, Exchange and Children’s Ministry and blogs about spirituality and family life at 


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Daily Brave {#wholemama}


I am not brave.

But then I am.

I play it safe sometimes, but then big decisions and little alike push me past my tolerance and I move ahead: Brave and trembling. Willing or not.

I push ahead and fear pushes back. I win and lose, but then it’s really winning. As long as I am awake and here, dreaming and alive to now, it is a good thing.

Sometimes I wished I led a grander life with more risk and a bigger return.
If only I stopped playing it safe so much. Risked a little more. Dared more. Did more. Spent more time on some things less on others.I always have something I might like to change.


Sometimes I think I miss the simple ways of brave. These days I’m planting my feet a little more firmly in the here of my life.

Settling into the daily brave that is sometimes overlooked. Not to say that my life is oh so brilliant or boring, but just to pause a minute and acknowledge the under the surface brave that happens here.

Because sometimes that takes more brave then I’d like it to. Sometimes brave look s like engaging when is rather check out. Expressing my opinion when I’d rather not risk the honesty of a good relationship.

It takes brave for me to show up for the people I know again and again always risking something of myself to be with them on a whole way.

It’s brave to live on the surface less and to love out loud and deep more.

It’s brave to fight, to question, to support, to love, to talk.

No matter how many times I am confronted with my own cautiousness in some areas.

I am brave.

And so are you.



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Build {#wholemama}

2016-03-15-15.48.49.jpg.jpegMy kids take their legos and build as tall as they can, preferably taller than they are. They keep adding pieces to their spindly buildings until they crash down into a puddle of frustration where they gather themselves and begin again.

Sometimes they give up and do something else, but most times they keep building after the collapse until the happen upon a structure more easily transported and fit for their purpose.

They’ve started to learn that a good building isn’t simply tall, it’s also strong. The pieces stand better when combined in varying patterns side by side and stacking taller.

Reds and greens. Yellows and Blues. Browns and Oranges. 4 dots, 8 dots, 12 dots, and even two dots patterned together to make the strongest wall or tower possible.

Of course my kids are only two and four so their towers aren’t actually that strong yet. But they are getting the idea.

And isn’t that true of life as well?

I am starting to get the idea we are more whole when we work/exist/love/hope/build with other people along the same way.

We can stand next to each other, serve under each other, or build each other to greater heights. We have bigger and smaller roles and different parts to play, but together we position ourselves to make the castle stronger.

Of course there will be gaps in our walls, spaces we can’t find the right piece for, words we can’t get quite right, and theology that rubs around the edges. Perfection just isn’t here. If we’re talking legos we can always just call the hole a window, or, if life: a window to the ‘not yet’.

“We Christians, we have a saying about the Kingdom of God: it’s now and it’s not yet. We live in a tension. It’s the tension of living our lives as Kingdom people, oriented around the life and teachings of our Jesus, a Christocentric people, in a world that is not yet redeemed.”

Sarah Bessey, Out of Sorts, p131.

Sometimes it feels like the builders are toddlers with big heads and little arms and you’re just not sure how well this plan was thought through.

But this isn’t really about lego castles, walls or towers, or dinosaurs or toddlers.

Because this tower building Kingdom thing?

It’s not a competition, or we’d each have our own skinny weak tower all trying to out-tower the other before the unavoidable crash.

And it’s not a team thing either. We can build and build together until that wall looks so amazing and tall and strong, but is only empty promises. A check with no bank account.

This tower building thing is a kingdom thing and it ends up not being about us at all. It’s about being made whole by God and living from that wholeness as we reach our hands and wrap them around other hands. It’s about encouraging one another and building one another up because we know what our foundation is.

We are a faltering chain of humanity speaking up for the wholeness of God and supporting each other in grace as we live in the kingdom that is now, but also not yet.

We are but breathing dim reflections, echoing truths of a peace and wholeness that is yet to come but also here and now. And in the glimmerings of our everyday building the Kingdom as we do not yet know it.


1 Thessalonians 5:4-5, 11

“But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.”

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”



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