My garden is in a really weird stage. There are some things growing, and some seeds never sprouted at all. Some things got way too big, and some things are oddly small. There are many little green shoots that I’m not sure are weeds or actual plants yet.
My life has felt the exact same lately.
There’s this thing called the “middle ground” that I don’t love so much. The middle ground is filled with in-betweens, undone conclusions, waiting, and tension. I prefer clear-cut direction. Firm yes’s and no’s. Plans with specifics and titles. I prefer flourishing and full bloom.
I’ve been in the middle ground for the last year. I’ve had no idea what to do with work and balancing motherhood.
I prayed and prayed and PRAYED for certainty. But, instead uncertainty grew.
A year ago, I was about to have a baby and wondered how I was going to be a mom to two. I went into it blindly, trusting we would just figure it out. I was a year behind in writing Cultivate, and the direction of the book changed as many times as our lives did. Going from one child to two was rough for us. Grace’s emotions exploded. We felt helpless as parents and sleepless with a newborn. Somehow I felt like it was all my fault that Grace was having intense emotions. I blamed my work and I felt like it was too late. I felt like I had messed her up for life. This caused me great anguish. Since I work from home, this was all happening in my house, where my team works under the same roof. There was no hiding the tantrums and the hard days.
I felt like a horrible mother.
A useless leader.
I felt like a burden to everyone.
And I was tired.
There was so much good in this season too, but my heart was unsettled. Something had to change.
Then, right before Christmas, in the middle of our busiest business season with PowerSheets and the magazine, Ari and I found out we matched for our adoption. Our adoption story is coming in a separate post soon. We were excited and grateful and terrified. There was so much unknown. I struggled through writing, preparing for a baby we might not even bring home with us, nursing Josh night and day, and Grace continuing to feel big feelings.
And I heard God telling me to quit.
Step away, Lara.
Nurture these children for Me.
Live a quiet life.
Over and over I heard these urgings, and every time I’d ask, How?
What does that look like exactly, God? What do I quit? Do you mean quit my business? How in the world would that work? What about all we’re doing to help people? What about my team? How do I do this??
I had no answers. Just more questions.
So, I quit the Internet for several months, taking a hiatus from social media and email. I needed to hear from God and nothing else. And there was a lot of “else” swirling in my head as I tried to sort through it all, and write a book at the same time. I struggled with comparison and feeling isolated as a leader. I am so supported by my team, and yet they also know I’ve struggled with feeling like I’m on the “business owner island” at times. There are no fruity drinks on this island, just bills to pay and decisions to make that affect other people. I struggled feeling like I had to keep it all together all the time.
I stepped away from connectivity to get some clarity. Taking a break from social media is always good for my soul. It helps me remember Whose voice I should be listening to.
But, this time I didn’t want to come back.
I kept thinking God was telling me to quit my business, and I relished the thought. I felt elated at the idea of being able to make up for all the time I felt I had lost with Grace to a growing business. I was doing good work, but too much of a good thing is still too much.
I felt weary. Tired of telling my story. Tired of my attention being pulled from my kids. I didn’t want to be a part of it anymore, even if I was encouraging people. These were my honest thoughts friends—thoughts from the thick of it. It’s not the fault of pixels on a screen that I felt this way, though. Despite my efforts to guard my it well, I have a sensitive sponge-like heart. It was easier to be offline.
But, God doesn’t call us to easy; He calls us to follow Him. I kept wrestling with these thoughts, and praying hard.
This fact remained and was important: our business is online. We make products that help people focus on what matters, in the mess, not despite it. We help people plant a garden right smack in the middle of the circus. I knew that was a good thing. A needed thing. With a business that lives on the internet, how in the world was I supposed to exist in that tension? How was I supposed to plant my own garden in the middle of the circus?
How was I supposed to balance the steadfast calm needed to shepherd my children’s hearts and love Ari and my community well, and the bombardment of the world I encountered when I tried to put encouragement or our products into the hands of people who might be changed by them?
How was I supposed to lead a business and a team of eight when I’ve been up all night feeding babies? How am I supposed to work on budgets and quarterly taxes when Grace really needs me to help her sort through her feelings… or show her how to draw a pterodactyl… or explain why ladybugs like to live on flowers. How do I schedule meetings when I’m pumping eight times a day and nursing every two hours to keep up with two babies? How does that all work, God??
Then, our adoption happened in February. We stepped out on faith, saying yes to the unknown, which was beautiful and wonderful and intensely emotional. God broke us down to make us fully rely on Him, trusting Him in what felt completely uncertain.
And that’s the thing. God breaking me down over the last year was exactly what He wanted to happen. In the mess, many times, He is loving us more in what feels hard than in what feels easy.
I began making a lot of changes to spend more intentional time with our littles. I began to cultivate a new path, making little by little steps forward. The little by little started to add up. So much more to share in another post (and in my book). Consider this “Part 1.”
I started a private blog the week of our adoption to share updates with our close friends and family, and to have a safe place to share all that we were experiencing. My team read my posts, so they knew. They knew the season we were in with our family. They knew how hard it had been emotionally. They knew the tension I felt between work and motherhood. They knew.
Two babies and two books in two years was too much.
We had our annual Team Retreat earlier this month. I’m usually the encourager, but Marissa, Kristin, Emily, Nicole, Lisa, and our three new women, Amber, Jess, and Laura, spent the majority of the retreat pouring into me. This was unexpected, and I felt God speaking to me. They made it clear that whatever path I needed to take, they would be fully on-board. They asked me over and over how I felt, and helped me sort through my thoughts. I was weary and fearful of being in the thick of motherhood, and feeling like I had it to have it all together to lead a team of women well.
They helped me see that I was stuck in the past, and that I didn’t have to be perfect. I just needed to be right where I was—mess and all. Friend, this is exactly why I’m sharing this with you, because maybe you are stuck too. I was stuck feeling like I couldn’t be the person I had become after such rapid life change. How would people understand? How could I tell this new story? I’m not an expert on motherhood, so how could I talk about it? How does that fit with all we are doing in our work?
I was stuck in expectations of what motherhood and business are supposed to look like.
Stuck thinking I had to keep my mouth shut about LOVING BEING A MOM because I didn’t feel perfect at it. I haven’t read all the parenting books, and I’ve made many mistakes, but you guys, I love these kids fiercely. Fiercely and joyfully.
It started to become clear.
After over a decade running a business by myself, I felt like it was somehow okay to let my team in more to the struggles I faced. They saw me in my mess and it was okay. They covered me in grace. They handed me a one-way ticket off the business owner island.
Last Wednesday night, I cried again to Ari about it and he said something that surprised me, because for a long time he wanted me to let work go so I wasn’t stressed by it. He loves me, but he loves God more. He said “It’s not time to give up. God has given you this for a reason. I don’t think He wants you to waste it.” I countered to him that I also don’t think He wants me to waste moments with our kids. This is my struggle. I want it to be one or the other, wrapped up in a bow. But I got on my knees just now on the dining room floor and GOD MADE IT CLEAR. I’m typing that in all caps because I am so crazy grateful. Months and months of praying. Months of agonizing. Months of wanting to give up my business completely. God told me these words that I immediately wrote down in my PowerSheets:
Help other people wrestle with it and sit in the tension and not feel like they have to GIVE UP.
Sometimes, when we feel like we want to quit, it means something DOES need to change. In this season I don’t have a perfect plan or all the answers. But I know I’m not giving up (I want to insert a thousand !!!! here). This is a season of sitting in the tension of motherhood and ministry and leading and listening and business and babies. I will not “do it all,” I’ll simply do what God wants me to do every day. I’ll get my hands dirty, and the way I live this out may not look like the way the rest of the world does it. I’m excited for that.
“She believed she could so she did” is lovely and instills confidence, but that doesn’t last. I know a deeper truth. She believed she couldn’t, so He did. If you are struggling with doing it all–if comparison is making you feel inadequate, I am with you. If you are struggling as a boss, wife, mama, you don’t have to do it all. You don’t have to fix it. There’s no shame for all those imperfections, sister. There’s just grace.
I cannot do it all, but I can do a few things well. And only with grace. Grace upon grace.
I did need to quit my job.
I needed to quit doing it the way I had always done it, telling the old story and not recognizing the new path I am on.
It was time to quit feeling like I had to have it all together to tell the story of motherhood in my life and work. I needed to own my new story.
It’s time to let you in, and tell you the new story too.
All those urgings I kept hearing from God?
Step away, Lara.
Nurture these children for Me.
Live a quiet life.
Yes. Just yes.
Step away from the noise.
Step away from the “should’s.”
Step forward from the old story and into what’s happening in my life now.
Be small. Low to the ground with my children. On my knees. Hands in the dirt. Less concerned with how to do life—needing a one-or-the-other plan and title–and fully focused on why I’m doing life.
Nurture these children, because the greatest contribution I make to the kingdom of God may not be something I do, but someone I raise (wisdom from Andy Stanley).
Living a quiet life, because all the loud out there isn’t going to last.
Do you know how this motherhood/work/internet tension works?
And yet, intentionally.
My garden is in an awkward stage, but it’s still a garden. And, even when I can’t see it or feel it, it’s growing. It doesn’t have to be in full bloom all the time for it to be meaningful. The tension of the middle ground is the path to blooming.
The garden just this morning with Grace, who is a much more fulfilled Grace now that I have let go of the old and stepped into the new. She’s learning to love her messes too : )
Maybe you are wrestling with something similar. Sister, let me tell you something I didn’t know before sitting in this tension: there is no formula. There is no one “right” way to do motherhood and business, or one or the other.
You do what God tells you to do.
And you know what? It may not be what you do for all of your life. We were created for seasons, and seasons don’t last forever for a reason. They prepare us for what’s next. Stay open, fellow-sojourner. Stay open. I thought for SURE God was telling me to close the doors of our company, or sell it, and I’m so glad I stayed in the tension. I’m so grateful I didn’t give up. The tension—the wait and the wrestling and the mess and the endless prayers–was all for a reason. Maybe yours is too.
So, this post doesn’t have a bow tied on it here at the end, just a “…”
I am still listening and keeping my hands open. But, I know what I’m not doing: letting the lies of mom guilt speak louder than the truth of grace. And the truth that our paths don’t have to look like everyone else’s. We can do this motherhood and work thing differently. We can do it together, and do just enough well.
Join me this Friday live on my Facebook page at noon EST. I’m going to be talking about motherhood and work, my summer goals, what’s changing in our company soon (a lot), how we’re starting a new magazine about community, and I also believe it’s time to tell you how our company works. I want you to know our hearts and our daily story here in my home-office. What does it look like to work from home? How do we do what we do? What’s it like with three kids and lots of ladies in our house all day? How do we design and decide on our products? You’ll be seeing a lot more starting tomorrow on our Instagram and Snapchat (LaraCaseyShop).
Your turn. How are you feeling? What’s the tension you are wrestling with? Let’s talk about it, and give each-other a one-way ticket off the isolation island.
Lara the business owner who is also a great imperfect joyful mom!
P.S. If you need a new start this summer, join me Friday, and I’m giving you and your friends 40% off PowerSheets. Use code SUMMERGOALS here. Some people might say this is unwise to give this big discount, but I really don’t care. I just want you and all your friends to have them and, Lord willing, be changed by them. They are undated, six-month sets, so this is the ideal time to start fresh and finish the year well (our new designs come out in November). I am starting over with my goals this week too–a fresh new focus. Spread the word and feel free to share this code with your friends! Code ends one week from today, or until we sell out again.
P.P.S. I love you, friends. Sincerely. I know many of you have read this blog and followed my journey for years, and some of you have just stumbled on it today, and I want to tell you thank you for listening and sitting with me in this tension. I am grateful to do life with you.