Motherhood: Glancing Back & Gazing Forward

May 24, 2016  - By Gretchen Saffles

I will never forget the moment I realized I was actually going to give birth. We had spent nine months preparing for the tiny human being, but it wasn’t until May 24th that this dream became reality. I never had the chance to journal about my son’s birth story because it took me a long time to grasp the weight of it all. It didn’t go as planned, but motherhood also hasn’t gone as planned. There was no birth photographer to record every moment, it wasn’t “perfect”, and it most definitely wasn’t what I expected it to be, but in every way, motherhood has been better than I could have imagined. Such are the mysterious ways of God! I have spent the last year thinking back on those moments, wrestling with my new reality, learning to walk in the rhythms of grace, and striving to see the gospel woven throughout the ups and downs of motherhood.

Today I want to glance back at what is behind, at the hard lessons that scrubbed my soul raw, at the joyful moments that I could barely take in because they were so beautiful, and at every moment in between—the mundane where life is really lived. In tracing the finger of God throughout every step of becoming a mother, I want to highlight the glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ in it all. 

Unexpected Joy

When I first found out I was pregnant I fell on the floor (which was not what I imagined I would do). Growing up I dreamed of becoming a mama and I even romanticized the moment I would look at a pregnancy test and see two lines. Little did I know, I would be completely caught off guard when I found out I was pregnant. My husband and I had dreams of traveling the world and we had discussed the ideal timing to have children. During our “planning” for the future, I found myself feeling faint one day and a little “off.” I was convinced I wasn’t pregnant, but my husband urged me to take a test. When I saw the confirmation that I was pregnant I didn’t jump up and down and I didn’t shout for joy…I fell on the floor and just sat there, realizing how our plans had changed and letting our new reality sink in.

I’ve never loved it when plans change. This is the first soul scrubbing lesson I have learned in the journey of motherhood—I am not in control. In Psalm 139:13-14, David recounted the wonder of God creating life in the womb. He acknowledged how wonderful Gods works are, beginning at the moment of conception. Then, He also remembered that his days were already numbered before there was even one of them on the calendar. We are not in control of our lives, even though we try to be. The Lord is in control of all life—beginning in the womb.

Finding out I was pregnant was not what I expected it to be, and it was the beginning of the sanctifying journey of motherhood. I learned the moment I saw that positive test that my plans are not my own.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

Bump the Insecurity

After the shock began to wear off, an incredible joy settled into my heart. I was going to be a mama! Everyday I looked at my belly in the mirror, hoping for some evidence of the life growing in me. Week after week I watched and saw little change. My old “friend” insecurity snuck his way into my bathroom every time I glanced at the mirror searching for evidence of a baby belly. I had multiple people tell me they couldn’t believe I was pregnant because of my small belly. On top of that, the pains of pregnancy were also an unexpected surprise. My stomach ached as the muscles stretched. Every night my husband had to rub my legs to help calm them. Eventually I dreaded trying to sleep at night. Once I hit the third trimester it felt like everything I did caused some sort of discomfort. The rejoicing in my heart was also mingled with the insecurity of my changing body and the pains that accompanied it.

Pregnancy brought with it the humbling reminder that I am not my own. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 tells us, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” How do we glorify God in our bodies? We embrace how He made us. We recognize that our beauty and confidence doesn’t come from our outward appearance. We submit to the ailments of life that come as an opportunity to be sanctified to know Jesus more. Nine months of pregnancy taught me that the gospel of grace is a needed reminder every single day. I learned through pregnancy that my body is not my own; it is a vessel for God’s own use and glory.

Suffering and Childbirth

On May 24, 2015, my husband I packed our bags to head to the hospital. I felt like I was walking into a daydream. I turned on worship music on our car ride to break the awkward silence. Both my husband and I were at a loss for words and were nervous beyond belief for was would take place over the following hours and days. Once the doctor broke my water, labor progressed quickly. Within seven hours I would meet my little one, but those hours would be the most excruciating wait of my life.

I planned on having an epidural and had dreamed of talking to my husband and parents as we waited for Nolan’s arrival. Instead, I was faced with the unexpected reality that my epidural didn’t work and only numbed my legs. I felt completely paralyzed at times. I couldn’t move or reposition myself, and the pain would not subside. I hadn’t prepared for a natural childbirth (much less a natural childbirth without any leg support). Due to the pain and medicine, I wasn’t able to speak or think clearly. But I remember doing the only thing I knew to do—I spoke Jesus name. 

After every contraction I prayed the shortest prayer I have ever prayed. I whispered “Jesus.” In the depths of my soul I cried for mercy and for help and a relief from the pain. But it never came. The epidural never worked to ease the waves of contractions and my legs remained like dead weight. Still, my soul compelled me to “Jesus.” I would try to remember to breathe, to look into my husbands hopeful and compassionate blue eyes, to hope for a release from the pain, and I would pray “Jesus.” 

When the time came to push, I had no energy left. At this point I couldn’t speak, but hope lingered in the recesses of my heart. The epidural never worked, and the pain never subsided, but Jesus never left me. I learned two things from my not-so-perfect birth: First, I learned that just because suffering doesn’t disappear and the pain doesn’t alleviate, it doesn’t mean that Jesus has left us. 2 Corinthians 4:17 reminds us, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing focus an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” We do not lose heart. Suffering is an opportunity to know Jesus more, and I believe childbirth is that opportunity as well. Second, I learned that God is not surprised by the unexpected. Contrary to what you might have heard before, God does give us more than we can handle, but He is also faithful to give us the strength we need from Him.

Motherhood is Sanctifying

The last twelve month these lessons have been on repeat. Our normal routine has been completely redefined. I continually have to go back to the gospel of Jesus Christ as a mama and remember that Christ saved me from myself so I could live through Him and for Him. Motherhood does not define me, Jesus does. It is a blessed opportunity to be sanctified and made more like Christ. My body is not my own, my time is not my own, my sleep is not my own, and my plans are not my own. But Jesus is mine, and this a truth I daily go back to. I am His child, and my child is His. 

Being a mama is harder than I excepted it to be. I have trudged through valleys and deserts, ascended mountaintops, swam in God’s ocean of grace, and sat in the green pastures of His mercy. I have wept, laughed, surrendered, and submitted to His will over and over. Today I look back and recount this unexpected journey with an overwhelming joy and gratitude overflowing in my heart. I celebrate my son and the plans God has for His life. And I am gazing at Jesus who has never left me in my distress. He has been faithful to every promise and has been present in every moment.

If you are a mama and motherhood has been an unexpected journey and harder than you dreamed it would be, join me in finding hope and grace in the cross of Christ! He has not left you and He won’t leave you. Let Him use pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood as a lens through which you see Him more clearly. The Gospel holds you together when you are falling apart and ushers you forward into this incredible privilege of raising children for God’s glory. Glance back and remember, both the hard times and the joy-filled times, and trace His finger today through it all. Let Him heal any area of your journey that you’ve covered and ignored and let Him strengthen your weak hands today. But don’t stop there! Gaze forward at your high calling to be a disciple and a disciple-maker. Remember that you are a citizen of heaven and a daughter of God and do not lose heart. He is doing something far greater than you could ever imagine. 

glancing back and gazing forward,


(The above photos were taken my friend Emily Hooten! The photos taken in the hospital were taken by my sweet mama wanting to capture every moment – even the hard ones. If you are looking for more encouragement on motherhood, I recommend my friend Ruth’s blog. Ruth has taught me through her own example of raising six sons that motherhood is sanctifying and for God’s glory!)

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  1. Gretchen, thank you for sharing. This is BEAUTIFUL. I am a new momma to a little boy, and I am actually beginning a blog to encourage women with scripture and real life stories of motherhood. I have to say that you are part of this inspiration! I am a high school English teacher and have decided to be a full-time momma and writer beginning in June. I am releasing our blog on June 13th and would love your support and any advice. Thank you!

    • says:

      That is so beautiful Allie! I am cheering you on today! Share with the purpose of making Jesus known and glorifying Him while you wade through the waters of motherhood! He will not let you sink, and He will use your vulnerability for His glory. 🙂 I am praying for you today!

      My biggest piece of advice would be this: Don’t allow numbers to dictate your direction or your feelings. Don’t look at stats – just keep your eyes on Jesus. Share simply for the joy of knowing Him and making Him known. Don’t look to other women/blogs who are doing something similar, just be faithful with what God has put in front of you and called you to do. It’s for Him and about Him and He will do the rest! 🙂

  2. Annette says:

    I loved this Gretchen. My beautiful daughter is pregnant and having a tough time. I’m going to forward this to her for encouragement.

  3. says:

    You have such a beautiful heart that always encourages me back to Christ! My daughter is almost exactly a year older than Nolan, and it’s like you were reading my journal of that time, though I did have a different hospital experience. I’d not planned on having kids, maybe ever, but once she was born God gave me focus, adrenaline, and peace. Two moves and our first house (a still-in-progress fixer-upper… Which is its’ own challenge), my own expectations, and the demands of an energetic toddler have zapped all of that. Sometimes I still see glimmers of purpose and fulfillment, but then another battle for naps or limiting words (from others and the enemy) make them fade and disappear. I’ve been journaling and praying about my confusion and sometimes despair over and over, but reading your story and coming to the line about asking the Lord to heal that journey just brought me (yet again! Motherhood is HARD!) to tears. Finally I was able to see that I don’t need renewed vision for my life, I need NEW vision, standards and expectations. I don’t have any idea what that means at this point, but I’m hopefull! Thank you for being so honest about the struggles but also always leaning on the grace of God. In one of your recent Proverbs 31 study videos, you’d talked about how Nolan was having trouble napping and you were exhausted, but you said, so humbly and from such an honest place, that the grace of the Lord is sufficient and that you were leaning on that. I’ve only ever heard well-rested, energetic people saying this, so to hear a woman going through the same thing I am and being able to say it really strengthened me back to that resolve. Thank you, Gretchen!

    • says:

      Amanda, I am just now getting to read this comment and have tears in my eyes. Thank you for sharing your own journey through motherhood as well as these encouraging words! I have to admit, sometimes after I get through with some of those videos I feel defeated (especially when I am in a season of exhaustion!). The Lord knew these words would speak such life into my heart today. I love the videos simply because they really show life, and I long to encourage women right where they are – in the thick of life. But God’s grace is so present and perfect! I have experienced it in so many ways since having Nolan! I am praying for you today, sweet mama – that the JOY of the Lord would be your strength and that He would fill you with hope as you mother and serve in His name!

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