How many moms do you know barely getting by?  Whether you have one child or ten, grown or in diapers, the stresses of motherhood weigh on every mother, and it's easy to lose sight of God's glorious plans for you. Lindsey O¹Connor, author of If Mama Goes South, We¹re All Going With Her shares with Crosswalk her own struggles and how Christian mothers can prevent their lives from "going south."

Q: Shortly after you completed this book, you underwent a harrowing medical ordeal after the birth of your daughter and survived an eight-week coma. How have you and your family coped with this health crisis?

A: I never dreamed that a week after writing the first draft of If Mama Goes South, that this mama would go south in such a dramatic way. What happened to me was life altering and terrifying and the journey these past 18 months has been painful and long, but my family and I have dealt with it one day at a time with our faith in God as the rock we've clung to. Before the crisis I'd written that the book wasn't about "going south" life events, but really about personal growth in a woman's life.

Eerily "prophetic," I'd written, "Sometimes life can go south through tragedy or terrible events beyond our control, and we need people who can help put our broken pieces back together again and serve us in practical ways. During such times we also need the strong arms of our heavenly Father to comfort us and see us through as only he can." That is how we coped! I continue to recover and deal with some health issues that I may live with the rest of my life, but I do so knowing that God is sovereign always, and can use anything in our lives for his glory. That's the point of living!

Q: What factors can cause a woman to "go south?"

A: When a woman goes south she finds herself heading in a downward or negative direction she doesn't like, and who on the planet hasn't felt that at some point or in some area of their life? Sometimes we scarcely realize we've lost our vision, laid aside our dreams, or settled into mediocrity in an effort to get by with a little energy intact. If we're not careful we could be on our way to being far less than we once thought we'd be.

There are so many why's, how's, and routes for going south. We over commit, have unbalanced lives, ignore "the basics" for keeping our physical bodies working well, or realize we haven't grown as a woman in a long time. Other factors include bad choices we make, negative habits, positive things we fail to do, insane schedules, a fruitless spiritual life, things we hate (our bodies, circumstances, accomplishments), and even apathy about improving.

However, growing as a woman can keep us from going south. That's about becoming more than you are now, all you can be as God intended. It's about wondering who you might become in five years and letting that vision propel you. Growing is about replacing plodding, hurrying, and surviving with purposeful living, fine tuning, and a recapturing of dreams!

I wrote this book because I've lived the frustration and costs of going south and have experienced the blessings of the anecdote-personal growth. Our growth as a women in spirit, body, and soul is not selfish. It's vital.

Q: Why does the path of least resistance often lead south?

A: Because it's the easiest path! What's easier...a workout that raises your heart rate and makes you sweat or curling up on the sofa with a bowl of chocolate-chocolate-chip ice cream? What's easier...reading a challenging book that makes us think and stretches us, or popping in yet another video? We are a comfort loving people and sometimes we choose not to put forth the effort we need to grow, so we begin heading south.

Q: How can women find stillness and "soul rest" in a culture plagued by overscheduling and hurrysickness?

A: We need to first understand that we even need these things! Our culture values productivity and activity and the pace can leave us breathless, exhausted, and empty. Hurrysickness is the word sociologists have coined to describe the frantically paced lifestyle of many Americans. That has trickled down into our children's lives and many people are raising hurried, overscheduled kids.

Relationships, family time, unstructured time, and a sense of inner peace all often suffer when we don't make time for stillness in our lives. God has taught me the restorative power of stillness for body, mind, and soul. As A.W. Tozer said, rest isn't something we do; it's what comes to us when we cease to do. Even with a large family, ministry, work, and a home to run, I've found the gift of stillness in a rocker on my front porch-one of my favorite places on earth. It is important to me to regularly find moments to cease to do, to stop a swirling life and get centered. Whether on a front porch or a hotel lobby, in stressful or peaceful times, we can all take a few moments, even just five, to find rest in stillness.

When we can be still and know that He is God we find soul rest! I love Jesus' sweet promise in Matthew 11 when he says, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest....rest for your souls." I know weary. I'm a mom. So in the margin of my Bible next to this verse I wrote "like a hug from my Father!" He calls my often weary and sometimes heavy-laden self to him like a daddy reaching to comfort his baby. Surrendering to His embrace, coming to Jesus, is where we find soul rest.

 

Q: Isn¹t it healthy for a busy woman to take a break from the demands of work and family and let herself go a little?

A: Yes to the first part and no to the second. It's extremely healthy for a busy woman to take breaks from her demands and rejuvenate herself so she can be a better woman, and if she has a family a better care-giver. But we don't have to let ourselves go. "Letting ourselves go," whether it's physically in our health or appearance or spiritually, mentally, or emotionally, implies apathy. It implies that we don't care. And not caring about our growth, about being who God made us for His glory, is a danger sign for the road south.

Q: How does prolonged stress on a mom adversely affect her children?

A: There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that mothers go through that does not in some way affect our children. When we are stressed, especially for long periods, how we interact changes-- our tone of voice, our patience, our attention and focus, our perspective, our responses, our sense of humor, our emotional responses. Our children do not miss this! Our choices have consequences and our choices as mothers are magnified because we have the power to shape a life. We influence children physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. When we make the effort to keep from going south, whether from prolonged stress or other factors, we not only benefit, but so do our children. Like little goslings following a mother goose, our children take our lead.

Q: How can women increase their reservoir of physical and spiritual energy?

A: We must first understand the synergy and connectedness of our physical, spiritual, and emotional nature. They are intricately woven together with one area affecting the others. The most important thing I've ever done is wake up to the fact that caring for myself physically is the best gift I can give my family as well as myself. To increase the reservoir of physical energy start with rest.

Women are notorious for needing more sleep than we get. I've heard of women doing laundry at 1:00 a.m. or getting up at 4:00 in an effort to "get it all done." Yet understanding how much sleep we need to function at our personal best and then making it a priority to get that amount of rest will increase our productivity, our physical strength, and our emotional health.

Exercise is another key ingredient. Expending energy through exercise actually creates energy! While I used to enjoy jogging and health club memberships, now I simply walk 4-5 times a week.

And another key ingredient in increasing physical reserves is through a healthful diet. Food is fuel so when we give ourselves as much plant foods, whole grains, and fruits as veggies as possible, we provide the fuel our bodies need to run on. Some people actually can go very long periods of time without eating a vegetable. Replace diet and deprivation thinking with health and energy thinking about food. I'm all for an occasional piece of cheesecake; it's the overall lifestyle eating habits that matter.

Just as there's no magic "exercise and diet pill" there's no simple formula for our spiritual growth. Whether we're looking for a way out of the spiritual desert or wanting to go deeper in our faith, we'll grow when we engage in two things: disciplines and devotion. The spiritual disciplines (prayer, Bible study, meditation, and fasting) along with devotion for God bring fruit.

Sometimes we get caught up in the doing for God and end up wondering why we're stuck in the desert spiritually. I love reading some of the old Christian devotional classics written several hundred years ago or more where this true devotion, applying attention, time, or oneself completely, is assumed.

One thing that has stuck with me in thinking about what I want my own spiritual devotion to be... a white-hot love of God. I've learned that the "doing" for God will take care of itself, and I can find my way out of occasional deserts or dryness (and who hasn't struggled with that?), when I focus on this white-hot devotion, some discipline, and my entire life as an act of worship!

Another big spiritual paradigm shift for me was what I call the receiver principle. I've struggled with the "giving from nothing" quandary: How can I give when I have nothing left? God eventually showed me in His word that my thinking was wrong. I am called to give to others, but I had a depleted "giver" mentality. "I'm a woman, a mother, therefore I'm a giver," I thought.

Instead, I saw that I am a receiver. I'm a receiver because of all that God has given me. And he has the capacity to give to overflowing in my life. It's from this overflow that I give to others. I still have times when I feel depleted, but I'm no longer caught in a desparate giving from nothing cycle. Changing my thinking to "I'm a receiver" has changed me!

Q: You recommend a "personal growth makeover." What does that entail?

A: When we look at all the areas of our life where we want to grow it can be downright intimidating and overwhelming! So, a personal growth make-over means we begin like the old instructions for eating an elephant... one bite at a time.

Start the make-over by praying; asking God to show you the areas of your life where God wants you to focus on growing. Second, think through areas where you want to grow and write them down. I give a whole checklist in If Mama Goes South. Maybe it's a good habit you'd like to start, a thinking pattern you'd like to change, a skill you'd like to acquire, a talent you'd like to develop, a health improvement, a spiritual discipline or increase in worship, an intellectual endeavor, or growing by nourishing your soul in some way.

Ask yourself what fills your cup. Who'd God make you to be? Take your list and try to make some measurable, specific goals and balance the growth efforts among the three parts of your makeup-spirit, body, and soul. Then pick one thing you want to grow in and begin!

We only want to go south if it's Aruba!

Click here to read an excerpt of If Mama Goes South, We're All Going with Her