Such is the case for our book, The Beauty of Motherhood: Grace-Filled Devotions for the Early Years. As moms of young children, we searched for a devotional for moms that left us feeling refreshed, encouraged and comforted by God’s unconditional love. We wanted to delve into rich faith stories and the grace-centered, Lutheran theology we knew and loved. So when we couldn’t find that book, we decided to write it — together.
The Collegeville Institute is an integral part of our devotional’s story. In December 2020, before we wrote the proposal for The Beauty of Motherhood, we participated in a Collegeville Institute writing workshop led by Lauren Winner. At that time, we were working on separate memoir projects and cheering each other on in the process. We read drafts for each other and exchanged Voxer messages about craft and the challenges of the writing life. Our friendship began earlier, through our work at Living Lutheran, where Erin was an editor and Kim a contributor. It deepened through our involvement in Exhale Creativity, a community for mother-artists.
The Collegeville Institute workshop pushed our writing forward and instilled in us the confidence to write book proposals for our memoirs. But once we began those proposals, our progress stalled. For Kim, the idea of selling a memoir when she had a small platform gave her pause. The topic of Erin’s book was too tender to continue writing, so she decided to shelve it. Trusting the wisdom we gleaned from a mentor to “go where the energy is” with our writing, we switched gears and collaborated on a joint project. In February of 2021, we released an eight-day Substack devotional exploring Corinthians 1:13.
The devotional was well-received, and we had so much fun creating it, we began to dream. What if we tried our hand at a book length-devotional? And what if those devotions were written for moms? We created a book proposal including six sample devotions, plus summaries of several others covering pregnancy, birth, growing pains, exhaustion, delight, vocation, friendship, and more. Many of the devotions are inspired by our children’s and our motherhood milestones. This is where we believe the Spirit took hold and propelled us forward on a roller-coaster publishing journey that connected us with our agency, The Bindery, and our publisher, Church Publishing, Inc.
The reader we imagined for our devotional is similar to us: a mother with progressive Christian faith who is raising young children. Like us, she struggles with the limiting narratives certain media portray about Christian motherhood. She wants to know that she is not alone in her questions, doubts, and struggles. She feels the weight of motherhood, in all its beauty and challenge. Most of all, she craves the freedom found in God’s boundless grace, but sometimes she needs a reminder that God is with her as she mothers.
She wants to know that she is not alone in her questions, doubts, and struggles.
Moms already receive too many conflicting messages from a variety of sources (social media being one of them) that can make us feel like we aren’t doing enough or doing well as parents. Though we are two writers with distinct voices, we had a singular focus: to share the story of our faith, of a God who made us, knows us, and calls us beloved children. We aimed to write with warmth, honesty, and tenderness, pointing the reader to God’s unending love, infusing our writings with Lutheran theology and inclusive language for God. Ultimately, the devotional we ended up writing welcomes Christian moms from a variety of traditions, really, any parent or caretaker searching for a word of grace.
Our approach to structure involved dividing our devotional into three sections: infancy, toddlerhood, and childhood. Each devotion incorporates a focal verse from Scripture, narrative reflection, a practice or question to ponder, and a thematic prayer. A lyric blessing designed for moms bookends the collection. The book’s introduction opens with a walking scene that underscores our theme of finding beauty in childhood and motherhood milestones, and concludes with a final devotion returning the reader to the walking path. The afterword is a sending forth of sorts, inviting the reader to share her motherhood stories with other mothers.
We know motherhood can be incredibly isolating, too, so we considered how to help our reader feel less alone in her motherhood journey. As readers and writers, we’d experienced the gift that narrative reflection can bring: a sense of feeling seen and known. Thus, as writers, we chose to anchor our devotions in our personal stories, and we wrote through our motherhood memories to uncover hidden moments of grace and beauty.
Kim says that, when she took a step back and wrote about her daughter Charlotte going to kindergarten, “I saw for myself how God walked with us in the transition. Not only for my daughter and the hopes I had for her at school, but for me as her mother. I was praying for Charlotte to know she was not alone, but I too needed the reminder that God was with me and I was good and not alone.”
God walked with us in the transition to school. Not only for my daughter, but for me as her mother.
When Erin wrote about weaning her son Jack, she revisited an old blog post she’d composed about this milestone. “Revisiting this memory as an older, more experienced mother and writer was a redemptive experience,” she says. “Writing about weaning again affirmed the raw pain and depression I felt, and provided an opportunity to soothe my younger self with words of love and encouragement. I was surprised by where I saw grace show up—in the arms of my husband, who held both my son and me while we wept.”
I was surprised by where I saw grace show up.
We discovered writing about motherhood made us more thoughtful mothers and, in turn, motherhood makes us more thoughtful, open writers. We’ve heard motherhood dismissed as a serious topic. But there’s so much drama in motherhood! During the early years, you’re caring for a tiny, needy human while also trying to care for yourself. You’re seeing the beauty and terror of the world anew through the eyes of your child. You lie awake at night and wonder, What do I believe? Am I good? Is my kid okay? Is God here? What do I want to teach my child about creation, justice and purpose? The sheer weight of mothering a child sends you to the edge and depth of your faith. In attending to our motherhood stories on the page, we encountered the Divine in ways we couldn’t always appreciate in the moment.
Even though we share in this devotional an array of motherhood stories spanning the hazy newborn days to sending our kids to school, we knew we couldn’t write for every mother, and we acknowledge this limit in our introduction and conclusion. Throughout our book we encourage our reader to recall her story and share it with other mothers, because faith is deepened in community, and we believe the world needs to hear more stories of the varied expressions of parenthood. As such, one of our components for promoting the book is a blog writing tour this month through next, in which we’re lifting up the work of writer moms from different backgrounds, each writing on how the beauty of motherhood comes to fruition in her life.
We hope The Beauty of Motherhood will uplift moms and help them know that, in the same sacrificial ways they love and cherish their children, God loves and cherishes them. It’s a message we still need to hear, and one that bears repeating throughout the highs and lows of this holy calling. We pray our words will be a hand outstretched, pulling moms close to rest in the love of Jesus.
Erin Strybis is a freelance writer and mom of two. She spent over seven years as an editor of Living Lutheran, the magazine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, where she edited and wrote dozens of faith stories. Erin’s writing about motherhood and parenting has appeared in The Washington Post, Coffee + Crumbs, Mother.ly, Gather, The Everymom, Sparkhouse and elsewhere. She lives in Chicago. Connect with her at erinstrybis.com, through her monthly newsletter and on Instagram at @erinstrybis.
Kimberly Knowle-Zeller is a writer, pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and mother of two. She writes on the intersection of faith and parenting, searching for holiness in the ordinary. Her widely acclaimed stories on faith and motherhood have appeared in The Christian Century, Living Lutheran, Episcopal Cafe, Coffee + Crumbs, and more. She lives in Cole Camp, Missouri. Connect with her at kimberlyknowlezeller.com, on Instagram @kknowlezeller, or her monthly newsletter.