the muddled middle

A few months ago I was doing that thing when the weather is foul where you look around your house and it starts feeling like bear cave. Everybody’s been inside too long and you haven’t found a place for Christmas presents yet, and all you can see is the clutter built up around the edges. 

That particular day I’d already thrown away three bags of junk from my laundry room and two out of the linen closet and I was about to start in on the coats in the front closet. That may not have been a strategic move considering there was a foot of snow in the front yard—but I was done with coat-chaos in the entry way! Thankfully logic prevailed. Instead of throwing away coats completely, I decided what would really complete my life was a new coat rack on the wall by my front door. 

So I did what any smart woman with an idea does—I looked on Pinterest for the perfect heavenly vision of what was in my head. Then I went to Lowe’s and picked out wood and coat hooks, and had a buff young man in a Lowe’s apron cut the wood for me.

I went home and started pounding nails into my trim boards. The first couple went OK, except then I couldn’t find the studs in the wall, which meant my boards were just stuck in sheet rock, and if anything bigger than a Barbie coat ended up on that thing, it’d all come crashing down. I gotta mention here — I have a husband who is a woodworker—he does gorgeous work—but Pinterest had me convinced I could totally whip this out myself.

I prayed for studs and pounded more nails. And it turned out my wood was that fake stuff that’s basically glued-together sawdust. Which totally works for folks like my husband who actually hit the nail every time. But that’s not me. And when my hammer missed both nails—the actual nail AND my thumbnail, then the hammer would smash into my fake wood and make a nice divot. 

Partway through the project it was looking pretty scary. My fake wood was all dinged up. A couple of the nails – the ones that had actually HIT studs– would NOT go all the way in no matter how hard I pounded. And by now my husband was only an hour or two from coming home. My inner two year old was bound and determined to do this thing BY MYSELF without any male help (well, except that cute young man at Lowe’s, but my hubby didn’t have to know about him).

Every now and then one of my kids would come over, look at the wall doubtfully, open their mouth to say something– and then notice the steam coming out of my ears and retreat.

Finally I got most of my nails pounded in and the coat hooks screwed in and it even felt reasonably stable. I got out the putty and filled in my mistakes, and slapped a coat of white pain all over the whole project. DIY coat rack

While I was standing back looking at it with my head cocked over sideways trying to decide if it actually looked OK, or it that was just my hopeful imagining, my daughter came up and stood beside me. I’ve walked through fire trying to love this precious one well, and on that long journey, she has been the one God has used most often to show me my own flaws and imperfection. So that’s the kid who came alongside me companionably.

And she tipped her head sideways too and she squinted at my project and she said, “It looks pretty good.”

I told her I’d been really doubting for awhile that it’d be OK.

She looked me in the eye and said, “Yeah, lots of projects look kind of messy in the middle, but they usually work out OK in the end.”

Do you know what it meant to me to have that child—out of all my ten– speak those words to me? It was as if God himself whispered in my ear, “It’s going to be all right in the end.”

As Christians we know it’s going to be all right in the end, right?

Then why, so often, do we judge our success as mothers by looking at the muddled middle of our child’s story? The muddled middle of our own story?

And– another thing–how often do we try to do this project of motherhood ALL BY ourselves even though we’ve got the limitless power of God RIGHT there? Totally forgetting that our Father in heaven loves us and our precious kids more than we ever can. Forgetting He has every resource at His disposal, and He’s working powerfully in all of our lives this very minute.

He’s even preparing a place called Heaven for us some day.

Never forget: Our God is able to do immeasurably more than we can ever ask or hope or imagine according to his power that is at work within us.

Do not be weary in doing well, for in due time – after you get through the muddled middle – you WILL reap a reward if you do not faint along the way. I think it’s the King James version that talks about fainting along the way and I really, really appreciate that translation because so often as a momma I feel like today might be the day I faint along the way.

But let me say it again: Our God is able to do immeasurably more than we can ever ask or hope or imagine according to his power that is at work within us.

It’s all Him. It’s all Him.

Walk humble. Love deep. Be faithful. Don’t lose hope.

He is mighty to save and He loves you and your precious children with an everlasting love.

Don’t be afraid of the muddle in the middle.


(Excerpted from Forever Mom: What to Expect When You’re Adopting)


  1. Mary, I have read everyone of your blog posts since I began following you (I don’t know how many years ago, but I think your bio still said you had 8 kids). Many have spoken to me but I think this is my favorite. Even though I am Jewish, this truly speaks to me. You, and your daughter, are very wise.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you for these words of life!

  3. Colleen says:

    Thank you. I needed this today, in the middle of a messy, messy day. God is good.

  4. We are in a muddled middle week, so this was much needed. Thank you Mary! Blessings to you and yours!

  5. Thanks for the reminder! I tell myself this often when the kids are in Middle School(what is it with that age?). “Keep being consistent, this is hard now, but they will be better adults for it” is my mantra!

    I wanted also to tell you how proud I am of you for returning to work in the hospital. I, too, am a nurse. I work in the school now to have the same schedule as the kids, but the pay is low. I will need to return to the hospital at some point I’m sure and it scares me. It’s been 20 years since I have worked there and so much has changed. Thanks for being an inspiration to me!

  6. Cassie says:

    Man. Thank you for this. I cannot even tell you how badly my mama heart needed to read this today. I actually stumbled on this post because I googled “trusting God while adopting on a low income”. Ha. 🙂 I clicked on a link to your blog and then it told me that that particular post was no longer available. Feeling frustrated and let down I just clicked on your home page and then found this post. I’ve been so needing these words today. I’m sitting here holding my 6 month old who would not fall asleep for naptime (while his older brother and sister are taking awesome naps. Someone has to be awake right?) and just feeling so inadequate as a mom. My husband and I feel called to adopt and know we want to start the process soon, but finances are tight right now and we are fervently praying that God would help us be faithful to what He’s calling us to do and to make a decision out of trust and not fear. I have a heart and passion for adoption but now that we are close to making a decision I’ve just felt so inadequate and under spiritual attack the last few days. When I was reading this I just stopped and broke down. Just like you said, I too feel like God was right here whispering words of reassurance and encouragement to me. This wasn’t the post I was looking for, but God led me here because He knew this is exactly what I needed to read today. Right this moment. Thank you so much.

  7. Bethany says:


  8. I love this. I needed it! Such encouragement to know that our plowing, and sowing, and weeding will someday produce a good harvest. Thank you.

  9. O thank you for these words! I needed to hear just this message today !

  10. I just love this passage of writing so much — and your reflective heart and mind that makes connections between real life and the heart of God. Thanks for sharing it here.