Motherhood: Learning the Ropes of Joy

Motherhood: Learning the Ropes of Joy

Motherhood, for me, started out like a tightrope walk. To keep my balance and maintain my place on the tightly stretched wire, I read all the books, analyzed all the angles, second guessed all the decisions, and the only thing that saved my sanity is that Google had not been invented yet.

I’m still in the process of taking grace for this mothering gig, and one huge encouragement along the way is the shared experiences of others. Jamie Sumner is also a mother who walks on the tightly-wound side, and Unbound: Finding Freedom from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood is a memoir of her mothering journey in which she allows her own story to tell itself, while weaving in fresh re-tellings of the familiar life stories of biblical women.

It was none other than Sarah and Hannah, Elisabeth and Naomi who walked with Jamie in The Wanting and The Waiting of infertility. It was Mary Magdalene, Martha, and a choir of lesser known biblical women who sang her through The Getting and The Appreciating of a high-risk pregnancy, a ten-week endurance test in the NICU, and the white knuckle gauntlet of learning to parent an extremely fragile special needs infant.

The conflict that persists throughout the book’s narrative arc is Jamie’s struggle to “stay present, be still, and take notice of the moment” she was in. Being “in” a season of infertility presented a persistent reinforcement of the truth that even a much-wanted baby would not fill Jamie and her husband Jody’s hollowness in a way that was eternally satisfying. Years of shots and pills and finally the roller coaster of IVF made it hard to stay close to their mission statement:  What was all this about, anyway?

The Wanting and the Waiting

As she waited for “success,” Jamie threw herself into her teaching career and went about the business of  lesson plans and grading papers as a distraction from the continual pondering of the state of her uterus. Progress was always followed by set backs, and the devastation of miscarriage mirrored the empty/full, empty/full rhythms of Naomi’s life in the book of Ruth. Jamie identified with Mrs. Noah, pacing the deck of the ark and feeling like a spectator in her own life’s story.

The Getting and the Appreciating

Throughout her first pregnancy, Jamie worked hard to “turn down worry” and “crank up the trust,” which is a continual battle in a process over which one has so little control. Coping with waves of uncertainty and an always-changing prognosis, Jamie was Mary Magdalene, sitting on a hard rock during a long sermon on a Galileean hillside. She was a frayed and frazzled Miriam in the thirty-fifth year in the desert.

Learning the ropes of joy meant embracing the blessing of birth and the promise of new life while living with the bitter disappointment that came when waves of bad news continually washed over their days.

Images of Motherhood

Unbound comes from the perspective of a young mother against the backdrop of infertility, high-risk pregnancy, and parenting toddler twins plus a special needs pre-schooler with a chromosomal defect and cerebral palsy. Jamie’s story will encourage and lighten the load of readers who are living a similar journey, but her insights on mothering transcend any particular season. The voice of Unbound is a dialogue between reader and author, and feels like the conversations that happen among mums over coffee around a mult-generational table.

Reading Unbound, I was reminded that Motherhood is:

  • a sky dive into unknown territory where your shoot won’t open until the very last possible second, and only when someone else pulls the cord; (76)
  • an endless attempt to get your legs back; (115) 
  • a long way to fall without a net; (107)
  • a continually changing plan that has you kicking the tires and eating fried rice; (140)
  • a continual reminder that we cannot claim possession of either our lives or the lives of those we love. (166)

Tracing the Outlines of Grace

We come through the challenges of mothering NOT because of our own incredible giftedness or the presence of a “mom-gene” (157) that imparts super powers and exalted wisdom. Women become mothers and thrive in the role because there are “outlines of grace” (153) on our story, even though they are not visible to us all the time.

When Mary of Nazareth sang the poignant theology of the Magnificat, she was operating in faith that the new upside-down of her life was part of a bigger plan. When the impoverished New Testament widow emptied her pockets and let those two coins fall away, she was exercising trust for an unseen and improbable future.

In the NICU and beyond, Jamie and Jody Sumner have parented their children in the context of a growing faith that prays two-coin-prayers for God to “keep [their son] protected and deliver him to [them] in whatever state He saw fit.” (177)

Faith unbound perseveres in prayer no matter what.
Hanging on hard to the ropes of joy, faith prays and doesn’t give up during seasons of infertility, during the sturm und drang of toddlerhood, against the hum of hospital emergency equipment,  when the engine of the teen’s new truck is revving in the driveway, or when the grandchildren are coming for their first overnight.

Throughout our wildly varied parenting journeys, may we find freedom from anxiety and unrealistic expectations as we trust God and pray:

“Please help us to be good stewards of our own lives and any life you grant us.” (192)


Amen and amen.

Thank you to Faith Words, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. for providing a copy of this book for my review which is, of course, freely and honestly given.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to If you should decide to purchase Unbound: Finding Freedom from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood simply click on the title, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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45 thoughts on “Motherhood: Learning the Ropes of Joy”

    1. Yes, I’m still waiting for that manual to come in the mail and my oldest is 24. 🙂
      And I think each child requires an individual manual, so better, I guess, to trust godly wisdom and stay on our knees!


  1. This sounds like it will be a helpful book for many. I love how even though the women we read of in the Bible lived so long ago in a different culture there are still so many ways we can relate to them and lessons we can learn from their lives. It sounds like this book really brings that out.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Michele,
    “A sky-dive into unknown territory,” Amen! I still haven’t found that Mother’s Manual??? One tough lesson I had to learn is that I cannot take credit or blame for my children’s successes or failures. They are people unto themselves who can make choices. I have done my best and am so thankful for God’s blanket of grace.
    Bev xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s so important in setting realistic expectations, Bev! I struggled with that strangle hold on results as well. We love them so much more like God’s love when we find grace to release them into the person they were meant to be.


  3. Hi Michele,

    Whenever I see books like this, I immediately think, “Oh , this would be great for a young mom”. And at first that was my knee-jerk reaction, but as I read, I saw how much I could use a book like this as the mother of adult children.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yup, me too. I first wanted to read the book because Jamie is a gifted writer and I would basically read the phone book if she put her spin on it. But then . . . I began to see all kinds of applications to my own mothering life. What I thought would be a good rear-view-mirror experience ended up affecting my windshield!


    1. I enjoyed every minute of your book, except for the fact that you had to live through all those hard days in order to process and emerge from them with the wisdom they forced you to acquire. It was so great to get the whole story in one piece, Thanks for being willing to relive and reflect.
      I’ll be praying for you tomorrow!


  4. Your first paragraph sounds so much like me! I was constantly looking for books about whatever aspect of parenting I was wrestling with at the moment, but sometimes I needed an answer faster than I could get and read a book. I think I used James 1:5 about praying for wisdom in regard to parenting more than anything else in my life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am guilty of waaaaaay underestimating the importance of God’s wisdom. Instead I go looking for other resources. I know there is a point of balance here, trusting God while using available references. We’re getting there, Barbara!


  5. Great review! I am definitely going to check out this book! I, myself as a mother and Christian so often struggle to find a balance and any guidance or support is much needed! #TwinklyTuesday

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m there with you, Nita. I’ve gotten a bit disillusioned with parenting books that give me a 1-2-3 Steps to Perfect Kids approach, but Jamie’s approach is so helpful and hopeful.


  6. Thanks for the review. There is nothing easy about motherhood but there is plenty to write about. I love how she brings the women of the Bible into her story because they were the ones who paved the way.

    Did you change your look here?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Just a little. I got rid of a background picture that I really liked, but it felt as if colors were always clashing. I think I like this amount of white space around the posts. (I’m SO not good at the visual aspects of blogging.)


  7. Michele – what an amazing review! I love how you pulled out the key points, introduced us to Jamie and inspired us. I loved the book! And I love your talent of reviewing books that inspire us to read great words and works of talented and wise authors!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. As always, I visit your blog and have to add another book to my reading wish list! If this book is half as beautiful as your review of it, I know I’ll love it! Thank you so much for sharing it with us at Encouraging Word Wednesday!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wish I could introduce Jamie personally to all my readers. Truly, her personality comes through in this book as well as her deep conviction that all the angst and trauma around mothering which she experienced early on came to her through the hand of God.


  9. Google is definitely both a help and a hindrance for moms! This books sounds very encouraging. I know I often have unrealistic expectations of myself and would benefit from being free of these and finding more joy in the daily experience of mothering.


    1. That’s certainly the truth! And I understand that there are all kinds of sites on the web that help analyze symptoms when kids are sick, so that must also be a mixed blessing.


  10. Oh my goodness; her definitions of motherhood had me laughing and nodding along. I often feel that I no soon have the hang of this whole thing and it changes all over again! This sounds like a great read. Thanks for sharing at Love to Learn. Pinned.


  11. […] I’m still in the process of taking grace for this mothering gig, and one huge encouragement along the way is the shared experiences of others. Jamie Sumner is also a mother who walks on the tightly-wound side, and Unbound: Finding Freedom from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood is a memoir of her mothering journey in which she allows her own story to tell itself, while weaving in fresh re-tellings of the familiar life stories of biblical women. Read my full review here! […]


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