Episode 15: Breaking Free from the False Dichotomy of Motherhood and Work with Sarah Mackenzie

On today’s episode of the podcast, I speak with Sarah Mackenzie, the founder of the Read Aloud Revival and Waxwing Books. We discuss her journey into podcasting, book writing, and creating a publishing house all while raising and homeschooling her six kids. Sarah shares honestly about how she overcomes mom guilt, how she discerns God’s will for her life, and how she finds the courage to continue.

Find what you want to hear.

  • [1:55] Get to Know Sarah Mackenzie
  • [6:10] How the Read Aloud Revival got started
  • [13:22] Knowing you’re doing God’s will
  • [21:20] Finding the Balance
  • [27:50] Dealing with Missteps
  • [34:39] Lessons from Proverbs 31
  • [41:08] Dealing with Discouragement
  • [48:10] Our motherhood as a witness
  • [53:08] Finding Courage
  • [55:00] Giving herself permission

Breaking Free from the False Dichotomy of Motherhood and Work Transcript

Get to know Sarah Mackenzie

Jeanette : Sarah Mackenzie is an author, speaker, podcaster and homeschooling mom of six with a passion for encouraging fellow homeschooling moms like herself. She is the author of Teaching From Rest: A Homeschoolers Guide to Unshakeable Peace, and The Read Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections With Your Kids. Sarah also hosts the wildly popular Read Aloud revival podcast, which has been downloaded over 9 million times in 160 countries. And if that wasn’t enough, she just launched Waxwing Publishing, a boutique publishing house where she will be publishing her first children’s book, A Little More Beautiful. You can connect with her and all she’s doing at Readaloudrevival.com. Sarah, welcome to the podcast.

Sarah: Oh, Jeanette, I have been looking forward to this conversation with you since the last time I saw you. So I’m happy to be here.

Jeanette: Oh, I’m so glad I’m so glad I know. This is a little bit away from what you normally talk about. So I’m so glad to be getting to talk to you about something that is a little bit out of your normal talking points, if that makes sense. 

Sarah: Yes, I’m so excited. I love talking about everything we’re going to be talking about today. So I’m here for it.

Jeanette: All right. Well, before we get into it, there are probably lots of people who listen who are not necessarily homeschoolers, and don’t know who you are. So can you share with us a little bit about yourself and what motherhood looks like for you right now?

Sarah: Yes, so my husband, Andrew and I have been married for 21 years. We have six kids, and our oldest is a junior at Franciscan University of Steubenville, in Ohio, and then we have a our second it’s going to Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. And then we have four others at home, one who’s just about to graduate, and three younger kids who we homeschool. And we run the Read Aloud Revival together, which is a podcast and online community. And we’ve been running it for a while it’s kind of taken on we can talk about this later, but like, you know, transformed and taken different shape than it used to be. But our family life too, as you know, like changes as your kids grow. So when I first started blogging and podcasting, I had all six kids at home, the twins were newborns, our youngest, our twins. And our oldest was 12. We were like in the thick of like, all of that hands on kind of parenting. And now we’re in a different stage because we were you know, we’ve got adult kids who are off at college, one was just texting me this morning about a hurricane that’s coming. Area was it was kind of elevate your thing to do that. And you know, and then high school to be at that one, discerning what he’s going to do next year anyway, it’s a different kind of parenting. I sort of love this stage, I will say.

Jeanette: Yeah. Wow, that sounds like something all of us who have littles can look forward to.

Sarah: You know, it’s so funny. When my older kids were younger, I would often hear people say like, “Oh, just wait till they’re teenagers can be so hard. You know, teenagers are so hard.” My experience has not been that I know I’ve only I only have two young adult kids so far. But I really have loved having older kids. I love the conversations. I love the fact that we can play games that are fun, that are not Chutes and Ladders and Candyland, I love that the reading is good. I love that like everything about parenting teenagers has been a delightful surprise. There are of course, like challenges and big things. But also, you know, you find that there’s, you receive grace as soon as you need it. And not before, not a minute late. So the reason that it’s felt overwhelming to maybe have older kids when you have younger ones is because you don’t have the grace for that yet. But at the same time, I feel like parenting all younger kids is very exhausting in a way that I do not feel exhausted like that anymore. So I always tell moms of all younger kids, the reason it feels hard is because it’s really hard what you’re doing right now. It’s really hard. And it will not always be like this, even though I know it feels like it will.

Jeanette: Yeah, yeah, no, that’s really, it’s good to hear somebody sometimes affirm that it is it is just hard. That’s it. And it’s okay to say that to admit that it just is hard. And it doesn’t mean that you don’t love it or that you don’t love your kids just because you admit that this is really hard.

Sarah: Exactly. Or that you’d wish any of it away or that yeah, some days you might wish some of it away because we’re human.

How the Read Aloud Revival got started

Jeanette: So true. Well, let’s talk a little bit about the Read Aloud Revival because obviously, that’s for those who know you well as a speaker and author and podcaster that’s what they know you for. And I know you’ve told the story 100 times about how the Read Aloud Revival podcast came to be, but I would love to hear it again and then ask you some questions about that.

Sarah: Yeah, so my husband likes to say that I’m impulsive when I’m pretty sure what he means is spontaneous. But what actually happens in my brain and in my house is that I get an idea and then I just act on it. I’m sort of a ready fire aim kind of a person. So when the twins were just born, I had six kids ages 12 and under Uh, and I was deep in the throes of like three of those kids by the way, we’re one and under. So we were in the throes of diapers and breastfeeding and naptime and, and refusing to naptime and all of those things. And I had a blog that I was writing on, and I loved listening to podcasts back then. There were not really homeschooling podcasts, I think there was like one or two back then, but they weren’t really a thing yet.

But I thought, “Man, I would love to have a podcast.” And this probably goes back to my childhood dream of wanting to be a radio news broadcaster, when I was like 10 years old, but I thought, “Oh, I would love to do that. And if I had a podcast about anything, I think I’d want to talk about reading aloud because the books that we have shared in our family have been so transformative to our relationships and to our homeschool. So I think I would love to talk about that. And if I could talk to anyone about homeschooling, I would love to talk to Andrew Pudewa, who’s the director of the Institute for Excellence in Writing. And I had wanted to talk to him because it was his talk called Nurturing Competent Communicators, that really turned me into a rabid read aloud fan, like somebody who read aloud, way more than necessary with my kids, and really turned with all those benefits on for our family.

So I sent an email to the Institute for Excellence in Writing, saying, would Andrew Pudewa like to come chat with me on my podcast about reading aloud? And within like, two hours, I get an email response back saying yes, he would love to. And I thought, Oh, no. Because this is Andrew Pudewa, and I don’t have a podcast, so now I have to figure out how to start a podcast. So I do I google how to start a podcast and figure it out and start brainstorming some other ideas for what we could talk about. And then the podcast itself sort of took on a life of its own in a way in that it, I think that it, it just became something people loved because whenever I think that overwhelmed, busy, moms who want more than anything else, to connect with their kids in a meaningful way, realize that it’s so simple to do through reading aloud, we all become like really excited and fired up about it. And so that’s what kind of the podcast started. And it really came out of this sort of, you know, I feel like a brave moment. I don’t know if it was brave, so much as it was an impulsive. But I’m glad. I’m glad that it happened.

Jeanette: We’re all glad that it happened, actually. 

Sarah: Aww, thank you. 

Jeanette: I think I love that you mentioned that it probably came from this childhood dream. So let’s talk about that a little bit. I don’t know. I always wonder sometimes about the things that people do in their life. And how much of it is something that was inspired by something God placed on their heart really young? And I don’t know, do you think that it was more than just this childhood dream? Do you think that God had any hand in really making it become what it is? Because the Read Aloud Revival really is…It’s this massive, game changing thing in the homeschool world that’s really inspiring and encouraging moms in ways that I don’t think you ever saw coming. So it’s got to be more than just this little dream, you know?

Sarah: Yeah, there’s a couple things there. One is that yes, I think that’s 100%. True read aloud is also t’s way bigger than me, or any dream or effort that I could have put into it. And the same is true for the first book I wrote, which is Teaching From Rest; A Homeschoolers Guide to Unshakable Peace, which actually wrote around the same time I started this podcast so we can dissect wherever psychological thing are we going through after helping, I needed to start a whole bunch of things. 

But really, I wrote Teaching From Rest because I need I like, was really longing at a deep, deep soul level for peace that transcends all understanding that I knew we were promised that I had nothing I had no part in like that was not a part of my life. And I wanted to know, if we were able to have peace that transcends our understanding and our homeschool, what would that look like? So I was just deep diving into that in my reading and thinking, and then wrote that book. 

But really, it was a series of blog posts that got changed into a book that ended up getting picked up by a publisher. That is still I think the way that most homeschoolers find me, and it’s really interesting is this little slim volume of truth that we all know already. So there’s nothing in that book that you don’t already know if you are a follower of Christ. But we forget. And I think that’s one of those things where, clearly this was not my amazing writing, or my amazing idea, or any, like some amazing marketing prowess that got this book in front of people with God’s hand in it. 

And so yes, I absolutely believe that there’s something else there. As a kid, I would have told you at varying times, between the times I was maybe eight and 12, maybe that I wanted to be a mother, a teacher, a writer and a radio broadcaster. And it didn’t occur to me until after I launched the podcasts that I was doing all of those things. I was now a mother. I was teaching my kids at home, I was writing books and I was podcasting, which was basically like online radio broadcasting.

As a kid I will wanted to be a news anchor, a radio news anchor because my dad and I would listen to talk radio on the way to school in the morning. And the lady who like would just tell you how the traffic was, and the weather. I loved her so much. And I would pretend to be her I would sit in my garage and pretend like I was Debbie Scaitoma was her name. I mean, I can even remember. And my dad for a birthday lunch, I think I was 12, surprised me by picking me up at school and take me to Red Robin and Debbie Scaitoma was there waiting. And he got me lunch with this radio, local radio broadcaster I love. 

None of this occurred to me, though. I wouldn’t have told you when I was 20, 25, 30. Like, when when I was doing all this, “Oh, yeah, I’m fulfilling that dream.” It was sort of something I noticed in retrospect, like, oh, yeah, this is like the, the life I always wanted. And that’s helpful for me to remember, on the days when I’m most overwhelmed by everything on my to do list is like if I can step back and remind myself like, Oh, this is the dream I had. And God gave it to me. And it may be it’s a little more cumbersome and tiring in some ways than I knew when I was 10. And I thought, you know, I want to have 100 children, and it will be wonderful. And it is and also it’s way more tiring to have one child than you, like expect when you’re 10 years old, dreaming about motherhood. So anyway, I feel like I’m rambling now.

Knowing you’re doing God’s will

Jeanette: I know. Yeah, absolutely. How did you know that you were going in the right direction with all of this, though? Because I mean, if you if you kind of stumbled into it, but God blessed it, how did you know that you didn’t need to halt or put the brakes on, especially with everything that was going on at the time when you started all of these things?

Sarah: I didn’t know. I think one of the things that I try to pay attention to is my own sense of peace. I mean, I know that that overwhelm is like the word that keeps coming back to me, because it’s probably the thought that I have more than any other was just like, Oh, I’m so overwhelmed. today. I have so much going on today I’ve and and my sweet husband is a reminder to me constantly, that like everything you put on that to do list is largely put on there by you, you know, like thank you for reminding me of what I already know. But I have stuff to do right now. 

So it’s this sense of overwhelming anxiety doesn’t come from the Lord. And I know that like I know that intellectually, I forget that in the moment. But if I can create just a little bit of space and to think to myself, in my are most days being run by a sense of overwhelming anxiety or by peace, or it can I even get a sense of peace in all this, like, some days my list is so long, there’s so many things to do. And this hasn’t changed a ton as my kids have gotten older because it just changes the things that you do like just changes to like running kids around or you know, calling a college admissions office or like, like I say, like helping my college aged daughter know what she needs to have in a hurricane because we’ve never done hurricanes before from the Pacific Northwest. We don’t have them here. So. So like all of these to do things still feel overwhelming. But I think trusting in an overarching sense of peace. We know that we’re following the Lord, when we see the fruits of the Spirit in our lives when we feel that love and joy and peace and patience. And it doesn’t all come every day.

But I guess I don’t really know what I’m trying to say except that I don’t think I have a ton of clarity in the moment that like, Oh, yes, this is the Lord’s call on my life. I’m supposed to be doing these things today. This work that he’s calling me to this project, starting this podcast, writing this book, whatever it is I’m doing in my work world. This is something God wants me to do. So constantly, like opening my desk, my work time with prayer and asking God for clarity, give me the gift of wisdom, give me the gift of knowledge that I can know and the gift of clarity so that I know exactly what you’re calling me to. But also not expecting myself to be as self assured as I might want to be. I might look, I also think people will often ask me how I’m so confident.

And I think that’s interesting. I think, Wow, if I could open up my brain, I think you would be surprised at the lack of confidence that is there a lot of the time. But I think a lot of times when we see people who are look really confident. Sometimes it’s just that they’re perpetually laying down their work at the foot of the cross and asking, like, is this the right thing to do? And they’re not I’m like, I wouldn’t describe myself as super confident that I know that what I’m doing is God’s will. Instead I would say like, I’m just like, begging him for clarity every single morning. And so it’s different than having the feeling that I know I’m walking in the right path. Does that makes sense?

Jeanette: Yeah, it does. And it’s really inspiring and encouraging to hear that, that you don’t necessarily, I don’t know why I’m getting emotional. This is so powerful. This idea that I think all of us are looking for that, that confirmation. Yeah, exactly that what we’re doing is the right thing. And we don’t always get it. But to see that sometimes even even others who look like they’ve got it all together, and they, and they know what they’re doing and they’re going in the right direction, even they sometimes are unsure. And they’re just walking one step in front of the other and doing what they feel like they’re supposed to be doing and asking God to just take it, you know, like you say, in your book, bring your basket you and he makes it enough. And it’s powerful that we can look to these women that are inspiring us and say, like, look, they’re just also walking the path and hoping that God is going to do something good out of what they’ve

Sarah: God is going to bless it, that we’re doing what he’s asking for us to do. I also know that even when I’m not like, I know that there are pieces of my business that I have stepped into, and they probably weren’t what God wanted for me, because I felt nothing but stress and anxiety the whole time I was doing them. But I also know that he can turn he can make all things good, you know, he can take our mistakes and our fumbles and, and I think my one of my weak biggest weaknesses, there’s so many weaknesses, but one of my biggest weaknesses is like, holding on to like, I want something to work. And so like, I almost don’t want to ask God if it’s what he wants me to do, because I’m like, what if he says no, you know, the question of like, if God asked me to shut my business, would I do it? That’s a, that’s a hard question for me to answer, like, I will go in obedience. Yes. But I know that I would be like, I would not do that easily, it would be very, very difficult for me to do it, it would be a struggle.

So I think that constant like laying everything that you’re doing in your work life, or in your home life and your mothering life, all the different place pieces of your life, like laying that down before God didn’t say like this is my path to holiness right now. Trying to figure this out, the struggle of figuring that out is part of our path to holiness. It’s part of how we’re being refined, you know, that’s interesting. Like, as I’m talking, I’m just thinking, we all want the assurance that we’re doing the right thing. But if we have the assurance, we probably wouldn’t lean on Jesus so much. And so it’s almost like we need to be restless. So that we will rested him like we need that restlessness is good for us. Because it, it makes us constantly remember that there’s grace and mercy that we can’t give ourselves.

On my way in, I work in an office now. And on my way into my office this morning. I was listening to a podcast that was pretty good actually was talking about time management. It was not a Christian podcast, it was a business podcast. And the host is not a Christian. And toward the end, she said something about how it most of the time management stuff was good. But at the end, he said, Remember, there’s nobody coming to save you. You have to be you have to save yourself by managing your time. And I just had to turn it off for a second because I was like, that is where we have a gift in our businesses that we like, I know that’s not true. He is saving me every minute and every day and next week, and thank God, but he’s here to save me. And so that we don’t have to be quite as self reliant as we the world tells us we do. And that I’m really grateful for as well.

Jeanette: Yeah, I think when as you were talking earlier, I was thinking about how true it is that if we had the 100% confidence that what we were doing is right, we probably would completely forget that God was there. It would be so easy to forget. Because we’d be like, I’ve got it. I’ve got all this, I’ve got my time managed well, I’ve got all these things lined up. I know what I’m doing. I don’t need you, God.

Sarah: And this is where I think having friends who are like, also in doing similar things, and also who are faithful Christians is really helpful. I know that there have been several times where I have called up Pam Barnhill, who’s a good friend of mine, and I’ll say, you know, I’m so stressed. I don’t know if I should do this or that I’m trying to figure out I’m trying to get clarity on if I should do this or that. And she’ll just say, Have you prayed about it? And then I’m like, well shoot about it. Like it didn’t it didn’t even occur to me to pray about it. And then I’m like, Wow, talk about trying to take over God’s role in my business, talking about forgetting to bring my basket to just bring what I have and let him make it enough. We do it all the time. We do it in motherhood. We do it in our marriages. We do it in our business. It’s just the name of the game.

Finding the Balance

Jeanette: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. How do you balance all of these things now? And how has that changed over time?

Sarah Makenzie: So when I first started writing online, I wrote in little tiny snippets, like 10 or 15 minutes of time I had my computer or like a journal open on the kitchen counter and I would just write when I could. And then when I got a little more serious and consistent, or I don’t know if series is the right word, but like devoted like if this was like a thing I really wanted to do. I would get up super early in the morning I would try and write during nap time. 

But what I found is I often tried to slip in work work like in the nooks and crannies of my day. And I know that during certain seasons of my life like that is how I wrote Teaching From Rest. So I know that God bless that during certain seasons in my life. But I also noticed that other times, I would not be doing a good job, either the work or the motherhood. When I did that, it’s like I was, my brain was too fragmented. So I was never fully present. And I always felt guilty. Because if I was, if I was reading to my kids, or if I was doing something for my kids, folding their laundry or like, just like watching them play on the swings of the playground, or something, I would be thinking about, like, Oh, how I shouldn’t be doing all this stuff for my business. 

When I was working in the business, I would have all this guilt that I was not mothering. And so it’s like, I was never content, because I always felt like I was very unclear about what I should be doing. Now that’s changed. And I think a lot of this has changed for two reasons. One is that my husband now works, he resigned from his job, and he now works with me at Read Aloud revival. And that does open up so much more time and flexibility. 

So one thing I would really encourage any listeners to hear, if you are at the beginning of your business, or if your husband works outside the home or inside the home does matter, I separately from you on something else, and you are trying to like create your, your your business, your podcast, your creative work on this side. Just don’t, it’s not fair for you to compare what you can accomplish, or what you can get done to somebody who in like, is in my position, where I actually leave the house for the first half the day every day. And I go to my office, and I work. And when I’m at the office, I don’t really worry about what happens at home, because that’s not where I’m supposed to be right now. We’ve got that settled my husband’s there with them. 

And then I come home midday around noon, and eat lunch with the kids. And then I take over homeschooling for the rest of the afternoon. And he goes and does work. So that feel I mean, so that’s a gift that we didn’t, I didn’t have for years before that. 

But I just want to make it clear, because I feel like sometimes people go, like, what are your secrets? How are you getting everything done? And the answer is, first of all, I’m not, you should see the state of my laundry room. 

And, and secondly, it hasn’t always looked like this. And this might not even be what it looks like a year from now. And that might not be what it looks like ever for somebody else because it might just look a little bit differently. So I think one really helpful question for me has been…so I do a lot of writing and in the writing world your you’ll hear a lot of encouragement from professional writers saying you need to write at the best time of day for you. 

So whenever your most energetic, your most creative. Now that’s always been for me first thing in the morning. That’s when my brain, but it’s been there are very few times in my life where first thing in the morning has been a good time for me to write because I have half a dozen children. And for a while a lot of more babies, and there was no way I could get up earlier than they were when they were getting up at 5:30. Right. And especially if I had older kids going to bed late at night says up with them. Getting up and writing first thing in the morning was not a good solution. 

So what I realized is that I needed not to think in terms of like what’s the best time for you to work in an ideal week, but rather out of the times you have available which time which of those would be best. And so sometimes that’s been at naptime. Sometimes that’s not because I’ve been really sleep deprived, and I like needed to fall asleep during nap time. So asking in your season right now out of the times that are available for you to work, whether it’s a little bit of time or a lot, whether you can afford or can bring in someone to help you with the kids a little bit or not, what is the best time you have available to you right now. And then asking God to bless that. Because one thing that I have I’m absolutely certain of is even now I don’t work full time. 

And there is no way that I could accomplish like that the work that I’m doing should be able to reach the number of people it’s reaching. So that’s a God thing. So again, that’s like God multiplying our loaves and fishes. So if you are faithful to taking the best time that you have available to you in whatever God has seen fit, give your life right now. I think He’ll bless that.

Jeanette: Yeah, that’s really encouraging too. Because I think that lots of women who do want to make whether it’s a dream come true or or want to follow some path that they feel a ministry that they feel God leading them to. They think well, but I only have this amount of time. So there’s no way I could possibly make it into what I feel like it’s supposed to be. But we just have to bring what we have. And I love the tip of what is the time that’s available to you instead of trying to make time available that really is not designated for that thing. So because that’s probably in some cases where that mom guilt comes from for a lot of moms is that they’re, they’re sacrificing their motherhood or the time that they should be mothering, to do this thing and then they feel that guilt over it because they know instinctively that that’s not the right thing.

Sarah: Yeah, but also we haven’t actually taken the time to figure out what is the best use, like Where where are we post right? That even if you’re doing something that you are supposed to be doing, let’s say like that is a time when you’re supposed to be like, creating or making dinner for your family, you will still have that underlying feeling of like, there’s all these other things I could be doing. Because it’s just sort of like a right thing at the right time. Kind of thing. Yeah. And then it takes a lot of trust that, I mean, really, if someone said, Can you write a book in 15 minute snippets, like some days, that’s all I would have is like, maybe one 15 minute snippet, and I was so sleep deprived. I mean, I was so quick to ride when I wrote Teaching From Rest, which is funny, like, as the title is Teaching From Rest, and I was really tired. There’s no reason why that should work. But if God is calling you, then he’ll make it enough. And so even if you don’t have assurance that God is calling you, but you’re acting in faith that he has. I think he’ll make it enough. 

Dealing with missteps

Jeanette: Yeah, Yeah. I agree. That’s really encouraging. Has there ever been anything that you’ve done, you kind of mentioned it before, where you realize this is not what I was supposed to be doing? How do you course correct? How do you, I don’t know, get things back from when you’ve made those missteps.

Sarah: So many times, there have been so many times, the one that comes to mind first, and probably because it was I felt really painful at the time. I mentioned earlier that I tend to be a bit spontaneous, as on a lot of ideas. And I’ll think like, I’m also kind of a relentless optimist. So I’ll think like, I’m sure we can figure out how to do this like, which is often true, but not always. 

So about the same time about a year after I had written Teaching From Rest, and the podcast was going and now the podcast was keeping on going so that was really wasn’t sure when I started, there was something that was gonna go for longer than a handful of episodes. I also had a blog that I’ve been reading on for years was called Amongst Lovely Things at the time that’s based off of Plato quote, it says, “The most effective kind of education is that a child should play amongst lovely things.” I think it’s something like that. That’s where I got the the title. I was blogging about our gluten free lifestyle. I was blogging about Chesterton, from Chesterton from fanatic. I was blogging about like, my reading life, and the funny things the kids did and what we were doing in our homeschool, just anything that caught my interest at all. 

I also had started a website called Schole sisters, which some of your listeners may be familiar with. Because I had the idea that I knew a lot of my colleagues and friends online, like Pam Barnhill and Mystie Winkler were trying and Brandy Vencel, were trying to, like, embrace classical education for our kids, we’ll also kind of giving ourselves something of a classical education we never got. And so I thought, oh, we should do this together on a website. There’s so many other women doing this, too. And so I started that website, I got the idea for it. And I sort of rallied all of us and created that. And about that same time, I was just having a lot of anxiety, a lot of overwhelm. I wasn’t sleeping that well, I was snapping at my husband, I was snapping at my children. I had a feeling of perpetual drowning. At the same time, mind you, that read that the book that I just written, Teaching From Rest: A Homeschoolers Guide to Unshakable Peace, was taking off. And I was like, huh. 

Around the same time I read a book by Greg McKeown called Essentialism. Have you read this one Jeanette? 

Jeanette: No, I haven’t. 

Sarah: I needed it. And I mean, it’s kind of funny that a book called Essentialism, which is all about doing less, I’ve read it like 10 times, which feels a little bit like anti essentialism. But I mean, that’s how badly I mean, my copy is like you can, on some of the pages, there is no whitespace, around the margin, notes notes. And you can see like a decade has passed, and I’m reading the same note again, you know, yeah, um, and the idea behind essentialism is figuring out, you know, if you have if you’re working on 10 projects, and you give all of them 10% of your energy, because you only have 100%, right, like, that’s it that’s like your, that’s your max, then you kind of move everything forward a little bit. 

But if you can take and just do one project and give it all that energy, you get a lot further. Well, we’re mothers, so we can’t really do that. Like the one thing and I don’t think that’s what Greg McKeown meant, because he’s a father of four. So I don’t think that he meant anyway, very involved in his church and all that. But I got clear that I was trying to do too many things. And so at that time, I decided to shut down the blog, which was the really the way that I’d started everything online. So that felt a little scary, like, well, people still want to be around if I’m not blogging. I gave Schole sisters to the three friends who I had been reading with, I just stepped away and handed it to them.

I’d really stopped doing everything except Read Aloud Revival. That was it. And I just decided if I only have, you know, five hours a week to work on something, what is it that I would most like to work on and I decided it was Read Aloud Revival. And that wasn’t even the most successful thing that I had going on at the at the time, it was just the thing I was most excited about. And so I decided to put all my eggs in that basket. 

And that felt scary, because like, whenever, you know, decisions like that, like now it kind of sounds dramatic. Like I was like, gonna shut everything else down. At the time, it felt really scary. I wondered if this was like it. If that was like going to be like, well, I guess I can’t raise six children and homeschool, and have a business. I guess I tried and I couldn’t do it. And that could have definitely been the story. But it just wasn’t. So that’s I guess that’s again, where some, you get some assurance later that you’re seeking in the moment for like, Am I on the right path? Is this a path that God can bless you? 

You know, that’s an interesting thought I just had to is that the question of am I on the right path means that there’s only one path that we could take that God would bless. And that’s not true. We know this because we sin and God makes good have have bad things in our lives all the time. And so instead of wondering if we are on the one single path that we think God could bless, I wonder if we thought, well, if I take this path, and I submit it to God every morning, could he bless that maybe feels a little less stressful to me than like, making sure I wasn’t supposed to start a podcast on some other thing instead of reading aloud? Like, there’s a lot of different ways that he could bless that. It’s not just like one that you have to figure out.

Jeanette: Yeah, yeah. And I do think that that’s, that’s a cultural thing, in some ways, where we’re looking for the one thing we’re supposed to do with our life. And, you know, and I think that that’s even where in the Catholic community because this is, this podcast is for Catholic women. And one of the reasons I started it is because I felt like there was this obsession with the idea that it’s either motherhood, or it’s something else. 

Sarah: Yes. 

Jeanette: And if you’re a Catholic mother, clearly, if you’re doing something else, you’re doing it wrong. Right? You’re not supposed to be because Catholic motherhood is the higher vocation. And you know, that is your vocation. And so therefore, you can’t be doing anything else. And I even see people online saying things like, if you’re spending x amount of time away from your children, then you’re not doing it right. Or, you know, you need to be here all the time and fully present. 

And yes, I agree that you have to be fully present. But does that mean that, that you can’t do something that you feel God calling you to do? And so anyway, so that’s that idea of just there’s only one right path, and we’re supposed to figure out the one thing we’re supposed to do, and if we’re Christians, and if we believe that motherhood is it, then there is no other, then it makes sense that people think there’s, we’re doing it wrong, if we’re doing something else, you know?

Lessons from Proverbs 31

Sarah: One of the things that’s really helpful for me here, because this is a this is a voice that we hear, like you’re saying all the time, we hear voices of people saying like, I mean, I leave my children for the first half of every day, like, like, I’m not even in the house with them. They had cavities filled, my two little boys had cavities filled on Monday. And on my way to work that morning, I was like, had to give myself a little pep talk that was like, you don’t have to be there, your husband’s taking care of it. And said go. Like, he’s already planned on it, like, but I had all this good guilt that was like a good mother would not work this morning. So she could go get her like go with her boys, because they’re nervous to get their cavities filled. 

We have like all this guilt and these voices in our heads. But when we think about it, a lot of times the well meaning advice that is trying to encourage us by saying your Catholic, your mother, you’re Catholic motherhood is your primary vocation. That is true. And we are also can be called to other work. It’s not a dichotomy. It’s not right. 

And then if you do anything else, and we can see this in Proverbs 31, because the Proverbs 31 woman actually works and makes money and does things. Now that doesn’t mean every woman needs to do all of the things of Proverbs 31 Woman is clearly a perfect ideal, like an ideal. Yeah, exactly. And I heard someone say, if you were to read Proverbs 31 as a woman, and read it as though the person writing it was like, trying to come up with like, like creating, in writing, we call these cluster examples. So I’m just gonna like this is gonna get like technical for a second, then I’ll bring it back.

But like in writing, we would say if I was going to write a podcast or a blog post, and I wanted to reach a mom who felt overwhelmed by homeschooling her older kids with younger toddlers and preschoolers, I would at the beginning of that talk or podcast episode, or blog posts, I would at the beginning, give examples, maybe you feel like and I would give like, maybe you have babies that don’t nap and you can’t do school during nap time. Maybe you would. Maybe you have more children, you know? Are all all your kids are under 10? Maybe you have one toddler, and they’re undermining all of your older kids’ schoolwork, I would give a whole bunch of different examples so that no matter who was reading it, they would see themselves, they would go like, Oh, that’s me. And we call those cluster examples. And then in nonfiction writing, we often do that at the beginning of like an essay, or a podcast or a blog post, as a way for the reader to go, Oh, there I am. 

So what if Proverbs 31 is basically, because I’ve never met a woman who did all of the things. And also I don’t know that we need to dye and sell our own cloth. So clearly, we’re not like needing to follow this to the letter. But what if it’s basically a cluster example where I can see myself here. And the truth is that we don’t need to buy into this false dichotomy, that we are either good Catholic mothers or we work outside the home. I know a lot of fabulous Catholic mothers who work outside the home. And God blesses their work in both places. 

And so, again, I kind of think it goes back to that need that we have for perpetual assurance that we’re doing the right thing instead of trusting that guy can make it enough, like trusting that, like, even if we do this imperfectly, even if we get a little bit derailed, like even if we start websites that we later need to hand off to friends, or take on too much realize we need to shut things down and back things off. Even if we need to set aside our business for a year or two to take care of stuff that’s going on in our family, or if we need to work more, and let like the housework go a little bit in a certain seasons that we could launch a book or launch a podcast or whatever it is that God’s calling us to do that he can make that enough. So I think it’s that again, it kind of goes back to like, I want to just ensure that it’s as tight as uncontrolled. It’s like our grip on wanting to make sure things stay in control. But what we’re being called to do is relinquish our distrust and relinquish our need to constantly know we’re on the right path, because we trust that He will be with us along the path no matter where we are.

Jeanette: And maybe to this focus on discerning God’s will, which is a good thing to teach people how to discern God’s will, maybe some of that has fed into this idea that you have that if you if you’re doing that, well, then you will know and you will have assurance and that’s not necessarily true. 

Sarah: Yes, that is a very good point. Huh, I’m gonna think about that some more too. Because that is what we want. We want to discern God’s will, we want to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. But I also know that there’s not like, there’s not just there’s what’s the word I’m looking for? Where it’s like, the the future is decided whether you have free will or not. 

Jeanette: Oh, like predestined? 

Sarah: Yeah, exactly. Yes. Okay, so I don’t believe you know, that I was predestined to run the Read Aloud revival, I could have just as easily decided to do a gluten free blog and whether or not God and a podcast whatever, whether or not God would have blessed that the same where it would have reached the same people. Well, that’s like, that’s really out of my control once more. So it’s more about like me showing up to be faithful. I guess what it calls to mind for me is that St. Teresa quote, which I’ll put her now, but she basically says that we are called to be faithful not to be successful, right? And so it is a very like, Job mentality or not Job, but the people around job mentality to say, like, if this is blessed, if this does well, if my business does, well, that means it’s blessed by God. That is not true. That is not how things work. 

But we can have a sense of peace, knowing that every day we’re showing up and we’re giving it to God and saying, like us, me, helped me to be an instrument of your peace helped me to be the pencil in your hand helped me to do your work, and, and show your love and even when we mess up, which is going to happen. I mean, we’re gonna have days where we’re terrible mothers, I’ve had plenty of days where I’ve been a terrible mother, I have had lots of fights with my husband, who are I have been more at fault than he has by a longshot. I’ve said hurtful things. We have. I’ve made lots of mistakes in my business. I’ve wasted money, I’ve wasted time I’ve taken the wrong path. And yet, that is what grace is for and that is why we have to continually come back and say, Okay, here I am, Lord.

Dealing with Discouragement

Jeanette: You mentioned something that call to mind discouragement. You know, like if if you do something and you’re and you feel so discouraged that you just want to give up. Has that ever happened to you in motherhood or your business?

Sarah: Yes. Mostly I think when my house is a mess, I’ve gotten into an argument my husband maybe I have been not doing a great job as a mother maybe I’ve been turning on too many screens or like willingly ignoring it, you know, character issues that I know I need to like take time to work on. I will often this happen, I don’t want to say often I have many times I have thought, Okay, I’m going to have to shut the business down. Like, this is so important to me that I’m going to have to just shut the business down so I can focus all my attention over here. 

So why haven’t I guess that’s the next obvious question? 

Jeanette: Yeah.

Sarah: I told you earlier that I’m like clinging to it with a little bit of tenacity, right. So there’s probably some of that, um, you know, interestingly, then, what I have noticed now, because I started the podcast in 2014. And we’re recording this in 2022 so it’s been eight years that this happens at times. But like, if we were going to take this outside of business, when when you’re parenting, when your parent mothering your child, and you have a really hard day, and things aren’t working out well, and you’re doing the best you can, but it just feels insurmountable. 

There’s too many big issues, you don’t go like well, I guess I’m just gonna quit momming Like, I’m just gonna quit my kid, I guess I’m done. That’s not gonna work. And that’s kind of the only thing I’m trying to think of my mind. That’s the only thing that we sort of, I feel like in my life, at least, that I’m like, you know, even in your marriage, when you’re having a hard time there, our world is very quick to be like, you know, you don’t have to be here. And we have to remember like, all these struggles, and this hardship, this is our path to sanctification, like, this is my vocation to be married to this man is my vocation. 

My vocation is to Mother these children God has given me and so I think in some of the ways, just waiting that out and going, Okay, Lord helped me to get clarity helped me to reprioritize what you helped me to see my husband and my children and my business with your eyes, the way you see them. And most often, that will sort of that coming to Him in prayer and reading spiritual books and talking to friends who are faithful Catholics, those things will help me go, Oh, that’s right. I don’t have to choose one or the other. I don’t have to choose my husband or my children. And I don’t have to choose my family or my business. It’s not a there’s a false dichotomy sense of a false dichotomy there. 

And I do I kind of wonder how much of that is fed into by the, the narrative we hear in the business world or in like the self help world, like if we’re all reading the same books, and we are totally all reading the same books that like the Essentialism is a good example of this, I love Essentialism by Greg McKeown. I also love Atomic Habits by James Clear, and I love Deep Work by Cal Newport. And these are all written by dudes who have wives, and they are not called to Catholic motherhood, and running a business. So I can take what they say, and but I have to pull it through the filter of what God’s called me to, but that most of the voices in the world of business, they’re, they’re operating out of a different paradigm. And I think when we take that on, and think I should be able to do this the way that they’re doing it, we’re forgetting that God called them to something different than he’s called us to. 

Jeanette: Yeah, Yeah. I agree. What is discerning God’s will look like for you. In like, the practical I mean, you’ve mentioned prayer, but in the practical every day, what is what does it look like?

Sarah: Um, one thing that I’ve been working on lately, I can say, in discerning God’s will, is paying attention to my own sense of peace. And when I feel like I’m losing that sense of peace, I’m stopping to ask myself like stopping to pray, calling to mind or having on hand like scriptures that just remind me of whose I am and who I serve. 

I ran across one yesterday in a book, but I left it at home so I won’t be able to. It was it’s a verse in Zephaniah, but at “the Lord your God is with you.” It’s just the first part of it. And I remember the rest of it is, but I remember reading it and going like oh, and I circled it was like write this down. So I’ll put them in a Notes app so that when I’m having those moments of like, I don’t know what God’s will is for me right now I’ve got to let something go. I just had a conversation with my one of my assistants, Courtney is our Courtney Garrison is our community director at Read Aloud Revival. And just earlier this week, I said, All right, it is very clear to me that I have too much on my to do list, and there is not enough time for me to get them done. So we need to figure out what I should take off, or what I should give somebody else or just what doesn’t need to be done. So I think asking faithful friends is helpful. But remembering that the Lord your God is with you is really helpful to me because it reminds me that I’m not on my own. 

Usually when I feel that sense of like, I don’t know what God’s will is. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing. It’s I forget and I think I’m on my own. It’s like my brain tricks me into thinking like you have to figure this all out kind of like that podcast said this morning. Like no one’s coming to save you. Like, no, no, no, no. etc. You are not alone. The Holy Spirit is with you right now you can ask him for clarity. You might not get the clarity in the way that you think you need to get it. But he is with you. 

And so a couple of those things, you have prayer, I was raised evangelical. So shooting up really random, conversational prayers. It’s like, it’s like home to me like this feels normal to me. Which I know is not always the case for my lifelong Catholic friends. They’ll go like, okay, that’s not normal. That’s not the way I pray. And I think it’s just however you were raised, you know. So that feels comfortable to me, but also keeping a scripture or two, maybe one that I think I’m gonna write down that one from Zephaniah, and then I can find it and then send you later, if you want to put it. I think I’m gonna put that in my notes app as just what I look at every morning. Like, remember this truths are kind of truth telling to myself, like remembering what is true.

What is true is that my assurance comes from being a child of God, it does not come from a to do list. It does not come from my podcast downloads, it does not come from how many people like that email newsletter I sent out or how many books I sold. It comes from being a child of God, my assurance does not come from my kids turning out well, or from me having a good marriage. It comes from me showing up and saying, Here I am, Lord. I am your child. That is it. And so kind of reminding myself of those truths is the only way that I know how to hear the voice of God. 

Our motherhood as a witness

Jeanette: Yeah. What do you think your kids have learned from watching you do this, this work that you’ve done outside of the home?

Sarah: Okay, nobody has ever asked me this before. So I love this question. Okay, let me think so my oldest daughter, Audrey is almost 21. She was on the podcast with me not too long ago. And it was sort of quickly became like, one of our most downloaded podcast 

Jeanette: It was really good. Oh, it was really good. Thank you. 

Sarah: So if anyone wants to listen to it, Read Aloud revival episode 209. I know the number by heart because we’re gonna hear so much about it.

Jeanette: Yeah, I’ll have to link it to it’s so good.

Sarah: Oh, so you know, it’s so interesting is when she was 10, 11, 12,13, she really hated that I was blogging, and she would let me know that it was like, she was my oldest, I think she was sort of used to being maybe the center of attention. She’s also very, like, disciplined, and is one of those humans that’s very committed to doing the right thing at the right time. And which is a great thing to have. But I think she watched me kind of struggle through those early years, too, of like, getting sidetracked by my blog, when I know exactly what we were talking about before, like, not knowing what I’m supposed to be working on. 

I even found some little notes she had written to herself in her room once about how mom just cares about her blog, and she’s not spending any time with me. And I remember thinking, Oh, no, am I going to regret this? Am I in 10 years gonna go, you shouldn’t have been working on those side projects, and just dedicate all your attention to your children, what is wrong with you. But in fact, what she has told me now as a college student, is that it’s so inspiring to her to be able to see that your vocation to motherhood is not exclusive, because she has a lot of friends who do see that as something that’s exclusive. So therefore, in their mind, it’s like if God is putting any of her dreams or ideas on their heart, they’re sort of squashing them because it’s like, but I want to be a mother and to be a good mother, you can’t do anything else. Right. 

And so for her, she says, It’s been a great gift to see that you can have both and both of those are dreams given to you by God. Both of those are seeds that God planted. And even though like, it’s not really like a, you can have it all, but like, definitely can’t have it all at once. And you definitely are not going to have it all the way you thought you were when you were 10. And you were imagining what you wanted to be when you grew up. But that idea of being able to give my daughters especially I have three boys and three girls, but especially with my daughters, I feel like that example that you can live a faithful vocation to your motherhood. 

And also, I think one of the things that has helped here is that my older girls have come with me to conferences. And so then Audrey has talked about the first few times that she saw someone come up to me and give me a big hug and tell me that the book that I’d written or during that time that she thought was I was wasting my time. Tell me about it. This is the child that wrote a parenting book at age 12, by the way, so she she’s she was very quick. Yeah, she’s gonna love that I said this on the show, um, that she was very quick to tell me what I was doing wrong. And so for that child to see that the things that I was working on, even during that time, we’re changing lives that she couldn’t see has impacted her in a way that I’m really not I wouldn’t say proud of but I’m just really happy about

Jeanette: Yeah. Oh, our children.

Sarah: It’s true. It’s yeah.

Jeanette: But it’s Good to know that the things that we’re doing even when we feel that guilt or that stress that we’re doing something wrong, or that we shouldn’t be doing this, that for many of us, probably for most of us who really who keep everything in order and try our best to do God’s will, and do all the things we’ve been talking about today, that in the end, the Lord will even move their heart to see the beauty of what we were, what we were accomplishing, and how that inspires them. So,

Sarah: Which is like a great gift, but it’s also not necessary. So right after my episode with Audrey came out, I got, we got some emails that worried me because it was like, I would get emails that were like, I want my kids to come out like that. And I was like, well, first of all, I have six and that’s one of them. Also, she’s only 20. There’s time. And I think we take too much of the credit and too much of the blame as mothers. But again, this all is rooted in this idea of like, where’s our assurance coming from? 

We want our kids to turn out well, to assure us that we did a good job as mothers, we want our businesses to be successful as assurance that we’re doing the right thing. But if our assurance comes from being children of God, then we don’t need to find our assurance that way. So even if your kids don’t ever grow up and say, I’m so glad that you worked while I was younger, they might never say that. As long as we don’t if we need that assurance, that’s what we’re gonna find ourselves in trouble.

Finding courage

Jeanette: Yeah. Yeah, no, that’s a really good point. Really, really good point. What gives you courage to do motherhood, business, start a publishing house.

Sarah: You know, when you were reading my intro, I was like, gosh, I’m kind of tired listening to that. I should go take a nap. Um, gosh, what gives me courage?

Jeanette: I know you always say you ask your kids in every book. What was the most courageous character? Right? 

Sarah: Yeah, yeah. 

Jeanette: So, in your story, you know, what gives you that courage?

Sarah: Oh, gosh, you know, a couple of things come to mind. One is seeing other women doing the same thing. That gives me courage. One of the hardest things talked a lot about writing. And one of the hardest things I do every day is right. It’s the thing I never want to do. And I’m always most glad I did. And it’s the thing I really want actually big picture. It’s something I want to do. But unlike today, I do not want to write like that is always the case. 100% of the time. I have a couple of friends, all Catholics actually, friends who are also writers and we meet to write on Zoom every day at nine o’clock. And for an hour, we talked for like 60 seconds. We just all say what we’re working on. And then we mute ourselves and we just write and the what gives me courage to write even when I don’t feel like I have the courage is just like looking up at my screen and seeing them in there. Like I can see. Tish Oxenreider and Haley Stewart and Claire Swinarski writing. And I’m like, oh, yeah, that’s what we’re doing now. So I think probably the thing that comes to mind for me most what gives me courage are other women being courageous?

Jeanette: I love that. We need we definitely need that community. We were built for it. Right? 

Sarah: Yes. Yeah. 

Giving herself permission

Jeanette: All right, one more. And then and then we’ll, we’ll have to end. What is something you are giving yourself permission for right now?

Sarah: I am giving myself permission to start a business I have no idea how to run. So you mentioned the publishing company. waxwing books is a publishing company we’re releasing, we’re launching as a publishing arm of Read Aloud revival. I my real dream desires to write picture books. Well, actually, it’s not just a dream, I write I’ve written lots of picture books, but to publish picture books. And for several years, I tried publishing them in the mainstream secular market. And I had an agent and we had lots of interest from, you know, New York publishers. And then they just weren’t quite the right fit for what they were looking for what they’re publishing right now. That’s a whole nother podcast. But also, I realized now that like every rejection was probably like God pointing to a different path. My husband’s been saying, for years, just start your own publishing company. Like, I don’t know how to do that. How do you start a publishing company? There’s like, Well, how do you run a podcast online community? Like I didn’t know how to do that either.

Jeanette: I was thinking that. From the lady who said…

Sarah: Also, how do you have and raise six children. Didn’t know how to do that before it started either. Yeah, it’s like that’s like our lives are really a series of figuring things out as we go. It is true that most things are figured out a bowl. So I think the thing I’ve given myself permission to do is fail because this could be a giant failure. I don’t think it will be but it could be. And also, I don’t know how to do it. So I feel like every time you have to do something else to get this publishing house off the ground, I have to do something I’ve no idea to do. How do you how do you hire art directors? How do you print 20,000 copies of a book? Like, how do you do all of these? I have no idea. 

And it turns out that like, is that everything is figureoutable one step at a time, and also you’re gonna make mistakes, and that still doesn’t mean the whole thing. crumbles, right, which kind of goes back to earlier, because I made a mistake really in in starting school, a sister’s and all these other things at the same time, but it really ended up being fine, because Scully Sisters is a thriving, fabulous community for classical homeschooling mom, yeah. It just didn’t need to be run by me. And even amongst lovely things, the blog served its purpose while it was there, and then it could be shut down. And so like, we can make mistakes or take detours or wrong turns, and it doesn’t the whole thing doesn’t crumble. So I think I’m giving myself permission to run a company. I’ve no idea how to run to make lots of mistakes. Just to see if this is where God wants to bless that Read Aloud revival.

Jeanette: Yeah, that’s beautiful. We all need permission, I think to to just do what we feel led to do and trust the Lord in that process.

Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. 

Jeanette: Well, thank you so much for your time, it has meant the world to me.

Sarah: I have been I am completely sincere when I said, when I saw your name on my calendar at the beginning of this week, I went Yes. This is the week I get to talk to Jeanette. So 

Jeanette: Oh, I’m so glad

Sarah: I just loved every minute. Thank you. Well, where can people find you? Best place to find me is Readaloudrevival.com. I do have some social media accounts. I’m not there. My team is there posting some podcast episodes and things but I’m finding social media to be difficult place for my soul at the moment. So I’m giving myself permission to ignore social media. Readaloudrevival.com is where you’ll find the podcasts or book lists and my books and in even the publishing company you can find from there. But if you’re interested in that piece of the puzzle, the new publishing company is waxwingbooks.com.

Jeanette: Awesome. Well, thanks again. 

Sarah: Thanks so much.

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I’m Jeanette, a former high school Theology teacher turned home educator, navigating the difficult transition from career to home. 

I write about marriage, motherhood, discernment, home education following the Charlotte Mason method, and how God works his way into every corner of my life. I’ll be sharing about all those things here and I hope you come along.

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