A Review of
The Beauty of Motherhood: Grace-Filled Devotions for the Early Years
Kimberly Knowle-Zeller and Erin Strybis
Reviewed by Lindsey Cornett
A quick Amazon search for “devotional for moms” reveals an overwhelming slate of options. This is quite an improvement from the days when James Dobson and the “What to Expect…” series were the primary options available for mothers looking for both solidarity and wisdom.
Yet among the abundance of options, it can be hard to find a devotional that resonates, particularly for moms who consider themselves theologically or socially progressive. It has additionally been challenging to find devotionals written from the trenches. Rather, they are often written from women further down the road with the benefit of hindsight, or from a collective ministry rather than from the perspective of a particular mother, with particular children.
It was with this experience in mind that I encountered the new book author duo Kimberly Knowle-Zeller and Erin Strybis, The Beauty of Motherhood: Grace-Filled Devotions for the Early Years. The book’s cover has a traditional baby pink and blue color scheme (though slightly muted) and even a rocking horse motif—calling to mind Mother Goose and a vintage baby nursery. I also wondered if “the early years” applied to me, as my youngest child is now in kindergarten and we have left behind the land of diapers and pacifiers.
With these reservations as my background, I confess that I might not have picked up the book at all, except that I was already familiar with the authors. I first encountered their writing through the online community Coffee + Crumbs and later through their writing on Living Lutheran (an online magazine of sorts for the ELCA). Over the past few years, I have come to trust both authors for their genuine faith, and honest reflections on both the joys and trials of motherhood.
I imagine other women might come to this book with the same reservations as me, but to judge this book too quickly would be a grave mistake. The Beauty of Motherhood brings a much-needed depth, authenticity, and intimacy to the genre of devotionals for women.
The Beauty of Motherhood is a collection of almost 100 devotionals, divided into three categories: infancy, toddlerhood, and childhood. A quick scan of the table of contents assuaged my concern that I might have “aged out” of the ideal audience. Furthermore, digging into the devotionals reveals that a great many of them fall almost arbitrarily into these categories. Knowle-Zeller, for example, might have learned about grappling with mom guilt while her own children were infants and pulls a story from that time in their lives, but of course, mothers of school-aged children or even teenagers will benefit from reminders that their worth and value is not determined by the number of dirty dishes in the sink.
While reading, you get to know bits of Erin and Kim’s stories. The reader can consider how God shows up after miscarriage, for example, because Erin is sharing honestly about how God showed up for her. When Kim shares about how difficult it has been for her to wake up before her children in the mornings, the reader can imagine herself on Kim’s porch, coffee in hand. As the ubiquitous writing advice goes, “the specific is universal.” Indeed, God speaks, moves, and instructs through the personal and specific stories of image-bearers. Knowle-Zeller and Strybis share those stories in this book, gently and gracefully drawing them back to the spiritual realities that are always present.
Supporting and bolstering the narratives and spiritual reflections are practices and prayers, which I found to be some of the most impactful content in the book. These are not throw-away ideas, a “practical application” tacked to the end of a lesson merely for good measure. On the contrary, they are where much of the meat of this volume lies. As I read through the infancy section, I found that taking time with the provided prompts and prayers was incredibly meaningful. As a mom of school-age kids, returning to these moments from their infancies was nourishing to my spirit. It’s been a long time since I returned to these stories and moments of my motherhood—two cross-country moves and a global pandemic standing between the mom I was then and the mom I am now. And as I returned to those moments in memory, I felt both grace and peace rise up, helping to bring healing and wholeness to the parts of my motherhood journey which needed it.
In the book’s introduction, Strybis writes about spring in Chicago and says, “Any day could break you open with its bitterness and beauty.” She could very well be talking about mothering. Motherhood is a spiritually-rich experience, one that can illuminate deep theological truths and draw us closer than ever before to the person of Christ. At the same time, it can be marked by consecutive days of drudgery, mundanity, or worse. Motherhood can be delightful; it can also be exhausting, depleting, and trying. Not all who write about motherhood are able to capture both realities and hold them appropriately in tension, but Knowle-Zeller and Strybis are able to do so.
They do not sugarcoat nor hyperbolize, but they remain unflinchingly honest about both the highs and lows. I think Knowle-Zeller’s pastoral sensibilities shine through here; she cares well for her readers in both acknowledging the realities in which they live and pointing back to the truth undergirding those realities.
I went into this book primarily hoping and expecting to find a book for others—one I might gift at baby showers or even, in my role as children’s ministry director, as a gift to families at baby dedications. The book is a perfect fit for that application; indeed, a much better choice than many other devotionals I’ve read. But I was also delighted to discover that despite now being a bit further along in my motherhood journey, The Beauty of Motherhood was still very much a book for me, too.
Both motherhood and faith are best experienced in community and in conversation with others on the journey; The Beauty of Motherhood makes an excellent companion. I think any mother will find joy, comfort, solidarity, and meaning in its pages.
Lindsey Cornett is a loud talker, obsessive coffee drinker, and lover of the written word who lives in downtown Indianapolis with her scientist husband, 3 kids, and crazy Bernedoodle. Most days, you’ll find her wrangling the dog, managing snacks, reheating her coffee, and trying to savor as much joy and gratitude as she can in the middle of these very full days. Lindsey writes a monthly-ish email newsletter about the intersections of faith, community, and curiosity at lindseycornett.substack.com.
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