Sincerely, A New Mom (Typed One-Handed)

I gave birth to my son, Colton Sterling, just a few short weeks ago. It was a bit traumatic, ending in an emergency C-section after laboring for what seemed like an eternity. But here I am, feeling so compelled to write that I’m typing this one-handed ’cause my little guy is congested and won’t sleep anywhere but in my arms today. For all the profanities, contractions and pain it has cost me thus far, I’m so proud to be this little boy’s mom. I.  Noelle Ritter. Am a mother.

Motherhood has caught me by surprise. My sister was always the one to play with dolls and show the natural motherly instincts. I, on the other hand, baby-sat for the money and never really considered myself a “baby person”. I used to say I wish I could pop them out at age twelve so we could have conversation from the get-go. But when my son was put skin-to-skin with me fifteen minutes after my C-section in recovery, I became a “baby person”. Thus began my love affair with Colton, but with motherhood- I wasn’t so in love yet.

My post-partum experience has been anything but rainbows and butterflies. Of course, I was “so healthy” and an unlikely candidate for anything to go wrong at birth. Strike one. And the whole nursing thing . . . talk about the hardest thing I’ve ever, EVER, done in my life; a seriously painful act of love in these first few weeks. So not prepared. Strike two.  And the hormones? Move over first trimester — post-partum takes the cake on this one. I feel so trapped in this strange skin trying to claim this new so-called life as my own while crying at every commercial that has a mother and child in it.

But, as I’ve been told, this whole mom thing gets better. And really, now that the initial shock has worn off, and I’m done taking pain meds, I’m not minding the whole process. It’s been like a painful growth spurt. Mothering is not for the faint at heart. But it’s not for the strong either, ’cause it will break you. God has and is using this change in my life to break me and make me new. It’s not that my identity has changed completely, but all of a sudden I have this new little life that chooses me. He picks me over anyone else. My smell is comforting to him. My voice soothes him. My heart beat calms him when he is against my chest. He is completely dependent on me. And . . . I love it.

It scares me to think about how much Colton depends on “his new mom”. And it’s not the “mom, do you have a moment?” kind of dependency. It’s the life-sucking, “right now or I’ll scream bloody murder” kind of dependency. And I’m left asking myself: am I doing all I can for him? Am I good enough? What if I fail him?

Just some raw thoughts as I march, eyes half-mast with reheated coffee in hand, forward.  I usually write about things I know. Conclusions found. What I can teach others. This time, all I know is that this IS a calling, and I know I have been called. Called to be Colton’s mom. Like I said, I’m already head over heels for him. And wouldn’t you know that, slowly but surely, I’m falling in love with the idea of motherhood too.

Feel free to comment below on your first month of being a mom: insights learned and memories made. Oh, and happy Mother’s Day to y’all.  I have a whole new respect for the holiday.

Posted in Being a Woman, Family, Parenting | 9 Comments

Things I Learned from My Mother: A Fashion Tale

A good woman is hard to find, and worth far more than diamonds […] she senses the worth of her work.
Proverbs 31
Most girls growing up, past a certain age, consider themselves cooler than their parents and wouldn’t go to their mom for advice past how to use their first feminine hygiene product or how to apply mascara . . . maybe. My relationship with my mom is different. I was shown a path by my mother that, until recent years, I hadn’t realized I was on. She imparted her sense of style to me in every sense of that word. As I became a woman I read quotes like this one and would reflect on how my mother displayed this style and beauty for me growing up.

“The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman is seen in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides. True beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It’s the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she shows & the beauty of a woman only grows with passing years.”

— Audrey Hepburn

Mom courageously started her own new business when I was five, my sister was two, and my brother was five months old.

She became a jewelry lady.

From then on she would be an independent distributor for Premier Designs, the direct sales jewelry company founded on biblical principles that would change the life of my family. She wasn’t what you’d call a fashion icon at the time, as evidenced by her hip-length hair and the feather dangle earrings on her dresser (but then again, I didn’t grow up in the ’70’s, so what do I know?). All she knew was that she wanted the freedom of her own business to be able to raise her kids how she wanted, but in the process she donned a new confident, fashionable self from the inside out. This was my influence growing up of what a real woman is. I realize the impact her profession has had on me when people are fascinated by my eye make-up or remark how my jewelry matches every outfit I wear (I have accumulated an incalculable sum of Premier pieces over the years).

All of us who grew up with involved parents have stories of what they wouldn’t let us do. The arguments with my mom about why I couldn’t wear a tiny bikini at age thirteen are still burned into my memory. The message I received growing up in the church was an overly simple one. “Be modest,” I interpreted as “be anti-culture” and didn’t understand why I couldn’t be like everyone else. I knew some Christian families who dressed their young girls in giant baggy t-shirts to make sure they were safe from the corruption of immodesty, but not my mom. She would point me to outfits that were fashionable alternatives to revealing clothing instead of solving the problem with frumpy clothes. (As a 90’s kid I actually chose the baggy grunge look more than I’d like to admit, but I digress.) Her answers of “because we don’t wear that in our house” I now interpret as a calling to a higher plane.

Her confidence in her business and her abilities, her ability to network and simultaneously love people, the way she does that two-tone eye shadow thing, and her fabulous jewelry collection are all things I’ve inherited from her. I also have aunts, a grandmother, and mentors who have also pointed me toward the direction of godliness, class, and real beauty. All the pieces of their womanhood, their beauty, and even fashion have seeped into my person-hood through the years without me knowing it.

Once I realized this, I lost a lot of my fear. There are the days I am filled with a quiet confidence and I walk into rooms and situations with the good pieces of my mom and others along for the ride. They don’t quite know how they’re being carried around in another soul — to other places, and living a completely different life, and a working in a completely different career.

Still, about every other day, I fail at this with shocking severity. You can usually tell by the pile of clothes I’ve tried on (through tears) that are still limp in a pile on my floor. Also a strong indicator is the peeved husband sitting in another room. I watched my mom fail at this same thing. The battle against the world’s standards of beauty is a daily battle that she and I still fight and lose more than we’d like to admit.

None of the former strengths I listed would mean anything without understanding the failure. My mom is real, flawed, beautiful, and precious. This Mother’s Day I salute her for teaching me her class and her fashion.

I’m still trying to be like you, Mom. I think I need you to take me shoe shopping . . .

Mom the Jewelry Lady
My favorite things I’ve learned from my mom:
How to run a business
How to make the best lasagna
How to put on eyeshadow
How to keep my blazers open to look skinnier
How to throw a great party
How to be a classy lady
…How to be in love with Jesus


Posted in Beauty & Fashion, Being a Woman, Family, Relationships, Self Esteem | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

My Account of the Boston Marathon Bombing & Why Forgiveness Is the Best Response

Celebrating Bobby’s victory just before the bombing.

When I woke up last Monday morning, I knew it was going to be a big day… my husband Bobby would run his first Boston Marathon! As you now know, it would end up being a big day for a much greater reason. What we thought would be a day of excitement, crowds, cheers, cow-bells and congratulations… turned into a day of shock, tragedy, despair, and loss. We never expected it to be a day that we would need to dig deeply into our hearts to find forgiveness toward two unimaginable perpetrators.

Bobby running with his buddy, Rich, at Washington Square near mile 23. Photo props to Daniel Paik!

The historic Boston Marathon is the oldest marathon in the United States. “Marathon Monday” is always on Patriot’s Day which is a holiday exclusive to Boston and some other parts of New England. Every year, over 500,000 spectators are expected along the 26.2 mile stretch between Hopkington, MA finishing at Boston’s famous Copley Square finish line. Whether you have a friend or someone in your family running the marathon, or just want to take a peek at the amazing elite runners, the Boston Marathon is an exciting day in the City of Boston.

On Monday, April 15th around 10am, the runners gathered at the start line in Hopkington. My in-laws and I drove to Natick (near mile 11) to see Bobby and his sister Heather run by. As soon as we caught a glimpse of them, we got in the car and rushed back into Boston…

Down at the finish line, many of our amazingly supportive church friends were gathered with me to see Bobby cross the finish line. The crowds were too impossible to weave through, so we decided to leave the finish line and meet up at the family gathering space on Stuart Street. It was a around 1:30pm. Looking back at it, I see God’s protection in that decision we made to not meet at the finish line, particularly on the left side where Bobby had been running.

Post marathon celebration… photo props to Veronica Kim and Justin Ruddy

Our sunny but brisk day suddenly became cloudy and rather chilly. After Bobby’s sister completed her race and met up with us, we passed around a lot of hugs and high-5’s… it was time to head home so the runners could get a hot shower and something to eat.  Around 2:40pm, we waded down Stuart Street through the crowds of runners and spectators.

A eerie photo snapped by our friend Britney Almaguer at the location of the first bomb. She safely left the finish line and met us at the family gathering space before it was detonated.

Suddenly, we heard an explosion… but we didn’t know what to make of it. A few comments were made about what it could have been such as a semi truck crash, although my mind was thinking more terrible things. Ten seconds later, we were at the intersection of Stuart Street and Ring Road, one city block south of the second bomb- right as it exploded. By this time, mobs of people were running south on Ring Road (toward us and away from the explosions). We still weren’t sure what had happened… it was like a nightmare. Children who had witness the explosion were screaming as their parents held them tight while running as fast as they could. A young woman shaking with her hands covering her face screaming, “that was my dad!”… made me realize something terrible had happened. We literally were frozen on the street corner watching this chaos. Immediately, cars and all people were being evacuated from Copley Square, which would become a crime scene for many days to come.

We managed to get our car out of the parking garage after being told we would have to “shelter down” inside. I texted my mom, “we’re okay, in case u heard the news”. Our phones were ringing off the hook. Within in a few minutes, I had my work cut out for me – responding to over 100 texts and Facebook messages. Only two miles down the road, and we were safe at home. I ran upstairs to hug my dog and turn on the news as fast as I could. For the rest of the night the horror of the bombings were flashing before our eyes as we sat in disbelief in front of our TV.

That night, as I laid next to my alive husband, my heart was so grateful for God’s protection over us, our family and friends. I thought about the massive shock our community had just experienced and knew that confusion and anger would creep into our hearts if were were not careful. Our beautiful city would have to deal with the emotional repercussions of this tragedy and find it in our hearts to forgive.

On Tuesday, we were still in disbelief. But the city immediately began to respond. Churches immediately organized prayer vigils, funds were created for the many victims, an interfaith prayer meeting was organized where President Obama would appear, etc. The Boston Police, FBI and other organizations worked around the clock to identify the two suspects and eventually release the photos to the public. “Boston Strong” would become the phrase, and certainly the hashtag of the year.

Boylston Street, 6 days after the Boston Marathon bombings

Despite all of the great things that were happening in response, the week would prove to be an emotional roller-coaster. Between visiting memorial sites, “bomb scares” in many locations of the city (including two near my home), hearing moving stories of survival and heroism, the murder of an MIT police officer on Thursday night (just blocks from my office in Cambridge), not being able to go to work because of it, being on lock-down in our own homes, more bomb scares, we were ready for a break. One more intense man-hunt that Friday night finally gave the city the relief they needed once the suspect was in custody.

New vital information is coming out in the news almost daily… like the next page of a novel, the story unfolds. The investigation will continue. Regardless of the answers that the police are able to give us, we have to know how to move on regardless. I’ve been thinking a lot about my personal faith in Christ and the hope that He brings to my life. Truly believing the gospel gives me the strength to forgive… and I so desperately want others to know of this Hope.

This tragedy helps me to remember another tragedy in which the sin of man caused great harm and pain and death to One who did not deserve it. It reminds me of the nails and shrapnel and sour wine that was forced upon a Savior’s body. It also reminds me of another great injustice that would shield others from receiving the blows of sin. My pastor always says to “never waste your suffering”… Never waste this opportunity to see reflections of Christ and remember the injustice that begot a Redemption this world had never known and still struggles to understand. We should remember our own need for God’s love & forgiveness. And that is why we should forgive. My prayer is that Boston, my beautiful home, would know Christ and his Love. That He would be their strength and hope.

Posted in Adversity, Culture & Media, Current Events, Grief & Loss, Social Justice | 3 Comments

“Sexual Sanity for Women” in Review

Men are sexual beings. Women are less sexual. All men struggle with sexual sin. There is something wrong with a woman who struggles with sexual sin. Men need help to overcome sexual addictions. Women don’t need help, because they don’t have sexual addictions.  These are some of the messages that our culture sends, causing some women to be too ashamed to be honest with themselves and others about their sexual battles. Christian women often fear that no one will understand their struggles. Many churches offer help for men to receive freedom from sexual addictions, but how often do we see it discussed amongst women? Sexual Sanity for Women, by Editor Ellen Dykas of Harvest USA, is a workbook that gives women the freedom to discuss their relational and sexual sins and to find healing from them. Harvest USA is a ministry “committed to offering hope in Jesus to men and women struggling with sexual brokenness and sin.”

Read the full review at The Center for Gospel Culture.

Posted in Being a Woman, Books!, Culture & Media | Leave a comment

Whatever My Lot

My husband and I are worship leaders. Coming from a background that’s a little more charismatic than traditional, most of the songs we do are not primarily of the hymn variety. But we’ve always had a tendency to gravitate toward songs that are rich with lyrical meaning, so as often as we can we sneak in a hymn. As we focus on the words and let the age-old melodies erupt from our souls, there is no denying the great depth in worship that takes place. Personally, I cannot usually lead these songs. They move me too much, and I’m liable to end up choking and cracking and crying into a microphone rather than singing. Let’s just say that can be . . . distracting.

The waterworks can be found in all their glory (or a distorted face trying to hold them back) when we sing “It Is Well with My Soul”, written by Horatio Spafford in the late 19th century after his own Job-like experiences. While all the words are weighty, there’s something about the line: “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul” that resounds in me with particular profundity. I find myself acknowledging with the purest of my vulnerability with God that it’s true. And my tears declare it.

Christians and non-Christians alike have challenged me with questions about God’s trustworthiness, particularly in my seasons of pretty crazy bummer situations and circumstances throughout my short life. They’ve made me consider with absolute honesty if it really is well with my soul – whatever my lot.

Now before I go on telling you why I can say “yes” to this very important question, let me just clarify. When I say “it is well with my soul”, I don’t mean I’m ignoring emotions of grief and anger and disappointment and fooling myself into being happy when life deals me a crummy hand. No, lying to myself about how I feel isn’t equivalent to my soul being well.

For me, my soul is well when it is anchored to the immovable Christ, the Rock that can’t be shaken, the firm foundation under the part of me that will never die. I am confident in the trustworthiness of my God. The reason I say “it is well” is because when I gave my life to Christ, I didn’t say He was trustworthy with the parts of my life I’m comfortable with, or that He’s trustworthy only when things are going well, or that He’s trustworthy only when I can see how He has “worked all things together for good.” If I did, I would not be giving my whole heart and life – past, present, future – to Him. Essentially, I’d be telling Him there are still some things I know better about, ultimately elevating myself above Him. C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity that this was “the sin of Satan, and the sin he taught the human race.”

It’s okay with me if people think I’m foolish for having this perspective. I understand how hard it can be to fully trust a God that doesn’t necessarily appeal to our natural senses. I see how our experiences with those we love the most letting us down can seriously damage our ability to trust. But no matter how confusing or frustrating or unfair life can/does/will seem, and no matter who has let you down on this earth, God has never and will never. I know I must take Him seriously when He tells me to trust in Him with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding (Prov. 3:5-6).

It is by God’s grace alone that the hardships in my life have not made me question Him. I’ve definitely done my share of grumbling in the midst of them out of self-pity, but not doubting God. Because I believe He is who He says He is, and that He is good even when my circumstances are not, and that He always knows best and wants what’s best, and that my eternity is secure with Him – whether I live or die, it is well with my soul.

Photo via

Posted in Adversity, Theology & Philosophy | 4 Comments