Karen Stubbs Guides Women Through the Journey of Motherhood
written by JENNI COLOSIMO | photos courtesy of ALAN BROOKS; FARRAH BRIANNA
AS A FIRST-TIME MOM of a now 1-year-old boy, the typical day for me starts with a negotiation — a bargaining of how many verses of “Old MacDonald” can I sing for a bite of bananas. Usually, we leave the table hoarse, messy and full of Cheerios. Admittedly, I’m easy to win over, because he makes me feel like the most entertaining performer ever. He wiggles his feet in glee over my efforts, shrieks in delight when I hit the high notes and shows off his teeth with a smile that easily surpasses the goal. Instead, we snuggle, play and save our big breakfast ideas for tomorrow.
I find myself thinking of these moments when the negotiations go a little sour. If a diaper change aligns with the end of the world, I am thankful to know that there are plenty of other moms who face the same challenge.
That’s a fact Karen Stubbs reminds moms all over Atlanta of during her unique group, Birds On A Wire (BOAW). She holds Bible verse James 1:5 as its backbone, saying that all we have to do is ask for wisdom and God will give it to us greatly. Stubbs believes strongly in seeking guidance and advice from friends and family, but asking God first. That guidance has enrolled more than 2,000 moms in 64 groups across several states, so with plenty more diapers in my future, I jumped at the chance to get to know her.
FINDING THE BIRDS
I met Stubbs at her home on a storybook afternoon of pine-tree dappled sunlight along a winding mountain driveway. She was throwing a Frisbee with her dog, waiting to welcome me and jumped right into helping me carry bags and notebooks, so that I (no storybook journalism interview here) could carry my wiggling son. In true been-there-done-that form, she wasn’t even fazed.
Surely, it’s because she has done that (four times) and the now grandmother is helping her kids do it too. I also believe — and I know a couple thousand women who will agree with me — it’s intrinsic. She’s wise. She’s positive. She’s calm and practical. She doesn’t claim to know the answers, but she’s more than willing to share experiences, advice, encouragement and spiritual guidance to moms of all stages.
Those experiences started when the Atlanta native graduated from Auburn University and moved with her husband to Virginia Beach, where he served as a fighter pilot in the Navy.
“When he told me that’s what he wanted to be, we went to the movies and saw ‘Top Gun’,” Stubbs said. “I thought, ok this is cool. I can totally do this. But, real life is not the movies. The Navy was really hard. Greg was really good at what he did, so we dealt with deployments, the war and he was gone a lot.” Having four children was always their plan, but being 10 hours away from her family with those children was not ideal.
“I realized my life was really changing,” Stubbs said. “Not in a bad way, but just not in a way that I thought it would. I loved my job, but my whole career was on hold. Meanwhile, Greg was getting ‘Top Gun’. We were so excited for him, but I was thinking, ‘what am I doing that’s exciting?’ I was just wiping butts and noses all day.”
Like many young moms, when Stubbs looked around for encouragement or empathy, it seemed everyone else was doing fine. She thought, “Ok, it’s just me.”
Fast-forward about a decade when the Stubbs moved back to Atlanta and joined North Point Community Church in Alpharetta. Here, Stubbs met other moms who shared stories that aligned with her own. She realized she wasn’t alone, and that they needed a ministry of their own. They started meeting together, but the group got so large that they had to split, breaking into two groups, trading off weeks in her basement. Eventually, Stubbs saw the bigger picture and when the church wasn’t ready to support the kind of curriculum she knew they needed, she said she followed God’s will and did it herself. She had 65 women on her roll then, and in just a few years found herself traveling around Atlanta meeting with groups that had broken off and were growing on their own.
BUILDING THE NEST
Without even really trying, Stubbs had struck a nerve. She’d built a safe place where moms could come and feel supported, a ministry that encouraged moms and readied them to reach their full potential. Simply put, this group cheered fellow members in their journey of motherhood.
“I just set the stage of being very transparent,” Stubbs said. “I said from the beginning, ‘Look, I don’t have the answers; I am not some guru of a mom. I made lots of mistakes. But I would love to teach you my mistakes and maybe we can all learn from them.”
That gives moms permission to admit when they’re struggling. It allows them to say they’re just not getting the potty training thing or the sleeping-throughthe- night thing. Instead, it reminds them that the real world is not as it appears on Instagram.
“A mom can feel isolated, ill-equipped and unsure of herself and her mothering skills,” Stubbs said. “I’m there to remind them, you’re not a bad mom.”
In the verse Matthew 6:26, Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Stubbs shared that verse and recounted that as she read it years ago, she thought, “That’s us!”
“We’re just birds sitting on a wire, just worrying,” Stubbs said. “But God is the wire. He holds us up.”
The name stuck. And gathered in their safe place — The Nest, as Stubbs named her revamped garage — they can discuss struggles, trade stories and empower one another before setting back out into the world.
“I don’t have the answers; I am not some guru of a mom. I made lots of mistakes. But I would love to teach you my mistakes and maybe we can all learn from them.” – KAREN STUBBS, Birds on a Wire
SOARING TO NEW HEIGHTS
Last year, the Nest got a lot bigger. Six hundred moms gathered for a weekend-long conference with Stubbs and a handful of other pros to discuss several facets of a mom’s life. Months after that conference, named SOAR, Stubbs remembered one attendee contacting her. The mother told Stubbs she had found herself at that conference and reported that just before school was about to start again her husband had said, “I am so glad you’re back.” That’s the best feedback Stubbs can get.
“I help moms embrace their role as a mom,” she said. “But I help them not forget about the fun person they used to be. It’s not all so serious.”
What is serious is the amount of feedback she gets. Stubbs shared a story about a mom whose daughter had been deceived by an online predator. That mom told Stubbs she gave her the foundation to change her parenting and as a result was overcome by joy. She was able to swallow her pride and open her heart to advice from other moms, saying otherwise, she would have felt embarrassed, ashamed and unable to help others.
Another mom expressed how unfair life seemed now with two children under the age of 2 years old. “She told me, ‘In my husband’s world, nothing’s changed, but everything has changed for me.’ As soon as she said it’s not fair, her eyes just filled with tears,” Stubbs recalled, adding, “I knew exactly what she was talking about. But I told her, ‘No it’s not fair, but this is where you are and this is what you want, and we need to get on board with this role as a mother.’” Now that follower is thriving as a wonderful, beautiful mom … of four.
Stories like that are responsible for how fast Birds On A Wire has grown. Stubbs still hosts large groups of women in her garage. Moms can sign up for six-week classes that cover questions she’s gathered from visiting different groups. Topics include facing the overwhelming role of being a mother, dealing with resentment, bringing God into parenting, disciplining and time management. Stubbs also covers the lies that many moms believe in a series called “Says Who?” that confronts measuring up to other moms, the urge to control everything and more.
DVDs and books are available to moms who can’t attend classes — after all, the struggle to find childcare is one of the biggest — and Stubbs spearheads SOAR again in March.
So, what is Stubbs hatching next? Since she’s about to be an empty nester in her personal life — her youngest heads to college this year — she is ready to let her Birds On A Wire take flight to new heights. “I made a deal with the Lord that I wanted to finish well with Abby,” Stubbs said. “I didn’t want to do a mom’s ministry and forget about being a mom myself. This year, I can really turn my focus to it.” That includes launching an app with Tips for Moms, streaming podcasts, growing the national presence and meeting the BOAW moms across the country. “At the end of the day, I am not an entrepreneur,” Stubbs admitted. “I’m really just a mom. Now I am a mom who has been thrown into this business world, but I am surrounding myself with a lot of smart people and we’re figuring it out one step at a time.” Sounds like her nest is, in fact, far from empty.
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