When it’s time to hang up the Super-Mom cape

Supermom cape

The mornings are crisp, now. It still gets sunny and warm later in the day, but when I’m up before dawn, I need something with sleeves: a sure sign that winter is coming. It’s not here yet, but I see it in the distance.

I sense this change in the seasons outside, but I sense a change indoors too: something subtle that is changing in the way my big-girl and I are talking. She’s planning for her eighth birthday: she has made lists, and is practicing her fancy writing for the invitations. She sighs about cursive and heels and learning violin: All The GrownUp Things. Both her dreams and her dilemmas are growing in complexity. She’s growing up. She’s not there yet, but I see it in the distance.

A few years ago I was her Super-Mama: the one with answers and ideas. I had band-aids and snacks on hand, I was there in the moment of crisis. Stuck on the monkey bars? Mommy will get you down. Can’t tie your shoe? Let’s do it together. Too high to reach? Let me help. Mean kid took your toy? Let’s talk about when it’s time to share or stand your ground.

But now we’re in a season where I’m not there for much of her day, and the things that frustrate her can’t be fixed with a band-aid, or a snack, or a 1-2-3 preschool ditty. “Mom, can I talk to you about something? In private?” she asked shyly one afternoon. “There’s a problem.”

The problem concerned the lunch lady at school, and muddled miscommunication about buying milk. A minor problem —a bagatelle, really—but to my daughter, a colossus of worry: something she’d carried home with a leaden heart. She was worried I would be angry. She was afraid she’d caused trouble. I watched her tell herself to take deep breaths as she mustered the courage to tell me.

A couple of minutes on the phone sorted out the lunch lady crisis, but in the hours that followed the weightiness of what had happened settled on me. Before I phoned the school district, the important part of that conversation was dealing with my daughter’s fears of telling me something she was afraid I wouldn’t want to hear. That was the issue, really. It was never about the milk. It was about whether she could trust me with her spilled milk confession.

The seasons are changing, and more than needing a mom who can safely fix all her problems, my daughter is growing in her need for a mom who is safe to hear her problems, without rushing to diagnose it, fix it, or adjudicate it. Sometimes she comes home worried about being left out, about something someone said that made her feel sad, about a friend who says scary things are happening at home. Sometimes she comes home remorseful, or just quiet, and when we take the time at the end of the day to snuggle in private and talk about the day, no matter how good my questions are, most often I just can’t tease out what really happened in that situation or conversation. The information I get is piecemeal and filtered: but then again, I probably couldn’t fix it (whatever it is) even if I’d been a fly on the wall.

She’s growing up, and that means she’s moving into that world where we play the long game in relationships. We learn how to love at cost, to bear with one another’s weaknesses. We learn the power of our yes, and (if we’re very, very lucky), we learn early how and when to say no. We learn the sound of our own voices; distilling them from the shouts of the madding crowd.

In a few years—really just a few breaths away—the problems are not going to be lunch ladies, or forgotten library books, or who teases whom about their lunch. She’s going to come across pain, and drugs, and confused sexuality. She might see a friend shoplifting, she might be asked if she wants to take a look at some porn, someone may make her swear not to tell about something that really should be told. One day, she will discover things about herself of which she is deeply ashamed.

We all do. We all did. Life shows us its good, but the bad and the ugly inevitably come out.

On that day, when it comes, having a mom with a band-aid and a one-liner-to-fix-it-all will be of little help. None of us bear our deepest vulnerabilities to people who talk without listening. None of us confess weakness to those who would take the opportunity to point out just how little we know. Not even to parents.

The seasons are changing, and this mom-of-littles is realizing that the Super-Mom cape I’ve wanted to don is lined with one-liners and fix-its. But that cape doesn’t fit anymore. I need to learn the gentle art of sitting and listening with my kid, of saying “I don’t know, but I love you,” and dignifying her struggle with respectful silence and later, with open questions. I need to be safe to tell about the lunch lady if I hope to be told about the friend who’s cutting in years to come. She’s afraid to make mistakes, and I am usually quick with an opinion. This is my window to find a new way of being with her.

She doesn’t need me in a Super-Mom cape, anymore. She needs me in pajamas, with feet tucked up next to her on the couch: quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.

The Thing I’d Rather Be Doing

When I joined Google + last year, it asked me about my occupation. I paused for a moment, and with tongue-in-cheek I wrote Domestic Opposer of Entropy.

For that is what I do: I hold back the chaos. As a stay-at-home mom, I pick up the strewn, I wash the dirty, I tidy the messed, I soothe the hurt and I untangle the knotted. All day. I expend all my effort into resisting the chaos that comes with three short people running about the house expressing their creativity. Domestic Opposer of Entropy put it nicely, I thought. Accurate, with a touch of comedy.

When I joined LinkedIn a few weeks ago, it asked the same question. I paused for a moment, and wrote Writer.

And then I paused some more.

Why would I jump to claim the title of “writer” rather than the snappy, happy title of “domestic opposer of entropy”? It is true that LinkedIn was meant to serve a more professional purpose than G+ and Facebook, which for me remain social media. But I think there’s more to it than that. The truth is, that day after day, while I go about the work of momming,  opposing entropy, resisting chaos and restoring order and all that goes along with the stay-at-home raising of my kids – often, I’d rather be writing.

I’ve been asking myself why. Why would I rather be writing than parenting? For you it may not be writing, but the question is still there: what would you rather be doing? And why would you rather be (sewing/surfing the internet/playing games/fill in the blank) than (whatever you ought to be doing)?

To show myself a little grace here, I need to concede that:

* for me, writing is fun. I like it. It feels like talking to adults after a full day of reasoning with preschoolers, and my brain feels like it is indulging in a leisurely stretch after being confined into a red, plastic toy bin all day. Fun is good. Fun is healthy. It is good to set aside time for fun hobbies.

* for me, writing is ministry. I do have a sense of calling to it. I spent years mentoring and teaching the bible and talking about life to women and college students, and I loved it. I loved sharing life with people, being able to compare notes against the Bible as we walked the road together, being able to laugh and cry and process it all in community. I grieved being able to do that so much less after my children were born, and treasured the opportunities I still had to mentor and teach when they arose – even if those were far fewer. But then, quite unexpectedly last year, a little anecdote I wrote about on my personal blog got a lot of traction, and Tim asked if he could publish it on his, and then I decided to create a different blog (this one) for my “public” thoughts… and then within weeks hundreds of people were reading it – and I recognized the feeling. The feeling of being useful in service in ministry. Being able to say something helpful, to be available, and all without having to get out of my pajamas? It was as if God opened the door wide open and shouted at me: “Walk through it!” I walked. I’m walking. I’m not sure where I’m walking to, but I’m walking.

But there’s a niggle in this for me, because sometimes I would rather let my children watch an extra hour of Netflix so I can write, rather than read to them and wait until they are in bed. Sometimes I ignore their requests for help because I’m checking comments on a post I’ve written, or posting links on Twitter. Throughout the day, I want to write, and I have to parent – and the tension bothers me.

ipad dishwasherDigging a little deeper, I need to confess:

* for me, writing is affirming in a way that parenting is not. My children show me my limitations and weakness by the hour. The list of things I don’t know, don’t understand, can’t fix and can’t control the outcomes of is huge and overwhelming. The to-do list seems to multiply overnight, and almost never add the “-ne” at the end to make them “done”. Stay-at-home momming requires all of my energy, and it often feels like even if I do a brilliant job, the best possible result I can hope for is that things won’t be worse or messier than they were yesterday. I work hard to prepare meals, and still the children complain. I do laundry multiple times a week, and still there are no socks to wear. I just finished unpacking the last load of groceries, and I immediately find something we are out of and have to start a new one.

Writing, on the other hand, does not get undone. When I hit “publish” on a post, it goes up onto the shiny surface of the internet, and no-one smears jam on it. If people have complaints, they keep them to themselves; but for the most part I get positive feedback on my writing – and after a day of hearing whining from my kids it feels good to have someone say “that helped me” or “thank you” or “you are good at this”. When people ‘like’ or ‘share’ something I wrote, it feels like being awarded gold stars. After hearing a lot about Enneagram profiles, I got curious and took a quick online quiz yesterday. Turns out, I am a 3: the one who likes to achieve and be well thought of by others. I thought motherhood had changed, or at least tamed, that in me – but online quizzes don’t lie (ha!). Deep down, I still want gold stars.

We all have a thing we’d rather be doing, and if we’re honest, the reason we say we’re doing it is not always the full reason. Often, there’s a deeper thing going on, and from time to time it’s worth pausing to take a good, hard look at the deeper motives and see how much they’re driving our behavior. A little soul-mirror is needed, a little truth-telling to the inner me. Where there is misplaced identity, I need to address it. I am acceptable not because I achieve, but because I am accepted by God and that is enough. Where there is misplaced ambition, I need to address it. I write wanting to honor God, not myself. Where there are misspent hours, I need to confess those. Where there are misaligned priorities, I need to re-calibrate my calendar and my character in obedience to Christ.

I enjoy writing. For me, it is fun and it is ministry. But I am also on my guard that it is a dangerous affection and idolatrous threat if I let my identity wrap around the words “writer”, or indeed the words “mom” or “opposer of entropy” too tightly. I am, first and foremost, a child of God, and he has called me to live with eternity in my heart and relationships as my priority. The perplexing parable of the unrighteous steward comes to mind: he knew he was going to lose his job for being dishonest, and so in his last hours on the job he called in his masters’ debtors and offered to write off some of their debt. By doing so, he hoped to muster up some new friends to mooch off when he became unemployed. Astonishingly, Jesus commended the man in the story, because he had “acted shrewdly” by using unrighteous money to make friends for himself in the future. Say what, Jesus?

This is what I understand Jesus to be saying in this mind-bending parable: the man was shrewd because he knew how to use the means he had in the present to cultivate relationships which would last in the future. He invested in people, and given that people are eternal – that was a wise investment. The parable helps me in two ways. Firstly, as a writer, it reminds me to keep praying that the writing is about investing in people, in you, and not about finding affirmation. Secondly, as a Mom, is puts my daily time-spending into perspective. For as much as writing may be a calling and a help to others, the truth is that blog posts have a fleeting impact. Even if this post goes viral and attracts tens of thousands of viewers, it will be forgotten in a month. Distant history in a year. That kind of post would no doubt feel deeply significant and admirable at the time, but it would be what the author of Ecclesiastes says all such accomplishments are: fleeting, a mere breath, a chasing after the wind. On the other hand, the choice I make to be with my children, hour after hour – that’s an investment in eternal people which will remembered next week, and the week after that, and the week after that, and after that, and after that. . .

A little soul-searching reminds me to keep things in perspective. To keep on writing, but not to wrap my worth up in it. And to keep parenting, but to change my focus: off the laundry, and onto the precious bodies that fill those clothes, off the dishes and on to the children we are nourishing, off the to-do list and on to the souls of the ones we are raising. For I am doing more than opposing chaos in my home, I am shaping character in their hearts.

When the next big social media platform arises, and it asks me my occupation, I’m not sure what I’ll write yet. Maybe “relationship investor”. Maybe “ice cream connoisseur”. Maybe “beloved disciple”, or “amateur juggler”. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

For the love of shoes

My friend Kate introduced me to the concept of “break-up shoes”. Break-up shoes, as in, the pair of fabulously festive footwear purchased to add sass and spunk to your step after having your heart shredded by another. Perhaps a pair like these:

For The Love of Shoes, and Jesus

I know. Thou shalt not covet. Thou shalt not covet. Thou shalt not covet.

Kate knows what she’s talking about. She comes from a long line of women who know the power of shoes. Her sister, for instance, sports a collection of peep-toe pumps that are so mind-bogglingly pretty that the shelf they live on are a decorative centerpiece. No joke. I LOVE her shoe rack.

But my husband doesn’t get it. I am not particularly into clothes and being cute, but what is it about shoes? Why is it that the only time I have ever concealed a purchase from him was because I had bought two pairs of shoes and thought he would disapprove? (Full disclosure: I “freed” them from their boxes and had put them nonchalantly in the cupboard before he got home… but he had spotted two shoe boxes in the recycling and asked casually, forgivingly, knowingly where the contents were. I fessed up. Won’t do that again.) I am more honest about it now – but I still love shoes.

Along with many women, I harbor a secret-not-so-secret foot fetish. The passion runs deep. Unlike my weight and age where the numbers keep changing, my feet have been pretty much the same size for more than 20 years. They are constant. Unlike a dress or a pair of jeans, my self esteem is not wounded if a pair of shoes doesn’t fit well. And if they DO fit well, they are an instant pick-me-up for any outfit. I can make a regular jeans day into a sassy day by adding a pair of heels. The proverbial little black dress can be transformed from Mournful into Festive by a change in footwear (and maybe a pair of sparkly earrings). Putting on a pair of fabulous shoes can make us feel decorated. And if those fabulous shoes are heels, well then there are the added perks of a longer legs and a curvier shape – all of which can add a lovely feeling of confidence to an otherwise blah day. Or is it just me?

Most places I go I do not see what I look like. Unless I happen to come across a mirror in, I can’t see how my top is fitting, whether there are lumps or bumps or curves or angles. But I CAN see my feet, and getting a glimpse of a cute pair of shoes as I go about my day makes me think: “yay! that looks pretty!” And of course, if there is a peek of a well-painted toenails, all the better for self-esteem.

I try to be responsible about shoe purchases. Groceries and college funds are more important than shoes. Also, heels are not advisable for 99% of my life activities, and not practical for 100% of them. So I confess I spend most of my time wearing sandals and loafers… but I still prefer them to be pretty. And pretty comfortable. But pretty is important. I LIKE beautiful shoes. Even if the rest of me feels sub par, I love beautiful feet.

But even just saying the words “beautiful feet” remind me of another truth – that the Bible says that the most beautiful feet are the ones of those who come carrying messages of joy and good news (Isaiah 52:7). As much as I like my feet to look beautiful, I am reminded that truly beautiful feet are ones which GO. Beautiful feet are ones which carry me out to the world: to speak kindness, to bring encouragement, to proclaim peace, to tell of Jesus. Those are the truly beautiful feet.

I want those beautiful feet. And if possible, I wouldn’t mind if they were sparkly.

Photo credit: bleubirdvintage

There’s nothing quite like inadequacy

Today I started teaching a new series of Bible studies on prayer. I should add that I didn’t choose this topic! For weeks I had been looking forward to today with excitement (to see the 70+ women in the group all again), and also trepidation. I feel horribly under-qualified to teach on prayer: it has always been something that I have struggled with, felt guilty about, wanted to do better in but not felt able to. In thinking about it, I realized I feared that I would get up to teach and be exposed as a great fraud: someone who should know how to pray, but really… struggled a great deal.

So I spent my weeks doing the preparation, and this morning got up to confess to a room full of women and made my “big disclaimer”… about how I struggled with faith, focus and fervency in prayer. How my mind wanders. How I wonder what difference it makes. And I shared too though that I’m realizing more and more that this comes as no surprise to God. The more I read on prayer, the more I realize that God anticipates our weakness, and helps us in it. Prayer is not for those who are spiritually ‘strong’ and have it all together… it is for those who are weak, and know we need help.

How liberating for me (I’m so grateful for this) to be able to confess my inadequacy to a crowd, and have woman after woman come up to me and say “I thought I was the only one!!” Because there I was… thinking that I was the only one.

Pride in sacrifice

There are many things I could have done differently. I could have lived elsewhere. I could have pursued a far more pretigious legal career. I could have taken the big-money job. I could have married the first person who asked. I could be far more well-groomed (and therefore ‘beautiful’ by glossy mag standards). I could have travelled more. Seen more. Done more.

But I didn’t. Many of these choices have been shaped by the fact that I am convinced that I am called to be in full-time Christian ministry – spending my life and gifts and time with others, reasoning from the Scriptures why a life following Jesus is the best choice. I have chosen this path, and when I sit and think about it – I am content that this is far better than the lower-glamour, less-travel, smaller-budget, less-sacrifice life.

But I am convicted that I also harbor some “pride” in that sacrifice, and this breeds discontentment. Can I really say that I am fully satisfied with the life I have chosen, if I socially ‘reserve the right’ to complain about it? Even if it’s in a joking “see what I’ve given up” kind of way? I don’t think I can: to sacrifice things for God and retain some pride in what I’ve given up, or reserve the right to complain or criticize, means that the sacrifice isn’t yet complete. I am still learning what it means to “consider everything loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things” (Phil 3:8). He lost His life for me – really, how does my sacrifice even begin to compare? It couldn’t possibly.

So why am I writing this? Not so that people will congratulate me on the sacrifice, but to hold me accountable. Please don’t let me moan about “what could have been”. If I do that I’m still not “considering everything loss”. I’m learning to surrender the right to complain.