Finding God in the (Mommy) Whirlwind

How I wish Catherine McNiel’s book Long Days of Small Things – Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline had been around when I was first a mom. Her conviction that God know and sees and loves and longs to connect with Mothers not just despite motherhood but in the midst of motherhood is deeply true and life-giving. I am so grateful for her guest post here today.

I remember that crazy cocktail of emotions that swirled through my nine-week birthing class. Fourteen pairs of wide-eyed, frightened, soon-to-be parents met in a hot, crowded room. We watched terrifying birth videos, considered impossible contortions of the pelvis, and clenched ice cubes in our fists (a stand-in for pain while we practiced relaxing).

All twenty-eight of us were standing on the precipice of the biggest jump of our lives. We knew we had to go over, but not who would go first—or what would come after.

A few months later I ran into a family from birthing-class in a shopping center parking lot. Swinging car seat carriers back and forth we eagerly introduced our infants to each other and caught up on how the real birth and early days had gone.

We exchanged tales of colic and weight-gain issues. We confessed to being exhausted, a bit unhinged, and absolutely unable to find time for the basics of life that we’d taken for granted before—showering, laundry, sleeping, making a sandwich. Where was it all going? we asked ourselves. How could someone so small take over everything?!

Then one of them looked at me and chuckled. “I remember you saying you couldn’t wait for the quiet rhythm of life at home with a baby. You thought you’d have more quiet times working from home than you did working full time in the office.”

I did?

Only a few weeks in to parenthood, I couldn’t recall anything of that pre-precipice world where I might think something so preposterous.

There is a sacredness to that spot on the edge of the precipice, isn’t there? We are all-in, moving forward, no stopping us now. Yet, we have no idea what is coming. We can’t possibly. The future is unknowable; the change is massive. We’ve seen a hundred other families walk down this rite of passage and survive, yet there is no way out for us but through. We can only learn as we go. Our bodies and souls are wide open in surrender—we have no choice but to accept what may come.

And what comes is a whirlwind.

A new person, with unrelenting physical needs that can only be met by our physical bodies. Ourselves torn, inside and out, with stiches and sutures and post-partum depression. Waking every 90 minutes for days, then weeks—maybe even months. The worry of plugged ducts, infections, APGAR scores, developmental milestones. The pressures from family, from strangers, from ourselves. The joys of first smiles, soft heads, clenching fists.

Our children.

We were taught, with Elijah, that God’s voice is not in the whirlwinds, not in the earthquake, not in the fire. For Elijah, who had staved off rain then brought it back, who called down fire and bested his enemies—he found himself in early retirement, with no false-prophets to confront or battles to win. His challenge was learning to hear God in the gentle wind, the still, small voice.

But me? I’ve always known how to find God in the silence, in the quiet times. The hours of journaling, singing, serving. What are we supposed to do now, in the sleepless days of constant bouncing and breastfeeding, of unwashed hair and piles of laundry? In the days when we can hardly keep it all together and our families moving forward?

Sister, I am here to tell you, God is in the whirlwind too.

During these precious days of miracles, we celebrate the gifts but grieve what we have lost. The certainty of who we are, the satisfactions of contributing to a team, the autonomy to choose where we will go and how we will spend our time. The mental clarity to study the Bible, the ability to be awake long enough to close our eyes and pray.
There is so much guilt that piles up on us, in this season, this whirlwind where everything “normal” is set aside. Shouldn’t we be better, do more, have it all together?

But God is in this whirlwind.

He made our bodies to create, to give birth, to lactate…and to heal again, eventually. He made our babies to need a loving grown-up day and night, to learn their identity through the unrelenting rhythm of constant cry and response, tiny tummies and diapers emptied and filled, and then again.

Our Creator is in this process, in this love, in this nurture. He is with us in the sleepless night-time vigils and the daytime pouring-out.

The day will come again, Mama, when you will wash your hair, put on clothes, and go out into the world independently. The season will arrive when you can pull out your journal and listen for that still, small voice in the gentle wind.

But in the meantime, sister, God is in the whirlwind.

Catherine McNiel writes to open eyes to God’s creative, redemptive work in each day—while caring for three kids, two jobs, and one enormous garden. Catherine is the author of Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline (NavPress 2017), and loves to connect on Twitter , Facebook , or at catherinemcniel.com .
 

The Betta Mom (an unexpected story)

I’m delighted to have a guest post over at Melanie Dale’s fabulous blog, Unexpected, today (Remember Melanie? She wrote that awesome post about being a Cheerleader Mom). My post is about our pet fish, and it’s kind of a finny story, really…. Click right over to Mel’s place now to read the whole thing or get a sneak peak below…

3701904112_cebb63426f_b

My kids have wanted pets for the longest time. It is entirely possible that the first thought that went through my newborn son’s head after “Whoa, it’s bright out here!” was “When can I get a puppy?”

Despite having had beloved pets growing up, both my husband and I have been the King and Queen of Reluctance about getting a pet. There were so many reasons not to: first, because we had no yard. Then, because we were renting. Then, because we traveled for weeks at a time. But as more kids and a piece of turf to call our own became realities, we finally took shelter behind one immovable excuse: too much poop. Mama has a poop-limit, and with three kids under the age of 5, she was maxed out. There was no margin for any extra clean-up, and thus no margin for furry friends, no matter how cute.

But then, friends, the day came when the skies parted and the Angelic Chorus sang Hallelujah. Our youngest child sat on his porcelain throne, finally depositing bodily fluids where they were supposed to go, and right in the middle of my victory dance, my older kids piped up: “Does this mean we can get a pet now?”

Seriously, can a woman not get a two-minute break?

(Continue reading here!)

Image credit: Bryce Gandy (Flickr Creative Commons)

Things My Mother Told Me (Shannon Wilson)

Reader Shannon Wilson sent me this amazing story about her Mom. Please welcome Shannon to the blog and savor this beautiful story.

For the past 15 years, my mother has talked to me about the day that she would die. My mom holds loosely to this life, primarily because she holds tightly to the promise of her Savior,  knowing life is a vapor and she has the treasure of eternity with Christ just up ahead. She started countless sentences with this phrase:  “Shannon, when I’m gone… ”  The first several times, I was horrified. Who wants to think about their vibrant and healthy mom dying? But she did it anyway, throwing the idea around with the ease of a pizza order.

Over time I got used to this odd “coaching” that only my mother seemed to do.  She would receive an eyeroll from me in response to her casual banter about the day I wouldn’t have her beside me. I told her time and time again that just because she prepped me about this wouldn’t make the day easier for me when it actually arrived.

Alongside this “prep,” there are truths of God that she has hammered into me over the years.  She said this to me, “It is the time in between the valleys, when you are on the mountaintop, that you press hard into Christ.  When you are not in the valley, when you are on a peak, don’t forget to know him well in these days, because a valley will come.”    This was not a gloomy, pessimistic view; my mother is the opposite of those things.  She is a dispenser of wisdom and I had grown up enough (finally) to heed her words. After a season in the valley, I came to a mountaintop.  I pressed in to Christ and remembered her words, “Press in on the mountain, a valley will come.”

  On January 14, 2014, my mother didn’t show up for an appointment. The police even used the phrase “missing.”   Finally, we got the call that brought her location into the open.   She had a severe stroke that induced a brain seizure. Her brain was bleeding and seizing while she was driving on major highway.  She got up to 90 miles per hour and slammed into a guard rail.  She had just been taken to the trauma center. Come quickly.   In an instant we went from one crisis – My mother is missing – to the next.

Suddenly, I didn’t know if my mother would be alive when I got to her.   I did not know if she was alive right then, at that moment while my dad and I were in the car, speeding toward her.  In those minutes, the words that my mother had spent years building into me seamlessly and suddenly wove together with the Spirit of God within me.

I wanted my mother to be alive.  I prayed desperately for her to be alive, for God to save her. Desperately I prayed,  boldly I begged…I was not ready for this to be the day.

Shannon holding her Mom’s hand in hospital (Photo used with permission)

 

At the same time, running a parallel track, I knew that it was entirely possible, perhaps even probable, that my mom was already in the presence of Jesus and seeing him face to face, or that she would be at any moment.

In those minutes, one truth from the mountaintop blazed forth and settled over the two tracks in my mind. He had told Martha this truth two thousand years before,  I AM the One thing, He said, I AM the Better thing.  I knew it to be true.   For my mom and for me.  Jesus, the One thing, spoke again through the words implanted in my heart through His Word:  “Do you believe?”  In that instant I knew that I believed that He is Enough, that if he took her or had already taken her that we would sing His praises at her funeral.
January 14, 2014 was not my mother’s day to die.   Today, she is a walking, talking miracle. About 6 weeks after the accident she made this statement to me, her speech halting and slower than before, but clear as a bell: “Shannon, I have prayed for you to have more of God and less of me…so when the day comes, HE would be enough.”
There it was.  The thread that she had been weaving for 15 years.   Her purpose behind all those years of casual prep, the encouragement to press in on the mountaintop, had never been to make the day “easier”  for me or to assume that the day would come less painfully.  Her purpose was to fill me with more of Jesus.  So when the day comes, and it was not that day but it will be another, that I would know that He is enough.

Shannon Wilson lives in NC with her husband and son.  Her passion is to write and speak about the riches of God’s Word and encourage women to live out the Gospel in their daily lives.  She loves reading, talking, wildly accessorizing and spending time with her family.  Connect with her on her blog, twitter and instagram (@shannonhw), or find her on Facebook.

 

“Help, I’m jealous of my husband’s job”

I'm Jealous of my husband's job. Now what?

Dear Bronwyn,

I’m struggling with resentment about my husband’s frequent work trips. They’re often a week or more long, with mixed genders, and I struggle to keep my imagination under control. He is a loving husband and doesn’t seek out female colleagues as friends. He has told me this – and I trust him. Yet, when he is away, and I am left to normal life with young children, I can’t help but think he is off having a jolly time, making memories with everyone but me, and confiding in other people – I struggle with the idea of him having a “separate life” – a life where I, unless otherwise told, have no part of.

My husband does work hard to include me in his work life: I know more than many wives about what he does, who he works with, and he includes me where he can. It’s just when he goes away I become jaded and go into some kind of survival mode: I push away, resent, and think the worst. My husband is doing everything he can think of to help. My question is this: what can I do to combat these feelings?

Sincerely,

FOMO-Mama

Dear FOMama,
It sounds like there are a number of issues potentially at play here: wanting assurance about your husband’s affections, as well as some struggle with contentment and jealousy.
First: it sounds like you and your husband have a healthy marriage – you’re able to talk and are working hard to stay supportive and engaged in the other ones’ flourishing. That’s fantastic.
Having said that – travel for any extended period does put strains on a marriage. There are horrifying statistics about “the things that people get up to” on business trips, and so fears about sexual temptation and other excesses are not unwarranted. We have friends where the husband travels frequently and he requests that there be no TV in his hotel room wherever he travels (I’m sure the hotel staff *really* love this)… but it’s something he does for the sake of making sure there is no temptation there for him. If travel is a regular part of your husband’s job, I’m sure he has to think about ways to proactively protect your marriage while he’s away. That you can talk openly about this is important.
But I think this is really a deeper issue than a “can I trust my husband?” thing, since it seems you are more struggling with feeling left out/jealous of his opportunities, than really struggling with worry about his fidelity. I think that speaks more to a frustration about your current phase in life than specific jealousy about your husband. It’s his “freedom to go”, to stay out late if he wants to, to be ANYWHERE OTHER THAN HOME, to make friends etc, that shines a very bright light on some of the hardest things about motherhood… that being that life is just so. darn. continuous.
Remember when Fridays meant the end of the week? Ha, not so with moms.
Remember when weekends meant sleeping in? Not so with little ones.
Remember when eating out meant a meal free of issues? Not so with moms: either you’re wrangling people to just-sit-still at the table, or you’re bleeding from the nose with how much it costs to pay a babysitter. Tick tock. How long do we have?
Remember when someone asked you if you wanted to catch a movie, and you could say YES? Not anymore.
Remember when you had hobbies you liked to do after work? Not anymore: now there’s the carnage of cheerios and drool that comes after the kids are finally, finally asleep.
Remember when you used to do something and feel a sense of accomplishment that it was actually DONE? And sometimes people PAID you for it? Ha.
The life of a mom of small people is exhausting in physical and profoundly personal ways: for you work ALL DAY and it just gets undone by small people. What you tidy gets dumped out. What you clean gets smeared. What you fold gets worn. What you cook gets consumed, or worse yet – complained about and dumped on the floor.
Before I went on maternity leave, I supervised two interns. They came to visit me a few weeks after my eldest was born, and I was stunned to find I was insanely jealous of them describing the hum drum of making thousands of copies. I used to hate making copies, but all of a sudden I was crazy jealous of the fact that they had something to do which, at the end of their effort, would yield a VISIBLE PILE OF SOMETHING THAT HADN’T BEEN THERE BEFORE. Like real, genuine evidence of productivity. I was beside myself with jealousy. About stacks of colored paper.
And I felt SO pathetic realizing it. Because while my head told me *of course* it was worthwhile to be a Mom, I was still really grieving the loss of choices and efficiencies of my kid-free life, and when my husband worked late or went to a conference or my former intern made copies… I felt really crappy about my choice-less-ness and income-less-ness by comparison.
So how to get over that? Well, knowing what you’re dealing with helps… because maybe it means that what you need is not for your husband to travel less or have less fun when he does… but for you two to talk about what you might need to make space for you to have friends, or to take up a project that is not related to your kids. Would joining a book club help? Or an exercise class? When he’s home, would it help to have some “me time” scheduled in when you can take a couple of hours and go and enjoy brunch with a friend? I know these seem like small things, but I realized that adding few little things like that made the world of difference to me over time. I had become resentful that I could never take a nap. That I never got to eat hot food. That I wanted to talk to a friend somewhere other than in my house and holding a baby.
I hope I am not projecting my own experiences too much into your question here, but it does sound like you have two things going on:
1) wanting to be assured that you are your husband’s priority (and he’s working hard to show you that you are more important than his career), and
2) needing to be affirmed that you are still a PERSON, not just a domestic placeholder, and you need a work/rest/recreation balance, too. With the healthy sounding conversation that it sounds like you and your husband are able to have – maybe you could talk with him not so much about “how can I quash the feelings of jealousy?”, but “what is my jealousy telling me here?” Listen to what your jealousy is telling you about what you are needing to change in your own life, and maybe that will help you both to figure out some next steps.

All the best,

Bronwyn

 

Image Credit: Mish Sukharev – Revtank (Flickr Creative Commons), edited using Canva by moi.

V is for Vocation (Some thoughts on Calling)

5334281676_14e1e3ffc2_z

I’m thrilled to have my first piece over at The Mudroom today. This month they are exploring the themes of vocation and calling. I thought I had something to say on that topic, but a funny thing happened on the way to writing it… I got stuck at the dishwasher. Take a look:

If V is for Vocation, then F is for Fineprint. Let me get the disclaimers out of the way: I hold two graduate degrees, and earn exactly zero dollars a month. I am a full-time Mom: a packer of dishwashers and kisser of boo-boos and driver of carpools; roles I never imagined myself in and do not consider myself particularly gifted at or fulfilled by. So what on earth was I thinking when I volunteered to write about calling and vocation?

I had noble intentions of summoning my years in College Ministry: time spent with students talking about how their majors—from entomology to economics—reflected some part of God’s good world, and how their joyful service in those made a difference. Part discipleship, part career counseling—these were conversations I excelled in: hour-long vocational pep talks over countless cardboard cups of coffee in the Student Union.

My plan was to do a little reading: brush up on Beuchner’s definition of how we find our vocation where our deep gladness and the world’s deep need meet, spend some time mulling over brilliant Venn diagrams depicting the intersections between what the world will pay for, what we love, what we do well and what is needed . . .  and after all this, I would write a charming, peppy, insightful piece calling us all to a deeper self-awareness, and Christlike purpose.

This was the plan, and one I was ready to execute but for this one blindsiding problem: the glaring vocational question marks raised by my own life…. (read the rest HERE)

Thanks to the team at the Mudroom for the invitation and the prompt: you got me thinking!

Lament for a Boy (Jamie Calloway-Hanauer)

This lament is written for Jeremy, Jamie’s son, gone too soon from SIDS. 


Lament for a lost baby

 

Lament

Why, oh God, have you have ripped him from my bosom,
torn him from my womb?

No better than a thief,
you have emptied my stores to fill your own.

You have stolen from me, oh God,
in ways unfitting of your name.

(You sacrificed your Son for me, but don’t think I haven’t noticed
you waited ‘til he was grown.)

You once demanded all firstborn.
I trusted those days were gone, but you have shown me I was wrong.

Oh, creator God. Giver of life and breath, you have rendered me empty—half dead and hanging by a thread.

Who could I be without this misery?
The pain of asking is too much.

You have come like a thief in the night, plundering
butterfly kisses, radiating heat, a neck wrapped tight by little arms.

How, God, can you now demand my trust? My faithfulness?

My palms ache empty, outstretched and longing to be filled.
You have emptied me, Lord, in ways no other could:
You are the breather of life and the taker of life. The power is all yours.

Yet your goodness reigns over all sorrow, filling
cradled arms;
an otherwise empty cup;
and limp-limbed hollow-eyed women
with your righteousness and love.

Filling even
the depths of empty wombs.

You, oh God, are ruler over all.

Draw me nearer, God.
Grow me in your fertile soil. Raise me tall and strong.
Let your goodness weigh heavy in my arms.

I feel your presence, God.

Your goodness resounds deep within my bones. In my teeth and aching hips.
In the knitting of my insides and the fading pangs of birth.

Only you, oh God, know the way ahead.

by Jamie Calloway-Hanauer
illustrated by Corrie Haffly

*************

I wish no mother knew this pain. I hate that Jamie, whom I love so much, has been through this. Jamie is so many things: a friend, a wicked-smart writer, a poet, a lawyer, an editor, a patient encourager. And twenty years later, she is still a grieving mother. Jamie has a tattoo for Jeremy with a line from one of her favorite poems, Nothing Gold Can Stay, by Robert Frost. You can see it and read about tattoos and cardigans here.

Writer Mom Haiku

haiku

Writer Mom Haiku 

Dishwasher running
Washing machine laundering
Cursor blinking, waits

by Ellen Mandeville, illustrated by Corrie Haffly

If you’re just joining me on my Conquer-My-Fear-Of-Poetry month adventure, welcome and a very happy Sunday to you.

After yesterday’s heart-stabbingly beautiful love poem (ah! Neruda!), today seemed a good day for something simpler, but no less profound. This, from Ellen Mandeville, is 100% true, and is expressed in one of my favorite little poetic forms: the haiku.