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.

Talking to Kids About What Easter and Jesus have to do with Chocolate Easter Eggs

Talking to kids about what have to do

Everybody knows Christmas and Easter are the two big Christian holidays.  And everybody knows, apparently, how you are supposed to celebrate the two big Christian holidays. Trees, lights, gifts and all-things-cinnamon for Christmas; and pastel colors and easter egg hunts for easter.

Right??

Right.

Except that: there’s nothing particularly Christian about all that paraphernalia. If you’ve been reading here for a while, you’ll have heard me complain about the pressure to be Martha Stewart at Christmas and also pontificate on how I think we invented Christmas anyway – so it’s up to us to infuse it with faith-filled, faithful meaning.

But what to do with Easter? We did not invent Easter. The timing of Jesus’ birth was unknown, but the timing of his death was intentional (at the passover). His birth was celebrated across the heavens at the time, but his death was to be commemorated across the earth and into the future. Communion (or the Eucharist) is seriously joyful business, and especially so over Easter.

So what to do with the darned chocolate? and the easter egg hunts? and the pastel colors? (and keep in mind, the “all things new in spring” theme is all the more awkward if you, like me, grew up in the Southern Hemisphere where March/April brings with it the end of Autumn.)

Traditionally, this is the (Northern-hemisphere-centric) explanation I’ve heard:

Easter is remembered with easter eggs and candy: the egg being a symbol of nascent new life, about to begin. The Spring colors and flowers too remind us that God makes all things new. When Jesus rose from the dead, he gave us the hope of new life. So eat eggs and remember.

Now I don’t know about you, but I have a two-year-old and a five-year-old, and when they have their eyes fixed on that chocolate easter egg, they tune out after three seconds. And even if they weren’t fixated on the chocolate in front of them, I’m not sure they can follow the abstract hop:

Chocolate Eggs => Egg Eggs => New Life => We get new life => Because of Jesus

So this year I’m trying something a little more simple. Here it is:

In our family, we celebrate good times with food and treats. At Easter we get treats because we’re celebrating the best news ever: that Jesus rose from the dead and is the King for ever.

I think it’s simpler:

Chocolate = there must be a celebration.

What are we celebrating? = The good news that Jesus is the risen King.

It is absolutely true that Jesus being risen from the dead brings us new life (1 Peter 1:3) – the Scripture calls this our living hope. But I find it really hard to tie that into a chocolate easter egg in a meaningful way. For me to say: “We’re celebrating, because Jesus is King…” is both faithful to the Easter message, and also fast enough to say in that narrow sniff of time before my toddler paints his face with creme egg.

We will read the stories at bed time, and I may even get my act together sufficiently to do a mini resurrection garden:

mini-resurrection-garden

There won’t be an easter bunny (here’s why), but there will be chocolate. Because Jesus died and rose again, and that’s the best think that’s ever happened….

… even better than our weddings and birthdays, which we celebrate with food,

 

…. so why not celebrate this with a little chocolate??

Courage to find Significance in the Every Day

It was my great joy and honor to speak at MOPS (Mother of Preschoolers) this week. I was asked to please post my talk online. Here it is. Try to imagine yourself in the company of a room full of moms of little ones while you read, won’t you? 

Motherhood requires courage to find significance in the every day. Read this, and take courage.

 

I am often really uncomfortable with being introduced at a speaking engagement. Usually, the person introducing me will have asked about my background and then they go ahead and give the crowd the “highlights reel”, and it makes it all sound so impressive that even I am intimidated by me. I feel like I need to stand up and confess something just so that people will know I’m a real person: “Hi, I lose my temper and fart. I am the worst potty trainer in the world and am pretty much a walking Pinterest fail waiting to happen.” #settingexpectations

But I think moms of little ones are pretty good at keeping it real. After all, we are a crowd who have all known the mixed glory and indignity of having people see your most intimate parts naked while giving birth (and, mortifyingly, there may have even been poop.) We have had to learn how to breastfeed. We have handled more human bodily fluids than we dreamed it was possible to touch without withering. We carry embarrassing things in our purses. So we are a crowd who are…. Humbled.

And so perhaps, for that reason, I feel like it’s important too to tell you that I do have a highlights reel. That I was valedictorian of my high school, and that I graduated from law school with honors at the age of 21. I should tell you that before graduating, I landed a job with the highest paying outfit out of all the recruitment opportunities they were farming for at my college. And then, through a strange and God-tangled web of events, I landed up forfeiting that job and going to seminary, where I graduated with honors before the bishop of our denomination created a job in women’s ministry for me to develop some new models of ministry for how we reached women in the workplace.

And I tell you this not to brag… really, because there’s that whole body-fluids-humbling and muffin-top shame thing going on all at the same time… I tell you this because I want you to know that it was only when I became a mom that it came CRASHING DOWN on me how much significance I had put into that highlights reel. I thought I was a humble person, aware of my failings, and reliant on God’s grace beforehand. But it was only when all those achievements in career and ministry were taken away that I realized how much doing well in life, and being seen to do well in life, had factored into my sense of identity and calling.

The truth of this became most obvious to me just after my daughter was born. All of a sudden, my only job in the world was to get this tiny human to eat and to sleep. And I could do neither. I had significant problems with breastfeeding – my milk didn’t come in for nearly a week, and when it did, it came in drips: not nearly enough to feed my big girl. And worst of all: I didn’t even know my baby was hungry. On the 3rd day after her birth my husband and I drove anxiously to Urgent Care because she would.not.stop.screaming and would.not.sleep. The kindly pediatrician asked us a few questions and asked if she could observe me feed her. Nodding wisely, she said “ah yes, your milk hasn’t come in” (I had no idea). She told us our daughter was hungry and gave me a breast pump to get things going and gave my daughter a 2 oz of bottle of formula, which she drank and promptly fell asleep for the first time since she had been born.

I felt like such a failure. Because I couldn’t feed my baby. Because I didn’t even know there was no food. Because I didn’t know she was hungry. Despite having read ever Mommy-and-Baby book I could get my hands on so I would be AWESOME at this mom thing: it turned out I couldn’t even do the basics – feeding my child and getting her to sleep. She was a fussy baby and a terrible sleeper. They were the most humbling few months of my life.

All of this served to highlight to me how much of my worth I had put into being a DOER. We live in a world where we are told we can, and we ought to, do something EXTRAORDINARY in our life, and make a SIGNIFICANT use of our time. The extraordinary and the significant are the measures of our worth – and we despise, and even fear, the ordinary and the seemingly insignificant.

Motherhood – above all things – is one long lesson in learning to find the significance in the very ordinary, and dare I say, even boring. If we add to this the cultural narrative that considers children to have a very low rank in terms of life accomplishments, this adds to the stress. Think of all the things people say about deciding to have kids: Will I be able to finish college, or grad school? But we wanted to travel first. But kids are expensive and we’d like to save for our own home. I’d like to get established in my career first. Not that any of those things are bad – but the way our culture talks about them tells us that children rank lower than our own personal goals of accomplishing education, career, travel, financial or physical goals.

Motherhood gets in the way of that: it’s lots and lots of “not achieving”, day by day – all the while faced with our very real and in-your-face limitations. Michael Horton, wrote a fabulous little article entitled “What if having an extraordinary life isn’t the point?”, in which he says this: “Even more than I’m afraid of failure, I’m terrified of boredom. Facing another day, with ordinary callings to ordinary people all around me is much more difficult than chasing the dreams I have envisioned for the grand story of my life.”

Yes. Exactly.

I get that. And it explains to me why, in my earlier days as a mom, I found myself irrationally jealous when my former interns came to visit me and complained that they had had a week full of admin and making copies… and I was SO JEALOUS that they were making COPIES.

BECAUSE AT LEAST THEY HAD SOMETHING TO SHOW FOR THEIR DAY.

I think this explains what drives many of our love for Facebook and Pinterest. Because our day to day jobs don’t feel significant, but if we share pictures of the gorgeous meal we made, or the cutest Halloween costumes EVER… we are putting out public post-it notes which says “I have something to show for myself.” See, I made that. I did that. Isn’t it cute, everyone? Getting lots of “likes” or “pins” ticks our “feeling significant” and “feeling worthwhile” boxes. Or at least, it does mine.

And it also explains why one of the things I love about writing is that it is something I get to work on and then when I click “publish” or “send” – then my words go up onto the shiny surface of the internet and NO-ONE CAN PUT STICKY, JELLY FINGERS ON THEM. My words remain there just like I left them, and I marvel at that.

Because everything else in my life is not about accomplishing or doing or even making progress. It’s about a full-scale, full-time effort to HOLD BACK THE CHAOS. My goal at the end of the day at home is not to take it to the next level: it’s to work all day to prevent us from sliding into an abyss. When I signed up for Google + a few years ago, It asked me what my job was. I wrote “opposer of entropy”. For that is what I do. All day long: I hold back the chaos.

What this calls for is a great amount of courage – and more courage, in fact, than it takes to complete a huge project or organize a big event. It’s the sheer everydayness of life, the tedium of the ordinary and the relentless forces of entropy at work in our house that call for a DAILY mustering of courage. Courage calls for commitment and strength in the face of insecurity and intimidation. It means keeping going, even though the end is not necessarily in sight, and we have often feel we have no idea whether we are doing well or whether this is all going to turn out okay.

Because honestly, if my children’s behavior is my only performance review on this job, I sometimes feel I really suck.

And so it takes courage to keep working on a job where there are so few measurables.

I think, in particular, mustering this kind of courage to face the great cliff of the ORDINARY, takes two things:

 It means learning to take the long-range view of what we are doing.

My mom used to say that she often reminded herself that she was not raising children: she was raising ADULTS. Putting it that way reminded her that she wasn’t just trying to control the behavior of a tantrumming 3-year old in the supermarket, the long-range goal was to raise an adult who was well-adjusted and had healthy relationships with her and with society. And so she tried to think about the long-term: which gave her hope (because they wouldn’t always be 3 and tantrumming), but it also gave her a direction. She was parenting towards a goal, not just parenting in the moment.

Along similar lines, a friend of mine pointed out the story of Philip the Evangelist in the book of Acts in the Bible. In Acts 6, shortly after Jesus had been raised from the dead and ascended to heaven, the church was still really new and figuring things out, and 7 leaders were appointed to organize the new community and help care for some of the pressing social needs. Philip was one of the 7 appointed and commissioned by the 12 apostles: a leader from the get-go.

In Acts 8 we read this:

“Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.”

We find Philip preaching, dealing with demons, and healing people in Jesus’ name. Wow. A few verses later we read that he was out on the road when an Ethiopian eunuch in a chariot came driving by who just happened to be reading puzzling verses from Isaiah, and then God tells the Ethiopian to ask this guy Philip to explain it to him, and Philip tells him about Jesus and the man puts the puzzle pieces together and realizes that Jesus IS the promised King and the one who would take the sins of others that the Old Testament had been talking about – and so he decides to change his life and follow Jesus and Philip baptizes him right there and then in the river. The eunuch continues on his way to form and found the first church in Africa, and Philip – well, let me quote the verse directly: “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.”

Wow, Philip. Very impressive. One of the few people who ever got to ride by Holy Spirit Taxi Services.

But you know what? After that extraordinary introduction – Philip disappears from the story, and we don’t hear a single word about him again… Until 20 years later, when he turns up right at the end of the book of Acts, and we are told that Philip was there, along with his 4 unmarried daughters, all of whom were prophetesses.

And it makes me think. Philip went from a ministry that seemed so impressive and awesome, and then seemed to fade into obscurity. But we see him 20 years later and realize THEN that he had been doing something significant for those 20 years: he had been raising daughters who knew and loved God, and who were fully equipped for service.

I wonder if, when he had 4 girls under the age of 7 all fighting about who got to sit where, whether Philip ever thought “Sheesh: remember that time when I was doing something USEFUL for you, Lord?” Or, when they were teens, “I used to feel like I was really being used by you God… but now it’s just hormones and boys and tears all day long with these girls. Is this really what you want me to be doing?”

All those years time it may have seemed like Philip wasn’t doing anything significant, but he was. He had taken a long-range view: raising adults who would know and love Jesus as he did.

This gives me hope. Because in 20 years, all these “insignificant days” will total up to having 3 grown children. And it won’t be the one gorgeous thanksgiving meal, or the one awesome mommy moment or vacation we took that stand out as “the thing that made their childhood” – it will be the sum total of the ordinary days.

Not just the one fantastic meal, but a lifetime of ordinary, nutritious meals to raise a healthy adult.

 Not just one I-killed-it-with-that-explanation conversation, but a lifetime of saying “I love you,” “I believe in you”, “this is what is right, and this is what is wrong,” which will be embedded into their souls.

Not just the one vacation we spent together, but the habit we had of snuggling to read a book, or of always listening attentively and talking with them while we did our daily commute.

It takes a lifetime of ordinary courage to make a significant impact in raising adults.

So: finding courage to face the everyday calls for taking a long-range view, and it calls for another thing:

 It calls for faith.

I use the word FAITH, meaning that it refers to a belief, or trust, in something we can’t fully see yet. We see a little bit of the truth, but we don’t see the whole thing and so we keep pressing on in that direction, trusting that it’s the right one.

Rachel Jankovic wrote an article some years ago which made such a big impression on me, in which she talked about how motherhood may be regarded as of little importance by others and a very lowly job, but in fact it was a calling of the highest honor because as parents, what we are doing is modeling the gospel to our children every day.

In laying down our lives for them, and learning to deny our own ambitions for others’ benefits, in taking care of their daily needs and investing in the work of shaping their characters – we are showing them something significant about the gospel of Jesus, who laid down his life for us, denied his glory and privileges for us, who takes care of our needs and, even thought we don’t deserve it and are exasperating raw material, is deeply attentive to the daily work of character formation in our own lives.

This business of shaping people into becoming God’s children was Jesus’ great goal, according to Hebrews 2. It cost him his life, but the joy of relationship was unsurpassable.

Jesus was in it for the long-haul with us. And even though he had days when he rolled his eyes at his disciples and said to them “how long shall I put up with you?”, he kept at it. Hebrews 12 says :

“.. Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him… so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

I believe it takes faith to keep being a mom. Races are run one step at a time. Lifetimes are lived one minute at a time. It is sometimes hard to keep going when no one step feels particularly significant, and no one minute feels worthwhile – but, Jesus showed us that in the long run, it takes faith to remember the joy set before us and to keep going – so that we will not grow weary and lose heart.

We are so quickly impressed by the big once-off acts and accomplishments, but we forget the power of the daily, persevering ones. We love to think of God as the Creator of all, but often forget that not only did God create, but he also continues to sustain and provide. He is awesome not only became he created life, but because he continues to give every breath, open every flower, animate every heartbeat. Those Divine acts of sustaining providence are deeply significant.

And so are ours.

The creative act of bringing a child into the world is incredible and deeply significant. But so is every sustaining acts of fixing a snack, leaning in for a snuggle, every encouraging word which sustains a weary soul. To preserve and sustain reflects God too. As it turns out, opposing entropy is a profoundly godly thing to do.

All this brings me to say one more thing, and that is to highlight the role we play in one another’s lives in helping one another to find significance in the every day.

The word ENCOURAGE literally means to give one another courage. We encourage each other by setting an example or perhaps by acts of service and huge, but I think chiefly we encourage one another with our words. The Bible tells us the “Faith comes from hearing”, and while in that context it is talking about the saving faith in Jesus, the message is still true for our purposes – because the faith to believe that the daily grind of everyday motherhood is worth it, comes from HEARING from others often, and being reminded of the big picture and the long-range view.

When we remind one another that we are loving our kids as God has loved us, we are ENCOURAGING: literally giving one another COURAGE to face the day. That’s what MOPS is all about. When we remind one another that God is not only the Creator of all things beautiful, but the Sustainer and Giver of Daily Bread and Daily Breath – and that those daily offerings of mac and cheese and carrot sticks are also, in some way, modeling the work of God who sustains us daily – we give one another courage. When we notice our friends showing patience and gentleness with their kids and we tell them it’s beautiful to see – we affirm that they ARE doing good and they should keep it up.

And so we speak life to one another. We give encourage, and give courage by helping one another to take the long range view and to keep the faith… because this daily job of mothering is not extraordinary – but by God, it is significant.

 

Photo credit: Kim MyoungSung “drying laundry” (Flickr Creative Commons) – edits by Bronwyn Lea

In defiance of the muffin top


Have you ever deleted a photo of a happy occasion because you didn't like how you looked in it? I have. But I want to defy that...

 

We hosted a barbecue for some friends and co-workers today. It was a festive, delicious, happy affair: the lawn freshly mown, kids jumping on the trampoline, and stories shared over a potluck feast.

My husband and I had been happily hosting: each attending to kids and guests and let-me-show-you-to-the-restroom. We crossed paths while lunch was being served, and I leaned in to hug my partner and love. We stood there a minute, enjoying the scene of people feeling at home and savoring the buzz of happy chatting.

Our son was underfoot: taking his new LEGO creation on a maiden voyage. We scooped him into our arms, asking him if he would like to be the peanut butter in our parent-sandwich. He giggled and told us he couldn’t be peanut butter because he had a rocket in his hand, and my hubby and I joked that maybe we should change to being a roast beef sandwich, because beef goes well with rocket (hardy har har – I’m lame like that). Our boy snuggled and giggled and pressed in close… while unbeknownst to us, a friend saw our montage and snapped a photo, melting over the cuteness of the moment.

She sent it to me later.

muffintop2I nearly deleted it on the spot.

Confession: I was horrified to see what a pronounced muffin top was showing over the top of my jeans. My outfit had passed the once-over test in the mirror this morning, but I had no idea I looked like that in action, and I was ashamed. The ten or so pounds which have been sneaking up on me stared accusingly at my from the photo, and my finger trembled over the delete button.

But then I looked at the photo and saw a glimpse of what my friend had seen: not a photo to shame me, but a moment she was celebrating for its love, joy, and rightness…. and I realized I was missing it: I was blinded by an extra inch of muffin top.

In truth, this photo is all sweetness. My boy will one day be too big to pick up and press into a sandwich, and we will look back on these days with misty eyes and hearts swollen to bursting with remembrance. Of all the things that are significant about this time: surely my waistline should not factor into my reckoning?

I looked at the photo several times during the afternoon; trying hard to quash the accusatory thoughts and to focus on the good ones. It is hard, repetitive work this: this teaching myself to be kind to myself and my body. I struggled with me all afternoon.

The guests were gone and we were chatting with our kids before bed time. Our youngest asked for music (“Pandowa?”), and the eldest quickly rallied: “Dance Party!” I considered the moment. The last thing I felt like doing was shimmying my fat, but  recalling that I was trying to mark the day with mommy-win-moments rather than mommy-shame-moments, I jumped up and joined her as we let Miley and Beyonce and Maroon 5 belt out tune after tune.  We twirled and jumped and kicked our legs high, and then I scooped the boy child into my arms and twirled him until he giggled drunkenly.

Mid jig(gle), I looked up and spotted a dozen or so flies on the ceiling, miscreants who had obviously sneaked during the earlier festivities. “We have to interrupt our dance party and get those flies!” I yelled to the kids. “Yeah! We’re a SWAT TEAM!” shouted my son, and I belly-laughed at the awesomeness of his pun. Armed with fly swatters and rolled up dish towels, our Swat Team of 5 launched a full-scale attack on our little winged enemies.

Our youngest began to get frustrated that he couldn’t reach, so after a while I offered to be his portable crane truck. He swatted haphazardly, chortling with joy all the way. Again, a photo was snapped.

IMG_20141101_194704750

Again, I noticed the muffin top. But this time, I also noticed the smiles, felt the joy, savored the moment.

I post these photos and write these words in defiance of the muffin top. We moms need to do a better job of staying in the picture, literally. The photos of my children’s childhoods should not just be documenting their joy and smiles, but who they were joyful with (me!) and who they were smiling with (me!) These are photos of triumph, not shame. No one else is looking at my waist. 

I dare you. Post a photo in defiance of the muffin top. Because really, it’s the least important thing in that picture.

The Fierce, Strong, Wild Heart of God

If my memory was good enough to write a memoir: a story of spiritual significance and coming-of-age, this is the story I would want to write. It has moved me to tears more often than I can think of. I had heard many people say that having children was a blessing… but what I didn’t know was that for me, the greatest blessing of having children would be learning what it meant to be a most beloved child of God myself. 

When my friend Adriel Booker asked me to write for her series on the Motherheart of God, I knew instantly what I wanted to write. I know God as my Father, but Oh! It’s just amazing how becoming a mother has revealed God’s tender heart to me in a way I couldn’t have imagined. Here’s the beginning, and then head over to Adriel’s to read the rest. (And while you’re there, look around. I love Adriel’s blog.)

Exploring-the-Motherheart-of-God-

I went into motherhood with carefully weighed expectations:  I knew there would be fierce joy, thousands of photos too cute to delete, sleep deprivation, tantrum-taming, and way more contact with bodily fluids than I’d ever had before.  I also expected a few years spiritual lethargy.  With less time and energy for church, bible study and ministry, I expected to change gears for a couple of years: from spiritual ‘drive’ to a humming ‘neutral’.

I could not have been more wrong.

Friends, nothing has revealed God’s heart to me like becoming a mother. Nothing.

***

In the early days, there was the taking of pre-natal vitamins, and watching what I ate, of giving up skiing and wine without complaint as I marveled at the tiny being utterly dependent on my welcome. In the minutes of the first ultrasound, tears spilled down my cheeks as I saw a heartbeat flutter on the screen: life within my life, a soul of another already contained within mine. Oh, how I loved! And I shivered when, in that moment, I felt the words settle in deep: If this is how you love the little one dependent on you and completely unaware of it, how much more do I not love you, dependent and unaware and so utterly precious to me? 

(Click over to read the rest, won’t you?)

48 Tips from the World’s Worst Potty Trainer (A Cautionary Tale)

pottytraining

Did you know I am the Worst Potty Trainer In The World? With an average toilet training time of 22 months/child, I dare you to challenge my title. I’m a firm believer of learning from others’ mistakes, so as someone who has made every possible mistake in potty training, I thought I’d share them with you as a cautionary tale.

Follow closely. Each step is important.

  1. Read widely before you begin. Create a Pinterest board and title it “Potty Training Tips”. Knowledge of the options is crucial for success.  
  2. Start when they are infants – practice ‘elimination communication’, whereby you learn to read (and anticipate) your kid’s body cues. (I was dead in the water on this one, since I never even managed to tell the difference between a tired cry or a hungry cry. It all just sounded like crying to me.)
  3. Start with they are 18 months: walking, communicating, and showing an interest in imitating you. Do not wait: it will be harder later.
  4. Start with they are 2 1/2, when they have better language and body awareness. Do not start before this: you will stress them out.
  5. Start with they are 3 1/2, when they can remove their own shorts and the threat of never being able to go to preschool forces you into panic. Do not start before this: you will stress them out.
  6. Take your cue from your child. They will tell you when they are ready.
  7. Post your decision on when to potty train on Facebook. Solicit dozens of unwanted opinions.
  8. You can potty train in one day if you do it right (notice: it’s all on you.) Prepare for the day with books, training DVDs and lots of exaggerated facial movements about the thrills of going potty. Have them train their teddy bear first. Then, on one day: banish the underwear and hold potty boot camp. Be persistent. They’ll get it by the end of the day…. if you did it right.
  9. Potty train in three days. Choose a weekend when you are not distracted and have your kiddo be nakey nakey all weekend. Involve all the stuffed animals and siblings in the Great Weekend of Potty Training. Be persistent. They’ll get it by the end of the weekend… if you did it right.
  10. Potty train when they’re ready. You’ll know when they’re ready because it will work. This makes complete sense… if you read the literature right.
  11. Let them run wild and free while training.
  12. Have them wear pull-ups while training.
  13. Let the diapers continue while training.
  14. Big-kid underwear from the get-go! The pride of getting it right as a “big kid” is a powerful motivator!
  15. Don’t be afraid to let them go back into diapers: what’s another couple hundred of trees in the landfill?
  16. Be persistent! Once you’re doing this, you’re doing this! If you communicate that regression is an option, your kid will turn it into power play.
  17. Be flexible! If your kid isn’t ready, listen and try again later.
  18. Bribery is brilliant: offer a treat for each successful tinkle. If you’re feeling extra motivated, offer two treats for number twos. The logic is lost on kids, but makes total sense to the one who has to wash out soiled underwear.
  19. Avoid bribery: it will be hard to undo the sugar-reward habit later.
  20. Use stickers instead.
  21. Don’t use stickers – they stick them on furniture.
  22. Star charts are awesome motivators.
  23. Except when they aren’t. For us, this is about day 3.
  24. Do whatever it takes: read books or sing songs or let them play with the iPad to keep them on there long enough for a “win” while they’re busy.
  25. Beware: kids are smart. All of mine figured out how to turn “I need to go potty” into a gratuitous story-reading time, without ever producing the “deliverables”.
  26. Let them watch potty training DVD’s. This does not count as ‘screen time’ because #educational.
  27. Make up a potty cheer. “Happy pee on the potty to you” (to the tone of ‘Happy Birthday’) is good in a pinch.
  28. Be prepared to have to sing your cheer of choice, at volume, in public places. Prepare to have to sing it more than once.
  29. Post your decisions on how to potty train to Facebook. Solicit dozens of unwanted opinions. As an Imgurian over 30 this is how I feel when I read
  30. Start potty training in the summer, so they can practice outside.
  31. Start potty training in the winter, when you’re cooped up anyway.
  32. Important: start potty training when YOU are ready to tackle it.
  33. MOST important: start potty training when your CHILD is ready to tackle it.
  34. Invest in a potty chair, and think carefully about what kind of ceremonial ritual you will devise to celebrate its arrival in1B5548278-tdy-130116-ipotty-1.blocks_desktop_smallto your house. If the literature is to be believed, the success of potty training is causally related to how much hoopla you can raise about a kid getting their VERY OWN mini-throne. If you get one with a built in DVD, all the more power to you (see #26).
  35. Don’t bother with a potty chair: invest in a step stool and have them sit on the main throne. They will feel more grown-up and it will make it easier to transition to public restrooms.
  36. Teach boys to pee sitting down: so much less mess.
  37. Teach boys to pee standing up: aiming for cheerios is such a great incentive.
  38. Figure out as a couple whether you are going for sitting-down or standing-up before you engage in Operation Potty Train. In my experience, those who have to clean the bathroom usually opt for #36. Dads usually opt for #37. (Because it’s so much fun to demo. And apparently some things never get old.)
  39. Make potty training fun! Hype it up as a coming of age thing!
  40. Make potty training just “one of the things you learn to do” – the less hype there is, the less pressure there is on the kid to perform, and the less power play leverage you give them.
  41. If things aren’t going well: keep reading widely and pinning madly to research other best methods. Pin this. You may need it if all the other advice from those who succeeded doesnt pan out and you need to know that you weren’t the worst potty trainer in the world.
  42. If someone says their method worked for them, it must have some merit to it. Keep a tally of how guilty you feel each time there’s an accident: that accident probably means you were doing it wrong.
  43. Try not to feel guilty, though. It’s not about you.
  44. If your plan isn’t working: try something new, or try some other time.
  45. But WHATEVER YOU DO: be consistent!
  46. No matter what kind of diapers you chose, for potty training make sure you invest in 3-fold cloth diapers: they are by FAR the most absorbent cloths for cleaning up spills. There is no paper towel which is worthy for this trial. None. Bounty, be gone.
  47. Ask for hugs. For you, not your kid. Potty training is hard and demoralizing and sometimes makes you feel you have an angry, panicked, crazy person living in your head.
  48. Ignore all this advice, except for #46 and #47.

Trust me.

And now, I’m going to print out my list and study it closely (see tip #1), because it seems to me my third kid is about ready to jump onto the potty training wagon, which means I’m bracing myself for another 22 months of insanity…

If you’re needy and you know it, clap your hands

Perhaps it’s just the mini-van-driving and wheels-of-the-bus-singing stage of life I’m in, but when I read the opening words of Psalm 86: “Hear me, LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy” – the first thing that came to my mind was this:

If you’re needy and you know it, clap your hands.

Friends, I clapped. I have been reading through Caryn Rivedeneira’s lovely little book for weary moms:  Known and Loved: 52 Devotionals from the Psalms, and I settled into the pages one morning and thought about this neediness that I feel almost constantly as a mom. And I’m wondering: maybe one of the hidden blessings of motherhood is becoming aware of this neediness, and learning how to ask for help.

We come into this world utterly dependent on others. Babies rely on their parents for everything. Childhood is the long process of slowly learning independence: beginning with the toddler’s first insistence “me do it!”

Little Mr Independent doesn't want anyone to hold his hands while we walk.

Little Mr Independent doesn’t want anyone to hold his hands while we walk.

Later, they learn to dress themselves, feed themselves, wipe their own butts (oh thank you God!), read to themselves, bathe themselves… and later yet, transport themselves, organize themselves, and to decide for themselves. Our goal as parents is to transition them from dependence to healthy independence. This is maturity.

But maybe there is a second ‘turning’ which marks a new phase of maturity: the transition from independence to learning healthy interdependence. Motherhood, more than anything else, has taught me that. Before I had kids, I felt competent at what I did. I didn’t know everything, but I knew enough to do my job. I had particular skills suited to my particular vocation, and it felt good to be a person skilled enough an independent enough to be the one offering help where help was needed.

But then came a bundle of crying baby: and I couldn’t get her to sleep or to stop crying. I couldn’t make enough milk to feed her, and didn’t even know enough to discern that that was the problem. Taking care of her was my full-time job, and it was a job I felt utterly incompetent to do. I had gone from feeling useful to feeling completely useless, and through sobs confessed to my husband one night, “All I’m supposed to do is the very basics: feed her and get her to sleep… and I can’t even do that!”

It was there, in my sobbing heap of uselessness, that I got a fresh glimpse of God’s grace: his tender love for me even when I had nothing to offer. The neediness of motherhood pulled a new prayer out of me: “Help! I’m drowning!” I learned the old hymn’s words afresh: “nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.”

I was needy, and I knew it.

God brought me comfort in the way that 2 Corinthians 1 promised he would: directly with his presence, and indirectly with his love and comfort expressed through others. Having kids taught me that grace didn’t just mean being someone able to offer help, it meant being someone able to ask for, and receive help.

Yes, please hold my baby?

Yes, please would you bring us a meal?

Yes, would you substitute this class for me?

Yes, I’d love it if you could watch them for an hour so I can take a shower.

From dependence to independence. From independence to interdependence. This is maturity.

Yesterday I took my overtired, hangry kids to the grocery store, since we had an Old Mother Hubbard situation in our kitchen. It was a disaster. In the hour it took to locate the contents of a skeleton grocery list, my middle kid needed to use the potty twice and the youngest had a Vesuvian diaper explosion. I wrangled my kids through the store and arrived rather breathlessly at the check-out counter. I paid for our goods and, in the customary way of store clerks, our checker asked politely, “and would you like any help out today?”

I didn’t even hesitate. “Yes, I would. Please. Thank you. Yes, I would.”

All together now: If you’re needy and you know it, clap your hands.

(Clap, Clap)