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…

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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)

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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.

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