Two weeks ago I was ready to quit being a mom.
At 34 weeks pregnant, with a nearly four-year-old and just turned two-year-old watching T.V. downstairs, I lay in bed right before my husband left for work, pulled up the covers, and let it all come crashing down. He did the right husband things, asking what he can do for me and praying that I’d find the strength I needed to take care of the kids that day.
Yes, I’m pregnant. Yes, it has been in the 90’s nearly every day for the past month. And yes, we are in the season of structure-less summer with two demanding children. So of course.
But just because you can see all the reasons why you may be feeling a certain way doesn’t pull you up out of the hole you want to stay safely buried in. But then my husband had to leave for work. And I fought my way to the weekend, barely surviving.
On Sunday I tried carpe diem. We made waffles, blasted Josh Garrels on Pandora and danced in the flour dust on the kitchen floor. I convinced my husband to let me take the afternoon off and I didn’t move from my seat in a coffee shop for nearly five hours.
But then Monday crept in with her black clouds, heaviness and strength-stealing aggression. Carpe diem let me down.
So out of desperation, I put out an S.O.S. to some friends who live in other states. The message was this: I don’t have energy or even the desire to be with my children right now. Please pray and please call me.
And they did.
My friend who is a counselor recommended that I find a counselor. My friend who is a teacher asked how I’m structuring my days and suggested ways to fill our time. My Catholic friend called from her personal retreat and we talked about the time I have been spending alone and the ways that motherhood still undoes her on a regular basis. And my friend whose third baby was more than a surprise suggested we get out of the house as much as possible.
On Wednesday, we dropped the kids off with my parents and headed to the mountains for my first adult, church-camp-style retreat. Nature plus camping plus Jesus lovers (minus kid/home responsibilities) sounded just about perfect.
The conference was full of big ideas, big personalities and big dreams for God. Not just the dynamic speakers, but the 300 attendees all seemed to be engaged in fighting injustice around the globe. We sat next to those living among the homeless, people working with those in sex trafficking, current and former missionaries, a couple doing humanitarian work in Iraq, pastors, worship leaders, heads of women’s ministries and counselors. The movers and shakers of kingdom work.
The weekend was full of radical Jesus lovers who believed that faith should translate into action.
As a stay-at-home mom in white bread America, I expected to feel frustrated and inhibited. Marriage and motherhood have been a slow shaving down of those types of ambitions for me into a single point—our home.
But God can surprise you.
When I approached one of the speakers after her powerful talk to thank her, she turned the conversation around—“What do you do?,” she asked.
I pointed to my bulging belly, laughed, and said, “This…and try to survive the other two.”
And then she fixed her gaze fully on me, pointed, and said, “You are SO blessed. I didn’t marry until later in life and wasn’t able to have children of my own, so I think what you are doing is incredible and beautiful.”
I did what any pregnant, overwhelmed, defeated mama would do—I cried. “Thank you,” I said, “and you’re right—it is a gift.”
“But that doesn’t diminish how hard it can be, either,” she consoled me. I nodded.
Throughout the weekend of tales of people going to jail for feeding the homeless, recovering from abuse, deconstructing and reconstructing a polished faith and fighting on the front lines of injustice, instead of feeling less-than or shackled by my role as a mom, I felt something else.
I felt loved.
The conference, called “Simply Jesus,” was true to its name and allowed me to feel that because Jesus is enough, then I am enough. Yes, He has called me to Big Things in the past and may call me to radical steps of faith in the future, but right now, He is calling me to dig deep into the few callings He has given me. Shawn DeBerry Johnson, one of the speakers at the conference, challenged us to be sure that we are living out of our callings and not just out of our comfort—and that we are not called to ALL things.
So it made me think about what God is calling me to right now.
I am called to spend time with Jesus daily and to let myself be loved by Him.
I am called to be a selfless, generous, attentive, adoring, spirit-filled and fun wife.
I am called to the kind of downward mobility that asks me to sit down on the floor and play with my kids, listen to their stories, gather them up into my lap (what’s left of it), smother them with kisses, put band aids on invisible boo boos and take them out to explore our world.
More than one mother encouraged me over the weekend—many with grown children who had moved away from God and away from them. “I wish” and “I would have” were a few sentence starters they used to encourage me to love them hard, be intentional about teaching them and not allow these moments to slip by. They affirmed the hardness of the season, but highlighted its value, too.
But I am also called to use my gifts and passions in whatever small way I can. To love my neighbor right next to me. To think of ministry on the micro level instead of the macro level—loving the international student He brings to live with us, making meals for new moms, investing in just one or two friends and continuing to open my eyes to the injustice in our world as I listen to podcasts while folding laundry, read books while my kids nap or check news on my phone in the grocery line.
I am called to shift the puzzle pieces of my day to make space for writing and stay engaged in that world because it activates my soul and allows me to lean more into the rest of my day from a place of wholeness.
I have only been back for two days, but while I still feel tired and mostly want to just sit on the couch and be a spectator instead of engaging with my children, I feel more relaxed, peaceful and still than I did a week ago. I feel like I spent the weekend with Jesus rubbing my feet and reassuring me that I’m on the right road, that I can do this. That I can keep going.
The last day of the conference in the chill of the morning, I wriggled my hand into my pocket and found a tiny object there—a butterfly hair bow that belonged to my two-year-old daughter. Pulling it out, I held it flat on the palm of my hand and then clutched it tightly. Throughout the morning, that bow reminded me of the treasure I had waiting back at home. A treasure I hadn’t wanted to see.
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is of Elijah climbing the mountain and waiting for God to appear. He finds that God is not in the Big Things—the great and powerful wind, the earthquake, or the fire—but in the gentle whisper. When Elijah hears it, he pulls his cloak over his face and goes out to meet the Lord. And God tells him, “Go back the way you came.”
Sometimes the way forward is the way backward. Sometimes it is accepting that where we are is exactly where God wants us to be and instead of looking for ways out, we should be looking for ways in, to dig deeper and live more fully into the simple callings that Jesus has placed on our lives.
Every night I sing to my children. For my daughter, I sing “Jesus Loves Me” and usually follow it with the song that we just happened to sing as our final song at the conference—as I sing it, it is a song whispered not from the pulpit, stage or blasted from the speakers, but in the quiet shadows in the nursery of our home:
“I love you Lord and I lift my voice to worship you, oh my soul, rejoice.
Take joy, my king, in what you hear. Let it be a sweet, sweet song in your ear.”
It’s as simple as that.