As a mother, I admit I was nervous to read a book about losing a child. In fact, I confess I skipped ahead to find out what happened to Ruth just so I wouldn’t be anxious the entire book. My mama heart didn’t have the capacity to wait two hundred pages for the details of a tragic death. But in a way, knowing from page one about Ruth’s death helped launch me into this story about a family from Maine who became accidental parents to a disabled girl from Uganda. I had so many questions.
Meadow Rue Merrill, a professional journalist, expertly guides the reader into this compelling tale of love through dynamic dialogue and word wizardry in Redeeming Ruth.
As a memoir, Meadow’s thoughts, feelings and reactions to adopting an African girl with special needs are both authentic and believable. Although this story is not commonplace, it was extremely accessible and did not feel like she was placing her family on a pedestal, like so many Christian memoirs can feel. Instead, Meadow shares with humility how they first met Ruth, questioned whether they had what it took to adopt her, and then revealed all the emotional and physical roadblocks they encountered along the way. This book does not read like a story about a family with super-human strength, but a family that could just as easily be yours or mine. It was a story about a simple family who learned that love could sustain them even through hardship and loss.
If you love memoir, are interested in adoption or Africa, or work with children with special needs, then you will find this story particularly compelling. Meadow dispels many myths about international adoption as she chronicles the sticky details of adopting Ruth from Uganda. I personally loved the vibrant descriptions of people and places in Africa since I spent six months in Uganda during college. Her words helped me to see the buses, feel the dust on my toes and greet my amazing friends there once again.
I also appreciated learning about the hurdles and small victories involved in caring for a child with special needs. Having this window into their world reminded me to offer support to friends and family I have who may be caring for children with additional needs.
If you love a good story where God appears in miraculous ways, then you will find yourself engrossed in this true tale of selfless love. If you—like me—are a mother who is afraid to read a book about losing a child, this will remind you to hug your children tighter and savor every moment you have with them. And though the story is gut-wrenching, their grief is equally weighted with hope.
Reading Redeeming Ruth was a gift. I felt honored to be invited into such a beautiful journey of surprising joy in the midst of struggle and sadness. It was a welcome reminder of how one little life can impact so many.
Meadow challenges her readers at the end of Redeeming Ruth:
“Love like a fool, without considering what such love will cost. You won’t have to look far to find someone who is hurting, someone without a voice, someone waiting to know that they are loved” (p. 204).
The park ranger peers up, pointing to the tops of the Lodgepole Pines standing like guards at the Rocky Mountain tree line. “See those pinecones at the top?”
I squint, attempting to be mentally present while my body warns me my infant son an hour away will be hungry soon.
“Those are called serotinous cones. They’re covered in resin and store their seeds until triggered by a forest fire.” He continues hiking and I pause a second longer, struck by a rare moment of mental clarity in an otherwise foggy time of life. I reflect on the past five years as a mother to three children, four and under.
At 31, I had given up on love. Living in the middle-of-nowhere China, I refused to forfeit my ambition for a man. In fact, I pitied women who sacrificed their dreams for marriage.
And then I met Adam. He was everything I had hoped for in a man, but was like finding the perfect home in the wrong neighborhood. He felt no pull to live overseas. But I knew we belonged together and within two years I was married, unemployed and pregnant.
Motherhood consumed my identity like a ravenous fire.In pregnancy, skin stretched to obscene proportions. Feet, face and hands swelled. Hormones swung faster than a preschooler on a swing set. “Come back when you think you’re dying,” the midwife said. We thought she was being dramatic. We were wrong. Pain screamed, then new life sang. One life split into two …
People love to ask this question. And I’ve been thinking about my answer.
Uncapping the black sharpie marker, I scribble a price on the neon green garage sale sticker: $4.00. Placing the tag on the light brown maternity dress, grief suddenly tackles me. I don’t know if I can do this…
This dress was the first piece of maternity clothing I ever purchased back when my body barely revealed a bump. In the Target dressing room, I stuffed my bag under the dress to try and imagine what my body might look like with a tiny human curled inside me. It seemed so surreal.
The dress was a staple in my maternity wardrobe through the wilting heat of three summers in six years. I wore it while in labor from Monday to Friday with my son, the week we determined I was a “slow laborer.” And I was wearing it the day I barely made it to the hospital to give birth to my daughter nearly two years later. I had been in labor 48 hours, but had chosen to ignore the squeezing contractions until I couldn’t anymore. “Now.” I demanded to my reluctant husband, who was remembering the long days of labor with my son. “She’s coming now, so we need to go.”
“Let’s check how far along you are,” the midwife said just minutes after we got to the hospital, pulling on her gloves. “Oop! There’s the head! You’re ready!” she said.
“Do you want to change clothes?” the nurse asked. “Your dress might get ruined.” I let her help me into the gigantic green hospital gown just in time to push out a tiny pink stranger just 30 minutes after arriving at the hospital. My sweet daughter was born on a brilliant sunny day in Chicago in July. And this was the dress I wore just minutes before she entered the world.
Folding the dress and placing it on the pile of other maternity clothes I’ve acquired over the years, the sadness hit.
Is this stage of pink lines appearing on a plastic pregnancy test, baby kicks, musical heart-beat checks and sacred, powerful, life-ripping childbirth really over? Are these the final days of having a tiny squishy body curled against me in bed as I nurse at dawn before the rest of the house wakes? Is it the end of magical baby giggles, laughing at the grimaces babies make as they try new foods or clapping like fools when your child experiences all the “firsts”?
Are we really done having children? And how do we know when we’re done?
I’m still not sure. All my reasons for having a third child obviously still apply for a fourth or fifth or any number of children we may want to have. But here’s why I’m thinking we’re done.
Mainly because in spite of my hesitancy to have an odd number of children, I’ve been surprised by how complete the number three feels. Sitting at a restaurant, when I see a family with two children, I find myself thinking “Not enough.” But when I see four, without even realizing it, I think, “Too many.” So I think—for us—three is the Goldilocks amount of children. “Just right.”
But I also feel I don’t have the capacity—physically, mentally or spiritually — for another baby at my age (I’m 38). My last pregnancy spun me into depression and my body has felt like it aged five years with each baby. I fear another pregnancy would break me.
But having “just” three children also leaves wiggle room for other people God may bring to our home. Just as I always want to have a guest room in our house, I know my heart only has so many rooms available, so setting this limit may ensure I’ll have the space to offer a place at our table to anyone who needs a temporary family. I often pray God will give us the capacity to extend our arms around anyone God brings into our life. Perhaps not having a baby in my belly or nursing on my breast will free me to nurture those who are not my own children.
My other two children are enjoying having more of me again. My baby is now eight months old and more interested in exploring the world through his hands, mouth and however far his chubby legs will take him as he crawls from drawer to cabinet, shoving every stray cheerio in his mouth along the way. He is no longer content to sit still.
Not always having a baby on my lap means more of me for the other two. The times when I force myself to stop folding laundry, picking up clutter or organizing toys and simply sit on the floor to be physically and mentally present with my kids, a child always ends up climbing into my lap. They have missed me. I push away the guilt that creeps in, accusing me of neglecting my two and four-year-olds during the past year of being hugely pregnant or nursing around the clock. They have learned to be more independent and are discovering they have a built-in playmate when mommy is busy with the baby. But they are still little and need me.
So for all those who are asking, I’m saying I am 98 percent sure we are done. As stressful, painful, stretching (in so many ways) and difficult as pregnancy, childbirth and the baby stage have been, I have loved it. I really have. There were moments in my twenties and even as I turned thirty and was still very single, when I wondered if I would ever have children. Once I married, I convinced myself I would have fertility problems. I wanted to shield myself from disappointment. So many of my friends had miscarried or had problems getting pregnant that I wanted to be prepared.
But after five months of waiting, on a cold December morning, I woke my husband up, jumping back in bed with a huge grin on my face.
And so I want to celebrate this gift and grieve the passing of such a sacred, special time of life. It has not felt like it “went fast,” but I do wish I could bottle up the magic and open it up every once in a while.
Wouldn’t you love to relive the moment you found out you were pregnant for the first time and you walked around all day with the most amazing secret you’d ever carried? I wish I could encapsulate the feeling of those first butterfly flutters and finally the indignant kicks from a silent being that drew life from my body. Or relive holding my baby for the first time, staring with wonder that there actually was a life inside me all that time. Time suspended and reality spun in those early hours of precious life.
Motherhood is a holy experience. Nothing scrapes the ceiling of the divine like pregnancy and childbirth. Giving birth and being a mother to these three souls has been the honor and joy of my life.
I place the stack of clothes with the brown dress in the large plastic bin, labeling it “maternity” and slide it over to join the pile of baby clothes I’m also pre-grieving the loss of. I walk over to the rug, plop down and grab my first son, wrapping my arms around him and tucking his long legs into my lap. “Do you know how much I love you?” I whisper. He smiles. Yes. He knows.
“With all its joys, trials, and demands, motherhood is packed full of spiritual practices.” –Catherine McNeil, Long Days of Small Things
If you are a mother looking for a book that throws open the windows and invites pure, fresh, breathable air into the room of your soul, then you need to read Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline. When I was pregnant with my first child, I read books on motherhood like I was cramming for a test. I was determined to do it right. Now that I’m five years in, I’m realizing I don’t need to read books that add more for me to do, but books that validate me for what I’m already doing.
What This Book Will NOT Do
This book will not add to your to do list. It will not heap on guilt about all the ways you are not doing enough, teaching enough, or being enough of a godly woman for your children. It will not tell you how to discipline, potty train or feed your child in ten easy steps. Instead, this book will prove to you that you are already living a holy life through simply being a mother. That perhaps God intended all along to intersect with you in these small, seemingly insignificant moments in time that make up the life of a mother.
Who Should Read this Book?
This book was perfect for me right now as a mother to three little ones, four and under. I don’t think it would impact a brand new mom as much since she hasn’t yet experienced the frustration of a Target tantrum or spent a year without sleep. But it might still make a great gift for a new mama who will find it on her shelf one day when she’s desperate for encouragement while nursing her third baby in the middle of the night (ahem). Although McNeil attempts to include women who adopt, I think it would be difficult for a mother who did not give birth biologically to read the parts about pregnancy and childbirth.
This book is ideal for the weary mom who is a few years in, wondering what happened to her life, and needs a fresh look at her world. Every once in a while I need a book to spiritualize the ordinary. When I first got married, the book The Mystery of Marriage, by Mike Mason did that for me. Now, five years in to motherhood, this book was exactly what I needed to remind me who I am and why I’m doing this.
What I Loved
The book cycles through the different aspects of motherhood, illuminating the sacred beauty in sex, pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and even in menstruation. It reads like a love poem to our female bodies and all they were created to do; our days validated as holy even in their monotony. Each chapter begins and ends with scripture. Throughout the book, McNeil weaves in stories of mothers from the Bible and draws out verses and stories that focus on the parental heart of God.
But along with the gorgeous imagery, McNeil also provides simple practices to increase awareness of the divine through breathing, walking, being fully present in the moment, eating, night vigils, drinking and cooking. She offers suggestions for turning even the most unlikely circumstances into spiritual practices. Daily rituals of motherhood such as changing diapers, feeding children, driving kids around and dealing with clutter become opportunities to connect with God.
I have never read a book about motherhood that made me feel so validated and empowered as a woman as Long Days of Small Things (and I’ve read a lot). Far from feeling like a second-class citizen who is missing out on so much of life because I spend my days with little ones, McNeil made me feel like I am privileged to have the mystical experience of creating, sustaining, supporting and caring for another soul.
What I most appreciated about this book was that it reminded me that motherhood is a beautiful, sacred gift to cherish. Though we can feel we are wandering in the wilderness during this season with little ones, McNeil assures us we are exactly where God means us to be. She writes,
“In motherhood we are not furthest from the practices of faith as it seems, but at the center. In this spiritual desert we touch the very pinnacle of spiritual practice.” –Catherine McNeil, Long Days of Small Things
Most days I’m responsible for wiping four out of the five butts in our household. Sometimes I change my clothes three times a day because of shoulder snot, spit-up or worse. My life is not glamorous by any stretch. And I know I can’t be the only one.
So today I seek solidarity with the mama who wipes butts other than her own. The mom who eats standing up, has given up on sleep as an inalienable right, and thinks going to the dentist is equivalent to a spa day.
I stand with the mom who sometimes wishes she could run away, and then feels guilty about it. The mom who is compelled to write, teach, create, study, or use her education the way she thought she would, but just can’t right now. The mom who thought her life would be a tad more adventurous. I stand with the mom who sometimes wants to jump in the car and just drive. Anywhere. As long as there is silence.
I stand in solidarity with the mom who feels like she can’t catch up. She is like a cell phone that never charges to 100 percent power but is constantly being unplugged, always needed. We can’t keep up with it all: sleep, cooking, shopping, planning activities for our kids, juggling job and home life, dusting, sweeping, folding laundry, sorting junk, organizing bins of teeny clothing, not to mention making love or talking to our spouses (which sadly makes the “to do” list). We never fall into bed at night thinking, I’m so satisfied by all I accomplished today.
I stand in solidarity with the mama who messes up. We yell, say the wrong thing, get frustrated, lose our cool and do everything “the books” tell us not to do. We fear we’re ruining our kids. We sometimes care more about what other moms think than we do about our relationship with our child. But then we kneel down, peer into their little faces with their tiny noses and earnest looks and we know they forgive us. They adore us, in fact.
I stand in solidarity with the mom who longs for meaningful friendships but isn’t sure how to string together enough play dates to equal one in-depth conversation. As children, we had sleepovers, played in the backyard, then whispered together about our crushes, our fears, and hopes for the future. In college, we shared rooms, clothes, and cars. But marriage and needy children complicated our old habits of friendship cultivating. We need each other more than ever but lack the time, energy and gumption to reach the same level of intimacy we enjoyed when we were single. We turn to social media instead of putting forth the effort to befriend people we can touch and see in real life. Sometimes this is our only option, but we yearn for the flesh, blood, and tears of face-to-face sisterhood.
I stand with the mom who is trying to make the most of these days with little ones because everyone warns us they go so fast …
A dove sits on her nest in the planter by the window. My brother in California sends us frequent (unsolicited) text updates on the soft grey mama bird. We see her from every angle. She waits in her manmade jungle, watching. Resting. Sitting. Protecting. A sacred vigil.
Five years ago I, too, waited for new life. It was about this time of year in the spring when I first felt the “quickening” of life fluttering in my womb. It felt like a fish nose bumping against a plastic bag won at the county fair. Life tapped my insides, reminding me I wasn’t alone. I housed a treasure.
I shared the dove’s intense desire to protect, guard and be vigilant. No poisonous food or misstep would harm this baby on my watch.
It was my pleasure to wait.
Now, three babies later, I wonder if mama dove feels isolated. Does she wish she could flit on the wind like her peers? Does she miss swooping down over the ocean at twilight? Does she resent having to stay close to home? Does she feel lonely?
And yet blood, bones, feathers and features are forming beneath her warm body. She is immobile, but not unproductive. She has less control than she thought. But miracles are happening in spite of her motionlessness. Or perhaps because of it.
Soon her nest will be full of noise and movement. Scrambling bodies demanding more food, touch and attention. No time to watch the wind or long for a day at sea.
Last week we received another picture text. Mama sitting still, awake and alert. I glance at my phone in line at the grocery story, wrangling kids and bagging groceries with a baby hanging off my body. In the parking lot, I check my phone before pulling out. My mom replied to the group text. “BABIES!!!” I scroll back to the photo, zooming in. Sure enough, three wet heads with large black eyes nestle under mama bird. It happened.
Messy life erupts from darkness.
What are you waiting for?
Do you believe your waiting is accomplishing something?
Perhaps newness is developing quietly. Silently. As you sit right where you are.
It’s amazing what you can accomplish in 22 minutes. In 22 minutes, you can shower (no hair washing–that’s no longer a daily priority), get dressed and possibly even put on make-up. You can journal, read your Bible and contemplate the life and words of Jesus. You can clean the kitchen and maybe even sweep the dried up cheese and peas off the floor. You can (nearly) do a Jillian Michaels workout video. Or you can steep a cup of Bengal Spice tea, breathe in cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and cloves and sit down at your computer. Like I’m doing right now.
Why 22 minutes? You’ve probably already guessed. Only the best survival tool of motherhood: T.V.
With three children four and under, most days I feel like I’m operating in survival mode. Many days my husband and I grab each other by the shoulders in the kitchen, give those shoulders a shake, look one another square in the eye and proclaim: “You can do this. WE can do this.” Sometimes we even high-five. Lest I one day re-read this after gazing at pictures of my adorable children and wonder what the big deal was, let me explain.
My son never sleeps past 5:15 AM. Ever. (And YES, we bought the clock that turns green when it’s 6 AM–but we haven’t found a clock that forces your child back to sleep until they are supposed to wake up.) We wake up to variations of stomping down the hallway, our door squeaking, followed by, “Can I wake up now?” or yelling from down the hallway: “CAN SOMEBODY WIPE MY BOTTOM!?” Some mornings we have cuddles on the couch, but most days there is much shrieking, yelling, fighting and crying as my husband gets cheerios and raisins and situates the kids in front of the T.V. while he grinds the beans and makes us his home-roasted French press coffee (yes, we are coffee snobs–simple pleasures, my friends).
Every.single.event. is a battle. Who knew I would practically cry or throw my own tantrum every day over trying to get another human being to perform basic hygiene or reasonable habits? Brushing teeth, getting dressed, going to the bathroom, putting on shoes and socks and simply eating food are now events I need to mentally prepare for or else I will have a break down.
Mealtime with small children is the worst. Why do we bother giving them plates? The food spends more time on the table than on the plates and most days my son says “YUCK” after I’ve spent an hour cooking. And the crumbs. There are always–always–crumbs. Not to mention food smears, hidden “delights” and sticky railings. I smash cheerios into our cheerio-colored carpet on a daily basis. My son’s room has no pictures left on the walls (he pulled them all off and broke them), has crayon on the wall, a make-up stain on the carpet (from when they “borrowed” my foundation) and chunks out of the paint on the wall from when the glider chair became a carnival ride.
My children have very bad snot-management. It’s exactly as you imagine–and probably worse. I spend more time at the doctor’s office than I do with my closest friends.
Yes, they are cute and funny and say things like “tormado” for tornado, “nummy” for yummy and “bo-manna” for banana. There is love and laughter and hilarity in a way that I have never experienced before. Yes. But, mama who is in this boat with me–we know this is HARD. Here are some ways I am surviving–and even (in very small increments) thriving.
1. Monday Rituals.
My children take ONE bath a week (unless they are so visibly dirty that I’ll be embarrassed to take them anywhere). I am not usually a ritual-type of person, but this is saving me. On Mondays, we stay home. I put a load of laundry in, make an extra cup of coffee and herd the crew into the bathroom. I grab a book and attempt to read for as long as the baby stays happy flat on his back on the bathroom rug. Now that he’s five months old, I bathe him in the tub with other two. He splashes like it’s his job and the other two shriek and beg me to take him out. After this, we all put on “comfy clothes” and pull out their activity boxes and trays downstairs to do some simple non-pinteresty craft like gluing pasta or cotton balls onto construction paper.
2. The Children’s Museum.
We drive an hour to the Denver Children’s Museum nearly every week. It sounds crazy and like a waste of time, but I’ve discovered that this is the only way I can legally strap my children down for an hour while I listen to podcasts. At first I wondered about the morality of taking my children to a place where there were few rules and every part revolved around them. Then I discovered the freedom: Wait. A place I could take my children where I don’t have to tell them: “No!” “Don’t!” or “Stop that!” for an entire morning? Brilliant. This is the Christmas gift that keeps on giving–if you have a Children’s Museum anywhere within 60 miles of where you live, ASK FOR THIS FOR CHRISTMAS.
Fortunately, my husband doesn’t need to be at work until 9 am, so this is more feasible for us, but running for thirty minutes every-other day at 7 AM keeps me sane. I’m alone, outside and moving my body. But on snowy days, work-out videos on YouTube have also been a saving grace. Though they often get in the way (and more often get into mischief), these can be done with the kids in the room and they often try to join in.
4. Nights out.
My husband and I schedule date nights at least twice a month. At times when money is tight, we go to Starbucks. On better months, we go for sushi or a movie. Last month we went barn dancing, which was cheap and so fun! Why don’t people dance anymore? This month, we realized that we can still bring our baby to the movie, which means we can stay out without the stress of wondering when the baby will wake up and need to eat. I also try and meet friends for coffee or a drink (now that I have a few friends–hooray!).
Okay, so I don’t have much time for hobbies unless they involve my children since I am the stay-at-home parent. One of my hobbies is traveling, which happens um, never, now that I have children. So I’ve found a way to travel without traveling and have gotten involved in the International Women’s Club at the university near us. It meets the SAHM (stay-at-home-mom) criteria: during the day, before naptime, has other kids, snacks AND toys. I also love being outdoors, so I drag us all outside as much as possible. What do you love? How could you involve your kids in that?
6. Inventive Spirituality.
Sounds nutty, but it’s simple. Apart from the 22 minutes (or 44 … let’s be honest) that my husband and I have for quiet time in the morning, there is not a lot of space in my day for meditation, prayer or reflection. I am a part of a weekly Bible study, that I quickly do the DAY OF, but it provides the accountability I need to be in the Bible on a regular basis.
And I have a few apps and podcasts that help me think about spiritual things throughout my day:
You Version app: this has the Bible in many translations, but also has reading plans, devotionals and even devos and videos for kids. And it’s mostly free!
Laudate app: though I’m not Catholic, I have still loved this app. Here you can find daily readings, the liturgy of the hours, daily prayer, and a daily Bible verse. It was perfect for those early days of nursing when I was up at all hours.
The Practice Podcast: Better than a podcast and more than just a sermon, this podast provides a whole worship experience with a message, music and questions for reflection.
Pray As You Go Podcast: This is a daily prayer, scripture and meditation guide. It has been perfect for mornings when my husband goes on a run and I am preparing breakfast for my kids because we can listen to Scripture (often read more than once) and start our day in the right headspace. Thanks to Megan Tietz of Sorta Awesome Podcast for this recommendation!
7. Using My Brain.
This is a hard one when you live in Daniel Tiger World, but it is so necessary. I listen to podcasts any time I can, am in a book club and am involved in online communities related to racial reconciliation and social justice. I write to think (which is why I haven’t written as much these days …. when my body is tired, my brain stops working).
8. Trying to Be Sweeter.
I don’t have a saccharin personality. There was a good reason I was a middle school teacher not a primary school teacher. But I’m trying to sweeten up and learn the love languages of gush and snuggles. I’m trying to tune the tone of my voice so that I don’t always sound so eager, angry or frustrated. I’m learning to pretend I’m peppy.
9. Noticing Small.
Some complain that people use Instagram as a way to make their life seem perfect. I’m using it to notice the beauty in mine. John Updike famously said that he wanted to “give the mundane its beautiful due.” I’m striving to do this. I’m chasing beauty in my ordinary, mundane, boring life as a mom. And if Instagram helps me do that, then it is a worthy tool.
10. Permission to be Imperfect.
I can’t tell you how many times in the last five months I’ve had to rewash a load of clothes. And I think there is a direct correlation to how large your library fines are and how many children you have. My counters need wiping, the floors are strewn with toys, my bathroom looks like a science experiment and sometimes I strap my kids into their car seats in the garage long before I’m actually ready to leave the house. I let my children ride the toy horses at the grocery store five times as I check out (this is actually my most brilliant discovery yet–not only bribery, but one cent bribery!). BUT. They are clothed, fed, washed, and cared for. And even if I am sometimes merely surviving … they are thriving.
I need to remember that–and so do you.
You are doing good work, mama. You are loving the best way you know how with the time, energy and resources you have been given. And do you know what your kids are going to remember twenty years from now?
They are going to remember that hike you took them on, the way you laughed at their jokes and tickled them until they couldn’t talk. They are going to remember the songs you hummed as you scrubbed pans and the way you smelled when you snuggled next to them in bed. They are going to remember the dance parties in the kitchen, how you let them help you make waffles and the way you prayed with them before bed. They will remember that you did the voices as you read, sat with them on the floor and chased bunnies together in the front yard. Mama, you are doing an amazing job. You do you. Keep up the good work. And don’t discount the value of a 22 minute reprieve (in fact, don’t feel guilty about that even for a second). Most likely, it is just the breather you need to make you an even better mama in the end.
What about a driving school for Muslim women? My mind buzzes with the possibilities, spinning the details into a feasible plan. I just dropped our Saudi Arabian exchange student off at the international terminal and in the quiet hum of the hour-long interstate ride home, I plan, strategize and dream. Most of the Saudi international student girls I’ve met have a secret desire to learn how to drive since they are not permitted to drive in their country. Likewise, they all complain about the expensive driving schools in the U.S. or about taking private lessons where they have to be alone in a car with a man. We have a spare car, I think. And I could give private lessons and get to know the women at the same time. Perfect …
As I turn the minivan off the interstate at our exit, I hear stirring in the backseat, then arguing, then shrieking. I sigh, smoothing the bunched-up shirt over my ever-growing belly, remembering. Lost in Imaginary Land where I could chase every dream, I had forgotten my reality: two children under four and a baby on the way. I tuck the idea away in the attic of my heart, thinking, If only …
Several months later, scrubbing potatoes by the window at the kitchen sink, I watch my elderly neighbor shuffle around in his backyard, shoveling snow. In summer, he and his wife spend hours each day planting, watering, weeding and coaxing incredible beauty out of dry ground. It has always perplexed me, actually, because I’ve never seen anyone else in their yard. It seems like such a waste to sculpt beauty for no one to see.
Standing at the kitchen counter, I think about the notebook I carry around with me that probably has 200 titles of blog posts and ideas to write about. Some of those words will grow, blossom and die without a single other person ever reading them—just a secret thought between God and me. But some will be cut and handed out for others to enjoy (though, like freshly cut flowers, they will likely be forgotten with the next day’s round of blog posts, email newsletters and online journals).
What a waste, I think. But then I begin to wonder …
I did something foolish last week. I took my children, aged 3 months, two and four to a museum–during Christmas break. Every other child, parent and grandparent apparently thought the museum sounded like an excellent idea as well.
Not good listeners even on a good day, my two littles sprinted in opposite directions, dodging through narrow spaces, behind strollers and slow walkers as if in a race to disappear the fastest. On high alert, I won the game even with a baby snuggled into my chest: not a single child was lost even for a second.
But each child at some point in the day looked up from playing, didn’t see me and began to panic, tears welling up in their eyes, little heads darting side to side, scanning the crowd for mommy. But as soon as they’d start to lose it, I’d creep through the crowd and touch them, “I’m here,” I’d say. “Don’t worry, I’ve been right here all along.” And back to playing they would go.
Can I be honest with you? 2016 was a difficult year for me. We moved from Chicago to Colorado early in 2015 and visited 12 churches in 18 months, unable to settle into the right community. I got pregnant with baby number three a year after moving and found myself buried in sadness, exhaustion and despair. Most people know about post-partum depression, but I had never heard of being depressed while pregnant.
The endless 90 degree days of summer beat me down so most afternoons I was grateful for TV to entertain my children. Usually a healthy person and an optimist, I didn’t recognize this woman sprawled out on the bathroom floor next to the pile of tissues or the woman who would jump into a car on a Saturday afternoon just to speed through the canyon alone in an effort to stop the numbness.
So this week as I moved on from my December tradition of mulling over the Christmas story, I wandered with John the Baptist and Jesus back into the wilderness again. In the pre-dawn light of a dried-up Christmas tree, top-loaded with ornaments because my children picked them off one by one (whose great idea was it to put untouchable toys on a tree, anyway?), I pulled the baby close and opened to the book of Luke.
Jesus pushes through the crowds and steps into the water. As he prays, heaven cracks open and an ordinary snow white dove, the Holy Spirit in bodily form, lands on Jesus. A Voice booms from heaven. The words I read next slam into my soul.
At this point in the story, I glance up at my children who have just come in with their bedhead, footy PJ’s, sippy cups of milk and glistening noses. Their 24-minute show has ended and they are shrieking, wanting breakfast. My infant son has finally drifted off to sleep again at my breast as I precariously balance Bible, journal, pen and coffee mug on the edge of the couch. My husband herds the hungry ones into the kitchen and I wink at him, grateful for another five minutes to read. I reread the words.
“You are my beloved Son, in you I am well-pleased.”
I remember my children at the museum, terrified they were lost. And I think about myself four months ago, wandering in the fog. Like a small child playing hide-and-seek, I thought that in closing my eyes I couldn’t be seen. I imagine God speaking now, his fire igniting my deadened soul. “You are my beloved daughter, Leslie. In you I am well-pleased.”
God did not say to Jesus, “I am pleased with you because you have a high calling, are perfect or are destined for greatness.” He did not point to His miraculous powers, authoritative words or usefulness to Him. Instead, God tapped Hisshoulder, saying, “I’m here—the Holy Spirit in the form of a plain old dove. I won’t leave. You are my beloved and I am pleased with you.”
Are there any other words a child would rather hear from her parent?
You are beloved.
I am pleased with you.
God is with me—loving me–even when I feel alone and undeserving. I had a dream once where I was lost in a crowded building. Suddenly a strong hand grasped mine, leading me out and away to safety. Single at the time, I knew I wasn’t just yearning for a lover or companion, I knew that hand belonged to God Himself. Every time I try to run away from God, I find I can’t. He is magnetic, drawing me back, compelling me to face Him once again.
Even when I lose my way, He never loses sight of me. Even as I put my head down, absorbed in menial tasks, hobbies or even guilty pleasures, He sees me. He waits for me to look up and notice His adoring gaze, just as we watch our earthly children at play. And sometimes we don’t look up at all. That’s when he comes to us, and gently gives our shoulder a tap.
As we begin 2017, know these words spoken over Jesus are meant for you, too. If we are children of God, then we are clothed with Christ, gifted with fire and Spirit.
You are beloved. You are cherished. You are adored.
As a mama who is often frustrated, ungrateful and annoyed by my role, I also pray these words will set me ablaze with greater love for my children. I pray my kids won’t remember harsh words, minutes squandered hiding behind my phone or less-than-attentive responses, but that one day they’ll be able to say:
“My mom? Oh, she adored me. And she sparkled with life because she belonged to Jesus.”