Where does the time go? Mostly, my smartphone steals mine. Months ago, I downloaded a simple app to put limits on the time I spend on my phone. I used it for a week, and then gave up. What I didn’t realize was that the app continued tracking my phone usage—for months. When I finally opened it again and saw the stats, I felt queasy.
I unlock my screen 100-150 times a day. On average, I spend two hours a day on my phone. That’s 14 hours a week, 56 hours a month, and 672 hours a year. That is 28 full days of life, or 40 days if you factor in sleeping 7 hours a night.
I surrender 40 days a year to my smartphone.
As an extrovert, I used to feel if I didn’t tell someone about a thought or experience I had, it was as if it never happened. Now, if it is not documented electronically, it’s as if it didn’t happen.
Some jobs—like being a writer—require us to “build a platform.” But is this a pitfall? Maybe it’s not as much of a win as it seems—like the checkout clerk who tells you, “You saved $30 today!” when you have to spend $150 if you want to “save.” What is the cost of social media and smartphone use? We forfeit time alone, time with friends and family, time to observe life, and time with God, just to gain three followers, 40 likes, and 6 comments.
What if in my frenzy to post small slips of joy, wonder or beauty, I’m actually missing them?
Sometimes I hide in the bathroom, pretending to shower, when really I’m posting on Instagram. I squander minutes checking my email, scrolling through Facebook, tapping in and out of Facebook groups, feasting on Instagram eye candy, and clicking on links listed on Twitter. I document every book read, every sweet moment with my children, every inky black tree silhouetted on a salmon sky.
I try not to make my life look too perfect, too beautiful or too interesting. I don’t take pictures of my food. Ninety-nine percent of the images on my phone never meet a stranger on the internet. I tell myself I’m not addicted. I can quit. I could not check my phone all day—if I wanted to.
But the other day I had to volunteer in my son’s class and leave my phone in the closet for two hours and I felt genuine anxiety. Like a junkie. If there were such a thing as smartphone rehab, I would check myself in immediately. I’m writing from the middle of my story, but if I’m describing you, too, then pull up a chair and let’s brainstorm treatment together…
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.
I usually try not to use the internet to glamorize my life. The internet can be the high school yearbook view of life: perfect pictures, inspiring quotes and exciting events that include the highlights without the low-lights of life. The truth is that life is more often lived in the shadows. But yesterday was full of shadows for some in our country, so today I’d like to cast some light.
My son howled after I popped the balloon he had been beating his sister on the head with yesterday morning while I was trying to get us out the door. I eventually cajoled him and the other two into their car seats, checked directions on my phone, turned on public radio and eased our minivan out of the driveway. Thank God we have a date night planned tonight, I thought.
On the radio, a woman prayed for our country. A man spoke. A chorale sang sweet subversive words.
“Once we were strangers, we were welcomed, now we belong and believe in this land,” seemed a passive-aggressive jab at the new administration. With the final line, I exhaled, feeling tension fall away:
“Keep faith, guard mind, take heart, guard spirit, take courage, keep watch, feed longing, feed love.”
Take courage. Feed love.
My children stared quietly out the window as we drove from our small town to the larger college town, passing golden fields that stretched to low hills, with snowy mountains lurking behind.
“Why are those people clapping?” my two-year-old asked.
“Because we have a new president,” I answered dully. He had begun his first speech as the President of the United States.
Driving in circles, I switched off the radio mid-speech to focus on finding my destination. An Asian woman pointed to an empty parking space as I passed the resale shop we were meeting at. Strapping on the baby and reminding the other two to hold my hand, we found the rest of the group inside. Two Korean women browsed the women’s clothing, a Costa Rican high schooler smiled shyly at us and the leader—a Romanian woman—introduced herself and said we’d go next door for brunch in a few minutes.
At the restaurant, I settled my two kids with French toast and pushed back all the plates so my four-month-old couldn’t grab them. I looked up at the friendly new faces and we introduced ourselves. I told them I had lived in China and miss interacting with people from other countries and they each told me a small part of their story.
We didn’t talk about what was happening at that moment in Washington as we sat in the basement of an old home-turned café. We didn’t talk about marches, protests, inequality or misogyny. Instead, we communicated with the smiles that transcend language barriers, sharing simple facts about ourselves that help others build a picture of who we are in the shortest amount of time.
Afterwards, I beamed as my husband asked me how it was. This sort of thing feeds my soul. Goodbye Friday morning MOPS with your crafts and small talk, hello Friday morning International Women’s Club.
We got a babysitter in the evening and skipped like freed foals back to the college town. Looking for parking, cheery light burst through the windows of the music building as people mingled around and shifted into lines. Holding hands, we rushed inside and found a hundred people or more listening to instructions from the caller. Part hipster, part outdoorsman, young and fit with a beard, ironed plaid shirt and camouflage ball cap, the man leading the barn dance seemed to epitomize Colorado. A blue-grass band sat with instruments poised, ready to accompany the room of expectant men, women, and even some children of every age and class.
Soon, people were shedding outer layers and downing tiny plastic cups of water. We do-se-doed, allamanded left and right and promenaded with our partner after weaving hands with three new couples in our square. By the end of the night, my feet ached and my cheeks hurt from smiling so much. We laughed at the missteps, bumbles and wrong turns and clapped like children when we all got it right.
It made me wish church were more like this—like strangers from every walk of life forced to dance together–stepping on toes, turning the wrong direction and not taking life so seriously.
Yesterday was a heavy day for some and this day after the inauguration is full of history-making events like women’s marches, speeches and protests. I, too, have big feelings. But at the micro-level, life is still being lived.
Whether government dictates it or not, we continue the work of taking courage, keeping watch, feeding longing and feeding love. We intentionally enter uncomfortable situations as we experiment and escape our hum-drum life for a couple hours to make fools of ourselves and bounce around a room with strangers. We learn how to belong by welcoming–and being–the stranger.
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted…” (Eccl. 3:1-2 KJV).
Colorado is yellow in the fall. Aspen strike the treeline of the Rockies with such a brilliant yellow, that you nearly have to squint your eyes to take them in without being blinded.
My husband and I passed these flowers blooming in a neighbor’s garden on an evening walk a few weeks ago. “Have these always been here?” my husband asked.
“I don’t think so,” I said. “I’m pretty sure they only bloom in the fall.” Though it’s a bit cliche, those perfect yellow blooms got me thinking about this season of motherhood, asking myself, Am I blooming here, or just biding my time, hoping that this season will pass quickly? A week and a half ago, I took the one-month old baby and fled to my parent’s house over the highest road in the nation. I just needed a nap. My parents took care of me, fed me, held the baby and allowed me to rest for nearly 48 hours. On the majestic drive home in the early hours of the morning, I forced myself to spend the two hours in silence. I attempted to clear my head and just listen.
In the silence, I began to formulate a list of priorities. Watching the center line kept me from careening over the edge, much like keeping my eyes on Jesus is holding me from sailing right into the tired mama’s tendency towards postpartum depression. My list right now is simply this:
Sleep when I can Exercise daily Get outdoors daily Eat healthy food Seek God Talk to another adult But I also felt like I needed to remember my husband. For the past few months, we’ve been high-fiving one another and passing on the baton in the relay-race of parenthood. We are partners and team-players, but are we lovers, friends and companions? This newborn’s needs must come first right now, but is my husband a close second? So we are instituting weekly one to two hour date nights for a couple months and getting better about being intentional with one another. I’m trying to remember to make eye contact and really see him even when I can barely see straight because of sleeplessness. It’s been a week and a half since my assessment and I am feeling more emotionally healthy. On the days I don’t walk alone, I strap on the baby and push us out of the house for a walk. The exercise and fall are ministering to my weary soul.
I will be the first to tell anyone that I am not a pinteresty mom. I don’t do crafts or cutesy activities. But in a moment of weakness last week, I drew up a simple scavenger hunt for my kids to do during the “hike” part of our walk.
The kids looked for animal tracks in the hardened path, picked up sticks and were delighted when we discovered three apple trees along the way. I tried not to smack the baby as I hoisted a stick up to dislodge the apples, yelling at my kids to get out of the way so they didn’t get hit in the head. Our mouths full of sweet apples, we laughed at one another and delighted over the special unexpected treat.
It was one of the first times I have felt fully present with my kids in a really long time.
Over the past few months, an image has come to mind as I’ve thought about my life as a mother. So many times, I feel like I am sitting in the stands while my kids are out on the field playing. But I am the type of disengaged spectator who is scrolling through social media on her phone, wishing she were anywhere but here.
I see my kids as an interruption.
Instead, I hope to be not only paying attention to them, but their greatest fan. In his book, Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson said that he always knew that his mother adored him. I hope the my kids will be able to say the same of me. A friend sent me a verse several weeks ago that had spoken to her as she prepared to have a baby of her own. It has also come to mind over the past days and weeks as I’ve struggled to be content in this season of life that can feel so restrictive and confining. “Trust in the Lord and do good; Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness” (Ps. 37:3 NASB).
The word that stands out to me is “cultivate.” Cultivating requires staying in one place and tending to my garden. Patience, persistence and attention are needed if I am going to see my seeds grow. This is the season of staying put and doing the back-breaking, repetitive work of watering, weed-pulling and guarding from both frost and heat.
This is the season of loving when I see very little return for my love. It is the season of tilling hard soil and wondering if my words will ever sink down deep. And the verse that follows is one that ironically, I clung hard to in my many years of longing for a husband and children:
“Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4 NASB).
It is not just in delighting in nature, my “me time,” my husband, or my children that I will find the soul rest that I seek. It is in delighting in my God. Nevertheless, my prayer in this season is this:
“Lord, Help me to listen more than I speak, read more than I write,
laugh more than I cry, praise more than I criticize and be more than I do.”
I had the privilege ofwriting over at The Mudroom a week (or two) ago and with all the life shifts, I am just now getting around to sharing it here (quickly…all three children are sleeping!).
Legs curled under my body, I stole a few minutes from studying to sit on the floral couch in the chapel hidden in the attic of Williston Hall, scribbling in my journal. I’d sometimes sneak in here for an hour of quiet between classes since it was in the middle of campus and my dorm was a much farther walk away. Suddenly, the door burst open and a woman in her early 40’s entered with her two school-aged daughters. She peered around the room, eyes wide. “I spent so much time here,” she whispered. “And it hasn’t changed at all…”
In her, I saw my future self. What will life be like when I’m 40? Where will I have gone? What will I have done? I thought. Later in the day as I crossed Blanchard lawn on my way to class, I passed some alumni visiting for their twenty year reunion and one of them stopped me to ask for directions. Before turning away, though, he said, “Enjoy this. These are the best years of your life.” The “best”? So it’s all downhill after college? I thought. Sad. Now that I am nearing 40, I understand more of what that man meant. From his life of mortgages, insurance, bills, retirement savings, car payments and parenting, what my dad’s description of college as “living with your friends and studying a bit on the side” sounds pretty amazing.
I now have two teeny children who I avoid taking to the grocery store at all costs. But when I do, I catch some grandmother fondly admiring my two blondies and I know what she is about to say. “It goes so fast. These are just the best years!” she’ll call over from the other aisle. And if she’s especially anointed that day, she’ll add, “Enjoy them!” Another woman left much the same message on one of my blog posts about motherhood recently. In fact, I think she actually used the words, “Those years with little ones were the best years of my life.” …continue reading at The Mudroom. ~~~
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.
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.”
Writing while simultaneously being a mother to teeny children is a bit like trying to renovate a house while you‘re still living in it. House projects–or writing goals–abound, but messy, magical, mundanelife cannot stand still for you complete them.But is it possible that everyfinished project, however inconvenient, will eventually improve your quality of life–and the quality of life of your family?
Since I began writing more seriously eight months ago, several older people of faith have warned me not to get “too distracted and carried away” by writing, lest it infringe on my duties as a mother. As a result, I’ve been on the hunt for other mamas who are leaning into this tension of the dual callings of art and homeand can help me answer the question: Is it possible to be a mother and a writer–and still do each one well?
Madeline L’Engle is a hero for those of us seeking to debunk the myth that being a writer and mama are in conflict. L’Engle inspires us as writer mamas because she managed to have a flourishing writing career while raising three children. I recently listened to a podcast by Ann Kroeker where she spoke of getting the opportunity to ask L’Engle how she was able to be a writer and mother at the same time during those years when her kids were small. After a long pause, L’Engle finally looked at her and answered, “It was hard.”
But in her book, A Circle of Quiet, L’Engle recounts a time when her eldest child noticed that she had been in a bad mood lately and said to her, “Mother, you’ve been getting cross and edgy with us, and you haven’t been doing much writing. We wish you’d get back to the typewriter” (p. 199). In Walking on Water, she refers to this story and says, “I had to learn that I was a better mother and wife when I was working than when I was not” (p. 166).
Like L’Engle, writing has made me a better mother. It sets me on high alert to notice the beauty, meaning or hilarity in the ordinary. Writing plants seeds of gratitude within me as I am more apt todiscover the magnalia Dei, the marvels of God, in my daily life.I have the mind of an explorer, always on the quest for new places, people or ideas. Writing shoves me into the presence of other pilgrims, seekers, and beauty-finders. It gives me the opportunity to “live life twice,” as Natalie Goldberg said, and finally work through my past, present and future with infant eyes. Like thumbing back through my pictures from a trip, writing allows me to slowly reexamine and delight in the minutia I might otherwise have missed as time whizzed by.
Writing also heals. As someone who has always called my journal my “personal counselor,” writing unlocks old, dusty treasure troves of experiences and gives them value as they are polished and given away. Healing comes as I write in league with the Spirit, who illuminates my path and reveals the times when I was not walking alone. Writing enables me to offer a more whole version of myself to all who know me.
Fitting writing into the more than full-time job of being a wife and mother has been a challenge. But L’Engle also admitted that, “For a woman who has chosen family as well as work, there’s never time, and yet somehow time is given to us” (Walking on Water, p. 165). We make time for what is important to us. It‘s been amazing to find that if I am willing to let my floor be a bit messier, the laundry to linger a little longer and the T.V. screen to sit blank and lonely, that I have time in the margins of my day to write. L’Engle remarked that “A certain amount of stubbornness—pig-headedness—is essential” to the mother who wants to write (Walking on Water, p. 165). For me, that is a 5 AM wake-up, writing during the kids’ nap time, scribbling notes for articles while sautéing vegetables for dinner and spending free evenings thumping on my keyboard.
But I also have to accept my limitations as a writer during this season of being a mother to tiny ones. In the conclusion of her podcast, Ann Kroeker finally got a more satisfactory answer to her question about juggling motherhood and a writing career from the writer Holly Miller. Holly told her, “You still have time to develop your career as a writer, but you only have NOW with your kids. Your kids are so little and they’re little for such a short time. You’ll never regret spending this time with your kids.” But she also encouraged Ann to “Keep your finger in the publishing world. Keep it going on a small scale and your time will come.” Years later, Ann agrees that these small deposits into her writing career did add up.
I will have more time later to write. Now is the season for delighting in the magical world of child’s play: splashing in the sprinkler, sending dandelion seeds flying, lying on the ground to poke ants and rollie pollies, taking very slow walks around the block, tickling again and again, building towers, blowing hundreds of iridescent bubbles that float into the neighbors’ yard, making toy cars talk, endlessly making up answers to the question “why?,” rolling out play dough snakes and zipping baby dolls into tiny clothing.
It is talking to my children about this God-man, Jesus, who loves us so, reading stories about talking animals, kissing ouchies, holding up traffic to spot the prairie dogs in the field, finding pine cones in the pots in my cupboards and deliberating over whether picking up the toys again is really worth the effort. It’s wondering if I am still the same person that I was four years ago and deciding that I am not. Parts of me have been lost, but other, more fruitful branches, have grown where the others have been stripped and pruned. Though I may not be writing for five hours a day, this season of slowness is training me in the discipline of noticing.
Tears streamed down my face as I listened to Ann’s podcast because it validated me as a writer, but also gave me permission to enjoy my children right now. To the other writer mamas wondering if their callings of motherhood and writing are in conflict, please know that they do not need to be. You will be more whole and available to your family if you are using your gift and following your call as a writer. But also know that you do not have to achieve all of your goals right now.
Life is long, but the time with our kids is short, so keep in step with your kids and allow your writing to have the same pace that they do—even if that is stopping often, moving slowly and developing gradually. Our writing in this season has a similar rhythm and stride. It is slow, but there is progress as you slowly renovate your rooms. Keep celebrating the small advances in your life as a mother and in your career as a writer and know that these two are not mutually exclusive, but inextricably bound as you settle into the home of the mama writer self you were created to be. ~~~ Are you a writer mama? What has your experience been? ~~~
Resources for Writer Mamas: Ann Kroeker (Writing Coach) Podcast mentioned in this post: Here’s to the Writer Moms (just 7 minutes!)
On (most) Thursdays this year, I’ll share thoughts, tips and inspiration for writers. I’m certainly not an expert, but am simply seeking personal encouragement in this art and want to share with anyone who’s also trying to find their way as a writer. These short posts will come from books, articles, the Bible, my own thoughts, and other people. Subscribe in the upper right corner so that you don’t miss a post. If you’re new to the series, find all the posts here. Come meet me in the comments–I’d love to read your thoughts on writing.
Today, I’m honored to share for the first time at The Mudroom, a site that describes itself as a “place for stories emerging from the mess.”
Life is so different from what we expected, I thought, folding my teaching clothes and placing them with my husband’s dance shoes in the bag for Goodwill. Before marriage, I imagined I would live a radical life through overseas missions, inner-city teaching or ministry to refugees. My husband was determined to follow his call as a stage actor in Chicago.
And now? We rent a three bedroom home with a fenced back yard in Colorado. I stay home with our kids and the most radical thing about us is that I used to live in China and my husband is currently an audio book narrator. Apart from that, life is rolling along much like interstate driving on cruise control: fast, smooth and predictable.
A few weeks ago, my husband suddenly began praying for “a vision for our family,” which dug up some soul questions I had hoped to bury.
In the past few years, I’ve inwardly rebelled against the way the church promised me Big Dreams and a Big Life. I’ve discovered the truth: that most of life is made up of mundane moments and tasks sprinkled with splashes of delight. There seem to be a selective few who get to be world changers.
My generation of 30-somethings is wrestling with the incongruity of the youth group and Christian college messages of living a “sold out and radical” life for Jesus in contrast with our cheerio-decorated, mortgage-paying realities. We’re finding that following Jesus is not quite as glamorous as we expected…
Peering out of the airplane window at orange dirt, bright green fields and spirals of smoke rising up from the waking villages, I wiped away tears with my shirt sleeve. I was finally in Africa.
In my first weeks in Uganda, every sight and sound in its exotic newness was titillating and welcome. I was immediately captivated by the unusual food, danceable music, lyrical language, brightly colored clothing, funny store signs and friendly faces. My school-girl crush had become a reality and I was in love.
But within a few weeks into my six month stay I was crying less joyous tears on a daily basis. Alone, I felt misunderstood, annoyed, purposeless and overwhelmed by the amount of energy it took to try and adapt to a culture that was so different from my own. All that had once been quirky or fascinating was now aggravating. I was in culture shock.
Fast forward fifteen years and I now find myself adapting to another new culture: motherhood and staying home with teeny children. I was in a school setting as a student or teacher full-time for nearly thirty years, so quitting work after my first baby and not living in the vice of the education structure felt amazing–at first. Although I had a grueling labor with my first child (didn’t we all?), I was elated to have a son and felt like I was on a love drug in those hours and days after giving birth. The honeymoon stage of motherhood lasted a year or more for me.
It‘s been nearly four years since my last day of work as a teacher and the magic mommy tonic has worn off. What used to be quirky and darling—even funny—has now become frustrating. I find I am transported back to my Africa days of feeling misunderstood, annoyed, purposeless and overwhelmed. I am in the culture shock of motherhood. But perhaps some of the ways I learned to combat culture shock abroad can also apply to adapting to this culture of motherhood.
Be a Learner The best advice I received before traveling abroad was to go into a new culture with the attitude of a learner. It’s easy as a mother to see our children as blank slates to be filled. We feel are all-knowing and our job is to teach our children how to be human beings.
Yesterday I sat in a lawn chair in the backyard watching my kids playing in the sprinkler for the first time this season. Slipping and laughing, they went through a range of emotions as they tried to fill toys with water only to be splashed by the moving water. As I watched, I envied their ability to play without a care or worry in the world. And I thought about how Jesus tells us to be like little children.
If we become students of our children, we will learn how to live the way Jesus wants us to live—loving, curious, emotional, dependent, silly, playful, trusting, excited about the little things, and without worry or shame. Children are much like the lilies of the field and the ravens of the air that Jesus spoke of in Luke 12—completely unaware of the cares of the world, but confident that their needs will be met. Instead of always looking for ways to change them, sometimes I need to become their student.
Sense of Humor Another way to fight against culture shock is to maintain a sense of humor. I could cry about having to locate the two resident cockroaches in the outhouse I had to use everyday in Africa, or I could greet them by name before doing my business. Every day seemed to offer plenty of opportunities to either have a mental break down or break down laughing. Motherhood is much the same.
Last week I had one of those epic grocery store trips. The kids were in the shopping cart cars that I have a love-hate relationship with, “driving” along cutely until my almost two-year-old daughter bit my three-year old son. Screaming ensued, so I strapped my daughter in the front part of the cart so I could console my son. When I turned after putting him back in the toy car, cherry tomatoes were scattered all over the aisle and my daughter grinned with tomato seeds dripping down her chin. A sympathetic woman helped me pick them up and I hustled to the check-out to put an end to my misery, my daugher taking off her sandals and dropping them several times before getting there. I took my son out of the car part so the cashier could more easily get our groceries and he began howling again. I wanted to join him.
But then I caught the compassionate eye of a mom in the next aisle and instead I laughed. I feel like there is a level of disastrous events that eventually tips the scale to the ridiculous and truly the only thing to do is to acknowledge the hilarity and laugh. Take a Break Sometimes you just need to escape for a little while. I lived with a family in a village in Uganda, but I had several opportunities during my time there to get away with another American friend for the weekend. Getting out of the routine and just remembering who I was again was enough to help me get through to the next period of time. Similarly, as moms we don’t need to feel guilty about escaping for some time away. Whether it is a couple of hours at a coffee shop, a weekend away with girl friends or a day in a cabin for a personal retreat, we need time away from our children to center us and give us space to regroup and remember our identity apart from being a mom. Being vs. doing The last stages of culture shock involve finally adapting and gaining some semblance of independence in your new culture. In order to this, you need to develop relationships, learn the language and shed some aspects of your old culture in order to assimilate to your new culture. In motherhood, this can look like making new friends, really listening to our children, meeting their needs and accepting that sometimes “being” has more value than “doing” in this new culture.
In Uganda, my job in the slums was to file records and proofread documents. I felt useless, ignorant and angry that my qualifications were going unused. On rough days with my kids, it’s easy for me to focus on all the ways my skills and education are being wasted while I roll a hundred play dough snakes, read books, change diapers, sit through library story times and fold tiny clothes. I didn’t get my masters for this, I think.
But one of the greatest lessons I learned living abroad is the value of being over doing. I eventually developed strong friendships with Ugandans that made living there not only bearable, but meaningful. Most other cultures value relationships over tasks. In the culture of motherhood, presence trumps productivity. Sometimes my children need me to stop doing and just be with them.
I now look back on my time in Uganda with “yearbook eyes,” remembering the sights, sounds and friends that caused me to fall in love in the first place. I’m sure this period of time with little ones at home will be much the same. But in the meantime, I’m asking for Jesus to strengthen me and give me the ability to be a learner, laugh, know when to get away, and celebrate being over doing. If you’re a struggling mama, I pray the same for you today.
Can you relate? Please share in the comments! I’d love to hear your story.
For me, it was last Saturday. Navigating the traffic and unquestioningly following my phone’s female voice through Denver, I pulled in the parking lot. Turning off the ignition, I took a deep breath, straightened my clothes and went inside. My first writing conference.
At least we don’t actually have to write, I thought.
Then they might discover my secret–that I am an amateur who is still struggling to label myself “writer.” The atrium was filled with people who were chatting, rifling through the materials and munching on pastries as I wandered around trying to look busy. Introvert writers are not ones to shoot the breeze with petrified newbies.
This conference was unique in that it was a collection of men and women who were mainly from Colorado who all had one other thing in common: Christ. We were there not only to grow in craft and practice, but in vision.
Having survived the conference (which ended up being very mild on the scale of truly “terrifying” life events), these are three things that greatly impacted my vision as a Christian writer:
1. Give the mundane its “beautiful due” John Blase began his session with this quote:
“My only duty was to describe reality as it had come to me, to give the mundane its beautiful due.”
He asked each of us in the room the reason why we write and shared about two authors he loves, Kent Haruf and Richard Hugo, who have mastered making the mundane beautiful.
At the end of his session, my worst fears materialized: we actually had to write. He asked us to write for five minutes about a very ordinary topic–our favorite pair of shoes. As the published novelists and authors shared their five minute scribblings, I was astounded by the magnificent words they had crafted in such a short time. One woman somehow connected red shoes with the death of her mother and had us all in tears. It was amazing. Needless to say, I didn’t volunteer, but simply hoped that some of the talent in that room would seep into me.
But it inspired me to see my life through a new lens instead of trying to escape it to find something more fantastical and adventurous.
2. Take a risk James Rubart led a session called “Stepping Out of the Shadows” where he shared a story about overcoming a personal fear. He challenged us to “flip,” or do the scary thing that we’ve been avoiding doing as way of exercising the freedom from fear and bondage that we have in Christ. He shared the following quote:
“You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.”
3. Don’t write for God or about God, write with God Allen Arnold led a session about living in the “orphan realm” vs. living in the “freedom realm.” He reminded us that through Christ, God awakens orphans to their true identity to live in freedom.
He also emphasized that the creative process is never meant to be done alone. “If you can do it without God, you’re dreaming too small,” he said. He emphasized that the writer has the privilege of co-creating with God as we write the story we’re living.
I drove the hour home Saturday in silence, soaking the truth, absorbing the words that had been spoken audibly and inaudibly to my soul all day. Peace. Joy. Holy motivation.
Permission. The thing I most needed and need every day so far as a writer. Permission to write. Reminders that this is good. That God is smiling. That we are in this together.
On Thursdays this year, I’ll share thoughts, tips and inspiration for writers. I’m certainly not an expert, but am simply seeking personal encouragement in this art and want to share with anyone who’s also trying to find their way as a writer. These short posts will come from books, articles, the Bible, my own thoughts, and other people. Check back each week or subscribe for new posts. Please introduce yourself in the comments–I’d love to meet you and hear about your thoughts on writing.