I published this earlier this month at SheLoves Magazine. Click over to read the full article!
“When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” –Mother Superior, The Sound of Music
Currently, I am in a season with many walls, few doors, and quite a few windows to the outside world—taunting me by what I’m allegedly missing. I’ve been here before—as a teenager trapped in my parent’s home, as a college student waiting for my life to begin, as a thirty-year-old single woman (with a sex drive and ticking biological clock) surrounded by families, as a teacher going on to the next year because it was expected. And now I’m here as a mother to three littles, walled-in by naptimes, temper tantrums and mind-numbing routines.
Perhaps you’re here, too, though your walls may look different than mine. Illness, job insecurity, infertility, a sick parent or another impossible circumstance may leave you feeling trapped against your will, walled-in and alone. You have underutilized gifts, unfulfilled callings and pent-up passions.
Part of what I’m realizing is that just because strength, intelligence or giftings are harnessed for a time doesn’t mean they are weakened or disappear. In fact, Old Mother Maturity is still at work on our juvenile souls, training us by her delays and uncomfortable restrictions.
Last week I eased my minivan out of our driveway into the cul-de-sac and caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye. Poised like a queen was a huge doe, beaming her gaze directly at me. But the most alarming part was that she stood trapped inside my neighbor’s fenced yard.
How did she get in there? I thought. And how will she get out?
The image haunted me all day long. It took a while to decode my emotions, but when I did, I accepted this living parable as a gift to me in my current season. It was as if God was saying,
“I see you.
Yes, you are fenced in right now, unable to travel far or do so much of what you thought you would do with your life. But the fact that you are restricted does not diminish your strength. And it does not mean you will be here forever.”
That doe was strength under control. She was choosing containment just as I am choosing it now for the sake of my little people.
And through forfeited freedom, I am learning the richness of soulful living.
Science calls this “potential energy.” Potential energy is the energy an object has because of its position, rather than its motion. It is a bicycle perched on a hill, a nearly poured-out pitcher of water or a book balanced on someone’s head. It is a doe behind a fence. It is harnessed energy, ready to explode into action. It is doors slammed shut, waiting for windows to be thrown open …Continue reading at SheLoves …
Last summer, hugely pregnant with my third child, I took my 1- and 3-year-olds on a walk every afternoon. I’d saunter along behind them, absently resting my hand on my taut belly, hoping to receive some communication in the form of a heel or shoulder blade in my palm. My head ached from the dry Colorado heat, and every joint and ligament protested at being stretched to capacity. I had no delight left in me, so I drank in the delight of my children, filling my own empty reservoir with their joy.
We spent over an hour on a half mile stretch of concrete path that wound behind our neighborhood. The path only extended another half mile beyond that and was barricaded by a chain-link fence, though there were rumors the city planned on extending the path one day.
On these walks, my kids would lie on the sidewalk, watching ants and poking roly-polies until they curled into a ball. They’d pick dandelions by the fist-full and stuff their pockets with ruby red berries I hoped weren’t poisonous. Wild, brown bunnies would dart out of bushes and skitter away as my son and daughter chased them under fences.
For once, I was glad to roam at the rhythm of my children. The first four years of motherhood had been a constant tension: my kids wanted to go slow; I wanted to go fast. They wanted to savor simple pleasures; I wanted the adventurous life I had lived before children. They wanted to play; I wanted to be productive.
But last summer, I finally surrendered. My children won the battle for slow, small and simple.
So now, instead of resenting them for weighing me down, holding me back, and stunting my growth, I’m starting to accept that my children are not a burden. In fact, they are teaching me how to live.
My children are my wonder-catchers. They are my sieve—capturing every small, insignificant, glorious life particle before it can slip away. Like getting eyeglasses for the first time, my children magnify life, bringing every bug, spider web, sparkly rock, quirky person, and familiar place into sharp clarity. We do not go far or fast, but they are teaching me to marvel at the mysteries of a God hidden in plain sight. As a writer and worshiper of God, slowness is a gift, for I am honing the ability to notice and delight.
I’ve had these prophetic words by Madeleine L’Engle scribbled into my prayer journal since my pre-kid years. I never knew their fulfillment would come in the form of motherhood:
“Slow me down, Lord … When I am constantly running there is no time for being. When there is no time for being there is no time for listening” (Walking on Water 13).
In my former life, I was a doer. I led, organized, taught, and planned. I lived in other countries, got my masters, traveled alone on 27-hour train rides across China, and spoke other languages. But it turns out God was not impressed. Instead, he wanted to teach me how to be nearsighted again. He wanted to slow me down. Not just so I could see his work in the world, but so I could hear his still, small voice …
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.
I just took a personality test and discovered that I am “The Achiever.”
This wasn’t a huge surprise.
I’m the type who decides and actually follows through with goals. I wanted to be a runner, so I started running daily. I was determined to learn to cook, so I made a weekly menu and forced my roommates to join me for our home-cooked meal every day for a year. When I decided to start blogging last year, I jumped in the day before a challenge to write EVERY DAY for 31 days—and I did it. And when I moved to China and saw that a friend of mine who had been there for a month was already advancing in his language skills, I found a tutor to come over EVERY DAY to help me. And after five years, I learned to speak, read and write Chinese.
Hello. I am Leslie Verner and I am an Achiever.
But now this achiever is also a mom. I have two children with one on the way, and now any figurative race I run is a bit like competing with your legs tied together. AND you’re blind-folded. AND you have to run backwards.
So today, my major “achievements” of the day amounted to getting my children dressed, fed a semi-nutritious meal, teeth brushed, curly boy hair tamed with water and wispy girl hair combed into a tiny pony tail. I’m even proud to admit that not only are my own teeth brushed, but I even washed my hair for the first time in a week and managed to go for a walk.
At the beginning of the summer, I had aspirations of daily Bible time with my kids, running until I was 36 weeks pregnant like I did with my daughter (I made it to 20 weeks this time), visiting a diverse park in my city once a week to strike up friendships with international student families and actually planning activities using Pinterest as a springboard (ha).
What I didn’t take into account was that pregnancy would suck the wind from my self-motivated, driven, over-achieving sails. I sit here now, sails flapping in the wind, with my kids stuck (screaming) in my boat in the middle of a sea that I can’t navigate us out of. And I just can’t find the energy to hoist up these sails, make a decision about where to go or even admire the scenery.
But God is beginning to show me that this hugely pregnant body of mine that feels more like a handicap than a blessing is, in fact, swaddled tightly in grace.
Pregnancy is the strong arm that forces the achievers like me to just stop.
Stop doing, achieving, scheming, strategizing and striving and just BE. Be a mommy. Be a wife. Be a beloved daughter of God. Be served, loved and spoiled. Be simple. Cut corners. Accept foot rubs. Do less. Sit on benches. Walk slowly. Order take-out. Indulge in pedicures. Let people carry things. Take elevators. Receive.
Embrace this season of slowness that feels like weakness. There is strength to be found there.
A year ago I was training for a half marathon, running about 10 miles in a go. I explored the city, ran trails hugging the Rocky Mountains, crossed streams and laughed at prairie dogs that warned one another of my arrival just in time to dive back into their holes, their whistles trailing behind them. Today, it took me 40 minutes to walk less than two miles, with a brief stop at a bench at the halfway point. At 36 weeks pregnant, I can’t go fast or far from home. My feet pound the same steps of the same path and I’m passed by the same retired go-getters who comment that “I’m walking for two” or “Must be any day now, eh?”
But in the slowness and the sameness, I strain to hear that still, small voice that speaks to me as I pass one strong tree after another, standing stately by the stream my path parallels. The Voice whispers, “She shall be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water that brings forth its fruit in its season. And its leaf does not wither; and in whatever she does, she prospers.” And the words, strangely familiar, are the first of many such songs of hope for the weary that I happen to come across in Psalm 1 in the few minutes of quiet I snatch in the mornings.
Firmly planted. Watered. Bearing fruit.
Without even moving?
Like the story that Jesus shares with His disciples about birds not panicking over lack of food or flowers not being frantic about finding clothing, I can sink into the soil here for a little while. A constantly transplanted seed cannot thrive as well as one that stays firmly planted. And so God seems to be urging me to remain as I am. Accept this gift. Dig deep, be watered and revel in the slow work of God.
“Cease striving and know that I am God. I will be exalted in the nations, I will be exalted in all the earth,” another psalm singer belts out.
My pregnant body is teaching me the beauty of diminishing, distilling my faith into a silent pool to soak in instead of a body of water to forge.
But this changed body is also teaching me about love.
It is only twisted God humor that chose women, who innately struggle more with body image than men, to be the ones to gain weight, be stretched, left with permanent scars and marks like the rotten milk ruts left under the lazy susan of my parent’s kitchen table, charted with purple veins mapping courses to unknown lands, left with too much saggy skin some places and not enough padding in others and a belly button that resembles a Muppet nose when all is said and done. Good one, God.
Or perhaps rather than a malicious meting out of a curse on our bodies, it is God’s upside-down way He likes to hand out unexpected blessings. A severe mercy.
Sometimes I like to stand naked in front of the mirror, marveling at this ludicrous body that doesn’t feel like mine. I tenderly touch the too-tight skin stretched over a tiny human body and soul growing within mine. I’m in awe of this mystery. But I also fear that my husband will laugh at making love to a body that is so deformed and abnormal—so different from the woman that he married. And yet all he ever says is exactly what I need to hear:
“You are beautiful.”
“You are the perfect size.”
“Your body is incredible.”
And in those moments I know that I am truly loved. Not for how fast I am, what a good cook I am, what I can achieve in school, how many languages I am fluent in, how creative of a mom I am, or how unblemished and perfect my feminine body is.
I am loved because I am loved.
Not even loved in spite of being pregnant, but loved even because I am pregnant. I’m loved just because I’m loved. And I will be loved even after this baby leaves its forever tattoos behind.
Pregnancy is a gift. God gives some women the inconvenient, uncomfortable, sometimes embarrassing experience of pregnancy to teach us that we can no longer define ourselves by our achievements or by our appearance. He wants us to be weak so that we will accept help from others. He wants us to slow down so that we will notice more. He wants us to be needy so that we will look around for healing and find that He is already feeding, clothing and nurturing us in ways unique to us. He wants us to cease striving and know that He is God—and that we are not. And He wants us to change form so that we will know that we were never loved for our bodies to begin with.
And so in these final weeks of pregnancy, though I feel frustrated at being grounded when my over-achieving self wants to be out doing, I will think about those strong trees firmly planted by streams of water, calmly stretching their roots down to the stream. They do not fear heat or cold, rain or storm, because they are nourished by the Source of everything good. Just because they are not moving doesn’t mean there isn’t growth happening. And they know that not only will be they be taken care of, but that they are lavishly loved, adored even. Just like me.