87

Image87. Definitely more than 50, but not as crazy as, say, 130. I wish it were a nice, even number if it were going to be that large, but most things in my life don’t fit into nice, neat, even-numbered packages. Maybe I should be glad it was only 87.

87: the number of times during this last week, since Sunday at least, that I’ve doubted my calling as a mother. That’s roughly 17 times a day, give or take a few, and the week isn’t even over yet.  (Now, granted, we just returned from visiting family over the holidays, and I always feel a little blue after saying goodbye to the people I love that live roughly 1000 miles from me. But I digress.) 87 is the number of times I’ve thought that someone else could do this better than me; that, perhaps, I should stop kidding myself and try to look for a “real” job; that the time I invest in teaching my children to be responsive instead of reactive doesn’t really matter and who the freak really cares if my girls EVER learn to speak kindly with anyone.

87 represents the moments I’ve caved into the mommy guilt while cooking supper with a can mushroom soup AGAIN, while my well-meaning friends post recipes and pictures of their healthy suppers that include words like “organic” and “kale” and “quinoa” (keen-what?). 87 bears the tears and pain I felt when I burnt freaking pork chops in a CROCK POT. Who burns food in a Crock Pot?! Aren’t they supposed to be somewhat idiot-proof? I mean, the instructions for practically every single Crock Pot meal are: ‘Dump crap in. Push button. Serve in 8 hours.’ Seriously.  AND in addition to that, I kind of forgot to make anything to go with them…. so we had burnt pork chops and, umm, raw baby carrots as a meal. Yep. Totally rocking this Mom thing.

87 tells of the many, numerous times I’ve had to hold my tongue and not be Snarky Steph when reading yet another sweet, mothering quote informing that I am going to miss these beautiful, sweet moments when I haven’t washed my hair in a week and my girls are fighting over who breathed the most air and my son is throwing a tantrum because my husband went to the bathroom for a minute and he simply cannot stand to be in the same room with anyone who is not his father for more than, say, 30 seconds. Yes. I’m going to miss that.

87 also reveals, quietly, sneakily, the number of times I’ve had to deal with my own childhood while watching my children live out theirs. And guess what? I don’t get to choose when I have those weird, God-ordained “Let’s let go of this piece of my past” moments. I’ve had to look in the mirror and confront fear, insecurity, and worry over who I was, what I went through, and now, who I’m helping shape my own children to be. I’ve had to let things go, speak Life over myself – not New Age positive pop talk, but authentic Biblical truth— and then step out in faith, and freaking dang it if that isn’t hard to do sometimes. Especially the week after vacation. Somebody get me a Cherry coke.

Wow. What a New Year’s downer! Good thing this blog isn’t about how to be a good mother; it would kind of suck at this point. It’s about being a fearless mother. Thank you, sweet Presence of God; I feel you with me as I type out those words. (Total ADD moment, but have I ever told you how sweet His presence is?)

87 also represents the number of times I’ve felt Him call my heart, remind me who I am (who I REALLY am), comfort me in my struggles (no matter how silly), and refresh my spirit. 87 is at least the number of times His has come to me to say, “That’s not who I say you are.”

At least 87 times He’s pulled me aside to say, “I’m teaching you humility through your children to bring Myself fame through your life; I’m shaping you because I love you, and it’s hard to dance when you’re bent out of shape; I’m pulling out the hurt to free you and give you beautiful freedom songs to sing.”

87 times, at least, He’s simply held me. He’s let me cry under the pressure of not feeling like I’m doing enough as a stay-at-home-mom, and not feeling cool or relevant enough as a homeschooling mom. He’s wiped my tears and smiled big Daddy grins because I’m His beloved daughter.  He’s whispered in my ear, “You got this. I love you.” He’s given me strength to kick those lies in the face when they came around on the 88th time.

I don’t know what your number is today, Dearest Mom. Maybe you lost track around 532. I do know that your Dad knows, and that He sees and loves you through every stressful moment. He longs to comfort you and whisper freedom songs in your ear. He sees every opportunity in your life as a chance not to make you stronger, but to draw you closer and build intimacy; to learn to lean on His grace alone; to lessen the resistance between that moment of “I can’t do this anymore!” and “I surrender, Daddy God.”

So here we go, ladies. I’m yet again taking a deep breath and confidently pulling out my can of Cream of Mushroom soup. I’m brushing myself off and mothering boldly, fearlessly, laughingly. I’m also going to buy a Crock Pot cookbook, but that’s another matter entirely.

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Taking the Time

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This is only about my fourth or fifth post in to blogging, and I’m afraid that I’m about to sound like a broken record. As a mother of three and a first-born child, I’ve been known to lean towards the bossy side (I call it strong leadership tendencies), and repeat myself. So if this post sounds like something you read here, just know that you’ve been warned. It’s something I do often.

But I digress.  Since coming back from a whirlwind family vacation full of Christmasing, a winter wedding, and Sir Mix A Lot’s hit song (don’t ask), I’ve been mulling over my resolutions and the change I would love to see take place in my life this year. I’ve made a list and am on my way to my usual plan-making and goal-setting. I’m thinking of my one word for the year (thanks, Anna, for the idea) and am trying to figure out how to make a homeschooling schedule that works better for our family. But in the midst of this, I took some time to pause, pray, and reflect, and I realized that I needed to slooow down a bit. For all of my goal-planning and lists, I’m actually a simple person; I can realistically only focus on a couple of things at a time. I multi-task because I’m a mother and I have to; if it were up to me, I would probably reach one goal at a time, and slowly at that. (Changed a diaper? Check. Made supper when I really wanted to order take out? Check and a gold star). When I sat a while and listened to what He said, I felt that for the month of January, I needed to prioritize only one thing: His presence. Sitting and listening. No list of demands or prayer requests or pleading; just taking the time to come before the Lord, just me, and without an agenda.

With my husband finishing college in May (which guarantees huge changes for our family), what I really want to do is freak out and nag God’s ear off with “Could you please just tell me what we’re doing already?!”’s.  I have a list of mothering improvements I should be working at, ranging from being more patient when certain children spill their drinks on the hour every hour to accepting the fact that yes, I DO have to feed them supper every night. But not this month. This month it’s not about me. Instead, I’m going to shut up and listen. Wait. Worship. Just say, “What’s on Your mind today, Father?” and see what He says. That simple.

I originally started doing something like this sometime last summer, and at first it felt somewhat tedious. It was hard to pull myself away from my limited Mommytime to lock myself in my room and sit on the floor. But the more time I spent with Him, removed from the noises of this world – TV, Facebook, whatever—the easier it was to come into His presence. And the more I came into His presence, the more I realized that it is a gift, a treasure, to spend time with the One who loves me more than any other. His fellowship is so sweet, and His beauty is unmatched. There is nothing like it.

God never called us to make a choice between His presence and being a good mother. You shouldn’t have to sacrifice one for the other. Yes, our lives are busy, and yes, it’s true that we don’t always get 15 minutes to ourselves to sit with Bible and notebook in hand. That’s why I’m not focusing on that. I’m focusing on His presence; just sitting and waiting on God. Some days it might only be 5 minutes, but I’m not going to fill those 5 minutes with my own self-improvement requests or demands for answers to life’s mysteries.  I’m coming quietly, humbly, gratefully. I’m coming to wait, to worship, to look into the face of the One I love.

And, hey! For the record, time with God can be awkward sometimes. (Or, maybe it’s just me.) Can I be honest? Sometimes I’ve taken a minute in the bathroom, with the door locked, to check in and say, “Father, I need You, and I want you to know that I love You.” You know, the bathroom, the place with the toilet? Yeah, there. One time, my children woke up earlier than usual and caught me in the middle of a worship sesh with my IPod on. I’d been pouring out my heart in worship, tears streaming down my face, and was interrupted by childish applause and giggles from two little girls who thought I was randomly singing to myself. Super awkward. But, you know what? It’s not about what I look like or sound like or where I have to snag a few minutes with God.  It’s just about being with Him. It’s taking the time. It’s choosing to worship Him because He’s worthy, and not because He’s accommodating.

So, I hope you’ll join me, Moms. Let’s aside the healthy eating and gym memberships till February, and join me on the stinky carpet. Besides, I still have some leftover Christmas cookies sitting on my table, and I’d hate for them to go to waste.

Blogs, Bikes, and Scar Tissue

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Fearlessly mothering is such a broad topic to blog about.  I mean, there are so many different issues related to mothering – what exactly am I talking about? What are we afraid of? I know we all have horror stories about midnight puke fests and the Dirty Diaper Smelled Around the World, but is that what fearlessly mothering is all about? Not freaking out in the face of toddler excrement?

As I prayed about my next topic, I felt like I needed to offer some sort of disclaimer. You see, in all honesty, this blog is a way I record the healing God is bringing in my own life concerning mothering and my identity in Him. When my firstborn daughter was born over seven years ago, I was overjoyed and excited, but I was also I unsure and insecure.  I’d had a miscarriage previously, and in some ways I felt cheated of the sweet and simple innocence first-time mothers seemed to carry. I brought my own life experiences and pain into mothering, as we all do, but I didn’t really know how to sort through it all. God has brought a lot of healing into my life since then – especially lately.  I feel this blog is a way of sharing what He’s done and continues to do. It’s so freeing that I feel to hold back this lovey goodness would prevent others from experiencing the same freedom. So I’m going to poke and prod and stumble and try to find a way with each rambling post to communicate encouragement, freedom, joy and love. And maybe some humor. But mostly the other stuff.

That being said, I’m going for broke here and am getting weird, deep and personal in hopefully 500 words or less (yeah, right). So here goes.

When I was 12 years old, I loved to ride my bike everywhere. On one journey, I decided to race through a huge rain puddle and ended up crashing my bike and taking a huge chunk out of my right knee. The wound was mortifying to my pre-pubescent self, and I was convinced I would never get married because the scar was so ugly and disgusting. (Overreaction much?) Needless to say, that experience literally left a mark on me. Other life experiences tend to leave scars, too, whether hugely noticeable or not. Not all of them are “I was abandoned by my parents and forced to sell drugs when I was 13” magnitude. There are the “people-you-tried-fitting-in-with-in high-school-but-didn’t” scars, or the “parents-you-could-never-please” scars.  The “I’ve-never-felt-truly-beautiful” scars, and “I-trusted-someone-I-shouldn’t-have” scars. The “I-can-never-live-up-to-this-certain-standard” scars (hello, mothers everywhere!). We try to jump up after the fall and brush ourselves off, acting like nothing has happened, but a mark has been left. We make a mental reminder to not get into that situation again, because though the initial pain may fade, the scar remains.

We try to dress up the scars. We put things on, and we pick things up to cover them. We hide them with makeup and beautiful clothes. We pick up things like degrees, accolades, or even ministries to keep ourselves busy and occupied.

Before you know it, our arms are so full of stuff that we don’t have any room to hold on to any thing else! These beautiful mother-arms that were created to hold, nurture, and comfort are struggling to simply to maintain the heavy load. Our little ones want in, but that requires us to drop something. And honestly, we’ve been holding on to these things for so long, we’re afraid of what will happen if we truly let go.

Because if we let go, we see the markings that didn’t fade. We study the lines. We relive hurt and anger. We become uncomfortable in our own skin. In this vulnerable moment, we realize we’ve allowed this scar, this Thing, to define us, so we cover them up once again and try to mother and nurture with scar tissue.

But guess what, Dearest Mom? You are not your scars.

Before you were ever a mother, you were a daughter. You are a daughter, and you are loved beyond measure –literally, you can’t measure it or humanly grasp its depth—by your Father. He doesn’t see scars. He sees beauty, purpose … redemption.

Dearest Mom, you are not your scars.

You are beautiful. You are treasured. You are loved. Before you had any scars, He took on fatal ones so that yours could heal. And because He did, you don’t have to cover your scars anymore.

The truth about scars is that we all have them, but we don’t have to let them define us. You are not your scars.

Remember that sweet, stinky-carpet-sticky-alabaster-box place of surrender we chatted about?  Bring your scars there. Put down the things your hold, and uncover every nasty, gross, even pretentious scar you have. Feel arms of love embrace and heal them. God doesn’t need fancy words or a weekend seminar. As I walk through this personally, I am amazed at how eager God is to bring restoration. The moment surrender leaves my lips, He sweeps in with a huge Daddy God bear hug. God is so amazingly redemptive that He turns each scar from repulsive to redemptive; from tragedy to testimony. As you surrender, He will release the forlorn and restore you to Fearless.

Just Color

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The bleak January night stared back at me glumly through my apartment window. It was only around 6:30 in the evening, but winter made the night’s shadow come earlier and my endless day seem longer. My husband wouldn’t be home from work for another 4 or 5 hours, and after a long day at school and a long night of mothering ahead of me, I felt like I simply couldn’t take anymore. The walls of our tiny apartment seemed to close in around me. I had been counting down the days for four months, September through December, waiting for the big switch when my husband would come off his evening shift. However, after going over the budget one last time, we realized we just couldn’t do it yet. Feeling overwhelmed, alone, and insecure, I looked at my three darling children sitting at the kitchen table in front of me. Unaware of my raging emotions, they colored happily and chatted with each other. I looked at my oldest daughter, who was being homeschooled by a friend while I myself finished school. What kind of mother has to have someone else homeschool their daughter? Was I involved enough with what she was learning? Maybe I’m supposed to be doing flash cards right now, or reading an educational novel to her, I thought.  I glanced at my quiet 3 ½ year old daughter, busily coloring away.  She had just started pre-school and came home with worksheets to complete each day…worksheets that had been collecting dust in a corner of our counter due to my negligence.  What if she never learns her alphabet, ever? What if everyone in her class gets a sticker except her, because I forgot again? As I looked at my almost-one year old son, I wondered if we spent enough time together, considering I spent the mornings in school. Do we bond enough? Should I be doing some kind of sensory activity with him right now instead of letting him eat crayons?

Tears filled my eyes and anxiety my heart as I wondered how I would make it through the night, let alone the rest of the semester. In this moment, it seemed so hard just to put supper on the table by myself and make sure my children brushed their teeth. As I dealt with my emotions, my daughters looked up from the table. “Mom, will you color with us?” they asked. My youngest daughter, smiling, offered me a page in her Dora coloring book. “We love it when you color with us!”

Coloring seemed like such a simple thing to do in the middle of my chaos. Here I was, apparently behind in every aspect of mothering, and all my children wanted to do was color. I was thinking about that educational novel I should be reading to them when I heard the Holy Spirit gently say to me, Just color. I paused for a moment.  Just color, I heard again. I took a deep breath, sat down, and grabbed some crayons. Just color. Such a soothing, simple thing to hear the breath of God say. As I grabbed a crayon and forced a smile, the things I had been worrying about started to fall off my shoulders. The smell of waxy crayons and the sound of my children’s laughter began to heal my broken spirit.  Just color.

Dear Mothers, I pray this blog is a “just color” message to you. I pray these simple words dare your heart to take mothering a day at a time: simply, fully, fearlessly. I think the shadows of guilt, comparison, and fear can ruin this mothering journey way more than feeding our kids sugared cereal or letting them watch too much TV.  I invite you to pull up a chair, take a deep breath, and get out your crayons. It’s time to just color.