Friday, February 5, 2016

Inspired Joy

It's Friday morning. Only half of the kids have eaten breakfast. The baby is on my back. I've already had to instruct on why we treat siblings with kindness and I'm not done with my first cup of coffee yet. One of the kids was sick during the night, so that lovely laundry is waiting for me, plus the normal school/jobs/life stuff that is incessant.

I spoke with a Mom's group yesterday on the topic of rest, and while I was preparing I kept had the nagging feeling that I really had no authority to speak to them. Who, after all, am I? My house is always a mess. My heart, too. I don't have any "hacks" on how to make this motherhood thing any easier. If anything, the one thing I'm sure of is that it's not getting any easier. I can't offer them a pin-worthy picture of happy homeschooling or 10 tips on how to get siblings to get along.

It's almost like the longer I'm at this gig, the less I'm sure of anything. Didn't I used to think I had some of this figured out? Every day here feels like I'm starting back at square one. Back to the basics, time and again.

My husband has been working at a warehouse while he looks for a new job. It is long hours, backbreaking work, he comes home with sore muscles and calloused hands and a bone-deep exhaustion that only 12 hours of physical labor can bring. He confides in me one night - "I love it." And I think I get it.

While he's working hard for his family, I'm just doing the next right thing here at home. Grown ups struggling doesn't mean that childhood stops, and my kids still need me. They still need my kiss on the tops of their heads when I set their breakfast in front of them. They need my singing at the sink. They need my tickles and laughs and they need my warm arms in the middle of dark nights. I keep doing the next thing even during this difficult time in our family, and it reminds me of something.

Moms need to be very careful where they get their inspiration from - and what they fill their minds with. The internet is filled with images, some benign, some not so benign - and some that you don't realize are stealing your joy until it's too late. What really is the harm in a few unrealistic pictures? Of beautifully (albeit expensively) decorated homes, beautiful happy children in thousand dollar get ups and women modeling motherhood who are barely old enough to be a mom, much less have ever experienced it?

We see what unrealistic images can do to expectations. We live in a culture that is proof of that and I don't know about you, but I'm not really liking the result.

When we fill our minds with more of this than reality (which lightning fast internet speeds make all too likely), a shift happens. We can't help but compare our experiences - and find our lives lacking. Discontent moves in and gratitude moves out and instead of waking in the morning with anticipation at the day ahead, we just want to quit. Comparison becomes our companion.

I finding myself increasingly looking to step back from glossy pictures of perfection and the discouraged way they make me feel. I'm looking elsewhere. I'm looking for reality.

One of my favorite images of motherhood ever is this photo, taken during the great depression. When I see it, I feel it. To me, it encompasses how mothering feels quite a bit of the time - although I've never been in such dire straits as the Mom pictured. But when I see it, I feel strong. Instead of showcasing an impossible standard, I see something here worth emulating. Something worth working toward. It inspires me to take this day, this house, this family, this life - imperfections and all - and be the best I can be.

I want to be a mom. Not a model. I want to be home to my family, a person of peace, a place to rest. I don't want to flee from discomfort, pain or struggle - I want to dive in head first and find the redemption there at the bottom. Because I know it's there.

I get why my husband kind of likes the way it feels to work so hard it hurts. To take something that maybe isn't the prettiest thing ever and really give it your all.

I have less answers than I did 10 years ago, but I have more strength. More adaptability.  More grit. More gentleness. More gratitude. More peace.

And at the center of it all, 


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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Losing Myself

I woke up in the middle of the night with the toddler's arms around my neck, her cheek pressed right up against mine and one leg flung across my chest - while I was nursing the baby who was pinching me at the same time.

I used to think the idea that mothering is 24/7 was a little bit overdone, a gripe for people who needed to legitimize their role as mother as "the hardest job in the world." I mean, of course we are on call for our kids at all times, but sleep does exist (even if it is in small doses) and there are those moments of quiet knitting and netflix with my husband and even the odd evening out of the house here and there. I get to grocery shop alone. It's not that intense, right? The thing is, back when I brushed off the idea of mothering as a 24/7 occupation, I had a lot less patience for the interruptions. The constant neediness. The plans gone awry and the devastation of the whole family coming down with a virus.

The past week has been non stop. Even as I write that, I feel the need to amend it. The past month, then? Year? The past 13 years? I think I may have caught my breath at some point a year or so ago but I'm not altogether sure...but no matter. I'm making peace with the intensity. When I expect to be on call 24/7, irritation doesn't arise as readily when that call actually comes. When I wake up to a toddler who has once again snuck out of her bed and into mine, my knee jerk reaction isn't to feel touched out anymore. When I come to expect to be needed and held onto at all times, I become a gentler Mama. I untangle myself from her grasp and carry her back to bed but I'm not upset at the interruption. This is just how this goes.

There is nothing to complain about when you expect to be poured out. It is only when your expectations aren't met that you get that creeping feeling of dissatisfaction. Sometimes I think we are so worried not to paint motherhood as drudgery that we do a huge disservice and swing wildly the other way, assuring young mothers to be that they won't lose themselves in the process - and when they inevitably do, pave the way to more disillusionment and discontent.

The miracle of it all is just this - that in losing yourself, your need to be in control, your need to know the outcomes, your desire to hold on to some pre-child version of yourself who was able to pick and choose exactly when and where to serve others (or not) - you gain so much more than you could ever imagine possible. Holding back and sealing off parts of yourself will only lead to atrophy. Why not give it all you've got? What are these gifts for if not giving away?

I may not get uninterrupted sleep now or in the foreseeable future, but I am adored beyond reason by these precious little ones. The gift of their lives entwining with mine is something that I will never regret and always treasure for as long as I live. Not because it went according to my plans, or was on my terms. But because by being completely opened to it, I received more than I could have ever asked for.

The best thing I ever did was lose myself. And every day I'll do it again and again and again.

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Friday, January 15, 2016

Abide: Friends

It's been 3 months since my best friend moved. Packed her 5 kids and headed west, taking with her the memories of our 21 year best-friendship. There hasn't been a day since that I haven't thought of her. We struggle to stay in touch through time zone differences and two very different ways of battling loneliness, and I think to myself maybe this is enough. Maybe my life is 24/7 kids and husband, with one hour a week phone call from her the only friendship I need. Deep down, I know this is my stubbornness taking root. Closed off defiance clinging to what was and refusing change. Although I know that what we have is and will always be irreplaceable, fear catches me.

After I attend a funeral and I glimpse my sweet friend Jen who I adore so much but haven't visited with in over a year (despite the fact she lives one mile away), I tap out a message. Hey - is there any way you could steal away for some coffee and knitting? And to my delight - she says yes. Although the weekend sees me sleepless in a hospital with my baby, I keep our date for Wednesday night. We laugh so much, we talk quiet about hard and desperate things, and I leave thinking - goodness, I love this woman. I do.

I know so many women that I admire. So many ladies who inspire me with their creativity and grit, who I would love to sit down with and figure out just what it is that makes them tick, what their dreams and passions are and how they are making it through this one crazy life that we all have with joy, strength and perseverance. Over the years, I'd discover them like gems in the various places I find myself. Church, co op, mops, even those I've known from childhood who have matured into women who intrigue and delight me. But in the stress and chaos of daily life here, I haven't made space. There hasn't been space.

A plan slowly starts to take root. Wednesdays have always been my sacred girls night. Before Mel left, a non-negotiable night with my closest friends. Before the taillights on Jen's car disappear into the snowy night, it hits me like a lightning bolt. Maybe its time to mix up girls night a little bit. Maybe it's time to make space for those people who I always wish I could see more of.

This year I chose the word Abide and I can see how this plan fits right in with that. These women, they are the hands and feet of Jesus on earth. I believe that. I've seen that. What better way to abide in His love for me this year then to seek out those who carry Him with them wherever they go?

I'm still not sure what form this will take, but I'm excited to figure it out. While I could easily, EASILY come up with 52 names of local women I'd like to spend a Wednesday night with this year (and many, many more. How blessed am I?), I don't want to completely stop attending my own little girls night with my own dear people.

When I wake on Thursday, I've got a smile on my face. For the first time in three months, excited at the prospect of getting out of my lonely space. For the first time, I allow myself to ask God - what shall I fill this space with? What do you have for me here?

So, I'm praying. And names are coming to me. And I'm just so.excited.

Abiding needn't be a lonely exercise in quiet solitude. Abiding just might mean diving head first into community.

I'm ready.

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