In the Aftermath

A gunman opens fire on hundreds. A driver crushes dozens with a truck. Fires rage threatening life and ways of life. Rains beat down leaving thousands homeless, stranded in knee-deep filthy water. The air fills with smoke. The water oozes from every crevice. The blood pools at our fingertips.

And in the aftermath of a tragedy we pledge our solidarity to the survivors. We send money. We send clean water. We stand in line to give our own blood. We pray for the families and the victims. We mourn with those who mourn. Our profiles are flooded with hashtags of hope. We attend the prayer vigil and hold hands with our neighbor. We hate all the hate; rage against the rage. We say something about love being louder.

Then a few days go by, and we open up our bottles of wine to enjoy a little more than we should. We turn on the TV and laugh at the depravity. Casual humor; harmless fun. We roll our eyes at our kids in their moments of anger. Sibling rivalry, we call it. We smugly snark at the people who don’t get us, shame the neighbor who voted differently. We march to reform the guns, then sit down to watch it on our screens. We whine about objectification while entertaining ourselves with slander. As long as we don’t touch the gun. As long as we don’t say the words. As long as we keep the spotlight on all the good, we can hide the hypocrisy in the shadows.

But the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The world is not a place of hope. It is not filled with beautiful people doing wonderful things. It is filled with sinners doing sinful things. While there will always be those heroes in the midst of tragedy, there real tragedy is the one committed every day. The one inside the tidy four walls of the human heart. For I am no better than the murderer.

The real change does not come from loving louder. It does not come from our humanistic attempts to throw out hate. It comes from loving Him who first loved us. A love that is strong enough to change hearts–ones not conformed to this world, but renewed by His restoration in our everyday lives.

In the middle of floods and fires and fighting, I pray that we hold close those who are hurting. May we weep with the broken hearted and welcome in those who are displaced. May we do good things with the hands God gave us. May we call evil what it is and speak truth. May we walk in The Way, narrow though it may be.

May we have the humility and wisdom look at our own lives and face the hypocrisy, not being deceived by the norms of culture. May we look different, choosing to welcome the truth and freeing up more space to love for real.

In the aftermath, let us be better than hate. Let us be better than politics and agendas. Let us be better than saying all the right things and taking all the right pictures. Let us be better than our pathetic attempts at some version of empty love.

I will give them a heart to know that I am God, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart. Jer. 24:7

Let us be transformed. Let us be different. Let us give Him our hearts and let us be His people.

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The Faith of our Fathers

Outside it was only late afternoon, but already dark in the mid-December sky.  Tremendous amounts of snow silenced our our neighborhood, downy banks lining the streets. And as the sky cleared, bitter cold set in. This snow would stay a while.

My dad bundled us up, zipping us into snowsuits and tieing our boots to ensure our feet would stay toasty through the long walk he had planned. Out we ventured into the dark. Stars lit our way, aided by the occasional streetlamp. Through the snow we trudged, crunching along the street. Dad led the way, two girls and a dog shuffling along behind him.

Eventually the road ended, and we came to the top of a hill. The windswept slope hid pockets of snow that came up almost to my waist. In my attempt to descend the hill, I only sunk deeper, struggling in the white sea. As a child, this was thrilling but inefficient. We were getting nowhere in a hurry. Scooping up my little sister, Dad stepped forward, in front of me, with his big boots. And as I followed in his footprints, the journey home became easier for me.

Without him ahead of me, the drifts would have swallowed me whole.

Years later, now grown with children of my own, I found myself sitting in a lovely little church, listening to that same man give a sermon. It wasn’t fancy.  It wasn’t a packed congregation or a showy display of doctrine. It was just my Dad. Simple, understated, trustworthy. The same person who led the way through the snow. The one who you depend on to be there when he says he will. The one who keeps things in a stable perspective.

As I sat there listening to his heart-felt words, the lesson of that snowstorm came back. And I wondered, where would I be without my father? Where would I be without his faith? When I was born, he did not follow Christ. He did not know a savior. Miraculously and through the use of a few wonderful believers, both of my parents came to know the Lord in my childhood. They committed their lives to honoring the Lord and raised me in the Word. A few years later as an older child, I gave my own heart to Christ.

But what if I hadn’t? What if they hadn’t? What if my father had no faith?  Who would I be? Who would I love, and what would I hate? And what of my own children, sitting there beside me in the pew listening to their grandfather? Would they have the opportunity to find peace with their Maker?

This weekend my Dad celebrates his birthday. For some of us, birthdays are just another day. An arbitrary number that passes after another trip around the sun. But for those of faith, the years are a legacy. It is the time we have to do something with what has been done for us. To change. To teach. To pass onward the truth. To give and love and extend grace. To humbly step forward into the snow.

It was with this in mind that we named our children, each bearing the name of a father before them. A man who impacted our family, making us into the people we are today. The lineage of grace. As my Dad blows out his candles this year, I will give thanks not just for his life, but for his obedience. Not only for walking with the Lord, but for teaching me to do the same.

Looking back now, I see his footsteps in my life. My own feet swim in the imprints he has made. And with little ones following me, I feel the enormity of task at hand; the large shoes I have to fill. But I celebrate his life with gratitude. I have a father of faith. The snow may pile up, but he went before me, making a path for generations to follow.

The Mindset of Solo-Parenting

My husband often travels for his job, and his work is such that when he travels, he is mostly unavailable to me. He tries–God bless him he tries! He knows how tough it can be and how much I just need to hear his voice sometimes. But the demands of his job are high, his schedules are brutal, and the pressure is intense. Mess up, slack off, crumble under pressure and you are done in his line of work. So, when he goes off on a trip, it’s crunch time. Often he comes home to tight deadlines and high expectations, which means the pressures of a job generally follow him home, into his office, and it can be several days before he comes up for air.

And so lately I find myself at home, more or less solo-parenting my children for various stretches of time. Funny how I never really ever thought about this part.

When you have a baby, you only think about the day baby comes. Nine months of pregnancy drag on until your belly is so full and your back is sore so, you think you might literally break in half. Then the baby arrives, and you realize how easy you had it. How nursing a newborn is literally a full time job. How sleep deprivation is very, very real. How these innocent, angelic babies actually do grow into toddlers who scream and bite and kick–all day long and on purpose! When they arrive in your life, you realize how much work, effort, time, and mental capacity they take, and you look back on your pregnancy with dreamy eyes.

Because when you have a baby, you only think about the baby coming. Not actually staying.

Few of us ever consider in that moment what life will be like when baby is five, and there are two or three others behind it. But then, out of the blue, it hits you. At 5pm when you are at home in a half packed house getting ready to move 1500 miles, with a kindergartener negotiating dinner plans, and a two year old screaming over the wrong color cup you just handed her, and a baby kicking in your belly all while your husband is in another hemisphere and won’t be home for another week. The reality of parenthood comes crashing down on you like an avalanche of emotion.

Are you angry because they are never, ever quiet and you just need 20 minutes to close your eyes? Frustrated from the fifteen things that are all half done, or the other fifteen that still need doing? Sad because you know you should be able to keep it together and yet you are so inadequate, cowering in a corner hoping its all a bad dream? Uncertain if any of this was the right choice? Overwhelmed at the sheer amount of character training and basic child raising that still needs to occur, and you are the only one home to do it? Depressed because this was life yesterday, and last week, and last month, and will be your reality again tomorrow?

Our baby shower registries, our first steps videos, they are all well and good. They make lovely pictures that we cry over years later. But they are the poetry. The alliteration may be pretty, but parenting is not poetic.
Parenting is a process of perseverance. It is sacrifice. It is love beyond what we ever dreamed bringing out the absolute worst in us, facing that, and changing that. It is digging in when the going is tough. It is asking for and accepting the help we so desperately need. It is choosing not to allow exhaustion to steal your joy. Not allowing the boredom of routine to blind you to the blessings. It is stepping in to correct and teach, over and over again.

This season of life I face is pushing me to limits I am still not certain I can withstand. I have many days of doubt. Am I making the right choices? Is this sustainable? Is this day a reflection of the life I want or a life I’m just surviving?

The questions clutter my mind. They fill every corner and speak out, blurring my beliefs and challenging my parenting creeds. Times may be demanding. My days may leave me utterly wrung out as my head hits the pillow and my night shift begins.

But I have too much at stake to dwell in the hardships. These children won’t raise themselves. These three precious souls, they are my work. And while I may need a rest from time to time, they are the moments that make up my days. They are my laying down my life and taking up His love. Living this way doesn’t make the job any easier. It just makes it matter.

And so I go to bed tonight. I lay down hopeful for a few hours, lucky if I only see the clock a few times. I prepare myself to face the coming weeks of travel, enjoying the few days I have him home for and choose to persevere. I choose to keep going. I choose to face the fatigue and trust the process. Because they matter. I matter. The work waiting for me tomorrow–it matters.

Our First Homeschool Year

I pictured a cute little table, with small chairs, and a colorful rug underfoot. The walls were lined with shelves filled with wonderful books, vibrant pieces of art, and bins of sensory toys made from organic wood. In the corner we would have pillows on the floor for reading and a few lamps to provide a soft glow. Large windows would welcome the outdoors in, and we would probably have a fairy garden with live plants sitting next to our stack of read-alouds from the library. (Never overdue, of course.) The air would smell like crayons and glue, and spring to life with the sounds of classical music intermixed with childish laughter. And we would be happy. We would dive into wonderful learning adventures together, all from the harmony and comfort of our special homeschool room.

A quaint space, a perfect family, a love of learning. Such a pretty picture. Such a calculated plan.

I didn’t plan on moving eight weeks into our first homeschool year, boxes becoming our worktable. I didn’t plan on unloading shelves of books into storage and turning our family room into a school setting in the basement of a home that wasn’t ours. I didn’t plan on trying to keep two active children as quiet as possible so as not to disturb my husband, who worked in the bedroom above us.

But we were given a space.

And I didn’t see the baby. I didn’t plan on near-debilitating morning sickness or depression that left me lifeless. I didn’t plan on a husband traveling for weeks at a time. But it all happened.

We moved from a big city to a small town. And we fell in love with it. The dark country skies led us to a whole semester studying the wonders of our solar system. And our local library had telescopes we could check out for free. We learned to make maple syrup and build a fire. We stumbled into a welcoming community of homeschoolers at the YMCA and looked forward to our gym class each week.  We ended up just a few miles from my parents, who opened their lives to us from the day we got here.

I didn’t plan on tackling some pretty significant issues in our life at 34 weeks of pregnancy, and having to shelve some school to cope. I resorted to just doing the minimum. But the lack of pressure gave me time to heal, making me a better mother and a better wife.

And now, we are a stronger family.

I didn’t plan on driving 30 minutes in the dark, in the bitter cold of a Wisconsin winter to the hospital to give birth to a sweet baby boy who would join our school days and make them even more meaningful.

Our lives so very often do not follow our plans. They do not bend to meet our needs or fulfill our desires. More often I find that my plans, dreams, and desires change shape. Change importance. Morph into a better, more fluid, more becoming picture of the life I am proud to call my own.

A life in which I am always learning.

Mending

A wide, gummy smile bursts across your little round face. No teeth. Sparse hair. Big dark eyes. And all I see is delight. Happiness. Pure joy that I am your Mom.

In the early days I worried for you. Isn’t that what moms do best? I worried my sorrow would hurt you. I didn’t know what months of weeping and hiding and feeling lifeless would do to you. Would you feel loved? Would you feel wanted? Would you feel like the fortunate blessing that you are?

There were times before your birth I felt like I couldn’t do it. Like I was a terrible choice of a mother because really who would want me like this? So sad, confused, and lost I barely mustered the strength to rise and greet the day. So lifeless that even your brother and sister suffered, wondering what was wrong and why Mom was so overwhelmed. And so I was scared for you. I was scared that I wouldnt be enough for you. That maybe I wouldn’t get better and that you would suffer. Or worst of all, that I would go on, distant and despondant.

But you came anyway. You came in all your glorious newness. Bringing life and bringing hope. Bit by bit I overcame the depression that hung on me like a weight. The medication gave me the push I needed to get going. The therapy helped me regain clarity and composure. And the love of our family held me up while I found my feet again. But in my heart I still feel twinges of guilt.

Deep down I really just want to tell you that I’m sorry. I’m sorry I was so sad. I’m sorry I didn’t care for us like I should have.  Maybe it’s all in my head, but somehow I think you already know. And you’ve already forgiven me. And so all that’s left now is thank you.

Because although all the other things helped, really at the core it was you, sweet baby. It was you who lit up my world again and banished the darkness. It was your wide eyes staring into mine with such wonder. Such amazement. Such love. Like you knew I needed to know.

You are a gift, my sweet boy. A beautiful baby God put into my life during a season that seemed so wrong, but could not have been more right. Now when you look my way, my heart floods with joy. So much that I don’t even know where to put it all. I finally feel stitched up. The freshness of the scaring is real. Healing takes time, and some days I still find a dim corner. A place that needs some clearing out and cracking open.

 

But you have made me come alive again little one. It is your innocence and dependency that has motivated me to be what this family needs me to be. To bravely carry the three precious stones that glitter in my hands. I have eyes that glow with wonder and pride at your brother as he grows up so proudly. And I have the grace to embrace your sister for who she is right now, knowing her little heart craves a mother’s love. I have the courage to let your father in, and a voice to let my heart out. And I have the gratitude to look at you and praise Jesus for the amazing gift you are and will always be.

I’m mending. Healing. You have been the best medicine for me. When you are older, I’ll tell you the story. The story about how God used your life to restore mine. About how loving you has made me so incredibly happy.

 

 

Enough

This moment is a quiet one. One where my little people are occupied and the baby is snoring on my chest and my thoughts slip into focus. Those savory thoughts I file away, deep in the back of my mind to come back to when I have the time to fully explore them. Ideas float in and out as if gliding on the summer breeze. Ideas I long to work out with the written word.

But his little sighs remind me that I have a new baby. My time is precious. And actually, I’m savoring this. Sitting here, rocking this tiny body. Peace and delight in the moment.

In the other room I hear the almost three year old humming her little ditties. She hasn’t quite been herself since the baby, and I make a mental note to sit and play wit her just as soon as my hands are free. And then my mind drifts to the six year old who is thriving in our homeschool because I work hard to create an atmosphere for learning. I feel proud of what I’ve managed with him this year, but that is territory to explore another day because down the hall a messy house calls, clothes lay in a heap on the floor, and bellies won’t fill themselves. There’s a husband to support while he’s been on the road, and a marriage to nuture when he is home. Suddenly I feel tired. Because in all this I have to sleep sometime.

And so, my friends, things get a bit neglected from time to time. Our souls collect dust and the things we enjoy crust over. All rusty in the joints. It’s the squeaky wheels that get my oil these days.

How dare we allow it, says our culture. Make you a priority. Convince yourself you are worth it. You can have it all–great kids, great marriage, a job you love, nights out with girlfriends, date nights with hubby, hobbies, spa days, and vacations.

But really, I think all I want is to simply be enough. Being Mom is enough. It’s enough, I say.

It’s enough to spend an hour making your baby smile because he likes listening to you sing. It’s enough to go for a walk and let the kids ride their bikes and then fall and scrape their knees.  It’s enough to play catch in the backyard without signing him up for T-ball. It’s enough to do the laundry, make the food, wash the dishes, organize the toys, settle the disputes. Must we really add the guilt of not doing something else onto it?

Maybe there’s more I’m missing out on. More I could have. More I should want for myself.

But I don’t. I just want to enjoy my children. I just want to do this job well.

And so I see you Mama. I see you at home, doing the day-to-day thing that isn’t worthy of an Instagram post. That thing no one gives you credit for. The thing that–really–you don’t even want credit for. I see the hard days; the ones that require an inhuman amount of patience. I see those rare days that are bliss. The ones somewhere in the middle. This is life. And it’s a glorious life. One you chose. One you commit to each morning. One you should be proud of. And one that is  enough all on its own. 

Advocate

I left the office shaken up. They had pronounced him healthy, growing, thriving. She even said a cheery “No concerns.” Both doctor and nurse commented on how well behaved my other children had been at this check up. They smiled and laughed as my kids answered their causal questions, hearing how smart, respectful, and observant they were. It was obvious they thought highly of my little tribe. It was all going well until I declined a medical procedure. One that was totally optional and medically unnecessary.  “No thanks. We’ll skip that today.” I said politely. The mood shifted and the conversation creaked to a halt. A faded, badly printed waiver was waved at me along with a pen. Sign this and they’d have me on my way.

But I didn’t. I wouldn’t. I did not agree with what the document stated or ambigously implied, and was not about to release my parental rights by doing so. Instead I asked a few questions. What was this for? Did I have to sign it? Was there an alternative form I could sign instead?

But my concerns fell on deaf ears. No longer was I the good mom with the healthy, well mannered kids. No longer was I the person in the room who knew my children best. I was a time-waster. A lengthy distraction to the rest of the doctor’s busy day. An uneducated, overprotective worrier. None of this was said–only implied through curt answers and one-sided discussion. My concerns were not addressed. My worries were not relieved, or even open to discussion. It was this or I’d be shown to the door.

So I politely told the doctor I’d take the waiver with me and think about it, and bring it back with a signature if I wanted to stay in her practice. She smiled, uttered an awkward goodbye, and left the room. And I hauled the three kids out feeling a bit humiliated and unnerved, but proud of myself for trusting my instincts in the face of intimidating opposition.

Weeks later I stumbled into a conversation between three seasoned homeschool mothers. Their topic was the special needs of their children and the lack of resources and support offered by the school district. They discussed the tactics they used to try and get the help their children need, because clearly, a discussion, an inquiry, their asking for help, was not enough. They presented children who had real, unique needs. Challenges far beyond the simple answers of “Let’s just wait and see how he does.” Or “We’ll assign you aid.” None of this was a good enough answer for these motherr. They had been there and done that. So here they were, turning to each other for help when the experts failed them.

My phone buzzed later that evening, with a text from a friend. Through our exchanges I could sense her own frustration with the academic situation surrounding her sweet girl. A bright, gifted, extraordinary child who learns differently than most. They had tried it all. Different schools, different programs, different teachers. Specialists, therapies, testing. And still she struggled. My friend feels the pain daily, never knowing what kind of child she will pick up from school at the end of the day. One who has been uplifted, challenged, and praised for her differences. Or one who is defeated by the constant struggle of fitting into a system and timeline that just doesn’t seem to work for her.

We mothers are experts at standing on the front lines, face-to-face with opposition. We know what is best for our children, in our families, at this point in time. We are smart, loving women who fight tirelessly for our babies.

But we are rarely seen that way by those who can offer help. Instead we are the problem. We are the paranoid, the overbearing, the difficult. And all because we simply want to advocate for our children. Because we seek an alternative. Because we live with them every single day and know that what is often arbitrarily recommended is not necessarily what is best for this child.

We are experts of our own right. Knowledge gained firsthand, tested by trial, error, and careful study. But when our motherly wisdom steers us in a direction different from that of the leading research, we are shamed into submission or coerced by fear.

But at the end of the day, these are our children. Children who depend upon us for their existence. Children who need our never-ending love, support, and wisdom. Children who do not possess the maturity or life experience to make difficult decisions on their own.

We parents are their voice. We are the champions of their cause. We hear them best and love them most.

And so in the disapproval of the experts, I advocate. I ask the hard questions, the ones the experts wish would just go away. Despite the looks, the attitudes, the inadequate alternatives, I keep pressing on. I find a different doctor. I educate myself better. I look for those whom I can help and who can help me. Others can call me difficult. Call me overbearing. Call me anything they want.

Because I have three precious little stones, and they call me Mom.