This One’s for the Mothers

It’s May, what I like to call work-with-the-windows-open-in-my-office month. Now I can hear the community sounds as they rise up to greet me at my desk – the distant lawn mower, the mailman pulling up into the cul-de-sac, kids laughing from the trampoline, bark-gossip between neighboring dogs.

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Sometime during the past week or two, newborn baby cries have joined the neighborhood chorus.

Our backdoor neighbor paces their yard several times a day holding their newest member. Through the trees I can’t always tell if it’s the Mom or the Dad, but I always know it’s the baby – short wails and baby hiccups give her right away.

I think these sounds mixed with the arrival of Her Royal Highness Princess Charlotte of Cambridge have me thinking back kindly on the early days of having a new baby.

But I’m no fool.

Motherhood is both miracle and madness.

And so here is a toast for all the mamas everywhere during this week before Mother’s Day. It’s not the first or the best ode to mothers on the internet, but the words came to mind this morning and so I offer them to you:

a toast for the mothers

Here’s to you, dear mama, with the tired eyes, the impossible schedule, and the sour milk smell all over your clothes.

Here’s to you with the PBS cartoons in the background, eating a handful of goldfish and calling it lunch, with the toddler who just learned the word mine and won’t stop secreting bodily fluids from all of their orifices.

Here’s to you who negotiates bedtimes and snack times with a special kind of finesse, the likes of which Wall Street and Washington have never seen.

Here’s to you who would gladly and without hesitation jump in front of a bus for your children but, for the love, cannot manage to find the energy to make one more PB & J.

Here’s to you leaving work early to pick up ginger ale and saltines for his upset tummy and digging through the trash for the accidentally discarded lovey.

Heres’s to you buying poster board at the only open drug store at 11 pm because someone forgot to mention that science fair project.

Here’s to you making the ten thousandth school lunch, driving them to practice, trying to remember the multiplication tables while you make the dinner they probably won’t eat.

Here’s to you asking for help, letting someone else do the laundry and take them to swim practice because you need a minute.

Here’s to you who fights off guilt, comparison, and shame.

Here’s to you who chooses love, laughter, and a light-heart every chance you get.

Here’s to you who is raising them up all by yourself, doing the job of two parents with the energy of only one.

Here’s to you praying for their friendships, playing in the backyard, buying shoes again.

Here’s to you who doesn’t always have the answers to the endless questions, the patience for their constant demands, or the words to communicate just how much you love them.

Here’s to you cringing in the passenger seat, staying up til curfew, making pizza for bottomless stomachs.

Here’s to you cheering on the sidelines, laughing at their humor, counting down the days.

Here’s to you straightening the bow tie, listening in doorways, braiding her hair.

Here’s to you making reservations, holding up a camera, waving from the driveway.

Here’s to you who prays in the darkness, longs for connection, hopes for the future, and always wants what’s best.

Here’s to you, dear mama, who no longer has children in your house but holds them always in your heart, who leaves backdoors open wide and arms open wider.

Here’s to you – sisters, aunties, grandmas and friends – who do the mother work as you listen, cheer, help, and walk with children in ways only you can do.

Here’s to you who longs for the children you don’t yet have or children you now only hold in your heart.

Here’s to your courage, creativity, and faith.

I raise my coffee mug to you.

And maybe a wine glass or two.

You are exquisite.

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One Thing My Soul is Begging Me to Do

Early last week I sat down to write my post for (in)courage and managed to finish it in less than an hour. I found a few photos to go with the post, titled it, saved it in drafts and didn’t think again about those 500 words.

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Days later, I get an email reminding me my (in)courage post is due and would I kindly let them know when it’s ready? I got that dread in my stomach that comes after writing on the internet for nearly 10 years, the memory of words written, words lost, and words having to be found again.

Sure enough when I checked the drafts, the post had disappeared, no trace remaining. Turns out the (in)courage site had a little hacking incident last week and some drafts and comments were lost.

And y’all? I couldn’t remember one word of what I said. Not a photo, not a topic, not a drop of memory. Can I tell you how losing those 500 words dug into my soul like I can’t even explain? Even while the world is still reeling from tensions in Ferguson and New York, with the sorrow in Sydney and Pakistan, with people all over the world and in my own city starving and cold and sick – I was hot and bothered about losing 500 words for a post.

What bothered me most was how bothered I was about it.

lamp

In the past I would move from here into a place of shame. I would recognize that I was being ridiculous and try to shame myself into different behavior, never taking the time to recognize why losing the post bothered me so much to begin with.

But knowing how Christ came so we could be free, I hesitate to move so quickly to shame these days. Even in something small like this, I think he wants to keep company with me. It was in the midst of that tension that pieces of what I wrote about began to come back to me. I remembered I used this quote:

“One of the most important lessons I have learned over the past few years is how important it is to have time and space for being with what’s real in my life — to celebrate the joys, grieve the losses, shed my tears, sit with the questions, feel my anger, attend to my loneliness.” – Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms

That’s just it. I think the reason losing that post bothered me so much was because I hadn’t spent much time with what was really going on beneath the surface. And so the lost post landed like a heavy burden in my soul.

I don’t think we pay enough attention to the silent cares of the soul. We ignore her for long periods of time and then when she starts to flail within us by becoming overly emotional, getting frustrated too easily, or being bothered in an otherwise neutral interaction, we try to shame her into better behavior.

I’m not saying we should allow ourselves this bad behavior. I am saying we need to pay closer attention.

That’s when I remembered Tuesday was the day the post was set to publish. Tuesday is where we live our ordinary moments in our regular lives, the kind of moments that sometimes carry small irritants in our souls that we overlook because they aren’t “real” problems. It’s true, in comparison to the heartbreak in the world, they aren’t a very big deal. But Tuesday reminds me the importance of being with what actually is even if it feels minor.

Tuesday reminds me to attend to the footnote irritants that linger beneath the surface so they won’t later turn into headlines. Tuesday gives me permission to bring those irritants into the presence of Christ so I can ultimately release them into his care.

Recognize the fluttering anxieties as they come. Don’t give them a place to land. It seems simple which may be why I so often overlook it. But taking some time to “celebrate the joys, grieve the losses, shed my tears, sit with the questions, feel my anger, [and] attend to my loneliness” creates space in my soul.

A spacious soul makes room for others. A week before Christmas, I can’t think of a better gift to give.

By the way, I finally re-wrote the post and I would love to invite you to read it over at (in)courage. And then, let’s unwrap our Tuesday gifts together.

When the Mega is Praised at the Expense of the Small

fall in greensboro

It seems like lately we are all rooting for the remarkable and brave within one another and for that, I’m thankful. I’m thankful when I hear from friends who are finally agreeing with the Trinity that they bear the image of God and have something to offer. I’m thankful when I listen to people I admire speak the truth they are living into. I’m thankful when I remember the timid, try-hard way I used to live and the gracious way Jesus walks with me through that.

I’m all about noticing what is most alive within us and then offering that as a gift to others and for the glory of God. It’s a beautiful antidote to living out of fear and one that is deeply rooted in the gospel.

At the same time, I know how easily the definition of “brave and remarkable” can morph into “big and important” and without realizing it, the mega is praised at the expense of the small and we all end up feeling a little worn down and exhausted.

I’m not there right now, but I have been there. I’ll probably be there again, maybe soon. As I’m driving around Greensboro this week, beneath the canopy of trees declaring glory, I’m amazed at how quiet they are about it. I’m thankful we have a God who tells his big story in small, delightful, quiet ways.

Next Tuesday I’ll be sending out November’s newsletter where I’ll share a little more about how smallness can be a gift rather than a liability. I would love for you to get it.

Here is an example of last month’s email so you’ll have an idea of what to expect. And here is where you can sign up to receive monthly encouragement, recommended reads, and first-word news.

 

Jesus, Good Timing, and the Ministry of Mums

emily p freeman

Often I remind myself of the importance of speaking out and writing words, not because they’ve never been spoken or written before but because our saying or writing them may be the first time someone finally hears them.

I recently heard two simple sentences that had a deep impact on me, not because I’ve never heard anything like them but because I’m in a season where I needed to hear them now.

A few words Preston Yancey recently spoke came at just the right time for me, so right that when he said them, I had to block out everything that was happening around me until I could dig my phone out from the bottom of my purse, fumble with the notes app, and type frantically on the tiny phone keyboard these words, only partially remembered.

I’m sharing those words today at (in)courage.

When Your Soul Has a Bad Idea

One day last week I’m struggling through those old kinds of struggles that never seem to fully go away – self-acceptance, over-thinking, fear. My mind cycles through them as they sit on the Lazy Susan of my soul. Pick one up, turn the wheel, put it back again.

When Your Soul Has a Bad Idea - Chatting at the Sky

So the Susan is spinning at the rate of the world and I pick a book from my desk to read a bit before I began my own writing. Just as I do, some powerfully loud thoughts come rushing into my mind – doubt, quitting, unbelief. In the span of one second, I imagine what it would be like to be the kind of writer like the one who wrote the book in my hand. Thoughts of straight up copying her work barrel to the forefront of my mind.

My first response is shock – I would never do that! My second response is shame – How could I even think that?

Shock and shame are my most natural and immediate responses when my soul has a bad idea. But the more I think about it, the more I realize this is not the holy response, but the arrogant one. My shock and shame response is a better indicator of the condition of my own soul than having the bad thought in the first place. This is the response of a woman who generally thinks she can handle life on her own, a woman who doesn’t think she needs redemption. And so when her soul has a bad idea, she can’t believe it.

It’s true, I don’t copy other people’s work. At least, I haven’t yet. But I could. So could you.

What to do when unwelcome thoughts push their way in? Worry about what a terrible person I am? Wring my hands over the terrible thoughts I have?

Please. Thinking about stealing someone else’s work is a glitter rainbow compared to some of the other thoughts that fly through my head. That feels terrifying to admit but also strangely relieving.

Shock and shame keep my head a clean distance from my heart. That is a dangerous place to live. I don’t want this kind of disconnected life.

The answer isn’t to shame myself into better thinking. That never works.

Instead, the answer for me is two-fold. First, stop being shocked by my own capacity for terrible thoughts.

Until I stop being shocked, I will continue to gasp and gawk at every foul thought that comes into my mind. I will constantly point to some imaginary version of myself who never has stupid thoughts and then return back to my real self and the incongruence between the two will bring only dizziness, discouragement and hopelessness. My soul simply can’t survive the whiplash.

So first, refuse to be shocked. And second, turn toward love. Not the kind of self-love that cheers you can do it, you’re amazing! Listen, I’ve seen The Help, I know the quote – You is smart. You is kind. You is important. Yes. You is. We are.

But we also have an insane capacity for crazy, for jealousy, for selfishness, hoarding, back-stabbing, criticism, revenge, and procrastination. The answer to dealing with the shocking thoughts that come into my mind isn’t to try to stop having bad thoughts. The answer for me is to refuse to be shocked in the first place and instead, be loved. Be small. Belong to Christ. 

I want to learn to keep company with my weakness even as I practice walking in the New Way of Christ.

I want to continually accept my capacity for sin, but embrace my potential for health, restoration, love, wonder, and mystery.

I want to remember I am capable of making bad choices while also bearing in mind that the Spirit of God chose to make his home in me.

I want to always see my ability to choose the old, but rejoice in my freedom not to.

I want to be aware of the darkness, but identify with the light.

Refuse to be shocked, but insist upon turning toward grace, forgiveness, renewal, and belief.

Refuse to be shocked, but receive the gift of acceptance.

Refuse to be shocked. And begin again.

Why I Want to Know You and Also Avoid You

“‘You have come from dust, and to dust you will return.’ In other words, ‘You are going to die. And here are some ashes to remind you, just in case you’ve forgotten.’”

- Mark Roberts, on Ash Wednesday for Patheos

ash wednesdayWe got our first desktop computer during my senior year of high school. We were living in Detroit and Dad set the computer up on his brown L-shaped desk in his study. I sat at that computer for hours late into the night, but I wasn’t surfing the web – no, no. In fact, when a guy at my school that year mentioned something about one of our favorite bands having a ‘web page’ I was all, What on earth is that? You can’t have a page on a computer. Duh.

It was 1994.

Instead, what I was doing on the computer was typing all of my thoughts and ideas and dreams into a document I had saved there under the file name “emily.” (Sneaky. And also secure.)

I typed out all of my innermost and then printed out each entry, slid the page into a plastic protector, and collected them all in a white two-inch binder with a cool title page I made from super rad clip art.binderThat next year I took the binder to college with me, continuing to add to it as well as read from it when I wanted to remember. My roommate, Faith, asked me about the binder one day, wondering if I ever expected or wanted someone else to read the words I wrote in it. Maybe she thought the only reason why her quiet-ish roommate would have a diary the size of our Western Civ. textbook is if she intended on sharing the words with the world one day.

Her question surprised me. I didn’t write to be read, I wrote because writing helped me know what I thought about things. But her asking made me think about it and a small part of me, secret and hidden, liked the idea of sharing what I wrote with someone.

It felt like somewhere deep within, sharing the writing would be the most honest thing I could do. It represented what was most alive within me, and to imagine sharing that with someone else was a compelling thought. Risky, impossible, crazy. But compelling.

My desire to be known was stirred.

“Much of our isolation is self-chosen . . . This self-reliance has many attractions. It gives us a sense of power, it allows us to move quickly, it offers us the satisfaction of being our own boss, and it praises many rewards and prizes. However, the underside of this self-reliance is loneliness, isolation and a constant fear of not making it in life.”

Henri J.M. Nouwen, Here and Now

On the right-hand corner of my desk, right next to the books I’m currently reading, sits a small envelope holder. This is where I keep notes friends have written. I didn’t plan for it to become a prominent place, but every time I’ve received a note from someone in the actual mail, there it goes, right on my desk where I can see it everyday, a reminder of my inability to do this on my own – this living and working and moving through life.

on my deskFor the past several months I’ve been reading Thomas Merton’s autobiography of faith, The Seven Storey Mountain. (It’s a long book, but I’m also a slow reader.) He writes in fascinating detail of the time he spent as a student at Columbia in New York, indulging in all of the things young students in the late 1930s could indulge in, resulting in “confusion and misery.”

“Yet, strangely enough, it was on this big factory of a campus that the Holy Ghost was waiting to show me the light, in His own light. And one of the chief means He used, and through which he operated, was human friendship.” – Thomas Merton

Sharing life and friendship with a few peers at Columbia was in important part of a long journey Merton was on toward finding faith. When I read those words, I thought of the role human friendship has played in my own life, how I have both craved and feared vulnerability, how I have sought connection but also denied my need for it.

Nothing causes me to face my own humanity, frailty, and weakness than when I am in communion with others. Nothing causes me to see myself as I really am, to admit I’m not as great as I think, or to face my perceived entitlements than when I am in the midst of other people.

I am easy to live with in a room by myself. Lord, I don’t want to live in a room by myself. Except for when I do.

To know and be known is both compelling and repulsive to me. Do I even know what that means? Truly? I don’t know if I do.

Today on Ash Wednesday, I acknowledge my hopelessness apart from Christ, my anxiety outside of his presence, my certain death if not for his sacrifice.

I acknowledge I have come from dust and will return to dust again. But more than dying one day in the future, I have already died with Christ. I acknowledge my need to de-tatch from the obsessions and addictions that convince me my old man is still alive and re-attach to Christ as my only hope.

I also acknowledge that the way God moves on earth is through the hands and eyes and feet of people – both the ones I’m naturally drawn to and the ones who get on my nerves.

I am hopeless without Him.

I am hopeless without them.

“No matter how sad, wounded, neurotic, or needy we are, that may be exactly what some other person needs us to be at that time. We don’t know the ways we comfort and save each other, not only in spite of our wounds, but also in some cases, because of them.”

-Heather King, Shirt of Flame: A Year with St. Therese of Lisieux

I did not grow up in a church that observed Ash Wednesday. In the past few years, I’ve started to learn a little more and have found the Lenten season of deeper reflection to lead into an even more meaningful celebration of the resurrection at Easter.

For further reading: