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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The Spiritual Discipline of Learning Nothing

Releasing My Lesson Obsession

Last week we walked through a profound disappointment with one of our girls. I use the word “profound” because that’s how it feels when you’re eleven. Basically, she longed for something that, in the end, belonged to someone else.

As her mom, I see all the necessary parts of growing up happening in this one disappointment — the spiritual discipline of letting go, the practice of faith, the understanding that smallness is not always something to run away from.

But in her most vulnerable moments, lessons don’t help her, at least not the kind you teach on purpose.

Still, I sensed the tension within myself – on the one hand I felt like I should be teaching her something in all this, helping her to see the markers. On the other hand, I just wanted to comfort her and to remind her she isn’t alone.

It’s true, learning is good and disappointments are an opportunity for growth. But I’ve grown weary of trying to squeeze a lesson out of everything, of always asking what God is trying to teach me in every circumstance, of seeing the world through lesson-colored glasses.

I am guilty of managing my experience of difficulty so my struggles don’t feel wasted. In this action, I fear I’ve missed sacred times of healing in the darkness because I’ve wanted to rush ahead to the more understandable light. I have bullet-pointed my soul so that things make sense and have regarded God only as my teacher, forgetting he is also my friend.

School is good and necessary, but in my heart I long for home.

The words of Paul come to mind as I remember he didn’t say “To live is to become Christ-like.”

It sounds almost right, but it’s completely wrong.

Instead, he said, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).

To live is a person, Christ himself.

Sometimes I teach my kids stuff on purpose. Mostly, though, I just enjoy their company.

Today I’ll practice walking into the great mystery of God. I will practice encountering Jesus as a person and not a character. I will live this day as a daughter first and allow the student to tag along behind.

Today I’ll grieve the losses, laugh at the jokes, sit in the silence, and move through the routines. I’ll keep my eyes open for Christ’s presence rather than trying to figure out his plan. And as I carry each moment as it comes, I will release my obsession with learning a lesson and instead begin to learn the person of Christ, whatever that might mean today.

A Staying Prayer for Mothers of College Freshmen

staying prayer for mamas

The next few days may be marked with lasts,  but soon her grown-up child begins a new set of firsts. She helps him pack his bags with clothes and his boxes with books. But you see what the mamas carry in their hearts – anticipation, longing, love, regret, anxiety, nostalgia, and resolve.

They are a mix of excited, terrified, and closed-eyed hope.

As she watches her child look for a fresh start, remind her to make her home in you.

As she sends her freshmen off into the world, make her feet steady to stay behind – sure, confident, and at peace.

As she prays for her daughter to find good friends, may you bring prayerful friends to her own side, to remind her she is not alone.

If insecurity, fear, or disappointment knock on her empty-nest door, may she turn to you with her questions rather than get busy doing.

If she receives calls from her faraway girl, though there may be tears and heartbreak on the other line, may she not set out to fix, rather may she sink deeper into you. Weave your wisdom into the fibers of her soul, bearing the fruit of confidence, clarity, contentment and a light-heart.

a staying prayer for mothers of college freshmen

May she have the patience to believe even when the reports sound grim.

May she not be quick to judge, rather may she be patient and curious.

May she remember what her daughter needs more than answers is to know she’s not alone.

May she remember what her son needs more than advice is to know he’s got what it takes.

May she not despise her weakness, rather may she see how weakness brings a daily reminder to trust.

May she feel the freedom to feel what she feels without the pressure to be more happy, more sad, or more anything other than simply who she is in this moment.

If she is struggling to let go, in your time replace her fear with courage and her confusion with peace.

And if the not-enoughs haunt her in the night, the fear that she didn’t love, teach, do, or instruct enough while the kids were under her roof, comfort her with the assurance that you are the Artist who weaves together good from all things.

Help her release her children into your hands.

For the parents of college freshmen all over the world, may your grace surprise them kindly in this time of newness, waiting, and love.

Amen.

This staying prayer for mothers of college freshmen was inspired by a post I wrote last year around this time: A Sending Prayer for College Freshmen. May you find peace and joy in this season of transition.

What They Will Remember

Yesterday I spent a few hours in the southern Indiana town where I grew up. I came alone to do some thinking and some remembering. Some things you just need to get out of your system.

Indiana

As I pulled into town, every intersection had a landmark I recognized but a street name I didn’t. Even though the town is a fraction of the size of the town where I now live, I couldn’t navigate the roads without my phone for directions.

It was a little maddening, recognizing that stone house on the corner and that water tower over there, but now knowing exactly how to get to the library. But these were the sort of things I expected. We moved away from here before I could drive so I never learned my way around. What I didn’t expect was at every turn, at every familiarity, I thought of my mom.

It wasn’t a particular memory, like oh there’s where she taught me to finger paint! or that’s where we went out to that fancy restaurant and laughed about all the funny things!

Maybe memory montages happen that way in the movies, but I didn’t have many specific memories of anything as I drove to our old house, to the parking lot of the grocery store, to the elementary school where I learned to read. Instead, it was more like a blanket of memory, singular. It was simply a familiar cloud of an old life brought near but not quite.

Mother's Day - chatting at the sky

I kept picturing Mom, younger than I am now, just being our mom. I kept imagining, everywhere I was, that Mom was close by and I needed to go on home to her. Her presence was a deeply safe place for me as a girl, something I’m not sure I realized until this very day. And it’s not because she mothered us like some kind of super-hero. She didn’t. But she was there, she was with us, she loved us, and I knew it.

Wandering through these familiar streets reminded me of what it means to mother well. Now that I have three of my own, I realize fancy is great, but it’s probably not what they’ll remember.

If you are a member of Hope*ologie, one of the podcasts for May features a conversation with Mom, Dad, Myquillyn and me about growing up, motherhood, simple presence, and embracing imperfection. Visit Hope*ologie to see what others are saying about the site and sign up today!

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. Thanks for loving us well.