1.Motherhood is hard. 2. Motherhood is glorious. 3. Motherhood is hard. ~Lisa Jo-Baker, Surprised by Motherhood
Folks, I hope you have all realized by now that I’m not exactly the “filter-on-and-keep-it-PG” type of woman anymore. I’ll attribute this partially to 11+ years of marriage, 4+ years of working in women’s health, and then a healthy dose of journalistic honesty leftover from a bachelor’s I never officially used post-college.
So, you shouldn’t be surprised when I nearly texted David today: “Your wife is considering walking around naked. It’s soooo HOT.” I mean over 100 degree heat in a city that somehow believed A/C unites were optional when most of the homes were built has left this former Texas girl completely flummoxed. And cranky. And wishing she had taken the time to hang curtains in her living room. Swamp coolers do not stand a chance against this blazing Colorado sunshine, y’all.
Instead I settled for cold brew for me + hair up in a top knot + popsicles for Abby + a personal fan for Micah. It’s not everything, but it is something. And you can all breathe a sigh of relief: I didn’t choose today as the particular day to shock our neighbors 😉
But in all seriousness, this morning began with both Littles and I at odds with one another, and the need for a restart. Breakfast wasn’t prepared fast enough and then neither Abby nor Micah seemed all that interested in their plates when they were ready. Micah discovered a new “funny trick” of dropping laundry in the toilet. Abby refused to get dressed. Micah began to tell himself “no, no, no” while simultaneously digging into David’s nightstand. Oh, and that was on top of him scattering my mineral make-up to the four corners. I was clinging desperately to my sanity here, people.
Let’s face it. My morning was normal mom life in this season, but HARD none the less. Hard to be that grace-filled woman I imagined solving disputes and bringing a spirit of calm to her home. Hard to look at my own image in the mirror and see a harried expression staring back: one that would like to jump ship and be nearly anywhere else but in the HERE and NOW.
But it’s the here and now that we are asked to dwell. Take up residence in the chaos and either be crushed or changed. Or perhaps both. Allowing the image of the perfect mom, the perfect wife, the perfect friend, the perfect student (you fill in the blank) to be crushed and replaced with one that gives credence to the HARD, but also allows grace to make even these mornings beautiful. To make them glorious even, as Lisa Jo-Baker says.
How do we recover from laundry in the toilet, finances down the drain, and our expectations unmet? Once again, you fill in the blank as it applies to your life, but I know I’m not alone in feeling adrift more often than not.
I think the first thing I’m finally learning in these years of early motherhood is that prayer no longer looks like extended times of journaling. Prayer doesn’t happen during hours of solitude and quiet mediation. No, prayer is breathe. Prayer is the mundane that becomes a series of run-on conversations with my soul and my Maker. Prayer is the act of snuggling the tired child, the cleaning of all the messes, and the companionship of a good friend sitting down in the middle of all the toys and sticky to enjoy a cup of tea together despite the mayhem of little people.
Prayer is not an act I perform, words I recite, a behavior I strive to maintain. It is a returning. It is a broken life finding healing, a misplaced soul recognizing home. ~Micha Boyett, Found: A Story of Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer
Are you not also drawn in by that image? Do you not also want to weep? Perhaps all the chaos and the crushing and the wandering and the doubts and the unmet expectations are simply the journeys that our misplaced souls have to make to recognize home.
I may have only lived some 30 odd years, but I now know that you have not lived…really lived…until you have also come to terms with your own frailty. And, while, yes this is a truth with eternal implications, I mean it more in the day by day sense. When I married my best friend at the mature age of 18 while in college, I had lofty dreams. I was going to single-handedly change the world. I was going to write the grand expose, be the next Mother Teresa for all the hurting, and do it all with such perfection that I not only exceeded other’s expectations, but also finally met my own impossible standards.
But now I know that before you change the world, as Mother Teresa herself said, you must first go home and love your family. Before you publish the article that turns great darkness into light, you have to first stare into the darkness of your own doubts and questions. Before you take on the millions, you must first bear the burdens of the few closest to you. You must love your spouse even when the romance is lacking. You must show up for friends with fierce loyalty and abiding hope. You must sacrifice your plans of perfection for the very real needs of your children.
I think perhaps true contentment and perhaps also lasting peace arise when our first self-created dreams are tempered by the simple acts of living, loving, sleeping, waking, becoming lost, and being found.
We make vows at the beginnings of things. We make vows we intend to keep, and then we spend our days in life’s middle, clenching them tight. How could we know what our vows mean until we’ve dug our fingernails deep into them all those years later? How can we notice the hard beauty of such words, the thick holiness of hope, until we experience what living a vow actually requires? Vows always demand an entire life. ~Micha Boyett, Found
It’s “life’s middle” that brings us – me at least – to our knees. Makes mornings like today’s early train wreck threaten to undue all the promises of glorious joy. And some days, I simply dig my fingernails deep into the promise of my children’s bedtime and ride out the waves of crazy. I survive. I’m not proud of those days, but I also don’t hide them. If you ever need a taste of toddler debacles, then you can more than likely find one under my roof. But, I’m also learning not to be a victim of each day’s whims. I may grit and grind my teeth through the circus that is getting us all out the door in the morning, but I’m also learning the practice of giving grace. And there are perhaps three simple rituals that help shape my days when even breathing is a trying task.
First, I decide then and there to get us out of the rut we are in, which for our family usually involves a change of scenery. Are we home and Micah just can’t keep his hands to himself and, for the love, Abby is baiting him at every twist and turn? Then, we go to Target’s dollar aisle, Costco’s endless tables of samples, the community rec center’s play area, ANYWHERE, really, that is not within the four walls of our house. I find that even buckling my children into separate car seats is an act of grace. Sometimes I may just even drive laps. And go through drive-thrus. People, that time when you can turn up the radio, make a phone call, and drink a cup of coffee without wondering what your 18-month-old is tossing down the stairs is PRECIOUS time. Do not under estimate the power of a five-point car seat harness and a full tank of gas.
Second, I remember the tools that I already have at my disposal. Sometimes this simply means another snack or a few minutes playing in the water hose. Netflix is also not evil even if it involves an hour – or three – of screen time that day (think big picture here folks). But for our family, our kids have grown up with the calming effects of essential oils as a daily part of their routines, so I can ground them again by supporting their fluctuating emotions and moods this way. This morning (right after I briefly locked myself in my room for a few minutes of vital solitude) I grabbed Micah up tight in my arms, called Abby to me, and held our favorite roller blend “Tranquil” in my hand. Opening up all of our palms wide, we rolled on Tranquil and then put our hands to our hearts. My children know this scent as the scent of calm and instantly begin to shift into a better space. I led them through a simple prayer that Jesus would help us to all live in peace today. Amen. We talk about big emotions and processing those feelings. We dab on more oils. We hold tight to each other. My Littles probably end up rolling around together on the floor like puppies, giggling, and the scene has changed. It’s a simple practice, but I find it more and more helpful even as an adult. I stop and inhale and exhale, in and out. In and out. And I breathe prayers. Loosen my grip on expectations. Remember to give and receive grace.
And, finally, I gather my village of women and find someone else who needs coffee, a play date, a venting session, a late afternoon library run, and I share this burden of daily living. I am a dangerous woman when I walk alone. I mean who would remind me that showers are actually considered non-negotiable by many human beings? Who would send me home with dinner or offer to bring me coffee or walk circles with me while we talk circles around situations that confound us? I also need to celebrate joys together. When breastfeeding finally feels easy. Or when we find freedom by offering a bottle to the always hungry baby. When we schedule a date night. Or choose to return to a career we love. When we choose to stay home to mother. Or when we embark upon the dance of working from home. (Nearly laughable, I know.)
Let’s just say that the vows that we made when we were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in our teens and early 20s take a lifetime of blood, sweat, and tears to refine and to see through. And to let some of them simply go as weights we were never meant to carry. And, maybe, to see some reborn through the HARD and the GLORIOUS that we find surprise us along the way.
I’ll leave you with one final quote by Micah Boyett and then would love to hear in the comments from you how you choose peace, shift the space you are in, and adjust to a life that perhaps you never dreamed of living.
I was shedding myself. I was shedding a grand idea of myself. I was being humbled, made smaller…I was like a snake: its eyes always peel off first…. I used to pray things like “Wherever you send me, I’ll go!” And then God sent me to Syracuse instead of Africa, to the city instead of the suburbs, into humility instead of impressiveness.
Perhaps you are in Africa or perhaps like me you have found yourself in the rather ordinary confines of suburban living, complaining about the lack of an A/C and debating with your 4-year-old about the importance of getting one’s self dressed for the day. Either way, I pray you see more clearly and breathe more deeply today. We are brave in the simple doing and staying and sharing.