Vulnerability on Mother’s Day

vulnerability on mother's day

May 8, 2016 – It was Mothers Day, and I was in tears. For the fourth year in a row, I found myself in a vulnerable place. I texted five mom friends that night and realized we all found ourselves in difficult places on what was supposed to be our holiday.

These sorts of holidays set a standard of expectation that seem to bring to light some of our greatest insecurities, the ones we especially try to squelch on these special days, the same way in which Valentines Day often and brutally singles out singles.

I was desperate for alone time.

In my wallowing, I began to doubt myself: How does my husband put up with me? Am I worthy of God’s love? Do the terrible twos reflect my worth as a mom?  

As mothers, we may feel as if we fall short in all areas of life, despite our best efforts. We feel invisible, insignificant. We want to regain control even as we’re spread thinner and thinner across our roles. When I am barely scraping by on two hours of sleep, I fear the place of irritability and irrational thoughts  my doubts carry me. Why do I maintain a facade of confidence as if I have any inkling of what I’m doing trying to wrangle a few toddlers?

I dread asking for help and get frustrated when I’m misunderstood. I’m not even striving for perfection; I would just like to function on all cylinders like I did before having kids, when my bar was set much higher because it could be.

Where am I? What is missing? What might God be using to reveal to me?

In “Making a World of Difference Right Where We Are,” Deidra Riggs wrote, “The seeds of our gifts were planted in us as young children…I can use them to grow into my ministry.” Writing is my best form of worship. It is God’s gift for me to steward, and He also wants me to give it back to Him in my own quiet times. Writing has always focused my attention on God as I pray–it’s much harder to be distracted if I am writing my prayers. Although not everything has to be formally published, I have become more confident in sharing my words, especially since granting myself permission to call myself a writer. I have slowly and intentionally learned each “next right thing,” as Emily P. Freeman calls it, by allowing myself permission to admit to not knowing, but commit to finding out each new step of the writing process as it began to unfold. It wasn’t not long after that I became pregnant with my third son. That pregnancy would lead me on a 19-month journey that eventually brought me right back to this statement again.

If I knew what all I still have left to learn in my calling, I’d be drowning, discouraged at the work before me. But God’s glorious fog hides all of that, leading us forward to see only the very next steps, encouraging us to follow Him, to see the next step, and the next, and the next. That in-and-of-itself is a gift. Curiosity drives me forward each time, until I learn that step and move onto the next. And in the meantime, I’m learning to practice mindfulness and gratitude to be content right where I am.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NIV). 

Practicing Mindfulness and Gratitude

Practicing mindfulness and gratitude

Mindlessly, I flip through my most-frequented apps. I check to see what new kids’ clothes I’ve sold on Kidizen. I pop between my Zillow and Trulia real estate apps just for fun — are any good properties for sale in our town? We’d love to downsize and simplify a few things. I check my monthly sales total on my Teachers Pay Teachers app and calculate my goal progress for the month, right on track to surpass my April goals. I open Instagram to whichever of my accounts is logged in and then toggle between the three of them. Without thinking, I open TpT again, only to realize that I just checked that app a minute before. I set my phone down and exhale. My toddler picks it up and hands it back to me, as if it should be a permanent extension of my left hand. He’s so accustomed to seeing it there. I place my phone under the cushion of the outdoor patio furniture behind me and reach for the other things I brought outside with me on this gorgeous spring day — my leather-bound journal, my Bible, and a book, “Not the Boss of Us.”

I read a few paragraphs from Kay Wills Wyma’s newest book and look up, pausing to really take in my own backyard. We’ve lived here two years now and are reaping the benefits of the landscaping put in by the prior owners. The first thing I noticed was the wide-open sky. It reminded me of my honeymoon in Montana, aptly-named “Big Sky Country.”

I’m praying about a lot of things these days. God has been placed a calling on my heart that I can’t quite comprehend without having to unravel a lot of other things. I’m not sure what to do. I want to be obedient, and I’ve been praying for over a year now. It’s hard to not wonder, worry, and try to take control.  I take a break from my futile attempts to play out every possible scenario in my head.

I look around my backyard, practicing a mindfulness exercise I teach my elementary students regularly: Notice five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.

It’s an exercise in grounding oneself when thoughts are racing, whether from anxiety or the general overwhelm life so often seems to spiral within us.

I record a few of my observations in my notebook. Later, I’d transfer them to Instagram to steward my words in case they can bless someone else.

  • I see: my toddler eating a lollipop and playing with his fairy garden, my breastmilk ring and all that it symbolizes to me, my neighbor’s dogwood tree, and tall grasses waving in the wind way up on the hill behind my house.
  • I hear: songbirds, trees rustling, far-off train, wind chimes.
  • I smell: familiar scents of springtime and new mulch that remind me of childhood and home.

I also note what I would have missed by staying inside today, on this gorgeous 70-degree spring day: my new neighbor painting a canvas on her patio, wind chimes, the baby figuring out the swing, the way our trees throw twinkling shadows on freshly-cut grass.

My gratitude list:
1. The baby all to myself this weekend while the big kids are camping with daddy
2. Pink dogwood in bloom
3. A fragrant backyard
4. Gentle breeze
5. Everything we need
6. Vacation one month away
7. Chorus of birds outside
8. Good friends
9. Summer within reach

Recently I spent several nights away from home, traveling solo to a conference. I knew, going into it, I would have a chance to meet one of the most famous authors in my profession and ask her my questions about the next steps in publishing my first children’s book. I didn’t know, though, that her keynote would resonate so much with me that I’d spend the next several weeks contemplating hope and its role in combating anxiety and depression. I wondered how I could use the information to help my families at school.

During her keynote, we watched this powerful video by Nature Valley. I’m glad I grew up in a generation when playing outside and interacting with the world around me was natural and expected. Now it seems like going outside has to be intentional. Meanwhile, our fixation with technology seems to be stripping us of hope.

I watch my toddler playing in the fairy garden. “Fade-ees! Fade-ees!” he squeals in delight as he moves the small plastic fairies around the miniature garden we made last summer in a large ceramic planter on our deck. Without his brothers here, he has his pick of any fairy he wants, and he clutches all of them in his tiny fists. He drops one, and it rolls under the woven ottoman. He points up to the playground we built up on our hill and asks, in his words, to go play in the mud kitchen.

“You can go up there,” I encourage him, easing back onto the couch and reaching for my Bible and notebook.

“No. Mommy come,” he demands. I put my books down, thinking longingly of the quiet time I’m so desperate for, but I follow him up the hill and watch as giddily he transfers measuring cups’ full of muddy water back and forth from the 99-cent Goodwill cupcake pans to the matching pans in the sink. A little mulch drips down the front of his striped romper and he is concerned for just a moment, then returns his attention to the cakes he is making me. I notice the blue handprint painted near the sink, the pink dogwood blossoms near the swings and peer through the lilac bush, its blossoms already dropping in the short-lived Virginia spring. If it hadn’t come up here, I might have missed them entirely. I watch my neighbor mow her lawn, amazed at the checkerboard pattern she seems to so effortlessly create every single time. I appreciate whoever hung wind chimes far enough away that I can enjoy them without interrupting sleep over them.

These grounding exercises lead me to a conversation with our Creator that only He can orchestrate. The feels of the breeze against my face slows my own racing thoughts of what I could be doing right now to prepare for the workweek ahead and the rest of my family’s return from their camping trip. The scent of lilac brings me back to the present moment. God has called me to notice this very scene before me. “Truth,” Wyma writes, “Truth that tomorrow’s worries and yesterday’s happenings don’t get to overinform or steal from today.” My two-year-old has not a care in the world as he enjoys his red lollipop and sloshes water around the mud kitchen we fashioned from a yard sale kitchen sink, old wooden pallets, some extra boards, and a corrugated steel roof. It is their favorite activity, and all three of my boys still fit side-by-side in front of the sink. Just as spring will segue silently into summer, there will come a time when they won’t be able to all fit across, forming and serving mud cakes together. And so I’ll soak it up now, instead of looking ahead to the next thing, the next house, the big picture. God is calling me to see this very moment before me before my littlest toddles back inside the house to snuggle against me for a nap. Laundry and packing lunches and Friday folders from school can wait a little longer.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26, NIV).

Great references for getting outside with kids:

  • “There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather” by Linda Akeson McQurk
  • “Free Range Kids” by Lenore Skenazy
  • “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv 

More of my thoughts on mindfulness:

 

My Writing Says it Best

My Writing says it best

A flame flickers behind the glass encasing the autumn candle nestled on the farmhouse coffee table where I probably shouldn’t be resting my feet. Worship music emits softly from the boombox radio on the bottom shelf of a curated bookcase, and the hesitant notes of my six-year-old’s piano lesson round the corner into this cozy nook where I wait for him to finish his lesson. I don’t want to rush it. It’s so easy to feel Jesus in this space. God doesn’t mind that there’s a lesson going on in the other room, or that I brought a book to read. He knows that I am a captive audience, thirsty for His own lesson. He chose to call me here, on this plush white couch, and put weight into the tears I’ve been holding at bay all day in what becomes a beautiful release.

Borrowing a phrase from a small counseling group I facilitated this afternoon with six-year-olds, today felt like a total “wipeout.” I missed every opportunity to ask for help, to vent — I couldn’t summon all my troubled thoughts and corral them into words in time for an adequate response that would do any justice to my feelings, so I pretended like everything was okay with a simple “I’m fine” or shake of my head. If I paused to collect my thoughts, I feared someone would find discomfort in the silence, jumping in to speak for me.

A note in my Bible beside James 1:2-3 presents the idea of “productive pain” — and God has a way of getting to my heart when I am hurting. In the same way that He makes His presence known when I need rest — when I long to, as Emily P. Freeman says, “sit down on the inside” — when my mind is racing. I need rest. Mostly though, I need solace.

solace | comfort or consolation in a time of sadness

I’m not good at communicating my inner world. Words are my most valued commodity and I have always used them sparingly and with great consideration. I calculate how every word is presented, I anticipate its delivery and reception before it is formed on my lips. I place a great weight on my words, because they represent the deepest part of me. And so in order for me to share my heart with someone else, I need a quiet place to stir my heart to form exactly what it is I’m trying to express. I’ve been misunderstood enough to know that I need to be earnest in my intentions, direct with my words, and honest with my thoughts. I’ve been told countless times, “You don’t say much, but when you do, it is so powerful.”

Sometime I just want to shake my own freckled shoulders and look into my big blue eyes: “Sweet girl, just SAY what you want to say instead of pretending like the status quo does not bother you. Your frustration later will not be worth it, the processing over and over how you should have responded, formulating better words with each new draft. Just say it. Just say it! Give feet to those precious wishes on your heart that don’t want to be camped there forever.”

I used to think that my biggest pet-peeve was a “story-topper,” someone who swoops in to tell of a bigger and better experience they had even as I stumble over my own storyline. Comedian Brian Regan jokes that he wishes he could just respond to those people with, “I walked on the moon.” Boom. Mic drop.

But as I get older, I begin to realize that this happens often between introverts and extroverts, when the latter takes advantage of a segue to have the floor and the former lets it happen, the ever-patient listener. I leave the conversation feeling used, a professional listener and an introvert by nature. I’m learning that my deepest thoughts require a time and a place — a quiet, slow, deep place– for me to draw them out in hopes that they will resonate and be validated.

Besides my husband, I didn’t tell anyone when I initially found my tumor last year. I’m fairly private by nature, but that’s because sometimes I can’t handle other people’s reactions on the spot. I’m also afraid of becoming an emotional wreck and losing my opportunity for authentic words, even though my emotions would represent even more authenticity. I don’t want to burden someone else with my troubles. I have a hard time asking for help.

I didn’t tell anyone the last time I changed jobs, either — at the time, I was reading through a Bible study that advised against announcing big prayer requests. (Seriously, it really said that.) Ever the rule-follower, I still hesitate to share big news. In the next few weeks, I’ll begin to hear back from several opportunities, ideas I’ve planted, so to speak, but in order to protect myself, I limit my sharing and thus can avoid having to follow-up with disappointing news if my ideas don’t come to fruition or aren’t accepted readily.

I was quick to tell three people when I first became pregnant in 2011 and then I had to relive the subsequent heartbreak when I had to tell all three people that I had lost the baby. My heart of hearts longs to spill forth, but I keep my circles small.

In my mind, it’s easier to present a tidy analysis after the fact, once I’ve had time for the dust to settle and to process my own experiences and feelings before I attempt to invite another person along.

I know, I know –this muddy thinking is all kinds of wrong. It isn’t healthy.

This raw place I require to process comes only in deep introspection, and it’s hard for me to get there in my everyday life with the constant noise at home and at work. After all three boys are asleep, I’m physically exhausted, my resources drained even when my heart is ready for a slow opening. I long to spend time pouring over my thoughts the way apple cider is best when mulled slowly over an open flame.

mull |

  1. think about (a fact, proposal, or request) deeply and at length.
  2.  warm (a beverage, especially wine, beer, or cider) and add spices and sweetening to it.

A text from a friend today had me in tears. “If you need someone to talk to, I’m all ears.” Its sentiment was sweet, simple, and affirming. Those words were life-giving as I pondered how I could even begin to summon all my fears into a coherent stream of thought. In her offer alone, I felt validated. Even as I fear that it would cheapen my thoughts to attempt to explain them. I fear I’d lose confidence unless I had the proper space to rehearse, and knowing I can’t do that leaves me frustrated with myself, even as I know my gift is in my written word.

I’ll admit, in my anger today, I did not have immediate access to what helps me best cope. I was standing in the misty rain, replaying the day’s criticisms and frustrations and feeling ashamed. I had my son with me and 100 sets of eyes driving past me, and it took every once of professionalism I could muster to stand there and pretend that I was okay, to go through the motions of my job and act like it’s all okay when my inner world was a fiery chaos — everything I’ve been keeping inside for a very long time. Too much to even relate in a single blog post.

And I need a break so desperately. To plan my next steps. I need a spiritual retreat where I can listen to God and just be with Him. Even though I know it is not God that has taken a step back from me, I blame myself for refusing His persistent call over the past few years. I know I’ve been too far from Him lately. Burning the candle at both ends, I give, give, give, but filling myself with Him feels too selfish, too indulgent, even though I know it’s ridiculous even as I type those words in this vulnerable place. Lately I have put my focus on what comes most easily and yields results most quickly, instead of allowing space for His slow process.

This afternoon I finally arrived home with my oldest, who, luckily, thrives on routine and sat right down to finish homework and squeeze in one last practice before his piano lesson. I had already arranged for my husband to pick up the younger kids from the sitter, so I stole a few minutes to myself in an attempt to reset my surly attitude. I set my campfire mug of hot pumpkin coffee on the side table I procured from HomeGoods for such a time as this and collapsed into my favorite paisley chair in my library. I adjusted my earbuds and accepted the invitation of my Bible’s pages, my pen poised over blank pages of my own. This was the fastest path to damage control I knew in this season. It also happens to be my favorite.

I may not be the best at thinking of my feet, but I know recovery. Perhaps that is why people expect so much of me– I can present a neat package if left alone. I’m constantly wondering whether I set the bar too high for myself. I get so jealous of young moms who already have the wisdom to recognize when they need a break, but even moreso, when they give themselves permission to take it and embrace it fully and unapologetically. I question why I can’t do that for myself even as I feel like I juggle more and more despite my best intentions to simplify life with three little boys. I have had such a hard time this year articulating this sentiment without hurting someone’s feelings, but I saw it written best here:

“To protect your energy it is ok for you to say no, and have it not be because you are too busy, but because you don’t want to be too busy” (@mamabirdandco, Instagram post 10.6.18).

Last year I went to The Homestead for four days and took my nursing baby with me. It was for a work conference, and I carried him in my Tula to every session. That was the closest I’ve come to alone time. But a solo retreat sans babies? A girls’ weekend? A vacation with just my husband? I feel like I could have never treated myself to such indulgences — I’ve been pregnant, miscarrying, or nursing with no break since June 2011 and have not had a weekend to myself, although I desperately need one. It’s taxing for an introvert like me, to be so needed by little ones, physically, mentally, and emotionally, no matter how accessible and approachable I seem. I dream of places I might go on a solo retreat once I am able, to stake out a table in a small European cafe to write or explore the cobbled streets of faraway places.

As a mother, I am always responsible for someone. I may be in my library with earbuds in, but I’m aware of what my son is doing in the next room and the reality that my younger boys are both still at the babysitter’s. I know I’ll have to wrap this up in about ten minutes to rush off to the next thing. I am always, always responsible. It seems to come with the territory. At work, even if I want to take off any amount of time, I have to write substitute plans, which takes hours and is usually not worth the advance effort — ask almost any teacher!

“What if?”

I spend a few minutes allowing myself to entertain dreams onto the fresh thin lines of a new set of mini notebooks, four bound together in one unit by camel-colored leather branded simply with the word “Notes.” I write out the most audacious of thoughts, in rambling form, to think about later. Seven ideas in all.

Seven “What ifs?”

I notice that if even one of these come true, the rest would fall into place. And that is both exciting and terrifying.

God, help me to commit to writing out my prayers to you more frequently. To find the quiet places and carve the time to rest in them, even if “rest” means a brain dump to quiet my thoughts, knowing that are out on paper and in your care. Lord, I spend an inordinate amount of time yearning for quiet and solitude, but also SOLACE, to validate my racing thoughts and corral my ideas into coherent sentences. I have always been able to make sense of them through my writing. And I don’t know where the disconnect falls, but writing brings forth personal acceptance, depth, and raw emotion–my own personal truths. Before I even write a word it is composed in my heart, ready to deliver to the paper. It’s as if the message is sent to the pen instead of my mouth. Because I know the paper is ready and braced to receive my words in a way that human nature might not be ready for. I worry too much about how my words might be received by another person, so they (usually) leave my lips highly filtered and thus drastically altered in translation. This is the start of my frustration in trying to audibly process all that is spiraling in my inner world. How do I dare convey this to another soul? This raw, unfiltered , deepest version of me? Do I dare share it with the world? I bring it to you, Lord, in my writing, and thus you use my frustration, even, to draw me closer to you. And maybe that is its purpose, after all. “Productive pain.” Amen.