Friday, June 17, 2016

Post-Baby Wisdom: A Public Retraction

Okay, Timehop. Enough with the reminders from nine years ago.  I said dumb things before I was a parent. Everybody hear that? I want to publicly stand (sit, actually) before you all and say (well, write) OOPS SORRY. Some thoughts:
1. Almost nothing about parenting is as black and white as I thought it was.
2. I didn't truly know tired. Going significant amounts of time without sleep is tantamount to completely losing your sanity. You will do virtually anything to get it back. See Point 3.
3. Some of the things I said I'd never do are the very things I turned around and did to survive. I flipped quicker than a politician after an election.
4. A Bachelor's degree in Early Childhood Ed. will prepare you to teach well and school you in child development, but you'll still feel like you know nothing about your own baby sometimes.
5. I was probably least receptive to the advice that ended up being the most helpful in the trenches. "Stop researching." "Prepare to feel like you're doing everything wrong." "You say you'll never do this, but I said that too..." "Just give up." "You have to forgive yourself." Those are some of the most pertinent examples. I might not have loved it at the time, but it came back to me when I needed it desperately. Thank you, wise mamas.
6. I don't think I ever said anything out loud about doing things on my own, but this mindset deserves a place on the list, just in case. I always heard it takes a village to raise a child, but really it takes a village to raise a mother. As a society of women, we are often characterized by a propensity to tear each other down. Why are mommy wars a thing, seriously?! Maybe I feel that online or when the receptionist who knows I'm a stay at home mom with a 15 month old son asks, "So when are you going back to work?" like she thinks my place of employment somehow had better maternity leave than Finland and now it's time for me to get back to a real job, or when a lady at church asked how "taking it easy" was going. You know where I don't feel that? My tribe. I couldn't survive this without them. My mom, my Granny, my best friends (some mothers, some not). These women come around me and make me laugh and give me advice when I ask but don't when I don't. They tell me their stories when I confess my own mistakes. They agree to disagree. They answer my late night texts about mastitis. They are my people. I could not do without them.
7. Side note:In the time it took me to type the first paragraph, my toddler has already raided my diaper bag, chewed on a bottle of gas drops, is now in possession of my keys, and will probably set off the car alarm very soon.
8. Some of the most important things to me were things I did stick to. My goals are still meaningful, but my list of what's important to me is continually being refined by what's most important for Jack. That includes the health of his mama, by the way (more hard advice for me to take sometimes). I'm learning to be more flexible based on what I believe is best for him, and I'm learning to believe I really do know what's best for him, which brings me to...
9. Mother's Intuition is No. Joke.

That concludes for today my public apology and thoughts on this parenting gig. I should get back to responsibly supervising my toddler. He's making me a snack out of a remnant of rainwater in a Frisbee. ☺

Thursday, November 5, 2015

On Motherhood and Grace and Doughnuts for Dinner

     It's been a banner week for me as a mom. I've probably made 15,485 mistakes, conservatively.  I was doing pretty well today until the sun went down (you know, around noon, because I live in Evansville). I had a headache from the seventh circle of Hell, and I was driving up Green River Road with a screaming banshee in the back seat. Because I have a Bachelor's degree in Early Childhood Education, I employed the tried-and-true technique of yelling, "STOP SCREAMING!" at my sweet baby. Powerful stuff. Very effective. I was fairly flustered by the time I got to Schnucks. I wanted to get a couple things for dinner tomorrow but mostly needed ice for my raging Coke Zero habit.  Matt is out of town till tomorrow evening, so I knew he couldn't bail me out. After embarrassing myself a little in the parking lot - how was I to know all three cars around me were occupied? -  I carried Jack in with no car seat and no cart cover. I grabbed a cart wipe, but I decided I couldn't adequately cover the surfaces of the cart. Because I might scream at my kid in the car, but shopping cart germs?! This. Will. Not. Stand.
 I carried Jack's 20 pound self around while my brain felt like it was rattling against my skull with every step. After an eternity of bearing up under the weight of Jack while I stared at the pork,  I turned to the nice butcher who taught me a Boston rolled roast is the same as a shoulder roast. Who knew? I managed to get the other few things, shifting Jack and the basket from one arm to the other and thinking about how I really need to call my chiropractor, like yesterday. When I got to the checkout, I thought long and hard about how I could manage to carry a bag of ice out the door without dropping my few groceries, my child, or my Boston rolled/shoulder roast. I don't know if it was my dead eyes or the twenty pounds of Jack that prompted her sympathy, but the sweetest bagger with the biggest smile offered to carry out my ice and grocery bags for me. She grinned and chatted the whole way out, and I thanked her and blessed her for being so kind. She said she always offers when someone looks like he/she could use a hand (or in my case, a face palm). She showed me such grace tonight. I could have kissed her. Jack fell asleep in the car, and I bought myself doughnuts for dinner because only God can judge me.

As a mom, I'm more aware and more thankful when I'm on the receiving end of grace. Often it's something small, like a stranger holding the door open for me when I'm pushing the stroller.  My husband continues to show me grace every day (I've written plenty on that).  Time and again, grace comes from my own mother. She tells me I'm a great mom. She tells me it's okay to let Jack watch Fraggle Rock. She talks about times I rolled off of things and how I'm obviously fine (debatable). She tells me sometimes all moms get angry. If they say they don't, they're lying. I have such a fantastic mom. I brag on her a lot, and if you know me even a little, you know I think she's the cat's pajamas. She obviously has done and continues to do so many things beautifully as a mother. But what seems to help me the most these days is hearing about things that didn't look so perfect and neat.
     That's the kind of grace I crave as a mom. Motherhood can be messy and gritty and hard and lonely. I need to hear that other mothers followed their instincts and made mistakes and still raised upright citizens! I need to hear that perfect isn't even on the table, but I can still be a great mom!
     I am also blessed with a network of friends who support me and keep me sane. Parenting is much more communal than I'd previously imagined.
I was absolutely flabbergasted by how hard this journey can be. I thought having over a decade of teaching and childcare experience under my belt would give me some kind of leg up. I thought it might make things a little easier. Many times the words of an old friend echo in my head, "Everything is different when it's your own, Lauren." She was more right than I can express. The joy is bigger than anything I've known. The hard parts are harder than I expected. Things I said I'd never do, I've done. Things I said I would definitely do, I've scrapped. And I've learned that motherhood is more universal than I ever realized. You don't get to skip parts of the process because you have a lot of experience. Sleep deprivation and a harrowing cocktail of hormones will pummel you, and they will win. With an experience so universal, shouldn't we be extending grace even when we disagree?  I have friends on every point of the Crunchy to Cry it Out spectrum. For instance, I have a friend who made all her own baby food because she wanted to know exactly what her babies were getting. For me, buying a jar called "Just Sweet Potatoes" with an ingredient list of...just sweet potatoes...was sufficient!  Actually I tried to make my own baby food to save a little money, but so far it's been disastrous. Other things are more serious, though. I don't know how bad "mommy wars" were before social media, but I believe it's much tougher now with articles and opinions flying at me all day long.    
     Women are bombarded with scores of conflicting right answers. As a result, no matter what you choose, you're wrong. It can be paralyzing if you let it. It can also really hurt. Nothing is more personal than parenting, so seeing someone post an article that says your choices are destroying your child can be devastating on a day when confidence is in short supply. It creates an atmosphere of fear.  You begin to worry about being discovered. Parenting decisions start to feel like dirty little secrets you'd rather hide than defend. It's distracting and counterproductive.  Thankfully in real life I have that strong village of women who stand arm in arm with me.  Other mothers support me even though I don't make all the same choices for Jack as they did for their own kids.
     Five years ago, I wouldn't have been able to handle this at all. God had big lessons to teach me about grace. I still struggle against feeling like a failure. It hurts every time I make a mistake, but perfection has no place in parenting. I look at Jack, and I see he is healthy and happy. He knows he is loved. He knows when he cries Mama, I'll be right there.
     Sometimes I look at Jack and think about how much it would break my heart if someday he were to walk around with his head low, berating himself over every imperfection. That would tear me to pieces because he is my son. How sad does it make my Heavenly Father, then, when I refuse to drop the shackles He already freed me from? I am His redeemed daughter. I am enough because He says I am enough. I am righteous because of the work Jesus completed on   the cross.  His power is made perfect in weakness, and I have plenty. His grace is sufficient for me, and it's enough for you too, Mama.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Empty Arms on Mother's Day--A Letter

To the woman walking through infertility:

     I see you. You are not forgotten on this day. I know what today can bring. I know what it feels like to look at the flowers for the mothers at church and do your best to hide the tears in your eyes, knowing there isn't one for you. I know your heart aches. I know your pride hurts. I know that what you go through every 28 days is a real and powerful grief. I know you mourn what could have been. I know you should probably buy stock in pregnancy tests. I know you're angry. I know you might secretly want to punch women in the baby section at Target. I know EVERYBODY is pregnant in your city, and the women who aren't pregnant already have perfect, bouncing babies. They probably have five. Probably quintuplets. I know you've been asked if you and your husband want kids. I know someone you've revealed your struggle to has told you how to fix the problem by relaxing and taking your temperature and trying harder and not trying at all and adopting a baby so you can get pregnant!

     Thankfully, I also know this-when you are blessed with a child, you will be a better mother for the work God is doing in you during this season. You will take (way) too many pictures. You will cherish every moment. You'll be told you hold your baby too much, but you won't mind having your hands full because you'll remember the time you spent with your arms empty.

     Know that I am praying for your heart today. I am praying you will take all the hurt and anger and grief and resentment to the Lord. You have to be honest, or it will eat you up inside. I hope you can continue to trust His timing even when it seems impossible. Trust He is working all things together for your good. I pray you don't lose hope when it looks hopeless. I pray God brings mighty women around you to hold you up when you grow weary. I'm asking God to strengthen your marriage- I pray you draw closer together, taking care not to let the enemy rip you apart. And I pray today you experience unexpected joy and the peace that passes all understanding in Christ Jesus. You matter. You are enough. You are loved.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Free Indeed

     Over the past couple weeks, I've been asking myself what Christmas really means to me.  It's my favorite holiday for lots of good reasons, but what does that babe wrapped in swaddling clothes in a smelly manger really mean?

     Through the Word, new challenges, wise counsel, and the mighty prayers of righteous people, the Lord has given me freedom I had never known in my entire life.  It started with one weekend at a campground in the fall of last year.  That weekend ended up being the most spiritually demanding event of my life.  God took the sum of all my hurts, fears, failures, and grief, and He gave it purpose.  he also happened to turn my world upside down in the best way.  My mind was beginning to learn how it felt to really know peace.  I wish I could describe what it's like, after almost three decades, to have a still mind for the first time.  To pray and worship and hear birds sing without racing, never-ending thoughts to take you out of the present.  It is like a blind man seeing for the first time.  I will never forget that moment for as long as I live.  It was a quiet miracle, but it was a mountain moved.  That was fifteen months ago, and I still tear up when I talk about it.  Because I had been so busy during the weekend, I hadn't stopped to read the page of a book my friend had marked for me until the day before I left.  The book told the stories behind hymns and praise songs, and she had marked "Because He Lives," knowing it was a favorite.  I had talked about singing it at church as a child with my Papaw.  I remembered him having one hand in mine and the other raised in worship.  We sang it at his funeral.  I had hidden those words in my heart long ago.  "Because He lives, I can face tomorrow."  I knew it by heart, so I skipped reading the song and went straight to the back story.  It was nice but didn't have much of an impact on me.  I decided to skim over the lyrics so dear to my heart and felt a tug-I had forgotten there was a second verse.  I read these words:

How sweet to hold a newborn baby
And feel the pride and joy he gives.
But sweeter still the calm assurance,
This child can face uncertain days because He lives!

     Tears streamed down my face, and I felt the Spirit of the Lord whisper, "This is your next verse.  This is your next verse.  This is your next verse."

     In that moment, and in the months that followed, I was able to rest in His promise and timing.  If I began to doubt, I went back to that weekend.  The entire year of 2014 has been about resting in Him and in the freedom He has given me,  I trust Him in tragedy.  I trust Him when nothing makes sense to me.  I trust He is good, and I trust that He is working all things together for my good (Romans 8:38).  I have learned that once some of the burdens that shackle me are moved aside, God can open my eyes to sin I couldn't focus on before, only to realize it was permeating my days.  Though that sounds depressing, I've found it exhilarating.  It's such a gift to have enough of the demons of my mind defeated that I can ask God to reveal all the ways pride is causing me to stumble.  He is teaching me, gently, how to recognize and fight it.  There is such joy in that!
     I'm learning I don't have to try to step in and fix everything.  I don't even have to worry (shocking development!).  It is very, very hard work.  My mind still works against me constantly, but I am not walking in defeat.  My name means Victory; I feel like I've come through a lot of battles, but now I'm learning to walk daily in victory.  That's a big difference.  I have wasted so many days living as a woman defeated.

     My mom's best friend, knowing how I had made plans for possible pregnancy announcements for every major holiday of the past...too many holidays, thought it was funny I found out I was pregnant on the 4th of July.  She also suggested I name the baby Americus like some kid in Kentucky, but that's another story.  When I sat on the balcony that night in Florida and thought about it, though, I realized it couldn't be more perfect.  How fitting, that this most beautiful part of the story would happen on a day where we celebrate freedom!  That is exactly what God gave me before He gave me this baby.
     I got to tell my family immediately.  Two years ago that week, I was on that balcony in the middle of the night hearing my Papaw had passed away.  We stayed out there, and Matt held me in his lap until the sun came up.  On this day, I got to walk out to that same spot and tell my dad he was going to be a grandfather.  He was going to impact a life and have this beautiful relationship with my child the way his father had before him.  This was my next verse. 
     We started celebrating at Another Broken Egg for breakfast and ended the night on the beach watching fireworks that seemed like they were just for our little family.

Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her. Luke 1:45

     That baby in the feeding trough?  He means after twenty-seven years of searching, I'm finding the peace that comes from Christ alone.  The enemies of my mind didn't disappear, but Jesus has cut the chains that held me captive.  He means freedom, not only for eternity, but for today.

Whom the Son sets free is free indeed!
John 8:36

Monday, September 29, 2014

All of the Above

Upon re-entering physical therapy, I am always asked to fill out a form.  One of the questions I answered last week:
In the last year, have you lost a loved one, had a major job change, or become pregnant?
Why yes!  It's like they know me.  Honestly, with as much time as I've spent in physical therapy, they should know me.  I digress.
That standard question on the standard form has me thinking tonight as those events seem inextricably bound together in my mind.  Matt and I have had four major losses in three years.  We carry that grief right alongside the joy of this new life.
Tonight, as I find myself face to face once again with my shortcomings, clinging desperately to Romans 8:1, there are other voices I'm trying to hear.  What would my Grammy say?  Would she be telling me not to give this another thought?  To focus on this sweet baby?  Would Papaw be here saying not to worry because he'd worry enough for the both of us?  Just as I go back to the bible to hear truth, I go back to the words spoken over me for over twenty-five years.  I think about all of these incredible people.  I think about John as a grandpa (oh, he would have beamed), how Papaw would have worried about me through this pregnancy, and I picture Eric doing a Cowardly Lion impression to make our child laugh.  I mostly think about Grammy.  She was one of my best friends.  I think about how much fun we would have had together, knitting and cuddling and taking this baby to Broadway!  I like to think she's proud.  I like to think I'm following in her footsteps.  I would give anything right now to curl up in her lap and ask her a million questions and then lose to her in a game of cards.  Tonight, when I'm fighting the urge to condemn myself, I just wish I could call Papaw and hear his completely non-objective opinion that I couldn't possibly do any wrong.  Sometimes, a girl just needs that kind of nonsense!
As I grapple with trying to forgive myself, I wonder how many times I'll need to walk that out in motherhood.  How many times will I fail?  It spurs me on, thinking of how I'll need to be stronger and better for this child, how he or she will need to see a mom who makes mistakes, asks for forgiveness, and lets go.  I have to be a mom who models grace, even for myself.  If I can't accept grace for myself, how can I genuinely extend it to others?  I have to live it because I believe it.
As I trust myself to hear my Heavenly Father's words, I'm also trusting myself enough to believe I know the words my Papaw and Grammy would speak over me.  I'm trusting myself to hear truth.  As I think about what I want to give to this child, truth is as the top of the list.  I want to do the job well enough so that one day, when the world tries to tell my baby who she (or he, if Matt is right!) is, this baby won't believe it.  I pray this baby will hear my words even if I'm not there to say them, and that my words would be His words. Much of motherhood seems to be about trusting yourself and teaching your child to trust you and over time, to trust herself.
 I pray my child will always go back to the Word for identity, and that the enemy would have no air time.  May the words of this family be labels of redemption and freedom and truth because of His grace. May this child trust God's words because they are the words lived out in this home and hidden in our hearts.

Friday, June 13, 2014

On Waves and Daddies {Father's Day}

There is a reason I love this picture.  It was taken in  New Smyrna Beach, Florida in 1991. I was all of four years old. My father was teaching me a lesson tht has echoed throughout the rest of my life. I remember vividly the way he coaxed me out into the Atlantic, not content to let my worries keep me by the shore. There were forward steps I took myself; there were steps I was carried. Every time a wave came, my daddy would grab me by the hands and lift me straight up and over it, with my legs kicking the entire time, terrified he wouldn't lift me quite high enough to clear the water. Already plagued by a mind perpetually asking, What if? Every wave, every flailing, my daddy saying, Lauren, I won't let you go under.  When I got too scared, he would have to pick me up and just hold me while the waves broke at his knees.  I don't think the story of Jesus calling Peter to walk on water was yet etched into my mind, but this memory will stay forever.

This is how I learned to believe in my heavenly Father, a Father who never lets the waves overtake me but who is never content to let me spend my days making sand castles on the shoreline. It's a lesson He has taught me again and again, as the lifter of my head (Psalm 3:3) takes my face in His hands, and calls me to lift my gaze from the crashing waves to His steady grip on me. In a still, small voice, He says, Lauren, I won't let you go under. 

Sometimes it feels dangerously close.  The chaos makes me want to flail and kick and try with all my might to jump as high as I can over a wave I've already been lifted over.
That's why singing "Oceans" as a solo resonated so powerfully with me last year:
"You call me out upon the water, the great unknown, where feet may fail...
So I will call upon Your name and keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace, for I am Yours, and You are mine."

He is ever beckoning me into deeper waters, calling me to untold adventures I don't want to miss for the fear that would keep me planted firmly in the sand.

Everyone's story is different.  I'm eternally grateful this Father's Day for my daddy who continues to lift me up.  When I write about him, my words are usually wholly devoted to his greatest qualities.  What I am realizing as I get older is that his imperfection is one of the qualities I'm most grateful for.  Of course he was never a perfect father, nor would he ever claim to be.  Because I am eerily similar to him, I am thankful he taught me even the best daddies (and people) aren't perfect.  He taught me how to walk humbly, how to recover from mistakes, and how to ask for forgiveness, even (especially) from a child.  Most importantly, he gave me a front-row seat as the power of God's grace transformed his life.  He taught me how sinners like us find redemption.

Maybe today you are celebrating with your dad, or like my husband and many close friends, celebrating your dad who has already gone home to be with the Lord.  Perhaps, you don't have memories of an earthly father who has lifted you up, and this isn't even a day you want to think about.  I don't know where you are.  What I do know is that you have a Heavenly Father, a Father to the fatherless [Psalm 68:5].  He has strong hands, hands that hold the world, and He is ready to pick you up out of the waves breaking over your head.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Grace, Grief, and a Lost Little LAM

I am overwhelmed, grieving, anxious, forgetful, exhausted, and feeling like I'm coming down with something.  I am facing a loss I can't begin to understand.  I'm walking through it, but I'm not getting anywhere.  It is on my mind every minute of every day, yet it still doesn't seem to ring true.  It can't really be true.  She can't really be gone, not like that.  Not in this tragic, ugly way with no warning.  Not when she was vivacious and healthy.  Not when she was the glue that held our family together.  Not before I had a child for her to hold.  Not before she knitted the most exquisite baby blanket ever made.  Not before our next Broadway date. Not before our next double date.  Not before the next hand of cards.
 Black words on a white screen usually have a very powerful effect on me.  Writing something down makes it real to me.  But I have lost one of my best friends, and it still doesn't always feel real.  My mama has lost her mama, and I can't fix that.  My friend is gone, and I can't fix that either.  The present seems to be about survival.  Getting through daily life.  Making it through work.  Trying to keep it together enough to remember everything.  Trying not to oversleep when that is one of the most powerful effects depression has on me.  It's a shutting down.  Sometimes it's a numbness; sometimes it's a paralyzing, all-encompassing sense of despair.  It's dreading tomorrow no matter what it holds.  It's lacking the energy to lift your head from the pillow and carry on.  Recurring Major Depressive Disorder.  Difficult to explain to someone who has never dealt with it.  Compounded by trauma and grief.  As I start to get through the major season of grieving for my anchor, I lose my friend.  I am asking the Lord to take away the images of that night.  She wouldn't want to be remembered that way.  I have to choose to remember her beauty and her grace.  Not...not the way she looked then.  I have to wrap up in her coat and breathe in the scent of her clean laundry and remember how good she always smelled.  I have to remember to get my sheets right out of the dryer and try to fold them right, even though my linen closet will never look as perfect as when she put everything away for me.  I have to knit, and I have to keep getting better on my own, because she isn't here to teach me anymore.  Knitting helped us with worrying, so I have to keep knitting.  I don't really want to play cards or set foot in a theatre.  Those things don't feel right without her.  I know she would want me to, though.  Someday, my children will know her through me.  Grammy's little LAM is feeling a little like a lost sheep.
Losing my anchor forced me to realize I had peace from THE Anchor.  I don't know yet what losing this friend will show me.  It's so different.  The grief is so different.  I feel so isolated in it.  Walled off.  Alone. Almost afraid to let people close to it.  And so busy holding it in to try to keep my life together that I don't have time to really take a breath and feel the weight of it.  Then when I do feel the weight of it, it is crushing.
If one thing remains, it's trust.  I trust my Heavenly Father enough to know this loss is not without purpose.  Nor, as a friend reminded me, is it the end of the story.  This life is but a vapor, and I will enjoy an eternity of card-playing and knitting and music with her.  I will be wrapped up in my Papaw's arms again.  I will put my head on his right shoulder.  And I will bow before the King of Kings.
Tonight, I went back to the church for Agape Kids as I have for the past several weeks: on a wing and a prayer.  I am not feeling well; blame Evansville's completely insane weather.  And when feeling sick is added to a stressful week with a side of grief, I tend to worry I'll find myself...flailing.  I did a bit of that, but the Lord was so gracious to let me really see the beauty in the evening: kids squirming up to sit beside me; preschoolers busting a move to some crazy songs; sponsors who are patient in my weakness.  I am a children's pastor who gets to be surrounded by volunteers who encourage me and build me up.  They allow me to be my honest self, and in return I think they know they can be the same with me.  That is also my privilege.  Great volunteers are difficult to find, but ones who double as friends are a rare treasure.  And these precious children? They humble me and bring me joy and show me the face of the Father.  If you're having a bad day, I highly recommend sitting within earshot of a two-year-old (who can't say his "L's" yet) singing at the top of his lungs, "Your love never fails; it never gives up; it never runs out on me."

You will believe it.  When I hear the sweetest little voices flinging praises to Heaven, I believe it in every fiber of my being.  I believe His love won't fail me.  I believe He won't waste my tears.  I believe one day, I will spend eternity on a New Earth reunited with the family I have lost.  I believe He is working all things to my good. (Romans 8:38-39).  No matter how painful the present circumstances, no matter how long the wait, no matter how little sense it makes to me, His plan is perfect.  I see only in part what He sees in full.  I will put one foot in front of the other.  I will fight against the depression when it would be easier to give way to its death grip.  I won't fail to see the beauty in a sunny day.  I will giggle with my kids.  And I will grieve for my Grammy.  Grief is nothing like I thought it would be when I was young.  I thought my life would just stop, too.  Sometimes I think that's the most difficult part of grief--the fact that life doesn't stop.  It doesn't give me time to hole up and figure out how to go on with this gaping hole in my heart.  The world keeps turning, expecting me to keep up as I buckle under the new weight on my shoulders.  Sometimes I really wish those black armbands were still worn.  Maybe not full-on Downton Abbey mourning clothes, but the armbands, yes.  Maybe I'll just make a sandwich board.  I guess that's what makes me so grateful for the people who take care of me and see the hurt behind the Sunday smile and forgive me when I fall short.  If you are one of those people, thank you for making His grace so evident.  I pray you are blessed beyond measure for the love you pour out.

One Thing Remains