Mom Fail: Turning Our Worst Moments into Teachable Ones

momfail

The other day I lost it with my child. I lost it over a turkey and cheese sandwich my four year-old was resolutely refusing to eat. Yes, you read that right: I lost it over a turkey and cheese sandwich. He was hungry; I was angry. Both of us were firmly sticking to our guns (like mother, like son—stubborn is as stubborn does). I felt justified. After all, it wasn’t like I was asking him to eat pickled herring or creamed brussel sprouts on toast. This was a simple and standard lunch, enjoyed easily enough by children all across America. Why could he not put an end to both of our miseries and eat the blasted sandwich! For the record, I didn’t curse, but  I did huff and puff and blow a few cabinet doors closed as I glared at him across the kitchen. He cried. I felt horrible. In the end, he went to bed at naptime with sandwich still untouched. I was left with a plate piled high with frustration and a heaping side of guilt.

It took me longer than it should have, but later I pulled him aside and apologized. I asked his forgiveness and he freely offered it. He sealed the solemn moment with a kiss, a tender mercy I didn’t deserve, an unexpected grace to a faltering parent.

Friend, it’s hard for me to be this vulnerable with you. But I want you to know that sometimes I fail my children miserably. And I want you to know this because I know you do too. All of us do. And the more honest we can be with our own shortcomings, the better we will be able to lead our children. Here’s why: Our children need leaders who can sympathize with them in their weakness. Our children need leaders who can call their own selfishness, pettiness, discontentment, control-freakishness, and pride by name and who more than that are willing to wage war with it just like we are asking them to do.

Do we look from on high commanding our children to share, return good for evil, consider the needs of others, not complain or argue and yet not admit to them that we struggle to do right in all these areas as well? Which of these would inspire you to follow: “For the last time, Noah, share the crayons with your brother! Can’t you do anything I ask you to do?” Or if a mother took you aside and in confidence said, “Noah, I know it’s hard to let your brother have some of your favorite crayons. Even though God gives me plenty, I often don’t act like what I have is enough either. But when I give to others and see the joy it gives them, it makes me realize that doing the hard thing is worth it.” The mother might even offer to pray with him and ask God to help him choose the hard, but right thing.

Let’s take it for granted that neither of these comments may elicit the desired result (after all, our children are born with free and vibrant wills of their own; they are not robots that we can control with the right words). But even so, which of these conversations is more likely to plant a seed which will grow into a tree of generosity? Which is more likely to help the child realize that you are on his side—an ally in the common battle of becoming better than our own selfishness? Which suggests that you respect him, sympathize with his weakness, and believe that with God’s help he has the power to leave the world better than he found it?

A good leader does more than police the boundaries. A good leader inspires her followers by continually planting ideas of greatness as she walks among them. Ideas lead them. “Oh, isn’t it wonderful to see the smile on your brother’s face when you let him have the first turn.” Or what about: “I like the way you are speaking so kindly. Did you notice how your sister is following your example too? Isn’t it amazing how we can encourage one another!” Aggressive authority bruises bent reeds. It snuffs out smoldering wicks. It leads the already dejected to further despair. Those who follow the example of the gentle Shepherd lovingly fence the boundaries, inspire the stumbling to press on to the heights, and carry the weak in their arms.

I’m not always that good shepherd, but I know the One who is. If even in my weakness, I can point my lambs to Him, the perfect shepherd, the One who purely wants their best, the One who tenderly leads them, the One who does not let them lack for any good thing, then I am leading them well. All of us will fail our children. The question is will we use those failures to model repentance, will we use those failures to show them the One who leads and loves them better than even we can?

 

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For Those Who’ve Lost Themselves

afloat
There you are, mama, pacing the floor with a fussy baby. There you are on your knees sweeping up the stray rice and peas from beneath the high chair. There you are making silly voices for stories at bedtime, hushing a midnight terror, putting the pencil in a little hand the right way again, and tucking a tender note in a lunch box.

There’s no one watching, no paycheck coming, no accolades. You feel invisible and sometimes you feel lost. You feel like you’ve lost yourself, your identity, but you haven’t. You just have no one there to witness it in its flourishing: the compassion, the service, the creativity, the patience, the insight—all those things that make you you. They are there—they are just out of the public eye. You who are teacher, counselor, advocate, servant, strategic-thinker, and artist. You’ve lost yourself in a place where you are seldom thanked or acknowledged. But if you look more closely, you may see that there in that which seems menial and mundane, you have found yourself.

~*~

There you are, dear one, who is longing for motherhood. There you are serving in the nursery, tutoring a troubled child, opening up your home in hospitality, lovingly packing a shoebox for a faraway child at Christmas. There you are painting toenails with your nieces, lavishing hugs and kisses on a friend’s child, volunteering to be the middle school camp counselor.

There’s no one watching, no one who sees the ache for more. You feel invisible and overlooked. You wonder who you are because you are not where you always thought you would be. You wonder if you will ever be who you thought you were. You feel lost and afloat wondering who you are in the waiting without realizing you are already the woman you long to be. You too are a life-giver, a nurturer, an advocate and ally for the voiceless. Every child who comes into your path feels the joy of your delight in them. You may not be where you want to be, but there is no question about who you are. You are beautiful.

~*~

There you are, father working late into the night at a job that saps you. There you are on the floor wrestling with your boys when the weight of the world lies heavy on your shoulders. There you are in bumper to bumper traffic, working through your lunch hour to make it in time for little league. There you are roused out of bed on a Saturday to play matchbox cars. There you are having a tea party in a tiara with your baby-girl instead of watching the big game. There you are getting up too early, going to bed too late.

No one understands the constant pressure of the responsibilities you carry. You feel alone in the midst of constant motion. Whoever it is that you are feels submerged, lost under the heaviness of constantly caring for those under your charge. You wonder who you are anymore never realizing that you are leader, provider, and sustainer. You are light of your children’s world, comfort of your wife’s heart, and the braveheart who battles chaos to create a small haven of peace in a world of conflict.

~*~

There you are empty-nester pouring your wisdom into a new mom. There you are veteran visiting the wards of the wounded. There you are single-mom slugging through two jobs. There you are husband fighting to win back the heart of your wife. There you are mother of a prodigal praying her home. There you are teen sharing the lunch table with the outcast.

For all who’ve felt lost and un-noticed, for all who’ve wondered who they are, I whisper:

You find yourself in losing yourself. You find yourself in the midst of the mundane, in the simple service unobserved. It is in the quiet flourishing of gifts that go unheralded. Who are you? You are more than others see. You are the sum of your moments lived not for worldly accolades, but lived for the pure pleasure of God.

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Parenting: This. Is. Hard.

LUKE JAMES 1MOTwo months ago, our sweet baby boy decided to make his debut a month early. A slow leak of amniotic fluid meant a heightened risk of infection for baby and me, so much to my dismay, the nurses hooked me up to a bag of Pitocin one Wednesday night in early October and induced a labor I wasn’t expecting that day or for nearly another month. (I told them that it wasn’t a give-birth kind of night—more of a movie-and-popcorn kind of night, but they disagreed and hooked me up anyway.) Thankfully, our sweet boy is a fighter, and he came out kicking and screaming. One short NICU stay later, and a few jaundiced trips back and forth to the hospital, we had our precious James Valor home with us for good.

Since then we’ve been slowly getting accustomed to life with a 3.5 year old, nearly 2 year old, and newborn. Did I mention all three of them are boys? Energetic, sometimes mischievous, hard-of-hearing boys…yes, that’s the kind we have. They are also sweet, adorable, can’t-help-but-kiss-their-precious-little-cheeks kind of boys. That kind. I love them to pieces, despite the fact that the two oldest are currently keeping each other awake upstairs rather than napping. I’m choosing to ignore this so I can write a word or two to you because God has put something on my heart to say. And here it is: this isn’t easy.

I know you know it, but sometimes I think we as parents tend to think that we are the only ones who feel this way, that perhaps somehow everyone but us has it together, that perhaps other people’s children are innately better-behaved, or other parents are just better than us at balancing it all. Well, I want to say that it just isn’t so. Sure, some of us are better organized. Some of us have more experience with little children. But none of us get a free pass. Everyone who is privileged enough to be a parent has the incredibly hard task of raising a little one from complete dependence to independence. Every one of us is given a child whose heart is bent away from God and towards selfishness. And all of us must pray and parent diligently to turn their hearts toward Him.

So in case you’ve seen me on a good day, when my hair is combed and make-up is actually on; in case, you’ve assumed that because my children sometimes can be super-sweet that I’m one of those have-it-all-together kind of moms, well, just in case you thought that about me or some other mom you know, then let me set the record straight. Parenting is hard. It’s hard for me and hard for all of us.

Here’s where I feel like I’m supposed to offer you some great pick-me-up, some biblical principle that makes what I’ve just said all better. I don’t know that I can. I know that the struggle is worth it. I know that the love I have for these little guys is bigger than the frustration I feel on a daily basis. I know that God’s grace is sufficient for me even in my weakness, even on the hardest of days. And I want you to know that too. But I don’t want any of that to eclipse what I’ve just said. This isn’t easy.

And if you don’t hear it or feel it from anyone else, I want you to know dear, sleep-deprived friend; I want you to know dear, when-will-he-ever-potty-train-wondering mommy; I want you to know sweet sister in the can-I-throw-one-of-those-tantrums-too trenches that I hear ya, I feel ya, and I understand. This. Is. Hard. I’m right there with you and so is God. (He has some pretty obstinate children also. At least that’s what I hear.)

 

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Play with Me, Mama: A Lesson in God-with-us

Luke playing bI’m at the sink doing dishes when my three year-old pleads, “Play with me, mama.” I know it sounds horrible, and I feel like a horrible mother just for saying it, but truth be told, right at that instant, I don’t want to play. I want to muscle through my to-do list. I want the sink tidied up and the food put away. I want to see my face reflecting in the clean counter-top. And I want to be able to step without my feet sticking in the residue of the apple juice my toddler joyously sprinkled from his sippy-cup all over my wood floors. The truth is: I don’t feel like playing.

Later that morning, I’m trying to get the mound of clothes I’ve just dumped on the bed from the dryer folded and put away, when the three year-old comes to ask for my hand in play again. I know there are four more loads to wash, and dry, and fold before the day is done. I know how my pregnant back is already aching. And once again, I find myself shooing him away. I’ll get my work done and play later, I think to myself.

The next time the request comes I’m in the middle of a Bible story. I’m reading to him and the toddler about how God passed over all the bigger, stronger, better looking sons of Jesse. Instead, God chose tiny little David to be the king of Israel. I’m telling him how this king would be the great, great, great…. Grandfather of the King who would come one day to be with us, the One who would be our Emmanuel, moving among us, living among us, in our midst, and at our level–when He interrupts again. “Mama, play with me!”

Finally, I realize it’s not my three year-old interrupting me. It’s God interrupting me through my three year-old. How can I expect this little one to listen, to obey, or even want to hear my instructions unless I’ve first gotten down on his level and entered into his world? He wants my presence amidst blocks, trains, and construction trucks. He wants me hiding in his fort, building a tunnel, busting out the finger-paints and getting my own hands into the glorious mess with him. He doesn’t want a mom who cares for his needs and stands far off (at the kitchen sink or washer). He wants a mom who draws near to him, who finds herself on all fours, lion-growling and staring eye-to-eye in the cave made of blankets.

And the funny thing is, that’s what I want in my God too. I need a God who stoops low. I need a God-with-me. I need a God who crawls into the tight places of my tiny world and makes his home with me.

And when I stop to think about why that God has my heart, about why I bother to listen, or want to obey his commands, it’s because this God came down to my earth and walked these dusty roads we tread. It’s because He carried sorrows like mine, and felt the heaviness of the loads I carry. And it’s because He bothered to pause all of the important work of heaven to be with His people face to face. This is why I listen, love, and obey.

The funny thing is I find a direct relationship between my spiritual health and how ready I am to get down on the floor and play with my little ones. When I’m allowing worry and stress to live heavy in my heart, I don’t feel the lightness of heart of a mother who is ready to play, and tickle and tease. When I’m not trusting God with my tomorrow or even my to-do list, when I’m clenching it so tight in my fist because if I don’t get it done—who will?—that’s when there’s not joy enough in my heart to make them giggle with peak-a-boo or turn the music up and dance with them. A heart that can play is a heart that can rest in Jesus for all that needs to be done.

And so I pray that 51st psalm of David, the one whose descendant would be Emmanuel. Oh Lord, help me put a higher value on a clean heart than on clean clothes and dishes. Oh Lord, renew in me a right spirit—one of trust, and peace, and hope. Cast me not away from your presence, but instead let me revel in the joy of your nearness, of your with-me-ness. And in that joy of your presence, restore to me the joy of my salvation, that very same joy that spills over from this mama’s heart into the lives of her little ones. The joy that comes down to crawl on the carpet with them, vrooming trucks and tickling toes. The joy that lets them know they do not walk this world alone.

 

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