Thank You For Your “No”: A Mother’s Day Letter

baby-4-1428356-639x426This Mother’s Day I hope someone will snuggle up next to you, wrap two (probably sticky) hands around your neck, and tell you that you are a good mama—tell you that you are loved. I hope you’ll get a picture that a chubby little hand drew with more love than talent or a phone call from a grown son or daughter who is blossoming because of the love you’ve sewn in them. And I hope the man you’ve joined your life to will look deep into your eyes and tell you thank you: thank you for the love you lavish, for the nights you lose sleep, for the drudgeries you endure, for the pain you’ve faced—all because you wear the name, “Mama.”

And while I hope someone thanks you for the things you do each day. I want to thank you for the things you haven’t done. I want to thank you for taking a humble little path, not of glory, but of sacrifice.

You see, I’ve seen you around. You have an incredible amount of talent and intelligence. Some people think you’ve foolishly tossed chances away. But you know in your heart that you made a choice—and a worthy one. You said, “yes” to your children and that meant sometimes saying, “no” or at least, “not right now” to parts of yourself. A lot of people have no idea about the things you’ve turned down: the promotion, the spotlight, the time, energy and availability for that quiet dream of yours. Sometimes saying “yes” to motherhood has meant saying “no” or “later” to so much. But you’ve done it. And while no one may see the quiet heroism of laying down your own life, I want you to know there is One who knows and who values the service in obscurity.

He values also the ways you’ve said, “yes” and “no” with your money and resources. He sees the little luxuries you’ve done without so that they could have piano lessons, a week at camp, braces, or a little bit tucked away each year for college. You’ve made do with less to give them more. It’s a gift you’ve given through your, “no.” It’s a gift that the children may not appreciate until it’s time for them to make similar choices, but it’s a gift you’ve willingly, quietly given. God sees it. He gets it because he gave us His most precious gift of all so that we, His children, could have more as well.

He sees all the many “no’s” you’ve said, so that you can say “yes” to them. For the naps you’ve done without, so you could say “yes” to tea parties and Lego building; for the night out you’ve given up so you could help her get her scouting badge or ease the pain of a little one teething; for the free time you’ve done without so you could read one more chapter of that beloved book, coach him through writing his college entrance essay, or stitch up the torn princess dress.

And while you may get a thank you from your children or from your spouse this Mother’s Day for the things you do, no one may thank you for the quiet things you haven’t done. So I hope this note finds you, mama. Because what you haven’t done is as important as what you have done.

But even if this note doesn’t reach you, I have a feeling it’s okay. Because you, of all people know, that what you’ve received far outweighs the sacrifice. You’d do it all over again in a heartbeat for that sticky hug, for that scrawled picture, for that phone call. You’d do it all over again to see that smile, that look of accomplishment, that contented moment when their eyes close and you watch them dreaming. You’ve learned the secret: that sacrifice is not the way of death, but the way of life. You’ve learned that the humble road where we lose ourselves is the one where we find the greatest joy. Because life was never meant to be stockpiled and saved, but splashed joyously out—and you, sweet mama, have made quite the splash—soaking everyone around you with the joy of your life spilled for others. I know you are soaked through with joy because of it.

 

If we haven’t yet met, welcome! I’m so glad you stopped by. My aim with every post I write is to challenge you to live a deep and fearless faith. You’ll see I often write about motherhood because I’m write in the middle of it: four sweet children deep. Consider signing up to get these posts directly to your inbox, or check out my book for new or “new again” moms: Waiting in Wonder: Growing in Faith While You’re Expecting.

What God May Want to Teach Us through Our Exhaustion

rusting windowLately, I’ve felt exhausted. If it’s not the physical exhaustion from waking up multiple times a night to feed my four month old, it’s the exhaustion that comes with trying so hard to instill character and discipline in my 2, 4, and 5 year olds. But the reminding, the instructing, the modeling, the reinforcing—well, as any parent in the trenches knows, it’s a lot. It is hard work that takes everything you’ve got… and then some.

The other night on my way back from a book group I attend, I was thinking about some of the other mothers I know and how there is this same look of exhaustion and, at times, almost desperation in their eyes. I was thinking about how often we long to spend more time with each other, but we simply don’t have any more of ourselves to give when it comes to the end of our days. And then I felt the Holy Spirit nudging me with this question:

Do you think there might be a purpose in the near-constant state of exhaustion that we feel as parents of young children?

“A purpose?” I wondered. “Why would there be a purpose to our exhaustion?”

1. “You Need Me.” The words came as a loving reminder. A newborn baby relies on his or her caregivers for everything. From feeding, to changing, to swaddling, or even burping—a baby is an adorable bundle of need, but a bundle of need, nonetheless.

But like that baby, we as mamas are needy, dependent beings too. We face taxing physical demands: night-wakings, carrying little ones, feeding, bathing, changing, dressing, undressing, cooking and laundering for them. And beyond the physical, as our children grow, there are the almost moment-by-moment dilemmas we face in questions of discipline and priorities, the trying of our patience, and the doubting of our own wisdom.

Perhaps, God wants us to begin parenthood feeling completely at the end of ourselves because that’s the place where good parenting begins. When we realize that we aren’t enough, when we realize how desperately we need God to show up, perhaps that’s the place where everything that is any good happens.

2. “You Can’t Do It All.”
I tend to burn the candle on both ends. I have a hard time turning in when something I’m working on isn’t finished. I have to remind myself that the Bible says, “In vain you rise up early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat, for he grants sleep to those he loves.” (Psalm 127:2)

Part of the discipline of trusting the Lord, is trusting that he has given exactly the number of hours we need to do the tasks he wants us to do. We rest in his grace and not in our power or works, when we go to bed at a reasonable time or even take a nap when we need it. “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain” (Ps. 127:1).

Jesus, himself, moved within the limits of a twenty-four hour day. Certainly, he could have worked later or gotten up earlier…healed one more, taught one more parable, but he trusted in the limits God had put on his physical body. How much more should we trust God with leaving things undone! He is in control. And rest is his gift of grace to us.

3. “You Are Loved, Just Because.” Sometimes when we are exhausted, we just can’t. We can’t take the meal to the family who is in need. We can’t sign up for the ministry that could desperately use an extra hand. We can’t even perfect our talents or gifts because quite frankly, we don’t have the time or the energy.

And you know what, it’s okay. (Gasp!)

Yes, it’s okay. It’s okay because God doesn’t love you for what you do for Him. He loves you simply because He is love. It’s okay because the success of God’s great plans doesn’t rest on your shoulders, but on His. It’s okay because life has seasons, and you are in an especially demanding season.

When I was younger, I read the biography of Amy Carmichael, a famous missionary to India who cared for hundreds of orphaned children. The thing that made the biggest impression on me was what she learned at the end of her life. After a lifetime of “doing” for Jesus, she was stuck in bed. While her mind was strong, her body was not. And for the first time, she learned that God did not love her for what she “did” for him—as if God actually needs anything from us—but that he loved her, simply loved her.

While God certainly is pleased when we join Him in serving others, He does not “need” us. He loves us even when all we can do is lie in bed. He loves us for who we are in Him.

I don’t know about you, but I’m fairly sure God is trying to teach me something through the exhausting, desperate days of parenthood. What better place to start the journey than at the end of ourselves. What better way to love our kids, than to know that while we are finite we can point them to a God whose strength is infinite. What better way to rest in what we have to give today, than in knowing we are loved, simply loved.

So dear one, if you are exhausted, breathe. Go to bed early tonight and trust in the limitations God has given you as part of His grace to you. Trust that the little you have is enough, if you give it to Him. Trust that He loves you, and rest.

 

Isn’t it good news that God is speaking to us in even the hardest places? I’ve come to live expecting to hear from Him in all kinds of places… places of hope, of desperation, and of joy. He whispers to us in all of these if we listen. Would you join me in expecting God in our everyday lives and struggles? If I could encourage you in this listening…in this living expectantly, it would be my honor to have you sign up to receive these posts straight to your inbox.

A Half-Full Cup of Coffee: A New Perspective on Our Interruptions

coffee


The half-drunk cup of coffee is a running joke in our family. At the end of many a day, my husband will be loading the dishes into the dishwasher and will find my half-empty cup of coffee sitting cold in the microwave or resting idly on the counter. With four children under six, the morning ritual was of course interrupted by the baby’s cry, by the toddler needing help at the potty, by the fight which needed breaking up, by the “Can you cut my waffle, mommy?”, the tantrum over not getting to be first, and on and on the list goes.

There’s a glorious inefficiency to motherhood. It doesn’t seem to matter the task, there are always ample interruptions before it can be completed. This, of course, is because there are so many little people who depend on us to do the most basic stuff of life: from pouring milk to wiping noses to intervening in conflicts.

There are points in my day where I do nothing but hold. The baby needs holding because he is fussing. Just about the time I get him down for a nap, the toddler wakes up from his nap grumpy. He refuses to be put down and so I hold him, loving him happy again. About that time the baby has woken up again and needs feeding and a fresh round of holding all over again. And whatever task loomed large in front of me, is still undone.

By the time the day is done, the tasks are still half-done, like my half-drunk cup of coffee. There’s this tantalizing satisfaction that eludes us. If I could just finish… If I could be left alone long enough to… If I could even complete a thought… how wonderful it would be to finish something—especially that cup of coffee.

Perhaps it is because the work of raising children is so abstract, that we long to complete something, anything. But in our lust for completion if we’re not careful, the children come to be seen as obstacles, impediments to our progress.

It’s hard to remember amidst the pure drivel of mundane how deeply important all of those interruptions are. In fact, perhaps it would be better to see things in reverse: the tasks (laundry, dinner, cleaning, our work outside the home, etc.) might, in fact, be the things which interrupt us from the main work of loving these little people into mature adults.

So here’s another perspective: art has never been an efficient process. An artist doesn’t sit down to his canvas and think, “How can I finish this process most quickly so I can get on with the other parts of my life?” We’d laugh if we heard an artist say that. We might wonder: “Where’s his passion for his work?” “When did something of beauty come quickly?” we might rightly ask.

Van Gogh once said, “Christ is more of an artist than the artists; he works in the living spirit and the living flesh, he makes men instead of statues.”

Perhaps, mothers work in this same domain. It is a work which happens in cooperation with the Spirit of God and only through His empowering, but it is a work nonetheless. It is a work which does not belong to us, isn’t completed by us, and yet somehow, we get to participate in it for a time.

Did you have to stop loading the dishwasher to teach a child to share? You work in living spirit and living flesh.

Did you have to put a pause on supper to help a little one acknowledge his wrong and say he’s sorry? You are making men, not statues.

Did you put down your phone, or computer, or turn off the TV to hold a crying child, to let her know she is deeply loved. You are working in the realm of something which will outlast time itself.

Can we find a little dignity in our duties if we see ourselves as apprentice artists with Christ—allowing God to work through us in the clay of molding and shaping the character of our children, graciously chiseling away at the bad habits, quietly brushing away the debris of sin and selfishness? Can we be patient with the process—remembering that in His time He will bring completion to His work?

Most importantly, can our children become the masterpieces in our eyes and not the impediment to it? Maybe, then we’ll see that half-drunk cup of coffee at the end of the day in a new light. We won’t feel sorry for ourselves, but rather remember how caught up we were in the beautiful work—God’s beautiful work. Maybe we’ll see the glass half full.

 

Thanks for reading–I pray you found something here of encouragement.  Perhaps, there’s a line here that will help someone you know love a little child a little better today–would you mind sharing this post with your friends? And if you aren’t a regular here, consider signing up to receive these posts straight to your inbox. It would be great if we could keep on spurring each other on to live a deep and fearless faith.

It Matters Deeply: The Heartbeat of a Home

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Think warm. Think Spring. Think St. Louis. A child is at home with her mother listening to the radio as they go about their kitchen chores. The radio is playing some Gospel music and both mother and daughter are singing along, cozy and deeply happy.

As the music swells: “Mother started whirling and dancing gaily as we both sang about the greatest love in all of life—our sweet Lord Jesus. This love sparkled and was enjoyable and gave gladness. I laughed as I joined in the dancing with a joy that can still bubble up. I’ll always remember this lovely young mother, the atmosphere of the home I grew up in, and that special scene,” writes Susan Schaeffer Macaulay of her mother, Edith Schaeffer, in her book For the Family’s Sake.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this image and about home. And by home I don’t mean the physical four walls and roof. Rather, I’m writing about the atmosphere that creates the feeling of home: the people who create “home” for others and the spirit which they create with words, actions, and attitudes. I’ve been mulling this because I think more than anything this is the life-shaping influence our children or those who enter our homes will remember.

More than anything I want my boys to remember one day a mama who was so in love with Jesus that they could see it on her face, that they could hear it in her voice, and could sometimes even feel it in their bones as she whirled them up in her arms and danced around the kitchen with them. I know that each moment will not be such a spiritual mountaintop experience, but I want my boys to remember a mama who more often than not sang with the love of Jesus on her lips, who laughed with a heart full of joy, and could be in the moment because she could trust her cares to her Creator.

These kinds of memories of home have nothing to do with how well the home is decorated, with the kind of furniture or home one can afford, or whether or not a parent stays home or works full time. They depend on the kind of relationship a mom or dad has with the Lord Jesus Christ, and with one another.

I have lovely memories of my own home growing up. I remember the feeling of being picked up and carried to bed as a little girl by my dad’s big strong arms. I remember my mom comforting me with Scripture when a midnight storm had made me afraid. I remember my dad’s bible open on the kitchen table, and the reverberations of my mom’s upright piano as she played a favorite hymn. I remember games, and laughter, and good-hearted teasing, affectionate parents, and a spirit of hospitality. I remember earnest prayers prayed and answered, and a habitual desiring that others might know Jesus and know His comfort through our family. And I remember most of all being deeply loved and cared for in every imaginable way. As Susan Schaeffer McCauley writes:

“There is so much more that I could tell, for I was taught Bible stories clearly, even in those years when I was six years old or under. So I knew this Lord Jesus by word, by song, by hugs and comfort, by forgiveness and faithfulness and meals all together, blessed with prayer.

A childhood home like this is a very great and godly gift. Such a legacy does not come from perfect parents, thank God. In fact perfect parents could not prepare us for a life that is to be full of our own and other people’s failings. My parents were always open about the fact that they weren’t all that good. Anyway, all children see parents as they are!

How could anyone dare to suggest or say that working at the huge task of making a home and carrying on through years and years of ups and downs is not one of the very few truly worthwhile ways to spend our energies and gifts in human life?”

We create the atmosphere of our homes. And we are largely unconscious of how we make it. But it begins and ends with our own relationship with Jesus. Is it living and vital, not a last year’s faith, but a faith of today, of this right-now moment? If we are unhappy because we have not known what it is to be filled deep down in our souls by the One whose love means more to us than our bank balance, our self-image, or our failures, then our children and those who enter our homes will feel it. But if the hard things—and heaven help us, they are many—are all tempered by the sweetness of the peace we have in our Savior, then those who come within our walls will not remember the circumstance, but rather our peace and our joy in the face of the circumstance.

What a great privilege and duty it is to help set the tone of our homes! How important it is that I find my joy in that which truly satisfies so I can pass that joy to the others who enter my home. I can do my children no greater service than to think deeply and act boldly to create the aspects so vital to developing a rich home atmosphere. How will I work to create an atmosphere where each person matters immensely, where compassion is a muscle exercised often, where books, and music, and art are laid before my children regularly like a feast, where vastly diverse people are routinely welcomed and served within our walls, where conversations rise above the frivolous, where laughter leaves us wrinkled in all the right places, and where Jesus is enjoyed and exalted in manifold ways throughout our days and years.

Would you think about this with me? It matters deeply.

 

Homes matter. And creating a life-giving home is a calling that every adult, single, married, widowed, with children or without, has. Because homes are not only our refuge but our outposts of ministry, we should give thought to the atmosphere we create within them. We should pray that the Lord would make them alive with His work within them.

Want to keep digging deeper and living bolder? Keep exploring with me here at Live Expectantly. I expect God to keep showing up in our lives and in our homes and to keep hearing from Him if we have the ears to hear. Stick around. Let’s see what He wants to tell us. And if you haven’t become a fan on Facebook or signed up to receive these posts in your inbox, would you take a minute to do so? Now that you’ve followed this crumb-trail of words here, I’d hate for us to lose each other.

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