Note to Self: A Letter to Myself on the Hard Days of This Motherhood Journey

Note to self

Dear Me,

You will look back on days like today and laugh. Repeat: you will one day be able to see the humor (or at least the irony) in the hysterical three-year old tantrum over none other than spilled milk or over the too-good-to-be-true quiet (the kind where you find the toddler happily playing in a puddle that is not water and not mud). It may not help now, but relax and know that these days happen. They happen to every mother.

Please also know that though doing the hard work of being firm with these little ones and disciplining them makes you feel thoroughly rotten sometimes—like wicked-step-mother-to-Cinderella rotten—in reality, drawing boundaries for them and standing by those boundaries is the very thing that makes you a good mother. So don’t give up; don’t give in; and don’t doubt that in due season the hard work of tough love will pay off.

Now, let’s talk about that little voice of doubt. You know, the one that pipes up and says, “Did I do the right thing there, or was that a prime example of a parenting fail?” Guess what? You may never know. There’s no play-by-play rule book to follow for this parenting gig. Don’t worry because you doubt yourself. Worry if you ever stop doubting yourself because then you may be too proud or bull-headed to consider you may be the one in the wrong. Don’t be afraid to ask forgiveness when you mess up. And don’t worry that you don’t know all the answers. No mother ever has. We’re all figuring it out as we go.

So now, take a deep breath. Count to ten or a hundred (or whatever it takes). And when bed-time (blessed bed-time) comes, take a break: a bath, a book, a breather, a nap, a good laugh—you know what makes you feel like you again. Remember that the hard days are often the days where you and your little ones are learning the most. Stretching precedes growth.

When you’ve been able to give yourself a break, give yourself grace. Be gracious to your frazzled, worn-out mommy-self. You’ve been pulled in a hundred ways and if you did nothing else today, you loved them. You loved them from their kissable cheeks down to their dirty little toes. You loved them through soiled diapers and eyebrows smeared in yogurt. You loved them through the fussing, the whining, and the crankiness as well as in all their better moments. You showed your love in firmness and in tenderness. You were love to them and that is one of the best pictures of God you will ever give them.

So give yourself grace, mama. A hard day? Yes, but a good one. A well-fought, well-loved day. You were mama to them today, and that is what they needed most.

Fireworks

We’ve been on the road for almost three weeks, traversing Ohio, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia. And since the laundry pile looks like Everest, I’m digging up a little piece I wrote last September when I was just thinking of getting the blog off the ground. Hope you enjoy.

fireworks

Aglow in Wonder

“Boom!” I let my fingers fall toward his face again in a pretend sprinkle of light. Baby boy erupts in cackles and giggles. He pleads, “Fireworks again, Mama! Again!” It’s been over two month since my two year-old saw his first fireworks display, and yet he still begs for this nightly bedtime reenactment.

My hands go up in the air again above his crib, above that sweet face upturned in pure delight. “Boom!” I say with as much gusto as a tired mama can muster, letting the pretend light of my falling fingers cascade on his face again. More squeals and glee. I could do this all night–his face, his laughter: he is the dazzling display I could watch over and over again.

What father or mother does not delight in the joy of his or her child? Jesus put it this way: “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11).

God loves to lavish His good gifts on us. He loves to see us light up as we see the redbud tree ablaze in autumn or a Lenten Rose blooming in defiance of winter. He loves to delight us in the crackle and smoke of a fire or the warmth and strength of a hand clasped round our own. Surely these and so many like them are God’s good gifts for us to enjoy. So much goodness He lavishes upon us. But it all dims in comparison to the very best gift He has to give—the most lavish of all His gifts–His Son. What a radiant light! To contemplate the glory of Christ, the glory of salvation; He dazzles the senses. He lifts our gaze in awe. He illuminates everything around Him.

One Fourth of July, a few years before I was married, I had a small moment of revelation. Sitting under that black canvas of sky, watching beauty splash and stream in vivid hues of cobalt, red, and violet, it suddenly dawned on me to think of the whole scene from a different perspective. On one night a year, millions of faces turn upward: the young, the old, the cynical, the hopeful, the jaded, the weary. For a brief moment, all eyes sparkle with anticipation, faces brim with childlike joy, and small gasps, oohs, and ahs punctuate the silence of held breath. The heavens must certainly have the more glorious display at that moment; the glorious display of both light and the light reflected in our changed countenances; what a sight it must be.

But what does this ephemeral, brief blip in time, whisper? What will change us—not our countenances, but our souls? Not for a moment, but for eternity?

Do you see it? The fireworks even angels bend low to see: the glory of God revealed in salvation (1 Peter 1:12).

Glory is a difficult word to understand. Though we can’t fully understand what God’s glory is, in Scripture it is often revealed to us in part through displays of light. Moses came down from the mountain after meeting with God, his face beaming with radiant light. It was so bright that the Israelites had to put a veil over Moses’ face. The glory of the Lord preceded the Israelites in the wilderness wanderings in a pillar of light. When the disciples saw Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, he radiated with a brightness like nothing they had ever seen before. And the apostle Paul tells us in Second Corinthians, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (3:18).

The purity, intensity and brightness of light somehow serve as an illustration of the glory of God. And what does this glory do? It transforms everything around it. And the most stunning of all transformations is salvation. Light splashes across the blackness of a human soul, not just for a moment illuminating it, but for eternity transforming it.

I’m taken back again to my son’s face. Each night he remembers the splendor of light. And as humble as our nightly re-enactment might be, it changes his countenance. He lights up in the light.

What a simple lesson I take from him! Remember. Be delighted. Shine.

Our faces aglow are the Father’s delight.

Love’s Forgetfulness

Wave foam on the shore.
One late fall night a few weeks into my sophomore year of college, I was already in bed when I heard something hit the glass of my dorm-window. I was just about to roll over and ignore it when I heard it a second and then a third time, followed by my name. I threw on my robe, flung open the window, and tried to piece together the puzzle of what I saw below: a young man with guitar stood with eyes and face upturned. When he saw me he smiled, tossed the pebble in is hand to the ground and began to strum his guitar softly and sing. Slowly, it dawned on me that he was serenading me. And almost just as slowly I realized who that young man in the shadows was: a friend that I hadn’t seen in over a year, who had driven an hour from a nearby university just to sweep me off my feet that night.

It’s a funny thing about love. It makes us unafraid to be seen as foolish. It makes us bold. And perhaps most important of all, it makes us utterly forgetful of ourselves and wholly mindful of another.

I think true worship has a lot of striking parallels. There’s a forgetfulness of self in true worship. When our eyes turn on the beloved, we forget that there is anyone or anything else around that matters. We are caught up in Him, unaware of all the things which usually invade our minds.

I love catching glimpses of this kind of forgetfulness in the stories the Gospel writers have preserved for us. There are James and John who forget their nets and follow Jesus (Mt. 4:21-22). There’s Peter who forgets to be afraid and steps out on the water (Mt. 14: 22-33). There’s Mary who lets everything else fade, including her impatient sister, to sit in worship and learning at the feet of Jesus (Lk. 10:38-42). There’s Zacchaeus who forgets his pride and climbs up a tree to catch a glimpse of this Savior (Lk. 19:1-10). There’s the sinful woman who forgets decorum and washes the Savior’s feet with her tears and dries them with her hair (Lk. 7:36-50). These are all moments of worship—moments where everything fades but Jesus. It is His voice, His face, and His words that these followers crave and that makes everything else seem comparably dim.

So here’s my question for you: When was the last time you found yourself so caught up in the wonder and worship of Jesus that you truly forgot yourself? You forgot you had a schedule to keep, you forgot that tears mess up your mascara, you forgot that you were afraid of speaking in front of people, you forgot that you were saving that money for a long-awaited vacation, or you forgot that the homeless person asking for help smelled of urine and garbage.

If Jesus hasn’t made you forgetful lately, maybe it’s time to get re-acquainted with him. Be still and watch Him as He raises a little girl to life with a simple command (Mk. 5:41), as He calms the storm with a word (Mk. 4:39), or leaves a crowd of angry onlookers tossing their stones to the ground unwilling to be the first to judge (Jn. 8:9-10). Lose yourself in the wonder of His authority, His compassion, His wisdom, His strength and His meekness.

Or maybe it’s time to take a fresh look at how Jesus’ love for you made Him forget glory and take the form of frail human flesh. Look again at how He forgets His rights and stoops to wash the feet of His followers (Jn. 13:5). Follow Him on the road to Golgotha, the road where love for the Father and love of you, made Him forget the pain, forget the humiliation, forget the betrayal, forget the scorn and focus only the joy set before Him: the joy of glorifying His father by rescuing you.

Let love of Him make you bold and foolish and forgetful. Because the truth of the matter is: you are at your best when you forget yourself and see only Him.

Q) Is there a particular miracle or moment in Jesus’ ministry that draws you in and compels you to worship Him? Turn to that passage and spend some time getting lost in worship.

Pray on these things:
• That you would make time to simply worship at the feet of Jesus.
• That your love for Him would grow and produce boldness and selflessness.

High Hopes: The Upside Down Path to Giving Our Children Greatness

Matthew 2

Every mother wants the best for her children. From even before she holds that baby in her arms she’s already hoping great things for the life of that someday man or woman. The mother of James and John, two of Christ’s disciples, was no different.

Their mother, traditionally thought to be Salome , and perhaps the sister of Mary was likely also one of the earliest followers of Christ. Many Bible scholars believe this not only because we find her at the foot of the cross during His passion, and also going to anoint His body at the tomb, but also because the evangelist, Mark, identifies these women as ones who had followed and ministered to Jesus while in Galilee (Mk. 15:50-41, Mk. 16:1). As an early follower of Christ, this mother knew that the best for her sons could only be found near Christ. So she asked Jesus, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom” (Mt. 20:21). Here’s a mother who seems to be looking out for her sons, asking a very special favor of Jesus, who did indeed hold these “sons of thunder,” as he called them, close.

When this mother made her request though, it’s likely that she envisioned greatness for her two sons, perhaps a seat of honor and power, and likely an earthly kingdom. Christ replied to her question with a question for her sons, “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” The sons’ reply, “we can,” showed they likely had no idea what their mother’s request entailed. To drink from Christ’s cup meant to share in his sufferings. To sit near Him meant, not power, but meekness and servant-hood. To be first was to be last.

James and John did indeed follow Jesus in this upside down path to greatness. It is believed that James was the first of the 12 apostles to face martyrdom (Acts 12:2). And while tradition has it that John, the beloved disciple, author of 5 books of the Bible, outlived all the other apostles, he did face his fair share of suffering: he was thrown into prison with Peter, faced the persecution of Herod Agrippa, the loss of his brother, and the subsequent scattering of Christ’s followers, and later in his life after more persecution ended up in exile on the Isle of Patmos he wrote the book of Revelation (Acts 4:3, Acts 12:1-17, Rev. 1:9).

This isn’t exactly a mother’s dream come true for her children: early death for one, imprisonment, suffering and persecution for the other. And yet, while the earthly life of these two sons was anything but easy, they lived the fullest of lives: walking with Jesus up-close, attesting to His resurrection, glorying in His ascension, proclaiming the way to abundant life to all who would believe. As my former boss, and dear friend, Chuck Colson, would have said, they did indeed, live “the good life.”

The message here is a hard one for us mothers. And for me personally, with two little ones three and under and another on the way, I feel like I haven’t yet even begun to truly and deeply understand the letting go that is required for a mother who trusts her children into the good—but not safe—life of a sold-out follower of Christ. This is where we must not only believe the message of the Gospel, but place our entire hope into it, and into words like those of St. Paul who said, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Roman 8:18). We have to believe that the sufferings of this world that we or our children will undoubtedly face if we follow Christ with any reality at all will indeed be but “light and momentary,” compared to the “eternal weight of glory” that awaits us (1 Cor. 4:17).

The ironic lesson in this story is that if we truly desire greatness for our children, we must help them obtain it by modeling the heart of a servant. In God’s kingdom, a leader leads by taking up the basin and the towel and washing the feet of another. This is the way of his upside down kingdom. The only way up is down.

Talk to me: Sometimes our dreams for our children do not align with God’s dreams. One mother dreamt of greatness and power for her sons, when true greatness meant serving, not being served. How do we submit our dreams for our children to Christ? How can we make this both a habit and a posture?

On your own: Motherhood is by nature a journey into servant-hood and sacrifice. Write a prayer asking for God to help you serve joyfully and as unto Him.

 

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