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.

Accustomed to Him

“Some of the greatest beauties [of this world], are its briefest.”—Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow

shelter-from-the-storm-

I’m in those hazy days of night-waking to feed a 3 month old. On the night stand, I’ve got size 2 diapers, baby wipes, a water bottle, tissues, and a well-marked book of poetry, Rainier Marie Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God. I know: one of these things is not like the other. But as mother of four boys under the age of six in the midst of diapers, dishes, fights, and fits, I find myself hungry for beauty. And while I can’t feast on beauty like I’d like to, I snack on it when I can.

There’s not enough solitude in my life right now. Not enough quiet. Not enough alone time for this introvert. My soul longs for quiet walks in the woods, for a morning to sip tea, to read or write and stare out the window at a blanket of snow-covered ground. But these days, there is rowdy bustle, clamoring for mommy, there is a broken dishwasher, and a pile of unfolded laundry.

So I’m learning and leaning and listening in for beauty like I haven’t before. I’m parched. One of the little snippets, I stretched for in the middle of the night, with the lights dim, to keep baby in that sleepy state as I nursed him, was this line from Rilke’s Book of Hours, it reads:

“We become so accustomed to you,
we no longer look up
when your shadow falls over the book we are reading
and makes it glow. For all things
sing you: at times we just hear them more clearly.”

The “you” here is God. We become so accustomed to Him, that we no longer look up. We become so accustomed to His beauty, to His goodness, to His faithfulness that we no longer look up. When the ordinary things around me glow with His shadow, how rarely I see them. How rarely I acknowledge them. For all things, sing His praises, at times we just hear the melody more clearly.

I close the book and let the words sink in. I realize His shadow has just fallen across the page I’ve been reading, my page on this night and I look up. I acknowledge Him. I acknowledge this moment of beauty and then I turn my gaze to my sweet baby. He’s dimly lit. His cheeks are filling out. His hair is coming in finally, perhaps a quarter of an inch. And his face, his sweet perfect face. When the feeding is done, I gaze at him asleep for several moments longer than any sleep-deprived person in her right mind should. I drink Him in. He’s a masterpiece in the middle of my mundane. He’s a stunning work of art from God to me that I alone get to gaze upon and enjoy in this way, for this moment. Sure, I trust and pray that he will grow and bless others in manifold ways, but on this night I am the only one awake to witness this shooting star glimpse of the glory of God displayed in a baby, my baby.

Beau sleep

I must remember this. I must acknowledge the glow of God on this page, on this day, on this life.

A few days later, the dinner was done and the dishes finished. We were enjoying some of those alternatingly sweet and cringe-inducing moments with our boys before bedtime. There was the clamoring for firsts, and turns and mine, and there were the “play with me, mommy” and the child who crawls on the lap eager for just your presence. In other words, there was the simultaneous sweetness and senseless stuff of parenthood.

My husband had built a roaring fire and the big boys were for a moment enthralled in its warmth and glow. I had put on my favorite cd of George Winston’s Winter and had checked out for a moment to lay beside our sweet littlest one on his playmat. As I lay there watching his face, the song Joy came on. It is an arrangement of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring and I love it so much, I chose it for our wedding march. Somehow the arrangement seems to accentuate the joy in that beautiful piece of music, the joy in the heart of one who desires Jesus. So as I was laying there, listening and watching, my sweet baby smiled with one of his brand-new grins and then began to coo at me.

Beau fire Beau Grin Beau Smile

The moment was so brief, so brief, but it was so beautiful it literally brought tears to my eyes. The music reminded me of God’s faithfulness to me on my wedding day; the smile reminded me of God’s faithfulness in giving us children. A moment later there was fighting and fussing. Ten minutes later there was the blur of bedtime routines and teeth-brushing and one-more-story-please-mommy.

Later, I scribbled down in my journal, “sometimes life’s greatest beauties are its briefest. We dismiss these because they are here one moment and gone the next, interrupted. Why don’t we instead treasure them for what they are? Why don’t we string them together in our minds like the beautiful pearls they are? Each glimpse deserves reverence for what it is: a glimpse of ultimate joy and beauty, a glimpse of the One who created and authored beauty, the One who is all-beautiful and all-good. The fleeting nature of these moments shouldn’t rob from them, but instead remind us that that which we long for is not of this world, it is eternal. We are thirsty for more because there is indeed more and because we are made for more. We are not satiated with interrupted grace because there is a source of unending grace.”

So I’m learning to not begrudge these little glimpses of grace and sips of beauty because they are fleeting. I’m learning to take them, accept them as the shadow that falls across the page I’m reading, as the feeling of a presence which makes me look up. They come in so many moments: in the sunrise of a smile, in the nestling head upon my shoulder as I read just one more story, in the whispered “Amen” of my two-year old, in the roar of a fire, and the first-fall of snow. Let me treasure these, string them together, lay them at His feet in praise. Let me not become so accustomed to grace that I no longer look up.

 

I couldn’t give you pictures of the exact nights that these happened–I try to be in my moments rather than behind a camera– and I’m not a great photographer, but I still wanted to give you a few of my beautiful Beau. I’m learning to treasure the extraordinary in the midst of the ordinary and offer these moments back to God in praise. If you are new here and interested in reading more, sign up to the left to have these posts delivered straight to your inbox and check out my devotional journal for expectant mothers, Waiting in Wonder.

Are You Who You Want to Be?

Conquering flower

About a month ago, I was driving home late one night by myself. Now if you are at a place in life where alone time is a common occurrence you might have just skipped blithely by that little prepositional phrase like it was the most ordinary thing in the world. So let me repeat it. I was in the car BY MYSELF. As a mom of 3 children under 5 this alone time thing is very rare. And so as any responsible adult who suddenly finds herself shed of her responsibilities, I was blaring the radio entirely too loud, the way the teenager that still lives trapped inside me likes her music. So on this night, this alone night, a song by the band Switchfoot from a few years ago happened to be playing on the radio and for some reason, though I’d heard the song before, the lyrics hit me in a fresh way. I haven’t stopped mulling them since. The song’s chorus is simple. It repeats this statement and question:

“This is your life; are you who you want to be?
This is your life; are you who you want to be?
This is your life; is it everything you dreamed,
when the world was younger and you had everything to lose?”

Of course, a question like this coming as you drive your mini-van, strewn with Cheerios and sippy cups, your shirt stained with baby’s sweet potato mash, on a drive out that is the first little bit of truly alone time you’ve had in a month because everyone in the family has been sick, sick, sick, is bound to make you stop and think. “Hmm… this mom-life I’m in the thick of, is it everything I dreamed?”

But it was the pronoun in the song that caught me off guard. The question isn’t are you “what” you want to be or are you “where” you want to be. The question isn’t: “Do you have all you wanted?” or “Are things going like you expected?” The question is: “Are you who you want to be?” It’s a question that gets to the heart of identity and character.

I don’t know about you, but when I was a teenager and young adult, I spent a fair amount of time agonizing over the question of what I would do when I grew up. And yet, I don’t remember asking myself about “who” I wanted to be when I grew up—not in a way that would have elicited thoughts about what kind of character I wanted to possess. I had grandiose dreams of being on stage or being a writer. And I had more ordinary dreams of being a wife and a mother. But I don’t recall dreaming about becoming a woman of kindness, a woman whose first impulse is selflessness. I don’t remember dreaming about being a peacemaker or having that kind of deep joy in your heart that lets you smile even on the really rough days. I don’t remember dreaming about that, but I probably should have.

So I’ve been mulling this. And then this week and last, I’ve been making my way through a book called, “Expectant Parents” by Suzanne Gosselin. After reading my book, Waiting In Wonder: Growing in Faith While You’re Expecting, Gosselin, who formerly worked for Focus on the Family, wrote me last year to ask if she could interview me for her book. I was honored to share a little bit of my motherhood journey with her and her readers. And I’ve been delighted to see the final product in my hands. Gosselin has created a wonderful resource–a book that truly will help both moms and dads prepare not just their homes, but their hearts to welcome a precious little one.

So anyhow, I’m reading along in the book and I come across this chapter called “Roots” which is all about being the best parent you can be whether or not you’ve come from a strong family or a very broken one. And here, I stumble over these sentences where Gosselin is quoting Chrystal Evans Hurst: “Regardless of your situation—the pregnancy is earlier than planned, it’s unplanned, you’re by yourself, maybe you’re not with the guy—from this point forward you get to choose. You get to choose what kind of parent you’re going to be. You get to choose what kind of childhood you’re going to give your baby.”

And all I can think about as I put the book down is this: “This is your home, are you who you want to be?” My children will only get one childhood. They will only have one natural mother and father who shape their views of the world, of God, of love, and of who they are. This is their life; am I the mother I want to be?

Now of course, none of us will parent perfectly or even anywhere near it. But the fact that I will not be a perfect mother, doesn’t excuse me from striving to be the best mother I can possibly be for my children. As Hurst goes on to say in Gosselin’s book, “We create healthy kids by giving the best we can out of what we have to give.”

But this is what I think is so key: we spend way too much time thinking and worrying about the “what”, when the thing that is going to matter most of all for our kids is the “who”. Whether they learn to swim or ever hit a homerun, whether they read early or late, whether you move them cross country or stay close to home, whether illness strikes a blow at your family in a way you never imagined or a job-loss cripples your dreams—no matter the “what”, the “who” of you is what will be shaping them. And hopefully, as you shape them, loving them, however imperfectly, yet with all you have to give, you will also be pointing them to the much greater “Who”—the One whose nature never changes, the One who is perfect, and who will parent them perfectly even when you fail. This God we know as our loving Father.

Along with the haunting question posed in the Switchfoot song, “Are you who you want to be?” there’s also this warning and injunction, “Today is all you’ve got now. Today is all you’ll ever have. Don’t close your eyes.”

Everyone says it—you’ll blink and their childhood will be gone. So remember this: Today is your gift. Don’t close your eyes. Don’t miss it. Instead lean in. Worry less about the “what”; care more about the “who”. Be who God made you to be because God made you for them. They need you. They need God shining through you.

 

Hey, thanks for stopping by this little outpost of grace in a world that’s too weary. I hope you’ll stay awhile and be refreshed for the journey ahead. I write a lot about motherhood and have even written a book or two, which I hope may lead you or someone you know to walk just a bit closer with Jesus in this humbling journey they call life.  And if you’d like to hear more from me, I’d love to be one of those little voices of encouragement you look forward to finding in your inbox.

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.

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