Meandering Mamas

A few evenings ago I met my new friend, Katie, for a walk. It was her idea and I assumed since I'm older than forty and she is not, I'd be panting at her side in a attempt to keep up. She sauntered up in flip flops and her messenger bag saddled to her side. As she cooly walked in her casual attire I suddenly felt self conscious in my jogging shoes, running shorts and sweat band around my head.

OK, so I didn't come dressed for a 5K, but I was wearing my jogging shoes and the shirt I had chosen had stains and little holes. I briefly looked down at my clothing choice and wondered, as I do pretty much any time I go in public, why did I choose to wear this? The feeling of awkwardness in my own clothing choices is similar to the feelings I had in the first few years of being a mom. Thoughts of those years have been floating through my mind as I have struck up a friendship with Katie. She is a young mother of five little kids under the age of seven. My mom soup is beginning to simmer, while she is still figuring out what veggies to add to the broth (it's kind of ironic that I just used soup as an analogy when I almost never make soup or anything that has to simmer).

As we walked, and were continually distracted by the delicate scent of lilacs in full bloom, some of our conversation revolved around Jennifer Fulwiler's new book (see last post). I was, and still am, ruminating over her story and how it applies it to the real experiences of real moms in the real world. As Katie and I talked about some practical steps to apply some of Fulwiler's wisdom to our lives, her rosy cheeks and fresh smile betrayed her young age. Although Fulwiler's book is inspiring and I highly recommend it, I get a little uncomfortable when I think about young moms such as my ambling friend who walked beside me.

When I was in the throws of young motherhood, I began to long for something more. The whole mom at home thing weighed me down. In an attempt to settle my restless soul, and frankly my boredom, I joined a book club, arranged hikes with friends and had dinner parties. These were things I had enjoyed before kids and thought they would help me feel more alive and give me the energy I needed to be this mom I had become. Soon, my schedule was loaded and I was more frazzled and unhappy than ever. Keeping up relationships, which I so desperately needed, exhausted me. The book club conversations and reading the books sent my thoughts down paths that only meandered out into nothing and left my intellect frustrated instead of inspired. To plan a hike or party around my husband's work schedule and the fear of wearing him out became too difficult and time consuming . I began to fall apart.

At this point my husband pointed out that maybe I ought to stay home more and be content with less activity outside the house. Although I let out an annoyed sigh and turned my back to him, I knew he may be right. That's when I began to say no to everything and burrowed in as a mom at home. Staying home, coupled with more conversations with God (since it's hard to have a deep conversation with a four-year-old), were what finally gave me some of the peace and joy I had longed for. I set aside a lot of my passions, desires and dreams at that point, but it was good choice for me because I learned to have the confidence I needed to be comfortable as a mother, even imperfectly. Even though my mothering was like my T-shirt and may have some little stains and holes, I was no longer as concerned with the imperfection or what I lacked.

I glanced sideways at Katie once more. A little dog barked from behind a fence and a middle aged man adjusted his sprinkler. I am in a different place in my life as a mother than she is. My kids can feed and dress themselves or watch after the one who can't. She is still in the chaos of little babies and settling into her new identity. I've gotten more comfortable in this role and, with older kids, have a lot more breathing room. Finally I am ready to take up some of  my passions again, but now I worry about moms like Katie. Moms who, inspired by books like Fulwiler's or seeking happiness and peace, may try to run after their passions and dreams only to find themselves frustrated like I did.

There is really nothing I can do to help these moms avoid frustration and even depression or despondency (except maybe write and talk about it). In the end, each mother must find her own sweet spot. Hopefully others can find it more quickly than I did, but maybe we all meander on this journey of motherhood. Sometimes we end up on dead end roads and have to turn around. Maybe balance can be achieved more easily when we are sensitive and present enough to see and smell the lilacs. Every step and misstep will be sweeter and will eventually get us to our goal.


To Dream in Color

I'm probably going about this the wrong way. I've had such a desire to write lately, spurred on by Jennifer Fulwiler's latest book, One Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions, and Saying Yes to Them Both, that I have spent way too much time in front of my computer trying to catch up on lost time. The laundry has piled up, the floor needs to be swept, I've barely gotten food on the table and I think my kids may not remember what a vegetable is since even I only have a vague sense that they still exist. So, it's time. It's time for me to write on this silly blog again. I say silly because it really needs to be updated.

Jen's book is not out until May 1st, but I got a copy because she's my BFF, and also pre-ordered from Barnes and Noble and they sent copies out early (I'm pretty sure Jen doesn't know she's my BFF). It basically told the story of her passion for writing and how she managed to publish a book in the midst of a very busy family life. Although she is Catholic and has a pretty dramatic book about her conversion story that I also loved to read, this book doesn't focus so much on faith as it does on inspiring women (moms) to follow their passions.

I see other moms doing this, following their dreams, and always wonder how they do it. This book helped me to see that to follow my passions, I must be intentional, but also flexible. Family, of course, ought to come first, but that looks different in each family. She also recommends that we moms bring our families into our passions, that the family culture should be one of support. She explains that each person should feel free to pursue what makes them come alive and be a support for one another so all can flourish.

Lately, I would not describe myself as flourishing. My color is more gray than red hot (only one shade of gray in case you wondered). I realize now that I have pushed aside a lot of my personal passions, in order to save up enough energy to keep my family afloat. That strategy has backfired. I think Jen may have a point. In order for me to be the mom I need to be with energy and life, I need to do what I do best. I need to use my gifts. I need to search after my dreams. Then my gray life may have some more color and my family will probably happier for it.


The Fullness of Time

In the midst of this Advent season, a time for reflection and preparation for the coming of Christmas, I've been pushing back the desire to throw up my hands and quit. How is it that the most wonderful time of the year is packed, not with love, peace, joy and expectation, but stress, chaos and exhaustion? These dark days before Christmas aren't holly and jolly, they are filled with garish Christmas decorations and frantic shopping trips. Already full schedules are pushed to breaking with Christmas plays, concerts, extra shopping, and decorating. There is so much pressure to be merry and no extra time to manage all the bright, that it's no wonder the other day I found myself throwing slices of bread at one of my kids after I had first thrown a mommy tantrum over the disorder in our house (because, by the way, it is also impossible to keep a clean and peaceful house this time of year). After the bread flew, we laughed.

A while back, before I had caught on to this Christmas deception, I announced to my mom with my first child in my arms, "It's August." Her reply dripped with dread: "Oh no. That means only three months until Christmas." I laughed awkwardly because...I.had.no.idea. It's a little like pregnancy or having a baby. Nobody talks about the bad parts. Moms hesitate to reveal all the gory details of the birth of a child to the newly pregnant. It would be too scary. Yet, we encourage our newly married to have babies!  We are bombarded with images of happy moms and cute babies. "So much love. So much happiness. You should do it too." These images seem to say. Christmas images are the same. Everywhere you turn, there are pictures of people serenely, perfectly, and joyfully ccelebrating the season.

Yet, as it is with babies and life, Advent is filled with imperfection. It's messy. It's never, ever perfect. It's rarely peaceful. So, again, we as a people moan and suffer under the weight of the human condition. We are weak. We are pulled down by our mistakes. If we do actually take some time to stop and reflect, the voices of the past fill our ears. Voices of regret, disgust, and sadness.

Isn't it interesting that at Christmas we welcome Jesus as a baby? A baby that is full of hope and sweetness, so gentle and so dear. A baby born into a cold, dark, imperfect world. He was born and placed in a manger where cows slobber and munch no less! Just imagine Jesus as a new little baby with perfectly soft skin in a cow trough! Not only that, he was also born into a crazy, frenzied world similar our modern advent season. Joseph and Mary were looking for a place to stay in the midst of hoards of people also looking for lodging, kind of like Christmas shopping. Although Joseph was a just man, he forgot to make reservations during the busy census season!

In the end, the Advent season builds itself up to the crescendo of Christmas day. Our children, already maxed out on sugar and excitement, rip and tear into presents. We crowd ourselves around the Christmas table with family and friends and with stuffed stomachs try to taste just one more bite of the delicious holiday food.

Then, in an instant, it's all over. And what is left? Life. The hum drum and daily grind. We still need that tiny baby. We still need someone to save us. Jesus, the King of Kings, is there. He sleeps in the deepest peace. The world swirls around him, yet he is serene. He's there for each of us just as we are. He's there for me. A mom who chucks slices of bread at her children. A mom who can't get the tree decorated completely or bake a batch of cookies. A wife who fails on many levels to love her husband well. A daughter who forgets to call her parents. A failing friend. A human longing to be saved from my weaknesses, mistakes and regrets.

There he is, snuggled up in hay.
The moment is timeless since he is the eternal.
Be still my soul.
Don't give up.
There is always hope.

"And the one seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I make all things new." Revelation 21:5


Sweet 16

We spent Thanksgiving with my family in Montana this year. Adam's work schedule dictated that we come together on Friday instead of Thanksgiving day. That day, November 24th, happens to be our anniversary. So, surrounded by those I love the most in my life and feeling thankful in my heart, I made a toast of gratitude for our sixteen years of marriage. A marriage we came into freely, we gave ourselves to one another totally, we have each remained faithful, and fruitful as we have been blessed with four children.

Admittedly, I am more reflective about our anniversary this year. It is not a round number like 10 or 20, so I think it has more to do with our current ages and states in life. We are both in our forties and have a daughter only three and a half years away from high school graduation. Our marriage is settled now. Most of the sharp edges of disagreements and personality weaknesses have been smoothed out, or at least accepted. We both have made some big steps toward health in the last few years  and fifteen years of parenting has mellowed us out a bit. The new parents we were all those years ago would probably not get along very well with the parents we are today.

I have read about studies on marriage and how people who say they are unhappily married, if they wait ten years, will say the opposite. If I look back to ten years ago, our second child, Clare, was a baby and we were living in our little house in Siletz. Those were tough years, but I do feel grateful for them now. We stuck with it and with each other, even when it didn't "feel" so great. That work we did then to ensure that our marriage remained intact for ourselves, and especially for our children, is like a deposit in our marriage bank. It's extra marital security. As the years continue to roll by, we will continue to add to that deposit.

What a gift. My heart swells with gratitude for my husband and our precious marriage. He's not perfect. I'm not perfect. Our marriage is not perfect, but God's grace builds on nature. Grace has taken the seed of love between Adam and I and has grown it into something we could not have imagined when we started this journey together.