Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday Balm

Yesterday was a rough day. Nothing in particular happened but the same old guilt reared its ugly head. I ended the day feeling like a total failure. Condemned for what I hadn't done and the mother I hadn't been. Despair set in. Despair I couldn't shake.

In the middle of the night I was wrestling with God. One more day of not being who He made me to be or doing what He called me to do? How much more would he put up with? There must be a limit. But wait. . .
"His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. . ." — Lamentations 3:22-23
And indeed they are new every morning. My brilliant and insightful friend Rebecca (who will always have a place in my heart for driving my husband home from work when I was in labor with my 4th child. . . he was going to WALK the 45 minutes home) apparently woke up this morning with the same struggle. Facing another day of failure.

You can read her blog post here. Her cry is my cry.
"I'm going to fail. Father, show me! Please show me that you will love me, even when I fail today. Make me believe it."
She brought the truth of Good Friday to me on the day that I needed it most. And that is good news and balm for my soul.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Coping (HA!) Strategies

I asked on my Facebook page what people wanted me to blog about and somebody mentioned the stressors of new parenthood and coping strategies. Coping? You funny! I am sure that those other mothers, the ones with standards and ideals and skills laughed at what I considered coping as they compared their serene little cherubs to my shrieking monkeys. . . but yes, I guess I did cope in my own way. These aren't the tips you will find in most parenting blogs or Martha Stewart magazines but they worked for me. We are all still alive on the planet, after all.

1.) Sleeping: I do not want to start a debate here (remember, this is what worked FOR ME) but I would not have made it past 6 weeks of parenthood without pulling my baby in bed to nurse. The first night home from the hospital with her I sat up in a freezing bedroom with a nasty cold and a throbbing caesarean incision and thought if I had to do this every night I would surely die. Once I figured out the lying down and nursing thing it all fell into place. Sure my kids had cribs and sometimes they actually slept in them, but for the most part, my nursing babies nursed and slept right next to me and so we all got much needed sleep.

The older kids would still wander in on occasion to join the party with the baby so, after our hand-me-down queen size mattress died (see Fit For a Queen?), Matt and I put two twin mattress together to form what seemed to be about an acre of sleeping space. It was not uncommon to wake up to several kids asleep between us, piled up like puppies. Some may cluck their tongues and shake their heads but, hey, it worked.

2.) Walking: I get incredibly stir crazy. Thankfully, we had the privilege of living in walkable neighborhoods for the first 15 years of parenthood. Almost every single day I would toss however many babies I had in the stroller and go. One baby, easy. Two babies, no problem. Double strollers rock! Three kiddos? Sure, why not. You just lay down the back seat of the double stroller and you can fit two back there. Four? Yep, I did that, too. You lay down BOTH seats and just line 'em up. Yes, by the time my youngest was born, my oldest was 6 and others shuddered and thought she should be required to walk. Are you nuts? I needed exercise! Endorphins! (Besides, when she walked, she made turtles look like Olympic sprinters.) If the daily walk met with resistance from the peanut gallery, I would bribe them all with the tantalizing treat of a "Little Round Thingy,"—more commonly known as a York Peppermint Patty—from the local convenience store. There came a point when the combined weight of the four children plus the uber-sturdy stroller was more than I weighed myself but, man! I was in good shape.

3.) Libraries and books: And books and books and books. We read constantly. Not a lot else got done but we read—and lost—more library books that you can imagine. A few books even got baths. Maybe I should say we read and lost and BOUGHT more library books than you can imagine.

4.) Appliance boxes: There is nothing to compare to the appliance box for absolute fascination and joy for hours and days. Whenever I would see an appliance delivery truck in the neighborhood I would leave the kids to whatever mischief they were up to, chase down the delivery man, and drag home the Toy of the Century. Throw in some markers and a steak knife or two for sawing and you have danger and adventure all in one. This house, school, train, car, hospital, zoo. . . or whatever they turned it into, was good for several days until it was so beaten down and flattened there was no vertical function left at all. At that point the slab of cardboard went into secondary toy mode (told you it was the Toy of the Century) as a slide. We had a two-story house and there is nothing like sledding down a flight of old, hardwood stairs on a cardboard toboggan. (Unless it is sledding down stairs inside a sleeping bag or a pillow case. Those work, too!)

5.) Goals: Or maybe I should say GOAL. I only had one. Getting through each day. I know there is an awful lot out there about training up your children and teaching them important things and such but I have to admit that, FOR ME, rightly or wrongly, getting through each day (and some days seemed to last FOREVER) was a challenge in and of itself. Any special meals other than pancakes or spaghetti or cereal over and over and over again, any enriching activities, any educational opportunities, and any teachable moments were just icing on the day-in-and-day-out cake.

I know that doesn't sound like much. I know I maybe should have aspired for something more. But I was in WAY over my head. God was merciful to me. He still is.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

One Lost Wagon Wheel

Some posts you have to write, not because of any moral issue or spiritual truth or heartfelt confession, but because something really, really bugs you and you've got to get it off your chest.

Old Crow Medicine Show has a song named "Wagon Wheel." (Darius Rucker just released his own cover of it, which was a really bad idea, but I digress.) It is everything bluegrass and folk and homespun that I love, plus it includes references to places I know. It is a regional song and that warms my heart. But there is something about this song that drives me positively mad. It is geographically inaccurate.

Now I am not the nitpicky type of person. I am more of a big picture, wing-it, seat-of-my-pants soul. This causes my husband to tremble when I pick up a paint brush or offer to finish sheetrock. When it comes to sewing, I give zig-zag a whole new meaning. And you should see my desk!

But there is one place where I am a real stickler, and that is with the facts. I see factual errors everywhere. I would probably see more factual errors if I knew more facts. Geographical facts are my big pet peeve. Enter "Wagon Wheel."

OK, you've got this fellow up in New England and he is wanting to see his honey who is down in Raleigh so he sets out to hitchhike down there. According to my Google Maps, a trip from Boston, for example, to Raleigh is 704 miles and should take 12 hours and 22 minutes, but seeing how this dude is thumbing it down the road, I think 17 hours is pretty good time. 

We know that he is on foot a bit because he tells us that he is "walking to the south out of Roanoke." Best I can figure he has to be talking about Roanoke Rapids, NC. He already said he "made it down the coast in 17 hours" and Roanoke, VA is clear on the western side of the state and nowhere near the coast. So let's assume that he just left the Rapids part of the town name off for syntax purposes. It makes perfect sense that that is where he is, given that Roanoke Rapids is just 90 miles northeast of Raleigh. He's GONNA see his baby tonight.

But here is the problem. He meets this trucker. He has a "nice long toke." Perhaps it scrambled his brains. Or maybe the people writing the song just didn't know what they were talking about. "But he's a headed west from the Cumberland Gap to Johnson City, Tennessee." 

Now anybody who knows anything about the region knows that the Cumberland Gap and Roanoke Rapids, NC are miles and miles away. A full 400+ miles, in fact. There is no way, unless the trucker himself had had a nice long toke, that anybody should be in eastern North Carolina, thinking they were at the Cumberland Gap.

To make matters worse, he says he was headed WEST from the Cumberland Gap to Johnson City. You don't get to Johnson City by heading west, you get to Middlesboro, KY (which has a Taco Bell, by the way). You have to go EAST from the Cumberland Gap and continue through beautiful and historically Melungeon-filled country for a good 100+ miles to get to Johnson City.

Sheesh people! There are these things called maps. Pick one up before you write a hit song. If you don't, you are going to have one lost wagon wheel.

THIS Needs To Be Said

This morning a friend of mine shared a link to this incredible post. Now I'm not much of a blog follower, but I have read some of this blogger's posts before and I have loved every one of them. She writes likes I talk, but am afraid to write.

Perhaps I run in a more conservative crowd. One time I posted on Facebook about how I always seem to miss the bony ankle area when I shave my legs and end up with a perpetual fringe of fur around my ankles and I got some "TMI . . . too much information!" feedback. Sheepishly, I began to refrain from sharing too much of my earthy self in writing. Perhaps I am too shy or lack backbone or just care too much about what others think. I don't know.

But Jamie, The Very Worst Missionary, tells it like it is and what she says in this post just has to be said and said and said again.

In contrast to Jamie, somehow. . . somehow. . . SOMEHOW—by the grace of God—my husband and I made it to marriage as virgins. Back then in the olden days, the sex-laden culture was more of a lazy river but the biology was good old biology. But by the grace of God, and thanks to a short engagement, we got to our wedding night without a clue as to what we were doing. An adventure in itself.

When it came to our kids, I always thought I was so good about being open and honest about sex. I started the conversations early and was very frank. I waxed long and intense about the pressures and the need to hold out for marriage. I used the fire and fireplace analogy that I learned from my college pastor, Brother Bob, in 1984. We set limits for physical intimacy as our daughters began to date, things like "If you want to kiss him, only do it standing up" knowing that makes it at least a little more difficult to get into compromising positions. Hands were to stay off of any place underwear went. We thought these were reasonable and balanced rules. Realistic to know that there would be some smooching going on, yet giving them the freedom within boundaries.

Now, I know many of you courtship types are shaking your head that we did it wrong. You know what? Maybe we did. But that isn't what this post is about, so please keep that in mind.

Anyway, we figured we had done a good job. The books and articles and Powers That Be all said that if your daughter feels secure enough in your love for her she will not go looking for it elsewhere. They said that if you parent right she will come to you will all her questions. We were so certain we had done it right and, to be honest, would shake our heads when word trickled in about classmates at their Christian school who were romping in the hay, so to speak. I even defended my daughter to the MD who offered to prescribe her the pill, saying that the doctor should have respected my daughter's convictions rather than viewing her with such skepticism.

Then the world caved in. I will not go into details, there is no need and, out of respect for my daughter, I would not go into details even if there was a need, not unless she wanted me to. But suffice it to say that we came face to face with the two lies that Jamie mentions in her post: The lie from our culture that sex isn't a very big deal and the lie that can come from the church, that sex is the the biggest deal of all.

About the first lie. There is no restraint out there at all. None. It amazes me. The movies. The TV shows. The music. It absolutely blows me away. It is like the guys are nothing but walking penises. As for the girls, I don't know. My husband has this theory that one of the biggest myths that movies perpetuate is that women are always, always ready and eager to hop in the sack with whoever, whenever. This totally baffles him because, having been married to me for almost 25 years, he knows that is not the case. But I digress.

The truth is, that what was a slow stream of cultural sexuality in the 1980s is an all out tsunami of eroticism and sexual freedom. Those of us who are working so hard to protect our children from the damages of sex outside of marriage really do have to understand this. Wherever your child goes, whether to college or straight into the workforce, it is highly likely that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, is doing it and sees it as perfectly normal and thinks it is really, really weird and unnatural NOT to do it. Couple that environment with the teenager or young adult who may be lonely and confused and working to find his or her place in the world and what he or she believes is true. . . It is easy to jump in to that alluring river of fun and "freedom" and "love." It is easy to get swept away.

The second lie is the one that concerns me even more. The lie that sex outside of marriage is the worst sin ever. Why do we do that? Because it is so defined? Because the consequences can be so visible and life-altering? Because there is such a cut and dry boundary? Because if Tab A went into Slot B, then you are doomed? I know that the Bible talks about maintaining sexual purity. I understand that God created sex for lots of important reasons and all. But the Bible talks about a LOT, I mean A WHOLE LOT of other sins, both external and internal. Yet this one tends to get singled out. Why? That is another post in and of itself. Later.

What I see as the biggest danger of this "biggest sin ever" approach is the all-or-nothing nature of it all. That whole virginity thing. My concern, and I can certainly see that I was as guilty of this as the next parent, is that we make such a big deal about sex in a "There's this thing called sex—don't do it" way and never, ever teach them how to respond if they DO do it. I wrote about this in my blog post Class VI Rapids and Sex. It is my concern that, especially for girls, once they give in to the actual act of sex, they may see themselves as damaged goods. I have known way too many women who were actually TOLD by their jerk boyfriends that they were damaged goods and nobody else would want them since they were no longer virgins. This is a cruel lie and the worst tragedy of all.

I don't see my daughter as damaged goods. I see her as beautiful. . . older now, wiser, and maybe even full of regrets, but beautiful. And she is the mother of the most wonderful little girl on the planet.

There isn't a sin out there that cannot be forgiven. There isn't choice that cannot be redeemed. Jesus is in the business of making all things new and healing the brokenhearted and binding up wounds. No matter what mistakes we make, sins we commit, failures, train wrecks, you name it. Nothing is beyond the reach of the arms of our loving and redeeming Savior.

If you have fallen to the overwhelming lure of sex and suffered its consequences, know that you are NOT damaged goods. You do not have to be dirty and broken. Go swimming in the river of God's grace and use your experience to the glory of him who washes you clean. Read the truth below or listen to it here. (Thank you, Jars of Clay, for your healing words.)

There is a river that washes you clean
There is a tree that marks the places you've been
Blood that was spilled, although not your own,
For all of your tears, are the wages for things you have done

And all of those nights
Spent alone in the darkness of your mind
Give it up, Let go
These are things you were never meant to shoulder

There is a river that washes you clean
There is a tree that marks the places you've been
Blood that was spilled, although not your own
For all of those tears, love will atone

So, give up the right
To control the waves that empty out your life
Above wild skies
Are the rays that break the shadows we design

Give it up, let go
These are things you were never meant to shoulder
Give it up, let go

There is a river that washes you clean
There is a tree that marks the places you've been
Blood that was spilled, although not your own
For all of those things, love will atone

I know the world can turn in different ways
Most of the time, we're simply hanging on
And under the signs of how we all behave
We might find the place that we belong

There is a river that washes you clean
There is a tree that marks the places you've been
Blood that was spilled, although not your own
For all of these things, love will atone

For all of those nights, that you cried all alone
All of your tears, love will atone

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Day I Grew Up

For years I wondered when I would ever grow up. I have always felt younger than everybody else. I was the youngest of four children, in the youngest group of kids in the neighborhood, and at tail end of the Baby Boom. This was all a perfect storm to place me in the mental position of being the perpetual little sister to the world.

My growing up years were not easy. My parents' divorce and the ensuing emotional fallout threw me for a loop. My father pretty much left the picture but my mother stayed very much in my life. Sometimes, in my opinion, too much in my life.

As I grew into adulthood I found I could never feel like an adult around my mother. I also felt the perpetual pressure to be the one to meet her emotional needs. I found this to be suffocating and overwhelming. In my immaturity I fumbled. In my effort to bring distance between myself and her, I divorced myself of anything that she stood for, going so far as to even ditch my southern mountain twang.

Through the years and into my own life as a mother, I softened. I learned about boundaries and setting them in as loving a manner possible, but I still kept the relationship far more distant than was necessary. I just had no idea how to biblically love and honor her without getting tangled up in a vortex of dysfunction and unrealistic expectations.

I was there when she died, four years ago this May. It rocked my world. I had no idea. None at all. The grief wouldn't let go. It would come at me in waves. I couldn't think. I had to nap. It was a full year before I woke up to the life right in front of me. In many ways, that life was very hard. Being the mother to teenagers and young adults is not the easiest job on the planet and certainly not one that lends itself to warm, fuzzy feelings. I never knew that my mere presence on the planet could be seen with such scorn.

I had spent my entire life trying to not be my mother, but as motherhood got harder, I began to identify more and more with her. One day, it all broke open. I wrote about it in my blog post Flannery Meltdown. Our pastor talks about the difference between gnosis, which is basic head knowledge, and epignosis, which is a true, in your gut, heart-felt understanding. That day I went from gnosis of my mother to epignosis and it tore me to my core.

That was over a year ago. I have worked through, with God, the pain of this epignosis. I went through a period of "God is punishing me because of how awful I was to my mother" and "I am just getting what I deserve" and "Why can't I turn back the clock and love her the way I should" and all forms of pain and regret. I am so thankful for the grace of God. That He does not pay us as our sins deserve.

I look back at that moment now and am thankful. Even though it ripped my heart in two, I think that is the day that I grew up.

A Little Bolder

I have decided to be a little bolder. This may rock (pun intended!) the boat in the parenting sphere but I am getting old and tired and more and more convicted that, just as God does not make cookie cutter children, He does not make cookie cutter parents.

Earlier this morning I was thinking in the shower. I do my best thinking in the shower, which is unfortunate because by the time I get out of the shower I have forgotten everything I was thinking about. Maybe I should check into a waterproof voice recorder and rant along with the soap and shampoo and listen later and see if anything of substance was going on between my brain and my mouth. But I digress....

I was thinking in the shower and ranting to my husband, who is an expert ranter himself. We were talking about all of our regrets as parents. The list is endless and could likely circle the globe a time or two or four.

One of the biggest pressures that we have felt over the past 23 years of parenthood is that of structure. In our culture, structure seems to be the foundation of all competent parenthood. We are told how how children need structure and thrive in structure and if we do not give them enough structure they will turn into tiny despots or quivering, insecure waifs, or totally government dependent deadbeats. The lack of structure seems to be the root of all developmental evil.

Now I understand that children need to have the security of knowing that they will get loved and fed and clothed and bathed every so often. They need boundaries. They need to know where their power starts and stops and all. There is an element of basic structure that is inherent to survival.

To be sure, I nursed my babies when they were hungry and picked them up when they cried and bathed them so that they wouldn't be sticky and crusty. We slept when other people slept and woke up in the morning and toiled with the rest of the world.

But anybody who is a parent knows what I am talking about. There are the basic rhythms of life and then there is structure with a capital S. And, well, we (both Matt and I) suck at that kind of structure. I mean really, really SUCK. I have complained in other blog posts that I have no managerial skills whatsoever. NONE. I don't tell people what to do. Even it they are short. I guess most people would see this as a problem when you have four kids in six years. I KNOW people saw it as a problem. I felt horribly guilty that I didn't have designated nap times and reading times and homework times and chore times (chores? bwahahahaha!) and family worship times and family reading times and family tell-me-about-your-day times and family dinner times and play times and tv times all set out. We didn't have charts and written out rules. We didn't require certain levels of performance. We just, well, did life. Frankly, we were happy to survive.

Oh, I felt plenty guilty about this. I would try to read books and follow the rules but I always ended up hating my children and hating myself. It was like it went against everything in me to try and be something I was not in order to fit into the Good Parent category. Sometimes I feel that, based on what is required to be a Good Parent, I probably should have never had children at all. But, DANG! I love them so.

Our kids are older now, 17-23 to be exact. The past few years have been rough. I am sure that a lot of people would say that is because we were not structured enough as parents when they were younger and if we had done it right things would have gone along just swimmingly. They might be right.  All I know is that we are worn out. Yet, looking back, our biggest regrets are the times we spent trying to structure our children instead of trying to love them. I have always felt that I could only parent in good conscience if I err on the side of grace. I wish I had erred more often.

I know there are plenty who will disagree with me. I fully expect an all out assault. That's ok. I know I have failed plenty. But God has called me to love MY children the best way I can. And that may mean, for me, a little less structure and a lot more grace.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Before You Say "I Do"

It's that time of year again. When the bridal showers begin for all the spring and summer weddings. I've already been to one. Every shower is the same. Yummy food. Polite women, usually dressed more formally than I am. Loads of presents. And The Book. This is a book that is to be filled with advice for the bride-to-be by us, the veteran shower-goers.

It seems like a lot of women come to these events chock full of godly wisdom as to the ins and outs of marriage and can fill pages with words, like a sanctified Dear Abby. I'm not one of them. You stick me with a pen and a blank page and my brain screams a gleeful "adios" and goes on vacay.

Now my husband and I have a pretty good marriage. It is by no means perfect (I'd call it a 9.3 on a scale of 1 to 10) and we had some really, really rough years where I wanted to run away and be young and beautiful and maybe work on a ranch and find me a cowboy—but we got through those and I love him now more than ever. He is my best friend and the person I trust more than anybody else on the planet and I cannot imagine spending one single day without him. We will have been married 25 years this May.

That being said, when it comes to giving trite, open-book, fit for a wedding shower (though the more "polite" ladies may beg to differ) advice, this is all I've got.

#1. If you and your new husband want to take a shower together, make sure there is plenty of water pressure and the bathroom is warm. Back when Matt and I were engaged, people kept telling us about our honeymoon "You've GOT to take a shower together. It is the BEST!" so we figured we had to give it a go. So on our wedding night we turned on the shower in the Hyatt in Knoxville and hopped in. In our anticipation we had failed to notice that the room had been prepped for us with the AC turned to the Arctic setting. The water meekly dribbled out of the shower head and we began to shiver. We politely took turns standing under the pathetic stream until desperation set in. Before long we were soapy and cold and ready to elbow each other out of the way for a chance to bask in the limited warm spew and de-soap ourselves. It was wholly unsatisfying.

(I'm a realtor. Every so often I go in a big, fancy house where the shower is the size of our bedroom and there seem to be a gazillion shower heads and I squeal with glee, "Now THAT is a shower I could share!" Nobody ever seems to understand what I am talking about.)

#2. Rock, paper, scissors solves a host of decision making problems. This one is short and simple and to the point. I know those marriage books talk about establishing roles ahead of time so as to cut down on those newlywed spats. We must have missed that part so we established our own system. Rock, paper, scissors. Always quick, Always fair. Who's gonna make the coffee? Get a shower first (by yourself, of course!)? Change the baby's diaper? No problem.

#3. "The benefit of putting off motherhood is far overrated. Have them while you're young." This was the advice a kind lady gave to me a few weeks before our wedding. This was so unexpected because this was in the 80s when financial security and planning your perfect future and achieving uber-maturity were required BEFORE even thinking of parenthood.

We took her advice anyway, mainly because I really, really wanted babies. I don't consider that I was actually YOUNG when I had my spawn—26, 28, 30, and 32—but I guess I was younger than many. I have never, ever regretted not waiting but I have wished that I could have started motherhood earlier. Much earlier.

Motherhood is a hard, hard job. Physically, mentally, emotionally. It takes its toll and it takes everything in you to get through each day. The needed energy can be hard enough to come by in your 20s, it starts to peter out in your 30s, and by your 40s it has been put on the Endangered Species list.

Add to that the issue of hormones. Perimenopause can start a good 10 years before menopause, meaning that the ups and downs and ins and outs of hormonal fluctuations have you on some evil carnival ride for close to a decade. What happens to most of us, if we have girls, is that our hormones are going out just as our daughters' are coming in, resulting in exponential hormonal mayhem.

I guess there is really no solution to the above described conundrum except, of course, starting your family while a teenager, which comes with its own set of problems. But what I am saying is don't underestimate the fact that your body will change over the years and that will affect your motherhood. If you have a choice, you might want to go for the kids while you are young and perky.

Now I don't write the entire back story to each of these nuggets of highly practical, but not so pious, advice when I'm filling out those wedding shower books. But I will share the story if anyone asks me. And sometimes even if they don't.

Now go warm up your bathroom.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ladder to Nowhere

A couple of days ago I posted A Letter to Young Mothers and it seems to have gone viral. I guess it struck a nerve. So I have fleshed out a little bit more of my thinking below.

Ever since I can remember I have had the tendency to compare myself to other people. Maybe we all do that to some extent, but I had gotten a PhD in the process before I could ride a bike. Now I was by no means a popular kid or a superstar or even terribly attractive. I didn't make the teams or the clubs or anything with any social currency.

This tendency toward comparison naturally led to what popular culture calls "poor self esteem." I was the poster child. I thought I was fat. I thought I was ugly. I thought I was a failure. Enter the gospel. 1981. God took hold of my life and began to give me hope. But the comparisons continued.

Now we know how hard it is to be a woman in our culture . . .  to be compared to or to compare ourselves to models that don't even look that way in real life. Blow that up and out and that is what all of us face on every level in every aspect of life. And if you are prone to comparison, like I am, well . . .  you're toast.

There is no better stage for the comparison drama to play itself out than motherhood. I thought I wallowed in feelings of inadequacy and failure before! Motherhood managed to grind me down, chew me up, and spit me out.

I seemed to be AWOL when God handed out managerial skills and parenting know-how. There was not a gene in my body that was comfortable with calling all the shots and barking orders and scheduling activities and refereeing arguments and training in righteousness and being tidy and artsy. I could not be Captain Kangaroo, Elisabeth Elliott, and Martha Stewart rolled into one.

Last week something happened that I can only liken to having scales fall from my eyes. I am currently enrolled in an online class from the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation and was listening to a lecture by Dr. David Powlison. In this lecture he talks about the very basic issue of human differences.

We all are different. This is the reality. God is exceedingly creative in how He creates human beings. These differences can be found on a horizontal spectrum. These differences run that gamut of the physical and temperamental and even situational. Tall vs. short. Old vs. young. Athletic vs. clumsy. Extrovert vs. introvert. Artsy vs. engineer-like. Male vs. female. Organized vs. scattered. Quiet vs. talkative. Smart vs. intellectually challenged. Rich vs. poor. And so on, ad nauseum.

These are just differences. That is all. But we, or our culture, turn the horizontal vertical and once vertical, the differences are assigned value. Good, better, best—or bottom of the heap. This is where the comparison game hits home. "That mom over there is more organized than I am and that is up the ladder from me. Therefore, I am a bad mom." "That woman has a perfect figure and is 44 years old . . .  and I look like a Weeble. I am lesser of a person." "That person's kid just got a scholarship to an Ivy League college and mine is struggling to finish high school. I am a failure as a mother."

Do you see what is happening? We, the created, are assigning value to things that our Creator never intended. We can panic and climb and step on one another to drag ourselves to the top of the ladder but, as Dr. Powlison points out, it is a ladder to nowhere. It is a lie.

As Ed Welch says in his excellent book, Shame Interrupted, "The fact that we don't compare well to other people is not a sin. It is the result of limitations we all experience."

We are finite people created by a loving and highly creative God. Who do we think we are to establish our own pecking orders and ranks of righteousness? There is no need for self-exaltation. There is no need for us to build a Ladder to Nowhere. He already came to us and redeemed us, differences and all.

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Letter To Young Mothers

Dear Young Mothers Everywhere—

I was one of you once and I know how hard it is.

Motherhood has to be the hardest job on the planet but I think it is getting harder. Not harder in the it-hurts-to-push-this-baby-out sort of way. Not harder in the must-lug-gallons-of-water-to-the-stove sort of way. Not harder in the pray-my-children-survive-the-polio-epidemic sort of way. No. In many ways, motherhood has gotten considerably easier. Medical advances and indoor plumbing and labor saving devices have done wonders for the daily life of the average mother. These advances have made life easier and given us free time and kept us from looking like worn out pieces of beef jerky by the time we are 40. But they have come with a cost and that cost is driving us crazy.

I had my first child in 1990. Back then I was faced with a few choices: Natural childbirth vs. intervention, breast vs. bottle, stay-at-home vs. work, and cloth vs. disposable. That was it. For me, the choices were easy. There were not categories and subcategories and sub-subcategories. There was no internet to tell you the pros and cons of each decision you made. You just did life. You just lived.

Even then, in these most basic of decisions, people could get defensive. It wasn't all fun and games. There were awkward moments. I held to my mothering principles with much more vigor than I should have. I failed to be as gracious to those who chose a different path . . . or had the path chosen for them. But looking back that seems rather mild compared to the coming storm.

Fast forward a few years and the Great Parenting Debates took over. For the first time I started to see parents treating each other with absolute scorn. No longer were women just a little defensive over their choices. What came next was out and out war.

Parenting programs took over churches. Cultural cliques were formed overnight. Parenthood, and motherhood by extension, became a matter of "doing it right." Schedules and disciplines and programs ruled the day and your success was judged by the behavior of your children. Those who succeeded at the program gloated in their success and gave out exhausting and exalted advice, all with an air of superiority and self-righteousness. Those who just couldn't get with the program were left feeling like desperate failures as parents.

By 1996 I had 4 kids who were as poor at following programs as I was at implementing them. Our life was just . .  well . . . chaos. But it was fun chaos, most of the time. I do remember on more than one occasion being totally overwhelmed and wanting to run off to Montana . . . ALONE, and even once when I actually wished I were deaf, but looking back, I do not have one single regret that I failed to get with the program.

Fast forward to today. I have lots and lots of friends on Facebook who are young moms or young moms-to-be. The choices they have before them are astronomical. The websites, the mommy blogs, Pinterest (oh EVIL Pinterest). The stakes are high. The expectations are huge. The consequences of every little decision are supposedly so dire. At least that is what they say.

Somewhere along the way we began to believe a lie. And it is a LIE FROM THE PIT OF HELL. The lie that there is one right way to be a mother. The lie that we must make every RIGHT decision or the consequences will be catastrophic. The lie that we can control our children's lives. The lie that being a failure as a mother is a fate worse than death.

Run, I say, RUN to pick up your Bible. Turn to Micah 6:8 and read aloud what it says. "He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does The Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

No mention of childbirth techniques or clever birth announcements. No mention of diapers, cloth or not. No mention of schedules. No mention of highchair manners. No mention of education. No mention of medical advances or food sources. No mention of anything specific at all.

God does not require of you to be a perfect mother. The minute you begin to gloat over your successes or wallow in your failures you are using the wrong measuring stick.

So if you want to put your baby in all organic diapers and grow and make your own baby food, go right ahead. If you just gave your toddler a can of cold Spaghetti-os for lunch, no problem, you are in good company (even if no one else admits it). If you can homeschool with delight and your kids thrive in the environment, good for you. If you feel that a professional teacher may be a better choice for your child, you may be right. If you are concerned about vaccines and decide to withhold them, fine. If you are concerned about communicable diseases and feel that having immunizations are in the best interest of your children, go for it.

We are limited and finite and can only do so much. God created us with different strengths and weaknesses, gives us different resources, places us in different circumstances. This one-size-fits-all-robot-Stepford-mom stuff is robbing us of our joy and pulling us away from what we were created to do: To do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

With sympathetic love-
A Worn Out Mom and Kindred Spirit

P.S. (added 3/14/13): Wow! This letter has been read by more people than all my other posts combined—and then some! Thank you to so many who have passed it along. (If you found this post encouraging, you might also read Broken Mother's Day. And my previously most-read post, No Words, Just Tears.)

P.P.S. (3/22/13): With the overwhelming response to this post (thank you all!) I've decided to add a Facebook page for my blog. If you'd like to see links to new posts in your Facebook news feed, you are cordially invited to 'Like' my "Cheetos for Breakfast" page, here. Or click on the link I've added in the right-hand column.

P.P.P.S. (3/25/13): Two weeks ago, I had this little blog which was read mostly by a small group of friends and acquaintances. Then I posted the above "Letter to Young Mothers." A couple of those friends shared the link on Facebook, as did some of their friends, and so on... As of this morning, this post is closing in on 211,000 pageviews. My little blog has almost 256,000 pageviews overall, and the Cheetos for Breakfast Facebook page already has 837 'Likes'... To say this is humbling is an understatement. And all the kind comments! (Well, most of them anyway.) What more can I say but THANK YOU! And maybe... gulp! :)