Friday, September 19, 2014

gospel mama, part 2

Exactly who is supposed to explain to a girl that a mama is not magically created when a fertilized egg grows in a woman’s uterus? What dear soul can teach us the fine art of killing our vanity without also breaking our spirit? And who wants to give the “Your stomach/breasts/sleep habits may never be the same again, but IT WILL ALL BE OKAY!” speech? 

Someone needs to do that.

Perhaps someone tried to tell me all of that, and I just missed it. It is possible that the information was all around me, and in my own selfish, self-centered nature, I ignored all the signs. I thought I was just giving life to a baby. I didn’t know that I would find myself losing so much of who I was when the season of motherhood began.

Boy 1 was born on a cold day in January. Like many women throughout history, I did not enjoy those seemingly endless contractions that made a mama of me. It was horrific to realize that pain like that exists and the fact that it is considered natural is appalling. When it was over, I still did not have fond memories.

As they wheeled me to my recovery room, I heard a woman laboring/moaning/screaming in another room.

“Dear God, I never want to do that again,” I thought. I stared into Mr. Fantastic’s eyes and mandated that we would adopt the rest of our offspring. He was too afraid of me at that moment to argue. He just nodded.

Four months later I turned up pregnant again. The babies would be thirteen months apart. I was full of life once more. And, because caring for small children makes your brain function poorly, I was excited about it.

We named Boy 2 “Jackson” because it is a family name and because it means “son of grace”. Grace sounded like a good addition to our family, with a one year-old who didn’t sleep through the night waiting for us to bring home his new baby brother.

The boys weren’t the only ones crying those first few weeks. Rivers gushed from my eyes because, well, hormones that don’t stop. Both boys needed me constantly and simultaneously. There was never enough Mama to go around.

Five months later I was pregnant again, despite our diligent efforts to avoid a third baby in two years. I instinctively knew weeks before a test confirmed it. I was less excited, but embraced it with the patience of Job. There are challenges you can glibly quit in life, but pregnancy isn’t one of them. 

Besides, I had figured out one thing by then: God was undoing me. He was systematically dismantling everything inside me and another baby was part of the plan. I laid myself out in His presence, exhausted, broken, and wholly beset by fear of Him and His plans for me.

I endured inappropriate comments from all sorts of people as I walked through church, the grocery store, and anywhere else, pushing a double stroller with a blooming baby belly between me and the infant and one year old.

As a sort of public service announcement, please allow me to tell the world that the only person who thinks it’s funny to ask a pregnant woman, “Don’t you know how that happens by now?” is the person asking that ridiculous question. I often liked to increase the awkwardness of the moment by answering, “Yes, we do know how it happens, but abstinence really isn’t an option for us. Sex is way to much fun to quit!” (Okay, I never actually said that, but I really, really wanted to. I probably would now. I'm much braver these days.)

And so after laboring through a stormy Texas night, Boy 3 was born, full of love and full of mischief, and the perfect addition to our brood of baby boys.

I was Mama to a twenty-seven month-old, a fourteen month-old, and a newborn. Mostly, I felt like it was awesome and horrible all at the same time. And mostly, it was exactly that.

In public we were a sort of freak show to anyone born after the birth control pill was released in the 1960s. But every once in a while, a precious woman with grey hair would come up to me and tell me she had made it through a similar day once upon a time.

“Mine were just as close, honey. You can do it. They so grow up so fast- enjoy it while it lasts. It seems like mine were babies just yesterday...”

These women breathed fresh life into my soul. They proved to me that what we do for one another we are really doing for the Lord. Because I needed Jesus to tell me I could make it through the wretched days, and He said it with words from lovely wrinkled faces who still longed for the precious days of babies.

In the middle of 20-30 dirty diapers a day, the stress of babies crying and waking up their brothers, and the total lack of sleep, I wanted to know God’s reasons for choosing this less-than-ideal circumstance for our family. I sat in my white fluffy rocking chair, with a wailing newborn on my right shoulder, a crying baby on my chest, and a fussy toddler tucked up on my lap. Blanketed in boys like that, I wondered how this could have been a good plan?

What on earth was God doing? We had planned it all so differently, but He threw our plans out the window. God’s got some serious gall, man.

His plans wreck us, His ways are hard to live; like threading-a-camel-through-the-eye-of-a-needle kind of hard. But His tender mercies refresh and renew and our thirst for Him draws us deeper into the quiet storm of worshiping a fearsome, loving Creator who writes our stories in ways that please Him, whether they please us or not.

God's love often leads us where we do not want to go.

If there is one lesson of motherhood that rings truer than any other it is this: our lives are less about us than we realized before we were mamas. And that is the greatest, hardest thing we will ever learn to live.

Monday, September 15, 2014

gospel mama, part 1

I leapt into motherhood for shallow reasons. Go ahead, judge me, I don’t mind. I blame Pottery Barn kids, “bump” photos of famous celebrities, and all the cute maternity clothes at Target for my failed logic and selfish motivations. (Also, maybe hormones had something to do with it, as well as my desire to have a good reason to quit my job tutoring obnoxiously cocky college baseball players for the University of Texas athletic department.)

Prego with #4 in 2008

I have listed some of my reasons below, rated on a shallowness scale of 1 to 10, 1 being completely selfless and 10 being as shallow as a “reality” show that was actually scripted by Hollywood. I have also listed the appropriate blameworthy scapegoat. Here ya go:

  • I wanted to paint polka dots on a nursery wall. (rating: 10) {Pottery Barn Kids}
  • It’s fun to shop for baby gear. (rating: 6) {Target}
  • I longed to hold a baby that was “just for me”.(rating: 4) {Hormones}
  • I wanted an excuse not to have to go to work any longer. (rating: 8) {Baseball Players}
  • I wanted a reason to go into Pottery Barn Kids. (rating: 9)
  • I thought pregnant women were “so cute”. (rating: 10) {famous “bump” photos}
  • I was madly in love with my husband and wanted to see what kind of awesomeness our gene pools would produce. (rating: 3) {Hormones}

I had no clue that by becoming pregnant I was, in fact, stepping onto a roller coaster with highs that would reach heaven and beyond, and agonizing lows that would shred my heart.

Oh, I had loads of good intentions and good ideas, but very little good sense to guide me. Which coincidentally sums up the majority of my twenties. (With the exception of my decision to marry Mr. Fantastic. That was either pure genius or ridiculously good luck. Either way, I win.)

But there I was, a decade ago, in my little suburban-cookie-cutter-house bathroom, on a random day in May, peeing on a plastic stick. I hid my head under a pillow, awaiting the results. I couldn’t even look when the timer went off. When the moment of truth came, I made Mr. Fantastic look first.

“You can break it to me gently,” I said, bracing myself for a negative.

But he smiled big and wide, and his voice kind of squeaked when he let the words out, “You’re pregnant!”

Joy unbounded, untethered, and completely incoherent flooded through me: I was full of life.

What I didn’t know was that my own life would be changed so completely by this bearing of another. With motherhood, the tide of selfishness goes out one pound of baby weight, one stretch mark, one desperate midnight prayer at a time. The tide of love that returns to us brings unknown mysteries from God Himself.

Woven through every moment of motherhood is the highest truth: To love another more than yourself transforms the world. Gospel Mamas know this. We know that there is a loss we must bear and a pain we must embrace so that we can be part of a miracle. From the first breathless gaze we share with the face of the child we have carried in our wombs, or flown across land and oceans to bring home, we know we are a blessed breed of women. 

We are the mamas of the world.

We know we aren't perfect and we never will be. Our imperfection is a gift because the sacrificial love poured out for us will always be enough to transform our personal weaknesses and cure our family's pain.

The gospel means that God gave us exactly the right children for us- no matter how they came into our lives: through marriage, birth, or adoption. He has entrusted His beloved babies to us, and we consider that a compliment from a Holy God.

It means that if we are drowning in the insanity of sleepless babies, He will fish us out of those deep waters. If we are in the mix of school and activities and social events and rules and consequences and lessons to be learned, He is touching and tweaking and turning the wheels of our family so that we will all know Him better. If we are driving away alone from the new college dorm, He is with us in the car and He is with our not-quite-grown adult son. Or if, by chance, we are sitting by the door awaiting the return of a wayward daughter, God lingers with us tenderly.

He sees us. He loves us. The gospel means He is coming for us, for our children, our grandchildren, and even our whole family.

Because Jesus knows something about sacrificial love, and the lessons of motherhood hinge on our understanding of the gospel. We please Him when we walk in love the way He did.

Chin up, love. Today, you are a gospel mama, and Jesus is at your side. We will all get to the promised land one step at a time. Jesus never holds back the greatness of His love. Ever.

Monday, September 8, 2014

a note on perfection

For by one sacrifice, He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy, Hebrews 10:14

It's possible "perfect" doesn't mean what we think it means.

Maybe perfect doesn't mean being the most beautiful, talented, intelligent, admired, and esteemed person possible. Apparently, it doesn't mean free from error, because the text says we are being made holy. Perfection is clearly different from holiness here.. The Greek word for perfected is teleioō, and it means to be made complete or fulfilled.The Greek word here for holy is hagiazō,  which means to be purified, to be made free from sin, and to be internally renewed in your soul.

This is the Christian life we are meant to live: Jesus completed us, and now we are supposed to be enjoying our lives, becoming cleaner and purer as we go.

Maybe we put too much pressure on ourselves to perform, huh?

We run on the treadmill of our culture, trying to be everything to everyone, our hearts darkened by our increasing inability to cleanse ourselves with our performance. We buy the lie that we aren’t perfect until we meet the expectations of others, the impossible standard of a photoshopped world, and we attempt a flawless execution of our daily life.

But our hearts know better, and they won’t rest until we get this right.

Then we fall short, let our less-than-holy slip show, and we are left trying to explain how we could have let God and everyone else down like that. We chastise ourselves for needing God’s help, and we forget how low He has made us, how much He has done for us, and how little He has truly asked of us.

Perhaps we are making all of this too complicated

We are complete in Him. The treadmill was never His idea in the first place. Our view of God has been blocked by our own self-obsession, and we have made an idol of who we think we are supposed to be. But we already are who He wants us to be: we are the beloved ones He has fulfilled with His life laid down.  

This week, I hope we fail into grace. I pray we all would feel perfected in Christ, and ridiculously loved for who we are. I am asking God to whisper light-hearted words that lift us above the malaise.

God loves us more than we deserve, and that fact makes him laugh great-big belly laughs that ring like church bells over our lives with joy. 

Life isn't all about earning and doing and deserving. It’s a story of love.

And we are the ones who live happily ever after. May we never forget that, even when life seems less than perfect.