The Best We Can Hope For

Forgiveness is really the best any of us can hope for.

And that’s only because perfection isn’t really an option, right? I mean, if I’m being honest (feel free to be honest along with me) my hope most days – as a mother, a wife, a friend, a homemaker, a Daughter of the King, as a person – is be as perfect as possible. Which is hilarious because only crazy people chase after a thing that they can’t ever actually catch… right?

It’s pretty jarring when you actually look it in the face, and it’d be cute to tell you that this obsession with perfection is a product of a difficult childhood (some of it is, yeah sure), or to just pretend like it’s not constantly trying to hijack my parenting or my peace, but apart from good old fashioned self-reflection and confession there is no real possibility of change. And change is what I’m after.

Also hilarious: how the jolt into motherhood makes certain things very clear very fast. One minute I’m working hard to bring this baby girl here, and the next she’s on my chest screaming loudly, wriggly, and soaking wet. I am immediately convinced of two things: (1) this is not about me, and (2) I want to do this perfectly.

Which brings us right back to the problem of chasing after perfect motherhood. And I think it inherently comes from a place of instinct, a super-naturally planted desire to protect this tiny person you’ve just been handed, a recognition of the weight that comes with the title of “mom.” And then the weight gets bent and our prides pokes its head out, winks at us arrogantly. Stand back world, I’ve got this one.

It’s only through the growing side-by-side that we realize how wrong we were, how impossible perfection actually is. Those first nine months of making room for each other are nothing compared to the first nine years. I age and she ages. I learn and she learns. I hurt her and she hurts me. I fail. Is this what I signed up for?

Human relationship? Painful? Yup.

If children are “natural born persons” as Charlotte Mason says, and you just welcomed one into your life, you can bet that there will be plenty of room for heartbreak, and if you’re lucky plenty of opportunity to ask for forgiveness.

I remember the moment that I found out we would have a second baby girl, and the thrill at realizing that my first baby was getting a SISTER. And then the panic that surged up hot immediately after that when I realized that my daughters would undoubtedly hurt each other, maybe even a lot. They’d have a whole lifetime together after all. I hadn’t even gotten up from my seat in the doctor’s office when these thoughts came crashing down on me one after another. Someone I love is going to get hurt.

To be human is to be in constant need of forgiveness. It’s just kind of part of the deal this side of heaven. The trick is to make friends with this need, to see it not as a weakness, but as a gift.

In order to see it as a gift, you need to put your pride down (just put it down, Mama), and pick up the cross, the visible image of both our lack and His longing for us.

I know this sounds like the hardest thing in the world (Jesus called it DYING to yourself, so yeah that kind of hurts), but if you’ll choose to put your imperfections front and center in your relationship with your children it will actually make everything better. It is giving them the gift of truth. They need to know (i.e. to experience, to witness) that we need Jesus too. And if we’re not comfortable with our need, how on earth can we expect them to do this very hard thing called “dying.”

What they don’t need is a mom who is going to single-handedly raise beautiful kids, make beautiful meals, and live a beautiful life. When we attempt to shove our imperfection into the nearest junk drawer, we communicate to our children that grace is something to be ashamed of, that it’s a last ditch attempt to salvage perfection on the rare occasion that you can’t hack it.

This is not truth. And, dear ones, don’t we want our homes to reek of truth? Don’t we want them to reek of the glorious gospel of grace?

Grace is as vital to my Tuesday afternoon as oxygen is – without one I don’t get the other. Grace is the privilege we get to celebrate every single second, third, fourth, and fifth chance we get to try to love each other better. Grace is rejoicing in our deep need for a Good God that came to us when we needed Him most, that stays with us and dwells with us even now, knowing exactly who and what we are. He is not scared of our imperfections. In fact they drove Him towards us, not away.

And it’s Love Himself who teaches us how to mother best. He teaches us how to look sin in the face, douse it with the radical forgiveness of a Faithful God, and then nail it to a tree.

“Love keeps no record of being wronged…” (1 Cor. 13:5)

What if we actually didn’t?

What if we gave and accepted forgiveness as often as we needed to, without exceptions or excuses or cold-shoulders.

What if perfection was never designed to set us free?

Only dependence on Love can do that.

The Right to Play

Social media is abuzz right now with phrases like slowing down, simplifying, and getting back to the basics. Heck, even the homes with the most “likes” are trending towards natural fabrics and neutral hues. Many of my all-time favorite Instagram accounts portray a slow and sacred lifestyle, a lifestyle that I crave. I crave a life lived celebrating beauty everywhere I go, a life where I create beauty with my own two hands. I crave nature and an intimate connection to it. I crave genuine relationships with my kids, and memories that last. (I do not crave several hues of white throughout my home, but that’s another post).

But have you noticed how easy it is to be “adult” in our pursuit of these very worthy things; how easy it is to make all the right choices externally, and miss the actual living of life entirely?

My point is this: you can simplify your wardrobe, throw out all of your unnecessary belongings, and only wear cotton dresses, and still be the kind of person who can’t make eye contact with her kids for an extended period of time. You can simultaneously snap a photo of your family backpacking through a state park, and spend the whole trip sifting through your phone instead of looking and truly seeing what’s around you. You can build a glass palace of curated squares on social media, and hide your misery behind it. Ask me how I know…

I am – if I’m honest – a mom who avoids playing like it’s the plague. I try to be a “yes” mom. My kids will probably even tell you that I’m a fun mom. But I know just how hard I have to wrestle internally to cross the line between navigating motherhood like it’s all-business and mothering like I’m truly alive.

It takes an absurd amount of energy to muster ten solid minutes of getting down on my kid’s level, in barefaced form, ready for gut-busting laughter should the opportunity present itself. You too?

What I want to know is, why?

Is it a personal thing or a generational thing? Have adults been so brainwashed into believing that play is a waste of time – or how about, that wasting time is a waste of time – that they are missing the gold right beneath their feet. Every single time without exception that I genuinely let myself join them in their honest pursuit of enjoying a thing, it’s like a buoying up that I didn’t know I needed. I was sinking and I couldn’t tell.

And yet, I fight it. In some measure, at least for me, this is a sticky stuck-on bit of my past that just will not let go of my ankles. When my daughter asked my husband why I had a difficult time playing, he said, “because it was raised out of her, Buddy. She needs you to teach her how to do it again.”

And last night when we got in from our walk/bike-ride down the street sitting around a very late dinner of salad and soup with unwashed hands and sweaty summer faces, my oldest said, “isn’t it sad that today will never happen again?”

What must it be like to live so hard that you’ll miss today when it’s over?

I intend to find out. Even if it takes me another 32 years to do it.

I’ve already got the best tutor around. All I need to do is pay attention.

Good Medicine

Photo by Kaique Rocha on Pexels.com

This place is full of fog. One moment I’m blissfully lost in the mystery of what could be next. It could be anything, really. Things are shifting and changing. My baby is almost five years old, and this homemaker life comes with so much room for ingenuity and flexibility. What an incredible gift to have so many options! I plan, I scheme, I dream, I check books out from the library. And the next moment, I can’t see where I’m going. I can’t see two feet in front of me. The not-knowing is the only thing that I know. Where are you taking me, Jesus? Why don’t I know? What is this time for?

As the sun sleeps longer each day, the girls come in from playing more quickly, and the whole world seems to be settling down. All I want to do is join the world in rest. We decide to start Advent a full week early. My brother is marrying my best friend next week anyway (two days after Thanksgiving). They’re leaving the country to serve and love the broken world. Life is moving. Minutes are dripping past. I can’t catch them. And I don’t know what this time is for.

Or maybe I do know, and the trouble is that I don’t want to do it: the waiting.

None of this is what I thought I would be doing. It’s not visible enough, glamorous enough, worthy of acknowledgement. There is no platform or applause for those who wipe butts and teach children good habits day in and day out. The better I am at “my job,” the more tuned-in I am to being present, the less those things are seen, the smaller it feels like I get. I’m not 100% comfortable with the enneagram, but I did brush by it and apparently I’m that number that likes to be noticed, that wants to be thanked and seen and rewarded, that wants to be the best at what I’m doing. No surprise there (for me or for Jesus). Motherhood then, is a series of tiny intentional deaths to that attention-hungry woman, the one I am most practiced at being. She doesn’t fancy being invisible.

Death is uncomfortable. No one volunteers for the electric chair. And this isn’t heroic “take me instead” stuff I’m talking about either, this is the kind of choosing others that no one even knows about. It’s choosing not to yell when your child has a sensory fit and chucks her shoes at your head. It’s choosing to model infinite and immediate forgiveness even when you really don’t feel like it. It’s one hundred thousand patient replies to impatient tiny people with bad attitudes.

Trying to describe the place I’ve been in, I said to my husband that it’s almost like I’m floating above my life, watching and waiting for something to happen. He tells me that I have permission to move (in case I needed it), to take a step in one direction and see what it feels like, see if it fits or falls apart; that it’s okay not to know exactly where I’m headed. So I write a little bit. I wait a little bit. I cry (because that’s how I handle frustration). And because the Voice that I trust seems unusually quiet.

Or is it just that I can’t stand what He’s asking me to do? To get low. To stay low. To pull in, settle down, and let go.

Yesterday I opened up to a devotional by Elisabeth Elliot where she talked about indecision and she said that “the remedy for [indecision] is trust.” She quoted the book of James and said that we should ask for wisdom if we don’t know what to do, “But when you ask him, be sure that you really expect him to tell you, for a doubtful mind will be as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind; and every decision you then make will be uncertain, as you turn first this way and then that. If you don’t ask with faith, don’t expect the Lord to give you any solid answer.” (James 1:6-8 LB)

I know a good piece of advice when I hear it. So I asked expectantly, desperate to put a cap on this restlessness and move forward. We finished with lessons for the day, and though the sky looked pretty mild and sunny, I was definitely resisting the pull to take the girls outside. It’s that part of the year where leaving your cozy place by the fire is painful. We were talking about beauty and finding it all around us, and I wanted to have them put together pinecone birdfeeders so I thought we’d go look for some. I followed them out into the open air. The squirrels hadn’t left us much to work with, but the fallen trees in the creek were covered in bright fluffy mosses and crusty layers of lichen. I followed my Biggest Girl into a tight spot, maybe a small deer path, new to our feet. We squirmed through briars and ducked under thin branches around and through and back up until we realized we were close to home again. I followed them and waited and just listened, so ready to receive, humbled by how little I had to offer these beautiful girls on this late fall morning.

When we got back up to the house with our treasures and stories The Big One goes, “You know Mom, This is just like Pinocchio – that part where he doesn’t want to take the medicine because it tastes bitter, or he thinks it’ll be bitter, but than he does take it and it’s really good and he feels stronger? This is good medicine, Mama. Even though it was hard to get ourselves to want to come out here, it was such good medicine. I think we should make it part of our routine.”

She is wise. We pile everything up on the table, spread colors and paints everywhere, and I did what I don’t normally do. I forgot about the dishes and laundry and dreaming and aching for something else. I lost myself sitting next to my girls, creating something beautiful side-by-side.

Something is happening here even if I can’t see it. It is safe to surrender myself (and even my questions) to the moment that I find myself in because the Keeper of my moments can see right through the fog. If He wanted me elsewhere, He would pick me up and plant me there. If I am here, there must be something right here that is worthwhile. Even if that something is learning how to let go of my life; even if it means learning how to die.

For Love or Money

My oldest daughter has an affinity for artistic expression that borders on obsession. Once Sadie gets alone with her art, we lose her for the rest of the day. If you walk in on her mid-creation she’s got this spaced out, half-crazed look in her eye, that makes you eager to close the door again. What’s happening in there is holy. One day while I was asking Jesus about whether or not to start her in full-day kindergarten, I heard an almost audible Voice: “When would she have time to make art?” Good point, Lord.

Sadie’s work is important to her. If you want evidence just look at the sheer volume of time and materials she invests in the process. Her desk is overflowing with well-loved tools, teeny tiny colored pencils, leftover watercolor marks, and pencil shavings. She sits surrounded by mountains of crumpled white papers, half-finished portraits and landscapes that weren’t exactly what she imagined they’d be.

Because of Sadie, and because I’ve become a full-fledged Charlotte Mason groupie, we start our lessons each day with watercolor palettes and art-journals. Charlotte Mason, being the incredibly legit lady that she was, coined a term known as “Mother Culture.” It’s basically the idea that as we’re raising our children to value beauty, goodness, and truth, we mamas need to actually value the same things. We need to do for ourselves what we do for our kids, and pursue creative growth and exploration independently from our children. In other words, Mama gets her own set of watercolor paints and brushes.

Like any self-respecting adult novice, I smile at the thought while my insides panic.

The whole watercolor thing was (and still is) 100% intimidating to me. If I’m honest, I don’t even want to try it because I don’t know how to do it yet. How ridiculous is that?

Most of us were brought up by a system of education that teaches us to “learn” for the grade, to perform for applause, to create if it tangibly adds to our success. Creating beauty for it’s own sake or recognizing goodness in hidden places or finding something worthwhile within ourselves that we didn’t know existed may have been valued (secondarily), but they were not going to get us anywhere in life- not really. And guys, I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW I WAS SCARED TO DO NEW THINGS. No way in heck do I want to try something new that I might fail at (which is basically any new thing) because I might fail at it. *Homeschooling your kids is better than therapy

Sadie does not make art because she’s good at it. She makes it because she loves to. And when I watch her use a paintbrush like it’s an extension of her hand, I can’t help but feel jealous for that kind of mastery. What would it look like to give myself fully and completely to the things that light me up inside? Not because I’m being paid to do it, but for the sheer joy of the process? Is that even allowed?!

Today, while I was working on a blog post Sadie came out of her room and handed me something she’d just finished – an autumn landscape with puffy clouds and leaves turning autumn gold. When I didn’t immediately respond to her, she got a little huffy and started to walk away. So I called her back, and explained that Mommy was doing something she loved to do, and it’s easy to get caught up in it. I told her that I’m writing and it’s sort of like how she gets lost in her own world when she’s creating art. I was just trying to apologized, but she stopped and smiled with her whole face. “Mom, I love that you’re writing because you love it. That just feels right. It makes me so happy!”

Mamas, our kids need us to enjoy our lives because they’ve got a one way ticket to adult-land, and frankly we scare them. They’re going to be forced to trade all of the beautiful freedom and laughter and joy of childhood for this? When they look at us, do they see women who are stepping more and more into the fullness of their design, or do they see an over-glamorized hurricane of stress and busy-ness. Do we want our daughters to be satisfied with being “mombies,” who can’t slow down long enough to enjoy their cup of coffee, who can’t make eye-contact with one another in the super market or stop scrolling long enough to have a quiet conversation with themselves. Shouldn’t that scare them? If we love them, shouldn’t that scare us?

Since pushing publish on this writing space, my mind has been swimming and my skin has been crawling, and now I know why. Because doing something I love for no good reason is not even close to the norm. I feel like I need a practical “why” to this project, if only to silence the guilt booming in my chest when I choose to sit and write instead of folding another load of laundry. But guilt is a bully, and sometimes a bully needs to hear you get loud.

It’s true that this project has no time table, and no destination. I can’t quantify it’s value in dollars or cents. What I’m after are brushstrokes that are uninhibited by insecurity. I want mountains of words behind me, around me, thrown out embarrassing words that didn’t make the cut. And ten years from now I want my daughters to know that I gave myself completely to the things that bring me joy- because joy is worth chasing.