motherhood

The Frustration of My Fractured, Distracted Brain

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I used to be someone who could hold it all together or die trying.

Then I had eight kids.

Then I thought homeschooling them would be a brilliant plan.

Then I had to feed them three meals a day and do all the domestic stuff that keeps a household and adult sanity in tact.

Then I began to write and publish and edit for other people because I was bored (just kidding).

And I kid you not, there is a decade of my life in all of this that I barely remember. I have two children whose babyhoods escaped me entirely, as in, I don’t remember them as babies. Before you snap your laptop shut and write me off over that last confession, you have to know that they were born 14 months apart, at the end of the line-up and the beginning of tragedy, and it’s a doggone miracle that any of us had clean clothes.

I suspect that you have had a season very much like this, too, and if not, perhaps you’re not in the Western Hemisphere? Because we westerners and more specifically, Americans, spin plates like nobody’s business. Out the door with the spinning plates flies our concentration, leaving us with a sort of living whiplash.

Just today as I sat down on the living room couch to work on an article due this coming Friday,  child #6 is searching for her make-up brush, child #7 is singing “Radio Gaga” at the top of his lungs and walking through the house looking for a glue stick, child #4 is Marco-Poloing me from college to debrief her Easter weekend, and child #5 needs to discuss her rehearsal schedule. Sometime within the next 8 hours, children #1, 2, and 3 will text me with a question, a request, or an anecdote.

I also have a long-suffering husband who needs dinner and who I married because I really, really like spending time with him. Child #8 hasn’t been mentioned yet because he’s at school, but that’s after a night in which he woke up his dad and me (separately) with complaints of stomach pain and diarrhea, both the result of too many Hot Cross Buns and Easter candy.

Somewhere in all of this I am supposed to be working on an article about the parables and reaching my own readers because I’m committed to helping people leave legalism with their faith somewhat in tact. And a high school lit course I’m preparing to teach. And laundry.

I laugh, painfully and ironically.

And sometimes I’m mad at God about it.

How does ministry happen in a life like this? When and how am I supposed to dedicate my time to study? I can’t recall what it’s like to concentrate on anything because there is never a time when I’m not interrupted by someone or the next door neighbor’s dogs. Focus eludes me.

I read about great Christians who came before me and I’m in awe of women like Catherine of Siena, who spent the first three years of adult life in seclusion in her parent’s basement so that she could commit herself to studying the Scriptures and to her deepening prayer life.

Well, yeah, I think. If I had three years by myself in a basement, I’d get pretty good at prayer, too.

I’m a little bit jealous.

I’m a lot jealous, if I’m being completely honest.

As I was listening this morning to a book about notable Christian women like Catherine, I began to feel like I had been robbed of an opportunity to use my overly curious brain and intelligence for the glory of God and the good of others. Good grief, the distractions in this household!

And then a tiny thought entered into my consciousness and wormed its way in like it had found a ripe, juicy apple.

What if God calls me to the distractions?

Ouch. What if? What if, in all of this whirlwind of never-ending activity and need, there is ministry happening in spite of the distractions? And what if, more to the point, ministry is happening because of the distractions?

What if the ministry is the distractions?

Catherine of Siena was the 25th child born to her parents. Mercy me. During the three years of seclusion, guess who was caring for, walking alongside, feeding, dressing, listening to, guiding, educating, and nurturing all of Catherine’s other siblings upstairs? Her mother, called to the distractions. The point was not lost on me.

Honestly (and let’s be honest), this is not a revelation that has totally changed my life today. I’m not writing this to tell you that my life has been radically changed by the realization that God has given me a poignant ministry opportunity right here in my home. Christendom has been clanging that gong on behalf of its mothers for centuries, and it doesn’t make me feel any better.

Honestly, I will still struggle because of my fractured, distracted brain and the circumstances of motherhood that do not allow me to have solitude, silence, or time. My friend Sallie Borrink has written an excellent piece on why gifted women (that’s me) struggle with the construction of motherhood. Might be helpful if you, too, have a hard time with all of this.

The brain remains distracted. The writing is what it is. The time spent with Christ alone is limited. But here’s the truth I will stand on until the day I die:

He knows this.

All of the spiritual growth born out of hearing and reading the Bible, praying, fasting, and other spiritual disciplines is his work, not mine. The real miracle is that God can take the 8 minutes I spent praying this morning and expand it to reach every person I come in contact with today, including you.

And while I still thrash against the unstructured ministry of the distractions that accompany serving others, I can relax knowing that God has promised to finish what He started.

The lesson for us all? Be still and know that he is God. Our ministry is fed by the knowing, not the doing.


Mothers Be Good to Your Daughters

She sat in the chair next to me in the salon, the ends of her long hair wrapped in foil to absorb the bleach that would be the base for magenta tips. She was young — 18 — and her attention was on the small screen she held in her hand, a smile slowly appearing on her face as she responded to whomever was on the other end. When the stylist inquired about school or work or boyfriend, she readily entered into conversation, polite, cheerful, engaged.

The bell on the door clanged against the glass as a woman my age pushed through. She addressed the girl with the kind of familiarity that bypasses social conventions, cutting straight to the point like a laser beam. “How long is this going to take?”, she barked, then glanced around at the other women like me in the room before taking her annoyance down a socially acceptable notch. “How much is this going to cost me?”

I couldn’t hear the girl’s response, but she looked up at her mother to meet her gaze, quietly answering the questions and putting out the small smoldering flicker with her own calculated calm. She’d had to respond this way before.

The questions continued. “Who are you going out with tonight? Are you going after work?” She wasn’t asking because she cared in the way friends ask, “Hey, what’s going on with you?” She was shooting fiery darts meant to pin the young woman-daughter to the wall. There was a tense edge in the salon that hadn’t been there just a minute before she broke the calm with her irritated voice.

And it made me ponder my relationship with my own three daughters. Mine aren’t yet legally adults, but they are fast approaching 18. I can confidently assert from my current vantage point that we have a strong mother-daughter relationship. Note here that I also have three adult sons, and while I have a great relationship with all three, I’ve been around the parenting block long enough to know that relationships are fluid, living entities, and as such can morph into stressful or less-loving seasons. I don’t pretend to have this sewn up.

But this I do know: 12-year-old girls can be frustrating. Stifling. Or in the words of a friend raising her own teen girls, “Like a booger you can’t flick off.” That sums it up. My 12-year-old is all up in my business all the time. All the time. Right now every day is an opportunity to use my workplace polite and patient voice with her — the voice you use with co-workers you need to tolerate and work with everyday and better not offend or risk having your lunch stolen from the communal fridge or your name dropped at the water cooler. If I can drum that up for them, why not for my own flesh and blood?

Sometimes when we choose to be polite, we come out on the other side with a greater understanding of what might be making that person such an irritant. In the case of pre-teen girls, that irritation tends to stem from a lack of maturity and a surge of hormones, neither of which they can control. If I take a deep breath when my preteen is doing her own breathing down my neck, pestering me with questions of who, what, why, where, and when (as in, “Who called you? What did they want? Why are you doing that? Where are you going? and When will you be back?”), I can absorb the annoyance and be kind. Kindness covers a multitude of annoyances.

Love covers a multitude of sins, and mothers of teens and preteen daughters, listen: snippy, unkind, disrespectful responses to our daughters are sin. Cover that stuff with love. Someday soon those 12-year-old boogers will be 18-year-olds in salon chairs beautifying themselves and still hoping your smile of approval means something. What you sow at 8, 10, and 12 can be reaped at 16, 18, and 20. Sow love, reap love. Mothers, be good to your daughters.


4 Things My 45-Year-Old Mom Self Wants My 22-Year-Old Mom Self to Know

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It has been nearly 23 years since I became a mother. Back in 1993, the year our first child of what would turn out to be a larger-than-expected family of 8 children was born, we were young, idealistic, fresh-out-of-college, living in San Francisco, and trying to navigate our one-year-old marriage. 

I was thick-headed for far too long, shifting my hope to all of the things we were doing, all of the choices we were making, all of the places and people we were clinging to in hopes that our children would come out as shiny, happy followers of Christ. That end result is not a bad hope, as long as we keep our focus razor sharp: do all you want, but realize that the real hope lies in God. He is the one who shapes us and calls us and lovingly changes hearts.

If we were all afforded the luxury of turning back and giving ourselves advice, this is exactly what I'd say to myself:

1.

You are not in control. You never have been. You have God-given authority while you are raising your children, but that's not the same thing as control. Authority means you can require that your children not hang over the hotel balcony and plunge to their deaths or address their elders as "Sir" and "Ma'am", but that does not mean you have control over what their hearts and minds cling to. 

2.

Stop dismissing the wisdom lovingly tossed your way by older parents whose adult kids aren't walking with God. They haven't failed. They've given it their all -- are still giving it their all -- but they have realized point #1 long before you will. They are parenting on aching knees during weary, tearful nights and they understand who the battle belongs to.

3.

You do not want your child's heart, no matter how many Christian parenting books use this verbiage. You want God to have their hearts because he is in control and you are a lousy substitute for God.

4.

Parenting books written by people who don't have any adult children are premature speculation, at best. Skip them. Go for the best words ever written: Jesus'.

It's a great idea to grab practical "hacks" from the web on how to get your kids to brush their teeth or how to effectively diffuse a temper tantrum, but put your hope in the words of God because He is the lover of their souls. He's a better parent than you are, than your best friend is, than the author of the parenting books.

In the end, the best advice I've ever received is this: point your children to Jesus every day. It doesn't matter if you're the parent of a 2-week-old or a 52-year-old: point your children to Jesus every day. Show them that their hope is in him. I keep giving myself that same advice!