I Am Mom

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Motherhood…it’s not what it looked like in the brochure.  There’s something sweet about having a baby in your arms that makes you think that you’ve got this parenting thing covered.  There are those sweet moments when big blue eyes look up at you and ask, “Can I hold your hand?” and declarations of wanting to be doctors and innocently declaring that they would never dream of drinking alcohol.  There are Easter Egg hunts and family dinners, and nights when you sit by their beds and listen to them thank God for their mom during prayer time.  There are so many intoxicating moments.  Moments when I would have sworn I had it all under control.  Moments when my inexperienced ignorance could have had me courting a publisher to write a parenting book entitled, “It’s Exhausting, But Really Not That Hard People.”

I’m not exactly sure when it turned, but I know there was a point when I looked around my house filled with 15 teenage girls all laughing and simultaneously crying when I knew that I may have started to slip out of the “perfect mom” role and more into the RA at the sorority house.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved and truly felt blessed that my girls trusted me enough to be transparent and open with me and I enjoyed helping all the girls that came to my house navigate the complications of “teenage boys,” but quickly I was canceling the perfect parent book deal.  At some point, I found myself awake at 2:00am saying out loud… “I have no idea what I’m doing.”

As I fumble through the ever-evolving transition of my girls moving from children to adults, I know that while emotionally excruciating…I’m blessed.  I am the rock that they turn to when life crumbles around them.  I am the voice in their head that can insist that they get their act together and the soft place for them to land when everything goes wrong.  I am the whisper in their heads that ask them to stay in school regardless of how long it takes, and the insistence that begs with them to not allow themselves to tolerate the abuse that I accepted.  I am the voice they hear, and it’s exhausting.

Maybe my book idea wasn’t that bad.  Maybe it really isn’t that hard, maybe it’s just exhausting.  Maybe, just maybe I’m simply blessed that my girls trust my opinion. My girls still cherish the bond that this make shift sorority RA created. I never know exactly what being a mom will look like from day to day, as it ebbs and flows according to the daily life of my girls.  I know that regardless of how emotional they are or how incompetent I feel, that both my girls are not only asking me for advice, but praying to a heavenly Father that truly is the rock.  I know that I don’t have to have the answers, or even good advice, I just listen…and listen…and listen.  I know I just need to remind them that I will always be there and that where my inadequacies and the world leave them empty, our God is there to fill them up.  So today, I remind them that they are strong, I remind them that I am their biggest cheerleader, and I remind them that God is always there to fill in the gaps.  Today, I remind them that they are loved.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potatoes

It’s not that I planned on being pregnant at 19. I mean don’t get me wrong I wasn’t an “afterschool special” or anything. I was married and I eventually wanted kids, it just happened way before I was ready. As I struggled through diapers and breast-feeding and formula I soon realize that it wasn’t like it looked in the brochure. Every milestone came after much anticipation and provided instant relief of “Whew! Thank God I didn’t screw that up.” The time eventually came to start my baby on baby food, so I did what most moms do and decided I needed to research.

I packed her up in a carrier that resembled an infant straight jacket, and headed to the library, because in the early 1990’s, that’s how research was done.  I sat down at a table and combed through baby books. I discovered that infants should be introduced to savory foods before sweet foods so they won’t refuse healthy options later.  I thought that made some sense, but also didn’t relish the idea of feeding my baby pureed peas so I settled on Sweet Potatoes.  I figure it had the word “sweet” in it and it was a festive color, so it would be the first baby food I would try.

I unintentionally began a Sweet Potato obsession with my daughter.  She LOVED sweet potatoes.  She would swing her legs in joy every time they were mentioned and would reply with a “yummmmm” sound after every bite. Everyday…every meal…Sweet Potatoes. I grew tired of cleaning up sweet potatoes from the highchair and on my child, and I desperately wanted to get her to try something different.  “Would you like bananas?”  Crying ensued.  “Pears?”  More crying.  “Apples?”  Uncontrollable sobs.  I even offered the fine infant delicacy of “Tutti Frutti” and still hysterical opposition.  She only wanted sweet potatoes.  There was a whole world out there of delicious food!  Fruit, and bread, and SUGAR! But my sweet little girl would only eat Sweet Potatoes.

I would explain to her that things would taste so good if she would just give it a chance.  I would warm it up to entice her with the smell, and chill it to make it seem more like a treat.  I would beg her to try my way, and cry in frustration when she continually met me with ignorant opposition. It didn’t matter how convincing I was, or my promises to fulfill her palette with a taste she had never known, my 6-month-old baby fought me the entire way.

I find myself so infant like.  So many times I find myself clinging to a thought, a dream, and a lifestyle that limits my potential.  I find myself kicking and screaming and fighting and running from what God has planned for me.  I know He has a plan to bring me hope and peace and joy, but sometimes I just can’t let go.  I can’t help but wonder if God is enticing me with peace and joy for me future.  Is He the Father begging His child to just give it a try? I’m afraid of the unknown. What if I submit and become even more miserable and unsure?  Sometimes in my ignorant opposition, I’m holding on to things instead of surrendering to God’s plan and trusting that His plan is beyond perfect.  Sometimes I put my trust and faith not in God’s omnipotent wisdom, but in my experience. Sometimes, I just want the Sweet Potatoes.

Today as I look back on my life, the peace and joy have always followed a moment of obedience and surrender. As I embrace the collage of memories from the past, I can always see that when I would just trust in God, I was met with peace.  It was never how I pictured it, and certainly never anything I could have even imagined, but it was better.  Today, as I stand on the precipice of my next life change, I find myself crying out for Sweet Potatoes.  I’m holding on to them with gut wrenching force, knowing that I need to let go.  Today I pray for the direction and wisdom of the ever-powerful wooing that God does to entice me with the life He has planned.  Today, I’m looking for the Tutti Frutti.

Hide and Seek

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When I was a kid we would often spend holidays with my extended family.  Not just Thanksgiving and Christmas, (although those were some of the best) but also Labor Day, Memorial Day and when pushed…Flag Day.  My mom had 4 sisters and a brother and between all of them they had tons of kids, so when we all descended on my grandparents’ house it was like locusts.  There was chatter and noise, and tons of hustle and bustle preparing food and allowing my mom and her siblings to catch up and to spend some quality time with their mother.  All the siblings except one.  The one lone boy was the baby of the family and although technically my uncle he was young enough to feel more like a cousin and to treat us more like siblings.

My grandparents lived in old houses with tons of character and on more than one occasion, tons of bats.  There were always basements that we were to stay out of and attics that were not meant to be played in, but there was also my uncle.  My Uncle Chuck would almost always suggest a game that the four oldest cousins could play with him.  I can still hear him saying, “Let’s play hide and seek! The boys will hide and then you two come find us.”  I had a cousin who I think of as a sister.  She was a bit younger, much funnier and had an adorable smile.  We looked like some Disney version of Cagney and Lacey. 

The rules of hide and seek went something like this.  You stay here in the safe living room and count to 200 and we will go hide.  Come find us and good luck.  While sitting in the living room surrounded by family photos, Tiffany lamps and an untouchable piano, it always sounded like a great idea.  We would sit and giggle and count and then yell the obligatory phrase, “Ready or not, here we come!” and then we were off to find the boys. We hustled to look in closets and behind shower curtains, even glancing under beds and places those boys wouldn’t fit in even if they were folded in half.  After searching for what seemed like hours we knew we had to look in the attic. 

The door creaked and there was only one light bulb that barely lit at the top of the stairs.  As we climbed each step we were afraid.  We knew we needed to keep looking but we had no idea what we would find on our journey.  We couldn’t see very well, and we didn’t know our way around. We knew that finding the boys was the answer, but we were terrified of what obstacle we would discover along the way.

Today as I embark on my pilgrimage to discover what God wants my purpose to be, I have the same fear as I did during that game of hide and seek.  I know that I must be persistent and not allow obstacles to derail the process but there are so many things being thrown at me.  Today I struggle with job uncertainty, watching my children struggle and underlying anxiety that I just can’t seem to get fully under control. I know that God’s purpose for me is out there.  I know that I must stay focused and driven to discover it, but the closer I get the harder battles I am faced with.

We would eventually find the boys (and the bats) and we would be gleeful and excited.  I’m not sure if it was because we found them or because our bodies were surging with adrenalin, but either way I know I learned something on the journey.  While discovering my purpose is hard, it’s also about surrendering to the journey.  It’s about saying to God, that I cannot combat this fear and anxiety without you and if you need me to do something than I need your help.  The journey is about the relationship we build with Jesus along the way and today I’ve learned that I am weak and exhausted. But I am pursuing a God that is strong in my weakness and is whispering in my ear…don’t give up…just a little bit further.  So, ready or not…here I come. 

Knock…Knock

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I grew up in a household with a charismatic, charming, entertaining brother who had a moral opposition to dead air space.  He was infectiously fun, quite the contrast to my dark and serious personality, and would commandeer a room with his mere presence.  His charisma did not allow me to have much of a chance to…well…talk.  When I was 8 years old, I decided that I would start to help my mom make dinner.  Helping my mom allowed me to learn to cook, but more importantly, it gave me highly valued 1-on-1 time with her.  One evening, my mom, (who to this day regrets this decision) had me chopping onions for dinner.  She armed me with a cutting board and a knife and said “Can you dice the onions?” While I was regaling my mom with stories from the day, I began to peel and slice each piece.  And then something happened.  I slipped with the knife and cut my finger.  This strong willed 8-year-old went into disaster assessment and knew I could not let my over protective mom see that I hurt myself.  She would never let me help again.

I feigned an emergency bathroom issue and ran to hide and cover up my mistake.  I shut the door and began to cry.  As the tears streamed down my face I washed off the blood and dug through cabinets praying to find a bandaid or anything that would cover up what happened.  After what seemed like hours there was a knock on the bathroom door. It was my mom who asked three very simple words, “Are you okay?”  I knew at that moment as the tears were unstoppable and the bleeding out of control that I had to tell her.  “No, I’m not.” I knew…I was caught.  When she opened the door, I was standing with my finger wrapped in blood soaked toilet paper, and I tried in my strongest eight-year-old way to explain that I was crying from cutting onions.  And then, I fell into her arms and she took care of me.

My entire life has been riddled with examples of me hiding my pain and mistakes.  I have so many memories of camouflaging the realities of what was happening in my life.  I was hurting on the inside, suffering through anguish, exhausted from appearing strong and sometimes in the bathroom with the door shut, emotionally bleeding and unable to stop the tears.  There was always a knock on the door to my soul asking, “Are you okay?”  God always knocked.  Sometimes I would wrap up those fears and anguish and open the door with renewed bravado and explain that I was just fine.  I was strong.  My girls could count on me, my family could count on me, and above all the God that knocked on the door could count on me.  And then one day I had myself secluded and I couldn’t wrap up the hurt anymore. I sat there with all the emotional cushioning I could find and my pain was still bleeding through.  God stood outside and knocked and asked, “Are you okay?” I knew I was caught.  As I fell into his arms, I said, “No, I’m not.”

God is always there to wrap up the pain and the hurt and to allow us second chances.  He stands firm in helping us heal and quietly reassures us that nothing is too broken for Him.  He never asks why I closed the door.  He just continues to knock.

In all honesty, I don’t think I could use a knife in my mom’s kitchen until the day I was preparing for my high school graduation party, and I know even to this day if I take too long in the bathroom, my mother is running to get the first aid kit. As I look forward, I know there will be times that I shut the door and the pain will start to invade my soul.  But, I will also know that the knock is coming.  Redemption and second chances just need me to open the door.

Wow! He Does Lead

This week I did something that I swore I would never do.  It’s not that I don’t believe in it or that I’m overly judgmental of other people who have done it, but for a long time…I just knew it wasn’t for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I had tried it.  Of course, I was young, and didn’t have a great deal of life experience to back up my decisions, but this head strong woman tried it anyway.  There were moments along the way that I loved doing it, but ultimately, in the end it almost destroyed me.  It didn’t end well and I knew with utter certainty that after I stopped, I would never do it again.  But this week, after 7 years of avoidance, I did it.  Last Friday…I got married again.

The last 7 years have been a process.  There were so many years when I swore I would never marry again and even referred to marriage as the “m word” in sort of a Voldemort type hush-hush.  I was always on a quest for companionship and wanted to experience love, but marriage…I just thought it wasn’t for me.  My first marriage was full of moments of fear and disaster planning usually idling in “fight or flight” and I didn’t ever want that again, but something deep inside began to stir. 

At first the stirring simply felt like I had one too many Taco Bell Meximelts before bed, but then as I began to focus in, I knew the stirring was something much deeper.  I began to work hard on exercising my faith and praying, and the more I prayed the deeper the stirring became.  I fought it for years, becoming almost crazy with unsettled, unexplained emotion.  The constant churning made me hard to date and incredibly difficult to love.  At some point, the stirring broke me.  I knew I wanted to be married, and I knew that God’s plan for my life included marriage.

I told my boyfriend (now husband) that I needed marriage in the future, and as I had expected, he looked as if he had one too many Meximelts before bed.  We began a dance of yes marriage/no marriage that oscillated between me feeling sick with the stirring and him feeling sick with surprise.  I needed marriage soon.  I knew that God was speaking and that when I embraced what he was saying, I felt an unexplainable peace.

As I begin to look toward the next chapter in my life and begin to pray about how God wants to use me, I find myself looking at my husband and being reminded that God speaks.  I find myself remembering back on who I was 7 years ago, and knowing that the only way I became who I am today is because I embraced the stirring and I followed.  Every time I address my husband or mention him to friends and family, and certainly every time I feel his arms around me or lay beside him, I know that God hears me, and that He will make His plan clear to me.  So today as I stand here, I’m asking.  God show me what you want me to do next and if necessary, bring on the Meximelts.

My Phone

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Smart phones have changed our lives.  I mean sure, they allow us to carry around maps, an encyclopedia, a bible, a camera, news, weather, and if we so desire, the ability to play Tetris at stop lights. (But don’t do that…it’s illegal.)  Smart phones let us stay in contact with everyone by text message, when all else fails an actual phone call, and who can forget the opportunities that smart phones provide to paint an exasperated picture of happiness on social media.  Smart phones also answer that age-old question that every “Gen-Xer” was always asked by every math teacher they ever had.  “Do you think you’re always going to have a calculator available??”  Surprise Miss Ater…yes…yes I will.  Every day we carry around a tiny little computer that can do virtually anything that any other piece of technology can do.

Tonight, I found myself looking through the pictures on my phone.  There is a historical collage of memories that document so many years.  I find myself looking through pictures of dances with the girls, nights out with friends, once in a lifetime experiences with the man I love, amazing vacations, moments of achievement, and (in true transparency) moments where I can look at myself and know…I was hurting.  Whatever the picture, whatever the moment worth capturing, there are moments where I cringe because I know that I had a deep painful ache on the inside.

As Thanksgiving approaches I can’t help but feel grateful for each of those moments.  I’m so grateful for the joy that is captured in so many pictures and the agony that I can see in my eyes in other photos. I thank God for the moments with my girls, the moments with my fiancé and the moments with family and friends.  I also thank God for the moments of pain.  I’m grateful because whether it’s the moments of ecstasy or the moments of despair, I am not the same person I was in each photo.  I look at each picture and know that the woman represented there is on a journey.  A journey to become a better mother, a better daughter, a wife, and ultimately a journey to discover who God wants me to be.  That woman I see in each picture full of joy and pain is headed down a road of discovery. 

Today while I plan to marry the man I love, enjoy having adult children, accept the reality of my parents aging, and embrace the changes that are inevitable in my career, I know that today is just part of the journey.  I know that regardless of where I sit at this moment, that I won’t be here a year from now.  Today is just a moment…a season.  Today I get on my knees and beg God to lead me in a direction that allows me to continue down that path of transformation.  As I faithfully trust God in my joy and pain, I know that everyday could be photo worthy.  

I’m so grateful for the pictorial documentary of how far I have come and so look forward to the journey ahead of me.  I know it will be full of good and bad times and that there is both joy and sorrow coming, but I know that God is faithful and is leading me.  I don’t know exactly where I am headed, and my smartphone has been utterly disappointing in giving step by step directions, but I know that God is still working on me.  I pray that His work continues to bring me closer to Him.  And Miss Ater, you should know that the handheld, always with me calculator is amazing.  No more timed math tests for me.

 

I’m Sorry

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There are certain special moments that young parents experience with their young children.  There are first words, rolling over for the first time, first steps, and first days at school.  There are so many milestones packed into only a handful of years that if you’re not careful you can get an almost historical whiplash that leaves you wondering where time went.   One summer day when I was relishing the joy of being a stay at home mom to my 3-year-old and 1 year old daughters, a “first” happened without any warning.  As I was preparing lunch one afternoon I heard the familiar cry of my youngest bellow out of the living room.  I went to find out what was going on and I saw my oldest daughter standing above her with her hand on her hip in a very 3-year-old diva pose.  For the first time in my young mom life, I uttered the words that would become a mantra for the next two decades.  I asked with hopeful anticipation, “Rebecca, what happened?”

Three-year old’s have a style of storytelling that can only be described as “brutally honest.”  Without hesitation, without the need to set up the situation, and without even a hint of regret in her voice, Rebecca answered, “I hit her.”  I scooped up my youngest and comforted her and proceeded to ambush Rebecca with a barrage of questions about why she would do that. I found the answers dismally unsatisfying and begin to realize I had some real parenting work to do, so I turned to Rebecca and said to her, “You need to tell Shannon that you are sorry.”

What happened next began the first standoff of my parenting relationship with Rebecca.  She said “No.”  So, in perfect self-righteous indignation, I pulled a small wooden chair from the kitchen, sat her in the middle of the living room and told her she would sit there until she apologized. In complete silence, she sat.  She sat while Shannon and I had lunch, sat while I folded the laundry, sat while I cleaned the bathroom, and dusted the bookshelves, and got the mail, and began to prepare dinner.  She sat.  After watching her sit in that wooden chair for six hours, I finally couldn’t take it and I asked her “Why won’t you say you’re sorry?” and her response was simple, “I’m not ready yet.”

That day I began to think about all the impulsive apologies I had given over the years.  All the responsive liturgy I had given when I knew I had wronged someone.  I was always so quick to apologize.  So quick to sweep the offense under the rug and so quick to just want to move on.  I wanted the words “I’m sorry” to be historical whiteout.  What I know today is that being sorry entails so much more than two simple words.  Being sorry means an acceptance of what happened and the consequences of your actions. 

Today I pray for sincere apologies and that I’m able to see how my wrongs affect others.  I pray that God will give me a spirit of true repentance and that I will invest in making that a reality in my life.  I pray that I will be given the grace to accept apologies and that God will continue to band aid the consequences of sin and hurt.  That day so many years ago marked many firsts, the first time the girls fought, the first-time Rebecca emphatically told me no, and the first time I made a three-year-old sit in a chair for 6 hours, but perhaps the most important first is that I realized that God was using everyday life to speak to me.  And God…I’m listening.