I think it's been about six weeks since I last sat down to write, and what a six weeks it has been.... We've been in a particularly trying season around these parts. Parenting has taken all we've got, at every moment. Two is an interesting number. And by two I don't mean two kids. I mean age two. ;)
Finding myself at the precipice of motherhood with a very two toddler (hate stereotypes, but my girl has got 'em covered this time!) and a three month old alone 10-12 hour days, 6 days a week has been a teacher. A hard teacher. Some of it is the process of still adjusting to two babes, some of it is parenting a strong-willed and very verbal toddler. Some of it is just parenting in general.
Nothing gives perspective quite like parenting. I remember caring for several babies at one time, teaching 24 five year olds for 7 hours a day, even caring for friends' kids overnight while they ushered new life into their families. I remember thinking, "I can take care of several kids at one time. No sweat." But even those things, they really aren' t the same as parenting. Because there's an end to those things, and the weight of decision making for their long term well-being doesn't rest on you. And I've definitely felt the weight in the last 6 or 7 weeks.
And what I'm finding for myself is that things are just relative. I shared this with a friend earlier... that when I was adjusting to one baby, it seemed like it took a long time to get out the door. Then I fell into a pattern and that became easy. And now, I can get one kid together and get out the door with just one within a few short minutes. And then there's two and it takes a lot longer, and you're busy and stretched thin between two who both need you simultaneously. And yet that becomes your new normal... And I imagine it goes on the same. The number of kids you have and the struggles with each phase is just relative to where you're at in that moment. I've told Tommy several times that I think it would've been easier to have a 12 month old and a newborn because that first year with a baby is so easy. But then I think I'd probably be saying just the opposite if I were in that moment. (And if you're reading this and you're a new mom and you feel like you're swamped and wondering how it could get harder, just remember-- it's all relative ;) I love 0-12 months. And it will probably be completely opposite for you-- you'll fly through the toddler years without a blink where I've picked up a permanent seat on the crazy train.) Because the truth is parenting is just hard. Motherhood is not always easy. Loving your babies- that takes almost no effort whatsoever. But raising them, that's entirely different thing altogether. It has hard times and great times if you have one and I imagine it has hard times and great times if you have four.
I've always felt very grateful to be able to be at home with our children. It is the "job" I desired for several years. And yet I've found myself in the last weeks struggling here in this place where I hungered to be. I have felt weary more often than not, worn before my feet hit the floor in the morning. I've had to battle the negative self-talk that I do within myself. And I don't recall the last time I went to bed feeling like a good mom, free of any guilt. I think it was probably when I was 7 months pregnant. Motherhood is a pretty thankless job most of the time, even when you have a very appreciative spouse. After all the work that goes into cooking dinner and timing it right with newborns and naps and including the toddler in the process, that doesn't usually equal a "Thank you, Mommy for that fantastic meal. Loved those herbed green beans you sauteed!" You don't normally get a, "Thanks for that correction, Momma. I'm really grateful you removed me from that situation so I could calm down for a few minutes and express my emotions in a more positive way." Or "Thank you for feeding me every 2 hours while I growth spurted last night... I'm feeling full and healthy now!" Nope... looks a little more like "Dinner is yucky!" (says the 2 year old that I found eating a stick of butter who said "It's delicious and nutritious, Mommy!" Ummm....) and "NO! I don't like Mommy!" and "Wahhh!" Really those are just kind of funny ;) But it is true that you pour yourself out, fully, in complete expense over and over again until sometimes it feels like you're coming up empty. And that feeling like you've got nothing more to give, nothing left in you--- it can make you feel purposeless. I've been at that place for a little bit now. Feeling like anybody could do this job I do, and quite honestly could probably do it better.... changing diapers, and feeding babies, washing little clothes, and reading books, correcting behaviors and desperately trying to correct a heart in the process. Many days I've felt sorry for these little lives that I love, that they're just stuck with me as a mom. That maybe I've done them this great disservice by being home with them because I keep running up on empty most days and what I hope to be for them, what they deserve, I'm not. It's been a new place for me, a place I never would've imagined I'd find myself up until I did. I love my babies and I love being a mom, so as I've passed through this challenging season I've struggled more so than in any other role, probably because this one means so much to me.
I'm very goal oriented, purposeful in my decision-making, and intentional with opportunity. And I think those of us like that can have a tendency to miss the significance of the little moments. For me it's almost easier to serve in the bigger, "hard" things... Like flying to South America to love on some tired missionaries, like investing a broken soul who desperately needs someone to love them, like gearing up for a week full of intense energy where you pour into little lives and see hard things and hear how hard family life is.... Because even though those things are hard, there's this outward purpose that's easy to see and easy to describe. And they're exciting. You expect refining. You expect God to show up in big ways and do big things in those moments. You expect to be wowed by his magnificence and power. But what I'm finding, is that more often than not, it's not these big moments where he wants to do the biggest things in me. It's in the regularity of the every day. It's in the struggle when I feel like I'm failing, and He's reminding me that my great weakness is His great strength. It's in the 7th diaper change of the day, it's in the puzzle pieced together, it's in the morning oatmeal and afternoon snack, it's in the comfort of a crying a baby-- that's where my deepest refining happens. It's where He's sanctifying me and urging me to lay ME down. When the exhaustion of correction feels like more than I can do, when the weight of responsibility for these little lives lays down its full strength upon me. It isn't in the excitement that He moves in the biggest ways, it's in the normal moments that feel unimportant, in the daily living is where He's trying to teach me to truly live. And I think that's been the point all along-- He doesn't need extravagance and excitement to sanctify and redeem that hardest parts of me. Because I need to live fully right where I'm at, and where I'm at is in a home, raising two babies 24/7. It brings new meaning to that verse, "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life...." and "...in humility count others as more significant than yourself." Because simply put, that is what motherhood is, the nonstop giving of yourself for someone else.
The other day Mark Driscoll had a status that said, "To the mother up with a crying baby again at 2:30 am, Jesus sees your work. And it is valuable." I cried when I read it. Cried because I've always believed that raising our babies is Kingdom work, but in the weariest moments I've ever experienced as a mother, I've felt like what I'm doing is not important. And this right here, it is the reminder of the bedrock of my faith.... That Jesus loves me. He loves me as I am, not as I hope to be. He loves me when I feel like I'm failing and when I feel like I'm triumphant. He loves me and I did not miss my calling. I am where I am supposed to be. And He loves me right here. When I feel like I'm screwing it all up, He's reminding me that He works ALL things for good, even my messes. And He even loves the me stuck inside this mess.
So if you are reading this and you understand the weariness that motherhood can bring, let me give you the reminder that I have needed for weeks and still have to give to myself. What you are doing matters. If you're still growing your baby and anticipating the future, what you are doing matters. If you are a new mom with a baby who doesn't sleep, you matter (and I promise they all eventually sleep!) If you are sending your baby to school for the first time or preparing lessons to teach at home, you matter. And if you are watching babies become teenagers much too quickly, you matter (maybe even more so!). And if you are an empty-nester and your babies are all grown up, you still matter (I promise). What you will do, what you are doing, what you have done....it matters.
I think it's significant that the entrance into motherhood begins as one of the best days of your life while also being a day that you do some of the hardest work of your life. Because that picture looks more like what daily mothering can be than any words I could offer. It's the very best wrapped up with the difficult. You can fully value how precious your role is and how precious the sweetest moments are because you've tasted how hard it can be, because you worked to get to the really good part. Parenting is funny that way-- some days are so sweet you almost can't take it and the next is one you're so glad to put in the books. And more often than not in the last month, motherhood has one-upped me. At the end of the day I've been waving my white flag. Sometimes, the roles we're in and what we're doing, they feel bigger than us. Sometimes they are bigger than us.
This week, when it has felt like more than I can do, Galatians has come to mind, "Do not grow weary in doing good...you will reap a harvest" I have to say it to myself on hard days and good days. In the best moments and in the less-than-best moments. These are long days but short years. Days and years that I am blessed to enjoy and struggle through all at the same time. And when I let the Gospel be the goal, there is refreshing.
"'Therefore, we do not lose heart'... preach it to yourself each morning... preach it until your heart sings with confidence that you are new and cared for." -John Piper