A Note for Creative Moms

Today I’m honored to have a little of my writing featured over on RuthieGray.mom with some tips about how to cultivate a creative life even with little ones underfoot. 


Every creative endeavor I’ve pursued began as a passing thought that I happened to take seriously for half a second.

That’s all it takes. A half-second pause to ponder the possibilities allows just enough time for the tiny seed of an idea to sprout. Taking a quick moment to capture that idea in some physical way transforms that passing thought into a tangible building-block of creative work, turning the fleeting nature of an idea into something of consequence.

Of course, all of this grows exponentially more difficult when your hands are plunged into soapy dish-water as rascally toddlers unravel your kitchen drawers and cupboards.

Notice I said, “more difficult” but not “impossible”.

Creative mama, you are not disqualified from having brilliant ideas.

You are capable of finding creative solutions for how to give those ideas more than a passing thought—even if you’re in the demanding years of raising little ones. As a creative mama of six kids, I know well the many challenges that stand between me and my creativity. They are often things out of my control: family needs, chronic exhaustion, and the overwhelm of noise and activity that comes with family life.

To read the rest of this encouragement for creative mamas, head over to RuthieGray.mom and read about the practical, actionable steps you can take to make space for creativity in your life as a mom. 

Supporting Friends in the Aftermath of Miscarriage

The grief was sharp and deep. It showed on her face as she attempted to restrain tears already welled up. I pushed my toddler in a swing and quick-counted my other kids across the playground, simultaneously searching for a way to comfort her. She looked at her feet for a few moments—eyes glassy and despondent—seeing only the emptiness of seven months ahead of her, a troubling countdown to a date that would come and go without the promised gift of a child.  

We’d been close friends for years, and I’d seen her walk through a long season of infertility before the glorious pink lines had appeared for her, six weeks earlier. The knife-twist for me was that I discovered pink lines myself just a week after her announcement—lines for baby number five in my already-bursting family. With this devastating news, I was looking at a long stretch of pregnancy milestones alongside her miscarriage ones.   

I wasn’t sure how to journey with a bereaved mother-friend while awaiting my fifth baby. It hurt to see her wrestle with the all-consuming grief, and I felt powerless. I feared any gestures I made might add to her pain, and wrestled with how to navigate my own pregnancy as it progressed. My baby would arrive near her expected due date, and she’d be there alongside me as my belly grew through the months.

Kicking at the wood chips under my feet, I scanned the ground, hoping I might find some words there. Thrust into an unwelcome tension, I waded through murky water, trying to figure out how to be a good friend through this challenging season of loss. 

I committed myself to being there for her, but I didn’t know what that should look like. Should I give her space? Should I be quietly present? Should I continue to say I’m sorry over and over again?

I didn’t know how to shove down the feelings of guilt I felt regarding my house full of children and my anticipated delivery while she grappled with and grieved the loss of her baby. All I wanted was a manual to tell me exactly how to thoughtfully and practically respond to her loss in a way that communicated my deep love for her.

She grieved her miscarriage, and we both grieved the dashed dream of giving birth to babies in the same month. I fumbled through months of feeling like I was unable to provide meaningful support, not because I didn’t try, but because grief is messy for all involved, even for the friend standing by.

This sorrowful day at the park was years ago now, but it remains a defining experience for me. It was the first time I was close to a loss of this kind, and the first time I discovered just how delicate friendship becomes in a grief season.

I recently read the book, Grace Like Scarlett by Adriel Booker, and it is an insightful and poignant book about the author’s experience grieving through three heartbreaking miscarriages. In the book, Adriel shares gut-wrenching personal stories and the journey she took to embrace the unpredictable grieving process that followed each of her losses. She thoughtfully shares how she learned to hold space for her sorrow but also how to draw hope close to her chest in the midst of it. 

I have never suffered a miscarriage myself, but I have suffered other pain that has deeply marked me, and I have a profound appreciation for writers who are able to authentically capture both the uncomfortable details of suffering and the quiet but certain hope found in God. 

Adriel writes:

“I remember the days of wanting to crawl into a cave, find a place to curl up there in the quiet, and never wake up. It wasn’t that I actually wanted to die, it’s just that I didn’t know how to live under the weight of my sadness and collapsed expectations. Out of nowhere, sorrow would hit me like a heat wave, pressing on my chest, leaving me desperate to peel off layers so I could find some relief. But even while experiencing intense loneliness, I also remember feeling the sweetness of God’s presence in some of those shadowy hours. Something told me his quietness wasn’t abandonment— it was companionship.” ~ Adriel Booker, Grace Like Scarlett

Under entirely different circumstances, I have experienced this same curling up in quiet spaces to deeply mourn the loss of something dear, and I have similarly felt God’s quiet and comforting presence in the midst of it. This book gives words to intangible aspects of grief.

Adriel writes about sorrow, anger, shame, and many of the nuanced emotions involved in grief. I cried through several sections of the book, and I believe this resource will help moms (and dads) feel less alone specifically in the aftermath of miscarriage.

“It’s said that having children is like having your heart walk around outside of your body. If that’s true, it’s no wonder miscarriage feels like having part of your heart missing.” ~ Adriel Booker, Grace Like Scarlett

We need to have more open conversations about grief, how to walk through it ourselves, and how to support friends through it. This book is an excellent way to begin those conversations. Grace Like Scarlett would be a wonderful gift to offer a friend who has experienced loss—recently or in the distant past—especially as Mother’s Day approaches.

Thank you, Adriel, for your honest and hope-filled words throughout this book. You have accomplished an exquisite work of love in its pages.

Exploring a New Horizon

 

Sometimes, all at once, the horizon looks different than it ever has before. I’ve looked at it countless times–wistfully wondering what lies out there beyond my vision. There have been hints and hopes, but no form to discern, and no quick way from here to there, even though “here” is always constantly changing. I’ve been moving forward, I know that much, but toward what? I didn’t really know until now.

Perhaps it is no secret that I enjoy writing. It has taken me a good decade to recognize that I don’t only write because I’m compelled by urgency (which is true), but also because I honestly just deeply enjoy it. Where once I felt a little panicked about always wrestling writer’s block or, worse, writer’s torture–to have ideas but not the focus, tools, or skills to harvest them–I’m in an entirely new season. I’ve grown comfortable with letting the words be what they are, and committing them to pages whether or not they’re coherent on first-writing; whether or not the collection of characters amount to a dazzling finished work. The joy of words is in the consideration, the gathering and treasuring, and tossing them to a soil where they can sprout up into something fruitful.

I’m ready to commit myself to writing intentionally and often, because of the joy it brings me, and because of the musings I perceive will have a life beyond me. I’ve updated this website (which used to be the home of my family photography business) because I’m beginning to write more publicly around the internet, and it seems fitting that people would be able to find me easily by name. For those who have followed my writing for years, I’ve transferred my former personal blog (lightandloveliness.com) to this space, and I hope to pick up where I left off–only with a little more attention than this past year. Light and Loveliness will soon redirect here and be entirely phased out.

It also seems fitting to share that I have begun the early stages of writing a book. It will be a long journey: years, most likely. That fact used to intimidate me, and I have questioned whether or not I have enough words on one topic to artfully craft a work of book-length, but I’m ready to try, and the words are waiting for me to put them on pages. For friends & family not as familiar with the publishing process, there are many steps to go through on the way to publication, and many ways to go from hobby-writer to published author. I am currently in the first phase of pursuing traditional publication. My current goal is to write a book proposal, which is basically a giant, involved document that details all the aspects of the book I will later be writing. It is a slightly intimidating, but worthwhile process for clarifying the thoughts and purpose of the book, and includes a robust plan for how to market the book if/when it gets to publication. I’m especially prioritizing this part of the process over the next 3-4 months since our weekly family activities settle down during the summer and I have a little more time to work on it, but I don’t have designs on a particular timeline beyond this initial goal of completing the book proposal by early August.

So welcome to my new/old blog and these new adventures. I hope to be in a little better communication throughout this process. Your encouragement and support mean everything. I have imported my former email list from Light and Loveliness (you can unsubscribe anytime if you don’t want to hear from me about this), and if you’re not on my email list but want to stay connected as I chase this dream, I would encourage you to subscribe in the sidebar. I hope to send an email every 1-2 months with an update on my book proposal process and links to my writing around the web.

Thanks for being on this journey with me. Sending love.

xoxo,
Emily

 

A Chapter Closed (The Bread You Find)

page turned, the click of a door closing
face to the sky outside a place of comfort left behind
pause on the step to remember and remind the soul
there is a time for everything
for coming and going
for lamenting the loss of lovely things no longer at hand
for wonder about what waits in steps ahead

panes hold back the grey of filled eyes
broken heart spilled of desire to preserve
both moment and memory of first embrace
coming in to warmth and welcome
a place for healing wounds
a respite from war fought in unseen places
a home and refuge for a season

a blink, then gone on a truck
the symbol of how and where my loneliness found connection
i did not know as i watched it leave
my grief would seize me
with love for what i held and hold
with sorrow for what is no more
and a voice that guides me always to grace

i will not remember the details of every blessed night
when stillness hushed my soul as we grasped each other, rocking
hours of exchange, nothing and everything without a word
you, small and dependent but giving more than meets the eye

i remember that much and hold it dear

sustenance for you, my child
shall not be discontinued
only know that as you look—the answer is not gather and keep
but gather and give the bread you find

*****************

1431. a sitting corner and a warm robe, 1432. stitches and a comedic doctor, 1433. new mornings, 1434. a safe place to say what is on my mind, 1435. small victories, 1436. healthy meals and diminished desire for sugar, 1437. inspiring friends, 1438. bedtime exchanges, 1439. grace in words through email, 1440. food at the door

 

A Servant’s Heart

Day 14 ~ A Servant’s Heart

I look at disheveled spaces within my house and feel instantly (and repeatedly) overwhelmed. The jobs are mine, but I don’t want to do them. A surge of resistance wells up, followed by a momentary feeling of panic that I might not be able to beat the mess. For me, clutter feels like an actual monster that swallows my willpower in one gulp. I’ve never been especially good at keeping things tidy, which I blame on the fact that I seem to be missing the natural ability to put physical things in order. Nearly all of my energy pours into kids and creative spaces instead. It is energy well-used, but for certain, at the expense of a peaceful, well-ordered home.

Some people seem to have a knack for it. They have no emotional response to tidying keeping them from whipping items from one location to a more appropriate space. Without even thinking, they clear down a mess with methodical intention and astounding efficiency. My oldest son is one of these people. Every day I find him in a new corner of the house, intent on setting order to a small space thriving on the satisfaction of a job done well. The child is a gift to me; a rescue even. Without his help, I would be drowning even more than I already am.

He’s not a flawless person, by any stretch, but he is a servant, and I’ve learned many things from him about serving well. He is able to do work that needs to be done (with only minimal whining about the fact that no one else in the house can match his efficiency and focus). He is not deterred by challenges, not derailed by other pursuits, and not one to let others get out of their responsibilities without speaking up about it. He’s a leader in training.

He does have personality traits that clash with mine sometimes, but most often that clash results in sharpening for both of us. I see good in it.

Some observations I’ve made and stored away in my mama-heart about leadership and service while watching him work:

Leadership is important, but service is the lynchpin of influence. Leaders who do not serve and only spout orders do not command the same respect as leaders who join in a task and encourage along the way. Leaders who act like they are too good to do a job (and I’m even talking about parents here) miss the opportunity to bolster their own authority in the eyes of their constituents. When you get in the game as a servant, you gain a level of influence that is not otherwise available. It builds trust, grows confidence, strengthens bonds and forges respect.

Servant leaders put their energy into work done well alongside others instead of wasting energy on trying to look good (or trying to comparatively look better than others).

And finally, I’ve been pondering the distinction between helping and serving. They may seem like the same thing, but I assure you, they are different.

The satisfaction in helping hinges on the response of the person you’ve helped. Just think, if you help someone and they criticize something about what you’ve done, it most often sticks in a resentful space of the heart.

However, if you’re serving someone, which in-action might look exactly the same as helping, except it doesn’t come with the same strings. You offer yourself without expectation of what you might get out of it (even that satisfying feeling of helping), and you are also free of the burden to manage how the other party feels about you. Serving is about selflessness and honoring those who you serve without expecting something in return.

As I think about how this applies to my life as a mom, and while I could explore this idea for hours, at the bottom line, I think it helps me to see myself as a servant and embrace the reality that I am not too good for the humble tasks of my home. It is my honor to sacrifice and serve these little ones around me, and I need not waste my energy worrying about achieving an A+ for my housekeeping, only that I faithfully keep at doing what I can to make our house a home. I still do the jobs, and I still struggle through them, but with a helper and a few good tunes to liven the mood, there isn’t much that can keep me from showing my kids the way to servant leadership–by example.

1421. successful escape from the sugar monster + new (healthier) cravings, 1422. slippers from christmas, 1423. my new self-care corner, 1424. seating for all in our living room, 1425. successful series on KM, 1426. some earlier bedtimes and early productive mornings, 1427. sweet exchanges with my love, 1428. positive visit to a new church, 1429. grieving seasons as they change, 1430. new nail polish (thanks natalie)

Look at Your Brother

Day 13 ~ Look At Your Brother

If you ask me, the pecking order of siblings, the constant bickering and squabbling over tiny things is a torturous way to sort out your place in the world. Or maybe it just tortures mothers. At any rate, I have two sons that are adept at finding the one thing that will make the other squeal in protest at the injustice committed against them, and this exchange happens multiple times a day, most days at our house.

For many years now, I have been conflicted about how to handle this scenario with them. It drives me bonkers, so most of the time simply letting them sort it out isn’t an option. After all, we have mama’s sanity to think about. I’ve disciplined with time-outs, assigning chores, loss of privileges, and many other things but nothing seems to get us to a point where they will actually regard each other with respect. It wears on me, patience-wise, but it also saddens me to see my boys–who are surrounded by a loving family–push, shove, and jostle their way to receive what they think they’re entitled to or attempt to have power over each other.

I try to think about what is going on under the surface, asking myself why their immature minds always seem convinced that, “if I want to be top dog, I have to step on the face of the other guy.” I know that some of what is going on is normal–and maybe even good for them as they learn how to navigate giving and taking, sharing and setting boundaries under the watchful eyes of parents who care–but earlier this year, they went through a stretch of brother-bickering that had my patience rolled so thin, I was ready to snap.

Both boys come to me, crying–one holding his arm around the bicep, the other with a hand tucked under his arm to shield some kind of minor injury on his trunk. They are at an impasse that has turned physical, and they are each squawking their cases to me about who did what and why their own actions were justified.

I’ve heard it so many times. I take in a deep breath instead of letting my sharply-risen anger out. I ask God for help because I’m so over this recurring issue cropping up day-in and day-out. I can discipline to modify behavior all day (and often do), but I’ve clearly not been reaching their hearts. Help. What to do?

I’d love to call it a stroke of brilliance, but it is more likely to be attributed to God’s swift answer to my prayer.

“Look at your brother,” I say to both of them sharply. “Turn and look at each other’s faces.”

They shuffle a bit, standing face-to-face about 2 feet apart, each still holding his wound and sporting a low-hanging head and eyes barely lifted to obey my command.

I let an awkward pause hang in the air. One tries to look away.

“Look at your brother,” I repeat. “Look in his eyes. Do you know what an incredible person you are looking at? Do you know what a special thing it is to have a brother?”

They are both reluctant to look, but they oblige me. Stubborn is out to play and we share a few tense moments where I am trying to proceed slowly–looking for a way to their hearts–and they are each trying to decide whether they are going to hold their offenses or set them down.

“Do you see what you have done to your brother?” I ask gently. “Do you know that you guys could be an awesome team that encourages and supports each other instead of fighting all the time?”

More silence. More internal debates worked out on their faces.

“Look at your brother’s goofy smile.”

They both crack and smile and drop their offenses against each other, following with repentance and forgiveness. I explain that each one of them is responsible for their own actions and what they do affects other people, whether or not they think it does.

I will say, I don’t necessarily think this method fixes everything–as evidenced by our still-present brother squabbles–but I do think having to face one’s brother and look him in the eye makes it more difficult to justify one’s own poor behavior. Acknowledging a person’s humanity–and ultimately a person’s value–begins with looking them in the eye.

*****************

1411. being done with christmas shopping well before christmas, 1412. mild seattle winter days, 1413. kids making clay crafts, 1414. big baby snuggles, 1415. a night out with my guy, 1416. many voxer friends, 1417. a quiet month of not too many activities, 1418. writing day with a friend, 1419. seeing the generosity of others, 1420. crock pot dinner freedom

Through Glass and Fingertips

hollowed out, a log fallen
flat on the forest floor, a collection of ruins
heaped and spread, beyond repair

sand settled low in the funnel, time through glass and fingertips
the sum of years, sunk
treasures lost in shuffled lives lived facing different directions

different eyes see different things, but not the others
walls up, hearts held back
to hide in neutral, uncontested space

but love.

Love is bold, to break through
new life in the hollow
the promise of beauty from ashes, sprouted

************

There was momentum, success in writing some of the most precious stories of my heart, and then radio silence for two straight months. A series half-finished, and a heart consumed with other matters…in many ways shaken awake to responsibilities and realities that beg my attention more than my need to keep up appearances that I am a writing machine. I am not a writing machine. I am a busy mother in a season of living family adventures and challenges. I meant for it to be a momentary pause, but on occasion, moments stretch into months, and when the lungs I’ve been willfully holding breath in for many years finally exhale a swoosh of release from the need to always strive, always outrun the fear of tumbling blocks…well. The blocks have tumbled, and I have happened upon some of the most important personal discoveries of my adult life these past few months.

I have limits, and I rarely live by them. I swallow an elephant and look around for dessert. I shove some things to the side if they happen to be something I don’t really want to deal with at that time or anytime soon, and I try to fly with several overloaded satchels hitched to my wings.

It hasn’t worked out. I mean, I gave it a good run for a long stretch, but I’m halted, and wonderfully so. There is nothing especially dramatic. Just a wind of change. A hope for a healthier balance of life. I have every intention of finishing my series, it will just be on a looser timetable. I guess since I’m the boss, I can do that.

As I plunk the stories out, I will share them. Thanks for reading, and thanks for patiently waiting.

1401. The victory of a half-finished series, 1402. the quiet, but pivotal changes at my door, 1403. soul-swelling music that streams from my kitchen cupboard (via bluetooth speaker), 1404. rearranged rooms for kids, 1405. seeing the beauty of small, certain steps, 1406. the freedom to set down burdens, 1407. how words illuminate, 1408. toddler cuddles, 1409. the delightful taste of fresh oranges, 1410. embracing where I am

Digging Up the Weeds

Day 12 ~ Digging Up the Weeds

I’m at my wit’s end. For weeks, I have been holding back tears (sometimes unsuccessfully) over the whining voices, the incessant squabbles, the ungrateful attitudes, and the back-talk.

All the kids are doing it, but one, in particular, leads the way—agitating the others, catalyzing the conflicts, and generally trying to run the house at 9 years old.

He’s got all the makings of a great leader, but the expression of that within our family system is often challenging. He contests my authority daily, tries to negotiate his way through any circumstance where negotiation is possible (re: all the time), attempts to manage and monitor his siblings, and lacks empathy and kindness in his interactions with them most of the time.

All of this behavior is relatively unseen by anyone outside our family. In public, he is often complimented for his helpful and attentive behavior toward others, but in private, it’s not always quite as rosy.

I know he has the potential for true greatness (which I have pegged as leadership with a servant’s heart) and glimpses of a future that surely involves success of some variety.

I also imagine the terrifying prospect of his obvious leadership ability being nefariously misdirected as he grows. Right now, the stakes are not quite as high as they will be in a few years.

There are so many times I feel lost about how to parent this boy. It is a conundrum. I love him for who he is, and in the same breath, I can’t let him run our home at the expense of the other seven people who live here. Some days it takes every ounce of my attention, love, discipline, and patience to keep him moving in a positive direction. Some days, my boiling-over frustration comes out in the form of yelling and emphatic, incensed speech.

We have slogged through a particularly challenging summer full of sibling animosity (largely at the bidding of this one child), and I’m starting to feel desperate for a change, or even a marginal improvement of the constant bickering. I have employed every trick I can think of to stave off the fighting. I’m worn down to the point of staring blankly when yet another sibling squabble erupts in front of me, started by the aforementioned child. Behind my irritated expression, I stew a furious mess of emotions that I keep to myself, for the moment. He complains about his brother without taking any responsibility for his own actions. According to him, it’s always someone else’s fault. Of course, it is. 

I close my eyes, draw in a slow breath, and long for an easy way out of this stretch of parenting because I’m not sure I have it in me to be patient or calm.  Help me, Jesus. 

I have to do something to help us change course, but I don’t know what. I feel like I’ve tried everything, and nothing has worked. My eyes dart around the house in search of some way to ensure a small reprieve from the bickering. Work gloves. Weeds. Outside.

I snap up the gloves with determination to help my son start in a new direction with a little time outside in the yard. I have no idea what we’re going to do out there (I’m not a yard person) but I have to try something. I can’t continue this daily pattern of discord. Fortunately, my husband is home and I can leave the other kids in his care.

We arrive at the dandelion haven outside our front door. An eager crew of children has spread the dandelion seeds across the lawn on many “wish-blowing” occasions, and those seeds have now sprouted up. As we have sown, so we are reaping. The bright yellow, feathery blossoms brushing against my legs, and even though I’ve passed by this stretch of our property dozens of times this week, I see for the first time just how many dandelions there are. It’s been a month since the last mow, and these weeds have vigorously taken over the yard.

Who knew that if you let weeds grow where they land, they multiply at an alarming rate?

We find a dense patch and sit down. At first, I think I’m going to watch him do the task. I’m still wound up from weeks of the challenging behavior he’s displayed, and what I really want is an instant change without any fuss. It’s just not reality. Within a few minutes, I realize my son needs me to set my annoyance aside and yank out the weeds alongside him.

He needs my instruction and my example. He needs my encouragement and my help staying focused. As we sort out the mess of this yard, I realize our hearts–his and mine–are both full of things that need to be dealt with. We are both in need of God’s transformative work in us.

He is bright, interesting, and delightful–and he is also selfishness, prideful, and occasionally mean-spirited. Me? I’m a good mom: attentive, caring, and committed. I am also irritable, short-tempered, and sometimes impatient. In the fabric of every person’s character, there are flaws mixed in with all the good; flaws that hinder relationship if not addressed honestly. We each have to account for our own actions and choose a different route.

Children are individuals, and the fabric of their personhood deserves respect and care. I recognize my children will also become who I influence them to be. I can’t afford to ignore the ways they require my love and leadership, even when it feels inconvenient or frustrating. They need me to be in the dirt with them, present and patient through the ups and downs. If I am too distant or distracted, I can’t help them recognize or reach their potential. If I raise too high a standard, and I’m not there to help them reach it, they will lose heart and quit trying.

So this is my resolve: I will be close. I will be present and engaged. I will instruct, encourage, and lead by example. This is the work of an intentional mama—digging up the weeds.

For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” Galatians 6:8

Strength and Resolve

Day 11 ~ Strength and Resolve

Outside, sheets of rain pelt the ground, the extra runoff from the roof transforming our eaves into urban waterfalls.

Inside, we are at an impasse. It is me: worn down mama, my husband: still in damp clothes from his wet journey home after work, and my son: lionhearted boy that he is—screaming at the top four-year-oldear old lungs.

All day, we have been locked in conflict. I give directions, he immediately contests my authority or attempts to negotiate the situation to his advantage, every time. There is no easygoing compliance like I’m accustomed to from his older sister. In fact, there is no easy-anything if I have “poked the bear” as they say.

The more I discipline, the more he resists. So here we are, me in tears, my four year old screaming at me with fire in his eyes, and my husband trying to sort out what to do next since he just walked in on this mess.

I am exhausted, frustrated, and tears are spilling out of me because I am convinced I am a total boy-mom failure, and I imagine my child one day being in prison, or standing at a podium giving impassioned speeches as the tyrant dictator of a small country. You know; all the worst-case scenarios a worried mom constructs in her mind when things aren’t going well.

He is a brazen, demanding child who seems to be against me at every turn, stirring up my anger in a serious way.

When this behavior started to escalate at age 3 (upon the discovery of a small measure of personal independence), our power struggles began. In his eyes, everything in our home should be done his way.

Unfortunately for him, that is not how I see it. I have tried everything under the sun to change his behavior, but it hasn’t turned out as I hoped. Many of our days are strong-willed-child-meets-authoritatively-frustrated-mama.

Now, I am one stubborn chick myself, so there isn’t any railroading this mom, but I’ll tell you what, not many things will tear at the tender part of your heart as when your young child says something so hurtful, you can’t keep your poker face. On this particular day, he says:

“I WANT A NEW MOMMY! I WANT A NEW FAMILY!”

It’s a power grab, but a hurtful one, and he finds the button that puts me over the edge. I lose track of my brave face and cave on the inside.

Upon hearing his demands, my husband swings the front door open and retorts in his most serious dad-voice, “If that’s what you want, son, go find one.”

The rain is still sheeting down along with my own tears, and the boy’s face has fallen in disbelief that his dad is now (seemingly) taking his threat seriously.

***

This scene is on the extreme side of what I experienced on a semi-regular basis with my first son through his preschool years. From the beginning, he has been a leader, and his presence is probably the most influential in the family, as much as I would wish differently sometimes. If he is having a great day, we’re all having a great day. If he’s on a power trip, we’re all on the miserable ride. It is such an interesting phenomenon to me, because as far as I can tell—from years of observation and experimentation—there is no way to change this dynamic.

I have tried and tried to discipline him into compliance, and I will say, the vast majority of disciplinary techniques have not achieved the desired or intended result. If I discipline on the hard line, he positions himself against me, digs in his heels, and will not budge. When I have tried to extract respect and obedience from him by bending him to my will in an an authoritative manner, I always come up short of what I really want, which is ultimately his heart.

The very greatest gift to me is when my children respond to me with an attentive, teachable heart, and authoritarianism is not the way to get there. For a long time, I saw his behavior as a personal attack on me. I mean, it’s hard not to when a kid tells you they want a new mom after you’ve given it your best, but over time, I have learned that it is not my son’s foremost intention to disrespect me (even though it looks that way).

I have learned that although he is highly intelligent, he is not easily able to identify or talk about his feelings—a personality trait he inherited from his father. It takes a gentle approach and thoughtful questions to draw out what is really going on inside him, and more often than not, he is looking for a measure of autonomy that allows him to flex and work his leadership muscles as they develop. Sometimes his outbursts are his way of asking for an opportunity to show me how capable he is. He does really well when I give him responsibilities and challenges that meet him at his level, as long as I take a few steps back and give him the room to tackle things his own way.

Even though it hasn’t been easy to weather the rough patches, the truth is he has been a sharpening force in my life. We have needed each other. He has needed me to set and enforce consistent boundaries without being hyper-emotional. I have learned some powerful lessons about what it looks like to rise to a challenge. In the past when I’ve encountered difficult things, I have begged God to bring me relief, or to supernaturally make things easier on me because it was all just so hard. I wanted a way to escape the struggle and get to a smooth stretch of the road, but I now see that God doesn’t usually deliver me from trouble like that. Instead, He refines and grows my character, giving me opportunities to cultivate patience and perseverance, so I might become a capable, resourceful, lion-hearted mama with a gentle spirit toward my children.

Since those trying preschool days, my son has become a responsible, focused, tenacious, and fairly teachable boy that is a true gift to me. We still have friction here and there, and he continues to test out his leadership muscles on me, but I love the kid with all my heart, and although I would love to have a brief reprieve from his strong-will from time to time, I have grown to respect and admire the strength and resolve in him.

“In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures. This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” James 1:18-20

The Hidden Gifts of Humility

Day 10 ~ The Hidden Gifts of Humility

I wanted adventure, intrigue, importance, and excitement. I was younger then, and a bit more foolish. If I could have chosen the words that I never wanted to describe my life, I would have picked words like humble, ordinary, simple, and faithful. These are not things I wanted.

I had stars in my eyes and plans for “big” things, and a plan for how I could show the entire world what a brilliant, valuable, successful, important person I was. Really, I was begging for someone to validate me, and I thought that could only come through my great efforts to prove it. I do see life in a radically different way now than I did at that time, but it took me some years to see the beauty of a humble life and the treasures found within it.

Sometime during college, I was talking to a far-away friend on the phone who was a few years ahead of me: married, with two young kids, living on a piece of property just outside the small town where I grew up. I was in college at the time and had no plans to be married with kids anytime soon. We were catching up after some years of time apart, and she talked to me about the simple rhythms of their lives, the home projects they were doing and daily-life things. As she shared with me, I felt myself internally recoiling. I could not imagine having her life, and I was convinced that I never wanted anything like it.

I’m almost ashamed to say it, but it sounded boring to me. I mean, I was glad that she was happy, but I couldn’t understand how she was. What are your dreams? I thought. What are your plans?  I was somehow convinced that she must have had something percolating within her that had to do with being more than “just a mom”.

Ah, that phrase; “just a mom”. That one will get you in trouble right there. I put that phrase in quotations because it is one that has revisited me many times over the years. Personally, I have had a range of experiences with the idea encapsulated within that statement, each that has led me to draw very different conclusions.

It started with my ignorance of motherhood, and my inability to see that marriage and the building a life together process as one that could be full of beauty. I associated both of those things with dashed hopes and broken dreams, and I wanted no more of that. I had set my course for success—at least my understanding of it at the time. I didn’t want humble, I wanted whatever was going to make me feel validated, strong, and secure.

I never said anything out loud, but in the quiet of my heart, I unknowingly reduced the value of her experience to something less than it really is. In my own defense, I didn’t know any better. I was not yet a mom (or even married at the time), and there are some things you only discover once you jump into the pool. Now I am that same mom who is learning how to see that being a mom as different than being “just a mom”.

I have learned that there are no mothers who are “just a mom,” even if they don’t do any other professional work besides keeping a home and raising children. Every one of us is multifaceted, layered, and interesting in our own unique ways. It is also true that mothers have the most important job in the entire world: shaping and nurturing the next generation. This job cannot be done in the cracks of a jet-setting life, between all the other “important” things that must be done in the world.

I confess, I myself belittled motherhood, simplicity, and the prospect of cultivating a humble life in earlier years.

There is a line in a song by Audrey Assad (I Shall Not Want) with a line that has re-arranged me.

“From the fear of humility, deliver me O God”

That is the thing right there. I was afraid that if I let go of my big, important dreams and embraced motherhood and the service that comes with it, I would cease to be worthy of anyone’s attention.

The thing about humility is it requires me to lay myself down, to take the path of selflessness, to be diligent in unseen places where no one is cheering, validating, or marveling at my skills.

Humility brings me close with the cries of my heart I didn’t know were there. It takes the wall of pride I construct to insulate myself–I think it is protecting me from harm, but really, that wall keeps me from the most precious gifts.

A few years ago, I visited a new church for the first time with my family, and the female pastor opened her message with these words, “I always knew that I wanted to be more than just a mom.”

I winced. Having once been guilty of belittling the incredible, courageous, and selfless role of mothers, I understand where it comes from, but I also know too much now about the truth of motherhood.

The truth of motherhood is that strength, stability, wisdom, perseverance, patience, selflessness, resourcefulness, gentleness, and so many other things are forged in the fire of my humble life of service to my family when I recognized the thing I was afraid of (being just a mom) is the very thing that would bring about my liberation, my deeply cherished purpose, and my restored heart.

These are the hidden gifts that come with humility and surrender to God.

“Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” James 4:10