Motherhood: Learning the Ropes of Joy

Motherhood, for me, started out like a tightrope walk. To keep my balance and maintain my place on the tightly stretched wire, I read all the books, analyzed all the angles, second guessed all the decisions, and the only thing that saved my sanity is that Google had not been invented yet.

I’m still in the process of taking grace for this mothering gig, and one huge encouragement along the way is the shared experiences of others. Jamie Sumner is also a mother who walks on the tightly-wound side, and Unbound: Finding Freedom from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood is a memoir of her mothering journey in which she allows her own story to tell itself, while weaving in fresh re-tellings of the familiar life stories of biblical women.

It was none other than Sarah and Hannah, Elisabeth and Naomi who walked with Jamie in The Wanting and The Waiting of infertility. It was Mary Magdalene, Martha, and a choir of lesser known biblical women who sang her through The Getting and The Appreciating of a high-risk pregnancy, a ten-week endurance test in the NICU, and the white knuckle gauntlet of learning to parent an extremely fragile special needs infant.

The conflict that persists throughout the book’s narrative arc is Jamie’s struggle to “stay present, be still, and take notice of the moment” she was in. Being “in” a season of infertility presented a persistent reinforcement of the truth that even a much-wanted baby would not fill Jamie and her husband Jody’s hollowness in a way that was eternally satisfying. Years of shots and pills and finally the roller coaster of IVF made it hard to stay close to their mission statement:  What was all this about, anyway?

The Wanting and the Waiting

As she waited for “success,” Jamie threw herself into her teaching career and went about the business of  lesson plans and grading papers as a distraction from the continual pondering of the state of her uterus. Progress was always followed by set backs, and the devastation of miscarriage mirrored the empty/full, empty/full rhythms of Naomi’s life in the book of Ruth. Jamie identified with Mrs. Noah, pacing the deck of the ark and feeling like a spectator in her own life’s story.

The Getting and the Appreciating

Throughout her first pregnancy, Jamie worked hard to “turn down worry” and “crank up the trust,” which is a continual battle in a process over which one has so little control. Coping with waves of uncertainty and an always-changing prognosis, Jamie was Mary Magdalene, sitting on a hard rock during a long sermon on a Galileean hillside. She was a frayed and frazzled Miriam in the thirty-fifth year in the desert.

Learning the ropes of joy meant embracing the blessing of birth and the promise of new life while living with the bitter disappointment that came when waves of bad news continually washed over their days.

Images of Motherhood

Unbound comes from the perspective of a young mother against the backdrop of infertility, high-risk pregnancy, and parenting toddler twins plus a special needs pre-schooler with a chromosomal defect and cerebral palsy. Jamie’s story will encourage and lighten the load of readers who are living a similar journey, but her insights on mothering transcend any particular season. The voice of Unbound is a dialogue between reader and author, and feels like the conversations that happen among mums over coffee around a mult-generational table.

Reading Unbound, I was reminded that Motherhood is:

  • a sky dive into unknown territory where your shoot won’t open until the very last possible second, and only when someone else pulls the cord; (76)
  • an endless attempt to get your legs back; (115) 
  • a long way to fall without a net; (107)
  • a continually changing plan that has you kicking the tires and eating fried rice; (140)
  • a continual reminder that we cannot claim possession of either our lives or the lives of those we love. (166)

Tracing the Outlines of Grace

We come through the challenges of mothering NOT because of our own incredible giftedness or the presence of a “mom-gene” (157) that imparts super powers and exalted wisdom. Women become mothers and thrive in the role because there are “outlines of grace” (153) on our story, even though they are not visible to us all the time.

When Mary of Nazareth sang the poignant theology of the Magnificat, she was operating in faith that the new upside-down of her life was part of a bigger plan. When the impoverished New Testament widow emptied her pockets and let those two coins fall away, she was exercising trust for an unseen and improbable future.

In the NICU and beyond, Jamie and Jody Sumner have parented their children in the context of a growing faith that prays two-coin-prayers for God to “keep [their son] protected and deliver him to [them] in whatever state He saw fit.” (177)

Faith unbound perseveres in prayer no matter what.
Hanging on hard to the ropes of joy, faith prays and doesn’t give up during seasons of infertility, during the sturm und drang of toddlerhood, against the hum of hospital emergency equipment,  when the engine of the teen’s new truck is revving in the driveway, or when the grandchildren are coming for their first overnight.

Throughout our wildly varied parenting journeys, may we find freedom from anxiety and unrealistic expectations as we trust God and pray:

“Please help us to be good stewards of our own lives and any life you grant us.” (192)

Please.

Amen and amen.


Thank you to Faith Words, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. for providing a copy of this book for my review which is, of course, freely and honestly given.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Unbound: Finding Freedom from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood simply click on the title, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Faith, Family, and the Adoption Journey

Last summer, we canoed down the Saco River.  With kayaks, canoes, and colorful life jackets, we were a festive family flotilla bobbing along in the gentle current. On the way to our destination, we swam, sunned ourselves on sandbars, and the kids played a rousing game of gunwale wars. It was the kind of day that becomes a better memory every year, except . . .

We received some misinformation along the way and our end point was actually further down the river than we had thought — by several hours. Wild with a quiet panic, I paddled and fretted. As the sun began to set and I pictured us navigating around fallen trees and exposed granite in the dark, I announced to my husband, “I’m not a process person!  I’m a destination person, and I want this journey to be over!”

Kristin Hill Taylor found herself navigating a similar course in her journey of infertility and the decision to adopt.  Steering around the discomfort and inconvenience of fertility treatments, enduring the open-ended waiting process, and keeping one eye on the sunset that comes with aging ovaries, she found herself returning to Daniel’s Old Testament anthem to God’s sovereignty:

“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
For wisdom and might are His.
And He changes the times and the seasons;
He removes kings and raises up kings;
He gives wisdom to the wise
And knowledge to those who have understanding.
 He reveals deep and secret things;
He knows what is in the darkness,
And light dwells with Him.  (Daniel 2:20-23)

God graciously allowed Kristin to stay close to the truth that waiting is an opportunity for growth — but that does not mean it was easy! Once Kristin and her husband Greg entered the adoption process, they faced an entirely new set of circumstances that were beyond their control. Even so, they could see the hand of God at work when a young mum made the brave choice to continue her pregnancy and selected the Taylors as an adoptive family for her baby.

Kristin shares her astonishment at the great gift of insight adoption brought to her understanding of the Christian life. Understanding the depth of God’s choosing love and leaning into this faith gave Kristin peace in the process of becoming a mum and leaving a much-loved career to stay home with her first child. The Taylors went on to adopt two more babies, each story unique and each child a gift from God.

By sharing the details of each adoption and including the diverse stories of a number of friends who also adopted, Kristin prepares readers who are considering adoption for the twists and turns of the process.  Throughout the years of her story arc, it seemed that Kristin was perpetually updating a home study or weathering another round of disappointed hopes.  She learned that “few things define us more than how we struggle.” (49) And she realized that she was NOT a good struggler.  However, she was also in a process of transformation — as is every believer.

The sandpaper that God chose to use in Kristin’s situation was the adoption process and the emotionally draining job of mothering multiple children. As Kristin openly shares her moments of weakness and the ways in which God used His Word to instruct her, I was also challenged to dig into the truth of the book of James that “God wants me to live out my faith with my hands and my feet and my words and my actions and my attitudes and my relationships and my decision and my whole entire life.”

A closer examination of the adoption process pushed my understanding of being pro-life beyond a political position and into a realization that children are worth the level of effort, investment, and inconvenience that adoption can sometimes create. The formation of a family is worth the risk and the vulnerability.

The Taylor family has come together through adoption, and although the journey was not predictable or planned, the result is all that Kristin could have hoped for. The uniqueness of their family’s growth served as the occasion for witnessing God’s glory on display as He brought order to brokenness and wove together a network of love and connections in the making of a family.

Raymond Kayak
And, yes, the journey down the river was worth it, too!

//

This book was provided by the author in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.