Leaning into the Risk of Motherhood

I can remember when I used to be an advocate for early demise. My fondest hope was to fulfill the biblical quotient for old age as well as I could, and then to exit stage left with as little drama as possible to make room for the next wave.

Then I became a mother, and motherhood changes your mind.

Now, one of my fondest hopes is to see my sons in their prime and beyond, to bear witness to the salt-and-pepper, the graying temples, and the receding hairlines. I want to appreciate the deepening of laugh lines around eyes the color of the sea and to chuckle over the unruly eyebrows and the persistence of strength and muscle tone in a middle-aged runner’s scrawny legs.

It’s in the Blood

Motherhood has changed my mind and more, and Rachel Marie Stone suggests a physiological reason for the alterations that come with motherhood. Apparently, a woman’s body acquires cells from every pregnancy. Each baby she carries leaves behind a few cells that join with hers, so when we take the plunge into motherhood, we do not surface unchanged.

Birth is the metaphor that runs throughout Birthing Hope: Giving Fear to the Light as it binds memoir to meditation and bears witness to the journey that has left its mark on the author. When Stone and her husband packed up baggage and boys and relocated to Malawi, they had not an inkling of what it would cost them to serve university students in one of the poorest countries in the world. Whether it was her training as a doula or her tendency since childhood to be drawn toward the things that scare her, she was drawn to serve in a hospital where maternal death was commonplace–even unremarkable.

When Rachel’s bare hands plucked a baby from a pool of its mother’s HIV-infected blood, she tried not to think about the consequences to her own personal health or to her family. Even so, as she waited for the test results to reveal the impact on her own HIV status, she had plenty of opportunity to ponder the fleeting nature of life and her persistent fears for the safety of her husband and her children. She expressed the angst with borrowed words from Kathleen Norris:

“One of the most astonishing and precious things about motherhood is the brave way in which women consent to give birth to creatures who will one day die.” (74)

An Earthen Vessel in Zomba

Living as a white woman in a Malawian city, Stone “wore shame like a scarf” because of her comparative wealth, her education, her access to medical care, and the fact that she was there in the country voluntarily and could leave at any time. In the city of Zomba they called home, she taught English with a cringe, wishing her students did not need to learn it.

She shared the lives, the meals, and the routines of Malawian women who became friends, all the while learning that “every act of eating and drinking in Malawi was preceded by strategic harm reduction acts” such as washing raw vegetables and fruit in a bleach solution and filtering water. Learning to fashion pottery from the clay taken from termite mounds (Yes, it was accumulated termite droppings . . .), Rachel savored the image of God as the Potter who fashioned her own vessel out of humble clay.

Beautiful Incarnation

One of the highlights of Birthing Hope is the theological ponderings that flow out of the narrative arc. For instance, so many of our anxieties are tied to our mortality and physicality, and yet the truth of the incarnation that anchors our hearts in hope for these frail bodies has been challenged, messed with, and diluted throughout history. This is tragic, because the reality that a Palestinian teenager gave birth to God in a body, that Mary was given the option to bend and break over scandal and risk around a fully human pregnancy gives meaning and purpose and fosters fellowship around our own human struggles that are firmly rooted in our feeble flesh.

From God’s perspective, the incarnation was a huge unshielding of His own heart as He brought into being the possibility of a Suffering Servant and the Perfect Sacrifice. What a precise picture of the mothering life! Starting with birth, and growing by leaps and bounds as small bodies grow into large and independent selves, the mothering journey is one huge unshielding process! And it is fraught with risk.

Birthing Hope is an invitation to enter fully into that risk, trusting that there is no contamination or sorrow that is not gathered up into the collective groaning that will be turned inside out and will one day weigh like feathers in the balance against the overwhelming weight of glory which comes from a life in which love is allowed to have the last word.


Many thanks to IVP Books for providing this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with complete honesty.

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 Birthing Hope: Giving Fear to the Light, simply click on the title within the text, 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.

Thank you for joining me today on the path of hope,

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Happy Mother’s Day!

Some of my happiest mothering memories are set in a blue mini-van on the open road as our family traveled cross country for five weeks back in the summer of 2010. With very few distractions, our time together was focused on the beauty around us and the many sights we all shared for the first time.

Setting up the tent each evening, we tried to shave seconds off our previous record set-up time. Camp sites that had a pool AND a laundry facility got bonus points. We found that if we really stretched our arms, our whole family could connect around a giant redwood tree. Side by side, we marveled at wonders both natural and man made: Niagara Falls and Mount Rushmore; Old Faithful and the Space Needle. Our shared focus was outward, and the world was huge and gorgeous.

Maybe the most important secret in fulfilling our wish for a Happy Mother’s Day this weekend is to strive for that outward focus. Disappointment looms large in this season when all the Hallmark movies and cheesy commercials urge us to expect great things from our offspring and devoted husbands. This is the day that’s supposed to make all the sacrifice of the preceding 364 days “worth it,” right?

Realism lands hard in the month of May.

My Mother’s Day wish for you this weekend is the gift of an outward focus. Find a way to show honor and appreciation to a woman who is pouring herself into the lives of others. If your own mum has passed away, adopt someone for the day. Shower attention and love on the woman who mothers your grandchildren and puts up with your son everyday. Call a friend who has made the world richer just because she’s in your life — and tell her so!

“Generous persons will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.”  Proverbs 11:25 (CEB)

Wishing you a refreshing Mother’s Day!

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A Collection of Books for a Grace-Filled Mother’s Day

In 1914, when Woodrow Wilson signed the proclamation designating the second Sunday in May as a national holiday to celebrate mothers, there’s no way he could have predicted the century of retail hoopla and family angst that would ride on the coattails of his intention to simply honor mothers and their role in the family. Maybe you, the mother in your home, are already feeling the crush of your generational sandwich: the desire to make time for your own mother on that special day while entering into the plans your husband and kids have made for you. And while you’re pondering that, maybe there’s the question of how to best show love to the mother of your precious grandchildren! Then, there’s your mother-in-law . . .

The recipe for this Mother’s Day brew doesn’t even begin to account for ingredients like the heartache of infertility or the disappointment of generational dysfunction.  Maybe the path to a grace-filled Mother’s Day lies in the way we approach mothering as a way of life. What if we made a practice of celebrating year-round the women who have poured themselves into our lives? What if you began to value your own role in the body-and-soul nourishment of fussy newborns and fractious toddlers? How would your life be different if you embraced the high value of those hours spent in a mini-van and your prowess at getting the grass stains out of white baseball pants?

Rejoicing in the Spiritual Practice of Mothering

Catherine McNiel wrote Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline out of the experience of her own turbulence in the line of mothering duty. Well aware of the creaturely weakness that plagues her own journey, she offers life-giving practices and  perspective-altering insights. She invites busy mums to attend to the work God wants to do in their souls and to join C.S. Lewis in realizing that “the world is crowded with Him. . . The real labour is to remember, to attend.” (xiii)

Sometimes we need the reminder that motherhood is a window to a deeper understanding of theological truth about the incarnation; that pregnancy is a miracle in which “the unbelievable becomes tangible” in our own flesh and bone, and that we make it through the years of  mothering “one hour, one day at a time.” (149)

In a life that seems to yield not one minute for observing spiritual disciplines, McNiel urges mums to sink deeply into the practice of motherhood with its slow minutes and fast years and the multitude of mindlessly repetitive and yet very necessary tasks. Offered up to God with a heart of worship, the daily duties become a very spiritual practice, crashing through the artificial wall between the secular and the sacred.

When my four sons were all very young, I knew that my role consisted of the intensely physical routines of helping:  trimming 40 finger and toe nails, pulling shirts on over tousled heads, tying shoe laces, and making sandwiches. Now that all my boys are taller than I am (and in many ways more competent!), my role is different, but my offering to them is still the same. Mothering is the pouring out of a life, one drop at a time, in an often unseen sacrifice and surrender that captivates soul, spirit, and body. The relationships that were forged in those early mothering days are the gift that helps me to pray with knowledge as I fold towels for the son who is going to carry them off to college in a laundry basket. The heart connection is what makes family gatherings and frequent phone calls so precious as I hear firsthand fresh stories about the lives they are building in other places.

The life-giving practice of motherhood is carried out over a lifetime as we present ourselves to God and to our children, over and over again, in a multitude of offerings that bind us to our families and strengthen our connection with God.

More Books for a Grace-Filled Mother’s Day

Christina Morley likens the process of writing Happy Moms, Happy Homes: Empowering Moms to Live in Victory to the preparation of a 25-course meal. In bite-sized portions, she serves up twenty-five aspects of the mothering life, beginning with the need for empowerment by a God who pours His own love into our hearts.  Morley lays a theological foundation for mothering that discourages perfectionism, sets a course that listens for the voice of God, and focuses on relationship rather than rigid routines in the pursuit of God.

Because mums are “quick to take care of our kids and slow to take care of ourselves,” Christina shares her own journey of embracing self care and balanced living, and declares that Super-moms actually cheat their families out of the opportunity to learn and become well-rounded by performing routine tasks for themselves. (Amen!)

Gratitude and joy are the lubricant that keep the gears of motherhood from grinding and sticking. Happy Moms, Happy Homes takes readers on a whirlwind journey with the grumbling Old Testament people of God to demonstrate the wisdom of receiving God’s gifts without lamenting the things He withholds in His wisdom.

Mothers need a vibrant spiritual life based in “prayer without ceasing,” so they can do battle for their families in the spiritual realm where “the weapons of our warfare are mighty through God.” The investment of all our resources for the benefit of our family demonstrates faith in God to provide.

Healthy relationships within the family depend upon forgiveness and a working partnership between husband and wife. Parents who are “relationship builders” tend to pass that trait on to their children by example, and the Kingdom of God is advanced!

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. Read my full review here!

Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World That Loves to Be Noticed is the product of Sara Hagerty’s collision course with the beautiful “waste” of a poured out life that hides behind hardship, disappointment, challenging circumstances, or the simple routine of an obedient following. We will never know the comfort of God as our “refuge and strength” until we come to a place in our lives in which we need to take refuge.  It’s clear that “our hidden places aren’t signs of God’s displeasure or punishment,” but rather places in which God intends to teach our hearts to sing. (33) I reviewed Sara’s book here.

Courtney Reissig’s personal illustrations and the vignettes shared from the lives of her friends encourage me to lift my eyes from the all-consuming “what” of my daily list and from the pervasive “how” (as in “how am I going to get all this done?”), and to fix my eyes on the one beautiful question:  “Why?” Glory in the Ordinary: Why Your Work in the Home Matters to God (Gospel Coalition) serves up the truth that the work of home is the work of spreading God’s glory throughout the world.  By entering into the reality of that today, we leave a mark on those we serve and prepare our hearts for a future of greater work and greater joy when we will see that there has never been a mundane task without purpose in God’s incredible universe in which nothing goes to waste. You can read more thoughts on Glory in the Ordinary here.

In First Ask Why: Raising Kids to Love God Through Intentional Discipleship, Shelly Hunt Wildman turns a laser focus onto the subject of parenting, inviting her readers into an intentional practice of envisioning the kind of family we want and then, by God’s grace, doing what needs to be done to make that vision become a reality. Fortunately, Shelly is writing from a place of self-awareness that prevents her from sounding off as a “parenting expert.” With honesty about her own shortcomings and failures, she shares her own goal of greater mindfulness with the voice of a fellow-traveler on this bumpy road of parenting. I happily served on the Launch Team for First Ask Why, so you can read my review here.

Gloria Furman celebrates both mothers and mothering in Missional Motherhood: The Everyday Ministry of Motherhood in the Grand Plan of God, and she immediately grabs her readers’ attention with the truth that there is so much more to this nurturing life than the quest for the perfect macaroni and cheese recipe and the indoctrination of perfectly-behaved children. The heart of the matter for all mothers is . . . our hearts.  Our brokenness, our mixed motives, and our innate selfishness get in the way of our ability to realize all that we dream of when we envision our call to mothering.  Missional motherhood is a term that embodies this “glad-hearted, life-giving” work of pouring ourselves into the life of another. I shared a full-length review here.

Somehow, Seth Haines knew the gift his wife needed for the Christmas following the birth of their third child — so he put out the word.  Friends, favorite authors, and bloggers were asked for a contribution of hope, a letter from the heart of a mother.  The response far exceeded Seth’s expectations, and he was able to present to his wife, Amber C. Haines, a collection of stories:  joyful accounts of tiny people and huge love; tales of grief and estrangement; recollections of disappointment and of celebration. Now the gift is being multiplied in The Mother Letters: Sharing the Laughter, Joy, Struggles, and Hope , an exquisitely bound and illustrated gift book that fosters community while it celebrates the beauty of borrowed strength. Here’s a link to more information about the book.

It’s a privilege to begin the Mother’s Day party with you here today! Thanks for reading, and may you find that a heart full of gratitude for the joy of mothering and the recognition that you have been mothered according to God’s plan for you fill your celebration with joy!

Blessings and love to you,

michele signature rose[1]

 

 

Each book in this collection has been provided by the author or by the publisher for the purpose of 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 any of the titles listed in this post simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, 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.

 

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered directly to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

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.

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.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

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.

Thanks, as always, for joining in the reading, the thinking, and the prayer that is part of Living Our Days,

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Weeping Woman of Ramah

(Matthew 2:16-18; Jeremiah 31:15; Isaiah 61:1-3)

There was no angel appearance to my husband —

No timely warning granted for us to flee the danger and death of Herod’s sword.

Know that I, too, would have fled.

I would have flown to the ends of the earth to dodge the flash of steel that ended my young son’s life, snuffed out to satisfy the jealous angst of a paranoid king.

Tricked out of a positive identification of his rival by the stealth of the wise men, Herod reduced a precious population of baby boys to a disposable demographic:
male child,
in Bethlehem and its districts,
two years old and under.

 My son.

Yes, my tears were foretold by the prophet Jeremiah, and the Messiah survived to live and die in the manner God had ordained.
(Is it ironic only to me that my boy died in the place of the savior of humanity?)

God’s economy is strange.

I would never have removed a creature so fine as he before his time.
There is a great hole in the universe now.

But I am a daughter of Deborah, a woman of the Covenant, and I know Who it is that sits at the Potter’s wheel, Who molds the clay.
I am the work of His hand.
My son was also His vessel.

God is building His kingdom; I know this in my head.
But I am a mother, finite, and I see through a glass darkly.

And I would trade all that promise of righteousness, all that prophetic fulfillment
for one more day with my boy.

Is there ever an era or a set of circumstances in which a bereaved mother does not
sob ragged to frame these words:
Why my child?
Why not some other?

I do not understand, and Jeremiah was cruelly accurate in his prophecy,
for I will not be comforted:

Not by time.
Not by the kind consolation of thoughtful words.
Not by the probing questions, thinly veiled queries, which, over the years
have come to revolve around a single theme:
“Isn’t she over this yet?”

Weeping, I wait for my heart to heal.

Weeping, and finding no ready answer to the evil in the world—the evil in me—
I discover that my suffering creates a space in which I wait for the deep comfort promised by another ancient prophet:

Healing for the brokenhearted.
Consolation to those who mourn.
Beauty.
Joy.
Praise.

I wait for another coming of this Jesus, and I long to believe,
for I know
that shortly after I see His face,

I will see, once again, the face of my boy.

_____________

A few verses in Matthew are all that are granted to the tragedy of slain baby boys following the birth of Jesus. As the mother of four sons, I’ve never experienced this depth of loss, and I find myself wishing with all my heart that these women could have been among those who “sorrow not even as others who have no hope.”  I love to think that there may have been those who knew from their exposure to the writings of the prophets that a Messiah would come to live and to die and to give beauty for ashes.

This post first appeared at SheLoves Magazine where we were writing for Advent 2015 on the theme “Paused and Present.”

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Image credit: Guilherme Yagui

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

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.