Motherhood is not the hardest job

Okay, so maybe my inner cynic is showing, but not too long ago I read yet another post affirming motherhood as the hardest job and the highest calling and I think I rolled my eyes. For sure I sighed. I may or may not have sent a snarky text to my friend (who, incidentally, may or may not have replied with a hearty assent urging the authors of such pieces to go ahead and get over themselves).

My friend and I don’t mean to be cynical. I do understand the authors’ intent with such articles. I do. Really, I do. No doubt I’ve written similar sentiments here on the blog. Motherhood is not easy, not by a long shot. It can be overwhelming and confusing and all-encompassing and, well, just plain hard, yes and amen. Not always but sometimes.

And maybe my snark is because I’m nearing the end of my daily responsibility as a mom. My nest is emptying; hence my curmudgeon-ry grows. Could be. Certainly my cynicism may well be closely related to my angst about transitioning out of this stage of life.

Regardless of the motivating factors, it’s not the assertion of the difficulty of the task of motherhood that gives me pause but rather the superlatives. The hardest job ever? The highest and best calling? If that were true, what about my life now as I near “retirement”? Am I to conclude that from here on out whatever my hand finds to do is somehow less important, of a less critical nature? And what about the implications for those who are single or who do not have children? Is our message really that motherhood is highest and best?

Besides, parenthood as we know it, what with medicine and healthcare and preschool and answers to any and all questions available with a few clicks of the google, is it really the hardest job? There are eternal implications to be sure. But I can’t help but think of friends who are laboring in parts of the world openly antagonistic to the gospel, where they do not know any other believers apart from they themselves; surely their job, their calling, their mission is hard, if not impossible.

Why then the repeated assertion of motherhood as highest and noblest? Does saying such really foster encouragement and joy in the task? For me it often had the opposite effect. I would grow depressed and discouraged to know that * this * ought to be the height of what I do and who I am; yet I was so often bored or overwhelmed or a complete failure. Some days, to be frank, seemed devoid of meaning and purpose in what was supposed to be the most important job of my life. Forget highest and hardest, while I knew days full of all that is good and grand about mothering, a lot of days just weren’t. If this was to be the end all, be all of my existence here on earth, shouldn’t I be better at it? Or find more joy in it?

Yes, indeed, dear mother, your task is difficult. It is a high and holy calling to raise children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. There are fabulous days and glorious days of sheer joy. There are also dark days and boring days and long days. Rest in the provision of your God no matter which kind of day you find yourself in. Do the best you can in the wisdom and provision of God, knowing your motherhood doesn’t define you. There are hard things and high callings beyond this stage and what matters is not necessarily the task at hand but the glory of God the Father who calls and empowers and sustains.

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Watercolour ponies one day ride away

Earlier this week, my sweet daughter in law texted me a picture of three of my guys sharing a meal around the table at their home. I love the pic so much, not only because I miss all those faces terribly but also because among the many things I have wished for my boys I have wanted them to be friends, to look out for one another, to value the bond of family. She and my son having my other two guys over for a home cooked meal makes me all kinds of happy.

I am sad too, just keepin’ it real. I have not transitioned well to our third son leaving home, to which my husband would probably reply is a vast understatement. I never transition well anyway, no matter the transition at hand, but this particular life change has been all the more difficult for me.

We married off our oldest son on a Saturday and it was sweet and precious and happy and beautiful, a glorious day of friends and family and celebration. I mean, it was exhausting too, don’t get me wrong, but it was altogether lovely and wonderful.

That was a Saturday and the Wednesday following we moved our third son off to school. Talk about an emotional roller coaster! I laugh and say that we tried to cram as many big life events in the smallest number of days possible. Not funny, really, but true.

It is quiet around here and much slower of pace. I am learning how to cook for only three of us which means my freezer is filling up with leftovers for future meals. The laundry takes no time at all. I tell my youngest son all the time he’s my favorite, to which he sagely replies, “You only say that because I’m the one still at home.”

Many, many years ago my husband and I were riding in the car with our very dear, very best friends. My oldest was my only and he was just an infant. In fact, if I really want to blow my own mind, I ponder the fact that the age I was then is the age he is now…

Anyway, he was a baby in an infant car seat perched in the middle of the back seat between me and my friend. The menfolk were in the front seat and we were all singing along to a cassette tape of Wayne Watson’s Watercolour Ponies.

I know, I know. I KNOW.

My husband and I, being the experienced parents in the car, you know, having all of a couple of months’ under our belts thus rendering us experts in the field, got into a discussion of our interpretation of the song. I reflected that when Wayne would sing “when it comes back to you and me” he’s meaning the responsibility of parenting lying squarely on us, the parents. You know, the buck stops here and then what will I do? My inadequacy loomed large even then.

My husband interpreted that line as a foreshadowing of the time when it would only be “you and me,” as in the empty nest, just the two of us once more. We could neither of us imagine that day, it seemed so very far in the future it blew our minds just to consider it. Certainly we had no idea at the time that we would welcome three more little ones into our home and hearts! The years of Toy Story and Bible Man and Legos and soccer and basketball and band and choir, all of that was yet to come. And after that, what?

I don’t know which Wayne meant but I do know we were both right in a sense. Motherhood has taught me many things, chiefly my own insufficiency to the task. How much I need the grace and wisdom of the Lord!

And yes, one day, sooner than I ever could have imagined, the nest will empty. My youngest son has two more years and then he will follow his brothers’ footsteps, break his mother’s heart, and leave home. Who knew it would come so quickly? And yet here we are.

I stink at transition, and I grieve change far more than I should, but I do know that one reason this is a bittersweet season for us is because we have known so much joy. So. Much. Joy. The years of the watercolour ponies were good ones.

There are watercolour ponies on my refrigerator door
And the shape of something, I don’t really recognize
Brushed with careful little fingers and put proudly on display
A reminder to us all of how time flies

Seems an endless mound of laundry and a stairway laced with toys
Gives a blow by blow reminder of the war
That we fight for their well-being for their greater understanding
To impart a holy reverence for the Lord

But baby, what will we do when it comes back to me and you
They look a little less like little boys every day
Oh, the pleasure of watchin’ the children growin’ is mixed with a bitter cup
Of knowin’ the watercolour ponies will one day ride away

And the vision can get so narrow, as you view through your tiny world
And little victories can go by with no applause
But in the greater evaluation as they fly from your nest of love
May they mount up with wings as eagles for His cause

-Lyrics by Wayne Watson

In perpetuity

They—the experts, the prognosticators, the watchdogs—warn that what one sends out to the internet remains there forever. Status updates, emails, blog posts, all exist in perpetuity in the world wide web.

This fact fills me with dread and not only because I’ve written things which I hope will be quickly forgotten—indeed I have. There are posts I’ve published that are just bad, others that are just plain embarrassing, and still others that I ought never have written in the first place.

I’m pretending none of you are now searching my archives for any such crimes against the written word.

That is, none of you among the ten or so remaining among my loyal readership.

Yes, those early posts, and no doubt some of the latter, are certainly cause for dread. However, I worry mostly about my children in the distant future dusting off the ancient archives of what we once knew as the internet, pulling up my confessions and conundrums, and reading them. Not that they don’t read them now, they do. But what difference will years, decades even, make?

I think particularly of my younger two children whose dedicated word count here on the blog is decidedly less than that of their older two brothers. Will they understand their mom got tired, the blogging got hard, the words grew elusive, and the comparative silence here in this space wasn’t evidence of a lack of feeling but more likely the complete opposite?

Case in point: our number three son graduated from high school a couple of weeks ago. Can you believe it? I can not. Our contrary child, determined to march to any beat but that of his brothers, graduated and I am so proud. Yet there was no post commemorating the depth of my emotion, no lament over the quick of passage of time, no tribute to grace of the Lord sustaining us thus far; not because I had nothing to say but more that I had no words to say it.

All the beautiful expressions of nostalgia and bittersweet happiness that I’ve described before in relation to numbers one and two sons and their particular milestones; it is the same and more so as we celebrate the accomplishments and future of this son. He remains his own man, full of surprise and the occasional contradiction, and we are grateful to God for him, far more than any mere blog post can express.

So whether or not these words and this blog continue on among relics of internet past, I pray all my guys will know how very much they were loved and how very grateful their parents were for every day and every minute. What love and what joy we have known, in perpetuity.

Rainy days and soccer

Reader be warned: this is yet another one of those “I-can’t-believe-the-blog-was-dark-for-so-long-so-I-will-post-something-anything-just-to-keep-it-alive-in-my-own-mind” stream-of-consciousness sorts of non-posts.

Don’t say I didn’t tell you so.

It’s a rainy Tuesday and I’m about tired of rainy Tuesdays, not to mention rainy Wednesdays and Thursdays and…well, you get the picture. It’s fitting that it’s raining today, on the day my son plays his last soccer game. We’ve had the worst weather this season, only one or two pleasant evenings out of the twenty-plus games he’s played. So of course it’s raining, though I have hopes the rain will quit before the game and senior night festivities.

It’s the end of an era, after a fashion. We’ve been a soccer family ever since my oldest son first took the field when he was four, some 16 years ago now. All four boys played, sometimes all at once, my husband coached, sometimes multiple teams a season, and I watched, hundreds, maybe thousands, of games all total. One by one each of the boys hung up their cleats either by graduating in the case of my oldest son or by pursuing other endeavors in the case of my younger two. My second boy, however, loves the game and has played with great passion and enthusiasm over the years. He’s racked up the accolades too, his club team winning two state championships and advancing to the semifinals in regional play last year.

It’s been quite a ride. And a lot of fun.

And tonight I will turn in my soccer mom badge.

It’s weird.

When my oldest son played his last football game I wrote a sweet and nostalgic post–most definitely not of the off-the-cuff variety you see here–and it was quite moving. I cried as I typed. I wanted to write something similar at the close of my second son’s basketball career just a couple months ago. I know it’s dumb, but I couldn’t find the words, not then. I can’t tonight either. That doesn’t mean the nostalgia isn’t there; it is. It doesn’t mean it’s not bittersweet; it is, more than you know and more than I can tell you.

It means that my heart is full. It means that I am proud and I am sad and I am excited for the future and I am already missing the past. It means that I am cherishing these days, this day, this rainy Tuesday of soccer, because I know the time is fleeting and my boys are growing into men and leaving home. As they should.

And now the sun shines! Yes and amen!

Fast and fleeting

Even the most casual observer will note that posts here at the Lisa writes… blog, well, they are intermittent at best and that’s putting it nicely. In posts past, I’ve explored various theories for the why’s and wherefore’s of this blogging reticence. As I’ve noted before, I am not alone in this struggle for words and their expression at this stage in my blogging life. Maybe it’s a disillusionment with the evolution of the medium, maybe it’s a stage of life deal where parenting older kids takes not only much of our time and energy but also rightly limits the things we have to talk about. Maybe it’s hormones, everything else is!

Today I’m wondering if we’re not just tired. Life is coming at us hard and fast and the resulting dust up leaves us gasping for breath and wondering how in the world we got here. Case in point, I attended an informational meeting this morning about high school, my fourth and final such meeting because it was for my fourth and final child, he who will be entering high school this fall. THIS. FALL.

How can these things be? I mean, I’m pretty sure just last week he was in the fourth grade. Seriously. How did he get to be fourteen and high school eligible? And don’t even get me started on my second son leaving home in August or my third son now driving (yes and amen) or the fact that my nest will be empty in four short, very brief years because, you know, my youngest, my baby, he will be in HIGH SCHOOL in the fall.

Time flies, ya’ll. I don’t know about the rest of the old(er) women bloggers, but for me, I can’t keep up, not when the days are rushing by like a whirlwind. No wonder I sit down to write a post only to discover to my surprise that two weeks have passed me by. Don’t get me wrong, it is a good thing to see your boys grow into men and I am grateful. It is also crazy fast and fleeting.

Christmas lights, worn out moms, and the world

One night, fourteen years ago, we piled the boys in the van and took a drive to look at Christmas lights. The baby was then a mere few days old and his mother an exhausted wreck as all new mothers are. How long had it been since I’d ventured out of the house? For that matter, how many days had I spent in my pajamas? My life at that point consisted of a hazy conglomeration of feedings and occasional naps and the demands of not only the newborn but of a 5 year old, 4 year old and a 2 year old. Bless my heart.

That night we drove around the neighborhood pointing out the spectacular and the not-so-spectacular light displays. I can’t remember if the boys were impressed or not. I do know I nearly wept from the few moments of rest. And freedom. And shock. Is it crazy to admit that I was surprised to find that life outside my four walls had carried on as usual? People decorated their homes and went to work and cooked supper, all without any knowledge or concern of the life-altering event I’d just experienced. It sounds silly to admit but I suppose I had forgotten there was a world beyond my own. As I said my life had, to that point, been consumed by the needs and responsibilities within our four walls. When we ventured out and I caught glimpse of the world outside I was surprised.

We concluded our little escape at the drive through nativity put on by a local church in our community. There amid the livestock and the mock stable was a baby. And a new mom. As we listened to the cassette tape intended to accompany the live nativity and as I watched the depiction of Mary and the baby I thought of my own newborn babe and I considered all over again the humility of Mary’s obedience and the joy of the Messiah’s birth, the baby Jesus born in a stable, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

My need was great in those days and the gospel became incredibly precious to me as I struggled with the sheer physical and emotional exhaustion of being a mom to four. The incarnation—that Jesus became a man—was a comfort. He knew fatigue. He understood weariness. He was fully man and fully God and able to sympathize. He saves worn out moms desperate for grace, yes and amen.

That cold night we spent admiring Christmas lights taught me another important truth: the blessing of the incarnation isn’t only for me. I am part of a wider story, a bigger picture, a greater world. All around me people are living lives desperate for the truth of the gospel, lives untouched and unchanged by the life-altering, world-altering event of Jesus’ birth.

Jesus saved me, glory to His name, but He came to save all who are His. This gospel story isn’t merely about me and my need, it is about God redeeming a people for Himself through the birth, death and resurrection of His Son. There is a world outside our immediate context. May we look beyond our four walls and see God’s sweeping purposes throughout history. Mary, me, you–we are part of the joy God brings to the world through His Son. Let us go and tell.

Time flies

At Out of the Ordinary today, I’m revisiting a post from my archives here…

How did we get here? Wasn’t it only yesterday that I was sending my oldest off to kindergarten, he and I both stoic, his younger brother the one in tears? I mean, I know that time flies and all that but who could know it flies so fast and so furiously?

See the rest of the post here.

 

Finding encouragement and community as an old-er woman

Today I’m posting at Out of the Ordinary about old-er women and our need for gospel community and encouragement:

At 44, I am what many (myself included) would consider an older woman. Not old necessarily, but old enough to be old-er. The distinction is important, at least to my vanity.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not aging well. I do, of course, suffer from the usual physical effects of forty plus years on this earth: the gray hair and the corresponding appointment with my hairstylist every 6-8 weeks, the wrinkles, the hormonal migraines that take me down for nearly a whole a week at a time, just to name a few.

Growing old, it’s not a pretty sight.

But it’s the unexpected repercussions of these middle years that have me reeling: the sudden grief over an emptying nest, the regrets of past failures and deficiencies, the question of “What now?”

Don’t get me wrong. I like my 40’s. Life is good here in the middle years, good and rich and happy. Yet there is also much that is confusing and stressful and surreal and, well, hard. It can be a lonely stage of life and a difficult one.

Read the rest of the post here.

I am more than my motherhood

It seems women are everywhere. Whether we are talking about women’s issues in politics, women’s roles in church, or what defines a woman according to Biblical standards, women as subject seem to comprise most of my twitter and blog feeds.

I am a woman and one would think that, as such, I would be encouraged by this push toward keeping women at the forefront of conversation. And, I suppose, to some extent I am. I understand and share some of the frustration expressed by many who seek a stronger, louder voice for our gender in the public square as it were. In our current culture there are certainly gender specific issues deserving discussion and evaluation and correction.

But not all I read is encouraging. In fact, I wonder sometimes if we do not do ourselves a great disservice by framing so much of our dialogue and critique in terms of our gender. I do believe that God created us uniquely as women and as such different from our male counterparts. Unsurprisingly, I hold a complementarian perspective. As I stated earlier, I believe that there are real issues facing churches and our culture at large and in many of those cases women play a critical role in asking and answering the hard questions. But, those sorts of situations aside, must everything about us be defined by our womanhood?

For example, in the current evangelical blog world, if we can delineate and define such a thing, there seems to me to be a plethora of articles and blog posts across major sites written to women mostly by young moms about being young moms. While I applaud the efforts on behalf of these mostly male dominated sites to include women and while I do agree that young moms are in a uniquely difficult stage of life, as an older mom I often want to say “I am more than my motherhood.” In other words, must our conversations about who we are as Christian women continually center around being a mom and a housewife? What about infertile women? Or single women? Or older women? Or empty nesters? We do these sisters a great disservice by implying, however subtly, however inadvertently, that motherhood is the pinnacle of Christian womanhood.

Years ago I read an article about women’s ministry. I don’t remember where I read it nor who wrote it. The author–whoever she was–in no uncertain terms asserted that all ministry to women must be couched in the Titus 2 directive. All ministry. All instruction. She contended that any lesson taught to women should have its (singular) application drawn from the imperative to “love husband, children and care for your home” as outlined in Titus 2:4-5. I remember this article so very clearly because it shocked and saddened me greatly.

In that author’s view the sum total of all that a woman needed to know about the Word, about God, about the gospel, about theology and about doctrine, has its only benefit in how it helps her to love her husband and children and care for her home. How she shortchanges us!

I think of my recent experience at The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference where I heard theologically trained women exposit the Scriptures. No mention of housekeeping nor the narrow application to motherhood that I could recall but instead the encouragement, the mandate even, to women to study the Word, to know the Bible, to wrestle with the truths of who God is and who we are and to rejoice in His plan to redeem sinners for His own glory. Kathleen Nielson, Nancy Guthrie, Paige Benton Brown, Nancy Leigh Demoss–these smart, intelligent women used their gifts to propel their listeners toward a deeper knowledge, a richer theology, a greater sense of awe and worship.

It was women teaching women, to be sure, yet the truths taught transcended gender. Wendy Alsup makes my point far more succintly when she summarizes the Bible’s directive to women: Be Like Christ (click the link to read her post). In this respect, I am not only more than my motherhood, I am more than my gender. The call of God in my life has everything to do with me being a woman, yes, of course, but it also has nothing to do with me being a woman and everything to do with me being like Christ first and foremost, always and only.

Now I’m that mom

I was new to the community and new to our church and fairly new to motherhood, my oldest two being my only two at the time, a baby and a preschooler. I had met another mom at a church function and in the course of our conversation she invited me to a prayer group she was starting. And so I began to meet weekly with three other moms to pray.

We met during the lunch hour; my husband would come home to eat and watch the boys and I would dash off to my friend’s house to chat and pray. Sometimes we would run a little late, our prayers and conversation lasting beyond his allotted hour for lunch, and sometimes on those days I would dash back home to find him standing in the driveway waiting on me, the baby in his arms. He didn’t mind me praying, absolutely not; he did mind not getting back to work when he ought.

I was the youngest mom of the four. Two of the moms had teenagers and the other was a mom to both teenagers and a preschooler the age of my oldest–a foot in both worlds, we liked to say. Though our primary purpose was prayer I reaped great benefit from the secondary effect of being mentored, however informally such mentorship occurred. They merely shared their lives with me and I learned so much from them, not just about best mothering practices but about faith and surrender and loving the Lord.

Hearing my friends beseech the Lord on behalf of their husbands and children and mine had a profound effect on me that has reverberated through the years. Though we have each gone our separate ways in the years since, I still think of them, my friends and fellow pray-ers, and I thank the Lord for their example and their wisdom.

During the course of our meeting together one of the mom’s oldest boy graduated from high school. Keep in mind I was young(er) then, not so very far out of high school myself, certainly closer to her son’s age and stage of life than hers. I remember quite clearly her confessing to us in tears that his leaving home left the kind of void that felt like a death of sorts and she grieved what would never be again.

I remember it clearly because I remember my immediate thought was one of judgment and condemnation. Yes, I judged her. I thought her sadness silly and self centered. In my mind college was the natural course of things and hello? it wasn’t like he was just born yesterday! I mean, what did you think would happen after high school?

See, it hadn’t been too many years since I myself had left home (and my mom cried) so when my friend shared her grief I sympathized more with the son than the mom, assuming the son would greet his mom’s tears much the same as I had mine, with a mixture of discomfort and embarrassment. I may have even rolled my eyes. I might have thought to myself: good grief, get over it.

Except now. Now I understand. Now I’m that mom and it’s my boy who will leave home. Now I know the bittersweet joy of raising a boy to a man and watching him fly the coop. Now I know I will mourn the transition and yes I will no doubt cry. I understand the grief of the years passing so quickly and everything changing with a seeming suddeness. I know what I could not have imagined then: that eighteen years is really the blink of an eye and that the sadness I will feel may be silly and self centered but it is also real. It is indeed the end of something, a death of sorts, and I will grieve what will never be again.

Good grief, you may be thinking, perhaps it is you, Lisa, who needs to get over it. And you would be right: it is just that, a good grief, and, yes, I will get over it.

I saw my friend a few months ago at the grocery store. Her boys have graduated from college and medical school, have gotten married, and are settled in their respective careers. She is a grandmother! So much joy! As we caught up on the goings and comings of our respective families, once again her example proved instructive and encouraging to me. Her mothering testimony reminds me that we raise our kids doing the best we can fully relying on the grace and sufficiency of the Lord and though we may mourn the transitions we find them to be only temporary.

It’s the days that make up our lives and each day is opportunity to rejoice and to trust. We celebrate the Lord’s faithfulness to us in countless blessings and innumerable providences and we praise Him for each day’s bounty of mercy and grace.

Yes and amen.