The deep satisfaction of giving it all away

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Everyone is buckled into the minivan, and for a moment, I just breathe.

I linger in the garage doorway and search the crevices of my mind for forgotten tasks and items.  I can’t remember the last morning we didn’t forget something, but my overloaded brain doesn’t seem capable of doing anything other than recovering from the chaos of the last 40 minutes.  
I’m pretty sure one or two of the kids never actually ate any of their breakfast, and I know for certain that I didn’t brush the baby’s teeth.  I hope, but probably won’t ask, whether or not everyone is wearing socks under their shoes.  

I shove one last sippy cup into my giant tote, along with a pair of sneakers for the littlest, whose bare little toes I recall kissing as I buckled him into his carseat.  I’m quite certain today will be the day the straps finally break on this bag, hanging over my right shoulder – the one that’s been serving quadruple duty as purse, diaper bag, pantry, and fix-all treasure chest.  

I grab my coffee in my other hand, and my sunglasses between my lips, and open the door to the garage, where my little ones have been waiting for approximately seventeen seconds.  

Before I even have the door fully opened, I hear a chorus of “Mommy!” and the names of those who need to be tattled on.  I decipher a request for music and a few desperate pleas for food and water, though the only thing we’ve done since breakfast is get into the car.  

How can there be this many problems by 8am?  How can I be tired already?  

I’m just now glancing in the mirror for the first time of the morning, and I’m thankful to find a hairband around my wrist to throw my mess of hair into a high bun.  

Friends, this motherhood thing is no joke.  Full and abundant, relentless and exhausting. It’s no wonder so many mamas can’t seem to stop the complaining from spilling out of their mouths, whenever they happen upon a listening ear.  

A handful of years ago, I found myself stumbling into stay-at-home motherhood, and subsequently, into playgroups and mommy meet-ups.  I found myself frustrated and confused that we all seemed to sit around talking about how little sleep we got or how long our husband’s work hours were, or how strong-willed our child was, as if it might make us feel better if we won the medal for “Hardest life.”  I was frustrated with other moms, and I was frustrated with myself, for going right along with the negativity.  I knew we should be more grateful, but it was also nice to connect with others who “get it.”

I absolutely adored my children, and often times the negative words leaking from my mouth didn’t even feel true.  I was just grasping at an opportunity to be seen in what I was working so hard to do, but for which the world seemed to have no words or appreciation.  

In that season, part of me still believed that the menial tasks of motherhood were beneath me.  I thought I should be doing something bigger or more impressive.  Or at least doing this “small” job more perfectly.  Yet, another part of me felt like being a stay-at-home mom was the most difficult thing I had ever done.

Though I knew that I knew that I knew that my children were an absolute gift, on many days, I found myself falling into a puddle of self-pity.  

I felt sorry for myself for not being understood.  I felt sorry for myself that I had nothing to show for the soul-crushing day I had just survived.  I felt sorry for myself that I was giving and giving, even when I was tired, or sick, or sad, or lonely.  I felt sorry for myself for the emptiness I felt, even when my home was full of adorable little faces.

More than anything, I felt deeply ashamed of my ingratitude.  Right alongside friends longing for a family or struggling to get pregnant, or wishing to be home with their children more, I often looked at my children and felt unworthy to be their mama, wondering why the mere look of them wasn’t filling my life with total joy and satisfaction.

At some point, I determined I must be missing something.  This simply could not be it.  This could not be God’s heart and desire for me.  

I didn’t want to be like the grandmas in the grocery store who tell me to soak it up because this is the best time of my life.  I didn’t want to tell every new mom for the rest of my life that it’s going to go way too fast.  I didn’t want to just survive this, and then regret all that I missed by not figuring out how to love it while it was happening.  I didn’t want to fill up photo albums to create memories of things that I didn’t actually enjoy very much.  

I wanted to live these moments.  I wanted to soak them up in a way that changed me. 

I began to wonder what would happen if I just stopped giving everything to my family begrudgingly, and started giving as if this was all I was ever meant to do.  I had always loved long snuggles and bedtime stories, but what if I gave the same energy to laundry and diapers, and arguments and bad attitudes? 

What if I poured my energy into, not just the fun moments of parenting, but all of these in-between mundane moments, as if these days were the only ones I’d bring before the throne of Christ, at the end of my life?

I began to have eyes to see all of the ways that I had been grasping to keep my life in tact…I rolled my eyes at the messes, because I was trying to preserve my dignity.  When a child was disrespectful, I crossed my arms repulsed, because I was trying to preserve my pride.  After a certain amount of work, I began to function out of this thinking that I really deserved a break, because I was trying to preserve my comfort.  I sputtered awkward answers at a cocktail party about what I did other than “stay at home” because I was trying to preserve my relevance in the world.  I was bitter about being late because I was trying to preserve my image as a dependable, punctual, responsible adult.  

I began to wonder what it would feel like to treat my children like the vulnerable Least of These Jesus talked about, and to give it all away with reckless abandon.  What if I simply threw my life into this thing the Lord has given me to do —  not neglecting self-care, but abandoning myself to be poured out — and let the Lord give me his abundance, right in the middle of the mess?  

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.  Matthew 16: 25

As I threw off my fears of keeping it all together, and let motherhood get a bit messier, giving when I had nothing left, because I chose to believe God gave me each of these little things to do, I began to find the life I had been so afraid to lose.  I found purpose inside of my own four walls, and deep joy in the middle of chaos.  I found myself delighting in my children, not just in the peaceful and sweet spaces, but in the disheveled and unpredictable ones, too.  I began to find abundance in the emptiest moments, energy in the midst of sleep deprivation, fun in the middle of work, and worship in the middle of mundane.  And I found deep satisfaction in the in-between, invisible, far from Instagram-worthy moments that only God could see.  

I began to discover the heart of God to fill us up as we are poured out, and to let us share in lavish resurrection living as we share in the death of Christ by abandoning our preferences, pride, comfort and convenience.  

No matter what your day-to-day looks like, sister, whether you are a stay-at-home mama, or you are juggling work and home, whether you have tiny ones or teenagers, be encouraged that God’s heart is to strengthen you out of his glorious riches, with power through his Spirit in your inner being. (Eph 3: 16). 

As we pour our lives out in places where we can’t receive back… As we offer forgiveness seventy times seven times… As we let our lives be poured out like a drink offering… As we choose to release our pride, our comfort, our lives to whatever little tasks are put before us… we see the abundant grace of God multiply in our hearts and homes.

How to proclaim to the world that children are a gift

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I’ve always struggled a bit with taking up my space. I’ve never wanted to inconvenience or overwhelm, or bring too much need or heaviness.  I’ve measured my feelings and passions, and most definitely my requests for help.  I now know confidently that God has a sweet obsession with winning my heart and a significant sense of humor…

He gave me five children in seven and a half years. I got a crash course in taking up a lot of space.

Children take up their space unapologetically, with wild freedom.  Though their parents are presumed to be responsible for ensuring that they don’t interfere with anyone else’s space, the reality is that as your family grows, the space you take up in surface area and sound waves and need grows exponentially.

If you have ever walked into a restaurant, a grocery store, a library, or an airplane with children, you know the reactions can be mixed. I’ve seen everything from a joyful exclamation of blessing to an eye roll to an audible scoff. I’ve had strangers question if I know how to prevent pregnancy, or murmur things like “Some people just need to know when to quit.” Our family is undeniably avoided on airplanes and in a variety of other places. And I get it.

We are a lot.   For me too!  But no one needs a reminder that children are a blessing more than a mom!

These experiences with mixed reactions and projections of too-much-ness have highlighted my insecurities, but they have done something much more profound as well.  They have sparked a flame in me, and given me a deep passion to proclaim loudly and proudly that children are a gift. As mothers, we know it, but sometimes we don’t live it that way.  Messages of annoyance or inconvenience can oppress us, if we let them.

 

In these years with tiny kids, I’ll be honest, most of the time my brain feels like it might actually explode. Life is so sweet and full, but also completely overwhelming. I cry out to the Lord to grant me wisdom, peace, joy, the ability to slow down and soak in the moment, grace for my children, self control to use calm and kind words. I am metaphorically on my knees every second of the day with my utter depravity. I cannot pull together so much as an hour of righteous living, maybe not even a minute. I am stripped down with sleep deprivation and endless chores and prolific whining…and questions.

Oh the questions.

But at the end of the day, I want more! More of my children, more laughter, more of their magically unique personalities and amazing little faces…faces of light and life and freedom. I want to know them more, enjoy them more, drink them in more. I want more of the toddlers running shamelessly after bath time, resisting those confining pajamas. I want more sweet little hands cupping my face and telling me I’m the best mommy. I want more of watching the beautiful mystery of identity and spirit unfolding in my older children. I want more silliness and animal noises and living room dance parties.

 

Light and darkness are at war over these best of years.

 

The little old women keep telling me to love every minute, and my friends with a youngest child barely over five-years-old keep telling me to hang on for dear life a few more years. “Long days, short years,” they say. I think the truth and the secret to joy rests in some sloppy mess of both.

 

We do need to soak these years in. We need to deeply and truly celebrate all the firsts of things and the dependence and the spongy learning and the snuggles and the silliness. We need to slow down and taste it and chew on it and let it change us.

 

But we also need permission to say that this thing is really stinking hard. I want to tell those little old ladies that they don’t actually remember very well what it felt like not to get a good night’s sleep for a decade. And I want to remind those who look judgmentally at me with my occasionally out-of-control children, that they too were once a child and that my children deserve their respect. And for the love, I want to scream from the rooftops that sometimes moms have to take their kids to the grocery store. We weren’t trying to slow you down or ruin your day or run over your toes with the shopping cart. We just ran out of milk and peanut butter and we can’t go on without those, and this is just when the grocery store had to happen. So be nice. Please.

 

I have found that I need to be prepared to respond well to the comments and reactions that oppress my spirit.  I need to be prepared to take up my space in a joy-filled, life-giving way.

The most common thing that is said to me throughout my days is “Wow, you have your hands full!” Though seemingly harmless, the constant flow of this message leads me to feel sorry for myself, or to feel defeated under the seeming “too much” of my life. If it constantly looks like I need help, then I must not be ok, right? A sweet friend encouraged me to find a thing to say back that helps to combat the influence this comment was having. So now, every time (usually at least three times a day, depending on how many errands I run or places I go), I say in response “In the best way!” or “Yes, sir, I am blessed!” or “My cup runneth over!”

Cheesy as it may sound, having a positive response transforms these moments of defeat into moments of victory. And it proclaims over my children – to their listening ears – that they are a blessing and a joy.

 

During pregnancy, it was the continuous flow of “You’re about to pop!” or “Wow, you’ve really gotten big!” These threaten to steal my joy, make me feel frumpy and insecure, and to be honest, make me want to say all kinds of cruel things. I needed an armament for this one too. I came up with a few phrases like “Must be a healthy boy in there!” or “Can’t wait to meet him!” so that these comments didn’t pour self-consciousness all over my blessing.

 

Last week, a man saw me out and about with my little flock and said to me in real life ”Wow, you must be a glutton for punishment.” Without thinking, I responded: “Maybe…but I get it all back in joy!”
Infinitely more important than the puzzled looks I sometimes get, my children hear me declare that they are a blessing.  And when I am prepared with these joyful “comebacks”, the words that threaten to make me feel overwhelmed, insecure or less-than Do. Not. Stick. Hallelujah!

 

Today, let’s celebrate our children out loud for the world to see. Let’s celebrate their slow wonder and their unreserved delight. Let’s celebrate their bubbling joy and their shameless freedom. Let’s celebrate their unquenchable curiosity and their endless teachability. Let’s celebrate their enthusiasm and their presence.  Let’s celebrate their incredible courage, resilience, and flexibility. Let’s celebrate the clarity of their love, and the purity of their faith. Let’s celebrate their fearlessness and their reckless abandon. Let’s celebrate their comfort and familiarity with their need, and their absolute dependence.  Let’s celebrate that Jesus said children are worth celebrating.

 

I want to challenge myself and other mamas to go convince the world that children are worth our celebration and our blessing. They are worth listening to. They are worth our lingering looks of acceptance.  They are worth our smiles. They are worth our patience as they try to figure out how to do things they’ve never done before. I want to embrace them together. If those inconvenienced deliver scoffs and scolds and sharp glances, I want to let them roll off and I want to lean into the beautiful mess of it.

 

And maybe, as the world sees moms delight in our children, it will be softened towards them.  Maybe we can deliver a powerful blessing over this next generation.
What do you say, Mama?  I say let’s give it a shot.