Saturday, June 1, 2013

Temptation's Tattoo

Blog courtesy of  Meltdowns and Miracles: Motherhood on Purpose

(Followers: please consider following my NEW blog too if you like Nice Girls Rule.)

I am exhausted.

Not tired, because tired is just the junior varsity version of exhaustion. My bone-weariness has gotten to that point where my eyes burn whether or not I have one, two or three cups of coffee.

As of right now, I am on my second cup and it is two in the afternoon. Don't judge- I'm tempted to grab the energy drink that's been in the back of the fridge for month if this cup doesn't cut it.

But who isn't tired in this country right? We work ourselves to death, vacation less than another other nation, and yet are still on the hamster wheel.

To exemplify this, I should be lying down on the couch since both of my kids are napping, but I have this frenetic energy that has to be put to good use (Hmm... this could have something to do with the caffeine). Regardless, in this moment of quiet I realize that I have some maturing to do. This is especially evident, when all I really want to do is ball up my fists, climb back into my pajamas, and whine about the constant inconveniences I face as a mom.

Instead, I am going to force myself to contemplate what temptation truly is. Because lately I have been tempted to check out. I want to throw my hands in the air and say, OK- I've given about all I can. This girl is tapped out.

But that's just the tired talking. That's not my heart. 

I texted a friend the other day and apologized for being out of it. "I'm so sleep deprived today, sorry." And she wisely responded, "I think we will be forever!!!"

Welcome to motherhood.

And even though I am one of those people that doesn't do well without sleep-- as a kid I put myself to bed and was always sneaking off at sleepovers to crawl into my sleeping bag, it doesn't give me reason to be weak.

Blessed with two healthy kids, an amazing husband who laughs, fights, and clings to me when I need it most, and a God who lived on this earth in the most humble of ways so that I could live-- (even when I am the furthest from humble myself) is enough to keep me going. His grace is sufficient.

I read in Matthew today about the temptation of Jesus. (Matthew 4: 1-11).

What I found most interesting about the section of scripture in Mathew is the way that Satan tempted Jesus. Jesus was ravenous from his 40-day fast and Satan came to him and tempted him to make stones into bread. And the Son of God answered, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." 

Stones into bread, huh? One of the most crafty of evil beings came up with nothing more than bread to tempt the Son of God. Maybe he thought if an apple worked with Eve he should go for two.

Why wasn't Satan's front line attempt at getting Jesus to sin a bit more glitzy? He didn't lead Jesus to a banquet table loaded with Pinterest worthy foods, award-winning wines and rich desserts-- he didn't dress up the sin in Jesus' moment of weakness. Why?

First of all, aside from the fact that Jesus would have seen right through his attempts to make him stumble- (he is God after all), maybe Satan didn't go to all that trouble- because he knew Jesus was in a weakened state. Maybe Satan knew he didn't have to.

Jesus was starving. He was empty. He was exhausted.

And sometimes in our moments of deepest exhaustion- even the least tantalizing temptations, like stone-flavored bread is something we can easily imagine into Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon. If you like that sort of thing.

When we are tired, even the most obvious of sins become enticing. The sins that we would have snuffed our noses at before somehow become glittering monuments that can solve all our problems.

I wrote a song a few years ago and in it is one of my favorite lyrics.

You light my cigarette,
Because I know better than you do. 
I've got scars all across this heart. 
I call temptation's tattoo.

OK, so no. I don't smoke cigarettes- but this is a country song so there you go.

But the reality of this lyric for me is that some days I can feel the stitches on my heart beginning to pull apart. Its in those moments that I realize some of the scars I've developed over the years are not fully healed- and at any given moment I can give way to old sin. I am getting better now at recognizing the stones that Satan is tempting me to turn into bread and that is where the separation between failing and being lured to fail, divide.

For instance, when I feel haggard and fluffy from two pregnancies- I know I shouldn't read magazines that advertise the best beach bodies in Hollywood. When one of our cars breaks down again and I wonder if I will ever be one of those luxury car moms, I shouldn't start 'googling' safest luxury cars to leave up on my computer 'on accident'. When there are medical bills to pay, I shouldn't hound my husband for a pair of new shoes or a fancy haircut at a downtown salon. These are all stones. Stones that can easily drown me.

Being tempted isn't a sin apparently. That's what God says anyway:

Hebrews 4:15  "Jesus understands every weakness of ours, because he was tempted in every way that we are. But he did not sin!" 

Jesus may not have been tempted to buy a pair of Gucci sandals-- but he understood the base of it all. The desire for more than we have. The temptation to believe that something outside can fix what's broken within. He knew that the temptation led nowhere. The bread was just stones in disguise.

Notice that Satan didn't turn the stones into bread himself and wave the wafting fresh-out-of-the-oven goodness under Jesus' nose. He simply gave him the idea to change something that is into something that could be.

Today, and everyday, when I am feeling exhausted-- I pray that God gives me (and you) the wherewithal to leave the stones in the dirt where they belong and to reach for the Bread of Life. 

In love,

Monday, March 18, 2013

Something Borrowed: A Mother, The Memory Keeper

Blog courtesy of: Meltdowns & Miracles: Motherhood on Purpose

I sneaked into my son's room this morning and caught a glimpse of him fast asleep- like I have many other days before.

Click. Memory of the day #1. 

Then he woke up cranky not wanting to eat any breakfast unless it was ketchup on a fork.

Click. Memory of the day #2. 

Mundane. Surprising. Predictable. Tiring. Revitalizing. Adorable. Annoying. Lucky. Empty. Overflowing.

Click. Repeat. Click. Repeat.

In our digital world, a mother's memory is still one of the most vital tools we have in keeping accurate records of our little one's childhoods. 'A picture may be worth a thousand words' according to Einstein, but a crisp, emotional attachment to a moment in time? No amount of pixels or shutter speed can capture it.

J's arms were resting behind his head like a listless teenager and his lips pouting in toddler perfection-- I don't know if there is anything more precious than a sleeping child. Especially, since I am about to embark on the detour of baby number two where a sleeping child is as rare as witnessing a wild Giant Panda (Yes, my son and I watch too many animal shows.)

Regardless, I am 19 days away from my due date with our second baby; a little girl. While that should send shock-waves through my system, I am trying my best to enjoy these last few weeks with my little man and prepare myself for the wonder of a newborn. I was not very good at enjoying the 'wonder of a newborn' the first time around. Instead, I focused way too much on how much my life had changed instead of how much I was going to change through the process.

I didn't personalize Isaiah 43:19 "Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert."

I was not aware. I was too blinded by my own shadow. In my defense, my son didn't sleep through the night until 10 months old. We were living in a studio apartment and had a pool table as a changing table. He even needed to be walked back and forth or bounced day and night on top of my exhaustion.  I was a wreck, tired, and lonely-- I felt I had every right to be disillusioned by infancy- but in those moments I missed the rivers in the desert. Instead, I stood next to the stream and screamed about how thirsty I was.

Looking back, I realize now that I was a brat about being a mom of a newborn. I say that I had a hard baby, but in reality, I had a hard heart. The good news for my little girl, is that I have been softened around the edges a bit because of her big brother. I think that will be to her advantage. My memory lens during her baby years may have a sharper focus. Or at least I hope so.

But until she arrives, I have come to blows with this knock on my heart clamoring for me to put down words about what these first two-and-a-half years as a mother have taught me. But what I realized is that my daughter is going to teach me lessons that my son never could, and the merry-go-round will begin again. The thing with parenting is that you're always learning. From day one to 32,872.

So while I could go on for days trying to explain how much I've grown (mostly by default) I think I will instead focus on how much I've been taught. As the molasses moments between my son and I grow into smaller slivers of time, I have come to realize that one of my biggest responsibilities thus far is to be his memory keeper.

J won't remember his first steps or his first words. I will be the vault that keeps these precious moments on lock down. He won't recall his first trip to the emergency room and how brave he was for being such a little boy. I will be the one to remind him that he has had a tenacious spirit from the moment he exited the womb and that he has never been afraid of much at all. I will be the one to encourage his gifts of humor and tenderheartedness, among his natural tendencies to be frustrated, territorial and give up. It's my job to be keenly aware of his unique giftings and biggest struggles- jotting them down in my mind's steno pad ready to pull them out when he doubts how God made him.

While he won't be throwing matchbox cars across the room forever (God, I hope not.), he may be at the point of throwing away something he's worked hard for just because he wants to see the fallout of the crash. I know I've done that.

As mothers, I believe it is our job to jog their memories, and our own, to discern what they were created for-- and we may not know that right now but God is definitely giving each of us fragments of important pieces to arrange over the next few decades. This conscious collecting will become a gorgeous mosaic of moments that give our children purpose, self-solidarity, and peace.

As mothers, we are one of the only mirrors that reflect these precious early moments.While many other people in our "village" help raise our little ones we are the only ones hardwired to love them ferociously through it all. A mother's love isn't tameable; it is a wildfire that burns away all of the nonsense around us and helps us translate the seemingly insignificant. 

I want my son to know that the instant I heard his voice communicate his love for animals, numbers, colors, and letters; I seriously felt like I could fly. I want him to know that on a very difficult day God spoke to me directly through his Word about how to discipline and love him well for his personality (Isaiah 54:7-8) just so he knows how much he means to the Fella upstairs. And finally, I want him to know the prayer that I pray over him every night, "God please pursue J with a relentless love every day of his life" is whispered so that if a day comes when he wonders why God seems to never give up on him, I can explain that love has been prayed over him since the moment he was born.

So if you find yourself at the starting gate right now or are in the midst of being your child's Memory Keeper- here is what I know. Fully submerge yourself in the arctic blast that is early motherhood- not because it is the numbness that allows you to survive-- but because it is the mindfulness of spirit that allows you to thrive even under the harshest of circumstances. Welcome every tinge of emotion with its varying degrees of delight and despair, so that your memory will be able to fully capture the vibrant dance of their childhood that we are lucky enough to be instrumental in choreographing.

In love,

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Importance of the Optimistic Mother

When my son was first born I had never seen a more beautiful child.

When he took his first steps I had never seen such a graceful athlete.

When he said his first word, “Zebra”, I was certain that we had a male Jane Goodall on our hands (of the four-legged variety, of course).

Typical, right?

Before kids, many of us are certain that these ooey-gooey outpourings will never happen to us. Especially for those who consider themselves to be a realist, or an intellectual, or at least a level-headed human being. There is NO WAY that you are going to let a diaper-clad anarchist inspire outlandish optimism.

And yet, becoming a mother is transformative; from the molecular structure of your being to the emotional make-up of your feelings. Almost immediately we begin to see abstract art in the curve of a dull Crayola and observe genius potential in the smallest of sentence structures, “Daddy go?” Pure poetry.

But it’s true, once a child becomes your own, a new creed finds itself stitched tightly into the fabric of your soul. By nature, you become much more of a miracle believer, a shaman, a spiritual beacon- you firmly begin to believe in Something greater than yourself. Any child is evidence of that. God does exist.

And while you will have these mountain top moments with your adorable offspring, you also have these dark days where you doubt yourself, your child, and your ability to do the job with a smile on your face.

For any mother that wonders why parenting is so hard and why other mothers seem to have it so easy (I may or may not be a part of this category), join the club. You are not alone. Motherhood is the hardest job I’ve ever had. And for those of us that work full time too, it’s no longer simply a job it’s a climate change. Your world no longer looks the same- whether it be desolate, fragrant, barren, or lush- all of our parenting landscapes have different shades of ash and Amaryllis. That’s the nature of the job.

I have found that the importance of being an optimistic mother isn’t something that is instinctive, it is something that is learned. But, nonetheless, it is imperative.

We must allow ourselves to be elevated to a new level of love outside of ourselves- we must outlandishly allow the “ooey-gooey” metamorphosis to happen. It’s an integral part of our own self-preservation and our child’s chance for a love-filled childhood. To make it through those first few newborn months into the terrible-two’s and all the way down the road to the teenage tumult- you must submit yourself to the power of optimistic parenting. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

The truth is that young mothers will find themselves up to their eyeballs in fecal matter. They will discover their wit’s end amid cleaning ketchup off the walls. And they may develop their first intense desire for a cigarette no matter how organic their purees are.

But most of all we will find ourselves on our knees, especially when our children disappoint us, hurt others, or hurt themselves. But believe in your ability. Believe in the power of forgiveness. And pray. A lot.

As a mother, I know I am not the first biased parent to fall in love with their child from the get go. And I know I am not the only mother who felt guilt over the first time he fell down the stairs (there goes that soccer scholarship), the first time he pulled on a cat’s tail (hmm… toddler “animal testing” at it’s finest), or made you cry in public.

Regardless of the challenges, I am still boggled by how many modern parenting styles there are, such as: Attachment Parenting, Helicopter Parenting, Instinctive Parenting, Permissive Parenting, and Authoritative Parenting. I think it is great that there are resources out there for parents who are in desperate need of direction, but there is much to be said of instinct- we just need to trust it.

These days I watch a lot of Animal Planet. My two-year old is an animal “expert”, so we spend afternoons identifying Capybara’s and Gnu’s until I am blue in the face. In doing so, I have found myself intrigued by pieces highlighting the parenting styles of cheetahs. It is a part of their nature to seek prey in order to keep their cubs alive and a lot of them are single working mothers who don’t have any one else to rely on. These wild creatures don’t spend time doing flashcards, they focus on surviving. Some days that will be our task too.

I encourage you to try a parenting style that isn’t a style at all.  Develop a moral compass and work hard to raise respectable, joyful kids who are allowed to be children (even if that means sticking crayons in the DVD player every now and then).  Instead of treating our kiddos like a standardized test score the minute they exit the birth canal, let’s leave the boxes unchecked and opt out on the basis of optimism.

As humans we have the greatest resource at our fingertips to help ease the challenge: the ability to believe in the beauty of our imperfect children and in the beauty of our ability to love them unconditionally. This is the secret that isn’t a secret at all.