Simply A Sojourner

Motherhood has given me several hard seasons. Seasons where I found myself at the end of resources, the end of ideas, the end of sanity, and just holding fast to hope in something Greater than myself. Breastfeeding for the first time, adjusting to newborn sleep schedules, toddler stand-offs, potty training, lying and crying on the floor meltdowns (both adult and child), sibling quarrels, and currently first grade spelling and third grade homework.

This month my first born had his ninth birthday. Ninth. Last year in a single digit age, last year I can consider him as a primary grade student. Halfway to eighteen, ninth birthday.

As I have gulped down the cup I have been given, I have thought about my first born turning nine. My thoughts have turned to how my time with my nine year old as his legal guardian has sifted halfway through the hourglass of our time together. And each year seems to pass more quickly than the one before it.

I have left the physical exhaustion of lifting him, carrying him, feeding him and entered into the emotional exhaustion of fighting for his heart. Of listening to him at bedtime when he is ready to talk and I am ready to pass out. Listening as he talks about his friends,  his budding interest in girls, his compassion for others, his frustrations with injustice, his struggles on the bus ride home, and his knowledge about the energy our world uses to keep the lights on.

I’ve pondered how we got here, through the sweet seasons and the stretching seasons. I’ve realized how I want to hold on to the sand in the hourglass of my time with him. I thought about how I don’t want the hourglass to be halfway empty. I want to be present and see our hourglass as halfway full. Full of memories we’ve build together in the bottom, and full of memories to come in the top. I want the time to slow down, my time with him is sifting though my clenched fingers. My time with all four of my kids is sifting away with each moment.

As I have taken a deep breath in and gazed at my clenched hands, God has brought me to a place where I now know, my job as a mother is not to hold on to the sand in our hourglass of time, gripping on to the moments like I have the power to make time stand still. But instead, release the sand I am trying to hold on to in my clenched hands and clasp my hands together in prayer. To let go of the things I cannot control and simply pray for a heart that is ready for the things in motherhood which lie before me and the things which lie ahead. I know I am not the one in control of time or seasons. In the times and seasons, I simply am an agent of God’s love to the things and people He places in my lap.

“He changes times and seasons” Daniel 2:21

Letting go feels difficult because I deeply desire to be the one in control. In the unclenching of my hands I feel God’s invitation to deeper intimacy and trust in the good and perfect plans He holds for me and for my children.

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In motherhood, I am stilled when I think of the sweet seasons and the stretching seasons and realize, I am simply a sojourner alongside my children in each of them. Each season where I find myself at the edge of sanity, I am only passing through. I am simply a sojourner in the season of holding a newborn, a sojourner sitting on the bathroom floor singing songs and reading books about going pee in the potty, I am a sojourner passing through the seasons of tough toddler stand-offs, endless picture books, spelling lists, and children who need my help with their homework.

My hourglasses of time with each of my children somehow are sifting more and more to the halfway mark, we are halfway and we are full. Full of memories we have built with one another as we have sojourned through the sweet and the stretching.

Yes, I am and will always be mom to all four of my children, but how my children need me in each season will always be changing. As simply a sojourner, all I can do is pray that God gives me what I need in the changing seasons, and hope that God is giving my children what they need as they grow into their own unique little people.

He is the Lord over the times as seasons of their lives. I am sojourning alongside as an agent of His love and grace. In the sweet and the stretching I am a sojourner, just simply passing through.

What Are you Afraid Of?

My blonde haired boy with the gapped-tooth grin stands on the edge of the diving board. This is the hundredth or so time he has climbed the ladder, walked his Barney Rubble like feet down the textured white board and stood with his toes dangling off the edge ready to jump into the deep refreshing waters beneath him.

Each time he reaches the edge of the diving board he considers this act of faith. As he reaches the edge he wonders if the unknown waters below will consume him and he wonders if he can trust in his previous swim training. A hundred or so times over, my blonde haired boy has done an about face after weighing his options, letting the fear of the unknown consume him instead.

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Fear clouds the truth about the waters below and whether or not they will consume him.

Fear prevents him from remembering the strong swimmer he has become.

Fear skews the lens through which he views his world.

I go to him. In my flesh I am frustrated for him. I know he can in fact swim. I know he is letting fear overcome him. In my flesh I want to fix it for him. I want to accelerate the process. I want him to overcome this fear in my timing.

I ask him, “What are you afraid of?”

He replies to me he is afraid of “the drowning”. My blonde-haired boy with the gapped tooth grin has given his big fear a big definite article.

My flesh overcomes me and in this parenting moment on the side of the pool I list how my blonde haired boy should feel instead of entering into the dark with him. In my flesh I see his fear with a definite article too.

Beside the pool I remind my son of truth. I remind him of the hundred or so times his has jumped off the edge of the pool into deep waters and how he swam in them well. I want for him to overcome this so badly, I miss the opportunity to be vulnerable and speak my fears to him. I see the problem and I fail to see my son as a person standing before me. I forget we are both human and a fail to remember the times when I too have stood on the edge of fear, uncertain whether the waters below would consume me.

Times when I stood on the edge of uncertainty and failed to trust in a God who promises he is with me and faith in the truth that because God holds me, the waves will not consume me.

When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. (Isaiah 43:2)

Times when fear of the unknown provided a skewed lens to see The Blessed Controller cleary.

Times when fear skewed my own lens for how I viewed my world, when I too gave my fear a definite article.

Pema Chodron defines compassion as “knowing your darkness well enough that we can sit in the darkness with others. It is never a relationship between the wounded and the healed. It is a relationship between equals.”

So I wonder, as a parent, do I understand my own darkness well enough to sit in the darkness with my children? Am I able to access my big fears, the big fears with the definite articles and remember what it feels like to have my toes dangling over the edge, uncertain whether or not what lies beneath me or before me will consume me? Can I remember when I too have failed to trust in my own training and the times God has shown up for me along the way?

As a parent can I extend compassion and patience in the same way God extends his abundant grace and mercy to me? How many times I have faced uncertainty with unbelief and fear even though God in his word says fear not more than a hundred times over. God is a God of compassion who sits with us and pursues us even when our hearts are pulled towards fear and unbelief.

Oh how I want to parent with patience, compassion, unending mercy and grace. Oh how I want to see my blonde haired boy with toes dangling off the edge and instead of being quick to see his problem, I want to see his heart. Oh how I desire to parent with this kind of compassion.

Eventually my blonde haired boy will jump into the waters beneath him once his faith and his trust become the faith and the trust and when the faith and the trust make the fear seem like a small shadow in comparison to them. Until then, I desire to sit in the darkness with him. I desire to be human alongside him. I desire to pray alongside my blonde haired boy with the gapped tooth grin that we both would overcome unknowns and uncertainties together because God promises He is with both of us.

A Mother Who Dwells

The bare soles of my feet are on the hardwood floors in the dining room, my hands are busy folding the third and fourth loads of laundry for the day, my son playing in the family room and my daughter with three rows of dining room chairs lined up in the office. She is driving a minivan full of Disney Princesses to Target in her imagination. I can see her from the dining room as she buckles each one of them into their seats with fingertips still orange from the cheetos she had with her lunch, she tells each doll “I love you so much” and places a bag of extra clothes and pretend kitchen food in the floor of the minivan for the journey.

Easily I see myself playing there in that office. I remember a walk in closet in my parent’s master bedroom from childhood. I would take my dolls into that space and line them up, drive them somewhere with my pretend husband, Davy Jones or Joey McIntyre in the front seat. Easily I am taken back that place and I can see my mom, too. She is full of life and she is fully present. I think of her and I think of how she always showed up. She entered into our games and our lives.

For a moment my grief returns when I think of her, only grief now doesn’t have the sharp painful edges it once had before. The sharp edges of grief have now become smooth with time and heart work. My grief has been loosened from anger and now the weight of the sadness feels smoothed out and clean like a freshly laundered bed sheet on a warm summer day. The sadness brings comfort and wholeness, it is now crisp and clean.

My son comes to me as I fold, he begins to pester around me like a gnat in the summertime. As I fold the tiny shorts and match the socks I am stirred to thinking of the kind of mother I want to be. I am stirred to thinking about what my mother would do in this moment if she had just one more day with us and I thought about what I would want to do if this was my last day here too. I know for me I would not want to be buried in a task list of making the house look just so- I am pretty sure that is not how my mother would want to spend her time either if she was given just one more day to soak up childhood imagination and cheeto-fingered hugs. I believe she would want to dwell in the moments with us, lingering there for as long as she was able.

My thoughts switch from past to present and I think about the ministry I have to these children in my home, the privilege of being the one to fill their buckets and care for their hearts. In the present I am stirred to think about how Jesus was with those He came to minister to, how He dwelt among them, how He reclined at the table, how He was right there, Jesus loved by being fully present and showing up.

I think about how a lifetime from now I want my kids to remember me as a mother who was with them, a mother who was fully present, a mother that showed up physically, emotionally. Not as a mother who always had empty laundry bins or all the toys picked up off the floor. I fight to lay the ideal of perfectionism down, the old must unravel away before I can embrace that an unfolded pile of laundered clothes is evidence of a life lived alongside my kids. I must be renewed in the spirit of my mind to see the undone housework as the healthy fruit of a life lived showing up and dwelling among the ones God has given to me to care for during these fleeting days of motherhood.

Reminded of what my mother would do if she had just one more day, I walk the half-folded laundry upstairs and I sit with my the son who was pestering around me. I place him in my lap. He has grown so much it is difficult for me to gather him up, but for a time he lets me hold him. I listen to him, we laugh. I then go to my daughter and she lets me hold her too. I hold onto her, I rock her. She melts into me for minutes. I think about my mom and I believe this is what she would do if she had one more day. I think about how Jesus knew the number of His days and how He spent them dwelling among people, the people who He loved so much and would love enough to give His life for.

Oh how connection is so needed. Connection is so much more intergral to the whole-children I want to raise up in the Lord. More important than children who remember how clean the house was or my fussing over neat piles of clean laundry.  We are all thirsting for just a few moments to dwell among those we love and melt into them. How we all just want someone to sit with us and hold us.

I want to walk in a life that produces the fruit of remembering what my mother would tell me to do if she just had one more day. Be fully present and full of life. I want to show up and dwell among the ministry of motherhood I have sitting right in my lap. And one day, I hope to be recovered from perfectionism. I hope my children remember piles of half-folded laundry and a mother who dwelt among the childhood imaginations and cheeto-fingered hugs. I want to be a mother who dwells.

When The Plants Are Thirsty

It’s Sunday afternoon in my nook of the world and my husband is home from his work as lead pastor at the church just around the block from our home. He comes in and I see him, stretched and exhausted. He does all things well but at times reminds me of Bert from Mary Poppins carrying around way too many instruments, hands in so many trades.

We have been in the same space with him, at church, but the kids and I know our time to drink him up is once we are at home. So we all wait for our turn and as soon as he comes through the laundry room door my four kids climb all over him like ants on that sticky apple juice spot on the hardwood floor.

I can see he is worn but I simply say, “Your plants are thirsty, let them drink.”

For eight years I’ve watched this happen, Sunday after Sunday. My husband comes through the door and in the same way a thirsty plant’s roots grow towards a life-giving water source my children gravitate automatically towards my husband. Their little roots move towards him because he is the nourishment their hearts need.

Like thirsty plants, I tell him. They need to drink you in. 

I know it feels like ants marching on his back when he is oh so tired, but when the plants are thirsty they won’t leave the source of what they need the most. You can send them away but they will boomerang back for a drink to quench their thirst.

He sees their thirst so he goes and throws ball in the yard, jumps on the trampoline, reads a Leaning Tower of Pisa like stack of books, beats Bowser and finds the last hidden star in Mario Brothers 3D World. He sees their thirsty roots and he lets them drink up his time.  By Sunday evening all my children feel watered well. Replenished, loved, connected and with full hearts. Ready to walk with well watered roots that will bring them into classrooms, baseball practices and conversations with friends on the bus.

When children are circling you, poking you, piling up in your lap. That’s when they need to drink you up. When the plants are thirsty, don’t make them wait, let them drink. Put down the phone, that email, put off the things that can wait until the morning and see the little plants moving their roots near to you. They need you then. Let them drink so they can walk into their worlds with well watered roots.

The Winding Up Tight

While the threads of my story do begin at birth just like every one else’s, the threads of this particular story do not begin at the very beginning at all. The threads of this story begin several years later with a girl in the front passenger seat of a Silver Chrysler Town and Country minivan and my father in the driver’s seat behind the steering wheel. We pulled out of our drive on that rainy gray March morning in the Midwest, the kind of morning where you can feel the change of sunshine and blue skies right around the corner, but the grayness of winter is still hanging on. It was raining as the minivan accelerated to twenty-five miles per hour on the short-less-than-a-minute ride down the mostly-straight, slightly-slopping down on the way out to the main road and slightly up on the way home Sycamore Creek Drive, a road though now I only visit once a twice a year I could possibly drive with my eyes closed. I don’t remember where my father and I were driving that day. I know we were sloping down and heading out somewhere. My memory was as cloudy as that overcast day and I can’t recall which way the van turned on that main road. At fourteen on a morning in March I could have been going to the dance studio (my second home), a friend’s house, I could have been late to school or maybe my father was driving me to visit my mother in the intensive care unit in the hospital downtown.

I remember that less than minute drive like it actually lasted a lifetime. Or maybe the memory has been stretched out and hung onto, revisited so many times it now feels like a stretched out knit sweater which was left on a metal hanger to dry in the laundry room. The moment by means of minutes and seconds was short but the memory, the pieces my brain has tucked and filed away feel like they have traveled around the world, through time and back again, stretching and weaving into my story across years, seasons, places and stages.

I am the kind of person who cringes at the notion that someone may reach out and touch my shoulder or give me a friendly hug. Physical intimacy has always been difficult for me. I would gladly and firmly shake your hand and flash you a smile but for as long as I remember that is about as chummy as I can get, left up to my own self. So I imagine this memory, this story defining moment as feeling cold. Two people in a car, I in my personal space on my side and my father respecting my personal space behind the driver’s seat the feeling of so much more space than that between us. That day was incredibly gray both the weather and the words that were about to be birthed out of my father’s mouth. I know he labored over those words. Carefully thinking about how to deliver them to me. The last seven years for our family had been less than Leave it to Beaver with my mom being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1991 and as the oldest child in the family I felt the emotional weight of what was going on. I knew what he was about to tell me. I had felt the weight of what he was about to tell me and carried the anticipation of those words around with me like a heavy cloak.

On the exterior I am a tough girl. It is my nature to pull up bootstraps, march on, hold it all together for everyone else. My deep desire is to appear strong. Appear solid. So with the expectation of my father’s delivery of these words I emotionally prepared myself. I made sure my gaze was fixed opposite of him. I knew if I looked in his eyes I would cry. My firm foundation built upon all the human strength I could muster up was brittle and shallow like a thin sheet of ice on a neighborhood pond. The simple resting of a branch upon its waters could cause the surface to crack, exposing what lies underneath. So I layered invisible walls between us in the front of that Silver Chrysler Town and Country minivan. I turned my gaze out the window on that gray day in March. I focused on the blurring line where the slopping curb meets the grass on Sycamore Creek Drive. The lines which when riding at twenty-five miles per hour it is difficult to tell where the sloped curb becomes grass and vice versa. My inner monologue chanting ugliness, don’t you be weak Rachel, you better not cry. I stared out the window, my father drove, he labored, he delivered.

“Rach, you know- mom is going to die.”

I didn’t have to look at him to know he was choked up behind the steering wheel on the Chrysler Town and Country minivan on Sycamore Creek Drive. I could feel his tears through the invisible walls I had built between us and as I tried to focus on that blurred line where the curb met the grass on that gray day in March. Those lines went from a straight streaking blur to a jumbled up swirl of gray-green as my vision became impaired by the tears I was trying so hard to keep myself from crying. There were hot tears in my eyes that I couldn’t stop from coming. I gritted my teeth as if my jaw was the gatekeeper of those tears. Being broken for me was the very worst possible thing I believed I could do for my father in that moment. The news that he had labored over went in one ear at out the other. I wanted to be numb to it.

“I know,” I grumbled in hard-core teenager-like fashion.

When my gritting teeth helped me choke back those tears, my gaze turned up from where the curb meets the grass on Sycamore Creek Drive and I saw my reflection in the window, then my father’s reflection and finally I felt the weight of disappointment on my chest. I had screwed it all up. Even with all my wall building. If I could see my reflection in the window, my father could see it too. He knew I was crying. He knew I was hurting. In that moment I believed I had failed at accepting what was happening. In my fourteen-year-old brain I had already reasoned that I had no time for anger, or sadness and forget grief counseling. This was my first test and I failed. When I have recalled the long drawn out threads of this moment, stretched over times and seasons, I honestly can’t reconcile which I am more upset about: the news of my mother’s coming death or the fact that I felt deep shame over being sad about it.

So in that seat on Sycamore Creek Drive I committed to winding up my threads a little bit more tightly. I committed to building greater walls. The more I covered up, the less I would be seen. The less I would be found out for a sad girl unaccepting of her future to live her life without the glue of everything she knew. So I committed to hiding beneath a tough exterior at fourteen the best I knew how. I committed to a life of bootstrap pulling and winding up tight. A committed to a life without anyone ever knowing the real me.

But thankfully I see this moment as the beginning of the story. The beginning is the winding up tight and the rest of the story in the chapters that follow is the loosening of those threads. The unraveling of them. Where overtime, season by season threads are loosed from what I believed was true about strength and brokenness and walking in what God says is true about strength and brokenness.

“It would be nice and fairly nearly true, to say that ‘from that time forth, Eustace was a different boy.’ To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader