I recently experienced a revival of sorts in my mothering. And my life – especially my life (and my mothering) overseas. Don’t get me wrong: mothering is the hardest thing I’ve ever done (as much as it’s also the most awesome thing I’ve ever done) and most days involve some kind of hard-earned learning — consistently struggling with my perspective and my willingness to serve instead of be served — but this feels more like a long-term perspective shift. The scene for this revival was set partly because I’ve been reading good and lovely things about life and mothering (Present Over Perfect, by Shauna Niequist and Sarah Bessey’s “My Practices of Mothering”). And partly because my One Word for 2017 is nurture and it has me thinking about intentionality and seeing the people around me. And partly – mostly – because I experienced a bit of a baptism by fire into the world of having more than one child and, like any baptism, emerged with new life.
My husband came down with the flu a couple weeks ago. Jubilee was going to local preschool during the weekdays, so it didn’t disrupt our world too much, but by Friday night, Aubrey’s fever was spiking and I went to bed wondering how in the world I would make it through the weekend. By God’s grace, Saturday started off strong — everyone got decent sleep (A.K.A. the newborn slept at least 2 hour stretches and the 3 year old slept past 6:30am), and everyone woke up in good moods. And the day went fine.
Toddler throwing up. Baby screaming. More throw up. More baby screaming.
It was an evening of baptism by fire into the world of having two children.
Sunday morning came and I didn’t even try to do anything but put old Mickey Mouse cartoons on for Jubilee (after all, watching TV is kind-of part of the experience of being sick, right?).
I got her settled with Mickey, made sure Aub had what he needed, made my cup of coffee, and snuck into my room for a little time alone.
One thing Shauna describes so wonderfully in Present Over Perfect is the power of Examen Prayer, a kind of prayer I have also experienced in powerful ways before but never practiced consistently. Around the same time the book rekindled my desire to practice Examen, a friend happened to recommended an app called Sacred Spaces (a daily Examen Prayer guide) and so that’s what I opened, hiding in my room with my coffee. One aim of Examen is to become mindful of Jesus’ presence with you, and using holy imagination, picture Him with you as you recall events and feelings from the previous day.
Well, my previous day had been a doozy. And as I thought about the events of the night before and how I felt while experiencing them, I realized that underneath the chaos of cleaning up throw up and comforting babies, I felt so very lonely. Isolated. On my own, left to fend for myself. Anxious: ever since an awful experience in a local hospital giving birth, anything medical related brings a bit of panic to my heart. To make matters worse, on that particular weekend all of our expat friends/neighbors were out of town. Something about the closest friend who speaks my language being a couple hours away during any medical issue feels extremely isolating and a little scary.
So, I told all this to Jesus. How tired I was, how alone I felt, how hard it is for me to trust Him sometimes with our physical wellbeing. And I imagined His face, His eyes, His body language. His presence right there with me.
The patient, empathetic, kind eyes I saw listening intently to my worries and woes surprised me. It shouldn’t surprise me, of course. But I’ve spent so many years unconsciously imagining that Jesus is disappointed in me, annoyed with me, waiting for me to get my act together and just-do-better, that when I consciously imagine how the REAL Jesus responds to me, I am surprised. Disarmed. Undone in all the best ways.
He reminded me that He is always with me, like He was with me right there in that moment: seeing me, loving me. A very real, very present friend, comforter, and helper. And that even in the somewhat rare times when I legitimately am alone or isolated on a human level, He is present and His presence is my home — the place where I can find refuge and rest and tender care.
Suddenly, in His presence, I felt such a renewed energy. If He is taking care of me, I can go take care of my family. If I am not alone, not left to fend for myself, then I can go serve my family and make sure they don’t feel alone, or left to fend for themselves. If I can find rest and refuge and help and tender care in Him, then I am free to give help and tender care and rest and refuge. Suddenly, it hit me that making home, or more like being home, to my family – as I make myself at home in Jesus’ tender presence – is my wonderful, beautiful, Christ-like calling as a mother.
I literally set my pen down right then, and jumped up and served my people with more joy and energy than I had felt in a long time. Food was made, laundry was done, house was tidied, and eyes were looked into. I can’t say that I’ve felt that same joyful energy every day since then. But, I do believe a new foundation has been laid, and that I’ve been given new eyes to see the things I now spend my time and energy on, whether it’s on the sweet moments of reading books or sharing belly laughs during dance parties or the anti-glamorous bootie-cleaning or piles of laundry. I am making a home for my people. In many ways, I am home for my people, and I can be a good one if I will only remember to be present for them in the same way, though imperfectly, I AM is present for me. To welcome them just as they are, give them a space to be vulnerable and real and still completely loved and accepted.
I know my newly revived vision to make a home and to be a refuge for my family is no one-time revelation that will transform me into super mom. If anything it revealed how utterly dependent my ability to extend empathy and kindness and tender care is on receiving empathy and kindness and tender care from God in His ultimate Father-Motherhood (that’s a lovely little title Sarah Bessey uses that I have chosen to adopt).