I knew nothing about planning a funeral. I’d never even cared for a friend who’d experienced loss. I wouldn’t have known how. But I was blown away by the friends who somehow knew. They sent flowers. They brought food and just sat with me in the afternoons on the way home from work. They wrote cards- short cards, few and simple and totally loving words. They shared their memories and snapshots of my mama. They loved her with me and they loved me. I was surrounded and upheld and it’s all a cherished Ebenezer in my life to this day.
That was almost twelve years ago. I birthed four babies soon after she left (in the span of 5 years.) I wanted her to tell me how to do this motherhood thing. I wanted her to tell me I could do it and that she would help me. I wanted her with me, her hand stroking my hair with mother-blessing, infusing me with the courage I needed so badly.
I’ve been at this motherhood thing for more than ten years now. I’m privileged to see the daily feedings of my little multitude at our table and it strikes me as a miracle of grace three times a day (plus snacks). I get to be see Him soothing stormy
seas souls too- when by faith, He stands over us and speaks “Hush…Peace… Be still” and we can receive His calm and make peace and make joy together again.
Still, it’s in picking up the leftovers at the end of each miraculous day, and sometimes between quarrels and boxing matches of various kinds and alternating contestants throughout the day, that I question, “Why, amidst so many miracles and obvious blessings, would there be so much painful fallout from our lives together?" The crumbs and shards of my own brokenness- and theirs- seem to be the bulk of the leftovers that fill my basket, even with all these repeated miracles we witness together- the daily grace that sustains us.
I told a friend a few days ago “I’m not one of those brave moms, I’m too sensitive and weak.” I’ve experienced grief and, Really? I’d call this stuff of motherhood “suffering"? Simply the daily ordeal of bickering and meanness and madness and a few slammed doors and stomping away and the foolishness and “can you please try to remember what I said just a minute ago?” and, “well, then...can you please do it?” …. Yep. It is for sure a kind of suffering for me.
One of the things I’ve learned about grief is that my thoughts turn to mush. Reason and rationale all blur with emotion and numbness and pain and nothing is left coherent. And this is definetely true of my motherhood struggles. Processing sometimes seems rational but for much of this mess of my heart, I have to admit that I don’t always see things rightly and I need Jesus, need to cling tight, for however this storm blows and whatever I feel. Storms often feel stronger and scarier than they really need to be…. Cling to Him, Jill.
Sometimes the only English I hear all day is our children's occasional gladness, splattered with the beating and bruising of sibling bullying. (And moms don’t have to move to China to find this true for them too.) It’s bullying alright… except that they’re constantly rotating roles between pharisee-abuser and victim. And if that doesn’t break me down, the utter foolishness can crumble that last whole pieces of me to dust. “Buddy, you’re how old and did you really think that dangle-twirling the craft-trash can on your toes while you read at the couch would go well?” And I would probably be strong for it other days, but sometimes a good kid line is like a straw to this camel… “Sweetheart, mama’s cooked (what feels like) 4,000 meals this week and washed (approximately) 5,000 dishes and we won’t go into the laundry or the guests or the languages swirling in my brain and the burdens breaking my heart and I’m tired, darling. Can you tell me about the snail in the puddle after I finish this sentence?"
I know that I’m still just beginning at this til-death journey of motherhood. There’s more to come, more joys and sorrows. And I know this too: this is hard.
And guilt makes it harder. Because how else have my kids so perfected these patterns? So now not only do I have to listen to bickering and the far too frequent nagging drip of dishonor and disrespect, but I also have to admit that I’ve modeled all this complaining and overreacting and impatience for them, all this gunk that they’ve learned so well.
But I’ve got to call myself to some clear perspective: I have fantastic kids. They are growing to listen and love and show honor to me in great ways and in hard pinches when they’d much rather go their own way. They aren’t perfect, just like their mom and dad, but we’re growing in grace together and it is a joy to be family together much of the time. There is just this deep ugly root that strikes harder than anything else in us right now- this sibling rivalry-bickering thing. There's pharisee-ism and volcanic overreactions and complaining and boasting and fussing too... but this one is our biggie and I can’t seem to get under it. Oh but He knows…. Cling to Him.
The thing is, for all this sorrow and confusion, I feel no freedom to cry in public and I don’t get to take slow walks for the pain. And yes, of course, I probably just need to grow up about all of this.
And it breaks me to write any of this because I know far too well that there can be, should be, might be solutions to all of these troubles. If I would only read this book (This is The plan, The book on parenting and it’s all you need and then it will all be better…). If I would just follow-through and always be consistent. (Which would be more doable if my kids were consistent with their trials and tribulations rather than pitching new ones at me faster than (insert the name of speedy awesome pitcher that a baseball wife like me ought to know.)) I laughed when I saw the blog headline “six words to stop sibling rivalry” but I clicked on it just to see… Seriously? It was sweet, but it wasn’t a joke. Apparently, all I need to say to them is “How can you make this better?”
There’s something about this kind of struggle that others don’t acknowledge with caring eyes or a soft hand on your shoulder. We are a public nuisance in our bicker mode, so I get it. But the public shame I hear (and fear) doesn’t help either. “Man, that lady’s kids are loud!” and “That sounds like fingernails on a chalk board.” (Why, you’re right. That’s *Exactly* what it sounds like. And I would give just about anything to silence it, believe me, please.) And why is “dear, you’re in a hard stretch” not the approach we often take with each other? And how about crying a little together? And which mom in my shoes isn’t already trying all she possibly can to make things better already?
Who would ever respond to the grieving me above by saying “oh, your mom died? Well mine is still alive and she’s wonderful.” I’m grateful no one said anything like that to me 12 years ago. But let’s not miss the similarity to lines like, “Oh, your kids bicker? I don’t even have to tell my kids to be kind…”
I am one grateful sinner that all this mess is exactly what the Gospel is for.
Forgiveness for my failures and comfort and hope and help and sure promises for the future. Faithful love to bind up all of our brokenness and bind us together in Christ. I have all the promises of God and that actually is more than enough to combat all of our sinful attitudes and patterns, all exponentially multiplied (which is the formula for family.)
This little post is equal parts clinging-to-Christ and soul-honest-lament, and it isn’t complete without me squaring up and staring down my own soul with the hard questions: Maybe I’m too hungry for compassion and I really should be harder after solutions, better methods, communication, or better yet, maybe I only need to be more earnest in prayer for my children? Maybe I need to own up to my responsibility to model all this needed peace better for them, somehow? And how does a mom whose preached too many sermons at her kids, point them yet again, effectively, to the Savior who is the Only One who can do the miracle in us that we most desperately need?
Matt often has to talk me down from new plans and extremes. And maybe that’s sone of what makes this so hard? There’s no fixing it, just promise-clinging to make it through. Because the best that I can see of this mess, is that there’s no honest, easy solution. There’s just grace and that can’t be called easy and it sure isn’t cheap. But it’s the toughest stuff in the universe I think… and exactly what our bicker battles need and its the best I can dream of: trusting God’s promises and presence with me- and holding tight for the ride. He was faithful in the wilderness for 40 years to a people who'd dare complain straight against him when he'd just blown open the Red Sea to save them and he’s still faithful and patient and abounding in love for me, for us, today.
Hold Fast, Jill. We are going to make it, by His grace. To see reasons for joy right here, right now. To healthier patterns. To saner years. To build this family on the strength of His truth and look back with joy and gratefulness for all of it.
And because I have to keep things simple, short enough to post up on the fridge, if I really need to remember it.... and because I *really* need to remember this... I’ll preach our simple course of action to myself yet again:
Start clinging to God's promises... roots deep in the Truth of His Word.
Ask for wisdom (James 1:5)
Love them. (Be Patient.)
Model the peace of Christ in you, for them.
Teach them to choose, to do hard and holy things.
Pursue their joy. Encourage gratitude. (Because those two are inseparable. Thanks AV)
Speak slowly, calmly, kindly. Smile deep into their eyes.
Listen long. (It will probably involve snails and poop and plotless story lines but their might also be some confession and secret dreams shared and precious prayers.)
Serve humbly, selfless. (Them above you.)
Be firm in authority and discipline, with compassion...
Compassion. Before. Consequences.
Preach the Gospel! Live, Give the Gospel message of grace.
Compassion. Before. Consequences.
Preach the Gospel! Live, Give the Gospel message of grace.
Be quick to ask for forgiveness because you’re going to need it too.
You will fall down (don’t be surprised). Get back up again, grateful for the Gospel that gives you forgiveness and life.
Keep a song in your heart… and keep clinging on...
Related: another mom’s heart: The Joy and Sorrow of Parenting