19 May 2015

Power, powerlessness,and Prayer in mothering (and 3 Qs to stare down your fears)

M is for motherhood. It is also for Mystery, misgivings, mistakes and marvelous things!

A new mom is always a good friend to an older mom - because - the older mom, has chalked up more mistakes; and she can lose the light of wonder if she is not careful! 

An older mom is a good friend to a new mom - because - the new mom is facing fears hitherto unmet; and she needs to know there are more fears to come and what seems so puzzling can be untangled with a little dexterity. 

So here is a little something from an older mom to my younger mom friends (and my older mom friends who agree & may need a little reminding :) 

With mommy-ing, you have stumbled upon an awesome power. It begins with the marvel that a life is being formed within you each living, brehting moment. As you cradle and care for the budding life, you get to see now that you can literally lift and shape a soul... and soon enough, you have those moments when you have feel you could go the other way and wreck it: when you lose it, when you are not sure what to do, when nothing seems to go right? Those days when your fears, anxieties and guilt bundle up and nearly suffocate you? 

Moms live with this strange tension of being powerful and powerless at the same time. 

And then, there are fears. 

Remember when you thought you crossed a threshold, jumped a hoop... you find something else coming around the bend. When they were small, I was afraid they didn't drink enough, eat properly, sleep safely through the night. They grew through all of that. Then -
I was afraid of nasty bug bits that left large painful welts, accidents, stranger saying strange things to my kids, other kids who may bully... 
Then I was afraid that she would be lonely, awkward, too strong, too meek...
I was afraid that she would be last in class, lose her things (for the tenth time), feel too stressed, not feel motivation, not really learn, not enjoy herself...become rude, selfish, mean..
I was afraid she would dislike church (waiting so long for us always), be mad at God for stuff that happened, live with cray expectations as a pastor's child...
I was afraid that she would not develop with gender confidence; feel weird around boys...mix with the wrong company...
I was afraid that she would develop an attitude, acne, act up.

 I see it now with trained eyes -- the fears won't end.
But -

fears can be fabulous things. Yes, really. Fear tells you what matters. And, Mothering matters; a lot. A mother who studies her fears and picks her battles is leaning into her maternal shape, hollowed out by trying one-more-time: a magnificent shape that cuddles, coddles, coaxes and coaches another little budding soul into ferocity (boy) and flower (girl).

You can stare down your fears. Like Max here:

where the wild things are {click to enjoy this video version of the famous children's book}

The supper was there, and it was still hot.

I am sure us moms will do just that. Feed our kids hot food even though we were fuming bad... and God our Father does the same. The food of our mothering joy may be delayed due to our silly antics; giving rise to many fears... but He will yet have a hot supper waiting for us.

What we need to learn is that when the fears come with the scary eyes, claws and teeth; we need to look at them squarely and take charge -- not of the child -- but of ourselves!

The answer to Parenting-power lies in managing oneself. 

I learnt that the fears will step back, quieten, and not be able to lay claim to me if I sought for the right answers through asking the right Questions -- nothing cuts through the fog like an incisive question, and nothing clarifies and emboldens like an honest answer.

Here are 3 questions to help take the bite and bloodiness out of the battle.

Q1: what is it I truly value and am afraid of losing here?

Every battle is energized by what it is afraid of losing. Will are you afraid of losing in this situation? Is it worth the battle? Will you really lose what truly counts? 

When I have asked this Q, I often find that what mattered most to me was the quality of the relationship: is there honour? is there honesty? is there humour?  I see what is at stake and recognise that things are not as messy or serious as I initially feel.

Q2: what can i really do about it?

It's good they eat all their greens and follow their routines. But is it fair for this particular child? Every child is a unique human person. What are my options with this child? What difference can i actually make at this point? How can this be done without jeopardising what truly matters? 
Do i need to learn a new way to think/feel/speak in order to make the right difference?

Q3: what am i really praying for?

Most of us pray 'rescue me' prayers. If we rescued our kids from every predicament; they will never grow. Why do we expect God to rescue us, when He wants to train us?

Also, are we praying for what truly matters? Good weather, the ability to handle the exam is all good. But what of creative solutions when caught in the rain and an excellent attitude to learning and revision? 

Rescue prayers happen because we are going so fast we step into potholes we did not anticipate. 

This is why reading, prayer, reflection, and talking to other parents are all very necessary parts of the parenting journey. It is far too easy to just shuffle between work and home, just catching one's breath. It is equally easy to be bogged down by meals, deals, and squeals (of protest) that we get all fogged up and end up drained and ineffectual. 

The only way is to slow down - enough - to pray through the first two questions and forge a constructive path ahead.  Slowing down also allows us to recall assurances God has he given so far, and to anchor back onto the larger movements of the Spirit that persists: God is faithful, and though the way is jagged and strewn with the debris of our mistakes, the journey is shaping up and the life is unfolding yet.

Just this month, older moms have shared with me children's graduation, awards, marriage. These same kids have driven these moms near crazy. As one mom put it, "...still remember bringing him to different schools to get somebody to take him in and even dragged him to take IQ tests to make sure he has no learning disability....But now, wow!".

Prayer is all the more a lifeline if you
 feel alone in your parenting. Your spouse may not quite get your values or plans. The Bible included a lovely story of  a mom and a grandma who knows all about that. 

They were the grandma and mom of a young man. His name is Timothy. Yes, the one in the Bible, the spiritual son of the great apostle Paul, the young pastor who did not quite have the stomach - physically; and for strong personalities, and sometimes felt pretty unsure about what he is meant to do... Yet, Timothy was a man of faith and he was pastor of young churches needing a faithful, wise shepherd. It may seem unlikely; but he was the man of the hour.

Timothy was born into an inter-faith family. From what we can glean, his dad was a regular Greek guy which mean myth, religion, hedonism and possible some chauvinism too. But Timothy had a grandma and mom who were Jews and devout ones at that.

4 amazing things* emerged from his life story, which we do well to remember:

1. It's really important for children to know the Scriptures from the earliest age.
2. It's really important to keep parenting - especially when the going gets tough. 
3. It's really amazing how an ordinary faith can lead to great usefulness. 
4. It's really amazing how our kids can turn out, despite all the obstacles.
 Points 1 and 2 are instructional. Points 2 and 4 are sooooo inspiring!

Slow down, pray, ask good questions, stare down your fears.

Mother on valiantly --

knowing you are shaping a soul one day at a time, one determined smile at a time, one teary conversation at a time, one more sacrifice, at a time.

And if you need a fika, arrange for one!

*adapted from desiringgod.org

13 May 2015

and then Narnia: surprises in new motherhood

M is for motherhood. It is also for Mystery, misgivings, mistakes and marvelous things!
I invite moms to share this month here. We begin with a new mother, Rox, who describes herself as 'an accidental saty-at-home mom, former slave to the corporate world; now a happy slave to her son Max'.
Look at Max, such a happy chubs ~

"Entering motherhood, for me, was like opening a wardrobe and stumbling into Narnia - a foreign land and a whole new world. 
w o n d e r 

There are battles to be fought, discoveries to be made and victories to be won. My identity and role as a woman shifted from a wife to also a mother and yet there were times when I felt as helpless as a newborn and as clueless as a child sometimes would with a new experience. 

I was suddenly set on a path to distinguish parenting truths from myths, to separate science from superstition and to sometimes decide between listening to my instincts or well-meaning advice. There is a barrage of choices to be made and theories to be tested; from breastfeeding to exclusively pumping to formula feeding, having schedules in place or following a baby-led routine, how to sleep-train and so on. Some choices seemed to invite judgment which then made me feel less of a mother and some made me feel wrongfully superior. More significantly, there will be choices that reflect my values as a parent; values that will inevitably be passed on to the child and could potentially shape his behaviour and beliefs. The voices of the world are many, loud and confusing, so it is a relief to know I could always turn to the voice of God, our perfect parent, for instruction, assurance and comfort.

And then there are the surprises; the loud burps that I can never imagine would come from such a tiny human being, the embarrassing farts that I thought could only belong to the husband, and the baby's ability to always wake up when I'm in the middle of a shower! I discovered that my physical and mental resilience could be stretched, that it was possible to function on little sleep and still remain joyful. I even started to exhibit sacrificial behaviour, putting the baby's needs before my own, letting my stomach growl angrily while satisfying his hunger. The maternal instinct that kicked in caught me by surprise - I became protective and passionate about every aspect of his well-being.
As I became more comfortable about my new role, the journey began to be filled with many magical moments - they say a picture is worth a thousand words but some emotions cannot be captured with either pictures or words. Thinking that newborns mainly eat, sleep and poop all day, I was proven wrong when my 2-month old son started responding to me with a variety of sounds - it gave me such a rush to be able to have a conversation with him, sort of. When he shows interest in a book or song, I wonder if he'll love reading or music as much as I do. I started to think about where his strengths and passions will lie and what kind of character he'll turn out to be!

Finally, I've come to realise what a privilege it is to be able to influence and disciple my child and I can't wait to see what God has in store for him.

Rox & Max

3 May 2015

Mother's Day Solidarity Call

I know many mothers; and have met many more.

There are no accidental mothers; just that not always, it was a woman's free, willing, ready choice.

Here are two photos of moms I love: a simple Indian woman with her half-clad babe and the blonde with her dark African babe.

Mothers come in so many shades.

There are Mothers in India, Thailand, Indonesia... the ones who live far away from the bright city lights and are not tethered to a cable that wires their imagination to a world of 'have's'. Those mothers? They have stomachs to feed.

Then there are those mothers I read about and weep. Those mothers who roused to the sound of sirens and grab their kids, kicking dust for miles with only the clothes on their back. Those mothers who in the mob moment loses grip of the child and now are haunted by that moment as they pray and cry till there are no-more-tears in the camps. Those mothers who have watched as their children are taken, ravished, killed. These kinds of mothers? I have no words for what they suffer.

Usually when we mothers think about 'mothering', we see ourselves, our moms, and maybe other moms we know personally. But there are so many mothers out there!

We need to set our lives against the larger canvas - and what we juxtapose it with makes such a huge difference!

I will tell you this too: I have met and known mothers who are 'tais tais'; rich and robed in splendour - but living with an inner posture of poverty and want, literally worried sick over house and husband and offspring.

Fellow mothers, what is this wondrous, painful, incredible, and tremendous thing we have been called to?
How do we respond to it? 
How do we know when we do it well, or not? 
Do we ever fail?
Fellow mothers, in a world that says "if it's worth anything, it gets paid, handsomely" - how do we continue in our daily trenches when the affirmation cracks like thin ice?
How do we keep going when there is no interlude with popcorn and streamers?

I remember my own mother - whose life I described as both entrancing and repulsive to me at the same time. I adored her passion for life and her endless capacity to care; but I felt unnerved to think that a woman's lot is so much sacrifice.

She was three when she lost her dad. With a mom who gambled away the meagre earnings, she learnt to be resourceful and to provide, cook, clean, plan, and scheme! She raised her mother and brother. Later she would marry my dad and repeat the whole thing over, this time, including a mean-spirited mother-in-law, and nine children! 

She never had a boudoir but wore mostly the same few clothes and her shoes were hospital-issue where she worked. She would walk with aching legs to save the few coins for a larger meal for us. As a litle girl, i believed my mother could do anything! She cooked, cleaned, sewed, made pretty our sparse home, told stories, comforted us, laughed at our antics... and with each season, she just kept growing and glowing. It wasn't until we were grown and started supporting her that she began to spend on herself.

Most of my growing up years then, I admired my mother and wanted her grace and prowess - but  - I told myself I would not lose so much in the process.

I didn't understand.

The paradox of dying to live and giving to receive stumbles us. It is a faint voice, seemingly unreasonable, even foolhardy with the noisy clatter each day of 'get what you want', 'don't let others take advantage of you', 'watch out for yourself'...

I'll be honest. I still don't get it quite yet. Maybe I am too tethered to the world and need to cut loose some more.

If Jesus invites us to be the branches extending from him as the vine; I am the branch with many other IVs inserted into parts; busily drinking off approval, competition, strife, fear... I am not pure juice. I am sloshing a little tipsy with the flavours and favours of the world.

So  --
when my sweet child grows up as she must and turns into a stranger; I panicked that I have lost years of pure maternal investment and career sacrifice.
when others cringe at the son's outburst and hurl accusations, I am a crumpled heap.
when the future possibilities for my children could turn out to be sloppy-artist and itinerant juggler (no kidding) I pace within my heart and wonder what went wrong.

You see how quickly I move dead centre and it becomes about me? I think it negates the whole idea of sacrifice and being for others when little old me walks on stage and demand the floodlights shift to reveal a star!

I need other mothers to mother - well.

So here's what I figure. I need to issue a call for solidarity. Mothers, let us stand together. Let us cheer each other on. Let us remind each other of the sheer nobility and washboard-knuckle pain reality of this thing we call 'mothering'. Let us also step back often enough to see the larger canvas, and weep along with fellow moms. We fight different battles. But one thing we all do: we fight: for life, for hope, for love.  And our --

laying down,
letting go,
leaving it aside... 

it is all Jesus' way...  I always wondered how as a gal I could be like Jesus. Mothering showed me a deep, amazing way to be so. He laid aside His majesty. We may too, with wrinkly bosoms. He lets his right go. We may too, when we drink from the sippy cup, go de-caf, stop smoking... He left a lot aside; the reasonable stuff of income security and a carpenter's dream workshop perhaps...and more. For some of us, the children we have demands we be certain kinds of moms: stay-home, doing odd jobs, regulars at hospitals, special services. principals' offices...

Jesus gets us!

At that cross. His mother stood with him. A child and a mother can get each other that way when they were both willing to drink from the same cup. We can get our God's heart (and he is wont to use maternal images: the mother hen being a favourite) and enjoy a solidarity there.

In our crosses, Jesus stands with us.

As fellow moms, let us stand with one another.

Solidarity challenge this mother's day season:
1. pray or send a gift to a mother with less
2. don't compare, complain or compete with another woman (especially your mom!)
3. give thanks for being a mom
4. share this post and solidarity challenge!