we may be mothers, but we are still human.

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Knees curled to chest, I see her: a woman gone wild in the bedroom corner, fresh out of the shower and on a rampage of sorts, folding and throwing clean laundry into untidy piles, loudly speaking whatever angry thoughts she has been festering toward her husband, the man who sees this ugliness and always comes back and always loves and helps me to love this woman again, too. I see her – myself, mother, wife, woman – as the last t-shirt hits the floor and I feel the bare skin of my back fall back against the cool bedroom wall and there, my eyes seep deeply welled tears. In a moment, I am uncertain of why I am so angry, sad, alone. Where does this feeling of “not enough” and “incompleteness” come from? Am I going mad?

During the outburst, words erupt like “why am I not allowed to be angry?” and “why am I the only one who cares about this?” and “why I am always wrong and you aren’t?”. Inside, I wonder, who these questions are for. What is it that I want to hear? What is it that I want to accomplish? Is it really OK to just yell and cry and throw things and let it all loose? How do I react when my children do this? Am I still just a child? Aging, but still learning to sort out my emotions?

Yes.

I am still learning.

I may be a mother, but I am still human.

There is some strange and pervasive idea that as mothers, we should find joy in every moment – in the dishes and diapers and tantrums and PTA meetings and night feedings and stretch marks and and and and…

…but what about when you don’t?

I believed this as I transitioned out of my teen years, that finding joy in every situation was the secret to happiness and the favor of God in my life, an inevitable martyrdom I would be expected to endure and applauded for. The mother who somehow keeps a clean house, feeds her children food that isn’t primarily white, volunteers, organizes playdates, responds with gentleness at every childish outburst and tantrum, exercises, remembers to feed herself healthy food, helps by earning an income and keeping a balanced budget, and does this every day, all the time, smiling and saying how blessed and thankful she is, because, children.

Except, often the stadium is quiet, there is no applause. Just the feelings of failure and guilt and notice of where we fall short compared to some other mom or household. But what mother does not ask at some point, don’t you see my sacrifice?

And yet, there is tension, always tension; because I also know, choosing joy does make a difference. It is here, in the practice of willing surrender and seeing the goodness in the midst of uncertainty, where I actually find my truest self and soul. I give up the need for admiration and in the doing for others, I find something more fulfilling than I have ever known otherwise.

Maybe the problem lies in the idea that we have to keep up. All. The. Time.

I have been the “mom blogger”, going on about my health-nut recipes and how I got my kids to eat spinach by hiding it in their chili (as Jim Gaffigan would say, “you’re trying to impress me with KALE?!”), savoring the little moments and sharing our simple, little life as if the morning meets me with angels singing their heavenly chorus, a halo surrounding me, saintly mother, giving my all to create perfect growing conditions for my children, all while staying fit, healthy, sane and joyful.

Maybe there are no angels singing, but there are moments, days even, where I see my best self.

And there are many where I see the ugly and show it to my family.

Then we get to practice forgiveness and grace and second and third and fourth chances.

I also believe in joy.

I know the deep healing practice of stopping and savoring and giving gratitude for the little things.

I love being a mom – motherhood has broken me, put me back together, stretched me, challenged me, shown me my strength and taught me I can’t do it all alone. Children are an insanely beautiful gift to us and I ache when I think of all the children without a home or present parents or opportunity like we have. And I do believe we have an incredible responsibility to be present to our children, affirming that they are human and capable as they are now, and also, a seed of the adult they will become, one we are to nurture as best we can.

I woke up this morning feeling like a complete failure.

For what? Having strong emotions, feeling alone and like my feelings didn’t matter, not getting to everything I wish was done, speaking in unloving ways toward my closest people, showing weakness, providing a gap for someone else to step into, for God to meet me with love – the love that is always there, but I don’t always notice.

Growth is important – I want to grow more to respond and communicate my hurt and feelings in a healthy way, and I believe I will always be a work in progress.

But in this moment, I’m sitting with this imperfection, the deep vulnerability and realization that I don’t have to keep everything together 100% of the time or maybe any of the time. Are we really meant to do it all alone?

We may be mothers, but we are still human.

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Childless: The Unseen Mothers In Our Midst

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I posted this quote on Instagram this morning:

“Let us keep reminding each other to breathe, to smile, to treat ourselves and one another with kindness. Let us hold each other when we need support, and let us challenge and remind each other of what is truly important. Let us take care of ourselves so that we don’t hand down our unfinished business to the next generation. Let us laugh together, and never lose our joy…And let us take care of the children, our children, all the children. Let us mobilize our fierce and passionate mother energy on behalf of all beings on this little blue-green planet…” – Denise Roy, MOMfulness: Mothering with Mindfulness, Compassion, and Grace (emphasis mine)

A follower left the comment, “Although I am not a Mom yet, I want to read the book you’ve quoted! I believe I hold a strong mothering spirit with me everyday.”

And I caught my breath for a moment as I saw something I often overlook – the unseen mothers in our midst.

And I wonder, how do we be more present to those who don’t technically have children, but are mothers in their own way? There are so many women in this space for a variety of reasons – it may not be the right season in life, they haven’t “found” the right partner yet, fertility issues, health concerns, miscarriage, fallen through adoptions – this just names a few. But they still have this strong maternal spirit and yearning to mother.

And often, when someone is vulnerable enough to share this desire or their struggle in achieving “mom” status, we hurry to patch it up and instead of just sitting with it, helping hold a tiny corner of the weight of desire for motherhood, we offer unhelpful answers like, “trust me, you’re lucky to have your freedom!” or “you’re so young, don’t worry, you have plenty of time!” or “don’t give up, it will happen!” or even, “You just need to pray more”.  We might even begin to question their life choices or try to offer unsolicited advice and share how easily we slipped into motherhood.

How do we walk alongside each other and SEE one another for who we are and affirm the mother felt within each of us, even if our direct experiences differ?

Because maybe they are mothers also, but with a much different birth story.

I don’t have the answers to why.  Why some of us fall into our hopes and dreams and others don’t, why I conceived and birthed three children with relative ease, while others have losses upon losses and nights upon nights of prayers and tears and negative tests and enormous let downs and children they hold tight in their chest because they love them as fiercely as any mother would.

And I can’t speak to that experience, since it is not mine. I have watched friends give birth to their babies and I have seen them lose them and I have heard the hopes of trying and trying and trying and the piercing comments and heavy hearts and the joy and the sorrow all mixed together and it leaves me speechless with wonder at the heaviness of birth and death and motherhood.

And I have often not known what to say or do or how to be for those mothers.

But, at this moment, I see you.

And I am trying to look with wider eyes.

– b.e.

becca

Becca Ellis is an artist, writer, wife, and mom to 3 in Bend, Oregon where she works as a Director of Family and Children at First Presbyterian. One of her greatest joys is bringing women together and supporting mothers in all walks of life. This Fall, she will be facilitating Intentional Motherhood Circles in Bend, Oregon through the Mama Connect Bend community.  You can learn more about Mama Connect Bend here and follow along on IG: www.instagram.com/mamaconnectbend

 

 

 

When a Child Breaks You Open to Responding in Fullness

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Joy. Laughter. Simplicity. Light.

These are gifts, raw and beautiful, given so we can experience life in its fullness.

There is more, always more, like tears and rage and thickened heart beats that stir our souls toward something, all invoked by what? Words, sights, sounds, smells, nature, relationships, encounters with others or perhaps even something Holy.

But we don’t always respond in a way that leans into the richness and fullness of life. As we grow, we learn through society to repress it, to distract ourselves, to not get too attached. We are stronger than all that, we say. We need to be. In our culture, strength is seen as success and emotion is often seen as childish.

When we were younger, it was all so much closer, this instinct to respond in fullness. When we saw a field dotted with flowers, we gladly flew through it, letting our fingers rifle through tall and wispy strands of grass, our hair wild behind us and dirt and sweat mixed with the joy found on the corner of our lips. We may remember and feel the same slivers of joy now, but it is more distant, less tangible.

And tears. Tears which fell in an instant at the smallest of offenses. All these emotions, big and small, mixing and taking over our bodies. But slowly, we learn. We learn to stuff it or to hide it or to cope with it or to rely on it or to use it to our advantage or to let it control us or to make us more whole of people.

It takes work. Deep work that has no timeline, unique to each of us. Sometimes growth occurs without much intention, but mostly, if we are to live life fully and not, as Mary Oliver wrote, “simply having visited this world”, there is a breaking we must go through.

The author and educator, Parker Palmer, writes about this breaking of our hearts into a “new capacity”. It is not so much a breaking that shatters our hearts, but rather one, that while it brings pain, actually expands our capacity for love and compassion.

And now, I wonder, how do we capture the heart of the young and set the child in our heart free? How do we allow this outer coating to be pierced so light can dance within us and we can join in the wonder again? How do we break open to this old-and-young-at-the-same-time capacity?

I sit in silence and then, I see it. In a form of a toddling child, who spotted me after walking around the corner. A simple and infectious joy radiates across his entire face and then, the running of his little legs, learning more coordination every day, to come and embrace and just be close to his mama. I am his everything. He learns trust and security and warmth first through the steady smile of his mama, the reassuring voice and enveloping arms that says just being in this world is enough.

This is what I am most thankful for, this reminding and this breaking open. A little nudge that interrupts and reminds me of the richness and fullness of life, that this work is important, too. Maybe the most important I will ever do.

Children. We need them in our presence. We need their insights and hearts and light to break us open and remind us of what it means to live life with fullness. We need to help them keep as much of that fullness and wholeness as they can. There was a famous rabbi who lived 2000 years ago, Jesus, who is recorded to have stood on the side of the smallest and weakest in his community, amplifying their voice and protecting them from being pushed aside and hushed up. Children were included. He saw their worth and affirmed it, even saying that we need to be more like children in order to be a part of this subversive and counter-cultural thing called the “Kingdom of God”. And I wonder if maybe he also knew he needed the refreshing reminder of the pure presence children bring.

It can be hard for a child, in a world so centered on adults – built physically for their needs and structured for their engagement, a society which tends toward thinking of children as just being “adults in training” – to know they belong. To know they have value here and now as they are.

Children are on a spiritual journey just like the rest of us. And they will have so much to sift through as they grow, just like many of us have. It is so important for them now, to be spiritually nurtured, to remain tethered and have a place of security to turn to when things begin to shake.  Because they will. And I know that as my own children grow, I long for them to see that the way of peace and radical love that Jesus taught is relevant and life changing and world shifting.

When we welcome them and allow our souls to be disturbed and shaken loose, learn to laugh together and remember that their noise is as much of a prayer as our silent reverence is, that we are all traveling together on this beautiful, messy journey, I wonder how much more vibrant and joy-filled our communities could be.

I wonder how much larger our capacity for compassion and love might be.

I wonder how much more we could respond in fullness to all that life brings us.

I wonder how much more our children will know who they are and how beautiful they are and how much meaning they can bring to the world.

-b.e.