Oceans Deep

Finding & Following Jesus in the Deep End of Life

Month: October 2015

What I Wish I’d Known Before Becoming A Mother

As many of you know, last month I had the privilege of guest blogging for Sheila Wray Gregoire at To Love, Honor and Vacuum. This was my first foray into the world of guest blogging, so you can imagine my excitement as people read and commented. One of the best parts of writing is seeing how something you shared encouraged another person. So often, we feel alone in our struggles. Being able to tell others “you’re not alone!” is a privilege and a joy.

Unfortunately, I also saw the dark side of putting yourself “out there”—negative criticism. I knew intellectually to be prepared for such feedback, since you can hardly read anything online these days without coming across someone’s negative comments. Even so, it stung to be judged after putting my heart out there. One great piece of advice my mama has always given me, however, is to glean what you can from other’s criticism—no matter how flat, there are two sides to a pancake, as the saying goes.

As I began thinking about this person’s comments, the pressing desire to write this piece emerged. In a nutshell, one commenter felt I portrayed motherhood as horrible and that I took an excessively negative perspective on motherhood. I laughed out loud when I read these words, because I absolutely love and adore being a mother! Of all that I’ve done or accomplished in my life, none of it compares to the joy of mothering my two children—even on the hardest days, I wouldn’t trade motherhood for the world.

But, as I thought about this gal’s perspective—even though it seemed harsh, especially considering that she does not have children of her own yet—I realized that to some extent, I was in that same boat before I had children. And as Aaron and I endured month after painful month of infertility, it was especially difficult to hear mothers vent about how tired they were or how much they wanted a break. It seemed cruel and unreasonable at the time, but oh, how my perspective has changed!

The truth is, you simply don’t know what you don’t know. It’s nearly impossible to explain what it’s like to become a mother, and the only way to truly know is to jump in and experience it for oneself. This got me to reflecting and thinking back on who I was and what I thought before I became a mom—and thus, my “Top 5 Things I Wish I’d Known” list was born.

Nothing about this list is meant to scare you or vilify motherhood, but rather to explain as best I can the reality of having little ones at home. If you’re in the same boat, I hope this will resonate with and encourage you. If you’re not, I pray it sheds new light on what it’s like to take on the role of “mother,” and perhaps give you an extra dose of compassion for your mama friends. Chances are, they (like me) could use it!

1. Motherhood Changes You

Becoming a mother changes you on a fundamental level. I think back to high school science class when we studied the denaturing of proteins—once denatured, they can never go back to what they were before. The whole you can’t un-fry an egg illustration.

In the same way, when that baby arrives, you become a new creature. I always thought it would be me plus a baby—like having a super cute new accessory, if you will. But that isn’t the case. Your makeup as a person changes at the core.

However, so often when we hear this statement, we think of change as a bad thing—but not so! Sure, my hips may always be a little wider, and I may always sleep with one eye and one ear open, but I have changed for the better in several ways since welcoming by babies. I am more selfless, loving, persistent, and patient than I was before. The deeply humbling role of mother is beautifully eye opening, and I’ve seen my need for Jesus in ways I never could beforehand. Change is challenging, but overall I’m much happier with the person I am today than I was a few years ago.

2. It’s Harder & Scarier Than You Think

This one has probably been the most shocking one of all for me. I always thought, how hard can it really be? But the sheer responsibility of caring for and raising another human being is enough to take your breath away sometimes. And as mamas, so much of it naturally falls on us. I’m sure you’ve all seen those funny cards with sayings like “Go me, I kept my kids alive today!” and while those make us laugh, they hold a nugget of truth!

This isn’t meant to scare anyone, because all moms do get the hang of it. Motherhood comes with a steep but not insurmountable learning curve. And the wonderful news is, once you master that learning curve, you are good to go—bring on child #2, #3, and beyond!

The difficult and scary nature of mothering is what spawns so many posts about motherhood, like my guest post and many others. Before you enter the fray, everything seems so clear: you know exactly how you’ll feed your child, exactly how you’ll get your child to sleep, exactly what kind of schedule you’ll keep … but then your sweet bundle arrives, with his or her own personality and will, and suddenly what seemed so clear before is now as clear as mud.

What I know now is that it’s critically important for mothers to share and vent to one another, to be heard and know they are not alone. It’s easy to feel isolated at times, so I love seeing all the blogs and articles addressing those issues we confront but are sometimes too scared to admit (for fear of being criticized!).

Books and baby guides can be great tools, but nothing is as helpful or encouraging as hearing from another mama about what she’s gone through, what worked or didn’t work for her, and knowing that you’re not alone in whatever challenges you’re facing in a particular phase of motherhood.

And above everything, remember that God Himself placed your children under your care. He will equip you with everything you need to parent your babies!

3. You Will Experience Murphy’s Law In Ways You Never Thought Possible

Y’all, seriously. Sometimes it feels like there’s a pint-sized conspiracy going on around my house! Once again, I used to feel frustration with moms who were always running late and didn’t seem capable of arriving somewhere on time. But the truth is, it takes time to catch onto the fact that however long you think it will take you to leave the house, you should add 20 minutes to it. Hopefully that will cover the last minute diaper blowouts, food spills, and tantrums that seem to occur just as you’re trying to load your kiddos into the car.monkies

On more than one occasion, I’ve stood in the middle of my living room and laughed with desperation at the forces opposing my seemingly simple attempt at going to the grocery store. Or to church—you can always count on extra chaos Sunday mornings! Remember that silly game whack-a-mole? I’m convinced that game originated with a mom who was just trying to get her kids fed, dressed, and out the door! (ok, so it was created by engineer Aaron Fechter, but you get the point).

At the end of the day, I’ve made peace with the fact that Murphy’s Law governs in my house—embracing this fact eases some of the frustration and, if nothing else, provides for plenty of writing material!

4. You Will Come to Know God on a Whole New Level

This has been one of my most favorite and humbling aspects of motherhood. While we will never fully be able to grasp “how wide and long and high and deep” the love of Christ is for us, loving a child brings new meaning to God as our Father (Ephesians 3:18 NIV). For me, relating to God as a parent brings many of His promises to life in vividly real ways, as I know how much I love my children and want the best for them. Now that I’ve experienced unconditional love for my children, I better understand and accept God’s unconditional love for me. And to think—our unconditional love as parents is still flawed by human brokenness, but God’s perfect love for us knows no bounds nor defects!

You will also come to appreciate grace in a brand new way. Never have I been in such need of grace as when I’m facing difficulty as a mom—for instance, being trapped on an airplane with a screaming 1-year-old for five hours. Yikes!! In that instance, the kindness and grace extended to me by strangers made me appreciate the lavish grace of our Savior all the more. How kind of our God to give us a small glimpse, a gentle whisper of His amazing grace and unending love for us!

5. The Love is Out of This World

Just as it’s nearly impossible to explain how life-changing motherhood is, it’s equally as difficult to explain the intense, consuming love that envelops you. This is the piece de resistance of motherhood—the thing that makes every hard, messy, draining day worth every second.

And the love encircles every mother—we don’t need to talk about it, because we all know it’s there, providing the rock-solid foundation for every high and low of motherhood. Perhaps this is why moms are sometimes perceived as being overly negative, focusing on only the rough and rocky parts: there’s no need to write flowery posts about the love we feel, because that’s a given. It goes without saying as an unspoken code among moms. It keeps us sane and gives us the strength to endure the tough days—and wings to fly high on the great days.

It is the most beautiful part of motherhood and the most terrifying—realizing that any hurt you feel is nothing compared to the pain of watching your child hurt or struggle. When Isaiah came along, I finally understood my mom and how she seemed to feel my pain a thousand times stronger than I did.

This is why we would never trade motherhood for the world. This is why we can be covered in four different forms of bodily fluids and still want more babies. And this is why we cherish motherhood, even on the days Murphy’s Law is running roughshod over us. This beautiful, consuming, otherworldly love.

Well, there you have it. What would you add to your list? I’d love to hear!

And, to my dear fellow mamas: stay the course. Know that through the good days and bad, you are doing a great work! Your babies need you, and God will equip you with everything you need to mother them as only you can.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

~Galatians 6:9 NIV

 

A Tale of Two Cities

Hello readers!

It’s good to be back in this space after a long-awaited anniversary trip to Italy. My husband and I haven’t been anywhere exotic since our honeymoon, so it was time. We spent a week in Venice and a couple of days in Florence, soaking up the sights and marveling at God’s goodness to us these past 10 years.

It was a tremendous blessing to have a break from the demands of life, to enjoy time with my husband, and to simply feel like me again. Motherhood is a beautiful gift, but as my fellow moms know, it’s hard. Sometimes we need a little room to close our eyes and catch our breath.

Or eat copious amounts of gelato.

The experience of full body immersion in a foreign culture exhilarated me, but I was also ready to head home to my babies and the comforts of the USA … even so, I feel a bit like Cinderella returning home after the ball, but I hope to hold onto the memory of our time in Venice. This beautiful, dying city brought to life something in me I didn’t even know existed; and while today, I am still jet lagged and once again immersed in the land of diapers and precious cherub faces, I pray that I’m able to find a way to cultivate and care for this new shoot of life growing up in the soil of my soul.

Never have I encountered a city so enchanting and full of mesmerizing dichotomies. Rich in enviable history, Venice now graces the water as a shell of its former self. Where once royalty walked, now pushy men attempt to sell roses to aloof tourists, and small plastic toys made in China light up the night sky. Outside the breathtaking walls of St. Mark’s Basilica, hoards of tourists avail themselves of selfie sticks, smiling widely while pointing to the Bell Tower or a particularly assertive pigeon.

The gracefully crumbling buildings and romantic, eerie canals hold on with all their might to the past, yet even a gondola ride shatters the sense of ancient—I saw more than one gondolier playing on his iPhone while mindlessly repeating facts about Venice, facts that have long since lost their charm to him … but to me, the truth of such facts floated with awe in the humid sea air.

At night, Venice transforms into another city altogether. It’s so quiet. The soothing sound of water gently lapping the canal’s edge can be heard as you meander through the narrow alleyways. The delicate clink of silverware and wine glasses floats above the ancient rooftops, finding its way into open windows. Church bells ring, ominously warning revelers of their indulgence, just as they have for hundreds of years. I wish I had a soundtrack of Venice at night.

I could name a hundred more things that I adored about this city—the breathtakingly beautiful churches, the camaraderie with fellow traveling Americans, and—of course—the food and wine! But perhaps the most amazing part was the mind-boggling connectedness to history afforded by both of these ancient cities.

I am a true history nerd, through and through, and at many points during our trip I thought my little brain might burst. From our quaint terrace, we ate breakfast and gazed at the beautiful palazzo of the infamous Casanova. We lolled past Marco Polo’s apartment on a gondola ride. And we toured the first Synagogues in Venice, situated in the very first ghetto in the world.

In Florence, we had the chance to walk where members of the powerful, domineering Medici family walked. We explored the places they lived and worshipped, and viewed hundreds of priceless, famous pieces of artwork commissioned by this formidable family. Since high school, I’ve had a particular fascination with Catherine de Medici, and walking the streets where she was born and lived her early difficult years sent chills all up and down my spine.

In each church and museum, I felt the past stretching and sitting tall, reaching its way into our present. These priceless works of art and architecture functioned as a conduit—a time machine, if you will—connecting the life and times of persons long ago with all of us today. It boggled my mind to experience the connectedness that a single piece of art can bring about.

This experience set me to thinking about the concept of connectedness and how we are all strung together in time, one generation to the next. And more specifically, how as believers we are connected by something even more awe-inspiring and powerful than a painting or a sculpture: we are connected by the power of the Holy Spirit and the very blood of our Savior. I found myself feeling envious of the legacy of the Medici family and wondered what it would be like to have such a family history … until I focused on the fact that as believers in Christ, we do have an ancient legacy! And one built by something far greater than mere human hands.

The members of these mortal families spent their time and money building a human legacy, one that would illuminate their own power and greatness. So I’ll ask you the same question I’ve had to ask myself: what monuments are you building? With your time, your money, and your talents—what legacy are you crafting? We all have the choice to build grand monuments to ourselves, ones that will crumble and fade with the passing of time … but we also have the opportunity to build a legacy of eternal value.

In the midst of so many people and such beautiful surroundings, I came face to face with how big the world is and how small I am in it. And while the enemy would have you and me believe we are too small and insignificant to make a difference, nothing could be farther from the truth! We’ve each been entrusted with a sphere of influence in the form of our spouses, children, family members, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Even the grocery store clerk you see once in a while can become part of your network of influence.

Five hundred years from now, we may not have anyone lining up outside a museum and paying good money to see something we’ve created—but the fruits of our labor in the Lord will provide evidence of an eternal legacy of far greater value than anything made by man. In John 13:35, Jesus spoke to His disciples saying:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

Through Christ, we can leave a legacy of faith & love, one that will hopefully inspire believers in the next generation to do the same. I know I have been a beneficiary of the prayerful, Godly generations that have gone before me, loving well and bringing glory to God by living faithful lives. It is my prayer to do the same for the next generation of believers, beginning at home with my own two children.

As the high from our trip fades, I pray the lessons learned, inspiration sparked, and perspective gained continue to press upon my heart. And may we all shun that which is temporary, choosing instead to embrace the eternal connectedness we have as followers of Christ and focus on creating a legacy that will endure when all human efforts fade away.

A First Time for Everything

Today, I am excited and honored to be guest blogging over at To Love, Honor and Vacuum, one of my favorite blogs! Sheila is an excellent author and writes with the honesty, transparency, and heart that I so admire in writers.

This is also my very first guest blogging of any sort, and it feels like a small but meaningful step. I’m happy to share this first with you guys, and I hope it brings you some encouragement today!

Limitless

I don’t know about you, but I pretty much despise limitations, and I find few things as motivating as the words you can’t do that. Not in the you shouldn’t do that sense, but in the you’re not capable sense. Heck, a large motivating factor in me pursuing and being accepted to medical school was the scathing, cynical words of my snarky Organic Chemistry professor when he looked right at me and snarled “you can’t get into medical school.”

Well, I showed him!

I also spent a year of my life being miserable by trying to fit a square peg (me) into a round hole (medical school) … but, I did meet my husband there, so I’m going to go ahead and call that one a win. Thank goodness that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28 NIV). He can draw blessings out of our decisions, even the ones made from less-than-perfect motivations.

Up until now, I have fortunately not suffered from many physical or health limitations, but I have been plagued by debilitating migraine headaches since youth. I wish I would “outgrow” this limit, but no such luck. Perhaps they’re even worsening as time passes … whatever the case, they stink. The pain knocks me off my feet and renders me incapable of doing anything but lying on the couch when I can and keeping my children alive the rest of the time. As a mother, I’m finding these headaches far more difficult to bear, since I’m not able to simply skip class or use a sick day at work. Moms are “on” 24/7—whether in pain or not!

Such physical limitations fly in the face of my never-ending lists of goals and “to do’s.” I don’t realize the enormity of the pressure I put on myself to perform these tasks until I’m suddenly knocked out of the game. The feelings of failure and inadequacy that accompany being sidelined surprise me each time—and I have a sneaking suspicion I’m not alone in this! Women especially seem prone to wearing the “I must do it all” superwoman cape … so it’s quite off-putting when we come face to face with our limits and realize we actually cannot do it all.

I’m slowly seeing, however, that there are important things to be learned in the midst of our limits. And these things we wish didn’t hold us back or slow us down can actually become excellent character-shaping tools, forcing us to be still, and know that He is God (see Psalm 46:10).

I’m not exactly fond of Ms. Limits, but she’s teaching me a lot these days. And if you ever find yourself in the same boat, I hope the following reminders will encourage you today!

We Are Not in Control

I know what you’re likely thinking: duh!! But in all truth, we need to be reminded of this (or at least I do!). Our sin nature is geared toward control, and our world constantly bombards us with messages poised to capitalize on this nature. Over and again, we are told to take charge of our lives—to go out there and make it happen, giving us the illusion that everything rests on our own shoulders.

It is true that God has given us a free will of our own, and we are responsible for being obedient to His call in our lives (see Romans 14:12). But we do not hold ultimate control over the events that shape us. Isaiah 40:22 provides a beautiful reminder of how big God is:

He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in (NIV).

As we go about our day-to-day tasks, the limits we encounter can become a great reminder of how big God is, and how “He’s got the whole world in His hands,” as the beloved children’s song goes.

As much as we may think we want ultimate control, true peace is found in embracing the end of ourselves. The same God who holds the earth in His Hands also holds us in His Hands—giving strength and renewal to our weary human souls (see Isaiah 40:29-31). There’s no better place we could be!

Our Time is Not Our Own

 Similarly, the message of the world tempts us to forget that our time is not ours alone. Like any other resource (money, talent, etc.), time is a gift from the Lord. And like any other resource, we should be asking Him how He wants us to use our time. I know I’m guilty of hoarding my time and thinking of it as mine to use however I see fit … but when I’m face-to-face with my weakness—as I was just this week due to a monster migraine—I’m convicted that perhaps God has other plans for my time.

Proverbs 19:21 says, Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails (NIV). Through my limits, God is teaching me to come before Him and humbly release the iron grip I so often keep on my time; to lay down the plans in my own heart in exchange for His plans. Sometimes He has to pry my rigid fingers off, but when I finally do let go, I find the peace that comes from living in God’s will for my life, not my own.

I love the reminder James gives us in response to all the grand plans we make for ourselves:

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:13-15 NIV).

Perhaps he could have phrased it a little more kindly, but the truth remains—this day could be our very last day on earth! I can’t think of a better way to spend our time than by asking God, the creator and giver of all time, what He would have us do with it.

 God’s Love and Strength Are Limitless

 Our human, fallen selves long to be limitless on this earth, yet our limits can teach us one of the most important lessons of all by bringing us face-to-face with the only One whose love, grace, and resources are truly limitless. His very being is without limits.

One of the best side effects of my migraines is how they drive me to the feet of Jesus in utter dependence on Him for all my strength, love, and endurance. I am full of limits—but I serve a God who is not. When I embrace this truth, I find a closeness with Him that carries me through each and every difficult, barely-surviving kind of day. I am restored and revived, even in the midst of pain.

I am beginning to truly understand Paul’s words when he said, For when I am weak, then I am strong (II Corinthians 12:10). Our limits bring us to the end of ourselves, and if we’ll grant them the latitude to teach, we can begin learning just how safe and strong we are when held in the limitless Hands of our Father.

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