What You Thought You Wanted

A few months after my first was born my husband said, “It seems like you were happier when you were working than you are now that you stay home.” In other words, he punched me in the gut. I felt a defensive, sad, and guilty because in many ways he was right and I didn’t want to admit it. I’ve wanted to stay home with my kids all my life – I wouldn’t trade it for the world or the paycheck or the 9 to 5 adult conversation. But it was true – I was stressed and often unhappy. My baby had reflux and I had overactive let-down and excess milk. He cried a LOT. He didn’t gain weight well. We went through three to five outfits each a day, multiple sheets, all the burp rags, and a ton of laundry detergent. I was exhausted. I carried him around non-stop and adored him like I’d never loved anyone before, but all the same – I missed adult interaction, using my mind, doing what I was good at (I didn’t feel very good at motherhood), taking a break, and being challenged.

Things got better and easier and the stress lessened (slightly) and changed (every day). I started volunteering as director and teacher for a local ESL program. Malachi got a prescription and my boobs calmed the heck down so he was able to sleep, gain weight, and eat in peace. I fell more and more and more and more in love with my son. I stopped bleeding and started napping and things got a LOT better. But I was shocked – shocked – at how much I missed my job.

From the time I was a child I knew I wanted to be a teacher until I hit middle school and felt called to missions. So it was no small providence that I combined both and ended up teaching English to international students. I loved it. I loved them. I was good at it and I thrived on it. Teaching ESL became a huge part of my identity. And teaching was the first job I ever enjoyed. I loved what I did and I loved who I worked with. My happiest memories of that job are the summer I worked 60 hours a week, even though I never slept or cooked anything decent. I fully expected to fall in love with my baby and be overjoyed to be home with him – and that happened. But I didn’t expect to grieve the loss of my job – which also happened.

After Malachi got older I started wanting to work part-time, teaching one or two clases a week. I knew I would like spending the majority of my time at home but also to go back to a job, ministry really, that was so fulfilling to me. The thought still appeals to me. I tried and asked and searched and attempted to tutor for a while but still there was nothing.

Then this past summer my old job offered me a class – one I had taught before and loved. I was thrilled – I nailed down childcare and talked to Jeremy and got way ahead of myself in my excitement. But after a lot of prayer and thought and agony, I turned it down. The timing was bad, the commute was bad, and it would have been really weirdly hard on my kids because of all the minutae.

Within a week a new ESL program was created in the city. It was intended as an adult community outreach. The faculty were diverse, it was close to my neighborhood, and they used curriculum I have used and taught before. I applied and interviewed and nervously waited and prayed. After my interview I discovered that although it was only 6 hours a week and payed well, it was during the worst possible 6 hours of my week it could be. I wanted the job but I didn’t want the job and I warred with myself over it while I waited for a call. Then finally I got the call and they had offered the job to someone else. My pride took a blow but my heart felt relief, and once again I was shocked.

Over the past few years my heart and mind have grieved and let go of my old job. I still miss it, but not in the same way. Letting go of a job and having a child is similar to letting go of your only child and having a second – the relatioship changes, who you are changes, and the adjustment is wonderful and priceless but also painful and surprising. I’ve also gotten really, really stupidly busy. I volunteer too much and take too much on and when I get stressed and overwhelmed it strains my relationships at home. Over the summer everything went on hiatus – both my volunteer positions, Malachi’s pre-school, Bible study, and at least half of our small groups. And it was wonderful. I had so much more patience with my kids, and we spent so much more quality time together. We baked cookies and went to the park and played games and napped and threw plans out the window to eat popcorn and watch movies instead. And in those moments, on those good days, I realized that THIS is what I want to be doing with my days. And that the biggest thing keeping me from it was my own overcommitedness (<– new word). I miss my old job because it was wonderful and I loved it, but it’s no longer what I want to do. Not all the time. I romanticized the wonderful aspects of it and diminished the things that would be challenging and God used two no-go job offers this summer to show me that.

I still hope down the road I can teach again and I believe I will. One day the timing will work out and my kids will be ready and I will be fully confident that it’s the right thing. But now I can look at it honestly. I can look at my kids and know without a doubt that I would rather be home with them. And I can look at my teacher-self and know that she is a part of me, too, and that one day she may get to shine again. But when I look at Christ, I realize that HE is what defines me. Everything I am – mother, wife, teacher, leader, volunteer, friend – is tied up in Who He is. And for this season, whether long or short I do not know, he has called me to be here, in this moment, with these children. Maybe I’ll get a job offer tomorrow and I’ll take it, maybe I’ll go back to work when my kids are in school, maybe I’ll homeschool and never go back to work, maybe we’ll move overseas and everything will change. I don’t know and that’s ok. This summer I needed to let go of what I thought I wanted to realize that I what I truly wanted is what I already have. And I have found so much freedom in that.

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The Fruits of the Spirit for a Mother’s Heart

Dear Father,

The further I journey into motherhood, the more grateful I am to call you my Father. When I am overwhelmed, tired, and clueless on what to do next, You are there to show me how to parent with grace. When I wrestle once again with my attitude and temper, and I wonder where the gentle and quiet Spirit I pray for daily has gone, You remind me that the fruits of the Spirit are not the fruits of my Spirit but of Yours, living and breathing inside of me.

Lord, fill me with love – a divine love for my children – a love like Yours. A love that loves without selfishness, without agenda, without limits. Fill me with a love that drives me to do the hard things for the greater good, and to offer grace no matter how undeserved.

Lord, fill me with joy – the kind of joy that transcends happiness. Joy that soaks in the precious moments and presses on through monotony and struggle.

Lord, fill me with peace – a peace that is deep and unshaken by a chaotic home, a tantruming child, or a lack of sleep. Fill me with a peace that breathes in and breathes out, accepting and giving thanks for each moment.

Lord, fill me with patience – the patience I don’t have on my own. The patience that can see the forest for the trees. The patience that recognizes my children look to me for guidance, help, direction, and security. Patience that sees my children looking up at me and bends down to speak to them in a way they can understand – just as You came down to live in our skin and guide us home.

Lord, fill me with kindness – Teach me to be kind in the face of backtalk, bad words, squabbles, and rudeness. Teach me to treat my children as my neighbors. Fill me with the type of kindness that kneels down to wash their feet. Let my kindness be an example.

Lord, fill me with goodness – fill me with You. Fill me with pure motives and a true heart.

Lord, fill me with faithfulness – the kind of faithfulness that prioritizes You no matter what is going on around me. The kind of faithfulness that holds on to Your Gospel in the moments when things seem to be falling apart. The kind of faithfulness that disciples my precious children even when I’m worn and tired. The kind of faithfulness that makes time to rest in You but does not turn away those who need You when they come.

Lord, fill me with gentleness – Lord, how I need Your gentleness. Fill me with gentleness rooted in wisdom and empowered by Your Spirit. The gentleness that speaks slowly and listens quickly, that makes room for vulnerability, that creates a home of safety.

Lord, fill me with self-control – In the moments when none of these other fruits come easily. In the moments I want to yell, be sarcastic, or ignore. In the moments I want to forsake the dignity of my children and vent their failings to the internet community – please give me self-control. Teach me to control myself by surrendering completely to Your Spirit.

Let the fruits of Your Spirit be alive in me, that by drawing closer to Your heart my children might do the same.

On revelations, pain, prayer, and hair-raising shivers

I was just about to get Malachi set up for lunch when he walked into the room saying “ouchy.” He was holding the left side of his forehead. I said, “Is your head ouchy, baby? Did you bonk it?” And then he scared me – he started saying “Ouchy, ouchy, OUCHY!” and grabbing at his head. He was in obvious pain. He started screaming and looked at me with panic in his eyes, getting more and more upset. In my gut I knew this was not good. He was in serious pain – it was probably a headache – but why did it come on so fast and so strong? I carried him into his room, shut off the light, and rocked him. He clutched at his eyes and cried. It seemed like a fast-onset migraine but it didn’t feel right, and I was scared.

But then something happened. With a feeling inside me that I’ve never had before, I put my hand on my son’s head and said, “In Jesus’ name, take the pain away. In Jesus’ name, take the pain away. In Jesus’ name, take the pain away.” I’ve never felt like that – it was all authority and faith and helplessness and confidence and eye-of-the-storm calm. And my crying, screaming, panicking boy sat up and stopped crying. I said it again and he slowly opened his eyes. I said it again and he looked at me. I carried him out to the living room and gave him a snack and some juice. About five minutes later he started saying “ouchy” and grabbing at his head again. And again, I walked up to him, laid my hand on his head, and said “In Jesus’ name, take the pain away.” And again, he immediately stopped crying, opened his eyes, and relaxed. And then he said, “Ouchy all gone.”

I don’t really know how to describe what I felt. I’ve prayed for healing and seen answers before, but never quite like this. Never so immediate, and never in response to a command (not just a request). I watched him like a hawk all afternoon and he was absolutely perfectly fine. My hair stood on end every time I relived my prayer for him and the Spirit I felt inside me.

My sophomore year of college I got paired up with a prayer and accountability partner who is still one of my closest friends. My relationship with her that year was one of the most spiritually profound of my life. Every week – every. week. – she and I would each, separately, hear extremely specific and out-of-the-blue things from the Lord to pray for each other. We would write down the day and time and then find out from each other what happened when we met again. Once I started praying as fast and furiously as I could for safety, safety, “Keep her safe, God!” And then about five seconds later my heart-rate slowed and I prayed, “Now give her peace.” When I asked her about it later I found out that she had almost been in a car accident and she had to pull over to calm down afterwards. Once when I was in one of the happiest times of my life I was privately struggling with some major doubt about a specific relationship and that doubt was tearing me apart. No one knew and I was too embarrassed to admit it. It came to a head while I was out of town, I prayed for the millionth time for clarity and peace, but this time – boom – it came. And I had complete and total confidence in the way I should move in the relationship and complete peace that it was the right decision. Beka had prayed in that exact moment that I would see truth. And she had prayed that all week for me until God let her go.

Much to my sorrow, this prayer relationship only lasted that one year. But occasionally we each still feel pushed to pray something very specific. After Malachi’s headache I texted Beka and asked her what she had just prayed for me, and she told me safety and calm.

Well then. If she felt led to pray for safety then maybe the gut-feeling I had that Malachi’s head pain was not a small thing was true. And the calm – Lord knows I needed that.

A couple times that day Malachi talked about what happened again. He would say, “Mommy Jesus ouchy all gone.” And I said, “That’s right, baby boy. Mommy prayed and Jesus made your ouchy go away.” And now almost every time he hurts himself just a little bit he immediately folds his hands and says, “Mommy, Jesus!” because he wants me to pray for him.

God has given me this incredible responsibility and opportunity to guide my children up in the way they should go. With my husband, to shepherd their hearts and lead them to salvation. Is there any greater responsibility in this life? Any greater privilege? It weighs on me and it’s a good weight most of the time. But lately it’s become too heavy and Jesus says His yoke is light. The incredible thing is that now my son associates both healing and comfort with prayer. I know that he will have to face pain. I know that there may be times when he begs God for relief and instead of being met with healing he is given a hand to squeeze through the pain. But in this moment, God chose to heal him. And in this moment, God taught me that my responsibility is not to do His job. It’s to point my son’s attention to the ways God is already working. God will reveal Himself to my son, and that is magnificent to behold.

Mommy, Jesus, ouchy all gone.

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Both

Naomi was having a fussy day today. There are times I try to swallow the mommy-heartbreak that happens when you listen to your child cry so that I can focus on meeting Malachi’s needs. I put Naomi in her swing, give her her baby doll and paci, and then pray she calms down long enough for me to read him a story and put him down for a nap without feeling guilty. There are other times when I meet her needs first because I just have to and see the disappointment on my son’s face. Last week he rediscovered an old story and was so, so excited to read it at nap time. I made a big deal out of it, called him over, and Naomi immediately started crying the kind of cry that just can’t be ignored. I quickly said, “Hang on, buddy, I need to help Nani” (which he understands) and then looked over just in time to see the smile fall from his face and his head dip and I thought, This sucks.

I have good, happy, healthy kids. I can’t imagine what families go through who have a special needs child among their lot. But sometimes it’s hard to choose one need over another. It’s hard to ignore a crying baby who doesn’t understand and it’s surprisingly even harder to make an excited child wait while you rock his sister in his chair during his story time.

But what I love about having two young children is the ways they surprise me. Like yesterday when I tried to get Malachi down for a nap while Naomi fussed in her crib. I tried to just focus on him, focus on reading his story, but he wouldn’t let me.

“Uh-oh. Nani! Uh-oh.” He wouldn’t take his nap until she stopped crying. Today when she skipped a nap and fussed and fussed and fussed and fussed on his own accord he stayed by her side the whole time I did dishes handing her one toy after another after another trying to make her happy.

A few months ago we had the most discouraging doctor’s appointment. Malachi’s iron had dropped again, which was just incredibly disheartening for me. Then I learned that his speech is of concern and I needed to watch his development in that area. Then he had shots. Then Naomi had shots.

I’m not a mom who cries with my kids when they get hurt. Believe me, I cry, but they don’t see it. I try to stay as calm and composed as I can for their sake. But watching my son get his finger pricked to test his iron and then get two separate shots all the while saying, “All done! All done!” is incredibly hard. I hate it. After his shots were over and he was finally calming down a bit the nurse came back in to do Naomi’s shots. And Malachi started crying and panicking as soon as he realized what was happening. “Nani! All done! All done!” and when she lost it, so did he. As a mom, that might have been the most heartwarming and heartbreaking moment I’ve had.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this. I guess just to say that I know there are people out there who think I’m crazy for having my kids so close together (not that close, in my opinion, but ok). There are probably people who would think it’s “unfair” to them both and that I asked for it. But the truth is, they are precious. They love each other tremendously. And although Malachi is very 2 and he sometimes throws toys at Naomi’s head or “helps” her roll over or tries to feed her with the salad spoon I didn’t know he had, the truth is he adores her and he protects her. He worries about her when she cries in the middle of the night and tells me when she drops things and mimics her sounds and laughs when she laughs and excitedly says “Nani!” whenever she wakes up. And of course she practically worships him and will continue to do so for a while, I think and hope and pray.

And there are moments. There are moments when having two tiny people is hard. The hardest is when they are both hurting or both tired or both whatever and I can’t help them both at once. But the best is when they are both cuddling with me, both listening as I read a story, both touching each other’s face, both laughing, or both sleeping in the backseat. They already have their own relationship apart from me. Malachi already takes care of her when he thinks I’m not doing enough. She already looks for him whenever she hears him and tries to crawl toward him when she finds him.

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They are everything I hoped they would be and more.