Monday, May 12, 2014

Just A Mom

Eleven years ago I celebrated my first Mother's Day. Josh gave me pearls. I sported a new, short mom do. I was 22 years old. I was a stay at a home mom. And those were the best of times and the worst of times. I alternated between a crazy love for the new little life my world now revolved around, and a sense of loss for the college program I had left behind, the friends who couldn't relate, and the body that I no longer saw in the mirror. Mostly, I struggled with the idea that I was "just a mom".

I have always been an overachiever. An obnoxious one. I have no idea how I had any friends or anyone could stand to be around me. I wanted to be the best and win all the awards. It took me a long time to realize how much my self-worth was tied up in trophies and recognition and certificates. I needed them to make me feel like I was ok. This realization came to me about the same time as motherhood. Did you know that no one claps for you after a midnight feeding or a diaper change that would bring a grown man to his knees?

Suddenly, I was "just a mom" and it didn't feel very important or special. Lots of people are moms. Anyone can be one. Right?

Of course, eleven years later, I know that's not true. I've learned there's a lot more to the being a mom thing than people think. I've watched people I love struggle with the fact that maybe a baby of their own is not in the plan for them. I've worked with women who have physically given birth, but their maternal instincts are lacking. I've been introduced to children who are desperate for the love, attention and affection of their mother.

And all of those things have caused me to rethink the phrase, "just a mom".  Last night Sarah had her dance recital and it's the first time in several years that I wasn't teaching or working backstage for the studio. The comment was made that I would get to come to the show as "just a mom".  And it thrilled my heart. It was so nice to be able to make last night about her and not have to share my attention with other girls or be in 5 different places. I loved being "just a mom", but it made me think about how that phrase used to fill me with a sense of disappointment in myself.

I thought being "just a mom" meant losing my identity, losing the respect of others, losing my dreams.

You see, it just didn't seem all that important. Until it did. Until I met those kids whose lives were lacking someone to kiss their owies and brush their hair. Until I watched them devour pizza at church on Wednesday night and came to understand that there had been no after school snacks for them. Until they told me it was their birthday, and there were no parties or special dinners planned. Until they were laying on the floor during class, exhausted because no one had provided a bed time or structure in their life.

I am so thankful that in the last 11 years God has made being "just a mom" my heart's desire. I have learned that being a mom has a lot less to do with how many children you bring home from the hospital, and more to do with  how you learn to love the people in your life. It's looking at precious lives and knowing that they cannot have too many people love them. A child cannot be too loved or too taken care of. And things that may seem so routine, so mundane, are so important in the life of a child. There is nothing disappointing in loving, serving and nurturing other people.

Since that first Mother's Day I have gone back to school and worked different jobs, even jobs that I've loved. Despite my initial fears, I am still capable of adult conversation and I have some knowledge of pop culture beyond the Wiggles. :)  I have friends and I have causes that are important to me. But, at the end of the day being "just a mom" has changed me in every way. In the best ways. I realized that I had allowed myself to believe that being a Mom would take things from me. Especially becoming one at such a young age. I believed a lie. Becoming a Mom grew things in me. Things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control. Fruit that grows in the routine, long, sometimes stormy seasons of life. The kind that grows when a person's well-being becomes more important to you than your own.

I wanted to share this for all the Moms who spend their days rocking and feeding and refereeing. For the moms vacuuming and cooking and scrubbing. For the moms wiping noses and bottoms and tears. For the moms running and driving and longing to be many places at one time. For the moms trying to do it all and feeling like it's never all quite done. For the moms who may not even have their own children, but love and care and nurture as if they did. Being "just a mom" is just enough. It's just exactly what your babies need. And sometimes, other people's babies, too.

Monday, May 5, 2014

What's Nice About Nine

It seems almost impossible to believe that this was nine years ago...

Until this day nine years ago, I thought there would only ever be room in my heart for one boy. Joshua Fidler alone had my heart. That is, until the day I met Joshua Eli Fidler. You were eight pounds and 4 ounces of pure sweetness. The most laid back, go with the flow little baby boy and I fell so in love with you. We even went on dates together. Me with my boys.

Now somehow, you are nine. Almost a decade old. You asked me tonight if next year you would be a century old and I clarified it's a decade. Because seriously, the decade thing makes me feel old enough!!

You've grown from my chunky baby boy into an energetic, athletic boy. Overnight you've gone from this....

To this.....

You are still sweet and you still have my heart. You still like to cuddle and have your back scratched and your head rubbed. You are still all boy. But you are a big boy now. You are competitive and a perfectionist and you expect big things from yourself. You're the kid that makes straight A's and hits homeruns and you're basically just totally cool and awesome. You are funny in a witty way, the way that takes people off guard because you can also be very serious. I adore your laugh and even the way you make farting noises with your arm because that's what boys do. 

I love that you always look for me in the stands before you get up to bat. That you still want to tell me about your day. That you are super tight with your sisters and put up with all the fussing they do over you. 

I especially love that you are in a stage where you adore your Daddy. Actually, I can't think of a time you haven't. But I've really seen it this last year. The bond between a boy and his Daddy. You can't get enough of his attention. What he says, about baseball or riding bikes or Jesus is the final word in your book. He is the smartest person on the planet to you and you soak up every minute he spends throwing a ball with you, playing a video game with you or talking about serious stuff with you. It makes me swoon. I pray you are always so close. I pray you always realize how smart and wise your Daddy is. I especially pray that you grow to be the kind of man he is.

But for now, you're nine and life is full of dreams and possibilities and bases to run and games to play. I hope you enjoy every minute of what this year holds for you. Innocence. Fun. Adventure. Learning. Playing. Nine is so nice.

Happy Birthday Eli! 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Be Brave. Do Hard Things.

45 million=The number of times I've asked God if He's sure we're where we should be. If He is sure we are doing what we're supposed to be doing.

Am I the only one who has asked that question? I know people who seem so confident, so self-assured that they are exactly where they should be. The neighborhood they were meant to live in. The career they were born to do. The social circle where they belong. I don't know if it is being in the ministry or just my natural tendency to over analyze every.single.thing, but I often find myself questioning if I'm where I should be.

I mostly ask this question when things feel hard. When life is busy, when crisis occurs, when I feel like the demands of life significantly outweigh my energy level.

You see, over the last, oh, decade of my life, things have changed. Obviously there have been changes in where we've lived, where I've worked, if I've worked, the church where we served, and the number of children on the journey with us. We've added friends. We've lost loved ones. But when I talk about a change, what I'm talking about is a change in mission of our ministry. Mostly, that now we have one. :) I don't know that we necessarily set out with a mission. We just wanted to serve God and His people. Our intentions were good, but our understanding of what that really means, well, that was lacking. Growing up in church it is easy to have the idea that "being in ministry" means shaking people's hands on the way out of church and cooking casseroles for the church suppers. Of course *everybody* loves you because you are the preacher's family. (g)

But here's what we've learned in the time since-there's not a thing easy about it. Not even making the casseroles y'all. Do you know how hard it is to live up to the cooking skills of the older ladies in the church? :) But seriously, as our years in ministry have progressed, so have the trials. Sometimes those trials have been our own. Sometimes they are the trials of those we are ministering to. Sometimes the church itself is in a deep trial. And sometimes two or more of those hit at the same time and it always leads to the same thought: This is hard.

Fight or flight. We've all learned that this is the brain's response in tough situations. Sometimes it happens physically. We physically fight or run away as fast possible. Sometimes it's emotional. Sometimes we shutdown and sometimes we do the hard work to face things in life we'd rather not. And then there are spiritual hard times. Lately I've been thinking a lot about the church as a whole. And it's hard to group an enormous amount of people into a neat little box where everyone fits, so I would never try to do that. But on a day to day basis as I observe life around me, I question if at times we are guilty of taking flight spiritually. I'm not talking about the Rapture here. Before you break out in a chorus of "I'll Fly Away", what I mean is that I think that as life gets hard and the situations in the world get tougher, we are spiritually fleeing.

When we first went into ministry learned a new term: White flight. It referred to the number of neighborhoods and churches that had an increase in diverse populations and the white people were moving out. There. I don't know any PC way to put it. And I may create a firestorm for even talking about it, but it was real and it was happening.

That being said, I feel that we are also guilty of "right flight". Regardless of race or any other factor, we just want to get to the closest group of Christians and live the right way and thank God we are not like "those other people". You know what I'm talking about. People who don't agree with us on every thing. Basically, anybody who is different.

I feel like I need to stop here and clarify that I am not trying to paint Christians with a broad stroke. I absolutely know for a fact that there are many who are ministering and serving and loving on others. I just share this because of my own struggle. My struggle with the fact that it is tempting to huddle up with other Christians and do life our own way and be completely oblivious to the struggle of those around us.

I have to tell you that God has continually put me in places that I can't ignore the struggle. We are blessed with an amazingly loving, caring church family. But it just happens to be located in a community where we have faced some unique ministry challenges. The only word to describe our ministry is "need". So much need. There are always financial needs. Always, Everywhere. Need for physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. Need for sobriety. Those are hard needs. Sometimes impossible ones when it comes to our personal ability or our church's ability to meet them. We can pay a light bill or buy some groceries. We can pray for healing and offer counseling. But some things are just out of our control. And so I understand where churches feel at a loss in how to help some people. But as our ministry has taken us to a more personal place with many of our neighbors, I've realized greater needs. A need for attention and company. A need to be seen and heard. A need to feel just as valued as the most upstanding church member. A need to feel a part of a family. And while those seem like easier needs, they're not.

It's not always easy to provide attention to someone when your own life is already overflowing with responsibilities and activities. It's not always easy to develop relationships with people who take more than they give. It's not always easy to invite people to be a part of your family when you're not sure you can trust them. Are you getting what I'm saying? It's hard.

It's hard to discern when someone will benefit from your time and attention and when it might just enable someone else in a negative way. It's hard when their issues get all up in your business and remind you of your issues. It's hard when people have crisis situations at the most inopportune times. It's hard when God opens your eyes to suffering around you and you realize that you are His plan to be His hands and feet in hard places. It's hard when you rediscover 1 Corinthians 13 (the love chapter) that once seemed romantic, but now reminds you that love is patient. And you begin to understand why that is the first characteristic of love, because some people require SO much patience to love.

I don't share this to point fingers or call anyone out. Every word is written for me because I need it the most. Over the last year I have continually felt the Spirit prompting me to be brave and do hard things. Our natural human tendency is to figure out-how do I make this is as easy as possible? Right? Where do we think microwaves and dishwashers came from? We spend a lot of time trying to make our lives easier. It doesn't come naturally to do the hard things. I think of the saying that firefighters are the only ones who run into a burning building when everyone is running out. Can I be so bold as to say that we as Christians have got to become brave enough to run into the hard places when others run out? I am reminded that God never told us this was going to be easy. Somewhere along the way we've decided that being in God's will equals ease, comfort, and our personal happiness. But in truth we are told,

 "In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

Acts 20:35

As I read that I realize that for me the phrase 'it is more blessed to give than to receive' has always conjured a nice thought of a gift wrapped in a beautiful box and the warm fuzzies you get when you give a good gift. But as I put this in context by including the part before it that says, "I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak" I think of a different kind of giving. The giving of ourselves. Our time. Our attention. Our hearts. Our minds. Giving of everything we have that others would see the love of Jesus in a tangible way, with arms to hug, ears to listen and a mouth to speak words of life. 

As I've been made aware of so many painful, hard things I have continually found myself wanting to not know about them. To question if it is in my best interest to know about such dark things. But knowledge is power, and we cannot meet needs that we are not aware of. We cannot pray for situations we would never dream existed. And we cannot meet people in places we are too afraid to go. The story of The Good Samaritan is a perfect example of what God expects from us. I love these two quotes:

“We instinctively tend to limit for whom we exert ourselves. We do it for people like us, and for people whom we like. Jesus will have none of that. By depicting a Samaritan helping a Jew, Jesus could not have found a more forceful way to say that anyone at all in need - regardless of race, politics, class, and religion - is your neighbour. Not everyone is your brother or sister in faith, but everyone is your neighbour, and you must love your neighbour.” ― Timothy KellerGenerous Justice: How God's Grace Makes Us Just
“On the parable of the Good Samaritan: "I imagine that the first question the priest and Levite asked was: 'If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?' But by the very nature of his concern, the good Samaritan reversed the question: 'If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” ― Martin Luther King Jr.Strength to Love
My human self may always question if I'm where I should be. It will probably always long for an easier path, a more comfy location. I may question if it's a Christian's responsibility to wade into hard places, but I will always know the answer.  1 Thessalonians  1:5:7 tells us that it is was "in the midst of severe suffering" that they received the message of the Gospel. Somebody had to deliver it "in the midst of severe suffering". Someone had to be brave and do hard things.
"You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit."1 Thessalonians 1:5-7