On Being a Mother

No one ever told me how emotionally taxing and exhausting being a mother would be.  Sure, people talked about the sleepless nights, the terrible twos, the “I know everything” teenagers and the process of letting a child grow into adulthood, but no one ever talked to me about the fear, the doubt and/or the gut-wrenching, cut to the bone, overwhelming sense of responsibility that consumes you the second you enter motherhood.

Motherhood is hard.  I’ve been a mom for 2 1/2 years and although my boys bring me more joy than I ever could have imagined, I am consistently overwhelmed by being a mom.

I 100% believe that my feelings of fear, doubt and responsibility are intensified greatly because of the fact that I have spent the better part of my 2 1/2 years as a mother studying and practicing clinical social work, causing me to learn and experience first hand the devastating impact of poor parenting, however I do not believe that I am alone in my feelings.  Every mother I have ever shared my heart with has echoed my fears, doubts and sense of responsibility in some way or another.

So, in the spirit of honesty and sharing my heart in an attempt to normalize motherhood, here are the things that make me feel fearful, doubtful and overwhelmed with responsibility:

  • I fear that my children will get hurt.
  • I fear that I won’t be able to comfort them when they do get hurt.
  • I fear that I won’t be a good mother.
  • I doubt that I have it in me to be the “good enough” mother that is required for a child to adapt.
  • I fear that my children won’t grow up to know, love and follow hard after Jesus.
  • I doubt that I have the ability to be a Godly example of a woman who knows, loves and follows hard after Jesus.
  • I feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of raising children to know, love and follow hard after Jesus.
  • I fear that I have misused, will misuse and constantly underestimate the period of time in which children learn and form appropriate attachment styles.
  • I doubt that I have done or will do everything I need to do in order to ensure the mental health and proper attachment styles of my children.
  • I am overwhelmed by the responsibility of ensuring proper and “good” mental health for my children.
  • I fear that I won’t want to hang out with my kids when they are teenagers.
  • I doubt my children will want to hang out with me when they are teenagers, which breaks my heart, because I know a family in which this isn’t the case and I want it so badly.
  • I feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of raising Godly, productive, strong, genuine, patient, kind and selfless members of society.
  • I am overwhelmed by the responsibility of teaching my children that they are unique and special but that those qualities do not entitle them to anything and that selfishness, entitlement and greed are ugly, ugly characteristics to display.
  • I fear that I will not know how to let go and allow my children to become independent adults and therefore I will not be able to have healthy, lasting, adult relationships with my children.
  • I feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of raising children to value and cherish purity of heart, mind and body, especially knowing how little I have cherished these things throughout my life.
  • I fear that I will be a judgmental, outspoken, mean-spirited, meddlesome mother-in-law (because I am all of those things as a person, wife, mother and friend) and that my relationships with my children-in-laws will be tense and stricken with mistrust and obligations.
  • I fear being the mother of a girl.
  • I doubt I know how to mother a girl.
  • I fear I won’t be able to parent differently in the areas I want to change and parent the same in the uncountable ways in which my parents did a phenomenal job.
  • I am overwhelmed by the responsibility of “breaking the cycle” regarding so many personal and family unhealthy habits.
  • I doubt I know how to raise physically healthy, active and confident children.
  • I fear that my baggage will become my children’s baggage.
  • I am overwhelmed by the responsibility of being the first representation of Christ’s love to my children.

Truthfully, I could keep listing my fears, doubts and overwhelming feelings of responsibility but for my own mental health, I have to stop.  Because, you know what?  These are tools of the enemy.  Feeling these things is natural.  Using them as motivation to draw nearer to my Maker and to being the mom that He created me to be (flaws and all) is helpful.  But dwelling on them and allowing them to consume and paralyze me (as I often do) is exactly what the enemy wants.  He comes to “steal, kill and destroy” and every second I dwell on these fears, doubts and overwhelming feelings of responsibility, he is destroying me as a woman, wife, mother and most importantly, child of God.  I refuse to allow the enemy to steal the joy that comes from being mother, to kill my ability to mother with love, patience and confidence or to destroy my relationships with my children because of it!  When I dwell on these things, I allow the enemy to win and do not allow myself the grace required to be the best mother that I can be.

I tried to write this blog about 4 1/2 months ago, right after Noah was born.  I was experiencing postpartum depression and the enemy was winning.  I had no perspective and couldn’t get through the first paragraph without becoming paralyzed by my fear, sobbing and doubt.  I decided to wait until I wasn’t so hormonal, sad and tired.  Sometimes, that is how motherhood goes.

So here’s to you mommy friends who feel intense fear, agonizing doubt and an overwhelming sense of responsibility.  You are not alone!  There is hope and it is found in the peace of Christ.  It is found in His love, strength, grace, forgiveness and gentle embrace.  It is found in the mother He created and equips you to be.

And take heart, mommy friends who are paralyzed.  Know that the enemy has been overcome by one who is greater and can be overcome in you.  Get out of bed every morning prepared for battle.  “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Guard your heart and do not allow yourself to compare.  Pray endlessly and rest in His assurance that even if/when you do fail, His grace has covered you.

This motherhood thing is a wild ride; harder and more emotionally exhausting that words can say, but you are not alone.  I am not alone.  You, my friend, just like me, must trust in the mother God has created you to be!

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I Lied

Have you ever had a conversation with someone and when you leave it, you think, “I MUST remember all of what was said because that was HUGE and some day it will be VERY important!”?  I remember every detail of conversations like that and as I continue to move through adulthood, with my own life, my own family, my own etc., those conversations often flood the forefront of my mind because now is when they are important to me.

A couple of weeks ago, I sat at the dinner table with my family of four and faintly mentioned something about body image.  The beautiful, inquisitive 13 year old who sits across the table from me every evening asked a question and I lied.  I lied because of the VERY important conversation that had been tucked away in my heart for so many years.

One of my mentors told me once that she makes certain to positively comment on her body when he daughter is around.  She explained that she did not want to pass down a legacy of negative body image, but rather of health and positivity.  She said that even if she isn’t feeling great about herself, she will purposefully force herself to compliment herself, out loud, in earshot of her sweet, precious daughter.  She told me of one time that she was getting ready and happened to be in her under garments when her daughter walked in the room.  She had no less than twenty seconds ago, picked apart her body while looking in the mirror, but now, with her daughter in the room, walked to the mirror and out loud praised God for perfectly piecing her body together.

This conversation, I remember, made me fight tears the whole way through it.  I remember thinking, “I want to do the same for my daughter some day!  I want to do the same for the girls who are in my life intimately!”  The legacy that has been passed down to me is a legacy of weight loss and dieting and therefore an inherent displeasure with my body and weight.  Without meaning to, the women in my family spend a lot of time focusing on weight and we have passed that down from generation to generation.  I see it in my grandmother, my mother/aunts and now in the generation of women of which I am a part.  This is NOT the legacy I want to pass down to the next generation.

So, when the 13 year old asked her question, I lied.

I said something like, “I like my body.  I am not worried about what other people think.  I try to be healthy and try to make sure that my husband is pleased with my body, but I don’t let either of those things define me.  God gave me everything I’ve got; He made me knowing that this would be me and I’m happy with that.”

After I said it, there was a weird feeling that rushed over me.  I wanted all of the things that I had just said to be true, but in my heart, I knew they weren’t.  I struggle with body image just as much, if not more than most women.  I am not pleased with every inch of my body (mainly because I feel there are too many inches around and too few inches lenghtwise, lol) and if I had all of the money in the world, I probably would waste a large chunk of it altering things about my body.  I want to be taller, thinner, prettier, …ier.

None of what I said to the impressionable girl across the table was fully true, however, I knew it was my opportunity to change the cycle of such a negative legacy.

(I have recently had the incomparable honor and opportunity of “junior editing” Shannon Ethridge‘s new book and I HIGHLY suggest that when it comes out, every person reads it because there is a section on body image that has the most amazing story of changing negative body image legacies.  I wish I could share it with you right now, but it is my joy and honor to point you towards Shannon’s book for now.)

I guess the question I have to ask myself, though, is one of morality.  We teach the 13 year old that lying is not okay.  She is often grounded or on restriction from some privilege because she hasn’t been entirely truthful.  In our home, we tell her, there is no circumstance when lying is acceptable.  Yet, I lied.  I broke our own rule.  I had good reason, but I still lied.  Was I wrong?

There is the whole idea of “fake it until you make it” and I think that was my intent when I told the lie.  I want what I said to be true and I suppose that if I speak it often enough, it will be true (out of the heart, the mouth speaks?), but I feel like such a faker in the meantime.  I desperately want to leave a legacy of contentment, pleasure and gratefulness when it comes to body image to the girls I have the privilege of encountering, but do I have to lie to do it?

My prayer is that it won’t be a lie forever.  I pray that I am able to love what God has created and that I am able to some day speak the truth when I attempt to pass down a legacy of health and appreciation.  My prayer is also that I am not alone in this.  How devastating it would be to work so hard to pass on a beautiful gift of loving our bodies only to have the world/other women contradict what I am trying to do.  I don’t want my daughter(s) to leave me only to find out that the world won’t accept her for who she is, no matter what she looks like.  I want my daughter(s) to be confident in who they are and to surround themselves with women who feel the same way; women who will also pass on a legacy of positive body image.  I can’t do this alone.  None of us can.

Barlow Girl- Mirror

Mirror, Mirror on the wall, Have I got it?
‘Cause Mirror you’ve always told me who I am
I’m finding it’s not easy to be perfect
So sorry you won’t define me
Sorry you don’t own me

Who are you to tell me
That I’m less than what I should be?
Who are you? Who are you?
I don’t need to listen
To the list of things I should do
I won’t try, I won’t try

Mirror I am seeing a new reflection
I’m looking into the eyes
of He who made me
And to Him I have beauty beyond compare
I know He defines me (Yeah)

Who are you tell me
that I’m less than what I should be
Who are you?
Who are you? (Yeah)
I don’t need to listen
To the list of things I should do
I won’t try, no, I won’t try

You don’t define me (You don’t define me)

Who are you to tell me
That I’m less than what I should be
Who are you?
Who are you?
Yeah!
I don’t need to listen
To the list of things I should do
I won’t try, no, I won’t try
Yeah

Who are you to tell me
That I’m less than what I should be
Who are you?
Who are you?
Yeah
I don’t need to listen
To the list of things I should do
I won’t try, no, I won’t try

Waiting

I am not a very patient person.  Just today my husband told me, “I think I figured out what we are going to do for our anniversary… but I can’t tell you.”  Instead of expressing my joy that he has taken it upon himself to plan something for our anniversary, I responded with, “I hate when you do that!  You can’t do that to me!  That isn’t fair!” and walked off in a huff.  The idea of knowing that there is a plan but not knowing any part of the plan drives me crazy; especially when I know that someone else knows the plan.  I don’t like feeling out of control.  I don’t like not knowing.

It feels as if the theme of my life revolves around my desire to be in control.  I am constantly trying to plan and prepare and God is constantly trying to get me to trust Him.  I think it is because of this constant tension, this never ending tug of war that I play with God, that I have spent the majority of the last six years in major times of transition.  It is difficult to be in control when you are transitioning into the unknown and that is exactly where I find myself more often than not.

I’m currently in the midst of transitioning into the unknown.  My husband is out of work.  I am almost halfway finished with my master’s program.  The house that we rent is up for sale.  We thought we were going to head toward a big city for more opportunities for my career and then a career opportunity here in our small town where we could be without a home with just 30 days notice at any moment presented itself to my husband.  We have no idea where we are going.  Before we had a child, we would laugh about these periods of transition and make silly hand movements while saying “adventure!” in weird cartoon like voices.  We never liked the times of transition, but we were able to find the positive side to them.  We haven’t said “adventure!” one single time in this period of transition.  I think we both feel the burden of providing for another human being and it is keeping us far less lighthearted about it.

Transitions into the unknown are tough.  They are painful and sometimes leave nicks and bruises and even scars.  These transitions test my patience and force me to rely on my God who I know is faithful because I have experienced His faithfulness so many times, especially while transitioning into the unknown.  For example, I remember moving out of an apartment I had picked out because Gavin and I were planning on getting pregnant.  We were moving out of the apartment, not pregnant and with no place to call home next.  It felt like my dreams were dying and I had no say over it.  And then, when I did get pregnant unexpectedly, God moved us to where we are now, which happens to be the place of my junior high dreams (for real) and we live in a house double the size of that dinky apartment and pay half the rent.  He knew what was best and my plans were so inadequate.  He provided.  He was faithful, even when I was faithless.

So, while I continue to transition into the unknown, I will wait.  I will wait with a heart of faith and gratitude.  I am thankful that I learn from my mistakes.  Just the other day, I started to worry and was allowing the anger to build in my heart about why we are going through this same thing again and then a wave of gratitude came over me.  Through tears, I was able to verbalize several things that came from this rubble both prior to and after it being rubble.  In junior high I wrote in my diary that I wanted to live somewhere green, where it rains a lot, is cold and near the beach.  I literally live in the place of my dreams right now.  Thankfulness.  I have made friends and experienced community deeper than anything I could have imagined, yet exactly what my heart was longing for.  Thankfulness.  I have had the opportunity to have a young girl in my home, which is exactly what I thought I wanted to do with my life when I started college.  Thankfulness.  My husband and I have grown and continue to grow into each other, into truly becoming one flesh.  Thankfulness.  There were several other things on the list, but you get the point.  While I wait, I will choose to be thankful.  I will choose the be faithful.  To listen and to follow His leading.  I will choose to continue to serve my God who is so faithful and loving.  I will continue to worship my God who provides all things and romances me with His trustworthiness.

And here is to you, my friends who are also transitioning into the unknown.  May you also know God’s faithfulness, yet experience it in new and exciting ways.  May you hold tight to the knowledge that your plans are inadequate and infinitesimal compared to His.  May you learn from your mistakes and walk through the fire with a heart of gratitude.

While I’m Waiting- John Waller

I’m waiting
I’m waiting on You, Lord
And I am hopeful
I’m waiting on You, Lord
Though it is painful
But patiently, I will wait

I will move ahead, bold and confident
Taking every step in obedience
While I’m waiting
I will serve You
While I’m waiting
I will worship
While I’m waiting
I will not faint
I’ll be running the race
Even while I wait

I’m waiting
I’m waiting on You, Lord
And I am peaceful
I’m waiting on You, Lord
Though it’s not easy
But faithfully, I will wait
Yes, I will wait
I will serve You while I’m waiting
I will worship while I’m waiting
I will serve You while I’m waiting
I will worship while I’m waiting
I will serve you while I’m waiting
I will worship while I’m waiting on You, Lord

That Bridal Glow

I am all for individuality.  In fact, I embrace it.  I want it for myself and I want it for others.  However, some expressions of individuality leave my heart heavy.

As I have mentioned before, I spent the large majority of my formative years believing that there had been a mistake and that I was supposed to be a boy.  Now in my mid twenties, I can see how outlandish that fear was because the only thing that really made me feel like a boy was that I had the sex drive and thought life of my fellow teenaged boys.  Yes, I also felt that I had the body of a boy, but that was the lie that insecurity fed me.  After all, how many young men do you know who started wearing a bra at the age of eight?  I did NOT have to body of a boy.  Regardless, during these years of insecurity, one thing remained true; I was a girl!

I remember looking in the mirror after having my hair and make up done and getting my dress on for my first winter formal.  I was shocked.  I had never felt that I looked so pretty in my entire life.  I even cried a little.  For someone who swore up and down that she was supposed to be a boy, there was something absolutely breathtaking about my done up self.  I think, for the first time, I saw myself as beautiful.  It was as if all of this longing that had innately been in my heart to be beautiful was finally fulfilled; I knew that I was beautiful.

Beauty and desire, for women, go hand in hand I think.  Whether it is our desire to be found beautiful or our desire for something beautiful, I think we would be hard pressed to separate the two.  As a woman, I want to be found beautiful.  I’m not talking about being lusted after, I’m talking about someone knowing me so intimately that I am the most beautiful person in the world to them inside and out.  I did a quick poll on facebook and on a scale from one to ten, the average answer in response to how great of a need they have to be found beautiful was 8.2.  That is a pretty strong desire expressed and I would probably put my personal desire slightly higher than the average.  I want to know that I am beautiful and I think part of that is being able to express my beauty in a way that accentuates it.  I don’t want to quench my beauty.

Every year starting about a month before our anniversary, I start telling my husband that I think we should celebrate our anniversary by having another wedding.  In fact, I think we should have a wedding every year.  It took me a while to figure out why I always want to have another wedding but when I did, the answer was as clear as day to me; I want to feel beautiful and wanted.

My wedding day, although it wasn’t an extravagant wedding, was the perfect fairy tale.  Every ounce of my need to feel desired and beautiful was fulfilled on that day.  I was wearing the most beautiful and expensive dress I’d ever worn.  My make up and hair were done just right.  I felt good about myself.  I felt beautiful.  And then, I walked down the isle to a man who could not take his eyes off of me and promised to spend the rest of his life with me.  Talk about feeling desired.  Someone pledging to spend their life with you… the good you, the bad you, the pretty you, the ugly you… now that is being desired.  To top it off, my husband had done this before.  He had promised his life to someone else.  She left.  She broke her promise.  And lucky for me, I ended up with a man who knew better than most grooms what it really meant to say “forever” to someone.  I felt even more beautiful and desired because he was willing to risk that heartbreak again, FOR ME!  Why wouldn’t I want to recreate that feeling as often as I can?

There is a MercyMe song on the radio that got me thinking a while back.  It is called Beautiful.  Have a listen.

Days will come when you don’t have the strength
And all you hear is you’re not worth anything
Wondering if you ever could be loved
And if they truly saw your heart
They’d see too much

You’re beautiful, You’re beautiful
You are made for so much more than all of this
You’re beautiful, You’re beautiful
You are treasured, you are sacred, you are His
You’re beautiful

Praying that you have the heart to fight
‘Cause you are more than what is hurting you tonight
For all the lies you’ve held inside so long
But they are nothing in the shadow of the cross

You’re beautiful, You’re beautiful
You are made for so much more than all of this
You’re beautiful, You’re beautiful
You are treasured, you are sacred, you are His
You’re beautiful

Before you ever took a breath
Long before the world began
Of all the wonders He possessed
There was one more precious
Of all the earth and skies above
You’re the one He madly loves
Enough to die!

You’re beautiful, You’re beautiful
In His eyes

You’re beautiful!
You are made for so much more than all of this
You’re beautiful!
You are treasured, you are sacred, you are His
You’re beautiful! You’re beautiful!
You are made for so much more than all of this
You’re beautiful! You’re beautiful!
You are treasured
You are sacred
You are His

I have to admit, at least the first fifty that times I heard this song, it meant nothing to me… mainly because I am a dumb blonde.  I thought that the lyrics said, “You are treasured, you are sacred, you are big…”  (I know, I know.)  It wasn’t until I finally heard the lyrics correctly that this song really impacted my heart.  I was driving to the beach with my husband and my baby boy and all of a sudden I heard, “you are His.”  I laughed at myself at first but then I got goosebumps.  It took me right back to my wedding day when I finally knew what it was like to be his.

As a woman, I can inherently relate to the idea of being the bride of Christ better than a man can.  Whether you have experienced being a bride or not, we women know what it feels like to know that you are treasured, sacred and his.  It doesn’t matter if we have ever felt these things before, we were created with a desire for them and therefore know them.  Our heart rate speeds up at even the thought of being loved so intimately and being able to be called his.  I know that when we first started dating, my husband would say, “your my girl” and I loved it.  He wasn’t saying it in a possessive manner, rather he was speaking to my need to be wanted and set aside for only one person.

Shortly after realizing just how amazingly perfect this song was, I spent some time discussing with my mother in law the idea of being a woman.  We talked about how true it is that women want to feel special, pretty and desired and then we talked about what happens when something  smothers or suppresses our God given desire to accentuate our beauty.  Different women do this in different ways, but I believe that all women accentuate their beauty in some way shape or form.

I think that although accentuating our beauty can be done in many ways, there are two categories in which all ways fall: outward and inward.  While, in my opinion, the Christian world has had good intentions, I believe that we have stifled our young girls’ need and ability to express their beauty outwardly.  I also know that there are a lot of girls and women who have been abused in some way and have stifled their own ability to express beauty on the outside as a defense mechanism.  We have taught our girls and ourselves that our bodies are sinful and that there is something to be ashamed of, which is so incredibly untrue.

Please, do not misunderstand me.  I am NOT advocating for a lack of modesty.  I believe modesty is so special and important.  However, I am advocating for teaching ourselves and our young girls to express outward beauty.  Dress up a little.  Put on some make up.  Shave your legs and put on some heels.  Do what makes you feel beautiful.  We have to have faith in our own beauty to be found beautiful.  Granted, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and inward beauty typically enhances outward beauty, but there has to be some kind of balance.  My heart aches for those who are ashamed of their beauty.  I know, personally, a couple of women who hide their outward beauty in every way possibly and it makes me sad.  We have the freedom to express outward beauty, I promise!

(Check out Shannon Ethridge’s “Hot Tip” [which is for married women] that completely echoes my point)

Buy What Makes You Feel Sexy!

I was in Target this summer, frantically shopping for everything I needed for my 3-week New Zealand tour. Topping the list — a pair of flats to travel in (translation: shoes comfortable enough to sprint through airports in, as I so often find myself doing!).

I was in the shoe department, when my eyes glanced across a pair of wedge sandals that made my heart skip a beat! Now, I’m not a huge “shoe girl.” I don’t have a different pair of shoes for every outfit, nor do I care to. I like to keep my wardrobe as simple and practical as possible. Yet, there I was, salivating over a pair of shoes that I had NO idea what I could possibly wear them with!

I couldn’t resist the temptation… I slipped off my flip flops, and slid on the wedges… and no lie, I suddenly felt like Heidi Klum, strutting around that shoe department in denim shorts and wedge sandals! I liked the feeling so much that I wore them right on home. Only $14, yet I felt like a million bucks.

And because I felt like a million bucks in those shorts & shoes, seducing my husband when I got home seemed like the natural thing to do. Had I come home in those ratty flip flops, quite frankly, I’m not sure I would have felt such an urge.

And that is when I knew I’d have to do a Hot Tip about simply splurging and buying a little something for yourself that makes you FEEL like more of a Sexually Confident Wife than you really are! Dress the part, and fulfilling the role doesn’t seem like such a stretch.

Funny little side note… I took my son to register for college classes shortly thereafter… and I was wearing those wedge sandals as we walked across the parking lot. We like to raz each other a lot, so I jokingly inquired, “Hey, Matthew, do I look like Heidi Klum in these shoes?”

**crickets **

(even a 16-year old boy knows when to keep his mouth shut)

Then I added, “Or do I look like a frumpy mom who’s trying to look like Heidi Klum?”

That brought hysterical laughter. From both of us. Turns out, he couldn’t have agreed more… with the latter statement, not the former, of course.

But ask my husband what HE thinks when I sport my new sandals, and you won’t hear any crickets chirping. You’ll hear a happy man giving you the same advice – WIVES, BUY WHAT MAKES YOU FEEL SEXY!

http://www.shannonethridge.com/email/1108.html

Ladies, when is the last time you looked in the mirror and cried a little because you finally felt that you looked beautiful?  When is the last time you knew that you were treasured, sacred and His?  These are important things to know and feel.  God created you with a desire to be fulfilled, first and foremost by Him and He can do it.  So, my dearhearts, here is to embracing your beauty inside and out.  Don’t let your desire to be an individual, your past abuse or some absurd belief that it is wrong keep your from showing us just how beautiful you are.  Here is to knowing that you are loved and desired.  Be careful to not quench your beauty (inside or out) and hey… live a little.  Put on something that makes you feel good and strut your stuff (even if it is only in front of the mirror).  You are beautiful!