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When You Feel Like You’re Alone

When You Feel Like You’re Alone

You know that first appointment, when you’re almost sure  you’re pregnant, when you say this to the doctor and they test you and show you that yes, you are in fact pregnant. They let you listen to the heartbeat (it can’t be your heartbeat because it’s coming from your belly) and they show you a little peanut on a tiny screen (that’s not a peanut!)

At my very first “I think I’m pregnant” appointment, I was already nervous. I knew pregnancy was a possibility because my husband and I had stopped preventing it a few months earlier. Still, I was thrown into it. “How exciting!” people would say to me, but I didn’t understand. “I’m supposed to be excited?”

I was told I was eight weeks along. You’ve got to be kidding, I thought. There’s been a baby inside me for two months?

Well thankfully the initial shock wore off and I was pretty even-tempered until right after our co-ed baby shower, when our dining room was suddenly taken over by millions of bags and boxes filled with soft, plush, pastel-colored things. People are so generous. We are truly blessed to have received so much support.

But my husband had to leave in the middle of our baby shower for an out-of-state funeral, so I was left alone with all our new stuff and no baby yet to make it useful. My mom and my sister were visiting and were so helpful, but I still suddenly felt like shutting all the curtains and shouting, “OMG!” like I was so overwhelmed I couldn’t even get all my words out. Does every first-time mother feel like this? I mean, it’s scary right?

Carrying life? Are we allowed to do that?

Then this came the next day, spoken at church where all the best things are: “I will never leave you or forsake you says the Lord almighty.” It’s in Deuteronomy 31:6, Joshua 1:5, and Hebrews 13:5. That’s how you know it’s serious.

I will never leave you

I thought, “Oh yeah! I’m never alone. God will never leave me. He will never forsake me. Not ever! Not even while I’m alone in my house with a bunch of new baby things reminding me that I’m going to have a baby soon and I have no clue how to care for it.”

I went home and painted this and hung it in the nursery:

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I love to paint but I am not very good at it. Still, this is the most treasured thing in my boys’ room; though they never ask me about it and only seem to notice it when they knock it off the wall and have to ask me to hang it back up. But it stays there, a reminder that God is always and forever. He will never leave.

Now, I’m five years into motherhood. It seems like I’ve been a mom forever. Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be. As mothers, we are with our children more than we’re not. We think about them every moment of every day. After five years of that, we feel like it’s been forever because we can’t remember another life.

After five years, we’ve lost count of all the diapers, all the tears, all the nights of interrupted sleep. We might sometimes get frazzled. We might sometimes lose our minds. We might forget about those words in Deuteronomy, Joshua, and Hebrews.

I know I do.

I realized the other day that I am a way better mom when my husband is home. I don’t react so quickly. I don’t get so frustrated or emotional. He carries the weight with me. He always does, even when he’s not at home, but something happens every time he leaves. When I’m the only one around, I feel alone. I feel like I’ve been left, like I have to carry all three children on my back while dragging buckets of water in case one of them (or more likely, I) gets thirsty.

But I am not alone. And the necessary fluctuation of my husband’s presence shouldn’t affect my ability to mother. My husband is only a man. He is a good man, the best man, more than I could have asked for or imagined in a husband. But he is still just a man, and he cannot be present at every moment.

You know who can?

God. The Almighty Lord. The Best Father. He is my designer and my creator and the designer and creator of my children, and he is always available. He will never leave me or forsake me.

When my husband and I drove our very first newborn home from the hospital, we were beyond nervous. We had pretty much settled the fact that we were parents. But then we were driving our baby around on busy, icy highways. What!?? We decided right there in our little VW Golf, to say, “God, this is your kid. Thank you for giving him to us. Now, we give him back to you. We dedicate him to you because we can’t possibly know how to raise him. We can’t possibly know what he needs, without your help.”

God is our author and our children’s author, the author of creation itself. So even today, when our minds turn frazzled and all we want to do is scream (and sometimes we do, then we regret it), let us remember that we are not doing this alone, and it’s our own fault if we feel like we are.

Because God never leaves.

Let’s look for Him. I bet, once we open our eyes, we’ll see that He’s right there and He has all the answers. I bet He even has all the buckets of water we could ever need. So I can probably put those down and free up my arms for loving.

A Note on Creativity and Motherhood

A Note on Creativity and Motherhood

When people find out I’m a writer, they often say to me, “Wow! I could never do that.”

To me, writing is normal. It’s how I think. It’s often the only way I think. (And I’m sure that, if you’re not a writer, I would say I could never do whatever it is that you do. That’s because all people are supposed to be different. I know that’s an astounding revelation. Honestly, though, I think sometimes we just need to be reminded of basic human truths.)

I understand why writing is intimidating to so many people. Writing is a messy feat. Without a passion for it, it would be treacherous. Like all creative acts, it’s a series of tries, and it’s only in this messy, trying journey that we discover what is best and what is accurate. Writing is not just about writing a bunch of words, but rewriting and editing, until you have finally, actually, miraculously said exactly what you need to say in the exact way that it needs to be said. Anyone who has ever worked on their words knows that to write is to witness miracles.

Writing is frustrating because you can’t plan it. You just have to take your first few words, your first vision, your first inkling at a character or a plot, and you have to mess with it until you find it wholly.

Writing is like motherhood in that way. (And how many times did I say as a very young woman that I could never be a mother?)

When we’re pregnant, we have a tiny vision of what our child will be. Then one day we meet a baby who can’t do anything but express basic bodily functions. Yet these newborns possess power. They provoke us to heights of emotion we never knew existed. When we give birth, we aren’t simply bringing another person into the world, we are creating more life within ourselves. When we meet our new babies, we realize that we had no clue what was in our belly all those months. It wasn’t just a baby, but life itself.

It wasn't just a baby, but life itself

 

As our children grow, and as we spend time nurturing them and training them, we realize that the fetus (the ultrasound), the newborn, the toddler are each only a clue to the person that is emerging.

kids jumping

 

Parenting, like writing, is not only messy, but requires consistency. And I’m not talking about consistency in discipline or schedules. (Though I know consistency in these areas are important… but I am also apparently incapable of consistency in those areas. Stay tuned for another post about that.) I’m talking about consistency in being.

Parenting requires that we continue to be a parent. As we continue to show up, to hug, to kiss, to play, to correct, we find that this is what parenting is mostly about. We cannot control our children, but as we continue to be parents, we will figure out the details. Parenting requires that our love remain a consistent factor in our relationships with our children. And if your love has taken a visible break, you’ll know it. You’ll probably feel nervous or angry or just out of sorts. Like you need a hug. It’s okay. It happens to the best of us. We get so turned around in this world sometimes. Just come back. Just give your kid a hug. And keep doing it. Be available. And continue being available. That’s called consistency.

So often as writers, and as mothers (and as people) we don’t start something because we are scared of being rejected or we’re unsure what will happen.

I was recently talking with a friend about a project she hadn’t started yet. I told her a lot of things, but one thing I said was, “Start somewhere. Start now.”

And I’m taking that advice for myself because I struggle with the enormity of a life made from small decisions. I struggle with questions like, “What are we going to eat for breakfast” and “Can we play a video game?” and “What happens next in my novel?”

But we all need to lay these kinds of struggles aside. We know that if we are to go on with our morning, we are going to have to eat something. We know that my son will have to be answered, and no matter what the answer is he’ll probably have a tantrum. I know that if I’m going to ever finish writing a novel, I’m just going to have to think of something to happen next, and if it sucks it’s okay. I’ll just scratch out those words and write some other words. But I have to start somewhere. And I should just start now.

So mom, creative being, friend, wife, woman, what do you want to do with your life? What thing is piercing you in the gut right now?

Do you want to write? Get some paper. Get a pen. Do you want to ride horses? Sign up for lessons! Do you want to teach your kids to bake? Open your cupboard and get out the ingredients for cookies. Do you want to learn to paint? Buy a canvas. And don’t just stare at the white nothingness. Close your eyes and figure out what you see. Not what your neighbor sees. Not what I see. Figure out what you see. Then dip your brush in some paint and get on with it.

Go ahead and paint a line on your cheek, too because you can’t stop the mess anyway.

Start somewhere, friend. Start now.

 

On a Lightly Floured Surface: Relief on the Journey of Motherhood

On a Lightly Floured Surface: Relief on the Journey of Motherhood

When I was pregnant with my first son, I had a lot of mixed emotions, a lot of jumbled up thoughts. It’s okay though. I’m pretty sure that’s normal. Having a life of one’s own provokes a lot of emotion, so it makes sense that having a second life forming in one’s belly would provoke a lot more thought and emotion, right?

I’m the baby of my family, six and a half years behind my closest sibling, and until my cousin started having babies when I was 12, I was the youngest of my entire, extended family. I was never around babies. Not ever. Most of my friends loved babies. They babysat, they volunteered to work in the nursery at their churches, they even took the “early childhood education” class at our high school (a class which might have been created out of a need to provide childcare for all of the teen moms that we had as classmates). But babies really kind of scared me.

I thought little kids were pretty cute, but to be left alone with one? Terror. My husband and I never really decided to have kids. We just decided to stop preventing it. We had a mutual dislike for all forms of birth control and a recognition that children enrich lives. I still believe they do, but in a way that I never would have imagined. It’s in a repetitive, yet somehow surprising, never-stopping, never sitting down, always go-go-go, kind of way that makes you peer inside your own heart and figure out why the constant jumping around and throwing of tantrums bothers you so much. (The answer, I think has something to do with the fact that I have a bunch of emotions and desires that I have not yet laid aside for the greater good of my children’s lives.)

In our case, removing birth control meant that I was pregnant within just a few months. I was somewhat thrust into motherhood, with few ideas of what it would really be like. I found that, when you’re pregnant, most people will tell you about their pregnancies, yet no one knows what it’s like to be you or to have your children or your spouse.

There is a piece of motherhood that is solitary. I wrote a lot about my thoughts on child-rearing, including a list called “Advice to Future Me” where I said, “My belly is like bread and now it is rising.”

It’s true. Bread-making and pregnancy are similar. In both, there is a growing specimen that forms itself and produces unseen things to make its boundaries expand, to make itself rise. When I was pregnant with my first son, I hadn’t made much bread. I think basic white and multi grain are all that I had tackled. Now, after three children and nine years of marriage, I have made bread with carrots cooked inside, with marjoram and chives. I’ve made baguettes, brioche, hamburger buns, hearty oatmeal bread, bagels, soft pretzels, focaccia, ciabatta, pita, and all kinds of pizza dough. Now I mostly make sourdough bread, from a starter that I created with only flour and water.

Two ingredients. Like my children were created from only my husband and me. But it’s not just ingredients that make. There are directions to follow. There is stirring and kneading to do. There is a feeling to knowing when the bread is right. There is waiting to be done, waiting until just the right moment when the oven is hot and the bread has been shaped, and it has risen again. There is an art to making bread, but there is also a chemistry. In my opinion, you have to have the desire for artistry first.

Today I am making brioche for our Saturday night hamburger dinner. This is actually the first time I’ve made brioche (though I did add it to my repertoire above), and it hit me, the line that almost every bread recipe gives: on a lightly floured surface…. 

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On a surface that has been sprinkled with a little extra of that one main ingredient. A surface that has been sprinkled with flour ensures that the bread does not stick to the surface as you form it. A surface that has been sprinkled with flour eases the transition from rising to proofing, from bowl to pan.

Aren’t you thankful that, even though parenting is hard work, we can lay down our parenting fears and trials, all our insecurities and hardships, on a surface lightly floured with wisdom from ages of mothers and fathers who have gone before us, a surface lightly floured with the knowledge that motherhood has been around for centuries, that babies have lived in dirt piles and grassy fields, without television and the internet, without air conditioning, without frozen meals, without Tulas and Ergos.

As we lay our parenting down on a surface lightly floured, our transitions become easier. While we are discovering our true form, we will remain intact.