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Publisher Thomas Nelson
eBook Kindle Edition
Ideals and Going Under
I had it all figured out; my life, you know. I was excited to be a mom, a hands-on mom, a fun, good mom. I was going to teach and train my babes, spend days enjoying their laughter and curious little minds. We'd bake cookies together, read all day when it rained, play for hours, do crafts, and dance every morning. Oh yes, I knew how it was going to be because I was going to create that picture. The vision was fixed in my mind and my heart, the vision of the woman, wife, and mama I was going to be. The woman who occupied my mind was lipstick and familiar perfume, pancakes and smiles, singing and a gentle voice.
She was up early preparing for the day, all dressed, hair done, cute shoes on. She was kind. And she always had her quiet time as the sun rose, breaking the dark into light ... she was light. Good, nearly perfect. Oh yes, I would be this woman, the woman that my children needed.
This woman, this idealized '50s cliché of perceived security and togetherness, was what I clung to. This vision of the lipstick pancake mama somehow warmed my heart and made me long for what I never had. My mom was the opposite of my dream. She was cigarettes and oatmeal at the babysitter's, alcohol and cutting words, inappropriate and lost. She was a woman who succumbed to the only way she knew how to make it through this hard life. She chose alcohol to get her through, so that is the smell I remember when I think of her. She wasn't bad; she was wounded. Her own pain came out in sarcastic, unnurturing, unsympathetic, unmotherly ways. Because of all the wounds she instilled in me, I threw out all the good that came with her, all the fun and free-spiritedness. She was everything I was not going to be, I vowed it. I loved her; I just didn't want to be her.
I was determined to be the "good" mom, the straight arrow, responsible and loving, always mature and wise. I would be that woman on the cover of the 1950's Good Housekeeping magazine. I thought I had a choice to be her, to be me, wrapped in her. Yes, that's what my children needed, because that's what I needed.
I thought I could wrap myself up in an image, but I couldn't, because that picture wasn't real. When it finally dawned on me that I couldn't be my vision of what a "good mom" was, my little world of "perfect" came undone. It was like someone punched me in the gut when, no matter how much I tried, I couldn't be my ideal. I felt tired all the time. I didn't get up early or even get dressed sometimes until the afternoon. I was a terrible housekeeper. Lipstick? Forget it. I was a woman lost, grasping for air, and with nothing to hold on to, I fell flat. Discouragement, depression, and hopelessness surrounded me.
The days became long and impossible. Taking care of my children was too hard. Being a good wife was too hard. Cleaning, creating life, living ... was just too hard.
My ideals dropped one by one, as the days turned into blurs of time that I couldn't contain. I went from a super-motivated, driven mama to a "don't-get-me-out-of-bed-I'm-depressed" zombie. Because I couldn't achieve my unrealistic goals, I became lifeless and depressed. I didn't even want to try anymore. "Why bother?" I found myself saying over and over again, "I'll just mess up again." I was in a sad state, and I desperately needed someone to speak truth into my life. That's why this book is so important to me. I want to share the experiences I've gone through and am going through as a young mama because I want you to know that you're not alone, that there is so much hope waiting around the bend. I promise you.
Many of my ideals were good, but the standard I set for myself to meet them was completely unrealistic. A good mom, in my mind, was up bright and early before her children woke up; she got dressed, did her hair, put on her makeup, had her quiet time, and had breakfast simmering in the pan as she went to wake up her babes. Of course in my fantasy she was always cheery, always smelled good, and never raised her voice. She was what God never asked us to be apart from Him: perfect.
What was I thinking? And why didn't someone set me straight?
The reason it hurt so much when I couldn't live up to my ideal was because I had imposed an impossible standard on myself. I forgot that I am a complex human being who has a sin problem. And so do my babes! I didn't take into account my personality, my weaknesses, or my strengths. Rather, I just chose an image and purposed to be that image. I didn't purpose to be Sarah Mae, a unique individual with gifts and talents from God. I didn't even purpose to be who God wanted me to be. Without a realistic vision, I was crushed before the season of motherhood even began.
It was immaturity and an idealistic spirit that led me to think I had motherhood figured out. I like my idealistic spirit, and I want to hold on to it because it's part of how God weaved me together, but I don't want to get snared into the assumption that all my ideals will be just as I envisioned them. Rather, I want to see my ideals as guideposts to look to. I want to set realistic goals that fit who I am, and what God requires of me. I want to always say, "Lord, what do you say?"
And above all, I need to remember that "good" motherliness has nothing to do with how God sees me. Nothing. I am pleasing to Him on my good days and my bad days. His love for me never wavers ... and never will. Because I'm His.
Enthroned in an overstuffed chair, I was surrounded by a sea of pink—tissue paper, ribbons and bows, baby booties, tiny lace dresses, and rose-budded sleepers. My heart was swirling with idealistic and peaceful dreams of my coming daughter and me. Beloved friends of all ages had come together to throw a shower for my highly anticipated baby girl, soon to be born.
"Oh, you'll be the perfect mother!"
"Don't worry about her birth, it will all be over so quickly, and after all, you seem so prepared!"
They were certainly right about that. I had carefully read all the baby books, attended all the birthing classes, and eaten all the right foods in all the right months of development. I had practiced repeatedly the correct way to breathe during labor, packed my overnight luggage and diaper bag with all the extra needed baby items, and decorated my baby's room with great skill. I was fairly confident I had everything under control.
After I collected all of my newfound treasures and said my thank-you's, I started down the hall to make my exit. As I slipped out of the room, a woman I barely recognized as a member of my church was very intentionally waiting in the hallway to corner me.
"Sally, I feel I owe it to you to warn you about what is ahead. All of those easy-schmeasy comments about giving birth and having a baby and being a mother are just lies. You are going to hurt like you never imagined during labor and your first weeks are going to be harder than you ever thought. I just wanted to warn you that this is the hardest thing you have probably ever done in your life, and if you are not ready for it to be hard, you will become quite depressed!"
What a thing to say to me at my baby shower! I just brushed off her comments as extreme and assumed she was a serial whiner. As I made my way outside, I whispered a prayer for her under my breath, "Please, Lord, bless this poor woman and help her to grow a healthier attitude!"
Fast-forward to my daughter Sarah's birth: twenty-two straight hours of labor, and more pain than I thought possible. Sarah was stuck in the birth canal for two and a half hours, and so eventually a doctor had to perform an emergency removal using forceps. There was a seemingly endless amount of grunting, groaning, twisting, and drugs just to get her out.
Yet the moment she was placed into my hands, I was filled with such awe and surprise at this baby—my own sweet, precious baby—who was in my arms. Her little face was battered, but her dark blue eyes were looking pensively toward my voice. I was smitten—and a little shocked as well. I don't know what I was expecting, but it seemed so much more of a miracle to me than I ever had imagined. I fell in love instantly.
"I'm so sorry, but we must take your baby away from you for a little while. She failed the AGPAR test and could be having some severe problems."
After three hours of immense anxiety, my normally straight-faced, bearded doctor walked into the room and said with an exhausted sigh, "I am so sorry, but Sarah's lungs are filled with meconium and she is not breathing very well. She seems to have some other mysterious issues, and I am afraid you will not be able to hold her or have her with you for at least a couple of days."
After all of the anticipation, excitement, and planning, my hopes and dreams were dashed and my mother-heart was already broken. As my husband, Clay, wheeled me through the hallway passing happy, smiling moms showing their sweet babies off to admiring relatives and friends, I felt the intense pain of heartbreak, of having nothing but the sadness of empty hands.
The next time I saw Sarah, it was only through a thick, protective glass wall, and I could see her pathetic little body surging up and down as she gasped for breath. Oxygen tubes were in her nose, monitors were strapped to her fragile, tiny body, and tubes were seemingly everywhere.
This was hardly the entrance into motherhood of which I had long dreamed.
To make it worse, I developed the flu while I was in the hospital and became quickly dehydrated. Consequently, my milk never came in.
"Some women just don't have the right kind of breasts," the self-important nurse commented to me as we watched baby Sarah strain at her first bottle of formula, amidst tubes and constraints. Just the words I needed to make me feel even more insecure! In retrospect, I wish I had reported the surly nurse to the hospital—just what are the right kinds of breasts?
Finally, three days after her birth, after what seemed like an eternity of complications and challenges, I was able to take my sweet first child back to our home. As I sat in the faint light of an early morning in our little den, I held my precious little one ever so tenderly, feeling very isolated and alone. Little did I know that this moment would signify a pivotal moment in my life as a mother.
Fear flooded my heart, and the insecure thoughts began to surge in. What if I don't know how to take care of her? What if she gets pneumonia? Anxiety wrapped around my whole being and sent me into a hole of insecurity. I had no parents to advise me until later that week, and in their own raising of my siblings and me, they had taken all the detached routes—no nursing, attaching, or nurturing. There was no one to give me the kind of advice I was longing to hear or validation for my newfound ideals from all the books I had read.
As I sat in the still darkness, my heart cried out to God, perhaps more sincerely than ever before.
"Lord, teach me how to be a mother. I feel so inadequate. I don't know what to do. But you are Sarah's heavenly Father, and you love her even more than I do, so please show me your way and help me to know how to do the right things."
This is the true beginning point—God. He is the one who created babies bursting with life and the mamas who love to care and watch over them. He brought forth from His imagination the most beautiful of gardens, threw galaxies of stars into orbit, and painted our world with color. In keeping with His character, He must have intended something beautiful in creating a woman with this ability to give life, nurture with love, and cultivate the soul of a precious human being entrusted into her hands.
Each of us has a story, but God, who originated the design of motherhood, is the expert advisor to whom we should turn. God has equipped us for every good work, and I am quite confident that He who designed this role to be so eternally significant is the one who is ready to help, support, instruct, and guide. He will provide all we need for the task He has given us to fulfill. But to hear from God we must become women of the Word and women who pray, so that His voice may lead us as we grow into this role with grace. I look back now through all of the huge obstacles, unexpected twists, and challenges on this course of motherhood through my life and see that at each point, He was there, helping, carrying, guarding, and blessing as a true and present advocate. He is the reason for any success or blessing I have felt as a mother.
As I sat in my little den, unsure of either my or my daughter's future, I gave little Sarah into God's hands, put her at my breast to attempt nursing, and by faith rested in this new assurance that this place called motherhood would become a new pathway in my life. I caught a glimpse of God's longing to teach me more about His ways and His grace as I accepted this gift He had given into my keeping, my very own little girl. It was here that great thoughts and inspiration began to be birthed, as I held my precious one and pondered in the presence of the Lord what He had in mind for mothers.
In this culture of quick satisfaction and gratification, many of us have never been taught to believe that someday we will have to give an account to God, face-to-face, for the spiritual, emotional, and moral work that we steward in the lives of our children. The souls of our children will last for all eternity, and if we believe Scripture to be true, the way we shepherd them will undoubtedly have repercussions far beyond our lives here on earth. As I searched Scripture in my own walk as a young mom, I began to catch a glimpse of the profound meaning imbued by God into the home environment. My identity as a mother would be wrapped up inextricably in the very place in which my moral character would be formed. My home, then, became my kingdom over which I longed to rule well as I was crafting lives, my own children, for His glory.
This kingdom of home is the place of refuge, comfort, and inspiration. It is a rich world where great souls can be formed, and from which men and women of great conviction and dedication can emerge. It is the place where the models of marriage, love, and relationship are emulated and passed on to the next generation. One of the great losses of this century is the lost imagination for what the home can be if shaped by the creative hand of God's Spirit.
When I considered the role of motherhood as well as the shaping of my children into warriors for His kingdom purposes, I walked by necessity through the questions of what it means to take on the calling of motherhood and to embrace home as a place of such great potential. Becoming a mother is a role that most women are ill-prepared for or ill-trained to understand, yet it has such vast consequences in the course and direction of history. I have even come to believe that a mother's role might be the most determining factor as to how history will unfold.
Understanding that the best and most lasting "work" I would ever do was wrapped up in my call as a mother gave me a grand scope for my life such as I had never known before. I began to see that the nurturing of my children was my great stewardship in every part of their little lives: accepting them into my arms and bearing the responsibility of their very health from feeding at my breasts; developing their emotional well-being by encouraging them to attach deeply to me as infants; stimulating their brains by talking with them, touching them, snuggling with them; and predisposing them to know the love of God by building pathways in their brains. I was just beginning to grasp how profound God had created the role of a mother to be.
However, when I look back now on the grand scheme of things, I can see clearly that motherhood is a process, a journey. It was fraught with so many moments and days of failure, anger, stress, and exhaustion. Little by little, I have learned grace, joy, patience, and hope, and slowly my soul is being shaped into His image. I wouldn't trade the journey or my ideals for any other life. But I couldn't have known any of this starting out. I hope in the following chapters that I might help you see the bigger picture, that as you pursue this beautiful design that God planned from the beginning, you will find deep fulfillment and lasting affirmation that will serve you the rest of your life.
* * *
Isaiah 41:10: "Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand."
* Remember, a woman who is alone in motherhood becomes a target of discouragement for Satan. Are you alone in your role as a mother?
* If God created you to be a mother and is present with you each step of the way, how should that make a difference in your role as a mom?
Matthew 11:28: "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest."
* Does God understand and know when you are weary?
* How do you find rest amidst this exhausting journey of motherhood?
* Where is your source of strength?
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