When Motherhood Includes Grief

 

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Motherhood.  The word conjures up a host of emotions and experiences that we long for and dream of for years.

Planning.  Expectations.  Anticipation.  Celebration.  Embracing.

Millions of women have experienced the miracle of motherhood.  The transition from a woman with a whole heart into a woman with a capacity to have her heart live both inside and outside of her body is a beautiful and miraculous process.

A woman’s heart is never again whole once she has children.  For each of her children carry a piece of her heart with them through life.  Our capacity for love grows with each new child.  We may think our hearts are full to capacity and yet with each new baby emotions shift and unexplainable reserves of love make their way into our hearts.

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Yet, because we live in a broken world suspended between the perfection of the Garden of Eden and Heaven, we understand that life is not always carefree.  Sometimes, life brings events that shake our foundation for a season.

Infertility.  Miscarriage.  Stillborn.  Pre-maturity.  Death.

Harsh, ugly words that no one wants to say much less experience as part of their journey in life.

Yet…too many of us do have one or more of those words as part of our life’s resume.  Known as grief, there is a process that we go through when our hearts are disappointed and we lose people or dreams that we had loved and held onto in our souls.

And when babies we carried beneath our breasts, those who lived and breathed and whose heart beat to its’ own cadence closer to ours than any other human being will ever be, leave us…part of our heart goes to Heaven with them and never resides again here on earth.

  • When we miscarry, hormones rage.  Ovaries and uterus contract and try to find their rhythm again leaving us with emotions that are often hard to control.
  • When death comes to a child, the word sorrow takes on a depth of unexplainable meaning.
  • When we long for a child and fertility alludes us, empty wombs and arms seem to betray our femininity.
  • Grief includes waves of sadness that suffocate us making breathing seem a difficult chore.
  • In our valley, words spoken by well-meaning and good intentioned friends seem shallow.
  • Maybe most painful of all is that human comfort is lost for a season.

But then…God

The One who created life and orders our steps, reaches through the clouds of grief and reminds us that He alone understands our pain and offers comfort that carries us through the storm.  Slowly, often painfully slowly, He shows us grace and strength and the only true comfort that exists that can penetrate the human soul.

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When healing begins, and it will, the next season is to find a way to remember and celebrate the life we embraced even if just in our dreams and in our womb for a few days or weeks.  The danger with grief is that it is so easy to get stuck somewhere in the process instead of moving through each phase toward healing.  We can get stuck in the stage of denial, anger, etc.  It will be that one season of life that becomes so commonly focused on that it emerges as that for which we are remembered if we are not careful.

All of those harsh, ugly words that we fear most about motherhood are just a few of the issues that the winds of life have blown my way.  And, while each event rocked me for a season (or more sometimes), no one event is the sum total of who I am.  I don’t want to be defined only as the mom of a premature baby, special needs child, mom of a stillborn son, the lady who lost four babies, or a number of other things.  While all of those statements are true, they are not the only part of the legacy I want to leave behind.  My goal for a legacy is to be remembered as a woman who loved God with all her heart and though she failed so many times, she claimed the grace of God and loved her family and friends with all her heart.

So, if that is my goal, then that must be the thing on which I focus every day.  I am not minimizing grief.  Please know that.  It is real, painful, and a life-altering process.  But it doesn’t have to define us.  Grief doesn’t have to overshadow everything else good and wonderful in our lives.  Oh, it will for a season, for sure, and that is healthy and wise.  Grief is painful, intense, hard, difficult, and sometimes the very act of taking the next breath is physically painful.  I understand that completely.

I also understand that God is bigger than grief.  His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23) and His grace is abundant and sufficient (II Corinthians 12:9).  But please know that if you feel “stuck” in the grief process, there is help available.  Seek out Godly counsel and ask God to help you move “through” the stages of grief so that your legacy will not be that one traumatic experience.

There are some benefits when motherhood includes grief.  We are given a unique perspective on the true miracle of life.  We can celebrate on a grander stage those who call us mom.  We can embrace a little longer and relish the presence of those children who grace our homes.  And we can reach out to others who are newer to the journey of grief than we are and assure them that even when despair is fresh and pain is great, behind the clouds the sun truly is shining and it will break forth again in their lives.

Motherhood is a celebration.  An amazing gift God has granted the females of the human race.  It is an opportunity to nurture, embrace, train, love, disciple the next generation of human beings.  How blessed we are to be in that group of women who have held motherhood in our hearts and life in our arms.

Photo Credit: Terri King (Timberlake, NC) and Laurie Whitehouse (Lexington, KY)

The Strength that comes from Resting In Grace

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…If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”
-Galatians 5:25

As godly mothers, we strive to make the best possible decisions, set the perfect boundaries, and have the correct rules that we believe will somehow cultivate “spiritual” children. However, we can’t buy sheer force or the right rules or the right devotional curriculum make our children spiritual.

That being said, there is a mysterious process by which the Holy Spirit leads our children to see their need for Christ as we seek to cultivate their hearts. But it is entirely led by grace, informed by love, and carried out by the help of the Holy Spirit.

We are putting so much pressure on ourselves as mothers. Each time we find ourselves too busy to cook (so we opt for fast food), too exhausted to clean, or so hectic in our lives that we didn’t do a devotional with our children one week, we feel absolutely defeated and believe that we somehow failed our children.

Often, I receive comments or letters from mamas who say, “How did you seek joy? How did you manage to live by faith?” And then they will tell me the very difficult circumstances or exhaustion or loss of job or marriage problem…..

The grace of God is given in spite of our circumstances, his peace comes when our difficulties would suggest otherwise. When we cast our burdens on God because we cannot handle them or when we choose to exercise joy because we know,”in His presence is fullness of joy,” or when with our inadequacies in all areas are filled in by the invisible grace of His own doing, we always have hope and reason to be at peace.

While it is incredibly wonderful to set our standards high and live within these great ideals, we must hold ourselves to a standard of grace, not perfection. We won’t be able to have grace for our children if we do not have grace ourselves. Galatians 5:1 tells us that, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free, therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” Are there any ways in your life as a mom that you are trying to live up to the false expectations of others?

In my home, we did our best, but our best was certainly not perfection. We just had committed hearts toward our kids and the desire to shape their souls to respond passionately to their Creator. He came with grace and truth to bring life and wholeness into our hearts. We strive to follow His example in the lives of our children. We are not guided by culture, or what other moms feel is the “right way”, but we are led by God. We walk in the power of the Holy Spirit and rest in His grace.

A Life that says, “Welcome!”

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“Welcome” greets each weary traveler as they drag heavy suitcases awkwardly up our little entry steps. Candles flicker, music softly wafts through the air and chocolate almonds, tiny wrapped gouda cheeses all say, “you are a valued person and we want you to find rest and peace as you enter our home.”

The past few weeks, giggles, tears, antics and life-stories amuse the walls of our home, as countless friends have filed into this Clarkson homestead.  Bible studies, dinners for students visiting at a local ministry, a leadership intensive, sweet friends coming for a “cuppa” and a few minutes shared rocking on the front porch, sweet children home for limited days, and a friendship talk. all mark the occasions of a visit.

Always there is endless eating; and hearts wanting to be loved and encouraged. Sanctuary has been on my mind the past few months as I have sought to understand the importance of having a home where all can expect to come for life, beauty and peace–and to feel the touch of Him in a tangible way through our words, hands, and embraces.

Godly women shape their homes into sanctuaries where the love of God, the comfort of Jesus, the celebration of joy sings through the very oxygen of the cracks and corners of her home and brings just what each one needs as they enter there.

“We view the ministry of hospitality in our home as God’s tool for us to train our children in graciousness. When someone comes to our home, our children know that we expect them to be gracious and quick to serve. That means welcoming adult guests properly, asking if there is something they can get for them, taking their coat, or whatever is appropriate to the visit. (Hospitality drills are a helpful way to train them in this area).

Our children know that being well-mannered and gracious is more than just a cultural formality…it is the way we show respect to another person, affirm their value as a person made in God’s image, and strengthen our testimony to them not only as a Christian family but also as a homeschooling family.

It is the practical expression of treating others the way you want to be treated, regarding others as more important than yourself, and looking out for the interests of others. Even when we go to someone else’s house, we will still practice hospitality. We rehearse with the kids before they leave the car how to be gracious guests who are polite, respectful, and helpful.”
-Educating the Wholehearted Child

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Even though my children are now young adults, they still help me every time we welcome anyone into our home. Joy will be bustling around, setting up for tea time, and before I know it, another child has already cleaned up the entire kitchen. The dishes will be washed, the counters tidied, and each guest is sure to have been welcomed and served.

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This desire to serve, help, and host does not appear out of thin air. In order for your family to be a team that works together as a unit when you have guests over, your children must have TMI (no-not “too much information.”)

-Training:
Train in grace behavior (manners). Value and pursue priority relationships. Train your children how to pray.

-Modeling:
Moms-set the example. Be gracious and kind to family members. Show grace and love to strangers.

-Instruction:
About our relationship with God. About the power of the Holy Spirit–lived out through real people to real people.

Proverbs 22:6 states:

“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”

It is absolutely crucial that we train our children in the ways of graciousness. This also means that you must have patience and grace with your children as they learn how to serve others.

Start practicing by assigning your children different ways they can help the next time you have friends or family over for dinner. If you remember TMI, your little ones will flourish into adults who are loving, gracious, polite, and respectful.

If you wait long enough, ….!

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Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for and hope for and expect the Lord!

Psalm 31: 24

So many eras I didn’t think I would live through—-crying babies with colic; ear infections and nocturnal asthma; hysterical fits and fusses and tantrums for never ending years, one day at a time, with a mysterious child with adhd, ocd and odd; marriage struggles between me, a totally romantic, relational woman married to a totally rational, organized man who had to work way too many hours to keep this family afloat; messes,  rejections from family for our ideals; 17 moves; loneliness, too little help or support systems; financial crisis; illnesses and hospitalizations and testings never ending; church splits; irrational people; and on and on.

Today, as I look back, I am still here, but God has changed me through it all. I am more patient with everyone, because I see how much I needed patience and still need compassion. I appreciate my faithful husband who has stuck with me through it all and has continued to dream of how we can change the world and write new books and keep this ministry afloat, (amidst him doing 4 loads of laundry last weekend, while I grocery shopped, bought birthday presents–again, and wedding presents for family).

The failures and mistakes I made gave me humility–a gift that allows one to be more appreciative of God’s forgiveness, love and grace. Humility prepares one to minister to others with compassion and sympathy. Few leaders are wise without a dose of failure and having to submit to God’s discipline. Children have a way of humbling mamas.

I see that I appreciate the Lord more, I am less attached to this world,  because after many disappointments, I have finally realized in my heart as well as my head, that this world is temporary, the broken place and heaven gives an anchor in the midst of taking our love for this world out of our hands.

I don’t really care as much what other people’s opinion of me is, because I know that I cannot please others and than my audience is the Lord. Only He can make me feel ok and centered with so much potential for failure in the eyes of someone who is looking and wanting to tell me their opinion.

I greatly enjoy my adult children as my best friends. After all of these years, our tastes were developed on the same food, movies, books, travel, spiritual experiences–Clay and I built our own kindred spirits and we all love being together.  (Maybe through all the struggles, my efforts at keeping going, training them, reading to them and telling them passionately about the Lord was really accomplishing eternal results in their hearts–but I didn’t always feel like it mattered at the time when they were fussing over things like, “He touched my toe! or His piece of brownie was bigger than mine–and all of these very important issues.)  I am pretty relaxed with Joy  as a 17 year old in college, because I know the Lord will faithfully guide her, teach her, speak to her and protect her–because I have seen Him be faithful three times before now.

I often didn’t think I could make it through another day, depressed, exhausted, overwhelmed. Feelings were often dark. But I had no choice but to keep putting one foot in front of the other. God knew I could make it. God breathed life into my children’s souls. God taught Clay and me more about unconditional love and grace. As a good Father, the Lord was training and disciplining me, as His own child. Stretching me and building into my life, by using my own children as a soul-shaping tool. He is so good and so faithful. My family and my life became the road to my ultimate joy and freedom from the things I thought would fulfill to the things that truly fulfill. He used them to surgically remove some of the rough edges, expose the immaturity, remold my values and thoughts.

I still have my ups and downs, sometimes sadness and dark thoughts that a fallen world brings, and don’t know how my children’s stories will sort out, but I am more familiar with the process and the Trainer.

So, this week, though still filled with more and different kind of issues, I,

Thank you, my sweet Lord, for your wise ways, for keeping us going, for filling our souls with that which matters. Thank you that you helped me to keep going and going and waiting and waiting. How grateful I am that it is all in your good and capable hands. The sweet memories, the hope that comforts, the work that satisfies, all the things I did not know or understand when we first started. Keep me faithful and hopeful as I continue on this path of your making.

Playing the part of provider to bring life and beauty!

Wisdom has built her house, She has hewn out her seven pillars,
She has prepared her food, she has mixed her wine,
She has set her table, …,
“Come eat of my food.  And drink of my wine I have mixed.
For sake your folly and live,
And proceed in the way of understanding.” Proverbs 9:1-6

I am getting mommy excited about next Tuesday. My youngest, precious one, Joy, will come home from her first semester at college. She has sustained the 3 months alone  without one visit and we have been constantly chatting and planning and sharing hearts so much that it feels like the last few days before you give birth–just biding your time until the momentous occasion comes. As a result, I have been looking at some old pictures and drawing up old memories and here is one of them–our fall apple picking and putting away for the winter. We missed it this year with Joy gone and us traveling too much.

But I had so much fun remembering, I thought I would share our memory with you! Getting into the mood for cooking a feast for all of my children and special others who will be with us!

Below a story of life from 4 years ago–hard to believe the time flew!

Yesterday we had a great sermon–one of four–which addressed the reality of heaven. I loved hearing that in heaven we will eat and drink and feast and have gardens and rivers and beauty and celebration and singing–only it will be in a perfect and wonderful place–called paradise–even more wonderful than anything we can see or imagine here.

I like knowing these things. It makes me think that when I prepare these thousands of meals that I am providing a little heaven on earth–an imperfect picture here of what real celebration and living will be there! I think that one of my delights over the years, which has grown as I have become better at it, is providing life-giving meals and memories for my family. Wisdom (I love it that wisdom is personified as a woman!) sets her table and provides wonderful food and in the midst of serving, calls those she serves to wisdom, understanding, love and righteousness. I am convinced that we have done more discipleship over meals than any other way!

As the old saying goes, “the  way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”, but I think there is some truth to it, only applying to all people! Even Wisdom knew as much. Though there are so many things that reach and touch our hearts, I do think that the dining table can become the place of so much spirituality. At least it has for our family. Clay and I talk to our sons Joel and Nathan several times a week. Though both are thriving where they are, both have mentioned often missing our family. And when I asked them what they missed the most, it is as Joel and Nate said, “It’s the great food and the meal time discussions that I miss the most–just being together like that as a family.”

I would have to agree that these moments (and there are thousands of them) have held celebrations, devotions, discussions, funny stories, jokes, laughter, songs, correction (How many times have I told you–use a fork–not your fingers!) and sharing our hearts together.

God designed us to eat, but the time spent eating in warm fellowship, giving words of love and affirmation, challenging ideas with a meaningful quote to discuss or bringing and insightful article to the table to read together makes the moments that we spend in delightful fellowship feasting, a discipleship moment!

Just thought I would include a recipe from a most recent Sunday breakfast meal. Though we try to have devotions as a family, as our children became older and had their own cars, jobs and activities, we could barely get everyone together at once, but we could almost always get everyone together on Sunday morning. So many years ago, even when they were young, I got up early to make a great Sunday morning breakfast. Some of our favorites include home made whole wheat cinnamon rolls–(and yes, someday I will provide the recipe–but it is not perfected yet and I am afraid of misleading all of you! I am so used to throwing it all together–my own recipe–that I don’t exactly know how to put it down as it is different every time!)

Now onto more–scrambled cheese eggs–I do it a certain Clarkson way with bacon bits, cheese and sour cream; Polish eggs–the same only with hash browns mixed into the eggs-omelette’s with green peppers, onions, ham, bacon, avocado as the favorite items and of course cheese; muffins–our favorite being oatmeal and also blueberry or pumpkin; also, apple coffee cake; cottage cheese pancakes with strawberry or blueberry topping.

But one of the family favorites, which I do when I run out of time or get up late, is Whole Wheat Pancakes. I use this recipe below. The great thing about this recipe is that you can change it by adding just a few items. The ones pictured below are my regular ones–pancakes with grated apple, pecans and cinnamon.

Sometimes I add chocolate chips and have made a smiley face with them; or blueberries, one to two squished bananas with chopped nuts; hot peach sauce on top, hot apples on top and whip cream on all of it if desired. The girls in our family prefer real maple syrup and the boys prefer Aunt Jemima or log cabin light.

Of course we always light candles and put on some kind of music.

Somehow our table looks sparse now that we only have 4!

Whole Wheat Pancakes
2 eggs
2 cups whole wheat (or white) flour
1 1/2 cups milk or yoghurt
2 -4 tablespoons honey, sugar or maple syrup-depending on your taste
6 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Beat eggs with beater until fluffy. Add remaining ingredients until smooth. You can add up to 1/4 cup of milk if you prefer thinner cakes, but we like them fluffy and thick. They do spread out on your griddle–though sometimes I give them a little help when I put them on the griddle by spreading them out a little with my spatula. Let them cook until there are lots of bubbles showing on the surface of the cakes, and they are beginning to dry out on the edges. This makes enough to feed all 6 of us. You can halve the recipe and feed 4 if they are not big eaters!

*as an aside, I always grate apples to put in the pancakes. I also add pecans to some of them. You can also fold in blueberries. Yumm–a great way to add whatever you happen to like! (Once a woman told me that she followed this recipe and her pancakes turned out really heavy. I grind my own flour and don’t add more flour if the batter looks wrong–I add a little more milk. They are pretty light for us–hope it works for you!)

Next, I like to decorate for each season. I keep lidded plastic boxes with the season’s decor and it just takes me a small amount of time to decorate my whole house. (autumn, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s, Easter, Spring and summer) I like, also, these  tall glass cannisters that hold whatever you want in the bottom and  candles on the top part as pictured below. You can get them in all sorts of sizes–expensive designer ones or Walmart or Target. The reason I like them is that you can just put different things in the bottom of them, place a candle on top and it is an instant centerpiece on a table or coffee table. In autumn, leaves are on the bottom. At Christmas, I put tiny red and green Christmas tree balls in one and pine cones in another I have; small hearts at valentines with a red strand of beads during January and early February, etc.

Providing can also be  designing traditions just for your family that take on a life of its own. Every year for a few years, we took a trip to the local apple farm and picked our own apples, ate a picnic out in the fields. Then, some weekend, we would all peel apples, slice and cut them and freeze them for applesauce and or warm apples to have with our soups in the winter. This year, our apple farm had a freeze and so we bought 3 boxes of organic apple  to use for our recipes. We always watch the Anne of Green Gables series while doing it and I think we have every line memorized. This year, since our family is ridding itself of lots of our plastic, we decided to put our recipes in jars. I must say we missed the boys as they always did a lot of work with us on these!

The final outcome so far: 17 jars of homemade applesauce and 12 jars of apple butter (minus the jars eaten!)

 

Now, tonight we will do the last box–apple pie filling!

We so enjoyed praying for all of you today. It was such a good time of fellowship with my girls–I should do this more. Have a great day tomorrow and know we are in His loving and wonderful hands.

Grace, peace and an abundance of His love to all of you today!

Sally