Why We Need You Older Mamas

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I see you.

We think we’re different.  Me without the salt and pepper evenly dispersed on my head.  You with more wrinkles finely placed as marks of wisdom and joy expressed.  We both have stretch marks denoting our mama warrior camaraderie from growing life inside, and smile.  You have a sense of peace, a knowing; because, you’ve been there.  You bring to the table this amazing tapestry of stability.  I bring the reminder of the trenches, how it’s currently hard.  While you bring reminders to carpe diem, I bring reminders to enact understanding and empathy.

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As I returned from a month away from my husband while he worked, and got our house ready to sell, I stood at my new kitchen sink having a sort of epiphany moment.  I spent a lot of my daughter years being the mother to my own mother.  I have learned to rely upon myself for what needed to be done, and held close a rather impenetrable sense of trust for others coming in.  I got used to being the strong one, the wise one, the one who tended.  I believed the lie that I didn’t need a mom like some of my friends had.  I believed when I became a mom myself, my need and want for my own mother-daughter relationship would feed into my own relationship with my daughters.

But, there I stood washing dishes, allowing the emotions to come down.

***

When I was 18, I moved out of my mom’s house to go to school.  When I was almost 19, I moved to Washington state to work at a summer camp.  I remember the first time I got sick over 1200 miles away.  The only person I wanted was my mom.

She always knew how to make it better and reassure me I wasn’t dying.  Somehow moms have this supernatural force used only for their children; but, by golly, it’s the best superpower us kids are given.

***

On our drive back home from Arizona this summer, we stopped in Milton- Freewater, Oregon to visit my Grandma Cox’s grave.  It was the first time I visited since her death in 1988.  She died far too young at age 57, and my heart still hurts not having her here.  She was everything a Grandma should be, exceptionally caring and full of unconditional love.

Sometimes I hear stories about parents disowning their children for making bad choices in life.  My Grandma was the antithesis of this.  She cared deeply, loved Jesus and in my mind, shouldn’t have died so early.  As I stood there above her grave, I wept and asked Jesus why He had to take her.  Didn’t he know how much we missed her, how much more  was needed to love her family.  Not just a legacy, but an in the flesh, warm embrace from her.

***

Plates being rinsed and God standing beside me.  He has a way of showing up in the least likely places.  I like that about Him.  He showed me how much moms are needed.  He pointed to the sunny day as my hair whipped through the wind with my Grandma buried below.  It’s why Mother’s Day is so hard for so many.  Be it the reminder of death taking the mother’s life, or a strained relationship.

But, it all boils down to the heart’s desire for a mother who is present, attentive, and drops everything to let us know, “Oh honey, it’s going to be alright.  You are loved and wanted.”

Through years of adding a self-protecting layer, I have believed the lie that don’t need my mom.  I have guarded my heart to avoid pain when she doesn’t love the way I need to be loved.  I have stood strong to appear resilient, when in fact, my soul is a crumbling hot mess.

On that day at my kitchen sink, juggling my own relationship and role as a mama with my relationship and role as a daughter, I realized this.

Whether you are a mom of a day old child, or your baby is 65 years old, your job as mama is not done.

When your child rejects your affection and advances of love, they are not rejecting you.  Rather, they are seeing if you are going to keep pursuing them.

When your child becomes a parent for the first time, they need you to tell them they are normal, this job is hard stuff.  They need you to pull up your own memories of how hard it was to parent.  They need you to be vulnerable, admitting how you didn’t know it all; but, they need to see your brokenness.  It helps them to see you are human and relatable.

Above all, they need you to love them without limits or borders.  They need you to stand in the gap.  They need you to keep at this job, even when they don’t live in the same walls as you.  They need you to be an active listener, to give input when needed and to seek to understand.  They never stop needing you. You are the only mother they have, and God didn’t make a mistake when he made you their mom.

My job is not done when my girls are fully grown and out of the house.

Older mamas, please know we need you.  Oh something desperate.  We are in ever need and want of you.  Your presence to comfort us when we are at the end of our ropes, when no one else is there to tenderly hold us–it’s you who sit with us. We see the greater complexity of our God when we see how you love.  It’s different from a father’s love for us.  I urge you to not believe the lie your job is outsourced or void.  If your relationship is strained with your child or children, then now is a good time to reconcile and fight for a new relationship.  Examining how you have not loved well, handing it over to Jesus and working through forgiveness is the best start.  Our God is a God of redemption–always, always.

Lastly, remember this, at the end of life, if the only accolade by your name is ‘wholehearted mama’ then believe me, you made an impression of God’s handiwork no one else on this Earth could accomplish.

Children Are Not Check Boxes

Children Are Not Checkboxes

I love my children.

All of them.

Individually.

Uniquely.

I have enjoyed playing with my children, reading to them, cuddling with them, and talking to them.

I have loved many years of blowing bubbles, riding bikes, and building blocks.

I have cherished late night movies, surprise rides for late-night ice cream, and rubbing the back of a fever-ridden child.

I also take my job of mothering my children very seriously.

With gravity, I understand the importance of my place in their lives and for what seems like an eternity, I have worked really hard to be the best mother I can be.

But over the passed few years I’ve noticed something.

I’ve noticed that I’ve slowly slipped from the joy of raising my children to the job of raising my children.

I have shifted my focus unintentionally from sharing my life with them to shuttling them around, getting things done, and checking their lives off of my lists made on their behalf.

And I’m grieved by that reality.

Maybe it’s because I’m a Type A person that covets a sense of achievement and want my kids to measure up to my need for perfection.

Maybe it’s because I’ve allowed the current and pace of the culture to dictate to me how much we should do… how much they should do and how it all reflects on me.

Maybe it’s because I’m a homeschooling mother and so much of what surrounds my relationship with my children also centers around daily duties, weekly assignments, and checklists galore.

In the last few months, I have slowly awakened to the reality that I have become a task-oriented mother, moving from one goal, objective, or ambition to the next.

Is it bad to have goals for your children?

Absolutely not.

Is it a terrible thing to outline the objectives you have for your children or work with ambition to do your very best job as a parent?

I don’t believe it is.

But the problem is when those aspirations and aims eclipse your affection.

What happens when your parenting rules or regulations overshadow your relationship?

The hard truth is this…

All of my good deeds as a mother… the books I read, the Bible studies I attend, the Bible stories I share, the meals I make, the clothes I wash, the homework I review, the carpools I participate in, the soccer games I go to, the chore charts I create, and the money I spend…

They mean nothing.

NOTHING…

If I don’t have love.

Yes. Boundaries are healthy.

Yes. Discipline has its place.

Yes. Sometimes your very best parenting won’t make your kids feel warm and fuzzy inside.

But I’m not talking about being a good parent.

I’m talking about being a good parent while forgetting to simultaneously reassure them with a smile, a touch, or a tone of voice that says, “no matter what kid, you are mine and I would choose you again.”

I am realizing that the most important thing that I can give my children is love.

Not the hard, cold, duty-driven kind of love but the kind that let’s them know unconditionally, without reservation, and without hesitation… I’m glad they are mine.

If I had the gift of being able to speak in other languages without learning them and could speak in every language there is in all of heaven and earth, but didn’t love others, I would only be making noise.

If I had the gift of prophecy and knew all about what is going to happen in the future, knew everything about everything, but didn’t love others, what good would it do? Even if I had the gift of faith so that I could speak to a mountain and make it move, I would still be worth nothing at all without love. 

If I gave everything I have to poor people, and if I were burned alive for preaching the Gospel but didn’t love others, it would be of no value whatever.

I Corinthians 13:1-3 (TLB)

Dear mother, I know you love your children.  I know you love them deeply even if they are making you tired, hurting your heart, or driving you crazy.

I just want to whisper a small encouragement to you.

While you do the work of motherhood – because motherhood is work indeed – don’t forget to love your children in a way that they can tangibly sense.

Don’t let the satisfaction of crossing your mothering tasks off the list override the intentional affection you offer the hearts of your babies.

Don’t let your duties dictate a decrease in the amount of love and devotion that your kids can feel.

Do the work.  But don’t focus on checking off the boxes.

My children… your children… are not boxes to be checked.

They are souls to be loved.

I have to be honest and tell you that I woke up one morning and realized that I’d lost sight of that.

I’m grateful that God has reminded me of the great value of His love in me overflowing to others… especially my children.

My prayer is that my wake up call is a reminder for you too.

And if you, like me, have gotten off track, know that it’s never too late to love.

 

There are three things that remain—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. I Corinthians 13:13 (TLB)

Photo credit

 

Making the Journey Together

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Today I find my heart in reflection mode. Looking back. Remembering. Reaching back so that I can propel forward.

Another academic year has arrived and for most families that brings a time of planning and new beginnings.

To plan well, we first must reflect and take stock of what is going well and what needs to be adjusted. Sometimes we can just look back to yesterday and sometimes we have to go all the way back to where it began. That’s where my heart is today.

Recalling this now 7-year journey of homeschooling and wondering how I got here and how that first day of bringing Emma home from public school has become so many days of doing life together with some very dear friends: moms who go against the grain, swim upstream, and live outside of the box of societal norms.

My heart remembers the night I stood in our church hallway and poured out my insecurities to a veteran homeschooling mom who told me, “I was enough.” When I tried to convince her I was out of my league, she gently reminded me that if God gave me children, then I was the perfect choice for them and them for me. In her mind, her words may have just been noise from her lips but for me they were fuel to the kindling of the fire God was stirring in my soul.

Motherhood was always my dream yet not completely my vision. It hadn’t happened easily. Too many negative tests that disappointed, too many miscarriages had added bricks to the walls around my heart. Too many baby showers for other people had left me empty of vision for a family of my own. Too many glimpses into other families to believe my mess of a life could be a place of haven and harbor for little souls to flourish.

And like a crash landing, Emma Grace slammed into our lives at 27 weeks gestation. This two-pound medical mess with insurmountable odds had given me the title: mommy. Educating her was not even on the radar. Simply keeping her alive one day at a time was consuming. After watching God’s miracles over and over again in her little body, somehow those days added up and it was time for kindergarten. What now?

Seeking counsel and doing our research, we decided to place her in the public school system’s special education environment. God had already lined up the teacher and assistant who would love her and care for her while my body went through even more pregnancies and loss and then finally our last child was born, completing God’s vision for our family.

Four years later, through a series of events that God allowed and used to prepare my heart, we brought her home and began our journey and life style of home schooling. It is the journey I most enjoy in life. I had never known what title to give this “style” of life…this way of living as a family. It isn’t about the curriculum, the books, the meetings, the field trips…it’s about our belief that God put us together in a family for a reason and we are to fulfill His plan of touching the world for eternity through our home. We Parris-people are to be a team that becomes the hands and feet of Jesus to a hurting and empty world. We are to love God supremely, serve others diligently, live intentionally, and laugh loudly and often!

This crazy, unpredictable life isn’t just for those who educate at home. Where our children receive their education is far less important than how we live and function as a family…inside the walls of shelter God provides. This life, this intentional, on-purpose pursuit of truth and seeking ways to live fully and following Godly principles…this is the journey worth taking.

And on this journey, an amazing byproduct of living life hard and well is the journey-mates we meet along the way. Kindred spirits who get why we do life the way we do. Friends who fall in step and love us in our mess. People who understand that we are at best…frail, human sinners who happen to love God and try each day to just be a bit better than yesterday.

These people…they make the journey fun. They make the trip bearable when the road has potholes that threaten to pull us under. They hold our arms up when we grow weary. They celebrate our success, cheer our achievements, shelter our failures and soften our heartaches.

How blessed my journey is because of these journey-mates. These amazing people are MINE…friends who I don’t deserve, iron-sharpening souls who I couldn’t have imagined would do life with me, and deep, abiding kindred spirits that I don’t want to live without!

Who are the journey-mates God has placed on your path. Love them well, serve them fully, and hold their hearts securely. We only get this life journey once!

 

A Prayer for a Daughter

Father who breathed into this daughter…

I pray for this girl being formed into eternity….

May the wind always be in her hair

May the sky always be wide with hope above her

And may all the hills be an exhilaration

the trials but a trail,

all the stones but stairs to God.

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God, clothe this girl in a gown of grace
Grace, the only dress that makes beautiful,
the style of Your spirit.

Nourish her on the comfort food of the Word,
Word, that makes her crave more of Christ,
have hunger pangs for Him.

Enclose her in communion with You
You, Love who makes her love, who folds her heart into a roof
that absorbs storms for souls,
that makes her tongue speak only the words that make souls stronger.

May her vocation in this world simply be translation

Translating every enemy into esteemed guest
Translating every countenance into the face of Christ
Translating every burden into blessing

When it’s hard to be patient… make her willing to suffer
When it’s ridiculous to be thankful … make her see all is grace
When it’s radical to forgive … make her live the foundation of our faith
And when it’s time to work… make her a holy wonder.

May she be bread and feed many with her life and her laughter
May she be thread and mend brokeness and knit hearts
May she be dead to all ladders & never go higher , only lower, to the lonely, the least & the longing
Her led of the Spirit to lead many to the Cross
that leads to the tomb wildly empty.

Oh, and raise me, Lord, from the deadness of my own sins to love this beautiful girl like You do…

In the name of Christ who rose

and appeared first

to one of His daughters…

Amen…

Building Foundations of Belonging

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We were made to belong. First to God—He made us to belong to Him and to be in intimate relationship with Him. Then, by His design, He set us in families as a place to belong and live in community—in relationship with each other, in order to know Him and ourselves more fully. Because it is how we were made, each of us has this need to belong deep in our hearts. Though this is God’s design, this is not what many of us experience. Sin corrupts relationships and so many—like myself—grow up in broken homes. This can leave children feeling very lonely, neglected, with a confused sense of identity, rejection in place of belonging—and at a time when this need is most acute. Because it is a real need, kids will go to great, and often unhealthy lengths, to find that need met.

But I think it is not only broken homes that can leave children feeling neglected and rejected. I wonder if many practices of our modern lives have the same implications. I’ve been asking myself—what do my actions and the ways in which I spend my time communicate to my children about my priorities and where they fall in line? If we as moms are more in the habit of staring at our screens, busy agendas, and to-do lists than our children in the eyes, I wonder if they are not feeling rejection —that they are not interesting enough, deserving enough, fun enough, important enough, to have our attention?

I’ve also been asking myself—what DOES build a family identity and sense of belonging? Here are some ideas:

Study your children. Get to know who they are, how they are wired, their love languages, interests, desires. Then…

Experience them. I read a passage by Henri Nouwen once that said something along the lines of this: hospitality is putting yourself aside and allowing another person to be fully experienced. Our kids want to be fully experienced. They want us to come alongside them in their interests, bents, developmental stages, and desires, to be championed, encouraged, developed, nurtured, mentored, listened to, and cheered on.

Create family traditions and rhythms that build beautiful memories and captivate hearts. We learn through our environment and experiences. Simply telling a person they belong yet acting otherwise will not convince them. What we do speaks volumes and the environment of our family culture matters. Here are some ideas for building a family culture.

  • Feasting—like a big Sunday breakfast or dinner that you do each week.
  •  Family rituals—like our friend Ruth whose crew debriefs at the end of each day by serving one another with back rubs. For my family a favorite ritual is getting cozy under blankets and reading aloud together each day.
  •  Taking trips or extended time to be together. We love to go camping. Someone recently asked my seven-year-old daughter “what is one of your favorite things?” and her answer was our family camping trips. (I thought she’d say something like her doll or bike or some material thing.) I loved that glimpse into how important such experiences are to children and how they shape them. A stay-cation or camping in your backyard would be just as memorable to them. If you have the opportunity, mission trips are another wonderful thing to do together. Teenagers especially have a need to know that they are apart of something—a story—bigger than themselves. A family mission trip or serving together will give them purpose and help them find their identity and place in God’s story at a time where they are sorting out their identity— who they are and what they are here for.
  • Have fun together! God wired us in such a way that we need to rest and play together. Our responsibilities as adults can be overwhelming and sometimes we find ourselves so overcome that we forget to have fun. In these moments we need to entrust what burdens us to God so that we can exhale and enjoy one another. I recently read a translation of Psalm 46:10 which said, “Be at leisure and know that I am God.”
  • Cultivate a home environment of grace and unconditional love instead of criticism and perfectionism. Perfectionism pushes God out of the equation. Our kids need us to model for them apologizing, forgiveness, and a deep dependence on God. God’s love for us is unwavering in the midst of our ugliest sins and our kids need us to represent that reality to them. In a home where kids are constantly criticized, they will feel rejected, like they are never good enough, that love is somehow earned, and that they don’t belong.
  • Be intentional. I know this is a bit of a buzzword. But the word literally means “aimed at”—which implies that we have a target. What are you aiming at? What family culture do you want to create in order to shape your kids? What do you want your family to be about? What do you want to direct your kids toward and how will you integrate that into the way you do life as a family? What experiences do you want to incorporate? What shaping practices would you like to have in your home?

If you feel like sharing, I’d love to hear in the comments what you are already doing OR, what God might be prompting you to do differently or to begin doing—to shape your family culture and nurture a sense of belonging in your own children.