In the comments section of this post, Susan wrote:
When I set about (rather foolishly) to write every day in October about the mission of motherhood, I had no idea what a wild ride it would be. God has been very direct in answering my questions. I come to this space on November 2 with a very different sense of mission than just a month ago." Can you share more about HOW God has been "very direct" in answering your questions? I looked at your first post, and you were partly speaking about the mission as a writer as well as that of being a mother. Were these some of your questions? How is your sense of mission different? Why? I am very, very interested. VERY interested. I am sorry it has been so hard. I think we all have our own, different issues (often), but I will say, this time with multiple ages (oldest 31, youngest still 9) has been, for maybe the last five years, VERY stretching for me. It is just harder than I expected! Perhaps things have leveled out some here (with four out of the home) -- but it's been a process! I would just love for you to share more -- is that your intention??
I think that I've been living a kind of tension that might be similar to yours. Maybe it's a universal experience when there is a large family, at least to some degree. Every woman's journey is likely a bit different but I do think there are some kindred moments.
My own struggle, as best as I can describe, was kind of on three planes. I was wrestling with the idea that somehow living a wholehearted, intentional mama life in the suburbs fell short of God's command to minister to the poor. For my entire mothering life, I'd always considered my home my mission field and this family an endless opportunity to live the works of mercy, but some recent reading had challenged that for me. Through some pretty intensive prayer and some great spiritual guidance, I think I've come to peace with that angle. I wrote about it earlier in the series.
The second plane was the idea that somehow this is all pointless. I think one way that the devil distracts and dissuades mothers of many, who came to mothering with the best intentions, is to suggest to them that their wide-eyed optimism and extraordinary openness to life was really a very silly propostition. He teases them with the apparent "failures" of their mothering experiences, the ungrateful children who hurl ugly words, the stumbling sinfulness of every day life. He taunts them with the little ones yet to raise and undermines every last shred of confidence. And he says, "don't you think you better look for something more? Clearly, this magnum opus isn't turning out so great." I think I've come to peace with that struggle, too.
The other tension was harder for me to pinpoint. I see lots of women my age, who were mothers at home with me when our firstborns were little, who homeschooled with me in those early years, and they are living in mostly empty nests and going out into the world to do some pretty interesting and even noble things. There is literature that suggests that this is the natural progression for women at midlife (not sure I buy into said literature, but it does exist).
Then, even trickier, are the women who are (were?) committed mothers at home, who, like me, discovered that with the internet, we could be mothers at home and then some. It has given me pause lately when I read about how the internet solves the loneliness problem for women who are at home in abandoned neighborhoods. I remember the feeling of nearly exhilarating connection when I found like-minded moms online. For me, there was more than just friendship. There was opportunity as well--a chance to write and publish widely, to connect with speaking opportnities, to build a professional profile--all without leaving home.
I watched as women built social network platforms, broadened horizons, and took full advantage of all the internet could offer to further a ministry and build community and encourage creativity and even provide some income for a family. I remembered when I made a decision to be a mother at home nearly a quarter century ago. It wasn't even a decision! I had no regret leaving the professional world behind to stay home with my baby. But this? This online world? It crept in and became big in my life before I really recognized it for what it was.
I found myself chafing. I wanted to be working on my book. Instead, I was plodding through college algebra. I wanted to be researching moving my blog to Wordpress. Instead, I was filling out the teacher, parent, and counselor portions of the Common App. I wanted to be writing a blog series on the The Mission of Motherhood. Instead, I was struggling to oversee a home renovation for which my husband had long planned. I wanted to commit to a speaking engagement. Instead, I knew that I was needed at home (and on the soccer field) because Mike would be traveling. I was frustrated.
It seemed like I prayed and sought counsel and wrestled and wrestled forever with this. And then, within the course of a week, God threw in everything and the kitchen sink. I came to this blog a mother at home, homeschooling a big bunch of kids, praying for more babies, and grateful to be making a home with a man I've loved since I was fifteen. That's who I was. That's still who I am. I'm a homemaker. I make a home. I can't make a home and build a social media platform or a publishing career.
If I am going to continue to write, I have to write in the margins of my life at home. I remember writing in the margins in high school. over and over again, I wrote "Mrs. Michael Foss." And now, all these years later, that is still the sum of my words in the margins.
That's who I am. The only way I'm going to be content is to be who I am. I was starting to recognize this as I worked through this The Mission of Motherhood study. Last week, it all came into very clear vision.
When Barbara Curtis died suddenly, I found myself thinking about her legacy. Barbara was a lot of things to a lot of people. To me, most of all, she was the example of a mother who had children over the entire spectrum of her childbearing years. I often looked at her relationship with her youngest daughter and found great hope that I'd be a vital part of my little girls' lives well into their young adulthood, despite my "advanced maternal age." And then Barbara died suddenly and Maddy is still so very young.
She's the same age as the boy who sits next to me with algebra, the one who has grown closer to me in the last few months than in the last few years, because somehow we find ourselves fighting through math and science together. And that seems really significant to me right now. I ache to think that I might not be around when Sarah is his age.
Barbara was nothing if not real. She was true to who she was. You always knew where you stood and you always knew what was important to her. That's a very rare thing in the internet world, I think. I don't want to be Barbara Curtis. I do want to be real. Peace is to be found in being real. The internet is a lot less stressful if we just live in the realm of real life.
The day after Barbara died was Sarah's birthday. I hadn't really slept the night before. Every year, I struggle with reliving those hours before her birth instead of just remembering them. This year has been particularly poignant. Sarah was born just before the last presidential election. This year, the election, Halloween, Barbara's death--it all collided to shake me awake and remind me that four years ago I didn't know if I'd survive childbirth and live to raise my baby. Four years ago, I was just so very grateful when I finally was wheeled into the NICU to meet the tiny baby in the too-big handknit pumpkin hat. And we were both alive.
On the morning of Sarah's birthday this year, I found myself at Starbucks. The line was ridiculously long. As I stood in line, I noticed a baby in a carseat carrier on the floor by an overstuffed chair. She had a bottle propped in front of her. And she was wearing a pumpkin hat. Her mother sat in the chair, busily tapping away on her iPhone and when the baby fussed, she rocked her with her foot. I left the cafe crying.
I'm sure it was lack of sleep, emotion from the days before, and good old anniversary reaction, but that baby in the hat rocked me to my core.
There are lots of ways to be the mother with the iPhone. I don't need an infant to make that mistake. I can make it daily with even nearly-grown children. I tried to explain this whole train of thought to my husband. I bumbled along and then concluded with, "What if I only have another fiteen years with Sarah? I don't want to spend those years living inside a screen, distracted, disconnected, and offering her just a random push with my toes now and then."
And he said, "I doesn't matter if you have fifteen years or fifty years, if you don't offer her everything now, you won't have this chance again."
And really that's it. That's it for all of them. I have now. I have no other guarantees. This is my one chance to honestly live the life of a mother at home with her children.
Oh, and then there was the kitchen sink. The kitchen sink got clogged almost two weeks ago. Not a small clog--a clog that has defied even Liquid Fire. It's defied the dishwasher repair guy. It's defied the super auger we rented from Home Depot. I have a sense that this clog is going to require we go through a wall in the basement. The basement. That's where I've stashed everything during this renovation project. The basement. That's where I kept telling myself (and the contractor) that we would turn our attention after Christmas, after the wedding. But no. The kitchen sink is demanding that the basment move to front and center right now. The kitchen sink stands to remind me that I was put on this earth to subdue. And the kitchen sink screams that my life is mostly unpredictable and many of my stresses come from trying to make commitments outside my home (even if they're merely a click away) that require a predictability from me that I cannot guarantee. Two weeks ago, the kitchen sink made me cry. I just knew it was the last thing--the final little stressor that was going to be my undoing.
And, really, it was. It was the final thing. But I'm not upset about it any more and I'm not railing against the kitchen demons who conspire to rob me of time to do more important things. I'm grateful. The drain won't make me nuts if I recognize that my mission today is to deal with drains. The drain isn't distracting me from my "real work;" it is my real work. I am able to click this laptop closed and give my full attention to the dishes in the laundry sink, the mess in the basement, the paper Christian needs me to edit, the boy who wants to go to morning Mass, the little girl who was up sick last night, the late night soccer practice...
the list goes on and on. It's my mission statement.
It's real. It's here. It's now. And it's all I've got.
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Are you thinking about the mission of motherhood, too? I'm going to join The Nester for 31 Days. I'm going to host a 31 day "retreat" here to remind myself (and anyone who wants to come along) of the mission of motherhood and matrimony. If you want to do your own 31 Days on anything you choose, head here and join! If you want to retreat from the noise of the 'net for a month and focus your own sweet home and family, grab a “Remind Myself of the Mission” button and curl up with a candle, your Bible, and this good book! Let me know your thoughts below. We can help each other hear His mission. You can add a Remind Myself button by cutting and pasting the code below.
Click here for the whole series.