Advice From the Person Least Likely to be a Mom

 

I stumbled across this post that I wrote over three years ago about how difficult I found parenting to be… oh, how true that remains! I thought I would re-publish it because 1) the book I recommend is still one of my favorites, and 2) the pictures of baby Jeremiah are cracking me up! He was such a mess! 

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I’ve never been a kid person. When Michael and I first got married (and for many years after that) I would walk by the baby isle at Target and inwardly cringe at all of the baby stuff. I didn’t hate babies, I just had no idea what I would do with one of my own. Kids were something for later… waaaaay later.

And then something happened and now I was living in “later.” It was time to think about having a baby. When we talked about having children, we always jumped ahead in our thinking to when they would be cool. Like when they were 9 or 10 years old. When they would be able to read and play guitar and have a conversation. We didn’t really focus on what it would be like to have an infant– largely because we had absolutely no idea.

For instance, did you know that new moms can become slightly irrational about their little ones? I do not usually consider myself to be the irrational type, but within 12 hours of bringing J home, I became obsessed with the temperature in his room. He was born on July 1, but I was convinced we were keeping it too cold in the house. I bought two thermometers for his room because I needed to know at all times what the temperature and humidity level was. I needed two thermometers so that I could make sure they were accurate.

I didn’t realize how much this child would change me. I knew he would change a lot of things about my life– sleeping, to name a big one– but I didn’t realize how much he would change me. I didn’t know how much I would miss him while he spent an afternoon at Grammy’s. I didn’t know how much I would love making him giggle hysterically by yelling “Boo!” at him. I wasn’t prepared for how hard it would be to listen to him cry in his crib. I had no idea how much my heart would leap when he placed his hands on either side of my face, looked me straight in the eyes, and leaned in super fast for a kiss (which turned into more of a head butt.)

I had no idea about anything baby-related and I didn’t really try to fix that. I read a few books when I was pregnant about how to swaddle a baby and help him sleep through the night, but that was it. In my mind, there was a good reason for not reading tons of books about becoming a parent. I didn’t want to obsess over every decision I made. I didn’t want to read books that would contradict each other and leave me frustrated and confused. I didn’t want to read about all the things I should be doing and create more and more metrics to judge myself by. I’ve been down that road before and it never ends up where I think it will. It took a really long time, but I’ve mostly embraced the idea of grace. The idea that I am going to make mistakes but there is grace for me.

I didn’t dive into all the books that I might have read. Instead, I turned to a few dear friends who probably did read all those books and I said, “Help me please!” I have learned a ton from them and I am grateful for their patience with me. I know they think I’m a bit strange with all my [basic] questions, but I would rather ask someone I love (and who loves me!) what they tried and how it worked, than try and sort through what books are going to be helpful and what books are going to make me hate myself.

So, this next part is going to be pretty ironic because I am now going to recommend a parenting book that I read and really loved. I am not against books. I love books! I’m just trying to be more discerning about what I read and whose advice I take. This book is one that has really stuck with me and I find myself thinking about throughout the day. Especially in those “melt-down” moments.

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Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson- The authors do a fantastic job of showing us how to bring the Gospel into our parenting. What I think about the Gospel is the most important thing about me. So to have a book that demonstrates how the Gospel dispenses grace into every aspect of parenting is incredibly refreshing. There’s good theology in this book, but there are also good, practical discussions on how to raise your children to love, adore, and be captured by the Gospel.

“Every way we try to make our kids “good” is simply an extension of Old Testament Law– a set of standards that is not only unable to save our children, but also powerless to change them. No, rules are not the answer. What they need is GRACE. We must tell our kids of the grace-giving God who freely adopts rebels and transforms them into loving sons and daughters. If this is not the message your children hear, if you are just telling them to “be good,” then the gospel needs to transform your parenting too.”

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And then this happened…

I love old things. Old houses, old barns, old people. Truly, I’ve thought for a long time that old people are actually way cooler than new people. The same goes for furniture and dishes. I live in an old house and have a lot of old stuff in it. And it’s worked out pretty well.

And then this happened.

This china cabinet was given to me by my parents. My dad’s family acquired it sometime in the 1930’s. As a little girl growing up, I remember it being filled with pretty china and crystal– this exact china and crystal, actually. When I got married, my mother asked if I wanted any of the family china. I had always loved her china and was thrilled that she was offering it to me. It’s a beautiful pattern– subtle silver and gray accents on bone white china. Very understated considering it was purchased in 1974!

I’m not a terribly sentimental person when it comes to stuff. I will throw away things in a heart beat. I don’t like clutter and have no problem tossing out things that have served their purpose but are no longer needed. But when the shelf collapsed today and glasses and cups started sliding forward, my heart sank. I’m pretty sure it happened in slow motion. The shelf slowly gave way… like someone who has been holding up something too heavy for too long. It just decided it was time to take a deep breath and lay down its burden.

I texted Michael a picture and asked him to call me. He said he would fix it when he got home. And so I walked past the sad china cabinet all day, hoping that we would be able to rescue the china and crystal inside. When Michael got home and assessed the situation, I think he was almost excited. It was like a puzzle for him– a giant version of Jenga. We put some pillows down on the floor and rehearsed what we would do. The original plan was to open the left door very slowly and use a wooden spoon to support the pieces that were resting against the door. The wooden spoon quickly proved too wide, so we opted for a metal spatula. That looked like it might work, then we realized it was too short.

Then, with an excitement that I can only describe as knowing that you have the right tool for the job, Michael quickly ran to the barn and grabbed his T-square. Who knew the day would be saved by a really big ruler?

We were able to save every single piece– that’s just crazy to me! Nothing broke when the shelf originally gave way, and nothing broke as we opened the door and cautiously removed the china and crystal piece by piece. It was such a chaotic mess with glasses and cups all tangled together. And then, as if nothing happened, it was all put right again.

This whole episode has made me think about how often I feel like my life is the jumbled up china cabinet. Everything is precariously situated, just waiting for the door to open and my life to come crashing down. We’re all so delicate and fragile– we will break if we aren’t careful with each other. But, I also know that we can all be put right again. Sometimes all we can do is wait. Though it feels hopeless, I know we won’t stay jumbled up forever. Of that I am sure.

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Communities of Grace

I stumbled across a short article from the Resurgence called Communities of Grace vs. Communities of Performance. (Go ahead and read it right now- it will take you 2 minutes, tops.) It was written in 2009 and I’m not even sure how I found it. What I do know is that it resonated deeply with what I have observed in my own life. The author, Tim Chester, writes, “Communities of performance may talk a lot about grace, but they value performance—Christians who have it all figured out, churches that run smoothly, meetings that are accomplished. And so they communicate that what matters is that you perform well.”

Although the context Chester is writing about is the church, I think the same principles can be applied to other types of communities. Families, marriages, and friendships can also be communities of grace or communities of performance. “In performance-oriented churches [families/marriages/friendships], people pretend to be okay because their standing within the church [family/marriage/friendship] depends on it. But this is the opposite of grace. Grace acknowledges that we’re all sinners, all messed up, all struggling. And grace also affirms that in Christ we all belong, all make the grade, all are welcome.”

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Michael is a lot of things- he’s friendly and warm. He’s smart and funny. He’s incredibly talented. And when I think of an example of someone who really embodies the idea of grace, Michael is the first person I think of. (I was going to say he’s graceful, but he would probably argue with my choice of words. Gracious, maybe?)

I’ve written before about my tendency to measure my worth by my accomplishments, by how I perform– it has been so hard to reprogram my thoughts to a grace-based way of thinking. There was this “Ah HA!” moment for me a few years ago that utterly changed my life. Michael and I were out somewhere with friends and because a) I can be socially awkward and b) often compensate for that by trying to be “witty,” I said some things about Michael that I thought were teasing and funny, but he thought were disrespectful. When he brought them to my attention on the ride home, I completely shut down… I didn’t know how to respond, couldn’t believe I had hurt him, and was so ashamed. But, instead of saying any of that to him, I was just quiet and started to cry.

Y’all, my husband is a saint. Truly, he has put up with some crazy behavior from me.

He was patient with me and gave me some time to collect myself. But, he didn’t just let it go. With Michael, there is no sweeping things under the rug. He cannot stand relational distance and, in the nine years of our marriage, he has taught me that it is always better to bring things out into the light and work through them.

So, there we were sitting in the car– I was crying and trying to figure out what to say to him. I was so frustrated that I had been loose with my words. But, in the course of our conversation, he helped me realize that I wasn’t really upset that I had hurt him, but I was actually concerned because I had messed up. And as I struggled to help him understand how devastating it felt– how hard it was to admit my mistake and move on– he said something I will never forget.

With all the warmth and kindness you would expect from him, he said, “Of course you are going to make mistakes. That’s what we do! And there will always, always be grace for you.”

I know this probably seems silly– like a parent telling a child it’s okay that he knocked over his cup of milk. We all make mistakes. Everyone gets that, right? How could this little scene change my life?

Because at least a dozen times a day I remind myself that there is grace for me.

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My mind plays tricks on me and it doesn’t take very long before I can go from thinking about a conversation I had with a friend to being convinced that I didn’t listen well and am a terrible person. And the thought that I messed up and now my friend may not think well of me is too much. It’s debilitating and crushing. I end up spiraling down and down until I am a wet, slobbery ball of anxiety and guilt.

In the past, the only way I could pull myself out of that crazy thought-tailspin was by telling myself that I was fine. Of course I’m a good listener. I’m probably just making a big deal about this. There’s nothing to see here, folks… move along. But the thing is, there are definitely times where I mess up. I may not, in fact, have listened well. Let’s be honest, we can all get wrapped up in our own lives and forget to listen deeply to others. The solution to my problem is not to continue to perpetuate the lie that I am actually perfect. Instead, that knowledge– seeing myself accurately, without being either too hard or too easy on myself– is only possible when I rest in the grace of Christ. I can acknowledge that I’m not perfect, I often make mistakes (some of them quite big and embarrassing), and yet there is grace for me. Instead of being absorbed with my actions, I can actually think about the person I wronged. I can go to them and ask for forgiveness and pursue reconciliation, instead of pretending that everything is fine.

Cultivating a community of grace means that not only do I remind myself of the grace I need to rest in when I mess up, but it also means that I extend grace to others when they mess up. Believing the best about someone, giving them the benefit of the doubt, remembering that their real sin isn’t again me, but against the Lord… these are ways to offer grace to someone else. Grace (like humility) is beautiful when it is directed at you, but when you are the one offering grace to someone else it is often uncomfortable. Offering grace to others doesn’t just happen, instead it is a choice. It goes against our nature, and so we must fight to be gracious people.

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One of the ways Chester contrasts communities of grace with communities of performance is by talking about failure. He says that in a community of performance, “Failure is devastating, because identity is found in ministry” but in a community of grace, “Failure is disappointing but not devastating, because identity is found in Christ.” That’s really it, isn’t it? I can reach out and grab hold of grace because I’m found in Christ– my identity is in his actions, not mine. I can trust in the One who never messed up to provide the grace for all my mistakes.

My identity cannot be in what I do, achieve, or even how well I love others. Because I am going to fail. I am going to fail to love my husband well even though I cannot think of anything else I want to do perfectly more than that. I am going to fail to always know what the right decision is, or worse, I’m going to fail to choose the right thing even when I do know what is right. At some point, I know I am going to fail my family, my friends, and my church. I’m even going to fail as I strive to offer grace to others.

But there will always, always be grace for me. And for you.