I owe a large chunk of my sanity to the gym. It’s not exclusively the exercise that keeps my thoughts cheery, it’s also coffee, sleep, girlfriends and...oh yeah, God (of course). But the gym...it sorta had me at “hello”. Gotta love (trustworthy) childcare. Seriously, what did we ladies do before gyms offered quality kid entertainment...scratch that, let’s go even further back, what did we mamas do before the invention of cartoons (primitive childcare)?? I don’t know that I can bring myself to even imagine life that way! I swear my kids don’t watch T.V. all day...
Back to our gym discussion! These days, for me, time at the gym equals one happy mama! Well, the equation isn’t foolproof, but you get the idea.
A couple days ago I was at the gym, attempting to harness a good mood. My exercise machine/regimen of choice: the elliptical. It burns thousands upon thousands of calories, FAST (or so I’ve convinced myself). In truth the real enticement for me is that it requires zero creativity. It’s my ‘hop on and check out’ workout.
I got on that machine, hoping to sweat the trials and drama of mamahood away. It was morning (not even mid-morning) but I was already emotionally wrung out from the pre-school routine which had included a good percentage of arguing and coaxing and possibly hair loss (on my part). I was dying to lose myself in some Pandora and (hopefully) return to motherhood a civilized(ish) woman.
Even as the first few notes from my “Bethel” channel began to play through my earbuds, I could feel peace and joy filling me. It was like an injection of elation that was growing and rising inside me. The mental and emotional switch was unmistakable because no amount of joy had been anywhere near me mere seconds before.
As my legs and arms pumped out the rhythm of the music, I started to feel a chill as my arm hairs began to stand at attention. A supernatural, holy sort of thing was happening. Amid a sea of treadmills, ellipticals and stationary bikes I became acutely aware that I wasn’t alone. I could feel God all around me. He was keeping me company, placing his hand on my shoulder just long enough for me to notice his touch and calming my soul.
For some of you reading, I might be stretching those boundaries of comfort just a little. Trust me, I get it! I used to be quite the skeptic. My impulse, for most of my life, was to reject anything short of concrete. I crave facts and proof and all manner of things that require zero faith. Most of us (myself included) love our tidy, cozy little comfort zones; marked with bold, bright neon edges, coned off at the corners for extra protection. Staying within those borders is what holds the very fabric of our minds together. Without boundaries who knows what might happen. One might get CRAZY and radical; dare we say twitchy, irrational or quacky?? Maybe, and who wants to be any of that?? Not us!! No, Sir! But, I know we’ve all had these very moments...these God moments. I’m not the only one.
These experiences we’ve had, the ones that aren't easy to explain...something felt different about the space around you. Maybe it felt a bit supernatural, unearthly and indescribably beautiful. Perhaps you noticed the hairs on your arms stand straight up and you became aware of something mighty, something majestic. Sometimes we chalk those goose bumps up to the draftiness in the room or the breeze whirling through the trees, and sometimes it really is a draft or the breeze, but sometimes...it’s not. And truthfully, I think we all know the difference.
Maybe you felt Him as you carried on with the most mundane pieces of your life; the stuff that doesn’t seem like it deserves any amount of supernaturalness; while folding laundry or washing floors. Maybe you felt Him in the supermarket...or in your kitchen while you were scrubbing the dishes. Or maybe you were primed to notice Him standing right next to you as you stood on some beautiful peak overlooking a breathtaking expanse of Earth, or on that ocean’s shore watching the waves thunder powerfully against the sand.
As I exercised in excited, joy-filled awe, I wondered how many other sweat soaked bodies were experiencing what I was. I mean honestly, if God’s in the room, could I possibly be the only one aware of him?? Or maybe he came just for me, so it could be just us...just me and him (and my elliptical).
A girlfriend of mine shared a story with me not many weeks ago about a man she knew who’d died once. This friend of hers had been pronounced dead, but after a few minutes of death his heart started beating again. He’d recounted his experience of “crossing over”. He said that while he was dead, he had a distant perspective on the world, as if he were seeing it from outer space. From his vantage point he saw thousands upon thousands of beams of light bursting from the Earth’s surface in little pin-sized points. They weren’t isolated to any one location but originating from everywhere. The beams of light were people who have a relationship with God.
So, I wondered...during my supernatural exercise/worship time, had my “beam of light” blazed brighter and stronger than usual. Were people in heaven seeing my light? In the spiritual realm, did my YMCA elliptical look like a fiery searchlight-exercise machine?? Was my light beam boring a hole straight through the atmosphere and directly into the throneroom of heaven?? Or maybe what worship creates is a lightning-like event; as we reach up towards God, he reaches back, joining his power and energy to ours in a huge flaming bolt of electricity. I don’t know…
But I have to confess...I didn’t want that workout session to end. I wanted it to last forever. It was peace and joy and hope and I needed ALL of it! Before the gym, I’d tried to uncoil my mind and my emotions from that tightly wound ball of tension but all the chaos wouldn’t stop clinging to me. I couldn’t shake it. For that morning, it was as if me and God (and that elliptical) had a destiny all our own.
I want to humbly suggest that we’ve all felt God. We know when he's there and we know when he's not. Some of us experience these moments of awareness more of than others. Some of us would rather not talk about it. Possibly there are some who would prefer to not acknowledge any of it at all. I get it, but regardless of your faith or claim to none, regardless of logic, science, education or competence, each one of us...we’ve all felt Him at least once; that unexplainable but tangible thing. We can either choose to deny it OR we can open ourselves to the possibility that there’s more in this world than we can experience with our eyes, touch with our fingers or hear with our ears. Maybe, just maybe, there’s someone we can sense but can’t see.
This one goes out to all you moms who lay awake at night feeling...unsettled. You lay there perfectly poised for sleep; pillow neatly positioned; chin deep in blankets and fluffy comfort, but sleep plays hard to get. You're agitated and restless, distracted by the nature of the season you're in: parenting.
Here’s the thing about parenting: every darn day we work our hineys off, but there it still hangs, loose as ever...but that’s NOT the issue I’m here to discuss today. I just couldn’t resist saying what we’re all thinking about our post-kid hineys. Back to the real issue! Day after day we work unceasingly to love, shape and teach our tiny, mid-sized or large beautiful heaps of possibility (our children), but where is the proof that it’s sticking?? Where is the assurance that any of it is sinking in??
In truth we have no guarantees about how this whole thing is going to shake out. Parenting is one LONG walk of faith. We trust for what we may not be able to see (for a very long time) and hope for what we know is possible. We’re like deep space adventurers sending our best knowledge, our purest love, our dearest values, with our best efforts into a vast unknown. Day after day we scan those little faces, eagerly searching for a beacon of acknowledgement, a glimmer of understanding.
OK...here’s where all the obscure space analogies are coming from: it’s my third daughter (Sofia), she’s got me all riled up! She’s an amazing 5 year old and I love her. Her zeal and passion for all things (positively and negatively), it’s both beautiful and messy! In some ways I wish I were as uninhibited as she is in her approach to life...but in the same breath she makes me INSANE!
She’s bold and sooo willful. I know that someday, all her wonderful leadership qualities will work to her advantage, but in the meantime, what I’m dealing with is this: I say, “right”, she goes left. I say, “fast”, she slows her body down to a snail’s speed. A couple days ago she even said, “No-kay” to me. What the heck!? Where did she learn that?? My 10 year old doesn’t even say that!! I feel sometimes like these rough edges are just ingrained in the very fibers of her being. Maybe she has a little too much of her mama in her...I don’t know, either way I’m crazed!
All us mamas have been there; dancing along, peacefully parenting our conformists while simultaneously having to wrestle and struggling with our little anarchists. Nearly every family has a little of each...and if you don’t have any struggles, if you only have sweet little conformists, God bless you, but please keep it to yourself. I’m fragile!
Every now and then I feel it in my bones; I just know I’m on the cliffs of breakthrough with my Sofia. I see her struggling to harness her BIG attitude and all her desire to buck any resemblance of conformity. She’s an incredible little person, brimming with possibility. Daily she sits on the verge of shedding her little cave-lady ways. But even with all her raw wildness, she’s amazing, but the parenting struggle is real!
Within those beautiful glimpses of breakthrough, I see a glimmer of understanding and recognition and I begin to get a sense that all this hard mama work is paying off. It’s like a momentary peek into heaven. I can tell that she feels loved, that she feels valued and that she’s beginning to see the bigger picture. Then her little mouth produces something so pure and wise and true and in that moment I breath a temporary sigh of relief and think to myself, “Oh thank you God, we might just make it through this.”
But there have been and there still continues to be nights where I lay in my bed panicking, begging, pleading and considering if bribing God, might work to ensure my little sweeties (sometimes lunatics) grow to be wise, kind, compassionate, tenacious, brave, spiritual, human beings.
The other day as I was mulling over my parenting woes on the elliptical (at the gym), with “No-Kay!” ringing in my ears. I suddenly had a workout epiphany. Exercise always seems to shake loose my deeper thought. I could see that all my parenting frustrations had grown to the point where I was beginning to lose sight of the fact that parenting is a journey. Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s day after day, one foot in front of the other. I’m the one who needs to be brave and kind, tenacious, wise, compassionate, and spiritual, cuz those are the qualities I want to impart to my babies. I can’t just pray them into existence and then (poof!) they materialize, I need to have them too!
Here's where it all begins for me: I must refuse to give space to the accusing, fear riddled voice inside me that believes the worst outcome is possible for my kids. I must refuse to compare myself OR my family to others, cuz we’re all on our own paths with different issues, different personalities and different circumstances. Comparison almost always equals unhappiness and when it doesn’t, it equals pride. Both are icky, icky things.
So, I'm going to be a brave mama! let's be brave mamas together! Let’s fix our eyes on the goal; the one we’re praying for, the one we’re hoping for. Let’s not get distracted, because our race isn’t about speed but endurance.
There are certain places in my life where revelation is an expectation and growth seems like destiny. My Tuesday morning moms group is one of those places. It’s not a typical moms group. We don’t sit around crafting (THANK GOD!!), battling for the top position of ‘goddess of homemade...stuff’. We don’t merely chat about child rearing best practices or all those other things one might imagine goes on in a weekly moms group.
I share a table with 8ish (depending on the week’s attendance) deep, soulful, introspective women. They consider the role of ‘mother’ to be a prized position, never to be taken lightly, but they don’t think of themselves as merely that either. They’re friends and lovers and writers and students. They’re feminists, rebels and devil’s advocates. We have seasoned moms and newbies mixed in with seminary grads and high school dropouts (I’m probably stretching it a little with the ‘dropout’ bit). But there we are, all of us in the chaos of parenting and the overall messiness of life...together.
This past Tuesday, we closed our table discussion with one very wise mom sharing a theory. She said something along the lines of this: each of us wear our own unique world-view/self-view set of glasses. The lens through which we look, informs all of our thoughts, perspectives and judgments (towards others and ourselves). She suggested that we each take a moment to remove our “lenses” and replace that lens with a fresh pair; God’s lens. As much of an effort as it might be, she offered that this could be an opportunity to see ourselves the way God does. Wiping each of our slates clean...no longer the loser, ‘never meeting the mark’ mom (the way so many of us moms feel) or that ‘type A’, overachieving mom, trying to juggle it all while still looking sane. No longer the fear riddled mom or baggage laden wanderer but...what?? Who or what does God say we are??
Quickly another mom (a brilliant mom), chimed in with a rival thought. It wasn’t entirely different, just a shift in perspective. She suggested that instead of changing our lenses to better view ourselves, we might consider adjusting our lenses to properly view God. This mom, whom I deeply respect, made a special point to say that if we could focus on God and his majesty, on his holiness and loveliness, than we’d have no need to see ourselves. We would, in essence, become a non issue for ourselves. No more obsessing over our weight or other physical issues that drag us down mentally and distract us. Around the table, none of us disagreed with either perspective.
After I left though, my analytical brain started working overtime. I began to think that although both perspectives were very wise, each lacked a fullness without the compliment of the other. It seemed the perfect depiction of the beauty of humanity and our need for one another. Balanced thinking doesn't happen alone, it requires multiple contributors.
So, here’s where I think the sweet spot lies: We need to see God for who he truly is; we need to see him accurately. Not as a punitive judge who acts like the Karma patrol, perfectly poised to spank us every time we act selfishly or sinfully. And not as a withholding, unloving, ungracious, bitter and unforgiving father. Not as a distant, detached or overly serious old man with a HUGE white beard up in the clouds...somewhere. But as the loving, generous, lavish, friendly, faithful, forgiving, powerful, pure and just God.
But If we focus only on who God is and cut ourselves out of the frame, we miss a significant piece of the picture...US. We’re nearly EVERYTHING to God. So we mustn't seek to minimize ourselves in such a way. God doesn't!
Strength comes when we marry who God is with who God says we are. He says to each of us, I love you ALWAYS. I want YOU and you're worth EVERYTHING to me. Your life is valuable. I’ve chosen you. You are forgiven and pure. You’re an overcomer and you don’t need to be bound by those burdens! You are beautiful and not a mistake!
If we place our identities in motherhood, a career, relationships, our abilities or our appearance...what happens when that thing (or things) we’ve cemented our value to is rocked?? Maybe that dream job disappears or the kids grow up and leave...or heaven forbid, we grow old and our outer beauty is replaced by deep, deep smile lines upon frown lines upon “elevens” (elevens - the two lines that separate one’s eyebrows)...and all we’re left with is the hope of all hopes that our inner beauty outshines that mountain of wrinkles. Geeeez!
Having inner beauty that covers any number of wrinkles is an admirable intention. But arriving there is a whole different thing. The truth is that none of us, including me, will ever possess genuine inner beauty, uncorrupted by selfishness, insecurity, jealousy or the preoccupation with that awful suspicion that others (all of them) live better and happier than us, unless we fasten our identity and value to that one immovable thing...God.
Here I am, just days away from another Mother’s day; it’s pretty much pressing right up against me and I feel...grrrrr.
Can I just be honest??? I really don't love mother’s day! I feel like the worst mom in the world for admitting (out loud) that my day, Mother’s Day, is one of my least favorite days of the year.
I loved honoring my mom as a kid. I felt so proud of all of my handmade (school-made) cards and crafts. But something changed inside of me after becoming a mom. I got CRAZY! I’m a total nut job...only when it comes to this “holiday”. I don’t think I’m quite as wacko about other occasions (at least I hope I'm not). Most of my reasons for detesting Mother’s Day are completely illogical. I can maybe pin a bit of my negativity to commercialism, and all the pressure to be adequately...no, SUPREMELY honored. It’s stressful! It sort of builds an irritating expectation of grandiosity. But my other reasons are 100% emotional and VERY shifty.
I’m up and I’m down. I can easily settle (Monday) on “alone time” for my Mother’s day plan only to find myself (Tuesday) in a complete kink over that plan, mourning my impending distance from my kids and husband. I get to judging myself for wanting to cut my family out of my one day, the day that they’re hoping to honor me on.
Of course the opposite is just as equally possible. Many a year, I’ve planned and agreed on a “family day” of actively bonding, (take note that I’ve solidly agreed to the whole deal), then found myself feeling strangled by regret and resentment...because EVERY SINGLE ONE of my days includes my kids. So I begin wondering why I didn’t just give myself the break I could have taken.
Each year I struggle with feeling like Mother’s day is that ONE day that should be capable of holding a year’s worth of personal time and fulfillment in it...OK, maybe not a full year’s worth, but close. So, I arrive at mother’s day with a whole heap of expectations. Many of which I haven’t a clue of until my day has come and gone. Then I feel a sort of sad longing for more. I don’t mean “more” in a purely materialistic sort of way, but “more” in an “I’m not sure that the day was all I hoped it would be”, sort of way. But either way, geez, it sounds so spoiled out loud. Ick!
Mother’s day was so much easier when all I needed to do was honor my mom...and that was it! I never got the sense that she felt crazy inside the way I do. Although, I have to say, I’m just crazier over all than she is. But I think this Mother’s day, what I’m coming to understand is this: my expectations drive my unhappiness.
I wish it weren’t so and I wish I could place all the blame for my ‘Mother’s day blues’ squarely in the lap of someone else, but I can’t. I’ve always believed that possessing some level of expectation is a healthy thing. I always thought that living with zero expectation places faith in nothing and equals trust in no one. It’s a confidence in the flaws of others as opposed to allowing oneself to believe that a person might be capable of fulfilling a desire. A person whose divorced themselves of expectations has always seemed to me to be a person who's too afraid to feel the pain of being let down by a loved one. Padding one’s heart with no expectations minimizes pain and loss but doesn't allow anyone close either.
Maybe there are healthy places for lowered expectations. Because here’s the deal: at the end of the day, on any ordinary day, I know my family appreciates me. Most of all, I know my husband appreciates me. I know they all love me. I know that my husband knows that he couldn’t do this wild ride without me, so screw you mother’s day, for messing with my mind! Come Sunday, my expectations will be officially lowered...hopefully.
Happy uncorrupted Mother's Day to all you fellow mamas!
Writer and fellow traveler on the road of life.