Mothers and Sons

I know most mothers passionately love their children, regardless of their gender, but because I have no girls, I can only speak about the love of a mother for her sons.

FIERCE is the adjective that comes to mind.  I felt it the first time a kid was mean to my first son.  We were in a playground when Isaac was about two, and a boy much older than he was pushed him down the slide.  Isaac was fine, but I almost ripped out the mean kid’s throat.  It didn’t help that the boy’s mother was sitting in the car, smoking, oblivious to his actions.  So I corrected the child, rather sternly, and he went to another slide to play.  He kept looking over his shoulder at me with horror in his eyes.  I think I scared him.  Don’t mess with my cubs!

I was scared too.  In a brief moment, I realized that I wouldn’t always be there; the day would come when Isaac would be on his own to fight his own battles.  In an instant of excruciating agony, I realized that I would have to put him in God’s hands to protect him or I would go mad.

And now I have two boys and this agonizing love has multiplied.

There are two horrible stories in the Bible that haunt me now.  In both, baby boys are slaughtered, and their mothers have to stand by helplessly watching.  Twice, wicked men kill male babies in desperate attempts to retain power:

First Pharaoh:

Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Throw every newborn Hebrew boy into the Nile River. But you may let the girls live.” (Ex 1:22)

Then Herod:

Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:  “A cry was heard in Ramah—/weeping and great mourning.  /Rachel weeps for her children,/ refusing to be comforted,/ for they are dead.” (Matt 2: 16-18)

How horrible.  I can’t imagine it.  I don’t want to imagine it.

And there’s another mother and son story in the Bible that stirs my heart like never before:  that of Mary and Jesus.  I imagine Mary holding this precious baby boy and hearing such profound prophesy about him, and then these awesome, but bitter words:

Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” (Luke 2:34-35)

How did it feel to raise the Messiah?  As special as Jesus was, though, I am sure Mary felt the same fierce love for him as mothers do for their sons today.  I am sure she beamed with pride at his accomplishments and feared the sword that would pierce her soul.

It is amazing to realize that these intense feelings of love we harbor are but a microcosm of the love God has for us.  His love is more fierce, more profound, more vast than mine for my sons.  My love is but a taste of His love: my pride, my joy, my ferocious care but a human, imperfect version of His.  And He is the author of both maternal and paternal love.

I love this song and it certainly is apropos this time of year.  The love of a mother for her son.  The love of God for us:

Mary Did You Know

Strength in Weakness

When our one year old woke up, cooing and ready to go at 4:30 a few mornings ago, I thought I was going to lose it.  Our boys wake up early, but 4:30 was a new record and despair and exhaustion bore down on me as I scooped Ben up and tried to persuade him to go back to sleep.  I tried to look on the bright side.  I knew he would have a great nap later on, but I still wrestled with my old foe, self-pity.

When I was single, I often struggled with self-pity as I looked around at my married friends and envied their state.  I assumed their lives were full of love and laughter, more rich than mine, less lonely, more stable and secure.  I feared spinsterhood and failed to appreciate just how rich my life really was.  I often doubted God’s love and wondered why He allowed me to suffer so.

And that morning, happily married with two gorgeous boys, I had the same kinds of dark thoughts and feelings.  Once again, my soul was caste down, my flesh whining, “Why can’t you just let me SLEEP??!”  I felt desperate, afraid I wouldn’t make it through the day and mad.

Reflecting on all this later on, I realized that there are times in life, whether we are married or single, with or without children, that our souls are stretched, our flesh winces in pain and we must put our hope in God.

That morning, I chose to trust God: trust that His grace would be made perfect in my weakness (2 Cor 12:8), that he would help me to be a good mom to my sons, and even experience joy in the midst of it all.  And He came through, just as He did when I yielded to Him in my single days; we had a great day.

Nothing could have prepared me for the realities of motherhood: both the rich and the hard.  I never imagined the desperate feelings of overwhelming love you could feel for a little person, the pride and joy of seeing them grow and reach new milestone.  How profound is the fierce, protective, consuming love of a mother!  Nor was I prepared for the painfully incessant sacrifice and self-denial the office of Mother brings.

And these days, I feel just as desperate for God and his grace as I did when I was single.  I need His companionship, reassurance, strength, vision and sense of purpose in the same degree.  Everything has changed in my physical circumstances, but nothing has changed in my need for God.  It is still in Him that I live and move and have my being (Acts 17:28).  I still look in the mirror and see frailty, and lean on His everlasting arms (Deut 33:27).

We are all in this together, my sisters.  Running this race, keeping our eyes on the prize, holding onto Jesus and determined to finish well.

Be Anxious for Nothing

A few days ago, I was at an indoor playground with my boys.  Isaac was darting around and Benjamin traveled in a baby sling snug on my hip.  Within a few moments I noticed a woman staring at me; she apologized and said that she was just admiring my sling.  She was pregnant and had a toddler in tow, and she had been wondering which paraphernalia to buy; she liked the sling idea.  Within a few minutes of talking, however, she started to express guilt and insecurity over not having such a contraption for her first.  “Maybe I didn’t hold him enough.  Maybe he didn’t have enough time snuggling with Mommy…”  I asked if he seemed to often crave her arms and she said, “No, actually, he doesn’t really like to be held.”  “Oh, than it seems fine.  Perhaps with a personality like that, he wouldn’t have liked the sling…”  She seemed encouraged and reassured.  Maybe she hadn’t made a tragic mistake after all.

I went away from that conversation marveling at how much we moms worry – about everything.  It could have just as easily been me stressing about not doing something enough for one of my kids.  This time I got to be on the encouraging end, and that felt good.  We all need so much reassurance, and most moms I know teeter on the brink of debilitating insecurity.  I think there are two realities in our culture that make such insecurity more acute.  First, we have so much information about raising kids.  There are hundreds of websites telling us when our babies should sleep through the night; when our toddlers should count and make their own beds; when our teenagers should make their own money…  We are riddled with “shoulds” as our computer screen tells us what and when our kids should do certain things.  They warn us of developmental delays, potential physical hazards and behavioral warning signs and we moms internalize all of them and fear that we are ruining our kids when they don’t measure up to one of the shoulds.

Secondly, we don’t have enough wiser older women in our lives, holding our hands, giving us good old-fashioned advice and telling us that everything will be ok.  So we rely on the media for knowledge when we could really just use a healthy dose of wisdom and warm reassurance.

We Christian women carry yet another burden of fretting about our children’s spiritual development: How can we teach them about God? When will they understand the salvation message?  I hope they come to have a relationship with Jesus soon. And sometimes we have crazy high standards for behavior and character.  I remember reading an article several months ago that said Christian mothers are among the most depressed people in our society; no wonder!  We’re too stressed about our kids to enjoy life!

It’s an ingenious plan of the Enemy: he fills our lives with so much anxiety about our children that we fail to see the beauty in them and relish the privilege of parenting them.  Surely, there is a better way.  I think it starts with recognizing the Holy Spirit as our mentor, our tutor, our comforter and our friend.  On those days when I simply ask the Holy Spirit for direction and wisdom in parenting, He always whispers the right thing in my ear and the day generally goes really well.  Similarly, when I’m worn out and overwhelmed, He most always reassures me and breathes hope and rest into my soul.  It’s a matter of looking to the Lord rather than looking for more knowledge or even asking a myriad of people for their opinion or advice.  The Lord is our source of security.  We can rest in Him, knowing that He will give us the wisdom we need and that He is so much bigger than our mistakes.  This is the essence of living a Christ centered life.  He is the source of all wisdom and power and He has the ability to accomplish exceedingly abundantly more than we can ask or imagine with our kids.  His grace truly is sufficient.  We moms need to lean on those Everlasting Arms, take a deep breath and know that everything will be just fine.

Living in the Moment

I wrote a piece about this topic about a year ago, but since the Holy Spirit is still working with me on this and revealing more, I have more to share!

We just got back from a lovely vacation in St. Martin. We went there for our honeymoon, and decided to take our son, Isaac, there. When we got off the plane, we entered a world of blue water, blue skies, warm people and perfectly seasoned food. We love it there and have often wondered about living there, or some other similar island. We left computers and cell phones at home and enjoyed being “wireless” for eight whole days. And we discovered, once again, how important family vacations are.

I knew that the trip would probably throw a monkey wrench into Isaac’s schedule; it’s hard to nap and go to bed amidst new surroundings and new sounds, but the first few days were a breeze. He zonked out for two hours mid-day and then again early evening, leaving Marvin and me plenty of time to read, talk and reconnect. Then about half way through, our dear son didn’t want to sleep anymore. Nap times were a battle, which we often lost, and bedtimes a long, drawn out, exhausting affair. And I learned, once again, how hard it is for me to shift gears and go with the flow.

I’m always planning, always calculating – and so I’m often disheartened when my plans and calculations don’t work. For example, I always have a plan for what I’m going to do while my son naps, but if doesn’t nap, my entire countenance changes and I get frustrated and a bit sad. My husband reminds me to just take each day, each moment as it comes. If he doesn’t nap; we’ll do something else! It comes so easily for him: being spontaneous, shifting gears, living the moment. For me, it’s like turning a freight ship, slowly, painfully, accepting a new set of facts, a new reality.

And then I read this great quote by Patti LaBelle, “The ability to live fully in the moment – in the time and place we are right now – is one of the greatest secrets I know of living joyfully… You stop worrying about the past and stressing about the future… Your days become a gift, not a grind.” That’s it! That’s one of the reasons my husband has a happy disposition and I don’t. (Not that I’m miserable, I’m just not as naturally joyful as he is.) Marvin generally lives in the moment. He easily leaves the past behind, rarely agonizing over mistakes, and he doesn’t really think about tomorrow. When he has to plan, he’s generally optimistic. What a gift! Several Scriptures come to mind:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear…Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matt 6:25, 34)

“…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Phil. 4:11-13)

I’m not taking this to the extreme: “Eat, drink and be merry! Don’t worry; be happy!” People who fail to plan at all aren’t happy either. They live in financial stress and they often have family and health issues. There are plenty of scriptures about the virtue of being circumspect, showing moderation, saving during times of plenty and using time and money wisely.

But most of the people I know who are really enjoying life and demonstrating the joy of the Lord, suck the marrow out of TODAY. They enjoy the present and plan for the future where necessary, but they’re neither wrapped up in the future nor the past. They’ve learned that each moment is a gift to be unwrapped and enjoyed and they don’t wile away the hours regretting or speculating. They are not rigid, but fluid, bending with circumstances, not resenting them, as they come.

I’m glad my husband is rubbing off on me and the Holy Spirit is changing me. As I’ve learned to see each day as an adventure with the Lord, my disposition is lighter, less intense, more laid back. By the way, one of the best days of our vacation was a day Isaac didn’t nap. We had an awesome time at the pool and met some really great people.

Many are the plans of a man’s heart, but the Lord’s purpose prevails (Prov. 19:21). And the Lord’s purpose is always the best.

Trusting God Never Ends

Years ago I went to a playground with a friend so that her daughter could play as we talked. I was discouraged about being single: when would God answer my prayers? Would he answer them? I struggled trusting God, that His plan and timing were perfect. As my friend pushed her little girl in the swing, she said, “You know, Nicole, trusting never ends. When this prayer is answered a whole new realm of issues will open up and you will still have to trust God. Learn to trust Him now and that will serve you the rest of your life.” She referred the fears associated with raising children and letting them go, and loving a man and trusting God with his safety. Her words didn’t really help me then; all I could see was my singleness, but just last week they re-emerged from the recesses of my mind and made all the sense in the world.

A week ago, my husband went on a business trip and on the second day of his absence I found myself laboring under anxiety. I woke up anxious and went to bed anxious. I struggled with all kinds of fears: fears about his safety, about our son, about our extended family, about my friends. Basically, I worried about everyone closest to me and I felt vulnerable and alone in my turmoil. That’s when the words of my friend hit home.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m not minimizing the struggles of singleness and trusting God for a mate. Those are real, and profound. But worry really didn’t leave my life forever the day I wed. On the contrary, a new set of anxious thoughts just replaced the old ones and like my friend said, I find myself needing to trust God with a whole new set of issues. Now I’m asking Him for wisdom to raise our son properly, to keep him free from sickness and disease, to protect my husband in the air and on the ground, to give him favor at job and prosper the work of his hands. I talk to God about our parents and our role in their aging process; and I have dear friends, single and married, who are facing real challenges. I am asking God to deliver, protect and bless them.

No, trusting God never ends. No matter who you are or where you are in life, you will face issues bigger than yourself and realities beyond your control. You will weather stormy seas and go through times struggling to walk on the water. God will answer your prayers and there will be times of rest, but then that old foe Worry returns and you will once again hold certain Scriptures dear and cling to your Savior in desperate dependence.

Until we meet Him, we have to trust Him. We have to know His hand is holding ours. That is the only way to enjoy true peace.

Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you (Psalm 37:5).