because motherhood will crack you wide open.

A few nights ago my parents had a Bible study at their house and one of their group members asked me,

“How is your visit to Boston going? Are you just here to relax, or did you come for some sort of business?”

It was 8:00 at night. Both of my kids were bathed and in jammies and still awake, full of whatever business they seem to get full of when it’s dark and they are late to bed. I was in my parents’ small home which was filled with adults I’d never met before, and I’d been travelling alone with a 2 year old and a 9 month old since 3:30 in the morning on Saturday.

So I wasn’t sure how to answer him. ‘Cause while I’m definitely not getting paid to do any business during my visit, I’m sure as hell not relaxing in any definition of the word. In fact, these last few weeks have hit me hard. Hit me like an airliner trundling down the runway, like a wind whipping through trees, like a bottle blunt over the head. Sam was on-call the week before we left which meant we didn’t see him for days at a time, and then I packed up a big suitcase full of my jeans and sweaters mingled with their smaller jeans and tiny sweaters, and left for a ten day trip with Clara and Sammy to see my family in Boston. I’ve been planning this trip since my birthday in April when I asked for airline tickets to see my parents, my brother Robert,  my sister-in-law Malia, and my baby niece Elsie. It’s good to be here. I am supposed to be here.

But hey, man. I’m tired.
I’m tired from worrying about our plane rides.
I’m tired from the actual plane rides.
I’m tired from parenting alone the last few weeks.
And tonight;
oh, gosh,
tonight?
I’m tired. Of. My. Kids.
Not of them, themselves, though they can be a little awful,
but of their never-ending need for me and my space and my time.

My friend lost her baby this week, 20 weeks into her pregnancy. Her little boy, she’ll never meet him. She’ll never hear his heartbeat again or get to shush and sway him to sleep, never get to cut his hair, never have to put him in time-out. It’s a heartbreak I’m familiar with, the searing, burning pain of losing a beloved baby. It’s a loss a mother does not forget. I’ve lost a baby and I’ve kissed the quiet face of another mother’s lost baby and I’ve prayed in anger over lost babies and there’s something that breaks in that empty mother that doesn’t get fixed. It does not repair. Like a crack in the earth that now contains a formidable rushing river, it is a break so violent that it can absolutely never be repaired.
It can grow a river.
It can produce beauty.
But it cannot be fixed.

Tonight, after another long day with my two year old, the one who never ever ever stops talking and the one who never ever ever stops pushing boundaries, I called my husband behind closed doors and whispered that I wanted to run away from his daughter. I don’t know what to do anymore, Sam, I said. She’s pushed me to the edge. I’m here. On the edge. I’m out of ideas. And I’m tired. I was calling him from thousands of miles away and two time zones ahead and I just really needed to hear his voice, to hear from someone else who knows the difficult loveliness of our Clara and her complicated, intelligent, manipulative brand of disobedience. I needed another soldier to remind me why we’re fighting this good fight at all.

My fellow warrior gave me some advice (he was irate, he is as stubborn as she is and doesn’t put up with nearly as much as I do) and then said with resolve,
Don’t let her break you, Jess! You know she’ll try to break you! 

It was funny, and we laughed, mostly because it’s true, but let’s be honest.
Motherhood breaks us.
There is no place on a man’s body that breaks open and produces life.
But a woman?
No matter what way a baby is born, through a cesarean cut or a birth canal,
a woman is broken open for her child.

These little people, these beating hearts, they break us open. They devastate our bodies and our lives in the most resplendent fashion, carving paths and valleys so deep that they hurt, changing our very landscape with every breath that they do or do not take. The pain of raising my children is carving away at me, with every argument and every defiance and every stumble away from my instruction, the pain of their pain is widening a crevice inside me. This relentless love for my children, the terrifying and determined love of a mother, it chisels in me walls steep with miles and miles of edges and cliffs. I cannot help but love them with a wonder awash in fear, cannot help but want the best for them with a need akin to desperation.
And so the valleys extend.

But then?
Then come the currents.
The river waters begin to swell, begin to swirl, begin tumbling over those dry and sparse grounds we thought we knew so well.
It’s all changing, it’s all hard, and it’s all so achingly beautiful.

It is the very essence of God, of a holy refreshing love, breaking and changing and making space for what will come.
In the suffering, may there be promise.
In the silence, may there be hope.
In the pain, may there be the scent of fresh water. May the rain be fruitful and may the land find healing.

I am in Boston on a dark and cold autumn night and I’m so glad my babies are asleep. Somewhere back home in the chill of an Idaho October, I imagine my friend would do anything to give her baby more time.
Motherhood breaks us open. It cracks us through and through. Tonight I’m praying for refreshment, and for new days. For rivers to come. For cliffs to be beautiful and not just dangerous. For Clara to listen and for more patience and wisdom, and most of all for a mom who is getting ready to tell her son goodbye.

May joy come in the morning. 

 

don’t read this if you don’t want a baby.

This kid is just your basic dose of anti-birth control.
He is happy.
He is cute.
He is friendly.
He is sweet.

He doesn’t have those stupid looking top teeth yet, the ones that turn babies into hillbillies. I found pictures of Clara at this age and was horrified at her hillbilly teeth.

I dread the day this happens to Sammy.

Although that bottom one is looking suspicious.

He crawls, he stands, and he falls all day long and I would recognize the sound of that head hitting a hardwood floor anywhere, anytime. He rarely cries when it happens, but he always crawls to find me for a tight hug of reassurance.

He puts up with a lot of different business from a lot of little hands and he is eternally patient and long-suffering.

I tell him “no” and he grins. I tell him “no” again, more stern, and he laughs. He’s gonna be difficult to discipline, that’s pretty clear.

He loves being held. He loves giving hugs. He loves everyone.

His sister lights up his world. Here’s the scene at my house every morning at 7:30, when we hear him stirring and chatting in his bed:
Clara bounces towards the nursery shouting “He’s awake! Brudder’s awake, mama! No problems, I get him!” His grin beams across the room as she reaches through the crib slats to stroke his cheek and say “Good morning, Sammy. Hi! I miss you! Good morning, bubbies!” He smiles and chatters to her. I smile and try to memorize the way they look at each other.

And even when he’s sad, it’s pretty damn adorable.
Samuel Iradell Horney V.
You’re nine months old and still hanging on to that favorite child slot, buddy. I’m sure you’ll be bumped once you start sassing me or fighting with your sister or flushing jewelry down our toilets, but for now? Enjoy the prestige.
And your dad should bow down to the maker of the almighty IUD, because you make me want to get pregnant by like, YESTERDAY.
Love you Sam guy! Love you so so so much!

Elevate.

I love reality tv. I do. It’s shameful, I’m sure, and most people would probably not admit to such a low-level pleasure, but COME ON. It’s addicting to watch ‘real life’ on screen, scripted or no, because it feeds the obscene voyeuristic side of my personality- the same reason I read mostly non-fiction, the same reason I like to watch my neighbors out my kitchen window while I wash dishes, the same reason I have to delete Instagram off my phone every few weeks or so because I just can’t stop looking.

Shameful confessions aside, one of the shows I like best is Master Chef. I’d never watched any cooking shows before this one, and there’s this one phrase that they use all the time. I wonder if it’s part of every cooking contest, but one thing the contestants aim for is to “elevate their dish.” Basically, this means that instead of making macaroni and cheese, you make macaroni and cheese with, say, a truffle sauce. To ‘elevate’ food is to give it finesse, give it flair, make the flavors new again and make the dish a product of imagination and love. With the right skill set and the right open mind, a good chef can elevate even the most basic of foods.

That idea sticks with me. Not just because I love to cook, and I love to try new dishes. But because the thought that something like a stupid hotdog, in the capable hands of a talented chef, could become a surprising and delicious meal. That’s fascinating. And challenging. And pardon my love for a good metaphor, but isn’t that the key to living a good life? What can I do to elevate my daily living, to re-imagine its place and reassign its value?

How do I make the basic into the beautiful?

Most religions have some pillar based on this very idea, actually. Buddhists call it utthana-sampada, or working diligently at all you do. Mormons work hard to do good because they are aiming towards their own godhood, attaining deification.
And Christians offer themselves up to a life of being “holy.”
Or, the way I learned it, being set apart.

All of these theologies encourage an elevation of the mundane, an understanding that everything matters. Every act, every word, every moment of every day has a meaning with roots deeper than we can see. Some elevate for the sake of understanding, some for the sake of castles in the sky. For me, as a Christian, the reason for elevation isn’t a reason at all. It’s a calling.

It’s not about ‘inner peace’. Or karma, or any sort of celestial reward system. For me, learning to sanctify the act of hanging tiny t-shirts in a closet, or nursing my baby, or teaching my daughter to be kind: it’s all a matter of re-branding. Re-branding the mundane for the sake of the Holy, for the sake of my soul and my place on this earth as a loved daughter of the King. Elevating that which seems lowly by way of a changed heart, because I know for a fact that all of this matters very, very much.

And while I know this is a short season of my life, this home bound, inward universe of raising my young children, I’m learning a lesson that I couldn’t have absorbed anywhere bigger than my house.

It was easy for me to feel gratified in past occupations. It was easy to elevate my day to day activities.
Running an after school program for elementary school kids? Easy to see the purpose, easy to accept the love and thanks of the families we served. Attending college the last 3 years? It was easy to push forward because finishing my degree seemed pertinent, to me and to my future.

I’ve served coffee at Starbucks, I’ve directed summer camps, I’ve worked at churches and insurance offices and even a Japanese karaoke bar in Hawaii. Some of those jobs were draining and some of them were exciting, but every single one of them came with some sort of extrinsic value, like paychecks or community support or free drinks.

But now? Being a mom? It has a different sort of value system. It’s more difficult for me to elevate. It takes purposeful heart checks throughout each hour to remember the incredible investments I am making in my family, in my kids and every person they will ever meet.

I miss having a paycheck. Or feedback. But I have to say, there is a sincerity to my every day movements that has not been there before. I think it’s the lack of external motivation, the lack of accolades from any sort of public opinion or authority figure, from professors or managers, because it’s just me. It’s just me and these kids and honestly, they won’t even remember most of what goes on during these early years of their development. These days belong to us, to our ins and outs, to our moods, to our small but meaningful accomplishments. These days belong to me and my God, and the act of elevation is a discipline that is at once softening me, and also hardening a core of truth about What Is Holy and What Matters.

I think at some point, we all fight that hollow feeling of What Am I Doing Here? We work at jobs we hate, we are in relationships we don’t understand, we forgot what we meant when we started out and everything looks like cold noodles and hot dogs.

We have to elevate.
We have to know that when we are loved so enormously by a God who gives every sparrow a nest and every heart a new mercy with each sunrise, our moments surely matter.

When we sit in a planning meeting.
When our hands are dirty with another day of work.
When we pay our bills at night.
When we feel stuck.
When we fight against the injustice of poverty and yet it never seems to be enough.
When we write into the void.

It matters. More than we could ever know, it all matters.

I’ll try to remember that later, when I gather baby Sam in tight while he cries through another night of teething. When he sighs with desperate relief because his mom is near.

Elevating. It’s not feigning relevance. It’s not inflation or vanity;
it’s perception.
it’s mindful.
it’s the heart of God, one day at a time.


“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart.” – Paul the apostle 

releasing the gaps.

I was 16 years old before I realized my parents had faults. I mean, maybe I suspected it before then and of course I was rotten to them for years before that but still. It was a shock to me when they became human. I wonder if everyone has that moment, or if comes more gradually for some of us, that moment when our moms and dads shrink a little and the world sort of zeroes in on their inadequacies and suddenly, SUDDENLY nothing can be trusted. If my parents don’t know everything, then what the heck does any of this mean? we might ask ourselves in that moment of revelation. There are times I look at my own kids wondering if they aren’t just looking right back through me, already aware of my deep, abiding failures as a human being.

A while ago we went to Washington to visit our family. Sam left me and the kids there for the week while he went back home to work. It was the first time I’d ever been away by myself with Clara and Sammy, and each night of our trip was a small battle for a full night’s sleep. They couldn’t relax, they couldn’t get comfortable, and, of course, they both came down with a cold. Every night I laid in a twin bed in the downstairs office, the babies burrowed into my sides, occasionally waking themselves in a start and reaching out for me with shaky arms. They would whimper my name and feel around in the dark for my face. Assured I was still there, they would fall back asleep with limbs draped over me and each other, safe in the knowledge that their mother was close by.

And it occurred to me on that trip; in the dark of the small office where the three of us slept side by side, their bodies tucked into mine; in the kitchen where I settled each of them on a hip during those cranky late afternoon hours; when I would come up the stairs and watch both of their faces light up at the wondrous sight of their mother approachingit occurred to me what an enormous privilege it is to be someones everything.

It’s also scary as hell.

These babies, you know, they live and die by me. They would follow me to the ends of the earth and I am the center of their knee-high universe.
But about when my kids stop worshipping me? What about when they wake up and realize that beyond being imperfect, I have actively been screwing them up for decades?

It’s probably going to take my kids a long time to see me and their dad through the open truth of adulthood. They will adore us for years to come, copying our every steps and voicing our opinions like they are their own, reenacting our way of life because, just like every kid, they will believe it is the only way of life. It’s scary, isn’t it, that kids believe and trust their parents so willingly? We are their first mirror. They seem themselves through our vision, they see the world through our lenses, they believe what they believe because we say it so.

And yeah, YES, that is unsettling.
Because I know me.
I know what they will eventually find out about me, I can count to the stars and back all the ways that I fear letting them down, those gaps in my parenting and my person hood, and it is deeply terrifying.

Parents make enormous mistakes. Parents hurt their kids. They try and they fail to be everything their own parents were not and they try and they fail to be the one family who doesn’t screw everything up.

And you know what? You might do a really good job of that for awhile. You might do your best and things will be fine but let me tell you! Let me tell you. The day will come. Problems will arise. It will all hit the proverbial fan and it. will. stink.

However.

The good news.

The news I carry around for safe keeping.

It is in my mistakes that God shines through. It is in the gaps that the God-light of true and perfect love has room to break through and warm my kids’ hearts, melt away those ugly parts of them that I can’t reach or even begin to understand. That is a God job. And He will use my mistakes to do it. Just like that feeling of safety in the dark and that wonder in their eyes when my babies know I am near, that is a whisper to them of the safety and wonder in their true Father’s arms. It’s both things, you guys. We know goodness through our parents and we know failure through our parents, and both are so important to our growth.

This is why God puts us in families.
Why He gives us parents, I think.
To see His goodness in their goodness. 
And His completion in their faults.  

The failures of me as a mother reveal my lacking. My defects. And I hope- I pray- that the lack will send them hunting. Send my kids to search for something better. Something that fulfills them and knows them more than even I could dream.
Someone without defect. Someone with perfect love.

May any goodness in me point you towards heaven, babies.
And may my mistakes do the same.