Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Redeeming Regrets and Dusting Off Dreams

This past year I began dusting off some shelved dreams. I entered a new season- sticking my pinky toe into the waters of being a mom and something else too: a writer.

Beginning when my daughter was born 13 years ago, I focused my sole attention on raising, feeding, training, teaching, and cleaning up after her (and later, two more kids). Staying at home, instead of finishing my college degree or pursuing a career, was both a sacrifice and a privilege.  I am thankful for the support of my husband and for the time I had seeing our babies grow up right before my eyes. It wasn't all cute, mind you- especially the parental learning curves, the sleepless newborn nights, the periodic loneliness, and the messy potty training- but I never regretted diving into the whole crazy world of diapers and dishes over resume-building or professional success.

I do, however, still have some regrets.

Aside from embracing motherhood with all of it's priceless memories, I wish I knew that it didn't have to be my ONLY occupation. The new "Mother" title didn't erase my name, my personality, or my God-given abilities prior to holding those precious swaddled infants in the hospital.  I came into the mom season with too many ideals and too many rules, even though I was never officially read any list of expectations on child-rearing before taking my baby home to care for.  But I, personally, critiqued every single one of my moves with an unhealthy slathering of guilt and internal sermons on selfishness.

I regret that I believed that there was only one way to parent.

I regret that I perceived that time spent on personal endeavors was self-centered.

I regret that I was so hard on myself.

I regret that I lived too long without joy or freedom.

It seems backwards, I suppose- wishing that I had mothered a little less. I guess it's more that if I could do it again, I would have mothered better.  Because functioning out of my strengths and skills as often or more than I struggled in areas that were, to me, very draining, it may have all balanced out. My ritual disappointment in my housekeeping ineptitude would have been stabilized with some encouragement in my creative leanings. Instead of squashing my natural inclinations, I could have figured out a way to merge my home life with other avocations. The two worlds wouldn't necessarily cancel each other out.

I find so much fulfillment when I come home after a lunch meeting of the minds or completing a creative project.  It's exciting to share my passions with my family and has been more rewarding than I expected. The best part is realizing that my kids love this side of their mom too.  We get to support ALL of our dreams and celebrate inches of progress TOGETHER.

We are like those intricate patterns that we love to fill in with colored pencils.  The designs catch our eyes because of their bold and colorful complexities- not just a single black line segment on a page. I am a woman, mother, wife, friend, sister, leader, follower, daughter, volunteer, writer, artist, laundress, cook, teacher, reader, and a dozen other things.  And all of those shades of me are elements of some kind of unfinished work of art.

When God said that His creation of me "was good (Genesis 1:27, 31)," I don't think He was referring only to one of my roles or capabilities. I am ALL of the lines and ALL of the colors! And as an artist, which is one of the many roles I ascribe to God, I imagine that it brings him much pleasure to see His flowers bloom and His people live vibrantly.

I am finding that God redeems regrets. He restores dreams.  And the most exciting truth is that He isn't finished making masterpieces out of us (Ephesians 2:10)!

Moms, if you have ever felt expected to cram yourself into some kind of one-size-fits-all box, remember that God has made us all unique.  He planned it that way (1 Corinthians 12).  The "abundant life (John 10:10) doesn't include forcing yourself into someone else's version of motherhood.

Bring out all of your colors and unpack those dreams!
"Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!  Your workmanship is marvelous-  how well i know it (Psalm 139:14)!"
Have you set aside some dreams for a season?  What makes you come alive?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Living Fulfilled When There's No Applause

Have you ever felt that your efforts weren't receiving the attention that you thought they deserved?  At school, on the job, at home? I have often written about the times I've felt unnoticed in motherhood and how I've sought perspective and encouragement during those thankless and lonely moments: Invisible Work and Other Unseen Things, and But Who's Going to be MY Cheerleader?
On a day-to-day basis, we often do things for others without much recognition. My family doesn't always see me sweeping the floor, let alone cheer for me. My work is basically invisible, which can really do a number on how I view myself and what I do. Dissatisfaction and disappointment can regularly sneak in and disrupt my purpose. How can we still find fulfillment during those times of doubt and lack of appreciation?

I recently finished re-reading a small revised version of letters written by a monk from the 17th century.  Practicing God's Presence: Brother Lawrence for Today's Reader introduced me to an incredibly humble man seeking contentment in less than glamorous circumstances.  He performed menial tasks despite physical handicaps and illnesses and still found indescribable joy.  Though Brother Lawrence had given up "the pleasures of his life," he felt that "God surprised him by giving him a life of satisfaction" in return (Elmer, 17). He also believed that, "We shouldn't get tired of doing little things for God, either, because God doesn't care about the size of the task (Elmer, 33)."

I have preached these truths to myself often, because valuing smallness has been a consistent battle for me.The Bible tells us to "work willingly at whatever you do (Col. 3:23) and to "be faithful over a little (Matthew 25:21 )."  So while what I do may not be described as anything grand, I have to remember that the size of a job or the prestige of a title, doesn't mean as much to God.

For as long as I can remember, I have chased big dreams.  It started when I was nine years old, begging to sing a solo in church and continued well into young adulthood.  As I continued to pursue moments of lime-lit greatness, I stumbled down paths of disappointment.  I mistakenly connected my worth to the way people viewed me.  If they approved, I was doing well. If I lost the election or didn't get the part, I felt the defeat of failure. How would I ever make a difference in the world if no one could see me?

To be seen. At the heart of my delusions of grandeur was simply the very basic needs to be loved and to be known. Beneath my seemingly selfish ambitions, that little girl version of me wearing patent leather dress shoes just wanted to do big things. She wanted to know that she mattered and that she was important. 

I was just using the wrong tools to measure my self-worth and my impact.

Over time, I've learned that there is only one source of truth, and that it brings freedom.  Knowing what God says about me limits the power of others' opinions- whether they are loudly spoken or confusingly silent. And like the Apostle Paul, I am continuing to learn  "to be content whatever the circumstances (Phil. 4:11) and like Brother Lawrence to be "happy to work at whatever small job...all for the love of God (Elmer, 24)."

What about you? Have you struggled in the area of not being noticed? Can you relate?

I would love to hear more from others who've been in a season of obscurity- to learn how you processed and how you persevered. Are you still in that place, or have you moved ahead a few spaces?  Will you share your experience in THIS SURVEY?  Your comments can help me write more specifically about the things that help you! 
Obviously, I'm not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ's servant (Galatians 1:10).