Nine years ago, I was a mom of a 19 year old, an 18 year old, a 15 year old and a 12 year old.
My husband commuted to a job 90 minutes away.
I was in the middle of some of the hardest and busiest times of my life.
Trapped in a mile-long to do list.
Trying to SEE God, but constantly pulled in a thousand directions, especially at 3:39 pm.
I must have read this quote somewhere.
It struck me enough that I stopped and posted it on Facebook. At 3:39 pm.
It was probably exactly what I needed at that specific time and wanted the world (or my little Facebook Friends world) to hear it.
To soak it in.
To bask in its freeing and life-giving truth.
God SEES me.
God loves me.
Right in the middle of the mayhem.
Right where I am, not where I “should” be.
Right at 3:39 pm.
He SEES me.
He loves me.
Maybe that day, I got a little glimpse that held me up when I needed it the most.
Maybe I blasted some music on my iPod, headphones tangled around my neck.
Maybe I stopped and danced around the kitchen with dirty dishes piled high in the sink.
And maybe today at 3:39 pm, I’ll need another peek at the never-ending love of God.
Maybe I will throw on some worship music.
Maybe I will dance freely around my office.
And maybe nine years from now, this will all happen again.
At 3:39 pm.
I hope it does. I sure hope it does.
One day, a girlish woman looked down at her big burgeoning belly and she had little red lines.
She freaked out a bit.
“Those are STRETCH marks,” her very own mama broke the news. “They will always remind you that you are a mom.”
What seemed like both three days and 75 years later, her big kid, yet still-her-baby, was taking one more step to new-found freedom. Away from her. Out into the world.
She glanced in the mirror that night, tears staining her cheeks, and those little red lines, albeit mildly faded, spoke gently to her about all the ways she had been and was still being
Before she was quite ready. Often taken-aback by what was in front of her.
To her limits. In…………….all……………the……………..ways.
In her thinking. More open-minded. Less judgmental.
Above and beyond. The call of mom duty.
From the inside out. Just like the burgeoning belly. Bringing new life.
Beyond her imagination. Who knew? There would be all this s–t–r–e–t–c–h–i–n–g?
By her child. Of course.
She took another hard look at her now mid-life, bumpy belly and she gave thanks for those little red lines.
For all the s–t–r–e–t–c–h–i–n–g. That had happened and was still happening.
Not just on the outside. But on the inside. On her heart. On her soul.
“Those are STRETCH marks,” she whispered to herself. “They will always remind you that you are a mom.”
A recycled candle jar.
Long. Slow. Deep.
Words said to me over and over again with every single contraction I had as I labored with each of my four kids.
Long. Slow. Deep.
Words I say to myself whenever my heart starts to race, my palms get sweaty and my brain is off to the races, filled with anxiety and dread.
Long. Slow. Deep.
Words the Tender Lover of my soul speaks to me when the heartache both within and around me feels unbearable.
Long. Slow. Deep.
Words that I imagine were spoken to Mary by the women in her caravan coaxing her through the laboring pushes and birth of Jesus and the comfort and joy that prevailed in the afterbirth.
It’s past midnight.
Someone I love was in much pain earlier.
Most days, I would push it aside and go to sleep.
I’m sitting at my table just breathing.
In and out.
Breathing in her pain. Long. Slow. Deep.
Holding my breath for just a few seconds as I hold her before the God who is with us in the middle of our pain, our heartache.
Breathing out the love of God to her. Long. Slow. Deep.
I’m not in the physical room with this one I love. I can’t be right now.
I can’t take away her pain.
I can’t make it magically all better.
But I can breathe for her.
I can breathe with her.
Long. Slow. Deep.
In the story of creation, God took the dust, the dirt, the ground and breathed life into it. His powerful, beautiful, love-filled life.
What sprang forth in all its beauty was us. You and me.
We were glorious.
We were sacred.
But we were also fragile.
But God didn’t and doesn’t stop there. He didn’t and doesn’t create us and then leave us alone.
We are still glorious.
We are still sacred.
And we are still fragile.
We need Him, His breath of life, every single day.
In our pain.
In our fear.
In our sadness.
Even in our joy.
We need His powerful, beautiful, love-filled life.
That’s why I breathe.
Long. Slow. Deep.
For those I love.
Often for those I don’t even really know, but can love because they are glorious, sacred and fragile just like me.
Each of us takes about 20,000 breaths per day.
20,000 chances to inhale our individual and collective suffering.
20,000 chances to hold each other and bring each other to the One who holds us in the palm of His hand and in the recesses of His heart.
20,000 chances to exhale His unending and unfailing love to one another.
But most of our breaths are rushed, fast, and shallow.
We move at a pace that requires this. Rushed. Fast. Shallow.
It’s no wonder we miss out on the powerful, beautiful, love-filled life that God has to offer us and we have to offer each other.
So tonight, at this dark and quiet hour, I don’t want to miss out. I want to be present. I want to soak in the power, the beauty and the love that is ready at the waiting.
I do nothing else but breathe.
Long. Slow. Deep.
For the one I love.
And for you.
I had to set my alarm for the first time in nine months.
I left my home in the cold cover of darkness to pick you up after five whole months of being apart.
I spent my whole entire day “getting your room ready” (since it had become where we “store” everything).
Our grocery bill is going to be quite a bit higher for the next three weeks.
We both had to quarantine to the best of our ability for the last bunch of days.
I had to fill my pantry with all your favorites and drove back out to the store because I forgot something.
There will be more dirty dishes and meals I haven’t made in months.
ALL of that just doesn’t matter. Seriously.
WHAT DOES MATTER IS ALL OF THIS:
I watched you embrace the dad you have had wrapped around your finger since you burst forth on the scene in that sterile hospital room.
I heard your particular footsteps scampering to the bathroom this morning.
I soaked in the smell of your perfume you’ve been wearing since you were 13.
You sat with me eating your favorite cereal and we just had time to talk face-to-face.
The puzzle board is back out with pieces scattered in very neatly arranged areas.
We are going to decorate the Christmas tree together.
I am hearing your laughter right now as you chat with your brother.
We went on a walk today in the freshly fallen snow.
You are here if I want to see your face, be in the same room with you, and hold your hand on the couch while we binge watch our favorite mom/daughter show.
WHAT REALLY MATTERS IS THAT YOU ARE HOME.
Best mom present ever.
I’m zipping along, buying presents online, wrangling the tree that’s a little on the skinnier side this year, and opening the Christmas cookie can filled with goodies, sneaking a bite or two.
ALL OF A SUDDEN it hits me out of nowhere.
That odd feeling that has pangs of grief intertwined with downright disbelief.
I won’t be seeing my son this year for Christmas.
My son. My actual flesh-and-blood son whose tiny body I held on my bare skin just moments after he was forcepped out of my birth canal.
The boy that wrapped himself around my legs, refusing to step into his nursery school class.
The “too-cool-for-school,” chain-around-the-neck (with the green marks to prove it) preteen.
My very own guitar-playing, camera-toting, lacrosse-eyed 16-going-on-21-year-old who would scream “Hey Mom!” into the bleachers, not caring who was around.
The young man who lived in my basement after college, couches littered with his friends who called our house their “second home.”
I won’t be seeing him this year.
He has chosen (and rightfully so) to go with his beloved to see her family.
I get it.
I did the exact same thing when I was navigating all that weird “who do we visit this year?” choices of the young adult.
But it doesn’t make it easy.
He’s still my baby boy in all.the.ways.
You get it.
I know you get it.
But who said this mom gig was easy?
No one ever.
It’s so dang hard.
We have no idea what we are getting ourselves into when we see those TWO LINES on the little screen.
No idea how much we are going to love this human.
No idea how good it’s going to feel often.
No idea how awful the constant goodbyes are (to seasons and to them).
No idea how wonderful and complicated and messy and beautiful it ALL IS.
The pangs and disbelief will show up out of nowhere in the next couple of weeks.
I’m ready for them. Kind of. I’ll cry for sure.
But you know what?
I’m really glad for them.
It means what we have is good.
He’s one of my people.
It’s how I always wanted it to be.
Lest you think we’ve got it all “going on,” I can promise you that it wasn’t always this way.
During his rough senior year, I was counting down the days until he left for college. I almost made a paper chain (it was that rough).
But now, thanks to the very kind God above, and a lot of keeping my mouth shut and my heart open, I might just make a whole different paper chain, one that counts down the days until I see him again.
Right now, it’s most likely 99.
It will be 98 tomorrow.
I can hear the sound of paper ripping.
It hits you when you least expect it.
That TWINGE of mom grief.
The lump in your throat, tear in your eye, and melancholy in your mom heart.
It might be something as simple as…
watching your 10-year-old jump in a pile of leaves knowing this might be the last time she feels carefree enough to do so because she is heading into those self-conscious middle school years.
your eighth grader asking to stand back-to-back with you so he can prove he has passed you up in the mom/son height race.
your newly-licensed driver waving goodbye to you as she backs down your driveway headed off for the very first time EVER alone in the family car.
unthinkingly grabbing your son’s favorite cereal in the grocery store a week into his college freshman year? You slowly put it back on the shelf.
It happened to me today. Again. A sign on the beach I frequent often, one I had never noticed before.
A simple board with words reminding me that I am here, standing 428 feet from the Atlantic Ocean and my 21-year-old is snug as a bug 30 minutes from the Pacific Ocean, almost 3,000 miles away.
I stared at the sign.
I teared up.
I wiped my eyes with my shirt.
That ever-so familiar TWINGE that…
…sparks gratitude for this mom journey I love.
…moves me THROUGH the hard of missing all the good that once was
…takes me TO the good that still lies ahead, waiting for me to enjoy it.
It won’t be long until I feel that TWINGE again.
It will hit me when I least expect it.
But I secretly don’t mind it at all.
613. Number of ancient Jewish laws.
613. Almost the number of rules in our home when the kids were little.
61. Probably the number of different “Family Laws” based on said rules along with kids’ ages and stages.
All of this an effort to keep track of what really mattered and didn’t, what should be disciplined and what should be praised.
But mostly just a desperate attempt to manage the chaos that seemed to be a natural part of raising a family.
One not-so-glorious day, having reached the end of my mom rope, I screamed these words in exasperation:
“JUST TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF AND YOUR STUFF!!!”
If the not-so-glorious scene had been made into a comic strip for the Sunday paper, a glowing “light bulb” would have hovered just over my red face and red head.
Boxes in my brain were immediately checked for compliance:
- Brush teeth (SELF)
- Put gas in the car (STUFF)
- Do NOT eat 17 cookies (SELF)
- Do homework (STUFF)
- No wet towels on the floor (STUFF)
- Go to bed (SELF)
- Get a job (BOTH). – YES. Get a job!
A new “Family Law” was imposed, one that didn’t take hours of preparation, spreadsheets and doctorates. The old charts were wadded up and saved as fire starters!
“TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF AND YOUR STUFF!”
Everything in our OUTER lives is managed by this sweet, simple phrase, no matter how old we are, whether we are a male or female, who we live with, what dreams we have, or what our personalities are like.
(You could play a little game and see if you can find any that don’t if you really want to. Comment if you come up with one.)
It’s the same for me and for you, our child or our parents, our spouse or our friend, our pastor or our barista at the local coffee shop.
But what about our INNER lives? What about cooperation, kindness, generosity, respect, compassion, thankfulness, forgiveness, patience, etc., the deeper issues of the heart?
Do they land in those two columns of “self” and “stuff”?
The wisest human (not me) who ever lived emphatically says, “yes.”
In fact, he reminds us that “taking care of our self and our stuff” begins with our INNER life.
Cultivating the matters of our hearts is the best care we can take of our “selves.”
Tending to our souls is the best care we can take of our “stuff.”
His words, not mine:
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23)
P.S. I need a new toothbrush!