Motherhood + Marriage

Motherhood + Marriage
Grace for the Middle Years
March 11, 2018 at 7:25 am 0

A Sunday reflection

  I commented the other day that we're in the middle years; though we're nearing the end of our thirties, and by all standards still fit into the "young" category, it feels like we're right in the middle. And though "middle aged" has a bunch of connotations about grey hair and going all in for a red sports car, there is something both mundane and beautiful about being in the middle. We're past the baby-rearing stage, and we glimpse the teenage years barreling towards us. Our parents will have health flare-ups but we're not yet sandwiched between launching children and caring for parents. But the years of going to weddings and baby showers have slowed. We don't spend our weekends traveling for parties or attending themed galas. We've been married long enough to know that there will be cycles of intimacy, distance, and clinging to one another for grace. That, as our marriage grows and deepens it does so in the normal day-to-day activities of making each other coffee, sacrificing our whims for the good of the other, for planning date nights and sex and learning to be silly when the weight of the world feels like it's on your shoulders. These are the small ways love looks in the middle. I've fought the middle for a long time. The way it feels so predictable and boring. Raised on Disney stories and my own idealistic and unrealistic expectations about love, marriage, parenting, and friendship, I thought the thrill would never leave. What I'm finding is we have a choice in the middle years: will I yearn for the early years when everything was fresh and full of promise, or will I patiently practice love in all the intervening small spaces of self-sacrifice? Will I try to make someone (a friend, a child, a mate) into someone they're not or will I love them as they are? The middle can be boring. It's often unsexy. It lacks the thrill of the beginning when all was new. But it hasn't yet arrived at the warm full-bodied sense of glory that's waiting at the end. I want other people's stories of life in the middle. I want stories that will seep into my bones about the goodness of the gospel in the ordinary, daily moments. I want stories about people, places, and things -- nouns that show us that living a life of faith is possible right in the ordinary. Today, I'm living in the middle. Of course it's lost its sheen, but that is not the point. We are headed somewhere together and all good journeys take a deep breath and dig in for the middle. It's in the middle where you really catch your stride. It's in the middle where a stalwart confidence and deeply grounded sense of self grow. So I make coffee for my husband as he leaves early to set up for church. I'll pour cereal for my children and teach Sunday School. I'll reach out to new faces at church and stay to welcome them, and I'll know my children can play unattended for a bit in these middle years. We'll come home and rest our bodies and I'll cuddle up with my big boys for movies. This is the bodily language of the middle and it, too, is a gift.
Faith + Vulnerability, Motherhood + Marriage, We create
Have years of making PB+J meant I’ve lost the woman I was?
August 23, 2016 at 6:00 am 1
Have so many years of making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made me number to mystery, to beauty? Ashley Hales: Motherhood and Mystery I had a few hours completely alone the other day. I felt torn between working out, sleeping, cleaning and writing. I settled on writing -- the others I can take children along for the ride while doing them. It felt blissful, quiet, with a cup of coffee I didn't need to reheat 20 times in the course of the day. I turned on my favorite Spotify writing playlist and let the notes sink in in ways they hadn't done in awhile. Suddenly I wondered if I was still the woman that could be moved by notes struck on the piano. In college I'd had a CD of Beethoven that accompanied me (along with a Starbucks baroque playlist) on my studying sessions. I'd procrastinate from philosophy and English essays by writing poetry, about musical notes and meaning and depth. All those things that as a mother, I find harder to come by. I wonder if that woman is still in me somewhere. I spoke with my husband the other day about this whole mothering business. That it feels impossible some days to even keep the house in any semblance of order. That my days are spent in the space between children, monitoring homework, breaking up sibling fights and bickering sessions, returning the stolen toy from an offended sibling, and sitting in my daughter's tight embrace while she sits on the potty (apparently, I've turned into her lovey). That it all doesn't play to my strengths. Sometimes I wonder if I exist amidst all the chaos. Or if I'm simply the frayed rope holding it (often hopelessly) together. I tend to explode in a pile of mess (my own and theirs). The emotions become too much, too loud, too rich, too chaotic. I dream about coffee, or the glass of wine, or the quiet home when they're all old enough to be in school at the same time and my days aren't spent in an endless loop of drop-off to pick-up, circling in my minivan. I'm the frayed rope and they all have a hand on me. But in those rare moments of quiet, can I get to that part of me whose soul soars with music, with a well-turned phrase, with the quickness of the Spirit of God? Or has she become numb to mystery after too many years of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, diaper changes, and children's extracurricular activities? Some say those things can usher us into the presence of God. I hope beyond all hope that they're right -- that doing the dishes will help me become more contemplative, that cooking and cleaning will increase my gratitude, that wiping bums will help me to take myself less seriously and learn empathy. I hope. I pray. But I doubt, too. Because I'm just a bit tired of taking on the emotions of my familial world and running alongside them like a parent running next to her child on a two-wheeler for the first time. There's elation, fear, and relief as we carry the sorrows, cares, and anger of those we care about. It numbs sensitive souls, but perhaps it's more useful. Less self-referential. How do I crack open those deep, seeing parts of my being when I'm swirling in chaos? How do I soften myself from the hustle so I can hear those notes again? Beauty is a painful muse and I wonder if I want her enough to have all my self cracked open to her touch. Or, if it's just convenient and comfortable to use my circumstantial chaos to push her away. Maybe I -- maybe you -- are scared to really feel and know what goodness and truth looks like. Maybe. When we crack ourselves open, who knows what can happen? Who knows what can get in.  
At other places, Motherhood + Marriage, Review
Bad Moms and Neighborhood Parties
August 19, 2016 at 6:00 am 0
Are you a bad mom? I don't know about you, but for me, I like to analyze things. Like a lot. Like to death. And sometimes I totally make my husband listen to all my brilliance. Sometimes that's entirely too much for any one man to handle. I've been turning over motherhood and culture after seeing the movie Bad Moms. I've been thinking about neighborhood dynamics and how being a Christian means we should be good neighbors after reading, Next Door as it is in Heaven. Thankfully, too, I have a few wonderful editors who see fit to publish my ramblings  brilliance. So if you've seen Bad Moms, tell me what you think. Here's a bit about what I thought: I guffawed. I cried tears of laughter. I sent my girlfriends knowing side glances when we had a girls night at the movies to watch, Bad Moms. I made everyone feel okay with laughing out loud because I did so much of it. But after all the laughter, I had to reflect on and think about what the movie was espousing. It hits a certain soft spot for women these days -- women who love their children, sacrifice their time, energy, sanity and money for them, and yet still feel like a failure. I kept turning it over in my head -- particularly thinking about the dynamic between men and women in the movie -- and instead of (entirely) boring my husband to death, I wrote about it for ThinkChristian.
The “bad mom” mantra becomes Amy’s campaign slogan when she runs for PTA president. Her openness encourages other women to stand up to confess their own “bad mom” moments. In the school’s gym, they enact a secular ritual of confession—calling out the ways they haven’t met up to some idealized standard of motherhood and finding solidarity in their failures. It’s interesting, and perhaps humorous, that this solidarity is not found in being called to something higher, but by setting the bar lower. Yet confession and vulnerability without the Gospel isn’t good news. It’s just our dirty laundry.
Read more about what I thought about Bad Moms at ThinkChristian.  
  What has your summer looked like? Has it meant more or less neighborly time? I thought a lot about how we all ache for community and shun it at the same time. Here's a bit from my review of Next Door as it is in Heaven:
We all care deeply about where we are placed, and we all long for home to feel like a firm foundational place of belonging. The problem is that we elevate the nuclear family and our physical houses instead of concomitantly seeking the good of our neighborhoods, cities, and world. Authors Ford and Brisco are desperate to recover a sense of the neighborhood as the space of connection, where the gospel takes on flesh. The premise for Next Door As It Is in Heaven is simple: we are disconnected in our modern age of so-called connectivity, yet being a good neighbor is at the heart of what it means to follow Jesus. It is a book that challenges the reader to do what David Brooks wrote about in an op-ed for the New York Times: “We need to be more communal in an age that’s overly individualistic; we need to be more morally minded in an age that’s overly utilitarian; we need to be more spiritually literate in an age that’s overly materialistic; and we need to be more emotionally intelligent in an age that is overly cognitive.” We tend to think of emotional, spiritual, moral, and communal development as happening in classrooms or churches. But each of these areas Brooks highlights can be found by faithfully and intentionally practicing presence in your own neighborhood. Neighborliness matters. It is, after all, the basis for Jesus’s most famous parable of the Good Samaritan. Living out the Kingdom of God then is not something professionals do with fancy words; it is, instead, patterned in our small moments of noticing others.
Read the entire review at The Englewood Review of Books.   Buy Next Door as it is in Heaven and tell me what you think: // Sign up for my email newsletter to help you chase beauty and sustained attention in a world full of noise.

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