While Children Sleep in Our Arms

A mother’s night…

is filled with many things. It is easy enough to discuss the stumble to the kitchen to pour another bottle of milk before the crying baby wakes the other children, or the heavier stumble back to the kitchen for a graham cracker because the milk was not enough for the now acrobatting in your arms baby. We can talk about accidentally stepping in a wet, or worse, diaper from the baby’s previous waking wherein he received a quick and efficient diaper change from your husband. We can talk about the courage it takes to blindly fill a medicine dropper with tylenol because you have done it nightly for the past six days while the baby is teething. Babies are always teething.

All of these moments have their share of hilarity and pity. Most mothers in the first world can relate to these mini crises that our precious babies create for us and the undeniable exhaustation, or even the sense of being ruled by a tiny tyrant, that comes with them.

But what about the moment when the crisis is over and our backs hit the rocking chair one more time? The milk is poured, the baby’s cries die down, and we settle in for the big rock. Perhaps we sing or perhaps we are too tired to sing. We close our eyes, we take a breath, and we begin what may be our truest moments of motherhood. Moments that cross worlds and hit mothers in the heart no matter where they are. It is the moment when we gaze into tiny faces, button noses, pillowy cheeks, and resting eyelids. And we think. We plan. We pray. In fact, many of us offer our most sincere prayers at this point. Many times through tears.

Because being a mom is tough and requires a flexible mixture of toughness and gentility.

No matter how many lovely things we have in our lives, there are big moments of life that continue to happen with no thought to the lack of sleep or the tiny sticky faces or the spinning and tripping over toys in the living room. Life happens whether we are mothers or not.

When my daugher was born, my second child, I brought her to church on her second Sunday of life outside the womb. The congregation sang a modern version of “It Is Well With My Soul.” As the singers carried the tune “the wind and waves still know your name,” I wept at the thought of all the times my dear, now fragile daughter would have to sing this song throughout her life. These moments of singing “when peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll. Whatever my lot thou has taught me to say, ‘it is well. It is well with my soul” are the very moments that will strengthen her spirit and her faith. But they are also the moments that will pain her, sometimes with deep and long-lasting cuts. And so I dread singing this song even while resting in the truth that creation knows the voice of the creator, that the creator is near and speaking and guarding, that the creator is sovereignly presiding over the world.

That night when I rocked my daughter back to sleep, and many nights after that, I sang this song to both our souls. I began to pray over my two week old daughter that she would be filled with faith and strength to navigate the sometimes incredibly stormy days and nights of life. While she slept in my arms, I prayed for her.

But we know that motherhood doesn’t stop there. It doesn’t stop at praying for your child. Nor does it stop at the kindergarten door. Or the lunch table. Or the bath. Or the tidying. Being a mother also includes profound changes in one’s own life. These changes are not merely physical or even emotional, although those things play a part. These changes swirl around us, run straight into us, and sometimes even double us over. They are everywhere and all the time. And they affect us differently than they did before motherhood precisely because we are are wrapped up together with our children. In blankets, in crisis, in prayers, in hopes, in joys, in all the bigness of life.

We lose a friend. We become ill. We sink into depression. We start a business. We move across the country. We discover faith. We lose faith. We start a new hobby. We write a book.

We do and are done to and we have to deal with it, not only as women, but also as mothers.

I am not here talking about how we make decisions differently because we have to consider how it will affect our children. While we do that, and it has its own stresses and joys, what I am talking about is how we process all the big events of life so differently because we are mothers. Being a mother, in and of itself, changes us and changes the way we process our worlds.

For many of us, this processing takes place in the rocking chair. I cannot count how many significant moments I have encountered while a child was sleeping in my arms.

I decided to forgive a friend. I decided to have another baby. I figured out how to homeschool the kids. I decided to read up on Catholicism. I decided my husband really did love me. I decided to act like it. I realized how full of pride I am. I prayed for humility. I dug into a grudge. I caressed my feelings of inadequacy. I wrote a litany of offenses. And memorized it. I forgave again. I course corrected. I dove off the deep end.

I am finding that these are the moments that are making me who I am. When the lights are off and everyone is sleeping, when all I hear is the refrigerator humming and the baby snoring, my life bubbles up to be mothered. To be mothered by me.

My own mother, bless her, is loving me from a distance, but this is not her time anymore. She can love and encourage, but it is really up to me to preside over my own moments. To discipline myself when needed. To exhort. To plan for the morning. To wield my own sword of motherhood against the vigilante temptations of life, trying to push me off course.

I guess when you become a mother, there is a sense in which you become your own mother, too.

You sort of scoop up all that responsibility that you had lying around for years and start putting yourself in a new order. Some goes to the kids and some goes to yourself, which in turn gets poured out to the kids because as you mother yourself, you mother them again. In each recreation of yourself, you are recreating someone else’s childhood. A bad day, a midnight adjustment, a new day, a new memory deposited for the next generation of you.

Our kids have no idea how much we are going through when we pick them up and rock them back to sleep. For them, it is a simple comfort that lays a foundation for security in life. For mothers, it is a choice to love again and a chance to love better tomorrow. A choice to be humble and selfless. A choice to be fulfilled in knowing that she is crafting someone’s life.  It is also a chance to process her own life and create her own middlehood.

I am a mother and it is hard, but it is not meant to disable or lesson a me as a person or a woman. It is meant to be a source of strength, a source of power, faithfulness, fearlessness, determination, order, levity, joy, fulfillment, and many more things I probably have not yet encountered.

While our children sleep in our arms tonight, let us embrace them and embrace ourselves just as a mother ought to do.

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Liturgy

When the term liturgy is uttered, many evangelical Christians not accustomed to a liturgical church setting will define it as special words said at special times. Those in a liturgical church may define liturgy as the appropriate words said at the appropriate times. But there is more to liturgy than both of these definitions.

Liturgy, in fact, is a word closely related to ritual. If ritual is the word we use to define an ordered service to God, then liturgy is the means by which we order the service. Ritual may be the path, but liturgy is the shoes we put on to walk the path. In this sense, liturgy is what leads us to God. And yet, it is even more than that.

The word liturgy comes from the Greek leitos, of the people, and ergon, work. We see the word as leitourgia in Greek, public duty. Though it has a secular sense, in Christendom, it is the word that denotes priestly service and what Christians do to worship, serve in duty to, God. Luke 1:8 is a lovely example of this word, concerning John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah. “Now while he was serving as priest (leitourgia) before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.”

Zechariah’s liturgy involved serving God by entering the temple and burning incense. Although prayers and scripture reading are usually associated with liturgy, make note that liturgy is also physical actions taken by the priest.

We tend to divide ritual and liturgy into actions and words, but notice how interconnected the two really are. Just as Christ is known to be fully man and fully God, our present day relationship with Christ involves fully material things and fully spiritual things, that is if we indeed engage in liturgy. Liturgy involves words and actions specific to walking into the presence of God.

There is one more aspect left to be addressed.

Liturgy benefits the individual, but it is effective because of its communal nature. Liturgy binds the community of Christians into a powerful force for spreading the gospel of Christ.

Our modern liturgy (as opposed to ancient ritualistic practices attempting to find and serve any given god) developed directly from the early church as the apostles began teaching and leading others in this new faith of The Way, Christianity. They taught, they broke bread, the shared in community.

It was unavoidable that some ritual would develop from these pracitices. It was necessary and it made sense. The new church appropriated a certain form of worship from the Jewish customs. They read scriptures, taught, and shared in communion—which took the place of animal sacrifices. But these services did not simply take on a Jewish formation; they fulfilled the Jewish order as Christ fulfilled all the Jewish promises for a Savior.

Father C. Maxwell-Stewart highlights Christ’s fulfillment of Jewish liturgies better than I can in his 1996 article for “Faith Magazine”:

“When Jesus came He went to all the key feast days in the temple and publicly claimed to be, in person, the fulfilment and real meaning of the liturgies which were being celebrated. During the new year festival of lights he said: “I am the Light of the world”, In the middle of the feast of the purification of the temple, when the altar and sanctuary were awash with water, he cried out: “If anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink.” Around the Passover feast of unleavened bread one year he taught: “I am the Bread of Life.” He even proclaimed that His own Body is the new temple, the holy of holies, where God dwells among men and we enter into communion with Him.”

All those liturgies that the Jewish people practiced for centuries were suddenly filled by Christ. So when the new church emerged, they did not abandon what they had done before, but they recognized Christ in everything. It is important to realize that they did not try to come up with a religion, as some are in the habit of doing, but they began to see the realities of Christ imposed on their daily lives. This, in turn, created the church.

Of course, we know this was the doing of the Holy Spirit and certainly not the work of any man. All the more interesting then, isn’t it? God knew the liturgies that we needed. Even though localities may enrich a liturgy with certain bits of cultural norm, the basics of liturgy, which come from scriptures, are the staying elements. God knew what would lead us to him; His word, His Spirit.

So when scripture needed to be read, it was brought forward. Liturgy. A prayer was said. Liturgy. “The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.” Liturgy. When bread and wine were needed, they were brought forward. Liturgy. A prayer was said. “The body of our Lord. Take and eat.” Liturgy. The sign of the cross. Liturgy. This was it. These were the shoes Christians put on to walk into God’s presence. And these shoes are still in use today.

It was taught to and fro as Christianity spread. There were local varieties, but we can see even from the earliest churches that Christians valued publically these things: giving thanks to God, sharing in communion elements, praying the Lord’s prayer, singing hymns, and even crossing themselves. Early believers felt no apprehension to this crossing of themselves as a way to identify on a regular basis with the suffering and victory of Christ. Around 200BC, church father Tertullion wrote, “We Christians wear out our foreheads with the sign of the cross.”

Can you see the heart in these rituals? The heart is the liturgy. It is humble and serious service; worship given in spirit and in truth. Liturgy is not marked by the personality of a worship leader, but by the personality of the one we worship, Christ fully God and fully man.

So what is liturgy? Suddenly it seems quite complex. Liturgy is not simply specific words, nor is a liturgical service merely a more formal setting for worship. Here is my assessment: liturgy is the communal acts of worship that Christians employ as their souls are formed into the likeness of Christ. It comes from the holy Scriptures and practices of early Christians.

I will leave you with one final quote from Maxwell-Stewart: “The primary purpose of the Church’s liturgical worship is not to express our feelings towards God, but to express and impress the Personality of Christ upon us.”

Impress upon me, Oh God, to be made into your image.

Sources:

http://www.crivoice.org/whatisliturgy.html

http://www.anglicancommunion.org/identity/liturgy.aspx

http://www.allaboutreligion.org/what-is-liturgy-faq.htm

http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s1c2a1.htm

http://www.ewtn.com/library/liturgy/whatmean.txt

http://www.ewtn.com/library/BISHOPS/CURTISHR.HTM

while we were dating long distance

I think about you at 0500
walking in the rain
because you said you
were proud of my hard

work.

I think about you at 0637
with the civil wars playing
sad songs on my computer
Is there a difference
between guitar and

heart strings?

I think about you anytime
I get to the dregs
of coffee at the bottom of
this 162nd mug

from you

and wonder when ever
thinking about you
will turn

to sitting beside you
thinking about
something else

Come.

Come up.
See.
From depths
I have created thee.
I tucked in
secrets to find
beneath your folds
and aging lines,

and

between your creaks
and cracks
you can hear the song
I taught you once.

Come up.
Listen.
With breath I have
created thee.
I imparted to you
Cool, fresh,
invigorating moments
of spirit

and

dreams,
to propel you
through heated wakings
in a fractured world.

Come up.
Know.
With love I have saved thee.
Mercy, even for stained–
Embraces, even for rejectors–
Renewal, even for the dead.
These are free to those, who come,
see, listen, know.

Settling for Less

Early on in my motherhood, I was terrified to lay my baby down for a nap.  All I could think about, as I lowered him into his crib, was my plan of accomplishments as he slept.  “I’ll do the dishes, no, I’ll take a nap, no I need to mop, no I’ll read a book, I’ll watch a show, ok, I’ll quick put the show on while I throw the dishes in the dishwasher and mop up the kitchen, then I’ll grab my book, lie in bed, and fall asleep reading.  But I seriously need some chocolate and coffee.  I am so tired.  I will never have a moment to myself.  Please lie down, baby.  Please, take a nap.  Please, don’t wake up.  Oh, Lord, please let him sleep.  Please, please.”

I was a nervous, pleading wreck.

I am still a nervous wreck, but I don’t plead quite as much.

Sometime in that first summer with my baby, I remembered what the nurse called to me in the delivery room.  “Be brave, Mama!”  She kept chanting it.  She was going in and out of the room quite a bit, but upon each entrance, she would call from the door, “Be brave, Mama!”

“Yes. That’s it.  I will be brave through this pain.  I want to be brave.  I will be brave.”

I had taken Bradley Method birthing classes for 12 weeks in preparation for giving birth.  I had nervous breakdowns, mild to some standards, but alarming to my husband, during the first four sessions of class.  Our teacher declared me most-improved by the end of it all.  On our last day of class, I was doing so well, she even confirmed I was in labor!  Yes, I sat through a two hour birthing class for my first two hours of labor.  It was perfect.  Contractions were regular, relatively mild, and my husband rubbed my back through each of them.  Plus, one of the other mom’s was in labor at the same time, right next to me.  It was all so encouraging.

Four hours later, we were at the hospital and pushing.  I was not as calm, but I was handling it.  It wasn’t the extreme pain or the sterile hospital environment that made me nervous.  It was the realization that I was exiting the dream.  No more newlywed status.  No more mama-to-be status.  No more planning and dreaming.  No more imagining my son, what he would look like, what his temperament would be.  He was coming and he was coming fast.  Reality was hitting me and I needed to be brave.

I heard his lusty borning cry.  A sound I will never forget.  I heard him while my eyes were still closed from the final push.  It was the brightest, clearest sound I had ever heard.  Better than any piece of music I had loved, more reassuring than any lullaby, more convincing and propelling than any speech.  He cried like someone might run out onto an empty stage yelling stubbornly, “I’m here!  I’m here! I came all this way.  I’m here!”

I may have been a little intimidated.

Later I stood, hovering over my son’s crib, trying desperately not to wake him, and not to get too excited about the things I might be able to start accomplishing in 30 seconds.  Maybe.  Possibly.  If he didn’t wake up.

“Be brave, Mama.”

Deep breath.  Courage.  Bravery.  I should tap into that.

In that moment, I recognized that my bravery would have to include acceptance of any outcome.  If he woke up, change course.  If he fell asleep, great.

I had to stop planning and pleading and start loving and leading.

Love the snuggles.  Lead him to the crib.  Love the sleepies.  Lead myself to the next task.  Love the wakings.  Lead us both to adjust to a new activity.

He is just another person to accept and work with.  Even with his great cries reminding me of his presence and his needs, he is still just a boy, not a challenge to overcome.

It’s been over a year since I began telling myself to be brave as a mom, to simply make a choice and then make another one.  I still struggle, but I’m growing.  I don’t fight my emotions at the crib so much anymore; I often fight them in the chair as he’s wriggling into a comfy position.  I’ve stopped planning so many things.  I plan maybe two and try to hold them loosely.

Today, in a step toward a more anxiety free life, I decided that I wouldn’t be devastated if all I got done during nap time was a shower.  Good thing, too, because that’s all I got done.  No coffee break, no reading time, no cleaning.  I took a shower and talked on the phone with my sister while trying to find something to wear.  And he woke up.  Because he hasn’t time for a nap, no ma’am.

I will have to learn to settle for less.  Less of my lists and more of my love.  Bravely, letting love out.  Oh God, teach me how to be content in any and every situation.  I can do everything through him who strengthens me.   I can even survive on less cake, less chocolate, less coffee, and less sleep.

Changes

My life has changed.

Where once I slept soundly and alone in my sister’s basement and woke to three of her children marching around the breakfast table singing, “I’m in the Lord’s Army!” I now sleep tossingly next to my new and also-not-sleeping husband and wake each morning to make him breakfast and send him off to work saying, “Have fun in the Army!  The real Army!”

Where once I ran through canopied sidewalks in a mid-sized Minnesota town where the breeze filled my mind with new ideas and creativity, I now have no place to run and the humidity and thickness of tiny-town Louisiana stifles my drive to write, music or otherwise.

Where once I bustled through busy days teaching gads of teenagers to sing together and casting visions for them of living highly creative and personable lives, I now barely believe in art and speak with no one younger than 24.  In fact, I hardly speak with anyone at all.

The quiet, married days I once longed for, I now have in abundance and they are very quiet.  I am alone most days, all day.  My husband works long hours and hates his job.  He’s gotten leaps better at not complaining at the house.  He leaves work at work most of the time now, but I feel it.  I feel his remorse for being stuck in terrible position, for being put upon by unthinking leadership.  He is bitter and has no other idea what to do.  Not really.  So I am quiet and quietly try to take care of the house and cook him meals, but it wears on me.

I wonder how other wives really feel.  I wonder if they are near tears or in full deluge of tears as much as I.  I wonder if it’s just my disability to adjust to these changes that makes my 5-week old marriage so difficult.  I wonder if my husband hears me.  I wonder if he would know what to do if he did hear me.

Do I even know what to do?  I am a get-involved sort.  I’m already making strides in that area, but it’s nothing.  It feels like nothing.  In little moments, it feels like life, but in the rest of the moments, the most of the time, it feels like not-really-me.

I feel like not me.

But in the midst of this, I tell myself that change, new things, take you out of your old shell and make a new shell around you.  It is reasonable, then, to expect to feel quite vulnerable and unlike yourself in that time.  The best thing I can do is let the change happen around me, with me, even through me.  If I fight it, I will only end up feeling such oddity and sadness for longer.

It is okay to take a while to change, but not if its because of fighting.  This only creates scars, mostly of resentment.

(*some dealings from September 2012)

Those Bits of Sanity

I was told
by an experienced friend
“what kept you sane outside of marriage,
will keep you sane inside of marriage.”

I have not been sane enough.

But why?

One year into my marriage,
still trying to fit in my sanity.

When do I write words?
When do I write music?
When do I sit and read and contemplate?
When do I go out for a run?

My husband tells me, “do it more.”
“Let me see that part of you.”
Oh, how I thought I was failing.
“It’s an invitation. To make you know you are safe.”

Safety. I hate the word.
Overused, misapplied, a baby blanket, an excuse for not moving forward.

Safe is not always a cozy feeling, so easily perceived.
Try a gulp of faith.  Disciplined trust.

My mothering is often based on some birth coaching
I received:
“Be brave, Mama.”

Sanity comes in my courage.

 (*a poem from 2013)