Emily had a nightmare the other night around 9pm. I already happened to be in bed, and Jon was at the gym (crazy man). I decided to break protocol (singing her back to sleep in her own bed), and invited her to come sleep in my bed.
(You might think I’m “such a good mom” with that little act, but really, I just wanted to lay down too. And I don’t fit in her bed with her.)
So, she brought Blanket and Bear and came in to snuggle with me in our Cal-King size bed (and all the non-cuddly sleepers said Amen!). She nestled her head into that safe space on my chest right underneath my chin, and I started to tell her about when I was a little girl. When I had a bad dream, either my daddy or my mommy would come rub my back until I fell asleep again. Unless my daddy was gone, and then my mommy let me come sleep with her.
And I loved it.
She’d let me snuggle up next to her and rub my back and warm up my cold feet, and I’d fall asleep feeling safe and loved. It’s one of the only times I remember falling asleep without any worries, as I was a pretty anxious youngster.
Emily knows my mom is gone now, living in heaven with Jesus, and she asks about her sometimes. That night, snuggled into the crook of my neck, she asked me if my mommy taught me lessons like I teach her lessons.
I smiled and told her yes, my mommy taught me all about how to be kind to other people – she was the kindest person I’d ever known, even to people who weren’t kind to her. She taught me about love and patience and what it means to have a quiet spirit. (Though I still don’t understand this concept, and neither does my bouncy, defiant daughter.)
Then Emmy asked if my mommy ever yelled at me. I laughed a little and said no, I don’t remember my mommy ever yelling. She would get mad sometimes, but she was still always kind with her words. She loved me, even when she was upset.
And my precocious little girl said, “So, then, she probably wouldn’t like it when you yell at me, right?”
Insert gut-wrenching guilt here.
I never thought I’d be a yeller, but I can be. I have been. Often. I could tell you that the sheer volume of the children in my house drives me to distraction, or that sometimes the only way to get Emily to stop talking is to be louder than she is, or that I have to yell to get my point across when defiance is the constant cry of my four-year-old.
But the truth is that I simply lack self-control sometimes. Sometimes I let my emotions get the better of me, and my irritability boils over and spills out of my mouth. Loudly.
That night, cuddled up in bed with my girl, was not the first time I’d felt convicted in this area. But it was the first time I was without excuse. It’s easy to explain to my husband or my friend why I yell. It’s not so easy to explain to my daughter that I love her, and also yell at her. Especially when I just finished telling her how kind my mommy was with her words.
I went away for a few days after that, on a trip that had been planned for a month. A few days in the wine country with my mom’s sister, kid-free. I got to sleep in, and soak in a giant bathtub, and get quiet. I got to eat good food and drink the best wine.
My plan had been to get away and spend some serious time in prayer and in the Word. I knew I needed an attitude adjustment, but I just couldn’t get there on my own. Motherhood and marriage had worn me down, and I just didn’t feel like I had any more love to give. I needed to be filled.
But, as the saying goes, the best laid plans… well, you know. I ended up spending a lot of time visiting with my wonderful aunt (and having a blast), and sleeping more than I’d planned (also a BLAST), and reading a book just for fun (for FUN. remember that?!). And all of a sudden I got to the last day of my trip and realized I hadn’t done much praying about my family or my attitude. After so much rest, I’d already started to feel refreshed and ready to go back home, but I desperately needed to talk to our Father about my family.
I pulled out my journal on that last morning, and laid it all bare before Him. My frustrations, my struggles, and my inadequacies. My exhaustion. My inability to love the way I wanted to.
And I asked Him to help me love my kids. To control my voice. To forgive my impatience. And to see them as the gifts they are.
And He did.
This doesn’t happen often (really, hardly ever for me), but I felt a conscious shift in my spirit. It felt like a burden had been lifted and I could breathe with ease. I went home excited to see them and be mommy again. I had new eyes, His eyes, and a different focus. No longer were my kids interruptions or annoyances. No longer was I begging for quiet, or for bedtime to come quickly.
I started actually listening to my daughter when she talked (and talked and talked and talked), and you know what? She’s FUNNY. She’s imaginative. She’s smart. We’ve been reading more and playing together and talking about life and friends and princesses, and I can’t get enough of her right now. I look at her face when she’s telling me a story, and I just want to kiss her (and I usually do). She is so precious, and I’m overwhelmed by the gift of her.
I started playing with my son more instead of giving him a toy and walking away. And you know what? He’s SMART. The boy still refuses to say “momma”, but he knows the sounds to a handful of letters, thanks to LeapFrog and his sissy. He is so proud of the things he can do, and he can’t wait to show me each one. He loves books (for 2.5 seconds apiece) and he loves his sister, and he’s way more patient than I am. And when he’s angry? He roars like Sully from Monster’s Inc. Which is hilarious to me (though he doesn’t think so). I adore him.
I have always loved my kids, but it’s only been the last few weeks that I knew what it felt like to really like them. To look forward to spending time with them and to enjoy listening to the crazy things they have to say. I don’t know how to explain it except to say that the Lord answered my prayer. He gave me a new relationship with each of them, and He gave me His eyes to see them.
I needed that, you guys. I don’t know about you, but this motherhood thing is hard for me. So much harder than I ever thought it would be. I always thought I’d be pretty great at it (Dear 22-year-old teacher-self, you were WRONG, sorry.), but I’m finding myself coming up short in every area.
Motherhood has shown me my daily, minute-by-minute need for Jesus like nothing else ever has. And this weekend, maybe for the first time since my firstborn was dying in the NICU, I begged Jesus to intervene.
And He did.
I haven’t yelled since that prayer. Well, maybe once, but not as loudly as I had before, and I apologized right after, and my oh-so-generous child forgave me. But I’ve changed. I’m different. And it’s not me, it’s Him in me. It’s the stepping back and the holding out my open hands and the saying “I’ve got nothing left here, please come fill me.” And He does. And that surprised me.
And I’m grateful. So very grateful.
I think my mom would be proud of the mom I am today. (More than the mom I was a few weeks ago.) I think it honors her to love like she did.
But I think she’d be the first to tell me that it wasn’t her either. That it was Jesus, loving me through her. That she couldn’t do it on her own. (I was not an easy kid, let’s be honest, Emily gets her personality somewhere.) That it was the Bible reading at the kitchen table every morning, and the praying every night, and the church, and the books, and the life built on faith in a life-changing God that made her the mom that she was.
And it’s that faith that can make us the kind of moms we want to be too. The kind of moms He has made us to be.
Tomorrow is a new day. Maybe you’re a yeller, like I was. Maybe you’re struggling in another way. Can I encourage you to quit trying to be better, and simply lay it all before Him? Ask Him to intervene. To change your heart.
He can do it. He’s our hope. For eternity and for today.
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