When Motherhood Has You in a Valley of Defeat

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Lately, I’ve been dropping my kids off at school in the morning, breathing a deep sigh of relief, and audibly saying “thank you” as I drive away in my dusty minivan. Is public school a means of grace? For me, right now, yes.

It’s safe to say that these are trying days in the parenting department. Not in an extreme, “I just bailed this one out of jail” sort of way but more of an “I’m absolutely clueless / I have no business being a mom / Everyone go away / Let me lie down” sort of way.

I never said I wore I supermom cape.

Last week I absolutely came to the end of myself with this whole mothering gig and it was really the most needful thing.

I sat at my desk, weary and overwhelmed. I prayed and cried and asked Jesus Himself to please show up with a miracle, to help me love in a way that transcends reason and rebellion and my own severe limitations.

And He did, gifting me to love in a way I’d never experienced. I had glimpses of wisdom that came out of nowhere. Compassion and real empathy sprung from a supernatural well. By Saturday I was like, “Yes! I can do this! We. Are. WINNING.”

Then Sunday showed up with more battles and stress and willfulness than I knew what to do with — theirs and mine. Just like that, I relapsed into the familiar comforts of preachiness and anger and entitlement and why is this sooooo hard?

Dealing with behavior is one thing. Caring for sick souls is quite another.

While I don’t feel I know much as a mother, I am 100% convinced that moralism and charts and systems may get the desired results on the outside, but they won’t begin to touch the inside. In fact, good behavior may be so convincing to both kids and parents that everyone ignores the heart altogether. But a sick heart will kill a person, even one that looks perfectly healthy on the outside. Ask me how I know.

And so our home lately has felt like a triage unit with gurneys of wounded people and splayed-open hearts — theirs and mine.

On days of victory and progress, I feel like I’ll never taste defeat again. But then I do and such defeat makes me want to throw in the towel and tell everyone to please raise themselves from now on. I’ll provide groceries and find them a good therapist. I’ll even keep driving them around. But I cannot maintain a surgery ward.

Winning is a distant memory.

It’s in these valleys of defeat that I remember what carried me to the mountaintop of short-lived victory to begin with: being in a prior valley of defeat.

I face the uncomfortable truth that the Christian life is not about sustained winning. It is about sustained dependance.

When will I learn?

So I once again sink into the ground of humility and throw myself at the feet of mercy. I ask for power that I don’t have and am too tired to muster anyway. I ask for grace that is laughable. {Because true grace always is.}

I ask for the courage, companionship, and example that is Christ Himself — a gloriously scandalous God who knows that undeserved love, not lists and lectures, motivates a person to love — be it parent, child, or spouse. We love because we were first loved in such a way that it still makes us our heads spin. {Please God, let it make our heads spin.}

Always, we can shake off defeat and begin again because of the love-drenched grace and compassion we ourselves have been shown.

Dear defeated mom, motivate with love as you are motivated by love. Because love begets love. {And isn’t real obedience is simply an expression of real love?}

At the end of a long week that followed an even longer week, I realize that being a mother is simply being a wounded healer, ministering to and interceding for sick souls with the presence and power of a loving Jesus.

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The State of Things. A Little Update on Life & Writing.

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When I haven’t posted anything here in a while, it feels a bit like visiting a friend who I haven’t seen in a while and feeling guilty about my absence. I want to make all sorts excuses and apologize.

Until I realize that this is a place of grace and consolation for me. And so are all of you.

I’ve been known to turn it into a place of performance and expectation and then I’m reminded of how contrary that is to the purpose of this space.

I’m here now, on this day, writing the real. And actually hitting publish on a post that I’ve worked on in bits and pieces all week.

The time off {not that I’ve been napping or eating bon-bons} has been good for me in certain ways. It’s forced me to reckon with my limitations and sift through my truest priorities. It’s allowed me to transition into some new things.

So I thought I’d write a little update, for those who are interested.

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Our house is still for sale, despite many showings and happy feedback. The stars simply haven’t aligned in all the ways they need to. So we continue to show it and I continue to stress each time that happens because a) three kids and a dog  b) eight months of this  c) It is beastly to make one’s lived-in home look showplace-ish.

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The good news is that I’ve come to a place of deep surrender. I think, anyway. While I do stress over showing the house, I no longer stress about selling it or finding a new one or the timing of things. Jesus now carries those burdens and my heart and mind are lighter and better for it. If you know me, you know that this sort of freedom is nothing short of supernatural.

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I started a new job, working part-time for a local non-profit. The job found me at just the right time and I’m ever so grateful for the gift of flexible employment from home. I’m creating blog content, overseeing a website, and doing social media marketing. I sort of know what I’m doing and sort of don’t.

But here’s the cool thing. Sometimes you don’t realize you have a skill set until someone else says, “Hey, I’ve noticed you can do certain things and I need those certain things done. Want to work for me?” As I surveyed the last couple of years, I realized that I accidentally acquired a skill set without knowing it.

Having my own blog + working with photos and graphics + moving to a self-hosted WordPress site + managing said site + easing my own blog into social media = skillz.

Who knew?

Anyway, I’m learning a lot and feeling a little bit empowered / a lot clueless, depending on the moment.

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Here’s something else. Teenagers. Y’all, this is hard.

If you have a teenager or a few, please don’t tell me how much you love these years and that it’s not that hard. Don’t tell me a book I should read or a method to try. Because a) I’m already reading them and b) not all teenage years are created equally and c) I’m a bit fragile about all of this right now.

Also, there are aspects of parenting teenagers that I love. So please don’t hear that it’s all difficult.

In my limited observation, I believe that teenagers are simply taller versions of their toddler selves. I certainly was. My own children are proving to be the same way.

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Don’t let young Marian and her angelic dress fool you. I was all smiles and people-pleasing on the outside. And all passive-aggressive, “I’ve got your number, grown-ups,” on the inside.

When I consider the parallels between teens and toddlers, I think of this COMPLETELY HYPOTHETICAL scenario:

No, we are not buying this Barbie today. {Mom holds her breath and grits teeth as toddler throws tantrum in the middle of Target.}

No, you are not going to this sleepover tonight. {Mom grits teeth and holds her breath as teenager throws a tantrum at home and refuses to speak to anyone for 24 hours.}

It’s pretty much the same thing. But oh my word, the stakes feel ever so higher and the ability to not take it personally is ever more challenging.

Strong-willed and inflexible tiny humans develop into strong-willed and inflexible bigger humans.

I can’t “write the real” so much about parenting anymore because my kids are older and I want to honor their privacy. Their stories are now their own to share, or not to share. That’s probably for the best.

Paul Tripp calls this angsty season an “age of opportunity” and he’s right. I don’t want to simply grit my teeth and survive these roller-coastery years. I want to be honest but I don’t want to speak with disdain. I long to be “all in.” But that requires vulnerability, perseverance, and wisdom that I don’t possess. So I’m mostly just throwing myself at the feet of Jesus and tossing up desperate prayers and shutting my own self in my room when I can’t say anything nice and binging on the Gospel of grace in its rawest, realest form.

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With a house still for a sale and a new job to learn and kids to parent and a hard-working husband to love and various little endeavors scattered throughout the week, my own writing suffers from neglect as it attempts to find a makeshift home in the nooks and crannies of my life.

This makes me sad and even a bit panicked sometimes.

But I do believe that writing is not just something I like to do, it’s something I have to do. I also believe it’s something I’m meant to do.

My dear friend and literary teacher reminds me that, when studying characters, we must remember that the strongest desire wins. That’s a blog post in itself but as it relates to me and to my own strong desire to write my way through the epic and the everyday, I hope it means that writing will still win.

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My rhythms will have to change and I don’t have it figured out yet. I’ll have to settle for less time and maybe more typos. If I wait on perfectionism in the form of “enough time” and “life-changing content” and “delectable prose,” well, I might as well shut my laptop and bid you farewell.

Here’s my point: I’ll keep showing up here and I invite you to keep showing up too. I sincerely hope that I’ll settle into a new and consistent rhythm, even if it’s not with the frequency I dream of.

Again, if this becomes a place of performance — and then hiding when I’m not performing up to my hopes and expectations — then I undermine the very comfort and grace of this writerly home that’s become so dear.

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Thanks for showing up here, friends. For your readership and encouragement and kindred-ness. You help make it such a place of grace.

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How Everyday {and Epic} Graces Are Saving My Life

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I would love to tell you that since I wrote the post about hope dissolving into disappointment, life has settled into peaceful outcomes.

I’d love to tell you that I am already looking back over the absolute CA-RAZY of the last nine months and saying, “Wow. Thanks God. All of this makes perfect sense now.”

Instead I am still enjoying regular visits from the insomnia fairy that sprinkles me with anxiety dust between the hours of 2 a.m. and oh, sunrise.

This diatribe may have spewed from my sleep-deprived lips one morning during the last couple of weeks:

Would anyone else like to blame me for ALL THE THINGS going wrong in your life? How we’re out of peanut butter and sandwich meat and pencils and how that’s all my fault? Maybe I could get groceries and pencils if I wasn’t on my hands and knees cleaning up your rooms when I get called for a last-minute showing! Maybe I should just not clean up the house at all for a showing and this misery can go on forever and we will never move and you’ll have no one but yourselves to blame!

Raise your hand if you want me to be your wife or mom?

Raise your hand if you are calling me in a prescription?

It’s been about six weeks since that “hope dissolves” post. Since then I have at least TWELVE new chapters to add to my pretend book.

Chapter 37: “Tire Tales” — That time the tire blew out in the left lane of the highway with all three kids in the minivan on the way to our second orthodontist appointment. {Because I locked me keys in the van for the first appointment.}

Chapter 38: “Let’s Get a Wheelchair!” — When an everyday virus settled in my youngest child’s legs and he couldn’t walk for a couple of days.

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Chapter 39: “When Your House is Under Contract. And Then It’s Not.”

Chapter 40: “The More the Merrier!” — When you have 4 showings in 24 hours.

Chapter 41: “Water Play” — How many cups of soapy, gray, laundry water are in the washing machine? You too can play this guessing game if your washer breaks with a full load of laundry. Note: Bouts of sobbing while scooping the water will skew the results.

Chapter 42: “Learning Not to Hate Everyone in Your House Because They Can Sleep and You Can’t”

Chapter 43: “How to Love Your Potty-Trained Dog When She Relapses”

Chapter 44: “Rug Origami: The Best Folds for Loading Pee Rugs in Your Van and Hauling Them to the Dump”

Chapter 45: “Practicing Unconditional Love When Your Beloved Child Breaks His Second Pair of New Glasses and Loses a Lens in the Gravitopia Foam Pit”

Chapter 46: “When Life Hands You a Lost Eyeglass Lens, Dig Deep into the Foam Pit and Find Two Wallets, a Watch, and a Gold Ring. {But alas, no lens.}”

Chapter 47: “Practicing Healthy Coping Mechanisms When Aforementioned Beloved Son With Freakishly Long Eyelashes is Learning to Put in New Contact Lenses Before School Every Morning”

Chapter 48: “Having a Happy Family Even Though Everyone is Unhappy”

And in case you’re wondering, the title of the pretend book I’m living / writing is called Pressed on All Sides: When Your Days Feels Like an Never-ending Mammogram. 

Because if I don’t laugh, I will check myself into somewhere institutional-ish.

And I know, I know, these are first-world problems, or whatever we’re calling our middle-class American issues these days.

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I’ve often said that I’m a picture of grace when the big stuff hits. It’s the relentlessness of the everyday {especially when the everyday chaos ensues for months on end} that brings me to my knees. And not because I’m praying all the time so let’s just be clear about that. On my knees because I am too tired to keep standing up.

A friend of mine told me recently, “You are being hit hard on every side right now. Even my kids say, ‘I wonder what will happen to the Vischers this week.’ ”

We’ve become “those people.”

But I’m learning that when the days and nights are darkest, you throw yourself at the mercy of any light that happens to shimmy through the cracks.

Everyday gifts become epic graces that keep me from losing heart altogether.

  • The Starbucks gift card that a longtime friend many miles away sends on just the perfect day. {I drank flat whites for days.}
  • A friend who asks for your Costco list because you’ve been home with a sick child for days.
  • A candy-gram for said sick child that cheered us all up on a Sunday afternoon.
  • A counseling appointment you’d forgotten was even on the calendar but that showed up just in time.
  • My mom finishing the laundry at her house when the washer broke.
  • Someone who offers to pray with me after church and she doesn’t how beautifully perfect and timely and needful her prayer is.
  • A meal.
  • A birthday gift. Three months early.

 

And if the sum total of all these kindnesses wasn’t enough,

  • Jesus gave us a new washer. I don’t know any other way to say it.
  • Restoration of a dear relationship.
  • A part-time job for me that simply showed up most unexpectedly on a rainy Friday.
  • An invitation to share the message that’s closest to my heart with a sweet group of women.
  • An impromptu family getaway. {Not to be confused with a vacation. Kelly Ripa said yesterday morning that traveling with your kids is a trip. A vacation is when it’s just you and your husband, sans kids — dear, sweet, darling blessings though they are.}

 

But these many gifts, they are more kindness than I can handle.

Yet these good gifts do not negate the “pressing in” we still feel. Last week was positively awful — relationally, emotionally, and spiritually. Everything from nightmares and anxiety to a relapse of long-ago wounds. Graces don’t undo the hard things or gloss over them. They don’t provide the tangible answers we’re looking for.

Graces simply point us to truths that matter far more than the gifts themselves and the circumstantial outcomes for which we hope — God is real. He sees us. He loves us. He hears us. He delights to show up in very personal ways. He uses his own broken and willing people as a means of grace.

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Even though so many answers across the months seem like a no, a teacher reminded recently that God is always saying yes.

It’s a game-changer to think of disappointments through that backwards lens. My glass-half-empty self has been rolling my eyes at all the things that aren’t going my way and greedily gazed upon all the supposed yeses raining down for everyone else. As you might imagine, that has worked out ever so well. Self-pity and envy are lovely pits in which to dwell.

But God.

He motivates us with grace and kindness instead of condemnation. {Dear Marian, make note of this as a wife and mother.}

And the sum total of so much rapid-fire grace has tendered my weary soul to receive the many yeses masquerading as no’s.

  • Yes to his perfectly-timed outcomes and not my shortsighted plan.
  • Yes to a cultivation of patience and perseverance, painful thought this process is.
  • Yes to seeing our people serve as conduits of grace and love to us.
  • Yes to the humbling process of learning to receive when I would so much prefer to be on the giving end.
  • Yes to an acceptance of my weakness and the display of his strength, not mine.
  • Yes to doing battle with the idols of expectation and comfort. Because I need to see them. I do. 
  • Yes to the beauty of redemption that shows up in everything from a washing machine to repentance.
  • Yes to the desperation of intercessory prayer.
  • Yes to the wielding of God’s Word, our only offensive weapon, as if my life depends on it. Because in a way, it does. {And also yes to oatmeal cream pies.}
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  • Yes to what feels like dismal surrender but is actually sweet freedom.
  • Yes to remembering that God works while we rest.

 

Full disclosure. I feel guilty telling you how good and loving and personal The Lord has been to us. That’s because I know there are those of you walking a hard road right now and you feel alone and barren, like there are no gifts or graces or friends to walk alongside you. Please don’t lose faith. God sees you and He is near to you, the brokenhearted. That’s a promise, even though it may feel like a joke.

I’ve suffered alone through the dark nights of the soul, too fearful to let others in. The burden was heavier than I can tell you. Though I became tough and self-sufficient and pridefully independent during those years, the toughness gradually gave way to a tenderness and dependance that remade me from the inside out as I found healing and hope.

In some ways I feel like more of a mess than I was then but it’s an honest mess. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, I emerged from that brokenhearted season a bit more tattered but a lot more real.

Looking back, there were so many mercies and gifts during that dark and solitary time. I simply didn’t have the eyes to see them.

If that feels like where you are, I pray that God will give you eyes to glimpse the graces in your life today, no matter how bleak it looks. And I pray that He will show up in real and personal ways for you and that maybe you’ll have the courage to let someone in.

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I don’t write of these many graces to boast about my own life. Besides, I’d be boasting about nothing but crazy.

I boast of my dear and personal God who does not tire of making Himself real to me, the girl who has always been a skeptic and still is, depending on the moment. I don’t know why He decided to pour out so much good all at once. I wonder why He didn’t ration it out more. But my ways are not his ways. I only know that as I’ve been coming undone and feeling like I’ve reached my limit, He’s been overwhelming me with kindness and propping me up with everyday graces. And also washing machines.

Some of us need more proof than others. Dear God, existence noted.

I also write to challenge all of us with two questions:

What if we began to see every “no” as a “yes?”

And what if we began to see the everyday graces — the ones we receive and the ones we hand out — as sacred life preservers? 

Because I believe they are.

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