Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Ways I'm Surprised by Motherhood

Yesterday I announced on facebook that my kitchen is in a magazine. An hour or so later, I posted this: Silas, stirring the marinade, "I'm glad Jesus gave me the right Mommy and Daddy." Words like that cover a multitude of sins around here. 

The second status update got four times the response as my "big news". Because anyone who really knows me, or even just knows me a little, understands there couldn't possibly be bigger news than my youngest child ruminating loveliness to his Mama while he stirs lime juice into oil.

To say I have been surprised by motherhood would be the understatement of the millennium. My journey to motherhood knocked me sideways. I've been surprised by the way hearts from different wombs and distant nations can stitch together in an even line. My capacity to love the children entrusted to me has left me wonder-struck, at turns.

But it's more than that, because as much as my family makes me grateful and amazed, I had a hunch it would be this way. I never really doubted my ability to love my own children.

What I didn't expect, the thing that renders me breathless and spent, crazy-talking in the middle of the night, flailing and reaching, failing and begging, is the searing pain of motherhood.

I have been a mama for nine years now. For almost half of those years, I have parented a child from hard places, one who has turned me inside-out. He has systematically drained me of every stout and sturdy mental faculty I once claimed to possess.  He has infiltrated the peace-keeping zone of my inner sanctum and shot it through with more combustive emotional leverage than a child should ever carry.

He has been explosive. Exhausting. He's alienated his siblings and even, on our darkest days, me. There have been months that have started and ended, every day, every day, every day, with his small-voiced insistence that he doesn't love me, doesn't want me. He's tried everything in his power to prove it. At least twice.

All the while, every moment that I've folded in and lashed back out, I have loved him.

I never, ever imagined the pain of loving someone who didn't seem to love me back. 

I have failed miserably on many days to live and breathe and prove my love to him. I've resented the whole set-up. I have wanted to hurt his feelings in return.

But my child gave me the gift of ripping the mask off my ugly, making me face it every single day, no where to turn, no where to hide. Loving him has set me free from the stunning arrogance that I could fix him, or anyone. It's not within my skill set. It was never meant to be.

Loving imperfectly, and unconditionally, has struck my soul like a bell - This doesn't even come close to the way God loves us. I sort the laundry and stir the soup and hold my tired, scrappy little boy to the echo of its reverb.

Loving Silas, and watching him start to love us back, prepared us to welcome another hurting boy into our life, arms-out, heart-bare, pride and expectations and all the world-wise conventions smashed to bits back at the curb.

What surprises me most today is that it's simply not as hard anymore. We've covered a lot of miles with our heads down and blinders on, lock-step with our goal, which changed daily but ranged from survival to balance (guess what? it doesn't exist) to fishing around in the dark for a little bit of peace, a tiny scrap of hard-won joy.

Every day, the dynamic changed just a little. Often, it had to be pointed out to me. I was so lost for so long, I had trouble recognizing success. The scales wobbled and shook. Eventually, for our years lived and spent, we were rewarded with a dead heat, as many good days as bad. That was a party begging to be celebrated. So we did.

And now, though this boy and all his gusto may always tumble jerky and wild rather than rolling with anything, he's come to a shy place of security where he no longer slams against our every conviction. He's stepped into the predictable line of a loving family where it's no longer as necessary for him to "control" his world in ways that make me weep.

For the hundreds of times I felt consoled in knowing - really believing - my love for him was not dependent on his love (or lack of love) for me, I'm finally and fully letting myself believe it's real. Our stubborn love for this beautiful, complicated, tender boy is being matched and reflected.

He crawls in for a cuddle each morning and tells me I'm his "best love". He promises he'll keep being my boy "even if I boss" him. He doesn't want to move away. He doesn't want a different mommy anymore, or at least not often. He says he'll "try to stay little" for me. He says he wants to marry me.

I'm surprised by how badly it hurts sometimes to be a mother.

I'm even more surprised by the way the world stops turning and the sun circles back around just to shine on me and my Little Love, stitching hearts and stirring marinade in the kitchen on a regular Tuesday morning.


This post was inspired by a book I'm currently reading, Surprised by Motherhood by Lisa-Jo Baker. I am loving it. The writing is gorgeously relatable and every line reminds me that this is one of my greatest callings. There are always surprises, some good and others traced in blue.

That's the full beauty of this gig. We get to live all of it.

Watch the trailer, but be warned that it made me cry all three times that I watched, and I was only PMSing one of the times.

Find your copy of Surprised by Motherhood here.

*book links are Amazon Affiliate links


  1. I'm not even sure I have the right words for this post. It feels like such deeply holy ground. Just know I read it hiding exhausted in my bedroom hoping Yo Gabba Gabba would buy me half an hour to try and figure out how not to feel so tired.

    " I'm surprised by how badly it hurts sometimes to be a mother."

    Yes. me too.

    Tell me when you get to the chapter "How to fall in Like".

    So much grateful love

  2. Being a mom is my favorite thing too. I love that Silas comprehending God gave you to him is way more exciting than a magazine feature. : )

  3. I feel this one straight down to the deepest corners of my heart that have been ripped apart by my own tricky kid. It's a gut-wrenching wild love that makes us hold on so tight. Much love to you, momma.

    1. So much love back to you.
      (Your comment made me teary. :) )

  4. I won't presume to know the challenges (or joys) your Silas has added to the mix, but I do know I agree with him: He DOES have the right Mommy and Daddy – and I'm glad he's beginning to realize it. Hugs and prayers for all of you.

  5. On the plus side, you didn't make me cry at work AGAIN. But only because I was home. I'm so glad it seems you've turned a corner. I'm so glad your littlest is learning to love you back. I'm so proud of you, despite not even beginning to understand how much hard you put into it. You and people who climb ice mountains, y'all are the tops.

  6. Shannan, you are one of the best mamma's I know. I thank God that he let you be the one to mother my grandkids!

  7. " Loving him has set me free from the stunning arrogance that I could fix him, or anyone. It's not within my skill set. It was never meant to be."

    God has crushed that arrogance in me, too.
    After you get over the initial searing pain, it feels so completely freeing to know that you're not the one who is responsible. God is, and he has every skill set imaginable.

  8. God has taught me more about myself and who He is through my kids than any other avenue....and just to be clear, it has not all been pretty! :-)

  9. Geez, you need to warn a girl she'll be sobbing and need kleenex and a redo of all her eye makeup. This post set me back a good long while because I had to read it a few times and then cry and then fix the face that melted off because I have to see humans today outside my home. This was so stunningly beautiful. WOW.

  10. Absolutely Beautiful Shannan!!!! The work of God never ceases to amaze me and He displays Himself so beautifully through motherhood <3 Love this to the core!!!

  11. there are so many days when i think i'll never be any good at this. so many days when i feel like i'll crumble from the weight of loving someone who doesn't want me. sometimes i just can't. but God is in me, and He can, and so we press through another day.

    and somehow it's enough. even if i never end up his 'best love' (be still, my heart!), it's enough, the privilege of caring for this wildly beautiful child.

    thanks for being my people.

  12. Tough love truly is tough, but it makes for the sweetest reward. So glad God is giving you a peek into the healing of your child's heart lately. I'm sure the bond will only grow, and one day those tough days will be a faint memory. Thanks for sharing the real and letting us share this crazy, funny, beautiful journey with you.

  13. great post! and adding that book to my reading wish list!

  14. oh, how you're singing my song.
    grateful for your inspirational stick-to-itiveness, to love so hard. beautiful and full of hope.
    i really love the whole chapter, but jeremiah 31:25 comes to mind: 'for i will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul i will replenish.'
    i cling to that promise, as a weary, lonely mama. praise jesus. love shows up, and he fills us up so well, often so unexpectedly and certainly above our dreams. he is faithful.

    love you, shannan girl xoxo

  15. I have reread this post over and over. It has struck me and encouraged the deepest part of me.

  16. this. you take the words in my mind and put them together so well. thank goodness you made that marinade. ;)