Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Good Mom

I stood in my kitchen, dragging a soapy rag across the counter-top in the stillness of a frosty morning, listening in through the tiny speaker of my phone as two women I've never met gabbed. I nodded along and laughed with them. I learned from them. They made doing the dishes a more companionable endeavor.

"Everyone does motherhood differently. There's no one right way. At the end of the day, my kids are all serving the Lord, so I'm obviously doing something right. That's how I know I'm a good mom."

I rinsed the skillet, drained the sink, and turned her words over and over.
I went about my day, and they went with with me.

I've probably spoken similar things, though not recently. There was a time, earlier in motherhood, when I clung to the cute prayers my toddlers would whisper in the fade of dusk, all their s's filed down with a lisp. I remember "praying the prayer" with a pre-schooler and believing I had fulfilled my life's work.

I penned entire volumes on yellow legal pads to my son sitting in prison and felt closer to the Lord than I'd ever been. And when his responses landed like a song in my mail box, stacked with questions about God, loopy script devoid of punctuation but pulled hard toward possibility, I had never been more certain of His love for me. Robert found God apart from us, and I knew nothing of the jailhouse Jesus. The only Jesus I knew was the one who cannot be outrun. He's the one who sniffs people out in dark corners where they're positioned to listen. I know this from experience.

Yet all around were Christians who found themselves incapable of holding a steady gaze when I glowed about the redemption of my newest son. Their skepticism showed its face in the single arch of an eyebrow and I burned with unholiness. Others dove straight into the deep end of my hallelujah, and I worried I hadn't given them the full story.

The truth is, opinions had no bearing on the gravity of the miracle. Wait, was it a miracle? Or was I just naive? I became vigilant about Robert's spiritual health, constantly taking his pulse, checking his vitals, looking past his pain in search of fire. I was a good mom, after all. My status hinged on it staying lit.

Over time, I quietly grew satisfied with just a few curls of smoke. You know what they say about smoke, that somewhere, something smolders. All it takes is one strong whip of wind...

He moved in, and the roots of our love pulled us equally under, anchoring us as a family.
He moved toward us, and away from God.
He sat in the dark - we sat there with him - and he said he wanted us forever, but not our faith.

The longer I'm a mom, the less I really know. I'm probably not alone in this.

But here are a few things I do know. I know the church has allowed us to believe our job is to raise children of God, or maybe it's soldiers for Christ or Jesus Freaks or some other cliche that feeds our hunger for independence and pride. It's half true at most, and the distinction is important. We are tasked with leading our children well, pointing them to the cross while bearing the unique weight of not owning another's soul. Nothing more.

I know our kids who look us straight in the eye and say they don't want God might be the very people God uses to remind us of His unflagging affection and authority.

I know when we default to boring, blanket statements about whether or not we're getting things "right", it's only because we know there are so many glaring things we're getting wrong. We are all hard-wired to self-soothe. We want so badly to sleep at night. I get it. But we are not fooled by our own words. These platitudes do not strengthen the kingdom.

//

I am learning to count grace where I find it, often in the most unlikely places. Two nights ago I wrestled for it in the dark. Where was it?

The wrenching truth is, I pray for the salvation of all my children (and you know I use "children" loosely) but I can do nothing to secure it. There are moms who have "heard from the Lord" that their children will all come to serve Christ. I am not her.

I do hear from the Lord. Our talks are unfancy treasure, infusing the air around me. They are my feet on the pavement, my hand on my child's cheek, the water beating down on my shoulders in the morning, the closed fists of blossoms making promises they will keep. He loves me. He adores you. He created R in His image, with intention. I can be sure of this.

Our job is not to lasso our kids' hearts for God then hand Him the rope. We cannot tie our goodness to an outcome that was never ours to to create.We've gotten this all wrong. Our job is to reflect His goodness while we are here in the land of the fumbling, wrecking-ball living.

It's time to reshape this narrative.

When I walk in my limitations, I am a good mom.
When I remember my cupboards are bare of power and sovereignty, I am a good mom.
When I have the courage to look at my screw-ups and past theirs, I am a good mom.
When I am willing to see myself in their thin places, I am a good mom.
When I pull my wanderer into a tight hug and promise there is no end to my love, I am a good mom.
When I speak the truth, pray, and hold up my light with shaking arms because it's all I know to do, I am a good mom.

When I never stop hoping, I am a good mom.

God holds us in his palm. We can only feel the ground under our own two feet.
But it's bright here. It's warm. We radiate the goodness of our safe place.
It's impossible to know who might be moving toward the light on our faces.

Maybe that's the whole point and perhaps it is exactly enough.



48 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for these beautiful words today. My parents raised us in a beautiful Christian home. I came to faith as a child and to this day I love Jesus and want to live for Him. My brother, however, has run as far as he can from the church and from any semblance of faith. My mom often wonders where she went wrong and I've tried to remind her that it is not our work to "save" people or to "bring them to the Lord." It is the Holy Spirit's job to convict and to woo. We just have to share our stories and be willing to reflect the redemption of the Savior.

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  2. Shannan--thank you so, so much for this. You spoke words I needed to hear, and I'm grateful.

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  3. Shannan thank you again for writing these words. I felt so much peace reading this even though my 4 are still young. I constantly place my worth in the way they behave and decisions they make. And I am married to a pastor so people are constantly reminding me of what my "preacher's kids" may become. When I am scared I am unreasonable and strict and every misbehavior brings up another what if. I realize I can't be the Holy Spirit for my kids. I needed to be reminded of this so I can just love them today. We are such a circus over here!

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    1. "When I am scared I am unreasonable and strict and every misbehavior brings up another what if." Oh, I SO get this. That kind of pressure is the WORST. Praying you have a few close people in your life who accept your circus show just as it is and help remind you that we all have our own brand of normal. ;) Grace for all!!

      You might appreciate this one, too: http://www.flowerpatchfarmgirl.com/2014/02/for-moms-with-wild-ones.html

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    2. I so can relate, especially to the increasing strictness. Ugh. We have 6 kids & I always worry people are thinking, "sheesh maybe they should have stopped at 4 like reasonable people!" Haha!!

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  4. This is so true. We only control one soul . . . and that is ours. Our children are on their own. I've told mine many times . . . "I can't take you to heaven with me. You have to have your own relationship with Jesus." I WISH I COULD!!! Every believing woman of God wishes the same thing. But we can't. And so we pray, and we live Christ and Him crucified before them. And we pray. Good mom?? Who knows. I know I did the best I could. And that is all God requires of us. Blessings from Missouri my sweet friend who I've never met :).

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  5. This is so beautifully written. I am not a mom, but I am a lover of people. I a 25 year old who has people in my close circle who I have lost sleep over because of this very thing... I know God promises He will save all those who come to Him, but He doesn't promise all will. That there, is at times enough to break me. But I was reminded a couple weeks ago, as I cried out to God and this morning through your word that we can not lose hope. The people we pray for, the people we hope for, the people we love, their stories are not fully written, and they are not ours to write. I find hope trusting the One who holds the pen. ... Thank you Shannan for your open heart and the beautiful messages your bring.

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  6. all i could think of when i read this is how thankful i am for you that you are being shown this NOW, instead of when you're at the end of your days of "full-time" mothering. my one and only was raised in the church, had faith modeled before him, is attending a Christian university, and i'm still uncertain about where God is in his daily existence. and, oh, how that unknown has messed with my head and heart.

    it's so true that we moms have erroneously, dangerously tied our goodness, our effectiveness, to what only God can accomplish. yes yes yes, let's reshape this narrative!

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  7. But it is a hard truth, because then I have to remember that just as I was given complete agency by God, so were my kids - and I can't take that from them, not even with the most awesomest parenting (which I don't actually have, I just like to pretend I will someday). Also, in less serious matters than things like religion, it also helps me when my kids, who all dress themselves from a tender age of three or so, show up in the craziest outfits - I just remind myself that they are not mini-mes, and then sometimes I realize I love their crazy outfits more than the normal ones.

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    1. Letting my crazies dress themselves was a great lesson in letting go...and provided years of entertainment!! :)

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  8. But it is a hard truth, because then I have to remember that just as I was given complete agency by God, so were my kids - and I can't take that from them, not even with the most awesomest parenting (which I don't actually have, I just like to pretend I will someday). Also, in less serious matters than things like religion, it also helps me when my kids, who all dress themselves from a tender age of three or so, show up in the craziest outfits - I just remind myself that they are not mini-mes, and then sometimes I realize I love their crazy outfits more than the normal ones.

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  9. Argh, the first half of my comment disappeared. Anyway, the first half said basically that my brother-in-law, who is a therapist, has a saying that good parenting does not produce good kids, but good parents (although he will be the first to say that good parenting on the whole does lead to more positive outcomes for kids, but it is not a guarantee). I think this extends to not just the basic good outcomes that we want for our kids, but especially for religion as well. After all Abraham had a wayward child, not to mention God, who as our heavenly parent I would argue is the BEST parent, and yet look at all of His children, many of whom are astray. It's a hard truth, but in the end it is comforting to me that my children's outcome in life is not dependent on my parenting skills, because sometimes (often?) I feel like they are really lacking, but thank goodness for a lot of grace and them not being carbon copies I can force out to serve the Lord.

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  10. I so needed this today, as my two wanderers are heavy on my heart. Thank you.

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  11. "The wrenching truth is, I pray for the salvation of all my children (and you know I use "children" loosely) but I can do nothing to secure it...We cannot tie our goodness to an outcome that was never ours to to create."

    I could underline just about every sentence but those "When I..." statements, those broke me. And by the time I got to these last few, all the tears. "When I pull my wanderer into a tight hug and promise there is no end to my love, I am a good mom.
    When I speak the truth, pray, and hold up my light with shaking arms because it's all I know to do, I am a good mom."

    Thanks for that truth and thanks even more for the last paragraph. Maybe that is the whole point.

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  12. If I could go through the the Internet and link this post to every mom blog or site in existence, I would do it. Thank you, thank you, thank you for saying what we need to hear and can only rarely find whispers of. Xoxo

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  13. Thank you Shannan. I'm a mom who's prayed for my children since before they were conceived. I have two sons; one with Down syndrome, and one with Asperger's. And one of them is also somewhat gender uncertain. The pain and fear I have known in my life is paralyzing. And yet I know that God knows. I can live my story, the one he has given me, knowing His grace surrounds us, and He sustains me.

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  14. Turning loose of "responsibility" for my grown sons relationship with God has been one of the hardest things ever. Some days I still want to take it back, but I just rehearse truth....Phil 1:6 is one...over and over again!

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  15. You know me. I have struggled with this for as long as I have held my babies in my arms. I know I am not the Holy Spirit. I can't convict, although I sure tried. Much of the time I saw darkness and it was only a shadow. We want perfection when we know it is impossible. I said I raised my children to stand on their own two feet and then trusted God to the rest. But..... any concern or slight imagined problem I would try to snatch them back from God's hands and attempt to show Him how I wanted the issue resolved. Of course I didn't know the future from the beginning or how things work out according to His plan, not mine. It is so easy to say I trust Him with everything, but in my heart I know I have no idea how big my God really is, but I am learning each and every day. First it was the children and now the grandchildren. I think being a good mom is praising Him in the storm, and loving them and keeping the candle lit in the window . And believing and hoping for the best and never, never giving up on them.

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  16. Hard lesson for all of us- I read the Bible stories, prayed with them, tried to soothe their hearts with God's promises. One chose a decade of hard core drug addiction and is only now, 15 years later- making progress towards independence, but his faith is dormant (or gone?- I don't know). The other is angry that God did not answer her prayers for her sibling- but still believes. My husband has completely and totally walked away- lashed out over the weekend that "the fairy tales and stories are not relevant or true today- worthless pandering to mindless sheep"…after all I have been through I did not think I would now suffer religious persecution in my own home- but there you have it. Tough to go on some days...

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    1. Tracy, this is all so hard. Thank you for sharing though, and I hope sharing helped in some small way. I have to believe God won't waste any of this. And praying you just continue to radiate God's goodness on to your people, whether they currently believe or not. Peace to you today!

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  17. Too often I tie my identity up with my kids' behavior, which is an impossible standard and doesn't at all reflect love or grace or who God is. Thank you so much for your honest thoughts. Good for my heart today.

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  18. we are absolutely a unit, but boy is it an individual journey!! we teach them and ourselves correct principles (hopefully and prayerfully) ~ and we govern ourselves.
    ~always love your insights~

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  19. I love this. I have heard things like those statements so often, and they can make you feel less than enough or like there is this standard you're not always meeting. I agree, the longer I'm around and with each new experience as a mother, the more I know I don't know much. I loved your statements about what makes a good mom - it encouraged me a lot. Keep writing and sharing your heart friend. I have no doubt they touch others and speak to them like they do me.

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  20. Being a parent is difficult even on good days, but here's one thing I know to be true: sometimes young adults are knuckleheads. Doesn't matter what the parents do or don't do, sometimes they're just knuckleheads. It's age appropriate, and it's ok. I certainly am glad I'm not still held responsible for every goofy thing I said at that age. Young adults are standing on their own two feet, sometimes for the very first time, and they need to try on a few weird pairs of shoes. In the meantime, God's going to keep chasing your young man with a pair of perfectly fitting, comfy slippers in one outstretched hand. One day he'll turn around and take them and remember how well God fits.
    Everything's going to be ok.

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    1. I love your comment! So well said. Love the slippers…

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  21. I worry that you don't see these comments, but I hope you do. I want you to know that sometimes your writing is the only thing that keeps me from taking my own life...such is my despair over my son. I try to take in those rays of hope you keep sending out. Thank you.

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    1. Carol-Anne, I don't know you but my heart breaks just reading your words. I hope and pray you're able to receive the comfort of God right now... I'm praying for you and your son tonight. The story isn't over.

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    2. Oh, Carol-Ann! I read every single comment. Every word. You all are such an encouragement to ME! I'm tucked into my bed, getting ready to read a bit and sleep. I pray in Jesus' name that wherever you are and whatever you're doing right now, you feel God so near. I pray you feel his strong hands under your feet. I pray you feel loved just as you so desperately love your son. Grace covers all our mistakes, isn't that fantastic news? And if it can be true for the wayward sons (God, please grab them!) it can be true for us Mamas, too. Much love and peace to you tonight, sister. Thank you for your comment.

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  22. I worry that you don't see these comments, but I hope you do. I want you to know that sometimes your writing is the only thing that keeps me from taking my own life...such is my despair over my son. I try to take in those rays of hope you keep sending out. Thank you.

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  23. So glad you wrote this. It pinged in my brain as intersecting with my reading. I've been reading through Augustine's Confessions this year, and woven throughout his life is his mother's longing for his salvation. She couldn't have guessed that her wandering son would become a church father read a handful of hundred years later.

    It's funny how often I want input to equal output with my children, when really.., why would it? And why would I actually prefer that to the wonder and mystery of the God I can't outrun. Grieving with all of us mothers who have children than wonder. But not grieving as one without hope, and on my knees for all of us, and our kids.

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  24. Thank you - again and again.

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  25. You are indeed a good mom and, after reading this, I know that I am too. Thanks!

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  26. How could we ever be free of pain in heaven if our kids aren't there too? I just don't understand. The thought undoes me. I can only hope and believe God's grace and mercy is way beyond our narrow imaginings? A beautiful, important post, Shannan, thank you.

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  27. And just because someone doesn't have a religion doesn't make them less of a person than a Christian. (I found your blog researching adoption some years back)-- As a person without religion (from a family that all identify as Christian), my parents would be upset for me to tell them I don't subscribe to their religion yet, I know that I am a person of good character and my career path is one that serves the greater good of society. The more pressure you put on your child to believe what you believe, you run the risk of pushing them further away.

    If I have kids, my only goal is to have children who are good people, and I will allow them to decide on their own religious beliefs.

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    1. Love your response so much Alicia. Our oldest son who is 24 and raised Catholic came home from college when he was a sophomore and announced he was an atheist. Decided it was all nonsense! This is a very smart (too smart) scientifically bent young man who is seeking his own way. My faith is very important to me and so of course this really upset me. But my immediate second thought was I'm so glad we have a relationship where he can tell me his true feelings and thoughts. Now I can joke with him and say things like "you'll be back one day!" In my mind just like you stated above, he is a good person with a loving heart. At Easter, we all went to mass and as he sat next to me, I leaned in and whispered, "I know you are here for me and I appreciate it very much!"

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    2. I'm sure your son really appreciates what you've done as well. I think raising children to be good people is important. I worked at a church daycare when I was in university and came across many "false Christians" and it definitely made me bitter. But I just surrounded myself with "good" people of all religions and found my happiness increase infinitely. There are more commonalities between us all, no matter what our religious beliefs.

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    3. Hey Alicia! I really appreciate your comment. I have to think the "upset"ness comes from a place of fear, or thinking they are somehow responsible for controlling your faith. It's an easy place to fall into, especially when the personal belief is so strong. My faith is so important to me it makes me sad to think that my kids might not all share it, in the end. It's possible. But when I can step back and trust that this is not my job to control, it helps so much. I hope that no matter what, your parents realize the treasure that you obviously are, and that they love-love-love you in really obvious, tangible and special ways. Like you said in your above response, we're sort of all the same, all trying to figure life out as we go!

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  28. Thank you for sharing your heart and encouraging others simultaneouy. I've been hurting for sometime and this put words to my pain. I thank God for using you to get through to me, and I thank you for allowing him to do so.

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  29. This is like mana to my heart right now. I am in tears... Just thanking the Lord for you, for this honest post. It is exactly the reminder I need at the moment. Thank you. Shared on Pinterest... May He save our kids!

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  30. I need to be reminded of this just about every day, as I see our older two children living so differently than the way they were raised and wonder what the outcome might be with this third child of ours. My prayer, always, always needs to be that God will help me to be the mother that I can be in Him, and to rest myself and my children in His sovereign care.

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  31. Yep. This is it. Our kids' faith has to be their own. It may be easier for them to choose when they see us living it real. Not the fake I know what I'm doing kind, but the honest I know I've messed up kind of faith. I've come to see that it's important for kids to wrestle with the hard stuff. I used to be fearful that they would slip out of God's grasp, but it's not my responsibility.

    Like you, though, I'll never stop hoping.

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  32. I have a prodigal son. This impels me every day to try to make a godly home worthy of attracting him back. It reminds me to live by the music of the spirit, not just by dogmas or rules. It has been a revelation to watch god working to give him opportunities to learn and grow on his own terms.

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  33. Oh how I rode over here on some sort of freakish holy wind
    because how I needed this moment with these words. So much thanks
    for pouring them out of your heart and serving them up fresh.
    Oh. my. heart. Gratefully soaking them in.
    Huge grace and grit and gumption to you,
    Jennifer

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  34. You couldn't know how desperately I needed to hear these words today. I've never read your blog before but after reading this, I'm subscribed. The Lord led me here, I have my own adoption story and my own hard journey, but I can't tell you how much I needed to hear this: "Our job is not to lasso our kids' hearts for God then hand Him the rope. We cannot tie our goodness to an outcome that was never ours to to create..." thank you

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    1. I'm so grateful you found me here, because I need to know I'm not alone, too. Thanks for taking the time to say Hi and whatever you're dealing with right now, God has already hatched a plan to redeem it. XO

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