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Mamas, Keep on Keeping On

Standing with fellow Sunday School kids adorned in ’80’s culottes, I recited The Lord’s Prayer with the gusto only cheap dollar store prizes can coax out of a quiet, non-competitive, short haired girl. Winning didn’t motivate me, but prizes like trick foam ice cream cones, wild haired pencil toppers, erasers in the shape of everything imaginable and lopsided sunglasses kept me memorizing. Eventually I became the memory verse star, winning the blue, velcro, ice cream cone wallet and finally at the end of the year, the whole prize drawer emptied into a brown crumpled sack all just for me. I really don’t know why ice cream cones  were so in style. I’m pretty sure those were tears of joy my mom cried as I trimphantly carried these valuable prizes to stash into my already full junk drawers. Unfortunately, my baby sister took a big bite out of the foam ice cream cone and it just wasn’t the same after that.

I credit these early years with memorizing, cheap prizes and chocolate to having a mind full of verses with their meanings, like long buried treasure, unearthed at the precise  times God sees fit. Verses come back to me cascading like waves when I desperately need them and suddenly, the words that were once only the means to the prize become the prized bit of truth for that season. Worn out words take on a life of their own as God breathes life and simple statements become clear when seasoned by experience and deeper understanding of God’s heart.

I am 43 years old and still benefit from all of that memorizing. Mamas, don’t lose heart in the planting years. Things you instill today will produce a harvest and a harvest and a harvest and a harvest. Your investment today sends ripples that will affect generations. My parents planted a whole lot more than verses like a love of hearing God speak and journaling, love of family and way more things than are listable here. The truth is, if we are a mom, we are always planting.

Every day, we’re planting all kinds of things. We’re planting ways of life, ways of handling people, ways of knowing God, belief systems, ways of communicating, values and so many other things. Some things we intentionally plant and others we think nothing about, but still seeds are being sown.

Planting is never glamorous. It’s messy, it’s dirty and it takes patience. Anyone who is planting will lose heart if they don’t keep an eye on the future. I’m sure in the heat of the day when things get exhausting, many a farmer has stretched out on the bare ground hoping his work will count. He can’t control the outcome of his crop because much of it is out of his control. Storms can come threatening the very work of his hands. Unwanted pests can come and mercilessly eat his hard earned crop. Drought can come leaving his fledgling plants without the nourishment they need to thrive.

He can only do what he knows to do. Be faithful every day. During planting season, the same field with the same dirt meets him every morning as he cultivates the land. Sometimes the weather is beautiful and the day is calm. Other days he would rather stay in where the elements can’t reach him. The work from the previous day is invisible to the naked eye, but under the surface new life is quietly beginning to grow. Faithfulness doesn’t get rid of the mundane, but is often found in the mundane. Some days he may plant with gusto and other days he may half-heartedly plant, but he KEEPS PLANTING.

The hardest times to push through are the times when you are just plodding through life doing what you know you need to do. Raising kids is a whole lot of very mundane and hidden moments punctuated by big Instagram worthy moments. If we lose sight of what we’re doing, we start to look for meaning in something somewhere and think the ones who make the biggest splash are the most important players. There is really not much fancy about mothering, but there is a whole lot importance.

Mothering is expensive. It costs a lot to lay down your life for another. Dying is required, but dying well is not. We can squander the planting years with bad attitudes, comparison, and self loathing. Honestly, there have been many times a crop has started growing and it is not what we were intending to plant. This is where we do the work of going to God and asking Him to help us change into the kind of person who sows different seed. That process will keep going until the day we die. Our goal is not perfection but growth.

Not many stand and applaud in the planting years and in this jealous and envious world we live in, many are waiting to boo us right off the field. The screams of, “You are planting wrong.” “Nothing will come of what you are doing.””Your harvest will die anyway.” “Your field is not important.” “Why are you wasting time in this field?” “You think this season is hard?! Ha! Just wait for the next one,” are often loud in our ears.

These are really nothing more than the voice of our enemy cloaked in snarky comments, strong opinions and even our own thoughts to discourage us enough to quit. If we listen to the faceless onlookers, we will stop planting, because we will lose heart. We will exist in our field, but we won’t cultivate. Weeds will begin to grow and we won’t mind because we can’t see the tiny plants needing the space to grow. Or we might mind a lot and out of fear, ruthlessly tear out the weeds with so much gusto we destroy the fledgling harvest. In planting and cultivating years, we must choose which voices to listen to.

There are many voices wanting to be heard, but we must listen to those voices that encourage us and give us the wisdom we need in the season we’re in. Voices of self pity, you know the ones, the ones who treat motherhood as something to be tolerated, will not help us. Voices of shame, the ones who are waiting to point out all we are doing wrong, will discourage us. Voices of pride, the ones who tell us not to listen to any counsel, leave us strangely isolated and prone to needless mistakes. Voices of jealousy, the ones who shame for victories and triumph in heartache, will wound us. Voices who speak of motherhood as lesser or unimportant, can cause us to rearrange our lives giving up what matters most for that which matters less.

A few weeks ago a thought hit me, the only place where we are irreplaceable is the place of being a mother to our children. Our place in our family cannot be filled by another. As anyone will tell you who has lost a mother young, people can fill in the gaps and the child can still grow up well and truly loved, but there is still an ache in the heart. Some gaps can never be completely filled.

It’s important to note this has nothing to do with staying home or not staying home. Some of the most intentional mothers I know are working moms who have big jobs. My sweet sister, the foam ice cream cone eater, is one of those. It would be a challenge to find a mom who is more intentional in the time she spends with her son and newborn than she is. I think she would consider being their mom her most important job. It has a whole lot to do with attitude and not a lot to do with vocation. Our attitude informs what we do and how we do it.

The cheers are not loud, but if we listen closely, the One whose cheer is the loudest is the One who chose us to plant this field in this time. This One stands near and far. He is near to us in the moment, but from His eternal perspective, He sees the harvest even while we plant. We must lean in so we hear His whispers. He can help us decipher which weeds to pull and which ones if pulled, will damage surrounding crop. Planting with His perspective breathes life into what we are doing. It gives the courage to continue and not be mindless in our mothering but be intentional instead. It gives us the wisdom to lay down the urgent in favor of the important.

Some of the biggest opportunities come at the most inopportune times. A tantrum met with grace and firmness goes a long way in teaching about a God of grace in our mess. A teen attitude met with kindness instead of an attitude in return cultivates safety. God knows, and I mean this literally because He and I have had several talks about this, I can still do a teen attitude like the rest of them. Unfortunately, the eyeroll is as natural as it was 30 years ago, and I can admittedly still swing my hair the same way as well. This never happens without my own mom’s voice in my ear, “If you keep this up, your eyes will surely roll out of your head.”

Cultivating requires a whole lot of humility because there are a lot of ‘I’m sorry’s’ and do overs. There are a lot of moments on my knees as my small knowledge needs to be met with His big wisdom. It takes constant rearranging of my world as I learn to bend and stand firm, change, hide in Him and display vulnerability. It requires doing the mundane chores with thankfulness instead of grumbling. Perspective is what I need to remain grateful.

Diaper changes become avenues to serve in the most mundane job of all. It’s doing for another what one cannot do for themselves. I think when we change a diaper with an eye towards the future, God smiles. One day I was alone in the kitchen, cleaning it for the 100th time that day and I heard a faint whisper, “I see you.” The whisper of the One whose voice matters was cheering me on. “Nothing you do is hidden from me. No one notices the long hours, but I do.”

Our kids are well on their way to adulthood now. As I write this, our youngest has asked me to repaint his city wall to the more mature decor of white and is packing up his toys. He wants to relegate them to the basement where they will join our older kids’ dolls, robots and once loved toys to collect dust. When I go down there, I sometimes pause to look at a once beloved toy as my memories flood with the ordinary moments that made up their young years. Childhood has faded and our conversations have changed from Rescue Heroes, outside backyard adventures and immature dreams of driving purple pickups to struggles with junior high, work, relationships, college scholarships, future plans and moving out.

I am still learning to listen to the One who sees value in what others so readily discard. I still often feel the pull the validate what I am doing. My life isn’t super fancy and my kids are grown or half grown. I can say that I still fight the urge to ‘do something important’ just when the kids decide they need to talk. I am learning to see that the talk is most often way more important than the task at hand. We are in a rewarding season because the harvest is in sight. We can actually see who the kids are becoming and it is so exciting.

If I could say one thing to the younger moms, it would be to keep on keeping on and make the small choices that are congruent with your big desires. The kind of harvest we reap is related to the 100’s of small choices we make every day. There is no guarantee that our kids will not make their own bad choices, but their choices are not our job. Our choices and responses are our job. We can cultivate love and belonging in our relationships with them no matter where they are. We need to go to God as our source and wisdom because He truly has what we need. So often the right choice is the small and inconvenient choice. Take courage. What you are doing matters and something beautiful is being created.