Thursday, September 17, 2015

Glorious Homemaking in . . . Mortal Conditions

A week or two ago I received a message from a friend I've gotten to know through blogging. She was hosting a blogger round-up of sorts and wondered if I'd be interested in participating. The theme, she told me, was: elevating the term “homemaker”.

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I was flattered she would ask, but the feeling of self-importance drifted rather quickly away and left me feeling . . . deflated. There was, it seemed to me, very little lofty or elevated in my current homemaker status.

Sure, I could write about how we managed to get a good 90 seconds of scripture reading in before school that morning (four minutes, probably, . . . if you counted interruptions). I could add how the girls' hair was braided and how there were hugs given. But I'd have to include that at least one child ate leftover brownies for breakfast and that I couldn't actually confirm whether anyone had brushed teeth or clean faces as they headed out the door. I'd also have to admit that the hugs were given only after abruptness and rushing had first caused tears (and that the hugs were one-armed . . . as pretty much everything was that morning due to a nursing newborn).

In fact, at the same time as I sat pondering what I might add to this blogging round-up, I was, yet again, nursing that newborn. Only, I was simultaneously using a motorized pump (all part of a frantic effort to increase my milk supply – which, ever since my fourth child, struggles to fully come in). While in that rather awkward situation, my 13 month old managed to fall off a footstool in the bathroom. As I called to her toddler brother to come try and cheer her up, I debated what the “good, better, and best” was here: let the fallen tough it out, hope her three-year-old brother would show up and offer enough comfort, or run to her aid (jolting a newborn from her peaceful eating and losing the whole balance of feeding and pumping I'd just managed)? And that wasn't all. My windows and mirrors were covered in so many fingerprints that even my kids (the very ones who'd made the fingerprints and typically remained oblivious to them) had been asking things like, “What's all over that mirror?”. There was more laundry in my laundry room than you could shake a stick at (and I really should have used something more original there, but seriously, . . . . you'd be shaking that stick for a long time). And, I was struggling with numerous and varied anxieties over others of my children – and over my abilities to teach and give those children everything they required.

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What did I know about homemaking? (And who on earth would take advice from a homemaker who had to occasionally supplement breast-feeding with formula?)

Amidst all of that homemaking chaos, I never did get a post written in time. Still, as I pondered on it in the days following, I found my mind going continually back to an emailed conversation I'd had with another good friend. It came shortly after my recent, less-than-perfect, labor experience (wherein we left our house in a rush – leaving dirty bathrooms, incomplete chore lists, uncelebrated birthdays, and overly tired and messy kids – and dashed, full of pain and worry, to the hospital; arriving fully dilated with a breech baby and no time to ponder the magnitude of . . . well . . . anything). My friend had talked to me about how she had come to realize that sometimes the very “un-idealness” of our situations is part of the sacrifice God asks of us. She was perhaps overly kind, but she brought me to tears and gave me a beautiful new perspective with her appraisal of my birth situation when she said:

“. . . there is a level at which the very ordinariness of it all CREATES the beauty . . . . And the sacrifice of a mother bringing her child here, . . . willingly enduring whatever came, however mundane, with all its unheroic indignities of catheters and botched epidurals and whatnot—THIS IS BEAUTIFUL to God. This is heroic to God. This story is, in its way, as vast and amazing as the pioneer mother dying to give birth to her child, and as full and deep as the mother who pushed for 6 hours in the birthing tub at home—because it concerns a daughter of God who chose His will freely, and loved this new tiny someone so much that she would endure the biggest—and the smallest—of difficulty for her."

Sometimes this whole business of making a home and raising a family is clearly wrapped up in the eternal gloriousness of it all – laboring while feeling the presence of angels, sacrifice accompanied by cheery little voices and freshly bathed children. In those moments the purpose and rightness of what we are doing – the truly elevated role of homemaking -- is incredibly clear and evident. And I've had those moments. Lots of them. Moments when I am out running with Goldie and we have just the right conversation. Moments when I'm tired and worn out, but I still manage to have my children all gathered around me reading stories at the end of the day. Moments when I run my fingers through Abe's hair when I go to tell him goodnight and share a spiritual experience that he clearly “gets”. Moments when the kids come home to freshly-baked cookies. Moments when everyone is laughing happily around a perfect Sunday dinner.

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But . . . so often all of this mothering and homemaking is wrapped, instead, squarely and securely in the messy and muddled MORTALNESS of being here. It can be full of mundane and “unheroic indignities”. It can be full of unknowns and struggles and fears. And often amidst sleep-deprivation, messy faces, and loads of laundry; amidst pregnancies alongside constant nausea, amidst unbearable anxiety over a wayward child or a kid who struggles to learn; amidst health problems; amidst depression; amidst clutter; amidst all other possible frustrations and difficulties that seem . . . so . . . not elevated; amidst all of those things, we sometimes fail to realize that we are still doing noble and glorious and beautiful work. We don't quite believe that God loves and accepts family home evenings where kids run wild and don't listen; that he is proud of our efforts to create a fun family outing even if it ends up with scraped knees, runny noses and tear-stained faces; that he supports us and weeps with us when we struggle to find joy in family life despite sickness, struggling family members and disappointment. As James E. Talmage said: often “Our eyes are so heavy, our ears so dull, that we see and hear only the things of earth. . . .” when, if our vision could be expanded (as it occasionally, is), we would see that “in our daily walk and work we are not alone, but that angels attend us wherever our duty causes us to go.” (Even when that duty entails muddy every day troubles, untidy family heartbreaks, and . . . one year-olds falling off stools while we struggle to nurse newborns.)

What we are doing is glorious work. It’s his work. Our father’s. And we are doing it all in a fallen, mortal condition. And if it isn’t always bright Instagram photos and Pinterest-worthy decorating; our faith and our brave pressing on still make it beautiful. Beautiful during the times when every thing is bright and smooth and joyous. And maybe more beautiful – more precious to God – during the frustrating times and the non-elevated times; the times when we may even feel more like Sariah – leaving every ease and comfort, suffering terror over her sons’ physical AND spiritual welfare, all while being pregnant, eating raw meat and trying to be a homemaker . . . in the wilderness. The times when our eyes are too heavy and our ears too dull to see the truth of this homemaking work – that it is eternal and that angels are with us, and that the mundane and untidy aspects of it don’t diminish – and at times maybe even add more to – those truths.

We came here. We chose this. And we’re doing it. We really are. Bravo to us!

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Friday, September 11, 2015

How I’m Doing

When I opened the computer a few mornings ago, the start of an unfinished (and long since forgotten) blog post was sitting on my screen. I don't know how it got there, but it seemed to be saying, “Hey, remember me? Remember how you were writing me and saying things about labor like: “never”. And all the while your little baby was planning on coming the very next day? And now, she's been here four weeks. Funny. Huh?”

Here it was:

Tonight I made two shakes. Raspberry. Thick (like I like them). I brought them into our room to share with Mike. Alas, he had fallen fast asleep on our bed. I was a bit surprised. Not so much because our bed was still awaiting freshly-washed bedding to be spread; and not even so much because Jesse had left Magna-Tiles all over our mattress (some of which were likely under Mike); but because, if Mike accidentally falls asleep before it's “officially” bedtime (you know: teeth brushed, prayers said, etc.), it almost always happens on the couch.

Yet, here he was: accidentally asleep in the spot meant for . . . really going to sleep.

I couldn't blame him though. After all, he would be turning 39 the next morning. It must be difficult at his age, I reasoned, to stay up (or fall asleep) quite as intentionally as he could back when he was his youthful 37 or even 38 year-old self.

So, I found myself a little spot near him on our unmade bed (preferring his sleeping company to not having his company at all) and ate . . . both . . . of our shakes while I googled things like: “Signs of Labor” and “False verses True Labor”.

Of course I know enough by now to know that nothing I read or think or feel even will ever actually give me any concrete idea of when I'll go into labor. And I should know enough by now to know that I will never go into labor two weeks before my due date. Still. It's one of those things that are difficult not to read and speculate about at this point – particularly because it is so uniquely strange to me to wrap my my around the fact that . . . I actually WILL be going into labor one of these days. Everything about this pregnancy has felt so . . . not quite real, that it's difficult to remain convinced this is actually going to happen.

And that was it. The post was never finished.

But life just . . . moves right along, doesn't it? Things happen whether it ever seemed they might or not. That little baby who I wasn't fully convinced actually existed? She did. She does. She's here – if not yet in a way that feels fully routine, then at least in a way that feels unmistakably real.

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And . . . things are good. They are hard. I can see that when I step outside of myself and just – look in. But circumstance doesn't always dictate . . . what? What doesn't it always dictate? I don't know . . . how overwhelming hard feels? How hard . . . hard is?

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My sister recently told me about a time at the start of her mission when she was momentarily hit with utter panic. “Wait!” she thought in slight terror. “When do I ever just have time for myself?”

She then heard a calm but matter-of-fact voice answer, “You don't.”

It was as if it gently said, “Don't get all worked up. Right now you are doing this. And so you won't really be doing anything else. And that's OK.”

And, oddly enough, that soothed her panic. It allowed her to let go of all of her notions about everything she was accustomed to doing and just give in to what she currently had in front of her to do.

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I think I'm in a similar place right now.

“When do I just get time for myself?!”

“You don't. And that's OK.”

“Oh. Well. That wasn’t quite the answer I expected, but . . . I suppose it is OK. I'll just . . . settle with myself that I'm . . . doing this for now.”

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I remember another friend telling me a similar thing about her experience having twins. She had to just sort of . . . surrender to motherhood more completely than she had before. And, surprisingly, in doing so, the panic and struggle seemed to lessen. It's the difference between clinging frantically – strength exhausted and arms shaking – to the reeds and branches at the side of the rushing river you are currently in and . . . just letting go and flowing along with it (wild current, unexpected rocks, and all).

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So it's hard. It's wild. My days are pretty consumed with house needs and baby needs and other kid needs. But . . . that feels, for the most part, . . . OK. Not easy. But something I'm just going to be all right with doing right now.

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