Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Scaffolding

This blog post centers around an event that happened a few weeks ago. I’ve been letting this sift through my heart for a while before writing about it, because it happened in a dark period and there is pain surrounding it. Also, writing about it shows chinks in my armor, and vulnerable is never a comfortable place to be. But I’ve shared this with a few close friends and I think there is value in sharing it here, mostly because one day my children will read it and know they aren’t alone.

The dark side of motherhood is living with the feeling of being inconsequential. The world pays lip service to motherhood, saying it’s the “Most Important Job Ever.” It sounds like a holy calling  which it is – but it’s a calling that comes with tremendous strings attached. It’s a calling that requires the withering of the person you used to be.

I’ve bristled under the yoke of motherhood, because – frankly – I am self-centered and don’t want “Elizabeth” to wither so “Mom” can flourish. I watched my own mother be Mom exceptionally well; so well that when I (the last of 3 kids) went to college, Mom no longer had a daily need to mother and the “Mom” part of her withered. But by then, the individual she used to be (Brenda) had been smothered for so long there was nothing left for Mom to transition back into being. I swore this wouldn’t happen to me.

Twelve and a half years into mothering, I’m realizing it’s inevitable.

At the start of last month, I hit a brick wall personally. I looked at the writing and photography dreams I’d been pursuing and saw only a bunch of smoke and mirrors. I was spending energy trying to build the Elizabeth Empire while also trying to build the Katie Empire, the Jackson Empire, and be co-architect in building the Dan Empire. Suddenly, it became clear to me: my empire needed to wait.

I had no business trying to build ELIZABETH during this season of my life when I have an 8-year-old and 12-year-old at home, requiring so much of my patience and passion. I also have a husband who needs his own space and creative outlets, which he wasn’t getting because I was busy chasing my own passions. I told myself that ELIZABETH needed to wait. I needed to be – I HAD to be – satisfied with my existence as Laundry Washer, Grocery Shopper, and Toilet Paper Changer.

One morning in early December, I got the kids on the bus then spent hours in quiet time before God. I begged Him to please-please-oh-please take away my longings and desires to be something other than Toilet Paper Changer. I read scriptures that supported my begging: verses about dying to self and especially the verse Paul wrote asking God to take away the thorn in his side. I realized the more time I spent begging Him, the more I felt the tug to become the person God made me to be – which is more than just a Toilet Paper Changer. Being the ultra mature person I am, I decided stop talking to God. If being with Him meant feeling desire for “more,” then I’d simply stop being with Him.

I needed to become okay with feeling invisible. And when you're meeting with El Roi (the God Who Sees Me), it's kind of hard to be invisible.

Later that same day (of course, because God has to pound lessons into my head sometimes), I met the kids at the bus stop so we could rush to piano lessons. Katie got in the car and I asked what the best part of her day was. I really didn’t want to ask because I really didn’t want to feel. I wanted to be a numb robot Toilet Paper Changer but I know “good” moms ask about their kids’ days, so I did too. She responded there had not been anything good about her day. This broke into my pity party enough for me to ask what happened.

Katie told me about a girl at school we’ll call Ashley. Ashley draws so well that friends give her lots of attention. Katie prides herself on her drawing abilities, but doesn’t get the accolades Ashley gets. I replied to Katie, “So you want all the attention Ashley gets?”

Katie’s face looked like she sucked on a lemon as she said, “What? No! I don’t want attention!” (because she has always been a kid who shies away from the limelight). I responded with, “But you don’t want to be ignored?”

Sheepishly, she said, “No. I don’t want to be ignored.”

I summed it up for her by saying, “You want to be seen but not noticed.” And this phrase is what caused my throat to constrict and my eyes to sting with tears because this desire deeply resonated in my soul: I don’t want to be Invisible Mom (a.k.a. Toilet Paper Changer), but I don’t want to be Spotlight Elizabeth (a.k.a. Famous Author). I want to be lowercase elizabeth, who matters as a person and not just as a role.

With sobs threatening to escape my mouth, I told Katie I’d been feeling the same way all day long: invisible and inconsequential.

To help her understand her situation better, I described it like this: Ashley is the Taj Mahal. People come from all over the world to tour the Taj Mahal and wonder at its majesty. It sounded like Katie doesn’t want to be the Taj Mahal. She affirmed that, and also added that she doesn’t want to be a tourist going to visit someone else’s Taj Mahal. (“I’m not a groupie!”) However, she isn’t a shack that people should pass by and ignore.


I looked Katie in the eyes, as best as I could while driving, and told her this truth of my life: “Katie, you are the Taj Mahal to me.” Then I explained another truth of my life: as a mother, I feel like I am simply the scaffolding whose only purpose is to build the Taj Mahal. She didn’t know what scaffolding was and in one of God’s great moments of timing, we happened to be passing a construction site where scaffolding surrounded a building. I pointed out the window and showed her what scaffolding looks like.

I described scaffolding for her, saying it’s construction equipment made of common metal that isn’t very precious. Scaffolding can be dinged and lost and replaced, and it isn’t very useful after a building has reached a certain construction stage unless you’re restoring or cleaning.

With a trembling chin and cracking voice, I told her that’s what I feel like as a mother. I’m the support God uses to build the Taj Mahal of Katie’s life, knowing the focus is on the Taj Mahal and not the tools used to build it. I told her this so she would know that I know what it’s like to want to be seen but not noticed.

I told her this so she would know she isn’t alone. I told her this to minister to her heart. And wouldn’t you know it, but that girl ministered to mine.

Because in the next breath, she looked at me with all the compassion her body could hold and said, “But Mommy, you’re MY Taj Mahal. You’re everything I want to be!” When I scoffed, she pointed out the qualities I have that she’s striving for: creativity and faith and really good handwriting. (!)

I told her she shouldn’t try to be me; she should be Katie-The-Not-Taj-Mahal-But-Not-A-Shack-Either. With a wink, I told her I’m glad she’s not a shack because shacks are usually only one story and don’t require scaffolding. Right now, she is in a Taj Mahal stage of her life. One day, she’ll meet a man and fall in love and become a townhome with him. Then she’ll have kids and become scaffolding for their Taj Mahals.

And then, I couldn’t talk anymore because I was broken inside. I simply reached over and held her hand and told her how much I love her, and we sniffled together for a few miles.


As much as I would like to say it did, this conversation didn’t cause a full course correction in my heart. As I mentioned above, I can be immature and thick-skulled. I went about the next few weeks continuing to act like a numb robot Toilet Paper Changer because it seemed easier to turn from my desires/dreams/callings than to chase them. There were days God would lay a devotion topic on my heart (like He regularly did when I was actively writing my devotional book), and I intentionally turned away from His nudge. I was disobedient and refused to jot any notes down for future writing sessions. I specifically reminded Him that I. Am. Not. Writing. Anymore. and would even catch myself folding my arms across my chest in defiance.

Sheesh. It’s a wonder He didn’t just strike me dead right then and there!

Even today, as I write this post, I would say I’m not completely out of the woods yet. Yes, I’ve stopped crossing my arms in defiance. Yes, I’ve jotted down a few nudges God has given me for devotional topics. But this time, I’m not charging full throttle into the writing calling like I did last July. That whole staying up late to write and exhausting myself (not to mention neglecting my husband and kids) isn’t sustainable. Besides, who really needs an Elizabeth Empire anyway?

I guess you could say I’m in a middle ground, the stage after the beginning but not quite before the end. I’m Taj Mahal Scaffolding with scaffolding of my own, deep in a reconstruction stage:
I’m talking to God again. I’m back in the War Room, listening and learning and leaning into Him. I’m grateful He always welcomes me back.
I’ve started reading a book called Simply Tuesday that is already rocking my world, causing me to reassess my Spotlight Elizabeth tendencies and swap them out for a nice bench or, in my case, a comfy couch for inviting friends to sit a spell.
I’m trying to instill new habits of slowing down (daily yoga, reading real books instead of Facebooks).
Just yesterday, I took a big step and asked a friend to intentionally mentor me through a wound that’s been festering for two years.
I’m scared, looking for hope. I’m tentative, looking for tenacity. I’m a Taj Mahal with scaffolding.

What a way to start the new year!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Breath of Heaven: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 24

​These lyrics are a prayer my heart beats every day: "Breath of Heaven, hold me together."

Genesis tells us God's breath is what brought the very first human to life. God's breath still sustains us, and it is the only thing that holds us together. I pray you take a breather in these last hours of the Christmas season and allow God's breath to fill your lungs. Whether you're singing Silent Night at church or staying up late to assemble the last gifts, may you inhale and exhale and remember His goodness.

Day 24: Breath of Heaven (Mary's Song) written by Chris Eaton and Amy Grant, performed by Amy Grant

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Tips for My Children on "The Marrying Type"


Katie and Jackson,

Today is the 20th anniversary of the start of our family. On December 23, 1995, your father gave me the honor of becoming his wife.

In a few years, you might think your mother is terribly dull and dim. You'll wonder where her brains went and why she doesn't understand much about life. While you are free - and might even be encouraged - to think that, I DO want you to know I fully, 100% understand life... especially the hardest and best parts of it, like marriage.

In an effort to help you find a person you might want to spend the rest of your days with, I thought of some things you might want to look for in a spouse. I hope you will indulge me as I dispense a little advice, and you might even laugh a little along the way. Look for someone like this:
  • ​The kind of person who will help you mop up a flooded basement
  • And dance in restaurants with you
  • And look at you with love-filled eyes
  • Who will want you no matter how many stretch marks you have or jean sizes you've gone through
  • Who will tolerate stopping to take hundreds of photos in a town you want to explore
  • Who, on the 23rd anniversary of the day you met, will rub your head in the emergency room and sit on a tiny bed to hold you
  • Who will change ALL the dirty diapers for your newborn in the hospital, not permitting you to do it yourself because you're recovering from surgery
  • Who will encourage independence for you in pursuing outside friendships, knowing spouses don't have to be your everything - and, honestly, shouldn't be anyway
  • Who will trust you to stay connected to high school friends, even a select few of the opposite gender
  • Who will trust your judgment enough to say yes to church and follow the dance steps you show him for dancing with Jesus
  • Who will ask you to stand beside him when he goes public about surrendering his life to Jesus
  • Who will pray for you in the dark hours of every morning before leaving for work
  • Who will get up at an ungodly hour to get to work early so he can make it home for the Cub Scout meeting
  • Who gives his word and keeps it
  • Whose chin trembles at sappy movies
  • Who is the first to say sorry
  • Who will stand beside you at funerals and hold you while you weep... and weep WITH you
  • Who reminds you every single day in the pit of postpartum depression that you will be okay
  • Who will indulge your love for kitchen gadgets by buying you an avocado slicer for Christmas
  • Who tolerates you cross stitching silly sayings on pillows
  • Who will drive an hour out of the way to get a geocache in another state for your children
  • Who will clean the disgusting shower without being asked
  • Who will change the dressings on your wounds
  • Who will set firm boundaries while living in a state of grace and second chances
  • Who will not keep a record of your wrongs, even when you do
  • Who will not give you what you deserve and always believes the best about you
  • Who loves you enough to stop chasing you when you storm off during a fight
  • Who looks at you with a twinkle in his eyes, as if you share a secret no one else on this earth will ever know
  • Who (sometimes annoyingly) knows you better than you know yourself

To my daughter and son: please find someone you can trust even more than yourself. Don't settle for "good enough" and don't sell yourself short. On the other hand, don't think more of yourself than you should! Your future spouse will change everything about you. He or she will bring out every worst characteristic you don't even know you have, and polish off more than a few rough spots. He or she will also deepen you and help you grow in magnificent ways. This person is the one you will have an unbreakable bond with, so make sure it's a person you'll want to stay bonded to forever. There is no going back when you make a promise like marriage. It's a covenant, not a contract!

To my husband: thank you for giving me more than just a new name. I will never be able to measure up to you and the ways you give yourself to me. Your loyalty, passion, security and sense of adventure is unlike anyone I've ever met. Even after 20 years of marriage, there are days I look at you and say to myself, "I cannot believe HE is MINE!" Thank you for loving me deeply and for showing me how to allow that love to heal me in some deeply broken places. You make me feel safe and wanted, and I am still so in love with you. Happy 20th anniversary!

To all three of you: twenty years is a drop in the bucket, and we have so much more ahead of us! I pray we keep each other safe, encouraged, and loved.

Always and forever,
Elizabeth

O Holy Night: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 23

​Love means helping someone know his worth. It's showing another person she matters and is worth fighting for.

This lyric from O Holy Night, written by Adolphe Adam, is the epitome of God's love for us. Our souls didn't know their true value until Jesus came and showed us we are worth dying for. Can you fathom that? It hardly makes sense!

I bet the song O Holy Night has been recorded hundreds of times, but my very favorite version is by David Phelps. I love his version so much I listen to it year-round.

My only regret about it is I wish my parents could have heard this version before they died. Dad would have come unglued listening to David Phelps sing, and Mom would have sobbed the ugly cry because she always teared up when we sang O Holy Night in church. David's version of this song would have unraveled her!

Day 23: O Holy Night, written by Adolphe Adam, performed by David Phelps

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Winter Snow: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 22

Like yesterday's lyrics, today's song is one I first heard at church. I don't remember the sermon or even the year, but I will never forget my friend Emily singing it on a darkened stage. It was simple and quiet and one of the holiest moments I've ever witnessed.

This song is just that: simple, quiet and holy. It's the best reminder for me of God's ability to restrain His magnificent power in order to save the people He adores; the same people who can't quite handle magnificent power because it would shock us. God is - thankfully - willing to become quiet, soft and slow so we can understand Him better.

This is why God gives the best gifts. He gives in a way the recipient would be most comfortable and receptive. It's unconditional love!

Day 22: Winter Snow, written and performed by AudreyAssad

Monday, December 21, 2015

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 21

Oh, this song STILL gives me chills! Not necessarily the song itself, but the memory of the first time I heard it in a live setting.

It was at Christmas Eve church services in 2010, and the sermon was about bells being a reminder of God's presence in our lives. At the end of the service, this song was sung.

At its peak crescendo the song morphed into the chorus of Glorious One by Steve Fee, which was a throwback to the key song we sang at church the Easter before. Imagine going from "The wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on earth, good will to men," straight into "Glorious One! Glorious One! Light of the world, You outshine the sun!" and at that very moment, bell ringers and chimes and all sorts of clinking filled our church auditorium. OH. MY. GOODNESS. This memory is why the song "I Heard the Bells" is so deeply embedded in my heart!

Want to see a recording of this exact moment I described? Here's a link to the YouTube video.

​Day 21's song is I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, performed by Casting Crowns.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Joseph's Lullaby: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 20

Joseph's Lullaby is a song that knows no season in our house. We listen to it year-round, because it is a lullaby we play when tucking the kids into bed. When I snuggle my kids in the dark at the end of the day, this song reminds me how God's presence lives in my children. Neither of my children are baby Jesus, of course, but they are both precious to Him! (Spoiler alert: so am I and so are you!)

I love this song especially because it bucks tradition: most Christmas songs that focus on the Christ child are centered on Mary and Jesus. This song is written from Joseph's perspective, and it is so tenderly and quietly beautiful.

Day 20: Joseph's Lullaby, written by Fred Pratt Green & Russell Schulz-Widmar, performed by MercyMe

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Here with Us: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 19

Think about it: God made the woman who birthed Him. God made the innkeeper who turned His family away. God made the shepherds and Magi who worshiped Him. God even made the people who crucified Him. This song reminds me only God could be big enough to become small.

Day 19's lyrics come from the song Here with Us, written by Joy Williams and Jason Ingram, performed by Joy Williams.

Friday, December 18, 2015

While You Were Sleeping: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 18


CONVICTING. If I had to describe this song in one word, "convicting" is what I would choose. While You Were Sleeping, written by Mark Hall and performed by Casting Crowns, is day 18 of my lyrical Christmas countdown.

This song is especially unique because there aren't a lot of Christmas-themed songs that compel me to look at my life in a different way, and While You Were Sleeping definitely jars me awake from the sleepwalking life I sometimes live.

May each of us wake from our darkness by allowing the Light of the world to shine into our lives!

"Wake up, sleeper!" (Ephesians 5:14)

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Belleau Wood: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 17

Day 17's song is ​Belleau Wood, written by Garth Brooks and Joe Henry, performed by Garth Brooks. The Christmas truce of 1914 has become a military legend, and this song tells the story of what happened.

I don't think Christmas truces are a common occurrence, and I don't think one will happen this year. Our military is engaged in battle every single day, regardless of the holidays. I pray for them and their families daily, but especially on Christmas.

I am eternally thankful for the Christmas trees in bunkers, lights strung across barbed wire, Santas spiffed up in full military dress, and the men and women who find ways to celebrate even in the worst circumstances.

May we all look for Heaven in our muck and own personal war zones. "Heaven's not beyond the clouds, it's just beyond the fear."

Please take a moment to watch a YouTube video of this song, which gives you an idea of Christmas for our military.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Same Old Lang Syne: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 16


You thought this Lyrical Christmas Countdown was going to be all classic carols and hymns, didn't you? Nope!

Day 16's song isn't a carol, but it DOES have lyrics and the event the song describes happens on Christmas Eve. And most qualifying of all, I like it! I'm not quite sure why, but the melody and the lyrics get my heart all twisted into a knot. Maybe it's the "what might have been" factor (which I can relate to because I often think of what might have been if my family members were still alive) or maybe because it's a song about the relentless passage of time (which keeps speeding up for me, even more at Christmas time). Either way, the song doesn't just pull on my heartstrings; it strums them and plucks tears into my eyes.

One more thing: what exactly is "lang syne?" It's from a 1700s Scottish song called "Auld Lang Syne," which can be translated to "times gone by." Substitute these words in the lyrics above, and the song becomes: "reliving in our eloquence another time gone by."

On this 8th anniversary of Dan Fogelberg's death (12/16/07), take a moment to pause and remember your own "times gone by."

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