To Parents of Newborns: Don’t Blink

babybaby-500wide
(photo via Tweetspeak Poetry)

For Tweetspeak Poetry’s latest prompt: Write a poem for the exhausted new parent. Reflect on the fleeting season of childhood.

———-

Breathe her in, savor
these newborn days as fleeting
as the baby’s breath
the flower is named for.
Carry her skin
to skin.
And don’t blink, they say.
True, but napping
is okay.

The Best Parenting Credential

For The High Calling book club on
Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work
by Timothy Keller
Join us this week as Glynn Young leads us in discussing Part One: God’s Plan for Work.

TheHighCalling.org Christian Blog Network

In last week’s book club discussion I said I would summarize Tim Keller’s Every Good Endeavor in one word: selflessness. I found selflessness again as I read Part One: God’s Plan for Work (chapters 1-4):

Work is one of the ways we make ourselves useful to others, rather than just living a life for ourselves.

Our work further develops, maintains, or repairs the fabric of the world.

God provides purpose for our work by calling us to serve the world.

Our daily work can be a calling only if it is reconceived as God’s assignment to serve others.

… and, my favorite:

We are not to choose jobs and conduct our work to fulfill ourselves and accrue power, for being called by God to do something is empowering enough. We are to see work as a way of service to God and our neighbor.

– Keller, pages 38, 61, 65, 66, 67 (emphasis mine)

Besides selflessness, other concepts resonated as well. Keller mentions that “God left creation with deep untapped potential for cultivation that people were to unlock through their labor” (page 36). That is, my work can tap into the God-created potential for cultivation.

This idea goes hand in hand with my “intrinsic need to be productive” (page 37)—or, to use the word I use more frequently, my need to be fruitful. Yet I’ve gotten so hung up on fruitfulness, desiring it to the point that it has become an idol. (Interestingly, Keller addresses a full chapter (the eighth) on idolatry. But that’s for next week’s discussion.)

All these ideas fit together in my work of parenting, don’t they? God purposely left His creation (my children) undeveloped to a certain degree, in order that His creation (me, the parent) may have the privilege and opportunity of being colaborers with Him (astounding as that is!) to cultivate the children into the people God wants them to grow into. And the purpose of our work is to serve others in love and selflessness (certainly required for a parent who seeks God).

We are to be gardeners who take an active stance toward their charge. They do not leave the land as it is. They rearrange it in order to make it most fruitful, to draw the potentialities for growth and development out of the soil. . . . And that is the pattern for all work. It is creative and assertive.

&ndash Keller, pages 58-59 (emphasis mine)

I like that. One way to work with God to selflessly serve others is to mine our God-given creativity.

But I got into trouble when I got to page 78: “The very best way to be sure you are serving God in your work is to be competent.” I read that, and everything fell apart. Me, a competent parent? I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more incompetent than in bringing up children!

I remember when I was twenty-four and dressed in my only suit, the same one I wore as I job-hunted from one Silicon Valley start-up to another. I had just survived most of an all-day interview complete with grilling technical questions from different groups. Hours later, my last interviewer sat on the other side of a polished conference-room table. Almost done.

Then, in that room with bright, white walls came The Worst Interview Question. “What makes you think you’re qualified for this position?” he asked.

What do I say to that?

“That’s your job to decide,” I answered, and he did decide. I did not get an offer from that company.

Lucky for me, midwives and obstetricians never ask the question “What makes you think you’re qualified to be a mother?” Because once I became one, and the more children I had, and the older they got, the more I thought that the parenting task is above me.

I get overwhelmed. Parenting is a gigantic task much larger than I imagined. Who am I to have spiritual oversight over these three boys? How many times have I felt inadequate as a parent? I feel unfit.

Whenever I feel this inadequacy, I turn to these Scriptures:

For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am.

. . . and my feeling is confirmed: I am unfit to be a mother.

Yet here I am, a mother; three undeniable evidences sit around our dinner table, drink five gallons of milk per week, and throw their dirty socks in the laundry basket. I am, in fact, a mother. This means that God has made me what I am not fit to be. Every time I try to understand that, I can’t, really. God gave me this job, even though I am underqualified. Counterintuitively, this realization that I am unfit to be a parent—strengthens me as a parent. My best parenting credential is God’s grace. “By the grace of God, I am what I am…”

. . . and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.

(above quotes are from 1 Corinthians 15:9-10)

The parenting role is overwhelming, but I strive and try harder to be a good parent, even while recognizing that I am a parent only by God’s grace. My efforts and striving only follow in the wake His grace makes. Paradoxically and wonderfully, God’s Word which makes me understand that I am unfit to be a parent is the very same Word that gives me utmost confidence to be a parent.

Maybe feelings of inadequacy can be healthy. They actually give me confidence and better ability, for what is more enabling than God’s grace?

Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

(2 Corinthians 3:5-6)

I Am Not Mrs. Mallard

For The High Calling book club on
Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work
by Timothy Keller
Join us this week as Laura Boggess leads us in discussing the Introduction.

TheHighCalling.org Christian Blog Network

Poor girl. Knowing no other way to relieve her anger, she stomped with both feet and all her might. She jumped, knees-to-chest, to give more force to the stomping. She even climbed a few stairs to add some altitude and oomph to her stomps.

This was not a two-year-old in a tantrum. This was a young mother in her late twenties. This was me.

“Slow to anger” was not among my top ten descriptions. But why was I so stompin’ mad?

Our firstborn was on the mellow side. At eighteen months old, he generally obeyed and was often quietly content. But for a several-month period, he would not come when I said to come.

On The Day of the Stomping, I was kneeling at the door with his shoes, ready to put them on him and get in the car to run errands.

“Please come, and I’ll put on your shoes.”

He looked at me, unmoving. My blood, quick to boil, was already bubbling.

Come here,” I repeated. Still he did not come.

I will spare you all the details (except the stomping described above). I became especially angry whenever I said to come and he didn’t—all because of Mrs. Mallard in Make Way for Ducklings.

“Take good care of the ducklings.”

“Don’t you worry,” said Mrs. Mallard. “I know all about bringing up children.” And she did.

She taught them how to swim and dive.

She taught them to walk in a line, to come when they were called, and to keep a safe distance from bikes and scooters and wheels.

When at last she felt perfectly satisfied with them, she said one morning: “Come along, children. Follow me.” Before you could wink an eyelash Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack fell into line, just as they had been taught.

– from Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey

Mrs. Mallard taught them to “come when they were called.” And “before you could wink an eyelash” all the ducklings obeyed, falling into line “just as they had been taught.”

My child would not come when he was called! And he sure didn’t obey immediately like her ducklings did. If Mrs. Mallard can do it, why can’t I? Frustration and anger followed, quick as that eyelash wink.

I wish I had slowed down long enough to say to myself, “Um, hello? You’re comparing yourself to a duck.”

Frankly, I compared myself to real human mothers, too. But for me, I think the bigger problem was that I wanted to look good. That Mrs. Mallard, you know, looks pretty good when her little Jack & Co. are following her in a neat line.

mrsmallard

I wouldn’t have yelled at my young children as much as I did had I been more concerned about what they need than about how good (or bad) they made me look as a mother. I needed to view parenting as a calling not for my own benefit but for theirs. I needed selflessness.

When I started reading Timothy Keller’s Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work, I decided to read it in search of ideas on how to be a better mother (for that is currently my vocation, my calling, my work). I approached it as if it were a book on parenting.

Turns out, it is.

If I had to summarize this book in one word, I would pick selflessness. Here are some parts I’ve marked:

…a reappropriation of the idea of a vocation or calling, a return in a new way to the idea of work as a contribution to the good of all and not merely as a means to one’s own advancement. [quoting Robert Bellah]

And so our work can be a calling only if it is reimagined as a mission of service to something beyond merely our own interests.

Thinking of work mainly as a means of self-fulfillment and self-realization slowly crushes a person and…undermines society itself.

When we work, we are…the “fingers of God,” the agents of his providential love for others. This understanding elevates the purpose of work from making a living to loving our neighbor and at the same time releases us from the crushing burden of working primarily to prove ourselves.

– Keller, pages 18-21 (emphases mine).

And that’s just from the Introduction. I’m now about halfway through the book, and Keller’s focus on selflessness remains consistent. This is a parenting book for me.

If I think of my work, my parenting, as a contribution for my children’s good and not a means to my own advancement, as a mission of service instead of self-fulfillment, as a way to love my children instead of proving myself, then I will be more of the mother I should be.

And I do pray that when God says to them, “Follow Me,” they will come when they are called.

This Mom Needs an Editor

(For the T.S. Poetry Book Club (hosted by Lyla Lindquist) on Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity & Writing, by L.L. Barkat. Read Lyla’s thoughts and find links to other book club participants here.)

*****

In Chapter 20 of Rumors of Water are twelve ways to “strengthen the structure of a work.” I was about to use these ideas to edit one of my works-in-progress but instead found ways to edit my character, my parenting, my teaching.

I’ve said it before: this book is not just about writing. It is about life.

Barkat lists twelve excellent suggestions, but I’ll start with just one.

SELF-EDITING MONICA

First drafts:

1. “Why did you keep playing swords inside right after I just told you to do it outside?”

2. “You’ve been doing these ordinal-number problems perfectly the past four lessons. Why can’t you do them all of a sudden?”

3. “WHY ARE YOU COMING DOWN HERE WHEN I TOLD YOU TO TAKE A NAP?!”

Search for pet words and delete them (Are you a the man or a that woman? You might be.)
– Barkat, p.98

After reading the chapter, “Goodbye Purple Clovers: Strengthening Structure” I realized:

I am a why mother.

But now I can take a red pencil to the words and tone of voice that daily come out of my mouth.

Revisions:

1. Stop what I’m doing. Give them my full attention and my eye contact. “Hey guys, did you hear what I just asked you?”

2. “What part of number five do you not understand?”

3. “It’s only been ten minutes since you went for a nap. If you can’t fall asleep, just stay up there for a good, quiet time. I’ll call you when it’s over.”

It’s a small beginning, but maybe in this way I can “strengthen the structure” of my life and character. Another time (soon), I’ll pick up the second bullet point.

Will Mom Ever Grow Up?

This is the second summer Derek and Titus are going away for a week-long camp. At least this year, the camp is not far (Woodland Park, instead of last year’s six-hour drive to Lake City).

Still, though Woodland Park is just a few minutes up Highway 24, it takes over an hour to get to the camp itself. We have to go eight miles on the unpaved part of Rampart Range Road. Our little ’98 Ford Escort doesn’t exactly have the most up-to-date suspension system, and we feel every bit of washboard on that dirt road. Most of the time, I’m going ten or twelve miles an hour. (I do a mental calculation: eight miles at ten miles an hour will take…) I picture our car parts coming apart with every vibration and wonder, “Are we hitting the resonant frequency of anything in this car?”

I pull over frequently to let the other cars pass. When they do, they leave us in the (literal) dust, and we roll up the windows until the dust settles. We’re not even going fast enough to kick up dust.
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I Compared Myself to a Duck

Poor child. Knowing no other way to relieve her anger, she stomped with both feet and all her might. She jumped to give more force to the stomping. It was a knees-to-chest kind of jumping; the higher the jump, the greater the outlet for her rage. She even climbed a few stairs to add some altitude and force to her stomps.

This was not a two-year-old in a tantrum. This was a young mother in her late twenties. To be exact, this was me.

“Slow to anger” is not among my top ten descriptions. But why was I so stompin’ mad?

**********

From day one we have read to our children. Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Duckings was a favorite. Because of that book, much of my excitement in visiting Boston was anticipating the Public Garden, the swan boats, the corner of Beacon and Charles Streets where Michael the policeman helped Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings cross. I would walk where they walked and see what they saw!

Beacon and Charles Streets, Boston

Here is an excerpt:

“Take good care of the ducklings.”

“Don’t you worry,” said Mrs. Mallard. “I know all about bringing up children.” And she did.

She taught them how to swim and dive.

She taught them to walk in a line, to come when they were called, and to keep a safe distance from bikes and scooters and wheels.

When at last she felt perfectly satisfied with them, she said one morning: “Come along, children. Follow me.” Before you could wink an eyelash Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack fell into line, just as they had been taught.

– from Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey

**********

Our eighteen-month-old was on the mellow side. He generally obeyed and was often quietly content. But for a several-month period, he would not come when I said to come. On The Day of the Stomping I knelt at the door with his shoes, ready to put them on him and get in the car.

“Please come, and I’ll put on your shoes.”

He looked at me, unmoving. My blood, quick to boil, was already bubbling.

“Come here,” I repeated. Still he did not come.

I will spare you all the details (except the stomping described above). I became angry whenever I said to come and he didn’t, because I would recall Make Way for Ducklings.

Mrs. Mallard taught them to “come when they were called”. And “before you could wink an eyelash” all the ducklings obeyed, falling into line “just as they had been taught.”

My child would not come when he was called! I thought, If Mrs. Mallard can do it, why can’t I? Frustration and anger followed, sure and quick.

I wish I had slowed down long enough to say to myself, “Um, Monica? You’re comparing yourself to a duck.

Frankly, I compared myself to real human mothers, too.

Thank God, since then He has given me grace to know that parenthood is not a comparison game. I have been on both sides of that ugly kind of comparison. Those experiences were neither edifying nor fruitful, whether on the giving or the receiving end.

To combat this wrong thinking, the Lord has given me two favorite parenting passages:

For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle… But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.
– 1 Corinthians 15:9-10

Paul says he is unfit to be called an apostle. Yet, he is an apostle! Similarly, I am unfit to be a mother, yet three souls living in this home make it an undeniable fact: I am a mother. By the grace of God, I am what I am. And so I labor all the more, while knowing it is God’s grace with me.

Also:

Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
– 2 Corinthians 3:5-6

Such a tremendous task and calling, parenthood. Yet I know from these words that I do not operate because I am adequate; God is adequate.

Once again, Scripture to the rescue. My parenting principles come from God’s Word, not from comparing myself to other parents, and certainly not from a picture book about fictional ducks in Boston.

Now I have not one but three sons. By the grace of God. And though I no longer use Mrs. Mallard as my standard…

…I do pray that each of my boys will come when he is called.

Father, thank you for the awesome blessing of parenthood. Thank you that you desire a relationship with each of my children. Thank You, Lord, for saying, “Come, follow Me.” I pray they will come when You call.

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