Mamas, Make No Mistake: What You Are Doing Is Holy

Motherhood is filled to the bursting-point with moments to choose between Thy will and my will. And sometimes, those holy opportunities wear diapers.

Nap time is dying in our house. It’s been dead for months I guess, but I’ve only started to notice it really recently. Like on days when I’d give plasma for an hour of silence, or at least the freedom from verbal interaction with another humanoid for longer than 7 minute stretches.

This morning a couple girlfriends and I took 8 nearly indistinguishable blonde children to IKEA for kids eat free Tuesday, probably looking every inch the part of Sister Wives in so doing. Our friend with the smallest (so far!) visible number of children mentioned that she finally understood what it meant to get “the looks.” And, I mean, look away, 8 kids under 6 is legitimately gawk-worthy.

It’s nice to be past the point of caring even the smallest bit what or whether anyone thinks about you and your crew when you’re out rolling 4 or 5 or 8 deep, trying to keep it together.

I used to think I’d just become so mellow and peaceful that I’d stop worrying about keeping up appearances. It turns out it’s more like too busy counting heads and keeping butts in seats. When I look up to see if anyone is staring, they almost always are. But I never look up any more! And unless someone gets in my face for a compliment or light-hearted comment (frequent) or a rude remark (almost never), I have my blinders on. And they’re super effective.

(Except at Trader Joe’s. Everything at Trader Joe’s is sweetness and light. I make intentional eye contact with everyone in a Hawaiian shirt, and it’s a foretaste of the beatific vision, I’m sure of it.)

I’ve been re-reading Kimberly Hahn’s (prophetic? Challenging? Frustrating? Life-changing?) masterpiece, “Life Giving Love,” over the past couple weeks at bedtime, and almost every section leaves me with a new insight or some uncovered wound in need of spiritual Neosporin.

I picked the book up years ago, when I was a starry-eyed grad student and well before marriage became a reality. I remember sitting in Kimberly’s 4-part seminar on marriage and motherhood almost a decade ago now, scribbling furious notes and longing for the day I’d get to implement all this great stuff firsthand.

Well well well, that day is here. And I must have taken most of my notes with a rose-colored pencil. Because ouch. Ouch, ouch, ouch.

Everywhere I turn I’m tripping over my own ego, lying dead in a puddle of double digit sized jeans from the clearance rack, or else I’m bumping up against my own selfishness in the middle of the night when I’m praying somebody else (hi, honey!) hears that crying baby and rolls to a reluctant vertical position before I do. Or when I’m hunched over a Dollar Tree pregnancy test feeling pretty sure there’s no way but still wondering if maybe it’s worth looking into. (FTR: Not an announcement. Just a relatable anecdote.)

There are lots of opportunities to practice life giving love in marriage. And there are plenty in the priesthood and religious life too, I’ve been told.

But what I hadn’t been adequately prepared for, thanks more to my own ignorance and media consumption and less to any failure on my own parents’ part, was the extent to which I was going to be asked to take up my cross.

cross-shaped-vocation

Yes, I know. It’s stupid. It’s in the Bible over and over again, the parts about being a disciple and accepting the sweet burden of the yoke of Christ and promises of how He’d help us carry it and we’d be few laborers in a field ripe for the harvest.

But I don’t think I internalized it all, adequately, in light of the sacramental vocation of marriage. Because I also had plenty of worldly input that led me to expect something along the lines of romantic self actualization and total fulfillment of wildest dreams and security and blissful candlelit dinners and relaxing beach vacations. (Don’t ask where exactly I picked all those ideas up, just know that they exist.)

And then for me, harder still than the promise of fun and security, was the false notion of deserving to look and feel a certain way, in exchange for having been faithful.

I think I honestly believed that God owed me one for being open to life. That because I was “playing by the rules,” so to speak, I’d effortlessly drop that baby weight and have lots of silent time for sipping coffee and staring peacefully out the window into my sun dappled back yard, watching with pride as my well behaved offspring frolicked together in the grass.

Several of them did frolic in the grass this afternoon, matter of fact, but they were inexplicably naked and covered in dead grass and dried silly string when I retrieved them 6 minutes after idealistically handing over the long-coveted hose for the first bit of water play of the season. When will I learn?

I certainly have felt, over the past year or so, a dawning awareness of how very little I understood what I was signing up for at the altar when I promised to accept children willingly, and to raise them to know and love God.

I foresaw back then that, with the help of the handy! easy! beautiful! effortless! tool of NFP, I’d be smugly spacing those children 2-3 years apart, maaaaaaaybe have 4 of them total, and they’d all be fluent in baby sign language and eating hand-cranked organic purees prepared by their thin and attentive mother.

Also, we’d go on lots of nice vacations.

(Well, we have gone on nice vacations.)

But I’ve never been called thin, at least to my face, and the babies have come closer than I could have anticipated; this morning my fourth born chugged a packet of Similac on-the-go mixed directly with frigid water from the IKEA soda fountain, chased with a torn off hunk of chicken strip and a pinch of somebody’s brownie. Also, nobody speaks anything other than English or has anything resembling nocturnal bladder control. #we’renumber1

But my life is rich. It’s rich in moments to give and receive mercy. It’s embarrassingly wealthy in service opportunities. (Like, for real, my 17 year old self would have been all over the college application padding potential.)

And it’s filled to the bursting-wineskins-point with moments to choose between Thy will and my will.

I suspect that, until the day I die or the moment I gain some semblance of sanctity, that will continue to be the case, and the opportunities to surrender will keep rolling in.

Sometimes wearing diapers.

Or sometimes wearing the bitter disappointment of another month of hearing “no.” Or of a painful diagnosis. A ridiculous spousal miscommunication. A gut wrenching betrayal. A loss. A hardship.

I guess this is what it means to live with one eye on Heaven and one on the daily grind. It’s not some kind of weird hybrid reality where things get easier because I’m trying to exercise virtue, but a real participation in the life of Christ. Which was and is all about self gift and loved poured out. And pain. Not pain for the sake of suffering, but for the sake of love.

I can suffer that. But it’s still going to hurt.

(Also, I’m going to forget I said or thought any of this within 4 days, guaranteed. Onward and upward.)

***

This post originally appeared at Mama Needs Coffee.

Jenny Uebbing
Jenny Uebbing is a freelance writer and editor and a blogger for Catholic News Agency. Her popular blog “Mama Needs Coffee” covers everything from current events and politics to the Catholic Church’s teachings on sex and marriage to life with an army of toddlers. She has created content for Endow, FOCUS, EWTN, the USCCB, Catholic Exchange, and Our Sunday Visitor press. In her free time she watches HGTV on the treadmill and drinks La Croix by the case. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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