Finding Purpose in Motherhood
By the way - we also have a newsletter that we send out to share our happenings, this blog is not meant to share our ministry updates! Sign up on our homepage
It was just a bag of Goldfish crackers, and here I was sobbing over them. Somehow my kids had managed to spill a whole bag of Goldfish crackers in such a way that it covered a remarkable amount of surface area in the dining room - I mean, every corner of the room had Goldfish crumbs. To be fair, I wasn't just crying about Goldfish crackers in the dining room, it was the second Goldfish cracker mess that was still in the kid's bedroom, the water spill in the bathroom, and the dumped-out clean laundry that I had not yet gotten around to cleaning up. Not to mention, there were six other messes that I had already adequately cleaned up and it was barely 11AM. As I cleaned up the same dining room floor for the fourth time that morning, I thought to myself, "Is this really what I came here for?" There have been a lot of things that have been hard for me (Steph) in this transition, but BY FAR, the hardest transition has been changing my day job from Finops-Manager stay-at-home-mom-ops-manager. Exactly one year ago, between working full-time, going to school part time, and ministry events, I had a bursting-at-the-seams calendar. I took a lot of pride in my ability to "have it all," and I found a lot of fufillment in my work, furthering my career, being a ministry leader at the church and being a mother. While I love my children and certainly prioritzed them above all other activities, I had a lot more help in the day to day caretaking of my kids (my parents, Jon, and daycare) and I spent a significant amount of time pursuing things that felt productive and meaningful to me. I had attained my dream job, in terms of job satisfaction, coworkers, work/life balance, and financial security. On top of that, I only worked 1.25 miles from my house!
Giving up my flourishing career to be a missionary, has been the most challenging transition. However, I knew/know God has/is truly CALLING us to this life and so I am following in obedience. And frankly, as everyone expected, I have been and continue to be on the stay-at-home mom struggle bus during this season. Jon has an outsize role as pastor, principal of a startup school, and primary spanish speaker at the ministry center, so my role for this season has been full-time child rearing for the first time in my life. I know that God is working in me on a daily basis, as He tears down my pride in my work and in my capabilities that I've held near and dear in my heart for so many years. He is rebuilding my heart with more humility, love and grace. Because, MAN, I have to exercise so much grace and patience daily when dealing with children. There is a reason why the phrase "Love is patient" comes first in 1 Corinthians 13.
There have been two things I've learned throughout this difficult season for me. The first is that the general difficulties of motherhood are seasonal challenges that WILL pass (though it may be replaced with other challenges). That crying baby will not cry forever, your destructive toddler will learn to pick up his/her messes, and the kid that struggling to make friends, will learn to make friends though maybe not as fast or through the methods you exepcred. If I have anything to say to new mothers, it's: "Hang on, God will not give you more than you can bear and you will be delivered from the valley of despair." During these last few months I've felt like I've been on a roller coaster like the whole book of Psalms - feeling forsaken to feeling comforted, to feeling helpless to feeling brave, from crying out to God, to praising God etc. And I've learned that the life God calls us to is not this linear up-and-to-the-right graph, but is a series of mountains and valleys carefully designed to make you braver, stronger, and mostly make you rely on HIM more. The second lesson has been that motherhood is Kingdom work and I will explain this more towards the end.
When we first moved to Guatemala, six months ago, it was the season of what I would like to call, "Trapped in the House" or TitH. When we first moved here, Joel was 10 months and I was his human chariot because he was in that awkward stage where he could not walk yet, but was too heavy to carry all the time. We were also TitH'd because Joel took a morning nap and an late afternoon nap while Elijah took a middle of the day nap. There were very few non-grumpy hours to be outside the house. This was compounded by a lack of language skills, concerns over security, and a 3 year old that was a running flight risk. This left me literally TitH'd most of the time while all the other adults got to do exciting things like changing lives, experiencing ministry, immersing in the culture, and using the restroom by themselves.
As an ambitious, extroverted, enneagram 3, type-A person, it was terrible. Jon was receiving the brunt on my tears and frustration, but mostly, I wallowed because I did not have the perspective that my situation was just a season. I thought that this was going to be my life as a missionary FOREVER, that I would always be TitH. However, this changed when in the last couple of months, taking care of my kids has been SO much easier because we are not TitH anymore! Nap schedules became more maneagable, Joel can walk, Joel is more independent, they can keep each other occupied for small segments of time, and Elijah is not as much of a flight risk. I've been able to participate in ministry more, in immersing in the local culture and making friends! Though there are many times I still wish I could participate more, it is EXCEEDINGLY better, TitH was just a season!
Another event that reminded me of the changing seasons in life was a five-hour road trip to Guatemala City. On this road trip, we were also giving a ride to two ladies who had come to our ministry center to make our church's stained glass windows. During this cramped car ride, Joel, who did not want to sleep in his roomy and comfortable carseat, insisted I hold him FOR THE ENTIRE FIVE-HOUR CAR RIDE. As a result, I was pretty grumpy. But I'll never forget the conversation I had with one of the ladies in the car, who has four grown kids. She mentioned how she was slightly jealous that I had this precious sleeping baby on my lap and how she missed those times now that her children are all grown. It reminded me that as quickly as these challenges will disapear, the beauty of this season of childhood will also disappear and that I should push through the difficult times and relish the beautiful moments. In these past few months I continually felt God reminding me of Ecclesiastes 3:1-11, "There is a time for everything under the sun." The challenges have not gone away (and I don't think they ever will), but we are just in a new season (I call this new season "doom and destruction" because they can lay waste to the entire house in 20 imnutes. As I type this, my 1 year old is running around with a half full bag of garbage). It is still challenging, but challenging in a different way. In my opinion it is better than TitH, and better than the self explanatory "Nonstop Crying Infant Stage" (NCIS).
The second lesson I've learned about motherhood has been that motherhood is Kingdom building work and I need to remind myself of that daily. Changing my perspective on motherhood and recognizing its true Kingdom value, is what truly has changed my heart on this new gig. I've googled a lot about how to handle this stay-at-home mom thing in a more fulfilling, less tear-stained way than I have been carrying on and the answers on the internet are as follows: me-time, date night, husband helping more, babysitters, hobbies, crockpots, baths, and of course the millenial motto of self care. But after much lingering in the valley of despair and trying versions of all these things, I have found that God whispering that what I do every day is KINGDOM WORK is what has changed my heart of self-pity to a heart of love. To all the mom's out there, what you do makes more of a difference in the world than you'll ever know or witness. Those children are going to impact hundreds of people, maybe thousands, possibly even hundred's of thousands in positive, or negative ways through their interactions with others. Gloria Furman, in her book,"Missional Motherhood," explains how motherhood is a way of fulfilling the Great Comission of "making disciples of all nations." Every day I have countless opportunities to lead by example, to love my children, and grow them into spiritually and emotionally healthy humans that will bring light into the world. When I don't take the Kingdom or Long-view of motherhood I may squander away these daily opportunities with TV, distractions on my phone, self pity and impatience. When I recognize the value in this Kingdom work, when I take the long view, I can easily motivate myself to get up in the morning, put away my distractions and self pity and be the best mother I can be. Jim Elliott famously said, "He is no fool who gives up that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." Motherhood provides me with an opportunity to lay down the things that I cannot keep (job, riches, success, fame) on behalf of people that I cannot lose. These children are eternal souls that are my mission field. It's true Kingdom work that I should treat like a golden opportunity rather than baggage that is keeping me from my dreams. Every time I have to fold another load of laundry, wipe another bottom, clean up another mess, or prepare yet another snack, I remind myself. "this is KINGDOM WORK."
I'll be honest, it was hard to write this post even though it has been on my heart for so long, because I still struggle with this. Some days, I feel that I have fully accepted the beauty, chaos and importance of this season of life and my new role, but if I am honest, many days are like the goldfish fiasco, where I have to cry out to God for strength (and call Jon in tears to come help me clean up all the goldish) or days where I despondantly wallow in my insignificance. Ultimately, I hope that in the future there will be a more joyful season of life where I can look back and be grateful for the lessons learned. But to all the mom's out there, I feel you! THIS IS HARD. There are so many challenges and treasures in this season of life, and I would love to walk with you through it in whatever way I can!