Monday, December 16, 2013

mama-guilt

I constantly have crumbs on the floor of my house.  And dust balls.  I do not vacuum them up, even though it makes me feel like a bad mom.  I just look at them and then think about something else.  This is because I am either too tired, or I have things to do that feel more important.  

I do not like cooking for my family; I much prefer picking up dinner and serving it at home.  This is *not* frugal and often feels like poor stewardship.  But I am doing it anyway.  At least for this stretch.

My dislike of cooking applies especially to breakfast on school mornings.  On occasion, my kids eat cereal (unwillingly), or Sister Shubert's sausage rolls, or whatever my husband lets them choose on the way to school--usually at Dunkin Donuts or Weigels (local convenience store).  This is neither healthy nor frugal.  But it is what we do.

There are many occasions when I would prefer a great work-out to a family meal.  I indulge this preference on occasion, with my husband's encouragement.  Probably because I am too crabby to be around.

Even though I am an educator by profession, I'm not particularly skilled at helping my children with their homework, and I often find it unpleasant.  I will supervise their doing homework.  I will provide (storebought) snacks.  I will let them sit at the kitchen table while they study or do math problems, unless they complain too much.  And when they ask me for help, I say yes. Sometimes.

If I were so inclined, I could probably manufacture enough energy to live up to what I see as being a great mom.  I suppose I'm capable of doing so, but at this season of my life, I am simply not willing to do that.  

I wonder--often on an hourly basis--whether I'm completely messing up.  Messing up my children.  Messing up my husband.  Messing up my own life in some irreparable way, with some extremely undesirable eternal consequences. 








Wednesday, November 27, 2013

work and mama-guilt


     My transition to full-time teaching has been accompanied by no small amount of “mama-guilt” (more on that later), even though it has also allowed me to rediscover the tremendous joy that so much of my work adds to my life:  intellectually stimulating conversations with faculty and students; a class sparking to life while discussing a literary text; opportunities to encourage a struggling student to keep reading (and re-reading); and office visits that equip another student to take a few more steps towards mastering the task of articulating his or her thoughts in writing.  The common thread connecting these experiences is learning.  And investing my time and skills here has renewed my love for it.  In fact, I sometimes have the sense that I’m “getting away” with something just because I’m so grateful to “have” to learn so many new things, and to share that knowledge with others here.  But it has taken me a few years to give myself permission to embrace my identity as a wife and mother who just might be called and equipped to teach full-time.
            One experience in particular was a turning point.  It occurred during my time at the NEH Workshop on the American Lyceum.  While watching a dramatic reenactment of Abby Kelley Foster’s abolitionist speeches, I learned about her decision to leave her daughter in her husband’s care on occasion so she could fully give her time, energy, and abilities to the abolitionist cause.  Her choice was difficult, dangerous, and in defiance of current attitudes regarding the woman’s rightful place; however, Ms. Foster’s willingness to make that choice resulted in a change whose impact is beyond description.  To learn that she considered her abolitionist activism a spiritual calling was even more compelling.  By introducing me to women who dared to think of themselves not only as wives and/or mothers but also as individuals who could positively impact their community, this conference radically changed how I felt about my own decision to teach full-time.  Although I would have never expected it, attending this conference alleviated much of the “mama-guilt” that plagued me during my first year of full-time teaching.  This has freed me to enjoy my work more fully, which is no small gift.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Middle School Miracle--Part Two


Well into the second decade of mothering now, she still struggles to see evidence of the seeds she labors to plant.

She talks about compassion, then watches one child’s steely-hearted dismissal of a sibling’s sorrow.

She prays for their unselfish kindness, then hears today’s version of the dispute over the front seat.

She asks for gentle patience—offers them a glimpse into her own struggle—then loses count of the opportunities they take to bicker over petty annoyances.

It’s this part of parenting —

the unexpected, unrelenting, sometimes unwanted invitation to navigate the day-to-day;

the countless encounters with what looks like less-than-love; 

the exhaustion of waiting-and-watching-and-wondering-and worrying over whether the seeds will sprout;

the hushing of a quiet question: “this seed-scattering, this watering, this careful tending of their souls’ soil:  is it all for naught?”

Yes.  It’s this part of parenting that digs deep, disturbs, discourages, drains.

And it’s this part of parenting that gives a shimmer to these words, each morning she chooses to remember, to hope:

Let us not lose heart and grow weary.
Let us not give up, or relax our courage.
For in due time,
at the appointed season,
we shall see those seeds
pushing up
and out
and into the day.  

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Forgiveness



Forgiveness. 

When I’ve contemplated doing it (not as often as I should), I’ve always thought of it as releasing my offender from my own wrath/punishment/revenge and instead trusting God’s (more just) dealings with him/her.  I’m pretty sure teaching in the church has reinforced this idea—that the reason we forgive is because we aren’t responsible for our offender’s consequences.  God, however, is.

But I’ve noticed something: such a release isn’t really a release.  For it creates an opportunity (which, sadly, I’m all too inclined to take) to relish the idea of my offender’s experiencing consequences for his/her behavior.  And not just any consequences, but those coming from the powerful hand of God Himself.   “Ha!” says my (dark) heart, as I “release” my offender from my own scrawny-by-comparison attempts at righting the wrong. 

But Frederica Mathews-Green offers a different definition of forgiveness.  She asserts that forgiving someone involves relinquishing my own impulse for the offender to be punished at all—by me, by circumstances or “logical consequences,” by God Himself.  She describes the prayer of forgiveness this way:  “Father, I ask for my offender to be released from Your punishment.”

This is a game-changer.  One I’m not sure I’m ready—and certainly not yet able—to negotiate just yet.

Yet I can't ignore that her definition echoes the prayer of Jesus, who asks God to forgive those who killed Him, even saying they didn’t know what they were doing.  In an audacious prayer, Jesus not only releases His murderers from well-deserved punishment to be doled out by none other than God (His father, by the way), but He goes on to release them from the culpability of realizing the heinous nature of their actions.  

When I absorb the ramifications of Jesus’ prayer, it is nearly incomprehensible.

Such a release, says Frederica Mathewes-Green, is what real forgiveness looks like.

This is a new word.  And a very hard word.

But I’m reminded of how readily I accept the idea that God’s forgiveness through Christ’s death is for everyone.  And although I’ve been hesitant to include my own sin-ridden, very-undeserving self in the “everyone” category, I've finally allowed myself to believe that I, too (even I!) could be a recipient of His forgiveness.  

And I’ve been overwhelmed at the all-encompassing, eternal, amazingly redemptive nature of that forgiveness.

But if I’m going to include myself in the “everyone” category—if I’m going to allow myself to dance in the shimmer that is His forgiveness—then I must also include my offenders in that same category.

Certainly my offender is no less offensive than I, and no less worthy of such forgiveness.

Yes, this word on forgiveness, it is hard.

And so I pray:  Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Middle School Miracle: Part One


It was a steamy Friday in mid-August, the end of the first week’s worth of the busy-ness that is the school year.  Still lamenting summer’s end, I already struggled with motivation.  Only 8 and ¾ more months to go.  Junior high baseball workouts had begun, and the parents gathered for a quick meeting while the boys wrapped up their practice.  Moms and dads chatted in the stands, catching up after summer break until the coach called the meeting to order.

As he filled us in on what the fall season would involve, we watched the players do sprints along the warning track.   After lining up at the left foul pole, one boy took off running towards the right foul pole.  Ten seconds later, the next started his trek.  Quickly, each kids’ foot-speed became apparent.   One boy kept a pace similar to the runner in front of him; another threatened to catch his teammate.   This wasn’t just cardiovascular training. It was mental toughness.  Motivation.  Face-saving. 

No one wants to be last.

This must have been what one boy was thinking when his turn came.  I’ve heard my husband, a coach, describe kids like this as being strong bodied.  It’s a build most boys long for—especially during middle school years, the season of huge and sometimes embarrassing physical disparities between pre- and post-adolescent young men.  This players’ physical frame gives him an enviable advantage at the plate, and we’ve all marveled at his ability to power the ball, rocket-like, to the outfield wall.   Don’t let his twinkling eyes and merry smile fool you:  he’s a force to be reckoned with.  And he’s only going to get stronger.  But today, that body was making it hard for him to move like he wanted to.  From the moment he started, his struggle was evident.  As I watched, my stomach ached.

Until one someone did something amazing. 

One player decided to run next to this kid for the length of the warning track.  Catching on to the idea, a few other teammates followed suit.   The ache in my gut became tightness in my throat and tears in my eyes.  And just in time, the meeting ended, and I wondered whether I was the only one who had seen that little miracle.

Not long afterwards, this child’s mother sent an email about that day . . . . .

[Part 2 soon]

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Truth-telling



This prompted an interesting discussion with a friend, whom I’ll call Ruth.  For her, the idea that a loving God would label anxiety as “sin” made her uncomfortable.   She doesn’t believe God is that harsh.

I can understand her perspective:  A tendency towards anxiety seems so innocuous.  After all, it could be argued that one person’s anxiety isn’t hurting anyone else (although I’m not sure I would support that particular perspective).  So I can certainly see how using a loaded term like “sin” in reference to anxiety seems not only severe, but maybe inaccurate. 

Ruth may very well be right on target.

But for months now, I’ve been revisiting that conversation in my mind.

I think I get her point:  we don’t like the word “sin.”  We’re understandably hesitant to use it in reference to someone else’s behavior.  And I suppose this is as it should be.  Being judgmental isn’t only frowned on by our culture; it’s also frowned on by God.

But Ruth’s response also made me wonder: do Christians today have an aversion to using the term “sin” as a label for our own actions?  Has our culture’s fear of being judgmental / intolerant / bigoted / dogmatic / narrow-minded somehow created in us an unwillingness to honestly assess our own behaviors and attitudes?  Are we willing to tell the truth—even just to ourselves—about what we do, what we say, what we think?

If it’s true that we’re not always inclined to be honest with ourselves, then what is behind that hesitancy?  

Maybe this deserves further investigation.