Last weekend, on Palm Sunday, I was in the Dallas area speaking for the Salvation Army's Youth Council, a state-wide youth retreat. Afterward, I visited with a long time friend of mine.
Erin and I reminisced about our childhood, the ease and convenience of Sunday school girl friends, how easy it was to get together every Sunday after church. We laughed over her son's antics and growing vocabulary and shared amazement at his young brilliance. For instance, he will point out something he likes, then wrap his chubby arms around his torso and hug himself and say "Hug!" to express his approval and delight in what he has just pointed out.
Erin and I talked about the difficulty and joy of growing up, taking responsibilities of cultivating young lives, young families, young non-profits.
Erin lives far from her family, her husband is currently working 70+ hours a week so childcare primarily falls into her lap. She shared with me how M.O.P.S. provides an oasis for her to get free childcare, community with other mothers and good teaching each week.
I watched her take time to let her son turn on and off and on and off and on and off a light because he loves lights magic power and she loves him. Not because she was particularly thrilled with another interruption or with the endless light flickering session. Here's a picture of us in her son's nursery. Erin had just finished changing his diaper.
When I took time to browse her library, I heard her talking through a book with her son. He is 1 1/2 and my friend is already commenting how she wonders if she'll have what it takes to keep teaching him.
To me, she's working wonders already in the 15 hours each day she pours herself into her son. Erin is pregnant with her second and she told me she's quite interested in how she'll do this with two. I have no doubts of her competency, her ability to be attentive and to love her children well.
Erin's work takes place without signage, no bill-board or website, no promotional page of quotes of people who've been grateful for her work. No one flies her out to do her work, instead Erin stays in one place, in one home, working deftly, magnificently behind the closed doors of her house. There is no audience, no honorarium she hopes to receive other than her son's chuckle and another eager series of lights going on and off and on and off. And perhaps a hug and kiss.
Erin's work is quiet work. It is work that goes largely unseen, except perhaps on Mothers Day or when her husband comes home after his 16 hour days. And yet, Erin does not buy into the idea that mothering is the only work that is valuable in her life. When her son naps or on her weekends, Erin runs an online company designed to assist other people who suffer from Crohns Disease. She whips up new recipes and posts commentary about how her doctor's morbid diagnosis became something she thwarted with a careful and healthy diet. For more see her site "No More Crohns".
In her resilience and no nonsense approach to living fully, using all she has to offer in her mothering and her business, Erin reminds me of another mother I know. Caryn Dahlstrand Rivandeniera who has written a book I've been longing to tell you about.
It's called Mama's Got a Fake I.D.: How to Reveal the Real You Behind all that Mom (Waterbook, Spring 2009). Now I know I've written some controversial posts about motherhood in the past, about how I do not believe God has sanctioned Stay at Home Motherhood (SAHM) any more than he has sanctioned Work Outside of the Home Motherhood (WOHM).
As a followup to those discussions, I want to point out Caryn, someone I recognize as superior in knowledge about moms, someone who agrees with me in part, but not in whole.
Let me share a few quotes I love and let those mothers in my audience decide if this book would be worth squeezing into their schedule:
First, her book is dedicated to her three children "To Henrik, Greta, and Fredrik. Mama loves you like absolute crazy" I loved that!
Second, she claims to be a traditional at-home mom, "In many ways I'm a traditional at-home mom: I'm there when the kids wake up, take naps, eat lunch, watch cartoons, drink their chocolate milk. I carpool; I cook dinner; I play games on the floor; I bake like a champ. " But . . .
"those things don't give others the complete picture of who God made me to be. Same thing with every other mom. God gives important gifts to women that have nothing to do with conceiving, birthing (or adopting) and nurturing children. We have God-given talents, passions, and interests that a mom badge just doesn't bring to the fore."
She goes on to talk about how church is very lonely for some moms, quoting testimonies from women who've written into the Christianity Today's blog called Women in Leadership, a blog Caryn serves as managing editor.
One woman writes, "In many churches they still try to push the June Cleaver prototype on women as the "biblical" model." When a sample group of mothers was asked to name the setting in which they struggle most to be known and to fit in as their real selves, the number one answer was "with other moms." Church was a close second. See Caryn's chapter 5, "How Moms are Left Homeless in God's House." Now clearly this isn't the experience of all mothers, it is certainly not the experience of my friend, Erin, who finds her M.O.P.S. group a wonderful source of hope. But Erin also had stories of other mommy groups that felt fake, frustrating and very high performance.
Caryn's book serves as a good reminder that some women want to be known beyond their mom label. But many churches tell women that they are mothers first, barely whispering that they are made in God's image in other ways as well. If a woman bucks this they can easily be named selfish, career-demanding, poorly suited for mothering adequately (as I have been told). But Caryn points out, "Is it selfish to want to be known more fully? I think something else is at work, and it is this: Christian women often earn an A-plus in self-condemnation while completely missing the class on honesty and transparency."
Then she gives this zinger: "God created us to bear his image in all of life, not just in one area." She marks out the ways God reveals himself to us, so many, complicated, zany, dramatic, vibrant, loud and quiet ways. God makes himself known. We, Caryn argues, need to make ourselve known, too.
"I love being a mom, but I hate being ID'd as one . . . when being a mom looms so large that it obscures everything else God made me to be, other people are not seeing the real me . . ."
Then she comments on the selfishness accusation:
"We also need to clear away any nagging feelings that our concern with our identities is somehow selfish and lacking in godliness. This isn't true . . . Scripture shows us that getting to know ourselves and making ourselves known has its foundation in God's self-revelation."
He's a one of a kind God and he made us one of a kind people. I've written elsewhere about how hard female friendships are for women. Perhaps this is due in part to the diffuculty women have in discovering themselves. As Caryn puts it, "Any authentic relationships is based, in part, on a clear understanding of a person's true identity."
With that Caryn launches into discovering the you that God created you to be with chapters like "Being a Mom Makes you Much MORE" and Seven Tips for Discovering the Real You. In reading I found a story that reminded me very much of my own story of losing our first child in an early miscarriage (p. 14).
It was the first time I read of someone else calling me a mother. When I called Caryn and asked if this story was based on mine, she said, "Oh that's totally you, I remember thinking how you have a mother's heart when I read your blog posts on your experience. You were so fierce in the ways you wanted to protect your child. That's the heart of a mother, Jonalyn." It affirmed something in me that I've longed to hear.
She goes on to explain "How Moms Keep Losing Their I.D.'s (and why we need them back!)" including "How Designer Women Got a Generic Label", "Why God Cares About Who You Are" with a tremendously transparent story of how she was rebuked for sharing her passion for helping women understand their identities with this response,
"Remember, Caryn, God gave you these kids for a reason. You've got to stop worrying about you. You can do that later. You need to worry about them now."
Caryn points out, accurately to my mind, that so many Christian women cannot understand how a mother could love her children like crazy and still want to do more than devote herself to them 24/7. How much freedom are we allowing in the church for alternative models? As Caryn puts it "in our zeal to honor moms, we tend to dishonor women." She challenges us to refuse to sneer at moms who do things differently than we do for "if we sneer at moms who don't fit our view of what a mom is or does, we sneer at Jesus."
One of the most valuable sections of Caryn's book are her Seven Secrets to Finding Your Real I.D. with tips like "Getting over the Guilt" and a guide to "Interview Yourself" with pages of open ended questions to discover who you really are and why "find your identity in Christ" can be both helpful and non-helpful. Throughout, Caryn relies on Scripture to make her case. One of my favorite moments was when she cited Matt 5:13-16 from The Message, "You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept . . . By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God." She gives mothers ways to tell others about who they are. She recommends when pepole ask moms about what they do that they respond, "I'm a mom and ______ (gardener, antiwar activist, lawyer, writer, preschool volunteer, runner, etc)." This reminds the non-moms of the world that being a mom doesn't preclude you from having other gifts and interests.
Some tips I took away from Caryn's book are her humor, she is so accessible with her fun stories of the joy and frustration of being a mom. I also loved her tips about how to approach moms. She said that there was a time when moms were considered INTERESTING in their own right, such as the Proverbs 31 woman who didn't try to hide her accomplishments, even from her own kids. She recommend asking mothers, "Tell me about yourself" rather than "Tell me about your kids." She asks moms to ask themselves, "What makes me feel like I'm firing on all cylinders?" and feel free to answer that with something other than motherhood. Caryn is an fantastic blogger (The Mommy Revolution), author, editor and a woman I count a dear friend. She's also a terrific mom.
And this leads me back to my friend Erin. I love watching Erin mother her son, it brings out a tenderness and attentiveness in her I haven't seen. She formed a young person who is a laugh out loud fun person to be with (as you can see us clowning around in the pic). But Erin's motherhood adds to the unique person I already love, the zany, movie-making, dramatic, witty, enterpreneurial, persistent loyal treasure I value for so many reasons.
Here's to the quiet work of moms I know both with their children and in the unique ways God has gifted them. Thanks for being a mom and a _______.
Thank you for showing the world more of what God is like!