2014 is a big birthday year for each of you.
21, 18 and 13….You’ve taken quite a few steps since I took this photo.
Trace summed it by saying…”Caitlin will now be able to buy liquor, I’ll be able to buy tobacco and Caroline can go in a sauna.”
What?! Umm, yeah…that was just what I was thinking, son.
You know how I sometimes turn everything off that’s making noise and announce that “I have something I need to talk to you about”? Every single time you all ask “Are we moving??” because that was the case that one time about 9 years ago. I promise we aren’t moving, but I want to look you in the eye and get your attention though.
I need to explain two truths that I, as your mama, juggle equally weighted in each hand.
In one hand I hold the gift of amazement by each of your lives. Do you know how utterly amazed I am by each one of you? I’m talking serious, jaw-dropping amazement. Not because I think one of you will be president someday or win a Nobel Prize. Trust me. I’m quite aware of the very average genetic soup from which you came into this world. My astonishment, this heavily fragile and sacred gift I hold carefully in one hand, comes quietly and it comes brazenly bold, in the daylight and in the quiet of the night like an unexpected gift. I’m simply astonished and amazed by your lives and the fact that you are alive and breathing and are your very own walking around people and you are my children.
For so many years, basically my whole grown up life, your stories have been MY stories. Being your mom felt like the bulk of my existence and whether for good or bad, it’s how I defined myself. Conversations with friends and family primarily revolved around you guys and your stories. Most of my days have been geared around your schedules and needs.
In this age of diminishing privacy, it has been tempting to share your lives too liberally with the world. I’ve crossed the line more times than I wish I had. I’m actually very grateful the internet got rolling after I had about a decade of mothering under my belt.
You have to understand though, my dear children. As your mother there is something inside my heart that delights in the magic of your lives, your stories. It’s hard to keep YOU to myself. You are a part of me. There isn’t a day that goes by when one of you doesn’t do something that I feel is slightly magical and therefore sharable. The little wins, the bigger fails. This sentence…”Look at what ____ has done!” squealed with delight or screamed in frustration. Well, it’s been the start of so many conversations over the years.
So, what is the truth I hold in my other hand? It’s that you’ve depended on me for a cumulative 52 years as your only mother. Me. At this point I need to grab each of your chins and have you listen extra hard. I have to share a secret with you.
As your mother, I carry around tightly wrapped and buried inside my chest this fear, that I am going to be the one to mess this chance up. This 20+ year-long mothering opportunity with each of you, to “bring you up in the way you should go”.
Today I confess, speaking into your hearts and looking you in the eye, that I carry with me this fear that you will find out I am a fraud and a big fat phony mama who is just making this up as I go, broken and gimpy, covered in scabs and scrapes.
And I want you to know that the biggest mistakes between us have been born out of that fear.
This crazy thinking has caused me to mother you in some really weird ways. Ways that I’d go back and change if I had the chance. Over the years crazy has looked a variety of ways. Some days I’d layer up all my insecurities on top of you like you were going out in a blizzard. There were moments when I’d shower you with shame because of the shame I felt in my own heart. Times when I’d try to control YOU because everything about ME felt out of control. And with that would come frustration pounding it out on the steering wheel or anger in the tone or tears in the overwhelmingness of it all.
Crazy at times looked like believing in my heart that YOUR performance would validate my value as a mom. If I could control you, then that would mean somehow that…I’m. A. Good. Mom.
Through clenched teeth and harsh tones I vividly remember placing way more importance on my image as a parent than on you as my child. And I held on too tight and then placed my expectations high on a shelf beyond your reach.
Daughters and son, you have to know my heart wants to shout out to the world what a stinking miracle each one of you are because I know deep down all the ways I stumbled and fell with you in my arms.
I’m trying to describe to you the two-handed juggling dance I do when I think of how proud I am of each of you, knowing deep down the gift of outlandish grace I’ve been given.
So when good things come to your story? I want to shout it out and take credit. When hard things come to your story? I want to shout it out and blame someone else. Venting and bragging, complaining and boasting.
This just looks like a whole lot of crazy. And I shake my head in awe.
Looking back over a “21 plus 18 plus 13 equals 52 years” of mothering experience, I realize the one consistently right thing I did was love you. I hope and pray you felt the power of that love even in the middle of my mothering mistakes in cuckoo land.
Because I have loved you, wholeheartedly, delightfully. Every day. Not a one went by without knowing the grace of loving you. I wake up every day with the sure knowledge that no matter what went down the day before, I loved you deep and wide.
Our stories. It’s those times when we’ve laughed till we cried together, when we cried until we started laughing. The memory of hospital stays, car ride conversations, terrifying moments pulling each of you toward the next step. Those silly statements said in the ordinary moments of life that keep being repeated for years.
The stories I yearn to share with the world are not those told on report cards or scoreboards, but the ones that happen on couches and at bedtime and through texts. The little things, that I as your mom notice and that reveal the characters you are becoming in your own lives.
But I am learning that your stories are your own to tell. Not mine. Even when around 14, you begin to hold your stories close in and feel reluctant to share, you have to understand that somehow I want to just crawl in your throat and pull them out. The struggle for me as the years pass is in releasing control of your story. I can no longer paraphrase and reword our conversations for the sake of a better story. The older each of you get…well I am just trying to figure out how to walk beside you and not hover. And it is hard.
The longer I do persevere in this mothering gig? The more I know, it’s not really that much about me.
You’ve taught me that along the way. You have taught me how to live a better story of my own, separate and unique from yours. God has shown me his mercy and presence, grace and love through each one of you. Anything balanced and worthy coming out of this experience of mother/child has just been pure grace and mostly I just walk around grateful. Richard Rohr writes that “we grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right” and I believe it.
The truth is? You do better and fly higher without me interfering. You go about making incredible art in the world without my hand smothering yours. Your best ideas have always been original and I don’t want to even imagine the amount of dreams I’ve “sucked the fun” out of with a disapproving look or cold blast of unnecessary reality.
In this year of big birthdays I just had this urge to press pause and explain the magic I feel when I look at you and then look in the mirror. I shake my head at the grace of our relationships. And because of this grace, I feel ever so loved my by heavenly Father who taught me how to love you. I love you guys. Without reserve. Without exception. No matter what the past has held. No matter what the future holds.
In the words of Matt Chandler, I pray that I’ve “packed enough kindling around your hearts” to light the fire of a lifetime of love for Christ. And from John, my favorite NT writer, “I’ll have no greater joy than knowing my children walk in truth.” No matter how that looks.
I needed to tell you these things for now and for later. I understand that some of these things may cause you to scratch your head. But someday, if you become a mother or a father, I pray these words will fill your experience with grace filled permission to wholeheartedly love and fail with equal abandon. I hope your children teach you as much as you’ve taught me.
This relationship we’ve been given? It is a mysterious magic, a brutal and beautiful gift for which I will always be grateful.
There are no guarantees for what our lives together will look like in the years to come and I’m sure that will only guarantee more crazy mama in the future. But at least you will now know what to expect.
Let’s celebrate this year. It’s a big one.
“The extravagant grace of God forever eliminates the burden of perfection – perfect obedience, perfect parenting, perfect anything” — Ann Voskamp