From middle school up until young adulthood, I was a very active and athletic individual. I could hold my own in any game of ultimate frisbee or capture the flag and was one of the top picks in my family among those chosen to move furniture. My mom tells this story about she and I moving a couch together when I was in junior high (or maybe younger?). We got the couch into the hall we needed it to be in, but for some reason, we needed to put the couch on it's end in order to finish the task. After we moved it to the hall, she stopped and made a statement about having to wait until my dad got home. I asked her to move for a second and as a very trusting mother, she did, and watched me lift my end of the couch and walk my hands down the bottom of it in order to get it on it's end. She laughed and said, "Well, okay!" That's just one instance in which I found a lot of value in being "the strong one." I loved to help and more specifically impress people with the feats of strength I could accomplish with my small frame.
Fast-forward to now. I have been married for 3 years, I am about to birth our 3rd baby and, believe it or not, I am not nearly as strong as I used to be. I find it frustrating and strange. Sometimes to the point of tears. I understand these seasons of pregnancy are what some women dream of and I understand that strength is not merely external. I also know that this decline in strength and the ever decreasing "suggested activity" list for me has made me much more compassionate towards other people. And yet, I still prefer the strong version of me. I prefer the version that could lift couches without much effort, the version that didn't have to put any effort into working out because there was a lot of effort put into just working.
For those of you who have been subscribers since May, you'll remember the Magic of Motherhood book. One quote from that book has stuck with me quite a bit.
"Moms always use that word--season--when they talk about their children. This season of life is temporary. We're in a tricky season, a fun season, a short season, a long season. But that word feels wrong because seasons are circular, and childhood is a line. When this tree I'm sitting under has dropped it's leaves, it'll shiver for a few months, and then it'll sprout new ones. It gets to start over. If we didn't savor the warmer months enough, we can take solace in the fact that we'll get another chance--but when my son has sat on my lap for the last time, that'll be it. It won't come around again."
She continues on to explain how old things are replaced with new things and that is the joy in letting old things go.
Now the first time I read this, I thought through my children's little lives and how I could better savor the moments and capture what memories I could and to be more understanding with each developmental stage they're in, because as they say, "this too shall pass." This time reading through it, I'm struck once again, how children are just little people with big needs and emotions. Childhood is not the only thing that acts as a line. Life is a line. That's why we put such an emphasis on firsts. First steps, first words, first dates, first kiss, etc. So, maybe a better word than season would be stage.
In fact, one of the things I really try to do as a mother is be aware of what developmental stage my children are in, that way I can help them navigate their emotions and teach them concepts they would be primed to understand. This way a lot of firsts that they have are positive learning experiences whether we're dealing with success or failure. There is grace for them in the stage they are in and just because of who they are.
I often make fun of my own mother's schedule. I think she's been to 5 different countries this year, investing in different ministries, arriving home as if nothing new is going on. Just jumping into the swing of things and then talking about how she should be less tired, more organized and more on time for functions. I usually sarcastically respond, "Yeah, Mom. I can't believe you're tired. It's not like you've been doing anything." There is grace for her in the stage she is in and just because of who she is.
My husband is a completely different individual from me. We share values and love and appreciate a similar aesthetic, but there is not one way that we process information that is similar. He is an external processor, I am an internal processor. Which means he says things and then tilts his head and then disagrees with himself. When we first got married, I thought he was truly arguing with himself. Now, I know that he is just running through different points of view out loud. He is a highly functioning social introvert and I am a blunt and somewhat awkward extrovert. We've taken just about every personality assessment since being married and there has not been one result that has come up the same. Also, my husband takes 1 Peter 3:7 to a new level than most husbands. He puts effort into living with me in an understanding way. In fact, he once said he wants to get his doctorate in "Understanding Bethany." (I know, I'm still swooning from that one.) Because of the way intimate relationships work, y'know how you affect each other even if you don't mean to, I've put a lot of effort into understanding him too. He's an amazing and complex man who implements more skill and intentionality and love in an hour than most people do in their whole adult life. Did I mention he's 6 years younger than me? Making him not only completely different than me because of his gender, but because of his age. There is grace for him in the stage he is and just because of who he is.
But here's the catch, if I believe that my children are creative, resourceful, whole and relational in and of themselves... If I believe that they require and deserve direction and investment and love and grace...If I believe that they are beautiful and resilient and exactly as strong and as smart and as (insert all the things) as they should be...If I believe that there is no judgment around them being things that they aren't...If I believe those things about my children and my mother and my husband and everyone else in the world, then do I believe them about myself as well? And secondly, aren't we all in a developmental stage? Our brain chemistry, our hormones, and our circumstances may not change at the rate they did in childhood, but they do continue to change and that does affect our lives in a profound way.
And if I should listen to the lie in my head about how I *should* be smarter, be better, be stronger, be more of anything else, how can I teach them that they are enough, but for some reason, I'm not.
So, there's grace for my children and mother and my husband. And for me? Hmmm....
Psalm 28:7 says, "The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him."
Yeah, yeah. Our real strength is in the Lord, our real beauty is in our spirit, our real confidence is in our servant's heart, etc, etc. I've heard those platitudes my whole life and I've always thought, "Well, a little strength and beauty and confidence on the outside doesn't hurt either."
And that's true. Strength and beauty and confidence on the outside are exactly that. Strength and beauty and confidence. But until you have a need of being protected, you won't see the total value of loyalty and advocacy. Until your hidden beauty has been called out, it will be harder for you to appreciate different varieties of beauty in unexpected places. And until you have had to choose confidence as a road to or in spite of acceptance, instead of as a result of it, you will never know it's full power.
Because we are all uniquely created and crazy capable in different areas, strength looks different for each of us. For some, strength is waiting and waiting for that positive pregnancy test. For some, it's navigating how to raise an adopted child lovingly, equally and uniquely all at the same time. For some, it's learning how to take care of themselves and their children at the same time. For me, it's having my 3rd baby at an "inconvenient" time. Having 3 babies in 3 years is not necessarily a goal I set for myself. In fact, for some reason, I thought that I would probably have trouble conceiving children after marriage. (Oh, the irony.)
And then I think back to the old adage I use frequently, "I am my mother." Here I am trying to run 2 businesses, while my husband maintains his full-time job, deciding to try to have a baby at home this time, all while teaching and nurturing 2 under 2. "Yeah, I don't know why you'd be tired, self. It's not like you've been doing anything." Okay. I guess there's grace for me too.
In this stage and just because of who I am.