Monday, January 24, 2011

What I want to be When I Grow Up

"Mommy, what do you want to be when you grow up?", My 7 year old daughter asks me one Tuesday afternoon as we lounge on my bed reading books. The boys are sleeping and I have invited her to read with me in my room until their nap is over. She is reading The Secret Garden. I am reading The Hunger Games.

"A mommy. And an artist. And a writer. And a missionary."

"What did you want to be when you were a little girl?"

As I sit there, looking into her sweet inquisitive heart-shaped face that is so perfectly framed with blonde tresses and set with blue eyes and a tiny nose sprinkled with just the right amount of freckles, the question takes me back.

I didn't want to be a mom.

When I was a little girl, I used to tell anyone who would listen that I wanted to be an artist. 

In college I seriously considered joining the Peace Corps for awhile. And before that I wanted to do a year long missionary internship but my parents couldn't afford to send me. I went to Guatemala on a missions trip with my youth group when I was 16,  and I remember not wanting to come home. I just felt like I could have stayed there indefinitely, turning the blisters on my hands from tying wire around rebar for the foundation of a church building into something more permanent, callouses. I loved the cold nights and scorching days, the way we had to drink Coke out of a bag with a straw because they wouldn't give you the valuable glass bottles at the roadside stands. I loved the open markets, the hand woven fabrics, the winding mountain roads, and most of all, the generous, open-handed people. The thought of spending my time and life in aid and practical care to families and villages in the mountains of that overlooked Central American country appealed to me like nothing else.

Even now I entertain fantasies of wild adventures in the vein of humanitarian aid somewhere in desolate, jungly third world countries where they speak Latin-based languages. I've felt the intense pull to be a foreign missionary since I was 15. The kind who would totally immerse myself in a culture and figure out the way to translate God's love and story across the language barriers, while supplying blankets, clothing, shoes, medicine and clean water. This has truly been my largest and seemingly most unattainable dream in life. To just go, with no strings attached. In fact, I told Derek I didn't think I could marry him unless he had the same calling.

So you can understand why I was a tiny bit confused when I ended up in a middle American life, and in all appearances seemed to be chasing after the American Dream, something that had never been important to me. It still isn't. Yeah, I get that we need to pay the bills, and provide the necessities for our families, but all this acquiring of stuff and chasing down of the latest and greatest and watching of hours and hours of television and caring what everyone thinks about everything has always been a bit exhausting for me. I try to stay away from those particular stumbling blocks, since I think they rot your brain and waste your time (sorry, just saying...) but you still get sucked in, somehow, to a little bit of it. Especially if you want your voice to have any relevance with those you hope to reach.

And I do want to have a voice.

But there I was, in 2002, with a newborn baby girl, and I felt trapped. I felt the importance of being home as a mother, but I also secretly felt like maybe God had made a mistake and given the wrong life to the wrong girl.  I wasn't sure where the old me, the adventurous, artistic me that I really admired, fit into the mix.  I spent the first six months of motherhood in the house, scared to go anywhere, insecure about my new limitations, unsure of who I was anymore.

I think a lot of stay at home moms feel this way.

It's not just the insecurity from being thrust into a new place where this tiny little person, and the world at large, is expecting us to meet all of their needs, but it's also the dissatisfaction that can sometimes come as a result of this life. Especially if we thought we wanted this. And I do want it, really, we say to ourselves, but it's just so hard! We feel discontent, unhappy with how our days are spent. We even feel bored. Some of us came from really fast-paced jobs, or thrilling social lives. Some of us planned on having a totally different life. A few of us used to have a great body before having babies. Some of us are struggling with depression. Then there are those of us are lucky if we brush our teeth before noon. 

Some of us thought this was all that we wanted, to be a wife and mother, but it turns out that we don't feel full, that something seems missing.

And we can't admit it, because that would show the eager-to-judge-us world just how ungrateful we are for the blessings we have. So we go on, day after day, with a fake smile, in guilt and unhappiness, until we finally realize that it's a choice.

That's right. Being content, finding happiness, seeing the beauty, finding the extraordinary, it's all a choice. But you need help. Supernatural help. You have to surrender, stop fighting, stop acting as though you are living in a wilderness and "Rejoice, and blossom as the rose." (Isaiah 35:1).

And that's what I did. I finally heard God's voice. I stopped pretending He wanted something different for me, and I made a choice. About three years in, with two children and another on the way, I finally learned to embrace my life. I realized that I only have one life. I only have one chance to enjoy my children when they're young, to teach them and form their character, to show them the unconditional love of God, to provide a safe place for them to always come, to be their mother.

I only have one shot at this.

And I was wasting days, months, years even, in the pit of discontentment, wishing I was anywhere but here, certain that the grass was greener elsewhere.

What about you? Are you trying to find your old self in the middle of a new place. Do you feel out of touch with your own life? Do you feel guilty for feeling this way?

Know this.

The grass is never greener somewhere else. That somewhere else is a place full of regret. We were meant to be always being made new. We were meant for a life of  "the old is gone, behold it is the new!" (2 Cor. 5:17) Your old self is gone. It is time for the new you. The grass you're standing on right now, is as green as it's ever going to be, because you're standing on it. Right now. Make sense? So why not throw some fertilizer down, plant some flowers, install an arbor, train roses to climb a trellis? Why not make your grass as beautiful as you can, and trust God to do all the rest?

After my perspective changed and I wised up to the riches I was wasting and decided to bloom where I was planted, my whole life changed. I started making friends, other moms who were in same place in life that I was. I joined some different groups. I started running again, and eating right. I got into gardening and began writing poetry and making cards. I began to flourish. My kids started flourishing even more. My kids wanted me to be happy, because I'm so much more fun, and it started to show in their creativity and security level. But it took that first honest acknowledgement that I was struggling, and then the willingness to open up my heart and let God change it.

It was fully worth it. I love love love being a stay at home mom. You could try to pay me millions of dollars to do something else, and I wouldn't take it. Really. I am happy right where I am and what's more, I am in bloom.

But one day, Derek and I will hit that foreign mission field. I'll pack my bags, say my farewells, and board a plane without a backward glance. I'll run with steady legs toward the certain hard work and adventure that I look forward to being a part of. I'll sleep in hammocks. I'll wash my clothes in the river. I'll bake bread on a rock. But instead of going on my own, I'll have my family with me. And I'll be well trained, ready for any possible situation.

How's that, you ask? When did I have time to attend a missions training seminar?

Why, it was all those years of sleep deprivation, three ingredient meal preparation, budgeting down the last penny, organizing and stocking cupboards, killing insects I was afraid of, letting insects live that I was afraid of, handling massive loads of laundry, breaking up fights, cleaning up poo and vomit, turning a blind eye to mistakes, turning a deaf ear to whining, giving grace, laying down the law, taking time to teach my children how to do every good thing I know how to do, hours of homework instruction, even more hours of lengthy explanations to toddlers who don't get it, bargain shopping, apologizing, and ultimately, being willing to follow God so my children could follow me.

That was my missionary training field.

And it was exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up.

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