A Prayer for the Angry, Selfish Mom by Cara Stolen

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Heavenly Father, God of all things, Creator of sunshine, and motherhood, and ‘nola bars, thank you for the motherhood moments worth savoring.

The slobbery, yogurty kiss from a toddler who’s screamed for the better part of a morning. The unprompted I love you’s. The walk down the driveway when nobody cried or whined, and the late afternoon sun illuminated the wildflowers perfectly, and the preschooler exclaimed, “Oh, mama, LOOK,” mesmerized by the world You made.

You know, because You created that tired, overwhelmed mom, that she prefers silence to chatter and that her son’s incessant talking sends her over the edge by 7 a.m. on a semi-regular basis. You know that she longs to spend her days alone, lost in thought, instead of wiping bottoms and preparing food that may or may not get eaten. And You know that she thinks of her children as an interruption to her life entirely too often.

You know, because you see her struggle, how hard motherhood is for her—how much she agonizes over her parenting, how she berates herself for losing her temper again, and how difficult it is for her to be present in the moment and truly enjoy her kids. How counterintuitive it is for her to put the needs of her son and daughter before her own. You know how, when she gets really quiet and really honest, she wonders why she had those kids at all, and feels unfit to her core to mother them.

You know, because you hear her prayers, how often she asks forgiveness for her raised voice, her harsh words, her uncontrolled temper. How she withdraws to protect her kids and her husband from the anger festering inside her.

And you know, because You love her, how much those perfectly orchestrated little moments really mean to her. How they sustain and soothe her, breathing life into her weary soul and reminding her why she wanted to become a mother in the first place.  

That afternoon last month when her son asked if his sister could ride his balance bike? When they each held a side of the handlebars, and she perched her 18-month-old’s body on the seat as they walked slowly forward? You know the day I mean. On that afternoon, the warm sun caressed her still-pale-from-winter arms as a laugh bubbled up in her chest for the first time in weeks, its sound intertwining with her childrens’ giggles to create the most beautiful melody she’d ever heard. Her eyes met her son’s, and as she grinned she thought: Remember this. Remember this moment of pure joy, of being fully present, of loving my life so much I think my heart might explode.

It didn’t last (it never does), but that moment, brief as it was, sustained her through the tantrum-filled witching hour. It provided the fuel needed to get through the long book with real pages her son chose at bedtime instead of rushing through an eight-page board book they’d read a thousand times. Even weeks later, recalling how she felt in those brief seconds helps her suppress the resentment she feels toward her awake-too-early daughter’s screams this morning.

So thank you, Lord. Thank you for creating sunshine and wildflowers and laughter. Thank you for entrusting her those tiny humans whose needs are so great. But thank you, most of all, for the gift of moments worth remembering.

This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series "Remember This."

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Hand-Me-Downs by Cara Stolen

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Last winter, my tires crackled on old snow as I pulled into a parking spot at the Manastash trailhead beside my friend Mel’s white SUV. I’d dropped Royce off at work with Levi, and Maggie squealed with delight as I put the car in park. I turned off the engine just as Cori and Stacy parked on my right, and as I hopped out of my car, I saw Denee’s sedan on the other side of Mel.

I unbuckled Maggie and zipped her into the pink snowsuit that belonged to my friend Kelsey’s daughter Lizzy, then slipped on her hand-me-down purple, pink, and white striped gloves from Stacy’s daughter Claire. Then I velcroed her light blue Columbia hat, smiling when I heard Kaycee’s truck pull in to complete our group.

There are six of us moms who hike together. Our kids range in age from toddlers to pre-teens (mine are the youngest), and we are similarly varied in age, career, and background. But we are all mothers, and all love the mountains, which was enough common ground to create a sisterhood of sorts.

“Ohhhh, that hat used to be McKinley’s!” Mel exclaimed, looking at Maggie. “And Morgy wore it too.” She said, her voice filled with the kind of nostalgic emotion that we master as mothers.

“Really?” I asked. “It came in a bag of clothes from Stacy, so I thought it was Claire’s!”

Our group gathered behind my car, slipping spikes over our boots as we debated how many layers were appropriate for the weather. Someone held Maggie and slipped her into the pack on my back. Then, we were off, starting our watches as we began the steep ascent.

The conversation returned to the hat Maggie wore. Though it looked brand new, it was more than ten years old. And, to my delight, it had been worn by four of our daughters, not just three.

We spread out along the trail, our paces as varied as our personalities. At the top of the first steep section of the trail I stopped to catch my breath. Stacy and Kaycee waited with me, and as we set off again I mentioned how glad I was to get outside, and how relieved I was to get a break from Royce and his incessant chatter.

“I can’t wait ‘til he starts school.” I said. “He’s just … bored with me at home.”

“I remember feeling that way,” Stacy called from behind me. “But it really will be here before you know it. And he’ll start preschool this fall at least.”

***

There’s an old meat cooler attached to the far side of our shop. It looks a little like a mini shipping container—you know, the short squatty ones you sometimes see on the back of semis that are about half the length of a regular 53’ cargo container. My husband, who lived in our house when he was little, swears the cooling unit used to work, but it hasn’t since we bought the house from my father-in-law, so I claimed the cooler as my personal storage unit as soon as we moved in.  

I put one of those industrial storage racks from Costco along one wall and filled its shelves with carefully labeled mouse-proof plastic totes. There’s “Royce NB-3M,” “Royce 2T w/some 24M,” and “Maggie 6-12M,” all filled with precisely folded clothes my kids have grown out of. But there’s also “Royce 5T,” “Royce 6T,” two totes of “Maggie 4T,”—all filled with t-shirts, dresses, and jeans for them to grow into.

They’ve come from friends, family, and friends of friends. They’ve come in cardboard boxes, plastic totes, over-full garbage bags, and tied up grocery sacks. They’ve been handed to me by families across the pasture and delivered from as far away as North Carolina. And I’m grateful for every single boot, sweatshirt, and Onesie that’s there.

The clothes in those totes are more than just clothes. They’re a promise of life outside the trenches of early babies and toddlers. They’re a connection to other mothers and to the collective experience of motherhood.

***

We met up again at the summit, cheering each other on as we staggered up the last section of trail. In keeping with tradition, we snapped a photo, laughing as we arranged ourselves in an attempt to all be visible in the picture. Then, we began our descent.

I love everything about the climb up the ridge—my ragged breathing, my burning thighs, the killer view of Mt. Stuart—but with this group, I love the way down more. High on endorphins, we filled the air with our stories and laughter, and unlike the way up, we stayed in a tight pack.

Before I became a mom, I knew from Internet memes that I would need other moms in my life: a tribe or village or whatever you want to call it. I imagined a commune-style sisterhood of moms with babies close in age, who spent every day bouncing each other’s babies at each other’s houses in a perpetual state of togetherness. But when I actually became a mom I realized I didn’t really have any friends having babies at the same time, so for a long time I considered myself “tribe-less” and felt excluded, like I was missing out on one of the great joys of motherhood.

But the thing about an actual tribe, or village, is it doesn’t have to look anything like what I just described.

The beauty of a tribe lies in the variation and the similarity of its members, and the deep well of collective knowledge that exists within a diverse group of people.

As we approached the yellow gate at the bottom, Cori mentioned she had hand-me-downs for me. Stacy chimed in, saying she did too, and Denee remembered she brought a hat for Maggie that belonged to her daughters. I grinned, and as my boots crunched on the snow I thought about how lucky I am to have these women in my life.

They offer perspective and advice that my sisters in the trenches beside me just can’t. They offer to watch my kids while I go to the chiropractor, assure me that my son will, eventually, wipe his own butt and go off to school, and load boxes of hand-me-downs into the trunk of my car before sending me on my way with an encouraging hug and a smile.

But also? Their hand-me-down t-shirts, boots, and words are an invitation. A saved seat at the table of motherhood. And because of their hand-me-downs, because of their collective wealth of knowledge and love, I am a better, more competent mother.

I don’t think we were ever intended to mother in isolation. I think we were always meant to raise our babies in community, and that in some regards those silly Internet memes are right. We need the elderly women in the grocery store with years of perspective to remind us how fast these little tiny years go. We need the friends with attics full of hand-me-downs to guide us out of the trenches. We need our fellow soldiers, knee deep in tantrums and diapers and parenting books alongside us, to make us feel less alone in our struggle. And we need the moms behind us; the new moms, the not-yet moms, the longing-to-be moms, to teach us compassion, give us perspective, and, one day, empty our attics (or meat coolers) of hand-me-downs.

As they say: find your tribe, love them hard. We’re better mothers together.

This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series "We're Better Mothers Together"

On Rest by Cara Stolen

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From the window in my home office, I have a perfect view of the pasture closest to our house, where we feed our cows in the early spring. Every day, after I put the kids down for their afternoon nap, I stand at it for awhile. I’ve watched the snow melt and the sagebrush bud; observed the cows’ bellies widen and their udders expand as we draw closer to their due dates—signs of spring and new life.

Today, I lean against the warm glass and gently massage my lower back. I look for new calves and signs of labor in each expectant cow. In theory, that’s why I stand here every day: to make sure there isn’t a cow stalled in labor needing help to give birth. But more than that, I like watching the calm, quiet actions of our mama cows.

Our oldest cow, 1095, gave birth to her eighth calf last week. From this vantage point, I noticed her pacing circles around the pasture and knew it was time. An hour later, she licked her white-faced calf clean and then stood to feed him his first meal. I couldn’t help but grin, delighted by the miracle of life yet again.

I stretch to the side, then turn to face my desk. A stack of bills, an open day planner, two coffee cups, and a full email inbox await me. But as I start to sit, the washer chimes. I tiptoe down the hall and throw the clean clothes on our (still unmade) bed. On my way back to the laundry room, I catch sight of the kitchen, where dishes are piled in the sink and lunch remnants cover the island. I dash into the kitchen to clean up, telling myself it will only take a minute. With the dishwasher loaded and counters wiped, I head back toward the office, forgetting entirely about the clean clothes in the washer.

Glancing out the window on my way to my desk, I see 1095 and her calf making their way up the hill to the water trough. She nudges him gently with her nose, then steadies him when he stumbles on his still-new legs.

Observing other moms and babies makes me feel included. Part of. Because motherhood was created by God, and I’m filling a role he designed.

Ignoring the mountain of paperwork, I watch 1095 and her calf rejoin the rest of the herd. As her calf lays down, she touches noses with another, still expectant cow and swishes her tail at another cow’s calf, sending him back to his mom. Then she lowers to her knees and lays down beside her calf.

I pull myself away from the window and sit at my desk. Yawning, I take a sip of this morning’s (yesterday’s?) cold coffee, and read through my email. I respond to a few, delete others, and turn to tackle the paperwork on my left. I sort through it, tossing receipts and making notes in my planner of due dates and deadlines, but find nothing urgent. I should go fold that laundry, and make the bed. Maybe I’ll even have time to clean the bathrooms before the kids wake up.

Spinning around in my chair, I look out the window one last time. The whole herd is laying down now, all the new and expectant moms basking in the long-awaited warmth of spring after a longer-than-normal winter.

1095 tenderly licks her calf’s ear. I remember those early newborn days with both of my kids, but I’m struck by how little my mothering resembled hers. While she is completely present with her baby, I behaved much the way I do now and filled every moment with laundry and cleaning and work.

Trailing my fingers along the desk’s edge on my way out, I catch sight of the corner of my Bible, peeking out from under a power bill. It’s been a while since I’ve opened it—putting it off for a night I’m not so tired or during naptime after my chores are done. But that never happens, and every day my kids wake up from their naps to a clean house, clean clothes, and a tired, worn-out mom.

Why is it so hard for me to rest and let myself relax? If God created both 1095 and me for motherhood, why does her mothering look so easy and relaxed while mine looks so frenzied and exhausting? Did it take her eight babies to reach this point? Or does she just instinctively know something I struggle to accept: that God created us to work and rest?

The laundry can wait, I decide. I grab my Bible and tiptoe to the living room. Pulling a fleece throw from beneath the entertainment center, I sink into the corner of the couch and open its cover.

Thirty minutes later, I hear my son’s door open. His feet pitter-patter down the hall toward me, waking his sister, but I can’t help but smile. He rounds the couch with a “Hi, Mom!” and clambers into my lap. To my surprise, I’m not mad that he woke up my daughter. And for the first time in I-can’t-remember-how-long I’m ready, and delighted, for them to be awake; rejuvenated and refreshed by God’s word.  


Freshly Mopped Floors and Eve in the Garden by Cara Stolen

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I mopped my floors this morning. Royce went to work with Levi, so it was just Maggie and me, and I seized the opportunity to catch up on housework. I alternated vacuuming with mopping, hoping it would be easier to keep Maggie out of one room at a time rather than half the house at once. But every time I redirected her off of the freshly mopped floor, she looked at me and whined “why?” and found a way to make tiny footprints somewhere else behind my back.

It was irritating. I mopped, and re-mopped, and grew increasingly frustrated with her. “Maggie, no!” I yelled.

“Whyyyy?” she whined, backing away from me in fear, onto the section of floor I’d just re-mopped for the second time.

Her “why” followed me from room to room and got me thinking about my own behavior when faced with the temptation of something “off limits” or wrong. About how, like Maggie, my desire for something increases when I’m told no: whether I’m telling myself no, or hearing it from someone else.

I’ve been reading The Jesus Storybook Bible to the kids every morning for about a month now (in the bathroom, but that’s a story for another day). When we read the story of the fall, Royce asked, “Why would Eve do that, mom?”

I sat on the floor facing him, Maggie balanced on my outstretched legs, and thought about how I didn’t have a very good answer to his question. About how, when I read Genesis, I wonder the same thing. And, if I’m honest, I judge Eve a little bit.

Come on Girlfriend, are you kidding me? Why would you do that?

When we started reading the Bible together, I promised myself I would be as honest as I could with my answers to Royce’s questions. But this one stumped me a bit. So I looked in his eyes and answered with a question of my own: “Well … why do you choose to do things after I ask you not to sometimes?”

He blinked and shrugged his shoulders.

“It’s ok, bud. I do things I shouldn’t, too. Things I know are wrong. And I don’t know why I do them, either.”

And I do. All the freaking time.

Just the other day, before a playdate at my house, I reminded myself to be a good listener, not make judgy comments, and not to gossip. Three hours later, as the cars left my driveway, I replayed the conversations I’d had with the other moms that morning. And wouldn’t you know it, I’d done every single one of those things. I’d interrupted someone more than once and only half-listened as I planned out what I’d say next. I’d made judgy comments about another mom. I’d even initiated a gossip-filled conversation, forgetting my internal dialogue earlier that very same morning.

Come on Girlfriend, are you kidding me? Why would you do that?

Me and Eve, man. We’re not so different after all.

Why can’t I stop doing things I shouldn’t? Why can’t I stop doing things I know are wrong? While I have learned to stay off freshly mopped floors, in so many ways I’m still just like my 21-month-old daughter: whining “why?” when I’m told no and doing the wrong thing anyway.

Why in the world would God still love someone like me? Someone who messes up over, and over, and OVER again, seemingly incapable of learning my lesson?

My word for 2019 is “grace.” I have to admit when the word came to me toward the end of 2018, I didn’t really know what it meant. I thought it was a Christian word for forgiveness. I thought God was telling me (not subtly, mind you, the word started jumping out at me everywhere) to forgive a friend who had wounded me deeply earlier in the year.

But as I’ve read books and articles about grace, listened to podcasts about grace, and watched sermons about grace, I’ve realized that it’s about so much more than forgiveness. I’ve also realized that I’ll probably spend the rest of my life trying to fully grasp the definition of grace and the enormity of what it means in my life.

Before the kids woke up this morning, before I mopped my floors, I watched a sermon on grace while I sipped my morning coffee. Knowing I’d dedicated 2019 to this subject, a sweet friend had sent me the link a few weeks ago, but I’d forgotten about it. But this morning, I sat down at my desk to write, and remembered.

In it, Pastor Todd King defines grace as “unconditional love, forgiveness, and mercy played out.” He reads from Matthew 18:21-35—The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant—in which a king forgives the (impossibly large) debt of one of his servants. The servant, in turn, refuses to forgive the debt owed to him by a fellow servant, angering the king with his refusal to extend the mercy he himself received. In the end, he is jailed and tortured for his debts. At the end of the parable, Pastor King poses this question: Who is the servant in the parable?  

“I am.” I whispered, leaning forward in my seat. I am the servant. We all are the servant. We are the ones who can never repay the debt Jesus paid for us. We are the ones forgiven an impossible debt. And yet, I take the forgiveness, grace, and love I’m given and withhold it from others, just like the stupid servant. I refuse to forgive a supposed friend for her hurtful, judging words—refuse to offer her grace and love—forgetting the grace I’ve received for the same. exact. sins.

I am the servant. I am undeserving, unworthy, of God’s love. Deserving instead to be “handed over to the jailers to be tortured until [I] can pay everything that [is] owed” (Matthew 18:34, CSB).

But (but!) He loves me anyway. He doesn’t watch me gossip and judge and shout “Come on, Girlfriend, are you kidding me? Why would you do that?” the way I do when I watch someone stumble.

He loves me even though I can’t repay the debt I owe. He loves me even though I do and say things that I shouldn’t. He even loves me when I whine “why?” and make metaphorical footprints across His freshly mopped floors. And He loved Eve, too. Even after the fall, even as He punished her, He never withheld his love. I mean, what? Why?

Maybe it’s easy for you to grasp God’s unconditional love, but I struggle to wrap my head around it. I’m a perfectionist, and a hard worker, and I like to-do lists and performance reviews and accomplishment. I feel in the depths of my soul that love is earned, and that I have to be perfect to be worthy of it. So when I hear that none of those things matter when it comes to my salvation, when I hear that there is nothing I can do to make God stop loving me, I get a little panicky. And a lot doubtful.

What do you mean my behavior doesn’t earn my salvation? Are you sure?

Because the part about being the servant that isn’t hard for me to grasp? My unworthiness. I spend every day of my life hyper-aware of the ways in which I fall short. Of the ways my mistakes look like Eve’s. Of my tendency to judge and criticise others to make myself feel better about my imperfections. But the part where my debt is forgiven? The part where I’m loved in spite of my quick judgments and shortcomings? That part puts a big lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.

God doesn’t shout at me when I make footprints across his freshly mopped floors, and He doesn’t mop furiously behind me to achieve the perfection He envisioned for this world. Instead, He looks at my footprints, gently guides me onto dry floor, and forgives me before my feet are even dry from my misstep. He reminds me that the dry floor is where I belong, and loves my unworthy heart despite of my imperfections.

Pastor Todd King wisely asks: “If we didn’t earn our salvation, how are we going to un-earn it?”

And the amazing thing is: we can’t.

I am imperfect. I am unworthy. But I am loved, just like Eve. And that, I think, is grace.