I wasn't cut out for this.
Don't get me wrong--I know this is God's calling for me right now. I am happy as a mom, and honestly, if I weren't at home with my kids, I would be wishing I could be. It's a great life, and I'm not complaining. I know I have it better than almost anybody else in the whole world.
I'm just saying, I wasn't cut out for this. Not like my friends who have spent their lives gushing about how they longed to be mommies, who were already picking their children's names in grade school. I mean, not that I DIDN'T want kids. Cherub-cheeked, laughing-eyed, hope-of-our-future, kids. They're wonderful little creatures, no doubt. And I had nothing against them. I even enjoyed them, sometimes. And I sort of figured that someday, if I ever got around to getting married, kids would probably come along naturally. If they didn't, no biggie. I hadn't really put much thought into it, honestly.
I just had so many things I wanted to do! Like Jimmy Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life, I knew "What I'm going to do today, and tomorrow, and for the rest of my life..." I was going to live on the edge. Work with the homeless, travel as a missionary to dangerous foreign lands where most people couldn't make it, live with nothing but a pack on my back and a song in my heart--those were the things that were right down my alley! I even slept without a pillow sometimes in college, because I couldn't bear thinking of all the people out there who didn't have all the comforts I did. I figured I probably wouldn't get married because I would likely die young, or at least, I wouldn't want to risk leaving a husband and possibly children alone, if something happened to me. You know, just knowing they were out there would hold me back from the challenges I knew I was called to face.
During my senior year of college, I found my "niche," the challenge that fit me exactly. Juan, Elias, Elisabeth, Gabriel, Moraima, Ruth, Raquel...the terrific kids in my Conquistadores group (I was their Pathfinder chaplain when I worked as a Bible worker for their church in St. Croix) took it all out of me, and filled me up again. Now I knew what I was going to do with my life--work with teenagers and young adults, kids like me. They had problems, but they wanted to follow God and let Him make whatever He could of their lives. Oh, it was a little bit disappointing, not having all the danger and adventure I had expected--but it was so fulfilling I got over it quickly. I knew this was my lifelong calling.
I launched into ministry by becoming a summer colporteur leader. Summers found me helping lead teams of students around neighborhoods selling Christian books. I loved the kids. I loved plunging into the day, pitting myself against whatever challenged me during the day (no sissy cell phones to call my program head in case anything went wrong in those days!). I loved how it was just God and me, full of holy boldness and the Spirit, saying and doing things I never dreamed I could do. I loved the exhilarating, exhausted end-of-the-day crash, feeling totally wrung out for God. Most of all, watching the students be transformed by sharing the Gospel with others was just addictive.
Soon I found myself working in a brand-new, experimental college called George King Institute. It was a college program built around involving students in personal evangelism, learning to think through what they believed, and sharing their faith with others. Right away I knew I was home. I had found the next level of my calling. We went through all kinds of challenges in our school--believe me, that could be a book all by itself!--but I was a woman possessed. I had found my fire, and I couldn't feed it enough. Educating, shaping young minds, drawing hearts close to my own and helping them become who they needed to be. What an awesome life!
For four wonderful years, I deaned in the college and learned with the students. The school became my home, and the students my family. Even on the worst days, I woke up feeling like I couldn't wait to start work. I remember the distinct, exhilarating sense that I was doing what I was born to do. This was life at its richest! I knew I was one of the ten happiest people in the world.
When I met Alan, honestly, I wasn't sure that I wanted to bother with getting involved. As I wrote in my journal, I wasn't sure if I wanted to "dare to disrupt my little paradise." In time, though, I found something that fit me just as surely as my school: my husband. But while on our honeymoon, I received an email shattering my dream world: my school no longer existed. I had grasped one lifelong dream, only to lose the other.
There were times I was pretty weepy that year. (Poor Alan!) Not because of marriage--it was a taste of heaven on earth. But I felt like I had been a foster parent, and suddenly my house burned down and all of my children were taken away and put in other homes. Actually, it was easier when we lived in Africa, and I simply had an alternate world. Once we returned to America, the full force of my loss hit me--I really, truly had no school. What would I do with my life now? I remember our first weekend back in America, when we sat down in a Sabbath School and everyone was going around the room introducing themselves and saying what they did. When it was my turn, I told them my name, and then paused. I was no one. What could I say? "I, um, used to be a teacher," I mumbled, and blinked back sudden, hot tears.
I started teaching at Weimar Academy, but my heart was still in an evangelistic college. Within a few months, we found out what was next. I was pregnant! I finished the year teaching and launched into my new career--motherhood. Hey, I figured, I loved facing whatever flew at me so far in life, and coming out the other side stronger and better. What can be so tough about parenting? I was a little troubled by the fact that I couldn't imagine myself as JUST a parent. Oh, I could imagine myself, baby pack on my back, doing all the things we did already. But how would my life change when the baby wasn't on my back anymore?
We added baby to life and tried to keep going just like we had before. Anaya flew on 40 airplanes her first year of life, 39 her second. And somewhere along there, about the time I had Seth, it struck me. All those people who warned me, "Your life will never be the same"--they were right.
As most of you know, Seth was only a few months old when we found out Skyler was also coming to further bless our house. (This is another mystery of life, how some people spend their lives longing for a baby but can't have one, while others, like me, get pregnant by walking past the diaper aisle in the grocery store. Okay, almost.) Suddenly I realized that this was not getting easier. Now I wasn't just going to have my hands full--I was going to have more kids than hands.
How hard could this be? Hey, I loved challenges! Sleep deprivation? Been there, done that--I used to suck ice during colporteur afternoons to keep myself alert at the wheel, I was so tired! And if I could keep 18 teenagers organized on a Friday cleanup, surely I could handle a couple of little kids whizzing around a house (and they had to nap, anyway, right?). I thought I could handle such simple things. I was the person who loved challenges.
I was wrong.
I was not cut out for this.
I could handle police chasing me out of towns, screaming, sobbing students, culture shock, sleeping on hard floors, being covered with mosquito bites, eating with my hands off of banana leaves. I could handle severe, debilitating pain, and working with controlling, manipulative co-leaders. Sullen teenagers? They intrigued me. I loved challenges.
I was not prepared for planning my life around naptimes.
I was not prepared for facing continual failure--working all day long toward a clean, organized house and obedient children, but at the end of the day, facing a disaster wherever my eyes rest, and disobedient children to boot.
I was not prepared for never being able to sit down and read--ANYTHING--without a continual stream of, "Mommy? Can you...? Mommy? Can I...?"
I was not prepared for wrestling with the hard questions I had never thought about. Like, if you think your kid has lied, but you're not sure, do you punish them, or risk launching them into a pattern of lying that will take you years to purge out of their system? Should I spank, then hug, or hug, then spank? What if my kid wants to hug me the whole time they are in time out--is that rewarding disobedience, or showing that punishment is loving?
I only thought I liked challenges. What I really liked was CONQUERING challenges. I loved reaching the top of the cliff and looking down on what I had climbed. I loved the thrill of pitting myself against a day and coming out victorious. But this continual, grinding facing of myself, my weaknesses, my insecurities? Not so much.
I was not cut out for this.
But the great thing is, God cut this out for me. He ordained that I face myself, find out who I am, and in the process, learn to love like I have never loved before.
This weekend, feeling a little suffocated, I took a little time out to go away for a walk and pray. Alan was playing with the kids in the yard, but they saw me walking away. "Mommy!" went up the unanimous squeal, and everyone dashed to me, to hang on my legs and make me feel like screaming. I hugged them all, disentangled myself and ordered them to go to Daddy. Relief mingled with wistfulness as I watched them bound up the hill toward him. I could hardly tear my eyes away from their sweet little figures! Such stifling responsibility. Such intoxicating love.
Why do I write all of this? (LOL...I'm not sure!) I guess I wonder what people think of me sometimes. I hang around with all of these awesome college students, and I hear about their dreams and goals. They feel so confident of what they want to do, who they want to marry, who they are. And I think, well, that's a good thing. I loved that feeling. "I know what I'm going to do today, and tomorrow, and for the rest of my life..." But life's road has bends that you can never imagine, and here I am, on a totally different page than I ever dreamed I'd be--a boring, stay-at-home, homeschooling mom (school starts tomorrow for Anaya), days plotted out carefully in order to get meals cooked, laundry done, groceries bought, bills paid, children disciplined, floors swept, and manners taught. I sit down in the doctor's office and choose Parenting magazine out of the stack--who could have imagined? It just wasn't me. But I can't say it isn't me now. I'm starting to settle into being a different person than I used to be. I don't want to climb mountains, sleep on the street with the homeless, or raft dangerous rivers, because my kids might think that that's a good idea, and it's not, because they could get hurt, or die...
My paradigm is just so different, sometimes I look in the mirror and can't believe I'm me.
But in some ways, maybe I like the new me better.
And what about the old, adventurous me? The one who has a vision and a passion for a school? The one who felt she would just die if she couldn't make it happen?
Well...let's just say that some things never change. And I'm learning that dreams shatter, but visions bend.