o come, be born in us

Yesterday the O-antiphons of Advent began.

But mine started early, driving home last Friday on a snowy freeway, catching the afternoon news after a day of meetings.

Oh God, no. Oh God, not again. Oh God, not children.

So many words have been spilled since Friday, and yet I keep struggling to voice how deeply this news wounds. As a mother, of course. But deeper, as a person of faith who tries to make sense of God’s ways, who wonders how we can respond in turn.

It was the familiarity of Sandy Hook that shook me up. The day before the shooting, a school was bombed in Syria, killing sixteen, half of whom were women and children. But that tragedy was a mere blip on the evening news, the daily digest of the continued slaughter of the innocents. My husband mentioned it over dinner and I shook my head. “I can’t handle Syria anymore. Too much. I can’t handle it.”

But now, school heaped upon school, bodies heaped upon bodies, babies heaped upon babies, I keep thinking of Sandy Hook and I keep thinking of Syria. As I finish my Christmas shopping, as I wrap presents, as I write cards. Everything seems surreal in the sight of parents sobbing over tiny coffins. Every year I wrestle with the consumerism of the holiday, feeling lonelier and lonelier as I whisper this is not what Christmas means. But this year, the contrast feels starker than ever.

. . .

Today was the first day I dropped my boy off at school since last Friday. As I rounded the car to open his door and unbuckle his car seat, I suddenly felt my heart leap into my throat. How was I going to leave him here? His safe little preschool, in the small town clap-board church, loomed large in a darker world where everything seems dangerous now.

I halted, hand on the handle, wanting to dash back around to the driver’s side, slam the door shut and squeal out of the snowy parking lot. Flee back home where everything felt safe.

But I didn’t. I couldn’t.

So I breathed in cold, crisp December air. I opened the door, bent down and smiled. “Let’s go, my love! Time for school!” False cheer in my voice, fake grin on my face.

I pulled his hood up over his small head, tucked his mittens into his coat sleeves, trying not to cry as I thought about parents doing the same routine on last Friday’s morning drop-off.

“Do you know how much I love you?” I asked as he smiled up at me. “I do,” his quiet response.

“And do you remember who’s always with you, in your heart, so you don’t have to be sad or afraid?” “Jesus,” he whispered.

“That’s right. God is always with you.” I hugged him extra tight.

Why did I need to remind him today? Did I need some small sense of protection, some meager assurance that if a murderer burst through the doors of his preschool, he might remember love in the midst of fear? So sick, the ways our minds spin right now, scared and wounded in the face of unimaginable suffering.

But still I walked him across the icy parking lot, swung wide the door and swept him inside. His lovely teacher greeted him with a warm smile as she welcomed him downstairs. And against every fiber in my being, I turned and pushed the door open wide to leave.

I started to tear up as I left the parking lot, memories rushing back of the first day I left him there, the first time I left him with a sitter to go to work, the first time I realized he was no longer snuggled up safe inside me.

How can I do it, over and over again, I wondered as I drove away. How do I keep pushing my babies out into the world?

And the answer came clear and quiet: I have to do it the same way I first birthed them.

Through my own inner strength. Surrounded by the support of others. Leaning into the grace of God.

This is the only way I know how to parent. Maybe it’s the only way I know how to live in this world. It’s surely the only way I know how to celebrate Emmanuel this year.

Remembering that Christmas is not something I do, but something that was done by God, for all of us. IMG_4973

Remembering that in so many corners of the world Advent is always held in this tension: a small light flicking amid death and violence and fear.

Remembering that the Nativity story starts with one scared mother, birthing her baby into a painful world, bearing light into utter darkness.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

the impossibility of advent

Ready for the least surprising summary of spiritual good intentions?

I was going to have an amazing Advent. It’s my favorite season of the church calendar, and I was going to live it. I had plans, I had prayers, I had promises. I would reflect deeply and write profusely and enter mindfully into the mystery of Christmas.

And then. (Always and-then.)

Life interrupted. Everyone got sick.

Work interrupted. I got busy.

Evil interrupted. Joy got sucked straight out of the season.

By the end of this weekend, when we were supposed to be lighting the pink candle and singing of joy, I felt drained and discouraged. Grumpy and Grinch-like, I stomped downstairs with a bucket and a rag to scrub the basement floor in preparation for our Christmas guests.

Kneeling down and washing dirty to clean felt like the only halfway holy thing I could do.

And as I scrubbed, I tried to pray. I tried to pray for peace. For patience. For forgiveness. I tried to pray for mindfulness. For generosity. For simplicity.

But every prayer felt impossible. I was too selfish or stubborn, or the world was too broken and evil. Nothing could budge, no matter how hard I scrubbed, how much soapy water I slopped on the dingy tile.

Until I realized: it’s supposed to feel impossible. Advent is nothing but.

Prepare for the inbreaking of the divine? Good luck with that one. Wrap your head around the mystery of incarnation and virgin birth and angelic messengers? Inconceivable. Wrestle your sinful soul into a place of readiness to meet your Creator? Laughable prospect.

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Advent is supposed to feel impossible. It’s the humility of our humanness when brought to our knees before the gift of grace. It’s the overwhelming weight of our darkness when faced with the brilliance of true light. It’s the lifting up of lowly and the bending down of divine and the upending of all our expectations. It’s the constant, humming, throbbing beat of love’s heart pulsing out life into the cold universe.

All of which feels impossible. And when faced with impossibility, all I can do is lift up my arms to the God of Advent, a tired shrug as much as a prayerful plea, and say Come, please, come. 

Come, Child of Peace. Come, Emmanuel. Come, God-With-Us.

Keep coming. We’ll keep trying.

Impossible as it all seems.

the sheer aliveness of tonight

My children seemed even smaller today, even more fragile and fleeting.

The whole day shifted, slanted towards helpless with the news. Everything felt ugly and overwhelming and exhausting, like being punched in the chest, the core of my heart.

What to say or do or think in the face of horror, of violence wrenched upon a corner of the world, so much like our quiet own, ripped inside out and left bleeding and broken and raw beyond recognition?

The second I got home, I gathered my boys in my arms, smothered their hair with my kisses. Tried to breathe in the simple fact of their existence before they squirmed away. Before they went back to laughing, playing, whining, reading. Being.

For the rest of the day I watched them with other eyes.

I watched them from the corner of the kitchen over dinner. From the bedroom doorway during bathtime. From the top of the stairs while they giggled under the Christmas tree.

I lingered on the normalcy of our night, the ordinary peace of our day. And with every regular breath I felt behind it the weight of families in nightmares, the wail of parents plunged into the deepest loss, the darkness I cannot close my eyes to name.

. . .

Both boys’ skin seemed translucent today. The palest flesh on such small bones, warm blood racing through thin veins just below the surface. At any moment, it seemed, their heart could stop and mine would, too. Any ordinary day. A day of school or church or the mall or the movies – nothing feels safe, nothing feels sacred anymore.

After I cuddled the smallest to sleep, I paused for a moment by our front door. The strong steel door, the door with the lock and deadbolt, the door that blocks the world outside. The thought of opening it tomorrow, of grasping their small mittened hands and leading them out into the cold, choked me with overwhelming.

Taking a single step outside seems an act of faith after a day darkened by so much death. It’s an exhausting prospect, this vulnerable living, this throwing ourselves back out into the world, day after day, never knowing how or when the end will come for those we love, whether that end will be sudden or violent or terrifying or tragic. We never know; we can only keep going. And trying and helping and loving along the way. The simplest acts of living, of chosing to go on, become a daring defiance of violence and hatred and evil and horror.

. . .

This afternoon, my oldest, oblivious to the news I’d flipped off, asked with a grin if we could to do some baking. I figured there was nothing else to do but to do something.

We pulled out flour and eggs, peanut butter and chocolate chips. He snuck extra licks from the spoon as we stirred. I figured life’s too short to care about a few germs.

His baby brother grabbed the sugar canister and stuck his chubby fists inside, spilling out handfuls on the floor. I figured why not add some sweetness to the day.

So we baked. We sang. We played piano. We danced in spinning circles before bedtime, once more, always once more, once more extra on a broken, bittersweet, too-much night like tonight.

In short, we lived. And tomorrow, I pray we will get up and do the same.

Tonight my babies are tucked safe and sleeping in bed. But tonight I think of all the beds that go empty, all the places on the globe where violence and murder and fear are all-too-familiar. I think about God’s head bowing low, bearing the weight of all this pain, grieving the world so far from its created beauty.

I wonder how we go on. But I know that we go on. I am left with nothing but the sheer aliveness of the ones I love, the stubborn fact that we are still here.

That we still have to face the test of tomorrow.

four days without fail

There are four days in every month that find me, without fail.

Day One: in which compassion runs dry and I just don’t care.

For crying out loud, is washing your face every the morning really the cruelest, most horrible, scream-worthy request a mother could ever make? Could you finally figure out how to walk and stop whining every single stinking time I’m more than two feet away from you? Why does everyone demand something from me every single moment of the day? My kids are little and needy; I am overwhelmed and tired; everything’s an annoyance, not an opportunity. I spend much of Day One envying people who live in monasteries and eyeing the calendar to calculate how many years are left till they’re all in school.

Day Two: in which the whole endeavor is a sham and it’s all pointless.

What’s the purpose of parenting another generation when we’ve already destroyed the earth, scrambled society’s morals, crushed the church’s soul? Newspaper headlines set me off; TV makes me insane; Facebook affirms that we’ve all lost our minds. I read the latest study about how children are screwed up by this or that, and I conclude the whole affair damned to hell in a handbasket. I eat a lot of chocolate on Day Two.

Day Three: in which the problem isn’t parenting; it’s me.

I conclude that other people must be, despite the screwed-up state of society and the inherent whininess of toddlers, finding utter fulfillment as they raise superstar children while making it to the gym five times a week, excelling at their careers, and happily crafting Martha Stewart-worthy homes with bright smiles on their freshly made-up faces. My problem must be my own personal failing. After barely squeaking through Day Three, I collapse on the couch to host my own pity party, trolling the interwebs, glass of wine in hand, convincing myself that if I were meant to be a mother, I would be a maternal Zen Master, a patient primary teacher of my children, a happy homemaker bursting with infinite ideas to engage my kids’ creativity and decorate our well-kept, eco-friendly, simple-living home, and a professional photographer Instagramming Pin-worthy shots of my delightful kids grinning adorably in a grassy field. Day Three often finds me fantasizing about hiring live-in help while I hide under the covers.

Day Four: in which the other three days seem impossible; it’s all grace.

I can laugh at the mess, breathe in the sweetness of their small years, glimpse God in their bright eyes. Dance in the kitchen, sing goofy songs, tickle till they squeal, love them up while they’re fresh and young. The spin slows, for a second even, and I see the goodness of the work I’m doing, the love I’m giving. The glimmer of parenting becoming prayer. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. I realize my kids are learning, from me. I see how they are slowly becoming caring, curious, hilarious people in their own right. I notice how I’m growing as a person and a parent, too. I remember I wouldn’t give up a second of this for the freedom of kidless days.

And the funny thing is, the more I notice Day Four, the more I stop to breathe and give thanks and notice beauty unfolding before my eyes, in the messy midst of heaps of laundry and towers of Legos and stacks of dishes and piles of clutter, the more regularly it rolls around, knocking Days One through Three to the corner with a saucy shake of its mama hips. Stay back, Day Four warns, wryly. I got this, girls.

And I do.

. . .

Inspired by my brilliant friend Love-It-Or-Leave-It, whose four days of ministry smacked me in the head about mothering, too. Go figure.

one year a christian

One whole trip around the sun. That’s how long he’s been a Christian.

A year ago we gathered with old and new friends, family from near and far. My mother and I dressed my six-week old son in the baptismal gown that four generations of my family have worn.

And a young deacon, an-almost priest we met as he journeyed through seminary, rolled up the sleeves of his alb, nervously took the squirmy baby from my arms, and plunged him deep into the waters of new life.

He came up wide-eyed and gave a small yelp. We all smiled.

Everyone likes when the baby cries, my mother whispered. That’s how they know the baptism “took.”

Last weekend we watched a baptism from the back of church while that same boy, now a year old and a thousand times squirmier, crawled around the gathering space. I listened as the pastor asked parents and godparents the old familiar questions we’ve heard a thousand times before.

What name do you give your child? What do you ask of the Church for your child? Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?

The priest chuckled at the last question, paused and turned to the congregation. “I always laugh when I ask parents that one. As if they have any clue at all what they’re getting into.”

I looked down at our boy. I thought about the letter I wrote him one year ago. Do I clearly understand what I am undertaking? Trying to raise him in this church, trying to raise him in any kind of faith when all the headlines scream that it’s becoming more unpopular by the day?

Not at all. Maybe none of us do.

But I’m trying. Deep in my bones I believe this is the most important thing I’m trying to do as a parent, to awaken my children to the possibilities of faith and a life lived for others.

And isn’t that what most mothers and fathers do – parent towards possibility? No matter our child’s age or ability, no matter their stage or situation, we always dream of the possibilities, what they might do and achieve and become. Baptism’s like that, too. We are welcomed into a community that has great hopes for us, called by God who dreams of all we might become.

But baptism also celebrates the simple fact of being beloved. Of knowing that we need not achieve to be worthy nor succeed to be faithful. My hopes for what he comes to believe about his faith rest between this tension: I hope it will inspire him to do and remind him to be.

When I think on my boy’s baptism anniversary of what it means to have smeared that chrism on his forehead and named him a child of God, I wonder what knowledge his own bones hold from that moment. None of us remember the first year of life. And yet he knows many things, deeply.

He knows he is loved. He knows the people he loves. He knows he has always been cared for. All of that will help him learn how he is beloved by God, no matter where he goes or what he does. I hope the memory of that belovedness is his lasting gift.

That will be how I know the baptism took.

harvesting hope

We go every year. Maybe you do, too.

We pick a perfect fall morning, bright and clear. We drive through rolling country roads, farms and hills and trees ablaze with orange, yellow, red. We grab our bags and head for the rows of trees upon trees.

We pick, pluck, pause and pick another, piling the apples high. We eat them off the branch, munching as we crunch through the leaves. The kids kick the fallen fruit; the adults haul the harvest in heavy paper sacks. We head back to the farm for cool cider and warm donuts. Then we wind our way back home, plans of pies and sauce and crisp and muffins wafting through our weekend.

The annual apple orchard trip.

This year we found a new farm, smaller-scale, family-owned. I laughed with another mom as we circled the gnarly trees, branches heavy with shiny red fruits. “Isn’t it great to beat the crowds here?” she said. I agreed, nodding. A bulky black camera swung from her neck. “We’re yuppies, don’t get me wrong. We’re not really here for the apples. But we just have to come every year, you know?”

I know.

I noticed, for the first time this year. Even in the quieter crowds, every parent had a camera. We clicked as the kids picked. We followed as they wandered round the trees. We snapped as they spun around swings and slides.

Why? I wondered. Yes, the autumn light is bright and crisp in the morning, perfect for photos. And rosy-cheeked children next to nature’s greens and reds are a pretty combination. But maybe it’s more.

These annual trips become touchstones, Kairos moments in the chronos of parenting. We step outside with our kids, away from home and school and work, and realize – suddenly, swiftly, sharply – how much they’ve grown. We scramble to capture a moment that is already fleeting.

Because we need to know, amidst the endless, exhausting and exasperating days, how close the harvest creeps under our very eyes. How quickly the years race by.

I’m guilty of it, too. I snap all day as my babies play. Something deep inside me tugs; I can’t help but try to capture what it means to my mothering soul to see them a little taller, a little bigger each year. All at once I want to wrap my arms around them and keep them this small, sweet age for always, and nudge them on to the next stage, too. Sentiment and melancholy in the same breath, so quintessentially autumn.

I realized this year why parents photograph the picking, not the planting of seeds. Because that work – the slow, tedious, watchful work of tending and waiting – is the work we do every single day. We know sowing and growing, but what we long to see, what we hope will come, what the family rituals and the yearly crop celebrate, is that one day their harvest will be here, too. They’ll be ripe and ready, big and beautiful. We’ll be able to see the fruits of our labors. We hope.

Some day. Still so far.

they’re going to read this someday

My children.

Whether I show this to them proudly or they stumble across it secretly, they’ll be able to find all the words and thoughts and fears and questions I squirreled away in this small place, my secret hideout, my safe breathing space during the chaos of early parenthood.

(Because we all know the interwebs, even surer than elephants, never forget.)

I wonder what they’ll think when they read this. Will they roll their eyes at my drama? (Probably.) Will they laugh at my sentimentality? (Likely.) Will they wonder why I made such a fuss out of every worry that flitted across my new mama mind? (Undoubtedly.)

But here’s my deeper hope. I hope that if they become parents someday, they might dip their toes down into this swirling mess of my words and touch solid bottom.

That they can find camaraderie and companionship in knowing that I had no clue what I was doing either, but I loved them something fierce.

That they will remember that the long arc of the relationship of mother and child, despite its daily dips and difficulties, the tempers and the trying stages, bends towards a deep, lasting bond.

That they might seek solace in their own words-as-prayer, no matter what calling their path finds.

A wise friend once wrote to me that she saw my efforts at trying to raise children in faith as putting little invisible slips of paper with God’s phone number on it in the pockets of the pants and jackets they will wear out in the world someday, helping to make sure that when they need it, they’ll have it. Because that’s all we can do.

I’ve never forgotten her words. And while the songs and prayers I teach them now, the books we read and the churches we visit, the stories we wonder at together and the questions we can’t explain – while all of that is part of the scribbling I do, tucking love notes from God inside the corners of their hearts, the musing and mumbling I do here in this space is part of it as well.

Maybe someday they’ll stumble upon something I wrote, about struggling with faith or struggling with the world’s brokenness, and they’ll pause and think, too. I’m not so naive as to believe they’ll share my questions or so audacious as to assume my thoughts will shed wisdom on their lives. But if they can find a moment’s companionship here, an affirmation that faith can run deep while questions run deeper, a stubborn declaration that even when it wasn’t popular or sexy or clear or easy, I tried my hardest to understand and love the God who is Love, then I will consider these stumblings worth the cost.

And maybe, just maybe, if they become parents themselves, and the transition or the transformation isn’t easy, but by God it’s the most humbling school of humanity they could ever find, then I’ll happily meet them there. Because the journey of becoming their mother, of learning from them every day how flawed I am but how wide my heart can stretch, has been the gift of my life.

And that is a story I’m happy to tell them over and over again.

my own prayer for frustrated catholics

With gratitude for Fr. James Martin’s inspiration:

Dear God,

Sometimes I, too, get so frustrated with your church.

So much I love, so much I hold as true. But so much I struggle to understand.

I look into the bright eyes of my children, so young and trusting. I wonder what questions they will ask about our church. I wonder if they will see my staying as hypocritical. I wonder if they will choose to leave when times get tough.

I want to lead them into a life of faith, but sometimes the road seems so dark. Storm clouds are swirling above, and my light flickers so small below.

When I hear news that disheartens, help me not to despair. Let me remember that we have been struggling from the beginning with blindness and brokenness. But Your Spirit has always been blowing among us, strong and steady. Perk my ears to that small, still sound of hope.

When I’m tempted to shove those who disagree with me into neat boxes with easy labels, help me to look beyond divisions. To see Your face in each of theirs. To learn from the challenges they pose to my faith.

When friends tell me they’ve had enough – that they feel battered and bruised enough to leave – widen my heart to hold their hurt. Bend all our winding paths to you, no matter how far they roam. Remind us that You have always been bigger than our imagination and institutions.

And when I’m tempted to draw the line in the sand, to shout with tears in my eyes that if they push me one step farther I will leave too, pull me even closer to You and whisper words of peace. Remind me that You sent the life You loved most into this world – Your child – to preach peace and forgiveness and radical love. All of which is still vibrant and humming in Your church, no matter how far flung in corners it sometimes seems.

God of light, many people I love are calling this a dark time for the church. The pain on their faces, the anger in their voices, the sadness in their hearts – I share it, too. But I refuse to let go of my stubborn faith in resurrection. I refuse to leave a community that has been full of sinners from the beginning. I refuse to believe that I have it figured out on my own.

God of truth, I am deeply grateful for what this church has taught me. To defend life from its beginning. To work for justice for all. To celebrate sacramental moments. To find You in word and prayer and community and the poor.

When I think of all the gifts your church has given me, I am overwhelmed with love. But when I think of all the ways your church continues to fall short of striving towards Your kingdom, I am overwhelmed with sadness.

When I doubt, help my unbelief.

When I feel alone in my struggles, let me strengthened by all who came before me, who claimed the name of Catholic with fierce and faithful hearts.

And when I worry about how to raise my children, let the memory of their baptisms run deep in my heart. Let the echo of promises, the splash of water, the smear of oil and the spark of light remind me that a whole communion of saints promised to help me on this journey.

When I was younger and people would ask me how I could call myself Catholic in the face of scandals and failures and deep, deep sin, I would respond that I loved Your church like I loved any person in my life – as flawed and broken but beautiful and full of grace.

Now that I am a mother, I think perhaps I’m called to love Your church like my child. Not in a condescending way, but with eyes that see all its potential and promise. With a stubborn heart that loves despite the difficulties. With patience that forgives failure and never gives up on hope.

Help me, God. And help Your church.

Don’t give up on us, and don’t let us give up on each other.

Amen.

roller coaster parenting: hold on to your hats

Recently, at the Terrible, Horrible End of a No-Good, Very Bad Week, I happened upon a reflection which described the tunnel of parenthood: the first five years of raising young children.

Tears sprung to my tired eyes as I read while baby nursed. We are in the tunnel, I realized. The long, dark, will-it-ever-end tunnel.

Finding myself in that mother’s description of these difficult days brought me both hope (only a few more years till we get to age five and know what we’re doing!) and despair (WE STILL HAVE YEARS UNTIL WE GET TO AGE FIVE AND KNOW WHAT WE’RE DOING). A deep breath and another pot of tea calmed me down, reminding me there is nothing magical about age five.

Yet the core truth is this: right now is really hard. But it will get better. My own sheer, stumbling faith tells me it will get better.

(That, and our toddler does now sleep a blissful 12+ hours a night, so I know theoretically that his little brother will someday, too.)

Now, I’m not naive enough to think this is as hard as it gets. I know we have plenty of rough days, sleepless months, and trying seasons of parenting ahead of us. That’s the life we signed up for when these babies came on board.

But the more I thought about the tunnel of new parenthood, the more I realized this was not just any tunnel.

This is a pitch-black, terrifying twists and turns, hold-on-for-your-life roller coaster tunnel. The Space Mountain of early parenting.

We waited a long time to get on this ride. When we decided we wanted to go, we checked that we met the requirements: age, height, medical conditions. But then it took much longer than we expected for the line to snake its way to the start.

So when we finally stepped into the long-awaited car, we were giddy with excitement. We strapped ourselves in, grinned at each other, and slapped our hands down on the bar. We were ready to go.

As the car slowly clicked up the first hill, we marvelled at the view. Look at us! Here we are! I can’t believe we’re about to do this!

Then the slow crest at the top, the instant suspended in mid-air….

And suddenly we’re free falling, wind and ground rushing at us so fast we can barely breathe, let alone scream. We’re whipped around to the right, banking the curve at insane speed, then slamming to the other side, spinning upside down and praying that we won’t plummet to sudden death below.

Hurtling up, down, back, forward; lurching in every direction; careening from one side to the other. Stomach spinning, head pounding, fists clenched to the bar, eyes squeezed shut. We thought it would never end.

But we held on, and we screamed when we could manage to gulp down a breath, and we even whooped for joy when we raced from one tunnel to the next and saw the blue sky shoot through overhead. We remembered that we wanted to be on the ride in the first place.

That’s where we are right now, my partner in parenting and I. Right in the middle of a wild ride that we jumped at the chance to take. Sometimes the loops make us laugh, sometimes the lurches make us queasy. We wonder some days if we were crazy to get on board, and we shake our heads other days that we can’t imagine not taking the plunge.

Living day to day in the coaster’s vertigo leaves me spinning. I lose my perspective as quickly as I lost control over the direction of the ride. I wonder who and where I will be when light finally bursts forth at tunnel’s end.

But I do know that one day – maybe at that magical age five, maybe years later – we’ll suddenly snap to the finish, just as sharp as the beginning. Bars will raise up, belts unclick all around us. We’ll look at each other, wild-eyed and grinning, and realize we made it. We never have to go back and be new parents all over again. We survived.

But oh, the darkness of the tunnel.

When the ride’s just beginning and you have no idea where it will end…

why i hate to leave my babies (and why i do it anyway)

I love my boys. And I love my job.

And I hate the tension between them.

While my commute being only a walk downstairs can seem enviable, working from home brings its own struggles. Boundaries are blurred. Child care or housework can encroach on my work time if I’m not careful. Or work can seep into every hour of the day and corner of the house if I don’t make myself fully present to my children when work is done.

Yes, working from home means I’m closer to my kids when they need me. Yes, working part-time means I’m able to be with them for much of the day-to-day of their early years. But it also means that when they are wailing upstairs, I can’t run to them – there is work to be done. Likewise, when they burst out in peals of laughter with the babysitter, I miss out on their joy. And that kills me, too.

Both sounds – the cries and the delights – tear at me when I can’t be right there. The flip side of being only a door away is that I am only a door away. And no white noise or background music can mask a mother’s most immediate and instinctive desire to run to her child.

There are other frustrations, of course. Trying to explain to a toddler why he can’t barge in on his mama whenever he wants a read or a cuddle. Pumping milk for a baby in the room right above my head. Navigating the tricky balance between letting a responsible sitter take charge of their care and feeling tempted to micro-manage since I’m within earshot.

And I’ve learned that living in-between worlds – that of the working mother and the stay-at-home mother – means I’m not good at doing either 100%.

Not being a full-time stay-at-home mom means that on the days when I’m with both boys from dawn till dusk with no break for my work, we are all on each other’s nerves by bedtime. I struggle when I’m home with them full-time.

Not being a full-time working mother means that on the days when I have to leave all day (or week) for meetings or conferences, the whole household is turned upside down to prepare for my extended absence. I struggle to get everything organized – for me and for them – to be gone full-time. To say nothing of hating how it feels to slip out of the house before they wake and return late after they’re back in bed.

So my work and my mothering are decidedly a muddle in the middle. Both/and; neither/nor.

And yet somehow I make it work and find the back-and-forth to be life-giving, if exhausting. I make it work because I love my kids and I love my job. I love using my skills and my gifts and my education to help make a small difference in my corner of the world. I feel called to this work and want to give myself to it.

But even knowing that I am blessed to have choices, and choices between good things, I still feel deeply torn on some days. The tensions I feel between my work and my family will never be fully resolved. I simply have to learn to live as best I can within them and rejoice in the fullness of my life writ large, pulled back from the daily effort required to keep juggling all these balls in the air.

One truth I did not know when I started on this mothering journey was how deeply compromised I would sometimes feel about the choices I would make. How much I would envy moms on one side of the fence or the other. But it turns out that parenting is a much more complicated picture than the pretty pastels I painted it to be in my youth.

Motherhood is also about compromise. And ambivalence. And guilt. And fear that if you choose poorly, you may somehow fail the most precious people in your life.

And when we don’t talk about the shadow side of mothering – when we insist upon the illusions of loving-every-second and complete-and-utter bliss – we sell ourselves short. All of us.

Including the God who mothers. The God who works. And the God who calls all of us to become the people we were created to be: people who give ourselves to work and relationships and service and others.

So I share my struggles here, in this space, with you, because I think it is only in the honest claiming and sharing of our stories that we create a community where diverse decisions and situations can be understood. I stake none of my choices as normative: this is simply the path I carved for myself. But showing the truth of it – the good and the bad – and inviting you to share your own story in turn reveals the many ways in which we are called and create our life out of our many calls.

One wish I have is for better language to share our stories. No “stay-at-home mom” lounges in the comfort of her couch all day, and all moms are “working mothers.” Women are called and gifted to serve the world in a myriad of vocations and professions. And it is the goodness of the work we are each called to do that makes our sacrifices “worth it” in the broadest sense.

So how could we more truthfully and creatively share the stories of the work we do as parents: inside and outside the home, paid and unpaid, for our children and for others? And how might this help us to tell God’s story better, too?

Where do you live in this tension?

How is your parenting shaped by compromise or conflict?

How do you embrace the choices you’ve made?