listening to the reality in front of me.

Do you just have the one? It looks like she’s ready for a sibling!

As these words came to me from a virtual stranger, I found myself wanting to run away. How many assumptions had just been made, in this socially acceptable attempt at casual conversation?

What if we were trying and I was infertile? What if I had just had a miscarriage and her words felt like a knife to my heart? What if we didn’t want more kids right now? What if we did? What if there was so much more in my heart than I would ever feel comfortable sharing with someone I had just met?

I honestly don’t even remember what I said in response. Probably something vague and diplomatic, my typical style, in the midst of my loud feelings and imagination on overdrive.

But that question, even though it was over a week ago now, still keeps coming back to mind. It reminds me that we have this idea of what mothering should look like, usually so well-meant. (I have no doubts that my interaction with the stranger came from a kind, hopeful, well-intentioned place.)

We have this idea of what parenting should look like. We have this idea of what we should look like when we graduate. We have this idea of what we should look like when we turn 30. We have this idea of what we should look like in this season or that. And we project that onto our own story, onto others’ stories, without pausing to listen to what is really happening beneath the surface and if that rings true with reality.

I know for myself, I have an idea of what my story should be. I have an idea of what kind of mother I should be, what kind of wife I should be. I have an idea of what kind of friend I should be, what kind of daughter, sister, writer… I have these many well-intentioned good ideas.

But sometimes reality doesn’t match.

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Sometimes these ideas that I thought were wisdom, grounded in Scripture and the examples of good women simply don’t match what I have in front of me.

My circumstances were something I couldn’t have foreseen or predicted. They are out of my control and so different than I imagined.

I’m not married to their husbands. I’m married to this man, in this season, who actually looks a little different than the same man I was married to in our last season.

I’m not the mother of their children with their distinct needs and personalities. I’m the mother to this girl, in this stage, with all her adventuring and humor, her friendly demeanor and independence.

And as similar as we might be, I’m not them. What works for them doesn’t always work for me. 

I’m not even the same as I was in a different season! The things that worked before for me may not match my current reality.

And sometimes, I have to let go of the ideas of who I thought I’d be and listen to the reality in front of me.

I was the girl who would always go to church. I long admired that in my parents and how they didn’t let excuses keep them from their community and hearing God’s word preached. They were faithful to show up every Sunday (with a few exceptions for sickness.)

But then I entered a season where I was so utterly spent, I couldn’t fathom getting out the door on a Sunday morning. I would weep as I tried to muster the energy to get dressed, undone by thinking of the energy it would take to get to church, stand and sing.

And then, I would get permission from my dear husband to stay home and take a nap, no shame. I would weep all over again because this wasn’t my idea of who I would be. I didn’t want to be the girl who didn’t go to church because she couldn’t pull herself together and was barely making it. I didn’t want to be the girl who needed a nap and physical rest more than she needed a sermon and to be with more people. I didn’t want to be the girl who skipped church for something other than the flu. But I was.

The reality was that I had plenty of people and sermons. What I needed more was rest, the physical kind. My weary body and soul didn’t need more pressure to be a certain way, but permission to take a nap and lay on the couch, to read a book for fun and make cookies.

And when I started letting go of the ideas of who I thought I should be and listen to the reality in front of me was when I could receive the grace that had been there all along.

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I find that when I’m being extra especially hard on myself or others, it is often because I’m holding tightly to the story of who I thought I should be or the idea of who they are supposed to be.

But there is no room for grace in “should” or “supposed to.” Grace only comes when I open my heart to the reality at hand, ready and willing to be wrong and let go of what I thought. Grace only comes when I truly listen to what is below the surface, and respond to that, not who I thought I’d be or what was supposed to happen.

There is no shame in being wrong. There is no shame in needing a different story or a different plan. There is no shame in turning out differently than I thought I would be. I think it is all part of being human.

In her book, Colors of Goodbye, September Vaudrey shares her daughter’s Facebook status before going into a hard day of grief for their family:

Today I will be grateful for what was, instead of longing for what should have been. (261)

As I read those words, I’m reminded that I can’t control my circumstances. But I can control how I response. I can choose to be grateful and say yes to grace.

There is no grace in “should” or “supposed to.” And as much as I hate to give up those beautiful ideas of who I was becoming, I know my soul needs grace so much more. I know my soul needs the gratitude of what I have, instead of making myself sick wishing for what doesn’t exist or hasn’t happened yet. That doesn’t mean I ignore the longing or the pain or the grief of what I had hoped for. But it does mean looking it in the eye and saying, “I wanted you to belong here, but you don’t. I need you to move on. You don’t match what is real. At least not today. And I’m determined to be grateful for today.”

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Mother’s Day can be a day heavy-laden with expectations of “shoulds” and “supposed tos”, But it doesn’t have to be. I’m celebrating this day to mamas, and not merely with a sushi date and nail polish and gluten free donuts that I bought myself on behalf of my toddler. This day, I’m doing my best to name the stories I wanted to be true, the person I thought I’d be. If I’m her, that’s okay. If I’m not her, and I’m turning out differently, that’s okay too. (Easier said than done, but I’m doing my best.)

I’m doing my best to open my hands to listen to what the reality is telling me. I’m doing my best to show up and be willing to be wrong if I’ve been listening to the “shoulds” and “supposed tos” more than the grace. 

But I’m celebrating by listening. I’m celebrating in a way that rings true with what I’m hearing beneath the surface.  I’m celebrating with opening my hands to the reality of today, and all the grace that comes with it. 

 

51Y5b8Kwr6L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I was a little bit afraid of this book. No mama wants to read a book where their worst fear became a reality: the death of a child. I sobbed my way through the first 50 pages, but not because it was so horrible. But because it was so brave and beautiful, in the midst of such awful, raw pain. And this is the story of our God, who shows up in the awful, raw pain, never leaving us or forsaking us. September Vaudrey’s vulnerable story of grief and loss, regaining joy and not allowing circumstances to define her was one I couldn’t put down. I felt Jesus in these pages. Jesus was in this story. I’m so grateful for September’s courage to live well, her courage to follow Jesus into the pain, her courage to tell her most painful moments so that others might be brought to Jesus. This book was a gift for my heart as I read about the God who comes near, showing up in our best and our worst.  A solid A+ for me.

Life is hard, and tragedy strikes. Also, life is stunningly beautiful. Both/and. But our circumstances do not have the power to steal our joy without our permission. If our purpose, our identity, our sense of God’s direction hinged on a pain-free life, how precarious the world would be. How weak God would be. How few would ever find true joy.

I now knew from personal experience that the same God who allows pain to enter our lives also sends us comfort, His presence, and more strength than we thought we possessed. And with the sorrow, He extends an invitation for the transformation of our character and a richer, wiser appreciation of life. These were all gifts I never asked for–I would have rather had Katie—but slowly embraced. (226-227)

 

*Tyndale House Publishers have provided me with a complimentary copy of “Colors of Goodbye,” in exchange for my honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. This is beautiful. By God’s grace we can be thankful for all of it! What was, what is and what is to come! I love you Alison! Happy, Happy Mother’s Day! I am so very grateful for you.

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  2. God this is beautiful. Thank you Alison! My spiritual teacher John-Roger created a doctoral program in spiritual science, and one of the keys is to observe what my life is telling me rather than what I think it should be. 🙂 I appreciate your reminder of this!!!

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