I am truly honored and grateful to my dear friend, Jenny, who has kindly shared this post with her readers at her blog, Mama Needs Coffee. Her writing is an inspiring font of both wisdom and humor, and I hope that you will visit her often. You will not be disappointed!
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Of the many lessons motherhood has taught me over the past fifteen years, perhaps the most meaningful one is to be fully present to and embrace the little moments of each day. Whoever said it's the little moments that make a big life spoke truth.
I pray it's a truth I can abide by, because every day I feel challenged to stay tuned in to the beauty of the life around me, especially when there are so many seemingly important distractions vying for my attention.
I was reminded of this "be fully present" truth in quite a profound way last summer. While standing at the kitchen table, upon which I was constructing freshly laundered towers of underwear and t-shirts, my task was happily interrupted when our three oldest sons burst through the front door, joyfully announcing their homecoming after being away for a week at their grandparents' farm.
In a split second, the house erupted with testosterone filled chatter. Smiling, I made my way with arms wide open toward the sweet chaos. In that moment, the Holy Spirit took hold of my heart and fixed it firmly upon the reunion of the oldest boys with the younger ones. The intensity of their joy was indescribable.
Before I knew it, I was reaching out for my camera and managed to snap a few fuzzy pics (nothing works right when you're crying), hoping to capture the purity of the affection between the brothers as they delighted in being in one another's presence once again.
I've looked at these photos dozens of times since that day, with the hope of understanding, with greater clarity, exactly what it was about the reunion between our sons that gripped me so strongly.
Seeing them embrace was a transcendental moment, for sure. It was a glimpse of the eternal, and it made me feel as though nothing else in the world mattered but their love - a love whose origins are rooted in the love that my Husband and I share, a love that is fruitful only because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).
In my contemplation of the photos, the word "testimony" kept coming to mind. I wasn't sure why, but I let it simmer inside of me for a few weeks, during which I asked the Lord over and over again, why of the thousands of photos I've taken of our children is this the one that has marked my memory for life?
And, I think, perhaps that this is why...
Because, there is a testimony in those photos.
We live in a time where, now more than ever, people hunger and thirst for a testimony of love. I'm not speaking of romantic love here, but the love that emanates from self-gift - the real, strangely indescribable, yet beautiful love that flows forth from surrender, from struggle, from the abandonment of one's life plans for the unplanned life - the kind of love that seeks an eternal home, and awaits the ultimate homecoming.
As a mother, I've experienced such a love of surrender in countless tangible and profound ways, and I would like to share one testimony of that love with you...
We are a nation of planners. It's written in our DNA. As soon as we can talk, we are being asked questions that involve the making of plans.
What do you want to do today? Where would you like to go? What do you want to be when you grow up?
And those simple questions evolve into more complex ones, ones that look to the future, hoping that future is as bright and promising as the detailed list of goals and adventures we've carefully written for ourselves.
We plan which schools our children should attend, which activities to devote our time to, which career path to take, which person to date, which house will make all of our Pinterest dreams come true.
We plan for the life that will bring us the most comfort, satisfaction, happiness and fulfillment, a plan that avoids pain, and embraces comfort, shirks suffering and follows the path of least resistance.
Why do we do this? Because we're human.
And, in our humanity, it's easy to believe that we know what is best for us.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that planning is a bad thing, or trying to avoid a life full of disasters and disappointments is either. On the contrary, planning and preparing are two very good and necessary things.
But, sometimes it's a greater good and necessary thing to let go of the script, and allow Someone else to help write your story.
Two weeks after Steve and I were married, I was pulling weeds out of the landscaping that edged the house that we were renting, when suddenly I felt dizzy, almost nauseous.
It's just the crazy Kansas heat I told myself. No biggie.
Actually, it kind of was a biggie. A super-sized biggie.
Let's just say that that same evening I greeted my hard working farmer husband with a hot plate of roast beef and mashed potatoes served with a side of pregnancy test - the plus sign kind.
Well that was not my plan! Actually, getting married fresh out of college really wasn't part of my life plan either, but this, this was like the Lord went from using a pick-axe to a wrecking ball on my carefully orchestrated ideals . Hasta la vista, project "Susan's life!"
I may not have known what in the world the Lord was doing with me back then, but I did know that as He was slowly loosening my grip on all of the mission work, teaching career, and travel-the-world plans that I had made for myself, He was planting a desire in my heart for something different.
What I found in that fresh desire, by way of providential circumstances and opportunities, was a great sense of freedom to open my eyes to the possibilities of a new path. A freedom to let go of everything I thought I wanted, and the courage to hold on tightly to everything He wanted for me.
As a lover of the philosophies of John Paul II, I had deeply and earnestly embraced his words, Be not afraid, and Man cannot fully find himself except through sincere gift of himself. But, now those words were taking on new meaning, and living them in the form of motherhood was quite different than writing them down in my tidy little book of favorite quotes.
Don't get me wrong, despite the state of shock I was in over being pregnant, I was also terribly excited. Steve and I both approached the altar fully and completely open to life, and even shared a great hope of having a large family one day. I just thought we might do something crazy before having babies, like actually go on our honeymoon (yeah, there's a reason why farmers don't get married in the summer)!
I look back, with great fondness, upon those early days of marriage and motherhood, especially the ones where we were living from pay-check to pay-check, with two boys under the age of two, in an apartment complex full of exactly zero couples our age who also had children.
We were definitely the odd-balls on the block. The other twenty-somethings all had jobs and dogs, and looked at us as if we were some unfortunate Catholic couple who was drowning in the NFP Kool-Aid.
But, you all know that things are rarely what they seem.
I'm telling you, we had nothing, and yet we had everything.
There were no cell phones, or new cars, no casual dinners out, no gym memberships, no Saturday morning lattes sipped while shopping, no travel plans. Instead, there was a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and garage sales, and bike rides, and great anticipation of daddy coming home from work because, without texting, life is full of surprises!
But, best of all, there were babies. And, despite the fact that we were in the red nearly every single month for two years, those babies NEVER ONCE made me feel like I was missing out on something better. I didn't know it then, but I see very clearly now, that they were the very best gift I could ever have received.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and rely not upon your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.
Why am I telling you all this? Because I have a hunch that maybe there's a few of you out there who aren't quite sure if a baby or another baby is really going to fit into your plan of life.
I also have a hunch, ladies, that maybe you just need to hear someone say, I believe in you. You can do this. Don't worry about what others expect of you, what they might think of you or say about you if you welcome another child into this world.
I've been there, too - afraid, unsure, lonely, misunderstood. I've heard the criticisms and condescension, and I'm here to tell you that every little tiny ounce of fear, every unkind word was worth enduring for these little ones!
If you are afraid of welcoming a child or another child into the world, for fear of it being too difficult, please hear me when I say that babies are not the difficult thing.
It is the letting go of the plans we have for ourselves and the things that we think will make us happy, trusting firmly that the Father's grace is sufficient for us - that is the difficult thing.
If we go back to Catechism 101, we learn that our goal as Christians is to know God, to love God, and to serve God so that we may be happy with him in this life and in the next. It doesn't say anything about serving ourselves. To serve God is not always the easy path to take, but it is the one that will truly bring about an authentic happiness, which is joy.
I put my self-serving plans before the Lord, and most of them did not match up with His plans for me. In His will I have found great joy. Thank God. Literally.
But, the truly beautiful fruit of trust is knowing that, within the wreckage of our plans, the rubble-remains of who we were and what we thought we wanted, we will find it is the very place where Lord does His very best work. He wants to, and he CAN, build the most beautiful life for us, if we let Him.
We have welcomed six sons through financial strain, illness, career changes, multiple moves, losses of friendships and loved ones, as well as countless adversities that I'm sure cannot even begin to compare with the sufferings so many others have endured.
And, yet, I'll say it again: there wasn't ever one moment when we felt that the burdens of life, the tears, and the anxiety would be lessened if only we had fewer children. In fact the opposite is true.
Children are a beacon of light in the darkness, an anchor of joy in the storm, a pure witness to all that is true and good and beautiful in this world - the very reminder we need believe that those things still exist, to give us reason to hope in God's plans for us all.
I witness this reality day after day as our children are the greatest comfort to my husband who is fighting through a very tough battle with Lyme disease. He has told me over and over what a gift our boys are, and what a great consolation they are to him.
We're all free to choose how we want to live our lives, God will never take that freedom from us, because He loves us. But, there's a greater freedom in choosing Him, in wanting to follow Him, and I suppose that's the catch.
When I look at those photos of my sons, I don't want to escape. I don't want a different life, a different story. I want to honor this testimony, to live most fully in and present to the little moments, and let God continue to do the planning - come what may.
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord.
Plans for welfare and not for harm, to give you a future full of hope.