The Gift of Time

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about time.  For one thing, where has the summer gone?  Can it really be August? And then there’s the Olympics.  Are you as fascinated by the incredible feats of those marvelous athletes as I am?  Think of the time—hours and days, months and years—these men and women have put in prior to that one race in the pool, that one gymnastics routine.  And then it is all decided in moments—seconds, actually.  How many medals have been lost to another competitor by one hundredth of a second?

But most of all this summer I’ve been thinking of the gift of time.  Specifically, the gift of more time with two of my grandchildren than I’ve ever had before.  Erika and Richie and their 3 ½-year-old Gabriella and 11-month-old Judah lived with us for 6 ½ weeks from mid-June through July.  What a gift that was!

It gave me opportunity to enjoy everyday moments with them.   Not just family outings, carnival rides, exploratory walks, or a dip in the lake.  Not just summer fun riding horseback at the Children’s Museum, splashing in the little backyard pool, and making 4th of July Little Cheesecakes.  But also just watching.  Watching Judah learn to crawl, build with with blocks, or play who-gets-the-spoon over breakfast.  Watching Gabriella feed her mom’s old Teddy Ruxpin, goof around over breakfast—or just wake up in the morning with all her friends.   Moments in time.  Memories made.

I savored every one of these memories.  Nanas get to do that.  There’s not so much time the first time around, when you’re raising your own little ones.  But it did make  me think of all of you.  Every one of you moms for whom summer may be flying by—or feeling like forever.  Every one of you Nanas who may be enjoying similar moments with your grandchildren.

Wherever this summer may find you—savoring or maybe just merely “surviving” (there are all these different moments in a mom’s life, aren’t there?)—I pray that you may take just a few moments to look at the faces before you.  Like Emily in the play Our Town, look at them like you really see them.   And now and then in your busy life, pause and take a snapshot—with a camera, or even with just your memory.  A moment in time.  A gift.  Thank you, God, for the gift of time.

Welcome to a new grandson

He's here!   Praise God with us for a new grandson!  Judah Anderson Cronin was born in Dublin, Ireland, at 12:33 am on Saturday August 27, just 33 minutes into his due date.  Mommy, Daddy, and big sister Gabriella are doing well.  And Nana is loving getting acquainted with Judah as well as playing with Gigi (Gabriella's nickname)  while mommy is busy with the new baby. His name means "I will praise the Lord," and that's just what we're doing.  Please join us!

A Summer Treat: Bittersweet

Here’s a book to pack in your beach bag—or just curl up with at home when your kids are napping.  Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way,  by Shauna Niequist.   It’s a great “snatch book,” as each chapter stands alone (almost like a blog post), so you can savor it bit by bit as you have time.

I loved Shauna’s previous book, Cold Tangerines.   But this one is even better.  Maybe it’s simply because she has lived longer.  Shauna writes out of her life.  And Bittersweet is written out of a season in her life that has been just that.  A time of growth and accomplishment and fulfillment as a woman, a wife, a writer, and now a mother.  But also a time of great change, deep loss, and bitter disappointment.

How do we make sense of such a life?  It’s an important question to ask, because we will all live in such a season—if not now, then sooner or later.  When Shauna writes of finding grace and forgiveness and healing and hope—even joy—amidst hardness and heartache and barrenness, her voice rings true.

The book is also—trust me—a fun read.  The cover alone will get you.  Check it out and you’ll see what I mean.  When I gave the book to my daughter, her two year-old went for it immediately, exclaiming, “Mmmmm!  Chocolate!”  (A girl after my own heart, that child!)  You foodies will love how Shauna describes her journey in terms of memorable meals.  She loves to cook as much as she loves to write, and this is a delicious read.

But the book is more than that.  All mothers will identify with Shauna’s reflections on motherhood.  There’s such joy when she writes about her son, Henry.  And such wisdom in her call for community with other moms, rather than comparison and competition.  And her pleas for older, wiser experienced moms in her life. Of course, you know what I was thinking: “That’s just why we have Mom to Mom!”

On a personal level, I was deeply moved by the chapters dealing with miscarriage and infertility and loss: “Heartbeat,” What Might Have Been,” and “On Crying in the Bathroom.”  Having personally experienced the same kind of miscarriage Shauna had, it was “déjà vu” for me.  But it is important reading for all mothers—not only for those who have experienced loss, but also for those who want to walk well alongside another on this journey.

On a very practical level, the chapter “Things I Don’t Do” is worth the price of the book.  Shauna’s cure for the “Do Everything Better” syndrome is must-reading for every one of us recovering-perfectionist moms!

Ultimately, Bittersweet points readers to God.  As Shauna puts it:”My life is a story about God and what He does in a human heart.” (p. 240)   It’s a story worth reading!

You Gotta Keep Laughin’!

women laughing together

I recently returned from a trip to Michigan in which I met lots of moms - moms from three different Mom to Mom groups.  Some were young moms with their first new baby; others had a houseful of toddlers and preschoolers. Some were celebrating their kids going back to school, others bemoaning kids who’d left for college.  Yet others were mentor moms comparing notes (and pictures, of course!) about grandchildren.   We all had one thing in common.  Actually, we all had a lot in common.  But one thing that struck me particularly was that we all so desperately need to keep laughing!

I was speaking on the topic “Can You Really Love Your Kids and Your Life—at the Same Time?”  As I looked out on these audiences of moms, two things were obvious: First, these moms really love their kids.  They really, really do.  But also, these moms desperately need to be able to laugh with other moms about the daily “mission impossible” challenges of being a mom.  Sometimes it’s a matter of survival.  At the very least, it makes being a mom more fun.

As I talked with moms after each session, we found ourselves laughing a lot.  Not that we didn’t have serious conversations.  Some very heavy things were shared, and I find myself still praying for some of the moms I met.  But I also noticed how crucial it was for these moms to hold on to their sense of humor.

There was the one mom who came half an hour early for our Mom to Mom Dessert Night because it just felt so good to get out of the house and let her husband put the kids to bed.  She wasn’t in any hurry to leave, either, when the party was over.  Even though she spent a good bit of her time showing me pictures of her two adorable little girls.  :)   And there was the mom who told me “Hey, we’re doing pretty well even though my kids are so close together in age.  I haven’t put any up on Craig’s List yet!”   Laughter really is one of the best medicines for a mom.

All this reminded me of an older woman I knew many years ago who influenced me more than she ever knew.    She was the woman I wanted to be when I grew up.  An older woman in our church that most people called Grammy Perkins,  she was one of the funniest—and Godliest—women I ever knew.  And that, I must say, is one fantastic combination!

She led the Tuesday morning women’s prayer group at our church.  And what mighty prayer warriors those women were!  I remember my dad often commenting that it was the prayers of those women that got him through the completion of a manuscript he was writing on the Old Testament—and even got it published with a big-name publisher.

Grammy Perkins was also one spunky lady.  One of the best stories I heard about her was how she got her driver’s license.  As an older woman (I don’t know how old she was.  She seemed very old to me—but then I was in fifth grade at the time!),  she had never learned to drive.  She kept telling her husband she was going to learn. “Oh, Julia,” he’s say.  “You know you’re never going to do that at your age.  In fact if you got your license, I would buy you any car you want.”  That was all Julia needed. Out she went and enrolled in driver training classes—right along with all those teenagers.  And, unbeknownst to her husband, she got her license.  Then one night he came home for dinner to find her brand new license hanging from the chandelier  in the dining room—along with a note on the kind of car she wanted.  And she got it!

But what I remember most about her was a little prayer she said she often had to pray: “Lord, fix me up, Lord, fix me up.”

Oh, how often I need to pray that prayer.  “Lord, fix me up, Lord fix me up.”  As a young mom with small children, as a mother of teens, even now as a grandmother.  It’s a prayer I need regularly.  And I notice, along with wonderful Grammy Perkins, that one of the ways God works in me, one of the way He fixes me up, is through laughter.  Truly, it is good medicine.  Often, it is God’s medicine.

I believe it was Charles Swindoll who said, “Of all the things God created, I am often most grateful He created laughter.”  I think Grammy Perkins would agree.  Especially for moms.

Praying and laughing—perhaps the two most crucial ingredients for a mom.  My prayer for you is that  you’re doing lots of  both!

SuperMom vs. Truly Having It All

Recently, I was asked to speak on the topic “The Myth of the SuperMom.”  My first reaction was: the title says it all—SuperMom is a myth.

SuperMom simply doesn’t exist.  Not in real life, anyway.  SuperMom is a figment of our mom-imaginations.  She is the mom everyone else seems to be—and the mom we can’t seem to measure up to.  The imaginary mom we come up with when we compare our inside (how we feel about ourselves as moms) with everyone else’s outside (the “successful” moms we see all around us).

But this is a very persistent myth.  Years ago, Erma Bombeck wrote about “Sharon,” the SuperMom.  Sharon not only “color-coordinated the children’s clothes and put them in labeled drawers, laundered aluminum foil and used it again, planned family reunions, wrote her congressman, cut everyone’s hair, and knew her health insurance number by heart”; she also “planned a theme party for the dog’s birthday, made her children Halloween costumes out of old grocery bags . . . and put a basketball hoop over the clothes hamper as an incentive for good habits.”

The problem was, as Bombeck discovered long ago, everyone considered Sharon a SuperMom except her kids.  They preferred hanging out at a neighbor’s house.

SuperMom, it turns out, would not really be that great a mom after all—even if she really did exist.  Why?  Because real kids do not need a SuperMom.

They do not need a SuperMom because, first of all, SuperMom is FakeMom—a mom who is trying to impress everyone within viewing distance that she has it all together—and so do her kids.  The real story tends to be very different.  The real inside-the-house story.  Just ask her kids.

Why?  Because SuperMom is trying to do so many things, accomplish so much, fit so many things into her schedule, that she often misses the most important things.  The things—or rather the people, the husband and kids—right in front of her.

In addition, SuperMom tends to do way too much for her kids—to give them too much, to protect them too much, to hover too much.  At the same time she tends to expect too much from her kids just as she does from herself.  After all, a SuperMom must have SuperKids, right?  Talk about pressure!

Furthermore, even if SuperMom were the real thing, she wouldn’t be much good at preparing her kids for real life.  The real life where we can’t do it all, be it all, have it all.  The real life most of us live.

No, your kids do not need SuperMom.  They need RealMom.  They need a real, authentic mom who acknowledges her human-ness, her limitations, even her mess-ups.  She is willing to apologize when needed, to live within healthy boundaries, and to learn along with her children.  RealMom laughs a lot more than SuperMom.

Most importantly, she is willing to acknowledge that she doesn’t “have it all.”  But she knows where to go to get what she needs.  No, she doesn’t have all wisdom, all strength, all patience, all knowledge.  But she knows the One who does have all these things.  The One Who promises to be strength in our weakness, wisdom in our confusion, and patience when ours has long ago run out.

Recently, I came across a verse that jumped out at me in a new way as a great mom-verse.  It’s 2 Corinthians 9:8: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (italics mine)

It’s a totally different perspective on “having it all,” isn’t it?  God doesn’t expect us to be SuperMom.  He already knows we’re not.  And He loves us anyway.  Not only does He love us; but He provides for us “all we need”—all grace at all times for all things.  That’s a promise I can live on.

And what’s more, so can my kids.  They learned long ago that they didn’t have SuperMom.  It wasn’t just the magnet on the refrigerator: “So I’m not SuperMom. Adjust.”   They knew it in everyday life.  But I like to think it was good preparation for their life as not SuperParents.  Now, I must say how grateful I am that my kids are such good parents.  But I hope they don’t expect themselves to be SuperParents.

Being real parents—real moms and real dads—turns out to be so much more fun.  You know you will make mistakes, but you also know that God—and kids—are very forgiving.  You know you don’t “have it all.”  But you know where to go to get all you need.  Very freeing, actually.  Much more fun.  Better for your kids.  And you laugh a whole lot more, don’t you think?

Babies, Brain Freeze, and January Thaws

It’s been a long time since I’ve written. One of the reasons for that is that we’ve had a houseful of babies. Actually, only one real baby. We had the great delight of having Gabriella (and her parents) here for almost two glorious weeks. We loved every minute. What a gift this Nana has had—first, nearly three weeks in Dublin with Erika, Richie, and Gabriella and then nearly two weeks with them here.

And we had other “babies” as well. Of course Bengt at age three and Soren at age two are definitely not—as they would be sure to tell you—babies. Bengt is even sleeping in a “big boy bed,” and Soren is clearly a “big boy” compared to his baby cousin “Gabby-umbrella.” But still, they are (don’t tell them) our grandbabies.

And they brought their parents along—you know, the ones who used to be our babies but somehow, when we weren’t looking, grew up and learned to fly airplanes and lead groups and direct ministries. And move far away—too far, as a matter of fact.

But we had them all here for a few short days over New Year’s. It was a house-full—wonderful, glorious chaos. But then they left. And now the house is quiet and neat and organized (well, sort of) again. And I’m not liking it much at all.

It’s also led to a fairly serious problem—brain freeze. For the past week or so, my brain has been frozen. I have things to do, blogs to write, teaching and speaking to plan. But my brain seems to be frozen. No motivation. No new ideas. No creative bursts of energy. All I want to do is go back and relive the chaos days, when everyone was home and the house was messy and noisy and full of life.

Any of you experiencing brain freeze? In talking to a few other people, I’m learning that it does seem to afflict others, especially in January. Now here in Wisconsin you could say it is weather-related. We’ve had many below-zero days and wind chills as low as 30-40 below. But it is actually quite warm and toasty in my house. I really don’t think I can blame it on the weather.
I think it’s kind of a January thing. It comes for different reasons for all of us. For some of you, there actually may be some relief in January in having the kids go back to school. You’re still scratching your head about how I could wish to go back to a chaotic, noisy house. But then there’s the stuff you left to do until after the holidays. The return to the routine. The weather. I know—those of you in the south think it’s cold even down there in January. Just don’t tell us Northerners too much about it!

Which leads me to the last part of my blog title: January thaw. OK, this part is wishful thinking. Though we are experiencing some temperatures in the 20’s, there’s no January thaw in the Milwaukee area. But I’m thinking it would be nice. And it may come someday—by, say, April.
But I do think my brain may be beginning to thaw out just a bit. After all, I’m writing to you . . . Now if only I could get some great creative bursts of energy in my writing and planning of talks.
Which is where you come in. I’m curious: Do any of you have January brain freeze? Any ideas on how to thaw out?

Also, I could use your help. Mom to Mom is planning a fun new event in Austin, Texas, this February 20-21. (Read about it here.) The event theme is “Motherhood: Simplified,” and we’re very excited about it. In fact, even despite my brain freeze, I’m at work right now on three keynote talks.

Of course, all you moms know we don’t mean “Motherhood Made Easy.” There’s certainly no such thing! But we can make it less complicated than our culture seems to say. So I’d love to hear from any of you who have some insights or hot tips on ways you’ve found to simplify your life.

Who knows? Maybe the warmth of hearing from you will even help my brain thaw…

Babies, Mamas . . . and their Mamas

I’m back! After 18 wonderful days (and nights—well, maybe they weren’t always so wonderful!) with Gabriella and her parents, I’m back home. And I’m up way too early. Amazing what jet lag does to you—it is, after all, nearly halfway through the day in Dublin.

In these dark and cold (here on the frozen tundra, our backyard thermometer reads below zero—I’m not sure I want to know how much below) early morning hours, I’m thinking thoughts of babies and mothers—and, of course, also the mothers of those mothers.

I’ve come home from my immersion in new-baby-land with two big impressions.

First, I am newly amazed and awed at the love God gives to a mother for her child. To both parents, really—but I am writing primarily to mothers here. It’s amazing what a mother will go through. Not only to give birth—that’s medal-of-honor material in itself. But how about the absolute and complete re-arrangement of your life when you bring that baby home? Topsy-turvy days and nights—if you can even tell the difference! Painful tenderness in all kinds of body parts you rarely thought about before. The need for a caravan (and household staff) just to get you out the door. I really don’t need to go on—you all remember this!

It was a great privilege to watch my daughter become, seemingly almost instantly, such a wonderful mother. And to see the way both Richie and Erika love this beautiful child beyond words even amidst their sleep-deprived fog of new parenting. I have new admiration for all of you reading this who are doing (and have done) the same thing.

My second big impression is a bit more personal. I just have to say that it is hard—very hard—to leave a daughter and granddaughter and get on a plane and fly 8 or 9 hours in the other direction. I envy any of you nanas who don’t have to do this. But this morning I’ve actually moved beyond my personal little pity party. I find myself thinking differently about the Christmas story.

For the first time ever, I find myself thinking of Mary’s mother. I’ve often thought of what that journey to Bethlehem on a donkey must have been like for just-about-to-deliver Mary. In fact, Erika and I talked often of this as we rocked Gabriella in the middle of the night.

But for some reason, I had never thought about Mary’s mother. The Bible tells us nothing about her, so of course this is all speculation. But what must it have been like to see your daughter set off on such a journey at such a time? And then probably not to see (or possibly even hear from) your child—and grandchild—for most likely several years? This was, after all, way before frequent flyer miles and email and Skype and cheap international phone rates!

I just read, for seemingly the thousandth time, Mary’s words to the angel upon learning of the Child she was to bear. The angel Gabriel has just answered Mary’s very human questions with the reminder that “nothing is impossible with God.” And Mary responds (in Luke 1:38), “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

Those words have always astounded me. Stopped me right in my tracks. Made me almost speechless. And this morning I’m wondering whether Mary’s own mother had a similar heart response. And maybe that’s what made it possible for her to let Mary go.

Where did they (both Mary and, maybe—just maybe—her mom, too) get the strength to do this? The answer may just lie in my new granddaughter’s name. Gabriella means, I’ve just learned, “God gives strength.” And He does, doesn’t He? To mamas and their mamas all over the world. Then and now. Thank you Jesus! And may each of your reading this feel His strength this Advent season.

A closing personal note: I can’t resist including a few extra pictures this time—thanks for indulging this “Nana.” And . . . one more bit of exciting news from our family: we’re going to have another granddaughter in May! Lars and Kelly just learned from her ultrasound that Bengt is going to get the baby sister he’s been wanting. Lots to celebrate in our family this year. We give thanks.