I don’t think of myself as a great mother.
I have my moments, but the truth is, there are days, many of them, that I am an awful mother. Days when I am embarrassingly selfish. Days when I rant and rave. Days when I crush little feelings with a thoughtless, harsh word, or perhaps worse…neglect. I ignore and make the unimportant things the essential things and relegate tiny, tender hearts to the backseat.
And yet, pinch me, I am among the ranks of the most honored troops in all the world. Soldiers with a job more important than any other, this army of protectors and nurturers- lovers and molders of little souls.
Last night John (nicknamed blondie- but getting sandier by the minute) stopped my heart in its tracks. John couldn’t sleep and came down at 10:00 PM for what was almost a lost moment. But for whatever reason, I pushed selfishness aside and invited John under my wing. My mom used to tell me that God made a copy of her heart and put it in me. The same could be said of my Johnny. We are different in many ways, but the essence of us is stitched with the same thread. The conversation started easy and before I knew it his thoughts gave way to words and his words, abundant treasure for me.
“Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe mom.”
I listened to these heavy, careful words, his doubts, and then he voiced another layer of pain.
“I miss my sister. She’s with Jesus, but that’s all I get to know.” He said it in a whisper, an attempt to ward off escalating emotions. The tears came anyway.
I listened and I didn’t try to fix- I couldn’t. But I did share stories. I gave John pieces of his history he didn’t know. I told him about moments in his earliest years when his panic turned to peace and I told him about his nightmares, bold prayers I prayed, and Jesus coming to him in his dreams. I told him moments where similar emotions and thoughts had benched me and moments when my most pleading prayers gave way to sacred answers that I confided in John. I reminded him that I was the keeper of his stories and that anytime he feared, doubted or forgot who and whose he was, that he could simply ask, “Mom, tell me my stories.”
It’s so easy to forget who we are. Last year my brother wrote my mom a mother’s day card and in it he said, “Mom, I know who I am because of you.” And I thought, could a mom receive any sweeter or more sacred praise from her child? And it’s true- we Sloop kids have that kind of mom. I know who I am because my entire life, Gwen Sloop has been telling me. She is the keeper of my stories…and when life is overcast, my mom is ready to dissipate the fog and send high the sun with the truth of who I am.
Life is messy and our emotions and experiences sometimes take us on a wild ride, sometimes very far from home- the home where we rest at the feet of our Father. The home where we can be at peace in the knowledge that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Sometimes, we are taken very, very far from home where we find ourselves suddenly at war- the battle field of “this present darkness.” These are the front lines where arrows are accusations and rapid gunfire is a vicious devil who makes target practice of our hearts. I am watching my son be pulled onto that battle field now. “He is too young” I want to scream. “Too young! Hands off! Put your weapons down!” And the tears come hot as I feel both fierce and fearful. I want to lock the door and keep him from this brutal world…this relentless enemy. But then the strong voice of the indwelling spirit reassures and exhorts me, “These days are boot camp for the fight ahead and YOU are Mama! This world needs warriors…unlock the door.”
I am a messed up, weary soldier who gets to suit up these boys and whisper daily the battle plan in their ears. I get to listen and tend their hearts and prepare them for the war. Some days they will be badly wounded. They will bleed hard and wince. But with a shield of faith and a helmet of salvation, even on the bloody days, they will be winners. Belief in Christ will guarantee that. But I don’t just want my boys to be winners. I want them to be heroes because of their devotion and dependence on Jesus! I want them to take a hit for another. I want them to chase down scared lambs and bring them back to the fold. I want them to run hard, shouting their battle cry, the name of Jesus, scaring demons away with mighty courage and authority. A Purple Heart, that’s what I want for my boys- badges of honor reserved for heroes.
But there will be those days, the 10:00 at night moments, today, or 30 years from now, when restless hearts can’t find peace and just like my mama…I will be the keeper of their stories. I will remind them who they are when the smoke on the battlefield clouds their thinking. When the sting of the arrow makes the only feeling they can feel, pain. Yes, I will live to tell my children who they are.
I want to be great. I really do. But most of the time what I have to offer is far less than that. I can either sit down in shame for what I cannot be, or I can reframe it…
Some days striving for greatness looks like letting grief wash over me and allowing my children to see what it looks like to reach for Jesus, for rescue amidst the thrashing waves of suffering. And in this, I am giving them an opportunity to practice empathy and compassion, to be stewards of comfort for a day when their wives and children and the sheep all around them will need it. For a day when they themselves will need to know how to fight feelings with faith. And they will remember: This is a path well worn. We traveled it with our mama.
When I grieve…I will teach my boys to be heroes.
Some days striving for greatness looks like stumbling and falling again and again in my selfishness and sin. It looks like being wrecked by the Spirit in conviction and dropping to my knees to meet their little eyes and asking forgiveness. In my failure I model, “we all make mistakes.” In my humility I model, “I am not perfect.” And as I let their forgiveness and His forgiveness wash over me and as I stand in grace and smile and begin again, I show them perfection is not what is required, but drawing close and receiving from the perfect one. I show them that just like the heroes of our faith, (David, Peter, Paul) their mom is a modern day example that mistakes don’t disqualify us, but rather, shape and lead us by grace to the next good moment. Yes, when I fail I am giving my children a path to follow, an example to emulate for the days ahead when they will fall hard with the ones they love most and they will remember: This is a path well worn. We traveled it with our mama.
When I fail…I will teach my boys to be heroes.
I am messy- there is no doubt about that. But this is the “mom” my boys get and I will take every day, even the days I wish I could erase and use them to teach my boys about the One who molds, heals and forgives. I will teach them about the One who loves, empowers and guides. I can’t be the greatest mom in the world, but, I can point them to the greatness of our God and perhaps my imperfection is stewarding greatness in them.
As I finish this post my heart is swollen full with pride and joy. I’ve spent all afternoon writing, meditating on the person I get to be day-in and day-out, to John Christopher, Benjamin Kyle, Elijah Andrew and Jonah Davis. And then there’s my girl, my Anna, the one who made me a mama to begin with. The one who devastated and redefined my life and made motherhood my most urgent plea. Yes- five children have been given to me, one to long for and four to raise. I am the fallible, forgiven and fierce woman who wipes their brows and kisses their boo-boos. I am the one who cooks their meals and launders their clothes. I am the one who grounds them and praises them, disciples and diapers them. I am the one who scratches their backs and feigns interest in Star Wars and baseball. I am the one who buys their pull-ups and deodorant. I am the one who prays for their souls and their wives. But most importantly, I am the keeper of their stories, and what beautiful stories they are to tell.
Dearest Jesus, thank you for making me a mother. Thank you for blessing me with these souls to nurture and mold. Father, for my friends who are hurting today, for the ones who grieve the babies they lost or the babies they never had, bind up their wounds and place abundance in their hands. For the mama’s who are weighed down with the guilt over who they have not been to their little ones, flood them with the grace and power of a new moment and reframe what being a great mother really means. And Lord Jesus, for my friends who are struggling with children who are on the battle field right now, teach them about the power of a moment and that a bended knee is the most powerful weapon of all. Thank you for writing their stories, for entrusting them to us and for letting mothers be the ones to tell our children who they really are. Thank you for the grace to do the hardest, most important job in all the world…