I decided who would go on the witness stand and how it would all flow. At the end of the trial, I decided how I would appeal to the jury. Did I want to make them angry? Did I want to make them cry? It was largely in my control.
Then God blessed me with my first two daughters who came seventeen months apart. The skills I learned in the courtroom didn't work with them.
I would say, "Be seated," and they would scream, "No!" Either that or they would fall over because they were too young to be seated. If they didn't follow the rules, there was no stern judge available to intervene to compel their compliance.
In fact, they pretty much controlled the flow of my day. They had the ability, like I did with the jury, to make me angry or to make me cry, both of which they did with alarming skill and regularity.
My focus on being a wonderful mother shifted. I knew that I was going to do some good. healthy things for them. Along the way, I would probably also do some not-so-good, not-so-healthy things as well. But the biggest surprise of my mothering experience has been what my children would do for me.
My pearls of mothering, which I treasure in my heart, have been what I have learned and how I have grown because of my kids. They have been earned at a great price, however.
There is a wonderful story in the Bible about pearls. In Matthew 13: 45-46, it says, "The kingdom of heaven in like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it." (NIV)
Of course, the pearl the passage refers to in the Kingdom of Heaven. Christ is telling us that we should be willing to give up all we have to gain it.
I believe the lessons we learn from being a mother are like that pearl. If we recognize their true value, we should be willing to do whatever we can to gain them. The priceless things that mothering can teach us are sometimes hard and painful and require sacrifice on our part. When we can strip away our preconceived notions about what mothering will be like, we can find the great pearl of knowing something more about the character of our great God.
Many of us have found ourselves on our knees surrounded by colicky babies, dirty diapers, even dirtier houses, hungry toddlers and tired husbands. It was a time when I was on my knees crying to the Lord that this was not what I had planned that He showed me that this was very good. When I felt abused by the menialness of my work because my brain was just too excellent that God had me where he could teach me some things that I desperately needed to learn.
Some of the irritation of mothering is the refinement process that God puts us through. It's like an oyster producing a pearl. To start with, it's not a pearl at all. But as the nitty-gritty sand gets in the shell and polishes and irritates it, what emerges is a perfect pearl. Only God could arrange such a scenario!
So the pearls of motherhood, the pearls of great price, which I have found are not at all what I thought they would be, but they are very, very good.
You see, I've been able to take my focus off of my agenda, my plans and my schedule to let God show me His agenda, His plans and His schedule. When I stopped fighting this refining process, and allowed myself to remain in God's oyster shell while He did His work with me, then I began to gain some real pearls.
Gary Smalley wrote a book called Making Love Last Forever and he says sometimes all of life's trials, hardships, hurts and pain are our own personal "sand storms" and we need to take those sand storms and transform them into pearl counting - to see how many pearls we can find in a difficult situation and sometimes the situation is so difficult that we can get ourselves a whole pearl necklace out of it! But it takes time - months for an oyster to create a pearl and even longer for an exquisite pearl.
Mothering has taught me patience which has led to peace. It required a surrender on my part to cease my striving to control and orchestrate everything and to let God's will unfold in my life. When I gave up that need to control, much of my anger and frustration dissipated, which led to peace. Mothering has brought me greater peace that any other human activity in my life.
I wanted to do something grand and spectacular with my life. Most of my colleagues where I worked before are judges or involved in politics. That was where I was headed - because that was where I felt I could be in control. Having two kids in diapers and bottles has taught me that I'm not in control of anything.
It is no coincidence that each time Jesus defines what is great or significant in life, he is reaching to life or embrace a child. If God has blessed us with children, he has given us a mission to change the world - one child at a time - starting with the children in your home. Teach them to love and serve the Lord and you will be engaging in the most important vocation possible. Out of the grit of irritation in the oyster shell has emerged - peace and patience.
Mothering small children has increased my endurance. Someone once said that mothering is not a sprint race - it's a marathon. If we want to reach the end, we need to learn to pace ourselves and increase our endurance. Focusing on God's enduring love for me has helped me to see further down the road with my own children and to endure the race of parenting. It has helped me to endure and remain confident. It has encouraged me to "persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised." (Hebrews 10: 36, NIV)
Part of endurance is pacing yourself. Sometimes as moms, we want to live life so intensely - have all these activities and experiences for the children - but we have a long way to go with them. Sometimes the one who completes the race is the one who is ahead - not the one who has run out of enthusiasm and energy before the children are grown.
Did you ever notice that Jesus never hurried? Here was our God, literally, with the weight of the world on his shoulders and he was never burned out, or complaining about being overworked. "Aw, gee, I've got to go do some more miracles today." Or, "O well, I've got to forgive a lot of sins today." He never had this weird thing about time that we have - we're always trying to work smarter, be more efficient, do more in less time. I read an article in a magazine about this once, and the writer, talking about Jesus, says He never said to himself, "Maybe I need that new calendar system I saw on my last trip into Jerusalem. All the rabbis say it has revolutionized their schedules." (Lisa Marzano, "Too Busy to Obey?" Discipleship Journal, No. 111, p. 82)
Jesus didn't worry about programs, schedules, plans and priorities. He did the work of the Father. He relinquished himself to be about his father's business, and that keep him is peace and gave him the strength to see his work through to the end.
God has worked on my attitude and has let me know that he accepts my imperfect work as a mother - even when I fail, I lose it, and I scream. Just as my children continually forgive me for being less than perfect, God accepts me in my weakness, which acceptance I can then extend to those around me.
That's the neatest thing about God's love. When you realize that he can accept and love you - your heart opens up and you see that you can be overflowing with love for other people.
R: Rough Spots
God has shepherded me through the rough spots of mothering - the nights with high fevers, the nine year old learning to be saucy. Relying on His strength, we have weathered much and He has continually restored us to health and harmony. Trying to rough it on our own, without His guidance and strength, was disastrous.
In those rough spots, and we've had a lot, I have longed for a checklist, or a program to follow. When I faced a cancer scare, I prayed, "OK Lord, tell me how you want me to handle this one." When we had an adoption fall through, I prayed, "OK Lord, tell me your point here. Don't you want us to build our family?" When I confronted some cardiac problems at age 43 with four little children, my desperate prayer was, "Why, Lord?" Tell me how to handle it Lord, tell me what to do and I'll do it.
But God says, love me and love your neighbors - and I'll work out the rough spots. Jesus had rough spots. He went through them because he had an intimate, loving, trusting relationship with the Father. Jesus went through the rough spots of his time on earth because his father told him to. And yet we complain that sometimes life is too hard. We have no idea what pearls God has in store for us from those rough spots.
God has shown me His lasting love, which is the perfect model for my love for my children. His word tells us, "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails." (1 Cor. 13: 4-8, NIV)
There could be no more perfect description of the love I seek to model for my children.
Finally, He has given me great satisfaction at being a servant. I was raised and educated to aspire to being in charge of the world. I never knew true happiness until I figured out somewhere deep in my heart that my only true satisfaction would be found in serving my Lord Jesus Christ and in serving my family. No other calling has brought such satisfaction.
The attitude of servanthood is what has saved my marriage. Mark and I were both so power hungry that we nearly destroyed one another - only after getting back to the deep practice of our faith and realizing that relationships were about serving one another did we find peace and balance in our relationship.
What are the ways we benefit from this pearl counting?
We can be more connected to others and share their joy and pain.
When I'm in the grocery store now and somebody's kid is acting up, I feel for them - I'll try to distract the kid, make them laugh. I used to just feel irritation.
We can have a greater trust in God. If He saw you through this trial, he will surely see you through the next.
We can be less anxious about what lies ahead.
We can reorganize our priorities in response to something God has shown us in a challenging time.
We can be a help to others because of our experience.
Old story about a tree - everyone in the village came and hung their troubles on the tree. You could trade troubles with someone else. When everyone's troubles were out there, exposed for everyone else to see, no one wanted to switch. They decided to keep the troubles they had. They took their troubles off the tree and went home.
These are my pearls. I can tell you more about them. This is the one of the death of my parents, this is the one of the murder of my sister-in-law, this is the one of miscarriages. But if I looked at your pearls, maybe one of yours is the sickness of a husband or even the death of a child. I wouldn't want your pearls any more than you would want mine. And ten years ago, I wouldn't have given you anything for mine. Frankly, I would have rather avoided them. Now, like the merchant in the book of Matthew, I would give everything for the lessons my trials have taught me and for the peace they have brought me.
What are the pearls God has given you as mothers? Were they handed to you in a fancy jewelry box with a gold bow on top? Or were they hatched out of the sand and irritation of a nasty old oyster shell? Would you trade them?