This Ain’t a Vacation, But It Is a Vocation

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I loved my work before kids – the mental challenges, adult conversations, the interactions with community leadership.  I received a modest but respectable paycheck from my non-profit agency. I had the opportunity every day to positively influence the lives of my staff members and the kids we worked with. I enjoyed it so much that I fully intended to work, at least part-time, after I had kids.

But then there was a tough first pregnancy, bedrest, early contractions, preeclampsia, delivery at 36 weeks, 7 ear infections in the first year, and a baby that slept an average of 7 hours total each day. Combine that with the fact that my husband was gone most of the time as a fairly new airline pilot, reality set in and I resigned from what I thought would be an ideal part-time continuation of my work. And I never went back.

That decision has given me the fullest joy I have know in this life but also a deep struggle with my identity. I defaulted into stay-at-home-mom because of circumstances, and 16 years later, I am finally learning to fully embrace it with a spirit of gratitude and wonder.

My kids all somehow made it out of diapers and started walking and talking, but every time I had a newborn, the experience felt alien to me. I loved those tiny, squirmy humans as much as I knew how, but I had to grow into it.

I remember holding my screaming 5 month-old firstborn in the middle of the night begging him to quickly become a real human I could relate to, and at the same time, begging God to grant me the mercy not to fall asleep walking and drop him on his head. I was lonely, and no one gave me a paycheck for doing 3 times the work I had been doing just a few short months earlier. Every time I filled out some stupid form and had to write “homemaker” in the blank, I was tempted to staple my feeding schedule and to-do list to the back.

9 months in, I was being called “Mama”, but I had no certain sense of a calling to be a Mom.

Frederick Buechner in Secrets in the Dark:We can speak of ourselves as choosing our vocations, but perhaps it is at least as accurate to speak of our vocations choosing us, of a call’s being given and lives our hearing it, or not hearing it.

I know a bunch of sweet Mamas that knew they were “called” to motherhood by the time they were just out of diapers themselves. They loved the cooing, cuddling, and nursing. They loved the blasted maternity clothes, of all things! I felt completely mystified and was pretty sure I had not been called like they had. But I was dead wrong. I might not have sensed the same calling on an emotional level, but I was “named” the moment that each new life was conceived.

Just like any career, my parenting career has had its ups and downs. I have probably been too lenient and disorganized, sometimes woefully lacking in follow-through. I have had my own personal crises and griefs that have sidelined me on occasion. But, I have stuck with it. I have learned new skills. I’ve watched the experts. I’ve stumbled through difficult conversations and had occasional moments of brilliant insight.

I can see how my own brokenness might add to my children’s struggles, but I can rejoice in the fact that, just like my gifts, my brokenness is part of their stories. My mistakes keep me humble, keep me on my knees. My blunders give me the opportunity to teach my kids how to say, “I’M SORRY” and “PLEASE FORGIVE ME.”

As my kids quickly approach adulthood, it is tempting to look back and despair about all the things I missed or could have done better. But what I’m trying to do instead is to remember that this is MY JOB. It still has not paid me one pretty penny, but I am starting to see that there is no paycheck that could equal the dividends that this investment will realize.

Understanding this work as a huge part of my personal vocation softens the angry slamming of doors and keeps me settled when eyes roll. It gives me strength for teary, late night heart-to-hearts, and makes me savor the youngest one waking me up in the middle of the night to snuggle after a bad dream.

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I have other vocational dreams with writing and music, but I don’t feel rushed or pressured by that. My hope is that embracing motherhood, not just as an occupation, but as a vocation, will just give me more joy and wisdom and heartache and adventure to write about.

My friend, Len Woods, also wrote about this concept of vocation this week (Here is a link to the beautiful blog he writes with his amazing wife):

“Life includes a holy call to do something hugely significant.”

It’s hard for me to imagine anything more significant than raising up the next generation. 

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