D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

Filtering by Tag: motherhood

Write Like A Mother

200313_10150441367210648_5762750_n  

Do you know what that is, sweet pea? To be humble? The word comes from the Latin wordshumilis and humus. To be down low. To be of the earth. To be on the ground. That’s where I went when I wrote the last word of my first book. Straight onto the cool tile floor to weep. I sobbed and I wailed and I laughed through my tears. I didn’t get up for half an hour. I was too happy and grateful to stand. I had turned 35 a few weeks before. I was two months pregnant with my first child. I didn’t know if people would think my book was good or bad or horrible or beautiful and I didn’t care. I only knew I no longer had two hearts beating in my chest. I’d pulled one out with my own bare hands. I’d suffered. I’d given it everything I had.

--Cheryl Strayed (as Dear Sugar)*

 

 

 

//

I have two friends who are very pregnant right now, and both of them are writers. They are smart, thoughtful, beautiful souls, and when they pour themselves onto the page you just want to stop everything and sit with them. They both have other children (beautiful, loud). And they both told me that with the upcoming birth of their next child, they felt like the writing part of their life was going to be over.

I understand where those thoughts come from--the hormones, the panic, the sleep deprivation that acts like a very bad batch of drugs for a very long time--but I can't condone them. I know my friends, and I know the work they have produced, and I know what is in their future. They will experience the mess and the chaos of birth and newborn land and shifting, growing families. They will cocoon inside of themselves, for months and even years perhaps, pouring out their bodies as sacrifices of love, rocking and shushing and feeding and cleaning and wiping, all while they tend to the endless minutia of everything else they are in charge of in their lives. They will continue on in that long obedience of selflessness, the continual little deaths and rebirths that parenting is comprised of, and one day they will lift their heads up and find that their head is clear and their mind is itching. They will start writing again. And they will be better than ever. Their babies will make them better writers.

 

//

 

If you asked me, point blank, what my thoughts on motherhood were, I would hem and haw for as long as possible. I have nothing eloquent to say, except that it wrecked my life in so many ways, and it healed it in just as many. Marriage for me was no big adjustment, just a lot of fun to have a partner to roam the world with, and we made a lot of space for us to be our individual, introverted selves. But motherhood was the great shedding of selfishness that I didn't even know existed, it was the time of confronting how very tied up my own identity was in being productive for God: helping others, loving my neighbors, teaching ESOL classes, volunteering with refugees, working full-time. Then I got pregnant, developed a rare-and-life-threatening condition, and found myself both very ill and with a premature baby to care for. Suddenly, I could not do most of those things that had always defined me as me. I was alone with a sad baby who was not quite ready for the world, and it was my job to keep her alive.

When she was 6 months old, possibly 8, I started to write. In earnest. The hours of being alone-but-not-alone, of rocking and shushing and swaddling and feeding and cleaning and walking and breathing, had built up to a point of pressure in my mind. I started, for the first time, to objectively look at my life. To assess my background, how I grew up, what I was taught to believe, and what that meant for my life choices. My baby, with her round-the-clock-needs, turned me into a bird that soared high above my own life. It was the first time I was able to step outside of it. The first time I realized how important honesty and vulnerability were to be in my life going forward.

I wrote for her, that chubby-cheeked spitfire sitting on her bumbo on the kitchen table while I slowly started sending pieces off into the void. And she helped me, in so many ways, push beyond the narrow confines of what it meant to be in the world, of where my value came from. And this, my friends, is the backbone of what it means to have prophetic imagination, of what it means to be a creative in a very conforming world.

I learned to write when I became a mother, because that was my vehicle for stepping outside of myself. For you, perhaps it was something else; something tragic or wonderful (or some combination therein). Something that helped you to see your small place in a very big world, to wonder at what your response might be to it all. Motherhood certainly doesn't necessitate great art (in fact, many can cling to the trappings of motherhood as yet another symbol of productivity in the world) but I have known enough great writers now to know that it spurs you on towards the deepening of things.

Motherhood, for me, has been my agent of becoming small, of living a true upside-down life, of whittling away at my draughts of self-absorption. I am more afraid than ever, and yet I continue to do very brave and hard things. And I just want to say to all of my friends out there, the ones who adore and fear the changes coming: write like a mother. Write like the souls that you are, the ones who were put here to notice whatever it is that God placed in front of you.

The kingdom of God comes through babies, I imagine Christ whispering to his disciples as they tried to shoo the unkempt, uncouth, loud and beautiful children away. They didn't understand, because they so badly wanted to be doing something so good for him, their savior. But later, through their own forms of death and rebirth--watching Jesus slowly die as a failure in front of them, huddling up in an empty room together--they would be cracked wide open by the pain and joy of being so connected to everyone in the world.

And luckily for us, some of them stopped and wrote about it.

 

//

 

a little present i have been making for some dear friends . . .

 

 

 

 

*to read Strayed's entire advice column (of which I "Christian-ized" a bit in this post--sorry, Sugar!) go here. You will not regret it. While you are at it, why don't you go and read all of her columns? You will not be left the same.

 

 

On Mother's Day

me and my tiny, tiny, little sack of sugar. I've written a little bit about motherhood before, and I am always amazed at how this holiday continually knocks me off my feet. Motherhood isn't for sissies; remembering isn't for the faint of heart; life isn't for the easily cowed.

 

I watched a movie yesterday, one a friend recommended some time ago. I didn't know it then, but this might be the most perfect Mother's day movie I have ever seen. Pray the Devil Back to Hell shows what happens when a group of mothers got together to protest for peace during the civil war  in Liberia. The documentary chronicles how these women, Christian and Muslim alike, came together to pray, worship, and disrupt the cycles of violence. The width and depth and scope of their protest is astonishing. The personal costs were staggering. But they all got the chance to say, when their children asked them what role they played in the conflict, that they were ambassadors for peace. They did it for their children; they did it for the children of their neighbors.

 

slideshow1

 

The scene that stood out to me was one in which the women gathered around a candle-lit vigil, praying that the president and the rebel troops would agree to come to a peace table together. You could see the small children, clinging to their mother's skirts, watching them push the candles into the dirt, the holy process of both surrendering to God in prayer while firmly believing that the world is not right. The children watched, and they were being taught every moment by their mothers, that another world is possible.

 

My own parents loved me into the kingdom of God. My mother especially, she taught me that God speaks to us, all the time. It was such a living, breathing, faith that I grew up watching, the most normal, all-encompassing spirituality. I learned that life is hard, and that beauty is to be celebrated. I watched with eyes wide open as my own mother planted her candles in the dirt, as she taught me both that things were not right, that there was always something to be hoped for. Long before I learned the words in Bible college, my mother taught me about kingdom come.

 

Now, I have my own daughter. What is she learning from me? I have some hopes, my own flames I set off in the night. That there are things more important than security, a yard to play in, friends who only look and think like us. But more than that, I want to stake my flag in both worlds at once. I want to never forget that Jesus can be found all over my neighborhood; I never want to forget that he is found in the face of my daughter.

 

197696_523437012521_1041752640_n

 

 

The world is not all right, and the mothers know this. Let us keep on teaching, through our words and actions, that another world is possible.

 

To my own mum, who gave me the keys to the kingdom:

thanks for teaching me, every day, what it means to hold a candle-lit vigil against the evils of our world.

 

 

my mom and my daughter. two of my greatest blessings.

 

 

Happy Mother's Day. 

My practice of parenting: Callings

Hello! Sarah is one of my favorite internet writers, and today she is doing a Practices of Parenting Carnival (!) which sounds quite celebratory and rakish. She invited anyone and everyone to write about their own best practices of parenting, so here I am. It is always nice to have a little push in a direction for writing a post.

So, here is my practice I wanted to share with you all:

I am trying to live into God's call for my life.

Now, doesn't that so spiritual and awesome?

From a young age, I have dreamed of being an apostle, an evangelist, of living out all those crazy stories in the New Testament. I loved Jesus and I wanted everyone to know about him. I read missionary biographies extensively, and never once considered an alternative to the wandering, nomadic, Bible-preaching life.

But what happens when an fired-up young single woman missionary falls in love and gets married? And then has a baby (a preemie, high-needs baby at that)? And then gets a good job? And then, and then, and then.

One of the most difficult transitions to motherhood thus far has been the perception that my life now revolves around the baby. Which, to be fair, it totally does (the baby happens to be very, um, particular about naptimes and bedtimes and routines and all that, much to my chagrin). But just because I might be in a relatively short period of my life where I am sleep deprived and getting re-acquianted with Sesame Street characters does not mean that my earlier callings are somehow over.

I am still called to be a strong, missionary woman. But now, I have a baby on my hip.

And believe you me, some things have changed. I can't do as many crazy refugee adventures as I used to, nor do I have all the spontaneity that is often required for non-Western celebrations and events (which can last for 14 hours or MORE). It now takes much more effort, planning, and intentionality to make things work. For awhile, I taught English classes for refugee women in my apartment complex while wearing the baby in an Ergo carrier. Nowadays, that doesn't fly for the baby, so instead I invite all the neighborhood kids over for an after-school play time. It is messy, loud, chaotic--and so much fun.

While there has been a stretch of a month or two at a time where I feel like my vision becomes narrowed, thinking only about bills and how many hours I spent awake in the middle of the night and whether or not the baby will ever start walking--coming back to camp on the promises that God has given me has been vital.

This time right now, the longest/shortest time, is yet another dimension of my calling. My first calling is not negated, nor do I need to abandon it.

I think about my mom, someone who was always thirsting for God, and how I absorbed the immense importance of that relationship. My mom spent an hour every morning walking and talking to God, and my childhood was spent being taken on various adventures: to the wild islands of Alaska to work with natives, to the depths of rural Mexico, to the homeless shelters and Special Ed classrooms and Bible studies in whatever city we lived in at that moment. And because my own mother was obedient to her first calling, that of a Christ-follower, my own growing-up felt magical, exciting, infused with the excitement of bringing the kingdom.

So here I am, struggling to live out my missional life. It is hard work to beat back the trappings of Western motherhood, the isolation and perfectionism, the consumerism and the incurably inane.

And then I go back to my calling, the ones I received as a little child and a tearful teenager and a depressed young-twenty something. The calling to live for others, and not for myself. The calling to bring a kingdom of justice and love and mercy. The calling to surround myself with the least of these, lest I get too comfortable. The calling to choose to actively be a part in all that the Spirit is doing now, and to not content myself with what is easy and temporary and crowds out the voice of God.

We are trying to live out our callings over here.

What are your Practices of Parenting? Come check out the Carnival!

EmergingMummy.com

Powered by Squarespace. Background image by Kmayfield