Wednesday, May 16, 2012

More Than Enough

Recently, in the days that the whole "Are You Mom Enough?" debate broke out, I confess that I regarded the whole thing with a bit of indifference.  My mind was already abuzz with its own justified indignation about motherhood and the media. And it was not about the infamous Time cover. It was about this article and the link I followed from Facebook to the Huffington post summation.
The condensed article focuses on the thirty best countries in which to be a mother, with only a passing mention of Niger, which is last on the list in terms of suitability for mothering.  The discussion that followed the article was all about how it seems implausible that the U.S. should rank 25th in the statistics and what we should do to fix that.
I immediately wanted to know more about this survey and the other 116 countries that fell behind these top 30 in the rankings. Turns out the survey was actually conducted by Save the Children and its intent was not to turn another cog in the Mommy Wars wheel over whether Norwegian mothers with two years maternity leave are enjoying a better brand of motherhood than American mothers with minivans and soccer schedules.  Its purpose was to highlight the other 116 countries in less developed nations and the plight of mothers therein. But, it seemed to me anyway, no one was paying attention.
Then there was that blazing headline plastered everywhere, “Are You Mom Enough?”  I confess that I hardly glanced at the picture through my tiny cell phone internet screen and barely related the Dr. Sears headline I had seen mentioned online to that article until I began to see the responses of a few friends.
These two items and the life I am living tumbled around in my mind for a few days and I struggled to piece it all together. They tumbled and jumbled with my thoughts about the fact that when we left for this mission, I had a ticket home dated this week. A ticket home to welcome the third trimester of a much awaited pregnancy that ended abruptly four days before we left. They tumbled around with my growing anxiety about the impending date of my Bryce’s would-be third birthday. They mixed their way in with images of orphans and sick, hot babies strapped to their mommies’ backs while they walk for hours to secure provisions for their families.
And suddenly, I found myself very angry.  Angry at the very notion of “Are You Mom Enough?” whether it was pointing its ugly finger at attachment parenting or any other aspect of mothering.
The very idea that motherhood could be made into a competition is infuriating. But the bigger picture, the picture no one seemed to be seeing is that the very idea of parenting philosophies, of choices in motherhood that involve anything more than sheer survival are a luxury, a blessing afforded by relative affluence to mothers in developed cultures.
Tag that question onto these images of motherhood and feel its shallowness, feel the punch in your gut:
I have been pregnant three times in the last four years and I have no baby in my arms. No baby to choose to nurse and for how long. Am I mom enough?
The chance of becoming the mother of a dead baby in Niger, Africa is 1 in 1. Meaning that every woman who risks motherhood will eventually be the mother of at least one dead baby. Are they mom enough?
Last week, I invited an indigenous mother in out of the rain with her sweet baby girl. She was sick. She was wet. And she had been carried on her mother’s back for eight hours to town to receive money from a government fund that it turns out wasn’t available. That mother sat on my porch and nursed her wet, tired baby without reserve. Because she’s mom enough? Or because she needs to survive?
I rode the bus the other day with a mom whose baby had such bad cold and conjunctivitis that her upper eye lids were almost swollen shut. She struggled to nurse her in a hot, crowded bus with men standing over the top of her and her baby sweating profusely in her arms. She wanted to buy tamales from a man on the bus and was humiliated when she misunderstood how much they cost and did not have enough money to pay for them, so had to return them while her hungry toddler was reduced to tears at her side. Is she mom enough?
My friend who helps me in my house two days week asked me the other day if she could take three pencils from my children’s school supply box for her son. He has been in school for four months without a pencil to write with. She can’t read the notes that come home from school so doesn’t know if he needs anything else and she could not afford to buy it anyway. Is she mom enough?
I spent five days at an orphanage in Nicaragua with kids who are not really orphans at all but who have been turned over to this place by families who could not afford to feed them, care for them, educate them. I watched a mom come early one morning for her two teenaged daughters who have lived at the home all of their lives. She turned them over when her husband abandoned her and the children and she was unable to find work or a place for them to live. But every Saturday morning she gets up at 5 am and walks four hours to see them and, if there is enough food, to bring them home with her for the weekend. Because she’s mom enough?
And what about the “tias” who daily provide care for little girls who know no other way of life than living like this, in this home with other children who are not their brothers and sisters, cared for by people who are not their family. They rise at 6am to get little heads brushed and bodies dressed for school. They lead those babies to God’s Word as they feed them breakfast. They study with them and teach them life skills in the afternoons. They feed them and bathe them and sleep by their sides at night. And they love them. They love them so well. They fill these little lives with confidence and trust and openness. Are they mom enough?
The truth is, they are not. Sometimes, all that love is enough to replace what’s missing, what’s broken in these little lives and it results in the three children now studying together in a university in Managua. But sometimes it is not. Sometimes the brokenness is just too much to overcome.
Mothers will do their best all over the world to be mom enough tonight. And some of them will still hold a lifeless baby in their arms in morning. They will nurse a baby with each little whimper all night long and tuck that little one up next to them to sleep. And they will still wake to dirt floors and not enough food and babies whose intestines are filled with worms and parasites.  A mother will look into the eyes of her hungry baby and make the choice to hand it over to someone who may be able care for that little one better than her.  And she may never know if it was enough. 
The truth I think we would all do well to admit is that none of us is enough. No mothering style or parenting philosophy is enough to overcome the sin, the brokenness and the death that plagues humanity. Mothers have a special role in lessening that burden for the children they are gifted, but alone, they are not enough. As much as we love our babies, none of us, rich or poor, well or sick, capable or incapable, are enough to take the weight of our children’s brokenness on our shoulders, the weight of the children of the world, and be pierced through by their needs, nailed to the wood of a cross to save them from death. None of us can open to them the gates of the only place that will ever be enough, the only place they will ever know perfect love.
With that knowledge, we, the mothers, become clinging, needy little ones, grasping tight to the breast of our Savior and begging for His sustenance. We are not enough. But He is. And He knows the hearts of all these mothers all over the world struggling to be what these little ones need.  And He feeds them and loves them and binds up their wounds when we cannot.
There are moms all over the world who will never be enough. Never enough to fill their babies bellies, never enough to heal them from their illnesses, never enough to build them a warm house or buy them the books they need to learn. And yet they mother as best they can. And they need someone to tell them about the loving Savior who fills in where they cannot and makes all things new.  And the ones most well-equipped to do that are not the moms who are “mom enough”. They are the ones who know all too well that they are not enough, who know the sting of want and need and loss. 
I am not mom enough. Love as I might, I could not breathe life into these last three little ones my heart so longs to hold. As painful as it may be, I am grateful for that knowledge. Because every time I look into the eyes of a mother feeling the terrible weight of not being enough, I pray that they see in my brokenness the One who is enough.  Because He is waiting to rush in and be all that we, His little ones, needs.  He who more than enough, He who is everything. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Center of the Universe

So yesterday I had been bouncing along in a crowded bus for about an hour and half when I realized something. An hour and half after leaving Grano do Oro, we still hadn't reached the paved road, still hadn't passed any of the bigger-than-tiny towns that are harbingers of the city to come, still hadn't seen much more than breathtaking mountain views and the communities dotted there in. And it suddenly occurred to me that I live in the middle of nowhere.

The Middle of Nowhere

Now this is funny because that was all I could think as we made the drive to Grano de Oro the night we arrived here.  Greg was the only one of us who had been to Grano.  And he had only been twice before. He had a vague idea of how to get here and about how far it was from town. A vaguely optimistic idea that is. So after we passed through Turrialba, the closest large city to where we were headed, he began to pepper us with encouragement that we were almost there. "About 15 more minutes," he would say optimistically as the van climbed and descended narrow mountain roads. "Oh, now we're really close," he encouraged as the paved road gave way to dust and rocks and wooden suspension bridges. And on we went, further and further without arriving at our destination. And all I could think was, "This man is taking me to the middle of nowhere."

The Middle of the Middle of Nowhere

But I haven't felt that way again since that night. From the first day I lifted my head from my pillow on my bead in my house in this town, lifted my head to rising sun and the cool mountain air and the chirping of hundred of birds, I have felt like this was the center of the universe.  Now four months in, when I walk the dusty roads of this place and respond to the greetings of friendly faces, I smile as I realize that in almost every home I pass, I know at least one face, at least a part of their story. And I want to know more. My mind races as I plan visits, invites, think of ways to build more into these relationships, to love deeper. How to know these hearts and histories so that the love of Christ can spill into every corner of these hearts, these lives this town. I pass our Church and dream of the day when it is too full, when there is adequate space to teach throngs of children who come to learn about Jesus, to understand that He is fully present there in that Church, and to receive Him with open hearts. I dream of young people assured and confident in themselves and their faith spreading out from here to sing of His greatness.

The Center of the Universe

I watch Cabecar families make their way into town. Women with babies strapped to their backs, whatever piece of cloth they could find securely fastened just above their chest. Men leading horses laden with items to sell or to bring back to their homes in the mountains. I wonder about where they live and how long they walked to get here. I wonder if they will accept the invitation if I invite them to come home with me. I wonder if their children would hide in a corner, shy and unsure if I speak to them. I want to know if they are hungry at night, if they are sick or cold or lonely. I want to know if their babies might have worms or bacteria causing their bellies to bulge. And I want to fix it, to feed them, to make their babies healthy and whole. I want to win their trust so they don't hide, to figure out how to get to where they live and speak to them in their own language.

Because I want to tell them about this God, this amazing, loving creative God who crafted this end of the earth especially for them.  Who loves them with a love that is deep enough to make their lives last forever. To tell them that although their bodily needs are great and the earth that feeds them something to be cherished, they are so, so much more. That they are souls created, like these mountains, to take people's breath away with their beauty, to love and be loved, and to live forever.  Because of a man named Jesus, who lived in a little small corner of the world, poor and simple just like them, and yet, saved all of humanity.

Friends at the Center of Our Universe

As the bus continued toward the city, finally, reaching the paved road and lurching forward at a slightly quicker pace, my thoughts turned to the missionaries I know and the little places just like this one where they live and serve. I think of how they too have allowed Him to take them to the middle of nowhere somewhere, to mountain villages and tiny islands, to little slums in big cities, to big jungles in small countries. and made them the center of their universe for the Lord's sake.

And then my thoughts raced to all the millions of places like this one on the earth, all the middle-of-nowhere centers of the universe for somebody in Africa, Asia, Russia, in the middle of the oceans and at the tops of mountains. All the places hours from the nearest city that teem with the lives and the stories and the culture of my brothers and sisters in Christ. And my hurt began to burn with the desire to know those places and the people in them, with the longing to pat round Asian cheeks and rub weathered Indian hands, to laugh long and long with wide African smiles and sit in the still cold of long forgotten churches of Eastern Europe breathing new life.  And I was pained to know that I couldn't. That even if I give every day of my earthly in service to Him I will likely never get to do all those things.  For Him. In love.

Us, Our Neighbor, and the Bishop of the Middle of Nowhere Center of the Universe
(Bishop Rojas, Bishop of Cartago)

And that made me think about Him. This God who created all those middles of nowhere in this great big world and populated them with people painted in different shades whose mouths sing in tune to different melodies but who were all meant to know, love and serve Him, to sing of His greatness.  And I know a little of His longing as I think how many do not yet know His love, how many more do not really understand His mercy, and how many have forgotten what their grandparents once knew deeply.  It is a sharp pain and an aching desire all at once to realize how many people do not hope for heaven, how many mothers place babies in the ground and think it is the end of the story, how many of my brothers and sisters are hungry, lonely and sick from things that could have been prevented if someone had only acted on their behalf. And I know just a portion of His thirst, the thirst that held my sweet Jesus to the cross, the thirst that is not quenched with water but with the love of souls.

The Fruits of This End of the Earth

And so today, I rose with the morning sun, aware that I am here. Only here. And for today, this is not the middle of the nowhere, but the center of my universe. For today, I quench His thirst by pouring out His love here. And I am comforted to know that it is enough for Him. He has not called me to everything. He has called me to do something, and I am doing it the best I can. And He, He becomes the center, the knot that tethers all those ends of the earth together in one singular purpose, one eternity. And if I do my part, one day  I will walk not dusty roads but streets of gold where no one is hungry or lonely or sick. And everyone shines with His light. And I can only hope that I will find the faces I have loved there to pat the seats next to them and smile wide as they realize that I too am traveling with them.

Planting My Feet and Loving in His Name 
in the Middle of Nowhere
Center of the Universe 
that is the place.