Mothers and more mothers

*Thanks to my pastor, Paul Seay, for serving as today’s guest contributor.*

“For women, though, without children of their own, who like mothers have nurtured and cared for us, we pray to the Lord…”—Book of Blessings, USA., United Methodist Book of Worship, page 438

My own mother, Clora Lee Walker Seay, went home to heaven a little over 30 years ago.  She was a saint of a lady who put up with my father longer than she should have, but that’s the way she was.  She vowed before God that she would take him for better or worse and she lived that commitment until her death.  She also put up with my five brothers and sisters and me, which I know had to be a struggle also.  In the years since her death I have been able to witness other women who have been wonderful mothers although they never had children of their own.  I want to mention a couple of them.

Paul and his sister, Sue

Paul and his sister, Sue

My older sister, Sue Ann Seay Smith, has always been a rock for our family.  Although she and her husband, Larry, have no children of their own, they have helped raise us younger brothers and sisters along with countless nieces and nephews on both sides of the family.  Sue Ann also taught fourth grade in the Jackson, Missouri, school system until she retired after 30 years of service.  When I visit her, we run into former students in the grocery store or Wal-Mart, and I am amazed how they always want to visit with her and share with her about their lives and the influence she has had on them.

Another lady is our Children’s Ministry Director at Central Avenue United Methodist Church, Dennie Story Baker.  Whether it is the children’s message on Sunday morning, directing the Ringing Cherubs or Allegro Ringers Bell Choirs, or the Heavenly Hallelujahs children’s choir, she is always on the top of her game.  The girls and boys love Ms. Dennie, they pay attention to her, and they learn from her.  In the many years she has worked here at CAUMC, she has been a wonderful influence on hundreds of our children, youth, and young adults.

Dennie with some of her kids

Dennie with some of her kids

As I was writing this there were many others just like Sue Ann and Dennie that crossed my mind.  I just want to say that mothers are not always defined as those who have given birth, and we should thank God for them all.

Day 17–Restoration

*Today’s post as part of our “28 days of love” project is written by one of my best friends and my true soul sister. I’m thankful for her beautiful heart and willingness to share something very personal with all of us. Thank you, Amie!*

Amie and Chris

Amie and Chris

This afternoon, my husband and I were finishing up an overnight date by having lunch together at Cracker Barrel. My mom and stepmom wrangled our two younger children for the night so that Chris and I could celebrate our Valentine’s weekend together…. alone.  A rarity for sure.  As we were seated, my husband took my coat, pulled out my chair, and waited until I was seated to seat himself.  A few moments into our coffee as we scanned the breakfast menu, an older gentleman stopped by our table, leaned into my husband and shook his hand. “Son, I saw you take her coat and pull out her chair. Don’t ever stop doing that. It’s important to take care of her. My wife was suddenly taken Home 11 years ago. I’ve been a preacher for 57 years.  I’m just finishing up business here until I can join her.”

I smiled listening to him. We chatted a minute and then he left.  I gushed at the man’s words. But, I also knew something that man did not know.

Just a few years ago, our relationship was so incredibly different. My husband wasn’t the chivalrous man he is today, nor was I one to respect and honor him. We had both come from failed marriages. We had both come from broken homes as children. I was raised by a single hard-working mother. I never had a marriage modeled for me, let alone a Godly one. When we married on October 16, 2004, the odds were highly stacked against us and our children to succeed as a family (I had a five year old daughter, Joey, and he, a 10 year old son, Dylan). Although we had both committed to follow Christ as teens, and we were crazy about one another, we both carried much baggage from broken hearts, mistreatments and past disappointments into our marriage…. a recipe for disaster.

 

Family photo taken in the midst of this difficult time

Family photo taken in the midst of this difficult time

Two years into our marriage, we had a child together, a little girl, Hollyn. Although she brought much happiness to our lives, it was about this time that our marriage began to deteriorate. You see, we still had no idea what we were doing, coupled with the fact that life just happens. We began to gripe. We began to fight. He had a vasectomy without my consent. I sobbed in the waiting room during the procedure, because God had once promised me I’d give birth to a son. Chris didn’t want more kids, so he just decided on the procedure himself. He didn’t talk to me anymore. He didn’t touch me anymore.  I hurt.  I was disrespectful to him and not supportive or understanding of him needing to spend long hours tending to the business we had just started. I complained about hunting trips and him spending time with his guy friends that helped him unwind.  I didn’t compliment or encourage him.  He hurt. We both were so concerned with ourselves, how our needs weren’t being met by the other, and rightfully so…. Needs are needs, and we didn’t care about trying to actually meet the needs of each other. What we didn’t realize is that love is like a bank account. In order for withdrawals to be made, there first must be deposits. We all know that when we spend and spend our money without depositing now and then, that money will run smooth out. Our “bank accounts” were dry… and we were suffering. I was needy and lonely, and he was bitter and emotionally checked out.

It was the summer of 2007. I made friends with a man who was single, and he quickly attached himself to our family. But, I didn’t mind. My companionship needs were being met. This man and I talked for hours. We loved the same music. He helped me with my kids when my husband worked long hours. My husband didn’t mind, at first, because someone else was doing his job for him, and he didn’t have to put forth the energy. But, obviously, this wouldn’t work for long. God didn’t design marriage to function like this. A husband and wife are meant to function as a unit, bonded by Him. We were functioning separately, and now, there was a parasite, so to speak, draining us of any life that remained in our marriage. Although I was not unfaithful sexually, I was unfaithful in my heart. The relationship was still wrong, and I couldn’t see it at the time. I had friends warning me, as did Chris, saying there were red flags all over this situation. I just didn’t understand. I began to lose friends. I was hitting rock bottom fast. Then I decided to seek God.

I remember after a horrible fight with Chris one night, crying in the shower, sobbing in fact. I yelled aloud to God. “What do you want me to do?! I have no idea what I’m doing! I have no idea how to fix this! You are the ONLY ONE who can do this…please help me!”

Then slowly, very slowly in the days ahead, God began to peel away the blinders from my eyes. I began to see this other man for what he was. By this time, he had wrong intentions. I began to pry myself away from the toxic friendship.  I dug into God’s word and every Christian relationship book I could get my hands on.  He revealed to me one day that the reason I was so needy was because I had an absent father my whole life. It hurt me to realize this flaw about myself. But, ever so lovingly, He promised to walk me through the healing process. He promised to be my Daddy, meeting my needs in ways I’d never known. I was elated to know I could relieve my husband of the pressure of being the one to make me happy and meet all my needs. Unbeknownst to me, my husband had found himself in a place of sheer brokenness as well, and also began crying out to God. He wanted our marriage to be restored as well. I started noticing him making efforts he had long stopped making. He began to romance me again. I was hesitant at first. But, after some time, I saw his efforts were sincere, not perfect, but sincere. He was really trying, and for the first time in awhile, I was too.

Chris and Amie's gift from God, baby Sawyer

Chris and Amie’s gift from God, baby Sawyer

That was a two year process from beginning to end. Near the end of that dark time, when the extra friendship was over, when we could finally see bright light at the end of the tunnel, Chris came to me and revealed that God had been pressing him to reverse his vasectomy. I have to believe this was God because I do not believe any man would want to do this procedure of his own accord, without some sort of prodding. He did, and a few months later we conceived. And, yes, it was my son, Sawyer.  A beautiful gift we received from a loving Father who walked us through the hurt and turmoil. We were broken into separate piles of rubble. God picked up the pieces and began building us back up, but this time… together. He taught us what love really was…. serving one another above ourselves, no matter what. He is so faithful, and He loves us so much. I am eternally grateful for the miracle God worked in and through us, and how even now He still is leading and growing us.

Thank you, God, for the man I call husband and friend.

Day 10–Dearly loved

Photo by Kelly Booy

Photo by Kelly Booy

*Big thank you to my friend Kelly Booy for agreeing to contribute to the “28 days of love” project!*

I have had a consistent prayer for contentment these last couple of years!  My awareness of this need came one summer day in 2009 while on a walk in the Dutch farmlands.  A quiet, picturesque moment on a bench overlooking Kinderdijk’s windmills was interrupted by a pesky bird.  In the midst of worship, I found myself wiping away bird poop from my temple and hair!!  Striking me as funny and strangely appropriate, I could not hold back the giggles.  It was an intimate message as strange as the delivery.  I couldn’t shake the imagery, sweet silence and the words that came to mind, “Even in this mess you are dearly loved and cared for.”

The years following could be described as a roller coaster.  My family and I made the decision to move back to Arkansas, September of 2009, after spending two years of our life in Holland.  My husband had gone back to school in the country of his birth, receiving an International MBA, our two small children had learned some of the language and culture, and we had connected with family and made new friends.   It was an amazing experience with many highlights and some obstacles, but overall we were super thankful.  In thinking about moving back to Arkansas, I knew that I would struggle with contentment.  I would even venture to say that there was an underlying fear of the mundane–like walking down the mountain into a valley.

Within the year following our return to central Arkansas, we had bought a car, a substantially sized home, and thankfully had a job!  We settled into a church that we loved and were challenged every day by the Gospel, a simple message:  While we were still sinners Christ died.  We were surrounded by dear friends and making many new ones.  Life was good.

Soon we were staring unemployment down;  contemplating selling the home we loved because we couldn’t afford (it) to get it to the state we wanted, nursing a torn Achilles tendon, had a shingles flair up, facing impending student loans, medical bills, a second round of unemployment , professional rejections,  car issues, etc . . . Needless to say our faith was tried, and we were feeling seriously helpless, anxious, and humbled.

My prayer for contentment had taken an interesting twist, and honestly I can’t say that it was what I had wanted and/or expected!  My perspective was skewed, and I was doubting the truth that God was my provider.  Slowly I started to notice the little things, like:  we had never gone without food, we had clothes and shoes, we were able to continue making our mortgage payments, and those gentle offers of help from friends and family.  Literally, every time I turned our ignition in our car I would say, “thank you God!”  I realize that this might sound a little “third world”, but truly God was doing a great work in my heart.  It became glaringly obvious that God was providing.

We welcomed our third child in August of 2011, Emma Jeanne Booy,. . . 10 days prior to losing our insurance due to our second job loss.  Strangely, the period of time following Emmy’s birth has been some of the sweetest I have ever experienced in my life to date.  (I had all but convinced myself that I would struggle with postpartum depression after the birth of Emmy.)  Stefan was home rigorously job hunting and working contract work on the side.  He had time to take morning walks with me and the baby. We sipped our morning coffee and shared difficult, intimate conversations.  Those months were profoundly precious and healing when they should have,  by all circumstantial appearances,  been shrouded with worry and fear.   I secretly began to praise God in the midst of the messiness.  My emotional state was more than intact, and I began to see glimmers of what it means to “give thanks in all circumstances.”

As I reflect over these last several years I am completely dumbfounded and thankful for the roller coaster.  My hope and prayer is that I never lose this realization– my “satisfaction or contentment” is not directly related to my situation or comfort.

The pesky bird might have shat on my head, but I can wipe off the mess all the while knowing I am dearly loved and cherished.

 

Sick and tired enough

There’s a saying amongst my friends in recovery that has held true for me in many different situations: until I’m sick and tired enough of being sick and tired, I won’t be ready to do things differently.

In my life, this truth has proven itself in dating relationships and marriages, in matters of physical health and fitness, in the realm of careers, and in friendships and family matters, too. And of course, it’s been most prevalently proven in my spiritual walk with God.

As I added my 43rd item to the list of physical reasons to avoid pregnancy in the future–a list I keep partly in jest and partly to remind myself of reality once time has passed, and I have become enamored enough with my baby to consider having another one–I realized that I had discovered one more thing to be grateful for.

My entire life I have been tokophobic–fearful of childbirth and pregnancy. In general, I do not find these things beautiful; I find them repulsive, scary, and somehow inhumane. Of course, some of the fear has subsided since I’ve experienced pregnancy myself. But many of my fears also became realities, and I discovered even more disgusting aspects of pregnancy than I ever imagined or heard about from my sisters, friends, and other women who’d walked the pregnancy plank before me.

Since God has a great sense of humor, and a clever way of working things out, I’m not surprised that He has piled enough on my pregnant plate to bring me to the point of being so sick and tired that I’m ready to do something about it–deliver this baby. This is quite a miracle since I’ve dreaded the idea of childbirth my entire life. After enduring 10 months of odd and obnoxious symptoms, I have become ready to forge ahead to delivering our baby. I don’t look forward to the process, but the outcome will certainly be rewarding. Not only will I gradually get relief from the 43 items on my list, but I’ll also gain a relationship with my daughter and countless other benefits I’ll create a list for later.

I’m grateful God never ceases to find creative ways to bring me to the point of being willing to trust Him–He knows that only then will I be ready to do things differently.

 

Happy early birthday, Margaret!

*Special thanks to my beloved former professor and friend, Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy, for writing today’s post in honor of her Margaret.*

16 October 2012

Dear Bethany,

Eighteen years ago I was where you are now – expecting a baby girl.  My daughter, Margaret, was due on Halloween, but she arrived a couple of weeks early.  Though I’d practically worn out my copy of WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE EXPECTING, I had no guidebook for my daughter’s first year, let alone her first eighteen.

On the day of Margaret’s birth, I got my first inkling that I might not need a guidebook at all, much less have time to read one!  Margaret was the only baby born in the hospital on that day, and I think the nurses were eager to rock her because every few minutes they would come to my room and ask me if I wanted them to take her to the nursery.

“Just a little while longer,” I said each time they came to the door.

That night I sang my new baby girl every song I knew.  I had no idea what to do with a newborn, but singing seemed right for Margaret and me at that moment. Over the past eighteen years, I’ve had lots of moments when I wasn’t sure what I should do.  In time, I’ve learned to take my cues from the person who knows her needs best – Margaret.

Dr. Murphy and Margaret

People gave me lots of advice on how to raise my daughter, and I suspect you will be given a lot of advice as well.  Some of it will be worth listening to, and some of it will be worthless.  The only advice I’ll give to you is this – when it comes to your daughter, you’ll know how to separate the wheat from the chaff.  From the moment that precious girl is placed in your arms, you’ll know what to do.   After all, you’ll be holding the author of the only guidebook on raising your daughter that you’ll ever really need.

With gratitude and best wishes always,

Dr. M.

P.S. Margaret loves music and has become an accomplished singer.  I should have known!

Bearable

34 weeks and counting…

Some of you may remember reading my blog post about my personal experience with pregnancy. I caught a lot of flack for that post from people who seemed to misunderstand me. These are typically the same people who encourage every woman, regardless of her personal experience with pregnancy, to just be happy, never mention the misery that ensues with carrying another human being in one’s body, and feel ashamed for even thinking of anything remotely negative related to pregnancy. Many of these people have lost children–and my heart goes out to them. I cannot relate to that experience, but I can certainly imagine that if I were in their shoes, I’d find it a bit easier to focus on the positives during subsequent pregnancies and to be even more grateful for the miracle of it all. Other people simply have wonderful pregnancies–their bodies respond well to the changes, and they don’t recall a single day of feeling miserable. I also cannot relate to these experiences, but I certainly wish I could.

For me, pregnancy has been a trying time in every way. I won’t begin to list the odd physical issues I’ve faced or other symptoms that have plagued me while pregnant. Suffice it to say that one night when I could not sleep–which is every night, but this particular night I decided to write–I compiled a list of reasons to have only one child and to avoid getting pregnant in the future.

Without taking a moment to pause and reflect, I typed out 35 reasons, or “cons.”

Since making that list, I’ve tried to counter it with positives or pros. So far, there are three.

However, even though the pro list is quite short, I can find many things to be grateful for in the midst of the 35 cons. This is a list of what I call “bearables,” which are not the same as pros. These things have made pregnancy more tolerable, even if just for a moment, and for that I am truly grateful.

  1. My true friends have been nothing but empathetic and prayerful. They know me well enough to avoid clichés and empty phrases like “Oh, but just wait until you hold that little baby” or “When you have her, you will forget all about the bad stuff, trust me.” Instead, they pray for me, send me messages inquiring about my health to let me know they’re mindful of what I’m experiencing, and send me gifts and cards to brighten my days.
  2. Humor. Friends have also sent me hilarious links and quotes and books to pass the time and to remind me that the best way to get through something miserable is to find the funny in it.
  3. Science. I may be strange, but I’m strangely comforted by scientific information regarding my baby’s growth and development. Having read upwards of 1,000 pages of scientific goodness–not just books containing suggestions and common sense advice, which I have not found as helpful–has really reminded me of the absolute miracle of my child growing inside me. So thank You, God, for the Mayo Clinic :).
  4. My husband is a lifesaver. Really. I could not have made it through many of the physically trying times–or emotional ones, for that matter–without his support, practical help, and constancy. He has already proven his worth as a father to our baby by performing countless acts of service in love.
  5. Children’s responses to my pregnancy. There is something charming and humorous about seeing each child’s reaction to the burgeoning belly. One of my nieces was completely spooked by the notion of her cousin floating around in utero. The others were fascinated and still cannot seem to stop poking and rubbing my belly and talking to Baby Maggie when I’m around.
  6. Great food. I feel fat all the time now. Since I feel fat, I might as well just give in and eat ice cream if I really feel like it. Not the whole carton . . .
  7. Baby gifts. Opening and touching countless incredibly soft, pink items has been a total pleasure for me. I look forward to using all the gifts we’ve received, but for now, it’s plenty enjoyable to be surrounded by piles of plushness.
  8. Two great doctors. I’ve been blessed with truly caring medical staff who continue to try to help me and never make me feel ridiculous despite how many questions I ask or what sort of odd symptoms I mention.

Diaper cake from my excellent sister-in-law

I’m grateful for the bearables–with them, it’s a little easier to find reasons to smile and items to add to my gratitude lists.