Month: September 2016

Zen and the art of mothering in mayhem

This is a society where moms are inundated with the pressure to create gourmet meals, and cute crafts and activities for our kids, but when you’re mothering in mayhem, looking like a put-together woman seems like a far and distant world. Tackling the overwhelming and incredibly taxing responsibility to try your best to maintain any sense of “normal” for your kids when everything is crumbling around you is no easy feat. But there are a few things I’ve learned in my experience of caring for my dying husband and three children under 3. So here you go, from one mother in mayhem to another:

  • The small victories: You might not remember even the last minute, but trust your mothering instinct. I don’t remember a lot of the day-to-day when I was the caregiver, at age 28, for my 34-year-old husband who was dying of cancer. I’ve heard the comment: “I don’t know how you did it…” to which I usually respond, “I don’t either!” It’s strange how I can remember some of the finest details of the chaos that ensued around my family the last few weeks of my husband’s life, but the basics seemed to just happen on autopilot…I think.. I still can’t remember how everyone got fed, bathed and the twins off to daycare, manage tantrums and the surge of drugs and dosages that my husband needed to remember to take, but couldn’t; not to mention that small detail of keeping a newborn alive by nursing all hours of the night, pumping and storing milk, and changing diapers and clothes—over and over. This juggling of all the other people I was responsible for, while trying to recover from delivery (strong emphasis on trying…well, there was no trying actually, I just didn’t “recover” from delivery and post-partum, my body just patched itself together and survived it). There were people who tried to help, but didn’t know how, so the majority of responsibility still landed on my shoulders. I managed…I probably didn’t do a stand-up job, but I did it! There’s not enough time to treasure every moment with your kids when you’re just trying to survive, to fight through another day, to keep yourself, your spouse and your kids alive. Pat yourself on the back and celebrate the small victories—when my husband was alive and in home-hospice, those victories included: nobody getting tangled in his oxygen cords; keeping the liquid morphine out of my twin toddlers reach when my husband would forget and accidentally leave it on the nightstand; and the nights when none of the kids woke up while I was carrying my husband to the shower and back—those were victorious nights! After my husband died, my toddlers may have watched countless hours of television and eaten pizza or frozen lasagna for three days in a row, but they were fed, the baby was fed, happy, dry and still getting tummy-time, and at the end of the day, we’re all still alive and somewhat sane—that’s a victory not to be overlooked.
  • Realize you don’t need to be supermom and go it alone: In our society, independence is revered and treasured, but mayhem, crisis and trauma reveals a deeper human need—connectedness and community, both of which require asking for help and revealing vulnerability that you can’t, and shouldn’t try to go it alone. The “zen” part of your mayhem is simply asking for help and humbly receiving it. That knowing, in your mayhem, you have people in your corner and if you don’t, ask for it. When you are tackling your kryptonite, whatever that may be: lack of sleep, grief, illness, etc., that someone can help bear the load, there’s always someone who can help—they can’t take it away for you, but they can help. Many people who help in small ways add up. When we ask for help there is a peace and humility in knowing we’re not supposed to be alone in this life, and we’re especially not supposed to mother alone.
  • Self-care is not selfish: In caring for my husband and children, I honestly forgot about myself—even the basic needs. When the helpers in my home took more showers and wore clean clothing more than I did, that’s a sign that self-care went out the window. I mentally was not able to take care of myself at that time. You know how the mom-thing goes—everyone else is taken care of first. When I came home with a newborn and realized absolutely none of the nursing clothing I had fit, it took me three or four days of wearing oversized t-shirts and wrapping my chest in a towel when my breastmilk came in to finally ask a friend to go shopping for me. I couldn’t even fathom leaving the house to go shopping for myself, if I did, it would have been a scene from “Night of the Living Dead,” I’m sure of it. After my husband died, the self-care situation didn’t get better until recently, when I finally started giving myself permission to take care of myself and convince myself that it isn’t selfish to do. I did myself a huge disservice and made it much harder on myself trying to take on the “I’m strong, I can just carry on” attitude for the better part of three years. And the best part, to the joy of my frugal self, is that self-care doesn’t equal expensive. When I started to look at baths, showers, naps, walks, reading for a few hours in a coffee shop, or even finding a really good deal on a hotel room for a night as therapy, it was easier for me to wrap my head around investing in those things, even if it meant paying for a sitter to make it happen, to spend a little time on myself.
  • Permission to retreat: Taking time away from the mayhem may not be an option, but eventually, if you find a small sliver of time, take it and don’t feel bad. Even if it means locking yourself in the bathroom to pray or meditate (which might include not doing or saying anything at all and just being quiet). I didn’t want to leave my house for long periods of time when my husband was still alive, but I did use the bathroom as a sanctuary. I didn’t have any privacy as my make-shift bedroom was in the living room and people were ALWAYS around, so the bathroom with a lock was the best bet for alone time. I remember just sitting on the floor for even just 10 minutes to escape helped to gain enough strength to handle whatever was going on outside that door. I didn’t have a lot of mental energy to pray, but I know my spirit was crying out even when I was silent. Leaning into the silence and retreating to a sacred space only my spirit could access was finding tiny eyes in the storm. After my husband’s death, showers became my retreat. Now , I have gained enough strength (and the kids are in school for a few hours a day) walks or just sitting in nature to be with myself and God have become my retreat. It only takes a little peace to make a big difference, but you have to fight to search for it sometimes. It’s worth the effort, I promise.

Ultimately, it took me a long time and many trials to realize that I can’t throw a proverbial life preserver to anyone else, including my children, if I myself am drowning. Someone I respect once told me: There is peace in the waves of crisis. If we stop treading water and fighting for the shore, just hang on and let the waves bring us to shore instead. I’m praying for you, whomever you may be, going through the mayhem. You can do this. You can hang on. You can reach the shore.



Does prayer really work?

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is though everything is a miracle”-Albert Einstein

I usually wait for movies to come out on DVD so I’m a little behind with what’s out, but I recently just watched the movie Miracles from Heaven. It was a powerful and uplifting movie based on a true story of miraculous healing. Miracle stories are amazing every time, but hearing them when you yourself did not get the miracle is, admittedly so, hard to swallow. Whenever I hear of miracle stories I genuinely feel in awe, but a little selfishly thinking on the side “Well…I prayed, my husband prayed, everyone prayed and he still died.” The next day, I found out someone else who leaned on prayer for a miracle did not receive it either and I’m heartbroken. It’s human to think when tragedy strikes, “Does prayer really work? And if it does, why didn’t it work for me (or fill in the name)?” The power of prayer is so easy to praise when “it works” in our favor when the scans are clear and you are stamped “cured,” when the marriage is restored, when someone’s life is spared in a horrendous car accident, but what happens when we pray and pray and pray and the divorce is still finalized, the husband or wife still cheats, the healing doesn’t come and death steals another loved one, one can’t help but to feel more than a little jipped, thinking, “I’m happy for them, truly, but why not me?” It’s a little too easy for us to say, “Prayer didn’t work for me.” I’ve heard that a lot and I’ve said it a lot. I’ve heard, “I tried the whole prayer-thing—it didn’t work.” “I’m praying and I’m still not being healed, I guess I’m not doing it right.” “All I did was pray, I did the right thing, and he still left me.” “I prayed and claimed healing, just like the Bible said to do, and I’m still planning a funeral…” It’d be too logical and easy to just conclude that prayer doesn’t “work.”

We’re not promised our desired result, but we are promised that prayer will always “work” in our favor, the favor of a loving Heavenly Father who wants us to invite him to walk through our circumstances.

So, there’s a clear dilemma, why does prayer “work” for some people, but from the outside it looks like it didn’t “work” for others? I am by no means a theologian or expert in prayer, but the wording, I believe, is the problem not prayer. The word “work.” There are lots of uses for the word “work:” I think when people refer to prayer “not working” we’re focusing on the definition that work means*:

  • to bring about (any result) by or as by work or effort:
  • to work a change.
  • to manipulate or treat by labor:
  • to put into effective operation.
  • to operate for productive purposes:

Key words in these definitions are: effort, change, manipulate, effective operation, to operate for productive purposes, results—you get the gist. Based on using “work” in the latter contexts maybe it would be logical to say I didn’t get the results I wanted therefore prayer didn’t work. But what if we pray in order for God’s will to “work” in our lives, according to the above definitions and instead view our part of prayer as “working” in the definitions that are to follow. That’s not to say we can’t request or go to God with our desires and needs, all with the remembrance that our worldy wants and needs may look differently than God’s sovereign knowledge of our needs and the bigger picture that includes His will, not ours.  So another definition of “work” is also “a literary or musical composition or other piece of fine art—‘a work of art’” or “A defensive structure” or “the exertion of force overcoming resistance or producing molecular change” or “everything needed, desired or expected.”

Here are some more definitions of this expansive word*:

  • to act or operate effectively:
  • to attain a specified condition, as by repeated movement
  • to have an effect or influence, as on a person or on the mind or feelings of a person.
  • to move in agitation, as the features under strong emotion.

I was incredibly grateful that the movie, Miracles from Heaven, showed the real struggle with faith during crisis and I felt both comforted and sad when, in one of the scenes, some “church people” asked the mother if there was something she had done wrong which might by why her 10-year-old daughter was gravely ill. Comforted because I could feel the pain watching that scene and sad because I could relate to the pain watching that scene. When my husband was dying of cancer, I occasionally had run-ins with well-meaning advice that turned out to really damage my prayer life. Comments and advice like: “Have you prayed over him?” “Have you claimed it in prayer?” “You’re not positive enough…” “you’re fearful, you’re not praying with enough faith” all the way to “you’re not even supposed to utter the ‘C’ word (Cancer).” Of course, we had done all of the above and kept the “C” word quiet for most of our marriage and yet, it still progressed. After his death, illnesses swept my household. Myself and my kids over and over again suffered from chronic respiratory illnesses, one which landed my newborn in the intensive care unit with RSV. My mom, who was my refuge in the storm, was laid out for almost two months because of an emergency surgery and I don’t think I ever got a full-night’s sleep for almost two years after because of anxiety and stress on my part and my kids night-terrors and a newborn baby waking at night for a bottle. It seemed all I could do was pray. Sometimes the prayer was only sobbing and crying, not even able to get a single word out of my mouth, sometimes I was so angry I yelled my prayers, sometimes the prayers were not in what I said or how I said it, but more how I said nothing at all because I had no idea what to pray for anymore (Romans 8:26).

But I do have a confession to make, I didn’t start to grasp what prayer really meant until recently, and even more-so now thanks to this awesome movie and meeting some truly amazing and inspiring prayer warriors in this journey from the land of the bereaved to the land of the joyful. To be honest I was really really confused about prayer and, if I’m honest a little bit resentful, because of the conflicting beliefs that I had about it. I even find myself struggling to tell someone who tells me they are ill or hurt that I will pray for their healing, the struggle is real. I am overcoming my “issues” with praying working or not working and I can only conclude that #1 I don’t have to feel ashamed by my “issues” with prayer, only that it drives me to seek God more and #2 despite my feelings on the subject at times, that prayer has one truth and that it “works” every time (James 5:16). It can fit almost any definition of “work” but that’s up to God, not me. Prayer can at times become a “work” of art or masterpiece, it can “work” as a defensive structure against our enemies—even ourselves at times, it can be the moving vehicle that “works” with the force of overcoming resistance.” And the act of truly “praying it down” as my therapist called it can produce  “the works”—everything desired, needed or expected which are the promised results: closeness, dependence and praise for God despite outcome. We’re not promised our desired result, but we are promised that prayer will always “work” in our favor, the favor of a loving Heavenly Father who wants us to invite Him to walk through our circumstances. That, in itself, is a miracle.



*All definitions obtained from and Yahoo search definition