Thursday, December 05, 2013

When Mothers "Happen"

I stumbled into this article by Shauna Niequest last night through Rachel Held Evans' blog. Shauna is the daughter of Lynne and Bill Hybels, founders of the mega-church Willow Creek. Shauna writes about her mother Lynne as a role model of healthy and whole womanhood--and about how, when Shauna was a teenager, Lynne began giving herself permission to pursue her passions, passions and gifts that weren't limited just to her role as a mother.
This journey she was on began when I was fourteen. I was just learning what it meant to be a woman. And the woman I was watching most closely was just beginning to reshape her definition, and in turn, mine.
Watching my mother while I was a young teenager gave me a front row seat to a hard, messy, important, beautiful transformation. I watched my mother become herself. I watched her come alive. I watched her discover her gifts. I watched her eyes sparkle when she returned from a meeting or a trip. I listened to her bubbling over with passion about what she was reading or learning.
And as I watched her, I promised myself that I would follow this new example she was leaving for me, to pay attention to my gifts and passions. The life I was seeing in her for the first time was so inspiring to me. I loved it in her, and I wanted it for myself.
I couldn't help but think of my own three daughters as I read these lines, about how, over the last 6 or so years, they've had a front-row view of their mother redefining and embracing who and what she could be. The two oldest have seen me labor through hours of graduate study, reading and writing furiously and excitedly and passionately (sometimes while crying, sometimes while laughing); they've watched me conduct science experiments in the kitchen, excitement bubbling over as foods fermented on the counter; they've watched me sit with a guitar or at the keyboard for hours, learning parts to songs because it gave me pleasure, because of a driving hunger to hear the sounds, to make melodies out of single notes; I've danced into the house after a prayer time with someone struggling, excited that the person was encouraged, that they encountered God in some significant way; they watched me pastor, teach classes, take difficult phone calls, solve problems, rejoice in making peace with others; they watched me labor nightly, for months, on a book and then listen to triumphant reports of "it's done!" They've watched me refinish furniture, paint endless walls, learn to crochet, use power tools, write book reviews, write sermons; they've listened to me read, through winter months with a quavering voice, literature and stories with which I long to fill their imaginations. They've watched me pack suitcases destined for far- off places, raise money for mission trips, take cookies to the neighbors just because.

Danny Silk talks about how important it is for women to "happen"--for life to surge through them, for their gifts to bubble forth, for the community to bless and encourage their pursuit of all God has called them to be. My own life has been happening these last six years or so, mostly because I've cooperated in ways I never thought about cooperating a decade ago as a new mother, or even as a teenager, when watching my own mother make her way through the world. I was a young woman afraid to open my mouth to sing or speak, afraid to stand up in a room of people sitting because they might see me; I was a woman afraid of being in my own skin, of happening.

There are other mothers happening around me, too. One friend has started a business around her phenomenal ability to create, re-design, and refinish anything she gets her hands on. Another friend decided to address some personal health needs that she'd been long putting off. Another is engaged in study, pouring over historical texts, researching ancient and holistic medicine practices. Others are standing at the foot of the path; they've said yes and they're about to step out on the journey.

I don't care what my daughters decide to "be" when they grow up, but I could weep with gratitude that somehow allowing ourselves to happen in front of their eyes might just inspire a confidence that some of us didn't have for decades, might just banish the protestations of self-doubt that haunted some of us for years, might just pave the way for them to happen, too.

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