“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD; “Plans to help you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” -Jeremiah 29:11
Since becoming a mom, I’ve followed the blogs of many moms. These moms remind me that I’m not alone in the challenges of motherhood, and give me glimpses into the lives of the precious people that make up their families. I’ve never met most of these ladies in person, but I feel as if they’re old friends.
One mom in particular–Ellen*–never fails to disappoint. Her website isn’t fancy, but on its electronic page she has faithfully recorded the triumphs and trials of her large family for the last several years. For me, Ellen seems be the example of what true motherhood looks like. Ellen homeschools her large family, and manages to do so in a small house where there’s a place for everything and everything in its place. Her family rarely eats junk or fast food, everyone has chores to do, and they regularly venture out into the countryside for fun rambles. They enjoy singing hymns together instead of watching television, and when they do watch TV the programs are carefully chosen for the whole family to view.
The most admirable thing about Ellen, in my opinion, is her faith. When she and her husband found out they were expecting a child with Down Syndrome, at first she cried out to God in confusion and pain. Fearing for the health and the acceptance of her child, she made connections with other parents of children with Down Syndrome, and learned all she could about the practical side of caring for her new baby. Reading through the archives on her page about this period, I was brought to tears many times as she poured out her raw emotions. When her beautiful daughter was born, Ellen endured the news of her child’s serious heart defect (common in children with Down Syndrome), and again found strength in her faith that God had a plan far bigger than her comprehension. I read with astonishment how the staggering cost of her baby’s surgery was miraculously covered by generous donors–many of whom did not know the family personally–and praised God when the surgery was successful.
As I continued to read Ellen’s blog, I watched God’s plan unfold like a gorgeous rose. The faith her family had gained while raising their new daughter inspired them to adopt a child from overseas with special needs, and then another–all while birthing two more biological children. I read story after story of God’s provision during their adoptions, and marveled at how all three of her children with special needs were thriving thanks to her tireless efforts.
After reading yet another heartwarming entry peppered with adorable photos, I would close the page and sigh. I came to motherhood later in life, and unlike Ellen, I aspired first to having a career rather than having a family. Now that I was a mom, it seemed to me like Ellen was everything I wasn’t. I didn’t exactly compare myself to her, but I most definitely aspired to be her. I thought to be like her was to be the best kind of mom, the ‘Proverbs 31’ woman come to life.
Then in the midst of what seemed like a perfect life, one of Ellen’s precious adopted children died in a tragic accident. It was a long time before Ellen could write about the event, despite the reassurance us followers gave her that she could safely pour out her grief to us. Slowly, Ellen returned to her blog, giving us the barest glimpses into the horrific day that her child was taken from her.
As she did so, I realized that Ellen was tired, and had been exhausted–emotionally, spiritually, and physically–for months before the accident. Everything had been piling up until she blamed herself for not being ‘mom enough.’ I read post after post where she chronicled her struggle not to blame herself for the terrible accident. She mentioned that it was hard to think of or speak of that day without becoming physically ill.
Even as Ellen discussed the need to share her responsibilities with others, I continued to believe that the only way to be a ‘true’ mother was to be willing to spend every ounce of my strength and every moment of my day (and night) for my family. I still held Ellen up as my yardstick, and I felt I was falling short of her example. In the midst of my hero-worship, I forgot that Ellen had given herself a too-rigid yardstick, and like me, felt she was failing miserably. I doubt very much she would have felt anything but shame had she been a fly on the wall as I talked about her one day to a dear friend of mine.
My friend stopped me in mid-sentence. “I know you think Ellen is the greatest mom in the world, but that’s not you,” she protested.
“I want it to be me,” I countered. “Ellen’s a real mom.”
My friend continued to explain. “There are many types of moms in the world. Aren’t all of them ‘real’ moms, too?”
As I pondered that, my friend dealt another blow to my dreams of being a ‘perfect’ mom: “You have gifts and talents that Ellen doesn’t, and she has gifts and talents that you don’t. She aspired to be a mother from girlhood. You had other dreams–a career, a master’s degree–and you pursued them with no less fervor than Ellen pursued hers.”
I tried again. “I want to give my kids the best. Doesn’t that mean homeschooling, and natural living–and learning how to be compassionate to others? Doesn’t that mean having them witness firsthand about God’s provision?”
My patient friend wasn’t deterred. “I’ve seen you take great care in what you choose to feed your kids. I’ve heard you talk about using natural products around your home. You make many teachable moments during the time you do have with your kids, whether it’s counting how many blue cars pass by or talking about where clouds come from. You stop to give homeless people money and snacks when your kids are in the car with you.” My friend shrugged. “I think you’re doing just fine, without having to be someone you’re not.”
It was both a sobering and reassuring moment when I took Ellen down from the pedestal where I’d placed her. I didn’t have to feel I was being selfish to want some ‘me’ time. I didn’t have to feel guilty for having a career or buying the occasional Happy Meal. God wasn’t going to bless Ellen any more (or less) than He was blessing me. God would still be glorified through my life as much as He was through hers.
I wish I could say that I’ve never thought about being like Ellen again, but that’s not the case. Every now and again I have to remind myself that God has me right where He wants me at this moment. He knows the desires of my heart. He also knows what His plans are for me, and since He made me, He knows me better than I know myself.
The best thing I can take from yearning to be like Ellen is that she was given grace to accomplish the things God asked her to do–even walk through the valley of the shadow of death. And because we serve the same majestic, omniscient, grace-full God, I know that she and I both will receive that grace in full measure right where we are.
*Not her real name