For the last five years, I've been a volunteer leader in the MOPS program at our church. MOPS stands for Mothers of Preschoolers, and it's basically a trifecta cross between a parenting class, a Bible study and a support group for moms of children age infant to kindergarten. For the last two years, I was the coordinator of our group, which had 130-something members, and last month committed to oversee the total MOPS program at our church, which involves something like 40 leaders and over 200 attendees.
Whenever the pastor to Women's ministries at our church, Shelly, introduces me to someone, affirms me at a meeting, or writes me a "thank you" card (which is often -- she is very supportive), she always says that she loves how much I love being a mom, and how much I love ministering to moms.
I am always surprised that this is what she highlights about me. You know those bumper stickers that say, "I wish I was the person my dog thinks I am"? Well, I need one that says "I wish I was the person my pastor thinks I am." Because in reality, I have very ambivalent feelings about being a mom.
And I don't think of myself as ministering to moms. I think of myself as a minister to women. Who happen to be moms. And I think this is what makes me good at it.
Let me unpack this a little.
I LOVE being married. I LOVE my kids. But being a mom is very complicated. "Mom" is a label you get when you give birth, and it never leaves you. And for many women, at least for a time, it erases every other label they previously carried. I think of a spoof "Saturday Night Live" commercial for "Mom Jeans" I saw several years ago. The voice-over extols their comfort-fit 9-inch zipper and the fact that wearing them says to world, "I'm not a woman, I'm a mom!"
I have a personal business card that I hand out to people (moms in the park, women in my Bible study, my sewing clients, my editors), and on it is my name, and after it this:
"Writer, Quilter, Baker, Scrapbooker, Mom"
One time I gave it to a couple of women who bought some antiques in my flea market booth, and they asked me, in all seriousness, "Why do you have Mom on there last? Shouldn't it be first?" The irony: I write about my kids, I quilt for my kids, I bake for my kids, I scrapbook pictures of my kids. But still: shouldn't the word Mom come first?
And that right there is the issue. Moms struggle so much with priorities.Who comes first: husband? Children? Work? Hobbies? My self? When am I being selfish? When am I being too selfless? Am I giving my children enough attention? Too much? Am I involved enough in their pursuits? Am I living too much through their pursuits? It's a constant balancing act. It could turn into a constant identity crisis. It's a crisis of culture. Everyone is in on the debate: what should life look like for a woman with children? A mom can be judged for "letting herself go" or for spending too much time and energy maintaining her appearance. Nothing we do is off limits for judgement.
Which is why an organization like MOPS is so important. Because though their slogan is "Better Moms Make a Better World" (it used to be "Mothering Matters," which is also true), MOPS embraces the conflicted heart of a woman who loves, loves, loves her kids. Enough to die for them. Enough to kill for them. But who also sometimes wants to strangle them. The heart that sometimes hates being a mom: the constant monotony and uncertainty of it. The immeasurability of it; how can I track progress? The sometimes thanklessness of it. The fact that it is stress and boredom punctuated by moments of extreme joy.
I need much more than motherhood in my life. I'm ambitious. I'm trying to write a book, and get more published in magazines. I want a speaking career. I have 100 quilts in my head that I want to make. My friends are very important to me. I like taking trips by myself. I like being alone in my car!
The fact that I can say this on stage in front of 100 women or more is probably my greatest strength as a leader, though I do it with fear and trembling, knowing that someone out there might judge me for not always putting my kids first. So it's incredibly encouraging that Pastor Shelly hears me speak, and watches me work, and sees that I love motherhood and the ministry for mothers.
This week, I was having a five minute conversation with Pastor Shelly on the phone, trying to iron out the agenda for an upcoming leadership meeting. Livie was in the back seat of my car, and I was standing outside at the tailgate in the parking lot of a grocery store. Livie was blowing on a whistle she's gotten from a pinata. She'd been using it to give me whistle commands, signals for things like "get out of the car," "get into the car" and "March!" Which is why she was sitting in the car, and I was on the phone outside of it.
When five minutes were up, I released my four year old from the back seat, and set off across the parking lot, still on the phone. "I can hear the whistling," laughed Shelly. "I better let you go be mom!" And in this, Pastor Shelly showed me her heart. A woman who sits on the executive board of the 10th largest church in America, who trains hundreds of leaders, who is in the business of healing hearts and saving souls, and who is also an avid runner and gardener and has her contractor's licence, is letting me off the phone. But on that laundry list of things she is, Shelly is a mom, and she loves being a mom. She knows what I'm doing is important. And you know what, I love it! I'm the woman she thinks I am after all.