Random Blog Clay Feet: 2014
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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day

Today is Mother's Day here in America. It is probably a good thing because we need at least a yearly reminder to intentionally draw our focus back to being more appreciative of our mothers, our wives and even many of the other women in our lives.

I have not been known for being adept at conveying appreciation or knowing how to show affection very well. Unfortunately, like some clumsy husbands I tend toward perfunctory fulfillment of expected traditions at such times, maybe more to prevent disgust from others than from genuine spontaneity. That is not to say I have no feelings or desire to be more effusive in my affection. Rather it is a symptom of my own brokenness and lack of mentoring that now needs much remediation. But God is working to repair all of that and I am seeking to cooperate more readily.

Since once again I have backed myself into a corner by failing to purchase the obligatory Mother's Day card for my wife this year, and running into town at the last minute would cost far more than the card itself, I decided that a more meaningful token of appreciation might involve something requiring more effort anyway, as well as expressing more fully how I really feel. So I will try my hand at writing out my memories and recollections and thoughts that are meaningful and important to me related to the wife and mother that I am married to today.

When I look at old photos of my wife hovering over our children when they were young, I am reminded of how beautiful she is, which of course is one reason why I was attracted to her in the first place. She has always been deferential in this regards feeling that she is far less attractive than she really is. But after observing other men over the years openly seeking to win her attentions even knowing she was married to me has been a reminder of what a special person God gifted to me.

Of course it is not just her natural external attractiveness that is important but much more valuable is the internal beauty that has so long emanated from her spirit that draws the attention of not just other men but many people in general. As an example, over the past couple weeks she has been caring for an elderly lady who was dying and finally passed to her rest. During this time many of the people of that family along with even the physician repeatedly complimented and thanked her for her spirit of kindness, gentleness and personal considerate care that she gave their mother over the past few months.

My wife has the gift of kindness and a natural knack for understanding the elderly that goes beyond the average. She has been in the caregiving business since before we were married and this too was likely one of the reasons I was drawn to her. Her gentleness, kindness, thoughtfulness and sweet disposition while caring for those around her has captured the attention of many over the years. Of course there have been times when her health has become worn down as a result of all the long hours and excessive work required from her by exploitive employers; and she has at times become very discouraged and even suffered severe health problems. But her tendency to want to be cheerful and to rebound in her spirit, even against great odds at times, has been an inspiration and even rebuke to me. She is a woman to be admired, respected and honored by her children, her husband and likely many others who never express their gratitude openly.

Over the years as we have grown closer and matured together in marriage, I have increasingly realized how her influence has affected my own journey. God knew that I needed someone who had an inherent desire to hum or sing and carry a more positive attitude than me many times. Countless times when I have been depressed or just out of touch with my own heart, I have been reminded by her soft whistling of some pleasant tune or her sudden breaking into a cheerful song that I was being reminded of an alternative to the naturally darker mood in my own mind. The spirit of cheerfulness even when she is tired and hurting has definitely affected my own healing process over the many years we have been married and I become more motivated to change myself.

But of course, this is Mother's Day and I have hardly mentioned the special bonds that she has with her own children. Maybe I am not the one to best express what that is since it is beyond my ability to understand this well myself. Providentially God has given me a woman who is far better at listening and caring and nurturing than I have ever been. I shudder at what might have happened to our children if she had not been around to buffer and soften and modulate my less than positive influence. Not that I have always been a harsh father, but because I grew up feeling very little love from a father myself, the wife God provided for me has been an influence to attract me to want to be more than the product of my own upbringing.

That is not to suggest that my own parents did not love me. I lost my birth mother not long after I turned sixteen and I now struggle to remember much about her this many years on. But I do recall her seeking to relate to me significantly differently than how most of my siblings had been raised previously relying primarily on the popular approach of severity more than gentleness. By the time the last two of us arrived on the scene, I am told that my mother urged that maybe it was time to try a different approach, to seek to use love more instead of simply demanding strict compliance through intimidation and punishments.

This decision of my mother to experiment with a new approach to raising her children did not go over well either with my own dad or with my brother who was the oldest child. To this day my brother insists that our mother became infected with what he believes was a false idea of the times pushed by Dr. Spock who insisted that children needed more love instead of strict control. That was a very unpopular message to some in that day but one that I believe was and still is sorely needed. But because my dad really wasn't in agreement with her desires to experiment with a new method for motivating her children, the mixed messages I received from them tended to produce a spirit of rebellion, resentment and defensiveness on my part that has left me struggling for years since then.

God is in the business of repairing all who are willing from the extensive damage caused by all sorts of sins passed down from generation to generation. Sadly, by the time I began to realize that my childhood contained many seriously unhealthy elements that were destructive to me, I had already passed too much along to my own children, treating them similarly to how my own dad had dealt with me. This of course, has brought me a great deal of regret as I now discover that the ways of God are nearly opposite to what I thought was normal growing up. I wish I could go back and raise my children differently than what I did, but the past is locked in the past except for the power of God to redeem it and to repair damage wherever it is found when He is given access. So I leave the damage I caused in God's hands and focus my attention on how powerful His love is to overcome all the effects from the past.

In my own early years, the dissonance between my own parents led me to play them against each other. I took advantage of what appeared to me then as the weakness in my mother's ways which I now see was really an awakening in her to the truth about God that only in recent years have I begun to discover myself. Feeling increasingly resentful, bitter and angry as a result of my dad's harsh treatment in his attempts to force me into compliance with the 'standards of truth' as he saw them, I found my own heart hardening, withdrawing and sealing itself against any attempts from my mother to reason with me, to love me or to help me to be changed by love at any level. At that time love was more torment for me than it was to be welcomed.

Given this background, I now realize how providential it is that God led me to the wife that I married. My own life at the time was in emotional chaos and I had very little social skill for relating to women in general. (Many would agree that I still have very little social skills and I would have to agree.) But given the turmoil in my life when I met this woman in college I am amazed that she even allowed me to get to know her, much less start wooing her to marry such a messed up guy.

Yes, I am aware that she was herself a product of emotional and social problems and that her family had its own set of dysfunctions that led to her having gaps in her life in need of healing. As we came together in marriage we of course brought to the union our own unique problems inherited from our dysfunctional families of origin. Over the intervening years those deficits of character from childhood produced a new blend of problems in our own home resulting in yet another family struggling to raise children with little experience of what love looks or feels like. But we made a brave attempt nevertheless and as I look back from a vantage point many years later it is easier to trace the hand of God working at various times and in various ways to steer us in a better direction.

Like so many others, both of us entered marriage assuming we could eventually shape the other person to become more like what we wanted in a mate and we spent too many years trying to do just that. Of course we were told this would never work, but the human heart can be quite stubborn nonetheless and we tried to force each other to fit into our preferred mold – something on my part than hers I suspect. Throughout those years of financial struggle, emotional tensions and spiritual growth together, we somehow continued to bond together and began to learn how to accept our differences and to even respect and appreciate some of them. And although our personality types in some respects seemed too similar (we both tend to want someone else to make the hard decisions and hate to confront conflict), I now can see that in other key areas we were designed to compliment each other.

These complimenting characteristics are becoming more evident as we grow older together. I have learned that I am far too left-brain oriented even though my heart has had very intense feelings over the years. Because of my intense fears of being shamed or punished when growing up, I have tended to suppress emotional expression or to be open about what I really feel inside. As a result I have lived life primarily from my intellectual side where most other people operated when I was growing up. My wife similarly has felt unsafe to be open about what is deep inside of her and given the modeling from our respective upbringing we both struggle to communicate honestly about what our hearts long to express.

The woman I married and who did most of the successful raising of our children had far more compassion and tenderness and solicitude than I ever felt capable of having. As a result our children now feel more open to relate to her much better than with me. I do not say this to their discredit but because it is a symptom of my own damaged heart that never knew how to love and relate the way she can. My children can have a conversation with me, but when she is on the phone they can feel safer to be more open which is something I long to be able to enjoy with them after God does more extensive repair in my own heart.

In the end, I sense that the real hero on Mother's Day is not the mothers that we tend to honor and praise and appreciate Rather the real hero is our loving Parent in heaven who is drawing every mother and father into an improved life of love for each other, for their children and for everyone. At times like this I find it problematic to refer to God as only a Father, for I have come to realize that God is never to be constricted by our narrow gender bias in our perceptions. God is neither male nor female but is beyond even both of those combined, yet at the same time God is the epitome of both of those.

Over the years God has brought into our family influence other young women who have functioned as daughters in our lives. One of them in particular had previously suffered under severe religious, emotional and other types of abuse growing up to the point where she wanted nothing to do with Jesus, the name utilized as the reason for much of her abuse. As a result she was looking for meaning wherever she could find it outside Christianity. Her damage though caused her to drift somewhat when it came to her ability to be honest with people. She tended to say whatever she thought people wanted to hear which of course created problems in relationships that caused problems at times. But one thing that caught my interest was her desire to relate to God as a Mother instead of just a Father. And this was more surprising because her own mother was one of the primary abusers in her life.

This concept though has intrigued me for years even before I met this young lady. I realize that many strict fundamentalists recoil in horror at such a thought, but I believe there is support for this concept in the Bible. Insisting that God should only be viewed in the male gender mode is a product of the patriarchal mentality of most religions rather than truth that I find in Scripture. There I find a God who created humans as a binary reflection of God, not a hierarchal structure designed for top-down authority and control. God is love and love is very different from the way we run our world now. By what I have been discovering lately this means that God is just as much feminine in character as He is masculine if not more so. We just find it more convenient to use male adverbs because our language doesn't accommodate anything else readily and because tradition has forced us into this mentality.

As I think of it honestly, God is the real Father as well as Mother who is the only one who can lead us, mentor us and salvage our hearts and lives back to that original design that He created in the beginning. Salvation is not so much about getting us to stop sinful behaviors or for getting us into paradise as it is about restoring us to be the Mothers and Fathers and siblings and children that we were designed to be in the first place. To become godly is to become all that God is – kind, loving, gentle, compassionate, solicitous, caring, forgiving and encouraging. From my experience most of these attributes tend to show up on the women's side of humanity more than the men's side. Maybe that is why Jesus came as a man – not because He wanted to reinforce male dominance in our world but because He needed to redeem the male psychic from the severe damage it has suffered and to model to us what He originally wanted males to look and act like.

As I learn more of the real truth about what God is really like in sharp contrast to the views of God I grew up with, I realize that much of what is considered normal for males is actually rooted in misapprehensions about God that now are embedded in what we consider normal male behavior and thinking. Many accepted male characteristics promoted by religious and non-religious people alike are more reflective of false views about God than they are reflective of God's design for husbands and fathers. As a result it seems that mothers and women in general are more reflective of the kind of person that Jesus revealed than do many men. That has a lot of potential for serious consideration.

So, what does all this have to do with Mother's Day? In all my left-brain meanderings and musings and rabbit trails, what I want to say here is that I appreciate what God has done, is doing and continues to do in the mothers that surround all of us, and particularly related to the one that I married. I want to be a more caring husband and she is seeking to help me learn how to do that. I also long to be a more connected dad with my children, and although she may not be able to lead the way fully to what that looks like, she already keeps the connection open and is praying and encouraging me as my own healing heart slowly learns how to reach out for better relationships with my children.

Most of all what I appreciate about my wife and the mother of our children is that she is open to the leading of God's Spirit in her life. Like me she at times struggles to be consistent in responding fully to that Spirit, but I shudder at what my life might feel like if she were one who had little or no interest in knowing God herself. My life has been made far easier than many connected with people antagonistic to their desire to follow God. And although we struggle to be more transparent with each other, we are learning how to be more open, more vulnerable and how to avoid exploiting each other's vulnerability. For this I am deeply grateful and appreciative and thank God for giving me such a woman.

Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: "Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all." Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate. (Proverbs 31:28-31 NIV)