Saturday, June 29, 2013

Post #4: Empty Nest: A Lament of Loss of Motherhood

(This is a 5-part series on the fallen state of motherhood based on the Book of Lamentations, written as a project for a class at Moody Bible Theological Seminary. For more information, see previous posts). 

Within two days during a warm sunny June of 2011, both of my sons left home, never to live under my roof again.

The searing pain was unbearable as I watched my youngest, the last to leave, pull away from the curb, driving his Dad’s VW Beetle. He would work at a camp all summer and then return for literally three days at the end of summer before flying out to Washington state to attend college. My other son, having also left for a summer job, would marry within months, beginning his life under a roof of his own.

What to do, how to respond for a mother who chose to be at home with her children as her part and parcel in life? As the days following their leaving grew longer with my longing for my sons, images of the past flooded my quiet moments: sledding in the park at twilight, running through sprinklers in the yard on hot afternoons, eating popsicles on the front porch, painting and creating art on the Little Tykes table in the yard, and hours and hours spent snuggling with books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Richard Scary’s BusyTown, Carl the Dog and Blueberries for Sal.

I could not go into my son’s bedrooms; I closed the doors. I could not eat, understanding for the first time the Biblical accounts of fasting. If I could have torn my clothes I would have. If it would have been acceptable to throw dust on my person I would have done that too. Every place I used to spend time with my children was now desolate with their absence.

My husband was a rock. I cleaved to him, thanking God for our strong marriage that would now be re-made in its new position of post-parenting. We would make it. I would make it. But it would take time.

I walked into church that first Sunday after my son’s leaving, and when my pastor, who also was a recent “empty-nester,” asked how I was doing, I said, “Not good.” His face turned ashen and tired as he leaned closer, whispering, “It’s like a death, isn’t it?”

A wash of gratitude came over me: this man knew exactly how I felt, putting my exact feelings into words. We both were ashamed to admit it, because we hadn’t experienced the trauma of a child’s death as so many have. But we grieved nonetheless, and it was a balm to know that I didn’t grieve alone.

In the coming months, the words “empty-nest” seemed to be the topic of every conversation. I met many women, who, unlike my pastor, were downright jubilant in their freedom from their kids and expected me to be also.

“Now you can do whatever you want!” was the common refrain.

I replied, “I was doing what I wanted. Being a mom was the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done!”

These same people would never tell a person who just got fired from a job, “Yay! Now you can do whatever you want!” They would console and listen. Somehow an at-home mom who suddenly has no children at home is supposed to go off galavanting into the sunset as if she hadn’t just spent the last 20 years of her life raising children full time.

But then, like my pastor, there were others whose eyes teared up at the mention of “empty nest.” They became my instant new best friends! It wasn’t just moms who struggled; I found dads, too, who were having a hard time of it.

One of my friends said, “I knew you’d have a difficult time of it,” the implication being that I’d invested too heavily in my choice to stay at home and raise kids (again, would this same implication--of having invested too heavily in their work or career—been made for someone who just lost their job or retired?)

I know of a mom who took the opposite route of staying home: she was a highly successful corporate executive living in a 5 million dollar house in the Hollywood Hills. When her son was about to graduate high school and leave home for college, she soberly pondered on her career and how it had taken her away from her son for much of his life.

“I wonder if it was worth it,” she asked.

At that moment, my heart broke more for her than for myself.

My children are missed not because our 20 years together were a breeze, or perfect, or filled with Kodachrome moments every second of the day. Some years were hard and long, and I prayed fervently for God’s intervention into my children’s lives, and especially into my own life, praying to be a more Christ-like mother.

Part of the sadness of my children’s leaving is the wanting to do it all over again, only this time with the foreknowledge of the wisdom I’ve gained. I am tempted to focus on the mistakes and think, “I would do it all perfectly if I had it to do over again.” Yet I know this isn’t true. Their pride and mine, my bad moods and theirs, my preoccupation with worries and cares as well as theirs all combine for turbulence, even in the strongest of families. So I try to focus on Philippians 3:14, “...Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

I do this to focus on the joys and accomplishments that lie ahead, trying not to compare the future with the incomparable satisfaction, fulfillment and contentment of the days spent full time raising kids.

Michael David Elam writes, in a review of Tolkien’s Ainulindale in volume twenty-eight of the Anglo-American Literary Review, “Looking to the divine for comfort should not be misconstrued as looking for the return of what was lost...”

He goes on to say, “The assurance is in the fact that comfort will be received, not in the comfort itself. Loss is not the focal point of this sorrow. God becomes the central focus amidst such sorrow, and, in a sense, this focus on God frames the sorrow so that it may give rise to beauty.”

Beau Harris, in his essay The Silent God in Lamentations in the April, 2013 journal Interpretation, writes how the Israelites were to use their extreme time of trial to “stay in right relationship with God by trusting in the new place toward which God was leading them rather than longing for that which was behind them.”

This is where I am today, almost two years later. I’m coming to grips with the fact that from now on it will be as a short-term visitor that my son’s feet will cross the homestead’s threshold. Leavings will never be easy. But at least attached to them are the arrivings. I hold on to that.

Yes, my sons are grown, and yet they continue to be my sons. And I continue to be their mom. There will be other nests. They will not remain empty.

Lament for the Leaving of Children

How the white-blonde hair of you,
the oldest,
flashes in memory,
as you run down sun-filtered paths
and climb low branches,
believing you have scaled the world!

And you,
the younger,
rummaging in the garage for trinkets,
bringing imaginations to fruition;
your brown hair
sweaty at the neck;
your mind absorbed.

The two of you—
gifts of the Almighty,
leading our family to Christ;
Him leading us to Himself through you.
There is no regret, no remorse,
no angst in the time spent with you.
There is only life itself.

The days now gone
are golden.
They will not expire nor fade.
Fresh they remain in every season,
the days of joy
at home with you.
                             Barb Harwood

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

POST #3: The High Calling Of God: A Lament Of Hope For A Return To Motherhood

(This is the third in a series on the fallen state of motherhood based on the Book of Lamentations. For more information, see previous posts.)

The high point of hope in Lamentations is found in chapter 3, verse 57: “You came near when I called you, and you said, ‘Do not fear.’”

Motherhood is afflicted and walks in darkness. In many ways, motherhood has become a laughingstock, trampled in the dust of self-promotion and materialism. She is deprived of peace, and in many homes, does not prosper. Therefore, “my soul is downcast within me (Lamentations 3:20).

“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’S great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him” (Lamentations 3:21-24).

There was a time when I was conflicted in wanting to stay at home and be a mom to my kids, negatively influenced by the world’s low estimation of that desire. The truth claims of the women’s liberation movement were clashing with my inner call to be a stay-at-home mom, more and more so after I became saved and born again in Jesus Christ. After hitting a low point, I read something in Scripture that I believe was Titus 2:3-4, but to this day I am not really sure. But it spoke truth to me, imploding the false claims of women’s liberation. I write of this epiphany to freedom in a previous blog, dated July 23, 2012:

“Many Christians compartmentalize service into ‘service to God’ and service that is below us or irrelevant because we don’t perceive it as being directly for God. God’s word, however, does not compartmentalize. When He tells us to train up a child...he doesn’t spell out when it is for Him and when it is not for Him because it is always for Him."

"I’ve often wondered why some people assume serving a child in a foreign country is service to God while serving their own children under their very roof is not (see Proverbs 22:6). I once talked to a pastor’s wife who worked part time, attended college and conducted women’s ministries. When it came to her own children still living at home, she said, ‘The Lord will provide.’ Really? I decided to test this concept (I need to interject here that my husband was holding up his end of responsibility by working long hours to support our family and then coming home and helping out. I, in turn, was an at-home mom)."

"So, as the new Christian that I was, I tested the pastor’s wife concept that “the Lord will provide,” regardless of my ditching of my responsibilities at home for other pursuits. I got involved in serving everywhere: I volunteered in the elementary school library, sat on multiple committees, worked pizza sales, went on mission trips, ran money-raising 10 K’s and biked week-long bike rides (under the justification that I was doing it for a 'good cause', when secretly it was often an act of my own pride or of believing the lie that said a woman cannot be fulfilled within her own home and that 'true' service remains 'out there')."

"What I discovered is, (contrary to what the pastor’s wife said), God, in fact, did not do my laundry. He didn’t cook the meals. He didn’t keep my house in order and pay my bills for me on time. He didn’t do the ironing. He didn’t keep peace in the house when homework didn’t get done or we couldn’t find the fieldtrip permission slip because everything was reduced to chaos while I was ‘out there’ serving the world (not God) and neglecting my household."

"Why does God give us children if He can just raise them Himself? It doesn’t make sense and it isn’t Biblical. Our first duty is always to our families (read Titus and Proverbs for starters). And ‘duty’ to our families doesn’t mean farming the kids off to sports camps and every other which way so we can get on with being busy in our own pursuits, even if those pursuits are ‘other-centered’ or ‘for God.’ James 3:14-16 says, ‘But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.’"

"God’s perspective on service to Him is something He had to repeatedly hammer into me. And one day, the light bulb went on and stayed on. These children of mine, God showed me, are not my kids, they are God’s! He entrusted them to me. Just like my marriage is a covenant with God, and so participation in my marriage and with my husband is service to God, so is the raising of God’s kids. God knitted my children in my womb. They are His gift."

"When I understood this—when it really hit me that my children and my husband belong to God—I suddenly understood service to my family as service to God, and marveled at the grace of God to include me in such a high calling. Only then was I able to tap into God’s joy in serving my family so that it became my joy to serve my family.” Post, July 23, 2012.

Motherhood can only be reclaimed for God when it is redeemed by God in the hearts and minds of women. “Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the LORD” (Lamentations 3:40). This is the hope for Motherhood’s vindication and restoration.

Lament for the Hope of Motherhood’s Redemption

I lift up my heart and hands   (Lamentations 3:41)
for the winter of this dark time to end;
to re-flower in the warm rain of Your righteousness,
bound to your everlasting love.
You desire Your people to be nurtured;
Nurture us, Lord,
in Your keeping.
Teach us to replicate Your sacrifice
to the offspring You have entrusted to us,
The dear ones You call Your own.
Forgive us, Lord,
the trampling of motherhood for other idols.
Entreat us by Your Spirit
to run to Your offspring in Your equipping;
to cradle them in our arms with Your love.
                                                         Barb Harwood

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Social Commentary Post #2: Where Have All the Mothers Gone? A Lament of Loss of Motherhood Through Abortion

(This is the second in a series on the fallen state of motherhood based on the book of Lamentations. For more information, see previous three posts.)

“A total of 784,507 abortions were reported to CDC for 2009. Of these abortions, 772,630 (98.5%) were from the 45 reporting areas that provided data every year during 2000-2009. Among these same 45 reporting areas, the abortion rate for 2009 was 15.1 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 years, and the abortion ratio was 227 abortions per 1,000 live births.”

“Unintended pregnancy is the major contributor to abortion.” CDC

These statistics are from the Centers for Disease Control Website, and are the most current statistics on abortion I could find.

Another website that gives not only statistics, but the human side of abortion, especially for the mother, is On the front page of their website is a heartbreaking letter written by a young woman who felt she had no recourse but to abort her son. Read the letter and mourn for this young woman and the son she never had. posts a January 22, 2013 article in which Norma McCorvey, the real person behind the name “Jane Roe” shares her story of how she got caught up in a diabolical piece of history and how she now fights against it. From the article:

“...most Americans don’t know that McCorvey, who was 'pro-choice' on abortion at the time, is now a pro-life advocate. She is now dedicated to reversing the Supreme Court case that bears her fictitious name, Jane Roe.”

The article continues:

“In a video, McCorvey explains her effort to obtain a legal abortion in the 1970s when facing an unplanned pregnancy. However, she has never had an abortion and now realizes that her court case was the biggest mistake of her life and currently fights to stop abortion.”

“’Back in 1973, I was a very confused twenty-one year old with one child and facing an unplanned pregnancy,” she says in the ad. 'At the time I fought to obtain a legal abortion, but truth be told, I have three daughters and never had an abortion.’"

"‘I think it’s safe to say that the entire abortion industry is based on a lie...I am dedicated to spending the rest of my life undoing the law that bears my name,' McCorvey says.’” 
End of lifenews article

Abortion doesn’t just affect the unborn. It affects their mothers. When a baby is aborted, motherhood dies along with that child. It doesn’t matter whether that mother even considers herself a mother, or potential mother, but her mothering to the aborted child never takes place. And many mothers live in excruciating guilt as they suffer in the sorrow and regret of their choice.

Imagine being told that what you are carrying in your womb is nothing but a blob of cells, and under what is perceived to be “sound medical counsel” you have an abortion. Then, as the years go by and you read news stories that reveal that babies, do, indeed feel pain, and you see ultrasounds of babies in their first weeks of life and hear their heartbeat, you come to realize that you were misinformed and most likely taken advantage of, if not downright lied to. Suddenly you realize that you were, indeed, at one time a mother, and that the baby you allowed to be killed was your very own child.

Lament of Motherhood Lost through Abortion

How the Lord has disapproved
of the killing of His own
and the hurling down of motherhood; His gift.
In ignorance mothers abandon their children.
Their maternal eyes fail from weeping
over what they have done.

They are in torment within.

Seeking relief yet finding none,
what can these shadows of mothers say to us, to you?
      “Arise, cry out in the night...(Lamentations 2:19)
       pour out your heart like water
       in the presence of the Lord
       Lift up your hands to him
       for the lives of your children.”
Let us grieve with the mothers of loss
whose children,
at their mother’s behest,
are no more,
leaving a stain of regret forever.
                                   Barb Harwood

“In the days of her affliction and wandering
Jerusalem remembers all the treasures
that were hers in days of old.” Lamentations 1:7a

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Social Commentary Post #1: Women's Liberation: A Lament Over the Fallen State of Motherhood

(the first in a 5-part series. See previous 2 blogs for further information)

I find it ironic that the very thing the women’s liberation movement meant to fight for, ended up making worse. Lest one bristle at my statement, think about it: are we better off that our teenage girls are promiscuous? That the “freedom” to have sex has turned women into slaves to men? That sexual “freedom” has weirdly been put in the same camp as civil liberty, as if having multiple sex partners is on the same level as the right to vote? Are we better off that in order for a woman to gain respect from society she must decide between a career or her children? And that being an at-home mom has become prefaced with the word “just;” I’m just an at-home mom?
A bit of research into the women’s lib movement reveals that one of the things this movement fights against is the expectation that one of the responsibilities of women once they marry is to prioritize the household and raise children if they give birth to them. That’s why husbands and wives have children, isn’t it? To raise them? And where better to do that in their own home!
The women’s lib movement of the 70’s and 80’s was the beginning of a vocal disgruntlement—abhorrence in many cases—with raising children. Young girls and women were being taught (I felt coerced) to resent motherhood, even before they ever had children. This anti-motherhood movement existed to create negative presuppositions towards motherhood in the minds of young girls and women. And for the most part, they succeeded.
I understand that motherhood has not been appreciated by all women at all times in history. Certainly unhappy mothers existed in the past as now, just as unhappy professional working women also exist. My premise is that motherhood is appreciated less so now because of the artificial and stereotypic assessment and complaint of motherhood led by the women’s liberation movement. And if you tell a lie often enough, it starts to ring true to those who have no discernment. So women abandon the motherhood ship and we see the results all around us in the form of increasingly disenfranchised, depressed and addicted youth.
In fact, Bob Deffinbaugh, writing on the Christian work ethic on, shares a tremendous insight on this ditching of familial responsibilities when he writes,

“The Bible condemns the “sluggard.” The Book of Proverbs has a great deal to say about the sluggard, and none of it is good. The sluggard is not one who never works; he is one who works hard to avoid the “work” he dislikes. I believe that many “workaholics” are really sluggards. They immerse themselves with their work, so that they can escape their responsibilities elsewhere, such as in the home and in the church. And because they “work so hard” society (and even the church) commends them for it, without recognizing the evil behind it all.”

And that is where I fault feminism: for starting a societal mud-slinging campaign against home, hearth and motherhood, resulting in a breakdown of the family and leading to a larger breakdown of society. 
John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, on page 1212 of the Bible Knowledge Commentary, writing on Lamentations, have this to say about Jerusalem at the time of her fall: “She reaped what she had sown. When she turned from God to pursue her own idolatrous ways, she did not consider her future.” Ditto for feminism. And feminism’s “future” is now.
Sadly, I grew up as this tragic campaign was blasting off, brainwashed, as I now call it, by the undiscerning female “role models” in my formative years.
Even my liberal childhood church got into the act! The favorite song young girls chose to sing out of our Sunday school songbook on Sunday mornings was I am Woman by Helen Ready. The lyrics go like this:

I am woman, hear me roar
in numbers too big to ignore
And I know too much to go back an’ pretend
“Cause I’ve heard it all before
And I’ve been down there on the floor
No one’s ever gonna keep me down again
Oh yes, I am wise
But it’s wisdom born of pain
Yes, I’ve paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to, I can do anything
I am strong
I am invincible
I am woman...

            There are more navel-gazing, finger-down-the-throat-verses to this song. What I notice about these lyrics is how self-centered they are. And that is the liberation movement’s downfall: it raised women above others, the very thing it claimed to protest! There’s a rich idea: if we feel disenfranchised, let’s now disenfranchise someone else to lift ourselves up!! And their target was and continues to be, men, daughters, sons and motherhood.
            According to women’s liberation, women are better than men and above raising children full time in the home. Their mantra is self-centeredly “Nobody is ever going to be over me, a woman, to put me down. Women rule!” That doesn’t sound like liberation to me. It sounds like bondage to pride.
            That is where we are today. Caught in a pride of womanhood that denies its very purpose, which—if we choose to give birth to children—is to raise them, alongside and with a man. Oh that women have come so far from this concept of purpose and accountability!
Why is it that women think they can have a child and then go off and do whatever they like? Children have become inconveniences to aspirations and strivings. Let someone else care for or babysit the kids, as they’re just little know-nothings who don’t really count until they turn twenty. And then, suddenly, the parents want to be in their children’s lives! Where was that parental desire to consistently be with their kids in the form of raising them when those children were little?
            Women’s lib wants women to ROAR: about iniquities, disadvantages, the limits placed on us. It’s all about rights and never about responsibilities.
I overheard a woman just last week in a coffee shop lamenting to a co-worker that she did not, in her words, “advocate for myself enough” at work after giving birth to both of her kids. What was she “advocating” for (and recommending her pregnant co-worker also advocate for?): Flexibility at work now that she has kids! However, the men she works with who also have children but who did not physically give birth to those children have to sit back and watch their female co-workers “advocate” for themselves by asking for time off whenever they want it, and the flexibility to work at home or make their own hours. That same man cannot “advocate” for himself that way (nor, I’m sure, do these women’s own working husbands “advocate” for themselves at work this way). But the "liberated" working mother thinks she’s entitled to special treatment.
 Lest one think this is an isolated case, it’s not. I’ve heard this time and time again from working moms and from the men who work with them.
This quote from a working woman interviewed for a CNN Living article titled, “The myth of Balancing Motherhood and a Successful Career,” sums up the anti-male attitude: "All mothers have to make choices and we're judged differently," she said. "The choices for working mothers are more costly than it is for men.”
Why do so many women think this way about their male working counterparts? I know many households where the men are holding down the fort while women work and travel on business. Recently I was in another state assisting my husband with a business project and spent a week with two business women who had both left small children behind at home (in case you are wondering, I was able to leave home for a week as my children no longer live at home). One woman had left a child who was only nine months old! And who was taking care of these little ones while these two moms traveled for an entire week on business? Their husbands, after long days at work themselves (making enough money, I might add, to support the entire family. These women were at work by choice, not need). Their husbands come home and cook dinner and clean and read bedtime stories. But working men get no credit simply because they are men, and women have bought into the lie that nothing is a hardship for a man. So pile on the man at home while the woman is away at work, and make the man pick up the slack at the office while the moms expect flexible and accommodating schedules for themselves. This is the picture of women’s liberation.
I recently had dinner with a corporate businessman who lamented the fact that he had to go to the office every day while his wife stayed home with the children. He was happy she could be home with them, but he felt he missed out while at work every day. So let’s please have compassion for workingmen and the fatherly duties they so loyally and steadfastly carry out whilst their working wives work and their working mom co-workers feel entitled to special time off.
As the early women’s liberation campaign dissed motherhood, it’s now morphing into “embracing motherhood and career,” telling themselves and other women that they can “do it all.” But can married mothers who work outside the home have a balanced life? Many working moms, out of self-justification, claim they can (but my mentoring to married couples tells me they can’t. Just as men can’t “do it all” either.). The jury is out, yet rarely does anyone offer a resounding “No” to this question. But thankfully, Drew Barrymore has taken the first step in making it safe to do so. In an April 5, 2013, Us Weekly article, she said,

            "You know that you're going to miss out on your child's upbringing or you see that your relationship is going to suffer if you work night and day and weekends.
"Unfortunately, I was raised in this like generation of like, 'Women can have it all,' and I don't think you can. I think some things fall off the table. The good news is, what does stay on the table becomes much more important. You've got to choose your battles, definitely."
Barrymore decided against directing and acting so that she could be a mother to her daughter. These decisions are not always easy, as Barrymore points out. But they are necessary:
She said: "I would miss out on my daughter. I can't do it...It was heartbreaking to let go (of the working), but it was a clear choice. As my daughter gets older, I'll slowly get back into it. I'm never not going to be who I am. I'll never abandon ship completely.”

I love what Barrymore says here because she makes three important points: mothers will make sacrifices, good or ill; her daughter comes first and one can never get the time lost with children back; being a mom doesn’t negate who we are as individuals (in fact, I think it greatly enhances it).
The damage women’s liberation has done is irrevocable for some. It’s too late to redeem the years lost with children, or to change past or current societal presuppositions that a woman’s only value is in having a career. But it’s not too late for our daughters, nieces and other young ladies in our midst for whom we can bust open the false teachings of the women’s liberation movement and begin to be faithful proclaimers of true liberation: being the women God made us to be according to His purpose and call: which, for many women, includes marriage and motherhood.

Lament of Liberation Lost

How deserted lies the house
now empty at peak of day.
No little ones underfoot
their soft heaving sighs absent from
the noon-day crib

The late afternoon sun
angles in the nursery
then darkens—
time goes by.

The front door opens
Oh momentary joy! The family returns!
Hustle and bustle,
Time together over a meal
and then the beginnings of ending;
Oh sorrow.
Dishes, paying bills, 
bath time for little ones.
Bedtime stories?
Alas, goodnight.

And then tomorrow,
all over again,
moving in and out of one another’s lives.
                                                Barb Harwood

 "We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." 
1 Corinthians 2:12-14

"He who has ears, let him hear." Matthew 11:15

"Then Jesus said, 'He who has ears to hear, let him hear.'" Mark 4:9