Contentment is a delicate bubble, isn’t it?

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We sit out on her back porch watching the kids play with soapy bubbles and the playground blinking through the trees in the background. It’s my favorite time of day, the sun waning and hints of fireflies flirting with the coming dusk. We’ve done all the baseball games and church activities and washed up the lunch dishes. There were afternoon naps and fresh tulips in a clear vase on the dining room table we’ve had since our first apartment on Rosemary Lane in South Bend.

But now me and her sit out with the kids and the bubbles, barefoot, in the late afternoon and talk about this strange riddle of being content with where we’re at.

I love her, this friend of mine who called three times in a row on Sunday and left me voice messages that had me packing the kids up and over to her place by 5:30 because when real life friends need to talk, you need to go. Even with the messy hair and the no make up and the maybe sweaty pits left over from a weekend of kid wrangling that’s left you all wrung out.

We talk about being mothers.

We talk about the expectations that sometimes whisper sneaky sneaky, “If you’re not doing motherhood like this, or like that, or this other way, then you’re doing it wrong.”

Not to mention the stains in the carpets and the fact that boys can be down to their last pair of underpants, again, if a mom isn’t paying attention.

She has all these bats and balls and Dollar Store treasures that didn’t get played with this weekend and our kids discover them with whoops and curiosity and the back yard blossoms joy.

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We sit in the green chairs and talk between cleaning up soap and spills and washing out eyes that came into contact with bubbles. We talk about church and worship and leadership and marriage and mothering. The kind of conversation that is the stuff of building friendships that can go the distance.

And then before we know it we’re talking about that day last week, the one with all the built in, pre-packaged expectations.

Mother’s Day disappointed us both.

It’s a relief to say it out loud under cover of laughing boys and spilled popcorn and bubbles bursting off everything. Funny how few secrets there really are. Because there’s always someone who will listen to the parts of your story that scare or hurt the most and say, “yes, me too.”

I heard it on a late Sunday afternoon and on Facebook and over phone calls. How this one day can’t possibly live up to what it means to mother. How 24 hours can’t possibly hold the measure of a lifetime of laying oneself low for the loving and raising and wrangling of tiny humans.

Why do we think it will?

But we do. We expect.

We expect so big and so hard and with so much pre-programming that we don’t know how to turn the expectations off.

We expect and the expecting is high and impossible until it blossoms into full blown entitlement. And entitlement? Entitlement is a very slippery thing.

Entitlement believes that we know best, deserve the best, and resents the rest who don’t deliver.

Entitlement takes the sacrifice of motherhood and spins it in dizzying, disorienting circles.

Motherhood bends. Entitlement demands.

Motherhood serves. Entitlement stomps its foot.

Motherhood delights. Entitlement keeps lists.

Motherhood laughs. Entitlement whines.

Motherhood celebrates. Entitlement sulks.

Motherhood forgets itself in favor of remembering her dimple, his fastest mile, their mouths all ringed around with chocolate.

Entitlement tastes bitterness in every bite of a day that doesn’t go as planned.

And the grand irony of a day devoted to remembering mothers is that it can make me forget how content I am in this skin. Because I am not the sum total of breakfast in bed or empty dishwashers. I am not defined by how tidy the playroom is or who remembered to make me a thoughtful card.

What I believe, what I’ve learned, what I’ve earned through all those sleepless nights, all those miles of carpet walked, all those parent-teacher conferences and cold meals and ruined clothes is that the gift of motherhood, the art of this beautiful, terribly holy work is to find a way through to forgetting myself in favor of someone else.

The holy of motherhood is how it teaches me to lose myself, to let go of Lisa-Jo and surrender myself in an act of rebirth that only a God who wants to help me uncurl my desperate white knuckles from around what I think I’m entitled to could envision.

It’s been a hard battle to hold onto my contentment. In this small, rental house with these sometimes drive-me-crazy kids.

I mother in my DNA. I mother because I’m called to it. I mother because it’s a gift. I mother because God trusted me. I mother because I can’t not. Over and through and under and around the unappreciated days, I mother on.

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Hands open to the delicate, shimmery, every day beautiful chaos.

That is always and only a gift.

And you? Did Mother’s Day disappoint or come through? I’m so interested in how many of us harbor secret expectations that seem to disappoint. Or maybe I’m the only one?

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