The woman who looks back at me from the mirror is someone I never expected to meet. There she is, with her tired eyes and wrinkle lines and the soft brown spots of aging on her hands.

Her hair hasn’t been its own color since she turned nineteen. She prefers a shade of auburn colored into the mix. She is comfortable in her skin. I like her.

I like the life she has lived. The stories she has written. The names she carries like so much dirt under her fingernails from digging into the roots of a family. She calls back easily to the warbled, two-syllable song of “Mama!” that rises from the backyard, where the boys are upending the wheelbarrow, dumping sand out of the sandbox, digging more holes where there once was grass.

But there are some scars in such private places that we don’t even let our minds look too closely at them. This body bears witness to the naked truth that our children will hurt us.

They will push and push as hard against us as the day we delivered them into the world. And my wrinkles, the creases in my forehead— they are from nights spent in a rocking chair or crouched next to the bottom bunk under the white Christmas lights strung from above, praying for a way to make sense of my middle son’s world.

We will see ourselves in our children better than in any mirror.

And Micah is my warrior-son with all the passion of his Viking ancestors beating through his veins and drumming like a headache in my temples. The temper I inherited from my father lives in the seven-year-old fast asleep in his superhero Underoos on the bottom bunk, and I lay hands on him and pray for us both.

I didn’t know I was selfish until I had kids. I didn’t know I was angry and quick to keep a list of wrongs done to me, of slight slights, of everything I felt entitled to and was happy to demand.

I see in Micah how God loves me, how He gave up heaven and Himself for me. How He spread His arms wide to ridicule and suffering, to gasps and agony and wanting it to be over and wanting to be released from this calling that cost Him so much. This salvation, this redemption, this act of bearing children of the new covenant from His body through the mighty act of adoption and delivery on a cross.

I kneel beside my sleeping son, and I would do it all over again—the uncertainty, the battles to understand him, the temper and the challenge, the brokenness and the stubbornness, and the desperate ache that requires me to step into his world and pour myself out as a love offering, freely given with no expectation of payback. A gift. I lay myself down for my son who is learning to love because I first loved him.

And his love has come back like an avalanche, a tornado. Ten thousand times anything I have been hurt, I have been healed because of this boy who has taught me what it looks like to see redemption in the reflection of great sacrifice.

Every night I tuck him in and I pray with him and his brother and bring the last glass of water and adjust the music and fix the blankets and find the missing lovey and answer “just one more” question until inevitably I say, “Mom is done, boys; I’m just done now. No one gets out again, understand?”

And they nod and watch me with big eyes and come padding out of their room just minutes later nonetheless, with tentative faces and bare chests and whisper, “We just want to hug you again.” Some nights I sigh. Some nights I rant. Some nights I’m already in bed and too tired to do more than just open my arms. Those nights are the best, because the boys clamber between the covers and my limbs, and we pretzel one more time, outlined by the dying day like we did when they were so much smaller, and then they slip away back to bed, bending first to kiss me on the forehead.

Keep coming, I want to tell them. And I will keep opening my arms, and we will keep teaching each other what it looks like to give up the pieces of ourselves we thought we needed, in order to make room for someone else.

Because when we least expect it or want it, God is always pouring more of His own life into our lives, and we need to open both arms wide if we want to even begin to try to hold it all.

Excerpted from my book, Surprised by Motherhood: Everything I Never Expected About Being a Mom. Because we’ve had some hard nights and days here recently. And I needed the reminder that as parents we are called to lay down our lives for our kids, open our arms, and love them as we love ourselves. I need that reminder often.

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