Author Archives: Megan Othling

Hope for the Monsters

blakeultrasoundIn Albuquerque this past month, there was a vote on a proposed ban on late-term abortions. People have travelled from all over the country to my home city in order to obtain legal abortions at up to 35 weeks gestation. And as a result of the vote on November 19th, this tragic pilgrimage will continue. The ban on abortions after 20 weeks was voted down.

In the days after the decision, I scrolled through my facebook newsfeed and noticed reactions from both sides of the issue. Many people were grieved, as I am, that the murder of these babies right up until they are full-term is going to be allowed to continue. And there were others who expressed gratitude that they would still have the freedom to decide what to do with their own bodies. Some people used words like “disgusting” and “sickening” to describe the decision. I agree that the killing of babies is disgusting and infuriating, but I’m not sure this language is productive.

While I am deeply grieved to think of babies in the womb being injected with a poison and struggling until their hearts stop beating — a safe little world suddenly invaded by sharp pain, the sound of their mothers’ hearts fading, and muffled voices from the outside disappearing — I can’t help but to also grieve for the mothers. What kind of desperation would lead to this decision?

I want to encourage us to advocate, not only for the babies, but for the mothers. I don’t know the stories each of these women carry. But I do know they carry stories. I know that whatever the circumstances are that lead them to decide to have their babies killed before they are born, they must feel hopeless. It must feel like there’s no other way out. Because I don’t think that these women are monsters any more than I am a monster. I make selfish, cowardly decisions daily that are based in fear or doubt or in forgetting that I’m not longer a slave to sin. I don’t think these women are evil. I think they are lost. I think they live in a fallen and broken world that has sold them the lie that the only possible way to deal with their situation is to run away from it and try to convince themselves that it’s for the best. Maybe they are told that their babies are too damaged to have a good “quality of life.” Maybe they think they are being humane. Maybe they are so deceived that they think the life they are carrying truly isn’t a life. Whatever their reasons, they are victims of their choices.

I know there are many, many people longing to be parents. I know there are many whose empty arms ache to hold those discarded children. And that grief and longing are real and deep. There are many who suffer in many ways. And Satan and sin and lies are at the root of it all. But remember, these mothers once felt their children kick and flip and hiccup inside them. And, even if they somehow didn’t realize what they were doing at first, they allowed their babies to be injected with poison, and eventually, they felt the movement stop. And then, days after the injection, they labored and delivered their babies, fully formed, but lifeless. Their decision will haunt them. They have endured and will endure great physical, emotional, and spiritual pain.

So in our efforts to uphold the sanctity of human life, let us not dehumanize the women who were so hopeless and frantic to be free of the people growing inside them that they are now imprisoned by their own desperate choice. We need to think about the words we use because we never know who is listening, especially on social media. Be careful, Church, how you speak about and to those who may be suffering, whether it is as a result of their sin or not. Instead of labeling them “monsters” and causing them to retreat into their shame, let’s offer forgiveness, hope, and freedom. Let’s offer Christ.

Holding Messy Hands

photo My birthday was this month, and I received many sweet messages on my Facebook timeline wishing me a happy birthday. A lot of  people, knowing I’m a mother of three young children, said they hoped I could get some rest on my birthday. I appreciate this sentiment, and am always coveting rest and am thankful for those who provide it for me. But there was one message that stuck out. A woman I’ve known since I was 6 years old, and who has been an encouragement to me in Bible studies, words of wisdom, and sympathetic notes during the years, wrote something that really made me think. She wrote, “Happy birthday, Megan! I hope your day is full of beautiful music from your hubby, sticky hugs and slobbery kisses from your little people. And all sorts of other really good things.” Now, maybe she just meant, “enjoy your family today,” or something to that effect, but as I thought more about what she said, I found it to be another point in a lesson I feel God has been teaching me for a while. The lesson is this: while rest and recharging are good, helpful, and often needed (He even built it in to our week with a Sabbath), escape should not be the goal in our lives.

I often catch myself being preoccupied with getting a “break” from my life. I count the hours until nap and bedtime. Being a mother of young children can be tedious. You say the same things over and over, do the same things over and over. I sometimes feel like I’m busy all the time, yet to look at my house, it appears that I never get anything done. It is easy to get lost in the chaos and see my children as little creatures intent on keeping me from doing what I need to do (right now, for example, I’m fighting my eight-month-old for control of the keyboard). But in reality, my children are what I need to do. They are not obstacles distracting me from important things; they are the important things. Because the focus of our days becomes the focus of our lives, and the focus of my life is not supposed to be getting a moment to myself; it is not supposed to be making it to naptime so I can have a snack and not share it with anyone, or so I can jump in the shower. And my focus is certainly not supposed to be getting a second to check Facebook for the twentieth time. The focus of my life is supposed to be Christ — obeying Him, and loving Him through loving my little ones. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves, and right now two of my little neighbors are sleeping in the rooms across the hall, and one is scooting around on my bedroom floor. I know the command to love others goes far beyond our own little families, but it certainly starts with the people I’ve been blessed to spend my days with.

I’m not trying to deny the difficulty of parenthood. Tantrums and disobedience and pee on the floor are hard. I want to get away and escape from these things. But I find that if I’m fully present in the life and tasks I’ve been given, I can find peace and even joy in the midst of the chaos. If I remember to put the two year old on the potty at regular intervals, she doesn’t have as many accidents; if I don’t bring my phone to the table at lunch, I’m more able to patiently engage with the kids, whether it’s reminding the three year old to keep taking bites, or answering his creative questions.

And I’m not trying to deny the importance of resting and taking breaks, either. I think often the reason I have a hard time being present and joyful in my everyday tasks is because I don’t allow myself built in times of rest. If I know that I’ll soon be able to have time to read or write or spend time with my husband alone, I will be more able to focus my attention on what is in front of me in the moment. God knows we need rest. He knows we need regular times of Sabbath. I think the reason we are often frustrated is because we are not intentional about observing the rest that He has built in to our lives. And I don’t think our Sabbath always has to be Sunday, because as any mother of very young children knows, Sunday can be the most exhausting day of the week.

But the point is that this time of my life is about caring for and training my children, not trying to get away from them. Because I cannot escape only the unpleasant parts of my life. If I’m constantly focused on getting away from the tedium and the dishes and the laundry and the whining, I’m not going to recognize the blessings either. I will only see Vivian’s sticky hands coming toward my clean pants, and will miss the sweet, voluntary affection of my daughter. I will only hear Marshall’s whiney voice pleading with me to hold him while I’m trying to make breakfast, and won’t savor these short years when I’m still able to pick him up and squeeze him for just a couple minutes. And though sometimes it feels frustrating to sit in the messy living room and read the same books over and over, while trying to keep the kids from pestering each other, I know that someday soon we won’t have hours for reading stories. There will be schoolwork to do and activities to get to. So I will try to savor and celebrate these long hours before naptime when all the kids have to do is read and play. In my twenty-eighth year, instead of being focused on celebrating myself and trying to get a break, I’ll try to celebrate the blessings of “sticky hugs and slobbery kisses.”

How Should We Talk to Young Parents?

IMG_4373 This past week I have had several conversations with people that have made me really think about how we should talk to each other as parents. As a young mother, I have experienced two prevailing attitudes from older parents. There are the “just-you-wait” people, who can unintentionally rob you of the joy you may feel in one stage of parenting by telling you all about the hard stage that is coming up. “Just wait until he starts teething. Just wait until he drops his nap. Just wait until he’s a teenager.” And then there are the “rose colored glasses” people, who can unintentionally make you feel like you are being ungrateful or even weak if you acknowledge the struggles (and there are real struggles) of parenthood.

As more and more of my friends start getting married and having babies, I realize that I’m moving to a place of being a little bit of an older parent, even though my oldest is only three. Recently a friend was telling my husband and I about plans to start a family, and I caught myself being a “just-you-waiter.” That kind of attitude not only robs people of joy, but it also can make them feel that they are somehow foolish or naive to be excited or happy about whatever stage they are in. I don’t want to be that kind of person to someone else. I want to acknowledge the good and fun things — the value of pressing your cheek against your infant’s fuzzy head, the sweet smell of babies’ milky breath, the joy of seeing your kids delighting in finding beetles outside, the challenging theological conversations that a thoughtful preschooler can bring up. I want to be the kind of parent who listens to someone else and says, “Yes! I remember that. Isn’t it fun?” instead of saying, “That’s nice, but it doesn’t last. Just wait until…”

But I also see the value in acknowledging the difficulties. A friend this week was telling me that she doesn’t feel like anybody ever talks about how hard it really is — the day to day business of raising little people and nurturing little hearts and bodies. And I feel like this is also true. When I had my first baby, Marshall, I struggled with post-partum depression for a couple months after he was born. I think it was mainly due to a traumatic experience immediately after labor, which made me unable to hold him and bond with him right away. But I remember thinking, while the doctors were trying to stop me from bleeding, “I’m not supposed to care about this pain anymore. I’m supposed to feel a huge wave of love and joy, but I don’t. I don’t know this baby. What is wrong with me?” People would ask me questions like, “Aren’t you just so in love?” or “Do you love nursing? I just loved nursing my babies.” For the first few months for me, I didn’t feel any special connection while nursing. I didn’t feel like I loved my baby the way other mothers talked about loving their newborns. Later, when I was open about my experience, other mothers admitted they had felt the same way, and it was so freeing. It took away the shame and false guilt to know that other women had experienced the same struggle, and that it was okay. And now, as I find myself having days in which I feel like I literally can not do it another minute — days in which I’m sure I’ve already ruined my children, and I will never know how to fix it — I want to tell other mothers that I feel this way, and I’m sure they do to. I want to let them know that they are not alone in feeling alone and inadequate, and that part of being in the Body of Christ is sharing the burden and praying for one another.

What would happen if we admitted to each other that it is lonely to be surrounded by little people all day? What would happen if we admitted to each other that we don’t always love being mothers? What if there was no shame in saying, “This is really, really hard, and I have no idea how to do it?” What kind of freedom might be released? I think that if we allowed this kind of honesty, we would be able to more effectively bear one another’s burdens. It reminds me of a quote from The Yearling, one of my favorite books. In a scene where Penny, the main character’s father, is comforting a neighboring family in great grief, he shares his own experiences. There is healing in the knowledge that “what all have borne, each can bear.”

I know it sounds like I am saying opposite things, but I believe there is a balance that we can and must find. I think the secret lies in looking to what the other person needs in the particular situation, and not having our own agenda when talking to other parents, especially when they are “newer” parents. The Bible says to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. So that means that if someone is rejoicing, we don’t dampen their joy. And when someone is struggling, we recognize the pain and difficulty of their situation. We say, “I know. It’s hard. I’ve been there, too. And I don’t really know what to do, but let’s pray about it.”

When we genuinely listen to what people are saying and think about how real their feelings are, when we pray for each other and encourage each other and say, “I hear you, and I realize that your pain or frustration or excitement or joy are real, and I want to weep or rejoice with you,” it changes not only our impact, but also our own attitudes about our struggles and triumphs.

The Woman I Want to Be

laundryI lie to my kids’ pediatrician. Every time we visit, I’m told to fill out a form about their health and home life. There is a question about how much time they spend watching TV each day. I always say, “20-30 minutes, 2 or 3 times a week.” In reality, they watch at least 30 minutes a day so I can take a shower and get myself ready without interruption.

The other day, we drove past a McDonald’s, and my 20-month-old started chanting, “Nugget! Nugget!” Every time we are out running errands, my 3 year old requests “something from the window.”

My laundry room is a disaster. It is nearly overflowing with piles of (mostly clean) clothes. I somehow cannot find the time or motivation to keep up with the “folding and putting away” part of laundry. I know this is one of my husband’s biggest frustrations with my homemaking.

I look at the reality of my daily life — not the one I pretend to have on facebook, where each day is filled with homemade food, reading stories, and having deep theological discussions with my 3-year-old in his perfectly clean and organized room — and I am embarrassed at the kind of mother I’ve turned out to be. I imagined myself being so much better. My children were never going to have the grease of a french fry touch their pure little ducky lips. They were not going to know who Elmo was, or throw temper tantrums on the rare occasion when they don’t get to watch Go, Diego, Go! because I’ve woken up before them and taken a shower. I was going to have a clean, organized home — one that would be “company ready” at all times, in case someone were to drop by. read more »