by Brenda Meier Kimaro
Hands down, the most important lesson motherhood has taught me is that I absolutely, without-a-doubt need God’s unwavering grace in my life.
I delivered the twins at the age of 41. The doctors referred to this as an “advanced maternal age.” Until that point, I had spent years curating my life just the way I wanted it. I had a great career with frequent global and domestic travel opportunities. I had a cute little Baltimore rowhouse, decorated just the way I liked it. There was free time on the weekends. I attended a church I enjoyed and was an active member. Life was grand!
But that beautifully curated life turned out to be a house built on sand once two tiny new humans were put in charge.
Everything changed. Interesting work and travel gave way to sleepless nights and foggy-minded days. My home décor morphed from farmhouse chic to Romper Room. My schedule was suddenly dictated by drop-off and pick-up times at the day care. Figure in the fact that I knew nothing about being a mother to a newborn—let alone times two!
Professionally, I was confident and had grown used to success. In motherhood, I felt awkward and inadequate, unqualified for the most important and wonderful job ever entrusted to me.
One sleepless night, I had just fed Elly. I sat in a chair with her sleeping in my arms. Exhaustion took over, and I dozed off too. Normally my head would fall back and bump the wall behind me, waking me up. But this time I leaned forward instead, letting loose of my hold on Elly. As I woke up Elly was rolling from my lap down my legs. I couldn’t move fast enough to catch her, and she landed at my feet on the carpeted floor. It was really a rather gentle roll—not a sudden drop by any means. Elly was left unscathed; she didn’t even wake up. But that didn’t matter in the moment. I had just dropped my baby! How could I do such a terrible thing?
I was ashamed, embarrassed and discouraged. I certainly didn’t deserve the gift of motherhood God had given me.
As Kathryn Kleinhans writes in this issue’s Bible study, “In our times of discouragement, Luther lifts up hope in God’s promise as a source of reassurance and comfort. Because God has promised, and because God keeps God’s promises, we can be confident of God’s love even when we don’t feel it. Neither our good deeds nor our bad deeds matter; they are put aside in light of Christ.”
After a thorough checking over of Elly, I realized she was fine. I put her down in her crib and said a prayer over her, asking God—and her—to forgive me in my shortcomings as a mother. I watched Elly sleep for a long time that night, grateful for God’s protection over her and for God’s grace given to me.
God’s grace didn’t stop there. It has actually kicked into overdrive as the years have passed. Max and Elly are nearing their sixth birthday now, and it’s turned out I’ve also known little-to-nothing about being a mother to toddlers or preschoolers or kindergarteners—times two.
Now that Max and Elly walk, talk and express their own opinions (of which they have many), each day is a battle of the wills—theirs versus mine—and rarely am I the victor. On good days, I can laugh about the mess left in the living room when Max has pulled all the cushions off the sofa and chairs to build a fort and then poured a pitcher of water around it to make a moat. On bad days, I end up in a rumpled, tearful heap, begging for bedtime to come.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). This has always been a meaningful verse for me, in my early career days when I overextended myself trying to succeed professionally, as well as now that I am a mother of twins just trying to make it through the day.
I am certain that God’s grace is most apparent in the fact that—no matter how challenging the day has been—children do eventually go to sleep. And peace is restored again—sanity, too. I often find myself staring at Max and Elly as they sleep so peacefully, fully in awe of what the Creator has blessed me with.
Sharing that grace
If the most important lesson motherhood has taught me is my need for God’s grace, then for sure the second most important lesson is to share it with others.
Early in my stint as a mom to newborn twins, I learned the joy of Amazon Prime. With just a few clicks of a button I could have all the newborn necessities delivered right to my door—no shower or shoes necessary. (Can I get an “Amen”?)
One particularly overwhelming day, as I was unboxing what felt like my 12,000th package of newborn diapers, I snapped a quick photo of my latest Pampers haul and posted it on Facebook with this caption: “This is what 500 diapers looks like. Anyone care to wager on just how long it will take Max and Elly to burn through this supply?” It was an attempt to inspire some good-natured interaction with my family and friends at a time when I felt isolated and alone, being by myself with two brand-new babies.
A few quick replies and likes popped up. And then a friend posted, suggesting I should buy biodegradable diapers, pointing out that the conventional diapers in my photo will take more than 100 years to break down.
I am sure he intended it to be helpful, but it left me feeling embarrassed and judged, “called out” for the environmental ills I was causing the world. I felt like a miserable mother, degrading the world I had just brought my children into.
What my friend didn’t realize was how much time I had spent earlier in my pregnancy researching environmental diapering options and scrolling through Etsy shops for adorable cloth diaper covers. But that was before my babies came prematurely. Before Elly spent nine days in the NICU. Before I was thrust into solo-parenting because an immigration issue prevented my Tanzanian husband, Kakasii, from being in Baltimore with us when the twins were born.
My friend didn’t realize I had always been an obsessive recycler, and that I faithfully used public transportation, commuting to work by bus right up until my swollen ankles and oversized belly got the better of me, and I gave in to driving to the office (in my fuel-efficient car, thank-you-very-much).
It hurt to feel judged. The environmentalist in me knew there were better diaper options out there. I cringed a bit every time I took the trash out. But something had to give in those exhausting first months of motherhood. For me it was biodegradable diapers.
Fortunately, I soon found a safe place online among a private Facebook group of moms, all with twins close in age to Max and Elly. We are a group of diverse women from varying social, economic and cultural backgrounds. Together we’ve built an online safe-haven for ourselves and each other where it is okay to ask what needs to be asked, vent what needs to be vented, confess what needs to be confessed. And we are lovingly, gracefully accepted and cared for.
Despite being scattered across North America, with a couple of us here on the other side of the world (Max, Elly and I have since moved to Tanzania to join Kakasii and his three older children), we’ve committed always, first and foremost, to extend grace to one another. No jumping to conclusions, and no making quick judgments without seeking first to understand, because we’ve all been through difficult times in our own mothering.
While the “Mommy Wars” rage elsewhere on the Internet, inside our group we laugh, cry and sometimes debate—respectfully—together about the issues that are affecting us—illness, death of beloved family members, marital problems, career challenges, parenting failures and successes. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’” God has given me these friends as a personification of God’s grace and love.
But perhaps the two people on earth who have shown me the most grace are the same two who have led me time and again to seek God’s grace—Max and Elly. I can’t count the number of times my apologies for losing my patience or forgetting a promise or burning the brownies again (seriously, why can’t I learn to just set a timer?) are met with a smile, a hug and an “it’s okay, Mommy.”
Now my prayer is that I am as good a teacher to them as they are to me about the unfathomable generosity of God’s grace.
Brenda Meier Kimaro lives in Arusha, Tanzania, with her husband Kakasii, twins Max and Elly, and their three older siblings. Brenda spent the first 20 years of her professional career serving Lutheran ministries and is now a writer, photographer and documenter of life in Tanzania at www.thejoyoflifeislove.com.