I’ve sat down to write this blog no less than a dozen times. And every time, I struggle about two or three sentences in to capture exactly what I want to say. Firstly, I tell myself there’s no need for another mom on the internet to share her thoughts about motherhood. There are mommy blogs for days with commentary on literally everything: messy buns, meal planning, sleep training, how to pray, ways to show your husband he still matters, and the best methods for disciplining your child, along with the occasional “I don’t have it all together so you should feel better and please look at my messy life” blogs that, ironically enough, never make me feel any better. Then, there’s the whole matter of time: in the brief bits of time I have between my daughter’s naps, there’s laundry to do, meals to (attempt to) cook, a house to keep organized, emails that need to be replied to, flights to book for ministry events, a dog to try and keep fed and entertained, and at some point, I need to brush my teeth and put on real pants (which I’m slowly learning is mostly optional). And finally, there’s this small voice inside of me that turns itself up to full volume every time I sit down to write and shouts, “Nobody cares what you think about anything! Just shut up!”

It’s that third reason that has kept me from articulating many of my thoughts on a lot of things. Instagram posts with reflections on various moments of clarity aside, since having a baby four months ago, I haven’t felt entirely equipped or qualified to offer anything more than a simple, “being a mom is super hard” or “I don’t know what I’m doing, please send help.”

Perhaps that’s precisely why the Holy Spirit kicked me in the gut this morning as I boarded my flight to DFW, demanding I string together some thoughts on what’s been going through my mind and resting on my heart lately. If for no other reason than to remind myself just how hard this is and just how worth it this is, I pulled my computer out in my familiar exit row seat and began contemplating the great mystery that has been the abundant, fruitful, exhausting and simultaneously life-giving experience of being a mom to a precious, tiny little girl. In writing that down, it finally dawned on me that I really wouldn’t trade any moment of confusion, struggle, pain, relief, excitement, or joy that I’ve had these past four months. In writing this down, I began to further understand the immense gift and remarkable privilege it is to be someone’s mom, and how that experience – being a mom and spending the majority of my days with my daughter – has colored every other aspect of my, up to this point, very busy life.

I think I knew that would be the case: that I would not only love my child, but also be changed by the experience of being a mom and be grateful for the chance to be her mother. I think I assumed I’d be going through a lot of “mom motions,” dealing with the day to day and just surviving this tough, exhausting year. And go through the motions and do all the “mom” stuff, I have, existing in survival mode for the first few weeks, just hoping and praying Rose would learn to sleep, start gaining weight, and maybe – just maybe – actually like me. But then, something happened I knew would happen, but didn’t expect to happen in quite as powerful and beautiful a way as it did:

I actually fell in love with this tiny little person that didn’t do much more than eat, sleep (very little), poop, and cry (a lot) for the first few weeks of her little life. Despite being completely helpless and, in the eyes of the world, kind of unproductive, I found myself head over heels in love with her.

Her little button nose, her long fingers, her stubby little toes on what are pretty big feet for a baby. I couldn’t get enough of her deep blue eyes or the thin hair on top of her head and the thick little mullet on the back. All of that and all of her just completely enamored me. She didn’t have to do much, really…just kind of exist. And as she exited, not doing much of anything productive or largely significant other than breathing, she was perfect. Nothing and no one else mattered as much.

That was enough: I was completely content loving her, pouring myself into her, recognizing the immense gift that was the chance to give of my entire self to the point of (sometimes) losing my mind. And she wasn’t doing much more than consuming all of that – eating the food I was giving her, dirtying the diapers I was changing, sleeping the brief few moments I was able to coax her into. It took me four months, and an airplane ride, to really realize (and I’m sure the rest of my life will be spent unpacking this intense reality) that loving, providing, caring for, and being with my daughter is the best thing I will ever do, no matter what. It’s hard. It hurts. I have intense moments of failure followed by fleeting moments of success. But at each turn, and in every moment, there’s a recognition and experience of the great mystery and beauty of love: the gift of self, in response to the good and value of the other (even if that other person is just a squishy little human that only consumes what’s given to her) is the greatest, most powerful thing a person can and will ever do.

It’s in pouring into her that I’ve learned that in loving another, whether spouse, child, parent, or friend, we are most fulfilled. It’s in making that gift of self to another that we become who we are meant to be.

When we love another we imitate the Creator himself, who created out of love and pours his love into us to sustain us, remain close to us, and let us abide in that love.

Loving my child and caring for her has allowed me to understand, in some small way, how God loves us: unconditionally and abundantly, despite our mess and unending consumption. Though we don’t necessarily give anything in return, he loves us. Learning that lesson – and living that reality of loving without limit or condition – seemed to be exactly what I was meant to “get” out of parenthood. Project complete. Time for another kid.

But then, at five weeks old, my little Rosie smiled at me for the first time. It was a real smile, not just a reaction to gas. I puffed my cheeks up, made a funny face with a goofy noise, and she smiled. And very slowly, it dawned on me that this little, perfect, tiny person loved me back. She’d smile when I smiled at her. She would try to babble and coo when I talked to her. She’d cling to my shirt when I’d lift her out of the crib and nuzzle into my neck as she was falling asleep. She would look into my eyes and recognize me as her mom, one of the two people who would, and will, always be there for her, no matter what. And when I realized that not only did I love my little girl, but that she loved me…that’s when the game changed entirely. That’s when my heart exploded with gratitude. That’s when my mind about the fears of parenthood was made up: this was entirely worth it, despite the constant nagging feeling that I’m probably screwing something up. Knowing she loved me allowed things to really click.

So often, that’s what we run from. We’re willing to give. We’re willing to externally pour into the other. We’re willing to exhaust ourselves “doing.” We’re willing to say “I love you” to another and then show our love for them, because that allows us to “do” love and “be in control” of our love.

But to step back and allow ourselves to be loved – to be on the receiving end of an unconditional, abundant, innocent, authentic, perfect, freely given love…that requires vulnerability and openness, demanding that we show our mess rather than just respond to and clean up the mess of another.

Being loved means being seen, and too often we try to hide.

My little girl: 4 months old and about as perfect as can be…she sees me. She sees me first thing in the morning, when my hair is in a knotted mess, my teeth aren’t brushed, and my pajamas are askew. And after I’ve changed her diaper and fed and burped her, we sit and smile at each other and she could care less that my hair is messy or my breath is stinky or that I’m not in real clothes yet. She just sees me, the one who comes to her when she cries out and cares for her most basic needs. She sees me – the one who sees her – and responds to the love I have for her with love of her own. She sees a person, who even in their messiness and brokenness and exhaustion, is trying to make it work every day and who is there, continuing to give despite the frequent struggles and occasional successes.

That four month old little girl loves me…totally. Even if the struggles win that day, she loves me. Even when the successes are celebrated, she loves me. Even if I fail or she cries or we both just sit and giggle out of exhaustion, she loves me.

And I have to allow myself to receive that love from her, even if I don’t feel entirely worthy of it. I never want to run from that love. I never want to avoid that love. I never want to lose that love. I never want to ignore that love. I never, not ever, want to forget that love.

And if I think the love my child has for me, and the love I have for her, is intense and abundant and perfect, then how much more the love Jesus has for us. How much greater is the love of Love itself for those made in His image and likeness. How abundant and complete is the love God has for His most precious creations.

How perfect is His love, and how imperfect is our response…

All too often, we run from that abundant love. We hide from complete love, thinking we are too incomplete to receive it. We reject that perfect love, fearing our imperfections make us somehow unworthy.

When we hide from the abundant love the Lord lavishes upon us, we miss out on the one thing – the best thing – that will make us happy, satisfy our deepest desires, fulfill our most intense longings, and give us unending joy. The opportunity to love another is beautiful. But the chance to be loved in return – and to rest and live in that love – is far greater. For it is then that we truly become aware of the great beauty of the mystery of love: that as we love another completely, we are called to receive the love given in return. We must tear down the walls we’ve built. We must remove the masks we’ve worn. We have to show who we are, and allow ourselves to be seen.

It is far harder to allow ourselves to be loved than to love, but it is far more satisfying to rest in the love poured out upon us, knowing that we are giving and receiving.

In a world and culture that avoids vulnerability, hides authenticity, and rejects from meaningful, personal connection, we have to stop running from the love being lavished upon us by the Lord and become like a four month old little girl who clings to her momma’s shirt or  an unkempt, un-showered, often confused mother who is looked at adoringly by a little baby who only sees someone who is always there.

Don’t run from Jesus’s love: cry out for it, cling to it, rest in it. Allow yourself to receive it, because then (and only then) will you be able to confidently and boldly live as you’re meant to: one who loves and is loved, without fail.