Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: Here’s Holly Elliff.

Holly Elliff: If we could for a minute step into the threshold of heaven and look at our mothering from God’s perspective, I think we would be amazed at what God has entrusted us with.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Wednesday, April 15.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: What words would you use to describe motherhood? My friend, Holly Elliff, uses a surprising combination of words describing motherhood as beautiful and bizarre. You’re about to find out why. Holly is the mother of eight. She’s a pastor’s wife and you’ve heard her a number of times on Revive Our Hearts over the years.

Last fall she spoke at one of the breakout sessions at True Woman ’08, our first national women’s conference. That gathering was truly the start of a new women’s movement. Not one that encourages women to demand rights and grab for power. Instead this movement has been growing in homes and churches as women embrace God’s unique calling on their lives to serve with joy.

Throughout this year we’ve been listening to some of the messages from True Woman ’08. Holly’s message will give you a fresh appreciation for the crucial role that mothers play in God’s great plan.

Holly: We have a tremendous amount of territory to cover today. I was going over this in my room talking as fast as I possibly could and saying to myself, “Yeah, we can get this all in.” So I’m going to talk quickly. Of course, I am Southern and not Northern, so that’s a good thing, because if I was Northern and talking quickly, it would be harder. So if you're Northern, I will just sound normal to you.

We’re going to go ahead and get started. Do you remember the moment in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy peeked through the door of her transported farmhouse? Do you remember that moment? Where it was black and white and all of a sudden Dorothy kind of opened the door and it was suddenly beautiful and in color. Do you remember that in the movie?

She was in a place she had never been before. Some of us when we entered motherhood, suddenly we’re in a place we had never been before. I was one of those women. Let me tell you some parallels I see between my life as a mom and the Wizard of Oz.

First of all, most of what Dorothy encountered was unknown. She didn’t know it was coming. She was constantly surrounded by either really cute munchkins or really nasty flying monkeys. Nothing around her was what she expected. Her journey got more and more surprising the longer she went. Her task was something she could not do alone.

Her companions sometimes appeared—now let me just tell you that this is not male bashing because my husband added this line. Her companions sometimes appeared to be brainless, heartless, or courageously challenged. There is an enemy who tries to keep her from accomplishing her task, and there are moments when going back to Kansas sounded really good. But when she needs it, someone wiser than she is always shows up.

If you’re a mom here today, and I assume you are, or a potential mom, you have your own beautiful, but bizarre, story. After 30 years of answering to the name mom, I’ve had a few bizarre moments myself. I don’t know if it’s just my family. I actually asked a group of women this one time, and they couldn’t think of bizarre things in their life, so maybe it’s just me. But let me just share a few of those things with you.

There was the moment when my middle children decided to put child number seven in the umbrella stroller, did strap him in, put on their roller blades and left him at the top of the hill thinking that they would zoom down to the bottom of the hill and get there before he did. They did not get there before he did, but he did survive.

There was the moment when we had this babysitter who, while were out one night, decided to teach our kids how to escape in case there was a fire by jumping off the balcony that was above our den onto the recliner that happened to be the only decent piece of furniture we had, and when we came home the recliner was listing to one side. True story.

Maybe the time when my icemaker wouldn’t work, and I discovered in trying to fix it that it was because Batman was in the shoot.

My husband is a pastor, so maybe it was the moment when I cleaned my entire house for a staff dinner and that is—you know, you got kids—what that’s like, right? What I didn’t realize was that while I had been rushing around trying to finish up cleaning the house, several of my children had been decorating every window sill in the house with permanent magic marker. If you want to know, you can get it off. I will tell you how.

Maybe it was the moment when I was sitting peacefully in my den (doesn’t happen very often) and all of my children suddenly filed through the den with underwear on their heads. I don’t think I ever even asked why.

Or the moment that I pulled out a pitcher of Kool-Aid from the refrigerator and there was a Barney sock floating in it. The lid was still on the Kool-Aid. No one had ever seen the Kool-Aid or the Barney sock.

Or maybe the day that was my very first time to ever be on the radio with Nancy. I was doing something about the joys of motherhood. You know where this is headed. I got a call from one of my older children saying, “Mom, the younger kids (middle to younger kids) have taken their mattresses outside and they are sliding down the front yard.” I hung up the phone and Nancy said, “What was that about?” And I said, “You don’t want to know.”

So motherhood is beautiful but also bizarre. I have some things in my house that are also a little bizarre. I have this picture in my kitchen right behind the table that’s a beautiful pastoral scene—green trees, green grass, little dock going out into a pond. And on the dock, there’s a little pig leaping into the water. My husband said, “Why did you like that picture?” I said, “I don’t know, it just kind of feels like my life.” Just the little element of bizarre in there.

I have a sign above my back door that says “Welcome to the zoo.” I have a sign above my stove that says “Motherhood is not for wimps.” And then I have a sign that my husband gave me that says “You can’t scare me. I have kids.”

Well, motherhood is a lifestyle that is an amazing paradox. We’ve laughed about some of the strange components of this calling, but there are a lot of intangible things that I can’t show you. And you know what those are:

  • Thousands of hugs
  • Assorted sticky kisses
  • Toothless smiles
  • Hysterical laughter
  • Years of memories
  • Midnight conversations
  • Hours of prayer
  • Unexplainable love for little creatures that God has put in your life that grow up to be adults in a heartbeat, in the blink of an eye.

My friend, Carolyn McCulley, has written a new book called Radical Womanhood. I love Carolyn, and I love this book. But in this book she tells a story by feminist author, Ann Crittendon. Motherhood has been under attack, been at the center of a controversy that has been echoing in our culture for decades now. Cultural perspectives on mothering have been under assault far longer than we would ever imagine.

Ann Crittendon says this. She was a feminist author/publicist who decided to have children. She said the first thing that surprised her was how creative she had to be, what a huge task it was, and how demanding it was. This was a woman who had spent her life in the secular world, in the workforce, and she was appalled at what was required of her to be a mother to her kids. She says:

The second surprise came when I realized how little my former world seemed to understand or care about the complex reality I was discovering. The dominant culture of which I had been part considered child rearing unskilled labor if it considered child rearing at all. No one was stating the obvious.

If human abilities are the ultimate fount of economic progress, as many economists now agree, and if those abilities are nurtured or stunted in the early years, then mothers and other caregivers of the young are the most important producers in the economy. They do have literally the most important job in the world.

This is a feminist author.

I’ll never forget the moment I realized that almost no one else agreed. It was at a Washington, D.C. cocktail party when someone asked, “What do you do?” I replied that I was a new mother, and they promptly vanished. I was the same person this stranger might have found worthwhile had I said I was a foreign correspondent for Newsweek, a financial reporter for the New York Times, or a Pulitzer prize nominee, all of which had been true. But as a mother, I had shed status like the skin off a snake.

I gradually realized that mothers, and everyone else who spends much time with children, were still in the same boat that women had been in only a few years earlier. After fighting hard to win respect in the workplace, women had yet to win respect for their work at home.

But the moment of truth came a few years after I had resigned from the New York Times in order to have more time for my infant son. I ran into someone who asked, “Didn’t you used to be Ann Crittendon?” That’s when I knew I had to write this book.

The loss of value associated with the role of wife and mother began to occur in our culture a long, long time ago as we shifted into an industrialized society. The home was no longer the center of a focused family partnership. By 1870, it was the first time more men were wage earners than independent sources of their own livelihood.

By the 1900s, wives and mothers were classified simply as dependents without a job by the U.S. Census Bureau. Feminists in the late 1800s used words like parasites, unproductive, or isolated to describe women who chose the path of mothering.

In the early 1900s, a wife and mother of three became the voice of this assault. Her name was Margaret Sanger. With a strong socialistic belief system, she maintained that family size and quality should be controlled, even if that required government intervention.

After ten years of activism, at that point a divorced single, Sanger became increasingly radical in her beliefs. In her book Women and the New Race published in 1920, she penned these words: “The most merciful thing that a large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it.” And she believed that.

In 1921 Sanger initiated what would eventually become the Planned Parenthood Foundation of America. Her agenda included two major goals. First of all, how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of those ordained mentally or physically defective, by her interpretation, including chance and chaotic breeding that had resulted from stupid, cruel sentimentalism. That would be my husband and I choosing to have eight kids.

Her second role was to free women from all sexual restraint and through birth control ensure that the only children born were the result of a voluntary motherhood. She desired to abolish Christian concepts of morality and family.

Carolyn McCulley states, “Understanding Sanger helps us to understand why children are now considered disposable, seen as inconveniences or parasites, instead of being received as gifts from God."

Even the daughter of a first wave feminist has an opinion about the assault on motherhood in this nation. Trailblazing feminist and author Alice Walker, who wrote the book The Color Purple, was a first wave feminist, argued that motherhood was a form of servitude.

One woman didn’t buy into her belief system, and that was her daughter, Rebecca, who is now 38. Rebecca, although a third wave feminist, believes in motherhood. She describes why she feels blessed to be what Alice Walker, her mother, despised because she has chosen to be a mother. She said this in an open letter that was published in an English publication.

My mom taught me that children enslave women. I grew up believing that children are millstones around your neck and the idea that motherhood can make you blissfully happy is a fairytale. My mother’s feminist principles colored every aspect of my life. As a little girl, I wasn’t even allowed to play with dolls or toys in case they brought out a maternal instinct.

It was drummed into me that being a mother, raising children, and running a home were a form of slavery. Having a career, traveling the world, and being independent were what really mattered according to my mother.

A good mother is attentive, sets boundaries, makes the world safe for her child, but my mother did none of these things. Although I was on the pill, something I arranged at 13, I fell pregnant at 14. I organized an abortion myself. Now I shudder at the memory. I was only a little girl.

She goes on to say, and she is now a mother of a little boy:

I know many women are shocked by my views. They expect the daughter of Alice Walker to deliver a very different message. Yes, feminism has undoubtedly given women opportunities, but what about the problems it has caused for our contemporaries?

I meet women in their 40s who are devastated because they spent two decades working on a Ph.D., becoming a partner in a law firm and they missed out on having a family. Thanks to the feminist movement they discounted their biological clocks. They’ve missed the opportunity and they’re bereft. Feminism has betrayed an entire generation of women into childlessness and it is devastating.

Now a few months ago, I had a problem with a tooth on this side of my face. I went to my dentist and he took a new X-ray, but do you know what he did? He took the new X-ray and he overlaid it, superimposed it on the old X-ray to see if there were any changes.

The amazing thing is that if we could take our current belief system even as Christian women and superimpose it on the tenets of feminism, we would be very, very surprised at how much we have been influenced by the beliefs of feminism. I was really shocked when I became a student of this to realize how much of my belief system had been colored by the tenets of feminism.

Ultimately there is only one opinion about motherhood that matters: that of God Himself. God Almighty, who Isaiah 40 says measures the oceans in the palm of His hand, who has weighed the mountains in a balance, who created the stars and calls them all by name. God who sculpted the dry land with His hands. The same God who makes the clouds His chariot and who commands the winds as His messenger, that same God has also created mothers.

Now, if we could for a minute step into the threshold of heaven and look at our mothering from God’s perspective, I think we would be amazed at what God has entrusted us with. Scripture says that the children placed in our lives are beings that God knew before they were ever even conceived. God Himself has already planned the days that they will live on this earth, and He personally crafted and shaped each life just as He shaped mountains and sculpted the dry land.

Acts 17:24-26 says,

The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Neither is He served by human hands as though He needed anything, but He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things. He made from one many nations of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitations.

Do you know that if you are a mom at this particular point in history with the particular children that God has entrusted to you, we would have to totally ignore Scripture to believe that that was by accident. Do you agree with that? Do you believe that God in His sovereignty ordained for you to be a mom and ordained the children that you had? It did not come about by chance.

Motherhood is not just a life calling. It is not just a choice. It is a lifelong call to obedience before the Lord. Webster’s defines call as "a divine vocation or a strong inner prompting to a particular course of action."

Jean Fleming in her book, A Mother’s Heart, says:

In every generation, mothers must answer the call to be what no one else can be and to do what no one else can do. It isn’t that mothers can’t do and be many other things, but if they refuse to accept their calling as mothers, then some child will end up shortchanged.

The empty space that mother leaves echoes for generations. The future of our society depends in part on what we do with the children under our care. What could be more significant or more glorifying to God?

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Well, I think you’d agree that God gives mothers a vitally important role in shaping the next generation. If God has called you to this role, I hope the words of Holly Elliff have encouraged your heart, especially if you’re in the middle of some of the tough seasons that she described.

Holly originally delivered this message last fall at the Revive Our Hearts True Woman conference that launched a different kind of women’s movement. The impact of the conference has been rippling through churches and workplaces and homes ever since as women embrace God’s calling to serve in uniquely feminine ways.

Because Holly is so in tune with these issues, we asked her to write a booklet to go along with her message from the conference. That booklet is called Turning the Tide. I believe this resource will be a blessing to every mother, and in fact, to anyone who wants to encourage mothers in their God-given calling.

Our team is making this booklet, Turning the Tide, available to you as a Revive Our Hearts exclusive. It will help you develop a more biblical understanding about the importance of mothers. I know you will be blessed as you apply that understanding to your own home and family.

Leslie: When you make a donation of any amount to the ministry of Revive Our Hearts, we’ll send the resources Nancy Leigh DeMoss was just describing. Ask for the message on CD, Turning the Tide, along with the booklet that goes along with it. The number is 1-800-569-5959, or visit ReviveOurHeartsRadio.com where you can donate and order.

When you think of heroes of the Bible, do any mothers make the list? Think about all the Bible stories that involve faithful moms. Holly Elliff will be back to talk about it tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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