MV5BMzUyNDY1Mzk0NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDQwODg2Ng@@._V1_SX640_SY720_I remember picking up the book I Don’t Know How She Does It a couple of months into my first pregnancy. The title sounded like a present-tense version of my desired epitaph, and the plot made it feel a timely read, featuring as it did a busy working mom struggling to be everything to everyone, often to “hilarious” consequence (witness Sarah Jessica Parker, in the film adaptation, endure lice in the conference room! HAHAHA!). I had set myself on the path to working motherhood over a decade before, when I chose in college to pursue a career that would combine prestige, profit, and flexibility in what I figured would be a perfect Cosmo cocktail of Having It All. In the film, Kate Reddy as played by SJP contends that that awful phrase, Having It All, means juggling well–the key being not in how you catch but how you throw. I would have nodded mightily, since at that point in my life (and up until…oh, yesterday?) I equated Having It All with Doing It All.

Hello from the other side.

The old me would be so pissed right now, having ticked all those boxes, racked up all those loans, and grabbed all those diplomas–done all that work!–to end up (for the time being) just a stay-at-home mom. No, I’m not the person I thought I’d be. Not the person I planned to be. “’Enter me,’ grace said in parentheses,” right before it wrecked every date I ever went on, every relationship I ever managed, and every caricature I created of my future/present husband and children (did you know it’s possible to turn people into projects? True story!) by introducing the real thing. Which brings us to now.

i-don_t-know-still_1996006i-1After a lengthy internal struggle and bouts of overanalysis, I recently decided to leave my job as a pediatric dentist to stay home with my kids. Just writing that brings so many demons to the surface I can’t even count them, but let’s try: there’s the fear of looking like a quitter; the fear of being lumped in with a Proverbs 31-misinterpreting-not-so-fringe element of Christianity that believes that a woman’s place is solely within the home; the fear of losing my mind in said home after about a week of potty-training wars and baby talk; and, as ever, the fear of doing everything wrong and screwing up not just my life, but my children’s. And my husband’s, when he comes home to the Mrs. Rochester lookalike who used to be his wife.

I did not make this choice because it was the easy one or even because it feels particularly natural to me. I also didn’t choose it because I think I can raise my kids more skillfully than anyone else can, or because I believe children belong only with their mothers all the time. It happened, like so much else in my life, after a series of prayers that boiled down to one–HELP–and a providential turn of events in the form of ear infections, nanny disasters, and speech developments that left me muttering another prayer: “You win. I get it,” just before passing out in bed and sleeping well for the first time in weeks.

I’m nothing if not in tune with the Spirit.

p31(Allow a brief disclaimer: I realize what a luxury it is to have this whole discussion as a matter of philosophy rather than necessity. For so many, the answer to the question, “Why am I working?” is “To put food on the table, idiot.” I know I’m blessed (for real, not #blessed) to have the freedom to make this choice rather than being compelled by financial considerations, and I wish every mom could say the same.)

For me, months of forty-minute commutes fraught with tears wore me down to another question: Why am I doing this if I don’t have to? At first, fresh off a maternity leave, I figured the agony was hormonally induced and would abate over time. It didn’t. Then our older son began to speak, delayed and haltingly, and our younger son suffered his fourth ear infection. I talked to my husband. I felt MIA in the middle of a tender period for us, and when I asked myself why, the answer wasn’t good enough: I was performing. I wanted to do it all, because that would mean I had it all: the staying at home a few days a week, mixed with the intellectual stimulation of working a few days a week, mixed with the ego-booster of being addressed as Doctor on top of Mommy. Those work days weren’t filling the bank account so much as they were propping up the identity I wanted to maintain–the I Don’t Know How She Does It persona.

I was tap-dancing for change when I have been given the keys to the kingdom.

It came down to earning versus receiving, the overarching theme of my entire life. My first three decades were spent forging an identity that would please others; why was I returning to that trough once again? Pulled in too many directions, anxiety kept me awake at night and left me frayed all day. “When the deal was struck,” writes Kathleen Norris in her poem “Persephone,” “no one thought I’d be torn in two.” It was not a good look–ask the Andy Bernard-sized dent in our trash can. Having taken a self-administered Bible personality test years earlier and discovering I am such a Martha, I considered what resting in grace, like Mary at Jesus’ feet, would look like right now among all my options.

I gave my notice.

And then the fallout: I thought about the mom down the street whom I pass on walks, the one who went back to work three months after her second child’s birth. I actually feared disappointing her. I thought about the message board mommies, and their real-life counterparts–especially the religious ones–who would count a decision like mine as an acquiescence to their own ego-boosting beliefs that breast is best and child-rearing is the holiest avocation there is.

Here’s what the voice of grace gave as a response to it all: I am thankful for the Marys and the Marthas and that Jesus loves them both. The Good News is big enough to allow for more than one “holy” avocation, because the holiness lies not in the job but in the One who calls to it–and there are all kinds of callings. Career and motherhood can both be vehicles for performance art, so I am thankful for the working moms and the stay-at-home moms and the non-moms I know who are fulfilling their callings. I am thankful that the Gospel is not a zero-sum game, not an either/or proposition, but that it allows for more than one professional path and invites more than one personality type. And for God’s sake, I am thankful that neither your children nor mine depend upon our aptitude as parents for their salvation. Because here’s the thing: my ultimate calling is not as a wife or mother, but as a child responding to the only love given perfectly. And that ain’t mine, whether I’m home or not.

Sorry, Kate: it’s not about juggling, or throwing. It’s about holding our hands open and receiving the gift of grace in whatever form it shows up–then looking around as that grace changes my vision and allows me to see this life for what it really is. As Ian Olson wrote in the most recent issue of the magazine, echoing Mumford and Sons learning to love the skies they’re under:

Our only hope of becoming who we were made to be is to bask in the grace which places us precisely where we are.

Which, for the time being, is in the halls of a kingdom that looks a little upside-down to these eyes–wiping floors and butts? Oh, the indignity!–but then again, the best ones always are, aren’t they?