Saturday, December 19, 2009


While nursing Shav today, I was skipping around various blogs, clicking on links that looked interesting, seeing where they would take me. I discovered the following story; and as I read it, I realized that it was no accident that I found this today. It was exactly what I needed to renew my sense of purpose as a mom and to remind me to continue to pour myself out--with a sweet, cheerful attitude (isn't that the hard part?)--for my children.

I got this story from Creative Bible Study; and on that site, there is a link to an interview with Nicole Johnson, the author of the story.


It started to happen gradually. One day I was walking my son Jake to school. I was holding his hand and we were about to cross the street when the crossing guard said to him, 'Who is that with you, young fella?' 'Nobody,' he shrugged. Nobody? The crossing guard and I laughed. My son is only 5, but as we crossed the street I thought, 'Oh my goodness, nobody?'

I would walk into a room and no one would notice. I would say something to my family - like 'Turn the TV down, please' - and nothing would happen. Nobody would get up, or even make a move for the remote. I would stand there for a minute, and then I would say again, a little louder, 'Would someone turn the TV down?' Nothing.

Just the other night my husband and I were out at a party. We'd been there for about three hours and I was ready to leave. I noticed he was talking to a friend from work. So I walked over, and when there was a break in the conversation, I whispered, 'I'm ready to go when you are.' He just kept right on talking.

That's when I started to put all the pieces together. I don't think he can see me. I don't think anyone can see me.

I'm invisible. It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I'm on the phone and ask to be taken to the store. Inside I'm thinking, 'Can't you see I'm on the phone?' Obviously not. No one can see if I'm on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all.

I'm invisible.

Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more: Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this?

Some days I'm not a pair of hands; I'm not even a human being. I'm a clock to ask, 'What time is it?' I'm a satellite guide to answer, 'What number is the Disney Channel?' I'm a car to order, 'Right around 5:30, please.' I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude - but now they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again.

She's going... she's going... she's gone!

One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself as I looked down at my out-of-style dress; it was the only thing I could find that was clean. My unwashed hair was pulled up in a banana clip and I was afraid I could actually smell peanut butter in it. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, 'I brought you this.'

It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe I wasn't exactly sure why she'd given it to me until I read her inscription: 'To Charlotte , with admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.'

In the days ahead I would read - no, devour - the book. And I would discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could pattern my work: No one can say who built the great cathedrals - we have no record of their names.These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished. They made great sacrifices and expected no credit. The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.

A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, 'Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof? No one will ever see it.' And the workman replied, 'Because God sees.'

I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, 'I see you, Charlotte. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does. No act of kindness you've done, no sequin you've sewn on, no cupcake you've baked, is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can't see right now what it will become.'

At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction. But it is not a disease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my own self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride. I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on. The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree.

When I really think about it, I don't want my son to tell the friend he's bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, 'My mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for three hours and presses all the linens for the table.'

That would mean I'd built a shrine or a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, to add, 'You're gonna love it there.'

As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we're doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible women.


Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

~ Colossians 3:23-24

May I embrace invisibility!


Valerie said...

Wow Davene. Thanks for this post. Glad you were blog surfing today.

Morning said...

I have read this story before, and I do relate to it. That said, I think mothers can be too self-effacing, and too willing to be invisible. Having clean clothes, someone waiting to listen to you, delicious food and a welcoming home is a priviledge, and something to be treasured and valued and respected, even by the smallest people in the house. Mothers are to be heeded, and children should be expected to do for themselves those things of which they are capable of doing. Does my soapbox make any sense?

Davene said...


It does make sense, and I'm so glad you added your perspective. I totally agree! To teach our children to be grateful for the ways we care for them and to respect us is so vitally important, as well as training them to perform certain tasks themselves. Absolutely!!

I think the thing about the story which most struck me is that there is no way that a child can come close to comprehending how much a mother (and a father, of course) does for him. I think I was, in general, a grateful, respectful child; but looking back, I now see that I had no clue how much my parents did for me and gave of themselves for me--no clue at all. I tended to think of myself in terms of what I was making of myself: if I was a good musician, it was because I was talented and I practiced (not necessarily because my mother taught me piano lessons, and my parents listened to the sometimes unpleasant sounds of my practicing, and they encouraged me, and they paid money for music lessons, and they got in the car and drove me to lessons when they might rather have been doing something else, and they came to my recitals and applauded, etc.). Like any typical child, I viewed myself as the center of the universe! I thought my accomplishments were because of ME.

Now as a mom, I see the other side of the coin, the side that I couldn't possibly have understood as a child. SO MUCH of who and what I am is because of who my parents are and what they did for me.

The lines in the story that stand out to me the most are these:
"At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction. But it is not a disease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my own self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride."

I like these words because they express a thought I've been mulling over recently: nothing and no one could ever have made me learn to deny myself like my children. Nothing and no one could ever have crucified my innate selfishness like these dear precious little ones. The reason, I now see, is LOVE. Because I love them so much, I give myself up for them--usually joyfully, sometimes reluctantly. But I know without a doubt, that I am a far different person now than I was before having children.

When I think back to how I behaved in relationships before becoming a mother, I sometimes cringe as I remember my selfishness. Even my relationship with Jeff--as good as it is and has been, and as deeply and passionately as I love him--does not have the same level of self-sacrifice involved, because my relationship with him has always been so mutually fulfilling. There's a whole lot more give and take with a spouse than an infant who is only in the "take" mode (of course, they "give" through their smiles, happy coos, etc., but obviously it's totally different than how I interact with Jeff).

Whew! I know I really went off on a tangent here. But again, Morning, I appreciate very much what you wrote; and I don't think that mothers should become "invisible" in the sense that we let our children continue to operate as if the sun revolved around them and we mothers are just specks of dust, just lowly slaves to serve them! :) But in the process of teaching them their (extremely valuable) place as PART of the family (not the center), there will be COUNTLESS times when we mothers will sacrifice to build and labor in ways that no one will ever think to notice or applaud.

OK, enough for now... :)

Sally said...

Thank you so much for this post! I just now took the time to read it. I have felt like the invisible woman so many times since I have had children. I agree that there is nothing like motherhood to show you just how selfish and self-centered and self-serving you are. And it requires that you change all that and literally give up your life for your children. I have gained SO MUCH from being Paul's & Hannah's mother, but it was not without GIVING UP so much. They are older now, and the giving up is easier in some areas, but it seems like there are always new areas to give up.

I have been praying for you--for God to help bear your burdens and ease your load. If I can do anything to help you, please let me know. You are such an inspiration and example for me. Hang in there!

Patti said...

Hm. So much good, both in the essay and comments. I have lately been succumbing to lots of "self martyr" thinking. Like realizing that it's 2pm and I've still not taken time to eat my lunch because I'm meeting everyone else's needs first. But instead of just eating, I feel a little sorry for myself first; having thoughts like, "why is no one making sure I get something to eat.." It's really self-indulgent and not remotely useful.