It was 1985 and I had the biggest heart blast I’ve ever had in my life. He came rolling in 8 lbs. 14 oz. of precious. Whoa.
It’s hard to explain how motherhood hit me.
I know not everyone feels the same, and not everyone wants children…or is able to have children. I share my experiences here with some apprehension, not wanting to stir up more pain…but that is kind of the point too. I was in awe, and immediately and completely smitten. I even loved getting up in the middle of the night to feed him and change him. My friend Cheryl says children are “our hearts walking around outside of our bodies.” Indeed they are.
The entrance of a child into our lives is the ultimate new scary risky wonderful relationship. The longings for a child can be some of the most powerful and difficult desires to navigate. Being in control and children do not go together well, on very many levels.
I loved being Matthew’s mom so much those first couple of years (and I still do). When he was born I cut my work hours and focused on coaching and camps and him. He went everywhere with me, including to practice! It was a blast watching his personality emerging. He was hilarious, full of imagination and laughter. Then, after two years of just the three of us,baby number two was on the way. I was thrilled and terrified all at once. Two kids?!? As concerned as I was about how to care well and provide for both of them, the bigger fear, honestly, was how in the world could I love this next child as much as I loved Matt? The enormity of my love for him filled my heart to overflowing. How could there be any more room in there? Hearts are funny aren’t they? I had absolutely no idea what my capacity for love could be and I’m learning of late that I really still do not.
I remember I was driving somewhere around my 8th month of pregnancy and thinking about child birth, specifically our number two child’s impending birth. I felt anxious and scared. How many things had to go right to have a healthy baby? I had been through this once, and I felt very vulnerable anticipating going through it again. I vividly remember thinking that it would be completely possible for me to die giving birth. It all felt very scary and very out of my control.
Soon after this I went into labor…on my husband Lance’s birthday. Four short hours later Ryan Mark arrived, nearly 10 pounds of healthy baby boy. And I survived…barely! I was shocked—at his size, yes, but even more so at the exponential and immediate growth in my heart. Double deep love I’d never thought possible. New life brought new love.
I must add here that baby number three was the same and more. Bethany Joy. A girl sent by God at just His perfect time, eight years later. She crashed in too…shattering fears (a whole different set of them) and filling up deep places, JOY personified, love once again exponentially exploding in my heart.
I had no idea why the Lord God would trust me with a girl child. I felt so broken in so many ways as a woman…and yet there she was. And it has been a grand adventure with this precious beautiful girl who is now an amazing young woman blossoming into all God has planned for her life. She teaches me so many things; sharing life with her has been one of His best gifts.
I had a very limited understanding of love when I got married. I thought I knew of “in love” and had just barely begun to experience the wonderful love of God. But I had no idea how deep and wide my heart could stretch. I am still (and will always be?) learning about love. My children snuck in sent by God through my carefully constructed defenses straight into the deepest places of my heart. My husband stayed, through both difficult and wonderful days, and continues to demonstrate every day what real love looks like in the midst of real life.
My ongoing ponderings over “Out with the Old,” (last week’s post) have lead me to all of these thoughts of babies and husband and heart issues. I still feel there is a unique beauty in the growing of old friendships, investing carefully and steadfastly into a long marriage, and tending to messy situations in a way that deepens love. There is also beauty, I'm thinking, in welcoming the scary prospect of new people (be they babies or adults!) to enter our hearts and lives. This second beauty, though, is something I tend to embrace very slowly.
One of the hard things I’ve experienced these past few weeks has been a parade of faces moving through my mind, old friends who are no longer sharing life with me. I miss them. My heart misses them. Some moved, some left, some changed…or I changed, changed jobs, changed churches. Life is full of change. And loss. How do I navigate the pain and sadness of loss of relationships well? How do we know when it is time to dig in and work on old relationships, and when it is time to release them and focus on new relationships? These are not simple questions!
I find in myself an inclination to build self-protective walls. When friends leave, for whatever the reason, I become more reluctant about engaging deeply in friendship again. It would have been safer to have one child. Truthfully, it would have been safer to not get married and not have any children! But abundant life, fully living, is not about safety. When I'm thinking about these things I look to God to help me understand. I see in the story of Jesus, that He came here so that we might have life to the full. He did not come to bring a promise of a pain free life. He came to risk and love, to feel loss and sadness, to offer joy and overcoming. He came to be with us and so that we could be with Him. He risked and suffered in order to love us well. This is what I tell myself in an attempt to not withdraw to my own illusions of safety, behind walls that pop up around my heart.
I find that I need to be willing to risk daily, even with my own children. They have moved into their adult lives with strength and dignity and love. I'm so proud of them! And I miss them! It is risky to deeply love. These three relationships are growing bushes that I delight to tend to, to work on, to grow into and with...such gifts from God. They love me back well! I am one blessed woman.
Even so, when I am missing them or feeling the distance, up go the walls…my instinctive, reflexive, self-protection. I do not want to risk the chance of being hurt. I avoid conflict. I guard my heart. Pain taps into more pain taps into more pain…I prefer to not feel at all! I have, however, experienced what others have said--the walls I build may serve me well to keep people and some pain at a safe distance; unfortunately they also tend to keep joy and love out. In order to feel the good, I have to be willing to lower my defenses. I must move through the hard things, feeling and forgiving, releasing, allowing change to happen, not grasping for more control. Letting my heart hurt also allows my heart to hope. Risking engagement creates more opportunity for the love I need and want.
There is a new garden planted in my yard. It is full of young plants trying to take root.
There is a need for some extra watering and tending…but more and more flowers are appearing slowly. I see the full flowering old bougainvillea bush growing behind the new plants and it gives me some confidence...and hope. Though some friends are painfully no longer in my life, some dear and cherished long term relationships have endured. They help steady my heart. They give me courage to welcome new friendships, to tend and water new loved ones, to release and love my adult children, and to move through each day bolstered in the love of God, ready to open my heart to whoever He brings my way.
The best and longest, most trustworthy friend is Jesus Himself. He suffered in this life…and He stands with me through whatever comes my way. I’m so thankful. His vulnerable, sacrificial love gives me courage to let my walls down more and more, and as I do, more and more joy and love comes in. The ongoing lesson of how my children expanded my heart reminds me that there is room for more; room I won’t even know is there until I say yes and move forward, embracing new life and new love. The garden grows…more and more beautiful every day.