Abraham, Rachel, Soren and Liam. Our life together in Smalltown, Idaho.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Motherhood, Vulnerability, and God

Before I had kids, I frequently heard mothers bellyaching about how their kids were the best birth control, and all they needed in life was some time away from those blasted kids, and how their kids were driving them absolutely crazy.  From what I could observe, motherhood looked like a lot of frustration and work.   Babysitting did nothing to change my perspective on this, as the hours always crawled by excruciatingly when I was watching other peoples' children.

My maternal instincts totally overrode all of my reason, however, and I decided to have children anyway.
So I got pregnant and, in a lot of ways, braced for the worst.  I expected motherhood to be hard.  And it has been.  It's been really, really hard.  My children exhaust me.  They frustrate me.  I worry about them obsessively.

But I was also surprised by something.

I was surprised by love.

When Soren was born, love nearly knocked me over with its unexpected and weighty arrival.  Liam brought with him more of the same.  I just had never realized that you could love someone else so much, so unconditionally.  I hadn't realized that a that a little person could be so precious to you, that the creases in his knuckles and the curve of his forehead could make your heart constrict.  That watching him use his hands to pick up a toy or open a lid could make you cry.

When I first heard about the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, my first thought was of my little boy, sitting at a table in his classroom, cheeks smooth as porcelain, eyes bright and innocent.  Then I thought of the mothers standing outside an elementary school, waiting and watching in breathless agony for their little ones to come out.  I thought about the mothers whose little ones didn't come out.  My heart began to crack.  I quickly slammed my mind closed against these thoughts, because I knew that if I let my heart open up entirely to the suffering of those mothers, it would break.

When I was pregnant with Soren, I remember my mother-in-law asking me if being pregnant made me feel more vulnerable, like I was more susceptible to hurt.  I nodded vaguely, but I didn't really understand.  Not yet.  But now I do.  You've all heard that quote about how being a mother is allowing your heart to go walking around outside your body.  Then, my heart was still inside my body, nestled behind my ribs.  But now it's walking around in the form of two precious little boys.  And as the boys get bigger, my heart wanders farther away from my protective arms, tiny bit by tiny bit.

One Tuesday the boys spent a full hour outside with their little snow shovels.  They cleared off Daddy's car, then our driveway, part of the neighbors driveway, and a good portion of the sidewalk.  I watched from the window as they waddled around in their snow clothes, looking so serious and focused on their work, so proud of themselves, so unaware of how little they were.   I breathed out a prayer of gratitude and begged God to protect them, and to keep them small forever.

Once a week I get to drop Soren off at school.  I watch him walk up the long sidewalk to the building, so tiny against the sidewalk, arms holding his backpack in place, head turning to find a friend to walk with.  Sometimes he'll run, legs kicking out at the most heart-wrenching angles.

Do I ever feel vulnerable.  I just can't imagine what I would do if anything were to happen to one of my children.  I don't know how I would be able to breathe, how my heart would be able to continue beating.  But I realize that even if I am fortunate enough to keep them here with me on earth, there will be heartache.  The pathway of motherhood is paved in lots of things-- love, of course, and laughter-- also worry, fatigue, consternation, hope, delight, and bemusement- but an inevitable component is heartache.  My babies will get hurt.  They will make mistakes.  They will lose their innocence.

And that is why I cling to the hope that God exists and loves us.  Because astride the knowledge that I can't heal every hurt sits the hope that there is One who can.

Recently in church a member of our congregation, a volunteer firefighter, shared a story about helping a teenage boy who had gone outside in sub-zero temperatures without suitable protection against the cold-- he was just running to a friend's house a few blocks away-- but then preceded to get his foot caught in a bridge.  The boy had been outside for nearly an hour and was failing quickly when the paramedics arrived.  They immediately did what they could to warm his body and set about trying to free his foot.  Nothing worked.  "We had a truck full of tools but nothing was working," our fireman friend recounted.  "Critical time was passing and we were desperate, afraid we would lose him.  So I did the only thing left to do.  I prayed."  Just as he finished the prayer, an image flashed into his mind of a maneuver he could use to free the boy.  He explained it to the paramedic working with him, who said he had just had the same idea.  Together they tried the technique and immediately the boy was freed and they were able to save his life.  "I am a little ashamed," the firefighter told us, "that the most powerful tool at my disposal was the one I used last."

I find it intriguing that God couldn't (wouldn't?) do anything  to help until he prayed for guidance.  And then, instantly, enlightenment came.

In a blessing once I was told that God very much desired to be a partner with me in raising my children.  They were His children long before they were my children and he knows them far better and loves them much more than I do.  I am stubborn when it comes to religion, stubborn when it comes to asking God for help, fearful that He won't help, that I will be left kneeling at the altar, waiting in vain for an imaginary groom.  But if God can help me protect my little angels, teach them the pathways of happiness, and help them know that there is no problem that can't be fixed, I will try.  In parenting, I try very hard to be the very best mother I can be.  I have challenging children and they constantly keep me on my toes.  I read books, I make plans, I do what I can to be consistent in my discipline. But I am limited, flawed in a thousand ways, frustratingly insufficient for the task.  However, I have a great tool at my disposal and I have refused to use it for years.  I need to pray.  To ask questions and open myself up to receive answers.

Anyway, I've had this post in draft form in blogger for a long time and haven't really been able to come up with a tidy conclusion paragraph to pull everything together, so I'm going to go ahead and just publish it as is, all raw and unfinished.  The end.  :)


Karen said...

I loved this post. It's so hard to really "get" the feeling of being a mother until you are one. You took the words right out of my mouth.

The Butler Clan said...

I started "skimming" this post to see what it was about and ended up starting over reading it word for word. IT is amazing how mothers can connect on such a deep level, all I kept saying to myself as I read it was "I know." THanks for sharing it with me and letting me know that I am not alone in my feelings, my anxiety, and my insufferable feelings of vulnerability and utter hope that God will for some reason protect my children, when there is suffering all around, I pray that my children will be protected and I promise in return to do all I can do to help all those around. It is my plea and I pray and Pray it is accepted. I know God is there, my brain tells me "how do I know???" but my heart, my deepest part of my heart, shows me he is and he loves my angels and all the children of this world and no suffering is done alone when it comes to his precious children, they are always wrapped in his arms. I have to cling to this feeling to be able to survive in this world where children suffer so greatly in so many ways, they are held in his arms. I don't understand it, but I feel it. ANyway, thanks for allowing us to all share in this very sensitive subject, I think it helps so much to know we are not crazy and someone, many someones, know exactly what we feel so strongly inside.

Natalya said...

Rachel, I don't really have words to describe all the ways this post made me feel and think. But thank you.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...