My best friend is pregnant. It is such a joy to accompany her (from a distance) on this journey to motherhood. I’m trying my best not to be one of those people who offers unwanted advice or won’t stop telling my own pregnancy stories long enough to hear hers.
Recently MaryAnn McKibben Dana wrote a blog post about her changing tolerance for violence as entertainment. You should read her stuff- it’s always good. This got me thinking about my changing tolerance level for observing fictional violence, pain and suffering. I used to be able to separate it from reality. I seem to have lost that capacity or filled up that compartment.
I remember all the pregnancy milestones and feeling relief when passing through a risky or uncertain time. First trimester over- whew! Oh wait- quad screen? Whew! 20 week ultrasound showed all the right important parts of the heart and brain and even 10 cute tiny toes. As we reached each pregnancy milestone I had a sense of relief. “Good thing I don’t have to worry about that any more.” Then there was childbirth. I’ll spare you those stories. But after each one I was relieved to be on the other side- no more worrying about what could go wrong.
Then your precious baby is in the world and you are presented with a whole new set of worries. Elizabeth Stone said “to have a child is to decide forever to have your heart walking around outside your body.” I always thought that was kind of hokey, but it’s true for me. The love I feel for my children is unlike anything I imagined.
Not long after my daughter was born my mother talked to me about this love. She’s good a this kind of stuff. She said that before she was a mother she thought she understood God’s love for her. We’ve all read it in scripture and I’ve preached it: we look at how an imperfect, earthly parent loves his or her child and know that our perfect, heavenly parent loves us even more than that. My mom said she thought she knew how much her parents loved her and then she could just imagine that God must love her that much more. But then she became a mother and realized that she had no idea the depth of the love her parents had for her. I have felt that too. I have been blessed with pretty amazing earthly parents. I thought I got it. I had no clue the depth and width and intensity of the love they had for me before I became a parent myself. Please don’t hear this as me saying “if you aren’t a parent you just don’t understand.” Rather, I am trying to say that I found a whole new understanding after I became a mother.
This gets back to that ever-present worry. Once your child is born you have new things to worry about all the time. You carefully swaddle that tiny, squirmy bundle and place her on her back to sleep. You patiently wait through the nights hoping to get on the other side of high risk time for SIDS. And you can’t help but go in her room one more time before you go to sleep to make sure she’s breathing. My daughter had to have heart surgery at 9 months old. The 5 months between discovering the problem and solving it dragged on forever. It’s still hard to believe that the doctors say it will never be a problem again. Recently my 2 year old son has decided to quietly climb out of his crib and sneak around at night. So I converted the crib to a toddler bed and put up the protective side rail so he won’t roll out. But then he and his sister are playing well together in her room and next thing you know there is a thud, followed by one of those screams that turns into inaudible crying. He has his first black eye. So do I wrap all the furniture in bubble wrap? Maybe I should order one of those protective helmets for babies you can find online?
The worry never stops. I am still surprised at the depth of worry, how almost paralyzing it can be. I break down watching a stupid medical drama on TV when a child is diagnosed with cancer. I could barely keep up with the headlines from the Newtown tragedy as I saw my kindergartner’s face in each one of the victims. Part of loving like this is hurting like that.
In reflecting on MaryAnn’s blog and the 7th anniversary of my dad’s death (last Friday), it really hit me that the worrying never stops. The very last time my dad spoke to me I was getting ready to head back to my home after visiting him again. The next time I’d see him would be for the last 3 hours of his life. I was grateful that we were still able to talk and have some almost normal moments on that visit. Before I left I went to his bedside to say goodbye. He was a little confused and thought I was staying and he was leaving. I don’t know if it was the cancer or the drugs. I gave him a hug and told him I loved him. But he stopped me. He sat up on the edge of his bed, my mom next to him and me across from him. He said we needed to pray before I left. Well sure. I’m a pastor. I can do this. I started a prayer and as I was finishing he interrupted and took over. His prayers, the last words I ever heard from him, were for me. There were so many other things he could have prayed. I was just a few weeks shy of my 30th birthday, all grown up, ordained, married, mortgaged, and he never stopped worrying about me.
See what love God has given us. That we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. 1 John 3.1