It was 1993.
We were expecting our second baby. Our first daughter had mastered toddling and was rapidly moving into terrorizing. Ahh, the “terrible twos” were upon us.
But she was beautiful, this tottering two-year old. I could get lost in her big brown eyes. Just watching her playing in that small, sunlit corner of our living room made me smile. I had never known a love like the love that I felt for this little girl.
As my second pregnancy progressed, I wondered how it could ever be possible to love another baby as much as I loved Savannah. I could not fathom there could be room in my heart for more love.
But I was wrong. Turns out, the human heart is capable of so.much.love.
Sierra was born in December. Her eyes danced, too. Her smile was perfect. I’ll never forget the relief that washed over me when I held her in my arms for the first time. I wept like a baby. You see, I had been carrying her for the past five months under a cloud of worry. Jay and I had been told that it was more than 60% likely that she had Down Syndrome. It looked as if she had a small hole in her heart. Her measurements were “off.” We were sent to a genetic counselor.
Our options were laid out clearly: Abortion or “Take a Chance.” Amniocentesis was not something we were interested in. Abortion was absolutely out of the question. The thought of taking her life horrified and hurt us. We had seen her! Seen her heart beating. Seen her beautiful silhouette via ultrasound. Seen her little feet and seen her fully formed body.
Surely, the “experts” saw it too, this beautiful, tiny human being.
After our second visit and a level two ultrasound, our “genetic counselor” offered his best advice. We ignored it.
We took “a chance”.
And then, we wrestled with the fear the followed the faith. Oh the fear. Every kick she made inside me said, “I’m here!” Every hiccup, every movement reminded me that she was growing. She was coming into our lives.
Sometimes, you just have to trust that God knows what He is doing.
On the day that Sierra was born, the room was full of doctors. One for neonatal intensive care. One for her heart. One to assess her for Down Syndrome.
And one to observe how it all played out.
I labored silently, determined to save as much energy as I could for my baby’s arrival. Jay put his head next to mine. I love that man.
Quietly, our daughter made her entrance into the world. For a moment, I am sure Jay and I stopped breathing. The heart specialist called for his nurse. And then ..my doctor looked up at me and his look said it all: she was healthy. No way to be sure in an instant–but we were instantly sure.
The worry and fear from the past five months came flooding to the surface of my mama’s heart. I wept as our little seven pound miracle breathed in and out on my chest.
Sometimes, the “experts” are just wrong.
Sometimes, we have no choice but to go with what we KNOW to be true, based on what God has told us about Himself. Even if Sierra would have been born with Down Syndrome or heart problems, what we knew to be true was this: God created her. He loved her. He gave her to us. And He would give us what we needed to care for her.
Choosing life for our daughter was one of the “we know it to be true” kinds of things.
Fast-forward several years.
A new parenting program was being touted at our church. We had three kids by then. And I won’t lie to you, we needed a little help.
Expert help, you could say.
We enrolled in the parenting class along with about ten other couples.
Advice abounded. A parenting formula: Mix a little-of-this with a-little-of-that and VOILA. You’ve got a kid who will respect you and respect others, obey on command, help without complaint and obey immediately without question or hesitation.
That’s what the “experts” said.
Sign me up for that! Who wouldn’t want that?
We were all so young. We wanted to do the best thing for our kids. Besides, the promise of the program resonated: if you just do ____ then your kids will turn out great.
The downside to formulaic parenting is so immense that I can’t cover it in a blog post but let me say this:
Formula and faith do not mix.
I’ll never forget the pressure that we felt as a result of that class. My husband was a worship pastor at the time. I felt like I was mothering in a giant fishbowl. People were watching. And my imperfect kids had to deal with imperfect, flawed, fearful me.
Formulas don’t work. There are no cookie-cutter methods for parenting. Our children are not all cut from one mold.
Sometimes, the experts are wrong.
There are principles but there are no guarantees.
There are promises but there is no way to avoid the tough realities of day-to-day mothering: It’s just hard sometimes. Parenting requires a listening, discerning spirit. I can require obedience but without the heart to obey, obedience is just another action.
For a while we were caught up in the legalism of following a formula. And it was burdensome.
During that time, I learned that parents can be particularly hard on other parents. Especially when we think we’re right and someone else is wrong.
Sometimes, I think I’m the expert.
And then, something happens that reminds me I’m not.
Thank God for grace.
Two of our children are grown. (Where did the time go? I thought I had more time…) And I realize more with each passing day that I must depend on the Lord to help me guide each child. I also realize that God has been gracious. Our children are each so different, each with their own set of unique needs. Each situation requires me to respond differently.
True confession: I wanted an “expert” to tell me FOR SURE that our daughter was marrying the right man. (She did, by the way.) But in the end, God said, “Trust Me. Trust Me in your daughter.”
Turns out our daughter was learning to hear God during those precious years we had her at home.
Not from an expert. But from our example. Sometimes a bad example. But an example, nevertheless.
I get to be a steward of these precious ones while they are in our home. Now that I’ve seen how bad advice can skew a family, and I’ve lived long enough to see how fast the growing years go by, my perspective is changed. I’m learning to become even more intentional with the time God has given me to till and plant and nourish the lives that He has entrusted to Jay and me. As you’ve heard me say before, I’m learning to become an intentional arborist.
There are wonderful books out there on parenting. But be careful when you pick up a book that is rule-based or promises a specific result.
Every day, ask the Lord to help you as you nurture your children. I’ve been asking God for many things over the years–and these come to mind first:
- Humility. If anyone ever tells you that there are “Three Steps to a New Kid” or whatever … run. It’s a formula. And it’s prideful to boot. None of us has it all together.
- A heart to understand God’s heart. Not hard-and-fast rules. As I get older and walk with Jesus more, I realize this means I need to be reading His Word as often as I can … so that I can know His heart and not be driven by fear or by the rules of men.
- Gentleness. Gentleness is a much overlooked fruit of the Spirit. It’s evidence that God is at work. Gentleness is present when we discipline our children because the Spirit is there too.
- Discernment in discipline. Sometimes, love must be tough. Sometimes, we make decisions for our children that will allow them to feel the consequences of their actions. Discernment tells us when to use tough love and when to let the circumstance teach the child while we love them through it. There are no easy answers.
- A heart to understand my children. We can’t get to the hearts of our children by sequestering them from the world with a rule book and a list of consequences for bad behavior. Children need love and nurture along with correction. One without the other produces hard hearts.
Our options are clearly laid out for us. We can choose a path that promises a particular result, or we can “take a chance” on trusting that the promises and correction found in God’s Word will apply to each of our children exactly when they need it to.
The only real “expert” advice we can count on is found in the Bible. We don’t need to have all the answers. We just need to know the One who does.
“What if, sometimes, there are mists and fogs so thick that I cannot see the path? ‘Tis enough that You hold my hand, and guide me in the darkness; for walking with You in the gloom–is far sweeter and safer than walking alone in the sunlight!
Dear Lord, give me grace to trust You wholly, whatever may befall; yielding myself up to Your leading, and leaning hard on You when “dangers are in the path.” Your way for me has been marked out from all eternity, and it leads directly to Yourself and home!”