Yesterday, as we were leaving church, I stopped to chat with our youth pastor. I asked him how he is feeling about getting ready to be a first time daddy. He laughed nervously and said, “OK, but ask me again in a few months.”
I wanted to tell him it will be OK, that you can plan, but you can’t really be prepared for how a baby changes life. I tried to explain, but I couldn’t find the words to truly express what a magical journey parenthood is.
God carefully crafted parenthood, every step. He planned how children grow with how we learn. They start off pretty simple: feed, burp, change, and sleep. Once we master that, they start to roll over, then sit. Our family started off a bit more challenged than most. In the NICU, every time we moved her something beeped. We spent those first few days afraid to touch her, but learned to take her temperature, give her a bath, and feed her once she was allowed to eat by mouth. We got the hang of diaper changes and dressing our premie in her teeny tiny clothes after a few days. Even so, I drove away from the hospital feeling like, “You’re letting us leave with her??”
Everything was new again once we got home. We spent time learning about sleeping routines, gas drops and gripe water, using the baby monitor, and washing the baby laundry in Dreft. After a few days, we had a routine. Then she grew a bit, her needs changed, and we figured it out again. Every time she changed, I had just enough ability to stave off complete chaos. When I got the hang of that stage, she would change again. Some days felt exhausting, especially since my husband deployed right after the adoption was final and days after I went back to teaching full-time. I look back and think, wow, I survived that year. It was rough stuff, but never harder than I could survive. Sometimes, circumstances were harder than I wanted, were tougher than I was in the moment. Not to say there weren’t failures and disasters, but nothing was ever so hard I couldn’t get through it.
God always gave me just enough, just enough energy to survive the day, just enough wisdom to not lose my mind. When I think about how God provided for me as a parent, just enough patience, just enough knowledge, I am reminded of the story in the desert from Exodus.
Exodus 16:16-18 “16 This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Each one is to gather as much as he needs. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.’ ” 17 The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. 18 And when they measured it by the omer, he who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little. Each one gathered as much as he needed.”
God provided just enough manna for the Israelites in the desert each day, not too much, not too little. He gave them just enough to rely on Him for another day. He wanted them to know they lived on His word, by His grace and power, not by human means.
Now that our sweet daughter is four, testing boundaries, asserting her opinions, we have days I feel I have this parenting gig ‘on lock,’ and days I feel like I want to lock her in her room and cry. I don’t have all the answers, but when I cry out to God for the strength to control my emotions, for wisdom in the moment, He always answers. The answers always come when I am truly seeking His desires for my heart. And when I hear His voice, I am never the same.
This weekend every meal has been a struggle. I don’t know what her issue with food is this week, but I do know that I can instruct and guide or let my frustration damage our relationship. I haven’t stumbled on any magical answers. We use a timer, stars on her chore chart, and now she gets served nothing else until she finishes the food she was served, within reason. I am learning that I cannot control her, I can only teach her to control herself, and mostly by example. Before I react, I reach for the peace of God.
Today when I started to get frustrated, God’s answer to my quick prayer was, “Is this an emergency? If not, don’t treat it like one.” I was able to keep calm, enforce the rules, establish consequences that were fair and reasonable. Then I laughed with her, made it fun, praised her when she took bites happily. She raced to finish her milk before I finished my water. I focused on being empathetic without letting her just have her way.
I had enough answers for today. And our Christian walk with God is kind of like that. If we’re listening, He gives us what we need for where we are in Him and in life. By reading the Bible, we know what the finish line looks like, but have no idea how we personally will get there. I picture a path of stepping-stones carrying us over the torrents of life. We can’t see all the way across. We can only see what we need for right now, but somehow it is always enough. When I truly put my faith in Him, I always have enough strength, enough patience, enough energy. When I rely on myself, I can slip off the path, getting drenched in the murky waters, but when I open my Bible and my heart, the next stone rises to meet my step.
John 14:26 ESV “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
When I finally let the Holy Spirit start working in my heart, I noticed His teachings, how he brings ideas to my attention. He gives me a perspective separate from my own and strength to love others with His love.
Yesterday, I was completely wiped out. All I wanted to do was watch TV and order pizza. I didn’t want to wash a dish or cook a meal or fold a sock or even be mommy. My husband has been working late every night and hunting the nights and days he didn’t have to work. It has been two weeks of being almost completely on my own with multiple medical appointments, softball practices and games, and a few days with a sick kid (fighting catching it myself). I started feeling selfish and resentful, but I knew it wasn’t what God wanted me to demonstrate to my husband. I asked for the wisdom to know how to act and the heart to treat him correctly.
Normally my husband cooks on the weekends, but I sensed that wasn’t what he needed. I offered to make dinner as soon as we came home from church, while my husband went to play with our daughter. They got a couple of hours to just play. They both needed that so much. My day didn’t get easier; my attitude shifted. I had the chance to love my husband. I let him hug me, told him I was tired. Then I realized he must be, too. He had worked from before dawn until 9 or 10 p.m. for several days in a row, so I asked him what he needed.
One, he needed me to listen to him. He needed my attention and compassion. As I listened to him talk, I realized he needed me to give to him more than I needed him to give to me. Instead of being selfish, God gave me just enough wisdom to suggest he spend the afternoon in the woods and to let himself enjoy it no matter the outcome, a deer for the freezer or not.
And miraculously, I had just enough energy for my day, just enough strength to take care of the kid and the dishes, to pack his lunch and prep his coffee, handle counting practice and story time, and to be ready to listen when he came home from his adventure, in which he slipped and fell into a creek because there were no stepping-stones. When he tried to jump it, his foot got caught on a tree root. He crashed down backwards onto his tree stand backpack. He literally lay in the creek, angry and alone, feeling water seep into his clothes and boots, stuck in the mud because the weight he was carrying got pulled into the thick, Georgia mud.
I had already been thinking about this entry, had already titled it stepping-stones thinking about the power of God’s provision and direction for our parenting, our lives, and our faith, but as I listened to him, laughing as he acted out his fury at the tiny creek, I thought to myself, thank God for His stepping-stones.