Monday, August 20, 2012

The Mothering Chronicles 8: Sometimes Their Hearts Break

This morning my cat sat outside the french door, her eyes like peridot marbles following every step I made.  She was hungry.  Apparently mousing doesn't always fill her belly; she wanted real food.  Just one problem.  We ran out.  (What? You never run out of cat food and have to scramble your precious feline an egg or crank open a can of tuna?)  Now, the truth be told, said cat chose us as her family and refused to leave.  We never--REPEAT NEVER--chose her.  And frankly, I can't say I'm overly fond of her.  She only shows up when mice are scarce or she wants to lay on Nate's fuzzy Georgia Bulldogs blanket.  Usually this happens at 3AM, and she announces her presence with a feral meow that curdles milk. (And in case you were wondering . . . no, my husband doesn' t hear her.)  So I can't say I jumped to open the door and let her in.  But after ten minutes of this pathetic-starving-cat-stare-down, I finally called out to my eldest, "Nate, did you feed Lovely?" (Pass the buck, right?) And then came his reminder that we had been out of food since the night before. And no matter how annoying that cat may be, I couldn't watch her sit there hungry.  Couldn't just watch her suffer.
Later, reading in Genesis--Hagar and Ishamael's story--it struck me how hopeless Hagar must have felt when she was cast out of her home by Sarah and Abraham.  Hagar had to know Ishmael was Plan B all along, the-just-in-case-God-doesn't-come-through child.  But God came through and Isaac's birth erased Sarah's use for Ishmael.  In Genesis 21 we find them "wandering aimlessly through the wilderness" alone and in desperate need of water.  Verse 15 says, " . . . the water in the skin was gone . . ."
No water.
A desert.
A single mom.
No man.
No money.
Life gets that way sometimes, doesn't it?  Parenting, loving, caring for our children can be that way sometimes.  Any mother knows that the only thing worse than feeling hopeless about her own life is watching when a child is broken and hopeless.  And it happens. 
When Cort was a toddler, he contracted a virus that caused little rice-like bumps all over his body.  They were sprouting like grass in spring under his arms, on his chest, his back, everywhere.  The doctor wasn't alarmed, gave us some ointment, and told me to administer it that evening.  Careful not to miss a single bump, I followed his instructions putting the ointment all over Corton's back and stomach.   After a short amount of time, Corton began to scream in pain. Uncontrollable pain.  Slowly, the ointment began to burn his skin.  He was severely allergic to the cream, and we rushed him to the Emergency Room.  The doctors had no idea what was going on or how to alleviate this seemingly allergic/chemical reaction.  Slowly the ointment continued to burn his skin, and layers began to peel off as it ate away at the surrounding areas. His face was desperate.  His screams cut me. I thought I was going to die.  They weren't working fast enough.  They weren't making the pain go away.  They weren't listening to me when I told them to do something. Do.Something.Now.  I remember begging God, "Take this pain away.  Make it stop, God, please."
Our children do suffer.
Sometimes physically, sometimes emotionally.
Hagar was so completely convinced this was the end of her son's life that she put him under a small shrub and wandered a bow-shot's distance away from him.  She couldn't stand to sit and watch her son die of dehydration.  Could not stand it.  And I wonder is that how the mother of the Brazilian girl felt when she left her child in the streets because she couldn't afford to buy food.  I wonder is it what the Ugandan father feels when his sons eyes are dark holes in a parched frame, and there is no clean water. Is this why they abandon their children?  Is it a slow-motion torturing of the parental soul to watch the suffering of one's own flesh and blood?
In their book, Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys, Stephen James and David Thomas write, " . . . it seems that parents who don't let their kids struggle in life are more concerned about avoiding their own pain from watching their children suffer than they are concerned for the kids themselves."
And I want to hit those men and hug them for writing those words because of course the mother is concerned for the child.  Do they not understand that a child's pain is the mother's pain?  There is no human way for a mother to separate the two.  But they are right.  It is because we cannot separate the two that we don't want them ever to struggle.
Scripture says Hagar "wept uncontrollably."  I get that.
Can you see her there, clay colored clothing, face leathered by relentless sun in a world that for her remained dark?  She's weeping for the future her son will never see, for all that she hoped for, all that she wanted, all that could have been.  No, a mother doesn't know the difference between her personal pain and that of her child.  The two are linked and twisted and tied into one chain of emotion that no mother can untangle.  She only knows when her child hurts, when they suffer, she is ripped open with them.  This is the mother's lot.
Yet verse 17 of chapter 21 begins with the most beautiful two words maybe in all of scripture,  "But God . . ."
And isn't that it every single time?
Apart from God, it is hopeless. Yes. Yes, it is.
Every single time, every single situation, every single child.  Not one thing is exempt from this reality.  God exists.  He exists, and He loves, and therefore your situation is NOT HOPELESS.
Not hopeless.
Scripture says, "But God heard the boy's voice."
We hear our children's heartbreak, and we weep with them.  When they were young, I couldn't bare to withhold food from my sweet babies.  If they cried my entire body insisted they needed food.  (Read:  SERIOUS. MILK. LETDOWN.)
Imagine if a child's tears can wake a mother at night, what must they do to God--their Creator?
God hears your children.
He hears.
They need to know their heavenly father always hears.  When they suffer and we offer comfort, we need to tell them the truth that not only do their earthly parents care desperately, their Father in heaven hears every single cry. Saves every single tear.
Then the Angel of God speaks to Hagar and asks her, "What's the matter, Hagar?" (Gen. 21:17)
Why did he have to ask?  Sometimes I think we need to name our own emotions when it comes to our children.  She was weeping uncontrollably, but what was the root of her tears?  What was the emotion she ultimately felt?
"Don't be afraid, for God has heard . . ." (Gen. 21:17)  Fear.  Her emotion was fear.  Perhaps it was fear she had not only been abandoned by the man who helped her bring this child into the world, but also his God.  Perhaps it was fear not that she had been abandoned, but that her boy had been abandoned, that somehow God's love had missed her son.  Don't we need to know that no matter how fiercely we love our children, their Heavenly Father's love is greater still?
And when our children hurt, when they are broken--because life will break our children at some point along the journey--we need to acknowledge not only their emotions, but ours too.  Because the momma is bound to her child from soul to soul.
Then he said, "Get up!"
She had quit.  She had thrown in the towel, and aren't we tempted to do the same sometimes?
When that child is thirty years old and still refuses to give up drugs.
When that boy is so angry and sullen he hasn't spoken a word to us in a month.
When that girl can't express why she thinks she may like other girls instead of boys.
When she's sixteen and pregnant.
When he's found smoking.
When that toddler has screamed for an hour straight and we don't.know.why.
Yes, we're tempted to sit down and quit.
I have sat down.  I have quit.  I've done that before.
But God said, "Get up!"
Get up my child and keep running this race.  Keep fighting the good fight.  Keep going.
Then He said to her, "Help the boy up and hold him by the hand."(Gen 21:18)
I love that part.  Sometimes, no matter how young or how old, how stubborn or how heavy, our children need us to
Just help them up.
And hold them by the hand.
Sometimes there aren't words.  There aren't verses.  There just aren't.
But we still have our hands, and they need us to support them.  Physically help them to get up.  Hold them in our arms, if they'll allow it--just for a time.  Emotionally help them to get up.  Spiritually hold up their arms like the people did for Moses so many generations ago.
And moms, aren't we good at that?  We may not be able to patch a flat tire or fold paper airplanes, but we know how to hold a wobbling hand until steadiness returns, don't we?  We do.
Then God said, "I will make him into a great nation." (Gen. 21:8b)
Those words:  I WILL.
They change everything.
Because when we can't,
He is the God who is over all, above all, greater than all, He is the God who is FOR OUR CHILDREN.
I remember my first heartbreak.  I was 15 years old and some red-headed boy had snatched my heart and held it long enough that when he let go, it stopped beating for a while.  How often that happens to our precious, young girls and our tender young men. We say, "Be careful."  We insist, "You are so young."  We warn.  We advise. We implore. 
And when it ends, and it often does, they are--for a while--a shroud of who they used to be. 
When that boy told me he didn't love me anymore, I dissolved into myself.  Folded inside out.  Couldn't talk.  Couldn't think.  Couldn't eat.
And the only words of comfort (and I'm sure there were many) that I remember were those of my mother, "I wish there was something I could do to take the hurt away."  It was she who cried when she said those words.  Her daughter was suffering beneath the surface and there were no bandages, no Tylenols that could heal that hurt.
But God.
But God WILL.
And He did.  Only God could reach into the fibers of my heart and weave together a tapestry of His grace, His sovereignty, His peace, His joy, His HOPE.  How much hope it will give us parents to remember that though we may have planned for our children, God Himself willed their presence on this earth.  God Himself has a plan for their lives.  God WILL make them into a "great nation" for His name's sake.  It's His purpose and His plan on the line.
With God, it is NEVER hopeless.
And He will accomplish all His promises concerning our children.  HE WILL. Mother, hold that truth.  HE WILL.
Finally, God enabled Hagar to see a well of water.
I've wondered if, though she never saw it, the well was there all along, or if he miraculously made one just for them.  I like to think God said, "Let there be an oasis."  I like to think He did that just for them.  But ultimately what matters is that He did indeed provide.
He did intervene.
He did make a way for hope's seed to take root in the souls of a teenage boy and his single mother.
And moms, when our children's pains are deeper than the booboos and ouchies of childhood, when they are farther than our hands can reach, when we ache in the corners of our souls for the hurt of our flesh and blood, we need to ask God to "enable us to see the well of water."  (Gen. 21:19)
We need to remember that it is He who is LIVING WATER.
Isn't it perfect, certainly no coinsedence, that Ishmael was a young teen at this time.  Likely he was physically stronger than his mother.  We don't really know.  But it was his mom who went to the well, filled the skin with water, and brought some back for her boy. 
Sometimes bringing them water is just that, a cup of water.  Sometimes it is a list of the scriptures that have carried us through difficult times.  Sometimes it is the retelling of those times in our lives when we despaired . . . even of life.  Sometimes it means getting a good counselor.  Letting them talk to a trusted friend.  But know this, mommas, there are times when we carry them. Even when they're grown.  Not forever, but for a season.  Not enabling, but empowering.  I'm not talking about being the mom whose son is forty and lives at home on her couch.  I'm talking--and I think your spirits will agree--about being the mom who knows when her child needs just a sip of water. 
A sip of hope.
But God
God Will
"But now, O Lord, upon what am I relying?  You are my only hope!"  (Psalm 39:7)

Pray with me:
God who sees, God who hears, God who is hope, will you teach my mother's heart to rely on you?  To expect you?  To anticipate your intervention.  To look for you in the horizon when the reality of my child is a deep pain?  When my own reality is pain?  Will you help me, Lord to cling to the truth that YOU WILL work, YOU WILL heal, YOU WILL men, YOU WILL cause hope to rise?  Amen.


Anonymous said...

Beautiful and inspiring.

Lisa Q

Leslie said...

Wow, very inspiring.. You are a beautiful lady inside and out.

Anne Arnold Pierce said...

Ah sweet Sarah,
You understand the full impact of it. Every second every beat of the heart's longings, sufferings, hopes, fears and prayers for our children our boys and daughters.
for our sons. both of the flesh and of the gift of God.
thank you Sarah. You know I needed to read this. Even though I know it to be true and rely on his word his But God... I need to be spoken to.

Grand-D said...

Truly inspiring Sarah you surely tugged at all the heart strings. Thanks for sharing and thanks for caring for all us parents and grandparents as we journey together.

Sarah said...

Thank you all. So much seems to be summed up in knee to knee, eye to eye, face to face time with our children when they are young. When they are old, so much is summed up in the trusting of God's guiding hand in their lives. Because we don't always get the knee to knee time anymore.

Bretta said...

I just read this post agin, dear Sarah. Oh how poignant and true your words speak to my heart this week. I have no words, really...I just identify and join in your prayer. Love you.