Last spring, after six years of fertility struggles – which included one beautiful, healthy baby but also five miscarriages and many empty, helpless months – I adjusted my thinking to being the mother of an only child. This wasn’t especially beatific on my part, I just started considering the benefits of my situation. My daughter was getting easier and more independent, she would soon be in full-time school and I could start to think about my future again. Maybe I would go back to university and work on my doctorate. Maybe I would transition into a different career. Maybe I would, once again, be able to read a novel in less than three months. I wouldn’t have to divide my attention between multiple children, and sleep was slowly returning to my life like tendrils of spring after a long winter. Underneath all this ran a deep current of believing God knew exactly what was best for me, and little rivers and streams of optimism began to shoot out as I pondered all the freedom that could, possibly, lie ahead. It seemed that God knew I would be happiest and healthiest as the mom of one, and I was beginning to see his point.
Guess what happened next? Yup . . . two lines on the home pregnancy test. Of course I was elated at first, as anyone who has struggled with infertility can understand, but then fear began to creep in. And some depression. And maybe even a teensy bit of regret. It was impossible to explain to friends who, knowing how long we had wanted another child, reacted to the news with cheers and tears of joy. I didn’t even try to explain. I just felt nauseated and hormonal and afraid all by myself, suddenly finding even the regular aspects of parenthood constricting and pining for the freedom that had been so close.
The still small voice
A couple months later, camping with friends, I stood in our trailer washing dishes and peering through the screen door at the band of children playing in the brush. I spotted my girl’s small blonde head, watched her pause in the midst of play and bend to pick up a branch. She inspected it, turned it over thoughtfully, and my heart just burst for the love of her and the glimpse into her little life that would seem unremarkable to all but a mama. I almost missed it, almost stayed in my own head over that dish water, absorbed by my issues.
And this, to me, has come to define both parenthood and this Thanksgiving season. Real thankfulness is reaching down through life’s big events, decisions and moments, down deep into the roots, and finding there under the bracken, so small it can hardly be seen without stooping, the thing of value. It’s never above us, loftily floating on the horizon if we can just plan our futures to catch up with it. It’s never glittery and obvious and tomorrow, but always small, plain and today. Jesus teaches us this with his very nature, his infancy, his patient silence before death itself. God the Father’s voice is unheard in the storm and thunder but passes, still and small, as a barely perceptible breeze. To hear is to slow down and become quiet. To be thankful is to bend low, to search through the flotsam for the treasure of great worth.
How beautifully parenthood reflects this secret. Seen from above, from outside, what a demanding, draining assignment it is. Seen from the possibilities of an imagined future, what a thankless task to raise a child: not academic libraries, but slightly poopy smelling nurseries; not satisfied clients, but temporarily clean diapers; not awards of excellence, but tiny, common milestones. Why would anyone choose it? On purpose? But when you lay aside the agenda, when you give up on the overview and get down to the details, that’s when you find the good stuff.
Nearing the halfway point of my pregnancy, first trimester well behind, I am full of joy. As this baby literally takes shape and makes its presence known in amniotic aerobics, I wouldn’t trade places with kings. But I think I’ll have to keep reminding myself through the months and years ahead that to find this secret, to find life, I have to lay mine down, again and again. To find the gifts, I have to get quiet and stoop to the work of thankfulness.
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