As children, our ideas of God and heaven are delicate but supple buds. Our roots are thirsty and malleable, our immature leaves striated with whimsy and wish. One of my sons is looking forward to the afterlife as an existence with “mountains of Lego’s and no peas.” I’ve seen the dangers of grasping too tightly to the wide-eyed, artless, fantasies of youth. We leave no aperture by which adult realities might slip in. We insist on clinging to our well-worn hodgepodge of philosophies, television testimonials, and self-help books collected throughout the years.
They mollified us once, and it’s uncomfortable to acknowledge that we may have outgrown them. That we may need something more. Something deeper. Personal. So we clutch them ever tighter, and they lay like doll’s rags in our hands. We go about our very important lives. We smile, we work, we play. Yet no one.. no one whispers of us, “but the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes..” But we know. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve been feeling the draft.
For me, and I suspect for many of us, our perception of God as our father, steadily develops from the way we view our earthly one. That’s a sticky wicket. And quite a burden to put on all the daddies of the world.
My father was not a warm or gentle man. No one would use the words “kind” or “considerate” in a sentence containing even a letter of his name, and I only knew “mercy” and “grace” as two ruffle-socked, pigtailed peers whom I played with in the second grade. Grace cheated shamelessly at jacks. Mercy still wet her bed. Telling.
When I became a Christian in my early teen years, I learned of the attributes of God. Patient. Forgiving. Righteous. Just. Slow to anger. Compassionate. The terms were familiar, but as far as being traits intrinsic to one’s character…
Now, the God of the Old Testament? HIM, I’ve seen. All that wrath, smiting and fighting and carrying on? I get that. I lived with that. For almost thirteen years I lived with that guy. The one who saw only your failures and never your feats, your ignorance and not your intellect, blemish but never beauty. His tempests raged through our home with little or no provocation. The aftermath left me bruised, in body and spirit, praying to someone I wasn’t sure I believed in, for rescue. A sinner in the hands of an angry dad.
When that long-awaited rescue eventually came, and I had my Savior, I tried. I really tried. I sang of the wonder of His love and immersed myself in an enthusiastic and dynamic youth group. I was worshiping in my own limited way, as best I knew how, but I was scared. Scared of making the mistake that couldn’t be forgiven. Of pushing Him too far. Of not being enough. God just..scared me. And obedience out of terror isn’t worship. It’s tyranny.
I married an enthusiastic and dynamic boy from that enthusiastic and dynamic youth group when we were very much still youths ourselves. A few years later we were anticipating the birth of our first child, a daughter. Due largely in part to ten years of deplorably disordered eating and a malnourished body, the pregnancy was fraught with dangerous complications.
When I was induced a month early, my little girl and I began a two-day ordeal that she would not remember and I would not forget. The day after I had given birth, I woke up in the intensive care unit to a shrill beeping which, I was curtly informed, I was producing, by incessantly jabbing at the button on my morphine pump even though it had been explained to me, repeatedly, that it operated on a time–release only.
My chest was dappled with second degree burns which were inflicted when the defibrillator was needed to give me a cardiac jump-start, or two. IV antibiotics were coursing through my bloodstream, fighting the bacterial infection that threatened sepsis, and the pounding in my lower abdomen heralded the presence of every staple holding me together.
Another day into my extended infirmary vacation, we would discover the origin of my high fever when a nurse changing my surgical dressing noticed a sallow muck seeping through the gauze. I was truly suffering. I was disoriented, and terrified. I was damaged. I had not yet held my baby. I had nearly forgotten why all this was happening to me.
I have a foggy recollection of my mother being in my room at some point, but leaving shortly after I revealed, with no small measure of distress, that my bedpan was no longer playing nicely with my teddy-bear printed “Get Well Soon” balloons. I can’t speak for any of my visitors, but I enjoyed my brief affair with that morphine pump.
A nurse brought my girl into me on an ordinary afternoon. No fanfare. No temperate, pastel lighting, or dulcet lullabies playing in the background. Just an abrupt, unceremonious rap on my door and an easy plop of a package ensconced in white and pink, in the nook of one unsteady arm. There was this six pound person. And there I was. We regarded each other intently.
She, brunette and dusky. I, in striking contrast, fair and flaxen. I hadn’t much experience around newborns, but somehow I knew how to hold this one. With her troubled, cherubic face visibly calming, we naturally enfolded, nestling into one another. Each drifting contentedly in the others warmth and perfume. It all happened in a single heartbeat.
In a single heartbeat, my world turned upside down. My mind flashed through the last few days, few weeks, nine months, twenty-two years..and I just knew. I knew I would do it all again. For her. Without hesitation.
I wouldn’t need to wait until I healed. Or until my strength returned. Right then. To have this baby? My baby? If needed, I would get out of this caged bed, no..I would fly, and relive the anguish, receive the misery, embrace the enmity. She made anything, everything possible. The sentiment stole the very breath from me. I never knew a love like that existed. So pure. So staggering. To the extent that I would lay down my very life…. and then. Then I understood.
And I wept.
Could it be? All this time…could this possibly be the way that God felt about me? This ferocious concern? This passion for my protection? A longing to shepherd and nurture?
And, I’m merely mortal. Finite. Limited. Constrained and bound with chains of sin and sickness. Yet, within my all too human humanness, lay the capacity for this tremendous profusion of intensity. How much more – how very much more must my Father, my Creator, love me?
I thought of how much time I had wasted. Uneasy, guarded, anticipating a spiritual scourging with every misstep. I never acknowledged that I couldn’t have truly believed in the goodness of a divine Almighty. Not without accepting all He had to offer. Wanted to offer. I knew I had hurt Him.
My lips had spoken prayers through faith, but I didn’t listen. My eyes scoured the heavens for pardon, but I didn’t see. God had been reaching for me, whispering my name, but I was scarred from early paternal tribulation, and I cowered. My hands glued firmly at my sides, I maintained an inveterate silence…until I didn’t. At last, at last. On a biting November afternoon, in a dreary military hospital, I rocked a newborn baby close, and bowed my head. With a serene exhale, I breathed a quiet,
I am now the mother of four. Any suspicions I might have once held about a mother’s love, or God’s love, being disseminated with each child? Those have long been put to rest.
Though my monkeys refuse to believe it, I don’t have a “favorite”. When I find myself feeling very alone in this great big, scary world..knowing my impotence, and feeling my insignificance, I watch my sons, my daughter. Some days I need the reminder that God is here, and He’s watching me with the same tender, admonishing care.
As His little girl.
Now for my own brood, well. They make me laugh and hurt and pray and tear at my hair and yell and sing and feel like a kid and feel old and cry and dance and scold and….my list is endless. They are each unique. And brilliant.
And they are more than enough. Just as they are. And I know now that I am too. I am enough. He showed it all to me. Gift wrapped in the shape of a tiny baby girl. He knew what I needed. Because even though my God had been watching me my entire life, it wasn’t until I saw her, that I finally saw Him too.