I used to think that other families had it all together. It was just my family that was weird. The fact that we had difficulties was rarely acknowledged, and I never gained a sense that we were all pulling in the same direction or working together for our common good. I think this contributed to a tendency to magnify the difficulties in my own household, and to idealize the successes that I see in other families.
But this is not an accurate way of understanding life. The reality is that every person and every family has things which are special and precious; and every person and family faces hard things in life.
It is precisely when the intensity of those opposite aspects of life swirl in our hearts at the same time that we know the richness and fullness of being human and living in relationship.
One of the hard things in my life was the beginnings of parenthood. By the time my wife was pregnant with our first-born, we had already experienced two miscarriages. I recall the delight of “playing tag” with the little one—a gentle poke on the firm mound of her abdomen, the little kick back from someone’s foot inside. I was fascinated with the anticipation of our child. From the midwife visits to the childbirth classes from a privately-hired birthing assistant, from the affirmations of the older women among our clan and church to the stack of gifts from the baby shower held by my wife’s coworkers; I was delighted with all of it. It literally felt like my stomach had nothing below it to hold it in, or me together, when my wife at 31 weeks into the pregnancy appeared crying on the back porch… to tell me her water broke. And the wrenching of my heart as I watched my tiny newborn son fight for life in the following days was a carving into depths of my soul that was beyond my comprehension at the time.
But that whole experience changed my life for the better. Facing those fears, crying out to our Maker about my deepest desires, I came to a state of being able to give total and unreserved thanks that I had been a father for a few days and was honestly able to say that that thankfulness would not change, even if my son didn’t live another hour. I was willing to be “Dad” for as long as he lived, and be alright with the possibility that it might not be very long. The development of that surrender at the beginnings of fatherhood has served us well. And it connects to the hopeful understanding that our Maker is a master at bringing good to fruition out of our messes. “Hopeful” I say, because I still am messy and life isn’t done.
Sometimes I think about mothers. It isn’t easy to be a mother. You have to deal with the man through whom the motherhood has come; and that is often complicated. Thank God for Love, because without it the whole process of human reproduction would be unbearable. The body changes. Hormones play head-games. Social constructs are altered irreversibly. And birth—they tell me that’s no picnic either. I know the sound of a woman who’s womb is opening; it’s hard work. And then the child- sweet and precious, and grieving your soul on a regular basis.
Those arms have reached for the sky as she danced across fields of flowers in youth. Now they will hold a child even when weary. Those hips she got at puberty; they swayed and rocked that baby for the growing inside. All a-wash in the birth waters, sounds muffled, nothing but smoothness touching skin. Those thighs that squatted down to pick things up because bending over wasn’t possible anymore; they held her as she squatted and bore down and stretched, and brought that baby out. Those knees will carry a zillion steps until the cartilage is right worn away over a lifetime, and still they will bend and touch the ground as she prays for her child, her family, her clan.
And in that clan there will be painful things. Happy things. Heart-rending and heart-changing things. Yet even if she kneels by the stream as a death is carried away, she will tuck her chin into love. She will let it flow through her arms and her breath, so that when the child faces her own hard things, there will be a true knowing of the Love which carries her through and stands her feet on solid ground.
This is the stuff of families.