Saturday, January 26, 2013

16 years

When I was a little girl, dreaming someday of being a wife and mom, I'll admit, I never dreamed about today.  I thought a lot about the romance I'd have with the man I'd someday marry (though I had no idea about who he'd be).  I thought a lot about rocking babies, nursing babies, holding babies.  I dreamed about first steps, first words, and first foods.  I dreamed about packing lunches and sending them off to school, though in time I'd come to discover God had other plans for us.

I didn't really dream about temper tantrums, rebellious arguments, messy rooms, "It's not my fault", the friends that might come into my kids' lives, or many of the other challenges of parenting.  And I have to admit that through it all, I still hold my dream of being a wife and mother as closely and cherish it just as much as I did when I was eight years old.

Raising kids comes with all kinds of challenges, and a completely unexpected joy that cannot be adequately put into words.  It's ironic to me that this past week saw the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, the two cases decided by the Supreme Court that would allow unrestricted access to abortion in our country.  We passed the 55 million mark.  55 million innocent boys and girls that will never be rocked, never be nursed, never be held.  They'll never take first steps, say first words, experience first foods.  No one will pack them a lunch or walk them to the school bus or take a picture of their first day at school.  Likewise, their mothers will never deal with temper tantrums, rebellious arguments, be required to keep a straight face when told "it's not my fault" when clearly it is.  Those mothers will not have to deal with the challenge of a friend that might not be appropriate, or swell with pride when a friend is picked that is a good influence.  In fact, for all we know, many of the children that could have been friends were never given life either.  And in all of it, none of those mothers will experience the unique joy of being that child's mother, even if they go on to have other children.

Ryan is my oldest.  This will post exactly 16 years, to the minute, that he was pulled from my abdomen.  He is not my first, though.  My first was lost at 10 weeks to a miscarriage, approximately 16 months before Ryan was born.  And my second child was lost to a gut-wrenching decision to exterminate his life to save my own.  I've read several pro-life apologists who claim that ectopic pregnancy may indeed be the only legitimate reason to perform an abortion "to save the life of the mother" but having someone legitimize what happened does not make it any easier.  That child's life was extinguished a mere 13 months before Ryan was born, and I fully realize that had that child been able to live, Ryan would not be here.  For every birthday in our house that is celebrated for our 4 living children, I privately mourn another 4 that were lost to miscarriage, and the 5th whose life was taken to save my own.

I find it difficult to look at my own children without seeing the ones who are missing, and I wonder how many mothers of those 55 million find themselves in the same situation.  I pray that they would find peace and forgiveness in the Lord Jesus Christ, and be able to go on, as I have, to celebrate the joy of motherhood.

So here I am, with 16 years of laughter, tears, heartache, pride, and an immense joy.

It's gone so fast.  Surely it was just yesterday that they handed me my son, who was so tiny and fragile I wasn't sure I'd be able to hold onto him.  Surely it was just yesterday I asked my mom to run out and buy some preemie clothes, because he was swimming in the newborn clothes (which finally fit him at 6 months).  I once picked up a book that suggested that a child's character was pretty much formed by the age of six, and I remember thinking "then I have plenty of time."

It flew by, faster than I'd ever dream possible.  My baby boy is now driving me around town, making faces at me as he carries 40 lb bags of salt down to our basement, and complaining about Algebra.  I'm sure I'll blink a few more times and he'll be living on his own, married, and holding a job...maybe even have a child of his own.  As the Psalmist says, "our days are like the grass" and yet, some days it feels as though the grass changes slower than my children do.  When it's 3am and the baby won't stop screaming unless you walk in circles around the living room singing, it seems as though you'll never get through it, never get enough sleep, never have a minute to yourself again, never be able to take a shower again.  But you'll turn around, faster than you can imagine, and almost find yourself wishing someone would come bursting into the bathroom at the most inopportune time, just so you can feel reassured that you haven't missed it all.  The older my children get, the more I realize how short and how precious time really is.

My 16 years with Ryan have been nothing short of miraculous.  My two funniest stories are that 1) We once thought Ryan was strong-willed (bwahahahaha!) and 2) At one time I patted myself on the shoulder for how well I'd raised him (BWAHAHAHAHA)!  I can say for certain that while Ryan is one of the least strong-willed children in the world, and is for the most part every parent's dream child in the maturity he has and the choices he makes, I know that, 1) God created him like that, and I have very little to do with the person he has become, and 2) I could be the best parent in the world and still have a child that makes poor choices.  God has given me these children for a season, and while it IS my responsibility to do my very best to bring them up as Godly, kind, loving, caring, thinking, helpful, selfless individuals, all I can do is my best.  God is in control, and I am only a steward for a time.  My job is to do with my children what God wills, not what I will.

Ryan is the kind of kid that many parents wish they had, and many kids wish they were.  He tends to be good at just about anything he decides he wants to do, and with very little effort he is able to succeed where many others try hard and fail.  It would be easy for me to pass that off as something I've somehow helped with, though I know that's just the nature God has gifted him with.  But more importantly, it would be easy to take pride in his worldly successes and miss the important part: It is the character that counts.  He can win all the awards in the world, and they mean absolutely nothing if he does not have good character.

Just like every other human being on the planet, I sometimes get hung up on the wrong stuff, and I would fail my children as a parent if I didn't stop and force myself to take a good hard look at the character they are developing.  It shouldn't matter whether he can play 5 instruments, or none.  What does matter is the glow of joy he gets from helping out with the babysitting in our small group, and the love he has for the little kids in our church.  You can't get that from any course at school, and you can't buy it with any sum of money.  In 20 years, no one will care whether he ever won a speech or debate tournament, but you can bet that every single person he meets along the way will remember the way he treated them.  So when I say I'm proud of my son, it isn't because of what he can or cannot do.  I'm proud of the kind of person he is becoming, and I'm overjoyed to say that he is living his life for God, not for himself.

I cannot imagine what the next 16 years will bring.  I know he will continue to grow, and change, and move on.  I know this because despite my repeated demands that he STOP, he continues growing.  I pray for my son, that he will continue to follow Jesus, that he will put relationship before opportunity, that he will grow in character rather than popularity, and that he will step out of our household a man of God.  He is my firstborn, and 16 is both a blessing and a curse.  I want to slow time down and cherish these last few years that he is under my roof, yet I'm holding my breath to see what his future holds.

I can say for sure, when I was dreaming of this moment, I could never have predicted how sweet, and how painful it would be.

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