It’s a terrifying thing, this bringing children into the world. Before I was a parent my fears were more immediate, more self-centered: could I endure the pains of childbirth? Could I rise to the challenge of the night feedings, the endless diapers, the perpetual being on call? Could I become a mom? Then as they grew and started exploring more of the world, even being apart from me from time to time, my fears seemed to expand with them. What would happen when I wasn’t looking?
My children are still small. My oldest, Sam, is five, a wild blaze of boy; even his love is wild, the affection that takes his siblings down to the rug. But he also has a contemplative streak. When I see his deep brown eyes lost in thought, I wonder what big question he is working out this time, like what took the dinosaurs, what heaven is like, what happens to bad guys. In those moments my heart swells in appreciation of the fine mind our Creator has given him, but another part of me feels him drifting slowly away from me: a boy, alone in his boat, pulled toward horizons where I can’t follow, his brown shock of hair in Osh Kosh hoodie growing smaller and smaller, toward foreign lands, toward the sun. And at each new shore is a new problem to solve, a plan to achieve, a bad guy to battle. And so it goes, this business of growing up.
I can only imagine a bit of what Mary must have felt like when the angel told her, You will conceive and give birth to a son. Talk about feeling unprepared! This sweet young girl who hadn’t even embarked on the adventure of marriage – a mother, already. And then each new stage that followed: the long hard road to Bethlehem. The birth in a stable. The dream of far-off men bowing down before her child. The nightmare of losing her twelve-year-old in a crowd. The wedding at Cana and the knowledge, throughout, that my son is the Messiah. He will save the world from our sins. His unprecedented ministry, the teachings, the healings, the unstoppable popularity. And the opposition. The murder, of an innocent young man. Her son, her baby boy. It catches my throat just to imagine it.
Mary, a mother, just like me.
And yet, what if she had tried to stand in the way? If she had lost sight, somehow, of who he was, this calling that extended beyond his boyhood, beyond her? Maybe that is what Jesus meant when, at twelve, he said to her, Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?
It strikes me, Jesus speaking of his Father this way. In the moment, perplexing, for sure; but ultimately, isn’t this the reminder all mothers and fathers need?
I may be their mother, here on this earth. But they have a Father in Heaven who’s loved them before I ever did.
He has loved them from the beginning; he knows their names and every hair on their head; he sees them, he delights in them, he fights for them. He has a plan for their lives that I cannot even dream of. He has a job for them to do, a calling for them to step into. Little as they are, they are his disciples.
I have a part in it, for sure; he has called me to tend their hearts and train their minds for this season. It is a blessed season, and all too short, but it is my calling. To protect them, pray like crazy over them, to fight this battle one hug, one story, one whispered bedtime prayer at a time.
And even though, right now, we live in a perverse and wicked age; though lions and wolves prowl outside our doors; though sickness and death lie in wait for us; He is greater. He knows the whole story; he knows how it ends. So I can be free of fear. After all, weren’t those some of the first words the angel spoke to Mary: Do not be afraid. How she must have replayed that scene in her mind, etching those words in her heart, wearing them like armor into this wild and beautiful future, mother to the Messiah. Do not be afraid.
Because he has overcome. And he is coming again, someday, to take his children home.
I have two younger ones. My Gracie Girl is two and a half; some of the baby fat is melting away to reveal a little girl, all hair and legs, at turns sweet and steely, serious and silly. Peter, my baby, will always be that in my heart, but even since he’s turned one this fall he is running after anything that moves. He will not be left behind. He will keep up. Of course, they all do. The question is, will we?
I know my calling, this thing called motherhood, this incredible contradiction in itself: to nurture and send, to love a growing thing. Sometimes leaving behind yesterday is like a death in itself. But I will take these fleeting moments of their littleness — ten tiny fingers, ten tiny toes, a snot-nosed kiss, a plaintive wail for “Mama” – as a gift in the light of eternity, and forge on ahead, joyfully, full of wonder, unafraid. Because though they are mine for now, they are his Forever. And I’ll take each small grace for this journey through the middle.