Not Mine, but His

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I’m struggling.

I hesitate to even use the word, as blessings surround me. A friend visited recently who calls Kenya his home, and discussions about the challenges of his neighbors shamed me. In this corner of the world, we bathe in resplendence. Who am I to speak of struggle?

Yet I’m grappling spiritually.  For the past month, each morning I’ve awoken with a heaviness upon me. Doubt, which usually strikes in icy ebbs and flows, now lurks in my heart like permafrost. As the dawn leaks through the window, I brace myself for the day, and try to lean into my faith.

Then, Pip starts the morning with yet another argument. It’s usually over something mundane — putting on his pants, or being quiet while his sister is asleep — but it’s always a harbinger of the madness to come.  At his first retort, I cringe, and I wonder, What am I doing? Maybe the Lord doesn’t want me here.

We’ve had a hard month with my son. He’s been intense and challenging since birth, and a need to better support him through his outbursts motivated me, in part, to leave clinical practice. Over the past year, I’ve read piles of child & cognitive psychology books. I’ve researched intensity, sensitivity, giftedness, asynchrony, overexcitability, cognitive-behavioral therapy, autism spectrum disorders, sensory processing disorders, grace-based parenting. . . the list goes on and on. Much of the reading has helped us tremendously to better understand him, to provide a safe space for his sensitivity, and to guide him through his highly intense emotional responses.  Through God’s mercy, he’s progressed so much.

But right now, none of the books help. Rather than keyed-up emotions, we’re contending with selfishness and greed, disrespect and cruelty. We’re reacting in horror when he jams his toddler sister’s tender fingers into a thornbush. We’re standing aghast — again — when he calls us vile names, or refuses to comply with our requests to help out, or howls because Bean touched a toy that actually belongs to her. All despite having talked with us extensively about such things. All despite consistency, and gentleness, and firmness, and known consequences.

The books can’t help this. We’re dealing with heart issues. And their relentlessness has gutted our homeschool of all joy.

For the first time in a year, the strain has cracked my resolve. This tension occurred hot on the tails of a few weeks of the kids waking up at 4 or 5 am, robbing me of the one sliver of the day I devote to writing my book (and gathering my peace). Then, everyone in the house fell sick with a virus, and I spent nights on the floors of febrile kids’ bedrooms. With my reserve already stretched thin, Pip’s shrieks of, “My mom is my enemy!!!” busted my endurance into shards.

As I’ve vacuumed cobwebs from crevices I’m sure I’d cleaned the day before, and found the sink overflowing with dishes yet again, and turned around to face yet another vehement  complaint from a child who could feed a third world country on his cheeks alone. . . I’ve felt completely ineffective. Like I’m spinning my tires in mud, my efforts splattering in all directions without design.

Like nothing I do matters.

In the maelstrom of it all, and without a moment to reflect, I find myself pining for the instant gratification of the OR. The satisfaction of removing an appendix. The finality of stitches taut and gleaming within a pulsing heart. The rise of oxygen levels with the turn of a dial. Breath, life, progress, all finely-tuned and quantifiable.

Most of all, I yearn for the accolades. Respect. The sense that I’m accomplishing something.

After all, I wondered this afternoon, what am I really achieving? Why should I continue down this route, and cast aside such carefully-honed skills, when Pip’s just going to scream at me? Maybe the kids would be better off if I went back.  I turned the words in my mind, and I detected glimmers of an identity I discarded long ago, one that thrived upon white corridors, adrenaline, and a tally of successes. An identity that lingers like an old, duplicitous friend, the betrayals of whom time has softened.

“I wuv you Mum Mum.”

The words startled me from my commiseration. In my lap, Bean, sluggish with fever, tipped her head back and gazed at me adoringly. I had been stroking her arm while we watched The Berenstain Bears. I grinned, leaned forward, and kissed her forehead, its skin sweet and hot.

Then it hit me. If I were still in practice, that moment would never have occurred.

I would have been at the hospital.

The realization jostled me. Later, after another hard evening with more fighting, I collapsed, alone, and opened the Bible. I don’t like the “Russian roulette” approach to Bible reading, but just this once, I asked the Lord to guide me. He took me to Mary’s song in Luke 1.  And I read this:

“. . he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. . . “

I read it seven times over. Palpated the words.  And the artifice of my yearnings crumbled away.

Is my purpose in homeschooling — and in life — really to “accomplish something”? To build myself up, and convince myself that I matter? To fashion my own identity?

Or am I on this path so that He may accomplish His purpose through me? To submit wholly and lovingly to my identity in Christ?

As fruitless as these weeks have seemed, I trust the Lord has placed me in them for a purpose. He chose these children for me to shepherd. These, and no other. All their idiosyncrasies, peculiarities, adorable bits, and exhausting complexities blossomed according to His design, by His brushstroke. (Ps 139:13)  And He chose me to teach them diligently in His ways with every breath. (Deut 6:7) These children are not mine, but His, in my arms for a time.

When I set aside my pride, I realize that the moments when Pip acts horribly are precisely the moments he needs me most. While I may thrive upon the impromptu French  lessons in a sun-dappled backyard, those times aren’t the most important in homeschooling. Academics pale in importance to character. God chose me for Pip’s mother to shepherd him through our brokenness. If I don’t navigate these storms with him, who will? If I turn my back and flee in dismay, who will remain with him, to hold his hand and guide him toward light?

The task seems thankless and perpetual and futile, and without God’s mercy, it’s all those things. Yet He shows us grace when we deserve none. Through Christ, He extends love, even while our sinful hearts still chase after pearls of pride.

How can I respond, but to obey our Lord, and also show grace? How can I react, except with love? How can I remain prideful, when God scatters the proud like grass?  And when Pip hurls daggers at me, how can I react except with a visage of grace, with a firmness and love that reflects his Creator?

The journey is not about accomplishment. The academics, the towers of books, the flashy games, all constitute trinkets and flair. Even the stitch in the heart will fray, and the muscle will cease its steady throb.

The journey is about faith. About following the Lord, and trusting in Him, whatever cobwebs cloud our vision, whatever outbursts scramble our thoughts. About serving the Lord in the vocation to which He’s called us.

In this season, He’s called me to shepherd two of His incredible children.

Not mine. His. In my arms for a time.

 

 

22 Comments Add yours

  1. Ted says:

    Thank you, your words touched my heart

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    1. Katie Butler says:

      Thank you Ted, God bless.

      Like

  2. Lieza says:

    I needed this reminder. Life is all about the Lord and following Him.

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    1. Katie Butler says:

      Amen!

      Like

  3. Cynthia says:

    Beautifully said. So often when I was where you are now, it was hard for me to think beyond my exhaustion and struggles. Your application of Scripture to your situation seems spot on. Surely this will help others as they read your words. May God strengthen you in the valuable work He has given you.

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    1. Katie Butler says:

      Thank you so much Cynthia. Blessings to you.

      Like

  4. Jeanne Dedman says:

    Dear sister, I will pray for you and your family. Who else but you can care for your son with a mother’s determined love? May God’s grace prove sufficient.

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    1. Katie Butler says:

      Thank you so much Jeanne. I appreciate your prayers more than I can articulate.

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  5. This is the truth spoken to us with love and experience. Thank you.

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    1. Katie Butler says:

      Thank you, Terri. God bless.

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  6. Thank you for this. I agree so much – the days when it is hardest and feels the most thankless are those very days where it is even more important that we are there for our children. Who else would love and care enough to really support them through these challenges? But I do agree – clinical work, 13 hours of running around a hospital juggling complex cases – can seem very easy in comparison to homeschooling young children. It is partly the feeling of ‘control’ and ‘expertise’, but also, yes, the accolades or even just being thanked. I love the way your post is honest – many people don’t admit these days of doubt and turmoil, and as you share this, you are encouraging many people on the road.

    Thank you. And I will pray for that you know that you are led by cool waters over these next weeks.

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    1. Katie Butler says:

      Thank you so much Catriona. Blessings to you and your family as you balance so much.

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  7. Joy says:

    Thank you for sharing such a beautiful and vulnerable post. I resonated with your sentiments; it couldn’t have come at a better time. Sending love from Canada.

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    1. Katie Butler says:

      Thank you Joy. Praying for you in your own struggles.

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  8. berrylis says:

    Thank you so much for this. It is exactly what my heart needed to hear tonight- it’s amazing how God does that. Thank you for following His lead and writing these words! Read your article on depression at Desiring God and then glanced at this one. My oldest (of 3 boys) is almost 7, and we are still navigating intense emotions/anger, etc but we all have come a long way by the grace of God. I am excited to follow more of your blog!

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    1. Katie Butler says:

      Thank you for your lovely words of encouragement, Lisa. My prayers for patience and stamina for you as you shepherd your kids!

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  9. Mariellen says:

    I can relate on so many points. My oldest (12) is also intense and we’ve navigated many complications from that over the years. God is faithful in returning my affection for him again and again. I’m a homeschooling mom with 5 and an RN-at home for the past 10 years. What a difficult, yet completely Spirit led choice to stay home! You’re change of profession is inspiring to me as well as affirming! Also, your acknowledgement of the difficulties is so comforting to my heart.

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    1. Katie Butler says:

      Thanks so much for your words of encouragement, Mariellen! I pray that the Lord continues to use these difficulties to mold us for His purposes. Blessings to you.

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  10. This was just what I needed to hear! I used to work in full time ministry and often struggle with the fact that my husband and my children are my ministry. I am doing kingdom work at home like you said shepherding the children He has blessed me with. My son is 3 and like you said I have researched a lot of those things sensory, gifted, intense, and loud noises. I honestly felt that you were writing about my life (insert missionary as my past occupation)! Thank you again for bringing it back to Christ and our identity in him. It truly is a daily battle.

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    1. Katie Butler says:

      I’m so glad it encouraged you. Sounds like you and I have had some very similar struggles! When we’re already grappling with identity, the barrage of intensity can leave us wrung out. I’ll be praying for you, and visiting your new blog!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Ese says:

    Your last sentence said it best. ” Not mine, His. In my arms for a time.” That’s my go to reminder phrase for the week or longer as the Holy Spirit leads. God bless you and your beautiful ministry immensely. Amen. It’s so worth much more than the “Isaac” you have laid down.

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    1. Katie Butler says:

      Thank you Ese. God bless you and your beautiful family!

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