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.