Our little ones have been fighting a cough and cold this week. Yesterday Madison woke up super early crying about ear pain. She didn’t relent for about three hours, yelling, “It HURTS!” while adamantly refusing anything I tried to do to help her. Finally, after essential oils, heat compresses, hydrogen peroxide, and Tylenol, she settled down and dozed for about 10 minutes on the couch. Miraculously, she woke up happy and pain-free. Hallelujah! Even more miraculously, she actually fell asleep during our afternoon quiet time (which hasn’t happened in close to two years) and slept for almost an hour and a half, snuggled next to me.
It’s hard for me to see my kids sick. Not only because they are in pain or miserable, but because I’ve come to believe the lie that their physical wellness is directly connected to how well I care for them. If they are sick then I did something wrong. We take a slightly alternative approach to wellness and health care in our family (not a lot of doctor visits or prescriptions…using a lot of oils and other natural approaches) and I harbor a hidden fear of being ‘found out’ that blazes to the surface whenever my kids don’t feel well. That someone will point a finger and accuse me and I’ll be helpless and defenseless. As if I can control how their body responds to every germ or virus that may pass their way? I know where the root of that fear comes from(I haven’t written much about my family’s story lately, but there were strong themes of accusation and helplessness woven all throughout) and as I stood in the shower yesterday I decided to confront it head on.
My kids are not sick because I didn’t something wrong.
They are being cared for because I love them.
I’m not in control of their physical wellness, but I can choose how I respond to them when they are feeling icky. My response to their pain reveals the depth of my love for them.
I hear them hacking and coughing as they wake up this morning. It’ll be another day of teas, oils, and restful play. I set my intention to care for them.
We looked at our summer calendar at the beginning of 2016 and cringed. Packed to the brim, it seemed like those months would fly by in a blur. What did we decide to do in the midst of those crazy, busy, three months? Take a trip to Washington to see family and friends, of course! And not just any trip, but a three-week road trip that started and finished with 25-hour drives to our destination. Did we already mention ‘crazy’? Yup.
Seemingly endless days with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins stretched out into the late sunset, pushing bedtime further and further back each night. The county fair. S’mores. Bounce houses and water slides. Baseball games. BBQs. Swimming. Blackberry picking. Sleepovers. Food, food, and more food. We soaked in these quintessential, americana-laden moments under the soft summer sun.
It was the best three weeks we’ve spent in Washington in a long time. It was also the most physically painful three weeks I’ve had in recent memory. Starting with a wicked sore throat that hit me around midnight on our inaugural night of driving, to the massive cold sores that erupted around my mouth, not to mention the strange prickly, red rash I was recovering from that attached my neck the week before, it all culminated in waking up one morning with a stabbing, stiff pain in the left side of my neck and shoulder. No stranger to knots in my back, I went about my normal routine of massage and stretching, spending good portions of that day working out the kinks (literally). After a pre-bed session with a tennis ball and a wall (it works -try it!), I climbed into bed hoping for a great night’s sleep and a sore-but-loose back the next morning. What I got instead was an immediate lock-up of the muscles on that side of my neck and shoulder, and throbbing pain radiating from my neck, down the side of my scapula and out towards my elbow. Sleep? What sleep? More like measured breathing and deep sighs reminiscent of childbirth.
I tried icing it. I tried stretching it. I tried heat, rest, laying down, standing up. I tried it all. After about two days I couldn’t take it any more and searched out a massage therapist…and then a chiropractor…and then another visit to the chiropractor. The pain would not go away.
Sleep was nearly impossible. I woke up more than I slept. One night I lay in bed, trying to move as little as possible, breathing deeply and trying to manage the pain. I turned my thoughts heavenward and asked, “Okay God. I give up. What can you teach me through this?” Almost immediately, an image flashed in my mind. It looked something like this:
I turned my thoughts back into a prayer and asked, “What does that mean?” As soon as the sentence finished forming in my mind, a story began to unfold.
I am in a big room. Tall ceilings, lots of space. A bank of light switches in one corner. There are lights everywhere but only a few are turned on. This room represents God’s character. The absolute fullness of who He is. Every aspect of His being. The lights that are turned on symbolize my knowledge of who God is. God is loving. God is merciful. God is forgiving. Those familiar characteristics that I easily identify and understand. But what about the lights that were turned off? And the bank of light switches? Here is where the pin dropped for me.
Pain and suffering can illuminate an aspect of God’s character that I might have never noticed before.
Does my situation change who God is? Of course not. It does provide an opportunity for me to flip a switch, thus pouring light where shadows had previously existed. His character is made known to me in new ways. He becomes my healer, my redeemer, my strong tower, my warrior, my jealous lover. He has always been and always will be, but I never needed to know until now.
In my mind’s eye I watched as the light switches were turned on one by one and the room began to glow brighter than ever before. The questions poured through my mind. How many switches do I ignore, content to know God in the measurable, limited ways I’ve always known Him? How often do I run from challenges because I value my comfort more than the expansive illumination of an infinite God? Will the pain ever be so great that I slam the lights off and leave the room?
Eventually, my shoulder and neck healed. It took weeks of cautious movements, slowly building strength, for everything to begin to feel normal again. While I am so thankful to move without pain, I often think back on those three weeks. Deep gratitude. Deep revelation. The lights are on.
There’s a running joke between my husband and I. Our little Leah attends preschool on our ministry campus two mornings a week and her teacher usually fills out a “What I did today” sheet to let us know what happened in class. Without fail, every single time, hers reads:
Leah ate snack and played by herself.
That phrase has become our sweet catch phrase for our sweet girl. Maybe partly because she’s the third kid, maybe partly because she’s an observer, learner, and watcher. Either way, Leah tends to blend right into any situation and quietly goes about her own thing. It’s one of the things we love most about her because it’s just so her. Whenever my husband will ask me what the kids did today, or if I’ll text him while he’s out on a Daddy & Kids adventure, we always answer with what the other kids did and then add, “Leah at snack and played by herself.” It brings a smile to our faces and reminds us of how much we love our littlest girl.
Because Leah does eat snack and play by herself so much (haha!) it’s not often that I have time to offer her my full, undivided attention for long periods of time. When we took a trip to the local science museum this week, I realized it was a perfect opportunity to soak in every second of Leah’s quiet way of doing life. We joined up with some cousins and their parents and the older kids quickly paired off with each other, leaving me to enjoy Leah-Lou all to myself.
She found her way through each exhibit, quietly observing what all the other kids were doing and then carefully choosing how she would interact. That red shopping cart? It did not leave her side once she discovered it. Racing up and down the “Kid City” walkways, she would put her head down and stomp along with all her might, pausing only to poach fake vegetables and fruit from other unattended carts (and their corresponding unassuming kids). Her favorite finds were two heads of cauliflower and a banana.
She loved building a carbon atom and also was fascinated with some sort of electricity device (science isn’t really my thing). After watching a few older kids and adults push buttons and turn levers, she confidently slipped between them, hoisted herself onto her toes, and did exactly what she saw everyone else do to make the sparks travel up the length of the plastic tubing and into the top of the display.
For most of the morning I just watched her be Leah – this tiny person who has fit so perfectly into our family. The little one that has healed so much of my heart gave me another moment of joy by loving someone just the way they are.
Sometimes, I feel like my world collapses in on itself with a WHOOSH and BANG and I’m suddenly in a dark tunnel racing towards a pinpoint of white-hot intensity – the battle of wills with Madison.
I catch myself preparing for the fight as soon as I wake up in the morning while she is still snoozing away for another two hours. It’s like I have to check all my gear, reload my ammunition, and clear any blind spots before she can mount an assault.
She is three years old.
Everything ceases to exist except whatever tension is sizzling between us. I want to control her. Oh, how I want to control her! To make her obey, make her do what I want when I want her to do it, the way I want it to be done. The tiniest flick of attitude ignites a roaring response from me, my emotions flaring and patience sizzling.
I’ve become a live wire, waiting to pop and spark at the slightest nudge.
It tears me apart that my relationship with my daughter is in this state. My three year old daughter. How I long for connection and compassion and gentleness. Even when I try to embrace her we usually end up hurting each other. That sentence was not an analogy – we literally harm one another almost every time we hug or kiss or express any other form of affection. Wether she trips as she barrels into my arms and wacks her head on my nose, or something catches her attention as we lean in for a kiss and my teeth connect with her forehead, both of us usually end up holding some part of our face or neck in pain. An all too accurate portrayal of the current state of our relationship.
The last week has been a lesson in releasing my expectations of being able to perfectly discipline my children. Perhaps my view of discipline isn’t what she needs. I’ve had to let go of idealistic situations (that only exist in my imagination) and face reality. Discipline is, after all, the act of training a child or causing them to learn. It’s not a style or manifesto of what I will or won’t do. It’s a moment my moment evaluation that shapes character through relationship. I’m also coming to realize that it’s a two way street – I’m learning just as much as she is. However much I want it to be about control, I will destroy her (and myself) if I begin each day with my guns blazing.
Thanks to our current unit about insects, I’ve been picturing Madison as a (really adorable) caterpillar who is struggling to become a butterfly. Am I forcing her back into the cocoon, or am I allowing the struggle to transform her into the beautiful, strong, independent, majestic being that she was created to be? It’s so much easier to control or corral a caterpillar. A butterfly? It chooses its own path, changing course as quickly and unpredictably as a gust of wind. What role do I play in that metamorphosis? When do I remove my influence and when do I gently direct? She is who God has made her to be and any amount of control or restriction will not change that. How I yearn to see her in the full beauty for which God created her!
Spending the whole morning with my big girl was so special. We butt heads so often that I quickly forget what a joy she is and the gift of life and laughter she gives to people around her. We bopped around from one errand to the next and ended up at a small waterfront park, cool breezes blowing and warm sun shining. This girl is a special one.