Thursday, June 9, 2011

Grace at 4 AM

I was all of twenty when we brought home our first-born, having a total of a dozen babysitting dates under my belt. It was a cold, snowy February day and the blast of air that hit both of us as we stepped out of the car, and climbed up the steps to our little house, was appropriate. I was about to get a big dose of reality. That I was responsible for keeping that squirming, red lump alive was terrifying. In the hospital they'd brought her to me every few hours, attached her to my breast, and retrieved her a bit later, leaving me to sleep and pretend I had only me to take care of.

Still a girl really, who just happened to give birth, I had marathons to run before I became anything that resembled a mother. That first night at home broke me. Having done everything I knew to make her stop squalling, I picked up the phone in desperation and defeat. As I had suspected, I didn't have a clue what I was doing. Thirty-five years later, I still look back and count that night as the most grace extended to me, when my mother-in-law (who had birthed 8 herself) got out of her bed, climbed into a cold car, drove snowy roads at 4 am to burp a baby for me. And never showed on her face that she wondered what God was thinking, putting her granddaughter's welfare in my hands.

Seeing how firmly she whacked that teensy back told me maybe I wouldn't kill her after all. Maybe we would both survive this.

Baby #2, 5 years later, was a bit easier, maybe because the memories of my incompetence the first time had dimmed. Baby #3, 20 months later still makes me shudder to think of it. From the very start he was fussy, clenching his fists with the pain of colic, and there was no consoling him or me. That twenty month old who had been the world's most content toddler days before took to screaming in the middle of the night and beating her head against the wall. We lived through it, but it wasn't pretty.

So when our children bring home children now everything in me jumps into action to be sure they don't feel like I did. It's the perfect concoction for overwhelming stress - sore body, exhaustion, huge responsibility, unexpected expenses, and sometimes other little people toddling around wondering what on earth is going on and could someone just stop to build blocks or read a book.

I know we all figured it out, I know we all had to walk to school miles and miles, had to wear shoeboxes for shoes, yada yada yada. I was so grateful for a helping hand extended to me when I needed it, for Deone who stuck a raw roast in my crockpot, Connie who threw in a load of laundry, Karen who brought me sweats that fit my lumpy body, others who stopped by and rocked that screaming baby for a minute so I could take a shower.

Thirty-five years ago, when that very first night of parenting felt like an overwhelming undertow and she, full of grace, threw me a life line, still compels me to do the same. We are only on this earth for another day to be the hands and feet of Jesus, and what more important ministry could I ask for than those people He's given Me, those who will likely someday help me get dressed, tie my shoes, come and sit with me when life gets lonely. This is not doing anything extra, it's just the way it's supposed to be. It's easy, in this busy world we live in, to forget that.

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