The elevator dings and the door opens. A brand new mom, straight from the delivery room and looking like she’s just been to war, approaches the front desk at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for the first time. Pushed in a wheelchair, because she isn’t able to walk yet, her body stretched and torn, bleeding and aching from her labor of love, that mama bear is already resolute. “I want to see my baby!” she states emphatically.
From the moment egg and sperm collide and the miracle of a developing life is underway, you start being brave. There is no other way than through it, and that mama who delivered a tiny person out of a tinier hole, she’s been through it. Now, instead of a picture perfect ending to the chapter entitled “birth”, she’s donning a mask and scrubbing up to her elbows to go visit her precious in an isolette. This wasn’t the plan. Not the machines, the procedures, the tubes or the temporary barrier to physical contact. It’s bravery upon bravery for this mama today.
And it never ends. They don’t tell you that from the start, or if they do, you don’t hear it. Maybe you can’t yet. But to be a mom, you have to be brave. Brave enough to act. To wait. To speak. To listen. To release. To trust. To hope. To believe. And to suffer.
At first you have to be brave enough to lay your beloved in their crib, in whatever position the current medical trend supports for minimizing the risk of SIDS.
You have to be brave the first time they take a wobbly step, tenuously descend the stairs, and cautiously cross the street.
You have to be brave for the bumps and bruises, the injuries, accidents and unexpected health crisis.
You have to be brave when they go to school.
When they get a phone.
When they learn to drive.
When they go on a date.
You have to be brave when there are tears because they weren’t picked, didn’t win, couldn’t pass.
When they tell you they are lonely, depressed, bullied, abused. And when they don’t but you know.
You have to be brave enough to discern when it’s time for an all play and when to be a spectator to the natural consequences of their choices.
And oh so many choices they will make like
If they will go to college and where,
What they will do vocationally,
Where they will live,
Who they will marry,
If they will follow Jesus.
Like ours, some of their choices will work out better than you imagined and some will result in the most rigorous school of hard knocks.
It is a gift, those few decades a mama spends building bravery muscles. You need them when they grow up. That’s when you aren’t taking them on a vacation to the Grand Canyon and holding their hand on the trail anymore. Instead, they’re walking on the edge of so many precipices unaccompanied. Yeah, you’ve prepared them to take their own hike, to walk out their own stories, but you are keenly aware that the risks can be treacherous and missteps fatal—body, soul and spirit. You feel that gravity in ways your children simply cannot grasp— until they can. And that’s further down the road than I’ve been as a parent and took longer than I wish it had as a daughter..
But here’s the miracle— mostly they do survive and even thrive. And in your absence God companions them with tender compassion.
And, meanwhile, you just keep being brave.
You won’t do it perfectly—not even close. And they will judge you for it. They will forget what has been oh, so beautiful and remember what has been oh, so hard.
They will feel disappointed in you. At times, disdaining toward you. They will disregard you for newer, better heroes, who made their mistakes on another kid instead.
And then your bravery must greet humility with a holy kiss. You will be wise to own your mistakes, to welcome having your blind spots revealed, to recognizing your particular brand of sin, while simultaneously not being shamed by their whims, defined by their critiques, crushed because of their rejection.
Like the parent in the parable of the prodigal son, sometimes you have to participate in their folly and bless them on the path they choose to take. And, all the while you pray. Not the demanding prayers that tell God what to do but the groaning, trusting and hoping kind. And that is the most profound courage of all.
So, dear new mama, you have no idea how today changed everything for you but you were brave and you will keep being brave and every day of your life from this day forward will be a testament to your profound love and indomitable courage.
May God be with you, and with me, as we bravely write our family stories.