I had the chance, the first chance in a while, to go out with a group of friends without my husband or my son. It was a college alumni event, a night at the minor league baseball game. I love baseball mainly because I love being at the game. It matters less to me what happens during the game than the conversations had (or overheard) above the organ music and crunching of peanut shells. A chance to sit outside on a warm, clear summer night and watch a baseball fly high into a bright blue sky with my dear college friends sounded like a perfect chance to relax.
As I half-watched the game, my friend and I talked about how life throws you the unexpected, and sometimes a season of your life can seem like it’s just one long string of challenges that wear you down.
I wasn’t expecting the way my life turned upside down after my son was born. My pregnancy and birth were so easily managed, so peaceful and gratifying, that if the hardest part of having kids was pregnancy and birth, I would give birth a hundred times. But that hormone-fueled radiant glow I felt after my son was born faded in the face of some real worries: breastfeeding trouble, emergency appendectomy, a fall down the stairs, mysterious fevers, returning to work, quitting work, my husband’s job change, moving in with my parents, fatigue, sleeplessness, finding a rental home and moving again, and–the cherry on top–moving into the home and discovering a flea infestation.
I don’t like to complain or focus on the negative. I had been pretty good at cultivating a spirit of positivity in the years leading up to my son’s birth. But as things kept piling on and I didn’t have a chance to replenish physically or spiritually, I began to lose it. I didn’t have the energy for anything but survival.
I remember the exact moment I realized I was shutting down. In the midst of the flea infestation, I sat on our couch nursing my son in a lonely new living room crowded with full moving boxes. I couldn’t put my son anywhere lower than two feet off the ground or he would be bitten by fleas. Fleas had buried themselves in his stuffed animals. I was supposed to be doing endless cycles of laundry to get rid of the fleas, but once I took a load out of the dryer, I had nowhere to put it that it wouldn’t get fleas on it. I was supposed to be vacuuming all the time, but how could I do that around the towers of moving boxes and while I was afraid to put my son down? Should I be unpacking? But then more things would get fleas on them. And if we flea bombed again there would be nasty chemicals on all our stuff. But maybe fleas had already made their way into the boxes. It was too much to think about. I was done problem-solving. I focused on keeping my son alive.
My parents jumped in and helped us handle the logistics of the flea situation. They took in our elderly, now flea-bitten dog and helped me bathe and groom him every other day to battle the fleas that were weakening him in his already feeble state. My mother found a professional exterminator and both my parents helped us move all of our things once again, and eventually we were able to settle into our home. We unpacked and I set about trying to create a new normal, a sense of peace. But my spirit was tired. Tired from putting on a brave face. Tired from feeling incapable. Tired from trying so hard and feeling like it wasn’t enough to make everything hold together.
I kept waiting for things to get back to normal. Especially after the fleas were gone and we were finally (mostly) unpacked in our new home. I tried to create a rhythm to my days, some sort of routine like other parents said was so crucial for their wellbeing and their child’s. But nothing I was trying was working. In fact I felt like I was actively being worked against.
On one hand, I had this incredible, priceless gift in my son. I couldn’t put into words how much joy he brought me or how blessed I felt to have him. Yet at the same time, I was struggling and it reached a point where I thought about escaping every day because I couldn’t handle the relentless need and unpredictability. I spent hours trying to get my son to sleep for just 45 minutes. At night, after finally quieting my anxious mind and falling asleep, I was woken in the night by my husband standing over me with a screaming baby who wanted to nurse.
I didn’t know what to say to God. I wouldn’t give my son up for anything. I’ve never regretted having him. But when I thanked God for my son, I also felt ashamed. Because if I was thankful, I should be happy. Instead, when I thanked God I felt a pit in my stomach that I wasn’t a good enough mother to deserve the blessings I had.
I knew a desperate, anxious, exhausted life wasn’t what God desired for me. I felt I should be praying better, doing better. But I didn’t know where to start and I was too spent to figure out another thing.
I haven’t recovered from that year quickly. Things have gotten better one at a time. One conversation, one request, one change, one rule, one hour, one prayer at a time. It’s the steady persistence of grace, and a Spirit working through me and through people around me to bring healing.
Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.
Romans 8:26-28, The Message
I’m still learning what it means to depend on God in situations when you’re thrown a curveball and you have a split second to decide how to react. It often feels like a full count and bases loaded, like everything depends on me.
The home team lost the baseball game by one point. But immediately after the last player stepped off the field, all the house lights turned off and the sky lit up with a fireworks show. Win or lose, if it’s Friday night, there will be a fireworks show at the stadium after the game.
I’d like to believe God’s kingdom is like that baseball field on Friday nights–that win or lose, the game ends with a celebration. That aching sighs are turned into oohs and aahs.
I wish that all along, in the midst of my tired waiting, I had been able to let my spirit rest, knowing my wordless sighs and aching groans were enough. But I’m still learning.