HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!
I know this story is long, but I can’t find it in my heart to delete any of it. I am deeply grateful of the miracle of how I gained a husband and children in one day. It is my prayer that through my story you will learn from my mistakes and rejoice in the gifts of children God has given you, whether born in your bellies or adopted into your hearts, and do the best you can with the abilities God has given you through whatever struggles you are going through. The best gift we can give our children is LOVE.
If you don’t have children but nurture children or adults who have never known a mother’s love or need more motherly nurturing, I still say, “Happy Mother’s Day! Thank you for your love to a child’s heart!”
I have always felt a deep connection with children, and I loved teaching, but God called me away from this passion. It was His time for me to provide a mother’s love and nurturing to five extra-special children, children He planted in my heart, not my belly.
Nearly thirty years ago, I was in my fourth year of teaching at a Christian school in Alberta. I devotedly loved my first-graders and I still remember their excited little hands tugging my arm, saying, “Mom! Mom!” Then giggles as they realized their mistake… “Teacher!”
I had been allowed by the Canadian school to begin teaching before I finished my degree, and I could continue classes at Lethbridge University, but I needed to take my final semester back in Iowa to get my actual teaching degree and license. I didn’t want to leave “my kids” even for a half-year, but this was something that needed to be done. The plan was that I would go back the next fall semester and would return to Canada to finish out the year as a teacher for the students who needed extra help.
Before that time came, on a cold February morning, I walked into the staff room before school to get some tea, and another teacher also from Iowa shared some sad news with me. A woman of 32 years old had died suddenly, leaving behind a grieving husband and five children. I knew who they were, though not personally. Troubled and shaken, I went to tell our principal who also knew some people from that area. We stood on opposite sides of the office counter and discussed how devastating it must be for the widower and children when a soft whisper eased into my heart, “He is the one I have chosen for you.”
Shocked at what I thought were selfish, irreverent thoughts, I reprimanded myself, “How dare you think of such a thing at a time like this?” I had prayed for God to choose me a husband for over ten years, but I was sure this was not God speaking.
Since I heard the children’s voices coming into the hallways, I hurried to my classroom. When all the children were settled in their desks, I repeated the sad story. “When you go home this afternoon, hopefully your mom will be there. But there are five children whose mom won’t be there anymore,” I said, tears choking off my words. As we prayed for that family, a powerful emotion stormed my heart – a love so strong for five children I didn’t even know – such a protective, mothering love.
Confused, I thought about what came into my heart earlier. I didn’t want to believe it then, but God was directing me to lay down my teaching job, because He had something else planned for me. But the more I became convinced that something was going to happen when I went back to Iowa, the more I balked. I did NOT want to return to Iowa, because I hated to go back to the area where bad memories of abuse depressed me. I was determined to return to my teaching job in Canada.
Then one of the school board members came to my classroom door and showed me the teaching contract for the next year and said, “You don’t have to sign it right now, but do get it back to me.” I grabbed the contract and said, “No, I’ll just sign it right now.” I went back into the classroom smugly thinking, “I AM coming back here! I am NOT going to stay in Iowa.”
In August of 1984 I rented a room from a couple and began my final semester. One Saturday in September I was visiting my parents in Canton, SD, and was feeling especially lonely and depressed. I stayed later than usual before I headed back to Sioux Center. By now I had smothered God’s call with my denial and unbelief. As I drove along in my navy-blue Chevette, I prayed as I had for so many years that God would send me someone to share my life with, someone who understood me, someone who truly loved God and desired to serve Him. As I drove through Rock Valley, Iowa, a rusty-orange-colored station wagon pulled out from a side-street and tailed me all the way to Sioux Center. When I turned corners, he turned corners. When I parked at the place where I was staying, he parked, too. At first I was afraid, but then I saw who it was.
“Strange,” I thought. “I didn’t know they were related to these people.” A man got out of the vehicle and came straight toward me as I was getting out of mine. I wanted to run, but I froze! I could not believe it was that widower! I still see the faces of five children crowding at the windows of the station wagon as he said, “Hi, do you know who I am?”
Yes, I knew who he was, but my memory did an oops. We chatted a bit and he asked me if I would go out with him. I felt compelled to say, “Yes.”
When I got in the house, I was so glad my landlords weren’t home. I was awed, yet terrified. I cried and prayed. As I thought back to the nudges in my heart in past months, I could not deny God’s voice anymore. “O God, please, if this truly is Your plan, please let this be with Your blessing and give me the true love of a mother for these children.”
I finally quit digging in my heels and surrendered to God’s plan. I learned later that when my husband was at a low point, God brought me to his mind and told him to “love a woman who has had great bitterness and give her joy and happiness.” It was remarkable how God poured love for each other into our hearts, and since we could not deny God’s plan, we were married on December 21, 1984. That day God gifted me not only with His priceless choice of a husband, but with five precious children.
We married at home, and as I stood in the kitchen watching the dreary skies pour down freezing drizzle while my husband went to get his parents, doubts and fears trampled my heart. Fears that this all was too good to be true, fears that God wasn’t in it all, fears that I would not be a good enough wife and mom. But God opened up the dark clouds and a pool of sunshine surrounded me as He whispered His promise, “But unto you that fear My name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in His wings.” (Malachi 4:2) That day I begged for the Sun of righteousness to shine within the hearts of each of us. (Sad to say, I have too often forgotten to trust that God always fulfills His promises, but in His own time and way.) My husband noticed the sun’s burst through the clouds at the same time while he was on the road. The sun went under again but later shone through the window directly on us as we knelt to make our vows. It was so unique that even the minister who married us said, “Surely God must be sending His blessing.”
I haven’t always wanted to admit this, because I’m so afraid to “burden” anyone with my troubles and I feel like I’m being ungrateful for the blessings I am still given. But I’m trying to be more “real” and I have to admit it that bringing up five children was by far more difficult than teaching 33 first-graders. I brought a lot of stuffed-down, unresolved pain into it and we lived in the same town where a minister abused me and I was pictured by many as a “whore” rather than a victim. I also had asthmatic problems and three surgeries in eight months, ending up with a hysterectomy. I was so overwhelmed at times, but God’s grace and the precious love of my husband and children helped me put one foot in front of another. However, to cope, it was easier to stuff emotional pain down, but I wrongly expected that also of my children. I’m so deeply sorry I couldn’t do a better job helping them emotionally. In my heart, I grieved deeply for them, but it was easier to act like their loss never happened. When they mentioned her name, I didn’t want to hear it. I cried and felt rejected. I felt like I was always in someone else’s shadow. This was so not fair to them. I was too often selfish and insufficient.
As I look back, the only way my husband, my children, and I survived was through God’s gentle hand of love, patience, and compassion. As I worked through my own problems and my children got older, I am more able to help others in pain. My kids have graciously forgiven me and tell me they turned out alright, but it still taunts me at times. I wish I could let it go and forgive myself.
I recently read about survivor’s guilt, and I identified with it. Especially around our anniversary, I feel guilty and afraid to celebrate what I received from God when it was at the expense of the loss of another. I too often let her death and their loss over thirty years ago overshadow the precious blessings God gave me in one day – six priceless packages of love. I know He wants me to rejoice in His plan, purpose, and gifts no matter how or why I received them, but sometimes my heart is so afraid I might hurt someone. I am deeply grateful, but celebrative, not so much.
It doesn’t help that I’m a world-class over-analyzer, a professional worrywart, and a powerful self-debaser. Oh, and also an extreme perfectionist when it comes to myself. I expect far more from myself than God ever does or wants me to. We don’t have to be perfect. Only God is perfect, and He graciously uses imperfect parents. We can’t always do the right thing, and we can’t dwell on the “What-ifs.”
Every mother has difficulties, whether our children are planted in our tummies or our hearts. We can do the best with what abilities and strength we’re given at any given time, but we can’t be God. He is the real Healer. I have often prayed that He will heal where I may have inadvertently hurt, and I find comfort in knowing He has all power in His hands. So whatever “mom” situation you may be in, know that there is a God who can wipe out our mistakes and heal with the balm of His healing love.
To mothers out there who have adopted their children in one way or another… Just because a child had or has another mother in their lives does not mean there is no room for you. They can deeply love their other mom but still deeply love us as well. We don’t have to try to compare ourselves and always come up short. We need to try to open our hearts to love and acceptance instead of thinking we don’t love enough or are not worthy enough to be loved.
If we’re not the only mother in our children’s lives or forever in their hearts because of death, divorce, or something else, we need to allow our children to keep a connection with their birth mothers if at all possible. If I could do things differently today, I would have set aside special times to encourage my children to remember good times they had with their mom, perhaps even helped them create a scrapbook of memories in honor of her. I still keep a picture of her on our wall to acknowledge the blessing my children had in their first mom, and sometimes I have to say to her, “Thank you for bearing my children and sharing them with me.” I still deal with far too many insecurities at times, but I am learning God prepares more than enough room in the hearts of children to love two mothers at the same time.
Perhaps like me, you have been stabbed in the heart by comments like: “It’s too bad you can’t have any children of your own.” Whatever God personally gives us becomes our own. Actually, children belong to Him and are only ours on loan. On loan to love. On loan to cherish, to accept as they are, and to nurture their potential.
Another expression that troubles me is “Blood is thicker than water.” Many firmly believe this is true, but I can’t find it in God’s Word. After all, God has “adopted” us to be His children. True, God has uniquely created us through genetics in blood relations, but love comes from the heart of a God of love, not through human blood. The truth is LOVE is thicker than either blood or water. Love comes through the heart, not the blood. It doesn’t matter how God gifted our children to us. What does matter is that we love our children, no matter what, and keep doing the best that we can.
To every child we have adopted and love more than life itself:
“Not flesh of my flesh
Nor bone of my bone
But still miraculously my own.
Never forget for a single minute
You didn’t grow under my heart,
But in it.”
– Fleur Conkling Heyliger