Last week my six year-old “baby” informed me that she has two loose teeth. She has also outgrown all her shoes this month. My emotional state was already quite fragile, but it was about to get worse. For some reason – even without energy and feeling like death, I started organizing our storage room. Try as it may, Lyme can’t completely take the crazy, organizational obsession out of my system. Lyme usually wins and I let things go, but this needed to be done. I had to find the girls spring and summer clothes, so I was on a mission. The room had not been touched since we moved last July – unless you count opening the door and launching things inside and quickly closing the door. It looked like a bomb went off in the huge, unheated space.
The room was freezing and sleet was hitting the windows as I worked, very slowly making my way through Rubbermaid tubs and boxes of mementos from mine and Ryan’s childhood, college papers, a pack and play, baby toys, and a double stroller. When did we stop using a stroller? I couldn’t remember the year or the moment but here it was, no longer needed. I was completely overwhelmed with the amount of items a family of four can accumulate over a short time – even after significantly downsizing just three years ago. And yet, there it all was – a huge room packed full of memories, trash, and A LOT of stuff. As I was throwing things out and sorting the rest for donation, I found several bins full of baby girl clothes. These were the baby items I couldn’t part with as my girls outgrew them – the special newborn outfits, Christmas dresses, and patent leather shoes. I could feel the knot in my stomach getting tighter and the breath catching in my throat. Before I knew what was happening, I was crying… all over the baby clothes. These girls have grown up too fast for my liking and it hurts.
That was not the end of my little storage room cry fest… in the very back corner was a box that had not been unpacked after the last two moves. It was not labeled and I was a little giddy to find out what fun forgotten treasures were waiting for me as I peeked inside. I quickly saw why I had blocked out this box from my memory and the reason why it had gone unopened for over four years. Inside were neat little stacks of brand new baby boy clothes – some with the tags still attached. I also found my collection of Peter Rabbit items that I was planning on using for the “third baby’s” nursery. One simple, unassuming box contained everything that I had collected in preparation for my next child.
For some reason, I believed this imaginary baby was going to be a boy, so there were little white onesies with blue bunnies on the front, a tiny Cardinals baseball uniform, a Mavericks outfit, a sweater with an embroidered football, and several blue and green sleepers. (Obviously, I visited the baby clearance rack at Target just a little too frequently.)
Someone from Ryan’s previous job gave us this outfit when Chloe was born. She only wore it once, but I saved it for “my boy.”
I couldn’t stop crying… and then deep breathing… and then crying again. My girls came in to ask me something. When they saw me quietly crying, they came close to inspect the reason for my tears. They looked in the box and asked about the boy stuff. I managed to give a matter-of-fact, motherly answer that I hoped would explain my sadness, but not make them upset. They sympathized and offered the sweetest words of compassion I’ve ever heard. It always amazes me when children seem to know how to respond to tears and deep emotion better than adults do. They hugged me and said it was going to be ok. Then Chloe said, “God gave you two girls and that is a good thing.” I corrected her and said, “No, that was the best and most wonderful thing ever!!” Their words smacked a whole lot of truth to my heart. It hit me so tenderly and caused me to ponder a question I had never thought before… “How close had I come to not being able to be a mother at all because of this awful disease?” What if it had affected my fertility earlier? I am incredibly blessed! I held them tight, overwhelmed in the moment by thankfulness, kissed their blond heads and buried my nose in their sweet smell until they squirmed away and ran to play, quickly forgetting all about the box with blue things inside.
I wrote in a previous post, “The Year of Letting Go” that I had finally let go of my desire to have another child and that is true, but I think God knew I needed to say a final goodbye to those lingering expectations of how life was “supposed to be”… and leave it all in my Father’s hands. He knew this. He knew I needed a moment – hunkered down and crying in a cold storage room, to confront my pain and bring peace to a heart that I didn’t even realize was still on the mend. I needed to make peace with a body that I no longer had control of, not that I ever did in the first place. I reconciled that God is God and I am not. He knows me. He sees my pain and He was coming in close to the hurt.
I’m going to find a good home for the baby boy things and I am actually looking forward to getting rid of the double stroller! But I am keeping the clothes that remind me of how small my girls once were… because time marches on so fast and there will come a day when I will need these reminders of how insanely small their feet were, how Cammie’s little “cheesecake” thighs looked in pink bloomers, and a soft memory of that special spring day when two tiny, smiling girls twirled in bright green grass in their new Easter dresses. Yep, I will keep those treasures forever.
In spite of my minor meltdown, I made quite a bit of progress on cleaning the room, even though my body is paying dearly for it this week! It was necessary and cathartic, for more than one reason. I am thankful for a God that cares about the condition of our heart. Even when He closes a door, He makes sure it is not slammed or shut abruptly. He gently closes it, so that our hearts can mend… gracefully.
I was looking at some old photos from my college years today… so many years have passed from the moments captured in time by a photograph. If I look too long at the faces, it feels like a million lifetimes ago.
When I study these pictures, I have a violent urge to pick up and shake the 115 pound self-conscious girl who thought she was fat. I want to scream at her through the past and tell her that she was perfect – just the way she was. I want to reach through the image, hold her face in my hands, and tell her not to make decisions based on how a boy makes her feel… or doesn’t make her feel. I want to tell her not to waste her time, energy, and love on someone who doesn’t see her value, because she is worth more. I want to tell her that her Father sees the ache. I want to tell her that it wasn’t her fault that she wasn’t there that day, to stop blaming herself for a tragic death that was out of her control. I want to cry with my 21 year-old self and let her know it’s okay to let go. I want to tell her that joy comes when she learns the fine art of forgiving… and that it might be herself that she needs to forgive. I want to look into her eyes and tell her that life doesn’t get easier but she will get stronger. I want to tell her to stop hauling the world around on her shoulders. If I could go back in time, I would push the world away, let it roll down her back and fall through time and space, and then whisper in her ear that she will live more fully without the weight of worry. I want to encourage her to relish the moments lived in the thin places because that’s where she will learn who she is meant to be. I want to tell her to keep her eyes fixed on Him because above all, that is where she will find the grace and restoration her heart so desperately desires.
I can’t change the past, but maybe I can affect the future of the little girls that I am raising. I think of their impressionable hearts and how crucial these young years are for them. I realize why I tell my girls that they are worth more than all the riches in the world to the God of the universe and that their self-worth should be found in Him and Him alone. I make a point to try to tell them everyday that no matter what mistakes they make, I will always love them – fully and completely, but that God loves them even more than they can comprehend. I want them to feel beautiful on the inside and out simply because He created them exactly the way they are supposed to be. He pursues them daily and woos them to his heart. A boy will never be able to fill that space in their heart. A college degree from the best college won’t fill it. That perfect career that provides the lifestyle they want can’t do it, either. Friends can’t do it. Going to church or having a religion definitely won’t do it. A relationship with Jesus is the only thing that will fill the gaping hole in their heart. I hope they fill it with him so fully that almost nothing else will fit by the time they are teenagers. A mommy can dream… and pray.
I hope the words will sink in, take root in their hearts, and grow so large that truth will overshadow any lie. If one day they hear words that have the potential to cause deep wounds, I pray that they will recognize them for what they truly are – blatant lies. I don’t want them to allow others to write painful chapters in their story. Wounds cannot be avoided, but my fervent prayer for my girls is that the truth they are learning now as little girls will help them years later when they are faced with life changing decisions. One day they may find themselves in a college dorm with friends or on a trip abroad, a thousand miles away from home… and maybe someone will take a picture. When they look at that picture with their children 20 years later, I would love for them to be able to look back without regret. I know sometimes the only way we can learn is if we make mistakes, experience the heartache, and walk around in the pain. But for their sake, I hope they learn the lesson before the pictures become reminders of hurt. If (when) they face loss, guilt, or broken hearts – I pray that the same peace that found me will heal and renew their spirit and they will learn what they need to from the suffering and be able to move on… with wisdom safely hidden in their back pocket.