Before we became parents, I had a dream that I had a baby girl with her Daddy’s olive complexion, dark brown eyes and full, deep pink lips, and her name was Bethany. Matt really was convinced that we’d never have a girl because he comes from a family of three boys and his mom comes from a family of six boys and one girl, but when we had our second baby, I knew that she was my Bethany.
She was round and cuddly, and loved for me to keep her with me at all times in a sling. She was pretty content, especially when she had her pacifier. I was in mommy-heaven. When Lucas was born, I loved him immediately, but our lives were different then, and not working wasn’t an option. Bethany arrived and I loved her, but I also fell in love with being a mom. That is what I told the head of my school, when I asked if it would be possible to continue teaching, but part time. “Teaching is great, and I need to work, but I love being a mom and I love my kids and I need to be with them more often.”
And so I began working part time. Once Lucas got used to the idea that Bethany wasn’t going anywhere, they were best buddies. I don’t know what it is like to have a child who is content to sit and play quietly, because my kids have been active from the time they could crawl. Every last one of them is a climber, and so they kept me busy. Every night I was exhausted from working (just one class shy of full time) and from spending my afternoons and evenings with my kiddos, but it was the best kind of exhaustion.
During Bethany’s first year, we also discovered that my thyroid had been thrown off by pregnancy, and I spiraled into a deep depression that took months to come out of. In my heart I knew how much I loved my husband and my kids, but my emotions overpowered my mind and I struggled to make it through each day without a meltdown. That year, I had more time outs than my kids did.
When I look back on that very dark time, I am grateful that it happened when my kids were so young, because they will not remember how I sad I was. I am also grateful for a husband who loved me unconditionally and who always put me and the kids first, as we navigated our way through this dark night of the soul with counseling, scripture, worship, date nights, and my life group. What I regret about those months, is that while I still loved my children, I was incapable of bonding with my sweet girl the way that I have with my other children.
There are behaviors and attitudes that are deeply ingrained in her, because I wasn’t able to recognize them and address them when she was a toddler.
Matt always tells Bethany that when God was making her he used sunshine, brown sugar and a little bit of chili peppers. At her best, she is strong and determined and gifted and caring and gentle and funny and kind. At her worst, she is strong willed, driven without regard to consequence, loud, controlling and spiteful.
Beth and I are in a season, where we just do not understand each other. At school, she gives her all socially and academically, and I’ve been surprised to hear her teacher describe her as quiet, but when she gets home, she is demanding and bossy and has difficulty listening and more than a little trouble being kind.
When she is the best version of herself, I see so much of me in her, but what I’m coming to realize is that when she’s at her worst, she is like a miniature unfiltered me. It is hard to realize that the ugly internal parts of you are on display when your child is throwing a fit.
I’ve been more than a little frustrated with her, and I’ve been loud and demanding and sometimes no matter how hard I try to be loving and kind, I feel myself bite my bottom lip and my teeth clench as I begin telling her what she needs to do and how she needs to change. I am asking her to change what she is doing, by doing exactly what she is doing, and it’s not working.
But this morning I read this:
For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the houses of this city and the palaces of Judah’s kings, the ones torn down for defense against the siege ramps and the sword: … I have hidden My face from this city because of all their evil. Yet I will certainly bring health and healing to it and will indeed heal them. I will let them experience the abundance of peace and truth. I will restore the fortunes of Judah and of Israel and will rebuild them as in former times. I will purify them from all the wrongs they have committed against Me, and I will forgive all the wrongs they have committed against Me, rebelling against Me. This city will bear on My behalf a name of joy, praise, and glory before all the nations of the earth, who will hear of all the good I will do for them. They will tremble with awe because of all the good and all the peace I will bring about for them.
Jeremiah 33:4-9, HCSB
Although this is about Judah, it sure sounds a lot like hearts and relationships that are broken. What God is showing me, is that this behavior and the way Bethany and I are just missing each other — it’s a heart issue, and as much I’d like to blame it on her, I’ve hardened my heart, first as a defense against the pain that results when anyone is unkind to another person, but over time, it’s become my default, and the spiritual heart is not compartmentalized the way the physical heart is. I cannot have one area of my heart hard … it will spread.
A friend who knows how Bethany and I are struggling suggested that if I look back at old pictures of her, that my heart might become softer toward her; that as I see her for who she is and not what she is doing, I might be drawn toward her in love. So this morning I am praying and I am writing and I am looking at pictures, and I am seeing my Bethany Jordan, made of sunshine and brown sugar and I’m forgetting the sting of the chili peppers and I am noticing all the spice and the zest that they add to our lives.
Looking at old pictures … I think that must be what God has to do with me sometimes. Maybe he has a big photo album filled with all his favorite memories of me and maybe he has a stack of old home videos of me in all my best moments, and when loving me is hard to do, He pulls out those pictures and videos, and He thinks “oh yeah, that’s my Lindsey. She’s amazing.”
And I want my heart for Bethany to be like the heart of the Father. I am looking at all these precious pictures of my baby girl that I dreamed about years before she was ever even thought of, and I am thanking God for this amazing daughter He gave me … for the gifts of her curiosity, her courage, her faith, for the great big sister she is, her love of math, her desire to excel, the way she researches how to do something until she can do it herself, her heart of worship, her strength, her tenacity, and how much fun she is. All the other stuff, that’s pliable — it will take prayer and it will take patience, but today is not the end of her story.
I love how that passage in Jeremiah 33 begins,
The Lord who made the earth, the Lord who forms it to establish it, Yahweh is His name, says this: Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and incomprehensible things you do not know.
I’m at a crossroads in my parenting of Bethany and I have to make a choice. I can choose to go down the road of discontent and complacency, accepting that all the hard edges of her define who she is or I can choose to look to the One who made her, who knows exactly how she ticks and why, and I can trust that He sees the bigger picture.
When I look at Bethany, I can get distracted by her imperfections, but when He looks at her, He sees a world changer. There are days when it is completely incomprehensible to me that my children will ever learn to pick up their socks off the floor, let alone change the world, but today I am determining to make the practice of calling to God in moments of anger or disappointment, and I’m asking him to show me the things that I don’t know; how to love and parent the person she’s becoming — the girl he’s called her to be; How to parent into the joy and peace He’s calling us into.
The heart of the Father has always been filled with grace … grace for our little mistakes and grace in life altering failures. How can I expect perfection and first time obedience from her, when that’s never been what He’s demanded of me.
The Lord is gracious and full of compassion,
Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.
Psalm 145:8, AMP