While we're waiting: a few thoughts
THE PRAYER OF THE OX
Dear God, give me time.
Men are always so driven!
Make them understand that I can never hurry.
Give me time to eat.
Give me time to plod.
Give me time to sleep.
Give me time to think.(from Prayers from the Art and the Creatures' Choir by Carmen Bernos de Gasztold)
Her official due date was this last Saturday, September 3. I was hoping she might come on Labor Day, September 5, because then we could celebrate her arrival as a national holiday. She, her mother, and the federal government could always agree that labor was a good thing, worth a cake and a barbecue. But she didn't come then, and now we're in what I call the "any moment" mode.
It's a fretful mode to be sure. Phaedra, poor thing, is feeling the brunt of it. Heartburn. Irregular sleep. Constant achiness. "Hormonally cuckoo." I told her that she and I were like the Israelites: waiting, waiting. Our baby girl in turn was sort of like Jesus: planning to arrive in the fullness of time. It's impressive how fullness acquires fullerness powers.
It's the fear of making an irreparable mistake. It's the fear that there won't be enough grace to cover that mistake, which is of course the fear that there won't be enough God. That's what we're afraid of.
It's astonishing how much fear accompanies the arrival of new life.
More astonishing, though, is the negativity that accompanies people's comments. It is often said in a well-meaning but slightly threatening tone. You better enjoy the last few months of freedom. Say goodbye to your life as you know it. Are you ready for the revolution? Ready for the madhouse? It's going to be the hardest thing you've ever done.
It distresses Phaedra and me to hear these words. We've been confused why people feel the need to say them. Is that how they feel about their children? While I was mowing the yard last week I got to thinking. Is it really a loss of freedom? "Loss" in what sense? What do you mean by "freedom"? And is bringing this baby into the world really going to be the hardest thing in our life?
The more I chewed over these comments, the pissy-er I got. I thought, really? The hardest? Try talking to a single person in their thirties or forties who desperately wishes they had a spouse to go home to every night, to hear that person say "I love you," not just once, not just coincidentally, but every day, to show care by a gentle physical touch, to assuage the loneliness that eats away at them.
Is having a child harder than not being able to have a child because of a damaged uterus? Is it harder than losing a child?
"You think having children at any stage of life is hard? Try getting abandoned in your old age by your children, who refuse to care for you in your weakened, vulnerable condition. That's hard."
This kind of "harder" speech is a fruitless, cruel speech. It robs the heart of courage, which a person sorely needs to make it even through the best days. And it signifies a willingness, all too common, to resign oneself to living in an economy of scarcity. "You're going to be screwed, so you might as well get used to it now."
Is that the best we have to offer each other as Christians?
Thankfully, we've had enough people say much kinder things. The best thing to hear is, "You're going to be great parents." I can't tell you how much those words inspire our hearts. Of course we worry. Of course we wonder whether we'll be good parents. Even with all the resources, both literary and human, that God has surrounded us with, we struggle against the fear of "worst possible outcomes."
I don't think we can ever underestimate the power of a hopeful word. I especially loved reading this note from our friend Tamara Murphy:
I love that. It made me smile and feel so at peace. We're not alone in this.
Four months ago in May, I stepped onto our bathroom scale. To my horror the dial fell on the number 178. Last week I topped 180. Fifteen pounds. How was that possible? I don't eat fatty foods. I rarely take sweets. What was wrong with my body. I went in to tell Phaedra, who was lying on the bed. "Can you believe that?", I asked incredulously. And, for the life of her, she could not repress the grin on her face. It just made her feel a little better about life.
What am I excited about? I'm excited to have this baby with Phaedra. I'm excited that she'll be the mother of my children. I'm excited that this baby is a girl. I'm excited to hold her, smell her skin, kiss her at any time of the day or night. I'm excited about the ways in which this child will force my life to slow down. I'm excited to see what she looks like. I'm excited to show her to my parents and my siblings and my nephews and nieces; especially to my nieces who cannot wait to babysit her. I'm excited about going to the gym for decades so I can stay fit to play with my kids--and grandkids. I'm excited to see what kind of "village" God will bring to this child to help us do what we could never accomplish on our own, bring her to maturity.
I'm super excited to be a father. And while the order and timing of things in my life hasn't turned out like I thought it would, I take comfort in remembering William Wilberforce and Charles Wesley. Wilberforce married in his late thirties, Wesley in his early forties. Both enjoyed a large family (six and three children respectively). Both took joy in the responsibilities and pleasures of fatherhood. Both give me a vision of what could be true for my life.
And on days when I feel sad about "lost time," I remember the words of our dear friend Martha Rasco:
"This life isn't the last word on the things that God has in store for you, David. Eternity awaits you with opportunities to take up all the unimaginable things you thought you'd never get to in this brief earthly pilgrimage."
For now, we wait. Some moments we wait with a good Lord, let's get this over with attitude. Other moments, we wait in hope. Whenever this bebecita wants to come out, we're ready, as ready as we can be, and we'll probably bawl our faces off.
(All photos are by me except the one of la bebecita saying hi. Artwork is by Erica Grimm Vance, titled "On the question of being.")
Dave: thanks for that.
RKS: I have a friend, who happens to be a remarkable counselor, who told me once that God gives us our children (whether biological or adopted or otherwise) to sanctify in the most unique ways. They highlight the best of us, they reflect back the worst of us, and they do things for which, amazingly, we can take no credit whatsoever. I figure if God's thinks that's a good way to set things up, I'll agree with it and cooperate as best as possible.
I'm so happy, though, to hear of your relationship with your kids. That's really beautiful.
By no means, for what it's worth, would I ever intend to diminish a person's hardship. As a pastor I've seen many parents struggle. They struggle at all different stages of their kids' lives and for different reasons. Seeing their struggle awakens an intense sense of compassion in me; or at least it *should*. It isn't easy to raise children in a fallen world, to state the obvious.
I think my primary concern with the "hardship" speech is threefold.
One, I think it's a lack of tack. Is that really the *first* thing we should say to an expecting parent? Can it not wait till a later time? Do *I* need to be the one to say it? Obviously a parent-to-be wants to have a down to earth expectation for rearing children. That's where books come in, but more importantly that's where a caring family and good friends (i.e. a village) come in, in particular those who have gone ahead of us in the parenting department. But is it really my job to tell any ol' person that "hardship" is the first and most important thing about what awaits them?
Two, it exhibits a lack of interest in *them*, the expecting parent. When "harder" comments are made, I sometimes wonder if they're really saying it for my sake, because they love me, because they're excited about what awaits me, or because they feel a need to vindicate their experience to me. Mainly, I think it's a lack of care for the expecting parent.
It's as if I approached a friend, to use a different example, who was about to be married and told him all the hard things that awaited him (because that had been my experience). Yes, marriage is hard, it's mortification of the flesh hard. But I can't see how a dump-truck of "harder" speech is the best way to demonstrate care for my friend.
Doing a PhD program is hard. Raising three kids as a single parent is hard. Raising a child with disabilities is hard. Rearing a child under the conditions of war is hard. Divorce is hard. Figuring out how to love a rebellious teenager is hard. Transitioning into a place of friendship with your parents is hard. The death of a parent or child is hard. The kinds of hardship people deal with are far and wide.
So my question remains the same: Is that the first thing we want to tell a person as they stand on the threshold of a new season? Am I thinking about their well-being, their joy, their situation, abilities and preparation, their hope to do well? Do I genuinely want them to succeed, even more so than I have perhaps? Or am I looking for a way to get them to commiserate with my pain? Am I presuming that my experience will be theirs, *should* be theirs? Is it all about me after all?
Obviously the Lord calls us to bear each other's burdens. We weep with those who weep. We pray for those who struggle. And we make ourselves available to the people that God has entrusted to us to be a practical, relational instrument of grace.
But unless we're in significantly close friendship with a person, we should think twice about letting our "harder" speech be the first thing we say to them.
I say none of this *against* your comment, mainly to clarify my blog essay a bit. Obviously it's complicated business and our words can become hurtful to others, even when we didn't intend them to be hurtful. So that's where grace comes in--again and again and again.
I'm super happy for you guys and for what lies ahead. I'm glad you plucked the courage to share so honestly. Thank you. And thank you again.
The point of the sermon, as the proverb suggests, is that simplifying one's life can be a good thing, but be careful not to cut out things that may be complicated but are of infinitely great value. Children, marriage, and community come to mind.
It challenged me at a point when I was thinking I didn't want to enter into a new relationship because it could be too complicated. That was pretty boneheaded of me and I'm quite glad God challenged me on it.
Kids are hard but awesome. Y'all will be great parents.
And yes, you will be great parents! Can't wait to be introduced to your bebecita.
It's wonderful to have a little human being unfold before your eyes. It's fun when they are teenagers and can really converse about the things you care about. They keep you real! It's great to be able to relive childhood again, to enjoy the little wonders of childhood, birthdays, amusement parks, etc. It is good.
Tell your wife to enjoy these first days as a new mom. It is never the same after your first. To sit and hold the baby for hours and not worry about dishes. It's a special time.
Have a beloved babymoon. :)
Your words are touching and inspiring. Thanks!
What a lovely post. Seth and I found the oh you just wait/hardest comments to be a real bummer too. We felt such joy in the pregnancy and such eager anticipation for baby girl that those comments felt out of place and awkward to respond too. Ultimately I feel that the speaker wants their life validated and some might feel I'll at ease w the difference between your posture towards baby girl and their own towards their children.
What I held onto then as now is the goodness of God. Children, amazing newborn babies, are his idea and
therefore an expression of His infinite love and kindness and trustworthiness. And the intense vulnerability of waiting for little girls arrival was for us and is for your family an expression of His love and kindness.
You and Phaedra are hand picked for this little one. Your words demonstrate that you both are already good parents.
Blessings as you wait for your blessed little girl,
I'm crying as I'm reading your post because I have SO much JOY for the two of you! I know that the waiting has been difficult and LONG, longer than 9 months. I am SO excited you and Phaedra get to be parents! I know that this is something you have both longed for, and that the waiting to get married and have children is hard. I remember before you were married or engaged, at an art event Phaedra mentioned her longing for children. I saw it in her face and demeanor, it was a deep desire. And in a short while, you both will be staring into the face of YOUR baby girl. What sweet sweet joy. What a sweet sweet miracle.
I am thrilled for you both. And I know you will be loving, great parents.
Kerri: I will definitely tell Phaedra about the not worrying over washing dishes bit. :) Thank you.
Kelly: I knew it had to be you because of the Boston church reference. :)
Manders: all grace to you as you wait and keep longing in faith. Hang in there!
David: we're at day 6 in the post-due date department, so we take comfort that we're in the "normal zone." Thanks for the words.
Elizabeth: you have an impressive website. Wow. Well done, and thanks for the words of encouragement.
Micah: you are *too* sweet. We've known you a while now, and your words are weighty with shared time and shared experience.
To no one in particular: For what it's worth it hasn't been my intention to write the blog *in order to* solicit/plead/beg for compliments. I know that the ones given here have been sincerely given. We thank you for them. I guess I've gotten a little sheepish about them. God has so graciously surrounded us with good people and good words, and we'll simply add these words to the mix.
Our hearts are full.
And, trust me: we know it will be "hard but good."
We are very excited for you! I must say that I have enjoyed our children more and more as they have grown. The post-partum weeks are filled with a holy awe and even silence between the cries. Toddlers are a fantastic mirror for the soul! School-age kids are full of wonder. Teens are great! We are loving the teen years. In August we married off our firstborn! That is a landmark. And the Lord has surprised us with baby #5, due early March! Children are indeed a blessing from the Lord. We are glad our nest will be full for many years.
God bless you!
Amy and Thomas Cogdell
Kristin: thanks! Or, "muchas gracias!"
Kathryn Marie: thanks for sharing your story. And may I say, we're huge Fernando Ortega fans around here, and hip-hop fans, and we *love* our juicer too too much. Blessings to your little family as well.
I am one of the most impatient people in the world, and the last days of my pregnancies were excruciating for me. You're not alone as you struggle in the waiting. You will have your prize soon, and she will be completely worth it.
Some of the darkest times in my life have been when I was in a state of transition, and vividly aware of the unknowns of my next stage in life. At those moments, people casually reminding me that it would get "harder" (or, worse yet, "harder than you'd think") only aggravated an already excessive sense of fear.
It's good to have words to match to those fears; it's better to remember them as I advise those who are younger than I am, in terms of life experiences.
I wrote this when my first child was around 18 months: The most difficult part of birth is the first year afterwards. It is the year of travail - when the soul of the woman must birth the mother inside of her. The emotional labor pains of becoming a mother are far greater than the physical pangs of birth; these are the growing surges of your heart as it pushes out selfishness and fear and makes room for sacrifice and love. It is a private and silent birth of the soul, but it is no less holy then the event of childbirth; perhaps it is even more sacred."
I wish you the best, David. I've been lurking on your blog for a long time now. My husband, Peter and I met you through Glen a few years ago. Peter is now a Grad student at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago and we have two precious children. Sending you and yours much grace & joy! Savor every moment.
I am a strong believer that everyone should have children, it brings out the best in people. It definitely made me a better person. The focus shifting from yourself or a spouse to this tiny helpless thing is amazing and a quick lesson in growing up, but a sweet one.
I also am a strong believer that a baby will turn out great if the parents only have two things: Boobs and Love. How-to books, the perfect pediatrician, the perfect crib and baby trappings and carriers and swings, overwhelming! Keep it simple, boobs, love and God.
That is my unsolicited advice, I'm sorry. You are probably right about people just trying to one-up, it may be that parenting is the only thing they can really be proud of and have a hard time conveying it mixed with their love for you. I am so thrilled for your new family. All of my friends are having babies now but I am especially excited about yours because I know she will be raised in a God-fearing artistic and beautiful home.
Shayla and the Jacobs
Those comments don't sound negative to me at all. I guess you have to be aware of your own (super?) sensitive nature, and not to interpret what people say by your nature - but by theirs instead.
If somebody told me I'd be a good parent I'd ask them "how do you know that?" I guess it shows I am a math guy, eh :D A math guy with two kids.
Congrats on the new baby! I have no way to know if you'll be good parents, but God is there to help, and He'll do His very best if you trust and obey.