I am surrounded by mothers here. They may not be the best, or the wisest, or even the nicest. I do not know them. Most of them, I never will. In one room nearby, a young mother held her baby today amidst the tangle of tubes hiding the little body connected to them. Behind a door marked, “caution: chemotherapy”, I heard a child call out “Mommy!” and the quiet murmur of the parent’s reassuring answer. Another sat tired in yesterday’s clothes as her son molded play dough beside her in the play room. We’ve watched our children struggle under sedation. We’ve held them, allowing painful work to be done. We’ve turned our heads so our little ones will not see our tears. Most mothering doesn’t happen in a hospital ward, but here, it is starkly clear. Motherhood can be tough.
Today I will watch my son go into surgery. Again. Compared to many moms surrounding me, I am a lightweight in this area. But still it isn’t the first time, and it probably won’t be the last. I know this will hurt him. I know he won’t understand. But I know his life depends on this operation. Without it, fluid would build up in his brain and eventually squeeze the life out of it. Shunts to divert the fluid were invented about the time I was born. Before that, hydrocephalus was a death sentence. So I am very thankful he was born in this generation and this is a relatively routine procedure. But I still don’t like it.
I just happened to be reading the book of Job this week. The ostrich in chapter 39 jumped out at me. One of a handful of flightless birds who get a lot of press in board books and Sesame Street, ostriches are interesting. Runners with fluffy soft feathers and hips of power – they are eye catching ladies of Africa. But God Himself calls their motherhood into question. He made them fast. He made them big and bold. But He did not make them good mothers. “She leaves her eggs on the ground… She forgets that a foot may crush them… She treats her young harshly, as though they were not hers… because God deprived her of wisdom.” (Job 39:13-18).
I am commissioned with a discipleship for the next 18 years, times five at least. I feel completely inadequate for the job at hand. Ack. But yet I was made for this. I am not an ostrich. I was given arms to carry infants in the dark hours. I was given a heart to comfort them when they lean hot with a fever against my chest. I was given a voice they run to on the playground (and cringe at when it remonstrates them). I was given feet to chase wayward toddlers and awkwardly kick soccer balls back and forth. I was given a mind to try to answer the endless question “why?” When my back aches and my eyelids droop heavy, when my heart hurts and my brain feels numb, even then, I was made for this.
A few days ago, a mother came. She wasn’t related. She lives far away. But she came. She brought fruit, butter, bread. She held the baby while I consoled my sick toddler. She brought hot coffee. She stayed all day, here in this little hospital room, while my husband had to work. As she left, she hugged me tight, pressing a little money into my hand for food.
Other mothers have come. Many more have sent notes, food, little toys, crayons, bananas, chocolate, coffee, pictures drawn by their children… And mothers have prayed. Oh, they have prayed. My son should not be doing so well. Mothers, in the quiet corners of their houses far away, are storming heaven on his behalf. I feel the vibrations. It brings me to tears.
Has the rain a father?
Who has begotten the drops of dew?
From whose womb comes the ice?
And the frost of heaven, who gives it birth?
Did God make mothers for the rain? No. Did He form parents for the seasons, for the heavens, for the earth? No. He made animals bear young, some even feed their offspring, some even teach them life skills. But their young mature and leave and do not return (Job 39:4). Only the children of men have mothers. God breathed life into the squalling helpless little life of a child, handed him to a woman and bestowed on her the calling. This one has a soul. This one has the breath of God in him. Over this one, I make you “mother.”
And though I am inadequate, wretched and in great need of grace myself, He has made me mother. Oh, the irony. I feel depleted, weak, and unsure of my steps. But I keep walking. I keep hugging. I keep holding. I feed and clothe and and cry and pray and breathe in the sweet smell of my babies, not because I am confident of my abilities. I am not strong.
But He has made me mom. So He will make me able. That is enough.