Identity and Children

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“Has your wife held the baby yet?” The nurse asked Nathan. No, not yet, she didn’t know if she could, he told her.

“Oh she needs to! Make sure you bring her down here as soon as she can!”

It seems strange to think of having to ask to hold your newborn baby, but the world of the NICU is different from our mentally romanticized birth ideas. The day after Nathan’s conversation with the nurse, three days after our daughter was born, we walked down to the NICU and asked the nurse on duty if we could hold our baby. She pulled a big chair over for me. I waited while she rearranged wires and clipped back blankets that wrapped the tiny bundle. She found a tiny pink hat, which now lives in a box in my basement, and secured it on the small, fuzzy head. She then handed me the 3lb baby. I made a comment to the nurse as I took the baby and suddenly, her big eyes, which were open for the first time that day, jerked from the other side of the room toward the direction of my face the instant she heard my voice. I held her as long as I could before she had to be returned to her isolette.

A friend who had a baby shortly before me told me that as soon as she held her baby, all doubts about being a mother faded and she felt so proud to be this little person’s mother. I listened, happy for her, but I wasn’t sure I believed that I would have the same experience. Having a baby came with a lot of attention and expectations that mostly embarrassed me. I had a difficult time placing my identity as a person, a woman, a daughter, a mother, into categories that I understood.

People promised me that as soon as I saw my baby, I would feel pride and joy. They promised there was nothing like holding a baby and being called someone’s mom. Being someone’s mom was the last thing I had planned for myself and it came with plenty of negative connotations in my mind – real or conjured.

Thrown into the NICU world, I found that I no longer had a familiar identity. The nurses called us “Mom and Dad” or referred to us as our baby’s mom and dad. They never used our first or last names. We suddenly existed only as the parents to this helpless infant within those walls.

I looked at that white bundle that was mostly composed of swaddling blankets. I watched her eyes turn to mine. Slowly, and yet without warning, that promised mantle of motherhood draped itself over me. Out of nowhere, I was ready to claim that baby, that helpless little blob, who mostly slept and rarely cried, as MY child. I no longer cared that I knew nothing about babies. I no longer cared that my world was turned upside down like a dumped out purse. I had a baby girl. She was mine. She knew my voice and I knew she knew my voice. I fell in love.

While it was still a bit strange, I gradually grew used to being “Mom” to the nurses. The next week, signing in to the NICU, the receptionist asked if the mom knew I was coming to visit. I told her, I am the mom, laughing, but without reservation or embarrassment.

And the parents I knew were right, there was nothing like the pride that I felt in claiming this small nugget as my own baby.

And so, as a child of God, the parallels of birth, adoption, and identity became real when this little baby stormed the gates of my impenetrable heart. Suddenly, the reality that God could feel the same way about me – even more – than I did for this little baby was strange and wonderful. Not only by Him do all things consist, not only is He Creator and Sustainer, but He redeems and claims His children without demand or payment, thanks to Christ’s death and resurrection. Just like an infant without ability or usefulness, I stand before Christ, loved. God looks on me and sees the blood of Christ – the identity marker that denotes I am His child – and He takes joy in me. There is no reservation from God, no waiting to see what I can do for Him, no expectation that I will perform at top standards. There is simply the joy and pride that I am His child.

Christ’s baptism underscores His identification with humans. After His baptism, God’s voice was heard after saying, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” He was identifying Christ as His Son, and He was expressing His joy and pride in him. And, in addition, when we are hid with Christ, God recognizes us as His children. He has expressed His joy and pride in us, already, through His beloved son. Recently, I heard Russell Moore explain it this way. “If we are to stand in the grace of God…it will be because we realize that we are coming through the veil of a broken body and poured out blood. It is knowing God is pleased with me because I am in Christ.”

Not everyone is as slow to understand God’s ways as I am. Many people, with and without children understand the implications of God’s love for His children. While my head knew that my identity was secure in Christ, my heart did not understand how that nice, neat solution worked. When I took that infant into my arms, saw her eyes turn to find mine, and recognized her as my child, I began to understand how God’s love for His people is unending and unconditional. I knew that God could look on me and be happy simply because I was His. I understood that He could be satisfied and proud to call me His child – because He sees the satisfaction of wrath in the shadow of the cross. When He looks at His people, He sees one identity. He sees His Son, Christ – a Christ who has covered us, completed us, and marked us as children of God. And He is well pleased.

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Thoughts on Friendship

I sat at a table outside a local bakery and coffee shop. It sits in an old mill, and just a few doors down the covered sidewalk is a small restaurant with outdoor seating as well. As I situated my two children and moved my hot coffee out of the reach of my one year old, I noticed a group, nay, herd, of first time moms circling a table outside the restaurant, restlessly moving strollers around, adjusting blankets and trying to decide where to sit at the table to best reach said strollers. At first glance I thought about last June, when my coffee snatcher was still an immobile newborn who slept almost constantly. I smiled as I thought about my frequent visits to the bakery for coffee and muffins last summer, adjusting to life with two little ones.

Then I heard them talking. I heard words like sleep and Zantac and pediatrician. I was suddenly grateful to be with a grabby pre-toddler instead of lugging around a fragile infant and fragile, over- tired emotions. I looked over at this large assortment of strollers circling the table like Conestoga wagons and wondered what it was like to have so many friends at the same exact stage of life all at the same time. I wondered if they were all friends or if it was a group that advertised for each other on the Internet- like a Keep Mommy and Me Sane (through the first few months) organization.

I realized that friendship has always been a tenuous ideal for me. Life has bounced a me around here and there with a few circumstance precluding me from being part of the Ideal Lifestyle Groups found on the Internet for every stage of life. I have wonderful friends for whom I am truly grateful, but they are all over the friendship spectrum, geographically, age-wise, and career-wise.

When my oldest child was an infant, I didn’t sit at a coffee shop with my life long besties comparing spit up and nap lengths. I sat in a NICU alone for five weeks with a tiny baby, watching her grow and watching the clock tick until my husband got off work. I treasure those weeks however, where she and I sat alone, listening to music, reading books, and just being. When she was 13 weeks old, I left my house each morning at 6am to head off to work, precluding any infant and mommy social groups. When my second child was born, I switched work paths and am home more now. Ironically, either I am too busy or the people I know are too busy and I have no larger tribe of friends than before. Now, before you get sick of what sounds like a pity party, let me be clear. I am not putting out a wanted poster for friends. I have some of the most fantastic friends far and wide that a girl could ever hope for in a short life on Earth.

We spend a lot of time and energy on the friendship model. In churches, we are pounded over the head to be relational. I have heard women bemoan the fact that they have no older female mentors as if their very salvation hangs in the balance of a mentoring program.

Friendship is a gift beyond price. It cannot be bought, it cannot be replicated, it should not be cheapened by undervalued collections of friend lists on social media. Most importantly, Christ is our friend, our very best friend. One who sticks closer than a brother. The pendulum ride between rejection and encouragement in friendship makes me realize that clinging to Christ as our constant friend and salvation, finding our value as a child of God, is the only way to stay sane. Riding the roller coaster of friendship can be exhilarating and exhausting at the exact same time.

Some of us need friends more than others. Some of us are fine left alone with our own thoughts and imaginations. Friendship cannot be a one sized fits all container. What is true though is no matter what personality type we possess, Christ knows and understands us. His work on the cross covers the extroverts and introverts. He is the one relational being who will never fail us. I have failed my friends and mine have failed me. He never will. And, He also puts others into our lives at the right time and juncture to point us to Him. Sometimes, He ordains that we live less distractedly with few friends in order to accomplish the purposes He has for our lives, and to help us find value in His friendship and His alone.

So whether we are in a crowd of friends, riding the exhilaration wave, or we are wandering around alone, wondering if friendships are worth the effort, the great truth is that we have a friend who not only knows us, but made us. Made us in His image, to reflect His nature, to mimic His imagination, to learn to treat others with the love He has shown. Made us to be His children, to talk with Him, to relate to Him, with the understanding of our inner beings that only a parent can have for a child. And that is a friend worth having and a friendship worth modeling with all other friends we ever make.20140626-220928-79768992.jpg