This, above all:

This, above all: To be God's best for The Coach and for Anna

Thursday, September 09, 2010

And then Hemingway

Sometime in March, Good Housekeeping asked me to submit an essay for the Mother's Day issue, just 700 words. I was a mom only a few weeks old. The long wait for a child—16 years—had led us to Anna, whom The Coach calls "God's Best." GH was hoping that maybe I had grand truths to share?

I wrestled with the essay, perhaps the hardest I ever had to write. Motherhood is too big to reduce to words. My heart had been reeling from tenderness, from bruising, from doubt.

The Wordsworth on my shoulder was no help: any spontaneous overflow of emotions, he said, had to be "recollected in tranquility." I shushed him: a mother is hardly tranquil.

By the third deadline, I still hadn't written much. The words sounded cheap, sentimental.

And then there was Hemingway: "All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know."

Writing is at once egotistic and humbling, a struggle between vanity and vulnerability. The truest sentence—my truest sentence—is the one I will tell my daughter.

A Mother's Heart
Dear Anna,

Two years ago, when my fertility workups seemed futile and our faith was flailing, your father and I attended Healing Room, a prayer-healing forum. The ministers praying for us weren’t told what was ailing us; they would rely on the Holy Spirit to reveal what healing was required.

When it was my turn to be prayed for, a woman minister—a stranger to me and unknowing of my petition—gently touched my womb and said, “God wants me to tell you that you have a mother’s heart.” I wept, bearing the burden of the barren years.

Last week, you finally came home to us, 10 months old and perfect. A gift from God and born from the heart. Though our infanticipation wasn’t coursed through my womb, how could we not burst out in praise, as Adam did, that you are flesh of our flesh, and blood of our blood? It was then I lived out what John Donne said in The Good Morrow: “If ever any beauty I did see,/ Which I desired, and got, ‘twas but a dream of thee.”

The second day we had you, I forgot to give you your vitamins, fed you two hours too late, and bathed in you in water too cold your lips started shivering even as you loved playing in the water. That night I cried in your father’s arms. “I’m a bad mommy,” I blubbered. What made me think I am able to nurture and care for another life?

In C. S. Lewis’s Prince Caspian, when Aslan asks Prince Caspian to rise to his leadership, the boy says, “I do not think I am ready.” And Aslan replies, “It is for that very reason that I think you are.” I’d like to own that truth in your father and me. It is humbling, overwhelming, to be your parents. The more we read on parenting, the more we realize how inadequate we are, how much we do not know. All we have is this certainty that you make us want to be better people. This time we aren’t just living for ourselves: we live for you.

A few nights ago while I was singing you to sleep in Mommy’s home, the light of a star filtered through the trees, and it hit me: the God who created Canis Majoris—the hypergiant star so immense it would take 7 quadrillion Earths to fill it—is the same God who breathed life into you with a Word, and when He did, He saw that you were very good. He will not fail you or me, dear Anna. All my inadequacies as a mother He will assuage; He will fill in the blanks.

I wish for you, Anna, to be awed by a world “charged with the grandeur of God,” that you would easily find joy even in a can of sardines as you would in Bach’s Air on the G String. There is a magic to this world, and it takes a special set of eyes to find the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Your Ninang Germaine once said that all we need is Jesus, family and ministry—everything else is a bonus. Revel in that bonus, dear Anna. When we realize that God’s grace operates in the everyday, that it is only by His tender mercies that I am able to write this and hear your breath as you sleep, that every day is God-breathed and God-allowed—only then will we have a heart that finds joy even in the direst of circumstances.

What a privilege it is to be your mother.