It’s Monday of Thanksgiving Week 2009. Up till now from April, we have been doing Marriage Monday. This week, we finish the last of a series covering Leslie Leyland Fields’ book, “Parenting Is Your Highest Calling” And 8 Other Myths That Trap Us In Worry and Guilt. Over the last nine editions, we have covered the nine different myths of the book, but today’s edition closes with a truth. A truth that all parents are under, no matter how big or small they think they are.
Leslie titles this final section “The Holy Enterprise of Parenting.” She tells a great story of how one of her children was severally hurt and she had to get into a bush plane to get him to medical treatment. There was a part where she thought she might not make it because the plane looked as if it might crash. But in that storm of time, she came to the realization of one of the greatest truths in parenting. She calls it the greatest truth and I might have to agree. It is simply this:
MY CHILDREN BELONG TO GOD.
This truth doesn’t lead us to worry less about the decisions we make or that the children make. As parents, we will question and second guess half the decisions that we make. Truthfully, a lot of them are minor and really don’t matter in the large scheme of things. Will allowing my daughter to eat a piece of cheese after she brushes her teeth and readies for bed really hurt her? Will trying to place my kids in the right extra-curricular activities make them excel? Will allowing my son to take two toys instead of one to bed keep him awake longer? You get the idea. I will never make fun of important decisions, but sometimes it is better to take the high road and leave a tender moment alone.
But that statement is an important one. My children belong to God. There are times I never think of it. Occasionally, I leave my kids in front of the TV too long where it would be better to take them outside. But I don’t because it’s the path of least resistance. When I lay down at night, I think about the decisions I make and don’t make for a few minutes. I can beat myself to death over simple errors, but what I need to do is come clean, be honest with God and say, “Lord, let’s try again tomorrow to help my kid(s) be better or to help me be better.” God respects us when we look honestly and sincerely and then continue to strive in the future. It’s all we can do. We hand our mistakes, our glories and our children each day to the God that made them. He has made each one special and different for his purpose. That’s why I have looked at each of my children as miracles of my life.
There’s that word again, Miracles! God is the one that gifts them to think the way they do, see the world with innocent eyes and challenge us as adults to be better people too.
Yes, I’m thankful for my children. But in the attempts to have children and live with them, I have learned so much about myself and about how much God, my wife and my children love me.
I will always remember the first weekend of August 2004. I was six months removed from the painful church abandonment by ACC, but I was still taking classes at Greenville College. On this weekend, I spent time with my friends Mike Pomatto and Mike McCune, along with a few others at a monastery in Indiana to learn about the life on monks.
After two weeks of doing in-vitro fertilizations, I knew I would be coming home to find out if we were indeed pregnant on the first try. Mindy greeted me and showed me a test that was positive. I had just turned 35 in May 2004 and I think my wife was more worried about my clock running out than hers as a diabetic with a low sperm count due to lack of control of my sugar levels. If my levels remained steady, our chances were better. That summer, I did everything I could to keep the levels good.
Three weeks later, we went back to St. Louis and found out for certain that indeed we were pregnant. We found out something else. There were two. Twins. Oh my. We had talked about two total that we wanted and thought, “Wow! Here we are.” The glee was all over me. After being in teen ministry at BBC for two years, I had begun to want to have children. At 35, I was thinking that I might finally be mature enough to handle fatherhood.
The glee turned to panic on the third Wednesday of September. Mindy began to bleed. We rushed to the doctor. We were hoping for the best, but were expecting the worst. Trouble had come. One of the twins had gotten smaller and stopped growing. There was no longer a heartbeat. Most of that day was a blur. We had church that night. Mindy wanted to stay home, but I knew I needed God and the comfort of other believers. I will always remember breaking the news to the pastor that one was gone. I cried and I prayed that it would stop.
Losing one at ten weeks kept that lingering thought in my mind that now that we’d lost one that it could just as easily be both. I know that most of the time during the rest of Mindy’s pregnancy, I babied her. Maybe too much. I didn’t care.
At 21 weeks, we had another ultrasound and found out that this was going to be a girl. All the pictures of teenage girls misbehaving started running through my head. I started thinking about buying a shotgun. Thankfully, the men in my life realized that the last thing I needed was a gun and talked me down, reminding me of the good times that can be had with a girl. They also joked with me about tea parties and that I would end up wearing makeup and nail polish. I retorted that I had already done that by having Eddie Gennoy as a friend who dressed me up like Judy Tenuta during my college years. It was a funny skit.
As the day got closer, we had the normal baby showers. I had to go. I have to admit I kind of enjoyed Mindy’s and my female friends giving a fuss over me during their party time. The ladies realized how much I stayed involved in the process. I didn’t miss doctor’s appointments. I even took a baby class through the hospital because I needed to learn what to do with a baby. OK, I knew what to do, but I needed to learn how to do it properly. I knew my baby girl was not to be held like I was running to the end zone holding the Heisman Trophy.
The day came. It was 1:45am, April 4, 2005. It was opening day of baseball season. I didn’t have tickets because I knew that if I bought them, she would come. Since 2000, I had not missed being at a major league park on opening day. The string of games would end at five.
The birthing process was not as scary as I thought it would be, especially after Mindy had the epidural. Call her weak if you want, but I’m not sure I would have made it out alive if she hadn’t taken it. At 9:51am, Megan was born. Once I was given Megan to hold, I did not want to let her go. The nurses wanted to give me that momentary buzz, but then began to explain that she wasn’t breathing at full power and that they needed to take her to another room to continue to work with her. Mindy understood that better than me. I’m celebrating by calling family, but my daughter was in real danger. It wasn’t until almost an hour later, when I heard more comments from the nurses that I began to get it.
I freaked out in my mind. God wouldn’t have brought us all this way to have us lose her now. I began pacing and praying, finally driving Mindy crazy. The drugs were wearing off and I was becoming annoying. I can confess that. I can be annoying sometimes. After a few hours, the nurses let us go in and carefully hang out with her. She was still beautiful, but I was getting more scared. I never said it out loud, but I think Mindy felt it.
She told me to come home and try to relax, eat some dinner and get some sleep. Once I got home, I think I sent emails to every friend I had begging for prayer for Megan. Within a few hours, Mindy called me telling me that she was improving and found that the reason that she had been struggling was that she might have gotten a touch of the epidural. Friends kept calling me, reassuring me that it would be OK. By morning, I had gone back to the hospital and Megan was much better and was now out of the machines and being allowed to come to Mindy’s room to be with us.
If you have ever heard Sade’s “Never As Good As the First Time”, I can testify that the second time I held my little girl was so much better than the first. I knew now she would be fine. By the end of that day, I was able to go home and email much more satisfying news and uncountable thanks to my friends for actually praying.
After getting used to Megan at home for a few months, we began to think that we still wanted another child. We still wanted two. Over the next six months, we tried three times via in-vitro to negative results. There was a thought that Megan might be destined to be an only child. I admit that both Mindy and I were starting to become stressed over the disappointment. The third fail was during the heart of tax season 2006 while I was working at H & R Block.
I finally agreed to one more attempt after tax season was over. Well, the window of opportunity hit the last week of tax season in April. We tried and a couple weeks later, found success again. At the six week mark, we went in to check things out. Again, there were two. But this time, one was already noticeably smaller and its success was unlikely.
By the ten-week checkup, our fears were confirmed. We were at one again. I have to admit that the pain wasn’t as severe with me and that bothered me, a lot. Part of it was being prepared in advance that it may happen, but part of me was OK with the idea. Hey, one more, we now have two at the end. It’s fine. But it ate at me that I was some kind of horrible father for not pleading with God to miraculously spare and restore this child because I knew in advance. I wasn’t praying for its death or anything like that, but I still felt guilty.
This pregnancy was much harder, not for Mindy, but for me. I was working a lot at Block and was becoming more and more dissatisfied with their system. I stayed instead of looking for other work because I felt like I had to for financial reasons. It stressed me out and I become a hole. Yeah, that kind of hole. The one behind your back. I quit my job one month before she was due.
My wife reduced her recovery time from eight weeks to six weeks because I was struggling to find a job. On January 19, 2007, my son was born. James had a normal delivery for the most part. The cord got close to his head, but the doctor got him out on time. During the six weeks of Mindy’s recovery, I started a new job. It was a job I despised, but it was money. The bad part was that it stressed me out. It was bad enough I was doing a job I hated because I had to, but I also began to feel sick.
I was doubling over in pain. I went and had tests done for an ulcer. I didn’t have an ulcer, but I also only had one kidney. What? I learned that I was born with one kidney. I’m 38, diabetic and now realize I have one kidney. I’ll admit figuring this out then was more than I could handle. The pains continued though. What followed were more tests and more days of missing work. I finally found out I had to have surgery to remove my gall bladder and that I would need two weeks off from work. The job let me go. I had to have the surgery, but I was happy as a lark that I wouldn’t have to go back to work there.
God had two more tricks up his sleeve. He allowed me to stay unemployed for months. It killed us financially. I’ll say that I had developed an ego of how good I thought I was in the workforce. Most prospective employers saw the hole part and passed on me. I was growing desperate. It almost cost us our marriage because of the stress involved. Finally, someone told me about a job that I was already qualified for.
Even though I hadn’t activated my teaching certificate since 1994, the area of the country I live in hires substitutes even if their license lapsed previously as long as the person paid for the Illinois substitute license. So by getting my transcript and purchasing a license, I became marketable again. Thankfully, the ego had been pricked by then. It was humbling to go back into the school system 13 years after I felt that I had failed at it the first time. It turned out to be an awesome year of teaching.
But I said God had two tricks, not just one. In the midst of the storm, I actually had improved my diabetes to a point that I was under control. During the first weeks of September 2007, we kept waiting for the monthly friend that never came. Yes, without help, we were pregnant again. This time, it was only one. And it stayed that way. Six days and four years after Megan was born, Maggie entered the world. She was healthy, smiling and God’s surprise for our faithfulness.
Did Maggie save our marriage? No. That took work. We re-found New Hope and decided that we would stay. We enrolled in a marriage class a few months after she was born. As silly as the idea was originally, going to the class began making us think about our marriage and our commitment to each other. We knew we were committed to being great Godly parents, but we needed to be more than that. We needed to be great Godly partners to each other to show our kids that even though it wasn’t always easy (and still isn’t at times), mommy and daddy are committed to loving each other as much as they loved them.
That is how to complete the calling of parenthood. It isn’t just about making your kids number one and to heck with you and your spouse. As much as it pains me to say it, these children will leave us someday. Guess who that leaves. You guessed it, your spouse. So he/she will be there for the long haul, even after the days you begin to need some overhaul. That’s what God meant by marriage. One man, one woman, for life.
Kids don’t make the job of loving each other any easier because you have even less time for each other than you used to. But it is making quality time of that time together. Is it more important to be a better parent than a better spouse? The answer is no. As Mr. Miyagi told Daniel in the first Karate Kid movie almost a quarter century ago, “It is balance, Daniel-son, balance!”
I truly hope that you’ve enjoyed the book study of Leslie Leyland Fields’ “Parenting Is Your Highest Calling” And 8 Other Myths That Trap Us in Worry and Guilt. If you kept reading my notes, including all the rabbit trails I jumped on, I still encourage you to get a copy of the book and read it. It is available almost everywhere books are sold.
A closing note about Marriage Monday. The series will be taking December off. I’ll give you more details about that in the coming days. However, if there are topics of marriage that you would love to talk about or even other books that you might want to talk about and potentially study, don’t hesitate to comment here with your ideas. The series will return in January as I hope to continue to encourage marriages to last, including my own. I love my wife and I know you love your spouse as well. What I pray and hope to achieve with Marriage Mondays is to bolster, strengthen, and hopefully give you a sense of humor sometimes about being married. We aren’t to get married and become miserable. We are to unite as one, grow with each other, and glorify Christ Almighty with the love and hope we share.
I love you guys!