Mothering in the Shadow of Death.

“I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of Him.” 1 Samuel 1:27

Yesterday I celebrated my first Mother’s Day from the side of being a mother. We went to church and I was holding my daughter while we began singing and my heart was swelling with thankfulness to the Lord —

How did this happen, this beautiful gift in my arms? How can I ever thank You enough?

— and reader beware, don’t read any further if you’re looking for a happy story this morning!

And then the familiar intro of a song that has the power to strike fear in my heart within the first few notes — Majesty — the song we played at my baby brother’s funeral. The song I will always connect, no matter how much I’ve learned to enjoy singing it, with being shattered upon the immovable will of God in a broken world, as for His own purposes, He acts in ways that we would never choose.

I’ll tell you what it felt like: it felt like a slap in the face, a punch in the gut, and like the kind of grand foreshadowing I’d write into one of my novels to see if the reader was paying attention.

It felt like God was letting me know that He was about to take my daughter. It felt like death.

My husband knows how I feel about that song and he looked down at me and teared up himself when he saw the tears in my eyes and the difficulty I was having breathing. He reached for my hand and I clung to it, trying to get control of myself.

I employed the tactics I’ve learned over these past seven months of fear-attacks since my daughter arrived. I rebuked the fear in the name of Jesus. I confessed to giving into that fear and asked for forgiveness. I asked for help from the Holy Spirit in taking my thoughts captive. I refused to listen to the voices and the temptation to worry about tomorrow. I focused on breathing in and out and loving my daughter today, which is the command I’ve heard over and over since her birth.

But I couldn’t get past that little niggling doubt about foreshadowing. What if this is the kindness of my Father helping me begin to prepare?

I’d like to say that all my strategies worked, but in actual fact, after begging Jesus to save me from the waves threatening to drown me where I sat, I had heart palpitations. It was like another slap, a glass of cold water in my face. Suddenly I realized it could be me who was going to die and leave her behind.

It was enough to shake me free from the attack, and for that I thank Jesus for His creativity in getting me out of the smoke at times when I can’t help myself.

My daughter needed to be fed so I took her back to the cry room during the sermon and half-listened, slowly coming back to normal. Outside the flood of emotion and terror of the waves, I focused on His face and what is true: I will love her today, You’re in charge of tomorrow.

Our pastor’s wife spoke on Hannah. I didn’t hear much until my daughter fell asleep, but then I tuned in right as she read the above lovely verse, which I’ve heard time and time again. It’s even quilted onto one of my favorite quilts a dear friend made for my daughter.

But do you remember what the next verse says? I went to look it up and lost my breath all over again.

“So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.” 1 Samuel 1:28

I realized as I never had before how Hannah must have felt. She knew from the beginning that she had promised Samuel to the Lord. She knew she would only have him for a couple of years, and then she would lose him forever. She would go home alone and live a life of missing him. Of thinking of his sweet little hand in hers, of his eyes staring up at her, of his head leaning on her shoulder and the little puffs of breath he breathed into her neck.

A lifetime un-lived. A growing up un-watched. An unbreakable bond with one end flapping in the wind.

And she knew.

My God.

How could she do it? How could she love him in that moment and not let her heart turn sour with longing and her soul crust over with bitterness, watching the days fly off the calendar and knowing they were completely and desperately finite?

We all love quoting Psalm 23 to ourselves, but I think I’ve always pictured those when-I-walk-through-the-valley-of-the-shadow-of-death moments as somewhat temporary. Horrible and desperate and agonizing, of course, but I’ve lived through a few of them so I know you eventually crawl forward into the light again.

But now I realize this awful truth of motherhood — we are always living in the shadow of death.

Our children live with us here in this broken world where a sovereign God demonstrates every day that His thoughts are not our thoughts. He chose to close Hannah’s womb to show His glory. He chose to give her Samuel and then take him away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Our children grow up in a world where, every day, God makes beauty out of ashes. And unfortunately, there are new ashes made every day by the endless and innumerable fires burning everywhere we look. He chose to give us free will, and because of that free will being exercised, He is every day out here among us, putting out fires and pulling off miraculous recoveries. He’s also in the fire, kneeling beside those who are burning alive. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

We will watch our children be wounded and threatened and devastated and, for some of us, we will watch God take them or allow them to be taken. A God who is so holy that you can’t even look at Him without going blind. A God who has done so many wonderful deeds among men that His goodness can’t be catalogued. A God who gave what was required, Whose love for us is immeasurable. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

This is the God we serve and this is the world we live in, and motherhood might be the worst juxtaposition of the two I’ve yet lived through.

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