I was at the grocery store the other day perusing the cheese cases and was excited to see they were giving away samples of gourmet cheeses. The woman handing out the samples engaged me in small talk, chatting about the delicious cheeses. She mentioned how I could encourage my family to go beyond the mozzarella rut we were probably in, and help my children acquire a taste for the double crème brie. She said that if my kids were anything like her children, sometimes you just needed to push them out of their comfort zone a bit. As I slowly tasted another sample of smoked gouda, I smiled, looked at the array of cheeses, and avoided any more conversation.
As I stepped away, my heart felt the sting of the woman’s comments. It was meant to be a friendly conversation, but she didn’t know I am not the mother of a crew of children, and that I was shopping for myself. At nearly 40 years old, it’s not quite the picture I had in mind for my life, either.
As a girl growing up, I was surrounded by children. I loved babysitting, I enjoyed teaching Vacation Bible School, and even studied elementary education because I wanted to make a difference in children’s lives. It never occurred to me in my twenties that I wouldn’t be a mom. I had dreams of a large family and driving around in a mini-van.
As I moved into my thirties and was still single, it became increasingly more painful to see this dream unfulfilled in the way I had hoped. I threw baby showers for many friends, and was genuinely happy for them, but wondered when God would begin to bless me with my own family. Had he forgotten me? Was I not doing enough for him? Was there something inadequate about me that God was trying to fix before I could become a mother?
At 37 years old, while I was experiencing health issues that further threatened my chances of becoming a mom, God and I had a bit of a fight. Okay, it was big fight. The kind that requires amazing coffee, a box of tissues, and a thick journal. A potential relationship I was hopeful about had just ended, and I had a polyp growing where a baby should be. Perfect, God. . . that’s awesome. In the midst of tears, I asked, “Why are you withholding this from me?” “Am I doing something wrong?” “Do you care more about what I can do for you, rather than caring for my heart? You seem to bless my leadership and career in full measure, but I’m pretty sure this area of my heart keeps going unblessed!” The Lord was gracious and patient with me, and I sensed him saying, “You know I love you and care for your heart, Christine.”
God proceeded to remind me of all the ways he has shown me this truth over the years, and he asked if I would be open to this gift of motherhood packaged differently than I had expected. Maybe it was a bit like staring at a beautifully wrapped box under the Christmas tree, and being terribly disappointed that it wasn’t shaped in the form of the new bike desperately wanted that year. Leaving the present unopened, the recipient of the gift stomps away in disappointed tears believing it’s not what she asked for. How sad the giver of the gift would be, especially if the present contained a gift certificate to the local bike shop for the purchase of a new bike of her choice.
Was God already giving me the gift of being a mother, but I was missing it because it was in a different box than I had expected?
On Mother’s Day of that year, I wasn’t sure I was up for going to church. I didn’t know if I could put on a happy face while I saw all the wives and mothers being celebrated. God reminded me of his challenge to expand my vision of motherhood. I reluctantly began to get into the “prayer zone” and tried to recalibrate my understanding of this dream, yet one more time. I began to think of all the ways God had made me a spiritual mother. God reminded me of the privilege I have had, and still have, to nurture and invest in the relationships of many college students, friends, and my nieces over the years. I was reminded of people who have made significant steps toward Jesus as a result of God using me in their lives. I was reminded of the joy I have received in journeying alongside people, helping them nurture their relationship with the Lord and experience more of his love in the process. I was beginning to unwrap this differently-shaped gift.
As I lived more into this vision of motherhood, the Lord wanted to make certain I understood how serious he was about this. I received a text message from a former college student I had worked with. “Happy Mother’s Day!” she wrote, “You have been such a spiritual momma to me. I am forever thankful for your investment in my life!” With tears streaming down my face, I received this gift from God and allowed my heart to ponder this more deeply. How merciful is our God that he will go to great lengths to show us his care for us, even when we are slow to see it!
Many of our dreams don’t come true in the ways we had hoped, or in the ways our culture dictates. There is real pain in the process of dying to the expectations we've had of these dreams, in releasing our expectations of what these dreams should look like.But it would be a dreadful shame to come to the end of life, bitter and upset with God that I didn’t get what I had hoped for, only to find out that he had given it to me all along.
Instead of bitterness and anger, we can choose gratitude and love. If we dare to trust God, and allow him to expand our hearts and minds, we might begin to live into the dreams he has given us.