She laid her head against my shoulder so sweetly. Somehow without words or evidence, she trusted me to care for her while her mom and dad were away...Tim said she'd been awake since 5 am. Her breathing came heavy--her tiny nose congested and her body so warm to the touch--a little feverish yet so sleepy. Her tiny delicate fingers wrapped around one of mine and suddenly it all became so natural again and my tension melted.
It seemed like years fell away in the sweetness of this tender moment...remembering similar moments with my own children. Still a little fussy, Emma whimpered and I suddenly remembered the words I used to sing when mine were so small..."I'll walk in the rain by your side; I'll cling to the warmth of your tiny hand. I'll do anything to help you understand that I love you more than anybody can..." (Yes! I am not ashamed-- I was once a diehard John Denver fan...)
She quieted with the sound and vibration of my voice as she leaned against my chest. Her breathing became rhythm and I gently went from words to a hum to silence...at which little Emma in her half-sleep began to sing herself and pushed against me until I began to sing again with her. Such a familiar routine though it has been many years now and I had forgotten the blessedness of these moments with my own precious ones whom God had placed into my care. As she relaxed into a deeper sleep and my words became a hum again, my mind drifted back to those days past so many years ago...
I remember how tense and frightened I was with Brittany--my first--and she knew it. But when we rocked and sang in the dead of night, she lay so still and my fears and tension melted. This part of motherhood I knew--I may not have been good at so many other aspects of motherhood but I could do this. Through the years in the rocking chair with little independent Mikey, bright and blue-eyed Andy, soulful Elias, and finally joyful Zachary--my baby boy now 21 years old.
He was born five days after my father-in-law Arnett passed away. The three years before were a whirlwind caring for my four little ones as well as this dear man--he had an incurable brain tumor. The last few months of my pregnancy became gray as Arnett's care became all-consuming. There was so little time to anticipate this new life in my belly beginning as I witnessed this man's precious life ending and tried to meet his needs. As Arnett's life faded into glory, Zachary's new life filled the void and soothed my grief. Even as I sang at Arnett's service, I was having contractions--Zachary letting me know it would soon be HIS time.
In losing Arnett, I became more aware how quickly time passes as my precious ones grew right before my eyes each day. From day one, our children seek independence, pushing away from mama's tight grasp. I knew Zachary would be my last so I anticipated these late night and early morning rocker moments with him in my arms. I remember praying over him as I did over the four that came before him..."Lord, please keep him safe and protect him from harm. You gave him to me and I give Him back to you. Help him to go out from here and become the man You want him to be--strong, courageous, and wise. To know how very much I love him even though I'm not the mother he deserves. Give him the courage to reach for his dreams and the potential to go far beyond where I could ever lead him. Teach him to never let go of hope no matter what happens..." And I would sing him the same lullaby just as I had sung with the four babies before him and now with Emma.. "And the wind will whisper your name to me..."
And then today, I looked down on Emma's long lashes as she slept and my own heart was wrenched with God-tears just as it did back then at the awe and beauty of this precious little child with her whole life in front of her but also with the mother-sadness of that last precious moment at the airport with my own "baby" just a few days before. He is no longer a fragile infant--he is now a man, strong enough and broad enough to wrap his arms around me and hold me tight as we say goodbye one more time--my Marine son leaving us again and soon on his way to Afghanistan. This day I sang no lullabyes--instead I tried desperately though unsuccessfully to hold my tears--to be brave and strong. And this time, he comforted me before he walked through the gate, picked up his guitar (he sings his own songs now) and looked back at us one more time. As his face turned away from us and toward his journey, I couldn't help but realize that though he is a head taller than me...He is strong and courageous and wise (most of the time)...He is a Marine trained well for the task that lays ahead of him...And I believe he is becoming the man God wants him to be...Yet somehow, he still seems tender and vulnerable as he was in those days I held him in the rocking chair. I wished I could protect him now as I did back then.
This is the fifth time I've sent one of my sons off to war in a foreign land. Four times, they have come home safe--though Mikey came home the second time whole but with scars from an exploded IED. Four times, I sent them off with an inner peace knowing God holds them in the palm of His hand and four times, I have welcomed them back home with an unspeakable joy. You would think it should get easier...that my heart peace would hold steady and unwavering. I can't explain why it's so hard this time but my heart breaks a little in letting him go, knowing I can't protect him like I did so many years ago. And I can't help but question, "Lord, will You bring him home again?"
I tried to make conversation with Andy in the waiting--to push away this consuming fear. I turned away to hide my tears but they fell again as my Lord gently reminded me there in the airport, "Trust Me no matter what. He's not yours to hold but you can still pray as you did before."
I waited and watched as Zachary's plane took to the sky and I prayed that same old prayer, "Lord, please keep him safe and protect him from harm. You gave him to me and I give him back to You. Help him to go out from here and become the man You want him to be--strong, courageous, and wise...To know how very much I love him even though I'm not the mother he deserves. Give him the courage to reach for his dreams and the potential to go far beyond where I could ever lead him. Teach him to never let go of hope no matter what happens...And Lord, if it be Your will, let that hope be so strong that it brings him back home to us."
Today, I am so blessed by the tenderness of these rocking chair moments with Emma. She's not mine but God used her to remind me that even though I don't hold my children in my arms or sing them lullabies anymore, I can still hold them in my heart and know the joy and awe only a parent can experience in surrendering her child to Him every day, trusting that God can and will do for them what we can't--no matter what their age or where their steps may lead-- in a foreign war-torn land or here at home. And as I did before, I can still surrender them into His care. I can love them the best that I can and wait with hope for any opportunity to let them know, "I'll share with you all the happiness I've found, a reflection of the love in your eyes. And I'll sing you the song of the rainbow and whisper of the joy that is mine...I'll do anything to help you understand that I love you more than anybody can. And the wind will whisper your name to me...."
Song is "For Baby (For Bobbie)" written and recorded by John Denver
"...They brought the boy to Eli.
'Sir, do you remember me?' Hannah asked. 'I am the woman who stood here several years ago praying to the Lord. I asked the Lord to give me this boy, and He has granted my request. Now I am giving him to the Lord, and he will belong to the Lord his whole life.'
And they worshiped the Lord there"
--- 1 Samuel 1:25-28 NLT