My first clue that something was wrong should have been the voice at the other end of the line: “Hi, Mom.”
Jolene Sloan and I are different in many ways…she’s tall and slender, and beautiful and talented, and very creative. But we’re alike in one way: we don’t do phone calls. Except for birthdays, I never call my children.
And that’s what alerted me that beautiful Spring morning…which was late evening in Ukraine where David and Jolene are missionaries. I was visiting in the home of my children, Joel and Margaret, and their two little girls. What a perfect retreat for a writer, and grandmother! Several years ago they built a little guest apartment behind their house on the New Mexico desert, and it is close enough to feel like I’m spending time with my children, but private enough to provide peace and quiet.
There’s a lovely porch that my son, Tommy built a couple of years ago. So when I answered my cell phone, I walked outside not only to get a better connection with the other continent, but also to enjoy the beautiful fresh air and sunshine.
“Mom, I need you to pray for David. He’s very sick. He hasn’t been able to eat for several days. We know you can’t do anything, being so far away, but he wanted me to call you and ask you to pray for him.”
My mother heart sank. For Jolene to call me was major, and for a few seconds I panicked. Now, my son is already in his 30’s. He has a very intelligent wife, super capable of caring for her sick husband, their four children, juggling home schooling with housework, (which can sometimes mean doing without electricity and running water, staying warm by a little portable chimney), is expert in walking out of their village to the highway with four little ones in tow, and catching a bus into town, (they don’t have a vehicle of their own) and she is fluent in Russian. What on earth could I possibly have done had I been there?
Well, apart from making a pot of my potato soup, and spoon-feeding him, nothing.
Or was there something I could do?
What can you do when you can’t be with your children?
I remember when our 8 children were still home…half of them were already teenagers… lying in bed one night and thinking, “What am I going to do when my children leave home for college? What’s it going to be like, lying in bed not knowing if they’re sick, or lost, or hungry? What am I going to do if they call and need me? What am I going to do, how am I going to feel, how am I going to cope when I can’t be there?”
That beautiful morning, standing out on the porch, there was absolutely nothing I could do for David.
Or was there?...
In my helplessness, actually there were several things that I was able to do:
1. As soon as Jolene hung up, I went back into my little apartment, alone, and wept. “God, why are you doing this? What possible purpose could there be in this senselessness? How is Jolene going to cope? How must she feel right now? What did I do wrong? Where did I fail them? What if he dies?...” Those are all the thoughts that ran through my mind…and many, many more. I’d like to tell you that the first thing I did was to fall on my knees, and commit him to the Lord. But I’m like you, if you’re a mother! I despaired. But only for a few minutes. Despair is all right, because we’re human. Don’t look back over times like this and beat yourself over the head because you despaired. That’s human, and especially mother-human. That’s your mother instinct kicking in, and it’s part of our job description. Let the grief, the despair, the questions, do their job. I sometimes think God allows these feelings of helplessness to overwhelm us, so we can be just that…helpless. Sometimes He wants us to totally rely on Him, and just find comfort in the shelter of His arms. I remember one time many, many years ago…We lived in a little village, and I don’t know the nature of my despair, but I had done everything I could do…probably had to do with the discipline of one of my children, who were all four very, very little at that time. I put them down for their nap, and lay down totally exhausted. And just as real as I used to feel Daddy’s arms around me, I sensed the Lord enfolding me in his arms, and whispering, “It’s all right…I have everything under control. You just take a nice long nap, and when you wake up, you’ll feel better.” What precious comfort! He wasn’t angry with me because I had despaired. That’s where He wanted me. That’s the only place I could have been, in order for Him to have comforted me. The “all-things-working-together-for-good” meaning to this senselessness will make perfect sense some day. Don’t beat yourself over the head for being a Mom.
2. I was able to pray, and to commit David and Jolene into His care. I don’t think I really believed in the power of prayer until this year. But I’ve seen too many answered prayers not to know that God answers prayer. I’ve probably prayed more this year than I ever have. I pray while I’m driving, while I’m walking to my gate at the airport, while I’m shopping, in the shower, while I do my hair, and so for me to incorporate it into that Spring morning was pretty natural. I prayed through my tears that morning, but sometimes I also pray while I’m happy. I don’t know if I lack the discipline required to spend an hour on my knees, or if I have the need to be busy while I pray, but I find it much easier to pray while I’m doing something mechanical, routine, that doesn’t require a lot of brain activity. I pray for my children all day long, when I take bathroom breaks from my e-mailing, when I run across the drive from church to leave my Sunday school things in my room. I pray for special Birthday friends I know, and for a friend who is in surgery. I pray for a couple who is having marital problems, and for a mother who has deserted her four children. Praying is as much a part of my life as breathing or brushing my teeth. It also keeps my mind occupied with positive activity, instead of worrying, or having a critical spirit. Praying keeps me out of trouble, and keeps me focused.
3. I shared my burden with others. I’m not a phone caller, but I am an e-mailer, so I sat down at my computer and wrote to two dear friends who have prayer chains in their churches; one is a pastor’s wife, and the other a church secretary. By the next evening, David was able to go to church, and teach his Institute classes. When you can’t be there, share your burden with friends. A word of caution: I know there are burdens too private to share. Don’t ever share private burdens that would expose the personal lives of others. They usually have a way of revealing themselves sooner or later, but don’t you do the exposing. That could cause more harm than good. Ask yourself, “By sharing this prayer request, will I have to answer questions stirred up by curiosity?” Don’t set yourself up to have to cover up things that shouldn’t be exposed. While I believe in sharing one another’s burdens, and I believe in the power of prayer, sharing with others shouldn’t turn into gossiping. I have a ladies’ prayer meeting every week, and I’m always careful to make sure these “prayer request” times don’t turn into gossip sessions.
4. Keep serving the Lord as if your prayer were already answered. It’s so hard to “move the body” when our hearts are burdened. It’s hard to keep the right focus, the right spirit. Our mother nature wants to crawl in bed and pull the cover over our head, and soak ourselves in worry. I’ve learned something these past few months: I’m learning to enjoy what God has given me at the moment. For example, if I’m worrying and fretting over David and Jolene, I can’t be a blessing to Joel and Margaret. If I carry around my burden, not only am I not helping David and Jolene, I’m no fun to be around. I’ll look back over the precious time with Joel and Margaret, and regret not enjoying the time I could have spent with them. That’s where trust and faith come in. If I’ve prayed, and cast my burden on the Lord, and shared it with others, I can serve the Lord more effectively, and I can be a blessing to those nearest me.
5. Right now, I’m going through a very difficult time with a relationship with someone I love very, very much. I’ve been hurt, and I fear I’ve hurt someone unknowingly. I have to commit that hurt to the Lord many times a day, and not let that spill over onto my relationship with others, or into my ministry. I’m trying to let that hurt teach me lessons I’d never thought of before. And in turn, I’m teaching those lessons to others. That’s what I’m doing right now. The times in my children’s lives when they were going through difficult times, and I couldn’t be there have taught me something, and I’m sharing those lessons learned with you. You don’t have to be a writer or a teacher to share things you’ve learned in life’s experiences. Keep a journal with your Bible, and after your Bible reading every morning, jot down things you learned the day before. You’d be surprised how many lessons life teaches us just by simply living. “Don’t interfere with God’s plan,” is a good one. If you can’t be with your children, it’s probably part of God’s plan…your little one is in surgery; that’s a toughie; you’re a single Mom, and it’s your ex’s turn to have your daughter this weekend. WOW!! You could teach me something there! What did you learn about letting her go? You can’t be there on the first day of school…or you shouldn’t be there. What about leaving that newborn in the nursery your first time back at church? I’ve been there, sister.
And I’m a survivor. And you can be, too!