In May our daughter, her husband, and their fourteen-month-old moved into the upstairs of the roomy, old farmhouse where my husband and I live. With their arrival our quiet, empty nester lives were dramatically altered. I couldn't be happier.
Over the summer I observed how parenthood has changed my daughter and her husband. They are no longer young adults in single-minded pursuit of their own dreams. They are now parents willingly sacrificing their dreams, at least for the time being, and building a future for themselves and their son. I couldn't be prouder.
I can't help but reflect upon how different our parenting journey was from theirs. Our first child was born in 1982. Hours after our son's birth when he was diagnosed with a life-threatening birth anomaly, every expectation we had for him and for ourselves as parents crumbled.
Other parents were choosing which kind of diapers to use: cloth or paper.
We were choosing where to lifeflight our newborn for surgery: Omaha or Denver.
Other mothers agonized about breastfeeding or bottles.
I agonized about whether or not our baby would survive surgery and recovery.
Other parents suffered sleep deprivation, rocking infants in the wee hours of the night.
My arms ached and my body longed to hold my baby who spent 3 weeks in NICU.
We had expected parenthood to get almost too hot to handle at times. But we weren't prepared for the pressure cooker of life and death decisions we faced day after day for several years. Elizabeth Stone once said that the decision to become a parent is to "have your heart go walking around outside your body."
For parents of special needs, the effects of that decision come sooner. They come more often, and they linger longer. Perhaps that is why at the age of twenty-seven (about the age my daughter is now), when our son was three, I told a friend that I felt very old and very tired–a perfect description of the pressure cooker effect.
I was changed by my time in the special needs pressure cooker.
But as I watch my daughter raise her typical son, I realize that my transformation was no greater or more worthy than her slower, gentler one. I realize that becoming a parent for the first time is always a catalyst for transformation.
As first time parents, we all become vulnerable in ways we never before imagined.
We realize our lives are not our own.
We realize we have been given a task that is beyond us.
We realize that we need something more. Someone more.
And glory of glories, the Someone able to give us the strength to live with our hearts outside our bodies is also a parent. The Parent who sent His Son to earth as a baby. The Parent who sent His Heart to walk this earth in human flesh. The Parent who knows our fears and experienced our pain. The Parent who enters the pressure cooker with us to transform us into His likeness as He works His promises in our lives and the lives of our children.
Whether you're a first time parent or an experienced one, whether you're raising typical kids or children with special needs, this Parent who loved you enough to send His Son to die for our sins, is waiting to comfort, guide, and equip you as you live forever more with your heart walking around outside your body.
He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all,
how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?