The first month of the new year is winding down, friends. It was my birthday month as well. Last Saturday I turned 37 and it has me reflecting on some things, as my birthday usually does these days.
There are a few characteristics that I've never felt like I've really been able to claim. Can you relate? For example, I've never felt super independent. I'm a younger sister who was always very close to her older sister. We shared most things, including a bedroom (and a bed!), until she left for college. Two years later, I followed her to the same university where we were roommates for a year before she got married. The next year, my Sophomore year of college, is the only year of my entire life that I've ever lived alone. During that year I had a private dorm room on campus (which was like being alone, yet not). The year after that, I lived in the home of a dear family who treated me like one of their own. And by the time my senior year arrived, I was married to my husband. We've now been married for 15 years.
I know that being independent doesn't entirely mean living alone, but it's just not a way I would describe myself. I'm most comfortable with someone close to me, looking out for me in a way. I admire those who can get out there and make a new path all on their own. But I feel much safer and happier walking a well-trodden one with someone I love and trust walking with me. Okay, in front of me... so I'll know where to go.
And I guess that's part of the reason that I have, at times, felt weak. Certain events in my life, though, have served to toughen me up and ultimately made me realize that I was stronger than I thought. Coming from a broken home where we didn't have a whole lot of money, and the kinds of issues my sister and I had to face from a very young age is one of those events.
The other big one that stands out in my mind is infertility.
It feels like I've had to fight hard for the life that I have today. I know, nobody ever promised it would be easy. I realize that, and it's okay. I'm not bitter about it. But I'm not ashamed to say this:
I'm proud of the fact that I've learned how to do some hard things.
You should know that I have a hard time complimenting myself. I don't mean that I normally have a lot of self-pity or low self-esteem, but that I am my own harshest critic. I have difficulty acknowledging when I've done well, as well as forgiving myself when I make stupid mistakes, and I replay the dumb things I say and do every night in my mind before I go to sleep. Let's just say, sometimes it takes me a really long time to go to sleep! I realize this about myself -- I worry and I regret much more than I should.
My point is, I've learned that I CAN do the hard things. There's something about that statement that I find empowering. This baby sister, follower, scrawny little child from a tiny town in southern Louisiana, whose childhood was tough and who learned how to do without, who is more comfortable reading about adventure than experiencing it, who always felt awkward and who never knew what a happy, healthy marriage looked like, who was told she'd never realize her dream of having children, somehow (by the grace of God)... grew up, left home, went to college, got married to an amazing, godly man, survived nearly nine years of infertility and recurrent miscarriage, and had two beautiful daughters. That was me! I actually DID THAT. I haven't done anything that would be earth-shattering to most people, but they've been huge accomplishments to me.
Do I sometimes wish it hadn't been so dang hard? YES. I often wish that, even though I know that it taught me a whole lot -- so much more than I could have learned without having experienced it firsthand. (Allow me to say here that I'm fully aware of the many, many people who have had a way harder time than I could ever imagine. I'm not trying to make comparisons or dwell on which hardships are "worse," but only to reflect on my own experiences and how far the Lord has brought me personally.) I've realized that having things like this in my past that I've overcome have made me feel stronger. They've made me feel like I can accept and face a challenge head-on, knowing that I've made it through some tough things already.
I love this quote from William Barclay and I think I've shared it on this blog before, but it's worth repeating: The effect of testing rightly borne is strength to bear still more and to conquer in still harder battles.
So, so true!
I don't write this to say that now I've entered into an easy time. No, in fact, I feel challenged more and more every single day because this parenting thing is HARD. More than ever before, I feel like daily I have to surrender and cry out to God for strength and wisdom and patience. I love my kids so much and I fought so hard to have them! I wouldn't change a thing and I'm forever grateful for these two lives entrusted to me, but that doesn't mean it's an easy job to wake up and do every day. I so badly want to do this job well, and I think that's partly what makes it such a challenge. I put pressure on myself to give it my best and I beat myself up when I fail. But, guess what? I know now that I can do the hard things.
One of my big challenges after I had Lily was breastfeeding. I won't give you all the gory details, but it started out rough. I knew, though, that it was something I really wanted to do. If it ultimately didn't work out, I knew it would be fine both for her and for me. I know that not everyone can or even wants to do it, and I pass no judgement on what anyone else decides to do, but I knew that I wanted to try. I had to set small goals for myself in the beginning, and it felt like a miracle every time they were reached and surpassed. I nursed Lily for 12 months, which was the highest goal I had set (in the beginning, not really believing I would ever get there). Just about two weeks ago I wrapped up 13 months of breastfeeding Anna. It was much easier for me the second time around (thank the Lord), but that's not to say it didn't have its own challenges. I bring this up as an example, though, because it was one of those events during which I had to keep reminding myself that I Can Do The Hard Things. Nursing a baby while running after, caring for, giving attention to, potty training, and generally keeping alive a toddler is a hard thing, and one I was admittedly not fully prepared for! But it was something I really wanted to do, and reminding myself that I had done hard things before truly did help me make it through.
Another reason I bring up breastfeeding is because weaning what I know will be my last baby is also a hard thing. While I'm secure and satisfied with my family, it's bittersweet to watch my youngest grow out of the baby stage. She's officially a toddler now, walking all over the house like she owns the place. :)
I know that watching my kids grow up is going to be extremely satisfying and extremely hard. Sometimes I think that those of us who had to fight extra hard to get our children find it so very difficult to watch them grow up. We try for so long and we wait so much, we suffer loss, we struggle while everyone around us has babies and more babies, and we pray our hearts out for our turn to have a baby -- and then they're not babies for long at all, are they? But I often remind myself that each new stage is sweet and beautiful, just as the last one was.
So here's to a new year, 2014.
Here's to turning one year older.
Here's to facing it all knowing that we can do the hard things, and knowing that it'll be worth it.