by Guest Author, Christi Kelly
This time two years ago should have been the happiest moments in my life. All four of my children were home. They were happy, healthy, and thriving. I had prayed for this. I had prayed fervently during my youngest’s 21 day NICU stay that she would, in fact, rejoin her twin and make our family complete.
And she was here. She was delighting us with her cuddles and the closeness she enjoyed with her twin and the beginnings of her signature big, open-mouthed smile. It should have been joyful. But as my littlest girl was healed, I began fighting my own battle with a poison I had allowed to take root.
It began with the mention by the NICU doctor that her head was too small and his concern that the root of her problems was viral. Like any modern-day parents- we carefully researched each and everything doctors told us with the best tool parents have this days-Google.
No matter how much you are cautioned against it, you just can’t help going down that foolish internet rabbit trail each time. Armed with her head measurements, I began to research. I found that, in fact, our sweet little girl’s head made her fit the diagnostic criteria for microcephaly.
Microcephaly literally just means “small head.” Our baby’s head didn’t even make it on the growth charts- even though she was a five-pound, 6-ounce baby.
But here’s the thing about microcephaly.
It can mean anything, everything, or nothing.
It can mean that an individual has wide-ranging intellectual and physical impairments. It can mean an individual has mild learning disabilities. Or it can mean you wear a small cap size- and nothing else.
I found myself totally unmoored by the uncertainty this information presented. I’ve always been a planner. My favorite part of being a classroom teacher was always the planning. I loved the neat little boxes that all of the information fit into. It made sense. There was a clear way forward. I loved that.
But here- what was the way forward?
There was nothing to do but to wait and see. And that, quite simply, would not do.
I took control the way any normal red-blooded American, control freak, hormonal mother might do. I grabbed my trusty tape measure, found an online app to calculate growth, and added it to my daily routine-head measuring.
You can laugh. It is ridiculous.
I knew it was even then, but I could not help myself. I had to find a way to grab control. The daily googling for more information, measuring, and praying started and continued for many months. With each day, the fear and anxiety spread- soon consuming far too much of my time and precious energy as I cared for my children.
Finally, her two-month check-up came.
Would her pediatrician, who is typically calmer about such things,
set my fears aside?
I prayed so. But when he went to remeasure her head after the nurse, I knew it was not to be. He explained her little head was not catching up, and so for the first time ever, he wrote the word I had been running from on her chart and it was official. Microcephaly.
The certainty of a written diagnosis devastated me. We were sent back to redo more tests to recheck for viruses. I applied for Early Steps.
And then I looked at my baby.
She was perfect. She was happy. We loved her. She was a gift to us from God.
I realized, more than anything, I wanted to enjoy her.
I felt the full extent of how I had allowed anxiety and refusal to accept uncertainty steal my joy. I wanted it back. I reached out to my LIFE group and asked them to specifically pray that I would enjoy my baby. I repented for my lack of faith. That very week I realized something that it had taken me, four children, to realize.
Uncertainty is part of parenting; we can try to control it, or we can step forward in joyful faith.
Jesus gives us many promises in scripture regarding our children. One of the less rosy ones comes from John 16:33
“In this world, you will have trouble...”
When we hold that newborn swaddled in the pink and blue striped hospital blanket - we can know that they will struggle. Some will grow up to struggle with depression or anxiety or ADHD. Others will have life-changing diagnoses. Some will have heartache or deal with terrible loss. There will be accidents and disappointments and bullies and more.
As a parent, our gut instinct is to take our tiny bundle and run. To protect them at all costs. To search for the certainty in the uncertainty of it all. We trick ourselves into believing that if we read enough parenting books or if we teach them well enough or if we find the right pediatrician or pick the right school that we can conveniently dodge the hurt for them. We can make it all better.
But God offers a few other promises for our anxious hearts- a way forward that involves steady steps and not ducking and dodging. For one, In John 16:33, Jesus gratefully added a joyful endnote to his promise of trouble. The word “but” is my favorite in Scripture since it so often contrasts what the world offers versus what Jesus is giving us. The same holds true here. He states, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Quite simply, trouble is coming for your children, but Jesus is greater. He will overcome it- He will use it for good.
Don’t misread this as a promise to prevent trouble for your child. Prosperity gospel theology makes us believe we can “name and claim” God’s goodness for our children. Although God certainly loves our children and desires good- our views on goodness and His are often greatly different. While we would often prefer to take the challenges, risks, hardship, and uncertainty out of their lives, God often chooses to work within those things to build their character for a greater good and more certain peace. (see Romans 5:3-6) In John 16, Jesus had been explaining to his disciples what was to come. He had described how they would be scattered and how He would be crucified. He begins John 16:33 by stating, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.” The disciples’ peace wasn’t going to be found in outside circumstances. It was only going to found in Jesus. Peace about our children’s future doesn’t come from checking all the lists and knowing all the things. Peace about our children’s future comes from faith in a Father who is good.
We can trust Him with them-fully, completely, and joyfully.
The God who loved our children enough to create them and to save them through the blood of his own Son will not leave them. The God who clothes the wildflowers and feeds the sparrows will not fail them.
With that truth more firmly planted in my heart, I retired my tape measure. My baby grew and outgrew all concerns before a year old- but I don’t forget the lessons learned in that time. I try to enjoy the gifts of each of these 4 unique kids who bring their own unique struggles and their own unique triumphs each day. When fear for their future rears its head, I strive to look to Jesus and trust in His plan for them.
And you know what?
The joy, even in the uncertainty, is more than I could have ever imagined.
Christi Kelly serves as the preschool minister at First West in West Monroe, Louisiana. She is wife to Justin and momma to 4 amazing children, ages 6 and under! Originally a Mississippi girl, she has now lived in Louisiana for the past 10 years and loves Mardi Gras, New Orleans, and the Saints but still doesn’t like gumbo. She spends her days wrangling children, cooking dinners, serving preschoolers and their parents, and loving life! She loves to read, to plan and dream of her next vacation, and a good chai tea latte.