It wasn’t cancer that took my breath away. It wasn’t the death of a child. I didn’t have the breath knocked out of me by having to sludge through a divorce or a severe depression. What took my breath away was one simple question.
After undergoing four tests and seeing two doctors, the prognosis was undisputed. I was pregnant. At age 42 with two teenagers, a few months into a new job, no leftover baby stuff, and on the pill, I was going to have a baby.
Most people around me at that time knew I handled that news very poorly, that I was a total wreck. In fact, let me take this opportunity to apologize. If you tried to touch my belly, I’m sorry I nearly broke your arm. If you tried to tell me how fun this was going to be, I’m sorry I told you that you were delusional. If you tried to tell me I would soon forget what life was like without this baby, I apologize for the silent string of harsh insults. In fact, I’m sure I need to apologize for my face during the entire pregnancy.
Many people, including my husband, tried to help me make sense of the situation: “Amanda, maybe God thinks we are good parents and thinks we should have another baby.” My reply was pretty raw: “There’s no way God thinks we are good parents. You are clearly extremely incompetent at knowing what others think of you right now.”
I knew what I should have been feeling. I knew very well that, as a children’s minister, it wasn’t ideal for me to be traumatized by being pregnant, even if I did have to see the geriatric OB, we owned two houses, my husband’s job was on thin ice, and my marriage was being tested. I absolutely knew that most people had real problems: a toxic marriage, a sick child, cancer, depression, death, loss, rejection.
I told myself those things every day. I mean, the club of 40-something mothers is pretty big; some even have twins. All of us are still breathing and functioning. But the question that took my breath away continued to haunt me.
The truth is that I knew the reality. When do you ever have enough money, time, flexibility or wisdom to be a parent? That stuff never adds up and it always works out one way or another. It wasn’t that stuff that traumatized me, although I did worry about all of that. It was the question.
Was I enough?
Was I enough to give this child what this child would need? Was it in me? There was no doubt about what every child deserves or about what I was generously given by my own parents. A child is not a pet, not a job, not a project. Right then, was I enough?
I was haunted by the question, and the answer was what broke me. I was not enough. I knew it at the very core, and I was the only one who knew it because no one else could know something like that. At night I would lean my head against the wall of the shower, crying, where no one would hear me. I would wake up at 3:00 a.m. unable to go back to sleep, terrorized by the question and even more so by the answer.
As I thought about the question and my honest answer, I knew it was the question and not my specific circumstances that felt like I had been sucker punched. It wasn’t the pregnancy, the labor, the life-changing care that a baby requires. I mean, all that is just a to-do list. Yes, it’s a 20-year-plus to-do list, but still a to-do list. I love a to-do list. I take pictures of my to-do list with stuff crossed off and send it do my best friend just to brag. But the question can still bring me to tears in a heartbeat. Was I enough for this child?
Even now, so many years later, the intensity of that question can take me right back to the trauma of the answer. It wasn’t low self-esteem or just feeling overwhelmed. I was not enough and I knew it.
Thinking about the many journeys I have walked with others, I know the heartbreak of the question and the even greater heartbreak from the answer.
A good friend whose parents won’t speak to him is heartbroken because that’s the message he gets from them. He isn’t enough. Other close friends who prayed and prayed over their prodigal child asked themselves, “Weren’t we enough for you? How did we fail you?” My sweetest of friends who spent so many years praying for a child and mourning miscarriages: “I must not be enough.” Still others who lost jobs they desperately needed: “I wasn’t enough.” My friends who don’t have the life they would like right now: “I don’t deserve a good life.” My friends who grieve the loss of a life, a dream: “Am I enough to achieve my deepest desires?”
Despite everyone around me telling me everything was going to be fine, I couldn’t shake the reality that I didn’t have what this child needed. I wasn’t being melodramatic; I knew no one else could possibly understand. It was just not in me.
What I did have was a faith that the Lord would provide. In my weakest of states, 2 Cor 12:9 became my battle cry.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
I could breathe when I read that Scripture. I could grieve the person I used to be and face the one I was becoming. In my weakest of states, God provided for me in such tangible ways.
I was given a devotional book that I credit with saving my sanity, which is pretty funny considering the donor is pretty nuts. Two friends kept the baby one morning a week for a whole semester. We were given enough diapers to last for six months. People brought us food for a whole month after the baby was born. I had a list of 20 people who filled in for me while I was on maternity leave. My elders were so supportive by giving me a generous maternity leave.
During that time, I began to breathe again and I began to heal. In the quiet of the day, in a baby’s magic, in the generosity of those surrounding me. The truth remained unchanged; I was not enough. And the truth remained that the Lord provided.
I couldn’t give my baby everything she needed but God has surrounded her with others who can give her what I can’t. So whatever circumstances are causing you to ask the question, “Am I enough?” and to be broken by the answer, breathe with me and say, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”