Today when I was rocking Owen to sleep, I found a new freckle on his chubby toddler knuckle. I’d found treasure. There is something deeply intimate about noticing the arrival of seemingly insignificant marks on the blank canvas of baby skin. Someday, when Owen is a man and there are a thousand details about his life I don’t know, I’ll see that freckle on his finger and remember when it appeared. And I’ll know he belonged to me.
It may be my favorite part of parenthood: watching my children become in ways that they aren’t even aware. I remember the day Caroline discovered that she had hands. We were sitting under the cover of our apartment balcony watching rain fall. Her eyes crossed in uncoordinated infant concentration as she jerked a pair of awkwardly clasped hands before her face. It was like she was waking up to the world around her, becoming fully human. Discovering you have hands is like discovering you are a self at all, that you have power in this world to do more than ebb and flow with the currents of life around you.
As far as I can tell from my seven years as a parent, this awakening to the universe and to your place in it never stops, neither for children nor adults.
And this work of becoming, it isn’t always as simple as a freckle appearing. I more often feel like baby Caroline, crossing my eyes, straining to grasp my own hands, to make them do what I know they ought. I know God made me to become so many things. For example, I feel it in my soul that I’m meant to use my words to help others love God more. Yet so often, I’m silent. And I see it in Scripture that I’m meant to hold the stuff of this world loosely, clinging to God alone. But I’ve never left all to follow Him, or given away my possessions to the poor. I don’t look like the words I read in my Bible: generous, joyful in suffering, patient in affliction. I look mostly like the rich young ruler who broken-heartedly walked away from Jesus because he couldn’t give up his great wealth.
I’ve been so sad about all of these things lately… about my failures in becoming. It’s not only that I haven’t done the things I know I should; it’s also that I can’t even figure out what my next “shoulds” are. Maybe I haven’t even found my own hands yet. I haven’t figured out what a powerful being God could make me. I instead still ebb and flow with the currents, a life of reaction that never dares somersault in the water or swim upstream.
It’s funny. Our middle daughter, Amelia, the five year old — I’ve never noticed her becoming; it’s like she’s always been. We prayed for her to be confident, and God answered us. We knew her being the African daughter in our all-too-caucasian world might be identity-shaking, but instead God has gifted her with the strongest sense of identity I’ve ever seen. I joined her last week on a kindergarten field trip. Her friends were anxious to ask Amelia’s white mama some questions about adoption. Then one friend said hard words — words that, though meant without malice, would jolt the soul of a grown man.
The little five year old friend said, “Amelia’s first mother must have not liked Amelia; she didn’t keep her.”
We know almost nothing about Amelia’s first mother. I watched Amelia’s face carefully for signs of distress. But when her friend made this remark — a question about Amelia’s worth and desirability — Amelia tipped her beautiful head back and laughed. Her friend’s assumption, Amelia thought, couldn’t be further from the truth. Amelia knows: she’s worthy. She’s loved. She’s been wanted since before she was born.
So I explained these things to Amelia’s friends, and Amelia left the conversation unscathed. She is a child who has been wholly herself for a very long time.
But I guess I do remember a time when Amelia felt shaken, before she had become. It was in Uganda. We took her from her orphanage to live with us in our guest house for the month, until she could legally fly home as ours, to America. She was ten months old, and she had loved her orphanage and its workers. To baby Amelia, Brad and I were kidnappers. So every single night, Amelia raged, screaming for hours until her belly-button popped out, herniated.
During that month, we would take her to Sunday church services — the same church that operated her orphanage. And Amelia would scream during the service, trying to leap out of my arms and back towards some of the orphanage workers she recognized in the congregation. She was a child whose world had been shaken.
So maybe I do remember the moment that Amelia became. It was when we stepped off of Ugandan soil onto the plane that would fly us towards home. Amelia looked wide-eyed at a crowd of strangers on the plane, and then back at us, the only two faces she recognized. Then she dug her little face into my neck and slept until we reached London. She surrendered. She would be ours, and she could find peace in that. It was a noticeable turning point.
I know there is an implication there for my life. I keep screaming for my orphanage — for all the things of this world that have enslaved my affections over the years. I strain for the approval of humans, cry and reach for the security of material goods, rage when God removes me from places of familiar comfort.
When will I realize that I am in the arms of my Father, and just surrender? When will I be the believer I see on the pages of Acts? Will it not happen until I leave the soil of this earth and fly towards heaven? I don’t want to wait that long. He invites me to stop fighting Him and live as His daughter now, if I can just figure out how!
I was never mad at Amelia for fighting us in Uganda. I still called her mine, even when she hadn’t yet yielded to that truth. Maybe God isn’t angry at me either, for the way I feel safer in the walls of my house than in the grip of His love. But God wants me to enjoy the freedom of belonging to Him. He wants me to have the joy of living wildly, generously, and courageously as His. He wants me to find my hands — hands that I cannot move unless I yield to His teaching.
I’ve lived paralyzed for too long.
Jesus please, command me to be healed, take up my mat, and walk in your radical freedom!
I keep thinking of that rich young ruler from Scripture. Jesus told him to sell all he owned and give it to the poor. Jesus knew it was material wealth which made this man feel safe, not God. Financial security was an idol crippling this man from finding his hands, from using them to bless others and belong to God. But the rich young ruler was too scared. And like me, he was so blinded by his idolatry that he couldn’t see what to do next.
And so, the rich young ruler walked away from Christ. He walked away sad.
I wonder, what would have happened if that rich, confused, enslaved young man had just stayed next to Jesus? What if — even though he didn’t yet have the courage to act on all Jesus had called him to — what if he’d asked Jesus to change him? What if he had wrestled with the discomfort and pressed his face hard into his Father’s neck in surrender? What if, like Jacob, he’d refused to let go until he was free?
My hope is that it would have changed everything.
I belong to an amazing Father. He can make me become. I don’t know how to make my life look like all I read on the pages of Scripture. But I will not walk away from Jesus, depressed about all that I am not. I’m pressing into Him, holding on tight and begging him to free me from this spiritual paralysis. It’s the joyous fight of my life. I don’t want to let go of Him, but more importantly, He will not let go of me.
I still don’t know what to do with these limp hands of mine. But my Father is holding me, delighting in each subtle change He works in me, smiling over each freckle as they appear, as if they’re markings on my hand that say “I belong to the Lord“.
I am His. And every day, I’ll become His more.