For eight months, Grace loved to take a bath. Then she turned three. Whoever named the “terrible two s” very obviously had not done three yet. Three is when all my girls learn to say “no.”
I don’t exactly remember when it started. One day, she just wouldn’t get in the bathtub. So I didn’t make her. Judge me if you want; she got in bed dirty that night. The fight just wasn’t worth interrupting everyone else’s bed time. But on the second night when she refused to bathe, I couldn’t just ignore her again. She really needed that bath. So we began the struggle.
Every night it is the same. It starts with me asking her to come and get in the bathtub, to which she quietly replies, “I don’t want.” I, in my kindest, sweetest Mommy voice explain to her that she is three years old. That she does not always know what is best for her and she does not always get what she wants. I tell her that this is about her health and well-being; everyone has to take a bath! She just looks at me, not getting it.
I try a different approach. I say excitedly, “Come on Gracie! Let’s go play in the bathtub!” And she blinks her eyes very fast, big crocodile tears beginning to run down her cheeks. One more plea for sympathy. When she sees that the tears are not getting her anywhere, she begins to shriek, “No bath, no bath, NO BATH!” as if the water may indeed melt her.
I say it more sternly this time. “Grace. Bath time.” I lift her to her feet and half drag her down the hall to the bathroom. Her sorrow turns to anger. She makes her best “I don’t like you mom” face, folds her arms and plops to her bottom. “I DON’T WANT,” she shouts.
So I pick her up. She kicks and screams and eventually I get her into the bathtub. She flails around in there for a bit, letting me know with her wails that I am ruining her life and she may never be happy again.
And then a funny thing happens. As she splashes water on herself she remembers. She likes the bath. The bath is fun. Not to mention a really great way to get clean. In fact most of the time, she doesn’t want to get out of the bath. You see, the bath time struggle is not at all about the bath. It is about obedience. She is three years old and she simply does not want to obey. She thinks it should be her decision whether or not she gets in the bathtub. She is three years old and she is trying to figure out just how much control she has in her little life (at this point, not much).
Maybe I am a really bad mother for not disciplining her more severely for her disobedience, but the reality is, little disobedient Grace reminds me so much of me.
A year ago, Grace was not my daughter. She was a two and a half year old little girl who could not walk, speak or use her hands. She lived with her very old great grandmother who had a very hard time taking care of herself, let alone a very special needs baby. Her grandmother, hunched over and with little Grace strapped on her back would walk seven miles to my house and beg me to please take her burden, her child. And I would say, “No.” It happened at least five times. I didn’t know this woman and I didn’t know anything about her or her child, but I knew this: I was NOT having any more children. I was maxed out. This was it. There was nothing I could do for a child that would never walk or talk. Only an insane person would take a special needs child as their twelfth daughter. I would give Grandma a bag of food and send her on her way. But sometimes, after I sent them away, I couldn’t get that little smile out of my head. Sometimes, that little smile would wake me up in the middle of the night. I would like to tell you that I prayed fervently about whether or not to take her. But I didn’t. I just told God straight, “I don’t want.” I told myself that eleven was enough, NO MORE KIDS.
Weeks passed and I forgot about the little lame girl and her great grandmother. About a month later I couldn’t sleep. I knew God was trying to tell me something, but I couldn’t figure out what it might be. I prayed and I listened. And he spoke as plain as day, “Your next daughter’s name is Sarah.” OK, funny God. I already have a daughter named Sarah. I went back to sleep. The next evening I was chopping carrots for beef stew and there it was again, “Your next daughter’s name is Sarah.” I prayed harder, “God, Sarah already lives here. I’m not sure I can hear you. God really, I don’t want another daughter. I think that eleven is enough, don’t you?” I continued my chopping. As I tucked the girls in bed that night, the extra bed in their room really bothered me. Bunk beds come in sets of two. We had to have six sets of beds to fit all eleven of my children, and with it came that extra top bunk. I had never paid it any attention, until now. After they fell asleep I went and sat in the bed and prayed. And God said it again, “Sarah, Sarah, Sarah.” I began to cry. “Lord, where is she? Where is Sarah? How can she be my daughter if I don’t know where to find her?” For the next several days, I dreamt of Sarah. I prayed for Sarah. I longed for Sarah. I missed Sarah.
A few days later, Grandma showed up at the gate again with her not-so-little baby tied to her back. “Please,” she begged, “God keeps telling me to come here for help.” It finally clicked. “What is her name?” I asked. “Sarah.” The little girl beamed, looked up at me, and said in a squeaky little voice, “Mommy”. Grandma looked as if she had seen a ghost. “She has never spoken,” she said, astonished. We both just turned our eyes heavenward. Ok, God, you win.
I asked the grandmother to please make herself at home while I called my children to have a “family meeting”. We always talk and pray together before making a big change in our home. I always ask the kids for their opinion, but of course my sweet children never say no! They were so excited to have a new little sister, their only concern was that they would now have two sisters named Sarah, and Sarah was feeling a little uncertain about sharing her name. I promised that we would give her a new name once we thought of one that fit.
As I carried my new little girl into the bedroom and put her in a new dress, fear overwhelmed me. What was I going to do? What does one do with a child that may never walk? How would I keep a semblance of normal life for my other girls? Would I have time to continue loving them enough while caring for a special needs little girl? Oh, what were people going to say? God just whispered that His grace would be enough, that His grace was sufficient, that His grace was going to allow me to raise this little girl, even after I had turned her away from my gate five times. Grace.
I took her to several doctors, all of whom said she had cerebral palsy, resulting from a lack of oxygen at birth. All agreed that while she may begin speaking (she had continued to utter only one word, “Mommy”) she would never walk. The fear still overwhelmed me. Some days I felt such sorrow for her poor little body, other days I felt anger. I wondered what life would look like from now on. And God continued to remind me that His grace would sustain me. And only by His grace, a month later my Grace began to walk. Within two months she was speaking, using her left hand a walking several meters without assistance. Today she runs (still a little awkwardly), has full use of her left hand and minimal use of her right, and speaks in full sentences in that same squeaky little voice.
I shudder to think what I could have missed in my disobedience. I am so thankful that God in His grace does not allow me to win. Because usually, the fight is not really about what He is asking me to do. It is not about the bathtub. It is about me, trying to figure out just how much control I have over my little life (at this point, not much). I would like to tell you that now I always do exactly what the Lord asks of me. I would like to tell you that I always seek Him first when a difficult situation presents itself. But sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I still think it should me my decision what I do with my life. He asks, and reasons, and encourages. He gently explains that I do not know what is best for me and that I do not always get what I want. And I just look at Him, not getting it. I whine and sob and shriek, just like a tired, angry three year old.
And so He picks me up, exhausted from struggling, and plops me in the center of His will for my life. And then a funny thing happens. As I kick and scream and struggle, I remember. I like being in the center of God’s will for my life. God’s plan is usually pretty great. It is a whole lot better than mine anyway. I am so glad that He does not allow me to win.
If you were to walk into my house at bath time, you may think I was a pretty horrible mother, letting my child kick and scream and wail on the floor like that. But I think sometimes we have to throw a fit, to been horribly resistant, to appreciate how awesome it is when we finally obey. I am hoping that one day soon, Grace will begin remembering how much she likes the bath before she begins crying, maybe even the first time I say that it is bath time. I am also praying that one day soon, I will begin remembering how much I love and desire God’s plan for my life before I begin questioning, maybe even the first time He asks something of me.