Jacob was two years old when my childhood best friend had a baby girl. I loved sweet Muffin, but every time I saw that beautiful baby I was reminded of what Jacob could have been. Around this time, Jacob was in intense physical, occupational, and speech therapy. We were still not sure what the future would hold for him in daily life. I would watch Jacob working so hard to be able to hold his head up and I would say to myself, “Surely he will be able to sit up at 1,” or, “He is going to be able to walk by age 3.”
One day after holding Muffin, I went home and declared to my hubby that Jacob would be walking by the time she walked. Please do not misunderstand me here….goals can be an excellent way to motivate people, but for my hurting young mommy heart, “goals” were poison. I longed for my child to not have to struggle for every. single. milestone. I wanted Jacob to be healthy instead of chronically sick, to learn easily, and, let’s face it, I wanted Jacob to be “normal.”
I began to avoid my friend and her daughter. I would visit but only stay for a few minutes, and I stopped taking Jacob at all. I didn’t want to face the possibility of seeing her reach a milestone he might never achieve. Slowly I allowed the differences between Jacob and Muffin to affect my heart, and slowly I was separating myself from Jesus. I did not realize at the time that I could not love Jacob, my friend’s daughter, or my friend well because I had allowed bitterness to take root.
Because I am so good at hiding the real me, other people in my life never suspected how mournful and hurting I was those first few years. They were hard, and they hurt even more once I realized Jacob was going to be developmentally left behind by his peers. One day after visiting with my friend, my heart was so burdened and overwhelmed I had to tell someone what I was actually feeling. I sat down on the couch at my mother-in-law’s house and shared everything. I cried as I told her how I loved Muffin but the pain was too great when I looked at her and I didn’t think I could bear it anymore. I explained Jacob was working so hard and it is just unfair. Jacob’s grandmother lovingly listened to me share and then she spoke life giving words of truth into my heart. She said that she knew life did not seem fair right now, and that she is so sad that I have had to face grief at such a young age. She implored me to not let my experiences keep me from loving others. She reminded me how dear the friendship was to me and how that godly friend had loved me fiercely for years. I was reminded of the night Jacob was born and the tears that my friend shed for my broken heart, and how when I brought Jacob home from the hospital she was with me so much that his first coo was to her. Lastly, she reminded me how precious Jacob was, and that while he may not ever be able to crawl, walk, or talk, he was fearfully and wonderfully made, just as God intended.
How easy would it have been for Jacob’s grandmother to listen to me complaining and then confirm all my bitter feelings? She could have easily told me that I just shouldn’t see Muffin since her abilities made me feel sad. She could have “helped” me run from Jesus, and kept me from bowing my knee to his plan for our family. Instead she loved me well by listening to me, gently pointing out my sin, and helping me to confess it and allow the Holy Spirit to turn my heart back toward Christ, the Only One who can truly identify and understand my pain—the Only One who one day will make all things so completely new. This one encounter has had a tremendous impact on how I live my life and seek to love others. After we talked, I was able to see Muffin and love her wholeheartedly. I was able to reconnect with my childhood friend on a deeper level, and she is more like a sister now. I was also freed to love my nieces and nephews for who they are, and not who they are compared to Jacob.
God also began using this conversation to change the way I love Jacob. I no longer set unrealistic goals for him. Instead, I learned to see Jacob for who God created him to be, and not look for what the world values in a person. I began to see the unique qualities God gave my special fellow. No, he may not ever be able to walk independently, but he can make a room light up with his smile. And while Jacob will never be able to read a Shakespeare play, his ability to show others how Christ loves is a much needed gift time and time again in this world filled with darkness.
I pray that one day God puts me in the position to be used as my mother-in-law was used in my life. The words I say could impact a hurting young mom for life. I want them to be words that encourage her to run toward Jesus, and not away from him.