A dear friend of mine has a daughter with special needs. As a momma, she is strong, she is fierce, she is kind, she is loving. As I've struggled with the challenges that Emma has faced over the past few months, my dear friend has been a rock to me. The challenges, worries and unknowns that she has had to face are more than my momma heart could bare. God has used this experience in her life to be a witness in mine.
I recently asked my friend to write about her experiences in hope that it would be the words another momma needed to hear. Truthfully, her words are exactly what I needed to hear. As is her sweet nature, she asked to remain anonymous. So names have been changed and the picture is just one that brings me joy and reminds me of the love children have for God and all that He has given them. I'm thankful for this friend in my life. I'm thankful, that though miles apart, God has allowed us to grow closer and our children to become friends. Thank you sweet friend for being so willing to share your story.
At 14 months, I showed no interest in walking, and my concerned mother wondered why. Then, through a cracked door, she saw me cruising around my bedroom…the charade was up. Mom and Dad knew I could walk well, even run. And so began my life-long struggle with perfectionism, always wanting to control myself and my circumstances, always wanting to be and to have everything perfect. However, God did not intend for us to be in control, nor did He intend for us to find perfection outside of Him. Thus He has been gently refining me, especially in recent years through parenting a special needs daughter.
Through the medical challenges of our daughter, Grace, God keeps reminding me that I can’t (even imperfectly) control the big things. I was not prepared for a premature baby. I could not fix her multiple heart defects or her bilateral club feet. Later, when we learned Grace also had low muscle tone and a lazy eye, I could not solve those problems either. I had to commit Grace to the Lord and entrust her to medical professionals. She had her first surgery at five days old. Since then, she’s undergone four surgeries and seen at least nine different medical specialists. Thankfully, God has been with me through it all, reminding me that He is in control of the big things. He has given me incredible peace through praying Psalm 94:18-19: “When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.”
God also has been teaching me that no matter how perfectly I try, I cannot control the little things either. For example, I had no control over my four month old crying at even the mention of the word “car” and screaming even louder the entire time she was in her car seat. (Who knew a four month old could even recognize a word like that?) It was a long two weeks, but it was a season; in God’s timing (not mine), Grace adjusted again to car trips.
Similarly, I could try to execute perfectly all the exercises Grace’s therapists and doctors proscribed each week. However, nothing I did nor that they suggested could convince Grace that tummy time was anything short of pure torture. Consequently, she did not roll over until eight months of age, and she was nearly two before she was strong enough to crawl. My perfectionist attempts to do everything by the book could not make her roll over or crawl any sooner.
Furthermore, God continually had to remind me that my self-worth did not come from meeting the developmental milestones or living up to everyone’s expectations. I had to learn that people asked questions and provided well-meaning advice because they cared not because they questioned my parenting. Thus, a simple “thank you for the idea” was often sufficient. I did not need to try every suggestion (even those coming from the medical professionals), nor did I need to explain and justify every method I had used so far to help Grace crawl. God was in control. He had a special plan for Grace. She would crawl and walk in His timing, not mine, and the sooner I accepted that, the better.
God has also been showing me that even if I could do everything perfectly, that would not create a perfect Garden of Eden life for me or my family. This world is fallen, and we will – no matter what – experience some of the consequence of sin this side of eternity. Look at the perfectly-lived life of Jesus Christ: Is there anything about his life that can be described as a perfect, blissful Garden of Eden existence? He was born in a stable with no extended family visiting (Luke 2:1-7). He was sent fleeing for his life to Egypt as a small child (Matthew 2:13-18). He was misunderstood by his brothers (John 7:1-6). The religious leaders viewed him as possessed by Satan (Matthew 12:24). Even his 12 disciples, His best friends on earth, doubted Him and were confused often (Matthew 8:27, John 14:8-9).
God has also been showing me that neither control nor perfectionism can guarantee a perfect outcome for Grace either. As much as I want her to guarantee she will follow God and make wise choices, I cannot make that happen. Just look at Christ. He is God. He was perfect. He perfectly mentored and “parented” the 12 disciples. However, because God has given man free will, Judas, one of the disciples, still chose to betray Christ to the Pharisees. I can and will do everything within my ability to share my faith with Grace, but ultimately, I must entrust her to God through prayer. I must remember that He loves her even more than I do. God wants what is best for her, and through all of the medical challenges she faces, He is working in her life, writing her testimony and story, just as much as He is writing mine. I need to let God be as creative with her life as He has been with mine.
God is showing me that He sometimes intentionally chooses not to give me the competence to succeed, just as He chose to not give Grace the competence to succeed at crawling until she was two. God wants me to remember that competence comes from Him, not me (2 Corinthians 3:5), and that His grace is often best displayed when life does not meet my perfect expectations. Thus, I am gradually learning to rest in the fact that His grace is sufficient for my failures and that His power is often more perfectly displayed in my weakness than in my strengths (2 Corinthians 12:9).
One day at a time, I am learning to let go of control and perfectionism and to let God. In return, He is keeping me in perfect peace as I trust in Him (Isaiah 26:3). He is allowing me to sing for joy each day, not matter what the day holds, because I am satisfied fully in His unfailing love. He is reminding me that He has called me to live a faithful life, not a perfect life. He has entrusted me with Grace and all He expects of me is that I am faithful to Him in that role (1 Corinthians 4:2). God knows that I am but dust and that I cannot do anything perfectly (Psalm 103:14). Now I just need to daily set aside my unrealistic, perfectionistic expectations of myself.