Reid and I were out walking along the edge of the sea, on the uneven ground of the headland where walkers over the years have worn a natural path. It was hot but the walk was not particularly strenuous so when I noticed the stitch in my chest I decided I was simply unfit, more reason to press on.
It was there again, the stitch like pain, when I woke in the morning and again when Sam went for blood tests later that day. The sharp edge of the needle entered my chest close to where my heart is. I saw the needle make a loop to form a neat little stitch like my mum showed me once, when first I had shown interest in embroidery.
The stitch pulled tight and I felt a gentle ripple flutter inside me as the long loose strand cascaded down, causing butterflies in my tummy as well. ‘It is a stitch!’ I thought to myself but this has nothing to do with fitness. This tight thread is the pull that every mother feels when something is up with her children. It isn’t left to hang there, the thread. It has purpose. Another tug and it is wound tightly around our navel.
Is this is the female journey, the strain of motherhood, the agony that none of us can escape? This thin invisible cord, entwining our hearts that are overloaded with emotions, throbbing with dreams and magnificent plans for their futures; it weaves around our navel, our belly, our core. We feel the sting of the tug, the weight of the agony of hope. It fills the space where they were once physically connected; the space they grew in and though many years have past since their birth; its still here that we carry them.
I hear the voice of the girl at the gym. She is young, beautiful, and patient. “Navel to spine,” she instructs, “make it work for you. Navel to spine.”
Its not just the physical cut of three caesareans that makes the sit-ups difficult. It’s not just the scar tissue the doctors found and cut away each time they performed another delivery, warning me that a fourth child wasn’t an option. Its not the numbness of the surrounding area or the outer layers of fat nor the way they roll together on full exertion that prevents me from gaining a flat stomach. The truth is I sense my core. I don’t need to find it by tilting my spin with a gentle rock. My core is tight but not in the Pilates sense of the word. My core is tight because the cord of motherhood is looped around it. Heart to navel not navel to spine.
It’s a gift to be a mother, to care as much as we do. But its hard to not let the weight of their stuff overwhelm us, whether its sickness, or relationships, or their grades at school.
The surgeon who’s removing the thyroid explained that one of the risks in the procedure to remove it, is the chance that they’ll damage her calcium levels. He explained that calcium is stored in our bodies in little grains like rice; four grains in fact and they attach themselves to the thyroid much like shells attach themselves to a rock, or barnacles do to the bottom of a boat. He said that they would find them and try to gently push them out of the way but sometimes in the process they are completely destroyed and the patient needs calcium for the rest of their life.
It reminds me of the path of mothering. All the times we try to coax our children towards independence, to stand alone, to rely less on us and fend for themselves. It’s a gradual process and throughout the years sometimes there is a moment of returning. They are attached to us like that calcium attaches to the thyroid. They cling to our nurture enjoying the ride. They swing from that invisible cord that links our heart and our navel. They glide down like children with rubber tubes on a water slide weighing us down in the pit of our bellies every time they land. They enjoy the stability we provide, the taut thread is immovable. They don’t think about us. They don’t see if it hurts us, the pulling of the thread how it stretches us inside.
What they do know is that we are the constant. The place of safe returning. I pray my children will continue to come back; that they will always find comfort and feel safe in my arms. I cannot promise to be perfect. Like the rock where the shells lodge I am rough from the tides and the swells of the sea. I want them to move on, to settle somewhere else but in the process I hope I don’t damage them.
For my daughters I want them to know, first hand, that invisible tug that reaches from their hearts to their navels, that they will have children of their own. There is so much that I want for my daughters and son. Sometimes the weight rises from the pit of me where hope is stored. The dreams for them to live fully and cultivate the land.
“These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, promised you.”
So much has been stolen but God promises to return what the locust devoured.
“Be glad, O people of Zion, rejoice in the LORD your God, for he has given you the autumn rains in righteousness. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before. The threshing floors will be filled with grain; the vats will overflow with new wine and oil. “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm — my great army that I sent among you. You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the LORD your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will my people be shamed. Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the LORD your God, and that there is no other; never again will my people be shamed.
The heart though powerful and strong can become unreliable with emotion. Like Mary we can ponder what we observe about our children, what others say, what gifts they have.
Luke 2: 16-19 “So they went with haste and [by searching] found Mary and Joseph, and the Baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known what had been told them concerning this Child, And all who heard it were astounded and marveled at what the shepherds told them. But Mary was keeping within herself all these things (sayings), weighing and pondering them in her heart.”
Like Proverbs 22:6 suggests we can lead them in the path they should go. Yet when the strain on the thread is more than we can bear, its our thoughts we must take captive bringing them into obedience with Christ. Reminding ourselves that we are only mothers on borrowed time. It is for His good pleasure they were created and it is in His hands they ultimately belong.
Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
The cord should never be so tight that we are crippled in pain. It is then that He wants to hold us. To let them go and trust Him completely. The path of pilgrimage is often unsafe and not always predictable. Like the path on the headland the way has been worn by those who have gone before us but over the years the grasses and trees have grown back in places. Its up to us to forge a new path. To take risks, to be brave.
For Sam there are risks with the surgery. Risks for the calcium levels, risks for the larynx, risks of infection. These risks pull on my heart now, they pull on my core but our lives are in His hands. He gives us grace for the journey.
Did we think that by following Christ we had chosen a safe path? A path of abundance and prosperity. Yes, sometimes it is so but we must remember that the greatest thing is to be in the will of God. To know his voice, to feel his hands gently supporting us, loosing the strain of the load. ‘The safest place to be is in the will of God,’ but this isn’t safety as we know it, hardships come and He gives us grace to endure.