I was married seven years before I decided I wanted kids. Don’t mistake me. I was not married seven years before I got pregnant by accident, or before we could financially support a child. I mean I was married seven years before God, one day, gave me a talking to, and utterly changed my plans.
One October day in 2012, I was simultaneously poring over my career options and getting flustered, as I did so often in those days. I was two months from finishing my master’s degree, after which I planned to get a doctorate and teach college…but I wasn’t happy. I hated graduate school, and the thought of four to eight more years of it constricted my heart like a vise grip.
“Okay, Lord,”I prayed, sitting at my desk, I need your help. Before me sat my list of possible graduate schools, and a blank notebook. These items represented the choice that had dogged me for months: grad school, or writing? Farther back in my mind was a third option, but I had never really been able to voice it. Deadlines were approaching. If was going to get my doctorate, I had to apply soon.
“Lord,”I muttered through clenched teeth, “This indecision has gone on long enough, and I can’t take it anymore. I’m asking you to please, make clear, once and for all, what you want me to do.”
Even as I spoke the words, I felt the answer thudding in my chest.
You know what to do, God said.
And as the tears started, I realized I had known for months.
“God!”I cried out. “This has been so excruciating! Why has it taken so long to decide?”
Fear, came the instant answer. You fear that Buc will die, or abandon you someday. You fear that one day you will be alone again, without support, without resources, and without a clear path.
“Oh, Lord!” I sobbed. “You know me so well. You know that my constant motion for the past few years had to do with protecting myself in case of future abandonment—it wasn’t just about being organized and ‘highly effective.’ You know that I’ve overextended myself at work and church to keep from feeling what was really underneath my skin. You know I struggled over the PhD because it led to a safe and predictable place.”
I stopped talking aloud then, and just sat, letting it all sink in. I was finally admitting to myself: my desire for the PhD was all for fear. It was never what I wanted.
I slipped to my knees and bowed at my desk. With tears still trickling down my face, I acknowledged and embraced my fear, and I prayed: “God, you’ve gotten me this far. It’s time to let you lead, fully. I can’t ignore my desires anymore. And it doesn’t make sense to try to keep forcing a shoe that doesn’t fit. I don’t want a PhD. Teaching I could take or leave. But writing? I can’t leave it anymore. It’s got to come out.
I slumped on the floor for several minutes more, as if held there by God’s hand, because I knew there was more to this prayer. There was something else God wanted to bring out of me, another fear he wanted to replace with his truth. And I knew I was finally about to articulate it.
After composing myself, I called Buc at work and urged him to come home early, saying, “We need to talk about our future.”
When he arrived home, I said, “Let’s drive to the state park and talk while we walk.”
I didn’t have a speech prepared, but when we started our nature walk, words started tumbling out of my mouth. I admitted to Buc that I was not going to find a PhD that would suit me, because a PhD—and the isolation that must come with it—was not the life I wanted.
Voice quavering, I told him, “Honey, I keep looking at my life in the last few years—how I’ve been running around, keeping so busy, trying so hard—and I just don’t know what I’m striving for anymore. I’ve lost sight of what I’m doing. I mean,” I added, voice climbing to hysteria, “I just don’t know who I’m trying to please anymore. Why am I trying so hard?”
Scenes of recent years flashed in my mind. My nose-to-the-grindstone approach, my endless lists of to-dos. My shuffling from here to there. My busyness. My endless pursuit of the next rung in my career ladder, my continual motion. The mere thought of it so exhausted me that I had to stop and catch my breath. Again, these realizations had hit me hard. But the one that next burst from my mouth almost knocked me over.
“I want to have kids!” I blurted.
Like a crashing wave this realization came. In all the years we’d been married, I had never been able to say that I wanted kids. The closest I’d ever come was to speak of it as a distant hypothetical.
“Is it possible,” I marveled aloud to Buc, “that all I’ve ever really wanted was to get back to having a family? To have kids? Is it possible that the one thing I’ve been so scared to embrace all these years is the one thing I’ve really just wanted to get back to?”
I was flabbergasted by the thought. As I talked about our future—a new future—I felt a weight lifting. Was it possible I was really letting go? Just letting the debris of my broken past settle, and finally settling myself? The thought was comforting, even as it brought new fear. To follow this impulse was to completely shift gears, to suddenly grind to a halt plans we’d been setting in motion for years.
I cringed as I looked up at Buc. Would he approve of this change of plans?
“Honey? What do you think?” I shifted my eyes down, as if to deflect a coming glare. “What would you think if I decided to stay home and write, and maybe have some kids?”
His eyes were soft. He clasped my hand. “Honey, I think that sounds nice. I like the idea.” And that was all.
Whoosh. My breath escaped in one glorious release.
“I just have one question,” Buc said, swinging my arm as we trounced through the brush. “Why now? Why after all these years are you finally ready to have kids?”
I thought for a moment before answering, letting the happiness of the moment sink in. Then I realized: happiness was the answer.
“I think I finally understand something.” I let my free arm drift across the tree leaves, feeling like a little girl again. “The best parents—I mean, the people who should be having kids—have them because they are already happy. They have them not to make themselves happy, but to share their happiness. To invite someone else into their special, intimate joy. They don’t ask their kids to bring their lives meaning, they ask to be able to share meaning with their kids.”
“Well said,” Buc beamed at me. “I think I’ve got a wise wife.”
“Not that wise,” I smiled back. “I’m just learning to take God’s lead.”
And that, I thought to myself, is something worth passing on to my kids!
Epilogue: A year and a half has passed since that day in the woods, and I thank God every day that he redirected my plans and gave me my (almost) four-month-old blessing, Sam Michael. Happy Mothers Day, Moms!
*This post was adapted from a chapter in my memoir manuscript.