It sounds cliché, but when we shared the news of our planned move to Nepal with Mr. Blandings' parents, there was wailing and gnashing of teeth. You may have asked yourself what that Biblical phrase sounds like when transferred from the abstract text on a page to a real, live sound pouring from the lips of an individual. Do yourself a favor--try not to find out.
Truthfully, Mr. Blandings and I have caused such furor before. We have, after all, simply refused to live the kind of lives that fit into safe, tidy boxes. We were the couple that stomped and fumed over the location of our wedding (we gave in on that one). We were the thoughtless ones who got pregnant six months after said wedding. We were the malcontents who left the Catholic Church. We are the black sheep who decided to homeschool. We are the callous branch of the tree that lives thousands of miles away.
All in all, we cause heartache. And wailing. And yes, gnashing of teeth.
Madame Blandings, mother of my Mr. Blandings, has never quite forgiven us for causing her worry. I can't help but picture her wringing her hands from time to time, fretting over what we might do next. One income. No cable television. Adoption from foster care. International travel without an air conditioned tour bus. No prom for Jo. Dear Lord, help them help themselves!
I'm not sure where Madame Blandings went wrong, but her parenting efforts did not turn out a successful lawyer who spends long winter weekends skiing with his 1.5 children and rail-thin, doctor of wife. Instead, her oldest son drives a beater Volvo every day after kissing his wife good-bye and passing his hand in blessing over a rabble of children whose idea of snow fun is lashing salvaged bits of 2x4 from our discard wood pile out back to their rain boots.
Mothers worry. We know this down in our bones; The price of holding a child to your neck and feeling his breathing gradually fall into step with your own is to have your heart intertwined with his forever. You will sit up on feverish nights and pray sickness away. You will wince at hurts real and perceived. You will grieve the losses and dance in the victories. Forever, you will want the best for this little soul entrusted to your care.
But let's be honest--some children worry us more than others. They touch our softest, deepest heart-places and we link with that need in an almost primal way. Quite often, these are the selfsame children who seem programmed--almost from the moment they take their first breath--to chafe and kick against the very emotions that we ourselves can not help but lay over them like warm blankets on crisp nights. Why, Lord, why?
You may have a child like this in your own heart and home. Unabashedly independent, yet still so tender. Curious, but somehow nervous, as if his own explorations might bring him to a place where the whole applecart of his tenuous little being might be upended. Needy. Passionate. Unique.
I have one of these children myself, so I completely understand what Mr. Blandings' favorite aunt told me about his childhood one afternoon shortly before we were married:
"You have to understand, Mary Grace--the very first step Mr. Blandings ever took was a step away from his mother. She wanted to keep him so close, but all he ever did was go beyond her, getting into all kinds of trouble. I don't think she's ever forgiven him for that."
She hasn't. Her son, my husband, is still the little boy who will not behave. He is still escaping from his play-pen, straying into the unsafe places, and finding ways to vex her ... when all she's trying to do is make him happy.
Because surely, if anyone knows the key to a child's happiness, it's his mother, right? I know that I ascribe to this theory. Try this, you'll like it. Read this book, you'll enjoy it. You will tire of that sport, dear. Wear your coat, you'll get cold. How different is this from telling your son he should move back to the city he called home 20 years ago--the city where you still live? How much more peaceful is it to be the mother of children--even adult children--who are accounted for day and night? Who are financially secure? Who have all they could ever ask for? Whose lives are as easy and comfortable as you could ever ask?
While discussing Nepal, Madame Blandings said that we could not understand the kind of pain we have inflicted on her, and I agree. I don't know what it's like to wonder if my son is working, sleep-addled and exhausted, through yet another overtime shift to pay for Christmas gifts this year. I don't have to wonder if my boys are taking eating well, if they are adored as they ought to be, or if they are just a paycheck to a selfish woman who is too lazy to pull her own weight. I'm not there yet. But yes, I am treasuring all of these things up in my heart. Someday, after all, I will be the mother of boys who are no longer boys, but men.
The parting shot in our painful conversation with the elder Blandings' was this--
Tears in her voice, a tinge of anger seeping through, Madame Blandings addressed me, specifically.
"I hope you never go through this, Mary Grace. I hope you never know what it's like to have your kids scattering all over the earth and not even know whose hands they are in."
And this, I think, is the thing I am treasuring up the most.
Because I'll be honest, my heart leaps with delight at the thought of three, five, seven Blandings clans popping up in the hardest-to-reach areas of the globe. My heart mourns the missed Christmases and the birthdays without cupcakes, yes. But on a larger scale, I admit that I dream of being the kind of woman who God uses to multiply not just through biology, but throughout His Kingdom in a mighty movement of seed-planting.
I know in whose hands I have placed my children. And trust me, they are far better off with Him than they would ever be in the safe boxes which I might construct for them.
My prayer is that I can keep this momentum, that my heart stays fixed on this desire. Even as my children grown, and their leashes get longer and longer, and the stakes for their hearts just creep higher ... Lord, never let me forget that risks taken in Your Name are to be applauded, not run through a cost-benefit analysis. Let me grit my teeth through the feats of faith that You might lead my children through as You use them for Your purposes. Let me be the first one to step up in prayer and practice.
And most of all, Lord Jesus, let me never value safe above saved. Especially not when it comes to my own beloved children.