By Karen Swank
I am a mom. This has been one of the most important essential truths about me since just before 4 a.m. on the last day in January of 1985, when my daughter was born. Lying on the delivery table, I held her, studying her face and her fingers. I was eighteen and until this moment she had been an idea and a dream…a reason to take care of the body that carried her and to prepare a room at home. I held Julia and she became Real to me inside the space of a single breath. The fierceness of the love that washed over me was frightening. In our perfectly safe hospital room, I realized I would instantly and gladly give my life in exchange to protect this life that I held in my arms.
I was changed in that moment, never to be the same again. I was, I am, and I will always be a mom. It’s not something I do…it’s who I am. It’s a reason, a joy and a purpose…a filter through which all else passes.
My son was born almost five years later, in another perfectly safe hospital room. Caleb wrapped his tiny, long and elegant fingers around my pinky and the enormity of the emotion in me seemed almost more than I could survive. I would spend long hours just holding him, watching him and wondering what I needed to give him, to do for him. After all, I had ideas about what my daughter needed, but I had never been a boy.
I was changed once more. With my daughter, I had been a confident parent. I felt strong and capable. My son’s arrival took me to a place of not being sure what to do. I had finished college while Julia was a baby, and was working as a substitute teacher. She had always gone to a babysitter, and that had always worked for us. Caleb came along and suddenly I was desperate to be home. The call to be at home full-time was so loud, so clear that I rearranged our lives for it.
We moved into town and I started my own daycare. Still not sure what a good boy’s mom looked like, I only knew that my son needed both quality and quantity, when it came to measuring my time. The truth: being Caleb’s mom has always held for me an element of fear, with danger lurking everywhere. Fear that some outside force could steal him away… fear that my willingness to give my life for his will not be enough to secure his well-being… fear that he might choose a life far away from my love.
In the years since my kids were born, under much less safe circumstances, I have been given the gift of other children, not of my body. Born into my life, not tiny and helpless but nearly full-grown and carrying their own onerous baggage, they have utterly destroyed my old notion that the sacrificial love that is true parenthood could only grow from a biological event. It is Father God, and not mother nature, who birthed Julia, Caleb and all the others into my heart.
I watch the world around me and see too many parents who have been in the delivery room, but seem never to have experienced this beautiful, self-shattering, world-reordering birth… the kind that says not only I would die for you but also I would live for you. Lest any think this is my brag, let me state here clearly: this is not about me being a wonderful mom. Perhaps my greatest pain in the past few years has been my growing clarity that I am not a very good mom at all, in many ways.
Still, because His grace and mercy endure forever, I am a mom. Being a mom has taught me the heights and the depths of unconditional love…the kind of love that says I would die for you, and I will live for you. Nothing you can do, nothing you can say, nowhere you can go will ever change that. This is the level of passion the Lord has for us. It is the substance of what He longs to pour out through us, in whom He dwells, to the desperate world in which we walk.
I would die for you. Martyrs across time have bravely crossed that line, and they inspire us to Deeper Love. Those who make that choice demonstrate their understanding that here and now are but fleeting shadows, and eternity is no place to fear for those carried by Christ. Really knowing Him and really understanding that context make this choice simple, if not easy.
I will live for you. This is the higher standard of measure for our passion. Dying for Christ, I can do in a moment. Living for Him goes on and on. It costs, over and over. Living for Christ may be simple, but it is not cheap.
I would die for you, and I will live for you. Look at what Jesus did for us. We say Christ died for us and this is true, but it’s easy to lose sight of the sacrifice in the equal truth that He lived for us. He Was, even before earth. Looking across humanity’s little piece of eternity we call time, He saw the beginning and the end and knew we could not be with Him outside of time unless He came to us to live as a man. Yes, He died…but first He lived among us. He lived our pain beside us. In the cross, there is Inexplicable Beauty in His willingness to ransom us with the instant of His death…but there is also indescribable horror if we really face those last hours that He lived as a man. Would I willingly walk through that horror – live it – for another? To take a bullet to the head for another is a horrendous enough prospect…how much worse to take a beating that would leave me unrecognizable as a person…to be humiliated by enemies while the ones for whom I suffer look on, silent?
I would die for you, and I will live for you. The gift of my kids all of them gives me some small glimpse of what was in Christ’s heart in that instant when Peter denied him the third time, the rooster crowed, and the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter(Luke 22:61). I believe with everything in me that the look, unlike Peter’s tears that would follow, contained no bitterness. Surely the same fierceness and enormity of what I felt as I held my newborn babies, and when the others stepped forever across the threshold of my heart, flowed strong through Christ as His eyes met Peter’s. He was fully God and fully man I wonder if the fully man part of him felt any fear that the gift of His next hours would not be accepted…that Peter might choose a life far away from His love?
I would die for you, and I will live for you. This is the love that the Greeks called agape. It measures no cost too great, and though it rejoices in reciprocation, it requires nothing in return. Accepted or refused, still it stands, willing.
I am a mom, and this truth is the primary way the Lord has taught me agape. He died for me, and He lived for me. In so doing, He made it possible for me to choose the same. I accept the gift…I choose a life very near His love… and He multiplies the gift exponentially as He pours it out through me. Therein lies a priceless jewel in the crown that is the mystery of the Gospel.
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Karen is from Aledo, IL. She went to Monmouth College and studied Latin and English. She is a biological mom of two children and surrogate mom/friend/advocate for a whole host of children. She would like to meet every wounded soul that I’ve she’s ever known… as a child, before the “damage was done” so she could tell them how much they are loved.