God's care for my oldest daughter's heart was healing and strengthening, but the roots of my worry about my children's hearts were still there. Just a week later, my heart turned to worry about the heart of my then youngest daughter. It was her birthday, and she was turning three. The problem was that we were in transition.
We had arrived in the country more than a month before our daughter's birthday. Though that should have been enough time to get settled into our new home, our landlord kept delaying. Staying in guest houses in the city was expensive, so we decided to go visit our old home in the bush for a week, though we stopped first at our soon-to-be home to leave the majority of our luggage. It wasn't until we arrived that I realized that we had nothing we needed for the birthday celebration.
My first problem was the cake. All of the cookware we owned was packed, and teammates had obligingly moved them to storage closer to our new home. We had no cake pans, no cookbooks, no stores to which we could run.
I solved that problem as best I could. Though we ordinarily had no phone signal there, I was able to call a teammate for a recipe. I didn't have all the ingredients I needed, but I substituted whatever I had and used the less than ideal pans available. So, I had a cake for her.
Then, there was the issue of presents. We had carefully planned for the birthday by buying presents before we moved, but in the confusion of the delays, I had not thought to bring the present trunk with us. How did I not think to organize better! I was grief-stricken that I could have messed up something so important.
I had to give something so I dug through the trunks I had with me to figure out what I could give. I owned two nice wooden hairbrushes, so I gave her one. I had a hand-me-down sweater from a sister, still a little too big, with a hole in one sleeve. The hole was unnoticeable when rolled up, but I knew. I gave it to her. I don't remember what else. I do remember that she absolutely loved both of those gifts, and I remember her dancing with excitement over them.
We gave her the other presents after we moved into our new house. That didn't take away the pain in my heart at my sense of failure. For the next year and a half, that birthday haunted me, and I told God how much it hurt me. One day, as I was mixing up muffins, my daughter, then four and a half, came to me and announced that it was her birthday in the game she was playing.
I knew that of all my daughters, this one was the one who most longed for me to take part in her play. I knew muffins would bake well in cake pans, so I asked her if she would like me to make a cake. "Oh yes!" she answered. So, I made the muffin cake and iced it.
Then I thought, she'll need presents. I got wrapping paper and wrapped up chocolates and balloons as presents to share with her siblings. Suddenly, I remembered a fairy tale book I'd felt led to buy, even though it wasn't anyone's birthday. I had done the same thing a few years before with three books. I couldn't understand why I was buying them until three children came to visit us, and they matched the books perfectly. This time, I realized this book was for today, and so I wrapped it too.
We all dressed up and had a birthday party! My daughter was thrilled! When her big sisters asked, "Why does she get a real party for her game, with real presents?" I told them the story I have just shared with you and told them God had just healed something. And God had, a brokenness not so much in my daughter but in me. My daughter didn't carry the burden I did. She had outgrown the sweater, but she still had the brush and loved it. I saw it two days ago. It is quite a bit beaten up but still treasured. She is seven now.
As I reflect on an accusation that our children will grow up to be resentful of all the deprivation, we, their parents, have put them through, I recognize that accusation as a fear which has haunted my own heart for many years. I don't think that this issue is exclusive to missionaries, however. It is an issue many parents dread. When a new baby comes, we fear our older children's reactions. When a new job requires us to move, we worry how the children will respond. If we find ourselves parenting in unhealthy ways we never intended, we despair. We remember the wounds we still carry from our own childhood, and so we worry about the wounds our children will suffer.
Lately, however, this fear has been fading from my heart. The more I grow in knowledge and relationship with God, the more experiences I have of His presence and provision and healing, the more this issue fades. 1 John talks about our hearts condemning us, but says that it is in God's presence that we are able to assure our hearts of the truth and bring our hearts into a place of confidence before God. I am amazed as I see this passage coming true in my own life. The voice of accusation in my own heart grows fainter and fainter as I gain confidence through my relationship with God. So, as I reflect on these stories, I want to share them with others, in hopes that they will awaken hope and inspire reflection upon their own stories.
One of these stories is about God meeting my oldest daughter in an area of inequality. One gift I have given to each of my children is a name song, with words of blessing and affirmation unique to them. Sometime after our family had grown to three daughters, I noticed that our oldest daughter's song was much shorter and less rich than that of her two sisters. I began to pray for God to give me more words for her song, but I couldn't seem to match any words to her tune.
I prayed for over a year regarding this. During that time, our son was born, and his song was also richer and fuller than his oldest sister's song. About three months after our son was born, I remember sitting on my daughters' bed singing their songs. I started with the youngest girl and ended with the oldest. As I was singing, I was praying. "Oh God, please give me more words to the song. I want her to have a richer song before she notices that her song is so short. I don't want her to feel hurt and unloved. Oh Father, she is six. She is going to notice soon. Please hurry."
Suddenly, I heard, "Maybe I want her to ask me for it." At that very moment, I finished my oldest daughter's song, and she started to cry, "My song is so short." I felt like I was dreaming. "Did she really notice tonight?" Then I thought, maybe I didn't actually sing her whole song; after all, I was praying at the same time. I sang her song again. She continued to cry and say it was short.
Still feeling as though I were dreaming, I told her what I had been praying and what I had just heard. I told her God wanted her to come to him for her song. We prayed together for the right words of blessing. Over the next few nights, my daughter would tell me, "These words came to mind, but I don't know whether they are from God." We would pray about them and work with them, shaping them to the tune. In two or three nights, we had two more verses.
With two more verses, I was satisfied with the song; however, my daughter wasn't done. She kept praying. Over the next year, she kept telling me she was still praying for more. She prayed until she had one more verse. Now her song is four verses long, and three of them came through her own experiences with God. I had thought her noticing the inequity in the songs would bring hurt and resentment. Instead, it built up her relationship with me and with God, and my relationship with God was strengthened at the same time.