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.
Romance stories often have the other suitor, who vies with the true love for the heart of the woman. In God's wooing of me, the other suitor has always been a distorted view of God. One suitor looks at me, and His eyes are full of love. The other looks at what I do, and his eyes are full of anger, and I am afraid of him. Yet the love in the eyes of the One is slowly gaining my trust and my love, and overcoming my fear of the other.
Often, when I would pray, I would sense a stern and angry face looking down at me. No matter how hard I would try to remind myself of God's love and forgiveness, this image would glare down at me. I thought God was angry with me. He saw my deeds, and He saw that my bad deeds outweighed my good deeds. He wanted to punish me, so I cowered before Him. When I went to pray, I felt as though I were suffocating.
Again, it wasn't that I hadn't heard the truth of God's love. I knew about it and tried to believe it. I would quote Scripture to myself and pray it aloud, but doubt gnawed away at me. I remember once when I was praying, I cried, "I hate you, God, but I know it's not You I hate. I know it's this image I can't stop seeing. I know You are love, but I can't stop feeling that you are angry with me, and I hate you. Please help me to see You and to love You." I was desperate. I knew that God is love, and love gives birth to love, not hate. Therefore, when I feel hate, something must be wrong with my perspective.
That's hard to confess. I've spent a ridiculous amount of time staring at the screen, remembering how awful that tangle was. I was tired of fighting my heart to make it behave properly. I kept remembering all God's promises regarding a renewed heart. The prayer "unite my heart to fear your name" resonated deeply with me. I didn't want to keep fighting my own heart. I praise God for His love. He is truly greater than our feelings. He doesn't flinch away from honesty but meets it with love and healing and freedom.
Sometime after that, I was in my kitchen washing dishes. Our daughter, Hannah Gail, had dropped her china saucer, and it had broken. My husband had scoured the floor to find the pieces and then had painstakingly puzzled them back together. My heart ached to know whether a broken heart could be healed. Suddenly, while I worked on dishes, I saw very clearly an image of a Father bending over His work, fitting the broken pieces together. I knew that Father was the true suitor.
I remember something that God said to me between the time I told Him I didn't love Him and the time I told Him I hated Him. It was shortly before we moved to Nairobi. I was sitting under the girls' queen-sized loft bed, their only play area. It was a mess, as always, and I was struggling with anger at always having to clean it up. I was struggling with anger and guilt at being angry. I was struggling with the feeling that I didn't love them. I wanted to be a loving, patient Mom, but I felt that I was failing. I felt that I was supposed to make them behave properly, and I was failing. I wasn't disciplining them properly. I wasn't loving them properly.
All I could see was what they were doing and what they were failing to do. I felt all God could see was what I was doing, and what I was failing to do. While I was under the loft, I heard God reprimand me gently but firmly, "My name is I Am, not I do." This has taken a long time for me to understand. The distorted god, whose name is I do, looks at our deeds, and he is angry, because he always wants more. Our God, whose name is I Am, looks at us, and He gazes in love because He sees who we are, and He sees we are very good.