It’s 10:40 p.m. and the children are asleep. For the first time all day I am aware of the pain in my shoulders and neck, the headache, the fatigue in my eyes as I write. I am a stay-at-home mom. So why do I feel like I just returned from the battlefield?
Any mom can relate to this one. But on top of the daily stresses and conundrums that fill most moms’ days with preschoolers exists another battle for me – the one for my oldest daughter’s heart. My husband and I are her adoptive parents. She spent the first 2 ½ years of her life bouncing between foster parents and a life of neglect with her birth mother. On September 19, 2004 she stopped bouncing and landed in our family with her younger sister. Younger sis had serious health issues, which, once resolved left a relatively normal toddler with the sadness and fear common to all adoptees. Neveah, on the other hand, a precocious and active child on the outside, was mentally and emotionally fractured on the inside.
I spent most nights the first year trying to comfort her during night terrors. Daytimes were a whirlwind of bizarre behaviors that scared and confused me. She sat in laps and kissed or licked people she just met. She called every woman we saw “mommy.” She screamed, cried, bit and kicked much of each day. She would wander off at a park and not look back to see if I was there. She ate her own hair, stole things from my jewelry box, broke toys, hit her sister, was violent with other kids at parks and screamed whenever my husband tried to interact with her. She lied to me about everything, talked nonsense, and told people I hit her and didn’t give her food. And to top it all off, she was all sugar and niceness in public. I almost went crazy that first year.
I wish I could say it’s all better now. In some ways it is, but the battle to teach this little girl to attach to our family and accept my love (which includes limits), still rages every day, no matter what I do. I pray for her healing and for eyes to see the subtle nuances of that over time. I’ve read dozens of parenting books, attended over 100 hours of parenting classes, engaged in specialized counseling with her for 18 months, and practiced therapeutic parenting strategies from the time I wake up until she finally falls asleep. It’s quite a juggle while also raising her biological sister and our youngest, born to us last year! Despite it all, I know that when I give an instruction, I’ll have to think of a consequence immediately for when she ignores or defies my words. Her favorite game is still the “you’re not my mom; my parents are dead” game. And she still screams first and asks questions later. She tries to push away the very thing she needs because it might go away someday. I fight every day to earn her trust and be the mom God’s called me to be. Despite the calling, tired doesn’t come close to describing how I feel when I sit on evenings like tonight, feeling the tension overtake my body.
I am in the middle of a war zone. But then, this is not news to anyone who is walking with Christ. My personal battlefield is a part of what is happening in every country in the world and in every person alive – the battle that has raged for all time. It’s the battle between Satan and the church.
Periodically, our pastor reminds us of other faces this battle takes. One example is a church we support in Kiev, Ukraine. There, each Sunday, hundreds of believers congregate to worship the Lord, despite poverty, uncertain political times, and a history of persecution in the church. In Turkey a few weeks ago, three men were brutally tortured and killed for their faith in Christ because of the predominant Islamic state faith. The Voice of the Martyrs, a monthly magazine about the persecuted church, prints article after article about our sisters and brothers the world over who fight valiantly in battle every day as they face loss of their families, homes, and freedom. How is victory possible in such a dark world? Is it possible to know this victory deep down despite all circumstances telling us otherwise?
For an answer, let’s look to another dark, equally dismal and pressured world – the benthic (lowest) part of the sea. Creatures that live there have no light from the sun. Life is sparse. The pressure at 2 miles below see level is such that we can’t even engineer devices to survive it. But in such a miserable seeming place, many creatures still thrive. Not only can their bodies naturally withstand pressure that would crush us, but they make their own light. Called bioluminescence – which means light of life – it is God’s provision for creatures that would otherwise exist in darkness we can’t imagine.
So what do strange creatures on the sea floor have to do with our life of anxiety and fear miles above them? What does it have to do with me and my constant battle for the heart of my daughter? The same God who can impart the “light of life” to those creatures, can do so in us – despite crushing pressure and darkness on all sides.
God’s words to the Israelites as they stood at the threshold of the Promised Land show His heart to provide us with what we need for the battles that rage around us:
“Hear, O Israel, today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not be terrified or give way to panic before them. For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory” (Deuteronomy 20.1-4).
Does victory mean we will have no pain? No pressure? No darkness? No. But what it does mean is that in the face of grief, injustice, failure, anxiety, pressure, disappointment and loneliness God will help us prevail against “the powers of darkness of this world” (Ephesians 6:12). He’s given us armor to stand and fight (Ephesians 6). His word is “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword” which fuels our faith and pierces the enemies before us (Hebrews 4:12). Jesus, Himself, prays for us to stand strong (John 17). And He said, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life” (John 8:12). Jesus knew the battle would be full of darkness, pressure and pain, and He gave us what we need to thrive – spiritual bioluminescence, THE Light of life.
With His Light of Life, God sustains believers in the midst of political, social, economic and emotional darkness. He provides them with Light to live even in the darkest darkness, just like in nature in the example of deep sea creatures. If He does this around His creation every day, can we not trust the Light God gives us – and the victory that follows – each day in our own pressurized worlds? Will we believe God at His word that He will keep us from being crushed (2 Corinthians 4:8), even in the most painful or wearying circumstances? That is my hope and the reason I keep getting up each day to face my personal darkness. May the Lord strengthen us all as we fight the good fight and finish the race in His heavenly bioluminescence.