Hours after my daughter was born, a nurse whisked her out of the room for the pediatrician to examine. My husband followed as I lay in bed worrying.
When he returned, he said the pediatrician had heard a click in our daughter’s hips and that we would need to go to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
I began to spiral. I started to research Hip Dysplasia, reached out to doctors, and anxiously prayed. I was trying to create a different reality, unwilling to be present to the miracle of the birth of my first child.
Two days later, we silently drove the sixty miles to Atlanta. The hospital was across the street from my Alma Mater, but all I could think about was how we were going to solve this.
A sorority sister brought us food and gifts. I barely registered her kindness, focusing on how we would fix our daughter.
Our daughter screamed as they examined her hips with an ultrasound. The kind nurses tried to soothe us as I continued to spiral, wondering what we could do.
Through all the doctors’ appointments and the fitting of the Pavlick harness, I focused on the to-do list I was creating to fix this new problem.
The prognosis, hip dysplasia, is not life-threatening. It isn’t even debilitating. Countless moms — even my mom — had told me how their children’s hips had grown back in the correct shape and that in a few short months, my daughter would be fine.
Every moment had been filled with grace from strangers and friends. Grace that I overlooked because I was thinking about the future. A future when she would be out of the harness and I could bathe her more than once a week, dress her in cute clothes, and not have to hold her in the ridiculous frog pose.
My friend Holly called me and asked if I had gotten newborn pictures. I told her no because I didn’t want to remember my daughter in the harness. With the hard-earned wisdom of having raised her own three babies, she said, “You will miss this time. You need to enjoy it, savor it, and remember it. I am coming over with my camera to take pictures.”
I wanted to live in the future because I wanted to escape the present. The Pavlick harness felt like a sign that I had failed and broken my child inside my body.
My inability to be present stems from my desire for a different reality—one where things fit the often impractical picture of perfection I have in my head. So I create lists and activities I can do to make myself too busy to be present.
The sacredness of trusting God
Psalm 46 invites us to embark on sacramental living by being present. He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;” (Psalm 46:10 New International Version). These words are an invitation to give God our reckless worrying and striving and trust that God is truly God. Being present is a way to practice being still. It is an invitation to experience God’s gifts rather than trusting in our strengths and abilities. And through that sacred choice of trusting God, God begins to teach us to see that he really is God and his gifts are good.
It is easier for me to worry than to trust God. Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26, NIV). His words are meant to comfort, but they leave me wanting to ask Jesus, don’t you know I want more than food and clothing?
All of my worrying and busyness is because I don’t trust God to provide the life I want for myself. My view of what is good is often colored by what I see others have. It’s not just material things I want, but positions in my job, influence in my town, and a life for my children, all colored by what I think is perfect.
In his book, I See You, Terence Lester sees my running for what it is, spiritual poverty. He writes, “This spiritual poverty can cause us to pursue meaning through activity rather than finding it in being created by a God who cares for us” (pg 58).
As I ran around trying to fix my daughter, rather than allowing the Pavlick harness to work, I was trying to fix my feelings of inadequacy at being a mom.
Christ invites us to sit and know that he is God and in doing so enter into the sacred community that trusts God. Like observing the Sabbath, by being present we are trusting that it is God who works and we can rest in that sacred revelation.
Freedom in being present
When I can trust God enough to be present, I’m freed from chains that my busyness creates. Being present gives me the freedom to see God’s love for me and enjoy the gifts he gave me.
My husband and I choose to live inside the city limits of Athens, GA. We heard all of the horror stories of the “failing schools” and the problems with living “close to dangerous people”. But we knew that if we didn’t live in proximity with our neighbors, we would not care about their needs.
Living in proximity is a choice to be present to our neighbors. To sit with them in their lives, not fix them or solve their problems, but to be present to their realities.
Last year, my daughter joined students worldwide to start virtual public pre-k. While the schools in the suburbs met in person, the city schools moved online. Our 2-year-old son has severe asthma, which makes us aware of the dangers of in-person school. However, we were also aware of the impossible nature of a four-year-old paying attention to a teacher on Zoom. Because of those competing realities, we thought about using our privilege to secure a spot for our daughter in a private in-person program.
Both my husband and I work. And while the ministry I work for has been gracious throughout COVID, balancing the new realities of virtual school left us exhausted.
As I began to feel sorry for myself, I checked in on the public school’s Facebook page and read story after story of parents whose jobs were less flexible trying to deal with Zoom school. Single moms told stories of being fired and being unable to afford necessities like food. There were posts about kids sitting in the pouring rain, outside of mobile hotspots, trying to sign in to Zoom. And of students with special needs unable to have their unique needs met. Virtual school may have helped curb the deadly disease ravaging our city, but many of our marginalized families were suffering.
My struggles to schedule a conference call with my team at work paled in comparison to the mom who wondered how she would feed her babies.
The invitation to live in proximity is an invitation to live with our neighbor’s pain and suffering. Catherine McNiel writes in Fearing Bravely: Risking Love For Our Neighbors, Strangers + Enemies, “Following Jesus requires us to release our privilege and stand in solidarity. We become invested in what happens to our community, to society and to the country because injustice and suffering isn’t happening to them but to us” (pg. 58).
Our privilege meant that we could have chosen to live in the suburbs with the “good schools” and the “safe neighborhoods”. But then, I would have lost the opportunity to be present to the realities of our neighbors, allowing me to love more deeply and to be aware of both my privilege and the pain of the world around me.
In the city where I live, I drive past men and women who are homeless asking for money on a street where antebellum mansions sit. The realities of racial injustice look me in the eye every day. To be present to my neighbors means I’m often overwhelmed by the evils of the world.
My response is always to sign up for volunteer activities, give to charities, and work myself into a frenzy to push away the pain and guilt.
The invitation of being present
How can I trust that what God wants is good, when right outside my neighborhood sits a community of men and women living in tents, covered in snow and hungry? I struggle to wait patiently on the Lord because I do not trust him when he says, “My kingdom will come”. I do not trust him that he will “wipe away every tear” (Revelation 7:17).
I struggle to wait on the Lord and trust that he will care for us because I forget that God is working, and what I see with my own eyes is not reality.
In her book, Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren writes, “The future orientation of Christian time reminds us that we are people on the way. It allows us to live in the present as an alternative people, patiently waiting for what is to come, but never giving up on our telos” (pg. 113). (Telos is a Greek word meaning “end, purpose, or goal.”) God invites us to wait patiently and be present, not because he doesn’t see our needs, but because he does. His kingdom is coming. There will be a time when he will wipe every tear from all his childrens’ eyes. And he invites us to wait on that time, with the hope of his kingdom.
Waiting is an invitation to set aside my hurried, frantic actions to create the future I think I want, and be present in the world the Lord has given. I can set aside my phone because my emails can wait. I can set aside work for the Sabbath because the ministry will not come crashing down. I can choose to focus on where I am, thankful for the gifts God has given me at this moment, and wait patiently for the future I cannot see. Trusting that future is better than all I can imagine.
It is a sacred choice to trust God and be present to the place where God has placed us.
One of the photos Holly took was of my mom, and my mom’s face was the picture of contentment. My mom had driven me back and forth to Atlanta, helped me adjust the harness, and helped me pick out special socks that would protect our daughter’s legs and feet from the rough harness. My mom, who had been with us through all of the pain, was aware of her granddaughter’s deformed hips. But she wasn’t worried. She knew that the hip sockets would reform, and she was content to hold her granddaughter.
Being present isn’t an invitation to ignore pain and suffering. But an invitation to see the pain, be present to it, and trust that God’s kingdom is coming. It is when we do that, when it is hardest to see God’s goodness, that we are allowing the sacred act of being present to teach us to know that he is God.