“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you.” Isaiah 49:15
There’s this picture of my mother’s parents, Daba and Papa, on my dresser in my bedroom. Daba and Papa lived in Ohio and my parents would drive us to see them once or twice a year, all the way from South Carolina. Sometimes we’d all travel together to exotic places, full of adventure, like Disney World, NYC, or the Grand Canyon. Since we saw them so rarely, I think everyone felt they had to make the most of these trips. They showed this little girl from rural South Carolina the world. Those memories are forever burned into my brain.
Yet, in this particular picture, they were at home in their house in Hudson, standing in the kitchen. Based on their posture and clothing it looks like they are about to walk out the door. I don’t remember where they were going, who took this picture, or why. I love that this picture captures their energy and love so well. They look middle-aged and healthy. They look like themselves, as I remember them, anyway.
Photos of weddings, birthday parties, and other mountain-top moments are priceless, sure, but this snapshot of them in their kitchen reminds me how sacred the ordinary is. Truth is, we spend so much of our time doing perfectly unspectacular things (like going to the bank or popping into a doughnut shop), wearing ordinary clothes (like my Daba’s raincoat, which she loved and still owns to this day.) When I look at this picture, it occurs to me: this ordinary day, this candid shot of two people before they rushed out the door— we didn’t know it then, but within these moments were our whole lives.
Now that I’m a year into having my own daughter (Eva’s birthday was this past Tuesday), I am even more aware of the intensities and paradoxes of time’s passing—the power of memory and the beautiful complexities of family. Looking back, when I had envisioned myself as a parent, I realize now that I was picturing myself with a child about the age of four. I had thought so much about what kind of parent I wanted to be. I even had a running list of lullabies I wanted to sing to my child, saved on my computer before I was ever married. I realize now that I had failed to see the ways in which parenting is not a stagnant state of being, but a constant balancing act with a very a steep learning curve, a daily pouring out of oneself for another. Just when you get the hang of it, in comes a tooth. I didn’t realize that you’d be learning how to parent every single day, because your child grows older each day and has different needs.
There are the big moments—first smiles, first solid foods, first steps—but the majority of parenting is just like the photo of Daba and Papa standing in the kitchen. On the outside it looks like nothing special, but one day we’ll look back at the snapshot of this day and find the details to be precious lifelines of memory about who we were and, oh, how we loved.
As I wean now, after a year of nursing Eva, this Scripture from the Prophet Isaiah rings true in a different way for me. It was amazing that, by God's grace, I could first make a human being with my body and then could make enough milk to sustain her life—trust me, the miracle of that is not lost on me. It was not easy, and while I feel lucky to have had a successful and largely uneventful breastfeeding experience, I did not love it as much as some women seem do. I felt guilty about this at first, but I’ve learned to let those feelings go. Before breastfeeding, I thought I would need to set an alarm to feed her. Turns out nursing mothers’ bodies have their own alarm system, an uncomfortably accurate one (often enough).
Knowing we have a God that has compassion for us like a nursing mother—take it from this nursing mother—means that God is committed to us completely. And not just committed to our thriving, promising to feed us and sustain our life, but if God is like a nursing mother than God is vulnerable in this offering, literally pouring God’s self out for our benefit. Any breastfeeding mother will tell you that the act of nursing is not utilitarian, but one of many ways we physically act out of compassion and connection with our children. To know that God loves us like that, holding us close to God’s heart, offering comfort, sustenance, and protection at the risk of God’s self; that is a beautiful metaphor.
The prophet goes even further, saying that though earthly mothers may forget, God never will.
The picture of my grandparents on the dresser was taken before Daba began losing her memory. It was a day well before Papa was diagnosed with Leukemia, before oxygen tanks or hospice nurses, before the emergency numbers were written in big letters by the phone in that kitchen. We had no idea that within all these moments that seem so ordinary—standing in the kitchen or feeding Eva at 3AM—were so many blessings, miracles, showing us who God is: the everlasting source of love— timeless, compassionate, eternal love—and right there with us in every sacred ordinary day.