I live my life on an unpredictable sea. I’m guessing, but I think maybe you do too.
Storms come without warning, and I fly overboard, plunged beneath the swells.
Mother’s Day, and I sit at the table with Adam while Kevin puts the finishing touches on lunch–the beef stroganoff that has been simmering in the slow cooker all morning during worship. The kitchen smells delicious, the air sweet with celery.
The day that began with breakfast served from Riley’s hands, the joy spreading all over her face and covering me like a beam, had carried me through worship with a full heart and had bounced me carefully here. Next to my son.
I slowly turn the pages of a magazine, soaking in the moments given me as a gift. Zoe had taken the napkins and forks from my hands, smiling up. “I’ll do this,” she’d said. So I sit. Adam, ever a creature of habit, pricks his finger and dabs at a round drop of blood with the test strip he’s put into his meter. He is hungry, and testing precedes eating.
“Eighty-EIGHT,” he chirps happily, trilling sounds after the announcement, turning his head back and forth, as though in a dance.
I look up from my magazine. “That’s not bad,” I tell him, “but you need to eat soon.”
He pulls out the charts he uses to calculate his insulin injections, still trilling his own song deep in his throat.
“Pizza for lunch,” he says to me, making eye contact, blinking bright blue, and I recognize this immediately as the way he always asks, “What’s for dinner?” I find it amusing that instead of asking the question, he has learned to make a suggestion that he likes.
“No, we’re having beef stroganoff.”
“Beef Stro-GAN-off,” he repeats, his dry erase marker poised over the sheet where he will count carbs. He scribbles beef and then something like strogainov. Riley notices this immediately. “You spelled it wrong, Adam.”
“NO spelled it wrong, today!” Adam fires at her, eyes blazing, his hand writing in the air next to her face. I reach for his arm. “Adam. It’s okay. I don’t care how you spell it.”
I turn my attention to Riley. “I know he spelled it wrong, but it doesn’t matter. As long as he gets the carbs right, I’m happy.”
And then, turning back to Adam, “Beef Stroganoff is 40.” Adam looks at me, his mood ruined. “Beef Stroganoff is 32,” he says to me, gesturing to the random number he’d written on his calculation chart. “Nope. It’s 40.”
He wipes through 32 with his hand, leaving a smudge. He quickly scrawls a 40 over the angry smear.
“What will you have to drink?” I ask, ignoring the irritable mood, and we continue our routine, until the interview fills the chart and he is ready to calculate insulin.
“He may need to eat his dessert first,” Kevin calls from the kitchen. “It’ll still be a few minutes before this is ready.”
“Okay. He can start with his bread,” I say, pulling out the knife, spreading fresh strawberry jam—the fruit of our own picking—over a piece of homemade bread that smells rich with herbs—rosemary, savory, marjoram.
Adam has already finished adding the numbers, subtracting the correction for “eighty-eight.” He holds the insulin pin like a dagger over his leg, and I steady his hand, reminding him, “Slowly and gently, slowly and gently.”
The insulin dispensed, he eats his bread quickly and resumes his melody, smacking a beat on his chest for emphasis. He has forgotten his disagreement with his sister. And I lose myself in an article in my magazine, just slowly, rarely, enjoying the moment.
Adam’s silence draws me forth again, and I raise my eyes to glance his way. He has not only stopped singing, he is falling asleep at the table. He cannot hold his eyes open, though he tries, his head rising and falling, rising again with a jerk.
Adam never goes to sleep voluntarily. Even when he’s tired, he complains about bed time, argues with us about how early he can wake up. Falling asleep like that only means one thing for Adam: a critically low blood sugar. I realize in an instant: I’ve forgotten his dessert, what Kevin had said about him eating it first.
“He’s falling asleep,” I say, standing up, pulling him out of the chair. “Adam, wake up,” I tell him, touching his face, moving to the pantry for the M&M’s. Kevin comes out of the kitchen and starts poking and tickling him, playing games, trying to pull him out of his sleepiness. I pour juice into a tumbler and head to the table with my M&M’s. Adam giggles helplessly for a few seconds and then sits back down, unable to stand, his head drifting down heavily. He folds his arms and surrenders, but I start pushing M&M’s into his mouth. “Chew,” I order, and he does, sleepily, his eyes rolling back. I softly tap his cheeks until his eyes flutter open. “Adam, drink,” I say, handing him the juice. He takes a swallow, two, and then sits the tumbler on the table, his head sinking. I push more M&M’s between his lips–five, ten. “Chew, Adam. Chew,” I say again, lacing my voice with firmness, tapping his cheeks with my hands.
Zoe stands beside us, concerned. She knows how this feels, the urgency of the moment. Kevin reassures her from the kitchen. “Mom is with Adam, Zoe. She knows what to do.” Then to me, “Have you tested him yet?”
“Zoe, get Adam’s meter,” I tell her, and she flies into action, wanting to do something. I hand the meter to Adam, telling him to test, but it’s immediately clear that he is still unable to function, still drifting away. I shove five more M&M’s between his lips and force him to drink more juice. Then I push a strip into the meter and prick his finger myself. The digital display blinks, counting down for me, 5-4-3-2-1. 41. “Oh no,” Zoe says, watching. I push more candy in Adam’s mouth, and Kevin arrives at the table with his bowl of beef stroganoff. Slowly, Adam becomes more responsive, and I lift spoonfuls of noodles and broth to his lips. Four, five spoons of stroganoff later, and Adam comes back to me, the color returning to his cheeks, his blue eyes open and bright, the song he sings returning to sweeten the air around us.
I sigh, kissing him on the cheek, sitting down again. Over lunch, savoring my food, I open a picture Adam made for me at school, something he’d brought home on Friday all wrapped in tissue paper. On a small piece of canvas, he’d glued colorful squares of tissue in teal and fuschia, and over the top he’d painted I (heart) Mom. It’s beautiful. I love it. “Thank you so much, Adam,” I said, planting another kiss on his cheek.
Then Kevin makes me coffee and I sit on the sofa to read, and he and Riley put on helmets and fill water bottles for a bike ride. She loves riding with her dad, asks him to go every weekend. Just as they head out the back door, Zoe snuggles in next to me. “Will you maybe watch something with me on TV, Mom?” she asks, and since life steals too much of the time when I would do things like that with her, I readily agree. She needs the time to talk and share things. I always did, and Mom always had time for me. I set aside my book, and we watch, and then—too soon—the back door opens and Riley walks back inside, breathing hard. She sits in the chair, murmuring “Hi, Mom,” after I greet her.
Kevin comes in a few moments later, and instantly, I know something is wrong. His face looks ashen, covered still by the shadow of alarm.
I look back at him, and a slight shake of the head, a tiny but emphatic no, seems to be all he can manage.
I look over at Riley and back at him. “Zoe. Pause that,” I say, gesturing toward the TV. “What happened?” I say it quietly, my voice small.
“The unthinkable,” Kevin says, shaking his head again. No. No.
“She had a seizure out there?”
He nods. Yes.
He tells me the road, probably the busiest one they ride together. And I feel my own head shake. No.
“But she was on the side of the road, not in the middle of it. We’d just turned on, and she was riding really slowly. I was just ahead, but I was already wondering what was going on. Then she just stopped, right in the road. A car was coming, but fortunately, not so fast. They must’ve been able to tell something wasn’t right, because they stopped right in the road, not far from her and just sat there. She stood there holding her bike for a second or two, and then she just laid her bike down in the street. She didn’t fall, but she kind of swayed sideways, like she was losing her footing. But by the time I got to her, she was already starting to come out of it. She was still groggy, but she could respond to me.”
“And so, you told her you should come home,” I finish for him, gravely.
“Yes, and she didn’t argue about it either.” Kevin stands in the kitchen, shaking his head, looking up at the ceiling and back at me. I know what he feels, the helpless stunning, the shock. Riley wants to cycle long distances like Kevin does, has asked him to let her ride on the long roads with him. Over and over he has encouraged her to practice, has promised to take her on longer rides when he thinks it’s safe. What if she has a seizure while we’re riding on a busy road? He’d said to me one day, shaking his head, feeling the no. This event nudged at that fear, brought it all rushing to the surface.
I shift my attention to Riley, who sits looking at the paused image on the TV screen. “Riley, are you okay?” I ask her, and she shakes her head yes. “Mmmhmm.”
“Did you know you were having a seizure? Did you feel it coming?”
She shrugs. “I don’t know.” Riley never remembers. A friend with epilepsy had told me she probably wouldn’t. “It’s not bad for us,” my friend had said, “it’s bad for everyone who has to see it.”
“Do you have a headache?” I ask knowing, already getting up to get her some medicine.
“Mmmhmm,” Riley nods again, still looking at the TV. Migraines follow her seizures almost every time, and she sleeps. I bring her Tylenol because it’s late in the afternoon and she shouldn’t have caffeine, and she stretches out on the sofa, right on top of the dented places where Zoe and I had been sitting close. She closes her eyes, bearing the pain, and for an hour, she drifts away from us.
I look at Zoe. “You are not allowed to have any emergencies today,” I tell her with mock sternness, pointing my finger. She smirks, understanding. “Mother’s Day has been lovely, but I can do without the extreme motherhood sampler platter,” I say it smiling, but it sits hard, all truth.
Motherhood means being the boy with the five loaves and two fish (John 6:6-13). I am never enough. What little I have has to stretch way too far to feed a sea of hunger, to meet so much need. Sometimes I say this under my breath, running down the street, lifting my eyes to the sky, endlessly blue, sweat sailing from my pumping fists. It’s not enough, LORD. Stretch it, please. Stretch it far, farther than I can imagine. In His hands, the tiny bit I have, the meager resources of this mother, can satisfy a multitude with enough leftovers for every doubter to carry. His job is to multiply, His is the miracle. Mine is only to yield, to pry open my fists in trust, to place all my meager, all my not enough, right in His hands.
Later in the week, I sit in a meeting with Riley’s teachers, talking about her transition to middle school. We cry together over how far she’s come, over the way she loves and will be missed, how this girl who hardly spoke now has such friends, how she makes her teachers smile every day. We speak of her successes, her determination, her potential. And I see the miracle—the way He’s multiplied blessing, the way He’s poured it out. Somehow he takes the five loaves and two fish and makes them work.
“Riley just needs an anchor,” her teacher says to the group, “someone she can go to every day, someone she can get close to. I just hope someone will be her anchor next year.” She names a few adults who have been just that for Riley, favorite teachers, adults who understand her and help her make sense of things. Multiplied to overflowing, I think, looking around the room, with enough leftovers for all the doubters to carry.
And it occurs to me that life is a trip on high seas, and that we all search for anchors, people who find us in the waves and help us steady ourselves. God gives us those people at just the right times. We’re not meant to travel alone. We anchor each other, and it is right and good and beautiful. But a song drifts through my heart, and I’m trilling, echoing my son.
Will your anchor hold in the storms of life,
When the clouds unfold their wings of strife?
When the strong tides lift, and the cables strain,
Will your anchor drift or firm remain?
We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll,
Fastened to the Rock which cannot move,
Grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love (~Priscilla Jane Owens).
The thing is, we must be careful not to confuse the boy with the miracle-worker. Sometimes I expect Kevin to fix it, to still the seas, to anchor me when I feel hopelessly tossed. And he does, because God uses him that way, because that’s some of what marriage is, the anchoring. But sometimes, my man looks at me weary and I see, hidden deep in his eyes, that he’s the boy with the lunch, just like me, that he’s only offering up the meager bit he has to the One who can make it enough. And it’s then that I remember that the only anchor that remains forever steadfast is the one granted an indestructible life.
And maybe it’s storming, and we think He’s sleeping, but while we’re turning to each other in our fear, we must not forget He’s in the boat with us (Mark 4:35-41). We must not forget that He can stand up and command “Peace! Be still!” and it will all be over, all this tossing, all the raging of life.
We must not forget that His is the miracle, His is the multiplying.
Without Him, I’m neither anchor nor anchored at all, just a weightless cork, bobbing on a vast and angry sea, or a boy with a lunch that is not enough for the multitude.