It was two years ago when, just like I see now, winter crept upon South Africa with its wind and cold nights. Only a few weeks old, Lily would wake in the dark early hours. I would feed her and wash her tiny face with cotton wool, as the indigo sky grew light and the electric heater pumped hot air into our seaside flat. I’d wrap her in a thick white blanket and lay her down in her denim carry cot. To sleep. I’d pick up my cup of tea, wrap myself in layers and escape outside to our balcony to spend time with God.
Squeak. Squeak. Coming from inside. Cough, cough. She’d wriggle in the blanket and screw up her little eyes. And I would wriggle in my skin just like her. No, no, go to sleep, I’d whisper inside like she should hear me. No, no. I need this time. But she needed me and I’d come inside, put down my tea and sit beside her. Looking at her perfect tiny frame with nowhere to go and nothing to pray. My time with God ebbed away.
That moment happened hundreds of times. Thrown into the mix of heavy tiredness, I thought I saw my rhythm of prayer grind to a halt.
But there He met me. There He taught me how to pray tiny prayers – which I’ve written about here before – and there He broke down my presupposed structure of spirituality into the offer of a living, minute-by-minute closeness.
And here I am again, arms full with another tiny life, while Lily is running around in circles. Every day in gloriously messy circles, with wipes and biro pens and broken shells, knocking over the water glass. Again. And I gaze outside, and I’m right back to that cold, beautiful morning two years ago. Here I am, inside with the noise and the mess, and there He is, outside in the beauty and the stillness, and we both miss each other.
But no, He says. There is another jewel in the chaos of motherhood, if I’m willing to accept it. Weakness, He tells me.
I rock my baby for the sixth time that day. She likes to be rocked, and she likes to sleep for a matter of minutes, not hours. My arms feel like they could break off my body and fall cold to the ground. Swirling anger at my powerlessness to soothe her tiny body melts into streaming tears of utter exhaustion. I’ve started to sing to God in these seemingly-endless minutes. Because I really, really need to. The dark room with the wriggly babe and the exhausted mummy becomes a holy chamber. And those minutes add up, every day, and though my quiet time was short, I’ve found a new space for glory to dwell. The neediness of weakness.
The oldest wakes from her nap, and the afternoon seems like a mountain. I’m walking through treacle and my energy is gone. As I put on the worship, hoping it might do something inside me, I start dancing and she runs. I sing “set your church on fire” but really I’m crying out of sheer need for his fire to come for me. I mean it a thousand times more than I’ve ever sung it. And though it’s only a few minutes, in a room littered with discarded drawings and dirty cups, I know it moved His heart, and His happiness swelled up in both of us. A new space for glory to dwell. The dependancy of weakness.
This morning we’re all in the car and all I’ve done so far is scan two verses of a Psalm. And still – despite years of learning grace – I have this hectoring voice that it’s really not enough. And the car radio is on, and this Australian man with the gentlest voice shares the Scriptures. I can still hear me, so many years ago, a feisty teenager, proudly assured: “I don’t need anything like that, I’ll meet God all on my own. A radio talk? Probably a bit compromised.” (I know, I know.) Well. Today I need that gentle voice more than ever. Above the pleas for “Mummy in the back!” I’m bending my ear to hear anything he has to say, anything He has to say. A new space for glory to dwell. The humility of weakness.
I love my days with the littles. I can’t believe I get to do it – spend time with the one with sparkling eyes who puts ‘Mummy’ at the end of every sentence, and the peach-coloured beauty whose hands grip mine. Sometimes I cry with the beauty of it. And, equally true, I am stretched more than I have ever been. From 5 a.m. when the baby wakes, through the noisy mornings splattered with spat-up milk and broken crayons, through the toddler’s nap hour when the baby won’t sleep, through the long afternoon climb until bedtime. And then there’s about an hour for me to talk to my husband (without being urgently interrupted because Minnie Mouse is gone) before I slump into bed with the same leggings on. Really. Weakness has become my companion.
And I’m learning slowly, that instead resisting this unwanted companion, to allow it to do its work. Sometimes I cry out as I rock her, and I don’t feel much. Sometimes I sit on my bed to pray and the exhaustion clouds over my heart. But there’s something else at work and I’m still finding out what it is. What I know is there is something of the GodMan, his human skin and weakness and humility, that is rubbing off on me every day, and His heartbeat is getting louder in my home.