As the oldest of six children, I grew up in a home full of love and life. I knew that when I grew up, I’d go to college, get married, and then have children of my own. After my husband and I were married, we suffered through several miscarriages and five frustrating years of disappointments in the baby department. I began to wonder if perhaps the life I had always envisioned was not the one I was meant to have.
Finally, after nine long months of praying and hoping that our dreams would come true, I delivered a perfect baby boy, Samuel. He filled a part of me that I had been searching for all those years, and healed every hurt and loss we’d ever had.
Just two years later Ethan was born, again a perfect blessing.
In July of 2008, about two years after Ethan was born, I was 20 weeks into my third pregnancy. I went to the doctor, to find out if the baby was a boy or a girl. As I scanned back and forth from the monitor to the nurse’s face, I knew something wasn’t right. My worst nightmare was confirmed when she gently told me, “Natalie, I can’t find a heartbeat.” My head spun. How could this have happened? It was all going so smoothly.
But it did happen; my placenta had detached, and a few days later I delivered a stillborn baby boy. This was to become a defining experience in my motherhood journey. The loss and sorrow we felt were unparalleled.
A year later, after much more praying and breath holding, our sweet little Mia, a tiny five pound micro-machine, was born. Perfect, healthy, and again, a cure to every hurt we’d felt over the last year.
One day, when Mia was about a year old, I took the kids out to run errands. I was no doubt in a hurry and feeling a little frazzled and frustrated that it always took me so long to get a few errands done. I was especially on edge because my husband had been busier at work than I ever thought a person could be. We’d go days without seeing him, leaving me to work around the clock tending to our three young children.
We went to the hardware store, and as usual our sweet friend Arnie was there to greet us. He was probably in his early 70′s and always had a twinkle in his eyes. Arnie and I had become friends over the years, and he would often comment on the way we were, in his eyes, adding so quickly to our family. He talked to my kids and was so sweet to pay attention to them. As we spoke that day, his clear blue eyes got a little misty, he ruffled Ethan’s hair and said to me: “Enjoy these days! They are the best days of your life.” I could tell in his quavering voice that maybe he wished he had enjoyed “his days” a little more with his children. My heart ached with a feeling of longing and regret, for him and for myself. These days, sometimes they seem so long, so mundane, am I really treasuring them? Am I treating them, and the people that they are filled with, as the best of my life?
This past summer I took my kids–there are now four of them–to visit an elderly lady from our church who was in a nursing home. I always get a little emotional seeing the opposite end of life, the place where we’re all headed. It’s humbling to think about. As we sat in this sweet woman’s room and talked with her and sang her a few songs, I couldn’t help but notice a picture on her roommate’s wall. It was a picture of her family, and they were about my age. Young, busy, four children being coaxed into looking in a similar direction, and it hit me there again, just like in the parking lot of the hardware store: “These are the best days of your life!”
I thought about how this sweet lady probably had many pictures to choose from; perhaps she’d been on trips or had been given awards or certificates; maybe she made beautiful quilts or kept an immaculate house. But mementos of those things were nowhere to be found. The one thing she had hanging on her wall was a memory of the best days of her life, and the people that filled those days.
I asked myself again, Am I making today the best it can be? Am I treating my sweet little children like the miracles that they are? Am I loving my husband and appreciating all he does to make these days possible?
I feel like I went through those years of struggle with having children so that I would have, etched into my soul, the realization of how precious, how miraculous these children are. I’m so thankful that I was able to have those times of pain and loss so that I could more fully appreciate the time I have with them.
I hope I can make these days the best by being grateful that I have them.
QUESTION: It’s (probably) not possible to enjoy every moment with our children, but we can still be grateful for the days. How do you cultivate gratitude during hard times?
CHALLENGE: Please share your methods for remaining grateful through hard times below. Thanks!
Family photos by Kristen Duke Photography. All other photos courtesy of Natalie Ellis.