Brave (or What Strangers Call Me in the Grocery Store)

family drawing

Sometimes people don’t know what to say.

When they see us in the grocery store–three little ones in the buggy, three bigger ones swarming around my waist–I can actually see them doing math in their heads.  Is it possible that all of these children could belong to the same mother?

I get a lot of looks. And comments.

“You have your hands full.”

“Are they all yours?”

“You know how this happens, don’t you?”

(At this point I smile and pretend this joke is original and that I haven’t thought of a dozen one-liners that would render this person absolutely speechless…)

“Wow, you are really brave.”

I really like this one.  Because it is actually a meaningful reminder to me of the work God is doing in my life through having and raising children.

When people look at me with my six kids in the grocery store, and they say I’m brave,  I think a few of them really mean it.  But I suspect many of them have carefully selected this word because it is nicer than the word they are actually thinking…

(crazy, clueluess, insane???)

I don’t think most people really mean I am brave.  I think they mean that by having all of these children, I am making my life exponentially more difficult than it needs to be.  That life is hard enough already.  I must be “brave” to bring all of these children into the world and all this responsibility onto myself.

But the truth is this: I am brave.

And do you know what God has used in my life to make me brave?

Having children.

I’ll tell you what I mean.

When we decided we were ready to let things happen and open ourselves up to being parents, let’s face it:  We were clueless.  There was a certain bravery involved.  Stepping out into the unknown.  But most of us follow this path–grow up, marry, and have children.  So it didn’t require a lot of initial courage or bravery.  It was what we all expected to happen.

But as soon as our first child was thrust into this world and we locked eyes on her and realized the helpless state into which children are born into this world, a seed of true bravery began to grow.  Those early months of her life, I was shocked and awed by the reality that I had never before understood: My life is not my own.  A mind that is constantly anticipating and meeting the next need, rehearsing all possible outcomes of every scenario regarding the safety and well-being of this baby, while trying to maintain as much peace and sanity and sleep as possible for myself and those around me.  The shock of this: My body does not even fully belong to me.  Between waking and sleeping, middle-of-the-night feedings, healing, processing–what has happened to me?!?!  Realizing that even though I didn’t know how in the world I would make it through all of the imagined seasons of my life with this new responsibility/love/fear/trembling/awe/hope/ache-and-joy, I had to live.  And I had to live as true a life as possible.  Because this little baby was in my care.

This is when I first began to be brave.

Birth traumatized me.  I was walking around with eyes opened to the obvious, yet bleak reality that this is the only way that children are born into this world.  I remember thinking that birth was like a monster that came out of my body and turned me inside out and tried to kill me.  Then when it was over, he went back to sleep.  In the first months after our baby’s birth, I used to cry because I knew we wanted our baby to one day have a brother or sister.  I was terrified.  I was filled with the dread of walking that road again.  I didn’t want to meet the monster a second time.

But slowly and surely, the seed of courage began to grow.

God was merciful to me.  We were surprised to find ourselves expecting again when our first child was 10 months old.  I had nine months to process, to pray, to journal, to grow in my faith and courage.  She was born, and when she moved through my body and into our arms, I felt a fog physically lift from my mind.  I can only describe it as this: Her birth healed me.

And I became a little more brave.

Every birth has changed my life and required a commitment to be braver than I wanted to be.  Each birth has challenged my faith in God and brought me deeper into communion with Him.  Having children causes us to have courage we can only fathom after we have been called upon to use it.

The lady ringing up my groceries told me that she would never bring children into this world.  She told me that watching the news had convinced her that life wasn’t going to get any better.  I understand.

When you have children, everything horrible in this world becomes more horrible.  All the evils in the world, even briefly imagined upon the perfect, trusting face of this little child, is enough to make me want to run away, screaming.  All of the accidents, the diseases, wars and rumors of wars, the people who care nothing for the sacredness of human life…  And not just any human life–but this–my precious, helpless, indescribably beautiful, hopeful, trusting, achingly sweet and loving child.  Sharing life with these little ones opens us up to the possibility of all kinds of pain, real and imagined.  They remind us how raw love is.  How much it can hurt.  How deep it goes.

I’m not going to lie.  There are times I want to shield myself from the severity and depth of this kind of love.  I didn’t know living required so much courage until I had little ones. The world seems bleaker and darker than ever when I think of them standing in it.

But at the same time, when you have children, everything beautiful in this world becomes more beautiful.  The moon, a cup of tea, the sharp, sweet surprise of honeysuckle after rain. Fireflies, dark chocolate, the indescribable perfection of a seashell…  Sharing life with children ones opens us back up to wonder.  They remind us that life is a gift.  And the world seems so much richer, so much more full of light and life when I think of them standing in it.

Children know secrets that we have all forgotten.  They forgive easily and completely.  They know how to love deeply, without question and without fear.  They know how to enjoy the little things in life.  How to live in the moment.  How to embrace change.  How to bask in the beauty of a day.

When life is bleak, children draw us out of our winter.  When we are grieving, children surround us with love and comfort and remind us to see beauty.

And when we would shut ourselves up for fear of all the heartache in this world, they call to us to take courage.  To love deeper and wider and higher than the walls that we have built around our lives to protect ourselves from pain.

Yes, I am.

Brave.

And every beautiful soul that has passed through this body has made me braver.  Through childbirth, I have learned to lean into the comforting truth that my life is not my own.  And that it never was.  And I am learning that I don’t have to struggle against this.  All I have to do is live, trust God, and take one breath at a time.  I do not have to carry all of the fears of the future.  I am not in control.  And I never was.  Thank God.  And God will bring me (and these children) through this life, breath by breath, and deliver us.

Being a parent requires bravery.  And it is the kind of bravery that you never could have anticipated when you signed on for the job.  But it grows, little by little, season by season.

Being a mother has drawn me deeper into trusting God.  Daily, I realize afresh: I cannot do this on my own.  And it forces to my knees.  It forces me to confront my great weaknesses.  And in my weakness, He is made strong.

Being a parent requires the same kind of courage no matter how many children you have.  It requires a heart that can take arrows and not die but grow stronger.  It requires strength to carry a vision for the future across the long, heavy, uncertain days.  It requires the courage to lean into God’s embrace and trust that life is worth living and that by His grace and through His purpose, it is all going to be ok.

I don’t pretend to have it all figured out.  Not even close.  I am only 10 years into this parenting journey, and compared to many of my friends and family members, we have had it easy.  I also know that in this life, I will most likely be called upon to summon courage that I cannot now even begin to comprehend.  But I do have a confident hope that God will see me through.   He has started a good work in me, and He will finish it to completion.  I know it is going to be ok.  I know that God will walk with me.  I know that Christ, who laid down His life for me, will continue to teach me to lay my life down for these children.  That He will help me to trust their lives into His hands.  That He will help me to lay down my fears and gather up my courage.  I know that God has used these little ones to draw me out of my own self and my own fears and to make me brave.

And so I am grateful for the many reminders of the work of Christ in my life.

“Wow, you are really brave to bring six kids into this world.”

Yes, I am.  Because God is with me.  And He is using these children to bring so much beauty and joy and light and life to this earth.

And day by day, little by little, season by season, they are making me brave.

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Dawn Marie Sanders-Myers says:

    Hi Mackenzie!! Girl it’s been quite awhile since I’ve seen you but I sure do miss you and value you and our friendship… even after all these years! I love reading your blog posts because I’ve always thought you were a great writer and love the way you look at the world, plus your adventures are awesome! Thanks for sharing. Seriously. I would adore catching up with you, meeting your beautiful children, and just enjoy seeing you. And yes, you are brave! You’ve always been a brave woman and as with each day and as the years have layered, God has just brought it out more and more with each new season. Amen sister amen! Seriously I would LOVE to catch up. Your friend, Dawn Sanders-Myers

    1. mackenziechester says:

      Dawn, thank you so much for reading, writing, and for all of this sweet encouragement. Yes, I would so love to see you and catch up. It feels like another lifetime ago when we were hanging out in the art building! Let’s make it happen.

  2. You make me want to be more brave with my own daughter, who is 23. Your words are speaking right to me in a way that I completely feel and am absorbing. Thank you for writing this!

    1. I love you, Victoria! Thank you for this response. It means so much to me.

  3. So beautiful. So inspiring. Each of us are called to be brave – to confidently step into the journey He has called us to.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this post!