I’ve read the book. Seen the movie—the old animated one—dozens of times. Was in the play as a middle-schooler when my school put it on.
The spider dies in the end. We all know this. Our beloved Charlotte saves her friend Wilbur, the pig whose days were numbered unless someone intervened.
And then her time is up.
As a child listening to my teacher read the story for the first time, as a 13-year-old acting it out, as a mom listening to my husband read the E.B. White classic aloud with the baby draped over one shoulder and our then 6-year-old on his lap, I got the sadness of Charlotte’s Web.
That’s what it was—sad. Books about animals always are.
But then last week, that little girl who once curled up with her dad to listen to the tale became Charlotte in a (highly anticipated) 3rd-grade, 30-minute version.
I sat there perched on the second row of that little corner theatre, camera in one hand and phone in the other, and watched her intently.
And my heart broke all over the place, because as she spoke her last lines in her little voice and the lights dimmed, I—for the first time—fully wrapped my mind around what Charlotte had just done.
You might look at our family of four and think, Picture perfect. They’re so blessed. And I wouldn’t argue with you—God has been good to us. Two healthy little girls, nearly six years apart, one favoring my hubby and the other favoring me (depending on who you ask).
But a photograph doesn’t tell you about the journey to today. It doesn’t tell you about the years of longing, about the negative pregnancy tests, about the envy, about the long conversations, about the prayers, or about the loss.
For every photo of a smiling family, there is a story.
I can’t speak to the unimaginable pain and grief that accompanies infertility testing, treatments, and the like. I won’t pretend to be able to understand what that’s like. But I have walked through seasons of unanswered questions, waiting, and wondering if my family dreams were just that: dreams.
Our story is, most simply, that pregnancy has never come easily.
Early in our marriage, I watched women around me become pregnant and families begin to grow, the news of each new life delivering a stinging blow to my heart. I wanted to say I was happy for others and mean it. I dreamed of being a mom. One year went by, then two, then three. I had a pretty intense fear of doctors at that point and chose ignorance as the better option, though I was secretly deeply afraid that I wasn’t able to conceive and carry a child. Looking back, my three years of struggling were nothing but a drop in the bucket—I know this now. But at the time they felt endless. I know women who have endured much longer and who continue to endure. Pain in the waiting is real, whether it lasts one year or 15.
Then one cool November day, I discovered I was pregnant. One season of my life ended, and another began. It was the beginning of what can best be described as a totally bananas pregnancy and birth (that’s the medical term for it, totally bananas). The curveballs started early and kept on coming (hyperemesis gravidarum and kidney stones were two), and God taught me lesson after lesson about adjusting my expectations. Those lessons didn’t stop after she was born, either, but that, my friends, is a story for another day.
Ten months later, I was blindsided by an emergency surgery for a problem I didn’t know I had until it was too late. (If you ever have a nagging feeling that you should go to the doctor, go to the doctor.) When I awoke from the anesthesia, there was a doctor by my bed explaining they’d removed a good portion of my reproductive organs but that I shouldn’t worry, because one ovary “should” do the job of two. Wait, what now? Don’t you know how long it took to conceive the last baby? And that was with two ovaries! Now I only have one? What if all my eggs were literally in one basket? What if that was my good side, and now it’s gone?
I felt robbed. The whole thing had been so sudden and so shocking. My feelings of loss were wrapped around dreams of babies that didn’t even exist, but I grieved. I felt my body had not only let me down, but my husband as well. What about his family dreams? Together we released our future to God and moved on, focusing all of our attention on our little girl. Faith sustained me. This wasn’t at all what I had in mind, but I knew I could trust Him.
I needed to believe with my whole being that God’s plans for me were better than anything I could dream up on my own.
For the next four years I hovered in a strange place of wondering whether I was capable of conceiving another child. If it was medically an impossibility, I just didn’t want to know. When you start marking years off the calendar, you begin to assume. We talked frequently about our daughter being an only child; we dove into adoption research; my previous health issue threatened to repeat itself; I went back to work. Life moved on. And then—just as unexpectedly as it had happened the first time—we discovered that after all those years of no babies, I was pregnant.
The nervousness, excitement, and complete shock gave way to grief when I miscarried several weeks later. (Can I just say? No one warns you about what that’s like, physically or emotionally. Perhaps nothing can truly prepare you for it. Still, if you’ve been there, I wish I could hug you and tell you—everything you’ve felt or are feeling right now? Go ahead and feel it. You have permission to grieve even the tiniest life.)
Our sadness swallowed us up for a while. When I came up for air, my practical response was to reduce the entire horrible experience to a big, flashing sign from God that we weren’t meant to grow our family further—our daughter would be an only child, and we needed to be okay with that.
But that wasn’t the end. He would soon remind me, once again (why am I always surprised by this?), that He was the one writing the story, not me. He had more chapters coming, and the next one just happened to be really good.
Our baby, our second little girl, turned 2 last weekend.
The chapter about the flood was followed by the part about the rainbow.
I know that no season in my life thus far has been without purpose—even if that purpose was simply for me to share this story with one of you reading right now, for His glory. I believe that wholeheartedly. I believe it for me, and I believe it for you, too—even if you are in the midst of what feels like the worst chapter of your life. He will redeem your story. There is more to come.
People have started asking if we’re planning to have any more kids. Close family and friends—and now all of you!—know our story, so at this stage of my life I don’t mind being asked. (But please, on behalf of those secretly struggling, don’t let curiosity get the better of you.)
I usually just laugh, shrug awkwardly, and stammer through some vague response. Knowing the twists and turns of our story so far, how could I assume to know the answer to that question?
I can’t peek ahead at the next chapter. The story of our family is in the hands of the Author.
We have to keep reading, turning one page at a time, soaking up the wonders, joys, heartaches, and love in every paragraph, trusting all along that He is good and that He loves us—and believing that He writes the best stories.
An extra note,because it is heavy on my heart this week:
If you are in a season of wondering and waiting, if you have received a diagnosis, if you are wading through the adoption process, if you are raising funds, if you are undergoing procedures, if you are grieving loss, if you are questioning what in the world God is planning for your family—you are not alone.
And if you have walked through the dark days and broken through to light on the other side, whether it be through a child born, a child brought into your forever home, or simply peace in the uncertainty, praise God! Share your stories and yell hallelujahs for the miracles. Continue to support those who are still in the thick of it. You don’t have to give advice—just be a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on. Offer hope. Reach out. Squeeze a hand. Pray.
Just ask my family. I’ve given them permission to speak freely.
What is it about Sunday mornings?
WHY HAVEN’T YOU BRUSHED YOUR TEETH YET?
THIS DRESS FIT FINE WHEN I TRIED IT ON LAST NIGHT!
WHY IS THE BABY WEARING THAT?
WHY IS THERE NO MORE COFFEE? [Weeping and gnashing of teeth]
WE’RE LATE FOR CHURCH AGAIN! I HATE BEING LATE AND WE’RE ALWAYS LATE.
On Sunday mornings, I turn into the worst version of myself, Mom Who Yells A Lot. And then in the car (at 9:52, still a good 20 minutes from church, which starts at 10), after I’ve sat and stewed in frustration for a few minutes and tried to work out how it’s everyone else’s fault I didn’t get up when my alarm went off and couldn’t find the right shoes and let my giant mug of delicious, perfectly blended coffee go cold on the kitchen counter… I apologize.
I apologize to my husband—not in a whisper so the kids can’t hear, but loudly enough that they can hear, because they should.
“I was wrong. I am sorry. Will you please forgive me?”
And then I do something even wilder. I turn to the backseat and look into the eyes of my daughter who is pretending not to listen to the grown-up talk up front. (Oh they are always listening. Just count on it.)
“I was wrong. I am sorry. Will you please forgive me?”
Yes, I am my children’s mother, but they need to know that I am also a sinner.
I am an authority figure in their lives whom they should respect, yes. But even in my role as Mama, I am not some pillar of unattainable perfection. I am a sinner, I fall short, I make mistakes—just like they do. I’m not exempt from having to say sorry just because I am big and they are small. They are humans. Little humans, but still. God made them in His image. And sometimes they deserve an apology too.
We all mess up sometimes, even Mom and Dad.
This wonderful thing happens when I get on my daughter’s level and earnestly seek her forgiveness. Her response is usually quiet but certain: “I forgive you, Mama.” And then it’s the good stuff—hugging and talking to my kid about how we all need Jesus and how He uses us even when we think we’ve messed everything up. It’s truth she needs to hear with her little ears and witness with her own eyes. It’s truth I need to hear and see from those I admire as well.
Parents, your littles admire you. They do. They love you and want to be just like you. How incredible an opportunity we’ve been given to model grace in imperfection. Let’s show our kids that this is how we live: We make mistakes, we are grieved by them, and we make it right. We extend apologies, we ask for forgiveness, we offer forgiveness, we live out reconciliation in front of them. We hug it out.
Next Sunday, I will call upon the name of Jesus for help and try not to yell at the people I love.
Well, I have now managed to lose both of my children in public places.
20 months or so seems to be the magical age when this happens. With my older daughter, we were in a Carter’s clothing store and while I rummaged in the diaper bag for my debit card at the checkout counter, she stealthily slipped off. When I couldn’t spot her, the employees closed the store entrance until she was found, sitting happily on the floor behind a shoe display, trying on shoes (why didn’t I think to look there first, knowing her fondness for dress-up?). She looked up with a smile and lifted her foot in the air in a proud display, oblivious to the tension of the moments leading up to her discovery. She was missing for less than a minute, but my fear in that minute was real. The front doors had been open thanks to an unusually cool spring day in Florida, and my heart plummeted imagining what could have happened if she’d been bound for the exit—straight into a busy parking lot—instead of to try on footwear.
Last week at an indoor theme park, my younger daughter pulled a disappearing act of her own, on a slightly larger scale. This one is fast and sneaky, and we’ve known that about her since she started walking. (A few months ago she ran away from me in Publix and hid in the frozen foods aisle behind a stock crate. I caught her when she peeked around it and giggled at the look of frustration on my face. Oh, the gray hairs!) But this time, in a large space thick with short people (aka kids), she really scared me. She was standing right next to me, I looked up from her to her sister, who was asking for help tying shoes, and then I looked back, and she was gone.
I whirled around in a circle, scanning the room, which suddenly felt way too big with way too many places for a tiny person to hide. My friend and I instructed our older kids not to move and quickly split into opposite directions to look, but my girl was nowhere to be seen. My friend grabbed an employee who began asking me to describe my daughter. What was she wearing? How tall is she? What’s her name? Is she walking? (Um, no, she crawled away at light speed.) I stumbled through my description of her (“She’s really small! She has short brown hair and big brown eyes… She’s just really small!”), my mind racing.
I’m not the mom who loses her kid at a place like this. I’m the mom who knows where my children are and what they’re doing at all times! … right?
She was gone for maybe five minutes, which doesn’t seem long but is way, way, way too long. And then there she was, tears rolling down her face, in the arms of a young employee who’d had her wits about her enough to think like a toddler and climb way up into the big kids’ gym. Of course that’s where she was. My monkey. I hugged that girl so tight and tried to fight the tears and reset my fried nerves.
I tell this story because
1) It embarrasses me, but I know I’m not alone. I know this because when I posted a photo later that day on Instagram and mentioned her brief disappearance, three or four friends chimed in to commiserate (one of them was my own mom). I want to be forthcoming about my parenting failures because maybe you need to know you’re not alone. Sometimes friends compliment my parenting and I laugh before I realize they’re being serious. I am not a perfect mom—far, far from it—and that’s ok. My kids will grow up knowing that their mom makes mistakes and isn’t afraid to own up to them. Believe me, they’re already quite aware.
And 2) In those brief minutes last Wednesday when my baby was nowhere to be seen, and even that day at Carter’s so many years ago with her big sis, I caught the tiniest glimpse of how our Father feels about us when we wander off.
What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.”Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. —Luke 15:4-7
He is the shepherd, searching relentlessly until the one sheep is found.
He is the father of the Prodigal, waiting expectantly and scouring the horizon for the sight of his son returning.
He is the woman who dropped one of her 10 coins—a day’s worth of income—holding a lantern in her dark home and sweeping the floor in search of it, calling friends and neighbors to celebrate when it is recovered.
I wasn’t panicked. I knew that the one I loved was there somewhere. She wasn’t lost, not forever. But how I longed for her! I knew she was alone and afraid. I wanted more than anything to have her safely back in my arms, but the realization dawned on me that it was not for my own sake or my own comfort. It was for hers. Because I love her more than I love myself and could not bear to think of her suffering alone when I was right there with arms flung wide, ready to hold her and wipe her tears away.
Because despite my daughter’s moments of reckless bravery and independence, she needs me.
Call it a parenting fail, but I’m grateful to God for reminding me of His relentless love for us and the truth that no matter how confident and independent I might feel, I need Him.