Growing up, Emily Wierenga never wanted to be a mother; she knew it would mean dying to herself, and this disillusioned pastor’s daughter wasn’t sure she was ready to give up everything for someone else. All she wanted was to be seen, heard and loved. This changed when she moved home at 26 to care for her mother who had brain cancer. It was the beginning of her own death, and the seed of a deep longing to live for others. A few years later, when Emily had babies of her own, Jesus whispered in her ear—“Will you give even more? Will you take in two more children whose mother can no longer care for them?” And so, for the next 12 months, Emily and her husband had four boys under the age of four—and peace, identity and purpose were found in the letting go, in learning to trust her Father’s love. Emily shares this story in her new memoir, Making It Home, and she shares it here with us. It’s a grace to welcome Emily to the farm’s front porch today…
We are downstairs by the woodstove, the fire making its warm, crackling sound—the phone rings.
We let it ring a couple of times. I slowly reach for the cordless.
It’s Ashley, a girl I met ten years ago through Young Life. I lost track of her for a while, but learned recently that she had two small boys and had taken them with her when she left her boyfriend after he’d pushed her down the stairs.
She was trying to juggle school while finding a place for her and the boys to live.
And life was unraveling.
“I can’t do it,” she says, crying into the phone. “I can’t do it anymore, Emily. I can’t be a mom.”
I swallow. It’s the same thing I’ve thought about myself a thousand times.
I tell her it’s normal, that every mom feels this way. “No, Emily, this is bad. Trust me, I’m not a good person right now.” I ask her to take a few days and pray about what she wants to do, and then call me back.
“Okay,” she says.
But even as I hang up the phone I know I need to go into the city.
I need to bring those boys home.
Trent’s eyes catch mine over the heads of our sons.
“I’ll make supper tonight,” he says, because he knows. The torn, exhausted look of someone trying to pull another person out of quicksand.
Soon there will be double the number of snow boots in our entrance and double the beds and double the runny noses.
I never wanted to be a mother, growing up.
Being a mom meant spending yourself, always. It meant sacrificing your body, all varicose veins and weary. It meant wiping noses and bottoms and putting Scooby-Doo Band-Aids on knees. And now my heart has stretch marks.
I don’t have time to figure out the answers. I just have time to make beds and find car seats, and God will take care of the rest. Nothing surprises Him, and even as we cling to each other He is making room for a miracle.
Of working out on the elliptical while the kids are napping, of listening to music and weeping, of speaking to a God who is more in love with us than I ever imagined. Praying one night for these little ones coming, and the next night for my boys and wondering if we are doing the right thing.
I see the lights of our car as it pulls into the driveway and we all stand in the doorway of the house, the glow from the kitchen behind us, and I hope we look welcoming.
And slowly, out of the dark of the garage emerge two tiny little boys, the taller one holding the shorter one’s hand. They both have backpacks and they look so small between the drifts of snow as they walk the path to our house.
Aiden says “Hi,” in a sweet voice as they slowly make their way to us. I bend low when they arrive, look in their eyes, say, “We’re so glad you’re here. You can call me Auntie Em.”
I peel their winter jackets from them, their faces too old for their bodies. We show them their beds. Sam in a playpen in the den; Kasher in a crib in the nursery, Danny on the top bunk in Aiden’s room, and Aiden on the bottom.
We put them in their pajamas, brush four boys’ teeth, say prayers and sing “Jesus Loves Me” beside each of their beds and hold them close so they won’t feel alone.
Trent and I sit upstairs on the couch in the dark. Side by side. Waiting for Immanuel to come and save us.
And we stumble into the pew at church, a family of six with bed heads and penitent hearts.
We are a full house, and there are toys and boots and mud and soup-stains, and sparing the guinea pig from sticky hands and rising countless times in the night when all of them get sick, which is all of the time, and trying to be like Jesus when we’ve had no sleep.
And every once in a while Trent and I look at each other across a mess of tousled heads and we see the person we want to be: the one hiding beneath the grime of the day-to-day, the one that weeps for all the children who have no one.
“I love you,” we say, tired, to the other.
I know the first few months will be the hardest, like bringing home a newborn who feels like a stranger and then one day you wake up and he’s become family.
We pray a lot with them, teaching Danny and Sam how to bow, and they do it over snacks and dessert and for their mommy too.
And I am relearning prayer, the way it is a kind of desperate plea when no one is listening and me.
I recall how the boys crowded around Trent after bath time for a Bible story, ages four, two, one, and six months, all in Trent’s lap, and it becomes my prayer. All of it.
That this boy will know the fullness of God’s love, and that this love will become his Savior, here in the dark.
And one day, one week after they arrive, I am doing crafts with the boys, painstakingly gluing Danny’s hundredth fuzzy ball to his creation, wondering why God has asked me to do this, a woman like me who has big ambitions and very little patience, when Danny looks at me and he says, “Emily, you’re doing a good job.”
I am learning that being a woman is about giving until it hurts, and then receiving so much that my soul might break.
Because we create with our words, with our hearts, with our minds, even when our wombs are empty.
Even when she physically can’t conceive, a woman is always birthing.
Always in labor.
Always loving, because there are people growing around us, and because of us.
There are husbands. There are someone else’s children. There are friends and guests and all of these require the gentle surrender of a woman’s time and passion.
And in turn, the Lord turns and tells us,
“Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
Even sometimes through the voice of a child.
Emily T. Wierenga is an award-winning journalist, columnist, artist, author, blogger and founder of The Lulu Tree. Her work has appeared in many publications, including Relevant, Charisma, Desiring God, The Gospel Coalition, Christianity Today, Dayspring’s (in)courage and Focus on the Family. She is the author of six books including the travel memoir Atlas Girl and speaks regularly about her journey with anorexia. She lives in Alberta, Canada, with her husband, Trenton, and their children.
In her latest book Making it Home, Emily takes readers on an unconventional journey through marriage, miscarriage, foster parenting, and the daily struggle of longing to be known, inviting them into a quest for identity in the midst of life’s daily interruptions. Highly recommending Making it Home: Finding My Way to Peace, Identity, and Purpose.
Sign up for a FREE Making It Home webcast on peace, identity and purpose featuring Liz Curtis Higgs, Holley Gerth, Jennifer Dukes Lee and Jo Ann Fore (with Emily Wierenga as host), 8 pm CT on September 10. Once you sign up here you’ll be automatically entered for a giveaway of each of the author’s books!
[ Our humble thanks to Baker Publishing Group for their partnership in today’s devotion ]