Confessions of an Imperfect Mama & the Lessons My “Different” Child Taught Me

No one has mentored me quite like this womanSally Clarkson has poured me tea, has poured into me, has poured from a depth of rich wisdom and life well-lived and she loves from the deepest places. She has learned the secret of cherishing and celebrating life each day, always looking for the fingerprints of God to delight her. Raising four outside-the-box children and learning to embrace her life puzzle has taught her the freedom that comes from living to please only God, the only one who can offer unconditional love and total acceptance. Listening for the song of God through the dark moments in her life journey has given her peace of heart and joy in her moments. Mentoring others to know and experience God’s beauty is a passion that fills her days as she writes, loves, and moves through each day. It’s a grace to welcome Sally to the farm’s front porch today…

guest post by Sally Clarkson

pril 19, my son’s birthday, found me rocking slowly on my front porch, chilled from the Colorado mountain breeze, sipping tea before the sunset had closed the day.

I opened my computer, and the first e-mail I saw was from my 27-year-old, Nathan.

A smile spread across my heart. He was hundreds of miles away in New York City, and I longed for news every day to know that he was flourishing.

His life was an epic story I never knew I would live through.

His note was a surprise I didn’t expect, and never realized I needed, but it touched a hidden part of tenderness that brought the most satisfying joy.

Let me tell you about Nathan. He was different from the start.

We named him Nathan John, which means “A Gracious Gift from God.”

When I went into labor with Nathan, he almost slid out, after an hour of labor, and was one of the most beautiful babies I had ever seen.

Folding my arms gently around his warm little boy body, I thanked God that He had blessed me with the gift of this tiny, easygoing little boy, since now I had three children under five.

After giving birth to two children, I thought I was a pretty good mama. My first two children responded happily to my ways of loving, living, and training them, and I felt at ease as a seasoned mama.

This quiet lasted for two days.

From the third day, he rarely slept through the night. He would rage and scream, arch his back, and flail in my arms for hours on end. Unlike my first two, he refused to cuddle or allow me to be affectionate. He wouldn’t nurse, and he was inconsolable even after my attempts to sing him to sleep at nights. Often agitated, he wailed and wriggled for hours on end. Exhausted and disheartened, I stumbled through my days like a zombie. Nathan was different from the beginning.

Often, as people outside our family observed our little crew, they would feel free to give unasked-for input.

“Do you think you are disciplining your child enough?”

So often, voices screamed inside my head of my failure to control this little one, and invisible fingers inside pointed at my failures every time he screamed and fell on the floor in one more out-of-control moment.

How I hated to lose my temper, to raise my voice, to show impatience, because I wanted to be a loving, gentle mama. Yet he pushed so many buttons, I would eventually become exasperated, again.

There were some moments when he would curl into my mama arms and, for a few minutes, be as sweet as any toddler. More often, he would defy every request, fall on the floor and scream, and throw his older siblings into strife-induced chaos.

Eventually, he would be defined by letters and evaluations: ADHD, OCD, dyslexic, ODD, and a string of other interesting taglines.

One late afternoon, after a particularly challenging day, I was sitting on our mountainside deck, again pouring my heart out to God.

I was convinced that God had chosen the most inadequate person in the world to be his mama—and was quite sure He had made a mistake.

“How can I reach this precious little boy? How am I supposed to mother him? Train more? Discipline more? Sympathize and show patience more generously? Did God choose the wrong child?”

As I sat pondering, it was as though God convicted me,

What if raising Nathan is an act of service I have called you to? Will you accept him as a gift from Me?

Will you submit to the circumstances he brings to your whole family because you believe I am in control? Will you humble yourself and accept My will and stop fighting against him? Even if no one else ever sees the battles you have lived through or knows your quiet faithfulness to love him, your service of worship to Me is not lost. I see you! You may feel alone because so few understand, but you are not alone. I am with you and with him every day. Nathan is fearfully and wonderfully made; I formed him in your womb. He is different because I allowed it. He has My fingerprints all over his heart, mind, and soul—and his personality is a gift, not only a challenge.”

It was a watershed moment in my life. I began to realize that my son was a gift from God. But God desired me to give up control and to live faithfully into the moments He had given me.

“Sally, don’t try to figure him out or change him to what you want him to be. I want you to love him as I love him. Treat him with honor and respect because he is made in My likeness, and I will give you the grace to raise him. Leave him in My capable hands.”

Yielding my beloved, difficult child helped relieve me from always feeling I was responsible for his maturity and well-being. I gave him into God’s hands. I learned to walk in faith.

I saw that my sweet boy was not a diagnosis.

Not a problem to be solved or a disorder to be fixed.

He was a child to be guided, cherished, trained, and gloried in.

Through the years, Nathan became one of my most cherished friends. He was a child who delighted me. Loving him taught me that God loved me so dearly, as I was, in spite of my imperfections.

I was stretched, challenged, humbled, and humiliated enough to know his story was not about me, but about being faithful to the God who had entrusted him to us.

Choosing to live into my God-ordained role of shepherding this little boy took precedence over my need to be approved of as a mother—and this release of expectations brought freedom and grace.

This truth dawned on me: we all are different in one way or another, all of us a little bit quirky.

The walls of our souls are covered with their own unique murals, and when God steps inside, He’s not looking to change, whitewash, or push us to conform.

Instead, He revels in the uniqueness He created each of us to have.

In the end, Nathan was, indeed, a gracious gift from God.

 

To learn what Nathan’s email said that morning, play this video:

Sally Clarkson is the mother of four wholehearted children, a popular conference speaker, and a champion of women everywhere. She is the bestselling author or coauthor of numerous books and articles on Christian motherhood and parenting, including The Lifegiving Home, Own Your Life, Desperate, The Mission of Motherhood, The Ministry of Motherhood, and most recently Different.

In this book, you will join Sally and Nathan as they share their stories from a personal perspective as mother and son. If you are in need of help and hope in your own journey with an outside-the-box child, or if you’re an adult trying to make sense of your differences, you’ll find deep insight, resonance, and encouragement in the pages of this book. Dare to love and nurture the “different” one in your life.

[ Our thanks to Tyndale for their partnership in today’s devotion ]

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