I absolutely love this hilarious, brilliant, wonderful woman. I first encountered Jennifer Fulwiler over a decade ago, when she was a brand new Christian trying to figure out how to find God in the mess of every day live, and I couldn’t stop reading her — a genius mind with a keen sense of humor, a woman who asked big questions and dug deep. And then we started emailing — mamas to a slew of kids who both really wanted to faithfully live for Jesus and answer His calling and love our people well. Follow this woman on Instagram, listen to her radio show – -and find yourself laughing loud, loving large — and your soul enlarging to hold more joy. It has been a profound pleasure to follow Jennifer’s stellar work over the years, and I could not be more delighted to share this story with you, in which she opens up about what she learned about being “strong.” It’s a grace to welcome Jennifer to the farm’s front porch today…
My sixth child, Joseph, had been born under difficult circumstances, and then a problem with his lungs landed him in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
I knew exactly how to handle this: I would be strong.
I spent all day at the hospital, then, at home, I’d stay up until the wee hours of the morning catching up on housework and other chores.
I stumbled through the NICU floor and through the rooms of my home exhausted and bleary-eyed, forcing myself to keep doing it all because that’s what strong moms do.
To help him heal, I wanted Joseph to be held as much as possible.
I tried extending my hours at the hospital, covering all the times of day that my husband couldn’t be there, but I didn’t last very long. With five children who needed me at home, I broke down under the pressure.
I sent out a desperate plea to all friends and family members, asking them to come hold my baby.
And you know what? I felt guilty as I typed those emails.
I was burdening my friends and family. Maybe if we’d made better medical decisions, I wouldn’t have to sponge off these good people’s time.
Maybe if I tried harder I wouldn’t have to be so dependent on others.
Maybe if I didn’t have such a huge family this would all be easier to manage.
When I’d run into one of my volunteers when I came for my shift at the hospital, I’d stammer thanks while averting my eyes in shame.
Sure enough, my little son’s condition improved markedly thanks to so much time burrowed up next to another warm body.
The only problem was the night.
With my wonderful group of volunteers, we could have someone with the baby pretty much all day. But there were seven hours at night when our son would be alone. This NICU was overbooked, so the nurses were usually not able to comfort crying babies at night.
On the seventh day of the NICU stay, I arrived in the morning to see that Joseph had a new IV line in his scalp. When I asked a nurse about it, she explained that they’d had to insert a needle into his head at three o’clock in the morning.
I pulled him close and sunk into the chair we kept next to his bed. I imagined his eyes darting around, looking for someone to comfort him, and finding no one. I fought away tears and tried not to think about it.
My phone rang, showing my dad’s number.
“How’s the little guy doing?” he asked.
“Well. He has this IV in his head now.”
“I know—and boy was he mad about that! He had a lot to say to those nurses who put that thing in.”
“Wait . . .” my voice was distorted as my throat tightened. “What do you mean? You were there?”
“Yeah. I knew you didn’t have someone to cover the night shift, so I’ve been staying from midnight until six in the morning.”
“You’ve been staying with him all night?”
“Sure have! Every night. He’s my little buddy now.”
I was literally speechless—my mouth was open, but I could not produce a single word.
Eventually I managed to stammer out a goodbye before I set down the phone to cry.
The next day I showed up to the hospital early and found my father dozed off in the hospital’s recliner chair with the baby snuggled against him.
When I woke him up to let him know his shift had ended, he looked down at his grandson and smiled one of the warmest, purest smiles I’d ever seen.
I had my apology ready for using so much of his time, but stopped when I realized then that he didn’t want to leave.
My father has often told me that his biggest regret in life is that he missed so much of my childhood.
In his dedication to provide for our family, he often had to live far away from home to find work in his industry. Despite my insistence that I had a happy upbringing, my dad often lamented that he was not there for so many of his only child’s important moments.
But there in that recliner chair, as the first light of dawn splashed across the sterile NICU floor, I saw my father experience healing.
Now that he was retired, he was able to give of himself in ways that he simply couldn’t back when he was younger. He had taken the freedom of his new phase of life and turned it into self-gift.
I saw in that moment that this act was not only a blessing to my son and to our family; it was a blessing to my father as well.
Now that I thought about it, none of the people who had volunteered to help us seemed burdened by their acts of kindness.
A neighbor had recently lost a grandchild in miscarriage and said that it helped her move forward to do this in honor of her little lost soul.
A neighbor had gone through a harrowing NICU stay with her own child, and she whispered to me that it was a grace-filled experience for her to pay it forward.
As I watched my dad sleepily wrap up the baby’s blankets, I thought of the explosion of grace that had come through this difficult experience – not just in our own lives, but in the lives of everyone who had come to our assistance.
And I realized that it all began with my own weakness.
This beautiful chain of love that had transformed more than one person’s soul all began when I let go of my white-knuckle grip on the situation, and turned my open palms upward to God in an act of surrender.Love always begins with vulnerability.
If I’d been able to be the supermom I wanted to be, I would have powered through this experience alone, isolated, thinking that I didn’t need anyone – not even God – to get me through this.
It felt like I went into a terrifying freefall when I let go of all my illusions of control and self-importance —
and what I found is that I landed in a soft net of love.
RUN, RUN, RUN and get this one in your hands! I’m telling you!
This wildly humorous memoir, One Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions, and Saying Yes to Them Both, she chronicles her story of learning to use her God-given gifts in the midst of having six babies in eight years. (And there are a few cameo appearances by even yours truly!)
One Beautiful Dream is the story of what happens when one woman embarks on the wild experiment of chasing her dreams with multiple kids in diapers. It’s the tale of learning that opening your life to others means that everything will get noisy and chaotic, but that it is in this mess that you’ll find real joy.
Highly relatable, and brutally honest, Jennifer’s story will spark clarity and comfort to your own tug-of-war between all that is good and beautiful about family life and the incredible sacrifice it entails. Let this book be your invitation to the unexpected, yet beautiful dream of saying yes to them all, with God’s help. I LOVE THIS BOOK! HIGHLY, HIGHLY, HIGHLY RECOMMEND!
[ Our humble thanks to Zondervan for their partnership in today’s devotion ]