What If I Could Have Done It Better?

I’m moving into my 34th year of anticipating fall. Inevitably, without any permission from me, the days move on-quickly.  And although my point is not that I am so very old, indulge me just for a minute.  A sampling of three recent experiences that have brought my attention to age:

First, the birthday card from my children last week included a proverb about gray hair, based, I will add, on their actual observation of the silver weaving through my brown.

Second, as we crossed the college campus last week for choir, my four ducks in a row behind me, I realized we were walking through Freshman Week.  Food, beach balls, inflatable slides,  and young, pink, new adults spread out like a new crop of awkward saplings.  I walked the campus as an invisible woman (I know I was non-existant because I didn’t even glance at people who were married with children when I was freshman). And yet the memories of my first week at college danced across my thoughts, rising with every sense of smell and taste and color. And then I did a little math to recall the year of those memories and I couldn’t help but think, “I’m so old!”

And a final, third reminder in this month of my birthday arrived through a sweet nurse that takes care of my Dad.

“I’m getting married in three weeks!” she announced with flushed cheeks.

“How old are you?” I asked after a few other comments.

“Twenty four,” she answered.  “I’ve been living with my parents and now I have to go live with a boy!” She exclaimed with equal parts excitement and concern.

After, as I sat with my Dad, my mind traveled through the decade that stood between the nurse and myself.

That’s a lot of life, I thought. Lessons of love, losing and finding identity as a parent and wife, unexpected surgeries with our second child, the six years of caring for my Dad, becoming a teacher-that’s a lot of life and lot of journey.

Oh, I realize to anyone who’s older than me, I sound like a baby mewling.  But for now I can only talk about my thirty four years and more specifically the last ten or so.

I’m thankful for the wisdom gained through experience and it makes parenting our fourth child much less stressful.  But there is pain in knowing that I can’t go back and apply anything I’ve learned to the early years.  I have to accept all of the mistakes and the hurt I’ve lived and caused during the learning of the lessons.

But I still go there.

What if I had known more about God’s grace when my first born was two?  What if I had snuggled her more and dumped the books in the garbage?

What if I had known, in the early years of our second child, that each child would be different and therefore, need different parenting?

What if I had been less angry?

What if we had seen different doctors, asked different questions, been at the hospital more in the spring of 2010, could we have kept my Dad from disappearing before our eyes?

There are both gifts and pain in knowledge.

A few weeks ago I listened to an older friend.  A friend with a decade and a half added on to my 34 years.  A friend, who now in the peak years of teenage parenting, is learning the difficult lessons that she knows will help her parent child three and four differently but can do nothing to prevent the hard road that has begun with her eldest son.

I received her words as an early birthday gift.

“I don’t spend time second-guessing and wondering how I could have done things differently.  I’ve never struggled with that.  I know that almost every day of my life I’ve gotten up and given my very best to the day with what I had at the time.  And that’s enough.”

On the drive home from my Dad, the what-ifs fill my mind, louder than the radio meant for distraction.  And as I look at the treasure of my eldest daughter: beautful on the outside, filled with gems of love and God inside, I worry “what if I had….?”

On the good days I can stop myself and think:

On all of the days I was making mistakes and laying the ground for the wisdom I’ve gained, I was doing the best, always giving the most I had to give with what I had.  Yes, the effort was broken, because I am broken, but I was giving my best effort. And that’s enough.

All of the empty spaces I’ve left in my family are the ones that God will need to come in and fill, just as He’s doing in my own empty spaces.

On those other days, the almost days where I may have gotten out of bed but my heart, my mind, my prayers, my hope all stayed under the covers, I have real regrets and I made big mistakes.  So how do I answer to the days that I can’t say I tried my best?  I can only let God answer, the same answer He’s given me through friends, through my husband, through His word:

“There is now no condemnation for those who are  in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 8:1)

Do you feel the peace and grace trying to edge in?


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