Balancing Act

It was the day before Toby’s 3rd birthday, and I was engaged in a strange balancing act in the Toys R Us parking lot – heaving bags of toys over my enormous stomach and into my trunk. My water broke as I swung in the second bag. So many thoughts flashed through my head in that instant: “It’s too early. A month early! It’s Toby’s birthday tomorrow. Where is Greg? Who’s going to pick up Caleb from kindergarten? Should I drive home or to the hospital? My shoes are ruined…” (I still miss those shoes.)

I remember the cold steel of the hospital table I shivered on, waiting for a spot in the operating room to open up. I was shaking so badly that a kind nurse put her forehead against mine and whispered, “Shhh, shhhh” to calm me. We performed this balancing act together, this stranger and I, me shaking and her “shhh”-ing. I clung to her for all I was worth.

An hour later, Wyatt and Brooke were delivered by C-section at 6:30 and 6:31, respectively. I got to hold them before they were put into plastic boxes for air, heat and light. They were the tiniest babies I had ever seen. Brooke had dark hair, Wyatt had 2 left thumbs, and to me they were double perfection itself. I spent the night in a tidal-wave balancing act between intense pain, deep exhaustion, fear, worry, joy, and a distinct craving for my new babies.

The next day on Toby’s birthday, he opened his gifts at the foot of my hospital bed. His remote control army tank drove around my bedside table, and I knew this was not the birthday I wanted for him: playing on a hospital floor while I gasped in pain. Suddenly I felt so overwhelmed  by how many kids I had – our family instantly went from 2 to 4 – and the crushing realization how much each one needed me. This was a balancing act I could not fathom. How would I balance it all?

My twins lived in the hospital for 12 more days, and at that time it seemed like the whole community helped us balance. Church ladies made my oldest son lunch, took him to school, cleaned my carpets and did my dishes. So many families brought over meals, and one family kept bringing them for 7 long months. My girlfriends finished painting the nursery and hung all the baby clothes in the closets. My husband steadied me each day as I limped down the hospital sidewalk and into the NICU. Pastors and and friends waited in the lobby for permission to visit the babies, taking turns watching Toby. It was a balancing act, and we all balanced it together, each in small ways and from different corners. Sometimes we learn balance from many teachers.

And then – they came home, and real life stretched ahead of me. Those next 4 months were the hardest 4 months of my life. Looking back, I don’t know how I even did it. Greg was 2 hours away at our new churches. Caleb had to be to kindergarten at 8am each day. Toby was 3 and newly lonely for his older brother. And I had to nurse the twins faithfully every 2 hours around the clock or their weight would drop, and they would end up back in the NICU. I slept in 45 minute intervals, I ate everything in sight, and I cried every day. The needs of so many kids fought for my energy, and I balanced it all poorly, on so many days. People used to say, “I don’t know how you do it!” At the time, I would answer – “I have no choice – I have to do it!” Now, I too am wondering how on earth I did that myself. Sometimes we learn to balance alone. 

Today, 8 years later, our family is striving to figure out another new balancing act: one teenager in distance learning, 3 elementary schoolers in backpacks and masks unloading for in-person school each morning, Greg zoom-teaching from home, and me working full time as a pastor, a chaplain, a writer, an editor, a doctoral student, and so many things besides. We are balancing work and family, fear, and faith in this new world of social distancing and limited gathering. We are balancing the sharp need for friendships with the constant vigilance of safety. We are balancing leadership in a time when nobody’s quite sure how to lead. We are balancing loss and joy and change and disappointment in a community we’ve given our whole hearts to. We are balancing the unknown, against what we do know for certain: that God is faithful, and God will see us through.

Today, on October 12, I am reflecting on the fact that we learn to grow however strong we need to grow, in order to face the challenges that present themselves to us. That we learn to balance sometimes incredibly heavy weights because we have to. Today I’m celebrating this incredible human capability – to balance, to adapt, to grow, to harness strength we didn’t know we had, exactly when we need it. Some of that’s inside us. Some of that’s in the strength of our community. And so much of it is God filling us with things we didn’t have before. Life is a constant balancing act. But I have found that God exists in the balance between me, and whatever lies ahead unseen. This is the story that my twins don’t know they re-tell to me, each and every October. Their lives are a reminder that none of us balance alone.