I still remember the wild fear that rushed through me.
The way everything slowed and my heart raced and instinct took over.
There is no way I would have had the gumption to take on a two thousand pound mama cow who was charging—except for one small detail: my daughter was on the wrong side of the gate.
I doubt I have ever moved that fast in my life, but the straw bale I had been carrying was lost in the scuffle and my fist was hitting the cow on the nose, while every last pound I had was body-slamming her head around.
One of the first things my husband taught me about cattle was that they follow their nose, so all I could think was I have to get that giant-angry-moving-toward-my-baby-girl head turned another direction.
Everything blurred after that—my screams for my daughter to get out of the pen. My husband’s shout from across the barn. The way the cow shook her head and focused on me. How I had never been so glad to be in an angry animal’s line of vision, because that meant my daughter wasn’t. How the two of us, a cow protecting her brand-new calf and this mama protecting her brand-new adopted daughter, both stared at each other while I backed to the gate and fumbled with it blind—trying to swing it open behind me.
The next thing I knew, I was slamming the gate shut and my husband was there and my daughter was crying and all the adrenaline had drained from my body and I thought maybe I’d fall right over.
It was late that night when my eight-year-old girl came crawling to my lap. She snuggled against me and whispered, “Mama, I knew I wasn’t supposed to go in there. You and Daddy have told me that every day. But I wanted to pet that baby calf.”
I rubbed her back and nodded. “I know.”
“But, Mama,” she finally said in an exasperated sigh, “why did you fight the cow for me? You could have gotten hurt.”
I tilted her head back so I could see her eyes then kissed the end of her nose. “You’re my girl,” was all I said. But it was enough.
Over the past weeks I’ve been in this exhausting place where I’ve struggled with the boundaries God puts in our lives. He says things like, Those who belong to me have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. And, If you live by the Spirit, you must keep in step with the Spirit.
But I want to write my own pleasure into my life-story. I want it to say, “She was good and God gave her the babies she wanted.”
So when, instead, I try to live for God and I’m still left without the things I desire—something breaks open in me. And it’s messy.
I understand, you know, how Ishmael came to be. In that time, in that culture, I would have done the same thing. I would have sprinted past the boundaries God places in our lives—because the thing I want seems so good and so fulfilling and I can even create a story-line where I get the things I want and still serve Christ. It’s not that I want to turn away from Him, it’s just that I want more than what He’s giving.
The problem, at the very root, is my desire to earn my position in the Kingdom. I’m a lot like the men and women of Galatia. And sometimes I need Paul to just write out the truth, plain and simple, so I can pour it into my life until all those broken, messy places start filling up.
I need his reminder that the glory of salvation is all in Jesus. I cannot share in His glory by becoming a co-savior by keeping the law. I don’t get to do all the right things and demand something because I “deserve” it. Like we’re reminded in the parable of the unforgiving servant—our debt is so great, it couldn’t be paid back in a thousand lifetimes. But Jesus paid it all and all the glory is His.
I need the reminder that it’s not about me working “for God” (which gives me this employer-employee mentality, where I do enough and I get paid) but rather, instead, it’s about what God had done, is doing, and will do for His people. For me. I am called to behold the goodness of the Father, sharing the wonder of His work with those around me. All glory is His.
I need the reminder that using the law to establish my “goodness” means that I’m throwing away grace. So, really, going back to a work-based salvation (in my case, not that I think I’ll be “saved” from my sin through my works, but rather, “saved” from infertility or loss) means walking away from the hope that is found in Christ. Turning away leaves me empty and angry, because without the Spirit, I am a slave to my passions and desires, all of which will leave me wanting.
Instead, I need to keep in step with the Spirit. Staying within the boundaries. Believing that God can see far more than I can and His desire is good for His children.
He is the Father who says, “No, don’t go near that pen.” And I’m the little girl who can’t understand, who can’t believe that ANYTHING could be wrong with seeing that tiny baby calf. After all, OTHER PEOPLE ARE IN THERE! If they can go, why can’t I? Other people pet the calves. Other people pick them up and carry them places. Other people come and go as they please. There aren’t gates locked for THEM.
The Father says, “No.” The Father says, “It’s not safe.” The Father says, “That wouldn’t be good for you right now.” The Father says, “It’s not for you.”
And the little girl says, “I WORK IN THE BARN TOO!” Her heart gets bitter and angry. “Why do I have to stay out when I’M THE ONE WHO WANTS IT THE MOST?” She pretends to obey, but inside she’s steaming. “Everyone else gets what I want and they don’t care as much as ME. If I work hard and I care the most then I should get to pet the baby calves.”
And soon she’s pushing the boundary lines.
The beauty of the story is found in the response of family.
You know how family works, right? Family means, when my little girl pushes the boundary lines and I see her in danger—I forget about my own danger. It never even crosses my mind. All I can see, all I can think, is the need in front of me.
When family is screaming for help, everyone runs to their aid. Without reasoning out how or why they were in that place. Without counting cost. Without hesitating.
Thank you, God, for being my family.
He came, you know.
Even though I pushed right past the boundaries of trust, choosing to grow angry over my lack of babies, angry that all he’s given me is half-grown children who carry bucket loads of loss, angry that my body doesn’t work right and therefore doesn’t look the way I want it to—because OBVIOUSLY, at the LEAST, if God won’t let me have babies He should at least let me be THIN.
It’s ugly over there. Messy. Painful.
But He shows up anyway. When I’m lying in bed, writhing in sorrow, barely able to breathe around my sobs. He’s there.
And later, when I’m sitting quietly with Him again, when I say, “I know I shouldn’t have been there. I know I didn’t trust. I wandered wherever my thoughts carried me—growing bitter and angry and jealous. Why did You come?”
He just chuckles. I know He’s chuckling—I can practically feel the way His heart moves against me. “You’re my girl,” He says. And it’s enough.