Before I had children, I thought time belonged to me. I was its keeper, its planner, and its organizer. In high school, I had a detailed schedule of homework each night: math, French, and chemistry in its neat box, awaiting my confident check mark. In college, I had lists in every notebook of what tasks I needed to accomplish, sometimes writing down things I had already done in order to feel the satisfaction of marking it complete. I reveled in luxurious Saturday and Sunday hours, sitting on the “sunny side” of the student center at a table in the corner, setting my face to my future with the precision of the metronome I kept long after I had stopped taking music lessons.
And then Jack was born, and my neat plans, my metronome, gave way to a car full of medical equipment and size one diapers and the many quilts family and friends had made him. There wasn’t room for my old way of doing things. There wasn’t room for my check marks and lists. There was only room for the hospital breast pump and the coolers of frozen milk.
I think all mothers — all parents — experience this: you pull the car into the driveway and bring the baby inside, but when you go back out to the car, looking for your old, familiar way of life, you can’t find it. It’s a bird that took flight out your car window, and all you’re left with are the quiet snuffles of your newborn and the deep ink-stained sky.
I spent Jack’s first months still making lists, still trying to check boxes. I survived my classes under a halo of NICU nightlights, writing papers while he slept. I plowed through the monthly boxes of medical supplies, keeping a running tally, keeping myself busy checking and rechecking what needed changing, what we had too much or not enough of. I made lists that grew exponentially longer in the hours I slept, and I would wake only to remember that there was so much more undone that I hadn’t even thought to write down.
I resented myself for how short I fell by these measurements. But even more, I resented the requirement that I give up the measurements. How else would I make progress? How else would I achieve those dreams from the sunlit college days? How else would I become who I most wanted to be?
Then, on a Tuesday morning in February, so early the sky was still inky black, we drove Jack to the Children’s Hospital to have his cleft lip surgery. He slept in his blue husky puppy pajamas on the drive down and tried to roll over in the hospital bed wearing a tiny gown printed with boys and girls in scuba gear. When they took him back, I felt my heart go with him. We waited in the pre-op room, the door cracked open to listen for the footsteps of the surgeon telling us we could go see him on the PICU floor.
I had brought a list of things to keep me busy. There were papers to write and blog posts to grade for my TA assignment. I was hoping to finish a chapter of my book. But every minute that passed, my backpack stayed unopened. My husband and I watched old episodes of Happy Endings through headphones. We paced. He went to get us coffees and pastries from our favorite café in town. The backpack seemed to beckon me, a promise that if I devoted myself once again to that old way, I would make my way — our way — back towards something controllable, something predictable.
But that old way was gone. In its place was my son. In its place was his wild and beautiful life, the waiting for a surgeon who does the work of cutting and shaping the most delicate skin and muscle. The old way, the metronome, the control, fed me a story where I was secure without God, where I could live by my work, where the boxes I checked off were a guarantee of my safety, maybe even my salvation.
But then I learned to move through rooms, through hallways, through whole weeks and months without anything to keep the time. I learned to let my son lead me around surprise corners and through narrow doors. I learned to trust that when I could not hear Jesus, He was still walking next to us, He was still close by. As I slowly chiseled away those old plans and expectations, I realized that time belongs to God, and He asks us to offer it up with open palms.
This hour is Yours, how should I spend it? This day is Yours, how do I love You in it? This life — so long, and so short — is Yours, how do I follow You through it?
When Jack came out of that surgery, I held him in a reclining chair in his PICU room for almost 18 hours. He slept and slept. He drooled blood on my chest, his lip bruised with a new kind of beauty, his tiny hands tangled in my shirt. I held him, and the day arced away from us. It seemed like we were inside eternity, him and me, each hour wider than the next. Time belonged to God. I believed He stretched it before us, He made it beautiful, He gave us an infinite gift in a finite space — in a chair, in a few hours, with my son’s tiny hand pressed against my skin.
It’s hard to remember how I once understood time. It’s hard to believe that I once imagined I was in control of it, that I could make it obey me, that I could achieve those sunlit dreams by my own power. Now, standing between me and those years and that way of being are my two children. Standing between me and that old story of progress is their beauty and their light. Standing between me and the checklist I once cherished are these minutes of laughter, these minutes of grace, these gifts of the infinite.