Last week we celebrated my oldest daughter turning 17 years old! I can’t even describe accurately the emotions you feel when your children reach these years. Either you’ve already been there and you totally know what I’m talking about or you have young children and you inevitably will. But there is a hurricane of feels that happen. Weren’t they just celebrating their first birthday with a smash cake, or their 5th with a ‘themed’ party and how is it that we are on the cusp already of them being an ‘adult’? You’re scared, happy, sad, reminiscent, proud, nostalgic and nauseous, all at the same time. For me this particular birthday held so much more than all of those feelings combined, mostly because it starkly juxtaposed my own. Disclaimer: this is a little on the longer side so grab some coffee and probably a tissue.
At Emily’s party I got out her baby book. In that book is this photo (excuse my picture of a picture). This is a picture of me, on MY 17th birthday. I am just entering my third trimester of pregnancy. Meaning that shortly after my 16th birthday, I found myself pregnant and entering my Senior year of high school.
I was raised in church my whole life. I was all in all a good kid. My parents loved me, were supportive and open, easy to talk to and did the best they could to point me in every way to Jesus. My Dad has been in the Army my whole life and my Mom stayed home to provide stability to our family when my Dad’s job could not promise his presence. When I was 15 my Dad deployed to Bosnia for a year. He missed my 16th birthday and many other milestones that happened for me during that time. Not only that but I had made friends at school that made choices contrary to what I knew, and had been taught, was best for me. But in those months of my Dad being gone, I knew all those things, but chose something different. I was mad at God, mad at my Dad, and anyone else who said they cared. I was hurt and lonely, natural for the circumstances. I never stopped believing in God but would tell Him regularly, “I’m mad at you, why should I do what you say when it doesn’t work out how I want?” I was a teenager and didn’t understand much beyond my own pain and wants.
So, I pushed back against my family, my church and my faith. I embraced everything else. I still did my best to avoid getting in trouble so I was sneaky, still went to church, but lied about why I couldn’t be here or go to that. I avoided anything that might bring prodding questions or shed light on what I truly felt or was doing behind people’s backs. Finally my Dad came home and did everything he could to pursue me and bring healing, like a good Dad. He talked with me, prayed for me and with me, showed up and kept an even and loving tone with me even when I was awful. I said some terribly hurtful things to my parents, especially my Dad. I realize now the great love my Dad had for me that overcame all the scars I know I was leaving on his heart.
It came time for our youth groups annual summer camp. I had avoided attending every fundraiser knowing that without that extra money, I wouldn’t be able to attend. I was still mad at God, still telling Him I wasn’t ready to talk, I wasn’t ready to be anything but angry. One week before camp, my youth pastor came to me and said, “an anonymous donor has paid for you to attend camp!” He was so excited for me, I was secretly panicked. I told God that day, “don’t think I am meeting you on this mountain, because I’m not. You can make me go, but you can’t make me listen.” I went, and tried my best to push back the stirring of the Holy Spirit over that week. One of the last nights we were there the speaker talked about sex. He didn’t just talk about abstaining until marriage, he talked about the guilt, the connection, the baggage we make for ourselves by engaging in sex outside of the boundaries God made for it. I felt guilty and shameful. You would have thought my wooden bench was on fire with how uncomfortable I felt in that moment. Then the pastor described the great love God had for us that He would make a way for anyone, with any sin to be made new, right, clean by simply receiving the gift of forgiveness. He told me that I was forgiven, I could choose to be different, I could choose to let go of anger and shame and I could walk forward without all of those things. When he invited everyone down to the stage for prayer, I went. In a huge crowd of hundreds of teens all praying for one another, a band playing in the background and the feeling of several hands on my shoulders, I had an encounter with God that I will never forget. Suddenly, everything was quiet. It was like I was alone, but not in an isolating way, but a peaceful one. Then I heard an audible voice say to me, “there you are, I have been looking for you.” In this voice was a tone of gladness and excitement. I was made new in that moment.
I came home and sat down with my Mom and Dad. I told them all about what had transpired in my life over the last several months. I shared with them the choices I made and the shame I felt, the encounter I had with God, and the absolutely freeing and personal commitment I made to the Lord that night at camp. My parents wept. While they grieved the choices I had made, they were overjoyed that my desire now was to serve the Lord. In this same conversation my mom realized that our supply of feminine products (three girls in the house) had not been as readily used in the last few months as usual. She asked me if I could be pregnant. I said I didn’t know, I wasn’t really good at keeping track of those things at that time. My Dad drove two towns away to buy a pregnancy test for me. He didn’t want anyone to see him and ask about it. While my parents both sat on their bed I went into their bathroom and discovered that I was in fact pregnant. I walked out with that plastic stick and said, “its positive”. My Dad immediately threw himself crying onto the bed, and my mom pointed to her bedroom door and simply said, “go out”. I left their room, went to my own and closed the door. I cried myself to sleep and was woken up the next morning by my Dad. He was puffy eyed and appeared to have been crying as much as me. He was loving and comforting saying that he knew God’s plan was good. He took me to our pediatricians office where blood work and subsequent ultrasound would confirm that I was 3 months pregnant.
Three days after leaving my parents room, my Mom emerged. She had been in there the entire time. She came to me and said, “I’m sorry if I scared you by staying in my room. I had to do that because I needed to wait until I could talk to you without saying things I didn’t mean. I didn’t want to say anything to you that I could never take back.” She then went on to say that babies are a gift from the Lord. So, our family was not going to see this baby as anything less than that. There will be no more sadness from us about this, we are celebrating Gods plan and His timing. We know that HE doesn’t make mistakes, and HE works everything for our good. (I’m paraphrasing here because it was a long conversation.) My family, along with my small church family did exactly that. I received no condemnation from them only their love and support. I was truly a new creation in Christ and while terrified, I was also excited for all the future held.
Over the next 6 months of my pregnancy I encountered other people at school or my job who had strong opinions about my decision to keep my baby. I continued to attend regular classes at my High School as long as I could. My teachers were wonderful, supportive and very accommodating…especially to my need to randomly run out of class and throw up! By many of my peers however, I was told I was selfish, stupid and would be ruining my life. I had multiple people tell me I “had nothing to offer” this baby. God was gracious to me and has blessed me with a fighting spirit, so their comments rolled off my back like water off a duck. Then shortly after Christmas break, I delivered a healthy and beautiful baby girl.
A baby girl who is no longer a baby but now is 17!!! I look at her now, as I have every day for the last 17 years and thank God for her. She could be so different, angry like I was at all the circumstances that have unfolded. I never married her birth Father, and their relationship has had its rough times. I see all that the world says about her circumstances or her beginnings and it makes me all the more thankful to God that I was resolute in keeping her. I thank Him that He gave me the strength to be her Mom when I was young and I thank Him that while I really didn’t have anything to offer her, I had a God, a Saviour, who had EVERYTHING to offer her. Even if I had been the only person to ever know this baby, she has transformed my life by her presence. She has made me better. But, it doesn’t stop there. I have watched her life affect the lives of dozens and dozens of other people. She loves God, and is fervent in following Him. She loves people and is kind and willing to serve wherever she can. She loves kids and prays for those around her. Strangers who interact with her at church, or in life, will stop me or seek me out to tell me how amazing she is. I could write books and books with all the things I love about her, all the ways I see God has worked His plan, and not just for my good, but the good of many.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”