In a few minutes my oldest son Noah turns 13. Right now, he and his brother are in our basement with a half-dozen other boys watching a movie and playing gameboy. They were playing sword tag down there earlier and now it smells like a high school boy’s locker room. They’re at that age where they still care about Pokemon more than girls or clothes, but they’re starting to smell like men. A couple of his friend’s voices have changed and I’ve been startled more than once tonight by the sound of men talking coming up from the basement.
Tonight as I thought about my son’s entry into the teenage years, I realized that more than anything I feel amazed at where we are. At how well things have turned out. You see, 13 years ago, I was unmarried, essentially homeless, directionless and poor as all get out. I had really planned on placing him for adoption. After all, I knew the statistics. I knew that the odds of us living comfortably were lousy, of me ever getting married were worse, that the odds of him growing to manhood without falling into the traps which catch so many boys raised by single mother were not good. Everyone I knew told me this was the right thing to do. I thought it was the right thing to do.
Except one thing; I asked God and He said no. Specifically, He said, “I am giving this child to you to care for.” I remember exactly where I was: in my junk-packed little red Ford Escort on Roosevelt Road, turning left onto Lorraine on my way to meet with people who might give me a place to live. It was about 7 o’clock at night in November, dark and rainy. I had just said, “God, just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.” And He did.
It took until about 2 weeks after Noah’s birth for me to accept and commit to God’s instructions to me. I asked over and over and over if I had understood Him correctly. But God was silent. He had said what He wanted and it was now up to me to do it or not. So, I did it. I told my family and friends that I was going to raise Noah myself. About half of my friends abandoned me pretty much immediately. The other half were gone within a year. My parents asked me not to come to the house because it was too upsetting for the family to deal with. I had little hope of ever making much of my life, or of ever being able to provide my son with all the things, materially and family-wise which I knew a child needed.
But I was doing what God had told me and I knew I couldn’t look back. I quickly realized that parenting this impossible, crabby, sleepless baby came so naturally to me that it almost felt like a spiritual gifting. Parenting him was the first thing I ever did that didn’t feel like I was just faking it. Up until then, everything I did felt like I was pretending to know what to do while hoping no one called me out.
I lived in voluntary poverty working as a nanny for a family who allowed me to bring him with so I didn’t have to leave him in daycare. His dad and I got back together and broke up and repeated the cycle a few times just to be sure. My parents gradually came around. I knew I was doing the right thing. Or at least doing the right thing the best way I knew how. But still, I thought of him getting older and needing more – good schools, a place to hang out with his friends, company and supervision after school – and I couldn’t fathom how I’d ever do right by him.
Fast forward little more than a decade and here we are. His dad and I will be celebrating our 10th anniversary this year. We now have 3 more beautiful, smart, amazing children. We’ve had far more than our fair share of trouble, bad luck and drama, but we’ve managed to create a functioning family where there was none before. Every person in this house goes to bed and wakes up each day knowing that they are loved and valued by every other person in the house.
Noah is turning into a fine young man. He’s such a good kid that people don’t believe me when I tell them stories about him crying for hours on end, climbing walls and tearing up everything in sight. His dad has worked hard to provide him, and all of us, with many of the material comforts of life which I never thought he’d have. Now instead of worrying about good schools and supervision in the afternoons, we spend our days together and he learns from me.
Looking back at where we started, I never dared or hoped to dream we’d be this OK, this normal. But I guess that when God asks us to go somewhere, He sometimes has plans we don’t know about. Sometimes He just says, “leave your home and go to a place I will show you” and you just have to trust.
Happy Birthday, Noah! You are a blessing in ways you may never know.