Motherhood. A 10-letter word that evokes so many emotions. Before my son was born this January, I had a very limited understanding of what this word means or would come to mean to me.
Fingernail. Another 10-letter word that for me has evoked many emotions in the last several months. I know you’re wondering why in the world I am connecting the two. I am connecting them, though, because God connected them for me.
Everyone told me while I was pregnant that those would be my last days of getting good sleep, and I had no context for how right they were. Bringing my son home, though, gave me a crash course in context. The newborn stage took everything out of my husband and me like it does everyone else blessed to bring a baby home from the hospital. My little one, Gabriel Nathan, was so adorably cute, but his acid reflux prevented us from being able to lay him down to sleep for the first several weeks of his life outside of the womb. Every night we would take turns sitting up in the very-expensive-but-well-worth-it glider from Pottery Barn (can I get an amen?!), holding him while he slept. The blessing of being able to nurse him coupled with his fairly low birth weight meant that his cycle of waking, eating and sleeping was a quick one. Plus, my body was still pretty shattered on the inside from the emergency Caesarean section I had had to have.
So, all of what I just described became my new world in an instant—a world full of new love, wonder and extreme exhaustion and fear. And it was about this time that my husband had the nerve to go back to work. Read: He had more than sufficient time on paternity leave, but I could have kept him home forever.
The week after EJ went back to work, I wanted to take Gabriel in to be weighed in order to make sure he was still gaining well after being born smaller than we all expected. That day I was a nervous wreck on the road. I drove so slowly, because this was my first time driving since the surgery and my first time driving my new Precious Treasure. His weigh-in was fine, and I had finally made it back home with him safely. I was emotionally exhausted from getting worked up the whole morning, and now it was time to take him back inside to the safety of our house. I got out of the driver’s seat slowly, trying to think ahead, but my mind was moving as slowly as lava. That’s the moment when I forgot that my post pregnancy body was still the size of my pregnant one for the most part, and I accidentally closed the driver side door with my hip before clearing my hand from that space. It felt like everything happened in slow motion. The car door closed and latched on my right thumb (yes, I’m right-handed) before it even registered to me. Oh, but the excruciating pain that came next let me know that I had just done something VERY wrong. I unlatched the door to retrieve my thumb, and the unrelenting throbbing set in. I stood there in my garage with my baby beginning to fuss in the back seat, crying myself from the pain and pent up frustration from the last four weeks.
That night, the pain was so bad that I had to take a pain reliever. Half of my nail was black from the blood that had pooled under it, and I was immediately terrified once I looked online that my nail would come off. All of my life I’ve feared losing a nail and a tooth. Here I was possibly about to watch one of those fears realized.
Then my sense of vanity moved in and I realized I didn’t want to attend the Stellar Awards (prestigious gospel music award show) this year without a right thumbnail. I was so stressed.
In the coming weeks, nothing much happened. The nail began to grow out like normal with the pooled blood seeming to be never ending. Then it happened. I saw the end of the nail—the place that had actually been injured. It had taken time to see it, but there it was. Graciously, it was barely visible at the Stellar Awards, and I don’t think anyone noticed it. But it was definitely going to come off. It was inevitable, and there was nothing I could do about it. Soon, my flesh would be exposed for what it was. And how could I be sure how it would be covered again? Would my nail grow back crooked or even grow back at all? Would it be discolored? What would people be able to see of me that I never intended for them to see?
This is where motherhood and my fingernail meet at a deeper place. You see, over the last several months, I had come to the Presence of God feeling much more numb than I’d ever felt before. I had been paralyzed with fear like never before, and my distrust of God as it concerns my son became evident to me in my prayers. I found my heart saying, “Ok, LORD, You can have everything but my son. I just love him too much.” I was so overwhelmed with keeping him alive and well by myself without realizing that believing I could do that was as silly as thinking I could knit him together in my own womb. But doggone it, I was still trying with all my might. And not only that, but my fears were causing me to lash out at people unreasonably. I could see myself eventually succumbing to the dead-ness of my fears like Gollum of Lord of the Rings with “my Precious.” All the while, God was gracious to me in this rebellion while still committed to making me whole.
I nursed my fears over the next couple of months like I nursed that nail until it was hanging by a thread. I kept peeking under it to anticipate how embarrassed I’d be, while holding onto it in fear of the possible pain of it coming off. The night before my birthday, three and a half months after the injury, I was swaddling my son, and in one fell swoop of an excited and spastic infant move, he tore my nail the rest of the way off. I felt… free. I felt nothing but freedom. It didn’t even hurt. I didn’t realize how tired I had grown of nursing that dead-ness. I wasn’t even embarrassed by how it looked. I was so grateful to have full use of my hand again that I couldn’t care less how it looked.
By this time I also knew that God was using it as a symbol to teach me some things. He showed me some things I’d been carrying that motherhood brought to the forefront, and He’s been taking me all the way back to the root—the original injurie(s) in my life. He’s been showing me that I can’t build my faith any more than I can make my nail grow back. I can, though, submit to His process and watch Him take something damaged and make something beautiful and whole. And can we take a moment to praise and thank God that the lesson came through my fingernail and not my tooth?!