Like most little girls, I always dreamed of the adventures I would have when I grew up. I loved to sing and wrote worship songs and I wanted to go overseas as a missionary to serve God. I had plans…
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was sick. I don’t know exactly when it happened because I was so little, probably in preschool even, but some of my earliest memories are painful ones. The problem with pain though is that you don’t realize it is pain when you’ve only ever been in pain…
When I was 17, I spent a summer on a mission trip with some wonderful friends from my church youth group. I’ll never forget that time. I knew I wanted to be a missionary and having the opportunity to daily share Christ with the kids I worked with was humbling and exhilarating all at the same time. The warm air in that impoverished Caribbean nation made me feel so good and I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be, doing what God wanted. It was so hard at the same time, but I loved it since I was completely dependent on God. He daily gave me strength.
I came home. And I made one of the scariest decisions of my whole life, although I didn’t know it at the time. I didn’t want to lose that closeness I had with God or the purpose that I felt.
I prayed that God would continue to keep me completely dependent on Him.
God isn’t safe: He values our character far above our comfort and refines us through trial and pain. He never promises that following Him will be easy. He’s good, but His ways aren’t our ways.
Three weeks after I returned home from my mission trip, the pain that I felt, unaware, my whole life exploded into my consciousness. I went from being an athlete to being barely able to walk. It was so bad, I had to crawl up stairs and it hurt to be touched. Anytime someone bumped into me, I was reduced to tears.
It was my senior year of high school and this changed everything. I had been thinking about going to school out of state and that was out of the question since I needed all the support I could get. I had wanted to major in music and I lost my voice. I realized I wasn’t healthy enough to go live overseas anymore so I couldn’t go into missions.
I was devastated. And, I still didn’t have a diagnosis. I was so scared because pain like that usually means something bad. Really bad.
It took a year before I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. It is a chronic illness that has to do with overactive nerves and causes miserable pain and mine was severe. And yet, I was relieved even though there is no cure since this disease won’t take my life like some of the others that were on the table.
I felt so hopeless and lost in darkness. Didn’t God understand that all I wanted to do was to serve Him? I felt like He took my ability to serve Him, but truly, I had the complete dependence I had asked for. But, I still didn’t see the point.
The point came years later. God had a lot to teach me first.
I learned how to manage my illness and got it under control so I could live pretty normally despite being in constant pain. I met and married my husband, finished college with a degree in psychology, and we had our first baby.
I had always wanted a little girl. Desperately wanted a little girl. And we had Ethan. Two years later, we had Luke. Four years later, Jackson joined our family.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore my three boys! But, when I found out that I was having a third boy, I cried. All the feelings of loss crept back up on me. Another dream died.
I sobbed to God, “Why can’t I catch a break, God? I’ve lost so much already and now I’m never going to have the daughter I’ve always wanted too. Why does my life look so different from what I planned on it being? I just want to be normal!”
Then Jackson was born and everything changed. I fell in love with being a mom of three boys. God started showing me how wrong I was to think that my plan might have been better than His. I couldn’t have been happier being mom to my Monkey, Gremlin, and Trouble, respectively. And we laugh. A lot.
There was the time that Ethan colored himself and Luke completely with a blue marker in three minutes while I was on the phone. Later as a toddler, Luke drank black, cold and day-old coffee straight from the coffee pot when my back was turned. Then there was the time that Jackson snuck out of bed in the middle of the night and we found him watching The Chronicles of Narnia. With the sound turned all the way down and the subtitles on. He is two years old. Yup. All we can do is laugh!
But, my heart still ached. I didn’t feel done with our family. Brian and I lost a precious baby between Luke and Jackson and I found myself again wishing that I could make some difference. I’ve always had a desire to adopt, but it never worked out. The doors just kept closing until, one day, one door stayed open.
It wasn’t what I planned. It is messy, complicated even, but the need is great. I brought it up to Brian and he was immediately in.
I know it makes no sense that we would do this. I was only 29 years old when we started the process. We have our three boys, live in a three bedroom house, and I’m sick. There were so many reasons to not do it, but God put it on my heart. The desire wouldn’t go away and when God asks me to do something, I just can’t say no.
I’m a mom to four right now. We are on our second placement and we have a precious infant foster daughter. God gave me my girl. I might not get to keep her, but that is okay. If there is one thing I learned from my miscarriage it is that I am going to make the most with all the time I am given with my kids, biological or not. They are all my kids!
I’ve realized I don’t want to be normal! My boys are amazing; they love their foster sister and are incredibly compassionate. They’ve seen so much pain as they’ve watch me struggle with illness and want to take care of their foster sister since they understand she has lost her biological family. They are so empathetic and are learning to serve God sacrificially even at the tender ages of 9, 6, and 2.
As I walked into the social services building once, it struck me: I’m on the mission field. I couldn’t go overseas, but God brought one to me. The psychology degree I hadn’t planned on getting was exactly what I needed. I might not be using my voice to sing, but I’m using it to tell others about God. As a foster parent, I get to work with these precious, hurting birth parents and make a difference.
Because of my pain and chronic illness, I am open about how I don’t have it all together. They know I understand and so they listen to me. I never expected my pain to be so important.
Being a mom is so much more important than taking care of kids and making PB&j for lunch and doing bedtime stories. Being a mom means giving of ourselves in ways that we never expected and serving God even when it doesn’t make sense. It is servanthood, pure and simple, with whatever we are given.
My journey wasn’t what I had planned; it was what God planned. His plans have proved far better than mine ever were.
S.L. Payne lives with her husband, three biological sons and foster daughter. She is thankful for God’s faithfulness in her
illness as God has used to it help her see Him in everything; the three boys have supplied the humor! She loves writing, photography and laughing with her family. She writes at Rest Ministries and on her website, uncommongrace.net, where she hopes she can encourage others to live in grace. You can follow her on Twitter @saralynnpayne.