Laying Down My Life
A hard lesson in “It’s not about me.”
by Karin Dixon Butler
“Excuse me, out of my way,” I muttered under my breath. “This is important — I’m meeting my first grandchild!” I steamrolled through the airport, crowded with people who did not have a first grandchild to meet.
Suddenly, I saw her. It was love at first sight. Even as an infant, she was the mirror image of her daddy, with sparkling blue eyes, cameo complexion, and wisps of blond hair promising future curls.
Now, many years later, that love has never changed, although it has been sorely tested. In fact, discouragement almost caused me to give up visiting Jessica and trying to have a relationship with her. Fortunately, the Lord brought me to my senses.
Jessica lived in Florida until she was five, so my husband and I went down there for a week or two every winter to visit her. To Oregonians accustomed to wet, dreary winters, the sun and beach were like a slice of heaven. But being with my granddaughter was not always heavenly.
With her parents at work all day, we chose to stay in motels with water slides and playgrounds to keep her happy and occupied. “Jessica, do not go into the pool unless Grandma or Papa is with you,” said I, half a dozen times. Splash! Another splash, and I was rescuing Jessica’s floundering body.
Spankings and time-outs were commonplace. Getting Jessica to obey exhausted us, and we had to reinforce discipline on every visit. Obedience was not in her mindset.
Looking for control
Why couldn’t Jessica just listen once in a while? Was it really necessary to run into the street and down aisles in stores, to lean dangerously off of piers?
“No, Mom, you can’t use a leash on her,” said her dad. There went that idea.
By the time she was four, it was “Where in the world is Jessica?” Her desire to see and do everything at once fueled her impulses. Even two pairs of eyes (my husband’s and mine) found it difficult to keep track of her.
I made Jessica adhere to a strict bedtime when she was with us so I could collapse and mentally gear up for the next day. Of course, I had to prep her for bedtime: verbal reminders, long bath with toys, story time, and other activities. But the peace of having her asleep, and not wondering what she was into, made it worthwhile.
My son’s relationship with Jessica’s mother did not last, so when Jessica reached school age, she and her mother moved to another state.
This presented an even bigger challenge because we had to go to an unknown place and fit our visits into her school schedule. We no longer had the beach and water slides to entertain us, so we began to take short trips in the area.
When Jessica was about nine, we took a long weekend trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. We played in snow in the mountains, went to the aquarium, saw a family musical comedy show, and swam in the hotel’s indoor pool.
But Jessica was not satisfied. “You are mean and stupid,” she said as she stomped around our hotel room.
Exhausted physically and tired of Jessica’s behavior, I thought of how much it took to maintain a relationship with our granddaughter — not just the actual time spent visiting but planning the trip, arranging tickets, and coordinating with her mother.
It cost a lot of money, too, for just a three- or four-day weekend, and even more when I brought her to Oregon in the summer. Discouragement, depression, and fatigue set in. Who needs this?
“I’m done,” I said to my husband after our granddaughter’s hurtful remark. “This is the last trip to see Jessica. It takes too much time, too much money — and for what? Just to see someone who doesn’t care about me and who is mean to me. She doesn’t appreciate any of this.”
Although he certainly knew the truth in the situation, my husband tried to calm me down and help me have a better attitude. I would have none of it. I was too deep in my pity party to care.
My husband went off with Jessica so I could have some time to myself. I looked half-heartedly at my Bible and tried to pray, seeking some measure of help or solace. I didn’t expect to find any. Besides, I had already made up my mind about what I was going to do. I was going to take care of me!
Maybe my husband and I would take a vacation by ourselves with the money we would save by not traveling to the East Coast every year to see Jessica. We could go somewhere warm and exotic instead of freezing in the mountains like we were now. The whole idea began to appeal to me, and a satisfied smile broke out on my face.
Message from God
Suddenly, a thought filled my mind — not an audible voice, but words I heard in my head loud and clear: “It’s not all about you!”
Those words pierced through my being, and my body began to shake. I knew exactly what the message meant. My anger, bitterness, and self-pity began to melt away, and love flowed into my heart and spirit. I knew those words could have come only from the Lord.
At one point, wasn’t I like Jessica? I saw clearly that Jesus laid down His life for me when I was mean and ungrateful, and I was called to do the same for my granddaughter. I saw that she needed me whether she could admit it or not, to love her unconditionally and provide stability in her life, just as Jesus does for me.
My self-pity completely evaporated. I felt renewed, rejuvenated. With God’s help, I could do this!
Grace and strength
There were no miraculous changes in Jessica, although that night she started being nicer to me and trying to make up for her behavior. But at other times she fell back into being her less-than-pleasant self.
As for me, I no longer took things so seriously. When Jessica and I were together, I frequently had to tell myself, It’s not all about me. I was doing what God wanted, and He gave me the grace and strength to love.
The older Jessica becomes, the nicer she is, and we get along well during the infrequent times I see her. But the Lord has shown me that no matter what happens, I have a role in her life and am to love her unconditionally.