Parenthood Is a Refining Fire


I sat with my back against the door to keep him from bolting. He screamed inches from my face, his breath hot, the curves of the cheeks that I adored contorting as he howled. He writhed and flailed like a cornered animal in my embrace. Then came another scream, his pudgy fingers balled into fists, his glazed eyes flashing. “Let me go!” he shrieked.  “Don’t touch me! I hate you!”

I wanted to let go, walk out, and slam the door. I wanted to give up, to forget the piles of books I’d lovingly accrued for him, to return to a world where people listened to what I said, and respected my words.  To retreat to a place where I felt competent. Where what I did seemed to matter.

In that moment of brokenness, and in His mercy, God stayed my hand from the doorknob, and showed me the cross. I saw it’s terrible limbs silhouetted against a gathering storm, and remembered Jesus hanging upon it for us. For Pip, and for me. I drew a breath.

“I love you,” I whispered through tears.

Pip paused, and for a moment his weary eyes met mine. He seemed to emerge from the dark waters and break into light. “I love you too,” he said, his voice cracking. Then the overwhelm seized him again, and he returned to thrashing in the agony of his own senses.

The inciting event had been a piece of bacon stuck in his teeth.

boxed in

As it so profoundly colors our days, I’ve written frequently about our challenges with our son Pip. Recently, testing confirmed that Pip is twice exceptional. He is gifted, but also has severe sensory processing disorder. Everyday sights, sounds, and textures flood him with panic. He cannot discern his own position in space, and he tries to soothe himself by crashing into furniture, only to become overstimulated. The most mundane details of life confuse and threaten him. The world seems too much, even while he craves it desperately.

We are grateful to have insight and help for him this early in his life. I would be lying, however, if I claimed his special needs didn’t weigh upon us heavily. What we thought were quirks, actually impair Pip’s ability to function moment to moment. What we hoped was a phase, is something he won’t outgrow. The anxieties he faces and the therapy required reshape our own interactions with the world, complicating activities and fellowship we once found life-giving. It’s hard to offer hospitality, when guests and noise provoke meltdowns. It’s difficult to seek out opportunities for service and ministry, when Pip needs our vigilant support 24-7. We feel conflicted as we set aside dreams of the mission field and adopting more children. We buck against our instincts as parents when, knowing the motion will push him over the edge, we squash his delight in tire swings, and steer him toward less stimulating diversions.

Through the daily exhaustion, we have asked, Why, Lord? Our hearts swell with devotion to you. . . we long to serve you. . . why?  I did not foresee this life sixteen years ago, when I received my medical student’s coat,  ridiculous with its shortened hem, and recited the Hippocratic oath.  In my vanity, I considered service to God to be something I decided, rather than something to which God called me. Doctoring and godly service, I thought, were synonymous by default. I reveled in the long nights standing vigil at a sick patient’s bedside, returning home bedraggled, with my limbs groaning, my entire body heavy with the satisfying ache of having sacrificed and served well.  I relished the finality of a suture firmly placed around a bleeding vessel, its clarity, its tangibility, the physical evidence of faithful service. Even when I left practice, we dreamed of a house filled with children, both biological and adopted, teeming with laughter and love for the Lord. We envisioned embarking upon the mission field with a growing family in tow, discipling them and others in Jesus’ name.

But parenthood, it seems, is a refining fire. It shapes; it molds; it tears down; it reduces falsehoods and artifice to ashes. Through its flames, God has flayed my idolatry wide open. He has revealed that faithful service does not mean good actions on my own terms, but according to his will. I can do nothing good, that he has not planned for me. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph 2:10)

Psalm 127:3 teaches us that “children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.” These words follow a declaration of God’s hand in every good work; no house can be built, no city protected, unless God’s sovereign grace permits it. The children we bear also reflect God’s handiwork. There is a reason God pairs us with specific children to shepherd. That Sarah bore Isaac was no accident. Nor were the parental relationships between Jacob and Joseph, David and Absalom, or Elizabeth and John a twist of fate. As the Bible marches out lineages toward Christ, with each individual playing a unique role in the narrative, so also our own children are carefully determined, their idiosyncrasies and challenges written into the blueprints of our lives.

We cannot discern the whole of God’s intent for the children with whom he chooses to bless us . . . but we can ascertain glimmers. Through the gift of Pip, the Lord has taught me that the traits about myself that I highly prized, are like filthy rags to Him. (Isa 64:6)  A lust for efficiency, while praiseworthy in the emergency room when the heart careens into a dangerous rhythm, leads to bitterness and anger when it confronts kids who can’t focus to put on a coat. My thirst for solitude, easy to attain in the predictable environment of the operating room, is never quenched when children need you every single moment. The gratification of a perfectly placed suture appears no where in a household where a haircut involves 90 minutes of wrangling and tears.  If God had given us a child who dozed contentedly in our arms as an infant, loved birthday parties, and tolerated hair combing, I would still be content to live a life for myself, rather than for the Lord. I would be lulled into the lie that I don’t need a savior. I would be deceived that I could achieve my salvation according to my own will, my own effort and merit.

Instead, God has said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9) He has blessed us with an incredible, wonderfully-made, unique, brilliant, sensitive, challenging little boy, whose needs daily bring me to my knees. The Lord has made clear that I serve Him not through my own design, but through obedience to His call.  Not through any will of my own, but according to His will, in works He has prepared ahead of time.  He has halted me from lofty ideas of service that fit my own construct of faithfulness, and has said, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Ps 46:10)

And so when the heat rises, and when in the grips of another meltdown Pip’s eyes burn like flames, I cling to the cross. I say, “Lord, your grace is sufficient.” I meet my child in his rage, and pour into his gaze all the love he deserves as a cherished image-bearer of God, beautifully and wonderfully made, new in Christ.  “I love you,” I say. And for a moment, Pip breaks free. For a moment, I feel God spurring me on, calling me to guide our little Pip to become the person God intended him to be. To serve in love. To relax my grip on my own worldly strivings, cradle the blessings with which He has entrusted me. To pray, “Not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42)



19 Comments Add yours

  1. jsmith1054 says:

    Amen Katie.


  2. Helen says:

    Thank you for this wonderful encouragement to lay it all at His feet. As I seek to offer unconditional love, without enabling, my adult son with the comorbidity of schizophrenia and addiction, and grieve the decade-long rejection from my adult daughter (and resultant loss of knowing my only grandchildren) I can only say “Lord, I trust you- Your will be done in and through me”. He is good, even in His severity.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Katie Butler says:

      Helen, may God draw you close. I cannot imagine the suffering you endured, but will pray for our Lord to work through the heartache for good.


  3. Holly says:

    Your writing is beautiful and clearly inspired by our Lord. Thank you for your posts. May the Lord bless you and keep you and your family.


    1. Katie Butler says:

      Thank you so much for this encouragement, Holly. Blessings to you!


  4. Carmen says:

    I so needed to read this today. It is an answer to my prayer that I prayed this morning.

    God bless you!!


    1. Katie Butler says:

      God is good! May he speed you on, Carmen.


  5. Erica says:

    “I would be lulled into the lie that I don’t need a savior. I would be deceived that I could achieve my salvation according to my own will, my own effort and merit.”

    Thank God He breaks through this lie. It is a struggle for us all. Praying for you, friend.


    1. Katie Butler says:

      Amen, Erica! Praying for you, too, and grateful for you.


  6. “He has revealed that faithful service does not mean good actions on my own terms, but according to his will.”

    Three-fold amen.

    Sending you thoughts of love and the desire that Jehovah Jireh will send you a lighthearted day for all soon.

    Terri F


    1. Katie Butler says:

      Thank you Terri! It’s up and down every day, but I *think* we’re seeing some improvements. How are things with you and your family? Blessings to you!


      1. God grant you the skills and heart you need. It’s easy for me to say, “Keep trusting. It will come.” But I hope that doesn’t sound trite. I don’t mean it to be. I sincerely hope that as we seek God with all our heart in our circumstances, He will provide and meet our needs, even in my inability to not believe or “do it right.”

        Anyhow, we are doing well. A very nice, peaceful lull right now. I’ll take it!


        Liked by 1 person

  7. Thomas says:

    Thank you for reminding us of the truth of God’s plans for parents. I resonated deeply with this as my wife and I recently figured out that one of our children has special emotional needs. It has been utterly exhausting with family and friends not understanding. But researching and learning about it, and then giving it a name has helped tremendously. This is the task we’ve been given, and God will guide us in it for His glory and our good.


    1. Katie Butler says:

      Thomas, Amen! I understand the exhaustion and the sense of isolation. Too few see what you do, and often others’ well-meaning advice hurts more than helps. I’m relieved for you and your wife have a clearer understanding. I pray for discernment and peace for you in the path ahead!


  8. Udodirim says:

    Hi Katie, I just read this write-up and I wish I could engrave some portions on my heart. The struggles you outlined mirrors mine very closely. Now I am seeing some struggles I am having in a different light.

    A bit like your story, I too studied and practiced medicine for a while before going thru a really hard, suicidal phase of giving it all up (not voluntarily though but because of relocation). I see myself struggle with that lust for efficiency, tangible results and status that I do not get as a mother catering to four small kids (7,3,2,2). It is humbling to clearly see how idolatry is easily cloaked by my lust for achievements and accolades.

    Seeing that word “daily” in the sentence “…whose needs daily bring me to my knees”, I understood for the first time that maybe it’s not strange that I am having these struggles daily. I thought I should have understood the process and inner workings of my family by now and should be able to do a better job getting things (read “my children”) to work more smoothly. I get frustrated that the daily requirements of being present and mothering still throw me often and make me despair at my inefficiencies. Maybe God is in it all, maybe He is using my struggle with finding order and efficiency in daily living to show me my need to relinquish my need to control life and learn to trust from moment to moment. I try and often fail at that. I often starts out trusting and when He helps me I say “Ok, I got it. Let me handle it from here on” and down on my face I fall again.

    So thanks a lot for writing this, for your willingness to pour your heart out and allow God to use you to teach others still hiding in the shadows of our own perceived failures, to show us that deviations from life’s paths are all part of His good plan and that He is in control even when life doesn’t seem like its following any definite pattern. I do appreciate you and wanted you to know that.


    1. Katie Butler says:

      Dee, your kind and sincere note has made my week. Thank you so much for sharing. This journey can be such a hard one, especially when our natures – and the paths that have brought us success in the past – fight against where God has placed us, and how he wishes us to serve him. The struggle is, most definitely, a daily one. Please write anytime if you need an understanding ear.


  9. rcynth says:

    Oh…Katie…I just discovered you thru the Desiring God site, now I’m exploring your’s. I love your story and your ability to share it, and especially the role of God’s word in sustaining you. I understand how it does that and feel the same. It is our lifeblood, it really is. Loved reading what you’re learning about “lofty ideas of service”. Yes. I just read Andrew Murray’s classic on Humility, which is in the same spirit.


    1. Katie Butler says:

      Amen! Thank you so much.


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