Without a question, 2016 was the year of Gabriel.
It was a year of becoming family. A boy and a girl learning to be brother and sister; and mother and father learning to be parents of two. It was a year of abundance and cacophony, family dinners with food on faces and the floor. It was a year of learning new languages and asking questions—about origins and superheroes.
In less than a year, a little boy whom we knew only from pictures and email descriptions became a beloved son. And a scared little boy transformed into a confident, curious, creative little man. Fear of bedtimes became an opportunity to face fear. Tantrums on tricycles turned into mastery of the scooter and promotion to the skateboard. Lingala mingled with French faded into English as primary tongue. Uncertainty around other children gave way to several sweet friendships.
Despite many constant daily challenges, Gabriel has become one of us—of our immediate, extended, and church family. As I consider this process of becoming one of us and the future questions and struggles to meld his past, present, and future identities, I am reminded of a day back in late May when the becoming was particularly raw.
Michael had taken a trip with a buddy out west, and I was navigating life as a single parent for a few days. Gabriel was clearly feeling the lack of Daddy and giving voice to mixed feelings about being a part of this new family, about me.
“I like Daddy. I don’t like you,” he told me, kicking me away, then trying to shove me out of his room. It was like, in that solitary moment, he was telling me in his four-year-old fashion, I didn’t choose you to be my mother. I didn’t sign up for you. And yet you still want me to obey you! How is this fair?
Still, I continued then and now (albeit imperfectly) to love, discipline, and remind him: I’m your mother and it’s very important that you learn to obey me … because I love you.
I see so much of myself in my son, and Gabriel’s wrestlings with family, identity, and choice have given me opportunity to explore these concepts for myself. And in this opportunity, my thoughts have often (and wrongly) turned toward my heavenly Father, with complaint and question, rather than thanksgiving. I never had a choice about whether or not I signed up for this life, for hardship, for anything really.
And frankly, maybe none of us would have signed up for life, eternity, and God’s love, because we are too bent inward to our own choices—much like Gabriel might not have signed up for me as his mother, because of his inability to see the big picture … that his daddy and I (not to mention a hundred other dear friends and family members) had been loving and pursuing him from long before he ever saw our faces.
Similarly, God chose his eternal love for me—for all of His people—over and above my freedom, because it is so much better that I know Him, His family, His glory, His kingdom, His love embodied in His Son—than that I have unfettered choice.
And so for me, 2016 taught me this: love triumphs over choice. And at the center of this realization is a little boy who is now beginning to grasp a mother’s affection, and a mother who is beginning to grasp (as Sally Lloyd-Jones would say) her Father’s “never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.”