“When the student is ready the teacher will appear.”

For some reason, I always imagined a teacher to be a wiser elder, timely book, or God’s audible voice. To my surprise, my 13-month-old daughter has become a teacher and a vessel of fortitude to heal a hidden and sheltered area in my life. Struggling patiently through three years of infertility, my wife and I reflect on those days as a formation period. It helped us grow, mature, and deepen our trust in God. On August 23rd, 2017 at 9:10 am, our daughter was born and a new formation period began.

Mealtimes can be unpredictable and present itself as a growth opportunity in our household. We are never certain if our daughter’s favorite foods are still her favorites or if we missed a window of energy for her to complete a meal. Along with the added pressure of knowing her low weight percentile, meals can be a stressful time. When she would spiritedly refuse our attempts to feed her by flailing her arms, tightly pursing her lips, or sharply turning her head away, I can begin to feel an uncomfortable, anxious, and physical energy welling within me. Feeling as if I have no control over the situation and sensing a possible threat, I enter into a fight or flight mode and find myself indulging in disproportionate reactions: Why do I feel harshly insulted? If I can't feed my daughter, what does that say about me as a parent? Those reactions manifest as angry and defensive episodes filled with retrospective blaming for why she is not eating. My focus narrows and I stop listening to the situation. The whole ordeal becomes all about myself instead of it being about the well-being of my daughter.

On two different occasions, someone asked how I learned to handle my negative emotions. When I reflect upon my childhood, my parents generously did their best to shield my sister and me from painful experiences and provided an environment where we can thrive and meet our basic needs. Words of love and positive affirmations filled our home. However, when it came to having hard discussions about a health diagnosis, bullying, images of self-worth, or failures, it was avoided. It became instinctual to run away from uncomfortable situations even when the pain was unavoidable, unbearable, and not validated.

Being a parent pushed me to confront and understand my emotional immaturity and framework. How can I give my daughter something I don’t have? If I genuinely accepted God's love, does that mean I freely accept myself with all my limitations and past experiences? Do I receive God's love by loving myself? If I'm defensive and angry, how am I reflecting God's unconditional love to my daughter? Through prayer, meditation, accountability partners, and therapy, I am learning how to notice, appreciate, and accept anger, sadness, and disappointment. Nowadays, I am inviting Jesus to sit with me to help me process and fully feel the painful emotions in the same way I desire for my daughter to trust me to sit with her when she encounters her hardships.

Greg Lontok