Friday, July 31, 2015

Parenting Is Hard, Part 2

Please accept my sincerest apologies for implying in my last post that there's a one-size-fits-all, just follow this formula, and you, too can have children who grow up to be healthy, contributing citizens in the world. I didn't realize I stirred a pot until I received your emails filled with significant insights and questions and feedback. (It will take me a little while, but I intend to respond to every single email.) Thank you for courageously engaging in such a deeply personal topic...

I suppose if there were a "formula" I'd call it grace. Meaning, there is no formula. Only countless ways that God pours out His grace and... well, one of the most amazing grace gifts in our lives is the community that God has given us. That community...

Like the many, many days, (and nights), I dropped off my little ones at the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery. This invaluable resource that serves the city of Spokane taught us that asking for help is a sign of strength (written in bold love on a sign inside their front doors). They loved and cared for our children and consistently found ways to equip us with tools for parenting and marriage... and healthy relationships in general. Both my husband and I entered into our marriage and family-life with poverty mindsets. Over the years, in spontaneous mentoring moments during drop off and pick up as well as an 18-week parenting class, we developed relationships with staff there who spoke abundance, life, encouragement and truth into our parenting journey. 

There were the moms at the Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) program -- later changed to Adventures In Motherhood (AIM) -- at our home church. The once-a-month morning that I referred to as half-time in the locker room where I usually showed up feeling defeated, looking for motivation to play the second half. And how that group of moms banded together, supported, cheered, and prayed for each other so that by the time I left, well, I was re-energized, hopeful, strong to stay in the game. Yeah, Grace, for sure. 

We had our Life Group and Married Couples Night Out (MCNO) where we grew intimately aware of one another's -- and our children's -- quirks, temperaments, and habits. We valued candor and invited our friends to speak freely and honestly about blind spots in our lives. And all that truth-filled grace...

One time, our friends took all four of our children over night so that LeRoy and I could get away together. When we picked them up the next morning, our friends were exhausted. We thought it was just because we left four hyper, raucous children with them. Imagine my horror when the mom called me later to share a concern.

The evening before, after getting everyone's pajamas on, teeth brushed, and tucked into bed, her oldest ran to her, crying. After some investigation, it was discovered that one of my kiddos kept whispering threats on her child's life. Needless to say, her child was terrified and they didn't get much sleep. Well, that's charming. And when the thought crossed my mind that I might be raising an ax murderer... well, I'd be lost without the mentors who have helped me hash out and address issues throughout the years.

And there have been countless, countless times, whole seasons sometimes, when we cried out to God for a thread of hope. For an ounce of strength. For lifelines of Grace. I'll never forget the morning when, for reasons I cannot recall except that I had been battling depression for a long time, I decided that it'd be better if me and my children weren't here. I know that everyone has a "dark night of the soul" story, but even looking back on it now, it's chilling to know I entered a place so full of utter despair and hopelessness. 

But God. 

That morning, I "got my affairs in order." I cleaned my house, returned library books, and dropped a letter in the mailbox. I just had one last stop. I pulled up to my friend's house and ran up to her door to return something I'd borrowed.

And then what? If we’re being honest – and this is some pretty excruciating honesty here – you and I both know that I would probably have gone home, fed the children lunch, continued to muddle through. No one in half a right mind whose contemplated even a smidge of irrational behavior randomly stops by a friend’s house to reach out and say, “I’m stuck. Really, really stuck. As in, please remind me why it’s worth muddling through.”

While we know most people don’t do drastic things, it’s sobering to experience a flash of irrationality. To feel the depth of desperation that comes from losing a grip on that last proverbial thread of hope.

So I stopped by my friend’s house.

This is one of my people who warned me about "dropping by unannounced." That there was no telling what state she, her children, or her house would be found. All the better, I figured, my self-pity bracing for rejection which would justify wallowing deeper.

"Who is it?" she called from the other side of the door when I knocked. Then she barely cracked the door open when I told her it was me. Still in pajamas, her hair frizzed and going every which way, she squinted out at me.

"Here," I handed her the borrowed object, (a book maybe? an item of clothing one of my children borrowed from one her children?), "I just wanted to return this."

“What are you doing?” she asked me, still squinting.

As coolly as if I were telling her I was going grocery shopping, I told her I didn’t see the point in it all and that it’d be better if we weren’t here. (For reference, I now know that’s the totally lame way that someone who lacks boundaries, is bitter, and self-absorbed says, “I need a shoulder to cry on.” {sigh} …and then…)

As I turned to walk away… "Um, I think you'd better come in. I'll fix you a cup of tea." (Typing this all these many years later, I can still recall her voice, all solid grace, composed, determined. And I can’t stop the tears.) By the time I got all my children out of their car seats and we'd replaced her peaceful space with pandemonium, she had water boiling on the stove top. 

{Deep sigh of relief. Because, really… really. Spirit whispers into the depths of despair. And Grace is relentless and reckless and goes after. And in that moment when I thought I was so detached, I wasn’t.}

“Now, tell me what’s going on,” she said, pouring water over one tea bag and then another. She drizzled a teaspoon of honey and poured evaporated milk in each mug as she waited for me to talk.

And I’m telling you, these friendships… where grace lives. The transformative grace of presence. The wow-you’re-seriously-a-mess-and-I-love-you-justasyouare-in-the-emotional-wreckage-of-this-moment.

The presence of authentic community can be the grace that God uses to heal a downward spiraling soul.

It wasn’t just one cup of tea that suddenly pulled me from the muck of oppression and depression. But over the next months and years, the Grace of community, the presence of fellow sojourners – some ahead in the journey, some just a little ways behind – all those hands reaching back to help me and the ones reaching out to me for help…

“…you’ve got this. You’re not alone. Here, the path lends to relief over here. Hold my hand, don’t quit, it’s worth it.”

Grace that rolls into grace that gains strength until, suddenly I realize that I’m no longer holding onto anything but instead resting firmly in the grip of His Grace. And that I’ve been there… my children… and spouse… and all my heavy-weight agendas… for quite some time.

Heh. Yeah, for all my controlling and cajoling and fixing and fuming, Grace is this unseen yet totally tangible gift that will never, ever give up no matter how stubborn and selfish and prideful and determined I get. Grace is the pinnacle of Kindness that leads to repentance.

Those were some hard years. I stressed myself out. I took the long, painful route to learn healthy boundaries. And the control issues… ergh.

But God.

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us…” (Ephesians 2:4)

All the moments when no amount of mucking can undo what Grace already accomplished and continues to accomplish. And all the rough edges and painful sharp corners… and how Love redeems the years the locusts have eaten… in all the quiet moments and the chaos and those gut-level-honest conversations over a cuppa grace.

I don’t presume to know what tomorrow holds. Whenever I get a compliment regarding my kiddos, I smile, say thank you… and add,

“They are doing really well.


This moment.”

Sometimes, I bite my tongue as my children and I exchange a knowing look. We know what earlier in the day was like. We know about the harsh words hurled and the heart-mending work that ensued.

We’ve endured some tough spots in our marriage and in our parenting. I know what it feels like to emerge on the other side, my heart bruised. Hopefully a little wiser.

To whisper desperate, “God, please hold tight. We’re trusting in the grip of your grace.”

Just this morning, I had a long conversation with mentors who have invested 18 years of time and money and energy into our family. He and his wife lovingly, gently, graciously shared some hard truths with us. Truths about where we’ve failed to train our children in some areas of character. They didn’t share in a shaming or even corrective tone, but in a way that was straightforward and insightful. Without causing us to feel judged, they shared direct.

The grace that characterizes these relationships – these conversations – is overwhelming. Amazing.

No matter how well things are going, we are all susceptible to sliding into a place where we find ourselves, our organizations, our families, fighting for survival. It’s a hard place. And it’s detrimental if we don’t humbly reach out and ask for help. Been there. I’m grateful that God pursues, often times His grace surrounding and strengthening us before we have the strength to reach out.

I know that I welcome the hard questions, the direct observations, the feedback. I’ve learned I’d much rather have the hard conversations, to confront ugly realities, and join forces with those in my community to solve problems than to let the whole thing go down in flames.

Yeah, there are plenty of moments in our family in which I find myself desperately encouraging the team, “Pull up! Pull up! Mayday! Mayday!” Careening toward disaster, my chest tight, I whisper the only prayer my breathing allows, “Help.”

Sometimes, our community provides a lifeline of grace many months or years earlier, shared around the dinner table when all is going well, not a notion of disaster in sight. In that space when we’re laughing together, lighthearted ideas tossed on the table when we innocently muse our ideas will be good advice for someone else. Definitely not us.

Then, blindsided. Except, somewhere in the recesses of our memory, there was that grace-gift thrown on the table for consideration. Thus was the case several months ago.

Tension and stress mounted as disrespectful attitudes and blatant dishonor went unchecked. By early afternoon, dishonor took on entitlement and self-absorption as we spiraled into an emotional tailspin. Suddenly, white-knuckled and praying desperately, I remembered one of those long-ago conversations around the table.

“What kind of a parent allows her child to act like a [jerk]?!” I yelled. (I didn’t use the word jerk. I used language I intentionally save so that it acts as a sort of defibrillator in critical moments.) “Who do you think you are to think that it’s okay to treat me or anyone for that matter with the kind of dishonor you’ve demonstrated today?”

I don’t share all these stories in an attempt to say that I know what you’re going through in your hard season. I don’t.

What I am saying, (because this is what grace-communities spoke over me)... you've got this. You're not alone.

I’ve walked beside friends who have gone (or are presently going) through their own “dark night of the soul.” Friends whose children have been suicidal, struggled with addictions, depression, and other heartbreaking trials. Their tenacious love for their child demonstrates extraordinary courage. I’ve seen them reach out for their lifelines, their community, which sometimes entails doctors and counselors and treatment facilities.

Your strength and faith and perseverance is a testimony. Just know it's okay to lean into grace. Necessary even. Because it’s the people in our lives who come alongside – sometimes inviting us in for a cup of grace – that help us through the hard.

Yeah, I dream of being a family that inspires others. A family that ministers God’s grace wherever we are. A family that leaves a legacy of faithfulness and love.

Don’t we all?

We know families like that. (God’s grace flowed through them, casting a lifeline to us during some hard, hard seasons.) They are life-giving, energizing, inspiring families that leave you feeling so loved, so covered in grace and mercy, that we’ve walked away awestruck, literally infused with courage. Even now, thinking of these families evokes audacity and vision.

It’s from these examples that I derive my passion for encouraging thriving marriages and whole families. In all their messiness and imperfection – in the midst of heartbreak – they’re still fighting to build a culture that cares deeply about people and works hard to build intimacy in relationships.

I want to fight for that, too. For community. A culture of authenticity and integrity that clings to God’s grace… and makes grace tangible. 

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