Hands-off Parenting

 

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“If knowing answers to life’s questions is absolutely necessary to you, then forget the journey. You will never make it, for this is a journey of unknowables – of unanswered questions, enigmas, incomprehensibles, and, most of all, things unfair.”

– Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Motte Guyon

I often hear God speak to me through reading fictional stories in books and watching films in a way that methodical Bible study can’t. It’s helpful to have developed the fine art of bone-spitting because sometimes the precious morsel that nourishes me is buried in distraction.

As I lay in bed, too sore after surgery to sleep anymore last night, I watched a British movie, Housewife, 49. The film tells the story of a woman whose role as an attentive mother was no longer required. The problem was that her sons had grown up and she was learning the art of hands-off parenting just as World War II was breaking out over their heads where they lived near the shipyards in England. She suffered from severe anxiety.

Her story is one of gradually rejecting the defining edges of the box others put her in. She discovered, under duress, she was capable of more than she knew. The crisis came when her beloved son, who up until that point served in a relatively safe post close to home, wanted to volunteer for a much riskier assignment.

It’s one thing to learn to trust God to guide your own life through unforeseen twists and turns in the road. It’s another to take your hands off your children and let them take risks when you have first-hand experience of seeing the negative consequences of  decisions made by friends and family over the years. You have read a lot more news stories and bailed out a lot more friends from wrecks along the way. It’s so hard not to try to convince your adult children to play it safe.

In the film our heroine (for she was truly that) discovered that much of the frustration in her life had been because of her husband’s need to keep her shut up in the house like Peter the Pumpkin-eater tried to keep his in a pumpkin shell. He finally confessed it was his fear for her safety that motivated his actions. But it was those actions that increased her anxiety and feelings of meaninglessness.

She realized she could not impose her fear on her son, even if the consequence was his death on the battlefield. She let him go.

I’ve had to make those letting go decisions with my own kids. More than anything in the world I wanted to be a mother. I enjoyed being a mother. At one point you could say I was a professional mother, filling in and taking foster children into our home until their mothers could care for them again. But there was always a time to let go – and it was always before the road ahead was smooth and predictable.

My daughter moved to a Caribbean Island to take a teaching position. I still have a photo of her the day she left smiling in anticipation of “awesome year in the sun.”

It was not awesome. She was in two seriously life-threatening-sized hurricanes in the first month. Her job was not as advertised, everything she owned was stolen from a storage facility at home, including tax information and personal diaries. She nearly died of sudden hemorrhage and experienced emergency major surgery in a tiny six-bed hospital that did not provide linens or food or fly swatters. That’s where she was told she had a condition that meant she would be unable to have children. The man she loved told her he was marrying someone else. She became homeless because of greedy developers, and one day, while out jogging, was chased by a pack of wild dogs with evil intent.

I had a lot of questions about why God didn’t give my precious girl an awesome year in the sun. I was reluctant to do any letting go for some time after that.

A few years later she went through a really tough time. Nurses brought her into a room in the ICU to say goodbye to her husband who lay dying from flesh-eating disease. I was with her at the time and was amazed at her faith and ability to praise God in the worst  circumstances.

He didn’t die. He was miraculously healed and now they and their three miraculously conceived children are on another adventure. People asked how she had such faith and she pointed back to her time on the island, particularly the moment when she faced the wild dogs knowing she was defenseless and there was no one around.

She heard a voice that said, “Stop!” She obeyed, stopped running, turned and faced the dogs. Instead of lunging at her throat they dropped their heads, whined, and disappeared into the undergrowth. She met the God who is her keeper on a hot dusty road that day.

Parenting adult children means taking our hands off so God can put his hands on. God has no grandchildren. They need to know for themselves that he is their God, and not merely the God of their parents. They need to know he will take them farther along the road than we have gone.

It’s been a struggle. Hands-off doesn’t mean heart-off. If my kids or grandkids need me I am willing to drop everything and go. I pray constantly, but I am still learning that prayer for family means standing in the gap without standing in the way.

God is God and I am not. He is much more capable of loving them than I am.

When they became parents, our kids all invited us back into their lives. They’ve included us in business and creative partnerships and encourage us to be active influencers in their children’s lives. They are all competent experts in their own fields and we frequently consult them. I love them very much and am proud of all of them – and their spouses. If we were not related it would still be an honour to know them. God is good.

Our daughter and her husband wrote about his miraculous recovery. It includes chapters by one of the attending physicians who verifies the medical aspects of the story and their bishop who gives insight into the spiritual implications of the events. Details, photos and videos here: While He Lay Dying

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Ungrace

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C. S. Lewis observed that almost all crimes of Christian history have come about when religion is confused with politics. Politics, which always runs by the rules of ungrace, allures us to trade away grace for power, a temptation the church has often been unable to resist.

– Philip Yancey

I Am Telling You the Truth!

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I’m home now, resting after major surgery in another city. I can’t bend over to pick up anything I’ve dropped or lift anything heavier than a jug of milk for the next few weeks. Sitting for more than the length of a quick meal is still uncomfortable, but couch time with a pile of good books and a remote in hand is actually a guilty pleasure – with a built-in excuse.

It’s raining. The streets are glare ice and our home and garden are still under several feet of saturated snow after the heaviest snowfall in decades. I don’t plan to go anywhere and thus far the house remains mostly dry inside.The storm of the last week is over. My husband is back at work and there is time to think.snow-day-cars-img_6641

Before we left, on the one day the roads were in good condition before the second storm hit, someone asked the question, “In your reading of Jesus’ words lately what stands out the most?”

I recently watched the film “The Gospel of John” which uses the scripture as the entire dialogue of the screenplay. What I heard Jesus say over and over again was this: I’m telling you the truth. In the olde King James version I grew up with he said, “Verily, verily.” In the original language of the Bible he said “Amen, Amen…” When amen was said at the end of a statement it meant “I agree.” When Amen prefaced a statement it meant, “I’m about to say something important.” When a word was repeated it meant “I am about to say something truly important. I’m serious here, folks.”

In the gospel of John alone Jesus says amen amen before a statement at least twenty times. I asked myself why.

This week I discovered what it is like not to be taken seriously about an issue that was important to me. Two days after being released from the hospital after major abdominal surgery I suddenly doubled over in severe pain. I’ve had this kind of pain before. It felt like I was passing a kidney stone. I was staying in a small town about an hour out of the city resting up for the next part of the trip home. I slowly crawled up the stairs on hands and knees and asked to be driven to the hospital emergency room since our host could get me there faster than an ambulance.

Kidney stones hurt. When your belly has just been cut open, things moved and removed, and then sewn back up, kidney stones really, really hurt. The power words I have been saving up for moments of high drama seemed inadequate. And “Verily, verily, I hurteth,” was not going to cut it.

I told my driver to move her car out of the ambulance bay to a parking spot because I thought I would be okay walking to the triage desk myself.

Wrong. I clung to a wall trying not to pass out from pain. The lady behind the desk ignored me. Another patient in the waiting room ran and brought a wheelchair, but then I just sat there in the middle of the hallway unable to propel myself. Eventually my driver came back and pushed me up to the glass door in front of the triage desk. After waiting a period of time, which probably felt longer than it actually was, a person took my information.

“On a scale of one to ten with ten being the worst pain you…

“Ten!!!” I gasped.

“Take this paper to the desk [way over there] with your health insurance card, fill out the admissions form, and have a seat in the waiting room. We’ll call you,” she said.

I had just come from one of the finest surgical centers in the country. I had a team of nurses and technicians who cared for me around the clock, helped me breathe, helped me sit up, put on my slippers and helped me go to the bathroom. They even flushed for me. Now I sat in a hard plastic chair, squirming, shaking and sweating, wondering if lying on the floor would be a better option. They didn’t call me for nearly two hours. (Thank God prayer was more efficient and the pain level had lowered by then.)

They didn’t believe me.

When drug addicts become known at the larger city hospitals they start hitting the smaller outlying health services seeking relief from withdrawal. The people at this hospital didn’t know me. Perhaps they thought I was drug-seeking. They had seen it before. Perhaps they didn’t believe me because they didn’t know me or my character.

It wasn’t until late in the evening, when the pain subsided and after my family helped me back into bed at home, that the emergency room doctor called and said the x-rays proved I was telling the truth. That’s when he asked if I needed pain medication.

Now my news was not good news. Unlike Jesus I was not there for anyone’s benefit but my own. But in that experience I felt what it was like not to be believed despite the best evidence I could produce.

Today I watched the film again. In this part (midway through this scene) Jesus tells them who he is. He reminds them of the witness of John the Baptist.

They do not believe him.

They shrug as if saying, “Yeah. We’ve seen people with selfish motives before. We’ve heard lies before. We’ve been deceived and disappointed before.”

Jesus says over and over “I am telling you the truth!” Then he says something which cuts to the heart of their disbelief.

I’m telling you the truth! I can only do what my Father tells me. You don’t know me because you don’t know my Father!

These were the religious experts, the ones who told everyone else who God was and what he wanted. What a politically incorrect, offensive statement in that place, at the heart of religious government!

cards-img_6814I have a drawer full of greeting cards ready to send in polite acknowledgement of special occasions. People also send them to me. Some are carefully chosen after reading dozens in the store display, but sometimes they just come from a box bought at the dollar store because you need to stick a card (that a kid will never read) on a birthday gift. Sometimes I read the gospels and skim over the verily, verily passages like I am reading a stack of birthday or get well cards full of sentiments written by card designers who don’t have a clue who I am. Thank you. That’s nice, Jesus.

But do I really hear him? He looks me in the face and asserts with a strong tone:

I am telling you the truth,” Jesus replied. “Before Abraham was born, ‘I Am’.”

I am telling you the truth: those who hear my words and believe in him who sent me have eternal life. They will not be judged, but have already passed from death to life.

I am telling you the truth: I am the gate for the sheep. All others who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Those who come in by me will be saved; they will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only in order to steal, kill, and destroy. I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness.

I am telling you the truth: those who believe in me will do what I do—yes, they will do even greater things, because I am going to the Father.

I am telling you the truth: the Father will give you whatever you ask of him in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name; ask and you will receive, so that your happiness may be complete.

Do we truly believe Jesus is who he says he is? Do we treat his statements like nice sayings in a greeting card? Do we truly believe he is telling the truth?

Living in the Light

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As you live this new life, we pray that you will be strengthened from God’s boundless resources, so that you will find yourselves able to pass through any experience and endure it with courage.

You will even be able to thank God in the midst of pain and distress because you are privileged to share the lot of those who are living in the light.

For we must never forget that he rescued us from the power of darkness, and re-established us in the kingdom of his beloved Son, that is, in the kingdom of light.

(Colossians 1: 11-14 Phillips)

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Too Good To Not Be True

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With my whole heart, with my whole life
And with my innermost being,
I bow in wonder and love before you, the Holy God!
Yahweh, you are my soul’s celebration;
How could I ever forget the miracles of kindness you’ve done for me?
You kissed my heart with forgiveness, in spite of all I’ve done.
You healed me inside and out from every disease.
You’ve rescued me from hell and saved my life.
You’ve crowned me with love and mercy and made me a king.
You satisfy my every desire with good things.
You supercharged my life so that I soar again
Like a flying eagle in the sky.
You’re a God who makes things right,
Giving justice to the defenseless…

(Psalm 103:1-6 The Passion Translation)

There are passages of scripture some of us have learned are part of our inheritance. We keep running into them  at crucial moments in our lives. They show up when we most need them. Psalm 103 is one of those passages for me.

The irony is that the Lord brings it to my attention when I feel least likely to be able to declare it without engaging a considerable amount of faith. Circumstances would seem to point in another direction.

But we live by faith and not by sight.

So today I stand and declare: You supercharged my life so that I soar again like an eagle flying in the sky!

It’s about His faithfulness. Therefore I have hope, the evidence of things not seen.

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Especially in the Wilderness

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“To be commanded to love God at all, let alone in the wilderness, is like being commanded to be well when we are sick, to sing for joy when we are dying of thirst, to run when our legs are broken. But this is the first and great commandment nonetheless. Even in the wilderness – especially in the wilderness – you shall love him.”

– Frederick Buechner

Sometimes we travel to the soundtrack of saints’ and angels’ song. Sometimes the sun shines warm upon our heads and the road is paved with the invitation to acceleration.

Then suddenly the clouds hide the sun, the cold north wind drowns out the music. The road is no longer dry and pothole-less. It has not been cleared of ice and snow drifts. In fact, not only is the road not paved with golden potential fulfilled, it’s not even paved.

Who knew that the wilderness is where the Lover of our souls takes us when he asks us to come away with him?

Who knew this is the place where he tells us who we are and shows us a part of his character we never understood before?

Who knew this is where faith is built, where we learn to lean on him?

Who knew this valley is the fulfillment that puts systems and material wealth and the approval of people who don’t think the way God does into perspective?

Who knew the wilderness is preparation for prosperity so that it will not distract and overwhelm?

Who knew the Valley of Achor (trouble) is where the door of hope awaits?

Who knew? The Lover of our soul knew. He planned it.

He invites us to come away to his upside-down kingdom where the first shall be last and the last shall be first, where his thoughts become our thoughts, and where, with his covenantal laser of sweet pain, he writes his law of love on our trembling heart.

Come away.

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Thinking of Everything

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“Why am I the one who has to think of everything?” a young mother asked. “My husband’s idea of preparing for a trip is carrying the suitcases out to the car.”

I smiled. I remembered this. One day my father-in-law announced he was taking us to the fair. We would be gone all day. His intent was for us to stay late and watch the fireworks. After telling us to hurry up he put on his baseball cap, grabbed his keys and went out to the car.

Eventually he came back in to see what was taking so long. I happened to be feeding and dressing three little kids (two still in diapers), gathering supplies for the day and putting them in backpacks and diaper bags. My mind was whirling as I made preparations that necessitated asking myself the question, “What could go wrong?” so I would know what to bring.

Dad was going out of his way to do something kind for us. He was a natural optimist and couldn’t understand why I was fretting. This was supposed to be fun.

There is something about being responsible for others that turns many of us into worriers. Perhaps it is because we feel like we have to think of everything or we could find ourselves caught in a blizzard in a swim suit and flip flops and fresh out of diaper rash cream for the baby. Maybe that’s how I got in the habit of starting my day with thinking about what could go horribly wrong. Thinking about what could go amazingly right is postponed for a later hour after lists are made and items checked off. Sometimes I never get around to that thought until I tumble, exhausted, into bed at night.

I’m trying to change.

Now, before I  get out of bed, I intentionally direct my thoughts to thanking God for answered prayer and the potential of the next day. I intend to not allow negativity to squash my joy before the day even begins. Then I lay my plans before him and let him know they are subject to change as he leads.

It’s often a mental wrestling match on the level of those grunting men of massive girth who throw chairs and put headlocks on referees. Change, real change, deep down heart change, doesn’t come easily for someone like me.

Early yesterday morning, I drove home from a doctor’s appointment in another city. It’s an eleven hour trip there and back. Instead of “trying to think of everything” in preparation for surgery next week I decided to focus on the goodness of God and how he has brought me safe thus far. I put on some good music and sang along.

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One of the things I am thankful for is that my commute is through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. The glowing sun rose over my shoulder to the east, lit a winter field at rest to the north and touched the mountain peaks to the west with gentle pink light. The air was frigid, but inside my little subcompact cocoon the heater hummed away and kept me warm. I put iPod music on shuffle and watched the day come to life.

Then a song from a new album I bought before I left home began to play. “You’re going to be okay,” the singer assured me. I heard God’s voice in the music.

I have no idea how this is going to go. But I am going to be okay. The Lover of my soul thinks of everything.

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At each and every sunrise you will hear my voice
As I prepare my sacrifice of prayer to you.
Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on the altar
And wait for your fire to fall upon my heart.

(Psalm 5:3 TPT)

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