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 people 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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Crossing the River

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Tough day. My husband’s younger brother succumbed to lung disease yesterday. The news was so hopeful a little while ago, but he suddenly went downhill. The doctors said they found previously undetected small cell lung cancer that left him too weak to fight an acute illness. His family and friends surrounded him and wept as his heartbeat faded.

I am thankful for our 11-year old grandson who reminded us that even in this there is hope.

Today we try to work on funeral plans with his wife. We can’t speak Spanish and she can’t speak English. Bob was always the translator.

Today we try to comfort his mother, who seems even more frail with the shock and we live in a conversation on replay.

Today we try to gather up legal loose ends and financial unknowns. We step on each others toes in our efforts to step in to the empty spaces.

Today we wince as individual ways of handling grief clang against each other.

Today we can still be glad, as our grandson pointed out, that we have a close family that cares. They immediately gathered from across the country when they heard the news.

Today we can be glad, as our grandson pointed out, that we know Jesus, and that Uncle Bob knew about his grace.

“You know, when you think about it, this is really a happy day for Uncle Bob,” our grandson said in the ICU waiting room. “Today is the day when he will see how wonderful heaven is and get to be with Jesus.”

There is hope.

 

And then one day, I’ll cross that river.

I’ll fight life’s final war with pain.

And then as death gives way to victory,

I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He lives.

(from Because He Lives by Bill and Gloria Gaither)

Toddling Toward Hope

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I love toddlers. Honestly, it may be my favourite age. Yes, I mean the tantrum-throwing, independent, illogical, ill-informed munchkins between walking and reasonable conversation age, the ones who cause their exhausted parents’ hearts to melt when they stand over their kid’s sleeping adorableness before they head out to clean up the day’s mess.

I love to watch them learn. They are voracious readers of everything and everyone. They crave knowledge and are driven to courageously expand their universe, but at the same time want to remain at the center of it.

As a baby a little girl learns that when she hollers Daddy or Mommy come to her. As a toddler she learns the hard lesson that when Mommy or Daddy call she is supposed to come to them.

It’s not an easy transition for anyone concerned. Toddlers are also discovering free will. Anyone who has tried knows you cannot make a toddler eat, sleep, sit still, keep their clothes on or pee where they are supposed to until they decide to do it themselves. You can cut down their options, you can try to pick them up (as they do the floppy noodle) before they dash for the road, but you can’t make them keep the water in the tub or kiss Auntie Bertha or stay out of the Tupperware drawer when company is coming if it is not on their agenda. They will let you know when they have lost patience with your interference.

But I love them. I love the mileage they get out of a few words. I love the excited laughter when they discover how to open, or flush, or unravel something all by themselves. I love the way they imitate older humans and want to be like them. I love them because they are headed somewhere and every day they change. I love them because they don’t stay toddlers.

It struck me the other day that as new believers in Christ we are like a baby who needs milk, shelter, warmth, affection and our heavenly Father obliges. He provides a baby with everything she needs. She calls; He comes. She knows how the system works.

Then one day he doesn’t come when she calls. He calls and holds out his hands for her to move toward him. After she chooses to toddle to his outstretched arms and she is rewarded with kisses and hugs he takes another step back – then another and another. He is becoming more distant. The next thing you know he is withholding her sippy cup until she sits in the chair nicely – wearing a bib that is not of her choice. What a shock!

The toddler Christian is accustomed to feeling that God is there to fulfill her agenda. Now it turns out he has an agenda of his own. Now there is this obedience issue to cope with. It’s a tough transition to make, and that is why many churches are filled with people who never grow beyond two or three years maturity level. It can be fun, but it can also be a wretchedly frustrating stage of growth because it means taking ourselves out of the center of the universe and putting God there.

The Bible says Jesus learned obedience. He grew in grace and in favour with God the Father and with people. When he laid down his Godhead privileges to experience everything we have he also learned as a human child that he had free will. As an adult he demonstrated that he was not doing the works he did because he was incapable of doing otherwise, but because he chose to. He listened to his Father’s plans. From his baptism, to his following the leading of Holy Spirit into the wilderness, to changing water into wine at his Father’s bidding – and definitely not his mother’s – to his battle with his free will in the Garden of Gethsemane he did nothing he did not choose to do. I believe he understands our struggle because he sweat drops of blood before he could say, “Not my will but Yours.” In the end laying down his life at the cross was his choice.

“No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:18)

I’ve heard it said that being part of the family of God means never being led into the wilderness (times away from his felt presence to discover and establish our identity as sons and daughters); it means never seeking God’s agenda but brazenly declaring our own want list; it means never being driven by frustration with our old habits to plumb the depths of his grace that changes us, but instead it presumes on our own definition of “grace” that enables stunted growth and self-centered living.

There is power and provision for a hope that does not disappoint, but this is not it. Of course God still loves to give good gifts to his children and to respond to them. Maturity means changing the way we think until we realize it’s not just about God answering us when and how we want him to; it’s also about us responding to him when he calls.

I love toddlers because unless something has gone horribly wrong, they are people in process. If we, as those growing up in faith, never get out of our strollers, demand ice cream for breakfast and holler every time events do not go according to our desired design and timetable, we will not be loved any less and our needs will still be met, but we will miss the joy of mature relationship with our Father God.

I love toddlers because they teach me to keep growing.

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Skin People Stories

Take a picture of me jumping!
Take a picture of me jumping!

We wondered what our wee granddaughter was talking about when she asked a question about “skin people.” Her story books were full of talking fur or feather people, she explained, so she wanted her mommy to know she was talking about other kinds of people who look like us.

“They’re called humans, Honey,” her mommy answered.

The next day, within the hearing of other shoppers she asked, “What are those humans doing over there?”
More than one head turned.

I realized that many children’s stories meant to teach a moral lesson use personified critters –clever foxes, wise owls, sneaky snakes, innocent baby bears. It’s easier for authors to frame a story when you are in control of the rules in the fictional world simple characters live in. It works. Kids love it, and there are fewer stupid human tricks for us to explain.

Lately, she’s been asking me to tell her stories about me or her mommy or my friends. At nearly six-years old she has become a student of skin people nature, which can be pretty baffling at times.

Since we were discussing birthday plans I told her this true story about my friend and a birthday cake. There were two people who loved to play jokes on each other. One year “Dolly” decided to play a big trick on her friend, “Burt.” She hired a baker to decorate a cake made up of doggie biscuits frosted together (because he had already played a joke with doggie biscuits on her). From the outside, the birthday cake looked fantastic. Then she dropped it off at Burt’s house. He wasn’t home, so his wife took it gratefully and said she would give it to him later.

After a few days she had not heard anything from him and wondered if his feelings were hurt, so she phoned him.

“The cake was amazing,” he said. “Wow. Thank you so much!”

“It tasted good then?”

“Marvelous!” he gushed. He paused and then said, “I’m sorry, Dolly. I have to I have to tell you what happened. I was tired when I got home so we put it in the freezer and thought we would bring it out when we had company. But last night my wife suddenly remembered she promised to supply the cake for a birthday party for a person at the Old Folks Home. It was too late to order one and yours was beautiful so she brought it down to them this morning.

“Oh No! Did they give the dog biscuit cake to the old person, Nana?” granddaughter asked.

“Well, Dolly called the baker and asked him if he had a cake in the shop she could have and he did. So she hurried over there and bought the cake and rushed to the nursing home with it. She ran into the kitchen and asked the cook if Burt’s cake was there because she wanted to trade it for a fresher cake, but the cook said the cake was already in the dining room for the party. Dolly ran to the dining room.

“Don’t cut that cake!” she yelled.

“Why not?” everyone asked.

Just then Dolly’s friend Burt came in the room and everyone laughed and laughed because they were all playing a joke back on her. Burt knew the cake had dog biscuits inside and he told everybody he was playing joke on Dolly. He already had another one there for the party.

“Why was it funny?” my granddaughter asked.

“Why did she make a cake of dog biscuits? That would taste yucky. That could hurt his feelings.”

“How did Burt know there were dog biscuits inside? Why did he tell his friend he was giving it to the old person? Wasn’t that a lie?”

“Why did the lady forget to order the cake? Didn’t she write it on a calendar?”

“What bakery did Dolly go to?”

Well, I thought it was funny. My next story will start with “Once upon a time there were three bears…”

Skin people communication is so complicated. Friends who understand each other can share practical jokes and laugh at the re-telling for years. Let-your-yea-be-yea-and-your-nay-be-nay people will ask, “Why would you give me a dog biscuit cake? Why would you dishonour me this way?”

Nothing is more shaming than being told your attempts at communication with people you care about have been interpreted in the opposite way you intended – especially if they wait for years to tell you that they have only been smiling politely and they have found you offensive all this time.

Sometimes in our attempts to make connection too much is assumed. It’s like we have only a partial picture of this skin person and they are much more complicated than we think because unlike illustrations of fur and feather people in story books they keep bouncing out of the frame.

The moral of the story: Never assume you understand skin people. Never assume skin people understand you.

Do you know what I mean?

Someone Likes Cake

Somebody likes cake

 

I laughed out loud when I saw this photo these kids’ dad sent me. (He gave me permission to use it.) He captioned it, “Someone likes cake.”

It gave me joy.

I realized later this is a picture of hope. Talk about vision-led endurance.

The hope in the heart of the believer is not a wish to win the lottery or that our team wins. Hope for the follower of Jesus Christ is an expectation that he is true to his word, that what we have seen and have come to believe about who he is and his promises to us is being accomplished. It’s an actual substance we can see by faith.

Hope is joyous anticipation that the promise of cake in the oven will be fulfilled in the mouth — maybe with a little ice cream on the side.