To The Parents In the Trenches

I’ve been thinking about parenting. This week a friend I hadn’t heard from in a while asked how things were going. I gave some short, glowing reports about my children. A sense of well-being flooding me. My kids are doing so great!

Then I thought about a couple different friends of mine who are struggling with their teens. And I thought about how my glowing reports might not be taken so well by parents who are currently in the trenches with their own offspring.

When we are struggling we tend to look around us at how everyone else is doing. If our friends are doing better than us we feel condemned, less than. If our friends are doing worse than us, we feel validated, superior. If they are in the same boat as us, we feel encouraged, we’re not alone!

For those of you who are on the battlefield right now with your teen, I want you to know that you are not alone. I would guess that most parents of older children have fought those battles. We don’t talk about it much. We can’t. We can’t gossip or malign our own children. We can’t air our dirty laundry because it affects their lives too, not just ours. We can’t betray their confidences, their privacy. So, we mostly suffer alone. Privately. Perhaps sharing only with a very close friend. It is very lonely.

I want you to have hope. Not all problems with teens automatically mean that they are going to end up homeless drug addicts, wandering the streets. A big percentage of those kids conquer their problems. They move on to become productive, wonderful adults. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to cry and feel like I’ve completely failed as a parent. Bewildered at what colossal mistake I must have made to make my child act this way. Not sure if this child and I can live in the same house together much longer. Pondering how much boarding school really costs. Could I get a loan to cover that? Can I legally kick an underage kid out of my house?

Even though it is lonely in that we can’t share our troubles with the world at large, I really encourage you to seek help. Pastors, teachers, doctors, psychologists, prayer warriors…There are people that it is appropriate to share your troubles with. People who have seen it before. People who might have some wise counsel or are just willing to stand in solidarity with you. People who are willing to go that extra mile or one hundred miles and come pick up your teen and take them away for a couple days so that everyone can have a cool down period.

Here’s the thing…one day, you notice things aren’t as bad as before. And then a while later, you realize, things are actually getting better. And then one day, you look at your teen, and you swell up with pride because they have actually become someone you like.

Yes, there are many stories of parent/teens who don’t make it. It ends ugly. But, maybe, even for those horror stories we hear, maybe, down the road many months, years, possibly decades, peace happens. Reconciliation. Where there is life, there is hope.

I’ve only been in this parenting game for eighteen and half years. During that time I’ve had some pretty amazing highs and some heart-wrenching lows. I have a two year old. I am nowhere close to being finished. As I look at my large brood, I’m pretty sure we’re going to have some rough years ahead for some of them. It seems to just be part of growing up for some kids.

I hope you know that when I brag on how great my kids are doing, I’m just telling you the highlights. We have to stay positive after all. I’m not free to share all the crazy episodes I’ve had, but maybe you’ll feel better knowing that I’ve had them, and that you’re not alone. Here’s praying for all you parents in the trenches. May God give you peace and wisdom and hope. You are not alone.

 

 

So, What’s the Big Deal About Today?

Good Morning Internet World! Here it is Easter Morning and as I sit here in my home, writing on my computer, I wonder how everyone’s morning is going, and what this day means to you. When I first started this blog I was pretty purposeful in my thoughts that this wasn’t going to be a “Christian Blog”. What I mean by that, was that I did not want to write out little sermonettes and discuss bible verses every day. Neither did I want it to be an “Advice Blog” where I could spell out how I do things and encourage you to copy all my neat tricks for living. I just wanted to write about my life and the stories I have to tell. As it turns out, since I spend my life trying to make Jesus the most important thing, he kind of crops up in my blogs. Pretty regularly. And I have ended up dispensing some advice here and there. It’s just happened, the inevitable result of writing about my life. Today though, I am just going to be blatant Christian. I want to share with you all why today is so important to me.

Today is Easter. The day we celebrate that Jesus rose from the dead. What is that all about? Well, he was God, in the flesh. He came down to earth and lived the perfect, sinless life, because I couldn’t. And then, even though he was perfect, he was killed: whipped and then nailed to a cross, dying a torturous death. Why? Well, the punishment for sin is death. All of us have sinned. We all deserve to die for our sins. There was nothing we could do to change that. So Jesus came and changed it for us. He died in our place. Took all of our sins on himself and paid the price for us. Now, if we repent of our sins, believe in Jesus, ask his forgiveness, he does forgive us and he “Makes us white as snow..” He declares us innocent, clean, forgiven. And he promises that he will be with us and never leave us. And when our earthly body dies, we will go and be with him for all eternity. Easter is the day we celebrate that I can now approach God and have a relationship with him, all the barriers have been removed.

So, what does Easter mean to me?

It means I am no longer alone. I have someone that I speak to all day long. Sometimes it reverent, “Lord, thank you for the beautiful sunshine!” Sometimes, not so much, “LORD! Help me! I am so tired!! I can’t deal with this messy house!!” Sometimes it’s just commenting on daily life, “Wow Lord, I cannot believe that driver just cut me off like that!!! Please help me to not start swearing!!” And often, it’s just the word, “help”. For me, it’s an all-day running commentary on my life. And I know he’s listening. And he answers. Not so much an audible voice, though I have heard his voice a couple times, but more like a redirection of my thoughts. I’m grumbling about what a lousy day I’m having, and suddenly I remember the bible verse, “This is the day the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it!” Or I find myself harboring a bunch of anger towards someone and the verse pops in my head, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” It’s a conversation of sorts…with someone who never goes away, always listens, and knows all your thoughts. Can’t really get more intimate than that.

What does Easter mean to me?

It means I have peace. When I do things wrong, I don’t have to walk around feeling guilty. I can ask for God’s forgiveness and then I can count on him to give me the strength to ask forgiveness from the person I wronged. And if things continue to remain tense, I can have peace knowing that he will be with me and give me wisdom to know how to proceed. The underlying guilt that I used to carry around with me is no longer there. I am forgiven.

What does Easter mean to me?

It means I am no longer afraid. What is the worst thing that can happen to me? Death? Well, if I die I know that I will be with Jesus…forever. Doesn’t sound too bad. When I am tempted to be afraid for my children, God reminds me that he loves my children more than I do. Their lives are in his hands. They might not get the fairy tale life that I envision for them, they may go through horrible things in their lives, I may even, Heaven Forbid, bury one of my children (Lord, may it not be so). But, I don’t have to live in fear of these things happening. In the end, I have no power to save my children or protect them, and God never promised us a pain-free, trouble-free life. But, he promises to never leave us, to take bad things and turn them into good. I can trust him.   

What does Easter mean to me?

It means my life gets a bit uncomfortable at times. God’s number one priority for me is not for me to be happy. His number one priority is that I learn how to be like him. And sometimes learning that is a bit painful. Awkward. Esther, I want you to love your neighbor as yourself. Esther, I want you to forgive those who hurt you. Esther, I want you to help those in need. Esther, I want you stop putting your selfish desires above the needs of your family. Esther, I want you to trust me with this problem instead of worrying about it. Yeah. It’s not all fun and games. This weekend, I had an old friend reach out to me for help. My very first thought was, No way. I can’t help you with this. It’s too much. It’s going to really inconvenience me. My husband and I prayed about it. The next day, I still wanted to say No, sorry, can’t help, but God very gently pointed out to me that all my reasons for saying No were selfish and rather petty. And so I found myself saying yes. I can help you. But here’s the thing. All this nudging to change, do things differently than I want to, in the end it’s slowly shaping me into the person that I have always wanted to be. I have no power in myself to turn Esther from a selfish, self-absorbed person into a selfless person who always puts others first and is always ready to forgive, ready to lend a helping hand. It’s a change that only comes from listening daily to the quiet nudges from God as he slowly chips away at all the rough edges of my character.

What does Easter mean to me?

Everything. It means everything. And this is why I tell my children, this is the biggest holiday of the entire year! Easter! The day that enabled me to pass from condemned sinner to beloved daughter of God. Oh yes, Easter means everything to me.

 

Loneliness

Loneliness has been on my mind this week. I was reading through a total stranger’s blog that I happened upon and I was overwhelmed with the waves of loneliness that crashed through one of her posts. I had a physical longing to just reach through the computer screen and pat her on the shoulder. Tell her I would be her friend if she wanted. Somehow let her know that there is a personal, relatable God who would love to permeate her life, take away the pain, fill it up with meaningful relationships. Somehow let her know that there is an answer, a solution.

I didn’t say anything though. I didn’t comment on her blog, I ghosted on by. Mostly because if a total stranger started talking real deep to me I would probably not be real open to what they have to say.  But she has stayed in my mind and I have been praying for her. And I have been thinking about loneliness.

I wish that I had some kind of “5 Steps Solution to Curing Your Loneliness”.  I was trying to think about what the solution is and all I could think of was that every single person is so different, how can there be one plan that fits all situations? And it occurs to me that while there is no “1 size fits all” plan, there is a “1 size fits all” God. If you have asked Jesus to forgive your sins and you have given your life to him, then you now have access to the One who can fix all things. He can fix your loneliness. He wants to fix your loneliness. He didn’t create us to be alone. That theme starts all the way in Genesis. God created us for relationships. To be in relationship with him and then to be in relationship with others. When people complain that they are lonely, they are in fact noticing that something is wrong with their lives, and I think it’s a problem that is universally recognized…it is not good to be alone. We were created to Not Be Lonely.

I am more of an introvert. I have never needed large groups of friends. I prefer a couple close friends, small groups, one-on-one conversations. While my childhood friendships were typical up-and-down affairs, God did bless me with a close family so that even on those days when my best friend hated me, I still had a family I could fall back on. Later I was blessed with a husband who has been my best friend for the last 20 years. Even when my women friends moved away or entered into different phases of life that moved us away from each other, I have still had my husband always there. I am what you would call a blessed woman. But I have to tell you a little bit about loneliness. It is very nuanced.

Somehow it is possible to be in a room, surrounded by people who love you and whom you love and yet you still feel alone. I was this way. I’m going to speculate on why I felt this way. When I was a kid I learned very quickly that the more people knew about you, your likes, dislikes, interests etc, the more power they had to hurt you. If they knew which boy you had a crush on, they could go tell other people and embarrass you. If they knew that something had hurt your feelings they could rub it in your face and make it a hundred times worse. If they knew of a mistake you had made they could broadcast it to the world and humiliate you. I slowly adopted the attitude of “If you don’t know me, you can’t hurt me”. If the only things you knew about me were surface things, inconsequential things, then you had no power over me. I retreated into a shell where I was very good at listening to other people and speaking into their lives, but I never opened up too much about my own life. It was too dangerous. I didn’t want to be hurt.

Now we come back to the one God who can fix all things. God lead me to a small group of women who offered me a safe place to talk, a safe place where I could open up about myself and not worry about having that information used against me. We met together once a week for years and while there were seasons when I couldn’t go, I attended as faithfully as possible. As I gained courage to open up, God used that momentum to start revealing areas in my life that needed healing and as he started healing me, I found it easier and easier to open up more. I started having courage to open up more even in my relationship with my husband which I had thought was pretty transparent. I found it easier to share about myself. The fear of being hurt slowly lessened.

Nowadays, I still have parts of me that I keep to myself, but now it’s just because not all stories are for all people. If the right person comes along who would benefit from those stories, I’ll share with them. I’m still an introvert, I still don’t have a boatload of friends, I still prefer small groups, one-on-one, but I find that I don’t feel near as lonely as I used to. Probably because I am no longer hiding.

Everyone has a different history, a different journey. I don’t know what your past was like. I don’t know what your daily struggles are. But I do know the God who knows you. And I know he doesn’t want you to be lonely. Ask. He’s listening.